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House of Commons

Friday 14 July 1989

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Foreign Affairs

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. John M. Taylor.]

Mr. Speaker : Before I call on the Minister, I must announce to the House that, in view of the many right hon. and hon. Members who wish to participate today, I propose to limit speeches between 11.30 am and 1 pm to 10 minutes. I hope that those called before 11.30 am will bear that limit in mind. Yesterday, a number of hon. Members were disappointed as a result of rather long speeches at the beginning. 9.34 am

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mrs. Lynda Chalker) : Yesterday, the House examined the critical significance for Hong Kong of events in China. Today, is our opportunity to look at the broader international scene, which is very important. In the past six months, we have seen a unprecedented pace of change across the world--some might say a revoluntionary pace. The 1789 revolution which we, together with 34 other national leaders, celebrate with the French today, was far- reaching in its significance. At least the storming of the Bastille is unlikely to be re-enacted as a result of today's debate. The fireworks in Paris last night will today give way to political and economic co-operation in the summit 7 discussion this weekend.

I want to pay a tribute to the French. [ Hon. Members :-- "Hear, hear."] It was Valery Giscard D'Estaing who called the first summit, which has led in recent years to decisions which have well guided the economic recovery of the western world. It was an important and fundamental move with which we were entirely at one.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Chalker : No, because I have hardly begun.

With the other industrial nations, we shall be taking stock in the summit of the many changes all around us. Unlike the appalling tragedy in China, much of the change is encouraging. There has been the acceleration of political reform in the Soviet Union and parts of eastern Europe. There has been welcome progress in East-West relations and rapid progress in the European Community which, more than ever, is acting as a dynamo for Europe as a whole. There has been progress towards the resolution of long-standing regional conflicts, notably in southern Africa.

Last November, my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary said :

"we live in a time of great opportunity for constructive action by the United Kingdom in foreign affairs".--[ Official Report, 25 November 1988 ; Vol. 142, c. 336.]

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That is more than ever true today. The challenge we face--which this Government are facing successfully--is one of active encouragement with our allies and partners in the management of this fast-changing international scene.

Over the past 10 years, the Government's consistent, clear and practical policies have helped to lay the foundation for many of the positive developments that we are now seeing. We remain in the forefront of discussion on all the main issues. Britain's views are sought, Britain's voice is respected and Britain's experience is valued and all that is as it should be. It is a direct consequence of the way in which the Government are putting to work this country's established place in the international community. We are using effectively our membership of NATO, the European Community, the Council of Europe, the United Nations and the Commonwealth, and our extensive bilateral links. We are not simply part of the crowd and we certainly do not lack the courage to speak out for the policies we believe to be right. That has always been true in East-West relations and in our attitude to events in eastern Europe. It is here that the changes have, perhaps, been most dramatic.

The elections to the Soviet Congress of People's Deputies were the first steps towards a more open, representative system of government in a country not used to people power. In Poland, the process has gone a stage further with Solidarity's stunning victories in the freest elections for over 40 years--a quite remarkable outcome. In Hungary, the acknowledgement of the legitimacy of the 1956 uprising reflects the new political freedom in people's lives in that country. It is interesting to note that in his recent visits to Britain, West Germany and France, Mr. Gorbachev has repeated his commitment to reform and his desire for greater co-operation with the West. At the United Nations last December, he argued for the removal of ideology from international relations.

Mr. Winnick : I welcome the reforms in eastern Europe, as the Minister probably knows. But if it is right that eastern European countries should be able to follow their own paths--one hopes that there will never be a repeat of what happened in Czechoslovakia in August 1968--is it not equally important that central and south America should be able to follow whatever path they want, without intervention from the United States? That means no repeats of what happened in Guatemala in 1954 and in Chile in 1973. It also means an end to the continuing efforts to destabilise the regime in Nicaragua.

Mrs. Chalker : The whole House knows that we believe in democracy in all countries. Sometimes democracy leads to unwelcome events ; in this country it has sometimes even led to the election of a Socialist Government.

The changes that are taking place in the Soviet Union and in the East are of major importance. The failure of the Soviet economic model now contrasts sharply with the successful dynamism of the European Community. Mr. Gorbachev knows that he is being left behind and that is why the Soviet Union moved to establish diplomatic relations with the Community. Mr. Gorbachev has recognised what we--and most recently President Bush--have been saying all along : stability and prosperity will last only if people are free to determine their own future, economically and politically. We realise that Europe has a historic opportunity to develop and to reduce the barriers that divide us. The

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Government are determined to grasp the chance. We are ready for the co-operation that Mr. Gorbachev seeks and we are working consistently towards it.

For the United Kingdom, as for the West as a whole, our starting point in East-West relations remains the strength and unity of the NATO Alliance. Without this, we cannot be confident of our security or in our approach to the new opportunities before us. The Government have consistently upheld that simple principle, and will continue to do so.

The recent NATO summit demonstrated once again the strength, unity and confidence of the Alliance. President Bush, attending his first summit as head of state, offered an impressive example of constructive United States, leadership.

In NATO's 40th anniversary year, we can look back on a record of solid achievement. At the same time, we also look forward, in the words of the summit communique , to the possibility of moving "beyond the post-war period"

to a

"new political order of peace in Europe".

I shall leave it to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Comonwealth Office, to comment further on our approach to arms control and relations with the Soviet union and eastern Europe. On the latter point, we have two related objectives--to develop stronger political, economic and cultural ties to help to erode decades of mistrust and to encourage, as far as we can, greater political and economic freedom in those countries, including real progress with human rights.

We shall continue to work closely with our allies and partners to achieve those objectives.

Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel) : My right hon. Friend has referred to work in eastern Europe and to co-operation with our allies. In a week that marks the centenery of the official recognition of the Inter- Parliamentary Union, would my right hon. Friend care to reflect on the way in which parliament and governmental diplomacy may help in these, as in other matters?

Mrs. Chalker : Yes, indeed, and I have seen the early-day motion in my hon. Friend's name. We have always believed that non-governmental organisations have a role to play. The Inter-Parliamentary Union is second to none in its work on these matters. All hon. Members will recall the visit to the United Kingdom of Mr. Gorbachev as leader of a Soviet IPU delegation in 1984 and the reciprocal visit led by Lord Whitelaw in 1986. I pay tribute to the continuing work of my hon. Friend and the IPU in this as in many other matters. The IPU can often forge links that it may initially be difficult for Governments to form. I remember also the work that the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) did before he became Secretary of State for Defence. Let us have bouquets all round.

Mr. Gorbachev spoke in Strasbourg last week of

"markets open for trade and minds open to ideas."

Where are those open markets and open minds to be found? The blueprint for Mr. Gorbachev's much-canvassed common European home is here in western Europe and in the relationships and institutions that our democracies have forged since the war. Those institutions include the Council of Europe, whose 40th anniversary

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celebrations my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary attended in May. With the accession of Finland, the Council of Europe unites all the countries of western Europe in a common commitment to respect and defend basic democratic principles and human rights. The European Community has also covered much ground. The Community is stronger and more dynamic than ever and increasingly it is becoming a magnet for the rest of Europe. It is also a focal point for trade and development in the world as a whole.

Much of the European Community's present success is due to the efforts of this Government to give the Community real direction. There will always be those whose ideas are fixed-- [Hon. Members :-- "Hear, hear."]--and who misunderstand--I put it no stronger than that--the extent of our commitment to Europe. But it was our contribution that led to the reform of budgets and the common agricultural policy and to the single market programme. Those policies, more than anything else, have revitalised the Community. That is why the Community has become a subject of everyday relevance, both in Britain and beyond the Community's boundaries.

The voice of Britain came through loud and clear yet again at last month's summit in Madrid. Once more, we advocated a pragmatic, measured approach to Community development. The press promised blood in the bull ring--death, or at least defeat, in the afternoon--for the British approach. In fact the Community was the victor at Madrid. The Madrid summit marked an important step for the Community on several key matters. It was the end of a good presidency, exceptionally well conducted by the Spanish. It also reflected that the Community has learnt to set realistic targets and achieve them before staking out new ones. That was the essence of the businesslike approach that we have always advocated.

Economic and monetary co-operation is a classic example of an aspect of policy in which trying to achieve too much too quickly could be harmful. That is why we argued strongly that the decisions must not be rushed and that, far from encouraging progress, inflexible deadlines risk leading to wrong decisions. The force of those arguments was recognised at the Madrid European Council, which not only refused, despite pressure from some member states, to set any inflexible deadlines ; we agreed that any intergovernmental conference must be preceded by full and adequate preparation. That is plain common sense.

The Madrid Council also recognised that there is no automatic link between stage 1 of the Delors report and the subsequent stages. We shall fully support the rapid implementation of stage 1. That, too, makes sense.

Practical progress in the Community is best achieved by allowing it to evolve, not by shackling it to detailed and mechanical timetables that could not necessarily be adhered to.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford) : I am grateful that my right hon. Friend has given way, because I know that time is limited. She has outlined the important decisions that were taken in Madrid. These were taken by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister before she went to Madrid and subsequently the Government have not held any kind of debate in this Parliament and we have not discussed these issues. Therefore, the European Council has become totally unaccountable to national Parliaments.

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Mrs. Chalker : I understand my hon. Friend's anxiety. He has expressed it on the Floor of the House, in Committee and to me privately on many occasions. It is not always possible to discuss the detail, but it is essential that the issues come up in debate, as they did on 18 May, when we had quite a full debate, in which I think that my hon. Friend took part. We have discussed these issues on many other occasions, and my hon. Friend will know that my right hon. Friend the Lord President is looking at ways to have more debate. I ask my hon. Friend not to press me today on decisions that my right hon. Friend the Lord President has quite properly taken, in conjunction with the Committees that have been looking into the ways to have more effective examination of Community business in Parliament.

Another important factor about the Madrid summit is that it formally confirmed the principle of subsidiarity. That is an awful word but a sensible principle. It is the principle that we should legislate at Community level only when national measures alone do not suffice. It is a principle with an excellent pedigree, as it is enshrined in the constitutions of both the United States and West Germany.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) : Subsidiarity?

Mrs. Chalker : I am sorry that the hon. Lady does not seem to understand and has not bothered to listen to the word. It has important implications for the House. Its acceptance by the Madrid Council vindicates the stance that the Government have adopted over many years and that has been endorsed by many right hon. and hon. Members in recent months when we have discussed European subjects. Madrid also quietly approved a further important measure--our common-sense approach to the reduction of frontier controls. We have maintained the delicate balance between removing barriers to the movement of Community nationals and goods, while still maintaining adequate security. We have already succeeded in galvanising the Community into action against fraud. Now, concrete targets have been set, just as we wanted. The Council's conclusions now give new impetus to the whole anti- fraud programme.

These are the reasons why Britain and the Community have good cause to celebrate the outcome at Madrid. We can be satisfied, too, at the wide range of international issues--including China and Hong Kong--addressed in the Council's conclusions. They reflect the Community's outward-looking stance--and the scope of European political co-operation, which this country has done so much to develop.

We are also working closely together with our European Free Trade Association friends. EFTA is the Community's largest trading partner and our annual EC-EFTA trade is now over £140 billion. Closer integration between the EFTA countries and the single market will benefit us all. The Government fully support the efforts to establish even closer co-operation between the Community and the six EFTA countries.

Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East) : Now that Austria has announced its intention to apply for membership of the Community, will her Majesty's Government support that application, provided that no difficulty is raised over the non-alignment provisions of Austria's state treaty?

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Mrs. Chalker : The question is not whether the United Kingdom alone but whether the whole Community supports the application.

Mr. Healey : What about the United Kingdom?

Mrs. Chalker : I understand that, if an application is received, it will be considered in the Council of Ministers on Monday next. Following such consideration, which I am sure will follow a similar path to other applications to join the Community, and as on previous--

Mr. Healey : Will the Government support it?

Mrs. Chalker : --as on previous occasions when an opinion has been given by the Commission, it will be carefully considered ; then we shall decide.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) : Will the Government make the decision between today and Monday?

Mrs. Chalker : The opinion takes some months, as the hon. Gentleman will know. The latest opinion, on the application from Turkey, has still not been produced.

I have said many times that the Community is a western European success story. As such, it has a key part to play in the West's strategy for encouraging change in eastern Europe. We have a great deal to offer in the way of trade, investment, skills and training to countries pursuing reform. Britain has been at the forefront of moves in the Community to encourage change in Hungary and in Poland through trade and co-operation agreements, and the help that we can give them. We also strongly support the Community's decision not to pursue an agreement with Romania, so long as she continues to follow the bankrupt policies of repression.

Britain has worked hard to ensure that the single market's liberalising philosophy applies in the external as well as the internal sphere. We worked long and hard to ensure that our major trading partners understand that 1992 is an opportunity and not a threat, and the message is getting through. President Bush, speaking in Boston on 21 May, stated :

"We believe a strong, united Europe means a strong America." We now find that American and Japanese businessmen are jumping aboard the 1992 bandwagon. One has only to look at the surge of investment from those countries into the Community in recent years to see the truth of that. There was another announcement yesterday. Much of that investment has come to the United Kingdom thanks to the Government's success in transforming Britain. We are now a welcome and profitable European home for many overseas companies. No one can doubt the Government's commitment to see Britain lead the Community in the 1990s.

The Government's commitment to liberalisation is clearly reflected in our approach to the GATT Uruguay round. Here, we have helped to develop a purposeful Community approach. No one should under-estimate the importance of a successful GATT round for keeping protectionism at bay. Major gains are to be had from extending the open multilateral trading system into new areas like services and intellectual property, as agreed at the mid-term meeting in April. However, we shall not be able to realise these gains unless there is also substantial reform of agricultural trade. The Community is now, thank goodness, committed to

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substantial reform, and this will continue in agricultural trade. That is another change for the better that Britain has helped to bring about. We have more work to do to ensure that the new Lome convention--Lome IV--which is under negotiation, further improves access to Community markets and Community aid for the developing countries.

We need to use our diplomacy to good effect in other places. We have already done much in the Community to help the developing world, but there is more to be done. In particular, there is more for Britain to do in helping to achieve the resolution of regional conflicts. The Government have consistently argued that negotiation, not confrontation, offers the best chance to put an end to the conflicts and injustices across southern Africa. At last, it seems that negotiation is being given the chance to work.

The agreement last December on Namibian independence was a major success for patient diplomacy. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made a personal, and valuable, intervention in support of the authority of the United Nations, when the peace plan faced an early crisis in April. The United Kingdom is making major financial and practical contributions to the United Nations force in Namibia. In addition, we are contributing £500,000 to help the repatriation of Namibian refugees. With our EC and Commonwealth partners, we are ready to help an independent Namibia. A stable and a prosperous Namibia will benefit not only its own people, but the whole region. So, too, will a successful internal reconciliation in Angola and in Mozambique, and there are some welcome signs on this front. We continue to do all we can to encourage the process so that the peoples of Angola and Mozambique, who have suffered for far too long, will be helped to find, at last, peace, stability and some economic revival.

Change may also be in prospect in South Africa as the elections fixed for 6 September approach. Our policy towards South Africa has been balanced, realistic and constructive. In the past few months, my colleagues and I have met a number of South African politicians, some of whom are likely to play a prominent role in the next Government. We have emphasised to Mr. de Klerk and to others where we want to see signs of early progress--the unconditional release of Nelson Mandela and other political detainees, the lifting of the state of emergency, the unbanning of political organisations and the initiation of real negotiations with credible black leaders without preconditions or constraints. In this context, we are encouraged that Nelson Mandela and President P. W. Botha have met. We do not know what will come of, it, but contact is better than no contact.

We believe that the new generation of South African leaders understands the need for fundamental change. Regrettably, apartheid will not be abolished overnight, but a start must be made. We want to see real movement towards a genuinely representative system of government after the elections. We have made this abundantly clear to Mr. de Klerk. We shall judge him by his actions, not his words.

Mr. Anderson : Will the Minister confirm that terrorism in Northern Ireland and the supply of arms by South Africa, or agents of South Africa, to terrorists was raised at the meeting between the Prime Minister and Mr. de

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Klerk? We consider that the timing was extremely unwise. Is it now the Government's view that there is evidence that South African agents were responsible for supplying arms to terrorist organisations in Northern Ireland?

Mrs. Chalker : I shall simply say that the issue certainly was raised between the Prime Minister, her colleagues and Mr. de Klerk. I ask the hon. Gentleman just to leave it at that for the moment. There is no question but that the issue was thoroughly raised.

I hope that the whole House by now realises that negotiation and the encouragement of negotiation in South Africa are not the only way in which we are trying to help bring about a speedy end to apartheid. We are also doing much to help black people in South Africa. Britain is spending more than £25 million in the five years to 1992 to help South Africa's black victims of apartheid. We are setting up or supporting clinics, new housing, homes for children and the elderly, small black-owned businesses and schools, training and technical assistance. By 1990, we shall be financing 1,000 black South African students each year, and we intend to go on seeking to help through our system and with the assistance of many of our European neighbours, those people who have been denied their opportunities.

We are also helping South Africa's neighbours with substantial development aid and, in the case of Zimbabwe and Mozambique, with military assistance in the form of training their men. Presidents Mugabe and Chissano have made it clear to the Prime Minister how greatly this is appreciated and they repeated that again when she met them in Zimbabwe in March.

I have talked about our response to change in the international environment, but the phrase can be interpreted more literally still. The global environment, the natural world in which we live, is changing fast. We do not yet know enough about phenomena such as ozone depletion and global warming, but we already appreciate that they could be as significant for the future of this planet and thousands of millions of people, as anything now happening on the political scene.

Britain and British industry have led the way in international efforts to find out more about the causes of these phenomena and how they might be controlled. I am sure that the Government are at one with Opposition Members on this issue. The Government have a responsibility, with all other major countries, to help mobilise the international community to take action to protect our environment. As part of that effort, in March we successfully co-hosted, with the United Nations Environment Programme, an international conference of more than 130 nations on saving the ozone layer. It attracted new pledges of support for the Montreal protocol, which sets targets for CFC emissions.

We followed that conference up with two major initiatives. First, we doubled our financial contribution to the United Nations Environment Programme, making Britain the second largest contributor after the United States and we have urged others to follow our lead. I am pleased to say that the Federal Republic of Germany has recently done so too. We have also called for steps to be considered to strengthen the United Nations Environment Programme institutionally within the United Nations system.

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Secondly, we called for an international convention on global climate changes, which would commit signatories to reduce activities that contribute to global warming. That proposal has also attracted widespread support.

Environmental issues are often sensitive. Many developing countries put a higher priority on economic growth, but we are working to encourage the kind of co-operation that promotes sustainable growth, the wealth creating that does not cause irreparable damage to renewable resources. We do not want a grey approach. We are determined to succeed in the search for green growth--economic growth that is real but takes full account of the needs of our environment. That approach has been reflected in the recent visit to Brazil of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development, where he signed a very important environmental agreement aimed at finding joint approaches to the exploration and management of forest resources and to environmental monitoring. It is a balanced and sensible agreement and we believe that it will be successful in operation. We hope that all the other nations will join in this vital approach to try to conserve our forest resources.

I have covered only some of the many areas in international affairs where the Government are making a significant contribution to the management of international change. The message is simple and clear--at a time of great opportunity, Britain is at the forefront in helping to shape events. In Europe, as in other regions of the world, and in areas of truly global concern, we are managing that change constructively.

The Government have solid experience, sound judgment and sensible, practical policies, and it is those that we are applying to the issues. We are meeting rapid change with a dynamic response. We are successfully defending this country's interests and at the same time co-operating with others to build a stronger, safer framework for the conduct of international relations.

Those are the achievements in which this country may justly take pride. We shall continue to be guided by those policies, which I now commend to the House.

10 am

Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton) : Any of us who seek some explanation for the timing of this foreign affairs debate on a sunny July Friday need look no further than what the Minister described as the fireworks in Paris. It is no coincidence that the acceptable face of Thatcherism has been left behind today to hold the fort and do a repair job on British-French relations.

Paying a tribute to the French must be highly uncomfortable, one would have thought, in the light of the displays of the Tebbit school of diplomacy of the past couple of days--the theory of making friends by insulting and abusing them at a time of maximum national celebration.

As the Minister said, we live in momentous times. The whole geology of international relations has been shifted in the past few years and the very pace of change renders practically every generalisation redundant almost as it is spoken. Even the past week has seen its share of major events. We have seen President Bush's significant sweep through eastern Europe and the speech by President

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Gorbachev to the Council of Europe just a week ago today. This weekend in Paris we shall see the summit of the richest Western powers.

Few people would have dared to predict, five years ago or even three years ago, that elections in Poland would trounce the Communist party, that Hungary would have campaigning, independent parties, and that even in Moscow an elected Parliament would robustly debate and declaim and even sack useless Ministers, an exercise which in this country is still carried out by the old Stalinist process that the Soviet Union has done away with. Some Conservative Members will get to power only by revolution while Opposition Members need only an election to do that.

We have also seen the formal end of the Brezhnev doctrine, the exit of Cuba from Angola and the Soviet Union from Afghanistan and major arms control agreements--some of them already signed and some of them promised. It must be a time for Britain to play a major or even a decisive part in this new world. As the Minister reminded us, we are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and a leading power in NATO and in the European Community. We are at the centre of the Commonwealth and we are still in the Group of Seven richest nations meeting in Paris this weekend. But the sad fact is that our impact on events is declining, not increasing. Britain is increasingly on the edge of the action and nowhere near the centre. After Ronald Reagan, the special relationship is no longer so special.

In NATO, the nuclear phobia of the Prime Minister left her high and dry at the 40th anniversary Brussels summit. Suddenly the Germans and their vision of a safer, more trusting Europe had America's ear. It was the German blueprint that won the day and the British policy of resistance to negotiations and short-range nuclear forces and a desire for new nuclear systems was firmly squashed.

Last month, the respected German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung-- [Interruption.] We all know that one of the chief talents that the Minister brings to Government is her fluency in German. I apologise for my lack of fluency. Because of her expertise she knows how influential, conservative and authoritative that newspaper is. It said that after the NATO summit, President Bush visited Britain only as a consolation prize for the Prime Minister after the end of the Ronald Reagan special relationship. The Minister will know just how damning that indictment is.

In the European Community, we stand totally isolated against the social dimension of the single European market of 1992. When the Prime Minister calls our Community partners Socialists and Marxist it no longer produces outrage but merely derision. In the Commonwealth, our eccentric resistance to sanctions against South Africa has left us on the fringe and our chair is empty. What a tragedy for Britain and for all those who care for this country to see us relegated in that way and to see our ability to influence those momentous events so reduced.

Much of our loss of influence is related to the Prime Minister's personality. She built a myth of a British economic miracle and held it up to the world as a shining example. It certainly got attention, and from those who did not look too closely it received praise and admiration. They now know better as, day by day, Britain drifts further into industrial strife, all of it legitimised by Tory laws. It can be seen that the short- term impact on productivity and performance through the intimidation of unemployment

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and the bludgeon of the dole queue did nothing for the underlying problems and divisions that so greatly hurt our economy. So much for the economic miracle. There is also genuine sadness about the lost opportunities and the wasted chances.

To be fair, in the early 1980s the Prime Minister's break from the cold war time warp opened some new doors and some old minds. Perhaps her influence on Ronald Reagan persuaded an elderly Right-wing populist that he could get into the history books. She achieved a breakthrough on Rhodesia and, at whatever cost in other areas, she forced some reason and sense into our EC budget contribution. Those were the credits on the balance sheet.

But all those credits were not part of a grand strategy or of any coherent idea of Britain's role in NATO, Europe, the Commonwealth or the world. They resulted from a personalised ego trip--a parade of single-minded grudges, complaints and croneyisms combined with the Prime Minister's obsession of getting her own way even when it meant winning battles before losing the war. The Prime Minister is a triumphant general of a dozen pyrrhic victories.

President Bush's tour through Hungary and Poland this week has shown the western response to what is happening and being allowed to happen in eastern Europe. More than anything else that response will dictate the sort of continent in which we will live for the next 40 years. One of the saddest headlines of the week was in Tuesday's edition of the Financial Times, a paper not noted for its sensationalism in foreign policy. It said :

"Bush heaps praise but not much cash on Poland".

Poland and its neighbour Hungary are on the brink of the unthinkable dream. Perhaps they will have a pluralistic democracy, contested elections and mixed economies and will see the return of choice in the shop and in politics. With those things will come freedom to speak, think and write and perhaps even freedom before the law. How often have politicians in the West cried out for the very things that now beckon the citizens of those two people's republics? How often have we urged, cajoled and even threatened the oligarchies that ran eastern Europe? How we sighed when, in East Germany in 1953, in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968 the fire of freedom was snuffed out. Now it could all happen, but suddenly everybody wants to wait for the Americans or the Japanese to do something. They want to wait to see whether Gorbachev will last the year and whether elections are allowed. If we keep on waiting there will be nothing to wait for. Unless democracy, pluralism or glasnost produces the goods, the old certainties and the comfortable old subsidised prison-camp states may again look too attractive to resist.

The crows are waiting for the experiments to fail. The Stalinists are not dead but merely wait for us to wait and for economic chaos to liberate the treasured designs of their past. The rich West has the resources to grip the problem, as former President Giscard d'Estaing said this week at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, if we act together now we can relieve the economic pressure and guide the sick economies along a path that will ensure stability. Of course, it requires imagination. It demands the same courage and vision and the same enlightened

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self-interest that launched the Marshall plan at the end of the second world war. It also demands generosity, even if the cash is tied and conditional and cautiously applied.

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest) : Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in Poland the Confederation for an Independent Poland and Solidarity are extremely wary of large amounts of cash from the West because they believe that they will bolster the existing regime? Is he also aware that it was precisely this sort of unfettered aid given by West Germany in the late 1970s which allowed the Stalinist Polish regime to remain in power?

Mr. Robertson : If the hon. Gentleman wants to intervene, it would help if he listened to what I am saying. I made the point that the aid can and should be targeted, it can be conditional and it can be involved in the projects that we in the West think beneficial, to Poland and to us. Solidarity's demand for aid was for $10 billion. President Bush offered $115 million. Solidarity does not see that as bolstering the Communist dictatorship. It sees western aid as salvaging democracy from the ruins of what could be the economic chaos that faces them.

This initiative from the West requires imagination more than anything else, and urgency. That is why the western and especially the British response has looked so grudging, ineffective and hopelessly disproportionate in the past few weeks. If I were a Solidarity activist in Poland contemplating sharing power and the extremely tough decisions that will be required with the outgoing Communists, I would remember vividly the ringing declarations of the martial law era and the chorus of noises of support that rose from every single western capital ; and when I saw the meagre aid that President Bush brought, I would feel betrayed. We say that we should give aid as part of an agreed package, and that we should give it for specific projects such as pollution control, high technology investment, management and education. We say that we should give aid for private projects and joint ventures, but the key is to give aid before the fragile, trembling steps to freedom are crushed by the meanness and parsimony of mature democratic powers which waited and waited until it was too late.

I want to ask the Minister of State who will reply to the debate one specific question. He was reported in The Daily Telegraph as having said in Hungary on Tuesday that Britain was ready to provide support for Hungary's fledgling political parties in the run-up to free elections. Will the Minister be more specific about that? The seminars that he said were scheduled for some Polish and Hungarian politicians in the autumn will be run by the Great Britain/East Europe Centre, an admirable organisation on whose governing body I and other hon. Members serve. But the amount of money involved so far would hardly pay for the election address for a Bristol constituency, so if we are to have an impact on helping those new politicians and do not want all the work done by the magnificent, omnipresent German political foundations, much more cash will be necessary. How much will be available, and how soon?

The Prime Minister's increasing isolation is vividly on display in the European Community. We have heard a gloss from the most communautaire of the Foreign Office Ministers, but the European Parliament election campaign, masterminded as it was by the Prime Minister herself, was a miserable humiliation for the Conservative

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party. The campaign was a churlish, negative, trivial display of arrogant mismanagement and it is small wonder that the electorate rejected the Tory party and the message that it put forward. What was the response from the mastermind herself--an admission that she got it wrong? Not on your life. Was the advertising campaign the disaster that their losing MEPs and some Back-Bench Members said it was? Was the reason the Bruges speech and its hectoring repudiation of the Single European Act, which the Prime Minister had accepted and then told the right hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) to go to Brussels and sign? Was it her denunciation of her fellow European Right-wing leaders, whom she told, according to the Daily Mail in May :

"We think your attitude of putting people on boards and committees because they are a trade unionist goes back to the Marxist period, a class struggle period."

Apparently it was none of those explanations : it was all down to the weather. According to the Prime Minister, the First Lord of the Treasury of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, it was such a warm day that the Tory voters simply stayed in their gardens. That I find unbelievable, but it was the definitive political explanation from the Prime Minister of the rout and gutting of the Tory party--the humbling of a Government long on arrogance and short on common sense. Now the diminutive group of Tory MEPs crawls round the Palais des Nations in Strasbourg vainly trying to find partners willing to be tainted by the insensitive, crude, anti-Community attitude of the Prime Minister of Great Britain. That Tory group is still struggling to find companions in the European Parliament, which is perhaps the most vivid example of just how isolated the Government's attitude to Europe has become.

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon) rose--

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher) rose--

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