HC Deb 19 February 1982 vol 18 cc261-2W
Mr. George Gardiner

asked the Lord Privy Seal what assistance the Government will give to help the work of voluntary and Church agencies in providing humanitarian aid to Poland.

Mr. Humphrey Atkins

In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Sir A. Kershaw) on 5 February—[Vol. 17, c. 221.]—I informed the House that Her Majesty's Government would give financial or other assistance to help co-ordinate the efforts of those voluntary and Church agencies in Britain which were providing humanitarian aid to Poland.

I can confirm that, in response to a request from the charities concerned, Her Majesty's Government have now agreed to make a contribution of £5,000 for this purpose to be made available during the present financial year as a grant-in-aid to the Ockenden Venture. Parliamentary approval is being sought in a Supplementary Estimate for the Foreign and Commonwealth Services Vote.

The purpose of the grant-in-aid will be to augment and expand the limited co-ordinating service already provided by the Ockenden Venture to ensure that relief work to Poland may be carried out as effectively as possible. It is hoped that all of the agencies working in this field, and who wish to be involved, could be linked up through Ockenden and in this way might be made aware of the resources and facilities available to assist their efforts.

Her Majesty's Government will continue to maintain close contacts with the voluntary and Church agencies in the United Kingdom and with the ICRC. As I explained in my reply of 5 February, Her Majesty's Government have agreed with our Community partners that further sales of European Community food at special prices to Poland should be discontinued in present circumstances. Funds that would have been available for this purpose will now be diverted to the provision of humanitarian aid through voluntary and Church agencies. As a result of this decision, the Commission will shortly put forward a proposal for the early allocation of 8 mecu—approximately £4.5 million.

Her Majesty's Government believe it will be important to make every effort to ensure that the food and medical supplies purchased by the Community go to those in Poland who most need them. We have no evidence to suggest that humanitarian supplies distributed by the Polish Red Cross have been diverted from those for whom they are intended. We shall nevertheless continue to consult closely with the Church, the ICRC and other agencies which are in a position to monitor the distribution of relief supplies in Poland. The Commission is at the present time discussing these questions with interested non-governmental organisations.