Thank you, Mrs. Anderson, for allowing me to introduce the debate. I am pleased that you are in the Chair and I look forward to you chairing our proceedings over the next one and a half hours.
It gives me great pleasure to open this debate on Anglo-Polish relations, which is a subject close to my heart. I shall give a historical account of the Anglo-Polish relationship and then I shall give a SWOT analysis—SWOT is an acronym that we use in business; it stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats—of the current Anglo-Polish relationship, consider how we can improve the relationship and examine some of the opportunities that it provides. Towards the end of the debate, I shall put to the Minister a proposal for a strategic UK-Polish partnership that would challenge the Franco-German axis, which has run the European Union for far too long. That axis has been so powerful that it has ultimately decided much of what the EU has done over the past 50 years.
I passionately believe that the United Kingdom—the fourth largest economy in the world and a major military power—has the opportunity, within my generation, to become the leading partner in the EU and to take control of the future strategy and vision of the EU. However, it needs strategic, key allies—junior partners—in order to be able to play that leading role. Poland is one of the key allies that I believe we need.
I would like to inform the Minister of how excellent the British ambassador to Warsaw is. I met Mr. Crawford last December during a brief visit to Warsaw. He represents our country extremely well. He is not frightened to put forward our stance. He does not suffer fools gladly and he does a very good job in being quite strong with the Polish Government and protecting our interests.
This is a topical debate. This week's newspapers tell us that 350,000 Poles live in the United Kingdom. Many of them are young people—people of my age; I still consider myself relatively young at 34. They are also professionals. Many of them are highly skilled people who have finished university degrees and have come here to work and contribute. Nearly all the new national health service dentists in Shrewsbury have come over from Warsaw. The local primary care trust invited me to have dinner with them and to talk to them in Polish, as it was trying to encourage them to settle in Shrewsbury and become NHS dentists in my town. Many other Poles are plumbers, builders and decorators, and they do a great deal for this country.
I was dismayed, irritated and angry to read what was said by the chef Antony Worrall Thompson. The rather diminutive Mr. Worrall Thompson—I think that that is the most polite term I can find to describe him—was rude and condescending about Polish people in this country. He said that they spoke poor English and were poor waiters. I believe that they are very hard-working people, and I hope that the Minister will say when he responds to the debate how hard-working they are and how wrong Mr. Worrall Thompson is to criticise them.
I would not want us to be seen unduly to criticise Antony Worrall Thompson, who is, after all, a distinguished supporter of the Conservative party, because he did subsequently recant, and God loves a sinner who repenteth. The expression that he used—rather grudgingly, I suspect—was that the Poles "work incredibly hard".
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, whom I know from our time in Ealing. He has a large Polish community in his constituency, is well informed about Polish affairs and represents his Polish constituents extremely well. I am glad for that clarification, but I was irritated when I read the article.
I have been examining the figures for the trade between our two countries since the fall of communism in 1989. As the Minister will know, Anglo-Polish trade is growing at a huge pace year on year and has reached more than £1.5 billion. British companies are making massive investments in Poland, and one has to go only to downtown Warsaw to see the number of British supermarket chains that have set up in business there. When one goes round Poland, one sees that British companies are at the forefront of investment in oil exploration, petrochemicals, building and agricultural supplies and of the effort to rebuild the country, which was left in a difficult position after the fall of communism.
The two countries also work closely in the European Union and have a good partnership. When I speak to MEPs in my area of the west midlands, such asMr. Bushill-Matthews, they inform me that Polish MEPs and British MEPs work together closely on many issues and have very similar opinions about EU regulations and legislation.
We are fighting side by side in Iraq, and Polish soldiers are fighting to maintain peace in a region close to the British sector. Yet again, we are fighting side by side, nation next to nation. There is a long tradition of Polish soldiers fighting alongside British soldiers. That was certainly the case in the battle of Britain and at Monte Cassino and Arnhem. Today, we again see British and Polish soldiers fighting side by side.
Speaking as somebody of Polish origin, I find it difficult to think of a time in the past 100 years when Britain has not come to Poland's aid. I sometimes think that we in this country do not blow our own trumpet enough, because Britain has done more for Poland than any European country has. I am proud of that, and we should all remember the lengths to which this country has gone over the past 100 years and before to help Poland in good times and bad. We should be proud of our stance.
Centuries ago, Poland had a large empire, which stretched almost from the Black sea to the Baltic—Poland was a powerful country. It entered a union with Lithuania and was the major power in central and eastern Europe. Unfortunately, it was invaded by its neighbours and gradually lost much of its empire, to the extent that it disappeared from the face of the map. By the first world war, there was no Poland. After the war, the treaty of Versailles enabled Poland to come back into being. I raise that because it was the British empire that insisted in 1918 that there should be self-determination for the Poles, among other nations. The British empire ensured that Poland was recreated from the lands that were stolen from her by the Germans, Austro-Hungarians and Russians.
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During this passage of the hon. Gentleman's exposition of the history of Poland, would he also like to remember the contribution made by Polish air force and navy personnel during the world war, including in the battle of Britain and in defence of Britain with their navy and defensive convoys? That contributionis fondly and well-remembered by many people throughout the United Kingdom.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention; I was going to come to that. There are accounts that one in five airmen in the battle of Britain was Polish. The Poles certainly played a huge part in the battle. When one talks to some of them, one discovers that they did so because they had lost their country to the Nazis. They were almost kamikaze-like during the battle of Britain because they had nothing to lose and were determined to fight against the Germans because their country was occupied. They played a significant role in the defence of this country, as did many other eastern Europeans, such as the Czech pilots.
The hon. Gentleman is being extremely generous in giving way and we will try not to trespass on his generosity and kindness.
My hon. Friend Dr. Whitehead is too modest to mention that he is the son-in-law of Commodore Wronsky, who commanded the Beyskwycza, which sunk the Bismarck. That is something that many other countries prefer to forget, but those of us who love Poland greet it with gloryand pride.
In addition to his comments about Polish heroism in the navy and air force, which is beyond parallel, will the hon. Gentleman mention the forces of General Anders, the work in Monte Cassino and throughout northern France and the numerous occasions when Polish heroism saved British lives?
I concur. The Poles fought in Arnhem with the British and played a leading part under British command at Monte Cassino in liberating that bastion along the spine of Italy, which ultimately led to the downfall of the Mussolini regime.
I am extremely proud of that; that is why I have kept my very difficult-to-pronounce surname. As I said in my maiden speech, when I was in business many people said to me, "You must be mad if you think you're going to get into the House of Commons with a surname like that. You should change it and anglicise it. Dump that name and get an English one." I refused to do that. I feel extremely proud of my beloved grandfather and the many Poles who fought with the British during the war. It goes to show the sort of people the British are that they are prepared to elect someone with a totally unpronounceable surname as their MP. I am proud of my Polish background, and that is why I have keptmy name.
Forgive me, Mrs. Anderson, for that slight deviation. As I said, the British empire came to Poland's aid in 1939. Unfortunately, after the war, communism descended on Poland. As Winston Churchill said, the iron curtain descended in Europe from Szczecin in the north to Trieste, and those countries were sealed up and locked away from the rest of us for more than50 years under communist tyranny and dictatorship.
Solidarity was crushed in 1981 when General Jaruzelski imposed martial law. There were tanks on the streets in Warsaw in December 1981. People were repressed and the full communist apparatus swung into action to destroy the uprising that was initiated by Lech Walesa and thousands of brave Poles on the streets of Warsaw.
I was a child at a school in Surrey and we collected food parcels of coffee, tea, tinned fruit and all the little luxuries that the Poles did not have because there was martial law, the borders were sealed and the economy had collapsed. That happened not only in my school in Surrey, but throughout the country. School children and parents gathered food to send to Poland to help the Poles during martial law. That is another amazing example of how Brits want to help Polish people.
During those communist days it was illegal to listen to the BBC World Service in Poland. Anyone caught doing so would be punished severely by the authorities. Yet many Poles in the quiet of their homes, late at night and with the curtains drawn, tuned in to the World Service. It was a great comfort to them.
Would my hon. Friend agree with an early-day motion that I tabled late last year on the closure of the World Service Polish language service? I am not passing comment on the economics of that, but it seems a good time to have a memorial to all of those from the eastern European countries who were involved in the World Service for those 50 years. Would he agree with my call for a memorial?
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend. The cutting back of the World Service in that area is regrettable. The Poles listened to the World Service clandestinely. It was so important because they could hear on the airwaves that there was an alternative to communism, that there were free people out there beyond those borders and that there were democracies and an alternative lifestyle.
Yes, and jazz, and all the other clichés like jeans and whatever. There was an alternative lifestyle to the communist dictatorship. The only political point that I will make—it is not really political but it is important—is that in the 1980s people like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan finally stood up to the brutes in Moscow like Brezhnev and Andropov. The Poles love Margaret Thatcher because they remember that she stood up for freedom and democracy throughout the world. Even today in Poland, Baroness Thatcher is held in high regard for the role that she played in the ultimate destruction of communism.
After the collapse of communism, Britain again was at the forefront of helping Poland. Britain fought to ensure that Poland was able to join NATO so that it could be under that umbrella of military nations that would guarantee its security. When a country has been invaded as many times as Poland has been and its borders have been mucked around as many times as Poland's have been, being part of an established military pact like NATO is extremely important. Once Britain had secured membership for Poland within NATO it was at the forefront of ensuring that Poland became a member of the European Union.
Britain was a key to expanding the EU to the east. It was one of the few EU countries to admit Polish workers. That is an amazing point, on which I should like to reflect for a moment. Great Britain has always gone along with the ethos and spirit of the EU, and I give credit to the Labour Government for that. They decided that, because the 10 eastern European countries were coming into the EU, their workers should have the same rights as those from other EU countries. France and Germany, and many of the other EU countries, would not allow that and wanted to treat the Poles as second-class citizens. They said that yes, they could join the EU, but they did not want them working in their countries. What sort of relationship is it to have a second-class nation within a group? A country is either a full member or it is not. If memory serves, only three countries allowed Polish workers in at the beginning, and Great Britain was one of them. It was the only major EU country to allow them in.
The hon. Gentleman mentions Ireland, but I would not necessarily classify Ireland as a major EU power, important ally though it is.
Poland realises the solidarity of Britain and attaches great importance to us. I am convinced that it sees us as the future leader of the EU. I met the President of Poland, Mr. Kaczynski—his name is identical to mine except for a 'w'—when he came to meet the then-leader of my party, my right hon. Friend Mr. Duncan Smith, in 2003. I was party to their talks. Mr. Kaczynski was then the leader of his political party, but now he is the President of Poland. He spoke to me in this very Palace and said, "We see Britain as a key strategic ally. We are looking towards you. We are looking towards you in the United Kingdom for leadership and vision within the European Union. If you make a bold stance, grasp the nettle and take control of the direction of the EU, we will be behind you." Those were the words of President Kaczynski. I hope that the Minister will take them on board.
I return to the Franco-German axis. I feel passionately that there must be an alternative to the current Franco-German vision of the EU. I was born on the day on which Edward Heath took us into the EEC—
These are warm words, and they are good, but we need to tie the Poles in.
I am enjoying the hon. Gentleman's speech immensely. He has reminded us of the way in which, as he rightly put it, Poland's borders have been messed around with for so long. Without good relations with the French and the Germans, which is the great rationale for the EU, those borders would stand a chance of being badly messed about with again. The hon. Gentleman should not be too hard on the Franco-German alliance.
I shall try my very best, although I have my personal views.
I have spoken warm words, but I want to hook the Poles with a fishing line into our orbit and our sphere of influence. That is why I wish to come to the nub of what I want to communicate to the Minister. I was very disappointed with the Poles over the recent European Union rebate.
In my estimation, Britain has never, ever let the Poles down, yet on the critical issue of the United Kingdom rebate, which Mrs. Thatcher fought so hard to secure in 1984 from President Mitterrand and others, the Poles let us down badly, despite all the support that we have given them. I say that as someone of Polish origin. They were so determined to get hold of extra investments from the European Union that they fell for the French and German interpretation and decided that the best way to do so would be to get rid of the UK rebate.
I am disappointed with the Poles on that score. Rather than sacrificing the UK rebate and demanding more money from Great Britain, which is one of only two net contributors to the EU budget, there are many other ways to increase funding for eastern European states: for example, greater efficiency in respect of the money that the EU already spends, less corruption within the EU and greater management of its resources.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. He is being rather hard on the Polish who, like ourselves, have a strong national identity and will fight for their own interests, quite properly. It was the French failure to reform the CAP that let down the EU.
Perhaps I am being a little hard on the Poles, but I have to balance my argument; I cannot say only nice things about them as I want the Minister to take what I say seriously. Every relationship has strengths and weaknesses, but the Poles should have looked for an alternative as far as the rebate is concerned. I was disappointed that our Prime Minister capitulated and gave up our UK rebate. I was hoping that the Poles would help us to retain it.
If the Minister is made aware of the two or three key things that the Poles are interested in, and if we get under their skin, know what they want and show them that we understand their priorities, perhaps they will look at us not just metaphorically but in real terms as their No.1 ally and as people with whom they should associate and be close partners. The Minister said that I must not be too anti-German and I have to be careful what I say, but there are sensitivities. [Interruption.] I will come on to the anti-Russian bit in a minute; that is another ball game.
I want to discuss the oil pipeline from St. Petersburg to Poland, which the Germans want to build. Why do I raise that issue? I want to look at the Minister—into his eyes—and say, with all my heart, that there are undoubtedly sensitivities left over from the second world war. Many Poles alive today could tell the Minister horrific stories about life under the occupation. My grandmother is one of them; an 81-year-old lady who lives in Warsaw and suffered under the Germans.
My wife bought me some video tapes of the second world war recently; I watched sections 2 to 7 and missed out the first, because it was on the invasion of Poland in 1939. I could not bring myself to watch that video because it was too painful for me, and I am speaking as a 34-year-old who was born years after the second world war.
As a child, I sat on my grandfather's lap and listened to him describing what the Poles had been through, not just in 1939, but for the five or six years of occupation. When I finally watched the first videotape about the invasion of Poland in 1939, I saw the German soldiers come up to the border post, snatch from it the symbol of Poland—the white eagle with a crown—and throw the symbol on the ground. And then the tanks rolled over.
Hundreds of thousands of Poles were killed in that invasion. I feel very emotional about it even today and I find it difficult to speak about it, so I shall move on. I mention it, however, because I want the Minister to be aware. He may think, as do some English people, "What on earth is he talking about? It is such a long time ago and he is over-dramatising it."
I must tell the Minister, however, that the raw emotions persist, and they need to be understood. Recently, the Polish Minister of Defence, Mr. Sikorski, referred to the pipeline and said, "We are very sensitive about German-Russian pacts." That is not surprising, because the last one was the Molotov-Ribbentrop, the pact that carved up Poland. It is important for British Ministers to understand the sensitivities and emotions involved, because they exist and they are raw. As long as there are people still alive who lived under German occupation, or grandchildren of such people—like me—nobody should forget what happened back in 1939.
Germany intends to build a pipeline from St. Petersburg to Germany, which will bypass Poland and the Baltic states. That is outrageous. When I went to Warsaw, Minister after Minister mentioned it to me. They said categorically, "We are in the European Union, and the EU is all about a cohesive uniform strategy." Even the EU energy commissioner has lambasted the Germans over the proposals. We are living in sensitive times when the Russians are turning off gas supplies, and when there is great sensitivity over energy resources generally. In that context, it is outrageous that the Germans can somehow ignore their neighbours and build a huge pipeline under the Baltic sea to provide themselves directly with gas and oil from Russia, despite being part of an EU that is trying to cobble together a pan-European policy.
That proposal goes against the spirit of the EU and against the interests of Germany's neighbours, and Polish Ministers feel extremely strongly about it. When the Minister speaks, I hope that he will assure me that he will use his office and prestige in Europe, not to mention the respect within which he is held in Europe, to rebut Germany's position on the pipeline and present a critique of it. If a country like the UK is prepared to stand up for Poland and say to Angela Merkel, "No, we are not prepared for you to go against the spirit of the EU in this way", that would resonate hugely, not only in Warsaw but in capitals throughout eastern and central Europe.
I have spoken for some time, so I shall come to my second and final issue, which is the Katyn forest. This is the anti-Russian bit.
Katyn forest is something that is very close to my heart, because my own family suffered in the massacre that took place there. During the 1939-40 invasion of Poland, the elite of the Polish military—the generals—and the elite of society were taken to a forest where tens of thousands of them were massacred by the Russians. They were ploughed down with sub-machine guns and killed. Stalin said that the way to control a country is by cutting off its head. He hoped that he could control Poland by destroying the elite of Polish society and the military generals.
The massacre was devastating to Poland, but even today—I recently had dinner with a gentleman whose parents were also involved in that massacre—the file on this issue has not even been opened. Many families are struggling to come to terms with the deaths of relatives and dear ones who were killed by the Russians in the Katyn forest in 1940. I ask the Minister to look into this issue. That will cost him and the Government nothing. I am not asking for money to be spent: I am asking the Minister to use the UK's power and influence to put pressure on the President of Russia, Mr. Vladimir Putin, to open the KGB files on the massacre. That would resonate greatly with the Polish authorities, and would show them that we are interested in helping them to lay the ghosts of the second world war down to rest in peace, and in establishing a modern relationship.
I have outlined two important issues, which I hope that the Minister will address. I have been in the House for more than a year now, in which time I have tended to focus on my constituency—I try as hard as possible to focus on my constituency. However, it has been a great pleasure for me, as someone of Polish origin, to highlight the passion that I feel for Poland. I am passionate about Poland working with the United Kingdom, those two countries coming together, and building a new Europe together.
Obviously, a number of hon. Members wish to speak, and I will try to fit them all in. We would normally move towards the winding-up speeches at about 3.30 pm but, with the indulgence of Members, I think that we can allow a bit of flexibility to try to get everyone in.
Thank you, Mrs. Anderson. Before I make much of the truncated version of what I would have liked to have said [Interruption.]—I mean no criticism of Daniel Kawczynski—I tell the Chamber that my hon. Friend Mark Lazarowicz would certainly have wanted to be here this afternoon, but his mother died last week. I am sure that, as one of our few Members of Polish origin, he would have wanted to be present, and that, were he here, he would have had the sympathy of us all.
I sincerely congratulate the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham on securing the debate. He towers above many of his contemporaries, both physically and intellectually. I knew him well when he fought—extremely well—a neighbouring seat to mine in Ealing. His reputation followed him to Shrewsbury and Atcham, where it blossomed into the achievement that we see today.
The hon. Gentleman described, in effect, three Polands, the first of which is the Poland of the heart, which has always existed, even in the period of more than 100 years in which there was no such physical entity. At that time, there was no geography of Poland, yet Polish language, culture, tradition and literature thrived, flourished and endured. In every part of the world in which freedom was fought for—from south America to the Paris commune to the Caribbean—there were the Poles. Every war of independence and freedom throughout the 19th century saw a Polish presence. That says much of the Poland of the heart, which endures even in the dark days.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the period of military rule under General Jaruzelski, when a man such as Father Jerzy Popieluszko, God rest and keep him, could be taken out and murdered by thugs at the behest of the state, his body dumped in a river, and it was hoped that that murder could be covered up. Despite all that, the Poland of the heart thrived, endured and flourished.
The hon. Gentleman also described the Poland of a few years ago—of the heroes of RAF Northolt and the invisible community with which I grew up. I saw people every Sunday in my church community in west London, yet had no idea that they were Polish. It was not until 1966 that Father Kazimierz, one of the first Polish priests in London who the hon. Gentleman will remember well, was part of the Polish millennium celebrations, which coincided with the world cup.
I recall that in those days, many of my Polish friends anglicised their names, and I give so much credit to the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham for refusing to do that. There were so many Pawels who became Pauls, Jans who became Johns and Krystynas who became Christines. I give the hon. Gentleman much credit for his pride in his name. At that time, many of my friends started to wear Union jacks. I said to them, "It's marvellous that you are all supporting England in the world cup", and they said to me quietly, "Well, yes, but actually we don't really want Germany to win". That was honest.
The Polish community was one of the hardest working, most decent, almost crimes free communities that I have ever known. That community is a credit, and not only to our country or the major areas of settlement—one thinks of the huge Polish community in Scotland that has settled in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Inverness. In fact, I think that four people of Polish origin have played football for the Scottish national team, although not with conspicuous success, but perhaps that was because of the other seven players in the team.
In my part of the world—west London—we have been blessed by the size of the Polish community in terms of urban concentration. We like to say, "After Warszawa and Chicago stands Ealing". Mr. Jackson was formerly a distinguished councillor in the London borough of Ealing—a political opponent of mine, morning, noon and night—but a man whose respect for the Polish community will take second place to no man. He is here to endorse that. There is a risk of our being slightly sentimental about the Poland of that period, but justifiably so because no one who saw the occurrences at the Lenin shipyard and the birth of Solidarity, can be anything other than emotional.
The important thing that we need to discuss is the Poland of today and tomorrow—the current Poland. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham referred to the 350,000 Poles who have come here and the 204,895 who have registered to work. Not everyone is delighted with that; a number of my constituents have complained vociferously about it. A number of plumbers and bricklayers who I know have said, "This is outrageous; these people turn up on time; they work all day; they finish when they are meant to; their vans never break down on the north circular; they never have suddenly to leave for a family bereavement; and they finish the work on time and on contract. How can the honest British workman hope to compete against that?" I like to think that the spur of the Polish workers will actually raise standards throughout the work force of west London.
May I address a stereotype? The new figure—the Bob the builder of the day—is Pawel the plumber. People speak of Pawel the plumber as if Poles come to this country to work in manual trades only. For every Pawel the plumber, there is an Anna the architect, or a Krystyna the cardiologist. There are Poles at every level, including dentists, as has been said. That is absolutely right. We think of Dr. Jan Mokrzycki, who is president of the Federation of Poles in Great Britain. He is a distinguished dentist who took one look at my teeth and refused me an appointment.
We must recognise that Polish people have brought skills of all levels. However, it is important that the House recognises that there are tensions between some in the older settled Polish community and some of the incomers. On Sunday, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of Our Lady Mother of the Church on Windsor street in Ealing—a Polish church opened in 1986. It was a packed church which now has seven masses on Sunday and has been run marvellously by the Marian Fathers over the past 20 years. The conversation there has been very much about the new and the old Poles. I like to think that Poles are Poles, whether they are new, third or fourth generation. It is important that we place on record in this place our appreciation of and respect for our allies who have been with us, shoulder to shoulder, over the generations and centuries. It is intensely important to mention that.
We have some difficulty in that one of my constituents, Mrs. Gill Rodican, has recently complained to the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis about notices printed only in Polish asking for witnesses to report crimes in Ealing. That is an example, I think, of insensitivity rather than of an inherent problem. I appreciate that it is not in the remit of my hon. Friend the Minister, but I shall certainly raise the matter with the commissioner, because if Polish on Polish crime exists and we need witnesses, those signs should be bilingual. They should not be only in Polish, because of the feeling of difference and strangeness generated, with which some people have problems.
Overall, Poland is now a major emerging trading partner with the United Kingdom. I pay credit to the economic and commercial department of the embassy of the Republic of Poland, particularly the Minister Counsellor Krzysztof Trepczynski, for the work that has been done, and to the Polish information and foreign investment agency which encourages that bilateral trade between us.
The UK and Poland are natural partners. We have a long history; we are family. We should be closer trading partners. I shall not follow the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham entirely down his road, which leads to an alternative to the Franco-German axis. I like to think of a European axis, involving all the countries. However, I understand entirely where he is coming from, and appreciate and respect his view. However, talk of new and old Europe is not helpful.
I like to think of Poland as Poland—it has emerged from the permafrost and the dark overcast skies of the communist era and is only now stretching its sinews and feeling the strength in its muscles, and giving voice to the huge creative urge that sustained it during the decades when there was no geographical Poland. Now in every aspect of its life—industry, the arts and commercial activities—a new Poland is emerging. The hon. Gentleman referred to British shops in Warsaw, Crakow and Gdansk, and even in Lódz. They are to be found throughout over Poland. That is the relationship of the future; it is a relationship of equals, which was forged in the heat of war and has been tested by adversity, but ultimately it is a relationship between two nations, based, I hope and trust, on mutual respect.
I shall not entirely endorse the comments that the hon. Gentleman made about the pipeline, because I am not sufficiently well versed in that subject. However, I look to my hon. Friend the Minister to continue to support and endorse the activities of the British chamber of commerce in Warsaw and the British commercial interests in Poland now, and to make life a little easier for the bilateral trade and commercial relationship between the two countries, with which there are still problems.
Above all, I do not think that it is unfair to ask my hon. Friend, at this time, so close to the anniversary of the Warsaw rising, to go—if he has any doubts as to the awful reality of what happened at Katyn—to Gunnersbury park in west London and stare up, as I know he has, at that great black granite obelisk that lists the names of the cream of a country's culture, slaughtered and stuffed in the ground. He will think, as I did, of two things: first, how Poland can never die. Where one Pole lives, Poland lives. No matter how many are slaughtered, that will never kill Poland. Secondly, he will think of the sheer length and breadth of that memorial column and the names and occupations listed.
I do not believe in debts of honour overriding everything, but if ever a country owes a debt of honour to its comrades this country owes one to Poland. Poland has suffered greatly. The United Kingdom and Poland can work side by side, shoulder to shoulder for a new, emerging, strong, commercially successful Poland, which will finally achieve the potential that every one of us knows lies deep within that rich soil.
It is a great pleasure to follow Stephen Pound, whose powerful speech touched this House. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend Daniel Kawczynski for what was a most impressive and wide-ranging speech. I shall be brief, and touch on only two issues. One is a general matter, and the other is a constituency matter relating to Poland.
I pay tribute to the members of the Polish community in Wellingborough. They live in the heart of Wellingborough, they are a most important section of our community, and they have their own Dom Polski club, to which I am kindly invited now and again.
I sit somewhere between the two Members whohave spoken on the European Union issue. Of the£100 billion that British taxpayers have paid to the EU since this Government have been in power, only a small proportion is relevant to the expansion of the EU. I think that all parties welcome the EU's expansion.
We have, in Poland, an ally. We always talk about our special relationship with America, but we also have a special relationship with Poland. That is partly because of history, going back to the second world war, and partly because they share the same ideals and principles as us as a nation. They are hard-working, they believe in enterprise and they have a strong belief in their own national identity. However, they look outward on the rest of the world, they believe in free trade and they reject protectionism, and there is nothing that the so-called Franco-German axis can do about it.
The European Union is waking up to the idea that we should have an EU based on what the countries of the EU want, which is a single market and free trade, not protectionism and the protection of French farmers so that Africans lose out. We have common purpose with the Polish community and Poland.
The constituency situation that I want to raise is extraordinary, and I hope that the Minister will be able to help. I have not been able to find an answer to it through my inquiries with the Government so far. As we have heard, Polish people are allowed to work in this country. They have free access, and we were one of the few countries that granted it. In my constituency, most dentists, for whatever reason, have gone private. I have received a huge postbag from people complaining about it, but if one wants to find an NHS dentist in Wellingborough, one is sent outside the county. There is none available in my constituency.
A Dr. Chan, who is a leading dentist in Rushden, which is an important part of my constituency, rang me a while ago to say that he had a Polish dentist—fully qualified, with perfect English, so there was no problem on that ground—who wanted to work in Rushden under the NHS. It would have been of great benefit to my constituency, because a considerable number of people would have been able to get the NHS dentist treatment that they cannot get now. The primary care trust has refused to employ that dentist. I guess that it has done so on the ground of funding, but if all other NHS dentists have gone private, is there some way in which the Government can direct the PCT to employ a Polish dentist? It would help ease the dentistry burden in my constituency.
It seems that the rhetoric, which was discussed earlier, is not being realised in my constituency. There is a real issue, and I wonder whether the Minister could give any advice or help in his winding-up speech. In conclusion, it has been a great pleasure to sit in the Chamber under your chairmanship, Mrs. Anderson, and listen to two most powerful speeches.
I cannot follow the powerful speeches that we have heard this afternoon, but it has been a great pleasure to listen to them, and I congratulate Daniel Kawczynski on securing the debate.
In addition to the sentiments expressed this afternoon about the United Kingdom's historical relationship with Poland, and about how Poland has changed its face with astonishing success—being first on one side of Europe and then the other after the fall of communism—I wish to speak about our present and future relations with Poland. First, however, I shall reflect briefly on the extraordinary journey that Poland has made, and the terrible events that have happened there, as has been underlined in two powerful speeches. Indeed, despite the UK's experience of war during the 20th century, we would find it difficult fully to comprehend what happened in Poland.
My mother in law will later this year be the embodiment of the Polish congratulations song "Sto Lat!"—she will be 100 years old in the summer. She was born as a Russian subject, and she lived under occupation for the first part of the century. She became a Polish citizen in adulthood, and then again lived for seven or eight years under occupation. She arrived in the UK, having left Poland during the chaotic period immediately following the end of the second world war. She was welcomed to the UK as someone who had played a substantial role in her family and community, and she built a new life in the UK. She is now a UK citizen. Perhaps one person can encapsulate Poland's experience; it is a personal reflection of the events about which we have heard this afternoon.
Thinking of past relations between the UK and Poland and about how Poles, at crucial junctures in UK history, have given freely of their lives with courage and commitment can assist us in putting that relationship into context, I was pleased to see Poland join the European Union in 2004. I attended a meeting in Wroclaw shortly after Poland joined the EU to discuss a number of issues about Poland's future in Europe, and the lack of realisation among Poles about their country's significance as an EU player surprised me. In fact, its weighted EU votes give Poland the same significance as Spain. It is a significant and large player.
Although I do not entirely go along with the suggestions of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham about the Franco-German axis, the way in which matters are discussed within the EU is changing rapidly, and one result of Poland's accession is that those discussion and alliances will inevitably be different. Having a strong friend within those discussions and alliances will be important to us in making our way within the EU. Indeed, Poland is to start talks on joining the eurozone in 2009, so it might not only become the significant player that I have described but join the eurozone before the UK. One might perhaps reflect on that for future reference.
It is also important for our relations with Poland to understand where it now sits in the EU. After all, Poland will potentially be a great asset when Europe comes to determine what happens next for the European countries beyond Poland's borders. Of course, Poland has unique issues in terms of its borders, because it not only borders several other countries that joined the EU in 2004 but has a long border with Belarus, which is, to put it kindly, one of the most enigmatic countries in eastern Europe. It also borders Ukraine. In addition, there is also the border with Kaliningrad, which will continue to give rise to complicated relationships and arrangements, and there is the question of how that will work its way through relationships with the EU. As an EU border state, therefore, Poland faces several significant issues, and it is important that we support Poland strongly in that role and understand those issues so that we can clarify them together. At the same time, the relationships that Poland can form with countries immediately outside the EU will be of great benefit to the EU and to us in particular.
As has been mentioned, Poland is the UK's sixth largest investment market. The emergence of British shops and companies in Poland is not only significant, but has been greatly welcomed by Polish citizens. Poland is also this country's largest trading partner in central Europe. There are therefore real and serious issues in terms of trade and mutually beneficial bilateral arrangements.
As has also been mentioned, many Poles have come to the UK to work, following Poland's accession to the EU. Many of them have come to my constituency, although there has always been a large Polish community in the Southampton and Eastleigh area, and it continues to be of great benefit and assistance to the area. The community that is now emerging in my constituency and the wider Southampton area is industrious and, despite having been here only a short time, it is becoming increasingly coherent and is determined to make a positive contribution to the UK's economy. Although there are concerns about housing and services in the Southampton area—the same applies elsewhere—the contribution that the Polish community can make to the economy of our city and to the life of Southampton is overwhelmingly positive, and we should view it in that light.
My final thought is to welcome the further influxof Poles to Southampton through the doors of Southampton football club. Our club manager has recruited Bartosz Bialkowski and Grzegorz Rasiak as leading players, and he recently saw what I believe was a scintillating encounter between Wisla Krakow and a team whose name I cannot pronounce, so I anticipate that further players will come forward. The contribution of Poles to the UK economy, and the drive of Southampton football club to retain its premiership status next season—[Interruption.] Next season. It will be there for all to see. I remain firmly committed to ensuring that relations between Poland and the UK, warm as they are, continue to grow. I will strive to ensure that that relationship continues to be as good and positive in the future as it has been in the past.
I start, as is obligatory, but in this case highly appropriate, by congratulating Daniel Kawczynski on having secured the debate. I have heard the main town in his constituency pronounced at least two different ways, and his surname many more ways than that, and I have yet to receive a satisfactory answer as to what it is. Perhaps he can put me right afterwards.
As has been said in previous contributions, the most evident sign of Anglo-Polish relations is the large influx of people from Poland who live and work in the United Kingdom; that is a testimony to the success of EU enlargement. There is a lot of opportunity in this House to make speeches and other interventions that are critical of the European Union, and I agree with some, but certainly not all, of those criticisms. However, many regard the enlargement from 15 to 25 member states as having been, in most regards, a considerable success. It was enlightened of our country to embrace it in the spirit in which it was intended. Large sectors of our economy—one thinks of things such as fruit-picking and packaging—would collapse without the influx of labour that we enjoy, particularly that from eastern Europe In my constituency—
It is not only fruit-picking and packaging. Some 6 per cent. of my constituents come from Poland, and their contribution is vital for the economy of London, particularly that of west London.
I strongly concur, and I was going to make precisely that point. It is not just the lower-skilled seasonal industries that are affected. In my constituency, Poles work in everything from slaughterhouses to dentistry—some people might think that those are not that far apart, but my intention was to convey a range of businesses—and perform tasks that would otherwise not be done, or not done to the same standard. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's assessment of the success of the experiment. Hundreds of thousands of Poles have come to live here. What can we learn from that in relation to Bulgarian and Romanian accession in the years ahead?
Poland's economy is growing. It is not growing as much as those of other countries in that part of Europe, so we should not regard it as an unqualified success. None the less, it is growing, albeit with an unsustainably high level of unemployment, which in part explains why so many Poles have come to live here. There are still considerable problems with its infrastructure and the heavy degree of bureaucracy of its public sector. I hope that those issues will be addressed by the Government of Poland in co-operation with other countries in the European Union, including Britain.
I should also be interested to hear what the Minister's thoughts are on the supply of energy to and through Poland, a particular topical subject, which is obviously relevant to the people of that country but also concerns people here and elsewhere.
I concur with some of the comments made earlier about the opportunity for alliances with Poland and other countries in eastern Europe. Britain has displayed a progressive and enlightened approach to the new member states of the European Union. I hope and believe that that will serve us well, not only because it was the right thing to do but because the people from that part of Europe will see Britain as a potential ally, as those countries emerge and grow more confident in their democracies and their economies.
The current Polish Government, however, give cause for concern to most people who are democrats. There are some extraordinary characters in the Polish Government, including people with narrow, nationalistic views and, in some cases, deeply illiberal viewson personal freedom. I do not wish to quoteThe Economist magazine as though it were the Bible, although most people regard it as a fairly authoritative journal. Of the Law and Justice party, which I understand is, overwhelmingly, the largest party in the Polish coalition Government, it says:
"Law and Justice, and particularly its populist allies, delight in picking fights with gays, feminists, secularists, liberals, the media, ex-communists, uppity foreigners (especially in Brussels) and anyone else who crosses their path."
Many people have assumed that that stereotype is accurate, but many of us who met Prime Minister Marcinkiewicz at Chatham house last year put those very questions to him. I do not have time to refute every accusation, but I counsel the hon. Gentleman to look to the reality rather than the hysteria.
I hope that what the hon. Gentleman says is true, partly because that would be greatly to the benefit of Poland, but also because I am extremely concerned by the sort of allies that the Conservative party is seeking, as it trawls round newly entered member states looking for alliances to form an alternative to the European People's party. I am making an entirely serious point about the opportunities for influence by the UK's major Opposition party. If the Conservative party chooses to associate itself with political parties that hold such views, that would be regrettable for the British interest, as well as narrow party interest.
In summary, we must remember that Poland is an immature democracy. Countries do not come to fruition in economic or democratic terms overnight, but a huge amount of progress has been made. There is great cause for optimism, particularly among young people who have opportunities that did not exist 20 or 30 years ago. The House wishes them well and I hope that we shall make the most of an important opportunity to find new allies for Britain in Poland and elsewhere across eastern Europe.
This has been such a good debate that it is a shame to interrupt it with Front-Bench replies. It has been a genuine privilege to listen to the hon. Members who have contributed, many of whom have considerable knowledge of and deep personal connections to Poland. I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend Daniel Kawczynski both on securing this debate and on an extraordinarily good opening speech, which set the scene in exactly the right way.
My hon. Friend drew attention to our relationships with what has historically been a close friend and should be one of our strongest allies in the European Union. He personifies the close ties between our countries; indeed, it might be said that he has taken them to new heights. He described Mr. Worrall Thompson as diminutive, which is not something that is usually said about me, but we might all be considered diminutive next to him. We are grateful to Poland for bringing us my hon. Friend and doing a great service to the House and our country.
Our friendship with Poland stretches back into history. Before the debate, I read the excellent note prepared by the Library, which reminds us that the relationship goes right back to the 16th century. The ties between Scotland and Poland go back to the family of Bonnie Prince Charlie, whose mother was Polish. So none of this is new. Today and throughout history, we have been inspired by stories of the heroism of the Poles in defence of their homeland. A number of hon. Members referred to that and the fact that many thousands of Poles fought with great distinction alongside British servicemen in the second world war.
For my generation—I am slightly older than my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham—Poland's fight against Soviet oppression provided new inspiration. My hon. Friend spoke about the food collections at his school. I remember as a schoolboy in the early 1980s proudly sporting the red and white Solidarity badge on my school blazer.
Well, it was not compulsory at Altrincham grammar school, but I was proud to wear the badge.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham pointed out, it was this country, under Conservative Governments and then a Labour Government, who rightly championed the cause of Polish freedom and then the cause of European Union enlargement and Poland's accession to the EU. My hon. Friend raised important concurrent issues relating to the Baltic pipeline and the question whether the Katyn forest massacre investigation should be reopened. I hope that the Minister will take up those matters; perhaps he will deal with them in responding to the debate.
The enlargement of the European Union corrects a great historical injustice. Some Conservative Members and perhaps even some Labour Members will this evening be at a dinner that the 1922 committee is holding in tribute to Baroness Thatcher. We remember what Margaret Thatcher said in her famous Bruges speech:
"We must never forget that east of the Iron Curtain, peoples who once enjoyed a full share of European culture, freedom and identity have been cut off from their roots. We shall always look on Warsaw, Prague and Budapest as great European cities."
It is important to set the debate in context. The closeness of the ties, and the friendship that we feel, unite both sides of the House of Commons. It has been apparent during the debate that we all wish that friendship to go from strength to strength.
I shall wind up my remarks quickly so that the Minister has a chance to do justice to the debate but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham said at the outset, it is vital that we work closely with a country that shares so many of our views, in particular about the need to develop a more open and flexible European Union that is more fitted to addressing the future. My hon. Friend talked about the creation of a strategic Anglo-Polish axis. That is an exciting prospect. It would allow the United Kingdom to work ever more closely with Poland in helping to build the sort of European Union that we want and which would be in the interests of all members of the EU, especially the new member states.
As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs. Anderson. I am sure that you will not mind me congratulating Daniel Kawczynski on securing the debate. I am responding to it on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe, who is serving this country valiantly at this very moment in Strasbourg. He has responsibility for Poland in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
I acknowledge the keen interest of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham in the land of at least some of his ancestors. He spoke with great authority and passion and, most important from my point of view, I enjoyed his speech immensely; it was very insightful. I welcome the opportunity to debate the United Kingdom's relations with Poland. For most of our lifetime, as we have heard, Europe has been cruelly and unnaturally divided. Those divisions have ended, thanks not least to Poland's determination, courage and fortitude. I remember well its fights. In 2004, Poland took a momentous step when it joined the European Union, and no Government were more delighted than ours to see the Poles take their place at the European table.
We have heard a great deal about hon. Members' personal connections, and I shall tell the Chamber about some of mine because such connections are important. I grew up with a lot of kids who were the sons and daughters of Polish coal miners who came to my valley, the Cynon valley in Aberdare, at the end of the second world war and became an important part of our community. My father was an aircraftman in the second world war and fought alongside Polish pilots. He grew to feel warmly about them, but he always warned me that they were both the bravest and the craziest people that he had ever met. I rediscovered that fact in the 1960s when I began climbing in the Alps. In those days, there were standards routes to Alpine peaks, north face routes, north face directs and routes that we used to call "Polish routes" because they were suicidal. That said a great deal.
There was a lot of laughter earlier about how Poles expressed themselves at that time, when the dead hand of communism kept their country away from its orientation towards being a great European base of culture and creativity. I remember meeting Polish climbers for whom climbing was important as a way of escaping. They could look healthy, patriotic and Polish, and they were allowed to go to the Alps. They were mad, but it was wonderful. They were all crazy about jazz, which has always been the music of rebellion. They were great painters, poets and novelists. Polish novelists won Nobel prizes. The greatest thing about being in Poland now is that one can rediscover, as in the case of Czech and particularly Hungarian writers, a great heartland of European literature. People are once again free to move across frontiers, which is a wonderful achievement.
My hon. Friend Stephen Pound, in his inimitable style, gave us details of the community relationships that are so important. Mr. Bone also reminded us of them. While he was speaking I remembered being taken to a Polish club—I shall not tell the Chamber in which town it was—and being shown into a large room where there were groups of some elderly men, some not so elderly, but no women. I tried to move across from one group to another and was warned, "Don't do that, they haven't spoken to each other for 25 years." It reminded me of Wales, actually. They are great people for sectarian fights.
I cannot give an answer to the point that the hon. Member for Wellingborough made. I know that in some areas people have gone out and recruited Polish dentists. I will ask about the matter—it is worth a try in this place—but I suspect that the hon. Gentleman will probably get a more informative answer from the Department of Health.
My hon. Friend Dr. Whitehead congratulated his mother in law on her great longevity. Her life encapsulates the history of modern Poland, which is an amazing story. My hon. Friend reminded us that Poland's influence within the EU is already equal to that of Spain, which reinforces what the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham said. We must take our alliance with Poland very seriously. The balance of power is shifting and will continue to do so.
I have just returned from Bulgaria and Romania, and they have mighty problems. However, I remember the Poland of the 1970s, when my friends from Solidarity would come over and tell me what was going on. I did not believe them. I did not believe that helicopters were shooting on the street demonstrators who were trying to create democratic and trade union rights for themselves. We had no idea of the severity of that oppression. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman mentioned it, because the situation has changed dramatically, and we must take it seriously.
I am sure that everyone who has spoken and listened will pay tribute to the contributions that emphasised the great part that Polish people not only have played in this country's history but are playing now for our economy. We were, along with Ireland and Sweden, the only countries that offered Polish workers free passage to move and work. Now, I notice that a great queue of European countries is trying to do the same, because if there is one thing that we have begun to understand, it is that if we are to compete in the world economy, we must have the skills to do so.
My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham and I have a long-standing invitation to visit POSK, the Polish cultural centre in King street. It is a fantastic institution that may offer some pointers towards integration, because it offers services not only about Polish culture but to Polish immigrants and migrant workers about England and Britain. Will the Minister join us in a visit some time in the coming months? It is not that far away; it is only20 minutes on the District line.
It is a kind and generous offer. I may have to pass it on to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe. He is in Strasbourg, but I shall make him aware of it.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point, and there is a great deal of discussion about integration. It was no easier to integrate in 1945-46 than it is or is not now. We should have these discussions, but we should not become obsessed with the integration of one ethnic group or one people. We should consider the best examples that we have, and the Polish workers have provided us with some of the very best examples.
Importantly, Mr. Browne highlighted the fact that many workers are over here because unemployment is so high in Poland. It is at 18 per cent. It is scandalously high for young boys and girls at 40 per cent.—40 per cent. youth unemployment. It is no wonder that they are flocking to this country. The hon. Gentleman is right. We must help in whatever way we can to let the Poles know that alongside liberalising the economy and slimming the bureaucracy, the high levels of taxation and unemployment have got to go if Poland is to, as it will, flex its muscles as a great economic power. It should do so in that crucial geographical position in Europe.
We have not talked much about the following important subject, because we have not had a great deal of time. However, Poland is the EU's eastern frontier. We must help the Poles with it, because it is leaky. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham did not get a chance to talk much about it, but we must understand that many of our problems, whether with organised crime, drug smuggling, people smuggling or arms smuggling, are caused because everybody wants to get into the EU from that eastern direction. The Poles live in a tough neighbourhood and they always have done. We have drugs liaison officers working on the frontier, and people trying to help with the border crossings to systemise the way in which vehicles are checked. It is an important subject, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman raised it.
I am rather grateful that I have no time to talk about the pipeline. It is really a matter for the Germans and Russians. If I were a German or Russian, I would probably build it along the Baltic sea floor myself.