Orders of the Day — Soviet Union and Eastern Europe

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:57 pm on 4th March 1991.

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Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 9:57 pm, 4th March 1991

I thank my hon. Friend. He also raised Bulgaria's wider financial needs, having in mind the effects of the Gulf crisis and the reform of the Council of Mutual Economic Assistance. Those important issues are being addressed by the IMF and the G24 countries. As my hon. Friend knows, the Community plays a dominant and generous role within the G24, and the Economic and Finance Council will discuss EC financial help for Bulgaria during the year.

The hon. Member for Tooting made a number of substantial points. I assure him that many hon. Members have written to me suggesting that the Community's agricultural surpluses be sent to eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. We are now trying to avoid the accumulation of food stockpiles, and the Government—along with others—have worked hard to reduce the food mountain. But, if such surpluses exist, it surely makes sense to send them to the countries that need food most.

The hon. Gentleman made a powerful case for agricultural reform, and I agree with much of what he said. That is why PHARE projects concentrate on agricultural reform, among other things. In 1990, we committed for agricultural reform £70 million to Poland, £14 million to Hungary and £11·2 million to Bulgaria. Resources will be available to Romania, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia during 1991, if they seek those resources.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick) made an important point when he stressed the importance of President Gorbachev's contribution, not only to the Soviet Union but elsewhere in Europe. I agree with his view that no other Soviet leader has so far appeared who is likely to be a more effective proponent of the cause of reform. He is also right in saying that the west has a real investment in President Gorbachev: he listed a number of instances in which that was particularly true. I hope that he will forgive me for adding that our support cannot be unqualified or uncritical. Although I agree with most of what he said, I hope that he will understand that the Government can support Mr. Gorbachev only provided that he remains a reformer.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) drew on a wealth of personal experience from his visit to Romania with my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie). Clearly, that was a particularly interesting visit. I am sure that my hon. Friend played a prominent role in whatever happened there, no doubt appearing on television and radio on many an occasion. Obviously, it was an invaluable experience for them both and the House is indebted to the hon. Gentleman for sharing it with us.

The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that, in addition to the medical aid for Romania and Bulgaria, which is the aid that we are discussing tonight, there has been other aid in the past, most notably £500,000 provided by Her Majesty's Government in 1990 and more than £9 million already provided through the European Community. As he knows, our contribution to EC expenditure is about 18 per cent.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) raised several important points. The Council of Ministers is, indeed, agreed that reform within the Soviet Union should be a condition of its receiving assistance under the programmes. That is why it sought close member state involvement in the disbursement of aid through a management committee of the kind that I have already described to the House. If there is a serious deterioration in conditions within the Soviet Union or elsewhere in eastern Europe, aid would be suspended.

We have secured Council of Ministers agreement to full monitoring of the Community's assistance to Romania. That is an essential condition of the European Community providing successful aid. In answer to the question about monitoring the help provided last year to Romanian orphanages, I am pleased to say that the Crown Agents were instrumental in ensuring that Community aid reached those who needed it most and for whom the European Community had sent it.

I agree profoundly with my hon. Friend that we are supporting reform. In one sense, it matters not who provides that policy of reform. Our objective is to support reform and our assistance is conditional on the provision of that reform.

The hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) asked why no medical aid was included in the package of aid for the Soviet Union. I must give the honest answer that I do not know. I have been scratching my head and asking myself, not to say my officials, and I suspect that the truthful answer is that it was never raised. That may be a partial answer to the question whether there is a serious shortfall, or at least a perceived one, which may well be different, within the Soviet Union.

It is also more difficult to distribute medical aid directly to the needy. Food aid is one thing, medical aid is another. It is rather difficult to see how as a general proposition one could distribute medical aid other than through the established institutions of society.

The hon. Gentleman asked me to confirm that when embarking on a policy of distribution we would take into account the political implications of the methods used to make distribution. I can confirm that that is the case. The Council of Ministers decided that food credits should finance food from the European Community, although we would have agreed to finance some purchases from European countries.

The modalities of supply are still being worked out. That extends also to the transport arrangements, but if the Soviet Union is in a position to pay for the transport costs it seems rather difficult to see why it should not do so.

I trust that I have responded to most of the questions that I have been asked, and I thank right hon. and hon. Members for the support that they have given to the policy outlined in the documents.