HC Deb 20 December 1989 vol 164 cc491-508 12.29 am
Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel)

It is a great pleasure to have the opportunity of introducing this short debate on developments in central and eastern Europe. Anyone who reflects on the events of the past few weeks will appreciate that the House would be failing in its duty if it did not examine them before rising for the Christmas Recess. The difficulty of analysing such a broad canvas is that events are moving at a rapid pace and almost anything one says may be overtaken by events before the weekend. Another is the sheer scale of the subject. I hope that the House will understand, therefore, if I concentrate my remarks on two or three main areas and touch on points which do not always get an airing in this House.

The democratic development moving steadily through central and eastern Europe is evident in its various forms in the Soviet Union, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria. The trend is distorted only by the exception of the recent horrible events in Romania. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, will be able to comment on those events today, because I know that the Government reflect the feelings of right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House in expressing horror at what has occurred in Romania.

I returned on Sunday from a visit to East Germany and West Germany on behalf of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, accompanied by the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), who I am delighted to see in his place, and the IPU secretary-general. During that visit, we explored not only recent developments in the two Germanies but ways in which this House might facilitate the process of dialogue both with existing parliamentarians and, perhaps more importantly, with the future politicians of East Germany who may be the making of the democratic development that we all want to see.

East and West Germany will be the main theme of my remarks, but I turn first to the background of the Soviet Union. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has repeated on many occasions, the developments in the Soviet Union that we have witnessed could not have occurred without the personal involvement in and commitment to glasnost and perestroika of President Gorbachev. If he and the Soviets had not made plain their unwillingness to intervene militarily in democratic protest, and had not dissuaded its military prevention by the Governments concerned, events might have taken a very different turn.

The Soviet Union clearly has great domestic problems. One must try to understand and have sympathy with those who, in seeking to move from a highly centralised to a decentralised structure, are inevitably facing strains on their economy and political systems. What can we do at this time to help them? The problem is on such a vast scale that it is unrealistic to imagine that we can do much on a bilateral basis. That is why I warmly welcome the signing recently of the trade agreement between the EC and the Soviet Union. It is probably on a Europewide basis that more opportunities can be found to provide the economic linkage that is essential if democratic development in the Soviet Union is to continue.

Industrial linkage is a theme to which I shall return in respect of other parts of central and eastern Europe. Several British companies are playing an important part in that. One example is the recent joint venture between GEC and the Moscow telephone company, as part of the crucial objective of uprating the Soviet Union's telecommunications. I refer also to the work being done by Cable and Wireless—I remind the House of my interest in that company—in pursuing developments on the same lines.

Inevitably, much of our effort is directed towards wider co-operation with our western allies. That is certainly true of disarmament. Although we all have our separate perspectives, we must keep both the Warsaw pact and NATO in view when discussing the wider aspects of our relationship with the Soviet Union.

I know that the Minister has a special interest in space activity, and I believe that that, too, will play a part in both disarmament and other kinds of co-operation between Governments, in industry and throughout Europe. The current convergence of civil and defence technology will allow the satellites that give us weather information, help us to control floods and deal with drought, and carry out remote sensing and earth observation to monitor mutually balanced force reductions and, indeed, the whole peace-keeping process. I am glad to see this country once more beginning to reaffirm the wider, collaborative role of the European Space Agency. I welcome the recent agreement with the Soviets in relation to British cosmonauts, which will take effect in the near future—as, indeed, will the similar agreement with the United States about astronauts.

How can the West, and the United Kingdom in particular, assist the Soviet Union during the time it needs for development, not only economic but democratic? Let us consider specific examples of progress in other parts of eastern Europe. Many of us will have had a chance to see and appreciate the advances made in Hungary and Poland, which in some ways reflect what has been described as "goulash Communism" in Hungary, which lasted a decade or more, and the progress in Poland, going back to the remarkable work and courage of Solidarity in the early 1980s. Those two countries have experienced a relatively mature development of the democratic process; in such countries, however, the winner picking the winner, as it were, may be of the best use in furthering glasnost and perestroika. If the link between democratic and economic development is seen to be working there, the Soviets may be helped to move along the same track.

I applaud the Government's creation of a £25 million know-how fund for Poland. That was done at an early stage in the recent developments there because the Government saw an urgent need for help in such matters as food, management training and English language teaching. That determined an important principle—that the urgency of cases should be taken into account.

I am rather concerned about the view which is tending to gain ground, that economic aid should be related only to democratic development. I shall try to show later in my speech that in many instances democratic development is not possible until economic progress is made. While the former might be a nice ideal, it does not square with reality.

Bilateral effort has been important in Poland and I applaud it. I welcome the fact that, from 1 April, a similar fund of £25 million for Hungary will come into operation. It will help with the English language, for which one finds a thirst throughout eastern Europe, and with know-how, which will be useful. Both know-how funds have been used to assist sponsored visits and to arrange political and industrial exchanges.

The political exchanges have provided opportunities for parliamentarians to meet and for visitors from Poland and Hungary to go to constituencies as well as to be involved here at Westminster. On the industrial side, however, we have some way to go. Many hon. Members were impressed by the case that Lech Walesa made for joint venture activity in Poland when he came here. He made a powerful argument and contrasted, somewhat ironically, the limited number of examples that he could cite involving the United Kingdom with the large number of bilateral exchanges with companies from the traditional enemy—the Federal Republic of Germany. In Budapest, an IBM official has been seconded to the United States embassy to assist with the detail of joint ventures.

To what extent can my hon. Friend the Minister assure the House that the Government are responding to such professional need in the growth of trade and investment in Poland, Hungary and the rest of eastern Europe? I hope that my hon. Friend will reaffirm that the effort to concentrate our efforts on the early success which has wider political significance attracts his and the Government's support.

I have already mentioned the Inter-Parliamentary Union visit to Germany. I cannot claim that a four-day visit gives a comprehensive view, but one cannot but be staggered at the lightning changes evident on both sides. It is only six weeks since the Berlin wall started to come down. This year alone, 700,000 East Germans have moved for permanent residence in West Germany. That process continues at a rate of 2,300 per day. Like the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), I saw the flow continuing by the thousand.

Such is the regularity of the process that it is virtually becoming a normal part of daily life. It is almost unremarkable. It has, however, had a major impact on the East German economy. There is evidence of strain at all levels. When we talked to people there, we could not help feeling a great deal of sympathy and anxiety for many of them. I remember meeting a professor of medicine who is a leading activist in New Forum, which is perhaps one of the key groups in the emergence of new political thought and parties, who was grey with exhaustion because he had been involved in setting up political groups and trying to sustain the work of the medical department with which he was involved when many of its most skilled people had left for West Germany. That story is also true for Church leaders.

Those who have been most active in promoting democratic change are now inclined to think that they would like to return to private life, but I foresee problems if the old faces appear under new party labels. As a leading official in the Federal Inter-German Ministry said, a bad winter, continued economic collapse and the failure to achieve early democratic growth will result in East Germans voting with their feet. That is a fact of life.

What attitude should the Government adopt? They should make it plain that they accept the inevitability of economic unification. It is apparent that West German industry will be streaming all over East Germany on the back of substantial Government assistance with infrastructure—road and rail links, the development of telecommunications and, in a wider context, anti-pollution investment, which is important to us all. West German political parties have daily contact with parties of the same name or those with which they are beginning to recognise certain links. Those political and industrial links are important in drawing the two countries closer together.

There may be a temptation to leave it all to West Germany, but that would be a fundamental mistake. It is clear from the talks that those of us who have visited East and West Germany have had with the Bundestag foreign affairs committee, with members of the IPU and with the Berlin Reichstag that there is a feeling that British involvement, a British lead in recognising the situation at this stage will have a much wider symbolism—not just because of the old wartime battles between Britain and Germany—which represents the sensitivity of German parliamentarians who recognise many of the old fears and resentments and want to assure the world and their western allies that they want the development of unification to have the support of their allies and they put Britain top of that list.

In a week when Chancellor Kohl and President Mitterrand are visiting East Germany, it is timely to ask how we can respond. We really should establish a know-how fund for the GDR. Sadly, I believe that economic strains will move towards pressures over food, just as in Poland. There are real opportunities to assist with language and management training. In addition the knowhow fund would be a valuable adjunct to the activities of our industrialists. I make no apology for raising that point of pragmatic self-interest. I have already mentioned the opportunities being exploited by West Germany. Clearly there is a feeling that a second German economic miracle is possible and that the extra market of 19 million people can be deployed to the advantage of Germany.

British industry also has a part to play. The tie-ups that have emerged in Europe in recent years—involving British companies which have particular alliances or formal partnerships with other European companies—may be the way forward, especially if those companies have West German connections. The recent Plessey-Siemens tie-up points to future opportunities for British companies through the West-East German connection.

As one reflects on the opportunities for the five traditional Lander of East Germany to join the 12 current Lander of West Germany, one thinks of the tremendous potential which must be involved in bringing together the Prussian and Saxon workers and work ethic with those of West Germany. That must result in a very powerful combination. If we wish to influence and be part of that development, we must be there in the early stages.

We have before us a chance to assist at the political level. We are talking about people in a political system who have no paper, no typewriters and no copying machines. They have had no experience of creating any sort of political organisation, of canvassing or of performing any such tasks.

In parliamentary exchanges and work such as the IPU and the Great Britain-East European Centre can perform, we can begin to offer our help, saying that while we may not have a perfect model here at Westminster, we can exchange ideas. We found that such exchanges were greatly welcomed. There is a great thirst for knowledge in western Germany. The grass-roots activity—the chance to spend time with parliamentarians in their constituencies—is perceived as of equal value to taking part in the Westminster tradition, which is widely respected.

Looking beyond the immediate opportunities and developments, it is clear that major problems remain—in defence, in respect of the four-power agreement and over the Helsinki background—but I urge the Minister to accept the inevitability of economic unification, which is now under way, to confirm that the British Government and industry can play a part, and to move in parallel, as we approach elections in East Germany on 6 May, in making the political contacts which are of immense value.

No visitor to the German Democratic Republic can leave without having a clear recollection of the wall—that affront to western civilisation. One recalls what are called the steel woodpeckers and the tap, tap, tapping of the many people with hammers and chisels who, while getting mementos, in their own small way are helping to bring the wall down. The House can today send a message of support to all those who are working to bring the wall down. By our early initiative, we can show that we wish to use this opportunity to move forward towards the restoration of, in this case, the European community.

12.54 am
Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

It is a pleasure to speak following the hon. Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) because he and I, as officers of the IPU, were fortunate to be in West and East Germany and in West and East Berlin last weekend. As he said, we witnessed the enormous changes that have taken place in that part of Europe.

For the last 40 years, East Germany has been regarded as the most loyal supporter of hard-line Communism. It is surprising now to think that the people of that country are enjoying a feeling of freedom such as many of them have never known. While we welcome that, we must be aware of the problems and uncertainties that such changes can create, not only in Germany but throughout Europe.

It was made clear to us last week, as the hon. Member for Arundel said, that we in the West must ensure that free elections take place in East Germany, for there are still strong remnants of the old guard there. If given the opportunity, they will resurface, perhaps under some other name. And as we do all we can to encourage free elections there, we must not overlook the need for industrial development and prosperity in East Germany.

When we talked to people about the forthcoming elections—it was clear that they were enthusiastic about them—we found that they had no experience, understandably, of organising campaigns. I am sure that at election time we all, no matter what party we represent, complain about not having this and that. I have no doubt that we all say, "If only we had more equipment, the campaign could be run much more efficiently." We were told by East Germans that they have no equipment. For example, there would be enormous problems in securing small quantities of paper for election manifestos or addresses. There will be tremendous difficulties in mounting campaigns prior to the elections in May 1990.

As an officer of the IPU, I pay a warm tribute to the work that the union has done over a number of years. It became obvious during our visit last weekend that it is held in great respect in Europe and throughout the world. Many in East Germany look to it to help and advise up-and-coming young politicians and newly formed political parties. I am sure that the IPU will seek to do that, and that plans are afoot already. Our expertise must be made available to the East Germans, but I hope that the Minister will deal also with financial help.

I hope also that all our political parties which have wide experience of campaigning will start to relate to fellow parties that are being set up in East Germany, so that parties that are respected in the United Kingdom can advise the new parties that are now emerging on what they have learnt over many years. If it had not been for the heroic resistance that was shown in October and November in East Berlin and other parts of East Germany, I am in no doubt that the old guard would still be in power.

On Saturday evening, we went to a dinner in East Berlin. Some of the members of the old guard were present, and it was amazing to listen to them. It became clear from questioning them that they still believed, after 40 years, that there was nothing wrong. I said to one of them, "When did you realise that things were wrong?" He replied, "Last October." I said, "What caused that realisation?" He answered, "The demonstrations which were taking place." I said, "If those demonstrations had not taken place, would you have realised that for the past 40 years you had been misleading the people of this country?" He replied, "No. We would still have been in power." It is only right that we ensure that the members of the old guard who are still around are not given the opportunity to regain power.

Along with free elections, there must be continuing prosperity, even if progress is slow initially. In the absence of that, members of a population of about 17 million would start to walk across the newly opened borders to start to establish themselves in West Germany. That would create unemployment problems and social and welfare problems. We were told that there are signs already of inadequate housing. Such problems would start to cause a great deal of instability.

Much has been said over the past few weeks about the future of Germany. There have been calls for reunification—a unified Germany. In today's edition of The Times there are examples of the differing points of view. I am sure that hon. Members have seen the photographs of Chancellor Kohl in Dresden. The headline in yesterday's The Times read "Reunification fever greets Kohl's visit". Yesterday, the Russian Foreign Secretary, Mr. Shevardnadze, gave warnings in Brussels. The headline on his visit in The Times said "Fears on German unity spelt out by Shevardnadze". That is an example of the current dilemma.

We in the West must begin to respond and to help. I am receiving letters from my constituents saying, "Of course we welcome the new freedoms, not only for East Germans but for the people of eastern Europe—but specifically East Germans," but they express a fear of a united Germany. Hon. Members may say "Those days are long past," but I am sure that the Minister will agree that many people in Britain hold such fears. We may say, "Don't worry about it," but, as the hon. Member for Arundel and I saw last week, unless East Germans can foresee prosperity, calls for the reintegration of Germany will undoubtedly lead to a powerful Germany.

The hon. Member for Arundel mentioned the comments that were made to us last week. Fears were expressed that a severe winter in East Germany will lead to enormous problems with food and heating. I should be interested to hear from the Minister about the discussions that are taking place in the EC to tackle that problem. I am sure that there are stockpiles of food in the EC. If there is an emergency in East Germany in the new year, I hope that the West will organise help, which obviously will have to include food and other aid.

I should like to follow the point that was well made by the hon. Member for Arundel about Britain's involvement in the industrial development of East Germany. Not East or West Germans but our representatives criticised the lack of interest shown by British companies. It is not good for British industry to say, "Of course we are interested, but things are not clear enough yet for us to take a decision." We must show that we are willing to help, and that we have the necessary knowledge and expertise. We also have the money, and it will be interesting to learn what additional funding will be made available.

I am a member of the defence committee of the Western European Union. I could talk at length about the military changes that are taking palce and the problems that they will cause us in the West. Those changes will call for courage and imagination by the West in its response. To some extent, time is on our side in these matters. We are now moving away from the possibility of conflict so we need not rush into decisions.

There are real problems in East Germany. If we really are Europeans and belong to an alliance, we must support West Germany, because there are fears that many of the 17 million East Germans might cross the border into West Germany.

Over the past few months, we have seen events which offer hope not just to my generation, but for generations that are growing up in the European Community. As the East Germans begin to take their country away from a dictatorship towards democracy, we must support them. From the very warm reception that we received in Germany last week, I have no doubt that help from this country would be warmly welcomed by the East Germans.

I cannot believe that very much can divide the House on issues such as these. Although this debate is taking place at a very unfashionable hour—debates that contain much of substance often take place at these times—I hope that we will hear from the Minister that the Government have a commitment to help, with their technical and financial resources, a country which, after 50 years, is beginning to see a return to democracy.

1.6 am

Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)

I must congratulate my colleagues in the Inter-Parliamentary Union on their successful trip to East and West Germany. My hon. Friend the Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) and the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) have given us a fascinating insight into their visit last week. I have not seen the wall since it began to be demolished, but I had the dubious privilege of passing through checkpoint Charlie on the first day that it opened after the wall was built, because I was stationed in that part of the world at the time. Things have changed a great deal since then.

The IPU in its centenary year has much to celebrate. We had an extremely successful conference in London. My hon. Friend the Member for Arundel, our chairman, was the president during that conference and as a result I had the honour to lead the British group. I had the pleasure of addressing the conference, and I made some inquiries about the problems that existed 100 years ago. I was rather surprised to discover that the problems then had a rather familiar ring to them. In those days, there were problems with drugs, in particular the opium trade. There were also conservation problems, because ivory stocks were being depleted, particularly in the Congo. Revolutionary changes were taking place then as they are now, and they are familiar to us all.

The most important and significant event from the point of view of the British group of the IPU was the visit to this country five years ago this month of Mr. Gorbachev, just before he became leader of the Soviet Union. He came here leading the Soviet Union IPU group. Mr. Andropov fell ill then, and died soon after. Mr. Gorbachev took over the leadership of the Soviet Union almost immediately after his visit to Great Britain. That gave this country a considerable opportunity to influence him towards the advantages of our type of democracy. Other hon. Members and I had the honour and pleasure of meeting him and were extremely impressed.

We were able through the IPU to exert some influence upon Mr. Gorbachev and show him that there was a much more successful way of achieving the advancement that he clearly wanted for his people. He was not blind to the faults of the Communist system, as the people of East Germany were, as the hon. Member for Tooting told us. They woke up to the problems only in October this year. Five years ago, Mr. Gorbachev readily recognised the great disparity and what had to be done to put it right. That exciting situation is now being unveiled.

My hon. Friend the Member for Arundel mentioned the technology that is so important to eastern Europe and the balanced force reductions. The Soviet bloc has an enormous way to go. I have a defence interest too, as I am a member of the Select Committee on Defence. The disparity between the two armies is enormous. However, we will not help Mr. Gorbachev if we drop our guard prematurely. We must approach matters in a sensible and balanced way. We must make it worth his while substantially to reduce his forces before we can reciprocate.

We have considerable contributions to make, particularly in educating people behind what was the iron curtain which we hope will never return. I welcome the support and help that the West can give by funding an educational programme. It is extremely valuable, and we must get on with it, because it will help enormously with our trade and our ability to influence those parts of the world. Hon. Members have heard in the media that there is much good will towards the Westminster type of democracy, so we would be foolish not to grasp this opportunity with both hands and ensure that people in central and eastern Europe are made fully aware of how they can introduce such a system and choose between the available alternatives when deciding what route to follow. It will not be an easy path for them, and we must all hold our breath for their success.

We saw what happened in Tiananmen square not so many weeks ago, and we are seeing what is happening in at least one country in eastern Europe now. We must give encouragement but at the same time make sure that people are not running so fast that the fledgling democracy collapses. I would hate us to drop our guard because we had so much sympathy for what has happened in eastern Europe, only to find that an even greater monster had grown up in its place. That would not help Mr. Gorbachev's leadership. It would not help him to resolve the dilemma of eastern Europe and ensure that the economy comes up to standard so that he can give the people of eastern Europe the prosperity that we now take for granted.

There are trade difficulties. Our involvement with the United States of America sometimes gives me grave cause to wonder, especially when we find it difficult to sell submarines to the Canadians because of some small quantity of technology in the submarines that had been bought from the United States perhaps 30 years before. I cannot imagine why that should be. We certainly cannot allow such an issue to hold us back if we are to take full advantage of these unprecedented opportunities.

At the same time, we must be careful that we do not give away all our secrets on a plate. We are often criticised for being extremely innovative and for failing to take advantage of our innovations. That is indeed the case, because we have lost many opportunities to the United States of America, Japan and other parts of the world when we could have exploited our designs and kept our lead. That would have helped our balance of payments considerably.

However, we still have a major contribution to make towards the lowering of world tension. The Inter-Parliamentary Union has done an enormous amount during the past 100 years to help. All the members of the IPU worldwide are to be congratulated on the way in which that body has developed and given parliamentarians an opportunity to exchange views and to make relationships that Governments sometimes find it hard to make. With the financial support that the Government can provide, the IPU can play a major role in providing democratic education to those people who need our advice and support. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will be able to make some encouraging remarks about that, so that we shall be able to play our full part in the years to come.

1.16 pm
Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) on giving the House the opportunity to discuss the exhilarating and epoch-making events in eastern Europe. I thank him and the other hon. Members who have spoken for their thoughtful and detailed contributions on the opportunities and dangers that lie ahead. The hon. Gentleman has also given us our only chance to discuss the unfolding horrors that have taken place in another east European country as we learn daily of the events in Timisoara. We know that Ceausescu has said that he will introduce in Romania the same reforms that have taken place in the newly democratised countries of eastern Europe only When the beech tree bears apples and reeds bear flowers. Sadly, the people of Romania cannot wait that long.

The abiding image of the past few days that haunts all our imaginations is that of the woman in an agony of despair offering her unborn baby to the bayonets, with the cry, "Take my child, he has no future but starvation." Ceausescu's feudal edict that women should bear four children, with no control over their fertility, is evidence that he sees no limits to his despotism—and there is no limit to his megalomania. Romania has become a newly under-developed country. He is leading it into a new dark age—a place of ignorance and fear controlled by the irrational forces of cultural barbarism, language pogroms, and the shrinking rights of the individual to those of a medieval vassal.

There is forced urbanisation. The slums inflicted on Britain in the last century are being replicated in modern Romania. Its picturesque villages are being bulldozed; and shoddy flats, many without internal sanitation, are replacing them. It is a country where, incredibly, the horse is promoted as the alternative to the car and the candle to electric light.

Today we hear that the new estimate from an East German news agency of the numbers of martyrs of Timisoara stands at 4,000, including dozens of children. The House now has an opportunity to express its outrage and to salute the vision and bravery of the martyrs. One hundred and fifty years ago last month, there were martyrs in my constituency, when 20 people were shot down. They were Chartists who were marching in a similar cause—in the cause of a wider democracy. They spoke of their willingness to sacrifice their lives in what they described as a noble cause.

We are now celebrating the anniversary of that event. A new generation of children know about those who died in their town 150 years ago. We have erected a tombstone to honour those 20 martyrs whose graves have been dishonoured for a century and a half. The valuable lesson is that the children immediately make a connection between the events of Newport of 1839 and the events of Tiananmen square, and will now connect them with the events of Romania during the past few days.

The names of Timisoara and Tiananmen square will live for ever in the annals of infamy. Those deaths must spur us into action. Parliament can take practical steps to curb the excesses of Ceausescu and to hasten his downfall. That action is not longer a political choice. Timisoara has made it a duty for all of us to work to end the reign of the Pharaoh Ceausescu and his dynasty. He has erected a vast mausoleum by destroying the centre of picturesque Bucharest and creating a palace to his own memory, to his ego.

We must now take the opportunity to gain from the collapse in the whole landscape of world power that has been in place, seemingly immutable, since the time of the Yalta conference. The metamorphosis is taking place and democracy is spreading like an agreeable contagion. Whole nations, with their new knowledge, have become restlessly ungovernable, and leaders have lost their will to govern. At last, we can escape all the waste and futility of the past 45 years, when both super-powers backed tyrannies in Europe, Asia, south America and Africa either because they were capitalist or because they were Communist, regardless of the degree to which those countries oppressed their own peoples. Now, happily, America is critical not only of Cuba and Nicaragua, but of the Right-wing Governments of Chile, Colombia and, today, of Panama. The Soviet Union strongly condemns Romania and tells the truth about the atrocities there.

During the past few days, the Minister has spoken with courage and eloquence of his condemnation of Romania. There are other things that we can do. Our duty is to arouse the same appetite for democracy in all parts of Romania as has been evidenced in the new democratised countries of eastern Europe. That cannot happen while the majority of the population of Romania are being deceived by their own media. It is signficant that the riots and demonstrations have occurred in areas where people know the Hungarian language—most are either Hungarian or German speakers—and have heard the broadcasts from other countries. It is a sad fact that Nadia Comaneci, when she escaped from Romania, had to cross the border before she heard for the first time that the Berlin wall had been breached, such is the news blackout in Romania.

We have an instrument by which we can inform the people throughout Romania of the truth of Timisoara. They must be told that no Government, even that of Ceausescu, are immovable. Action has already been taken to expand the Romanian language services provided by the BBC World Service. Another practical step, which was reflected in the speeches of all hon. Members who have spoken of their vision of the Europe of tomorrow, is to initiate a Pan-European campaign of East and West to cement the new reality of life in Europe by not only thinking democratically but acting in unity with them to expose to the people of Romania the excesses of Ceausescu. We must pressurise that regime with economic sanctions. Although he has isolated himself from most of the western world, he still has strong but vulnerable economic links with the eastern world.

Most of all, we should mount an information campaign by expanding the activity of our broadcasting media which have had such effect in the changes that have already taken place in other eastern European countries. We must ensure that the people of Romania know that their country is the final Stalinist gulag of Europe. It is wrong that the people should have to wait, in Ceausescu's words, until the beech tree bears apples and reeds bear flowers.

1.25 am
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, West)

I congratulate the troika of fellow officers of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) on their speeches. I gladly join them in this consensus debate in sending a signal of support to forces in central and eastern Europe struggling, mostly successfully, for fundamental change.

I fully agree that the pace and scale of change is almost alarming. Even this evening we heard the news that the Communist party in Lithuania has declared UDI from the Communist party of the Soviet Union. That has substantial implications for the role of the Communist party as the cement for the Soviet empire.

To put the pace of events into perspective, we must remind ourselves that only on 17 November this year was the student demonstration in the streets of Prague bloodily suppressed. Much has happened in the weeks that have passed since then.

Only two countries stand out from the general trend, leaving aside Albania, which has not been mentioned. First, there is Romania, which was described so eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West. We congratulate the Minister on the proper tone in which he has condemned the savagery of the suppression of popular demonstration in Timisoara. Opposition Members recognise that we have little leverage over the Government of Romania—because they are relatively autarchic in their economic structure—but perhaps we could at least send a signal.

The Foreign Office could advise the Palace that the honorary knighthood conferred on President Ceausescu during his visit here in the late 1970s should be withdrawn. Equally, it could be requested that the Queen formally hand back the star of the Romania that was granted to her by the President of Romania. Is there a reason in principle why the Foreign Office should not tender that advice and why the Palace should not accept it as a gesture of symbolic importance?

The other exception is the sad country of Yugoslavia, which has not been mentioned tonight. It was in the vanguard of reform in the past, but the very existence of the federal state of Yugoslavia is now in question. There are real fears of either a break-up or a military Government there. We should do nothing that in any way encourages secession of the Slovenes or the Croatians.

The events of the past months have been akin to a volcanic eruption. When such a vast stirring of the earth occurs, there are a series of subterranean movements, natural movements, the course of which cannot be clearly discerned by those who stand above them. Part of that natural movement is the whole concept of middle Europe —Mitteleuropa. The Minister will be aware of the fascinating conference held in Budapest in November. The representatives were Italy, a member of the European Community, Hungary, a member of COMECON, Austria, a member of the European Free Trade Association and Yugoslavia. It recognised that the infrastructure needs to be improved as the journey time to Trieste is longer than it was at the time of the Austro-Hungarian empire. During the time of the Italian presidency of the EC, Czechoslovakia is also expected to join that grouping, which is looking at means of regional co-operation.

Mitteleuropa is stirring. The exciting developments in that area have been recognised by the Japanese. After the G24 meeting in Brussels, the Japanese Foreign Minister, alone of the Foreign Ministers at that meeting, went to Austria and at Sopron met Gyula Horn, the Hungarian Foreign Minister and Alois Mock, the Foreign Minister of Austria. Perhaps a signal for the future is the fact that Mitsubishi decided to locate a new plant not in Styria, as the Austrians had hoped, but in Szent Miklos in Hungary.

The South Koreans, in part for political reasons and for recognition, have shown great interest in Hungary. As a number of my colleagues have mentioned, including my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), the sad thing is that perhaps British business is behind. The South Koreans, the Japanese and others are willing to look long at the developments in central Europe.

The developments in eastern and central Europe pose a question mark over the concept of Europe that stems from the Delors initiative. The Single European Act, 1992 and all the other exciting developments stem from a time when one did not, and probably could not, anticipate what has happened in eastern Europe. Those developments are based on a much narrower concept and definition of Europe.

To what extent can the Delors concept of Europe be accommodated within the new, wider definition of Europe? We noted what the Minister said about the new agreement between EFTA and the Community. Although the dust has not yet settled, it is clear that, if the new Europe, wider than the Delors concept, is to develop, an institutional framework must be established at some stage. No such framework is in prospect yet.

We have seen how the SPD congress in Berlin and the political parties in East Germany have reacted. The Minister, because of his office, may not be able to comment as he would wish, but it is sad to note the contrast between the courage of Dr. Vogel in saying that the western boundaries of Poland are sacrosanct and the unwillingness of Chancellor Kohl to say clearly that the Oder-Neisse line is not in question.

There is no way in which the Federal Chancellor can benefit from keeping that question open. He will not gain votes which would otherwise go to Republicans. By failing to answer the question, he only fans flames that may revive the worst sort of memories of revanchism. I hope that the Government will urge Chancellor Kohl to make clear formally, directly and publicly the recognition by his own party and the Federal Government that the western frontiers of Poland are fixed and are not in question as a result of these developments.

I have one or two words of caution about the Warsaw pact. We should not think of Mr. Modrow in East Germany as a liberal. There are clear signals that he is one of those who is dragging developments in central Europe. The Communist parties in central and eastern Europe still hold the key ministries—the Interior Ministry and the Education Ministry. Happily, Czechoslovakia is an exception to that and, although arriving late in the field, it appears to have outdistanced some of those who started before it.

The key question must be that which colleagues have already mentioned: what do we do with this victory for democracy? We must respond with some humility and not assume that we have all the answers. I have a personal nightmare that, when the Channel tunnel terminal at Waterloo opens, the first travellers to come out of it will step right into the cardboard city which is developing apace at Waterloo station. That is a sign of one of our democracy's social failures.

We have to win our credentials in the wider European context by showing that commitment to Europe that the Government have signally failed to do. I do not blame the Foreign Office for this, because it is subject to other orders, but we must be careful that we do not feed suspicions that we show an enthusiasm for the wider Europe only as a device to dilute what has already been achieved in terms of European integration.

We must concentrate on bringing central Europe into the main stream. I have heard the analogy used that central and eastern Europe are like a severed limb and that microsurgery is needed to bring the two parts of Europe together. Microsurgery in that context means a network of relationships right across the board, including professional organisations and others.

The know-how fund has already been established for Poland and will, from 1 April, 1990, be set up for Hungary. Are the funds new money, or are funds being diverted from existing money in the Overseas Development Administration vote? The emphasis on Poland and Hungary was understandable at the time, but since the decisions have been made, Czechoslovakia has come on stream. To what extent are the Government now prepared to include Czechoslovakia in a similar know-how fund?

How does the Minister respond to the similar call made by the hon. Member for Arundel in respect of East Germany? I concede that East Germany is different because it is already partly linked to the European Community through its special relationship with West Germany. Perhaps a far stronger case can be made for Czechoslovakia.

How can the Minister ensure that the money is spent across the spectrum? What sort of missionary work is being done among professional and other organisations? What publicity is being given to this? The impression that I have gained from talking to various organisations is that they are not yet aware of the opportunities. I hope that many of our professional organisations will find placements within their structures for their sister organisations in central Europe. Does the Minister see scope for expenditure on party political activities? The Federal Republic of Germany and Austria already have foundations that receive public funds indirectly. It is surely a properly democratic investment to allow political parties from this country to meet their opposite numbers in central and eastern Europe. I hope that the Minister will confirm that such exchanges will not be ruled out in principle.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting and the hon. Member for Arundel queried the readiness of the Government to respond flexibly to new developments in central and eastern Europe in terms of embassy staffing. To what extent have the Government considered staffing levels in our embassies—particularly the cultural and commercial posts in them? Are we geared to respond flexibly to these new opportunities?

I hope that the Minister will have ample time to answer the questions that I have asked.

1.42 am
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. William Waldegrave)

It is a pleasure to have another opportunity to talk about the immensely important changes in eastern Europe. We had a good debate a couple of Fridays ago, to which the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) was a major contributor. The hon. Gentleman is silent tonight, but I note that he has stayed to listen to this important debate.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) for raising this subject. The IPU certainly has an important role to play. Its role has been difficult in the past; it has tried to keep open connections and contacts with people who were not those with whom the IPU would have liked to have contact. Now it has to transfer its contacts—joyfully, I am sure—to genuinely and democratically elected partners. The 1PU has an important role in validating the newly elected parliamentarians of the countries of eastern Europe.

My hon. Friend the Member for Arundel spoke of the scale of the changes in the Soviet Union. We must be humble before that scale of events. Perhaps we should also be humble about our capacity to influence them, but I think that we have a small chance of doing so. The Prime Minister played an honourable role in recognising the genuineness of the Soviet reforms early, when it mattered, and in recognising that Gorbachev was qualitatively different from previous Soviet leaders.

The Soviet Union is intensely preoccupied with its own changes, but if it proposes areas in which we can help—it has not yet done so—we must respond. Perhaps that response will be made in terms of parliamentary contacts. We look forward to the twice-postponed visit of the representatives of the Supreme Soviet, which is now assuming a role that would have been inconceivable only a few years ago. We look forward to welcoming those representatives to our country in due course.

Mr. Michael Marshall

I omitted to say earlier that we are appreciative of the common ground that we share with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and of the excellent co-operation that exists. The visit to which my hon. Friend refers is part of that continuity and demonstrates the value that the Soviet Union attaches to that connection and that it wishes to sustain it. I am grateful to my hon. Friend and to his Department for their work in that connection.

Mr. Waldegrave

I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend for those remarks, which I shall convey to the officials who undertake the work to which he refers.

I am happy to say that the £25 million of know-how funds to which he referred has been doubled to £50 million, which is a considerable amount in terms of expenditure on the movement of people, salaries and expertise rather than on major capital equipment. We shall not find ourselves short of money for good projects, which is an aspect on which the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) also touched.

We have ventured into the sensitive tarritory of Government funding of political activities, and that is why I took the precaution of issuing an invitation to the hon. Members for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) and for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston), which they have accepted, to join me on the fund's steering group. If we are to support financially political activities, it should be done on an all-party basis. And certainly it should be done.

We ought not to stand back from the process of developing democratic institutions because we are nervous about having any involvement in such activities. Obviously we shall not involve ourselves in campaigning, but we shall take an interest in developing contacts between the various parties of central and eastern Europe and their equivalents in this country.

There must be equivalents in this House to all the parties that exist in central and eastern Europe, for the House embraces nationalists and various factions of liberals and democrats. Now that the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) is in his place, I can cite also a group within the Labour party. When we last debated these matters, profound and moving speeches were made by the Trotskyite faction.

Mr. Flynn

Did the Minister watch a Channel 4 programme on Sunday morning about a fortnight ago, which showed a distressing example of aspiring Hungarian politicians receiving tuition in how to deceive the electorate? It concerned a promise to increase state child benefit without really making any such commitment, by using guile to break that promise later. I hate to introduce a controversial note, but would it not be better to concentrate on teaching the emerging politicians of eastern Europe the best of our political practices, not the worst?

Mr. Waldegrave

Of course the hon. Gentleman is right. I shall not sound any note of controversy either, but there are examples from recent decades of both good and bad politics. The Opposition may point to bad examples of which Conservatives were guilty, but I suspect that I could give examples of bad practice among Opposition Members too. Nevertheless, we are united in stressing the key point that, in free elections, the people must be the final arbiters.

We must not be too squeamish about holding back from any involvement in democratisation, provided that a balance is maintained across the spectrum of political parties. That is why the Government invited representatives of all political parties to be represented on the know-how fund steering committee. Perhaps the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East can add to the political spectrum.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

The Minister will realise that, as I am opening the next section of the debate in 10 minutes' time, I am not allowed to speak in this section, but I can ask him a question. He referred disparagingly to those who, over the years, have preferred the Leftist opposition led by Leon Trotsky to the repressive element led by Stalin. Does he recogise that it was Stalin's agents who, nearly 50 years ago, murdered Trotsky for leading that opposition?

When, about 10 days ago, I was fortunate enough to spend just short of two days in East Berlin and Leipzig, the young people whom I met were keen to bring about anti-corruption committees, free trade unions, free political parties, freedom of assembly and a free press. They were keen to retain public ownership rather than giving away what the East German economy had built up —albeit with the bureaucratic mismanagement and totalitarianism that had developed over the past 40 years. They were far more interested in listening to the ideas of the Left opposition than in listening to those of capitalists.

Mr. Waldegrave

I am delighted to have spurred the hon. Gentleman into speech. We in the West can offer a tremendous pluralism of ideas, and the hon. Gentleman will be able to offer his, as he is able here to offer them to the electorate. The joy is that people in East Germany and Czechoslovakia will be able to submit the same ideas to their electors.

I have a suspicion—which I believe may be shared by the hon. Member for Walsall, South—that the ideas of Leon Trotsky will not ultimately win the competition; but who am I to say? It will be for the people of Czechoslovakia and East Germany to decide. It may well be that, as the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East suggests, the Stalinists have been wholly overthrown in eastern Europe by Trotskyite groups. The people whom I saw in Wenceslaus square did not look like Trotskyites to me, but perhaps they were good at disguising themselves.

Mr. Anderson


Mr. Waldegrave

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, who is not a Trotskyite.

Mr. Anderson

Before I enter into the Stalinist-Trotskyite controversy, may I ask the Minister again whether we are talking about new money or money from the existing ODA vote?

Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Gentleman is right to ask that question. I am afraid that I was diverted by my extremely pleasurable debate with the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East, with whom I always enjoy exchanging views.

I am delighted to give the hon. Gentleman an absolute assurance that the money in the know-how fund—£50 million for Poland, £25 million so far for Hungary—is completely new money, on a different "line", as the technical jargon would have it. I am happy to say that my colleagues have awarded that money to the Foreign Office for it to spend on these important projects.

The hon. Gentleman also asked whether there would be more money for other countries, such as Czechoslovakia and East Germany. He was right to say that we have put the emphasis on Poland—which is experiencing an acute crisis and facing a tough winter—and on Hungary: both countries have high per-capita debt figures. I do not rule out further funds, however. Do not let us forget Bulgaria. Astonishing though it may seem, the spectacular events in neighbouring countries may have prevented us from concentrating on Bulgaria enough, although I do not criticise anyone for that. Bulgaria has removed the leading role of the party, and is talking about genuinely free elections. A number of countries will be legitimate claimants for further resources in due course, and I certainly do not rule out such provision.

The hon. Member for Swansea, East also mentioned the response of the European Community, and I have considerable sympathy with his views. Although he teased us about our commitment to Europe, I do not think that, fundamentally, there is much disagreement between us. The hon. Gentleman does not want a fortress Europe; he shares, I think, the scepticism of his party about the unified central bank and the possibility of too much commitment to a central currency. The main point on which the House is agreed is that the Community must not put up barriers against the emerging new democracies in eastern Europe. We must remain flexible enough to make arrangements with them that will help them economically and democratically.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) made a point that it is important to make in all these debates—that the changes are far from permanent. We must spend some part of each of these debates reminding ourselves that defences will continue to be needed. We must keep our insurance policies in place.

I have to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn). I hope that I do not embarrass his Front Bench by doing so. He has taken some part in the events, especially those in Hungary and Romania, because he has done some good broadcasts. I am happy to say that, as a result of his asking at Question Time, I think, whether we could do more broadcasting, I was able, armed with the pressure he put on me, to go to see Mr. John Tusa of the World Service. We now have an extra, and useful, quarter of an hour a day of broadcasts in the Romanian language. I think that that is helpful. I have taken up some of the extra quarter of an hour already, and I am sure that the hon. Member will join in shortly.

On a more serious note, it is important at this time, of all times, when the Romanian Government are taking steps to try to prevent any flow of information or movement of people, to have such broadcasts. The only access we have is through the broadcasting organisations using the Romanian language, so the BBC Romanian language service is critical at the moment. I am sure that the House will join me in welcoming that additional broadcasting time. I hope that good use is made of it.

The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) and my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel touched on the huge issue of the reunification of Germany. To judge from what the Leader of the Opposition said during his recent visit to East Berlin, both sides of the House take somewhat the same view. We do not for a moment doubt the right of the German people to reunification. We cannot choose between self-determination and political rights in one country or another, but it is right for those who are a little further back from the intense emotions that are bound to be expressed in Germany to say, "Do be a little careful about the security structure of Europe in the process. We know that you have waited 40 years, but let us, if necessary, ask you, not necessarily to wait, but to take account of the sensitivities of your neighbours in the immediate steps ahead because it would be terrible to upset the apple cart of progress by taking steps that caused a dangerous reaction." It is not that we are in any way challenging the right of those people to decide their own future, but perhaps it is fair to ask them—it is a difficult thing to ask after they have been divided for so long—to look also at the geopolitics of where we are in Europe and not to upset the apple cart of progress by going too fast.

The progress is welcome. The debate is welcome, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel for initiating it. It would be proper to have a debate on the subject almost every day, events are moving so fast. There is something new to announce every day. Mr. Havel now seems set to be the elected president of Czechoslovakia. In the countries where progress is being made, we are not quite certain of it. There may be reactions or difficulties. We are not yet wholly over the watershed. That means that the attention of the House and the western nations to the progress that is being made and the help we can offer through broadcasting and all the other means is still needed to carry those countries into a secure future of democracy and freedom.