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Helsinki Final Act: Soviet Violations

Volume 413: debated on Thursday 23 October 1980

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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government, whether in view of the "Helsinki" meeting in Madrid in November, they will list and date the main Soviet transgressions since the original agreement was signed.

My Lords, I would refer my noble friend to the series of six-monthly reports to Parliament which have been deposited in the Library. The last of these was made on 2nd July, by my honourable friend in another place, Mr. Blaker, and a copy was circulated in our Official Report on 10th July. My noble friend will find that Soviet violations of the Helsinki Final Act, such as in Afghanistan and concerning human rights matters, are detailed in full.

My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that reply, drawing our attention to these facts, may I ask him how the Soviets can reconcile their war in Afghanistan with the continued talk of détente and their Helsinki pledge not to use military force or coercion against other sovereign states? Does it make sense to go and negotiate a continuation of this treaty when there is such flagrant disregard of the terms which they signed in 1975?

My Lords, my noble friend is quite right. The difficulty is that there are a number of misconceptions in the Soviet mind. The most important one is perhaps that détente is some divisible thing and you can have détente for example in Europe, or so they think, while at the same time trampling roughshod over the poor people of Afghanistan.

My Lords, in the discussions at Madrid, will the noble Lord and his colleagues pay particular attention to the provisions regarding reunification of families in the Helsinki accords, and to the cases of Victor Korchnoi, whose wife and son have been prevented from leaving the Soviet Union to join him in Switzerland, and, more recently, that of Anatoly Shcharansky, who we now hear is desperately ill in the prison camp where he is confined and is being prevented from joining his wife Avatali in Israel?

My Lords, our delegation to the Madrid Conference will certainly be fully briefed on such cases. Whether or not a particular case is raised will have to depend on the circumstances of the meeting, but it will certainly be necessary to illustrate violations of the provisions of the Final Act by reference to specific examples.

My Lords, is it not possible for our Government to protest particularly about the jamming of Western broadcasts, which I think is absolutely monstrous, and also about the recent charges in East Germany to Germans going over to the East, which is only exacerbating a situation which everybody is hoping to be able to cool down?

My Lords, with regard to the first point, about jamming, we shall certainly be making our views known on that matter to the Soviets, as we have done already, As for the second point my noble friend raised, about the East German minimum exchange requirement, we are deeply dismayed by this increase which was announced the other day. This is certainly a serious blow to co-operation in Europe.

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether he will keep these matters in perspective? Is it not the case that all the main Governments have been guilty of such aggression: America in Vietnam, Britain in the Suez Canal, France in Central Africa at the very time of Afghanistan? While we vehemently denounce what happened in Afghanistan, we have to realise that other Governments are guilty as well.

My Lords, I think that in the past we have indeed failed to keep these things in perspective. We have not attached enough importance to the gravity of the situation in Soviet Russia and elsewhere. It is perhaps worth remembering that since the Russians signed the Helsinki accord the emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union, for example, has dropped from 4,000 a month to 2,500 a month, because they are now applying stricter definitions of kinship, and the number of people who have been arrested is now worse than anything under the Stalin era.

My Lords, while very much welcoming what the Minister has said in answer to these various questions, they do address themselves perhaps principally to the review period when the conference starts in Madrid. May I ask him, therefore, what progress there has been so far in regard to persuading the Soviet Union to allow sufficient time for this review to be a reality? Has there been any progress to report on that point?

My Lords, I fear not. We are extremely disappointed at the slow progress that has so far been made. This is because of constant attempts by Warsaw Pact countries to limit severely the amount of time which should be available for the review of implementation. The Soviets know, I am sure, that the western countries cannot accept this, but we do still expect the review meeting to open as planned on 11th November.

My Lords, may I ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will draw the attention of the Soviet Union at Madrid to the transgressions against the Christian community? Your Lordships may not know that this is perhaps the last time I may have the privilege of addressing your Lordships or being present in your Lordships' House. I would like my last appearance to be associated with a request to Her Majesty's Government that they should ask the Soviet Govern- ment why it is that Christians of all persuasions within the Christian community are still subject to violence; after being drugged and violated they are produced on television to make false confessions. This is a violation against all human rights.

My Lords, I entirely agree with the right reverend Prelate. Indeed, the right reverend Prelate will know of the recent trial, among others of Father Gleb Yakunin, who was the founder member of the Christian Committee for the Defence of Believers in the Soviet Union and who has been sentenced, I hear, to five years in a strict régime and five years' internal exile. I can assure the right reverend Prelate that the Government have issued a press statement condemning these trials in all cases.

My Lords, I should like to take a rather unorthodox action and say how sorry we shall be to miss the right reverend Prelate. He has played many important roles, not only within the Church but outside, and we shall always remember him as a really good democrat.

My Lords. I should like to echo those sentiments. The right reverend Prelate will be much missed in this House.

My Lords, is not the Soviets' recent action of ferrying Soviet arms from their stockpiles in Libya to Iran, further evidence of their total disregard for the Helsinki spirit?

My Lords, I too, have seen a number of press reports on that matter, but it would be wrong for me, I think, to comment on their accuracy or otherwise. Naturally, we should deplore any development that led to an extension or escalation of the conflict in the Middle East.

My Lords, however great the lack of progress in the present preliminary discussions in Madrid, is it certain that the official talks must open next month? Is it inevitable that they must do so?

Yes, my Lords, I understand that the official talks will open even if there is no agreement at the preliminary meetings.

My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that it is extremely important that the British public be kept fully informed of the progress of these proceedings, as there are occasionally times when the British public is a little unwilling to draw the right conclusions from what happens?

My Lords, there is, of course, verywidespread parliamentary and other interest in this matter and I have no doubt that many noble Lords will question me about progress, if no other way is found.

My Lords, will my noble friend bear in mind that the West may be deceiving itself and its electorates by continuing with negotiations based on Helsinki, when these transgressions are continuing and, in fact, increasing in the present climate of Soviet thinking and actions?

My Lords, we have to judge what action to take in these matters by what we think will be in our best interests. Where we can achieve meaningful agreement with the Soviet authorities we shall pursue negotiations.

My Lords, did I understand from the noble Lord that the list of transgressions is to be placed in the Library? Does he not think that it would be better if it were issued publicly not only to Members of this House, but to the press and the general public?

My Lords, on the last occasion that I reported to the House on this matter it was done by means of a Written Answer.