Baltic Republics

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th February 1992.

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Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash , Stafford 12:00 am, 5th February 1992

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how he intends to develop relations with the Baltic republics.

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

We intend to develop relations actively. We are giving practical help in consolidating their independence, building up democratic systems of government and rebuilding their economies. The bulk of our assistance is being directed through the European Community technical and emergency assistance programmes. We have also committed over £900,000 to projects through the know-how fund. We sponsored their UN membership applications. We pressed in the European Community for early trade and co-operation agreements: these are now being negotiated. We are supporting early IMF membership. Finally, we are resolving the Baltic gold question, in a prompt and effective manner, which will give an important boost to the Baltic economies.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash , Stafford

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware of the importance that the Baltic states attach to financial autonomy? Does he agree that one of the most useful ways in which we can give them know-how is to tell them how we managed, in the light of the Maastricht agreement, to reject the principle of monetary union? Is he giving them advice, along the lines that he described, to ensure that they manage to implement the sensible planning that comes from being able to run their own affairs, as they obviously wish to do?

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

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the connection between the maintenance of a democratic system and a change in economic structures. That link must underpin that country's forward policy. But the most important action that it can take is to enter into a programme with the IMF as soon as possible, on the back of which it will gain access to many western funds.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn , Newport West

Will the Minister extend the application of the know-how fund in the Baltic states to the environmental problems that they have inherited, in particular the devastation left by the oil shale industry in Estonia?

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

As I made clear to the House when I answered the main question, the know-how fund has been heavily used in the Baltic republics, on which about £900,000 has been spent. I think that the sort of environmental problem to which the hon. Gentleman referred is so great that it is probably best dealt with by multilateral institutions.

Photo of Mr William Powell Mr William Powell , Corby

May I say how welcome is the strong support that Great Britain has given to the Baltic states? Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that in the Baltic states today the problems of lack of food and hunger are just as serious as, if not more serious than, those in the big cities of the former Soviet Union, but that they receive little attention? Will my hon. and learned Friend ensure that everything is done to enable food supplies to be extended to the Baltic states as well as to Russia?

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

My hon. Friend has made a sound point. He will know that £32 million of emergency food aid has been agreed through the EC mechanisms.

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble , Upper Bann

The Minister will be aware of the substantial minorities in each of the Baltic states, some of which, prior to the recognition of their independence, were being used to impede that development. In respect of those minorities, has any suggestion been made to revise the frontiers of the Baltic states? Has it been thought necessary to make any special provision to protect the position of those minorities?

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

The hon. Gentleman makes an important and serious point. There are ethnic minorities in all the Baltic republics. An encouraging agreement has been made between the Lithuanian Government and Poland on the ethnic Poles in Lithuania, which we support. There is a greater problem in relation to Estonia and Latvia, where there are substantial numbers of ethnic Russians. In the capital, Riga, ethnic Russians are in the majority. There are no proposals to vary frontiers. As the hon. Gentleman will know, we believe that frontiers should not be changed, save with the wholehearted consent of all the relevant parties. The issue of ethnic and minority rights is probably best addressed through the mechanism of the conference on security and co-operation in Europe. All three states have acceded to the CSCE.