Human Rights (USSR)

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th July 1984.

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Photo of Mr David Sumberg Mr David Sumberg , Bury South 12:00 am, 25th July 1984

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he has received any response to his representations to the Soviet Foreign Minister earlier in the current month regarding individual cases of abuse of human rights in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Regrettably there has been no Soviet response to my right hon. and learned Friend's representations.

Photo of Mr David Sumberg Mr David Sumberg , Bury South

Is my hon. Friend aware that from 1 August the Soviet Union will abolish prepaid customs duty parcels from the United Kingdom, and that that will make it extremely difficult to send clothing to Soviet citizens? Will my hon. Friend undertake that that matter will be raised at the Universal Postal Congress in Hamburg at the end of July and that strong protests will be made about it?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Several matters will be raised at the Universal Postal Congress. We shall give thought to my hon. Friend's suggestion.

Photo of Stuart Bell Stuart Bell , Middlesbrough

I accept the disappointing response that the Minister has given, but does he agree that while we require harmonious relations with the Soviet Union, they are not mutually exclusive from representations on human rights? Notwithstanding that disappointing response, will the Minister give the House an assurance that that subject will not be forgotten in future discussions?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The hon. Gentleman is correct. Not only are those subjects not mutually exclusive, but, as Great Britain and the Soviet Union are signatories to the Helsinki agreement, it is right and proper that any failure to observe the responsiblities incurred under that agreement should be drawn to the attention of the country concerned.

Photo of Mr David Harris Mr David Harris , St Ives

Will my hon. Friend bring to the notice of the Soviet authorities, particularly the ambassador in London, the concern felt by many Christian groups about the welfare of Valeri Barinov, a gentleman being held in Leningrad psychiatric hospital, and bring home the concern felt about people being held throughout Russia for their Christian views?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My hon. Friend has rightly drawn attention to the persecution of individual Christians and Christian groups. When my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State was in Moscow, he raised the case of Father Gleb Yakunin with the Soviet authorities. We must also use available opportunities to draw to the Soviet Union's attention other individual cases that may be important.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington

While everyone should support Government representations to the Soviet Union, how consistent is the British position on this matter? Have we made representations to the Government of Oman on the treatment of Mr. Robin Walsh in a prison in Oman——

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

That is very wide of this question, I am afraid.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. If the hon. Gentleman persists, that will merely take time out of Question Time.

Notice being taken that strangers were present, MR. SPEAKER, pursuant to Standing Order No. 136 (Withdrawal of strangers from House), put forthwith the Question, That strangers do withdraw.

Question negatived.

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

The Foreign Secretary will be aware of the change in the Soviet Union's penal code under which those who come to the end of a period of detention may be subject to automatic further custody. For example, that could happen to Vladimir Poresh, whose term of custody should finish on 1 August. Will the Minister make representations on that, and can he be specific about the precise representation at the Universal Postal Congress in relation to interference with mail from this country to the Soviet Union?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to one of the more distasteful new policies introduced by the Soviet authorities — the automatic resentencing of those whose sentences have been properly and fully completed. With regard to the Universal Postal Congress, there have been allegations of interference with mail, and there are various other problems of the kind to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Sumberg) referred. Not only the United Kingdom but other countries will use the opportunity of the Universal Postal Congress to draw attention to those abuses.