Home Page

Column 941

House of Commons

Friday 1 December 1989

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Untreated Sewage (Discharge)

9.35 am

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay) : I have the honour to present to the House a petition that has been drawn up by the Torbay branch of Friends of the Earth. It has been signed by 10,374 constituents and visitors to my constituency. It is on the subject of the discharge of untreated sewage into the Channel. That is not to say that the beaches of Torbay are any less attractive than those anywhere else on the south coast. Indeed they have awards from Europe. Torbay has unrivalled mackerel. Nevertheless, there is growing anxiety about untreated sewage and there will be grave problems for the future development of the south-west if we continue to pump out untreated sewage. The petition states :

Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your Honourable House will acknowledge that we the undersigned wish to express our anxiety over the unacceptable levels of untreated sewage being deposited by tidal action onto many beaches in the Torbay area of South Devon. We are concerned that such pollution could pose a threat to the health of not only the residents of-- and visitors to--Torbay but also to fish stocks

Column 942

and other marine life off South Devon's shores. We therefore call on the Secretary of State for the Environment to press for immediate remedial action, including the setting-up of a permanent sewage treatment facility to serve the Torbay area.

To lie upon the Table.

Deaf Television Viewers

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth) : I have the honour to present a petition of 1,900 signatures on behalf of the deaf and disabled and their supporters in my Bosworth constituency, from the county of Leicestershire and elsewhere. One thousand nine hundred people signed the petition because on television there is insufficient use of subtitles. That means that several million deaf and partially deaf people in Britain cannot understand fully or appreciate the programmes that the rest of the United Kingdom takes for granted. The petition reads :

Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your Honourable House will ensure that legislation be passed placing an obligation on television channel operators to make their programmes more accessible to deaf people by using Teletext subtitles, sign language or other means and to reach complete coverage by a fixed date.

And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray etc. To lie upon the Table.


Landlord and Tenant (Licensed Premises)

Mr. Secretary Ridley, supported by Mr. Secretary Waddington, Mr. Secretary Patten, Mr. Gummer and Mr. Redwood, presented a Bill to repeal section 43(1)(d) of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954 ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time on 4 December and to be printed. [Bill 8.]

Column 943

Eastern Europe

[Relevant documents : the First Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee (House of Commons Paper No. 16 of Session 1988-89) on Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, the Observations by the Government on the Report (Cm. 708), the Minutes of Evidence taken by the Foreign Affairs Committee on 19th July 1989 (House of Commons Paper No. 523-i of Session 1988-89), the Second Report from the Trade and Industry Committee (House of Commons Paper No. 51 of Session 1988-89) on Trade with Eastern Europe, and the Government Reply contained in House of Commons Paper No. 51-i and -ii, Session 1988-89.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now Adjourn-- [Mr. Goodlad.]

Mr. Speaker : Before I call the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, may I say that once again there is a great demand to take part in this debate? I propose therefore to put a limit of 10 minutes on speeches between 11.30 am and 1 pm. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members who are called to speak before then, or even afterwards, will bear the limit broadly in mind so that their colleagues may have an opportunity of participating.

9.40 am

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. William Waldegrave) : The fact that you, Mr. Speaker, must begin our proceedings with that warning surely is welcome, because many hon. Members, particularly Conservative Members, are present to debate the extraordinary, fascinating and encouraging events in eastern Europe. This is the end of an extraordinary period in the history of Europe. It has been an artificial period, unprecedented in our continent's history. For year after year and decade after decade there has been confrontation. The traditional cultures of what used to be called Christendom were split down the middle, and connections that had been close and intimate for centuries were forced into an artificial confrontation that was not of our seeking in the West. I always remember the moving passage in that great book, which will be familiar to many hon. Members, of Primo Levi's account of his return from Auschwitz. On his peregrinations ultimately to Italy, whence he came, he travels through the Balkans and parts of Russia in a strange and wandering journey. He arrives at a tank park of Soviet tanks. He had been liberated by the Red Army, for which he felt affection, as many must have done. He sees, with despair, the following phenomenon taking place : great posters, one of which is illustrated in one of our national newspapers today of the war-time leaders--Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin--being taken down by the soldiers and replaced by a new poster which read "Onwards to the West". Primo Levi felt his heart sinking as he saw the whole thing starting again.

Confrontation was imposed on us in the West by Stalin and by a ruthless policy about which the truth is now most movingly beginning to be told in the Soviet Union. The famous article in the "Literary Gazette" by Dashichev, which a year ago for the first time in the Soviet Union set out the truth of the myth that had been fed to the Soviets that they were under threat from the West. How moving it is to see the truth being told in the Soviet Union and in eastern Europe. The artificial confrontation from which we are emerging was not necessary for the security of the

Column 944

Soviet Union. The huge overhang of forces that faced us in western Europe was started and directed by the dreadful policy of Stalin. We are privileged to be living at the end of that pathological period in European history, and we must express our joy and look to the future. It is not possible to design the policies that we need for the future unless we analyse carefully why changes are occurring and what caused the end of that confrontation. It is impossible to ignore the moral bankruptcy of that system. Great writers such as Solzhenitsyn, Milan Kundera, Havel and Markov, have written works that will become, or have already become, classics of literature which lay out that moral bankruptcy. There are great pillars of literature if one doubts that that system was morally bankrupt. The two things that brought down the system--it had artificial strengths that kept it going long after allegiance to it was withdrawn, if ever there was any allegiance--were the interaction of its economic failure and a completely different perception of the world in the Soviet Union.

We saw the economic collapse throughout the 1970s, such as the mounting debt, which sometimes was rather foolishly pushed at eastern countries by the West and which did not solve problems but in some ways exacerbated them. We saw problems developing in Poland and Hungary--two countries that have the highest per capita debt in the world. We saw Khrushchev's vain boast to bury capitalism become not only unlikely but laughable in economic terms. We saw the widening gap in technology and, now, as the veils are drawn, even in countries that were said to be relatively strong such as the German Democratic Republic, we see the full extent of the system's economic weakness. Economies that have been so weak for so long produce dire results. Let us consider the health statistics, which perhaps are the saddest, in Silesia where a combination of environmental health standards, which would make anyone in Britain weep, and environmental pollution worse than anything that we have seen for 100 years or more, have produced a catastrophe in that proud province.

The conditions for change were clear--there was no moral force left in the system, if ever there was any, and the economic collapse left citizens saying, "Our leaders have done nothing for us, even at the pragmatic and practical level of supplying goods in the shops, decent health care or looking after the environment."

But that alone would not have been enough. On three or four occasions since the war the people of eastern Europe have tried to shake off the imposed system. We saw, but could do nothing about, the suppression of those desperate attempts for freedom, because the Soviet Union--the great super- power of the East--took the view that its interests were served by ruthless maintenance of an imperial provincial system manned by hundreds of thousands of soldiers and satellite puppet Governments.

But then came Gorbachev, who seems almost the best disproof of Marxism. According to it, individuals should make no difference, but I cannot believe that things would have been quite the same in Europe over the past five years if Gorbachev had not come to power.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. Plekhanov, who was one of the founders of Marxism in Russia, wrote a book in which he argued strongly about the role of the individual. If the Minister would care to read the book that I wrote about

Column 945

the future of the Labour party, he would see that I mentioned the fact that the individual plays an important part. It should never be overestimated, but, my goodness, it should never be underestimated.

Mr. Waldegrave : I am willing to believe that the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have much affection, is a revisionist of the best sort, but Marx was not, and in "Das Kapital" the individual is portrayed as the epiphenomenon only of underlying forces.

I do not believe that Mr. Gorbachev is the epiphenomenon of anything. He is a man of courage and vision with whom we shall have many arguments about the future shape of society. He has made a difference, and if he had not come to power events would have been different. He asked three questions--I paraphrase and simplify the positions that have been put forward in many speeches--that shook the world. First, he asked why is the Soviet Union threatening the West? What is the point of this huge overhang of forces? What is it doing for the interests of the Soviet Union?

Secondly, what have the Soviets got from 70 years of attempted confrontation and destabilisation around the world, summarised under the old slogan "The export of the revolution"? Where has that got the interests of the Russian people, or the people of the Soviet republics? They have some allies around the world--Cuba, North Korea and the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen, which I am visiting the day after tomorrow. I am not sure that Mr. Gorbachev thought that the score was enough after 70 years of work--

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) : And Ethiopia.

Mr. Waldegrave : Yes, and some parts of Ethiopia, although revisionists, as they are called by the Tigreans, are under attack there, too.

Thirdly, the question to which we are directing our attention today is, why should a free Hungary, Poland or Czechoslovakia threaten the security of the Soviet Union any more than a free Finland? Those are the three questions, and President Gorbachev's answers have transformed the world. He gave the same answers to those questions as, roughly speaking, we would have given in this House--that there was no point in the overhang of military forces for the security of the Soviet Union, that the Soviet Union and her people have lost nothing and the world has lost much from the export of the revolution for 70 years, and that free countries in central Europe would not threaten the Soviet Union. Those answers have transformed the background to our debate.

Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton) : In the interests of realism, should not my hon. Friend add to that analysis of Soviet policy the myth, which the Soviets have propagated and which is based on an element of reality, about the shock and horror inflicted on the Soviet Union from May 1941 and the Soviets resolve never to allow that to happen again?

Mr. Waldegrave : Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend and I shall return to the genuine security needs of the Soviet Union in a moment. However, we should not underestimate the fact that the Soviet Union is now telling the truth about the events which led to the Barbarossa invasion, because it is laid out in the article by Dashichev to which I referred earlier. He asks why the British and

Column 946

French should have trusted the Soviet Union. How could they, when they had watched the purges and the internal slaughter in the Soviet Union in the 1930s? The West needs to consider and respect the true security needs of the Soviet Union.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Waldegrave : I must be careful or I shall be in trouble with Mr. Speaker for taking too long.

Mr. Wareing : Does the hon. Gentleman think that, likewise, we should be candid about the role of the British Government before the second world war, particularly at the time of the Munich crisis, when we gave sustenance to Hitlerism in Germany?

Mr. Waldegrave : I do not agree. Every publication we get from the Soviet Union makes it more difficult to maintain the old thesis, with which all right hon. and hon. Members were brought up, that it was the West's failure which caused the war. The Soviet Union's cynical alliance with Hitler opened the way, and the Soviets are saying that themselves. It is not wise to be left behind the Soviets' own analysis.

Our response should be extremely joyful, but we do not have the luxury of being able to put aside our policies for the future. One may ask why we need a response. The countries are becoming free. Why do we not continue to mind our own business? We do not have that luxury. My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) put his finger on one reason, and there is another.

The first reason is that the conditions which have allowed the Soviets to change their analysis are based on the view that their security is not threatened by the development of free countries in eastern and central Europe.

Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to respond and to answer President Gorbachev's question in the same way that he did. We must make it clear that there is no threat. We must respond generously, quickly and sensibly to the offered negotiations in Vienna on armaments. We must say that NATO will work with the Warsaw pact to bring about a contractual peace in Europe, whereby the security needs of both sides are respected at the lowest sensible levels that can be achieved. Treaties must be verifiable and detailed and must not be easy to break without detection. Therefore, they must be carefully drawn up, and experts must ensure that we do not rush into any euphonic, slapdash work. We must respond properly and generously to the needs. That is what is now being done. We should recognise the historical background that linked European countries for hundreds of years, and that both sides have legitimate security needs. The second reason is that the key to the change has been not only the moral bankruptcy and economy incompetence of the collapsing system but a change in perception in the Soviet Union. It is incumbent upon us to remember that it is not inevitable that that change in perception came about. There is no inevitability in history. That kind of historicism may have been a principle in Marxism and Hegelism, but nobody believes in that nowadays. The trend could be reversed--it has been once before and it could be again- -but I do not believe that that is likely and none of us hopes that that will happen.

Column 947

As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton, the Soviet Union has a right to a minimal insurance and we must maintain the structures of the Alliance. One does not have to look at the map to recognise that western Europe is not defensible without its allies across the Atlantic. We must remember and clearly understand that. The maintenance of the North Atlantic Alliance is long term, for as far ahead as we can see, and will be essential as our part of the insurance. Doubtless a lower level of forces will be deployed, and we will have a different relationship with the Warsaw pact as we begin to discuss how to build confidence and to work together to maintain the structure of peace, but we need the insurance as much as the other side.

In terms of security, our response has to be welcoming but careful, and that is the path which the western Alliance has gone down, and to our great joy the eastern alliance has followed us. That is the most marvellous change that any of us could hope to see.

What about our economic and moral response? Nature abhors a vacuum. Into the vacuum left by the disappearance of artificially imposed doctrines new ideas will flow. What is most extraordinary about the values that are emerging in the freedom movements in eastern Europe, which all right hon. and hon. Members understand in spite of argument across the Chamber, is that they are the values of liberal democracy. That need not have been so. Who were the last people to rule Poland or Hungary before the war? Pilsudski and the regent Horthy. Old-fashioned nationalisms could have re- emerged from the darker corners of European history and posed a different kind of threat to the values which are so dear to this House. However, it is an achievement for what we impertinently call western values--although I do not know how they can be called western when they are shared by Japan, the Pacific rim countries and Botswana--that the crowds in Wenceslas square and the Solidarity trade unionists think that their national freedoms are intimately bound up with the establishment of free democracies, market economies and plural societies. That is a marvellous moral achievement. Already, the only real alternative is flowing into the vacuum. It is the only alternative which works economically all round the world and, politically, it provides the only safe way to maintain allegiance to political institutions. We do not need to worry too much on that score.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : Is the Minister suggesting that we have something to offer as a liberal democracy to help the developments that are taking place? If so, should we not take the high ground rather than actions such as have been taken during the past 10 years which undermine the democratic rights, civil liberties and freedoms that have operated in Britain?

Mr. Waldegrave : I do not want to stop the hon. Member from having our local argument about where, within the structures of a free society, we should put the rights of the collective against the rights of the individual. It is his privilege to be elected to come here and to seek a Government which would put those provisions in some slightly different place, but it is intensely provincial to

Column 948

think that the arguments that he and I have, passionate though they may be, are on the same scale as those in central and eastern Europe.

I do not think that we need fear the continuance of any vacuum on the moral or on the economic side. Many of the ideas on those subjects were written by people who come from those countries. They know the books just as well as we do. Many eastern European countries have traditions that go back at least as far as ours, although they have sometimes been interrupted. The first genuinely free Parliament in Europe, it may be argued, was in Poland. The Polish Sejm in the 1780s and 1790s had rights rather further advanced than we had at that time. It was suppressed, but the ideas and traditions exist, now to be resuscitated with the full weight of popular movements behind them.

On the immediate economic side, there are things that we must do. The Communists have left these countries--Poland and Hungary are the worst--in varying degrees of debt and desuetude. They have left them in a pretty miserable shape. Even the German Democratic Republic, which used to be put forward as a good example, is discovering that the debt is far greater than was admitted. The anxiety which we can now see developing in the GDR, as it begins to understand the weakness of its economy compared with the Federal Republic of Germany, will be one of the interesting phenomena of the next few years and may lead it into a little caution in terms of its relationship with the FRG.

We who have resources must take some steps to help. We are. I believe that the principles that we and other countries have argued are right. There is nothing to be gained by piling further debt on these countries. Rushing at them with credit is not the answer. They have had that in the past, and look at the debt that they now have. They need help with what Mr. Gorbachev calls

perestroika--restructuring. They need help with the fundamental restructuring of their economies. We must help with debt rescheduling, and will do so.

I am happy that the International Monetary Fund is getting relatively near agreement with Poland and is in discussion with Hungary, but debt relief must be made contingent on the type of changes in the economy which will help those countries to generate their own wealth. That sounded hard-faced in the early days when it was first formulated, but it is increasingly receiving support from all directions. We in Britain have been right to say that, where possible, we shall make grants rather than loans. It is not very kind to lend to somebody who is already in deep debt, claiming that one is helping him.

We took advantage of one of the welcome visits of one of the great heroes of these changes--Lech Walesa--this week. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), who is with me on the board that deals with these matters, will welcome the fact that we have doubled our fund for Poland and subscribed $100 million to the fund for stabilisation of the currency, which is a key part of the brave financial plan that the new Solidarity-led Government in Poland have produced. The other countries which will meet soon in the group of 24 at Brussels are putting together substantial quantities of financial and economic help, but aimed all the time at restructuring the economies, and watching all the time to see that the restructuring is marching in step with the political reforms. That is not a luxury. It is essential. The assent, allegiance and solidarity, in the ordinary sense of

Column 949

the word, to carry through the difficult reforms that will be necessary in some of these countries will not be achieved unless the political institutions are there to carry the people with them.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford) : Does my hon. Friend agree that, as Mr. Delors is here today speaking to our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister about the prospect of a federal united states of Europe, it would not be in the interests of the people of western Europe to move in exactly the opposite direction to that which they are taking over there?

Mr. Waldegrave : I am coming to the institutional response from western Europe. My hon. Friend makes a valid point. We know that a debate on these issues is raging in Britain and in Europe, including some of the central and eastern European countries. If my hon. Friend will allow me to build it slightly more into the structure of my speech, I shall come to that matter.

For the future, we have to have a security structure. I like the phrase used by Edward Mortimer, who is one of our best journalists on these matters. He said that we should think of the Alliance as something rather like the scaffolding of the common European house that we are building. We need it. We need the capacity to talk, to agree common positions and then to negotiate. It is not a bad analogy.

On the security side, the objectives are clear--to avoid the big East-West conflict and to avoid the next problem, which one might call Balkanisation. If anyone doubts the dangers of a Balkanised central Europe that there could be, he should read the marvellous book by Donald Cameron-Watts about the diplomacy of the last two years before the second world war. I do not think that our security will be much advanced if there are dozens of warring and squabbling little states all seeking alliances with each other and fighting about their boundaries. That is a legitimate objective, and we must see what institutions we have to deal with the problems.

Nobody doubts that we have the institutions on the security side. We have NATO, and we have what I hope will become an increasingly democratised Warsaw pact. I refer to the reforms which the Poles are talking about. It is necessary to have such reforms so that the Warsaw pact is not the creature of one power but a free collection of states looking legitimately at their security interests.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) asked me about political institutions. What do we have? First and foremost we should consider the institution, the strange, complex and unique institution in the history of the world--hardly an institution really, but a sort of process--that is known by the inelegant initials CSCE, or the Helsinki Final Act. They are not household names except among the experts. Perhaps they are in the constituency of the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson)--he is lucky.

We should not forget that in that process which the Helsinki Final Act embodies took place one of the most extraordinary events in the history of the modern world. The Soviet Union, not in Gorbachev's day but under the Brezhnev regime, signed agreements which said that we had the right to question them about their human rights, and that we and they would join together in mechanisms for the resolution of disputes about borders, which has

Column 950

now blossomed out into meetings and discussions about the environment, human rights, culture and a range of other issues. Somewhere here, it seems that, in this collection of countries, which includes two alliances and the neutral countries, there must exist a germ of the new Europe. Within the institutions that we are developing we have the mechanisms we need to look in the long term at the difficult issues which remain and which must be solved amicably, safely and peacefully, such as borders in Europe.

We never had a peace conference at the end of the second world war. Perhaps we were lucky, bearing in mind what happened to that which was held at the end of the first world war and which did not solve the problems. It is clear that, if that peace conference which we never had in 1945 were called, it would not be the institution to deal with these matters. The four powers alone cannot deal with them now. President Gorbachev has called for the CSCE--the conference on security and co-operation in Europe-- process to be brought forward two years, and we shall have to consider whether that is sensible and practical. His emphasis on those institutions is welcome and wise. This brings me to another piece of wisdom where dangerous forces could be at work and are not. It involves the two Germanies. I welcome the kind of structures about which Chancellor Kohl is talking. What he is doing is, no more and no less, trying to sketch out in institutional terms Konrad Adenauer's doctrine that freedom comes first. Then, with a changed structure in Europe, who knows what changed relationships might come about? Chancellor Kohl says that there are clear interests in common in the two Germanies with which committees can perhaps deal. He makes it clear that, before going down that road, there must be a partnership between two free countries with genuine constitutions. He lays down no timescale for that process. He does not seek to accelerate matters artificially. It is no more and no less than a modern reformulation in entirely satisfactory terms of the old Adenauer doctrine to which all of us in the West have been committed for years.

The key institutions exist on the security side and the CSCE side, but one other institution, which has considerable support in the House and for which many hon. Members have done work, is relevant--the Council of Europe. We are committed to advancing the structures of the European Community, although there are arguments within the House and among the parties about the speed and direction of integration. The European Community will clearly continue to develop and to add to the wealth produced by and goods traded by its members. Although that will be an important room in the European house, it will just be one of the big rooms.

We in the European Community should not be too self-centred, as sometimes some people are, in thinking that only the magnet of the European Community has brought all these changes about. Other models have been influential. The success of the Finnish economy in the past 15 years, as a neutral country with a different tradition, and of the Austrian economy have had a profound effect. The technology gap which is opening up in terms of not only the United States but Japan and the new Pacific rim economies has had a profound effect in making people in central and eastern Europe think that other forces are leaving them behind. Of course, the European Community has been important as a great visible, local, economic super-power, but it has not been the only magnet.

Column 951

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher) : Does my hon. Friend agree on the importance of the key role played by the Commission in co-ordinating aid to Poland and Hungary on behalf of not only the 12 members of the Community but the 24 countries which agreed on aid at the Paris summit? does my hon. Friend agree that this has an additional importance? As Polish politicians have said, they do not wish to leave the system of the Soviet Gosplan only to become part of the Federal German budget? Therefore, the importance of matters being co-ordinated at Community level has political importance, not just economic importance.

Mr. Waldegrave : That is certainly true, and we pay tribute to Mr. Delors. The effectiveness of the organisation of the food and emergency aid, which will perhaps be vital to Poland this winter, and the naturalness of the idea that the group of 24 should delegate that task to the Community, are a tribute to its institutions. I am not arguing against that development or against our commitment to the Community, but the Community will not be the whole of Europe. There will have to be other structures. That is why the Council of Europe is important. It may take many years for many of these countries fully to "de-statise" their economies and to develop the plural economies which the institutions of the West believe they will achieve. Those countries will, however, be able more quickly to sign the European convention on human rights and meet the tests that the Council of Europe uses for membership--full democracy, and so on. Hungary, Poland and others are likely to achieve membership if they introduce free elections and the rule of law. This validates the central purpose of the Council of Europe, which is therefore gaining in importance.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East) rose --

Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes) rose --

Mr. Waldegrave : I shall give way perhaps twice more only or my speech will be too long.

Mr. Dykes : Does my hon. Friend agree that the Community, having doubled its size since 1973, is not an entity that is anxious to keep its privileges unto itself but will consider further enlargements? Does he also agree that some of those eastern European countries may wish to apply to join when they have established parliamentary democracies? That could take some time, but it need not lead us to deviate from our treaty obligations and practical common-sense obligations to develop further integration in the European Community.

Mr. Waldegrave : Clearly no new membership applications will be considered in the immediate period ahead. We should be a little wary of assuming that all the countries of eastern and central Europe will ultimately choose to follow exactly our model of economic integration. They may, but let us see what happens. Perhaps it is wise not wholly to block such flexibility as remains within the Community so that we can welcome those countries.

Mr. Rathbone : My hon. Friend was kind enough to say earlier that he would give way. I return to his point on the Council of Europe. He correctly identified it as a bridge that already exists between this country and the East. Will he comment on the Government's apparent reluctance to

Column 952

supply the necessary budgets so that the assembly of the Council of Europe, which is where parliamentarian meets parliamentarian, can do its job most effectively?

Mr. Waldegrave : Those matters are under discussion.

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point) rose --

Mr. Waldegrave : I must give way to my right hon. Friend, but I am not being allowed to make much progress.

Sir Bernard Braine : Is my hon. Friend seized of the point that the people of Poland want food, not rhetoric?

Mr. Waldegrave : That is true. That is why we are giving them money to buy food, their first need. I will allow the debate between my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) and my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) to continue in its own time.

I shall end on a sombre note. There is much joy at present, but there are also some memories that cannot be forgotten and must be paid proper respect. The Russians are beginning to talk about Stalin's crimes--all honour to them--and one day they will begin to talk about Lenin's crimes. That is a matter for them. The Poles know that in Katyn there is a dark period in history that must be opened up. The Czechoslovaks are beginning to tell the truth and open the records of 1968.

These events are immensely important when societies have been corrupted by the ruthless suppression of freedom. The truth must come out. That is part of the healing process. Numerous individuals, many known only to their families, have suffered during this terrible period of European history. The House has a particular commitment to and fascination with some. The Russians came up to the fence on Wallenberg, but we have not heard the whole story.

Among the most welcome, and perhaps surprising, events of the past week have been the movements in Bulgaria. I do not believe that my officials--I do not insult them in any way--were wholly ready for the change in Bulgaria. I am personally pleased that an environmental movement--eco- glasnost--was at the forefront of those changes. The CSCE, which was discussing the environment in Bulgaria, played a great part in helping those systems to break the log-jam.

This House and this country have a dark memory of an event that took place at the instigation of the Bulgarian Government and it is just one event among many that we need to have cleared up--the murder of Georgi Markov. One day, we must have the truth about that. Let him stand as a symbol of all the changes. His book, published after his death by his widow, was entitled "The Truth that Killed". It killed him, but it has not killed the people in Wenceslas square, and thank God for that. His death is a sombre memory to remind us of the sacrifices that have so often gone for ever unrecognised, but it also inspires joy that such a sacrifice--we hope--will never be necessary again.

10.20 am

Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton) : The Minister of State is right in saying that we are remarkably fortunate and privileged to be around in these stirring times. The events of the past year--even of the past few days--have

Column 953

brought home to us just what it means to so many to come out of the darkness of tyranny into the light of freedom, which all too often we simply take for granted.

This debate is taking place at the exactly appropriate time, as the super- powers meet today on their warships tied up off Malta, as the European Community leaders prepare to meet in Strasbourg next week and as this week, the Czech Communists voted away their dominance. Seldom has there been a better time for the House to debate these momentous issues.

At almost this precise time last year, I stood in Wenceslas square in Prague, one of the most beautiful cities of Europe. That evening, I experienced an eerie feeling of silence in that crowded square just before Christmas, where people milled around in almost fearful quiet. I could not but reflect on the days and memories of 1968 when, as an idealistic student, I heard with despair the news on the radio that the Soviet tanks had entered Czechoslovakia and had crushed the life out of the Prague Spring. To remember that desperately sad day with the emotions that so many of us felt and to remember equally that uncanny silence in Wenceslas square last year, yet to see on television over the past 10 days the noisy, determined and vocal crowds in that same square is to feel a joy and a pleasure that are simply beyond words.

It took the Polish people 10 years to achieve their freedom and they say that it took the Hungarians only 10 months. It took the East Germans 10 days to achieve freedom and the Czechs took only 10 days to return the vitality and freedom for which they had yearned, and to bring back life to the heart of the city of Prague. To be alive in these stirring times is a privilege.

My friend John Roper said the other day that the eastern Europeans have turned science fiction into political science in only a few weeks. The impossible dream has become the commonplace reality as day follows day. What is all the more remarkable in this seismic change in Europe is the dignified, self-disciplined and orderly way in which revolution has happened, without violence, strife or even retribution against those who have visited misery and repression for four decades. The people themselves have almost politely taken back the power.

It was Berthold Brecht, himself a citizen of the German Democratic Republic, who said :

"The people has failed the government. Therefore we must elect a new people."

That is what the people have done, and we should cheer them for it.

As the Minister said, we must understand what all this was for. It is an impertinence and an insult to suggest, as the Prime Minister did in her Blackpool conference speech, that this is an extension of the torch of the Thatcherite revolution. She said brazenly : "The torch we lit in Britain, which transformed our country--the torch of freedom that is now the symbol of our Party--became the beacon that has shed its light across the Iron Curtain into the East."

What demented drivel! Let us remember the words of Alexander Dubcek, who called for

"Socialism with a human face",

rather than this brainstormed fantasy. We are witnessing a revolution for freedom, for open expression and the right to make choices without intimidation. The brave people of eastern Europe were not embracing Thatcherism or any other ism, but asserting their right to choose a better system than the tired, old, failed Stalinism. That right must never again be taken from them.

Column 954

Sir Jim Spicer (Dorset, West) : I thought that I should not need to intervene as the hon. Gentleman's opening remarks were exactly in tune with the speech of my hon. Friend the Minister. However, as the hon. Gentleman has moved the goalposts, I look back in history. Does he believe that if the many Labour Members who, in 1983, were calling for the non-deployment of cruise missiles in Europe had won the day--

Next Section

  Home Page