Poland

– in the House of Commons at 9:36 pm on 11th January 1988.

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

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery 10:31 pm, 11th January 1988

I am most grateful for my great good fortune in earning the opportunity to initiate a debate on the United Kingdom's relations with Poland. I am pleased to see a number of other right hon. and hon. Members in their places, including the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) and the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine).

The people of the United Kingdom, not just those of us who have Polish blood in our veins, and successive United Kingdom Governments have a much greater interest in and understanding of Poland than most other countries. This is reflected in the welcome demand, which we have heard recently, of the Prime Minister to meet Mr. Lech Walesa. We are concerned to give more economic support to Poland and to develop further our cultural and trade relations with that country, but at the moment I perceive little meaningful change as yet sufficient to give us the confidence to do so. Perestroika is being attempted, but as yet with little evidence of real glasnost.

Our concern is perhaps best illustrated by reference to some specific cases which, I am afraid, show how devious the Polish authorities can be at times. Nowadays, as the Polish Government claim, they do not imprison people for what are, on the face of them, political offences; but unfortunately the Polish Government still imprison people for their political views and accuse people of false crimes because of those views. It is worth recalling that that is nothing new.

Father Popieluszko was accused of keeping an arsenal of weapons, including dynamite, at his vicarage. It was alleged that all the weaponry was found during an official police search, yet, when vigorous public protest was made against this grotesque fabrication of evidence, the proceedings against the father were dropped. Sadly, of course, he was murdered instead. His murderers, all commissioned officers of the security police, have now been granted an amnesty and they can look forward to an early release — an early release which would not be countenanced for murderers in this country.

Compare that with the fate of Captain Adam Hodysz, whose only crime was to assist Solidarity. He is serving his six years' sentence in full in Barczewo, one of the harshest, if not the harshest, of Polish prisons. The Polish Government must be told how dimly we view the mercy—the scandalous mercy—shown to Father Popieluszko's murderers.

Polish Government policy, of course, maks it difficult for Her Majesty's Government to invervene. They cannot, one understands, intervene in cases involving what would have been criminal charges in the West—which brings me to the cases of Kornel Morawiecki and Jan Andrzej Gorny. Those are clear enough cases. Both men face trumped-up charges of a non-political nature; but let us look at the reality. Both are outstanding leaders of the underground in Poland. The Communist authorities hunted them desperately from the imposition of martial law on 13 December 1981 for nearly six years. But why? They do no more than lead peaceful protest against the Government. They are actually the voice of legitimate, though illegal, opposition.

Mr. Gorny is a member of the national executive committee of Solidarnosc and the leader of underground Solidarity in Silesia. At the moment, he is supposedly accused of non-payment of maintenance to his wife, yet, strangely, on the basis of that civil charge he has been held incommunicado and denied access to his lawyers since 19 November 1987. This does not sound to me like the treatment normally afforded to a person on a minor criminal charge, let alone a minor civil charge. In reality, this is just the sort of case in which I would hope the Minister would be making strong and specific representations to the Polish Government, and not allowing the cloud of an apparently normal judicial charge to deceive him.

As regards Mr. Morawiecki, the situation is similar. Since 1982 he has been the leader of the Solidarity Defiant organisation, which has developed a network of branches throughout Poland and which resolutely opposes the regime's claim of sole rights to govern Poland on the basis of its diktat. There is no record of a single terrorist act committed by his organisation nor of a single attempt on life or damage to any property by it, yet warrants for Mr. Morawiecki's arrest were out for six years. He is now charged with terrorism, on the basis of the alleged interception of listening devices, but that charge materialised only after his arrest on 9 November 1987. It is another case, in truth, of a political prisoner being arrested for his beliefs.

Now we come to what I believe to be the worst of these cases, the case of a woman who was arrested with Mr. Morawiecki, Hanna Lukowska-Karniej, mother of three children. I would like to quote at some length from an open letter sent by her daughter, Zofia, to Professor Bartoszewski, a respected Polish humanitarian, honoured for his outstanding efforts to save Jewish lives during the Nazi occupation of Poland. In the letter, Zofia says: My mother will not reply to your letter for the time being as she is at present in jail accused of having misappropriated the identity document of another person … A month after the publication of the warrant for my mother's arrest, in June 1984, she was arrested and charged with participation in the leadership of the Solidarity Defiant organisation. Luckily, in July of that year there was an amnesty and my mother was released. The amnesty however did not terminate the trail of chicanery, invigilation and close surveillance of my mother. In July 1985, after a brutal house search, involving the breaking down of our front door, she was forced to shy away from her own home. Simply speaking, she was driven away from it by the harassment of the Security Service. The burden of harassment then fell upon me and my siblings. I was then 17 years old, my brother Edward 15 and the youngest sister 8.From July 1985 to date we suffered about 10 house searches, more often than not without any adult present. We have been watched, bugged and followed. On many occasions I have been taken from school for interrogations or house searches. Recently, I was taken for a night-time interrogation and only after the intervention of the Wroclaw Bishop's office I was released at midnight. There were periods where I was followed non-stop, step by step. A particular example of this barbarity was the setting up of this form of surveillance on my little sister aged eight, resulting in her nervous break-down. She was afraid to leave the house and cried continuously. I was forced to smuggle her out of the house and hide her at a friend's. She now stays with her maternal grandmother, who is 83 years old, almost totally blind and herself in need of care and attention … On 9 November my mother was arrested together with the leader of Solidarity Defiant. Regardless of the triviality of the charge levelled at her, which I mention above, she was taken away to the Central Investigative Jail in Warsaw (more than 200 miles from her home) where she remains. I have not been able to obtain a permit to visit her for the past month … My siblings and I find it very hard being without our mother and I ask you to help releasing her … Surely"— says this young girl— we have the right to live here as human beings without fear and grief to accompany the consecutive generations of this unhappy land. That is a letter written not years or even months ago. That letter was written by a 17-year-old girl in Wroclaw on 8 December 1987, days ago.

I believe and hope that the Minister and right hon. and hon. Members will agree that the arrest of those individuals is a scandal. Of course, we must consider it in an historical context. Poland is not a Soviet country by her people's choice. Whatever justification was presented to the Polish people at the time of Yalta and Potsdam, it must now be accepted that the Soviet-dominated Government imposed on the Polish people have not been accepted by the population, and never will be. The imposition of martial law on 13 December 1981 is grim proof positive that Poland is ruled by the Soviets against the people's will. Day by day, we see evidence of rejection, most recently in the referendum, which showed that although the Polish people are prepared for change, as they have demonstrated by their actions, matters will really change only when their consent has been obtained.

Of course, there is a basis for hope. Glasnost, when it percolates through to Warsaw, holds prospects of a liberalisation of Poland which would create the conditions for perestroika by consent. All those developments will be welcomed by everyone concerned — and we are all concerned with those issues. But it is pointed out to us again and again by people who have first-hand knowledge of the workings of the Communist system that, so far, the changes made are no more than superficial and will have no substance until they are backed by the establishment of a much greater measure of free institutions in Poland.

We do not hinder the Soviet Union in projecting its ideas to us. The Soviet Weekly is printed and freely distributed in Great Britain. If we disagree with its contents, we challenge them in discussion, not by the imprisonment of its publishers. We have a legitimate right to ask for similar freedom in Poland and to project peacefully our way of life to the people of Eastern Europe; and we have an obligation to support, defend and protect those who are already doing so in Poland and other Soviet satellites.

People such as Morawiecki, Gorny and Karniej do not ask us to declare war on Soviet assumptions. They conduct their campaign in a peaceful but determined manner, and all that they ask for is our peaceful but equally determined support. Through the Minister of State, I ask our Government to continue to consider the reality of accusations levelled against people such as those three, to see through the false excuses that are made and to make it clear that British relations with Poland can be improved only when we see the reality of glasnost.

We should consider carefully how Poland responds. We should be prepared to increase the scope and content of the BBC world service's Polish language broadcasts so that it can reach more people in Poland more easily and for longer. We should even be prepared to consider the use of modern technology to beam uncensored programmes to Poland and to the other countries of Eastern Europe, which are deliberately deprived by their Governments of an unhindered supply of information. Above all, we must be seen determinedly to defend the voice of opposition and the freedom to speak and even to think.

If Mr. Gorbachev in the Soviet Union and General Jaruzelski sincerely want us to believe in their long-term intentions towards us—if they want us to believe that they are peaceful and honourable and that the only objectives that they have in mind are the welfare and prosperity of their people — they should refrain from harassing and arresting the very people who peacefully demand that they be permitted to follow the same objectives. We should not be afraid of saying that to them and of challenging their professed intentions every time that we have well-founded reasons to suspect them.

Some of what I have said has been harsh criticism, but it represents the genuine feelings of many in the United Kingdom who take a close interest in Poland. I do not want to be churlish. I recognise that there are the germs of change. However, the recent event of the Popieluszko amnesty has deeply shaken whatever confidence I had in the intentions of the Pash Government. Like many others, I shall remain prepared to accept every little piece of evidence of progress towards glasnost. I shall cheer any such evidence heartily if it is real evidence, but I have a long way to go to be convinced.

Photo of Bernard Braine Bernard Braine , Castle Point 10:47 pm, 11th January 1988

We should be grateful to the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) for raising this grave matter. Our interest in what happens in Poland stems not simply from the fact that there are large numbers of Polish people in this country who fought valiantly with us during the common struggle against the Nazis but who were unable to return to their homeland because of Stalin's brutal unilateral repudiation of the Yalta agreement. We are interested and we protest because the British people themselves are concerned at the continued denial of basic human rights in a land that suffered enough at the hands of Hitler and Stalin and deserves better treatment.

I had hoped that, following the visit of the British delegation to Warsaw in December 1986, which I had the honour to lead, we would see a great easing of the oppressive measures that the regime has seen fit to impose—after the Solidarity movement began to campaign for freedom. We have been sadly disappointed.

I have only a few minutes in which to speak and I am grateful to the Minister for permitting me to intervene. I wish, therefore, to make three specific points. First, while political prisoners incarcerated by the military dictatorship were released in September 1986, which was an encouraging sign, others have since been imprisoned on trumped-up charges because they continue to campaign for freedom, and for no other reason than that. I say "trumped-up charges" because that is the Communist way. The hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned the case of that brave priest Father Jerzy Popieluszko, who was charged with hoarding military weapons. When that charge was laughed out of court, they murdered him. Such trickery is disgraceful and indicates only too clearly that the regime knows that its authority does not rest upon the assent of the nation.

Secondly, when I was in Warsaw I specifically asked that the passport of Dr. Janus Onyszkiewicz — a dedicated leader of the Solidarity movement who had been a political prisoner and had been ill treated in prison— should be returned to him. He has relatives in this country. No charge has ever been brought against that brave and resolute Polish patriot who expresses the longing of all Poles for freedom. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister will make it plain that persecution of that kind cannot pass without censure and that the British Government will want to know why a passport continues to be witheld.

Harassment continues of groups not only of the Right and centre but of the Left. I wish to protest against the harassment of the Polish Socialist party by sporadic arrests and telephone threats. I, too, would contrast that with the soft treatment of the four brutal murderers of Father Popieluszko whose sentences have been substantially reduced. Their crime shocked not just the Polish nation but the whole of the civilised world. What kind of regime is it that behaves in this way?

Let there be no misunderstanding. The message from this House is that the British people want lasting friendship with the Polish people and want to see them free and prosperous, but the regime in Poland must be made to understand by one means or another that real detente will be possible only when it ceases to persecute its own people.

Photo of Mr David Mellor Mr David Mellor , Putney 10:50 pm, 11th January 1988

I congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) not only on stimulating this important debate but on attracting to it both the Father of the House and the Speaker—not a usual combination at this late hour. I am especially glad to see you, Mr. Speaker, in your place, as I know of your interest in Poland following your highly successful visit there just a few months ago.

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery and my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), from whom I was delighted to hear, emphasised particular points about Poland and the way in which matters are conducted there, especially in relation to human rights. They have raised those points in all sincerity, just as we do, against the background of a long and good relationship between Britain and Poland and a great deal of good will from this country towards the Polish people, who have had to endure so much throughout history and not least in recent years.

Before dealing with the human rights dimension, I should like to consider more broadly Poland's position in the world today. In trade, Poland's large hard currency debts have meant that credits have not been available for major capital projects in recent years. Despite those difficulties, however, Poland is still Britain's largest export market in the Comecon area after the Soviet Union, and after West Germany, Britain is Poland's largest market in the West, so there is a strong trading relationship between us.

There are also substantial cultural and educational ties with Poland which are freer and more flexible than any other country in eastern Europe. The British Council, through its admirable British Institute in Warsaw which you, Mr. Speaker, may well have visited, together with the Polish Cultural Institute in London, plays an essential role in promoting and encouraging new forms of contact. A rich pattern of contact also exists independently of government, which is exactly as it should be, through direct links between universities, learned societies, institutions and individuals. Several hon. Members have taken part in meetings of the Anglo-Polish round table and I am glad that dates have been fixed for a further meeting in Warsaw next May.

Another special factor in our relationship is the fact that Poland has so often been at the leading edge of change in eastern Europe. The societies of eastern Europe are in varying degrees weighed down by a discredited political and economic system imposed on them by force by the Soviet Union at the end of the last war. None has taken readily to Marxism-Leninism—Poland perhaps least of all. Stalin himself said that introducing Communism in Poland was like trying to saddle a cow. At last, however, the need for change—long recognised in Poland — is beginning to be recognised in the Soviet Union.

Against that background, I should like to trace briefly the recent history of our relations with Poland. One must start, of course, with the period of Solidarity, which the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery described so clearly in his speech. That period saw an admirable attempt to make freedom of association and the rule of law compatible with a Communist political monopoly. The forcible suppression of Solidarity and the period of martial law came as a bitter shock to people in this country, and inevitably caused damage to our relations with the Polish authorities.

Together with our allies and partners in the European Community, we pressed the Government of General Jaruzelski, in the months and years after December 1981, to release political prisoners, restart a genuine dialogue with the Polish people, and return to the path of consensus-based reform. That was the message which my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary gave to General Jaruzelski and his colleagues during his visit to Warsaw in 1985.

As my right hon. Friend said, that had some effect. Recently, there have been signs of limited but nevertheless welcome steps forward in both the political and economic sphere. As the House knows, all those imprisoned on clearly political charges were released in September 1986. Plans for economic reform were revived and certain tentative steps have been taken towards a broadening of the basis of political life in Poland. I am sorry, as is my right hon. Friend, if that process has slipped back somewhat in the meantime.

Against that background, our political relations with the Polish authorities have moved forward. Your visit, Mr. Speaker, was highly successful. Last month, the Polish Foreign Minister, Professor Orzechowski, paid an equally successful visit to London. A welcome by-product of that visit was that we were assured by the Polish authorities, just before it took place, that jamming of the BBC Polish service on short wave, about which we had protested on many occasions, would cease from the start of this year. I am glad to tell the House that the jamming, which was a clear breach of the undertakings in the Helsinki Final Act, has indeed now ceased. An even more significant outcome of Professor Orzechowski's visit was that it was agreed when he saw my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that she would pay a visit to Poland this year.

I turn now to the issue of political prisoners. As the House knows, after the releases of September 1986, a number of people remained in custody in Poland on charges where there was arguably a political element. We have continued to raise cases of this sort with the Polish authorities. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary told Professor Orzechowski last month, during a detailed discussion of human rights, that he hoped all forms of harassment of supporters of Solidarity would cease.

In addition, the opportunity was also taken during Professor Orzechowski's visit to draw attention specifically to three cases, those of Mr. Morawiecki, Mrs. Lukowska-Karnie and Mr. Gorny, which have been of particular concern to hon. Members. Indeed, as the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery knows, several colleagues have written letters about these cases. We shall continue to raise issues of this sort, as necessary, with the Polish authorities.

On the two other points raised by my right hon. Friend, we think that it is deplorable that Mr. Onyskiewicz cannot visit his wife's family in the United Kingdom. We have urged the Polish authorities many times to restore his passport. Indeed, that matter was raised during Professor Orzechowski's visit. I very much hope for an early response. My right hon. Friend also raised the issue of the Polish Socialist party. I understand that a meeting in November to revive the old Polish Socialist party was broken up by the police. That is a regrettable example of the lack of freedom of expression in Poland and of the restrictions on genuine pluralism.

In the limited time available to me, I conclude by asking, what are the prospects for our bilateral relations with Poland, and for Poland itself? The external environment for our relations with Poland, as with the other east European countries, has undoubtedly taken a turn for the better with the recent improvement in the overall East-West climate. That presents opportunities that we do not want to miss, but our relations with individual countries still depend crucially on how those countries conduct their domestic affairs as well as their foreign policies.

When my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary met General Jaruzelski in 1985 he enjoined him to take meaningful steps towards not only economic, but political, reform. General Jaruzelski and his colleagues have now begun to show that they appreciate the importance of both sides of this equation. It is significant that in the recent referendum the Polish population was asked to express a view, not only on economic, but on political, reform. Naturally, the authorities intend such reforms to take place strictly within a framework which they will choose, but the message which Professor Orzechowski sought to give us last month was, clearly, that the Polish authorities regard the result of the referendum as positive and intend to press ahead with further measures at both the political and economic level.

That is welcome news, but it leaves many questions unanswered, such as the extent of economic reform, the programme involved, and the political dimension. Flow real will any new processes of consultation with the Polish people be? Will they pro vide for genuine freedom of association and trade union organisation? If not, how will the public react?

Those questions are vital to Poland's success and stability. They not only affect the prospects for trade and other aspects of relations between Britain and Poland, but could have a bearing on the future course of East-West relations. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be pursuing these with General Jaruzelski during her visit. Meanwhile, the message that we shall continue to give to the Polish authorities is that we value our relationship with Poland and wish it to prosper, but political and economic reform remain vital if the relationship is to be as healthy and productive as we and the people of Poland would wish. We want to see progress on all those matters.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at one minute past Eleven o'clock.