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Sir Jim Spicer : On 22 October 1983, they were in Trafalgar square calling for no cruise missiles. Had they won the day, would Mr. Gorbachev have come on the scene and would all these events be taking place in eastern Europe?
Mr. Robertson : Yes, of course they would. If the hon. Gentleman had listened to the Minister, he would have heard an analysis that might have penetrated even his ideology. If he believes that I am breaking the bipartisan approach adopted this morning, I direct his attention to what the Prime Minister said bizarrely last week in Washington in the famous interview on CNN television. She said : "Had there been a NATO in Europe between World War One and World War Two, I don't think that World War Two would ever have happened." I ask Conservative Members to conjure with that answer. Do they believe that Herr Hilter would have sat down with Benito Mussolini to agree a communique ' with the western powers? One can only begin to think that the Prime Minister is losing all touch with reality.
Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South) : I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman takes that line. Many people in this country and in Moscow believe that without the Iron Lady there might still be the iron curtain.
Mr. Robertson : Perhaps a few people believe that. I know that the hon. Gentleman himself has had a few disagreements with the Iron Lady and who knows where he will place his ballot paper over this weekend? She made a contribution--of a sort--earlier and there is little doubt that she was able to influence President Reagan at a critical time in East-West relations, but her contribution now is negative. That is a tragedy not only for individuals who are opposed to her--whether Conservative or Opposition Members--but for our country, as it can influence the pace of events.
Mr. William Powell (Corby) rose --
In Czechoslovakia, the Communist party is in retreat each day. In Poland, a non-Communist Government are getting to grips with nightmare economic problems that were left behind. In Hungary, the Communist party has been abolished, free elections are about to take place and a referendum only this week showed the Government's position defeated by the people. Even those in the Conservative party who, over the past week, have gone cool on the idea of free elections will welcome the fact that in Hungary--that marvellous country which has already experimented with the fringes of the free economy--events are moving at such a fast pace.
Column 955As the Minister said, even in Bulgaria what was regarded almost as the fixed permanence of Todor Zhivkov has gone and an era has ended. Instead of resorting to lynch law the people are resorting to the criminal law to deal with his spectacular excesses. Only in Albania and Romania does Stalinism hold on by its finger tips. We should not mince words about Romania which is one of the nastiest and most brutally corrupt police states in the world. The regime's bitter and indefensible campaign against the Hungarian minority and the state- sponsored vandalism of the Transylvanian villages deserve the world's condemnation. President Nicolai Ceausescu may have received 67 standing ovations in his six-hour speech to the cowed party congress, but even as he speaks he knows that the ground is slipping away from him.
When we consider our approach to this new world, should not we, like those who have repossessed power in the East, work on the basis of optimism?
Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley) rose --
Mr. Robertson : If those who marched in Gdansk, Leipzig and Bratislava had not believed that they might win they would surely have failed. If those who took strike action this week in Prague or went to prison in Warsaw and those who piled through the gaps in the Berlin wall had worried about destabilising the Warsaw pact or unscrambling the post- war settlement or had been paranoid about the impact of their actions on the European politico-military balance, they would have stayed at home and Herr Honecker, Mr. Kadar and Mr. Zhivkov would still reside comfortably in their luxury politburo apartments. The people who filled the streets and brought down the edifice of tyranny acted out of frustration, anger and impatience because they believed that their world was changeable if they wanted it enough.
Perhaps if we in the west could share some of that optimism and believe in what can be done if we care enough, some of the pessimism and misgivings that preoccupy many of our leaders would be put in perspective. To overrule that pessimism requires imagination and considerable vision. Tragically, it is clear beyond doubt that we have no chance of that from the Prime Minister. In the face of the most momentous events for a generation, the Prime Minister is going back, not forward, in time. Last year, in November, she told the Washington Post :
"We are not in a Cold War now. East and West now have a new relationship."
The Washington Post rightly headlined the interview : "Thatcher says Cold War has come to an end".
Even our good old Daily Telegraph headlined it :
"Cold war over, says Thatcher".
But last week in Washington the Prime Minister was asked by CNN television whether she thought that the cold war was over. She replied that it was :
"Not over, but it's thawing."
The Minister's tone was remarkably different from everything that the Prime Minster has said in the past few weeks. With his renown, intelligence and intellect, is the Minister capable of explaining to the House and to the world how it is that the cold war was over last November but after a year that has seen the collapse of the Berlin wall, the abolition of the Communist party in Hungary,
Column 956the election of a non-Communist Government in Poland and the disappearance of the leading role of Communists in Czechoslovakia, suddenly it is on again? What is the logic of that? Perhaps the explanation is that the Prime Minister, suddenly finding herself without the enemy and the threat that provided the justification for her every prejudice is as transfixed and immobilised by the new situation as are the dazed ex-members of the Czech politburo whom we have seen on television over the past 10 nights.
Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke) : Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that there is a difference between a threat which is an intention--we all recognise that that has gone--and a threat which is a capability? In the first six months of this year alone, the Soviet Union built another 1,700 main battle tanks. We would be foolish not to recognise that capability. We want action as well as intentions.
Mr. Robertson : We must look at intentions and capability. The United States Defence Secretary said in the last fortnight that the threat from the East is smaller than it has ever been since the second world war. The Prime Minister could say last November that the cold war was over, but, despite the changes that the Minister has outlined to us as if we were not aware of them, she now says that it is on again. Perhaps, as Matthew Parris said in The Times a few weeks ago, we are seeing before our very eyes the Prime Minister losing her marbles. In Der Spiegel it was said that the Pentagon is in confusion because after all its planning of worst-case options it has no best-case option to deal with the position now.
Faced with events in eastern Europe, the Prime Minister is like a beached whale, incapable of registering the scale of what has happened and uniquely incapable of seeing the potential before her. We cannot get away from the fact that she is unable to escape from her cold war prejudices and the time warp that she is in. Therefore, tragically for our country, we shall continue to be marginalised on the world stage.
Mr. Waldegrave : Does it make the hon. Gentleman nervous that the only hon. Member in the House who applauds his descent into hard-line partisanship is the hon. Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields)? I am not sure that he wants that support.
Mr. Robertson : That was not up to the Minister's usual intellectual standard of intervention. I am not descending into partisanship. If Britain is to make a contribution we shall have to contrast the Minister's measured and balanced approach to the amazing events in eastern Europe with the way in which the Prime Minister treats them. She is, after all, still the leader of the Conservative party and Prime Minister this week. It is not partisanship per se to underline her weakness in the face of such momentous events. In spite of the Prime Minister's short-sightedness we must act soon on appropriately ambitious programmes to rebuild the economies of the newly free nations, to satisfy the expectations of their people and to consolidate the drive to democratic pluralism which gets so much easy applause from everyone in the West.
Such a programme must have a number of elements. We agree wholeheartedly with the Prime Minister on the first element. Mr. Gorbachev must be supported and not
Column 957destabilised by unilateral action by the West. The Minister stated, with more power and force than the Prime Minister found herself able to do, the truism that the momentous changes that we have witnessed happened only because Mr. Gorbachev started the process. Although events have taken place faster and gone further than he desired, it was he who pressed the button. By abolishing the Brezhnev doctrine he let loose the forces that we have witnessed. He, not the spluttering torch of Thatcherism, was the moving force behind the tidal wave engulfing the geriatric rulers of the old Soviet empire.
Mr. Gorbachev's problems at home are formidable. Perhaps that is why disengagement from the satellite states made so much sense to him. His economy is in deep trouble, with difficult decisions yet to be made, made all the more difficult by the emerging new oppositions and the elections due to take place this winter and in the spring. Furthermore, the tide of nationalism and inter-ethnic strife in the Soviet Union threatens it with about seven versions of the problems that we face in Northern Ireland.
It is enormously important to help the President of the Soviet Union, but it will not be easy. It can be done in three ways. First, we can throw away finally the artificial and outdated COCOM mechanism which prevents technology exports to the Soviet Union. If we see that our security is better ensured by helping Gorbachev, it is crucial that the Soviet Union has the technology and intellectual tools to rebuild. Secondly, we can urgently explore ways in which the Soviet economy can come back into the institutions of the world system. That will be difficult, but it is not an impossible objective. Thirdly, we can release military expenditure and in that way also help ourselves.
To listen over the past two weeks to the speeches of western leaders exhorting the importance of the continued existence of the Warsaw pact is to believe that one is almost hearing hallucinations. After all these years when the Warsaw pact was rightly condemned as being an extension of the Soviet machine, all of a sudden we are now to believe that it alone will allow a stable transition from the secure, tested, familiar, manageable European order, which we all nevertheless used to denounce, to the new order which nobody has yet worked out because nobody was planning for the victory that has just happened.
It should go without saying that there must be an acceleration of the arms control process at all levels. I welcome what the Minister said about that. It should also go without saying--there was nothing in the Minister's speech about this--that modernisation of the Lance missile system is now simply a redundant memory, as politically impossible as it is militarily unnecessary. If the American Defence Secretary can say that the risks are the lowest since 1945, our planning and expenditure should reflect that fact. This new scenario has implications for our troubled economy which is over-dependent on military expenditure in many different ways.
We must be imaginative about the aid and assistance that we give. I agree wholeheartedly with the Minister that to add to the debt problems of the Eastern bloc countries is no way to help them. We must give them grants, not further credit, as far as possible. I welcome the announcement of the doubling of the know-how fund for Poland, for the increased food aid and the £64 million committed to the stabilisation fund for currencies. These are apparently new moneys offered by the Government and they go some way to meeting the criticism of
Column 958parsimony that I levelled at the Government a fortnight ago. But is that enough? Is the know-how fund, the advisory board of which is chaired by the Minister and on which I have the pleasure to serve, really getting £25 million more, or is it getting an extra £5 million a year after the first five-year period, as a radio programme yesterday evening suggested?
Will the Hungarian fund, due to start next April, be similarly doubled? What aid is contemplated for Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria when they reach the standards established by Poland and Hungary? I warmly welcome the change of policy on English language teaching as a beneficiary of the know- how funds. The expertise of the British Council, the BBC world service and the ODA can do much through teaching English to bring Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia into the modern business world.
On Monday the Prime Minister announced to the world on "Panorama" that German reunification was not on the agenda, but on Tuesday Chancellor Kohl spelt out his plan for that very objective. I note that the Minister warmly welcomed his speech and objective. The Prime Minister may assert that the reunification is not on the agenda, but if the Germans put it there, it will certainly be on the agenda. It does not need to dominate any agenda for the future, even when the paranoias of both the Kremlin and 10, Downing street happen momentarily to coincide. We cannot say that self- determination for the GDR is our priority and at the same time say that one outcome is not to be considered. What price the reassertion of democracy in that sort of world?
Two points must be borne in mind. First, there is no inexorable, inevitable path from the GDR to a new united nation. Indeed, the first response to Chancellor Kohl's declaration was from a group of GDR reformers who said that they valued the prospect of an independent, but non-Communist, GDR. Secondly, we must ensure that the future of the two Germanies remains a matter for all Europe, since neither population can pretend that it can act as though it were an island.
It is grossly insulting to forget that the Federal Republic of Germany is a mature, deeply rooted democracy where the post-war generation has built constitutional institutions from which we can certainly learn. It is no springboard for a fourth reich. It is important, however, that the domestic, political battle in the Federal Republic is not allowed to spill over into its fragile, exposed neighbour. Chancellor Kohl's party and the other parties must curb any temptation to use the issue for home consumption. Above all, as we gaze in wonderment at the way in which our continent has been transformed in a matter of weeks we, who have revelled in the luxury and benefits of democratic traditions for 40 years, must not seek to impose our values and standards on those who will find their own, possibly different, way in future. We must be aware of the time available to grasp the opportunities. Many people say that if we act too quickly, it will all crumble before our eyes. They cry against action before
Column 959everything settles down, as if these peoples and nations were some giant pot of soup. But if we delay, paralysed by caution, and if we do not offer the help needed, the forces of reaction that are still there waiting for failure will return. Delay would be fatal. That is why a response is needed now to capture the chance of a new order in Europe with all the certainty of the old order but, mercifully, without the terminal risks and miseries that 40 years of the cold war meant in reality.
Recently President Mitterrand outlined a great mission for the European Community,
"if it is something that can prove to be stronger than everyone's desire to be master of his own village."
There are some hopelessly tied to the idea of being mistress of their own village, but the rest of us can and should aspire to the greater mission.
Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point) : My right hon. Friend the Minister opened the debate with one of the most thoughtful, helpful analyses of East-West relations that I have ever heard from the Front Bench. I agree with everything he said. I hope that he will forgive me, however, if I say that this debate is timely for one special reason which has hardly been touched on so far.
Naturally events in eastern and central Europe have lifted our hearts in the West in a most remarkable way which none of us could have thought possible less than two years ago. Everywhere Communism is in retreat and whole peoples are demanding free elections, a market economy and a single European home. But between that demand and its fulfilment lies a gap full of uncertainty and even danger. The test case is Poland. No people in eastern Europe suffered more at the hands of the Nazis and Stalinists. It is one of the saddest ironies of history that Britain went to war in 1939 to save Poland, that Polish flyers fought to defend this island during the Battle of Britain, that Polish soldiers fought alongside our own on almost every front with great bravery and distinction, but that victory for us brought subjugation for them.
Now for the first time since 1945 Poland has a non-communist Prime Minister and its face is turned with hope to the West. What are its immediate prospects? On5 November the Sunday Telegraph reported : "Living standards, already among the worst in the Warsaw Pact, have deteriorated further."
The paper went on to say that nobody yet blames Solidarity Prime Minister Mr. Mazowiecki's Government. The Poles know perfectly well whom to blame, but the outlook is bleak. Inflation has now reached a monthly rate of 50 per cent. :
"In many places queues have gone not because the supply of necessities has increased but because the demand has been forced down. In the larger cities many people have become dependent on soup kitchens. The Polish committee for social aid estimates that one in four citizens needs help now to stave off hunger."
The witnesses to this are legion. Reverend David Thomas, rector of Canvey Island in my constituency, recently returned from a church mission to Poland. He has told me how he and a companion on a train journey encountered a student and wanted to share with him their enthusiasm for recent events. The student did not smile ; instead he showed them a newspaper detailing a threefold
Column 960increase in the price of bread over as many weeks. Reverend Thomas told me that everyone he spoke to desperately felt the need for help from the outside world. This is also the message that Mr. Lech Walesa, the great hero of Polish resistance to Communist rule, is delivering here this week.
My purpose in intervening in this debate is to call for special measures to meet immediate needs, over and above what has to be done to rebuild the Polish economy and embark on the necessary work of reconstruction. The immediate needs are specific. Dr. Bozena Laskiewicz of Medical Aid for Poland Fund, which operates from this country, has written to me saying that the bad situation of a few months ago has deteriorated further. There is an acute shortage of food. Dr. Laskiewicz says that food has never been so expensive. People going out shopping have no idea how much money they will need for basic foods such as bread, butter and cheese. Fresh milk is almost unobtainable in the towns, while a women wrote recently from Gdansk saying that she had been able to afford to buy meat only three times since August.
Lady Ryder of Warsaw, who telephoned me earlier this week, is the founder of the Sue Ryder Foundation. She has been closely connected with relief work in Poland ever since the end of the second world war. She tells me that an urgent appeal has been made by Bishop Domin, the head of the charity commission of the Roman Catholic church in Poland, who co-ordinates all food and medical help from the community and the outside world. He confirms that the food situation is appalling : dried milk and rice are unobtainable : meat prices have rocketed ; sugar is not always available, I should like to quote what this remarkable lady told me only this morning :
"Four million prople are now below subsistence level. Unless more food and medical supplies are sent within two weeks suffering will be intensified and people will die unnecessarily."
The outlook for health is bleak in the extreme. Life expectancy for both men and women fell in Poland between 1965 and 1985, according to official statistics, and since then is thought to have fallen still further. Infant mortality figures are probably the highest in Europe. There is an acute shortage of medical supplies of all
kinds--anaesthetics, drugs, antibiotics, dressings, gauze, syringes, needles and much more. There is a chronic shortage of standard medical equipment.
Only yesterday, Dr. Zbigniew Religa, a cardiac surgeon who works in Katowicz who is visiting here, told me that the shortage of medicines is critical and that basic equipment such as respirators is lacking. His message was clear :
"We need freedom certainly--we have been deprived of it for too long. But what we have will not last if we cannot feed our people and sustain their health."
With him was Dr. Andrew Sasnowski, a cardiac thoracic surgeon. He told me :
"We need help now, not next month or next year. Our new Government must be helped to stay in power long enough to complete the reforms and to get our country moving, but that will be impossible if our people do not have enough to eat and if their health deteriorates further."
Dr. Ian Stephen, a British orthopaedic surgeon from Kent who has worked with Polish doctors for many years, has told me :
"A popular revolution such as we are seeing in eastern Europe will falter and fail if people do not see the prospect of an improvement in the quality of life."
Column 961The message is clear : Poland needs help and needs it now. Winter is upon us ; the Poles can hardly last until the spring. Only a short time ago we were bewailing the giant surpluses of food accumulated by the European Community and costing the taxpayer vast amounts of money for storage--hon. Members on both sides asked many questions about it. Let generosity be combined with common sense. Let us unlock the storehouse doors and ship the food to Poland. There should be no difficulty about distribution. Bishop Domin and the Church are well placed to help. There is close co-operation between the church authorities and the Sue Ryder Foundation. We need an immediate air lift, which would not necessitate a vast number of planes. Berlin was saved by an airlift in rather different conditions. I am asking for an airlift to Poland of essential supplies--and now. If anyone wants to help, money can be received by the Sue Ryder Foundation and used to purchase supplies which can be channelled to Poland and distributed there in a matter of a few days.
I do not want to minimise the efforts being made by the European Commission to co-ordinate aid measures to Poland and Hungary and other nations in eastern Europe. We must reach out to all of them. I understand that progress will be reviewed in Brussels on 13 December.
Nor do I minimise the British know-how fund of £25 million the doubling of which the Foreign Secretary announced on Wednesday. That increase is timely, but I hope that I may be permitted to make a special plea. Britain owes a special debt of honour to Poland, which so far has not been repaid. At the end of our common struggle in war against unspeakable tyranny and wickedness Poland was betrayed. We had a hand in that--I am not casting aspersions, because we could do nothing about it at the time. Now that, by their own efforts, the Poles are throwing off 45 years of Soviet occupation and Communist misgovernment, the opportunity has arisen for Britain to repay the debt. I hope that we shall not fail to rise to the occasion, and will do so quickly.
Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney) : I associate myself with the remarks made by the Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine). I am not sure whether Poland needs an air lift, but it does need massive food aid quickly to deal with a major crisis which will afflict that country this winter. The right hon. Gentleman was correct to stress the urgency of that. I also support the right hon. Gentleman's tribute to the Minister of State, because I believe that the Minister made a very penetrating and worthwhile contribution to our debate.
When the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, of which I am a member, reported in April, it was already clear that momentous changes were taking place in the Soviet Union and in eastern Europe. In the Soviet Union that was evidenced internally by the thrusting forward of measures designed to achieve perestroika and glasnost and externally by the quite remarkable changes in Soviet foreign policy in its handling of regional affairs--the speed with which the Afghanistan conflict was at least greatly eased by the withdrawal of Soviet troops--and through the new approaches to disarmament and the perception of
Column 962the world in which the Soviets live about which Mr. Gorbachev has spoken with such refreshing novelty on so many occasions. In eastern Europe the changes were already clear in Poland and Hungary. Great demands were made everywhere for more democracy, for the end of Communist party monopoly of political power, for political freedom and for free elections.
Within the past few weeks and months the pace of change has quickened dramatically. There is a Solidarity Government in Poland. In Hungary we have seen the astonishing event of the Communist party dissolving itself and the way is now clear in Budapest for free elections within a relatively short time. I have no doubt that that will result in a non-Communist Government in that country. In East Germany, Honecker has gone and the iron curtain has been breached irretrievably. In Czechoslovakia the Communist leadership has been forced to change and they are setting up a new coalition Government including the major opposition groups.
I want to refer to three actions that symbolise the changes that have deeply moved me and, I suspect, others in this tremendously exciting and historic year of change. First, I felt greatly moved when I saw on television the formal state reburial of Imre Nagy who tried to lead Hungary to independence. He was seized, executed and flung into a pauper's grave. I stirred to see that man honoured and to see Hungary change its name from the people's republic to the Republic of Hungary.
Secondly, I was moved to see the people of East Berlin mingling once more with the people of West Berlin as those tremendous breaches were made in the Berlin wall.
Perhaps the most moving sight was that of Alexander Dubcek addressing 250,000 citizens of Prague in Wenceslas square. Only 21 years ago he and his regime were overthrown and Russian tanks rumbled through the streets of Prague.
When the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs reported last April, we asked two basic questions--was the Brezhnev doctrine dead, and was the cold war coming to an end. We can give a pretty clear answer to the first question. God, what a difference it has made ; the Brezhnev doctrine is dead. The essence of the Brezhnev doctrine, the right claimed by the Russians for so many years to intervene in the internal affairs of the countries of eastern Europe and of any other Communist country, has been dropped and discarded. That is now the official Russian policy.
Mr. Gorbachev made yet another remarkable speech in Rome yesterday. With regard to eastern Europe, he said specifically :
"Having embarked on radical reform, the socialist countries one after the other, are crossing the line beyond which there is no return to the past."
That is a most welcome statement. It brings to an end the era of the Brezhnev doctrine which inflicted so much misery upon the people of eastern Europe.
With regard to the second question about the cold war coming to an end, again Mr. Gorbachev said something that underlines the new emphasis of Russian policy and new perceptions. In Rome yesterday he said that those in the Soviet Union
"have abandoned the claim to a monopoly on truth. We no longer think we are the best and that we are always right ; that those who disagree with us are our enemies.
We have now decided, firmly and irrevocably to base our policies on the principle of freedom of choice."
Column 963That opens up the possibility of quite dramatic changes and agreements that will benefit us all.
This debate is really about how Britain and the West collectively should respond to the dramatic changes and new opportunities that are being presented to us. I am hardly surprised that there should be such a plethora of summits as is occurring at the moment with the meeting in Malta today, the NATO meeting which will follow, the meeting a few weeks ago called by President Mitterrand in Paris, the summit meeting in Strasbourg and Mr. Gorbachev's call for an all-European conference. We have an awful lot to talk about and to decide if this great moment of opportunity in post-war history is to be used fully.
Once the principles of verification and asymmetric reduction of weapons by the side that has supremacy in those weapons are accepted, as I believe they are, the way is open for a dramatic change in the levels of armaments held by the East and the West. There is great promise in the Start talks and perhaps even greater promise in the conventional arms reduction talks in Vienna.
I do not agree with the Government about rearmament. As a persistent multilateral disarmer, I believe that in the new circumstances it is wrong to delay for too long talks about tactical short-range nuclear missiles in Europe. If conventional force reductions reach the levels that I believe we can reach, there will be a great benefit to Europe, particularly given the great Soviet supremacy and superiority in those weapons, if we can agree on total abolition on both sides. I should certainly like the conventional arms talks to be speeded up and perhaps even extend the reductions beyond the already extremely exciting levels that have been proposed.
On aid for eastern Europe, the right hon. Member for Castle Point is right. This winter there will certainly be a great problem with hunger and perhaps even fuel famine in parts of eastern Europe. We should respond to that. Undoubtedly, some response is being made by nations individually and by the European Community collectively. We have not yet thought through the longer -term problems of what is happening in eastern Europe and the need for economic reconstruction there. Those countries will go through a sustained period of falling living standards, high unemployment and shortages of the most basic goods.
The new democracies which are emerging will be robust, because the recent experience of tyranny has burnt itself into the minds and hearts of the people of those countries. There will be no quick return to totalitarianism in any form. If we are to help to ease the weight of the profound problems of economic change in fledgling democracies, we must be seen to do so in a serious, co-ordinated way. We must turn our minds to that matter.
Further, we should offer at least the prospect and the choice of longer- term membership of the European Community. Many countries are interested in an association with the European Community, not only because of potential trade benefits but because, unlike the European Free Trade Association, the European Community has a range of additional policies and facilities which can be tailor made in an association agreement to assist the economies of eastern Europe. What was said in a somewhat controversial speech a year ago about the
Column 964capitals of Budapest, Prague, Warsaw and Vienna being just as much a part of Europe as the capitals Paris, Rome, Bonn and London is true. I wish to see a wider Europe which embraces all those countries as member states.
Because of the speed of change in East Germany, the problem of German reunification has suddenly emerged. It is back on the agenda. It is natural for Germans, both East and West, to wish to come together. We have long been committed to helping to realise that aim. We would be foolish to leave it out of our minds, but we should be careful. First, we must see the emergence of democratic institutions in East Germany. Secondly, although we suspect that we know the answer, the peoples of East Germany and of the Federal Republic must be given the chance freely to express their own wishes for the future. Thirdly, in all sense, we must realise that we cannot yet have the unity of Germany without the settlement of a peace treaty for Germany. We cannot have a reunified Germany when there are still, although much thinned out, several hundred thousand Russian troops in East Germany. That problem must be resolved, and it can be resolved only by talking sensibly and seriously with the Soviet Union. Fourthly, my colleagues and I on the Select Committee who have been on recent visits to Strasbourg, Brussels, Rome, Paris and Bonn have found a rather odd reaction to events in eastern Europe. In western Europe there is not just the sense of great achievement, great challenge and promise, but there is a great push to create in the European Community something which is overtly federal. They do not seek to disguise it. When we discuss matters that are of great importance for the economic future of this country and our parliamentary institutions--for example, our attitude to economic and monetary union--we approach the issues dispassionately, with a view to identifying our national interest and others' interests in economic matters and in the effective retention of self-government. Discussions of the merits of economic and monetary union appear to have been swept aside in most capitals of western Europe. For various reasons, they are entranced by the prospect as part of an inevitable progression towards political union. They make no bones about it and they do not seek to disguise it, although they each have a different emphasis. Mr. Delors in Brussels will say that he is in favour of acceleration towards political union and the development of more federal institutions because he thinks that a reunified Germany would be too powerful. somehow or other they must embrace the new reunified Germany when it takes place, within a still tighter political structure within western Europe. That underlines the position of President Mitterrand in France.
As for the Germans, they feel that that is the price that they may have to pay to get west European support for their ultimate aim of achieving German reunification. We are in a difficult position. I cannot think of a more difficult European summit than the one that is to take place in Strasbourg on 8 and 9 December. At the moment, I can see no way in which Britain will not be isolated, and I can see great problems for us and for other members of the Community.
These events have great implications for NATO and the Warsaw pact. Clearly, the emphasis, thrust and content of great military pacts will change. I should like to see a slow period of change, because the Warsaw pact and NATO have had a stabilising effect not merely on relations between East and West but on relations
Column 965between east Europe and Russia. If we are to avoid the Balkanisation of central and eastern Europe, the Warsaw pact should be phased out rather than abruptly torn aside. We should see the same in NATO, because, unlike any other available instrument, a NATO unified command, together with the transformation of the democratic instincts or wishes of the German people, guarantee western Europe and the world from a resurgence of German power and nationalism. 11.19 am
Mr. William Powell (Corby) : The House has had the great benefit of listening to speeches from three distinguished hon. Members. I regret that the contribution by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) did not do him justice. As a result of what has been said, I shall be able to abbreviate my speech and I hope that that will benefit hon. Members who follow me. Personal circumstances will make it impossible for me to be here for the winding-up speeches and I apologise to Front-Bench speakers and other hon. Members for that.
I shall concentrate on Germany, eastern Europe and the Malta summit. The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) has said most of what needs to be said about Germany. I welcome the steps that are now being taken and which may well result in unification. My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) was probably right to use the word unification in a contribution earlier this week. Nobody should imagine that that will be easy to achieve. It will be necessary for genuine democratic institutions to evolve in the German Democratic Republic before much progress can be made.
That evolution may be obvious, but there is one aspect that I should like to underline ; it receives little attention. It is that free elections do not guarantee democracy, and we know all too well of such elections which have failed to do that. One of the bulwarks of democracy is a legal system that is without interference from the Government and to which all people have access. The evolution of a legal system that guarantees and underpins freedom is absolutely essential in the GDR.
It is equally clear that there can be no sensible moves towards reunification unless there is currency reform in eastern Germany. That inevitably means that the deutschmark will predominate. That can be done by agreement at the outset or by the free floating of currencies with interchangeability between them. The rapid disappearance of the ostmark would be an inevitable consequence of that.
Plainly, a currency that officially ranks the ostmark to the deutschmark at 1 : 1 and which until about three weeks ago was 1 : 7 or 1 : 8 on the black market, and is now about 1 : 20 has no prospect of being able to survive. Anyone who imagines that it is possible to talk about progress towards the reunification of Germany without currency reform is not grasping reality.
As the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney emphasised, it is simply not possible to have a reunified Germany in which substantial quantities of Warsaw pact troops are stationed in one part while NATO troops are stationed in another. The whole world knows Abraham Lincoln's famous phrase that a house divided against itself cannot stand. It would be impossible to
Column 966create any kind of national unity in a country in which enormous numbers of troops from opposing military pacts were stationed. Although I welcome the steps that are undoubtedly under way and which may result in the unification of Germany in due course, I hope that in Germany and elsewhere people will keep their feet on the ground so that this evolution can take place in a free, steady and organised way. Unless it does, there is a real chance of the whole thing coming unstuck in a spectacular way.
I shall now turn to our obligations to eastern Europe. My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), the Father of the House, spoke with passion and force about the problems that are being faced in Poland. Now that the House is being televised and there is a chance to show verbatim what is being said, I hope that there will be considerable coverage in news and other programmes of what my right hon. Friend said. He spoke on behalf of us all and it behoves the Government and hon. Members to do all that we can to help. As the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney said, unless we are prepared to help, the chances of the movements that are now under way resulting in a sustained, growing and maturing democracy will be substantially undermined.
I should like to concentrate on an important aspect of the speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point. It will be necessary for the western European nations to invest in the East. That may be done by way of joint ventures or grants--all sorts of things are possible. We must concentrate on the infrastructure, if I may use that ghastly modern word. In an interview in The Times my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister drew attention to the fact that much of the food grown in the countries of eastern Europe is rotting and not getting to the people who could benefit from it. That is because there are no infrastructures of transport, refrigeration or proper storage.
All the facilities that we take for granted are chronically lacking and we should concentrate on trying to improve such facilities in the East. That must be done directly by the Government through agencies of the European Community and other agencies and, of course, by way of individual ventures. We must proceed on all those matters, and improving storage and refrigeration facilities must be given the highest priority.
The transport infrastructure in central and eastern Europe is inadequate. If the countries there are to develop and strengthen their economies, they must be able to improve that infrastructure. There is one major way in which the EEC can assist in that, and it is in the context of the rail and road facilities from central Europe to the port of Trieste, which was the port of the old Austro-Hungarian empire. The exports of Austria and Hungary passed through that port and its importance now as a major facility could not be greater. The rail facilities from southern Austria, Vienna, Hungary, Slovakia, Bratislava and southern Poland are hopelessly inadequate. A huge amount will need to be spent, especially to ensure adequate rail facilities, and the only way in which that can be done is through the institutions of the European Community. We must concentrate on such projects in order to build up the economic resources of eastern Europe. I could say much more about that, but that would not be wise, having regard to the enthusiasm of so many hon. Members who wish to speak.