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Helsinki Final Act

Volume 81: debated on Tuesday 18 June 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if there are any plans to republish the Helsinki Final Act in all signatory states on the occasion of its 10th anniversary.

The Helsinki Final Act and Madrid concluding document are already widely available in the United Kingdom and in other Western countries. Republication of the Final Act in all signatory states to mark the 10th anniversary of the Council on Security and Co-operation in Europe process would require unanimous agreement among the 35 signatories, which at present does not exist.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the failure of the human rights conference in Ottawa this month to agree indicates the most urgent necessity to revitalise the Helsinki process? Does not the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Act present a new opportunity for the citizens of each signatory state to be aware of the Act's provisions? Can he therefore confirm that it is Western states which are preventing the publication in all the signatory states of the Act, on the ground of cost?

First, I know the long-standing interest that my hon. Friend has taken in the implementation of the Helsinki Final Act. Let me make it quite plain that it is the Eastern bloc which has refused to consider the republication of the Final Act, not the West, and it requires unanimous agreement to achieve that. Of course, documents on the Final Act are fully available in the West. I wish they were more fully available in the East. Her Majesty's Government's commitment to the Helsinki Final Act is very strong. We would like to see a renewed sense of commitment on the part of all the members. Indeed, I should add that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary will be representing the British Government at the 10th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act.

Is it not misleading to suggest that the Helsinki Final Act is freely available in the West when the British Government, for example, in response to the signed agreement to publish it widely, thought that 5,800 copies were sufficient to cover the 55 million people in this country, that is, one copy per 10,000 citizens? There are only 300 copies left in stock, while the Helsinki Final Act was published in full in many millions of copies in the Eastern bloc countries.

The regrettable thing is that the copies of the Final Act are not adequately available in the Eastern bloc. I assure the hon. Gentleman that adequate supplies of the Helsinki Final Act are available in this country through various sources.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not republication of the Helsinki Final Act that is required, but implementation? Is it not time for the West, and for the United Kingdom Government in particular, to get much tougher? Should we not publish a list of all the named prisoners of conscience suffering in Soviet gaols or in the gaols of the satellite countries so that there oppressors know that we have not forgotten them?

I think that my right hon. Friend, who has taken a constant and prolonged interest in the question of human rights and in the Final Act, has put his finger on it. The matter that I am sure concerns everybody in the House and outside it is the implementation of that Final Act. There has not been satisfactory progress, and there have been six weeks of discussion in Ottawa in which we as a Government have been able to focus attention upon the very issues that my right hon. Friend has raised. But there must be a renewed sense of vigour in which the British Government can play a leading part.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is more likely that the Soviet Union would implement the Final Act if the Western Allies were not so exhuberant in giving the impression that the Soviet Union is the source of all the evil in the world?

It would be wrong to say that the Soviet Union is the source of all the evil in the world, but we have been discussing very fully this afternoon the deep concern felt by all parties about the lack of real respect for the rights of the individual in the Soviet Union. A large number of cases have been drawn to our attention and it is only right that the Government should be vigorous about pursuing these issues under the procedures of the Final Act.