HC Deb 08 July 1992 vol 211 cc321-2
5. Mr. Barry Field

To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will set out the initiatives taken by his Department to encourage free enterprise in Poland, Romania and the former Soviet republics.

Mr. Needham

My Department can best encourage free enterprise by promoting trade with, and investment in those countries and ensuring that they have markets for their exports. My Department also provides advice and encouragement to potential British exporters and investors in many ways in those countries.

Mr. Field

My hon. Friend will be aware that an application for some of the funds made available by the Government to promote free enterprise in eastern Europe was refused on the ground that the installation and assets to be acquired were to be used for a military purpose. I believe that British taxpayers expect that swords will be turned into ploughshares. Will my hon. Friend ensure that, in future, the rules are more transparent so that business men do not waste time applying in such circumstances?

Mr. Needham

I understand my hon. Friend's concern. The four sectors for which the know-how fund is available are energy, financial services, food distribution and small business creation. As my hon. Friend says, defence conversion is not one of them, and that information has been published. I assure my hon. Friend that the Government will do all that they can to raise awareness of sectors covered by the know-how fund when that is possible.

Dr. Kim Howells

The Minister will know that, when it comes to creating a viable commercial market in eastern Europe, no commodity is in greater demand than a secure and safe supply of electricity. Many nuclear power stations in the Soviet Union play a vital role in producing electricity but are far from safe and far from reliable. Will the Minister therefore ensure that the huge accumulation of experience and expertise in this country is deployed in helping the operators of those nuclear power stations to make them safe so that we may avoid a catastrophic decline in electricity production and a disaster such as that which occurred at Chernobyl?

Mr. Needham

I certainly accept what the hon. Gentleman says about our expertise and the need for something to be done. I assure him that the Government will do what they can to that effect.

Mr. David Atkinson

Does my hon. Friend agree that those who run the former communist countries today are the same people who ran the state-controlled, centralised, bureaucratic communist economies that they once were? Does he agree that those people should be encouraged now to encourage those in exile in the west, who already understand the free enterprise system, to return home to their countries to apply the principles of which they have already had experience?

Mr. Needham

Yes, Madam Speaker.

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