Soviet Union (Human Rights)

Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th December 1987.

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Photo of Derek Conway Derek Conway , Shrewsbury and Atcham 12:00 am, 16th December 1987

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what further details have emerged about Soviet human rights violations over the last 12 months.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

We are monitoring Soviet human rights performance closely and are aware that substantial abuses continue. I discussed these issues with Mr. Shevardnadze at Brize Norton on 7 December. While welcoming recent steps forward in Soviet performance, I stressed the need for further major progress in this area and handed over lists of individual cases about which we have received representations.

Photo of Derek Conway Derek Conway , Shrewsbury and Atcham

Bearing in mind that 51,000 Soviet Jews were allowed to emigrate in 1979, and that only 7,000 have been so allowed this year, will my right hon. and learned Friend tell the House whether his talks on 7 December gave reasonable hope that the Soviet Union might relax its stringent policy in this regard and perhaps pay more respect to the human rights that we should all like to see develop in that country?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

The case that I was making to Mr. Shevardnadze, which we have continued to make to Soviet leaders on many occasions, is precisely that put by my hon. Friend.

Although the figures for Soviet Jewish emigration this year — 7,000 — are encouraging, they are very low compared with those achieved in the 1970s, with a peak of 51,000 in 1979. We shall continue to press the Soviet Union for more progress in that and every other aspect of human rights.

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin , Sunderland South

Will the Foreign Secretary explain what entitles us to lecture the Soviet Union on human rights, in the light of the number of innocent people in our own gaols? I refer in particular to the 11 innocent people convicted in connection with the Guildford and Woolwich pub bombings.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

Anyone who poses such a question must be blind to almost every aspect of the facts about both societies. The cases to which the hon. Gentleman refers, like any cases of that kind, can be—and are—the subject of massive and extensive public debate in a press that is entirely free; the subject of investigation in a Parliament that is entirely free; the subject of investigation in a court system; and, beyond that, subject to the surveillance of the European Commission of Human Rights, as is every other aspect of human rights. I urge the hon. Gentleman to go back to his school room and study the most elementary facts of international politics.

Photo of Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop , Tiverton

Will my right hon. and learned Friend make urgent representations to the Israeli Government about the infringement of human rights of the Arabs, whose countries have been invaded—

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

Order. Unfortunately, the question is about Soviet human rights.

Photo of Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop , Tiverton

I was going to continue, Mr. Speaker, to ask my right hon. and learned Friend whether he would bear true regard to the effect of the influx of population from the Soviet Union to Israel, which resulted in deprivation of human rights among those whose land of birth has been invaded and abused by the military forces of the state of Israel.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

I suppose that that question is remotely connected with the one on the Order Paper, and the answer is quite straightforward. In the interests of individual Soviet citizens of Jewish origin who wish to emigrate we shall continue to press the Soviet Union for freedom for those who wish to leave to be allowed to do so. That is an elementary component of the human rights case that we have pressed on the Soviet Union. With equal candour, we shall urge the Israelis to avoid all actions that may exacerbate conditions, create further obstacles to peace, increase the risk of confrontation and disregard the human rights of all the people who live in their territory. Our standards are the same and apply to both places in the same way.