HL Deb 11 December 1989 vol 513 cc1179-203

6.38 p.m.

Baroness Cox rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what help they are providing to alleviate the current health and environmental problems in Poland.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am very grateful for this opportunity to raise matters which I believe are of the utmost importance not only for Poland but for the other emerging democracies in Eastern Europe, for Europe as a whole and for the future of freedom and democracy. I am also grateful to the other noble Lords who will be contributing to this debate.

I am sure that your Lordships will appreciate that if it were possible for debates to be in the name of more than one Member of your Lordships' House, then the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Ryder of Warsaw, whom I am honoured to call my friend, would also be featuring on the Order Paper.

Your Lordships may be aware that last week I was travelling to Poland with a 32-tonne truck full of medical supplies. As a scene-setter to this debate I should like to invite your Lordships to accompany me in imagination to two of the places I visited. I shall then provide some of the latest statistics which portray the larger picture behind the individual examples of human suffering, statistics which demonstrate the catastrophic proportions of Poland's problems. I will conclude by urging the Government to respond much more urgently and more appropriately to the desperate needs of the Polish people.

May I invite your Lordships first to accompany me in imagination on my visit to a children's hospital in a large industrial city? It serves a large catchment area and treats children for a wide range of diseases, including different cancers and leukaemia. But for the past two to three weeks it has received no supplies of cytotoxic drugs used for the treatment of malignant disease and it has been told that none will be available for the foreseeable future. The hospital is therefore desperately trying to obtain some from the West.

The hospital has run out of indwelling intraveneous catheters, which means that children, for example, with leukaemia, who need regular intravenous therapy have to have repeated injections into their veins, which then become so damaged that it becomes increasingly difficult and painful to insert the needle, and this distressing situation may continue for weeks or months. The hospital has many other shortages—for example, no antibiotics for infants, no lumbar puncture needles of an appropriate size for children, no rubber gloves, so that nurses must administer cytotoxic drugs with bare hands and no appropriate baby milk powder—and it is so overcrowded that visits by parents have to be forbidden, despite the agonising awareness of the traumatic psychological effects this has on children.

Shortages such as these are resulting not only in suffering but also in unnecessary death. For example, the recovery rate for children with certain forms of leukaemia in this hospital is only about 60 per cent. compared with approximately 80 per cent. in Britain. So Polish parents, doctors and nurses must see children die whom they know they could save if only they had the basic supplies.

Now please would you accompany me in imagination to one of the hospitals I visited in Warsaw last week? It is a typical hospital. The corridor in the cardiac unit is full of beds with seriously ill people lying amidst a constant flow of people and trolleys, surrounded by noise, with a complete lack of privacy. This is because Warsaw can only provide care in coronary care units for a mere 40 to 50 per cent. of patients suffering from heart attacks. Many must therefore risk death being cared for in those noisy corridors.

The hospital has no regular supplies of essential cardiac drugs. Doctors have to spend up to 20 per cent. of their time trying to track down basic medicines, eliciting aid from the West and bartering some of their precious supplies in exchanges with other hospitals. For example, one hospital may receive a consignment of surgical gloves which it will share with another in return for urgently needed drugs.

Coronary heart disease is the biggest health problem in Poland today, accounting for approximately 51 per cent. of deaths. It is killing more and more people at younger and younger ages, with the highest mortality in the world for middle-aged men. Many could be effectively treated by surgery, such as coronary bypass. But Poland can only provide for 10 per cent.—10 per cent.!—of those who need this life-saving treatment. So very many people, including many who are relatively young and who could enjoy many more years of healthy life, will die unnecessarily.

I could give many more examples but time does not permit. I hope these few give some feeling for the human dimension behind the following statistics: first, cardiovascular disease. A recent international survey of 25 countries shows Poland having the highest figures for rising mortality rate, especialy related to cardiovascular disease. Secondly, TB is a very serious problem. In 1988 there were 18,536 new cases. Poland is 25 years behind Western European countries in terms of the incidence and prevalence of TB.

Thirdly, life expectancy is falling—a particularly telling indictment of the general state of the nation's health, especially when compared with dramatically rising life expectancy in Western Europe. Life expectancy for men in Poland has fallen five years in the past five years, from 69 to 64. This is a terrible figure for a country on the mainland of Europe. It has also fallen, though less dramatically, for women. In parts of Poland, such as Silesia, only 3 per cent. of men live to receive their pension at 65.

Fourthly, there has been an alarming rise in abnormal births. In parts of the country most acutely affected by environmental pollution there has been a dramatic increase in premature births, low birth weight, unhealthy babies and babies with congenital mental and physical abnormalities. Recent research has shown that in parts of Poland, such as the area around the huge steelworks at Nova Huta near Cracow, many, if not all, mothers had no normal placentas.

As the excellent BBC 2 film on Poland in the "State of Europe" series which was shown on 16th November portrayed with such powerful poignancy, there is a direct correlation between pollution, morbidity and mortality. The most recently published figures available in Poland, published on 30th November in an aptly named article called The Spiral of Death, also carry a tragically similar message. In the industrial region of Silesia in southern Poland the infant mortality rate is 27.9 per thousand births compared with 19.1 for Poland as a whole and a mere 6.3 for Sweden. The number of congenital malformations in Silesian children is 50 per cent. higher than in other parts of the country. In some places 30 per cent. of children have blood levels of lead which exceed accepted safety norms.

The mortality of adults from cardiovascular, respiratory and oncological diseases is 30 to 50 per cent. higher than in other parts of the country. The atmospheric concentration of industrial dusts is up to 26 times higher than the accepted level and industrial gases create even worse problems. The concentration of highly toxic and carcinogenic gases in some places is between 11 and 13 times the accepted level. In the Katowice region, with a population of over 3.6 million, the most densely inhabited region in Poland, the concentration of benzo-alpha-pyrene is 300 per cent.. higher than "normal".

There are also serious health hazards in the contamination of water and food. The water in nearly half of Poland's rivers is now virtually biologically dead and over half of the wells are polluted by chemicals and or pathological micro-organisms such as salmonella. In the Lublin area it is estimated that 88 per cent. of wells are infected by pathogenic bacteria. In many places foods are also contaminated by chemicals.

There is also a serious problem of acute shortages of healthy foods. Recently, when I was in Poland earlier this year, there was a virtual absence from the shops of many essential foodstuffs. Now some are visible but equally unobtainable because of the price. For example, in Cracow last Tuesday I saw oranges in the market, but one kilo would cost one-tenth of a doctor's weekly salary. So many families cannot afford to eat a healthy diet. And when I was in Poland in March I was told how mothers who tried to compensate for these shortages in vitamin-rich foods by giving childen carrot juice had been advised not to do so as the carrots were contaminated by chemicals.

Over 20 of Poland's 49 regions are now environmental disaster areas. These are inhabited by one-third of the population. In addition to environmental problems, inflation is rampant and the economy is in a state of virtual ruin. Lech Walesa said when he kindly visited the Medical Aid for Poland Fund warehouse at the departure of my truck, "We are working as hard as we can for economic recovery, but that will not help us if we are no longer alive".

This is the situation in Poland now: they have inherited an economic ruin; they have no infrastructure of democractic national or local government or of a market economy; and their environment is in many places dying around them. Yet these are the people who are endeavouring to make the first historic transition from communism to democracy. Is it inappropriate to call for aid and trade on a scale similar to the Marshall Plan to assist them in this transition?

The Polish people regard Britain as being one of their closest allies. But, sadly, I have to say that on my last three visits I was met by growing puzzlement and dismay about the perceived lack of appropriate help from the United Kingdom. Therefore, I should like to conclude by highlighting some of the problems experienced by the Polish people as they look to us for help and by asking the Government to consider certain proposals.

First, there is, of course, gratitude for the goodwill which prompted the establishment of the "know-how" fund. But in several meetings that I had with members of the Polish parliament, including some very senior ministers, there was a sense of deep frustration. For example, the terms of reference of the "know-how" fund were originally so limited that they did not meet the most urgent needs, especially for essential equipment. I suggest that it is a nonsense to give people know-how and then to deprive them of the wherewithal to put that into practice.

I understand that there may now be a little more flexibility in the fund's criteria but, from top government down, there is not much evidence on the ground in Poland of its practical help. I know of certain proposals which have been submitted, and which are supported and desperately needed in Poland. However, they seem to have run into a bureaucratic morass while Poland waits in vain.

I hope that the Minister will forgive me if I say that £ 10 million a year does not sound very much. For example, a single charity—that is Medical Aid for Poland Fund—has raised more money and sent more aid than the recently doubled annual budget of the "know-how" fund. Must we continue to rely on the hard work and goodwill of charities, and the outstanding generosity of individual members of the public (many of whom are not well off and are pensioners) to compensate for inadequate Government help?

These months are critical. The democratic change is of enormous significance. However, unless the Polish people can be helped as a matter of great urgency, people who are at the end of their tether may give up the struggle for reform and sink back into darkness and despair. Massive and appropriately targeted aid is needed for the pump-priming of the Polish economy.

In that context I have one practical proposal for my noble friend to consider which could be the seed corn of the development of a healthy market economy. The Polish Ministry of Finance is forming a foundation to facilitate Poland's privatisation programme and the development of capital markets. I have brought back with me the draft documents and I shall be most grateful if, in due course, I can show them to my noble friend for his consideration.

But I am afraid that within Poland there are now matters as regards which Britain is seen as being less than helpful. They include the difficulties experienced in gaining visas for entry into the United Kingdom. For example, an internationally famous medical specialist described how, whenever he goes to the British Embassy for a visa in order to attend a professional scientific conference, he must answer personal questions which he finds deeply insulting. He also described how the delay in obtaining a visa has meant that he missed some conferences altogether. I heard that complaint from many people working in different fields in different parts of Poland. Do we really have to treat Polish people in that humiliating way; a way which is in marked contrast to the treatment received at many other western embassies?

Another problem is the language requirement which Polish colleagues inform me is imposed by the British Council. Speaking to these colleagues, who are highly-qualified, professional people and who can converse fluently and freely in English, I was told that they are often prevented from receiving help because they cannot pass the British Council exam. It is an exam which a Pole who holds a Ph.D. in English said was almost too difficult for her to pass. Of course, applicants for attendance at conferences where English is spoken must be sufficiently competent to benefit. But must we place unnecessary obstructions in the way of professional people who are desperate to update in crucial fields such as medicine and science?

There is another way in which we as a nation are seen to be failing to be as helpful as possible. Poland has an urgent need for investment in order to facilitate economic regeneration. Without that other problems can never ultimately be solved. Other nations are moving in fast. Figures that I was given suggest that West Germany has initiated 380 recent economic initiatives, compared with a mere 12 by Britain. Those are the figures given within Poland and I hope that my noble friend can provide alternative, more constructive and optimistic figures. However, those figures are perceived within Poland.

I ask my noble friend whether there are more ways in which the Government might facilitate British investment; especially for example, those concerned with enterprises which would develop the health care infrastucture or promote environmental rehabilitation?

As regards the first issue, there is a ready-made market for the production of equipment such as needles and syringes. There is a well-educated and cost-effective labour force and a huge market not only in Poland but also in neighbouring countries like the USSR. The effects on health care of such investment would be incalculable, especially as the shortage of needles and syringes is exacerbating the problem of AIDS and hepatitis.

The final matter that I wish to raise concerns environmental rehabilitation. I am aware that my noble friend may not be able to respond to the matter today. However, I should be grateful if the request, which comes from many people in Poland holding senior governmental and professional positions, could be seriously considered and a constructive response made soon which I could forward to them. I have highlighted aspects of the desperate environmental situation. I could give many more statistics but the crisis is widely recognised. Therefore, will Her Majesty's Government consider giving radical help in the form, for example, of converting the interest on the Polish debt, if not the debt itself, into specific projects of environmental rehabilitation. Scandinavian countries are initiating projects on that basis in order to clean up the Vistula which at present is discharging a lethal soup of chemical and human waste into the Baltic. But there are many other urgent environmental problems which need solutions but which the Poles cannot afford and which are taking their toll in human suffering and death.

I hope passionately that we as a nation will gladly and generously help the Polish people to whom we owe so much historically and culturally. I dare to hope that we may help them with no ulterior motive of self-interest. But, so far, we seem to be sadly lacking, if not in words and ostensible goodwill, at least in practical help of significant proportions. So, if we have to look beyond the ties of friendship and the inspiration of human compassion and concern in order to prompt adequate help, we might remember that environmental pollution knows no national or geographical boundaries and that we share the same continent of Europe.

We might also remember that the Polish people were the first to achieve historic free elections as the first step on the road from communist totalitarionism to democratic freedom. If they fail to flourish in that freedom through economic disaster or environmental destruction they may sink back into an even darker age and, in so doing, undermine the other emergent democracies around them. In that case, I suggest that we shall bear a heavy burden of guilt. I plead with the Government to avoid that possibility by providing help urgently, appropriately, sensitively and on a scale commensurate with the enormous issues at stake. In the interests of humanity, freedom and, I hope least important, of ourselves, we can and we must do that.

A close Polish friend pleaded with me, "Please do not forget us or let us down again". I echo and endorse his plea with all my heart.

7 p.m.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships will all be grateful to the noble Baroness for raising this matter today so eloquently and comprehensively. I should like to associate myself with everything she has said and above all, with the spirit in which she said it. I also associate myself with the basic criticism which she makes of our Government's approach to this problem; namely, that it is too narrow, too unimaginative and unworthy of the challenge which confronts us.

In particular, I support what she said about visas. That has long been a disgrace and that it should remain so is even more disgraceful. In addition to that, I should like to share wholeheartedly in her comments about the "know-how" fund. That fund is fine but not enough in itself. If it were part of a larger and more imaginative plan for aid, it would have a much more constructive place than it does as the main contribution which we appear to be making as a country.

In addition, I agree with what the noble Baroness said about joint ventures and the gross and shameful disproportion between this country's contribution in that sphere and that of Germany. It would be the final irony in Polish history if, having escaped from the Russian embrace, it fell into a German economic embrace. We are in a position, as are other countries in Europe, to do something to prevent that fate occurring.

Therefore, we are very grateful to the noble Baroness for raising this Question particularly at this time as 13th December will be the first ministerial meeting of the Group of 24, which is co-ordinating aid to Poland from the West. I hope that at that meeting the points which the noble Baroness has raised will be in the Minister's mind.

I shall not follow the noble Baroness in her examination of the medical crisis in Poland about which she is far more expert than I, as is the noble Baroness, Lady Ryder. I only say that I can confirm everything she has said from my own knowledge. In particular, I shall return to the question of the price of food which is highly relevant to the health of Poland.

Nor shall I discuss at length the environmental crisis except to say that the Polish Academy of Sciences has described Poland as an environmental disaster area. Every year Nova Huta, with its huge antediluvian steelworks dumps on neighbouring Cracow, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, 170 tonnes of lead, 7 tonnes of cadmium, 470 tonnes of zinc and 18 tonnes of iron dust. For 135 days per annum Cracow is enveloped in what is known as stationery smog, dissolving the architecture almost in front of one's eyes.

As the noble Baroness said, that is not a national but an international crisis and requires an international response as does the destruction of 30,000 acres of forest and the pollution of the Baltic. Those are not minor matters which we can neglect. They are matters of critical size and importance to the whole European community.

However, of course, the crisis facing Poland is not only ecological. As we all know, it is political and economic. The political revolution is unlikely to succeed unless the Poles successfully tackle the short and long-term economic problems. Unless they successfully tackle the short-term economic problems, there will be no opportunity to tackle them in the long term. Therefore, I should like to say a few words on the short-term problems this evening.

In the short term, Poland is facing inflation at over 600 per cent., a massive rise in food prices since the abandonment of rationing and price regulation and, at the same time, an acute shortage of food. Therefore, the importance of food aid to avert starvation is not limited to that crucial aim but is also to slow down and then to stablilize the rise in prices. Unless that is done, the forces of inflation will gather strength and may destroy the political prospects of reform.

As far as I can discover, the present position is that the supply of food which is rightly being channelled through the EC, as was agreed at the July summit, and which has been co-ordinated at three meetings of the Group of 24, has, as I said earlier, to be further developed on 13th December at the first ministerial meeting, at which representatives of both the Polish and Hungarian governments will be present. According to the figures which I obtained from the Polish Embassy and the Commission, so far of the 1 million tonnes of grain which the West has promised, 500,000 tonnes have arrived; of the 10,000 tonnes of meat, all has arrived; of the remaining 500,000 tonnes of grain, most will arrive before the end of the year; of olive oil, two-thirds has arrived; and citrus fruits will arrive in January and February. All the monies from those sales will go to the central agricultural fund which is used for the restructuring of Polish agriculture.

The questions about that are relatively simple. The first question is: how does that match up to Polish needs? Has that infusion of food had any effect on prices? Has it had any effect on preventing the hoarding of food by peasants? I do not believe that it is easy to find answers to those questions at present but it seems to me essential that we do find answers. Let us take, for example, the 10,000 tonnes of meat. When rationing was taking place, the ration was 2.5 kilos per month which meant about 90,000 tonnes per year. That was a minimal ration. It seems to me very probable that a mere 10,000 tonnes is not enough to bring down prices or increase supplies. I do not know that, but we should know in planning what deliveries are to be made next year. That is what the ministerial meeting on 13th December will decide.

The second matter about which one cannot be sure is whether that food is in the shops. We have so many records of aid supplied which did not in fact reach the people for whom it was intended. Therefore, those questions seem to me the kind of questions which need to be asked and answered. The fact is that a more elaborate system of monitoring and reporting is required than that which we now have.

What we are saying, or what those of us who have followed the fortunes of Poland for the past 30 or 40 years are saying, is that we are now at a critical point where the whole of Polish history might be changed for the better. If that possibility is missed, simply through lack of help from the West and from this country in particular, it will be a defeat and a missed opportunity which we shall not be able lightly to forget. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord who is answering this debate will have positive news to give us because only if a programme of aid succeeds will Poland be able to deliver the political reforms which she has promised to her people. Only if those promises are delivered will the great hopes which have led to this extraordinary transformation in Poland, which has spread throughout Eastern Europe, have any possibility of being fulfilled.

7.10 p.m.

Baroness Ryder of Warsaw

My Lords, I fully endorse all that the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has said in her speech. Since the age of sixteen and a half my life has been spent with the Poles. During the last war I had the privilege of serving with them in the highly secret section of Special Operations Executive. After the war was over in 1945 I worked as an auxiliary nurse in the ruins of their country. Only two of their beautiful cities escaped destruction; namely, Lublin and Cracow. This was only because the Germans and the Soviets had no time to destroy them.

I remind your Lordships that on 17th July 1939 General Ironside, the Inspector General of Forces and senior military commander of the British Army, flew out to Poland. He was enormously impressed by the spirit that the Poles displayed and their willingness to resist the Germans. But they desperately needed help, particularly for their armed forces. General Ironside spoke Polish and collaborated with Colin Gubbins, who later became our commanding officer of special operations. Both of them had a tremendous respect and affection for Poland.

General Ironside returned to this country later on in the summer of 1939, feeling both eager and enthusiastic. But he found that Mr. Hore-Belisha, the War Minister, had gone to the Committee of Imperial Defence without asking him for his opinion. Neither the Cabinet nor the Government did anything to help Poland. Therefore Britain's "all help within our power" meant nothing except a few outdated machine-guns and obsolete aircraft sent via Turkey and which, I believe, never reached them.

On 31st March 1939 Mr. Neville Chamberlain and Mr. Eduard Daladier of France, guaranteed Poland help but not necessarily her frontiers. The appeasement shown by the press was equally appalling. Thus these devious and weak attitudes allowed Hitler to make further and far stronger claims on Polish territory. On 20th August 1939 the Prime Minister remained fishing in Scotland. On 1st September 1939, as noble Lords will remember, Hitler and his armies invaded Poland and were able to crush the Poles in spite of the brave resistance that they encountered from the Polish army, navy and air force.

The Germans had previously made a non-aggression pact with Stalin and his government, which invaded Poland from the east. They deported one and a half million Poles, mainly to Siberia, and killed 12,000 of their army officers and intellectuals at Katyn and other camps. In addition, countless thousands more were killed. So Poland was divided by the Soviets and the Nazis, who incorporated the country into the German Reich. Only the central part was left but cruelly occupied under the rule of what was called the General Government under the notorious SS governor Frank, who lived in the Royal Castle at Cracow.

At Yalta the allies agreed that the territories belonging to Poland in the East, including their two principal university cities of Lublin and Vilna, were to be given to the Soviet Union, and this action was taken with little or no consultation with the Polish Government in exile. Furthermore, alas, the British Government—and I say this as a member of SOE who had to decode signals with the Poles—disregarded their warning and that given by the Polish resistance movement in Poland, of the Soviet intention of expansion on Polish territory and elsewhere in Europe and, later on, in the world.

At Potsdam Mr. Clement Attlee agreed wih the Americans that the Soviet claims would be fully accepted. I could say far more. I am stating these facts to remind noble Lords of the historical background in order to show that we now have a golden opportunity to fulfil our moral obligations. What I am trying to stress is that we let down the Poles in 1939 by giving them false hopes and promises and again in 1944 when we were unable to help them during the Warsaw Uprising, when they lost 250,000 men, women and children in their single-handed fight against the might of the Germans while the Russians stood back in the suburbs of Warsaw across the River Vistula and awaited the Poles' fate.

It is not only an extremely tragic and poignant part of their history, but one which I, who had the privilege of serving with their countrymen and women, will never forget; neither shall I forget, sadly, Britain's lack of action. None of the Poles with whom I served showed bitterness and indeed they continued to fight on regardless of the fact that they knew they would never see liberty and freedom in their beloved country when the war ended. They entered another dark age existing in a hopeless and inefficient Soviet system, trying to be as independent as possible.

We have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, about the desperate shortages in Poland. I too can confirm from numerous visits made recently that current inflation is now running at between 600 per cent. and 1,000 per cent. To give noble Lords some idea of the cost of food out there, I quote the following: meat with bone and fat, is costing 3,600 zlotys per kilo; bread, which used to be inexpensive, originally cost nine zlotys, then 30 and later 64 zlotys per kilo. Now one loaf costs between 1,000 and 1,800 zlotys per kilo. Sugar used to cost 64 zlotys per kilo and it is now between 2,450 and 3,200 zlotys per kilo and is often unavailable. Soap is just available. Previously it cost only a few zlotys, but it now costs between 400 to 500 zlotys per tablet. Three years ago the Poles were rationed to one bar of soap per month. There is also a great shortage of loo paper. Milk powder for babies is also extremely scarce.

Pensions and salaries are desperately low. Both husbands and wives and indeed all women, work by tradition and because of the economic situation. Therefore people often cannot afford to buy food, if there is any. We know that there are over 4 million people in Poland who are now living well below subsistence level. At present 180 soup kitchens are organised by the Church. Bishop Domin, in Katowice, who is responsible fv. the distribution of food and medical supplies from organisations, has asked me to provide much more. The Bishop, a close friend, is in constant touch with the foundation. Since 1981, when the last crisis really started, the foundation has supplied clothing, food and medicine to the value of several million pounds.

The dilemma I face, both by day and by night, is whether the foundation should continue as often as possible to spend £55,000 to £60,000 on basic essential food and medicines whenever money can be raised for one 25-tonne lorry, or should decide on another equally important priority—the provision of more hospitals and homes. The surgeons frequently ask me on whom they should operate. Hear she—it is usually a woman —points to children and says, "This one has a brain tumour; the other has leukaemia. What do I do? Do I treat one; and if I do, which one do I choose?" What a position to be in. And this is 1989.

Children take their homework into the interminable queues, and both men and women also join them with their office work, or whatever else. I have seen people collapse and die in the queues. If there are no queues it means there is no food in the so-called "shops" or kiosks. Nobody in this country, including those who knew wartime rationing and hardships, can possibly imagine what the Poles have put up with during the past 50 years. It is not only their courage and faith which amaze me, but their dogged determination against all odds to become a free and democratic country. They never give in. Despite the shortage of building materials, and in addition to all the churches which have been reconstructed, such is the strength of their faith that the Poles are struggling to build a further 2,200. They are doing so without equipment and during their few precious moments of free time.

The foundation which bears my name has since the mid-1950s provided Poland with 28 homes, oncology (cancer) centres or small hospitals. More than 80,000 adults and children have been nursed and cared for. However, we are touching only the tip of the iceberg. All building materials are shipped out from this country. The buildings are erected by our own tradesmen, many of them volunteers, together with local Poles. Once the building is erected, it is taken over by qualified Polish staff and run by them. Each home or hospital is financed by the local authority in agreement with the foundation. The foundation is responsible for maintenance of the buildings and also for replacing all furnishings, except for elaborate medical equipment in the oncology centres which we cannot afford. I could give a long list of their requests and needs, but I do not wish to take up more of your Lordships' time.

What Poland requires most now, and in the long term too, is managerial assistance and advice, as my noble friend Lady Cox has explained In addition, the Sue Ryder Foundation has an opportunity to build at least another six, 10 or 20 homes or hospitals, each costing at least £400,000. These, as before, will be manufactured in Britain and sent out on board Polish ships. We receive free freight from the Polish Government.

Many thousands of patients are treated every year in our homes, hospitals or oncology centres in Poland, but every bed has at least 50 patients —often children —waiting for it. I hope to launch a special appeal for Poland but I do not think it right that the foundation should do this on its own, relying on donations from schoolchildren, pensioners and others who are not well off. I plead that the Government, together with other countries and the EC, should be persuaded to give extra assistance to carry out this vital work among the very poor, the handicapped and the sick.

We have a duty and an obligation to fulfil broken promises to an ally who stood with us throughout the war and fought on every front except in the Far East. Poland lost more than six million of its citizens. It is a privilege to work for Poland and I beg noble Lords never to forget them or their faith and courage. Please let us take more action immediately. Perhaps I may conclude with these words scribbled on the wall of an underground cell in the infamous Gestapo interrogation headquarters of Aleja Szucha in Warsaw: It's easy to talk about Poland, It's harder to work for her, Still harder to die; And the hardest is to suffer".

7.26 p.m.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, I am completely unqualified to take up the House's time, particularly after we have listened to the harrowing accounts given by my noble friend Lady Cox —I am glad to see her safely back from her latest journey —and by the noble Baroness, Lady Ryder of Warsaw, whose name is so well known in connection with help for Poland.

It is memories that bring me to my feet. I was sent by The Times to cover the outbreak of war in Poland in 1939. I arrived there at the end of June or in early July and stayed until there were no longer any communications. I say that my memories come flooding back because one of the awful things I remember at that time was the hideous, shameful and infamous question-begging leader in my own newspaper, The Times, headed "Is Danzig worth a war?" One may say that it was not but my goodness the real question was whether any country would stand up to Hitler and take the consequences. Did we British relish the prospect —many of us did not believe that it was real until very near the point of decision in the Battle of Britain —that our own little island would be overrun and that we would end up speaking English, as somebody put, with the verb at the end?

People now forget the painless, unresisting Anschluss, when Austria joined Hitler's Germany with a shout and a song. People now forget the reoccupation of the Rhineland, and how the West was paralysed with fear, cowardice and indecision and did absolutely nothing to enforce the provisions of the Locarno Treaty, which was designed to meet that very situation. We hear talk today of anchoring Germany to Western Europe. I hope that if there is an anchor it is better than the Locarno Treaty. That was thought to be the great barrier in those days —a barrier rotted by cowardice.

Britain and France were guilty before history of letting things rip. There then followed the Munich drama, when Britian lamely consented to the first carve-up of what Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister in those days, dismissed as "a far away country"; Czechoslovakia, which we now read about every day in the press.

We British were infinitely relieved at that time when the Poles undertook to resist invasion and actually did so on that terrible Friday, 1st September 1939. We were later very grateful, many times grateful, and much heartfelt gratitude went out to the Polish air squadron in the RAF and to their families. We were also grateful for the Polish gallantry shown by those who worked in the underground resistance movement. The famous Enigma machine was one trimph of that but we were grateful to the underground resistance for all their work and for their gallant and resourceful gathering of intelligence.

All these memories come flooding back, as does a terrible day when I was in Poland 12 years ago. I went there to visit the concentration camp at Maidanek. One saw a pyramid of dust of human bones reaching about as high as the gallery on the opposite side of this Chamber and about as wide as the whole Chamber. This was surmounted by a monument. However, to think that that was simply a pile of human dust… It was just one of many memorials put up to commemorate what the Poles suffered at the hands of the enemies—enemies who we were were too frightened to stand up to until they did it first.

Today, 50 years on, I am horrified to discover—although, I suppose, one should not be surprised —that youngsters in the age group between 20 and 30 years of age already imagine that all this is just old history to many of them —indeed, old hat. It is as if it all happened in the middle ages and is of no concern to their generation. Why should they bother about the sins of their fathers when they are not interested in them in any event? I find this fact most distressing. It applies not only to people of undergraduate age who were not born at the time; it also applies to others. Indeed, I think of my own eldest son who was just alive at that time. He is now 50 years of age. So far as he is concerned what happened then really is a matter almost of indifference. Therefore what goes for him —and he is an intelligent and sensitive person —also goes for many other people in this country below the age of 50.

For years many members of the public thought that rearmament was a waste of time and trouble and as regards money it was even provocative —that is of course until the truth dawned upon them, and indeed it is dawning more and more upon them now. The truth is that not only have we had 40 years of European peace since 1945 but also the Soviets have been forced into bankruptcy by their inability to match the American arms programmes such as star wars and so on.

So we have seen the rise of Gorbachev and another wind of change is blowing. We may talk about the change of climate, but what has happened in the last two or three years, let alone the last few months, is something fabulous, while the consequences are unpredictable. After all, we are seeing the rise of Gorbachev upon the ruin of Stalinism.

The Western world is comfortably exulting in this rapidly unfolding East European story of revolution, of popular movement, aiming in general terms for a juster system and a juster, more open sort of government under the convenient label of "democratisation"; I say that this is possible as we sit back in our armchairs and read our newspapers —because of Gorbachev. Indeed, that is true. But long before Gorbachev was even heard of, there was Lech Walesa. While I am sure that we should salute Gorbachev —and, my goodness, we want him to stay in power —it is Lech Walesa who is the patron saint of East Europe's recovery because of what he accomplished with the legions of trade unionists behind him (given, as he was, great new support by the election of a Polish pope). Indeed, all these things worked together. But Lech Walesa is the man we should salute and be grateful to. If an appeal from him goes unheard and unanswered in this country, we need to hang our heads in shame.

I wonder whether words can ever be sufficient on this subject. Just the other day, thanks to my noble friend Lady Cox, I saw a video of the BBC's "State of Europe" film about Poland called "Poisoned Inheritance". I must admit that I had not the slightest idea from what I had read over the past 10 years how dreadful the situation was and how appallingly the environment itself had suffered —the ground, the air, the sky and the water. Indeed, all these things have been poisoned. It showed something of the appalling torture of a subject people —a torture of which we are mostly unaware in this country.

Let us imagine for a moment the deadly poisoning of all the rivers, of the water supply, and the deadly poisoning of the sky. It would be something unimaginable here. I recently had sight of the report of my noble friend Lady Cox concerning her last trip to Poland earlier this year. Infant mortality was then more than 44 per thousand. We are not talking about Ethiopia; we are talking about Europe. It is a part of Europe which has stood by us. Further, what about male mortality in the 55 to 59 age group? This stood at more than 180 per 1,000. I repeat, this is not Ethiopia; it is Europe. Moreover, what about TB? In this country we have forgotten about tuberculosis and TB hospitals are all closed because there is no longer any need for them. However, in Poland there is an incidence of something like 50 per 10,000. I say again, this is not Ethiopia; it is Europe.

We who enjoy ourselves in the sort of cosy comfort of freedom owe an enormous debt to Poland which we can never really speak about. We can pray it out and we can weep it out but we cannot adequately say it. It is quite unlike any debt we may be supposed to have to the third world, about which so much hypocrisy passes for wisdom and charity in the media.

An ungrateful generation is an ungracious one. An ungracious generation is one which is unworthy before the tide of history. Dare we just try to look the other way and say that we have done enough?

7.38 p.m.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton

My Lords, it is most difficult for me to add much to what has already been said so very eloquently by every noble Lord and every noble Baroness who has spoken in the debate. However, I must first thank my noble friend Lady Cox for one of the most eloquent and moving speeches I have ever heard in this House. I am not speaking about a tour de force. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will listen to what my noble friend said and not just write it down as if it were something said by Cicero. What was said deserves attention.

I should like to underline but one small matter in what my noble friend said and that concerns the British Consulate in Warsaw. I have heard such stories from Polish people who have gone to get visas, and so on. It is quite difficult for us to dish out visas for Poles coming to this country as some of them are rather naughty and finish up working on buildings sites. However, I think that at the very least our diplomats and the people in the consulate could be polite. But I gather that that is not so. As I am in close contact with Polish people, I find it shameful that I should have to listen to complaints from Polish people.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, if my noble friend will give examples of that, I shall have it looked into.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton

My Lords, I thank my noble friend. I shall try to find examples and write to him.

I should declare an interest. I am married to a Polish lady whose family lives in Cracow and is therefore much involved in what we have been talking about. Cracow, as we have heard, is probably the most polluted city in Poland and possibly Europe. The main cause of the pollution of the atmosphere at Cracow is the proximity of the huge steel works at Nova Huta. That, in its turn, threatens the fabric of the old city of Cracow which was the ancient capital of Poland and one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. We owe it to Poland to keep that city alive because if pollution continues as it is the buildings will crumble and collapse.

I am going through my notes rather quickly because many of the things I have written down have already been said. I underline the pollution of the Vistula, which extends from end to end except possibly at its source in the mountains. In Cracow all water has to be boiled as I realised to my cost when I foolishly drank a cup of it a couple of years ago. I spoiled a few days of my holiday, but I was lucky.

There is an inadequate supply of mineral and soda water. The mineral water comes in small bottles like ginger beer bottles and consequently they are difficult to handle. That is where private enterprise might move in and introduce some bigger bottles, but many people cannot afford mineral water. The best thing to do is to bring the water back to the standard at which people can drink it.

I have a question to ask my noble friend the Minister which has not been mentioned before. I do not know whether the Government know anything about the effects on Poland of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl. When it took place, and immediately after, disinformation was largely the order of the day in the Polish media as it had been for many years. What the authorities said, if anything, was widely mistrusted, and rumour took the place of hard news. I have heard it categorically reported in private conversations that doctors are alarmed by the increasing incidence of cancer, which they attribute to Chernobyl. A young friend of mine who lives in Warsaw has contracted cancer since the disaster. It is natural that almost every case of cancer should now be attributed to Chernobyl. Does my noble friend have any statistics on this point? Have Her Majesty's Government any plans to send medical researchers to Poland to investigate the situation? Even if people's worst fears are realised, it is better to know than to be beset by rumour which can be neither confirmed nor denied.

Last August I spent four or five days on a small farm about 35 miles south of Cracow. I stayed with nice Polish peasants. It was beautiful weather, and after I had been there for a short while I noticed attractive looking beetles going up and down the stairs and walking down the roads. They were more or less everywhere. I gathered later that they were Colorado beetles. Furthermore, after I had been there for a day or two I remarked upon the absence of birds. I was told that there used to be birds until about three years previously. They had disappeared at about the time the Colorado beetles turned up. I naturally wondered why the birds had disappeared. I was told that the crops had been sprayed with insecticide to kill the Colorado beetles. The local people seemed to be able to get their potatoes in but the treatment does not seem to have done for the beetles which are still there in large numbers; but it seems to have done for the birds.

Is my noble friend aware of that infestation? I have a feeling that it may extend over an area wider than just southern Poland, I have been a farmer, but I have no idea what methods are used to wipe out that pest. It is no longer endemic in the United States where it first appeared. It is a matter of urgency that should be looked into. It is something which Her Majesty's Government, with our efficient agriculture, could handle well and not at great cost.

I should like to underline what every other noble Lord has said and plead for Poland as a special case. We went to war to save Poland but succeeded only in saving ourselves. The vast sacrifices of the Polish nation in our common cause need no words from me. We have heard something about it today. Their reward for their steadfastness has been 50 years of foreign tyranny and an economy and environment in ruins. We owe them all the help that it is in our power to give.

7.45 p.m.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for initiating this important and timely debate and for her moving speech. We congratulate her on and thank her for her enterprising missions to Poland and the help that she brought to that brave country. She has described its problems. I am sure that the Government will pay careful attention to what she and others, notably the noble Baroness, Lady Ryder of Warsaw, have said.

The historic developments which are still unfolding in Eastern Europe were discussed at length during the recent debate on the Address and I shall not go over that ground again; save to repeat that Poland was in the vanguard of the struggle for freedom and that we in the West owe the Polish people, especially Solidarity and its leader, Lech Walesa, an incalculable debt for their courage, sacrifice and determination over so many years.

Communist governments have failed dismally, as in other countries, to manage the economic, social and environmental affairs of Poland even with the slightest degree of success. It is essential that a democratically elected government should now succeed. That is why Western aid to Poland and the other East European countries which are emerging from decades of oppression should be imaginative and adequate. It is encouraging that the European Community and the United States have thus far responded promisingly. The meeting in Paris convened by President Mitterrand proposed urgent aid for Poland. As the noble Baroness stressed, the word "urgent" is important.

The meeting between President Bush and Mr. Gorbachev in Malta was also encouraging. We hope that some arrangement on a scale to meet the challenge will be announced soon. In the debate on the Address, many of us supported that idea. My noble friend Lord Callaghan and the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, both former Prime Ministers and Foreign Secretaries, advocated action on a scale to match the problem.

As the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, said, the problem in Poland is huge. It includes a 35 billion dollar debt, 600 per cent. inflation and an archaic industrial base. Mr. Walesa came here to explain that to us and to ask British industry to help. He knows better than anyone that if the new Government do not deliver the goods the great adventure will run into the sand. That is the problem of Poland and all other emerging East European democracies and indeed at the end of the day of the Soviet Union itself.

The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, speaking in the debate on 22nd November said: Once the Polish Government have agreed an adjustment programme with the IMF, we will be ready to extend further support in priority areas, including debt rescheduling in the Paris Club".—[Official Report, 22/11/89; col. 27.] Perhaps the Minister will say how that negotiation is proceeding.

Bilateral aid is also important. Germany has made a substantial contribution of 2.4 billion dollars. It has been said that much of the rebuilding of Eastern Europe will depend upon the Germans. I tend to agree with that. German markets can buy Polish produce; German investment can go far to renew Polish industry.

The implications are interesting, but the other Western nations, including our own, must play their part bilaterally, although perhaps not on quite the same scale as Germany. It is good to know too that Japan is to contribute about £100 million to the one billion dollars Poland has requested from the West.

Bilaterally, Britain has given various sums to improve the food supply and to the stabilisation fund and other objectives. Perhaps we could do rather better. Other countries have promised aid. This all to the good, but would not the Minister, on reflection, agree that there is the danger that the aid could become unco-ordinated and therefore less effective? As the noble Baroness said, surely something along the lines of the Marshall Plan would be suitable as advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Home, in his speech in the debate on the gracious Speech. It is becoming more urgently needed day by day.

Again, the noble Baroness is right to remind us that Poland has immense health and environmental problems. The health service has progressively deteriorated, particularly over the last decade. The noble Baroness gave graphic examples of the current problems. Medical services suffer from a shortage of equipment and medicines and from lack of staff and low pay. I understand that by East European standards, hospital provision is poor, with Poland at the bottom of the league table. It is a major tragedy and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has brought it home to us from her own recent experience.

On the environmental side, we know that industrial development in Poland has concentrated on heavy industry. That has resulted in severe long-term environmental damage. Ten years ago Solidarity very properly placed the green issue at the top of its policy agenda. It is sad to learn that Poland's ancient forests, the great sweeps of fir, larch and birch are dying. Like the noble Baroness and the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, I saw the BBC2 programme "A Poisoned Inheritance" presented by Mr. Michael Buerk. This described the unhappy scene. The hillsides that stretch to the horizon used to be hidden under surging green forests. Now they are grey and prickled with the branchless stumps of dead trees. It is estimated that nearly 30,000 acres of forests have been destroyed and 100 million trees killed by a vortex of acid rain at the centre of Europe. The naturalists who monitor the acid rain said that by the year 2000 there will be no forests left alive in the entire region. That is a sad prospect.

I read that one-third of Poland's rivers are devoid of life and most pour into the shallow Baltic Sea. It has been officially described as, "the most endangered waterway in the world". For most of its length, the River Vistula, Poland's queen of rivers, is an industrial sewer. Urgent action is needed there and only aid from the West can help cure these problems.

No one suggests that Britain alone can solve the problems, but we can and must play an enlightened role and, if possible, a leading role in helping Poland along the road to a stable, happy and free society. The constructive proposals for a bank of Europe, agreed at the Strasbourg summit over this weekend, were another encouraging step forward. We hope that Her Majesty's Government will play a full part in this combined effort to help Poland and other East European countries towards stability in a democratic state.

7.54 p.m.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, your Lordships will be grateful to my noble friend Lady Cox for giving the House an opportunity to discuss Poland's pressing needs. It is a subject to which the Government have devoted much attention. My noble friend herself has worked unstintingly on Poland's behalf, both through Medical Aid for Poland and through the Jagiellonian Trust. Indeed, I believe that she has personally just delivered, as she told us, a further truckload of medical supplies to Poland.

My noble friend's warm reception by Solidarity representatives of both the parliament and the senate in Poland earlier this year testifies to the high esteem in which she is held by the Polish Government and the value which they attach to her support. We applaud her tremendous efforts wholeheartedly and those of other charitable organisations such as the foundation of the noble Baroness, Lady Ryder. It is clear from the comments of the noble Lords who have spoken that they share the deep concern of us all.

We greatly welcome Poland's move towards democracy and freedom. We are taking many practical steps to help the process, both bilaterally and in co-operation with our European partners.We thus demonstrate our support for reform and our determination to encourage measured change within a stable framework.

As your Lordships know, the Government announced a "know-how" fund for Poland valued at £25 million over five years during General Jaruzelski's visit to Britain in June this year. That was the first practical assistance of its kind to Poland, as many Poles gratefully acknowledged. We announced a doubling of the fund to £50 million on 29th November, before the visit to Britain of Mr. Lech Walesa, chairman of Solidarity. The purpose of the fund is to provide Poland with training and advice to support progress towards a parliamentary democracy and a market economy. Some 40 projects are already under way in various fields, including financial services and management training.

We have invited groups of Polish parliamentarians to this country to learn about democratic procedures. We intend to invite further groups in the future. We also intend to help in other areas such as the media and with the establishment of effective local government. My noble friend Lady Cox was particularly concerned about the possible use of that fund for the provision of equipment. I can tell her that there is no bar to the provision of equipment from the "know-how" fund in support of various technical assistance programmes.

As these activities get off the ground, the framework is also being laid for longer-term and more systematic help under the fund. This involves a number of exploratory missions to examine Polish requirements and make recommedations for future activities. One of the most important of these was a visit in mid-November by a high-level city team to look at the banking and financial services sector. Other missions have looked at management training, industrial restructuring (particularly in the energy sector) and the privatisation process.

In addition to the doubling of the "know-how" fund, the Government also announced a £64 million contribution to the fund set up to stabilise Poland's hard currency reserves and also a £15 million agricultural project to bring direct improvements to food supplies in Poland.

Britain is also playing its full part through the European Community, which has already responded generously with various measures which include 100 million ecus of free food for Poland, to be followed by a further tranche in 1990. We are particularly concerned that —and this was very much in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter—this second tranche should be directed at those in greatest need and the European Commission is studying how to achieve that very desirable end.

Returning to some of the items which the European Community has been putting in place, secondly, there is the 300 million ecu package for Poland and Hungary in 1990 covering areas such as agricultural reform, environmental protection and manpower/vocational training.

Thirdly, there is a substantive package of trade measures, including the abolition or suspension of all quantitative restrictions for Poland and Hungary from 1st January 1990. There is also the granting of GSP to both countries covering, inter alia, reduced tariffs and levies on agricultural products.

In total, new UK financial assistance to Poland in 1990 will exceed some 370 million dollars. We stand ready to do more, once Poland agrees an economic reform programme with the IMF. We hope an agreement will be concluded very soon, and the signs are encouraging. The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, referred to that. Indeed I am told that recently there has been considerable progress in the discussions with the IMF and an agreement could be reached as early as next month.

The collective Western response, after an IMF agreement is in place will, it is clear, amount to billions of dollars, including official debt rescheduling.

My noble friend has suggested that the Government are not doing enough to meet Poland's pressing needs in the environmental and medical fields. It will be clear from my outline of the Government's extensive assistance programmes that we take a comprehensive view of Polish needs and are ready to respond quickly and generously. But let me address these two specific areas: the environment and health.

The environment remains a major concern of the Polish Government, as it is of ours. Many of the problems of course have a global dimension and we believe that international co-operation is needed to tackle them. We play a very active role in the various international bodies which deal with such issues and encourage the adoption of environmentally sound and substantial policies in Eastern European countries. And, in this respect, I would draw your Lordships' attention to the World Health Organisation European Conference on Environment and Health held in Frankfurt last week. The concluding document to that conference, to which both the UK and Poland subscribed, called on participating states to strengthen collaboration between themselves and with international organisations on mutual and transfrontier environmental problems which pose a threat to health. The UK will certainly play its full part in such collaboration.

As I mentioned before, the European Community's programme of assistance to Poland and Hungary will provide aid to the tune of 300 million ecus —some £210 million —in 1990 for assistance in various areas, one of which is environmental protection. The European Commission has already sent teams to both Poland and Hungary to assess the scale of the problem and the ways in which the European Community and other Western donors can help. The immediate challenge is for a proper scientific assessment of needs and priorities. To this end we are urging that programme resources should be allocated in particular to base-line projects such as pollution surveys and follow-up monitoring to ensure an environmentally sound base for sustainable economic aid.

High on the European Community's list of priorities are plans to improve the quality of Poland's national river, the Vistula. My noble friend Lord Belhaven and Stenton mentioned the Vistula, as did the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn. The Vistula flows for the whole of its length within Poland, and for all but a small part it is a dead and indeed poisonous river. It is a far cry from the picturesque Tatra mountains of its source. After absorbing pollution throughout Poland, it discharges it into the Baltic Sea.

The British Government have agreed to nominate experts to take part in a multilateral fact-finding visit to Poland in mid-January, following which we hope to be able to make concrete progress on cleaning up the Vistula. This is not the only problem which the Community has addressed. We are also encouraging the EC to investigate ways to improve air quality in Poland's industrial areas. These matters will be reviewed by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary at the meeting on 13th December in Brussels of Ministers of the so-called Group of 24. Again that matter was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter.

An important reason for taking so seriously the need to assist environmental protection in Poland is the damage caused by poor water supplies and particularly by air pollution to the population's health. There are disquieting reports of the effect of air pollution on life expectancy and infant mortality in Silesia. This provides a further reason for pressing on with real help in protecting Poland's environment.

Turning to my noble friend's concern about the question of medical resources in Poland, the Government are playing an important part here also. The United Kingdom has a health co-operation agreement with the Government of Poland which was signed in January 1988. Its objective is to promote the further development and extension of co-operation between the two countries in the field of medicine and public health. This is done by exchanges of information, direct contacts between institutions, exchanges of specialists and participation in conferences. These activities are agreed in detail on a two-yearly basis in plans of co-operation provided for under the agreement. The current plan concentrates on cardiac surgery, neurosurgery and transplant immunology.

Following a visit to Poland by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health in April of this year, a revised plan of co-operation is now being proposed for the period 1990–91. There are also a number of other schemes for post-graduate training of Polish doctors in the UK.

Through the "know-how" fund, approval has been given for a study to look at the feasibility of establishing a blood plasma fractionation plant in Poland. The demand for blood products in Poland is currently met either by domestic human blood donations, with the attendant risk of contamination, or imported products produced by modern fractionation processes from Western suppliers. Such imports of plasma currently cost some 15 to 18 million dollars per annum. It would clearly be a good thing if a national source could be found which would avoid that expenditure.

We also contribute in the medical field through the European Community. The Commission agreed in May this year to send emergency medical aid worth 1.4 million ecu to Poland. The aid comprises a range of medicines not currently available in the country. It also gave 100,000 ecu towards a hospital for deaf children near Warsaw. A new sizeable package of medical aid is under consideration from the 1989 budget and is likely to be announced before the end of this year.

We have received no representations to date from the Polish Government about supplies of emergency medical aid. While there are undoubtedly chronic shortages of medical supplies in Poland, a number of British and foreign charitable organisations, as well as several of our European Community partners, are active in this field. We applaud their efforts. Indeed our embassy in Warsaw has made regular contributions to my noble friend's Medical Aid For Poland Fund and also tries to support the other British-based charities active in Poland.

On the whole, however, we have preferred not to duplicate these efforts but to concentrate instead on longer-term measures such as medical training to enable the Poles to build up expertise to run an effective health service themselves.

I shall now turn to some of the other points which have been raised during the course of this debate. Two or three noble Lords, including my noble friend Lady Cox, referred to the so-called inadequacy of visa issuing facilities in Warsaw. Events are moving very fast in Poland, as everyone acknowledges, and there has been a huge increase in visa applications. There is a likelihood of yet further increases. We are increasing resources wherever possible, subject of course to the overall budgetary and accommodation constraints. New procedures were introduced in Warsaw on 1st December and I very much hope that they will result in a significant improvement in speed of service. My noble friend referred to some discourtesy that had occurred at the embassy in Warsaw. I hope that that is not the case, but if my noble friend will let me have details I shall certainly have the matter investigated.

I now turn again to the opening speech of my noble friend Lady Cox. She criticised the disparity between the number of German investments and the number of British investments. She also asked whether it would be possible to convert our debt into investments in Polish environmental programmes. We do not dispute the disparity in the investment figures, but investments must be commercial decisions for the companies concerned. However, the British Government have negotiated a favourable legal framework for such investment. We have an investment promotion and protection agreement and indeed a double taxation agreement which I hope will enable British companies to take forward some suitable programmes in Poland. Your Lordships will note that the Heads of Government meeting at the weekend approved the creation of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, one of whose aims will be to promote investment in Eastern Europe, including of course Poland.

The Government welcome the conversion of commercial debt into equity investments. Official debts are for collection action by governments within the so-called Paris Club, with which my noble friend will, I daresay, be familiar. We are certainly ready for a far-reaching rescheduling of Paris Club debts once an IMF agreement is in place. As I say, there is every prospect that that will be in place before very long.

My noble friend Lord Belhaven asked me about the problem of Colorado beetles in Poland. I have some notes on the effect of Colorado beetles upon imports of potatoes into the United Kingdom. I do not think that that was quite the point that he raised. I dare say that the answer to the problem to which he referred is that one needs to ensure that one uses the right kind of pesticide in accordance with the manufacturers' instructions. I am told that proper use of the correct pesticide is effective in the control of the Colorado beetles. I fear that that cannot have been the case if the problem persists as my noble friend described it.

My noble friend also asked about the effects of the Chernobyl disaster on Poland. We have no statistics on the effect of Chernobyl on the Polish population. However, according to a 1986 report from the Polish Central Laboratory for Radiological Protection, traces of ruthenium had been detected in Poland after Chernobyl but not on a dangerous scale. Strontium had been found in even smaller quantities and the amount of plutonium had been too small to measure. The only potential problem was caesium, but the laboratory said that Poland had been much less affected than other European countries and the levels detected were not believed to represent a health hazard. I hope that at least on that score I can set my noble friend's fears at rest.

I hope that your Lordships will agree that Britain has responded generously, imaginatively and quickly to Poland's needs. We are determined to stick to the task and are open to constructive suggestions as to what more we can do. Only in that way can we secure a stable and prosperous future for the people of Poland.

House adjourned at twelve minutes past eight o'clock.