Orders of the Day — Soviet Union and Eastern Europe

– in the House of Commons at 7:51 pm on 4th March 1991.

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Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 7:51 pm, 4th March 1991

I beg to move, That this House takes note of European Community Documents Nos. 10880/90+CORI and the Supplementary Explanatory Memoranda submitted by H.M. Treasury on 22nd February, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on 26th February relating to extension of food assistance to the Soviet Union, Romania and Bulgaria and a credit facility for the Soviet Union and 4120/91 relating to revision of the financial perspective to finance technical assistance for the Soviet Union; and agrees with the Government that food aid to Romania and Bulgaria should be considered a priority; that any Community food aid given to the Soviet Union should be provided for humanitarian purposes; and that consideration of any other forms of Community help should take full account of developments in the Soviet Union and the Baltic States. Tonight the House is debating matters that have considerable implications for us all—developments in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, and the way in which the European Community is responding and should respond to those events. First, I should like to put the debate in context—[Laughter] I am being laughed at, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I must advise Opposition Members that I was simply setting my stop watch so that I do not go on for too long. I hope that that provides some reassurance——

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I assure the hon. Gentleman that this is House of Commons stop-watch time.

First, I should like to put the debate into its proper historical context. Worried as we are by recent shifts of policy in the Soviet Union, we should also acknowledge the profound and, we hope, irreversible changes that have taken place there. The countries that until recently were the satellite countries of the Soviet Union are now free of Soviet control. Most have introduced or are introducing accountable systems of government, and their economies are the subject of urgent and fundamental restructuring.Great changes have occurred within the Soviet Union itself since Mr. Gorbachev began the process of reform. The Soviet Union is a much more liberal and open society than it was six years ago. Ordinary people there have tasted freedom and can see the world more clearly and as it is. The distorting prism of Marxist theology lies shattered on the ground. The old style of Soviet government has failed the Soviet people and, for that reason, is finished.

Above all, we should recognise that the cold war has come to an end. The liberation of Kuwait—a triumph that we rightly celebrate—would not have been possible if the Soviet Union had not lent its support to the resolutions of the Security Council.

However, while the Government recognise the extent of the change that has taken place in eastern Europe and the critical role that President Gorbachev has played in that process of change—without him I do not believe that such change would have occurred—our support for President Gorbachev is not uncritical or unqualified. We support not Gorbachev the man, but Gorbachev the reformer.

This debate concerns the European Community's policy as set out in the documents that we are considering. Our policy is to encourage, to stimulate and, where we can, to reward political and economic reform in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe. All of us recognise the great difficulties that stand in the way of that process, and the length of time that the change will take. The nature of those changes is for the peoples of the Soviet Union to determine. We have no right—indeed, we lack the capacity—to influence the way in which the Soviet peoples will ultimately determine their future. It is not for us to seek the dissolution of the Soviet Union or to determine the shape of the constitutional arrangements that may be devised. Our interest—it is also the interest of the Soviet Union itself—lies in seeing the republics agreeing with the Soviet Government on new methods of working together harmoniously and with mutual consent. Our motives are simple. We believe that political and economic reform in eastern Europe and especially in the Soviet Union is desirable both for those who live in those countries and for all of us who inhabit the continent of Europe. By assisting the process whereby individuals within the Soviet Union gain greater economic and political freedom, we hope to see that country develop its great potential. Moreover, and as a general rule, democratic states do not fight aggressive wars.

That was the background to the decisions that were taken by the European Council on 14 and 15 December 1990. The Community wanted to reinforce the movement of reform within the Soviet Union by sending a clear signal of support. That is why the Community decided on four specific measures: food aid, worth £175 million; a guarantee for credits to purchase food, worth £350 million; technical assistance to the value of £280 million, and the negotiation of a new and wide-ranging agreement for our mutual relations. The Government supported all those decisions. However, we believe that there should be a close connection between the delivery of support and the fact of reform. Furthermore, we were and we are concerned that food aid should be targeted at the genuinely needy, and that it should be closely monitored to ensure that it reaches those people.

Photo of Mr David Steel Mr David Steel , Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale

I have been closely following what the Minister is saying. Democratic groupings in the Soviet Union, Romania and Bulgaria have stressed the importance not only of monitoring to whom the food goes, but the method of distribution. In other words, will the ancien regime get the credit for distribution through its own tentacles of apparatus, or will we ensure that the distribution of food does not become a political instrument for propping up the old and discredited administrations?

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The right hon. Gentleman has made a serious and important point. We will endeavour to ensure that the method of distribution is not that described by the right hon. Gentleman and that it does not have the effect that he fears.

Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman , Greenock and Port Glasgow

With regard to the question that the Minister has just answered and with respect to the food aid for humanitarian purposes, which non-governmental agencies within the European Community will monitor that distribution in the way requested by the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel)?

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Management committees will be set up on which officials will be represented. They will have an overall and over-arching duty to monitor. I cannot at this moment tell the hon. Gentleman whether any nongovernmental organisations will be involved in that process. However, I will make inquiries about that during the debate and if I have an opportunity at its conclusion, I will try to deal with that specific point then, if the hon. Gentleman will permit me.

As I was saying, it is important that we ensure that the humanitarian aid reaches those to whom it is directed. It is also very important not to disrupt the Soviet Union's agricultural market. It is also important that we do not stand in the way of much-needed improvements in the existing food distribution system.

We must recognise that within the Soviet Union the greatest shortage is not of food, but of expertise and that is precisely what we have to offer. We can offer knowledge to develop an entrepreneurial system; training and advice to those engaged in new projects and market-oriented enterprises; and assistance to those engaged in constructing the legal framework for a market economy. That approach is the objective of the United Kingdom's know-how fund for the Soviet Union and it was also the purpose of the Community's technical assistance programme.

As I have already said, we believe that there should be a close connection between the delivery of support and the fact of reform. The tragic events in the Baltic states have brought into question the Soviet commitment to reform and those events have caused real damage to east-west relations.

The British Government have never recognised the forcible incorporation of the three Baltic states into the Soviet Union. We have repeatedly emphasised our belief that the peoples of the three Baltic republics have the right to determine their own futures. We wholly condemn the way in which the Soviet forces behaved in the early days of this year. The loss of life in Lithuania and Latvia was tragic and deplorable.

Following those killings, we and our partners within the Community took urgent steps to emphasise to the Soviet Union that our measures of support were not unconditional and would not survive continued repression. We therefore suspended the bulk of the measures previously agreed at the Rome European Council. However, since that suspension, there have developed modest grounds for optimism. For example, the Soviet Government have appointed delegations to begin discussions with the three Baltic states.

Moreover, the Soviet Government have distanced themselves from the bogus salvation councils that were brought into existence earlier this year. However, we must recognise that we are still some way from seeing proper and serious negotiations between the Baltic republics and the Soviet Government.

It is against that background of modest improvement that we should consider how the west in general and the European Community in particular should proceed. Should we turn our backs on the Soviet Union? Should we withhold all the support and encouragement that I have described?

I cannot believe that such a course would be right. The benefits of co-operation are obvious and mutual. The west has vital interests at stake. We therefore believe that, provided the response is positive, we should continue to encourage and assist those working for reform within the Soviet Union. That is the message that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is delivering this week in Moscow. He will emphasise that very substantial help is available. He will say that the benefit that will flow from integration into the international economic system is great. However, all that depends upon the Soviet Union continuing with political and economic reform.

The motion refers to Bulgaria and Romania to which the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale and the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow referred.

Photo of Mr Andrew Hargreaves Mr Andrew Hargreaves , Birmingham, Hall Green

While we are considering economic aid, does my hon. and learned Friend agree that there is sympathy with the Soviet Union's position particularly when it has told the Baltic states that economic arrangements must be made? It is very difficult for any state to lose suddenly a vital part of its economy when its economy is in such difficulties.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My hon. Friend has made an important point. However, we must go back to first principles. In this case the first principles are that we did not recognise forcible incorporation of the three Baltic republics into the Soviet Union. That was achieved in a deplorable and unlawful way. That is the foundation on which the debate must stand. I understand my hon. Friend's point about the loss to the Soviet Union. However, at the same time my hon. Friend would be the first to concede that the peoples of the three Baltic republics have a right to determine their own futures.

I am sure that the right approach for the House and for the Government is to say that we recognise the right of self-determination within the three Baltic republics and very much hope that there will be serious negotiations between the Soviet Government and those republics from which will emerge a solution that is acceptable to both parties. That may take the form of complete independence, but it may take a different form that falls short of complete independence. However, that is a matter for the parties to that negotiation.

Romania and Bulgaria have a great need for food and medical aid. That is why the Government supported last December's decision of the European Council to provide £70 million of food and medical aid to both those countries. We are now pressing for the rapid disbursement of that aid.

I am glad to say that the Bulgarian Government are actively pursuing a programme of economic and political reform. The United Kingdom Government recognise that and therefore two weeks ago, during the visit to this country of President Zhelev, we extended the know-how fund to Bulgaria.

There is evidence that Romania is also pressing ahead with reform. Right hon. and hon. Members will have noted last Tuesday's speech by the Romanian Prime Minister, Mr Roman, in which he emphasised his Government's intention to restructure his country's economy along free market lines. We believe that the Community must encourage and assist that process, and we welcome the decision taken last January to include Romania in the PHARE programme. That decision was reached only after the European Community had carefully monitored events in Romania over the preceding six months. I assure the House that the Community will continue to monitor events in Romania to ensure that reforms happen.

Photo of Mr David Steel Mr David Steel , Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale

Political as well as economic reforms?

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The right hon. Gentleman makes a sound point. I agree that political and economic reforms are linked.

Our policy towards Romania provides a good example of the Community policy of conditionality. By making support conditional upon democracy and economic liberalisation—taking the point that the two stand together—the Community encourages reforms in those areas. By delivering a programme of support, we help the reformers to honour their undertakings.

I hope that the Soviet Government have drawn the right conclusion from the delay in implementing the European Council package, and we believe that the time has come to move forward. Discussions on food aid and on credit guarantees have continued, and that work is more or less complete. The United Kingdom has insisted that food aid be properly targeted and monitored. Both food aid and credit guarantees will be under the supervision of management committees, which will permit strict member state control.

Adverting to the intervention by the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow when he asked about the extent to which non-governmental organisations will be involved in monitoring distribution, I confirm that we have pressed for a role for NGOs, and that the Commission's proposal includes provision for such help. The Red Cross is an obvious candidate in that respect, and the Crown Agents are another. No decisions have been taken as to which NGOs will be involved, but that NGOs should be involved is accepted.

Discussions were resumed at today's Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels, where our approach was endorsed by other member states. Financial aspects remain to be resolved with the European Parliament. The European Commission has yet to table a proposal on technical assistance, but we believe that it should continue its preparations. That view is endorsed by the Council.

However, we believe that we should hold something in reserve, so a decision on the Commission's expected proposal on technical assistance will be taken in the light of the political and economic situation then prevailing. Only then will it be right to decide whether the financial perspectives should be amended to permit the release of the funds necessary to support the programme.

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

The Minister mentioned the Red Cross in relation to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) about NGOs. May one take it that, in addition to working through those agencies, the British Government and the Community will work through the republic Governments, as well as through the central Government? There is clearly a power struggle under way between the Kremlin and individual constituent republics.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Yes, for the reasons suggested by the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow, and by the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale. It is important not to support by the provision of aid simply the status quo or the Governments that are too closely associated with the ancien regime. It is often important to deliver aid at the lowest effective level.

It is the British Government's earnest wish that conditions within the Soviet Union will permit early Council agreement to an extensive Community programme of technical assistance and, in due course, to a broader framework for our respective relations.

Photo of Mr Anthony Beaumont-Dark Mr Anthony Beaumont-Dark , Birmingham, Selly Oak

The Government keep talking about the Soviet Union, perhaps quite rightly, but what is the Soviet Union today? Only yesterday, we heard that 70 or 80 per cent. of the population of Estonia and Latvia do not want their countries to remain part of the USSR. Will we not have to give serious consideration to helping countries such as Romania and Bulgaria individually? To put it bluntly, the USSR no longer really exists as a power bloc that is able to assist all the countries that are going through what we in Brum call a hell of a time.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I cannot entirely follow my hon. Friend in that. There is a distinction to be drawn between, on the one hand, Romania and Bulgaria, which are sovereign states, and, on the other, the three Baltic republics that are currently within the union; and on the third hand—if one can have three hands——

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

That must be why the hon. and learned Gentleman's watch has stopped.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

So far as the three Baltic republics are concerned, we did not accept their forceful incorporation into the Soviet Union in 1941, and we hope that they can negotiate with the USSR a relationship that is acceptable to them both. As to the remainder of the Soviet Union, I remind my hon. Friend of my earlier remarks.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) was not in the Chamber at the time.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I believe that my hon. Friend had a pressing engagement elsewhere, but it is always nice to see him.

It is not in our interests to seek to bring about the dissolution of the Soviet Union. That is not the purpose of our policy. We are not in the business of doing that. Europe has much to gain from co-operation and closer links with the Soviet Union, but co-operation can continue only as long as we are confident of the Russian Government's commitment to the principles of reform. Our support for President Gorbachev is not unqualified or uncritical. We support not Mr. Gorbachev the man, but Mr. Gorbachev the reformer.

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson , Hamilton 8:17 pm, 4th March 1991

Last year, I attended the European socialist parties congress in Berlin, just after everything started to happen in that part of the world, and was privileged to address that great assembly. However, I came rather low down in the pecking order after the Kinnocks, Craxis, Mitterrands and Brandts had departed, so I addressed what was left of the audience.

I was able to tell the delegates from central and eastern Europe in particular that one of the great things that the British parliamentary system teaches is how to speak to empty halls. I advised them to prepare for the day when the crowds will have left Wenceslas square, when they will also find themselves addressing empty halls. That lesson is useful, too, when contributing to foreign affairs debates in the House.

This is a timely debate, as the Prime Minister arrives in Moscow this evening, and as European Community Foreign Ministers meet in Brussels today to discuss the same subject. I am grateful to the Government for arranging this debate so soon after we requested it. I also pay tribute to the Select Committee on European Legislation, which singled out these documents as being especially important.

The debate gives us a chance to review not only the Community's programmes of immediate and longer-term aid, but the prevailing circumstances in the countries of central and eastern Europe, as well as the Soviet Union itself. Understandably and inevitably, our recent preoccupation has been with the middle east rather than with the eastern part of our own continent. That preoccupation may well continue for some time, but we must never allow it to drive from our minds the dangerous fragility of the newly democratised nations in Europe. Nor should we forget the forces that are changing and, in some respects, destabilising the Soviet Union—still a military super-power with more than 20,000 nuclear weapons, and still a vitally important player in the modelling of the new international order, whenever that will take place.

There is an apparent lack of control in the Soviet Union at present—the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) perhaps took it to extremes—which must perturb all of us. I was reminded of a story told by Sir David McNee, a former Metropolitan police commissioner, about his days as a police constable in Scotland. Having stopped a car that had been weaving along the highway, he went to the car window and asked the driver to wind it down. It became glaringly obvious what was wrong. He bent down and said to the driver, "Sir, you are drunk." The driver turned on him with a grin and said, "Thank God; I thought that my steering had gone."

There is a feeling that eminent men are sitting in the Kremlin wondering whether they are drunk or whether the steering has gone. But, of course, the Soviet Union is still crucially important in world affairs, which is precisely why our Prime Minister is in Moscow this evening, and why his discussions there are so important.

This may not be the place in which to say this, but, when we consider providing aid for our own continent, we must constantly remember the fate of the millions who, as we speak, are dying in the African famines. We must never allow our proper concern for the stability of Europe and the long-term democratic base of our neighbours to divert attention or resources from the pressing and urgent demands for the feeding of the millions who now face starvation.

The documents that we are considering allow us both to examine the programme of food aid to the Soviet Union—which, latterly, has turned out to be somewhat controversial—and to hear the Minister confirm that humanitarian aid has, indeed, reached the Soviet citizens for whom it was primarily intended. I am sure that. I am not alone in welcoming the fact that the Government are considering establishing that by means of nongovernmental organisations such as the Red Cross and the excellent Crown Agents.

There is no shortage of food in the Soviet Union, which can cope easily with the food demands of its own population. The problem, which has created a crisis for, especially, those living in the cities, is the collapse of the distribution network in that huge country. While we may criticise a system that provides for shortages, we cannot get over the fact that it is the people themselves who are suffering.

Photo of Mr Anthony Beaumont-Dark Mr Anthony Beaumont-Dark , Birmingham, Selly Oak

My hon. Friend said, rather woundingly, that I had been extreme. That is not in my nature.

The problems faced by those in the Soviet Union are very much of their own making. They gave thousands of millions of dollars of aid to Cuba, and still do so; they gave thousands of millions of dollars to support the fighting in Afghanistan, and thousands of millions of dollars to Iraq, all of whose weapons turned out to be like the weapons of toy soldiers.

The idea that someone is extreme, or is exposing himself in public, if he draws attention to such matters does not hold water. Russia must be told, "Your days are over." It is no good the hon. Gentlemen saying that it is extreme to say such things; by one means or another, we want a peaceful entente.

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson , Hamilton

First, let me apologise to the hon. Gentleman for calling him extreme. His moderation is highlighted by the fact that he calls me his hon. Friend.

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson , Hamilton

I assure my hon. Friend that the hon. Gentleman's steering has not gone. I took exception, however, to his implication that the Soviet Union no longer existed as a nation. Of course it has major problems, and considerable difficulties face its administration; but it is still there, and still represents a significant force in the world today. None of the facts adduced by the hon. Gentleman diminish that truth, but I accept his apologies for calling me a friend.

The debate also allows us to examine the mechanics of the European Community, and some of the more substantial programmes of technical assistance in which it has been involved, including the PHARE programme—Poland and Hungary assistance for economic restructuring. Perhaps the Minister will tell us how much of that programme will emanate from this country. As he will know better than I, PHARE programmes are initiated by individual Community countries. Accusations have been made, I hope unfairly, that we are not getting our fair share of the programmes set up under this admirable scheme. I am sure that the Minister will want to correct that impression before it is too widely accepted.

Last month, in an excellent article in the Financial Times, Mr. David Buchan—who provides an enormous amount of information for all of us—called the European Community the World leader of the 'salvation army—. Given the obligations that it has taken on under the G24 programmes, that is what it increasingly resembles. The importance of our assistance to these countries should never be underestimated, and it would be helpful if the Community, as well as others, stopped calling it aid. Not only is that not a fair or accurate description of the technical and economic co-operation in which we are involved; it has the doubly harmful effect of legitimising an apparent competition with the third world. Assistance with the setting up of a stock market in Budapest, or a school for auditors in Prague, is radically different from the provision of food and medicine for starving babies in Ethiopia and Sudan. They must never be seen to be in competition for the same finite resources, and it is a matter of shame that some countries and individuals have raided one to pay for the other.

None the less, it may be prudent to remind ourselves why we are involved in the provision of assistance for central and eastern Europe. It has only a little to do with altruism and moral obligation and a good deal to do with self-interest. There is nothing unwise or reprehensible in that, of course, as self-interest has motivated international relationships down the centuries. It was, indeed, self-interest—interest in our own survival—that drove us for 45 years to invest vast, almost limitless, funds to defend ourselves from a threat from the military machine of the eastern bloc. It must be in that same self-interest to ensure that instability and economic self-destruction do riot become the hallmark of the newly liberated nations of eastern Europe.

We must welcome, as I am sure the Minister does, the moves by the Community to construct new association agreements, fashioned as European agreements to distinguish them from the others, which I hope will lead in the foreseeable future to full Community membership for those countries. It is also sensible that we restrict the countries, for the moment at least, to Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, but in the long term and even in the medium term we must not be seen to exclude Bulgaria and Romania.

More than anything else, it was a tide of unsatisfied consumer pressure—people materially denied by corrupt and unworkable economic systems—which finally swept away the communist states. How ironic it would be if a disillusionment with the alternative systems were to bring other nastier alternatives back to power.

Only two weeks ago Mr. Miklos Nemeth, the former Prime Minister of Hungary who is now, admirably, vice-president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, said: The democracy of poverty is dictatorship. Real democracy can only be achieved against a background of economic security. He concluded: The future—not only the future of Central Europe but the safety of the whole of Europe, largely depends on how the former West and the former East are able to make this recognition a reality in practical economic co-operation. Those were wise words to which we should listen with great care, as we should listen to the views of the Bank for International Settlements whose recent quarterly report made it clear that: official aid is critical to the success of the economic reform in the region. All that is self-evident, but it needs constant repetition to get the business and financial world to listen. I know that the Government have made great strides through the know-how funds, on the advisory board of which I serve with the Minister, and through the instruments that we are extremely fortunate to have. In particular, I think of the British Council with its network already in place to ensure that our assistance gets right to the grassroots quickly. We should also pay tribute to the Confederation of British Industry, whose scheme for training managers has been a great success and, I understand, is to be expanded.

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson , Hamilton

Indeed, I also pay tribute to the co-operative movement. It has acted as an example in setting up co-operatives and a form of a co-operative bank. Such matters cannot be left to luck and good fortune. Public stimulus will continue to be required if the private sector is to be encouraged to move into these regions.

In addition to the shock to the eastern economies brought about by having to pay new higher prices for Soviet oil and in hard currency at that, is the shock of the Gulf impact on overall oil prices and supply. Where it was difficult and dangerous to restructure economies, the task has been made even more dangerous and risky—all at a point where access to international lending has been severely restricted. Unemployment, a previously unknown experience, is rising in all the countries and it may well provide a breaking-point strain for the shaky, democratic institutions.

The practice of government is not strange to any of those countries, even if it is now much more difficult than when all dissent was suppressed. What is crucially missing is the practice of opposition—that patient, frustrating mixture of criticism of Government and the assembly of a palatable alternative. We have built up that expertise over 12 years and I am sure that the Minister will enjoy it before the year is out. That careful mixture of responsible, loyal opposition will be crucial for the long-term, political stability of those nations and is essential in providing a secure environment for economic investment.

Last week we received a prescient warning from two senior citizens of the central and east European environment. President Havel of Czechoslovakia said of his country: The danger lies in permanent instability and chaos, which would affect not only neighbouring countries but also Europe and the entire world. Then, in the words of Mr. Adam Michnik, the prominent Polish opposition figure and editor of the Solidarity daily newspaper, Gaseta Wyborcza—I turn to my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) for help in pronunciation because he trained in the diplomatic service and his language skills are much greater than mine: the cult of the central plan has been replaced across Eastern Europe by the cult of the free market. He also warned that these societies were psychologically unprepared to deal with the effects of that—unemployment and bankruptcies—at a time of rising consumerist expectations. Those are serious signals from serious, responsible, distinguished politicians in central Europe. They point to the problems which face them and which we must face.

The Minister was right to point out the qualitative and quantitative difference in the Soviet Union from that of the new democracies. It is right that we should treat carefully the type of assistance and its targeting that we give to the Soviet Union. I, too, believe that President Gorbachev deserves and should continue to receive our support. After all, his experiment is a mere six years old and it has changed the face both of the USSR and the world. However, there are forces abroad in the Soviet Union—anti-western, right-wing and isolationist. That is a tide that we cannot encourage. It means that the assistance, both humanitarian food aid and technical, offered by the Community and Britain must be selectively directed and conditional on the maintenance of the improved human rights and reform record that we have seen since President Gorbachev came to power.

We cannot overstate the influence that we shall have. We must not be over-moralistic, because the size of the Soviet Union and its problems is so vast that its salvation can eventually come only from inside. We can make our views known and hope that they will help to keep the right pressure in the right direction.

There are major dangers ahead for the countries of east and central Europe, but we face some of those dangers ourselves. Just as the unification of Germany gained its impetus from the pressure to emigrate west if nothing was done, so if our assistance falters or if we fail to deliver what is necessary to underpin the democratic experiment that is going on, the fall-out may not stay easily confined at home and will certainly not be confined to the Oder-Neisse line. Sometimes I fear that it could become one of the biggest problems that we may face in the late 1990s. I believe in being optimistic and that there is a case for optimism, but that prospect is, indeed, a spectre that is realistically before us. That, alone, should be enough to motivate us for the better.

Photo of Mr Michael Marshall Mr Michael Marshall , Arundel 8:38 pm, 4th March 1991

I am glad to have the opportunity to follow the two Front-Bench spokesmen. It is important in these matters that, as far as possible, a common voice should come from this House, and I believe that it has. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister put the matter into perspective persuasively and helpfully and the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), reflecting his work on the advisory body for the know-how funds and the Great Britain-East Europe Centre, brought breadth of vision to the subject. I welcome this debate, and I want to concentrate on Bulgaria for reasons which I shall explain.

I was glad to see the relatively late addition to the proposals of medical assistance, which has been added to food assistance in the cases of Romania and Bulgaria. I shall not repeat the arguments about the Soviet Union except to say that one of the best ways of helping the democratic and economic development that we all want in the Soviet Union is to help its former satellite countries to become successful in their own right. In a limited way they can show economic and democratic developments going hand in hand and working, and that may help the Soviet Union.

I wish to discuss Bulgaria partly because I am chairman of the British-Bulgarian parliamentary group and partly because Bulgaria has not featured as largely in these debates as it should have—partly because of its small size compared with that of the Soviet Union and also because countries such as Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland tend to have their natural constituencies of interest. They draw in private investment in a way that is more difficult for Romania and Bulgaria to achieve. Whatever one says about Ceausescu's regime, it had at least the one great advantage of leaving his country with virtually no foreign debt, which gives Romania a certain amount of elbow room. Moreover, in the strange way in which these things happen on our country, media interest in Romania, for reasons on which I need not expand, has been great. In my constituency—this may be mirrored throughout the country—there is enormous interest in the voluntary sector in supporting Romania, especially its AIDS-infected babies. Every month a lorry with food and medical supplies leaves my constituency for Romania.

Against that background, I want to discuss Bulgaria's problems, which have gone largely unknown hitherto. I was glad to hear the Minister talking about the economic and political reforms which were recognised in the announcement of the know-how fund. The visit by President Zhelev was timely in that regard. There are grounds for optimism about a growing interest in Bulgaria given the number of exhanges between, for instance, this House and that country. There was a recent Inter-Parliamentary Union visit, and the CBI is looking into the possibility of joint ventures. The Great Britain-East Europe Centre, on which my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) and certain Opposition Members serve, will also help to redress the balance and meet the need for greater understanding of the great humanitarian needs of Bulgaria.

I visited Bulgaria in 1988 for the first time since becoming a Member of this House, but I was there before, in the 1960s. There has been a sad progression in that country. It became almost helpless following the break-up of the traditional Soviet and east European trading patterns. Bulgaria is a small country with only 9 million people. In some ways it used to be the fruit basket of the communist bloc; suddenly it found itself in an exposed position. Its relationship with the Soviet Union broke down and the break-down of its barter trade with oil was also a factor.

Bulgaria produces oil but has to blend it with imports of oil, as does Britain, so it has experienced great difficulty because of rising oil prices and because—this brings us nearer to home—it is owed large sums of money by Iraq. Iraq's unwillingness to pay its debts of recent years has caused great difficulties for many countries, including Bulgaria.

Bulgaria is heavily dependent on electricity—hence the importance once again of oil. Almost everyone in Sofia cooks with electricity; vast numbers of people must sit hungry in the cold and dark. And there are chronic shortages of medicine.

The food shortages have not been as bad as they might have been because this winter has been relatively mild, but I am advised of extreme shortages of meat, eggs, butter, sugar, cheese and cooking oils. Prices are 10 times what they were a year ago. People can buy food, at uncontrolled prices, because of the slaughter of milk cows and of poultry that should really be used for egg production.

The motion this evening suggests a way of beginning to help to get a free market working in countries such as Bulgaria. The present price distortions are leading to hoarding and black marketeering. The urgent provision of food from Community surpluses gives us a chance to get prices back into balance and to make hoarding a less attractive proposition. I welcome the proposals in that direction in the motion.

I should like the Minister to put the food and medical aid that we are discussing in a wider context. What estimate has been made of the effect of this aid? How far will it meet the need and complement other aid of which we are aware? Over what period will it take effect? In what sense is it related to other relevant aid—for instance, for food production? Bulgaria used to be a natural food producer and processor; tourism was also important, and there was some light industry. It is of the utmost importance that the country's food production be restored. It is said that next year's harvest may be doomed for lack of the necessary agro-chemicals and investment.

Last December the state monopolies in tobacco, fruit, vegetables and poultry were all disbanded. They were closed down, and their component parts are now small companies in a free market economy. Naturally, I welcome that, but the process urgently requires certain skills and inward investment. The latter is arriving only slowly and Bulgaria has had to attract British companies in competition with other countries in central and eastern Europe. There are ways of helping the country internally—in management training, in finance and in marketing. I hope that the Minister will say a word or two about how the know-how fund is related to what we are discussing, and about how we shall bridge the gap between Bulgaria's needs and what it is receiving. I welcome the extension of the know-how funds to Bulgaria. It is clear that it is directly related to the process of trying to develop a free market.

How far does what we are currently doing help to forward the attempt by Bulgaria to establish a more free-standing and logical structure for its food and food processing industries? How far is that seen not just by the Government but by the Community as a continuing process of aid? There is a real fear of deaths this winter in Bulgaria and those who will suffer are the most vulnerable—the old and the very young. There are real problems of malnutrition and hypothermia and a shortage of medical supplies.

The hon. Member for Hamiliton was right to remind us that we cannot divorce the subject of the debate from the overwhelming problems in Africa and Asia which suffer from famine. However, in Bulgaria there are fears of famine. I am told that for some time there has been no insulin or none of the equipment that is necessary to test blood for the presence of hepatitis or AIDS. Drugs sold on prescription and even everyday drugs such as aspirin are not available.

Helping Bulgaria cannot be a matter just for the Government or our partners in the Community. Every hon. Member has a role. Widespread recognition has been accorded to Romania, and it is reasonable to suggest that it should extend to Bulgaria. It has many similar problems, but it has not received the level of media interest that can help to bring forward voluntary help. However, such interest can lead to unfair discrepancies of the type that I have sought to outline. I hope that all hon. Members agree that it would be reasonable and appropriate to urge people to extend to Bulgaria the voluntary activity that was harnessed to help Romania.

The Minister and the hon. Member for Hamilton said that there was a need to ensure that supplies get through. They will both be aware of the new and dynamic ambassador, Mr. Ivan Stancioff, at the Bulgarian embassy. That shows that Bulgaria is addressing the problem, and I am advised that there is a depot in Reading to which those who want to send voluntary supplies of food and medicine can apply. Such people can be assured that the supplies will be supervised and directed to the proper outlets. To make the point plain, the ambassador has said that those who wish to travel with such supplies or to take them under their own steam may do so. Such openness is encouraging to the voluntary sector.

I detect some scope for joint ventures and the like, and there is some dialogue about economic progress. However, the Bulgarian Parliament and Government still have a long way to go in making their legislation more attractive and relevant to inward investors. I know that they seek such investment.

The aid that we are debating is important in the wider sense in helping to create successful economic and political conditions in the small countries of central and eastern Europe. Such aid is relevant not only to their needs, but to the wider challenges in the Soviet Union. The proposals meet a genuine humanitarian need and it is appropriate that the House should direct itself to the problem because, as I have said, all hon. Members have a part to play.

Photo of Mr Tom Cox Mr Tom Cox , Tooting 8:54 pm, 4th March 1991

This interesting debate touches on issues that of late we have not had the time to discuss. It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Arundel (Sir M. Marshall). He did not mention it in his speech, but he is the past chairman of the British group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Over the past 18 months that group has been greatly involved in helping the countries of central and eastern Europe. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) and I were officers in the IPU under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Arundel, and I am sure that my hon. Friend would join me in paying a warm tribute to the hon. Gentleman's work to improve our relationships with other European countries.

I and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing), who are members of the Council of Europe, have over the past 18 months seen very great changes. Many of the central and eastern European countries have delegates and delegations at our meetings and at committees in the Council of Europe. We are now starting to hear first-hand accounts of the problems that those countries face and they are beginning to tell us about their hopes and aspirations.

For 40 years the countries of western Europe were calling for freedom and democracy in eastern Europe. Now that the process has started, we have a responsibility to help those countries. We have the skills, the knowledge and the wealth, and we must share them. One now meets many representatives from eastern Europe at conferences and meetings. Many of them thought that the changes would be based on western economic systems and that the benefits that flow from such systems would soon start to appear for them. That has not happened and it will not happen for a long time. Such benefits will emerge in those countries, but we must pay attention to the problems that are beginning to appear there now.

It is all very well to debate these matters and to provide technical assistance, but if we do not start to help these countries face the social problems that are involved in the changes that are taking place, we shall be letting them down. Such is the extent of unemployment in central and eastern European countries that a meeting of the social and health committee of the Council of Europe which I shall attend in Paris on Friday will have that issue on its agenda. The meeting has been arranged basically to discuss the unemployment and social unrest that are starting to develop in the countries of central and eastern Europe. These developments are of crucial importance to the United Kingdom and other western European countries that have knowledge of the problems and an understanding of how to deal with them. We and other western European countries must share our knowledge with the countries of central and eastern Europe.

Associated with the problem of unemployment are women's employment rights and employment opportunities, which are not always fully considered. We must give consideration to the provision of social assistance for the very poor. We know that there are many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, in central and eastern Europe who are extremely poor. They need help. We must bear in mind also the needs of the elderly and the disabled. We must accept these responsibilities and offer practical assistance.

Over the past 18 months, vast sums have been given by way of grants to central and eastern Europe. There are many examples, but I shall quote only two or three. The International Monetary Fund gave US $710 million to Poland. A similar programme for Hungary amounted to US $210 million. There is a World bank credit of US $5,000 million to central and eastern European countries that will be spread over three years. There was a Japanese aid package of US $1,200 million for Hungary and Poland. These are substantial sums. Whatever countries the financial aid may come from, the moneys come from taxpayers. We have a right to discuss economic systems with the beneficiaries as we have a right also to encourage them to follow certain systems.

Many of the countries that are receiving aid have great potential. We are discussing the provision of agricultural assistance to three countries and certainly two of them—the Soviet Union and Romania—and possibly the third, Bulgaria, have the most enormous potential for development. Sadly, such development has not taken place for year after year. Surely we have a right to ask what is happening in these countries. We have a right to seek to modernise and develop their agriculture systems. Any of us who have even a limited knowledge of the way in which agriculture is practised in the United Kingdom know that nowadays it is possible to make enormous strides extremely quickly.

What encouragement are we giving to central and eastern European countries? No one writes to me stating that the food surpluses within the EEC should be given to central and eastern European countries. Instead, I receive many letters in which I am told that food surpluses are yet another example of the inefficiency of the common agricultural policy. The writers of these letters are critical that we are having to give away the results of excess production.

Bearing in mind the moneys that we are talking about, we have a right to ask about distribution. How will food aid be distributed, for example? The Minister has outlined how he understands that distribution will take place, and it seems that there will be a fairly elaborate organisation to ensure that the food will go to those who need it most in the areas where it is most needed. Will this be a one-off operation or are we talking of one of many similar food assistance programmes that will be made available to central and eastern European countries in future? If there are to be future programmes, we should be told. We are talking about sizeable sums when we consider the value of the food aid programme.

I have not heard anyone mention what type of food we are to supply to these countries and it would be interesting to be told. Also, what quantity of food will be made available?

I have no basic disagreement with giving such assistance. All hon. Members who have spoken in the debate, and certainly the Front-Bench spokesmen, have outlined the need to help countries that are facing enormous food shortages. However, I do not think that we have any right to approve such assistance without being told that the project that we are involved in is subject to close scrutiny and that discussions are taking place with the countries that we seek to help on how their agricultural systems will be developed.

The hon. Member for Arundel mentioned fertilisers and the chemicals that we all know are used in modern agricultural production. If countries in central and eastern Europe are to develop modern agricultural systems they will need such items. How will they pay for them? We know that all those countries have problems getting hard currency which will allow them to buy the sorts of commodities to ensure that their markets can produce goods that will sell to the rest of the world.

I welcome this debate as it has allowed us to touch on many of the arguments that interest hon. Members who seek to involve themselves in central and eastern Europe—whatever their background. However, questions need to be asked because my constituents will ask me about their pensions, the health service and the education system and, although we may be talking about a relatively small sum of money, it is still taxpayers' money. Therefore, as have outlined, we have a right to know how it will be spent and what we are seeking to do to encourage these countries to develop agricultural systems which would allow them to produce food to feed the needs of their countrymen and women.

Photo of David Tredinnick David Tredinnick , Bosworth 9:07 pm, 4th March 1991

I shall confine my remarks principally to the last sentence of the motion: that consideration of any other forms of Community help should take full account of developments in the Soviet Union and the Baltic States". It is far better to support the reforms that President Gorbachev has set in train, however imperfect, than to risk assisting the forces that wish for a change of leader in the Soviet Union. It cannot be disputed that President Gorbachev's Russia has brought enormous benefits to the west and these must not be forgotten.

First and foremost was the ending of the cold war after 40 years, and, secondly, there was the liberation of eastern Europe. I had the unique opportunity to stand behind President Havel in Czechoslovakia on the balcony of the Civil Forum headquarters on election day—the first democratic election since the second world war—and to hear the great roar from the massive crowd in Wenceslas square when he stepped out on to the balcony. That brought home to me the tremendous strength and work of the reform movement and it would not have happened had it not been for President Gorbachev.

Thirdly, the whole of Germany is in NATO. It would have been inconceivable a couple of years ago that the former Soviet front line would be within NATO. The fourth benefit is the United Nations co-operation which the Soviet Union is now engaged in.

Had it not been for the new climate that President Gorbachev and, to a certain extent, President Bush have brought about, I suggest that it would have been unthinkable for the Soviet Union not to have supported Saddam Hussein. We must be grateful that President Gorbachev's enlightened policies have made the sea change in Soviet foreign policy possible.

I welcome the food aid, the guarantee credits, the technical assistance and the wide range of agreements for improving relations that the motion calls for. I understand and do not object to the need for conditions, but hope that we will show a great understanding for the Soviet Union's attempts to make monumental political and economic changes. I accept that the reforms have not progressed fast enough but suggest that we cast our minds back and remember that it took a long time—nearly 100 years—for the House to become democratic. The first Reform Act was in 1832, the second in 1869, but full universal franchise did not take place until 1918. We must consider the position of other European countries. Switzerland does not offer the vote to women. When we consider how long the reforms in the Soviet Union are taking, perhaps we should compare them with the time that democratic reforms took in this country.

We should also remember that we support other non-democratic regimes. Some of our Arab allies in the Gulf are not democratic. In a sense, therefore, our restrictions on aid to the Soviet Union are selective. In considering the problems that the Soviet Union faces., I should mention the strategic concerns that influence their attitude to reform and aid packages. The Soviet Union faces, through the possible loss of the Baltic states, the loss of Riga, its main Baltic port for the Russian navy. It also faces the problem of that old part of east Prussia and the city of Kaliningrad, which can be accessed only through Lithuania. Those are major problems for the Soviet Union.

I agree that it is reasonable to provide conditional aid to the Soviet Union. The deaths of citizens in the Baltic states have been worrying and are to be regretted, but we must not forget that President Gorbachev responded to western concerns by withdrawing troops from the Baltics. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Hargreaves) mentioned that matter and said that he was worried about the economic effect of the loss of the Baltics, which play a key part in the Soviet Union's economy.

I therefore caution against pressing President Gorbachev too far. I believe that a successor would be much worse for the west. We could have a Ligachev-type conservative and the KGB could gain greater control. Marshall Yasov and the Soviet army might be in a much more powerful position. It is a time of great heart searching for the Soviet army, which has lost Afghanistan, the front line in eastern Europe and, recently, an important client—Iraq.

I have argued that we may be stopping reforms by restricting aid to the USSR, so let us not lose sight of the fact that President Gorbachev has moved away from confrontation. It is better to support him now, because otherwise we may lose the ratification of the arms treaties and face the tremendous resistance of the Soviet army to moving out of eastern Europe. It cannot have been easy to sell the problem of moving half a million troops out of east Germany and there have already been problems with the timetable of the Soviet withdrawal from Poland. There are additional domestic problems facing the Soviet Union, especially its President. The Soviet Union is trying to embrace western economics. It suffers from a lack of skills and resources. Could we imagine embracing, countrywide, a completely different, communist economy, and working that through down the line managers to the factory floor? The Russians are trying to import our system. That does not happen overnight, but needs time to settle down.

The unemployment problems have also been mentioned. I support the conditions referred to by my hon. and learned Friend the Minister because they give us influence over the reform process and enable us, in a small way, to shape it. They encourage the USSR to look west and outward, and prevent it from turning inward.

On Sunday, I shall lead an eight-member delegation from the House to the Soviet Union under the auspices of the British Atlantic group of young politicians, of which I am fortunate to be chairman. It is a return for the visit we organised for the Russians to come to Lancaster house for our conference in the spring of last year. The newly elected members who came were open to embracing our ideas and looked for help from the west. In my recent discussions with the Soviets prior to making our visit to the Soviet Union next week I found them open. They wanted to hear our views on how to solve their problems and have asked us to offer advice when we go there.

We should show the understanding to which I referred and continue to offer aid. We should not be afraid to support Mikhail Gorbachev, without whom the seismic changes in east-west relations, the arms reductions and the brave domestic reforms would not have been possible.

Photo of Robert Wareing Robert Wareing , Liverpool, West Derby 9:17 pm, 4th March 1991

None of us can but approve of the Government's decision to give humanitarian aid to the Soviet Union and the countries of eastern Europe. But—and I am sorry that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) is not present to hear me say this—it is in the interests of the United Kingdom and the peoples of western Europe as well as those of eastern Europe to give that aid. In fact, Britain has been laggardly in giving assistance in comparison with its European Community partners.

Some months ago, in the late summer of last year, Helmut Kohl warned of the dangers of a Russian invasion—not of the Red army but of Russian people—who, this year, will be free to travel where they will under a law being passed by the Supreme Soviet. There is a great danger of many of those people coming to western Europe. They will not go simply to Germany; many of them will find their way to Britain and will, possibly, become a problem.

The Soviet Union's need for aid is not directed by dire poverty such as exists in some south-east Asian or African countries, on the scale that I saw in the Philippines—not even Romania—only last August. The Soviet Union's problem is its close proximity to western Europe and its highly commercialised economies ruled by consumer societies. One has only to go to Berlin to see Russian soldiers selling uniforms and giving up various goods in exchange for hard currency to know that what I am saying is absolutely true.

Many important points have been made about aid to eastern Europe, particularly that made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) in respect of the social problems. I have spoken to people in eastern Germany who now face—even under the advanced western economy of West Germany—severe problems of unemployment and price rises.

I wish to deal mainly with the problems facing Romania. About an hour ago, the former leader of the Liberal party, who is not here now, talked about not allowing the ancien regimes to claim credit. However, I counsel caution because that may lead people to think that because the National Salvation Front won the election in Romania in May 1990, and because of some of its Government's actions since then, there is reason to withhold aid from Romania. It is important that we give humanitarian aid to the Romanian people.

I went to Romania with the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) to witness the elections. We must bear it in mind that Romania has never known democracy and has been ruled by dictatorships for the past 120 years since independence—fascist dictatorships such as that of Antonescu before and during the second world war and the Stalinist dictatorships since then.

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South agreed with me that the election fought in May 1990 was, as far as we could see, carried out with tremendous energy by all the political parties in Bucharest, Timisoara, Ligova and small villages in Transylvania to ensure that they got it right and that it was a completely free election.

Photo of Mr Bob Dunn Mr Bob Dunn , Dartford

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Robert Wareing Robert Wareing , Liverpool, West Derby

I shall give way in a moment.

The people to whom we spoke said that they felt completely free either to support the National Salvation Front or to vote against it.

Photo of Mr Bob Dunn Mr Bob Dunn , Dartford

I apologise for intervening as I have not been here for most of the debate. I was interested in a point made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing). Is not it a fact that in the elections to which he referred more people voted than were entitled to do so? When directing humanitarian aid to a country that does not know or has any experience of the freedoms that we take for granted, is not it important to ensure that we monitor aid so that it reaches the people who need it and does not go to officials who sell it on the black market?

Photo of Robert Wareing Robert Wareing , Liverpool, West Derby

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's latter point. There is no real evidence to suggest that in the elections the figures did not tally with the number of people entitled to vote. Certainly, in the areas in which we witnessed the elections, they were carried out scrupulously fairly. One of the precautions taken in Romania—which we do not even take in this country—was that everybody had to show an identity card which, of course, we do not have. Even the ballot papers were not numbered, whereas they are here and there is a perfectly good reason for that. The elections were carried out fairly.

The problem in Romania, which should not be lost on us, is that a free election is not the sole criterion for democracy. There is also the matter of give and take and of tolerance. The Opposition and the Government tolerate each other. After June or October, or whenever, we shall be on the other side of the House and I know that the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) will tolerate the decision of the British electorate. Nevertheless, that is not the case in Romania where we must consider not only the Government who won the election but the Opposition. The Opposition in Romania have a few lessons to learn. We should support them in order to stimulate democratic discussion and to promote democracy. We could do that because there was great hope during the elections of May 1990. There is no doubt about that.

Romania should be given food aid. The Minister referred to technical assistance, but we must remember that, in the past, Romania was the granary for south-eastern Europe. The Danube basin was extremely prosperous in the past and Romania was responsible for the export of wheat and other foodstuffs. As the hon. Member for Arundel (Sir M. Marshall) said, Romania was the only country in eastern Europe that did not have an overseas debt, but that was achieved by sacrificing the lives of Romanians. If Romania is to trade rather than just receive aid in the future, it must have the means to obtain hard currency.

Until December of last year Romania was still exporting food and it sold processed food products to this country—many of them were sold under famous brand names in our supermarkets. We should help Romania to feed its people by re-establishing some of the industries that existed under Ceausescu so that it can export to the rest of the world to receive the hard currency that would be of vital assistance now.

When the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South and I were in Romania, we witnessed the conditions in the children's hospital at Timisoara. We saw dedicated nurses and surgeons and other assistants carrying out their work in difficult conditions. The hospital building was extremely old—that is not unusual, as we have many similar buildings in this country—but the equipment in the operating theatres was also extremely old.

If we intend to provide food for Romanian children, it is as well that we consider the conditions in which that food will be processed. The kitchens in the hospital were old and the equipment was near derelict. The floors were full of crevices and those crevices were full of germ-ridden water. Such were the conditions in a children's hospital, the children were crowded almost one on top of the other because of the cramped conditions. It is not just a matter of providing food; we must provide the technical assistance to improve the Romanian health service. I am a little diffident about asking the Government to do anything to assist a national health service as they have been deficient in providing help for our own, but there is a real need in that part of the world.

To assist Romania, we must work with the existing Romanian Government. Obviously we want to stimulate reform, but we must not hold back from assisting the children in the hospitals, the old and those in poverty simply because we do not like the colour of the National Salvation Front Government.

The liberty of western Europe can suvive only if our brethren in the east are similarly liberated. We must bear with them because they have not known democratic government as long as we have. The history of Romania is different from our own. It only emerged from the Ottoman empire in the 1860s and, until now, it has never known democracy. We must try to get alongside the Romanian Government to give all the assistance that we can.

I hope that the Government will be much more to the fore in the European Community. As I said, I welcome the efforts of the European Community, but I should like the Minister to say something about the scale of our assistance within the programme of the European Community as compared with that of Germany, France and our other European partners. No statistics have been given by the Minister on the documents other than the global sums. What will Britain's contribution be, and what form will it take?

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale , North Thanet 9:30 pm, 4th March 1991

We are discussing European documents. I wish to press my hon. and learned Friend the Minister a little on the European dimension of this matter and the European approach to it. We recently experienced a lack of cohesion in the European approach to matters in the Gulf. There has been a reawakening of concern in this country—perhaps a slight diminishing of the euphoria about Europe—and a realisation that, in respect of foreign policy at least, the EC still has much to learn. My hon. and learned Friend has said that the Government support Gorbachev the reformer, not Gorbachev the man, that the delivery of support will be related directly to the fact of reform and that that support is not in any way intended to be unconditional. That is the United Kingdom approach, and that is why the Prime Minister will meet first with Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian representatives on his arrival in Moscow tonight.

However, we are discussing European documents and European Community aid. Is it to be made plain in the Council of Ministers that the delivery of support rests upon the fact of reform? Will the Commission hold something in reserve? Will EC technical assistance depend upon economic and political change, or will EC sectarian commercial interests dictate the pace of aid? I should like to know from my hon. and learned Friend the answers to those questions and how he regards the attitude of the Council of Ministers towards the conditions upon which aid is given—the conditions that the Government understand.

Like many other hon. Members, I refer briefly to the situation in Romania. I have a personal interest because my wife is a trustee of the Romanian orphans trust. In recent weeks there have been rather sad and damaging allegations that charity aid, having arrived in Romania, has been misappropriated, that goods have been stolen and sold on the black market, and that assistance that was ostensibly destined for those in terrifying need has been directed elsewhere. Those allegations have been extremely damaging to the cause of those who have been seeking to provide aid from this country. That is why the Romanian orphans trust has concentrated its aid programme upon aid in the form of personnel—for example, doctors, nurses, and paediatricians in child care assistance—upon training Romanians who, at some point, will need to take over the care of the literally thousands of orphans who are still in need in that country, and upon medicines and other essential goods that have been ordered by Romanian orphans trust personnel so that they are targeted and delivered directly to aid teams. Those involved with the Romanian orphans trust are confident that the aid that is so generously given by people in this country reaches the people for whom it is intended and the children towards whom it is directed.

In his reply to the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel), my hon. and learned Friend said that Government aid was targeted at the genuinely needy. Is the method of distributing European Community aid genuinely secure? Can the European Community ensure that goods that it sends to Romania will not be sold on the black market or used to prop up the old guard? The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) said that our constituents, including pensioners, as well as children who donate pocket money, have a right to know where their money is going. They want to know that it is being well spent—that it is not being used to prop up regimes of which they do not approve, or otherwise misappropriated.

I hope that my hon. and learned Friend can assure the House that the European Community and its Council of Ministers will take as much care to safeguard the direction of aid to Romania as is taken by charities like the Romanian orphans trust. I hope, too, that the Council of Ministers will seek to increase the pace of change in Romania. There, as elsewhere in the eastern bloc, aid must be dependent upon economic and political improvements. At the moment, the pace of those improvements is very slow.

Finally, I wish to refer briefly to the situation in the Baltic states. A few weeks ago, I was very privileged to be asked to address a rally in Trafalgar square. On Nelson's column, behind me, were the names of the Lithuanians who had been murdered a few days earlier. In those circumstances, it is not surprising that feeling among the Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians at that rally was running very high indeed. Those people made one thing very plain to me, and I, in turn, should like to offer it to the House. They believe that support should be for reform—as was said earlier, not for Gorbachev the reformer or Gorbachev the man, but simply for reform. If President Gorbachev is able to maintain the pace of reform in the eastern bloc, he will deserve support. However, if he is unable to do so, this country and Europe must transfer support and allegiance to those who are prepared to carry the banner of reform.

There have been signs of recognition on the part of the Soviets that the murders in Lithuania were a tremendous mistake, and that they have had very severe and damaging political repercussions. But will the Soviet Government now recognise the strength of the plebiscites in the Baltic states? Can my hon. and learned Friend make plain in the Council of Ministers, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will make plain in Moscow this week, that European Community financial, food and technical aid is not, and never will be, unconditional or open-ended?

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 9:38 pm, 4th March 1991

The hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) was right to ask some basic questions about the disbursement of aid to Romania and to stress that, as the Minister has said, we support not President Gorbachev the man but what he has represented in the past and what he may still be able to represent. We benefited from the hon. Gentleman's knowledge of Romania and from the knowledge and experience of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing), who is passionately concerned about the needs of Romania. As has been said, we may give emergency food aid, but beyond that is the infrastructure, including the hospital, which still leaves children in a desperate situation.

I am pleased that a number of hon. Members were able to benefit not only from their experience of visiting these countries but from the organisations in which they have played a part. I think particularly here of the hon. Member for Arundel (Sir M. Marshall) who, in the time that he was the chairman of the Inter-Parliamentary Union group, contributed to the tremendous upsurge in the range of contacts with eastern Europe. I believe that it was his prompting that led to two missions—his own to Bulgaria and that on which my hon. Friend the Member for West Derby went. That gave him the background knowledge that he passed on to the House earlier.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) drew on his experience of the Council of Europe and helped the House in so doing. The hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick), with his experience of young politicians, asked basic questions about the role of President Gorbachev. There are worries about the direction in which the Soviet Union is going and some point to the moves that President Gorbachev has made to please the conservatives, to the centralising power that he has given himself, to the bypassing of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR and of the constituent republics, to his outright opposition to the private ownership of land, to the replacement of the Minister of the Interior by the hardliners and to the nature of the vice president whom he appointed. However, taking all that into consideration, we have to give him the credit for the path along which the Soviet Union has come, which has had such major effects both on eastern and western Europe and on matters such as the Gulf crisis, in which the Soviet Union played an important and constructive role.

Last week, I was in the Baltic republics and a number of the political leaders complained about the slow down in reforms and the slowness of the pace of advance. However, I urge them to look back over the past few years and to realise how far they have come in such a short time and to use that to put into perspective their current position.

All hon. Members who have spoken have endorsed the general proposition of linkage. As the Minister said, we are making it clear to the Soviet Union that there is a link between the readiness of the European Community to provide aid and assistance and the continuation of its reform process. The debate has been useful in setting out general principles to be followed in future. It is timely not only because of the discussion between foreign Ministers in Brussels today but because of the two advisory votes yesterday in Estonia and Latvia. If any proof was necessary, those two votes, taken with the one in January that made clear the views of Lithuania, showed the determination of the three republics to set out on the path to independence.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) was correct, using a rather magisterial and broad brush approach, to set recent developments in the context of the whole of eastern and central Europe. Last week I paid a fascinating visit to Moscow and the three Baltic republics. In Moscow I met the two key members of the Central Committee who were responsible for both foreign relations and for national relations within the Soviet Union. I also met all the leaders of the Baltic republics who were available at the time. It is perhaps, therefore, inevitable that I shall concentrate on the USSR, but any comments that I make on food aid may be relevant to Bulgaria and Romania, the special needs of which were dealt with by the hon. Member for Arundel and my hon. Friends the Members for Tooting and for West Derby.

All of us recall the harrowing stories that we read in the press and the pictures that we saw on television at the end of last year about the food shortages in the Soviet Union and the need for food aid there. At the time, the Council of the European Community rushed to respond to the perceived needs. There were, indeed, food shortages, but some argue that a basic cause of the shortages was the struggle for power between the centralised bureaucracy and the command economy in the Kremlin, and the new power structure that is developing within the constituent republics. It was clear in Moscow last week that the Kremlin is on one side, while on the other side is the large building that houses the alternative power structure of Mr. Yeltsin in the RSFSR—the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic. As the Minister conceded, any external intervention that aims to improve the food supply for the population must take into account the political realities in the Soviet Union today.

I have heard reports of a shortage of medical supplies in the Soviet Union as well as in both Bulgaria and Romania. Those shortages are now being met or at least assisted by the EC proposals. I shall be grateful if the Minister will tell us whether he accepts that there is a need for basic medical supplies in the Soviet Union, down to things such as aspirins and syringes. Why have those basic medical needs, which are humanitarian, not being included in the current package?

In terms of food aid, there appears to have been some correlation between those places in the Soviet Union that are the worst affected, including Moscow, Leningrad, the three Ural towns of Perm, Chelybinsk, and Sverdlovsk, which are the cities with the most democratic city councils, and the lack of food in, say, Kharkov, which is on the fringe of the black earth region.

Although the basic reason for the food shortages was the breakdown last year of the traditional distribution system of the command economy, we must remember that there was also a record harvest of 240 million tonnes. The breakdown of that distribution system opened the way for substantial corruption and political manipulation of the food supply. It looks as though the European Community has taken on board the fact that the various power elements in the Soviet Union, such as old regimes of the KGB and the army, have had opportunities to manipulate the supply of food.

As Mr. Yeltsin has suggested, another means of distribution could be via the constituent republics or through the various non-governmental organisations, including the International Red Cross. Each of those channels of distribution has particular political implications in terms of the present power struggle. For example, in Moscow, with its 'radical city council, a common explanation for the shortages was the attempt by more conservative elements to block off Moscow. Part of the evidence for that was that, on one day, nine of the 10 oblasts that were supplying milk to Moscow stopped that supply as if that was a co-ordinated act on behalf of the traditional suppliers of milk to the capital. I am glad that the Government seem to be alert to that factor and will be ready to recognise the political implications of the selected supply systems. The Minister has already referred to the attempt by the EEC to set up co-ordinating and monitoring organisations.

Will the Minister ensure, so far as he is able, that the political implications of the distribution of food are carefully monitored in the Soviet Union? He has already referred to the nature of the bodies under article 2, and I hope that he will ensure that they have proper facilities to monitor that aid.

What is the British position about the tying of the credits to EC suppliers? I understand that there is some dispute within the EC about whether the food aid should be tied specifically to EC suppliers or whether it should be open. It is said that the British Government are on the side of having as open a system as possible, and we should be in that camp.

It appears from the documents that the European Community will pay for the transport costs of the food aid and the food provided under the credits unless the recipient country takes over the supply from within the Community. Why, taking up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting and by the hon. Member for Thanet, North who sought to defend taxpayers, should that be the case? With regard to the transport of grain to ports, even if the supply is transported in Community ships, why should the local costs of the supply be taken over thereafter by the Soviet Union? The food is provided free and I wonder whether the transport position is as inflexible as it appears from the rules.

With regard to the last part of the motion about linkage with the pace and nature of reform within the Baltic republics, last week when I met responsible leaders within the three Baltic republics, they were all most grateful for the robust response of the European Community on 22 January. They feared that the understandable concentration of western Europe on the Gulf would have distracted attention from the plight of the Baltic states. They feared that there was the precedent of the Suez adventure and Hungary. They were therefore surprised and delighted at the swift European Community response on 22 January to the killings in Vilnius on 13 January and in Riga on 20 January.

The effect of linkage on the Soviet Union has a good precedent. The Minister is probably aware of the Jackson-Vannick amendment on the linking of the emigration of Soviet Jews to American assistance to the Soviet Union and the very important effect that that had on an important internal policy within the Soviet Union.

The Minister stated that delegations have been selected by the Soviet Union to begin discussions. I raised that point with Estonia leaders, for example, and although they accept that working groups have been established, they complain that Estonia—perhaps the most cautious and realistic of the Soviet republics—finds it difficult to get any response from their interlocutors within the central Government apparatus. They claim that there is no authority or mandate, and that it is impossible to obtain answers on that or any other matter from the Kremlin, which seems paralysed in its indecision. Perhaps the establishment of the working groups is not as favourable and as much of a step forward as the hon. and learned Gentleman suggests. There is evidence of the Kremlin taking a harder line towards the republics.

The Community's response is proper because the linkage has been made, and the stick is available to be used if necessary. No doubt the Prime Minister is, in his best diplomatic way, making that point clear to the Soviet Union.

Obviously we must maintain our human rights credentials in relation to the republics, but we must equally acknowledge the Soviet Union's legitimate concerns about a change within the Baltic republics that is too abrupt. We must recognise the Soviet Union's needs in terms of its national security, particularly at a time when we are seeing the dissolution of the Warsaw treaty framework.

We must recognise also the minority situation within the Baltic republics, and their economic importance to the Soviet Union—the port of Riga has been mentioned already. A balance must be struck.

We are very ready to endorse the broad line taken by the Government in relation to credit guarantees and technical co-operation. We shall monitor carefully the political situation in the Soviet Union, particularly in respect of the Baltic republics, and will frame our policy acccordingly.

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

I am grateful to right hon. and hon. Members for their considerable support of the Government's position. I thank in particular the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) for his support of Government policy, but he will forgive me if I correct one error that he made. Projects under the PHARE programme are suggested not by Community member states but by the recipient Governments.

The hon. Gentleman asked me to detail the allocation of the projects granted to United Kingdom firms. I do not have those figures, and I do not believe that they are readily available. However, I will investigate that matter to see whether I can give the hon. Gentleman any guidance.

The hon. Member for Hamilton is concerned, for reasons I well understand, that the food programmes will not result in losses to the developing world. He probably fears that money going to eastern Europe might be at the expense of third world countries. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that assistance for central and eastern Europe is kept separate from, and is additional to, that given to the developing world. I hope that that reassures him.

I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel (Sir M. Marshall) said about the needs of smaller countries in eastern Europe. As he said, it is easy to overlook those needs, especially when the countries concerned lack a vocal pressure group. My hon. Friend has done Bulgaria a service by urging its case with such eloquence; as he will know, President Zhelev was here two weeks ago, and that visit alone will have given an increased focus to the requirements of his country.

My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that, within the European Community, substantial sums are being sent, or have been sent, to Bulgaria: under the PHARE programme, £17·2 million went in the second half of 1990 alone. Of that, £11·2 million was for a support programme for agricultural reform and the promotion of private agriculture.

Photo of Mr Michael Marshall Mr Michael Marshall , Arundel

That summary was very helpful. Given the spirit of accord that has prevailed tonight, it is only right that I should mention Gladstone—as the Liberals cannot help us there. There is a long and honourable parliamentary tradition in this regard, and I feel encouraged by what my hon. and learned Friend the Minister has said.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

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.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,hat this House takes note of European Community Documents Nos. 10880/90+CORI and the Supplementary Explanatory Memoranda submitted by H. M. Treasury on 22nd February, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on 26th February relating to extension of food assistance to the Soviet Union, Romania and Bulgaria and a credit facility for the Soviet Union and 4120/91 relating to revision of the financial perspective to finance technical assistance for the Soviet Union; and agrees with the Government that food aid to Romania and Bulgaria should be considered a priority; that any Community food aid given to the Soviet Union should be provided for humanitarian purposes; and that consideration of any other forms of Community help should take full account of developments in the Soviet Union and the Baltic States.