HC Deb 08 December 1999 vol 340 cc813-4
2. Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

If she will make a statement on actions taken to unblock the Danube since 1 December. [100349]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. George Foulkes)

We remain prepared to provide assistance through the European Commission to unblock the Danube, provided that agreement can be reached among the member states of the Danube Commission to allow the work to start.

Mr. Dalyell

Is my hon. Friend aware that, when my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) and I were visiting the technical officials of the Ministry of Reconstruction in Belgrade in September, they made it clear that we would be whistling in the wind to think that there would be any co-operation until such time as the dollars and deutschmarks are on the table not only for pulling out the debris but for the reconstruction of the bridges themselves? In those circumstances, given the dire situation for Bulgaria, Romania and other countries caused by the severing of one of Europe's main arteries, cannot some agreement be reached that does not rely on saying that Mr. Milosevic is a dreadful man?

Mr. Foulkes

My hon. Friend must accept that the real problem rests with Milosevic. His Government have consistently refused to allow the river to be cleared unless we agree to rebuild the bridges, and he knows that that is unacceptable. Let me tell my hon. Friend also that the blockage can be bypassed by using a section of the Belgrade canal system—but Milosevic will charge the countries that my hon. Friend has just mentioned exorbitant prices for the privilege of using that section. My hon. Friend must at last realise that the villain of the piece is Mr. Milosevic.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

Will the Minister accept that the blockage of the Danube means that Romania and Bulgaria have paid a heavy economic price for their support of NATO in the action over Kosovo? What impact does he believe the blockage has had on those countries' economies, and how much development assistance and aid are Britain and the international community giving them to make up for the price that they have paid?

Mr. Foulkes

Of course those countries are suffering, and I said in my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) that there is a way round that problem. The key lies with Mr. Milosevic. In the meantime, we are providing substantial aid. Over £90 million has been provided by the British Government alone for reconstruction and help in Kosovo and the region. We continue to discuss with the other countries ways in which we can help them in the future. The Stability Pact is an important area of co-operation. Of course we want to do everything that we can to help those countries to prosper.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

I have recently had meetings with the Bulgarian ambassador, the Ukrainian ambassador and Romanian MPs, one of whom represents a Danubian port and whose constituents have lost 2,500 jobs because the Danube is blocked. Does my hon. Friend accept that the country that is least hurt by that problem is Serbia? Will the Government stop taking this rather petulant line and look after the emerging democracies, which after all supported the Minister's point of view?

Mr. Foulkes

I, too, have spoken to the Ukrainian ambassador and to Ukrainian and Bulgarian Ministers. They recognise where the problem lies. It is a pity that there are not good Back-Bench Members of Parliament like my hon. Friend raising this question with Mr. Milosevic, but of course it is a different story there: we have a vibrant democracy—that is the difference.

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