HL Deb 17 January 1990 vol 514 cc635-7

2.44 p.m.

Lord St. John of Fawsley asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they have taken, or intend to take, to persuade all member states of the European Community to take a united stand against infringement of human rights in Romania.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

My Lords, until the fall of the Ceausescu regime on 22nd December we took every appropriate opportunity to discuss with our partners ways of putting pressure on the then Romanian Government to end their abuses of human rights. Fortunately events since then have taken an encouraging turn. The new National Salvation Front Government have made wide-ranging commitments concerning respect for human rights. We shall, however, be watching closely to see that these commitments are implemented.

Lord St. John of Fawsley

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that helpful reply to my Question, which has not so much been superseded by events as placed in a new context. Can he say what international action is being taken to provide food for Romania, particularly in the rural areas where many people are near starvation? Secondly, since man does not live by bread alone, does he consider that it would be suitable for this country, which was hailed by Bright as the mother of parliaments, to take the lead in helping the Romanians in the extremely difficult task of passing from dictatorship to parliamentary government and democracy, keeping a wary eye on the National Salvation Front at the same time?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

With regard to my noble friend's first point, the EC Commission has sent a mission to Romania to look at the requirements for food aid. In fact it is there today. We expect a report back later this week.

In answer to the noble Lord's second point, my right honourable friend the Minister of State, Mr. Waldegrave, was in Romania yesterday and the day before. He met members of the new parties, including critics of the National Salvation Front. We shall continue to maintain those links. We foresee the possibility of extending the know-how fund, which now operates in Poland and Hungary, to other countries including Romania. It would include provision of technical training, organisational assistance to democratic political parties and so on.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether as yet there is anything to suggest that food and other aid sent to Romania is being properly distributed and not hogged by the pretended government in office now?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the situation in Romania is confused at the moment to say the least, but we have no evidence that the aid consigned by Her Majesty's Government, namely medical supplies, has been misdirected.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, can the Minister say whether there is a determined EC plan to provide economic help to Romania and those other East European states that have freed themselves from the grip of totalitarian communism?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

Yes, my Lords, and I have just referred to the visit of the EC Commission to look into the matter of food aid which is taking place this very day. In the longer term, in partnership with the rest of the EC, we hope to help Romania move toward democracy and a market economy. Obviously we shall be discussing those matters with our partners.

Lord Hooson

My Lords, have the Government sent any food to Romania and if so how much?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I do not think that any food has yet been sent. It is the purpose of the visit by the EC Commission to see what is needed. We have already received from the Romanian Government a kind of shopping list and that is being discussed at the moment.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, in helping the Romanians to set up a multi-party democracy (which seems an extremely good idea), will the Government be careful not to steer them toward our own system of electoral law which is outdated and unjust and on the other hand take care to point out the advantages of the more up-to-date and juster systems of representation which obtain elsewhere in the EC?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I compliment the noble Lord on being able to raise the subject of proportional representation in the context of this Question. The whole object of the exercise is for the Romanians to decide for themselves the form of government and the form of elections that will take place in future.

Lord Ross of Newport

My Lords, pursuing the subject of food, it has been reported today that in Romania there is a vast shortage of meat. There is also a report that the French in particular are sending very large quantities of food from the marshalling yards in Paris. Are we playing some role in helping them in that respect?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, we shall play a role through our membership of the European Community. So far as I understand, the aid that is being and will be sent will come from the EC. We shall be contributing our 20 per cent. share of that.

Lord St. John of Fawsley

My Lords, I apologise for pressing my noble friend on this point but can he give some guarantee that action will be taken this week? There are many people in Romania at starvation point and unless aid reaches them soon it will be too late.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I hope that the EC team which is there today will report back very quickly and we shall be able to take action as soon as possible.