HC Deb 26 February 1990 vol 168 cc17-8
73. Mr. Winnick

To ask the Lord President of the Council if he has any plans to meet Members of Parliaments of Warsaw pact countries to discuss parliamentary and democratic procedures.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that there has been a huge increase in contacts with parliamentarians and others in eastern Europe following the dramatic and most welcome developments there in the past few months. Naturally I have played a full part in that and I look forward to maintaining such contacts.

Mr. Winnick

How does the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain to those parliamentarians that while their countries are, we hope, beginning to establish the rule of law and parliamentary democracy, in Britain the Tory Government have taken away the right of many people working in local government to stand for election in another local authority, to stand for election to Parliament or to take part in any political activity? How can he justify his action of six years ago, when he took away the right of people to belong to a trade union if they happened to be working at GCHQ? Is it not odd that while east European countries are heading towards democracy, our democratic process is being undermined?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The oddity is entirely in the hon. Gentleman's perception. The decisions taken by the Government in relation to trade union membership at GCHQ have been tested and upheld in many places. The decisions taken about the relationship between local government membership and party-political representation were strongly debated in this House and further debated in the other place. The conclusion that emerged was the result of proper consideration in both Houses of a democratic Parliament.

Mr. Knapman

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that people emerging from a Socialist paradise in the East are unlikely to want lessons on parliamentary democracy from Socialists in the West?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I have noticed that they tend to look toward the Government for instruction in these matters.

Mr. Alton

Following the announcement last Thursday by the Secretary of State for Commonwealth and Foreign Affairs that funding would be available to political parties in this House which they would be able to make available to parties in eastern Europe, can the Leader of the House say how much money will be available? Bearing in mind that elections are already under way in eastern Europe, will he give us the timetable? Are the organisations that the Government have in mind similar to foundations such as the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung and the FriedrichNaumann-Stiftung in West Germany?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman will realise that such help is being given in a number of different ways, ranging from the Inter-Parliamentary Union to the Great Britain/East Europe centre; a know-how fund for Poland and other countries is also available. I will put the hon. Gentleman's question to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it would be a good idea for people from eastern Europe to explain both to Socialists in this House and to the British public why they are getting rid of nationalisation, high taxation and a bureaucratic state and looking towards the British Government's privatisation policies as the way forward for a free society?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I think that Conservative Members are certainly of one mind with my hon. Friend. The process of privatisation has been undertaken not just in eastern Europe but in countries around the world, following the example set by the Government of this country.

Dr. Cunningham

Welcome though the contacts with developing democracies in eastern Europe will be, will the Leader of the House say whether his colleagues in the Department of the Environment have advised the new democratic Governments to introduce more than 50 Acts of Parliament taking away powers from the local level and giving them to Ministers? Have they been advised to abolish the existing councils for their capital cities? How many requests has the Leader of the House had from eastern European Governments about the advantages of introducing a poll tax in their countries?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

One cannot but admire the one-track nature of the hon. Gentleman's mind. Certainly, one of the proposals that we commend to democratic countries in eastern Europe is for a sensible pattern of local government taxation such as exists in this country.