Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Helsinki Agreement

– in the House of Commons at 11:42 pm on 26th November 1987.

Alert me about debates like this

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Mr. Boscawen.]

Photo of Mr John Marshall Mr John Marshall , Hendon South 11:46 pm, 26th November 1987

Although the first Member of Parliament for Hendon, South was elected in 1945, both of my predecessors had represented another constituency before they had the honour to be elected for Hendon, South and so, 42 years after the constituency was formed, I am making the first maiden speech as an hon. Member for Hendon, South. I do not know whether that is a record, but I suspect that it is. I suspect that my wife hopes that the next maiden speech of an hon. Member for Hendon, South is made within 42 years.

First, I pay tribute to my two predecessors, the late Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth and Peter Thomas, now Lord Thomas of Gwydir. Hugh Lucas-Tooth enjoyed the unforgettable experience of serving in a Churchill Government, and he served Hendon, South with distinction and devotion.

I should like to pay particular tribute to my immediate predecessor. Before the general election I knew how widely he was respected within his constituency. Since the election I have discovered how widely he is respected on all sides of the House. Peter Thomas served his country with courage in war and with distinct dedication and patriotism in peacetime. In the constituency, he was tireless in working for his constituents, and in the House he specialised in foreign affairs and in serving Wales, his native country. It was appropriate, not only that he was the first Conservative Secretary of State for Wales, but that when he became a Peer recently—that peerage gave great pleasure to all in his constituency—he chose the title of Lord Thomas of Gwydir, which reminded him of the home of the Welsh Office as well as the village where he spent many pleasant days as a young man.

Hendon, South nestles between the constituencies of Brent, East and Finchley. It is famous for the quality of its education. The people of Hendon are proud that my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) was educated in the centre of the constituency at Hendon county school. The high standards that prevailed then still prevail in the education service in Hendon. Barnet has some of the best A-level results in the country, and standards are so good that 4,000 pupils a day come into Barnet from neighbouring boroughs; 1,300 of those come from Brent.

My constituency is famous for Brent Cross, which is a wonderful example of co-operation between a private developer and the local authority. It has created a shopping precinct with the variety of Oxford street without the associated traffic problems, and in its several years of operation it has been very successful in creating thousands of jobs. Hendon, South can also boast the most attractive conservation area of London, in the Hampstead garden suburb.

Many of my constituents were either victims of Nazi persecution or have relatives who were victims of the Holocaust. It is therefore natural that they should have an empathy with and sympathy for those who are suffering in the Soviet Union today.

Many people are confused by glasnost. They ask what worries us when leaders such as Shcharansky, Nudel and Josef Begun have been given exit visas. They say that the number of exit visas granted has gone up. Perhaps 10,000 will be allowed out this year, but that 10,000 compares with a peak immigration figure of 60,000 in 1979, with an estimated 40,000 long-term refuseniks and with 400,000 who have received invitations from relatives in Israel. For every one person allowed to go, 39 are left behind.

I received a letter the other day which summarised the plight of the refuseniks. It said: Don't believe what you hear. Whatever it seems like in the West, life here for us is quite different and I have nothing to lose. The problems of the refuseniks were summarised by someone who visited me in the House three weeks ago. Felix Abromovich, aged 23, told me that he had been given his exit visa but that his parents, who had first applied to leave 17 years ago, were still being prevented from leaving the Soviet Union. One could cite many cases of individuals who applied to leave long ago but are still not being allowed to go.

Even worse is the way in which the Soviet Union is dividing families. One example is the case of Mr. and Mrs. Lein of Leningrad, who first applied in 1978. Their daughter, son-in-law and two children have been allowed to leave but they have not. Thus, grandparents are prevented from seeing their grandchildren.

Another example is the case of Mr. and Mrs. Khassin of Moscow, who applied to leave in 1976. Their mother has been allowed out, as have their daughters, but not them. Thus, when Mrs. Khassin's mother died, their daughter was not able to attend the funeral, and the grandparents have not seen their second grandson.

There is a society which separates husbands from wives, grandparents from grandchildren, parents from children, fathers from sons, mothers from daughters, brothers from sisters and even prevents parents from attending the funeral of their own son.

Apart from the failure to grant exit visas to those who want to leave, the Russians have broken the principles of Helsinki by persecuting the Jewish community. Those who seek to apply get themselves into a catch-22 situation; if they apply for a visa they lose their jobs and are then charged with parasitism, because they do not have jobs. Only this week in The Guardian we read that Josef Begun had his telephone cut off by the Russian authorities because they did not like what he was doing.

I received a letter from a Mrs. Khuzgina, whose husband is still in the Soviet Union, saying: Immediately after requesting an exit visa, Boris was dismissed from his job. The KGB constantly harass my husband and they search his apartment frequently. Boris has been the victim of anti-semitic obscenities as well as the other hardships to which refuseniks are subject, and it is difficult for him to observe the tenets of his faith properly. That is the sort of condition that people in the Soviet Union have to put up with.

Mr. Gorbachev said in Paris in 1985 that, in secrecy cases, the secrecy classification would be removed after between five and 10 years. But let us look at how it works in practice. Let us take the case of Mr. and Mrs. Fiskin of Moscow. Mr. Fiskin left his job as an engineer in 1972, 15 years ago. He is still refused permission to leave, because of the secret knowledge that he allegedly has. I was told by the Soviet ambassador that Mr. Boris Chernobilsky could not leave the Soviet Union because he had knowledge of matters pertaining to the national security of the Soviet Union, but he knows nothing of what has happened since 1976. Mr. Pavel Abramovich left a technical institute in 1971, 16 years ago. He is still being told that, on grounds of secrecy, he cannot leave.

Are the Russians really saying that there has been no change in Russian technology since the 1970s? If that is so, I suspect that whatever people may have known in the 1970s is worthless, because we in the West have certainly moved on.

This afternoon, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced that Mr. Gorbachev would be stopping off in this country next week. When she met him earlier this year, my right hon. Friend was able to present him with a number of cases of divided families, and I am pleased that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State was able to tell us in a written answer recently that a large number of those had now been given an exit visa, and were enjoying freedom in Israel.

I very much hope that, when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister meets Mr. Gorbachev next week, she will be able to give him further examples and ask him to consider them. It is appalling how individuals in the Soviet Union are being denied the rights that they were given, or thought that they had been given, at Helsinki.

I received a letter from the Soviet ambassador on 2 September last year, in which he said: all parties to the Helsinki Final Act have an obligation to comply with it and its human rights provision. It is high time that the Soviet Union carried out what is said in that letter.

Photo of Mr David Mellor Mr David Mellor , Putney 11:57 pm, 26th November 1987

I am glad, Mr. Speaker, that on this rare occasion you were able to be present for an Adjournment debate and to hear a most distinguished maiden speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall). My hon. Friend comes to the House very well qualified to carry on the high standards of representation which, as he rightly pointed out, his constituency has had, not least from Lord Thomas, who was a well-regarded—indeed, well-loved— figure in the House, and who will be missed. He will, however, be a very welcome Member in the other place.

My hon. Friend spent some years as a lecturer in economics at two of our leading universities. He then worked in the City as a stockbroker, and spent eight years in the European Parliament. That range of talents will enable him, not merely to serve the interests of his constituents with great ability, but to make a distinguished contribution to our debates here. Certainly he could not have started more auspiciously than he did tonight with the case that he advanced — one that will, I am sure, find sympathy with all who hear and read about it. Having spoken in my hon. Friend's constituency a few weeks ago, I know the matter to be of great concern to many of his constituents, in the light of their background and the fact that the relatives of so many of them suffered in the manner that he so eloquently described.

The Government's position on the matter is clear and we welcome any opportunity to set it out. The last such opportunity was in answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) on 24 July. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South has given me an opportunity to give the House up-to-date information on these key human rights issues.

Discussions are continuing in the Conference of Security and Co-operation in Europe process in Vienna, which I had the opportunity to address in September. We hope that the CSCE process will make real progress towards enhancing security and co-operation in Europe. As my hon. Friend knows, several headings—or baskets —reflect the issues covered in the Helsinki Final Act. Basket I contains the general principles regulating affairs between states—sovereignty, territorial integrity, human rights and the like. It also covers military security. Basket II deals with economic co-operation, science and technology and the environment, which are all important issues. Basket III, with which my hon. Friend was primarily concerned, sets out the standards applying to human contacts, information, culture and education. It has long been our aim to maintain a balance between those disparate aspects of the CSCE process to ensure that none of them lags behind the other.

In that context, we are not concerned only with what happened at Helsinki 12 years ago. Other CSCE texts contain important political commitments, especially the Madrid concluding document and the document of the Stockholm conference. They take the Helsinki process forward.

Following what my hon. Friend said, I wish to consider, first, the areas where Soviet compliance has been broadly satisfactory and, secondly, the areas where the picture is much worse. On the day when it is announced that General Secretary Gorbachev is coming to the United Kingdom, it is right to make it clear that I am not interested in a propaganda exercise. That would serve no real purpose. Our concern is not to make cold war points, but to consider objectively which commitments have been fulfilled and which have not. The judgment that we reach on the Soviet Union's willingness to honour its obligations, solemnly entered into at Helsinki, will inevitably affect our view of the Soviet Union and weigh with us when considering other arrangements. We should give credit where it is due. Not to do so would be hypocritical and would weaken our case where we have good grounds for saying that the Soviets have failed to behave as they should.

On military security, recent press reports gave details of the Purple Warrior exercise, which Warsaw pact observers attended pursuant to the 1986 Stockholm conference. It is too early to make definitive judgments about the extent to which the Stockholm document will enhance European security arrangements and reduce mistrust, but it appears to have taken steps down that road and the Soviet Union and its allies are abiding by the commitments that they made.

Soviet performance in relation to basket II matters— the economy—has had positive aspects. There have been several interesting developments in the Soviet economy with a view, not least, to attracting Western investment.

Even in the crucial area of human rights and contacts, as my hon. Friend said, the story on implementation is not all negative. Some prisoners of conscience have been released, including some key dissident figures. We have seen the gradually increasing relevance of press and television to real life; the beginning of a cultural thaw in the arts; the rewriting of history to correspond more closely to what happened; and increases in German and Jewish emigration. A significant number of the longer-term refuseniks have, at long last, been permitted to leave the Soviet Union. But many of those piecemeal changes have still to be institutionalised, and what has been done could be reversed or may not be part of a long-term trend. That is why we must remain vigilant. But let us combine realism with open-mindedness: that is our approach to the Soviet Union.

Sadly, it is time to come to the debit side of the balance sheet. If our first guideline is to give credit where it is due, the second is not to close our eyes to the disparity in many areas between Soviet undertakings and Soviet performance.

Implementation of CSCE commitments is at its worst where there are contacts between people and the free flow of information. In Afghanistan, for example, the Soviet Union remains in breach of all 10 fundamental principles of the Final Act. Let me yet again call on the Soviet authorities to fulfil their international commitments by the complete withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan, rather than by merely expressing readiness to do so. Let us see a concrete example of "new thinking" in action on the international stage. Nothing could do more to bridge the gap between Soviet words and deeds.

The internal picture within the Soviet Union is still generally grim. I noted some positive developments during my hon. Friend's speech, but, as he said, the momentum appears to be slackening. Hundreds of political prisoners still remain incarcerated. Officially, the existence of "political prisoners" as a category is often denied. It is said that the people in question are imprisoned for crimes against the state. Too often this boils down to the fact that they have dared to speak out in an independent way. The repressive penal legislation under which they have been charged continues in being.

In the context of the debate, one of the most pertinent abuses is the detention of Helsinki monitors. People such as Viktoras Petkus of the Lithuanian group, Levko Lukyanenko of the Ukranian group, and Sirvard Avagyan, who worked closely with the Armenian group. This should perhaps not surprise us in a country where a KGB officer is on record as calling the Helsinki Final Act an "anti-Soviet document". I find it particularly shocking, none the less. For Anatoli Marchenko, who died in a labour camp at the end of last year, any change in the system will come too late. For others, theoretical freedom of religion remains just that — theoretical. My hon. Friend has said eloquently that Jews, Christians, Moslems and others are still harassed. Only three weeks ago, in a previous Adjournment debate, I had the opportunity to review the fate of the Baptist, Anna Chertkova, who was detained for 14 years—not in a prison, but, even worse, in a psychiatric hospital—for her faith. Her case serves as a reminder that psychiatric abuse persists on a wide scale.

Although emigration has increased, there is still no guaranteed safeguard against arbitrary decisions. Many thousands of individuals have been refused permission to emigrate, in clear contrast to the international commitments undertaken by the Soviet Union. As my hon. Friend made clear, these refusals go back many years. He quoted some cases from the early 1970s, and sadly these are not exceptional. While waiting for permission to leave, individuals are often left in limbo. Having lost their jobs, they are unable none the less to leave the Soviet Union to pick up the threads of their life once again somewhere else. That is a further cruel blow.

Changes in emigration laws published last January by the Soviet Union suggest that the gates are likely to slam shut again when all who can claim close family ties overseas have gone. Often the reason given for refusal of permission, as in the case that my hon. Friend quoted, is that of national security. When this argument is applied to second-generation refuseniks, because of state secrets allegedly in the possession of their parents, we see just how ludicrous it is. Often that restriction continues for far longer than anyone could believe credible. Even if we accept for the moment that it is right that a state should be able to refuse one of its citizens permission to leave because of the work that he has done, for how many years does that restriction credibly continue? Surely not for 15 years, as in the case to which my hon. Friend referred.

Restrictions on freedom of movement extend also to those who wish to travel temporarily, for personal, recreation or business reasons. They permanently divide families split between the Soviet Union and elsewhere. They prevent young people from marrying, or those already married from being united.

What are we doing about all this? There is our third guideline. We must continue to use every suitable opportunity to convince the Soviets of our strength of feeling on these issues and to bring home to them that fair words without deeds cannot pull the wool over our eyes.

The CSCE is the most appropriate forum in which to discuss the issues. However, as my hon. Friend says, whenever senior figures from the British Government meet their Soviet counterparts, invariably a list of names is handed over and, to be fair, progress is made on a number of those cases. That progress is slow and wearisome, but we must be grateful for such progress. It is with the Vienna part of the CSCE, which is specifically designed to build on the Helsinki agreement, that we must hope for the greatest changes.

We contend that steady, continuous progress towards full compliance with Helsinki commitments is essential for the credibility of the process. To achieve this, our delegation has tabled, together with our confreres in the other western countries, proposals intended to strengthen existing commitments; and we shall keep up the pressure for improvement even after the Vienna meeting has concluded. They include proposals on freedom of religion; on freedom of movement; and on respect for the privacy and integrity of mails and telecommunications. We have also been associated with a number of initiatives for CSCE meetings after Vienna. These include our proposals for renewed negotiations on confidence and security building measures; for an information forum in London to deal with the crucial question, freedom of the media; and for an ambitious three-stage action programme on human rights and human contacts. The latter provides for continuous review of unsatisfactory performance in these areas between major CSCE meetings.

When we finally get a concluding document in Vienna, I hope that these proposals will find their way into that document. Acceptance of them by the Soviet authorities would be a sign that "new thinking" was not merely another political catch-phrase but that they truly intend to change the arbitrary nature of Soviet rule, and they are now prepared to fulfil those commitments that they freely undertook some 12 years ago.

The Vienna meeting is now in its final, drafting phase. However, I fear we will not see rapid results. The past few months have been characterised in Vienna by a good deal of "old thinking". We have been treated to the most blatant demonstrations of Eastern foot-dragging, combined with promises of flexibility. What we need now is plain speaking, not evasive diplomacy.

I visited the Vienna meeting when it resumed in September. I tried in my speech to say bluntly, "No human rights; no genuine security; no deal". That must be the Western approach. I believe that my hon. Friend and. his constituents will support us in that approach.

Yes, we give credit where it is due, but we will not forget the massive abuses that remain. We will take every opportunity of contact with leading Soviet citizens, who, I am glad to say, come in increasing numbers to Britain. We welcome that. We must speak frankly and candidly and we will press our message home.

This House — a House dedicated to freedom of expression and freedom of individuals — will always produce Members such as my hon. Friend who will use the opportunities that we have to raise crucial issues of individual freedom in debate. I am glad to have had the opportunity to try to advance that process by answering some of my hon. Friend's questions tonight.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at thirteen minutes past Twelve o 'clock