HC Deb 20 November 1991 vol 199 cc256-7
6. Mr. Simon Coombs

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on Britain's relations with the Baltic states.

11. Mr. Barry Field

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what importance he attaches to developing relations with the newly independent Baltic states.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Garel-Jones)

Our relations with the Baltic states are good. We welcomed their independence in August. We now are offering them help in consolidating their independence and rebuilding their economies. We are already backing projects in three states through the know-how fund. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State visited the states in September immediately after we re-established diplomatic relations with them to underline our support. British ambassadors are now operating in all three Baltic capitals. They are doing a good job under difficult circumstances.

Mr. Coombs

Does my hon. Friend think that the Labour party was acting in the best interests of Britain and of our Baltic friends when, in 1969, it did a deal with Brezhnev and handed over the Baltic gold?

Mr. Garel-Jones

The hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) looks anxious, as indeed he might, because one of the current concerns of the Baltic states is the return of their gold. That matter is high on their agenda, and the hon. Gentleman may recall that the Labour party has distinguished itself over the past 40 years by being wrong about practically every foreign policy and defence issue that has come before it. On few occasions has it shown less moral scruple than when it made a deal with Brezhnev to dispose of the Soviet gold. The Conservative party opposed that agreement—my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) was one of those who voted against it. We thought it wrong then and we still think so. We do not know what legal or moral basis there was for it.

My hon. Friend will be relieved to know that my hon. and learned Friend, my fellow Minister of State, is having constructive discussions with our friends in the Baltic states on the matter.

Mr. Field

Will my hon. Friend confirm that as part of that remarkable deal the then Labour Government paid a £500,000 sweetener to the Soviet Government? Can he give a categorical assurance to the House that none of that money was used by the Soviet Communist party to try to destabilise this country and foment industrial disputes, as it has now admitted that it did?

Mr. Garel-Jones

I can give the House no assurance about what the Soviet——

Mr. Anderson

That is an own gold.

Mr. Garel-Jones

The hon. Gentleman voted for the Bill. He was in the House at the time, so he should hang his head in shame. He voted for the Bill, as did two of the Liberals here, the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) and the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston).

I can give my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) no assurance about the eventual destiny of that money. At that time the Conservative party voted against the Bill because we thought that it was entirely wrong. The discussions that the Minister of State, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) is now having with the Baltic states are taking place in a constructive atmosphere. We hope to reach a satisfactory solution to this matter.

Mr. Galloway

Coming from the party that went to Munich to betray Czechoslovakia—[Interruption.] I find the recourse to a 20-year-old smear by the Foreign Office Minister most unseemly. It might have something to do with the forthcoming general election when any smear will do.

Since the Minister is so concerned about the gold belonging to the Baltic states, will he see justice done for the poorest country in Europe, Albania, whose gold is in the Bank of England and was stolen from that country four decades ago?[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. This question was supposed to be about the Baltic states, but as we have become hooked on gold, I think that we had better have the answer.

Mr. Garel-Jones

Moral indignation sits rather uneasily on the hon. Gentleman's shoulders, particularly on this matter. The question refers to the Baltic states, not Albania.

Mr. Flynn

The people of the Baltic states will be baffled at the petty party points that Conservative Members have tried to make out of the great victory that was achieved by those people.

I have a serious question. What representations have the Government made about the new proposal, particularly in Latvia, to restrict citizenship to those whose descendants came from the Baltic states and to those who speak the Baltic languages? Are we making representations to widen the terms of citizenship in those three states to avoid their being turned into three Ulsters?

Mr. Garel-Jones

Certainly, the hon. Gentleman has made an important point. Respect for human rights and minorities and, in particular, respect for those who speak minority languages or come from a minority ethnic group is an important matter. We have, of course, stressed to our friends in the Baltic states that their membership of the CSCE—Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe—process and their aspirations to join the Council of Europe will naturally depend to a great extent upon their ability to meet international standards in such matters.

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