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Ussr (Postal Deliveries)

Volume 130: debated on Wednesday 30 March 1988

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To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the response he has received from the Soviet authorities concerning abrogations by their postal authorities of international regulations over the delivery of mail from Britain to Soviet citizens, and on the practice of providing signatures other than those of the addressees on advice of receipt cards.

No clear Soviet response has yet been received.

We have repeatedly drawn attention to the need for closer observation of the spirit of international agreements at the CSCE review meeting in Vienna.

Does the Minister accept that there is a sense of disappointment that nothing positive has been done? Will he acknowledge that so long as a Government or postal authority give tacit recognition to signatures of people other than those to whom the mail is addressed they will be conniving at misappropriation of property and even downright robbery?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman and I am glad that he has returned to this important point. I remind the House that on 18 February we tabled a proposal calling upon all nations to agree that only the addressee or agent appointed by the addressee should be able to bear witness that a package had been delivered. At the moment, anyone appointed by the Government can do that. We look to the Eastern bloc countries to agree to that proposal as a practical way of showing that they are prepared to improve their practices on matters which should not be fundamental to their security but which are basic human rights in terms of the exchange of correspondence across national boundaries.

Will my hon. and learned Friend note that the continued breach of human rights and of the Helsinki agreement by the Soviet Union makes it extremely difficult for us to continue to negotiate on other matters? Will he urge General Secretary Gorbachev to change that policy and ensure that we can forward relations on a better basis?

There is no doubt that the fundamental problem in East-West relations is the lack of trust and confidence, which more often than not is based on judgments of the nature of Eastern society and breaches of human rights, which lead people to distrust the basic and fundamental impulses of Eastern bloc Governments. Until those things are changed, the level of progress that we want will be difficult to achieve.