USSR (Human Rights)

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons am 12:00 am ar 9 Gorffennaf 1986.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Anthony Steen Anthony Steen , South Hams 12:00, 9 Gorffennaf 1986

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will seek an opportunity of raising the plight of religious minorities in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in his discussions with the Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union during Mr. Shevadnadze's visit to London on 14 and 15 July; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Mr Timothy Renton Mr Timothy Renton , Mid Sussex

My right hon. and learned Friend and I expect to discuss with Mr. Shevadnadze the full range of issues in East-West relations, including arms control, regional questions and human rights. We shall bring to his attention the need for better implementation of commitments under the Helsinki and Madrid CSCE documents, in particular as regards the treatment of their citizens, including religious minorities.

Photo of Anthony Steen Anthony Steen , South Hams

While the Soviet Union understandably resents interference in its domestic policy, does my hon. Friend agree that human rights know no frontiers and that we need to encourage the Soviet Union to recognise the freedom of the individual and freedom from religious persecution as of paramount importance? When my hon. Friend sees the Foreign Minister, will he ask him to release Mr. Alexei Magarik, a Hebrew teacher recently sentenced to three years' hard labour for his teachings?

Photo of Mr Timothy Renton Mr Timothy Renton , Mid Sussex

I listened carefully to what my hon. Friend said. It is absolutely right that, despite the commitments of the Soviet Union under both United Nations and CSCE documents that it has signed, it does not yet give freedom to religious minorities from persecution or allow them to leave the country if they wish. That is one of the commitments in those documents. I shall look into the case that my hon. Friend has referred to. We shall see whether it would be appropriate to include that among the matters that will be discussed with Mr. Shevadnadze.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

While continuing to press the cases of those Jewish families seeking to emigrate, and continuing to press cases such as that of Irina Ratsushinskaya and other Christians imprisoned in the Soviet Union, will the hon. Gentleman press upon the Soviet Foreign Minister that nothing could do more to enhance the reputation of the Soviet Union in the West than a far more civilised attitude to such matters?

Photo of Mr Timothy Renton Mr Timothy Renton , Mid Sussex

I agree with what the hon. Gentleman has said. I am aware of the sad case of Irina Ratsushinskaya, about which many hon. Members have written to me. I raised the case with the new Soviet ambassador when he called on me some weeks ago. We shall consider including that case among those to be discussed with Mr. Shevadnadze.

Photo of Mr David Sumberg Mr David Sumberg , Bury South

Is not the best test of a free society how it treats its religious minorities? By that test, does not the Soviet Union stand condemned? When my hon. Friend meets the Soviet Foreign Minister, will he make it clear that we seek nothing less than a full implementation of the Helsinki agreement?

Photo of Mr Timothy Renton Mr Timothy Renton , Mid Sussex

That is the attitude that we have taken on many occasions with Soviet Union Ministers. It is a point that we shall make again during Mr. Shevadnadze's visit next week.