HC Deb 07 February 1990 vol 166 cc869-70
1. Mr. Anthony Coombs

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what further steps are being planned by the Government to assist east European countries.

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

We have announced the Government's plan to extend our existing know-how fund for Poland and Hungary to the other countries of eastern Europe. This will make available substantial sums of money to finance projects aimed to help the transition to democracy and a market economy. We are also helping through the EC and other multilateral organizations.

Mr. Coombs

Given the current instability in eastern Europe, does my right hon. Friend agree that our strategic policy should be one of caution, and that in terms of individual development towards democracy and a free enterprise system, there is a great deal to be done? In that context does he recognise the power of American and German institutions, such as the National Foundation for Democracy, the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and others, to influence policy in eastern Europe? What will the Government do to bring on such institutions in Britain?

Mr. Waldegrave

I agree with my hon. Friend's overall assessment. Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have suggested that we might consider proposals of the type that he put forward. This is new and quite difficult territory, because the fund will be channelling support to political organisations, which is quite different from normal aid. The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) has made suggestions on this issue, which we are considering.

Mr. Alton

Has the Minister had a chance to study reports from Bucharest that suggest that up to 28 per cent. of children in the hospitals there are infected by HIV, and are AIDS victims? Has the Minister had the chance to consider the request that packs for detection of the disease, sterile needles and scientific and medical help be provided by the Government? Will he tell the House how he intends to respond to that?

Mr. Waldegrave

The whole House will have been moved by the terrible stories that have emerged in the past few days. I am delighted to say that, as a first response, the Government have decided today to send 1 million disposable syringes, and we shall respond to further requests

Sir Peter Blaker

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the unanimous welcome that has been given by the countries concerned to the British know-how funds, and how welcome it is that those funds will be extended to other countries in eastern Europe? Is he further aware that, with the aid of the funds, BBC external services are planning this year to train 40 Polish broadcasters how to operate a free broadcasting system? Will he join me in paying tribute to the BBC external services for the fact that over these momentous months they have been broadcasting the truth to the countries of eastern Europe?

Mr. Waldegrave

I am delighted to join in that tribute and to confirm the accuracy of what my right hon. Friend said about the new role that the BBC is taking in training proper journalists in the East. Later on today I am going to a party given by the Romanian services of the BBC, and I pay particular tribute to them, but all the external services have played a crucial role in telling the truth and facilitating the changes that we have seen

Mr. Anderson

The Minister will know that we join wholeheartedly in the broad thrust of Government policy on the know-how funds, which allow us to play to our strengths, be it in management or in our experience of parliamentary democracy. On the more general theme of relations with eastern and central Europe, does he agree that, at this time of fundamental change, it is important and in our national interest not to be left isolated and irelevant in the eyes of our American and European allies? Will he therefore persist in his efforts to synchronise the Prime Minister with history?

Mr. Waldegrave

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made an important speech in Germany yesterday, which I think was widely welcomed. Of all the countries in Europe that are central to the processes now taking place, only Britain and France are members of all the crucial organisations▀×the four powers, the European Community, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and so forth. Our position is and will remain central.