HL Deb 18 April 1985 vol 462 cc801-3

3.20 p.m.

Lord Chelwood

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what have been the main objects of the Foreign Secretary's visits to the Warsaw bloc countries of Eastern and Central Europe, and whether they will discuss with our NATO allies the means of furthering his stated aims.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Young)

My Lords, the aims were to broaden the dialogue with Eastern Europe, especially on East-West relations and arms control; to demonstrate our concern for the Helsinki process; and to develop bilateral relations and promote trade. We have regular discussions with our allies on all aspects of East-West relations.

Lord Chelwood

My Lords, is this not the first time that the Foreign Secretary of a NATO country has drawn such clear and sharp distinctions between the governments of the formerly independent countries of East and Central Europe and their peoples? Have not these visits given some badly needed comfort to the brave people who belong to such organisations as Solidarity and Charter 77? Ought not the Foreign Secretary to be most warmly congratulated on the outcome of the visits?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for paying tribute to my right honourable and learned friend's visit. As I have already indicated, the talks centred on East-West relationships and my right honourable and learned friend underlined the West's sincere wish to reduce the levels of weapons through negotiations. He also stressed our concern about the observance of human rights throughout Europe. As in all his visits, my right honourable and learned friend wished for contact with a wide range of opinion, as he would do in all the countries that he visits.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is it not unfortunate that the Prime Minister failed to follow the Foreign Secretary's example when she was in Indonesia? Is the noble Baroness aware that the record of the Government of Indonesia on human rights affairs is very much worse than that of any European government?

Baroness Young

My Lords, while not accepting for one moment that the visit abroad by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister was anything other than successful, I should say that the points the noble Lord makes are wide of the Question.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, if I may return to the subject of Eastern Europe, is the noble Baroness aware that our trade with Eastern Europe now, including the Soviet Union, is over £1 billion a year; that we are Poland's second largest western trading partner, and that the visit of the Foreign Secretary was extremely welcome in these countries which are very anxious to have good relations with the West? Nevertheless, our trade is about a quarter of that of the Federal Republic of Germany and even less than that of the United States of America.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord warmly for his remarks about my right honourable and learned friend. I can confirm that he discussed trade with all the three countries that he visited. We recognise that that is of great importance. We agree the scope of the possibilities for increase. We should like to see the restoration of normal trade credit arrangements with Poland; but further consideration must await the Polish signature of the Paris club debt rescheduling agreement.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, is it a fact that the activities of the Foreign Secretary in Eastern Europe, on which we can all congratulate him, have not been subjected to unfavourable comment in Moscow up to now?

Baroness Young

My Lords, it is regrettable that the coverage in the Eastern European media was selective in regard to important passages of what my right honourable friend said on arms control and human rights through the GDR press and TV-relayed remarks on freedom to travel. There were full reports of speeches and press conferences on the BBC World Service.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree—I would be astonished if she did not—that the conduct of the Foreign Secretary in all his dealings with Eastern Europe and with the Soviet Union in recent months is very much to be commended? Will she join with those of us on these Benches in hoping that we shall all be saying the same thing in six or 10 months' time?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his remarks.

Lord Renton

My Lords, can my noble friend give any indication to your Lordships of the kind of response that he received when he drew attention to failures to implement the Helsinki Final Act?

Baroness Young

My Lords, what was important was that my right honourable and learned friend raised the question of human rights. I hope that my noble friend will agree that your Lordships' House is perhaps not the best forum to go into the detail of this matter.

Lord Boston of Faversham

My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that not only is the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary to be commended on the successful service of visits he has just made, but he is to be congratulated on the considerable courage that he showed in some of the contacts that he made in East and Central Europe, not least in Poland? Can she say whether we can hold out any hope that there will not only be greater movement of people from West to East but there will be greater movement of individuals from East to West as well?

Baroness Young

My Lords, it would not be appropriate for me to speculate on the points that the noble Lord, Lord Boston, has raised about the number of people travelling between East and West; but I note what he said about the importance of the raising by my right honourable friend of human rights matters and the opportunities that he took for talking to such a wide range of opinion in the three countries that he visited.

Viscount Eccles

My Lords, in view of the success of the Foreign Secretary's visit, can the noble Baroness say whether consideration is being given to increasing the BBC's Overseas Service to these countries? It is already very successful and it is a good maxim to build on success.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I take note of my noble friend's point.