HL Deb 26 October 1989 vol 511 cc1550-2

3.5 p.m.

Lord Whaddon asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are yet in a position to indicate an appropriate occasion for the return to Poland of the ashes of General Sikorski.

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

No, my Lords, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister told General Jaruzelski in June that we had reconsidered this question but felt that the time was not yet right. We shall naturally keep the question under review as we see how Poland develops following recent momentous events.

Lord Whaddon

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. Bearing in mind the high hopes resting on the success of the reforms taking place in Poland and the Government's expression of interest in the success of the reforms, have the Government any further measures in mind which might be of practical assistance in forwarding the process of liberalisation?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am not sure that the noble Lord's supplementary question exactly arises from the Question on the Order Paper. He will be aware that in a reply to a Question earlier in the week I went into some considerable detail as to the steps we are taking to assist the recovery of the Polish economy. I shall not repeat all that now, but we very much hope, for example, that Poland will soon reach an agreement with the IMF which will unlock a great deal of additional help for that country.

Lord St. John of Fawsley

My Lords, does not my noble friend agree that if the remains of this great patriot and friend of Britain were laid to rest in his own country it would do more than anything else symbolically to help the great changes that are taking place in Poland and would be a way of laying to rest too the still repeated calumny that the British Government had someting culpable to do with the circumstances of his death?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, as my noble friend rightly implies, that last suggestion is quite without foundation. As to whether the general's remains should be returned to Poland, we think it important that we should canvass a wide range of Polish opinion before agreeing to do that. We did that comparatively recently when the consensus appeared to be that this was not the right time to do so, but we shall certainly keep the matter under review.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his Answer. While I am sure he will agree that Poland needs more than symbols of support in its present circumstances, does he not agree that to Poland above almost all countries symbols are of the utmost importance? The return of General Sikorski's remains to his own country would be a symbolic gesture of the greatest importance which would carry implications of the fullest possible support that the Government could give to the reforms, political and economic, taking place at this momentous time in Poland and in Eastern Europe.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I dare say the noble Lord is right to say this move would be welcomed by many people in Poland, but there are other sectors of Polish opinion which take a different view.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, has General Sikorski's family requested the return of his ashes to Poland?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am not aware that any members of General Sikorski's family are still alive who could be consulted, but we have consulted a wide range of Polish opinion and the outcome was as I described it.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, few would wish to join issue with the Government that the time may not yet be ripe to return General Sikorski's remains, but would the Minister agree that the present time is at least less unripe than it was when the Prime Minister met General Jaruzelski last June?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I certainly agree that there have been many changes within Poland since the summer of this year when my right honourable friend reached her view on the matter following the request from General Jaruzelski. However, it is too early to say whether those changes have yet resulted in a change of view among the Polish people generally.