|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 497enormous problems with food and heating. I should be interested to hear from the Minister about the discussions that are taking place in the EC to tackle that problem. I am sure that there are stockpiles of food in the EC. If there is an emergency in East Germany in the new year, I hope that the West will organise help, which obviously will have to include food and other aid.
I should like to follow the point that was well made by the hon. Member for Arundel about Britain's involvement in the industrial development of East Germany. Not East or West Germans but our representatives criticised the lack of interest shown by British companies. It is not good for British industry to say, "Of course we are interested, but things are not clear enough yet for us to take a decision." We must show that we are willing to help, and that we have the necessary knowledge and expertise. We also have the money, and it will be interesting to learn what additional funding will be made available.
I am a member of the defence committee of the Western European Union. I could talk at length about the military changes that are taking palce and the problems that they will cause us in the West. Those changes will call for courage and imagination by the West in its response. To some extent, time is on our side in these matters. We are now moving away from the possibility of conflict so we need not rush into decisions.
There are real problems in East Germany. If we really are Europeans and belong to an alliance, we must support West Germany, because there are fears that many of the 17 million East Germans might cross the border into West Germany.
Over the past few months, we have seen events which offer hope not just to my generation, but for generations that are growing up in the European Community. As the East Germans begin to take their country away from a dictatorship towards democracy, we must support them. From the very warm reception that we received in Germany last week, I have no doubt that help from this country would be warmly welcomed by the East Germans.
I cannot believe that very much can divide the House on issues such as these. Although this debate is taking place at a very unfashionable hour-- debates that contain much of substance often take place at these times--I hope that we will hear from the Minister that the Government have a commitment to help, with their technical and financial resources, a country which, after 50 years, is beginning to see a return to democracy.
Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South) : I must congratulate my colleagues in the Inter-Parliamentary Union on their successful trip to East and West Germany. My hon. Friend the Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) and the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) have given us a fascinating insight into their visit last week. I have not seen the wall since it began to be demolished, but I had the dubious privilege of passing through checkpoint Charlie on the first day that it opened after the wall was built, because I was stationed in that part of the world at the time. Things have changed a great deal since then.
The IPU in its centenary year has much to celebrate. We had an extremely successful conference in London. My hon. Friend the Member for Arundel, our chairman, was
Column 498the president during that conference and as a result I had the honour to lead the British group. I had the pleasure of addressing the conference, and I made some inquiries about the problems that existed 100 years ago. I was rather surprised to discover that the problems then had a rather familiar ring to them. In those days, there were problems with drugs, in particular the opium trade. There were also conservation problems, because ivory stocks were being depleted, particularly in the Congo. Revolutionary changes were taking place then as they are now, and they are familiar to us all. The most important and significant event from the point of view of the British group of the IPU was the visit to this country five years ago this month of Mr. Gorbachev, just before he became leader of the Soviet Union. He came here leading the Soviet Union IPU group. Mr. Andropov fell ill then, and died soon after. Mr. Gorbachev took over the leadership of the Soviet Union almost immediately after his visit to Great Britain. That gave this country a considerable opportunity to influence him towards the advantages of our type of democracy. Other hon. Members and I had the honour and pleasure of meeting him and were extremely impressed.
We were able through the IPU to exert some influence upon Mr. Gorbachev and show him that there was a much more successful way of achieving the advancement that he clearly wanted for his people. He was not blind to the faults of the Communist system, as the people of East Germany were, as the hon. Member for Tooting told us. They woke up to the problems only in October this year. Five years ago, Mr. Gorbachev readily recognised the great disparity and what had to be done to put it right. That exciting situation is now being unveiled. My hon. Friend the Member for Arundel mentioned the technology that is so important to eastern Europe and the balanced force reductions. The Soviet bloc has an enormous way to go. I have a defence interest too, as I am a member of the Select Committee on Defence. The disparity between the two armies is enormous. However, we will not help Mr. Gorbachev if we drop our guard prematurely. We must approach matters in a sensible and balanced way. We must make it worth his while substantially to reduce his forces before we can reciprocate. We have considerable contributions to make, particularly in educating people behind what was the iron curtain which we hope will never return. I welcome the support and help that the West can give by funding an educational programme. It is extremely valuable, and we must get on with it, because it will help enormously with our trade and our ability to influence those parts of the world. Hon. Members have heard in the media that there is much good will towards the Westminster type of democracy, so we would be foolish not to grasp this opportunity with both hands and ensure that people in central and eastern Europe are made fully aware of how they can introduce such a system and choose between the available alternatives when deciding what route to follow. It will not be an easy path for them, and we must all hold our breath for their success.
We saw what happened in Tiananmen square not so many weeks ago, and we are seeing what is happening in at least one country in eastern Europe now. We must give encouragement but at the same time make sure that people are not running so fast that the fledgling democracy collapses. I would hate us to drop our guard because we
Column 499had so much sympathy for what has happened in eastern Europe, only to find that an even greater monster had grown up in its place. That would not help Mr. Gorbachev's leadership. It would not help him to resolve the dilemma of eastern Europe and ensure that the economy comes up to standard so that he can give the people of eastern Europe the prosperity that we now take for granted.
There are trade difficulties. Our involvement with the United States of America sometimes gives me grave cause to wonder, especially when we find it difficult to sell submarines to the Canadians because of some small quantity of technology in the submarines that had been bought from the United States perhaps 30 years before. I cannot imagine why that should be. We certainly cannot allow such an issue to hold us back if we are to take full advantage of these unprecedented opportunities.
At the same time, we must be careful that we do not give away all our secrets on a plate. We are often criticised for being extremely innovative and for failing to take advantage of our innovations. That is indeed the case, because we have lost many opportunities to the United States of America, Japan and other parts of the world when we could have exploited our designs and kept our lead. That would have helped our balance of payments considerably.
However, we still have a major contribution to make towards the lowering of world tension. The Inter-Parliamentary Union has done an enormous amount during the past 100 years to help. All the members of the IPU worldwide are to be congratulated on the way in which that body has developed and given parliamentarians an opportunity to exchange views and to make relationships that Governments sometimes find it hard to make. With the financial support that the Government can provide, the IPU can play a major role in providing democratic education to those people who need our advice and support. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will be able to make some encouraging remarks about that, so that we shall be able to play our full part in the years to come.
Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) on giving the House the opportunity to discuss the exhilarating and epoch-making events in eastern Europe. I thank him and the other hon. Members who have spoken for their thoughtful and detailed contributions on the opportunities and dangers that lie ahead. The hon. Gentleman has also given us our only chance to discuss the unfolding horrors that have taken place in another east European country as we learn daily of the events in Timisoara. We know that Ceausescu has said that he will introduce in Romania the same reforms that have taken place in the newly democratised countries of eastern Europe only
"When the beech tree bears apples and reeds bear flowers." Sadly, the people of Romania cannot wait that long.
The abiding image of the past few days that haunts all our imaginations is that of the woman in an agony of despair offering her unborn baby to the bayonets, with the cry, "Take my child, he has no future but starvation." Ceausescu's feudal edict that women should bear four children, with no control over their fertility, is evidence that he sees no limits to his despotism--and there is no limit to his megalomania. Romania has become a newly
Column 500under-developed country. He is leading it into a new dark age--a place of ignorance and fear controlled by the irrational forces of cultural barbarism, language pogroms, and the shrinking rights of the individual to those of a medieval vassal.
There is forced urbanisation. The slums inflicted on Britain in the last century are being replicated in modern Romania. Its picturesque villages are being bulldozed ; and shoddy flats, many without internal sanitation, are replacing them. It is a country where, incredibly, the horse is promoted as the alternative to the car and the candle to electric light.
Today we hear that the new estimate from an East German news agency of the numbers of martyrs of Timisoara stands at 4,000, including dozens of children. The House now has an opportunity to express its outrage and to salute the vision and bravery of the martyrs. One hundred and fifty years ago last month, there were martyrs in my constituency, when 20 people were shot down. They were Chartists who were marching in a similar cause--in the cause of a wider democracy. They spoke of their willingness to sacrifice their lives in what they described as a noble cause.
We are now celebrating the anniversary of that event. A new generation of children know about those who died in their town 150 years ago. We have erected a tombstone to honour those 20 martyrs whose graves have been dishonoured for a century and a half. The valuable lesson is that the children immediately make a connection between the events of Newport of 1839 and the events of Tiananmen square, and will now connect them with the events of Romania during the past few days.
The names of Timisoara and Tiananmen square will live for ever in the annals of infamy. Those deaths must spur us into action. Parliament can take practical steps to curb the excesses of Ceausescu and to hasten his downfall. That action is not longer a political choice. Timisoara has made it a duty for all of us to work to end the reign of the Pharaoh Ceausescu and his dynasty. He has erected a vast mausoleum by destroying the centre of picturesque Bucharest and creating a palace to his own memory, to his ego.
We must now take the opportunity to gain from the collapse in the whole landscape of world power that has been in place, seemingly immutable, since the time of the Yalta conference. The metamorphosis is taking place and democracy is spreading like an agreeable contagion. Whole nations, with their new knowledge, have become restlessly ungovernable, and leaders have lost their will to govern. At last, we can escape all the waste and futility of the past 45 years, when both super-powers backed tyrannies in Europe, Asia, south America and Africa either because they were capitalist or because they were Communist, regardless of the degree to which those countries oppressed their own peoples. Now, happily, America is critical not only of Cuba and Nicaragua, but of the Right-wing Governments of Chile, Colombia and, today, of Panama. The Soviet Union strongly condemns Romania and tells the truth about the atrocities there.
During the past few days, the Minister has spoken with courage and eloquence of his condemnation of Romania. There are other things that we can do. Our duty is to arouse the same appetite for democracy in all parts of Romania as has been evidenced in the new democratised countries of eastern Europe. That cannot happen while the majority of the population of Romania are being deceived
Column 501by their own media. It is signficant that the riots and demonstrations have occurred in areas where people know the Hungarian language--most are either Hungarian or German speakers--and have heard the broadcasts from other countries. It is a sad fact that Nadia Comaneci, when she escaped from Romania, had to cross the border before she heard for the first time that the Berlin wall had been breached, such is the news blackout in Romania.
We have an instrument by which we can inform the people throughout Romania of the truth of Timisoara. They must be told that no Government, even that of Ceausescu, are immovable. Action has already been taken to expand the Romanian language services provided by the BBC World Service. Another practical step, which was reflected in the speeches of all hon. Members who have spoken of their vision of the Europe of tomorrow, is to initiate a Pan -European campaign of East and West to cement the new reality of life in Europe by not only thinking democratically but acting in unity with them to expose to the people of Romania the excesses of Ceausescu. We must pressurise that regime with economic sanctions. Although he has isolated himself from most of the western world, he still has strong but vulnerable economic links with the eastern world.
Most of all, we should mount an information campaign by expanding the activity of our broadcasting media which have had such effect in the changes that have already taken place in other eastern European countries. We must ensure that the people of Romania know that their country is the final Stalinist gulag of Europe. It is wrong that the people should have to wait, in Ceausescu's words, until
"the beech tree bears apples and reeds bear flowers."
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, West) : I congratulate the troika of fellow officers of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) on their speeches. I gladly join them in this consensus debate in sending a signal of support to forces in central and eastern Europe struggling, mostly successfully, for fundamental change.
I fully agree that the pace and scale of change is almost alarming. Even this evening we heard the news that the Communist party in Lithuania has declared UDI from the Communist party of the Soviet Union. That has substantial implications for the role of the Communist party as the cement for the Soviet empire.
To put the pace of events into perspective, we must remind ourselves that only on 17 November this year was the student demonstration in the streets of Prague bloodily suppressed. Much has happened in the weeks that have passed since then.
Only two countries stand out from the general trend, leaving aside Albania, which has not been mentioned. First, there is Romania, which was described so eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West. We congratulate the Minister on the proper tone in which he has condemned the savagery of the suppression of popular demonstration in Timisoara. Opposition Members recognise that we have little leverage over the Government of Romania--because they are relatively autarchic in their economic structure--but perhaps we could at least send a signal.
Column 502The Foreign Office could advise the Palace that the honorary knighthood conferred on President Ceausescu during his visit here in the late 1970s should be withdrawn. Equally, it could be requested that the Queen formally hand back the star of the Romania that was granted to her by the President of Romania. Is there a reason in principle why the Foreign Office should not tender that advice and why the Palace should not accept it as a gesture of symbolic importance?
The other exception is the sad country of Yugoslavia, which has not been mentioned tonight. It was in the vanguard of reform in the past, but the very existence of the federal state of Yugoslavia is now in question. There are real fears of either a break-up or a military Government there. We should do nothing that in any way encourages secession of the Slovenes or the Croatians.
The events of the past months have been akin to a volcanic eruption. When such a vast stirring of the earth occurs, there are a series of subterranean movements, natural movements, the course of which cannot be clearly discerned by those who stand above them. Part of that natural movement is the whole concept of middle Europe--Mitteleuropa. The Minister will be aware of the fascinating conference held in Budapest in November. The representatives were Italy, a member of the European Community, Hungary, a member of COMECON, Austria, a member of the European Free Trade Association and Yugoslavia. It recognised that the infrastructure needs to be improved as the journey time to Trieste is longer than it was at the time of the Austro-Hungarian empire. During the time of the Italian presidency of the EC, Czechoslovakia is also expected to join that grouping, which is looking at means of regional co-operation. Mitteleuropa is stirring. The exciting developments in that area have been recognised by the Japanese. After the G24 meeting in Brussels, the Japanese Foreign Minister, alone of the Foreign Ministers at that meeting, went to Austria and at Sopron met Gyula Horn, the Hungarian Foreign Minister and Alois Mock, the Foreign Minister of Austria. Perhaps a signal for the future is the fact that Mitsubishi decided to locate a new plant not in Styria, as the Austrians had hoped, but in Szent Miklos in Hungary.
The South Koreans, in part for political reasons and for recognition, have shown great interest in Hungary. As a number of my colleagues have mentioned, including my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), the sad thing is that perhaps British business is behind. The South Koreans, the Japanese and others are willing to look long at the developments in central Europe.
The developments in eastern and central Europe pose a question mark over the concept of Europe that stems from the Delors initiative. The Single European Act, 1992 and all the other exciting developments stem from a time when one did not, and probably could not, anticipate what has happened in eastern Europe. Those developments are based on a much narrower concept and definition of Europe.
To what extent can the Delors concept of Europe be accommodated within the new, wider definition of Europe? We noted what the Minister said about the new agreement between EFTA and the Community. Although the dust has not yet settled, it is clear that, if the new Europe, wider than the Delors concept, is to develop, an institutional framework must be established at some stage. No such framework is in prospect yet.
Column 503We have seen how the SPD congress in Berlin and the political parties in East Germany have reacted. The Minister, because of his office, may not be able to comment as he would wish, but it is sad to note the contrast between the courage of Dr. Vogel in saying that the western boundaries of Poland are sacrosanct and the unwillingness of Chancellor Kohl to say clearly that the Oder-Neisse line is not in question.
There is no way in which the Federal Chancellor can benefit from keeping that question open. He will not gain votes which would otherwise go to Republicans. By failing to answer the question, he only fans flames that may revive the worst sort of memories of revanchism. I hope that the Government will urge Chancellor Kohl to make clear formally, directly and publicly the recognition by his own party and the Federal Government that the western frontiers of Poland are fixed and are not in question as a result of these developments. I have one or two words of caution about the Warsaw pact. We should not think of Mr. Modrow in East Germany as a liberal. There are clear signals that he is one of those who is dragging developments in central Europe. The Communist parties in central and eastern Europe still hold the key ministries--the Interior Ministry and the Education Ministry. Happily, Czechoslovakia is an exception to that and, although arriving late in the field, it appears to have outdistanced some of those who started before it.
The key question must be that which colleagues have already mentioned : what do we do with this victory for democracy? We must respond with some humility and not assume that we have all the answers. I have a personal nightmare that, when the Channel tunnel terminal at Waterloo opens, the first travellers to come out of it will step right into the cardboard city which is developing apace at Waterloo station. That is a sign of one of our democracy's social failures.
We have to win our credentials in the wider European context by showing that commitment to Europe that the Government have signally failed to do. I do not blame the Foreign Office for this, because it is subject to other orders, but we must be careful that we do not feed suspicions that we show an enthusiasm for the wider Europe only as a device to dilute what has already been achieved in terms of European integration.
We must concentrate on bringing central Europe into the main stream. I have heard the analogy used that central and eastern Europe are like a severed limb and that microsurgery is needed to bring the two parts of Europe together. Microsurgery in that context means a network of relationships right across the board, including professional organisations and others.
The know-how fund has already been established for Poland and will, from 1 April, 1990, be set up for Hungary. Are the funds new money, or are funds being diverted from existing money in the Overseas Development Administration vote? The emphasis on Poland and Hungary was understandable at the time, but since the decisions have been made, Czechoslovakia has come on stream. To what extent are the Government now prepared to include Czechoslovakia in a similar know-how fund?
How does the Minister respond to the similar call made by the hon. Member for Arundel in respect of East Germany? I concede that East Germany is different because it is already partly linked to the European
Column 504Community through its special relationship with West Germany. Perhaps a far stronger case can be made for Czechoslovakia. How can the Minister ensure that the money is spent across the spectrum? What sort of missionary work is being done among professional and other organisations? What publicity is being given to this? The impression that I have gained from talking to various organisations is that they are not yet aware of the opportunities. I hope that many of our professional organisations will find placements within their structures for their sister organisations in central Europe. Does the Minister see scope for expenditure on party political activities? The Federal Republic of Germany and Austria already have foundations that receive public funds indirectly. It is surely a properly democratic investment to allow political parties from this country to meet their opposite numbers in central and eastern Europe. I hope that the Minister will confirm that such exchanges will not be ruled out in principle.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting and the hon. Member for Arundel queried the readiness of the Government to respond flexibly to new developments in central and eastern Europe in terms of embassy staffing. To what extent have the Government considered staffing levels in our embassies --particularly the cultural and commercial posts in them? Are we geared to respond flexibly to these new opportunities?
I hope that the Minister will have ample time to answer the questions that I have asked.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. William Waldegrave) : It is a pleasure to have another opportunity to talk about the immensely important changes in eastern Europe. We had a good debate a couple of Fridays ago, to which the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) was a major contributor. The hon. Gentleman is silent tonight, but I note that he has stayed to listen to this important debate.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) for raising this subject. The IPU certainly has an important role to play. Its role has been difficult in the past ; it has tried to keep open connections and contacts with people who were not those with whom the IPU would have liked to have contact. Now it has to transfer its contacts--joyfully, I am sure--to genuinely and democratically elected partners. The IPU has an important role in validating the newly elected parliamentarians of the countries of eastern Europe.
My hon. Friend the Member for Arundel spoke of the scale of the changes in the Soviet Union. We must be humble before that scale of events. Perhaps we should also be humble about our capacity to influence them, but I think that we have a small chance of doing so. The Prime Minister played an honourable role in recognising the genuineness of the Soviet reforms early, when it mattered, and in recognising that Gorbachev was qualitatively different from previous Soviet leaders.
The Soviet Union is intensely preoccupied with its own changes, but if it proposes areas in which we can help--it has not yet done so--we must respond. Perhaps that response will be made in terms of parliamentary contacts. We look forward to the twice-postponed visit of the representatives of the Supreme Soviet, which is now
Column 505assuming a role that would have been inconceivable only a few years ago. We look forward to welcoming those representatives to our country in due course.
Mr. Michael Marshall : I omitted to say earlier that we are appreciative of the common ground that we share with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and of the excellent co-operation that exists. The visit to which my hon. Friend refers is part of that continuity and demonstrates the value that the Soviet Union attaches to that connection and that it wishes to sustain it. I am grateful to my hon. Friend and to his Department for their work in that connection.
I am happy to say that the £25 million of know-how funds to which he referred has been doubled to £50 million, which is a considerable amount in terms of expenditure on the movement of people, salaries and expertise rather than on major capital equipment. We shall not find ourselves short of money for good projects, which is an aspect on which the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) also touched.
We have ventured into the sensitive tarritory of Government funding of political activities, and that is why I took the precaution of issuing an invitation to the hon. Members for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) and for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston), which they have accepted, to join me on the fund's steering group. If we are to support financially political activities, it should be done on an all-party basis. And certainly it should be done.
We ought not to stand back from the process of developing democratic institutions because we are nervous about having any involvement in such activities. Obviously we shall not involve ourselves in campaigning, but we shall take an interest in developing contacts between the various parties of central and eastern Europe and their equivalents in this country.
There must be equivalents in this House to all the parties that exist in central and eastern Europe, for the House embraces nationalists and various factions of liberals and democrats. Now that the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) is in his place, I can cite also a group within the Labour party. When we last debated these matters, profound and moving speeches were made by the Trotskyite faction.
Mr. Flynn : Did the Minister watch a Channel 4 programme on Sunday morning about a fortnight ago, which showed a distressing example of aspiring Hungarian politicians receiving tuition in how to deceive the electorate? It concerned a promise to increase state child benefit without really making any such commitment, by using guile to break that promise later. I hate to introduce a controversial note, but would it not be better to concentrate on teaching the emerging politicians of eastern Europe the best of our political practices, not the worst?
Mr. Waldegrave : Of course the hon. Gentleman is right. I shall not sound any note of controversy either, but there are examples from recent decades of both good and bad politics. The Opposition may point to bad examples of
Column 506which Conservatives were guilty, but I suspect that I could give examples of bad practice among Opposition Members too. Nevertheless, we are united in stressing the key point that, in free elections, the people must be the final arbiters.
We must not be too squeamish about holding back from any involvement in democratisation, provided that a balance is maintained across the spectrum of political parties. That is why the Government invited representatives of all political parties to be represented on the know-how fund steering committee. Perhaps the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East can add to the political spectrum.
Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East) : The Minister will realise that, as I am opening the next section of the debate in 10 minutes' time, I am not allowed to speak in this section, but I can ask him a question. He referred disparagingly to those who, over the years, have preferred the Leftist opposition led by Leon Trotsky to the repressive element led by Stalin. Does he recogise that it was Stalin's agents who, nearly 50 years ago, murdered Trotsky for leading that opposition?
When, about 10 days ago, I was fortunate enough to spend just short of two days in East Berlin and Leipzig, the young people whom I met were keen to bring about anti-corruption committees, free trade unions, free political parties, freedom of assembly and a free press. They were keen to retain public ownership rather than giving away what the East German economy had built up--albeit with the bureaucratic mismanagement and totalitarianism that had developed over the past 40 years. They were far more interested in listening to the ideas of the Left opposition than in listening to those of capitalists.
Mr. Waldegrave : I am delighted to have spurred the hon. Gentleman into speech. We in the West can offer a tremendous pluralism of ideas, and the hon. Gentleman will be able to offer his, as he is able here to offer them to the electorate. The joy is that people in East Germany and Czechoslovakia will be able to submit the same ideas to their electors.
I have a suspicion--which I believe may be shared by the hon. Member for Walsall, South--that the ideas of Leon Trotsky will not ultimately win the competition ; but who am I to say? It will be for the people of Czechoslovakia and East Germany to decide. It may well be that, as the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East suggests, the Stalinists have been wholly overthrown in eastern Europe by Trotskyite groups. The people whom I saw in Wenceslaus square did not look like Trotskyites to me, but perhaps they were good at disguising themselves.
Mr. Anderson rose --
Mr. Waldegrave : The hon. Gentleman is right to ask that question. I am afraid that I was diverted by my extremely pleasurable debate with the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East, with whom I always enjoy exchanging views.
Column 507I am delighted to give the hon. Gentleman an absolute assurance that the money in the know-how fund--£50 million for Poland, £25 million so far for Hungary--is completely new money, on a different "line", as the technical jargon would have it. I am happy to say that my colleagues have awarded that money to the Foreign Office for it to spend on these important projects.
The hon. Gentleman also asked whether there would be more money for other countries, such as Czechoslovakia and East Germany. He was right to say that we have put the emphasis on Poland--which is experiencing an acute crisis and facing a tough winter--and on Hungary : both countries have high per-capita debt figures. I do not rule out further funds, however. Do not let us forget Bulgaria. Astonishing though it may seem, the spectacular events in neighbouring countries may have prevented us from concentrating on Bulgaria enough, although I do not criticise anyone for that. Bulgaria has removed the leading role of the party, and is talking about genuinely free elections. A number of countries will be legitimate claimants for further resources in due course, and I certainly do not rule out such provision.
The hon. Member for Swansea, East also mentioned the response of the European Community, and I have considerable sympathy with his views. Although he teased us about our commitment to Europe, I do not think that, fundamentally, there is much disagreement between us. The hon. Gentleman does not want a fortress Europe ; he shares, I think, the scepticism of his party about the unified central bank and the possibility of too much commitment to a central currency. The main point on which the House is agreed is that the Community must not put up barriers against the emerging new democracies in eastern Europe. We must remain flexible enough to make arrangements with them that will help them economically and democratically.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) made a point that it is important to make in all these debates--that the changes are far from permanent. We must spend some part of each of these debates reminding ourselves that defences will continue to be needed. We must keep our insurance policies in place.
I have to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn). I hope that I do not embarrass his Front Bench by doing so. He has taken some part in the events, especially those in Hungary and Romania, because he has done some good broadcasts. I am happy to say that, as a result of his asking at Question Time, I think, whether we could do more broadcasting, I was able, armed with the pressure he put on me, to go to see Mr. John Tusa of the World Service. We now have an extra, and useful, quarter
Column 508of an hour a day of broadcasts in the Romanian language. I think that that is helpful. I have taken up some of the extra quarter of an hour already, and I am sure that the hon. Member will join in shortly.
On a more serious note, it is important at this time, of all times, when the Romanian Government are taking steps to try to prevent any flow of information or movement of people, to have such broadcasts. The only access we have is through the broadcasting organisations using the Romanian language, so the BBC Romanian language service is critical at the moment. I am sure that the House will join me in welcoming that additional broadcasting time. I hope that good use is made of it.
The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) and my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel touched on the huge issue of the reunification of Germany. To judge from what the Leader of the Opposition said during his recent visit to East Berlin, both sides of the House take somewhat the same view. We do not for a moment doubt the right of the German people to reunification. We cannot choose between self-determination and political rights in one country or another, but it is right for those who are a little further back from the intense emotions that are bound to be expressed in Germany to say, "Do be a little careful about the security structure of Europe in the process. We know that you have waited 40 years, but let us, if necessary, ask you, not necessarily to wait, but to take account of the sensitivities of your neighbours in the immediate steps ahead because it would be terrible to upset the apple cart of progress by taking steps that caused a dangerous reaction." It is not that we are in any way challenging the right of those people to decide their own future, but perhaps it is fair to ask them--it is a difficult thing to ask after they have been divided for so long--to look also at the geopolitics of where we are in Europe and not to upset the apple cart of progress by going too fast.
The progress is welcome. The debate is welcome, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel for initiating it. It would be proper to have a debate on the subject almost every day, events are moving so fast. There is something new to announce every day. Mr. Havel now seems set to be the elected president of Czechoslovakia. In the countries where progress is being made, we are not quite certain of it. There may be reactions or difficulties. We are not yet wholly over the watershed. That means that the attention of the House and the western nations to the progress that is being made and the help we can offer through broadcasting and all the other means is still needed to carry those countries into a secure future of democracy and freedom.
Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East) : As we move into the 15th week of one of the most serious national industrial disputes that has occurred in Britain, people outside this place will be amazed that this is only the second debate on the issue in the House of Commons. I am particularly pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), who managed to secure the first debate some weeks ago, is here at 2 o'clock in the morning. I am not surprised that the Government are afraid of a debate on the ambulance dispute. They did not provide one in Government time because the shameful role played by the Government team has now plummeted to new depths. They are responsible for deaths in Coventry, Birmingham, London and elsewhere.
The Army is on the streets of Coventry. I received a telephone call from the mother of one squaddie saying that the Army have a carrot-and-stick approach. The carrot is £30-a-day standby money and the stick is the threat of the glasshouse. One staff sergeant in Welwyn Garden City who showed an affinity with the ambulance workers and spent seven hours on the picket line outside their station was returned to Gloucester barracks and threatened with disciplinary action.
The Government can pay squaddies £30 a day ; they can spend £200, 000 on advertising in the press ; they can watch directors get 28 per cent. pay increase ; they can allow Members of Parliament to get an 11 per cent. pay rise--yet still they insist that ambulance workers must take a pay cut. Frankly, that is scandalous.
In 1986, ambulance workers were due parity with fire fighters. There is now a £60 difference between their wages. I could read out the statistics, but I can do better than that. I shall quote a letter from the Minister for the Environment and Countryside, the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Mr. Trippier), to the Secretary of State saying that he was
"not previously aware that the pay difference is now £60 a week, and there are striking differences in conditions of service between the ambulance personnel and their counterparts in the fire service. For example the latter group is eligible for free prescriptions, and dental and optical treatment, their retirement age is 55 as opposed to that of the ambulance service which is 65." He concluded his letter :
"Firemen and policemen have all received increases above inflation, and ambulance personnel feel embittered that they should be asked to settle for only 6.5 per cent. I have to tell you that I have to see the logic of their claim, and would ask you to look at this one again because there is a dedicated ambulance service out there, and it is a pity they feel constrained to take industrial action to draw attention to their grievances."
After writing such a reasonable letter, it is a pity that a few days later the Minister felt that he had to apologise, crawl away and say that he did not really understand the ramifications of the dispute. Although he had written a letter some 10 weeks into the dispute he then tried to deny it. He is not here tonight, so I have read out his letter.
Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Hayes) is not here either. The dispute reveals a split in the Tory party because of public pressure and support for the ambulance workers. The only Tory Members present are the Under-Secretary of State for Health and, presumably,
Column 510his parliamentary private secretary. No other Tory is willing to come to the House and defend the Government's shameful record. It is little wonder that ambulance workers are fired up and angry. There is no doubt that they have public support. According to opinion polls it is between 83 per cent. and 95 per cent. They have the support of 3,500 controllers and they certainly have the support of the control assistants who are paid even less than they are. They even have the support of the Police Federation. At a press conference, the chairman of that federation backed the action of fellow emergency workers. The opinion polls show that they have the support of the public, and would have that support even if they were taking strike action, which they are not.
In that context, I want to nail one lie tonight. No ambulance worker is on strike. The ambulance workers have been locked out throughout the country. They are not taking strike action and, where they are allowed to do so, they are working without pay to provide a service which, as dedicated professionals, they are committed to give.
The Tory Government have contemptuously rejected arbitration. I am not the greatest fan of arbitration, and there is probably a little between my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston and myself about that. Arbitration, by definition, involves a compromise, and I believe that the ambulance workers' claim is fully justified and that they should not have to give up any part of that claim. In 1977-78, the fire fighters did not win their pay formula--to link their pay to the top 25 per cent., the upper quartile of British earnings--through arbitration. They won it through action.
But any half-decent person, on having the ambulance workers' case put before him, would not fail to provide justice to those workers. That is why the Tory Government will not go to arbitration. They know that the workers' case is unanswerable.
The result is that we get half-truths and lies from the Government and their spokesmen. For example, the Secretary of State for Health said, in effect, "The trade union leaders recommended acceptance, yet these members have rejected that advice." But the Conservatives have been saying for years, "Give the unions back to their members because the members know best." When the members reject a pay offer, suddenly they do not know best.
We hear that 95 per cent. of staff in the National Health Service have settled. Many have settled above the 6.5 per cent. figure, and many have not. They include midwives, speech therapists and other professional groups who feel decidedly upset about having to take a pay cut, as the ambulance workers are being asked to take, and they are still in dispute with the management.
In today's "PM" programme, the Secretary of State for Health said that, if the money was given to the ambulance workers, it would have to come out of patient services. In other words, there would have to be another cut in the NHS. How despicable for the Government to trade off inadequate health services to maintain the wages and conditions of those in emergency services such as the ambulance workers. I remind the Tory Members who are not here tonight that it did not bother the Secretary of State for Health and his colleagues when, in July 1987, we debated the pay linkage formula for Members of Parliament. When I