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17 May 2006 : Column 303WH—continued

2.30 pm

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): Thank you, Mrs. Anderson, for allowing me to introduce the debate. I am pleased that you are in the Chair and I look forward to you chairing our proceedings over the next one and a half hours.

It gives me great pleasure to open this debate on Anglo-Polish relations, which is a subject close to my heart. I shall give a historical account of the Anglo-Polish relationship and then I shall give a SWOT analysis—SWOT is an acronym that we use in business; it stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats—of the current Anglo-Polish relationship, consider how we can improve the relationship and examine some of the opportunities that it provides. Towards the end of the debate, I shall put to the Minister a proposal for a strategic UK-Polish partnership that would challenge the Franco-German axis, which has run the European Union for far too long. That axis has been so powerful that it has ultimately decided much of what the EU has done over the past 50 years.

I passionately believe that the United Kingdom—the fourth largest economy in the world and a major military power—has the opportunity, within my generation, to become the leading partner in the EU and to take control of the future strategy and vision of the EU. However, it needs strategic, key allies—junior partners—in order to be able to play that leading role. Poland is one of the key allies that I believe we need.

I would like to inform the Minister of how excellent the British ambassador to Warsaw is. I met Mr. Crawford last December during a brief visit to Warsaw. He represents our country extremely well. He is not frightened to put forward our stance. He does not suffer fools gladly and he does a very good job in being quite strong with the Polish Government and protecting our interests.

This is a topical debate. This week’s newspapers tell us that 350,000 Poles live in the United Kingdom. Many of them are young people—people of my age; I still consider myself relatively young at 34. They are also professionals. Many of them are highly skilled people who have finished university degrees and have come here to work and contribute. Nearly all the new national health service dentists in Shrewsbury have come over from Warsaw. The local primary care trust invited me to have dinner with them and to talk to them in Polish, as it was trying to encourage them to settle in Shrewsbury and become NHS dentists in my town. Many other Poles are plumbers, builders and decorators, and they do a great deal for this country.

I was dismayed, irritated and angry to read what was said by the chef Antony Worrall Thompson. The rather diminutive Mr. Worrall Thompson—I think that that is the most polite term I can find to describe him—was rude and condescending about Polish people in this country. He said that they spoke poor English and were poor waiters. I believe that they are very hard-working people, and I hope that the Minister will say when he responds to the debate how hard-working they are and how wrong Mr. Worrall Thompson is to criticise them.

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Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): I would not want us to be seen unduly to criticise Antony Worrall Thompson, who is, after all, a distinguished supporter of the Conservative party, because he did subsequently recant, and God loves a sinner who repenteth. The expression that he used—rather grudgingly, I suspect—was that the Poles “work incredibly hard”.

Daniel Kawczynski: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, whom I know from our time in Ealing. He has a large Polish community in his constituency, is well informed about Polish affairs and represents his Polish constituents extremely well. I am glad for that clarification, but I was irritated when I read the article.

Stephen Pound: As were we all.

Daniel Kawczynski: Indeed.

I have been examining the figures for the trade between our two countries since the fall of communism in 1989. As the Minister will know, Anglo-Polish trade is growing at a huge pace year on year and has reached more than £1.5 billion. British companies are making massive investments in Poland, and one has to go only to downtown Warsaw to see the number of British supermarket chains that have set up in business there. When one goes round Poland, one sees that British companies are at the forefront of investment in oil exploration, petrochemicals, building and agricultural supplies and of the effort to rebuild the country, which was left in a difficult position after the fall of communism.

The two countries also work closely in the European Union and have a good partnership. When I speak to MEPs in my area of the west midlands, such asMr. Bushill-Matthews, they inform me that Polish MEPs and British MEPs work together closely on many issues and have very similar opinions about EU regulations and legislation.

We are fighting side by side in Iraq, and Polish soldiers are fighting to maintain peace in a region close to the British sector. Yet again, we are fighting side by side, nation next to nation. There is a long tradition of Polish soldiers fighting alongside British soldiers. That was certainly the case in the battle of Britain and at Monte Cassino and Arnhem. Today, we again see British and Polish soldiers fighting side by side.

Speaking as somebody of Polish origin, I find it difficult to think of a time in the past 100 years when Britain has not come to Poland’s aid. I sometimes think that we in this country do not blow our own trumpet enough, because Britain has done more for Poland than any European country has. I am proud of that, and we should all remember the lengths to which this country has gone over the past 100 years and before to help Poland in good times and bad. We should be proud of our stance.

Centuries ago, Poland had a large empire, which stretched almost from the Black sea to the Baltic—Poland was a powerful country. It entered a union with Lithuania and was the major power in central and eastern Europe. Unfortunately, it was invaded by its neighbours and gradually lost much of its empire, to the extent that it disappeared from the face of the map. By the first world war, there was no Poland. After the
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war, the treaty of Versailles enabled Poland to come back into being. I raise that because it was the British empire that insisted in 1918 that there should be self-determination for the Poles, among other nations. The British empire ensured that Poland was recreated from the lands that were stolen from her by the Germans, Austro-Hungarians and Russians.

Early in the morning on 1 September 1939—I feel very emotional about this—when the German tanks crossed the border, Britain and the British empire came to the aid of Poland. We did not have to, but we did. We had a treaty that in the event of invasion, Britain would come to Poland’s aid: it was a far away country, yes, but we had that treaty and we fulfilled our pledge. We had much at stake, and there followed five years of war for our own country—the bombing of our cities, the near-destruction of Coventry and the loss of thousands of civilian lives and those of our soldiers. It all started because this country acted honourably in her commitment to help a smaller, far away European country.

Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): During this passage of the hon. Gentleman’s exposition of the history of Poland, would he also like to remember the contribution made by Polish air force and navy personnel during the world war, including in the battle of Britain and in defence of Britain with their navy and defensive convoys? That contributionis fondly and well-remembered by many people throughout the United Kingdom.

Daniel Kawczynski: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention; I was going to come to that. There are accounts that one in five airmen in the battle of Britain was Polish. The Poles certainly played a huge part in the battle. When one talks to some of them, one discovers that they did so because they had lost their country to the Nazis. They were almost kamikaze-like during the battle of Britain because they had nothing to lose and were determined to fight against the Germans because their country was occupied. They played a significant role in the defence of this country, as did many other eastern Europeans, such as the Czech pilots.

Stephen Pound: The hon. Gentleman is being extremely generous in giving way and we will try not to trespass on his generosity and kindness.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) is too modest to mention that he is the son-in-law of Commodore Wronsky, who commanded the Beyskwycza, which sunk the Bismarck. That is something that many other countries prefer to forget, but those of us who love Poland greet it with gloryand pride.

In addition to his comments about Polish heroism in the navy and air force, which is beyond parallel, will the hon. Gentleman mention the forces of General Anders, the work in Monte Cassino and throughout northern France and the numerous occasions when Polish heroism saved British lives?

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Daniel Kawczynski: I concur. The Poles fought in Arnhem with the British and played a leading part under British command at Monte Cassino in liberating that bastion along the spine of Italy, which ultimately led to the downfall of the Mussolini regime.

I am extremely proud of that; that is why I have kept my very difficult-to-pronounce surname. As I said in my maiden speech, when I was in business many people said to me, “You must be mad if you think you’re going to get into the House of Commons with a surname like that. You should change it and anglicise it. Dump that name and get an English one.” I refused to do that. I feel extremely proud of my beloved grandfather and the many Poles who fought with the British during the war. It goes to show the sort of people the British are that they are prepared to elect someone with a totally unpronounceable surname as their MP. I am proud of my Polish background, and that is why I have keptmy name.

Forgive me, Mrs. Anderson, for that slight deviation. As I said, the British empire came to Poland’s aid in 1939. Unfortunately, after the war, communism descended on Poland. As Winston Churchill said, the iron curtain descended in Europe from Szczecin in the north to Trieste, and those countries were sealed up and locked away from the rest of us for more than50 years under communist tyranny and dictatorship.

Solidarity was crushed in 1981 when General Jaruzelski imposed martial law. There were tanks on the streets in Warsaw in December 1981. People were repressed and the full communist apparatus swung into action to destroy the uprising that was initiated by Lech Walesa and thousands of brave Poles on the streets of Warsaw.

I was a child at a school in Surrey and we collected food parcels of coffee, tea, tinned fruit and all the little luxuries that the Poles did not have because there was martial law, the borders were sealed and the economy had collapsed. That happened not only in my school in Surrey, but throughout the country. School children and parents gathered food to send to Poland to help the Poles during martial law. That is another amazing example of how Brits want to help Polish people.

During those communist days it was illegal to listen to the BBC World Service in Poland. Anyone caught doing so would be punished severely by the authorities. Yet many Poles in the quiet of their homes, late at night and with the curtains drawn, tuned in to the World Service. It was a great comfort to them.

Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): Would my hon. Friend agree with an early-day motion that I tabled late last year on the closure of the World Service Polish language service? I am not passing comment on the economics of that, but it seems a good time to have a memorial to all of those from the eastern European countries who were involved in the World Service for those 50 years. Would he agree with my call for a memorial?

Daniel Kawczynski: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend. The cutting back of the World Service in that area is regrettable. The Poles listened to the World Service clandestinely. It was so important because they could hear on the airwaves that there was an alternative
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to communism, that there were free people out there beyond those borders and that there were democracies and an alternative lifestyle.

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): And jazz.

Daniel Kawczynski: Yes, and jazz, and all the other clichés like jeans and whatever. There was an alternative lifestyle to the communist dictatorship. The only political point that I will make—it is not really political but it is important—is that in the 1980s people like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan finally stood up to the brutes in Moscow like Brezhnev and Andropov. The Poles love Margaret Thatcher because they remember that she stood up for freedom and democracy throughout the world. Even today in Poland, Baroness Thatcher is held in high regard for the role that she played in the ultimate destruction of communism.

After the collapse of communism, Britain again was at the forefront of helping Poland. Britain fought to ensure that Poland was able to join NATO so that it could be under that umbrella of military nations that would guarantee its security. When a country has been invaded as many times as Poland has been and its borders have been mucked around as many times as Poland’s have been, being part of an established military pact like NATO is extremely important. Once Britain had secured membership for Poland within NATO it was at the forefront of ensuring that Poland became a member of the European Union.

Britain was a key to expanding the EU to the east. It was one of the few EU countries to admit Polish workers. That is an amazing point, on which I should like to reflect for a moment. Great Britain has always gone along with the ethos and spirit of the EU, and I give credit to the Labour Government for that. They decided that, because the 10 eastern European countries were coming into the EU, their workers should have the same rights as those from other EU countries. France and Germany, and many of the other EU countries, would not allow that and wanted to treat the Poles as second-class citizens. They said that yes, they could join the EU, but they did not want them working in their countries. What sort of relationship is it to have a second-class nation within a group? A country is either a full member or it is not. If memory serves, only three countries allowed Polish workers in at the beginning, and Great Britain was one of them. It was the only major EU country to allow them in.

Stephen Pound: Ireland.

Daniel Kawczynski: The hon. Gentleman mentions Ireland, but I would not necessarily classify Ireland as a major EU power, important ally though it is.

Poland realises the solidarity of Britain and attaches great importance to us. I am convinced that it sees us as the future leader of the EU. I met the President of Poland, Mr. Kaczynski—his name is identical to mine except for a ‘w’—when he came to meet the then-leader of my party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), in 2003. I was party to their talks. Mr. Kaczynski was
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then the leader of his political party, but now he is the President of Poland. He spoke to me in this very Palace and said, “We see Britain as a key strategic ally. We are looking towards you. We are looking towards you in the United Kingdom for leadership and vision within the European Union. If you make a bold stance, grasp the nettle and take control of the direction of the EU, we will be behind you.” Those were the words of President Kaczynski. I hope that the Minister will take them on board.

I return to the Franco-German axis. I feel passionately that there must be an alternative to the current Franco-German vision of the EU. I was born on the day on which Edward Heath took us into the EEC—24 January 1972. My generation has never had a say in the relationship that we have with other EU countries. I am convinced that my generation of politicians will ultimately make a big impact on how the EU is run. We will forge alliances with countries such as Poland, finally to take on the Franco-German vision of the EU.

These are warm words, and they are good, but we need to tie the Poles in.

Dr. Howells: I am enjoying the hon. Gentleman’s speech immensely. He has reminded us of the way in which, as he rightly put it, Poland’s borders have been messed around with for so long. Without good relations with the French and the Germans, which is the great rationale for the EU, those borders would stand a chance of being badly messed about with again. The hon. Gentleman should not be too hard on the Franco-German alliance.

Daniel Kawczynski: I shall try my very best, although I have my personal views.

I have spoken warm words, but I want to hook the Poles with a fishing line into our orbit and our sphere of influence. That is why I wish to come to the nub of what I want to communicate to the Minister. I was very disappointed with the Poles over the recent European Union rebate.

In my estimation, Britain has never, ever let the Poles down, yet on the critical issue of the United Kingdom rebate, which Mrs. Thatcher fought so hard to secure in 1984 from President Mitterrand and others, the Poles let us down badly, despite all the support that we have given them. I say that as someone of Polish origin. They were so determined to get hold of extra investments from the European Union that they fell for the French and German interpretation and decided that the best way to do so would be to get rid of the UK rebate.

I am disappointed with the Poles on that score. Rather than sacrificing the UK rebate and demanding more money from Great Britain, which is one of only two net contributors to the EU budget, there are many other ways to increase funding for eastern European states: for example, greater efficiency in respect of the money that the EU already spends, less corruption within the EU and greater management of its resources.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. He is being rather hard on the Polish who, like ourselves, have a
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strong national identity and will fight for their own interests, quite properly. It was the French failure to reform the CAP that let down the EU.

Daniel Kawczynski: Perhaps I am being a little hard on the Poles, but I have to balance my argument; I cannot say only nice things about them as I want the Minister to take what I say seriously. Every relationship has strengths and weaknesses, but the Poles should have looked for an alternative as far as the rebate is concerned. I was disappointed that our Prime Minister capitulated and gave up our UK rebate. I was hoping that the Poles would help us to retain it.

If the Minister is made aware of the two or three key things that the Poles are interested in, and if we get under their skin, know what they want and show them that we understand their priorities, perhaps they will look at us not just metaphorically but in real terms as their No.1 ally and as people with whom they should associate and be close partners. The Minister said that I must not be too anti-German and I have to be careful what I say, but there are sensitivities. [Interruption.] I will come on to the anti-Russian bit in a minute; that is another ball game.

I want to discuss the oil pipeline from St. Petersburg to Poland, which the Germans want to build. Why do I raise that issue? I want to look at the Minister—into his eyes—and say, with all my heart, that there are undoubtedly sensitivities left over from the second world war. Many Poles alive today could tell the Minister horrific stories about life under the occupation. My grandmother is one of them; an 81-year-old lady who lives in Warsaw and suffered under the Germans.

My wife bought me some video tapes of the second world war recently; I watched sections 2 to 7 and missed out the first, because it was on the invasion of Poland in 1939. I could not bring myself to watch that video because it was too painful for me, and I am speaking as a 34-year-old who was born years after the second world war.

As a child, I sat on my grandfather’s lap and listened to him describing what the Poles had been through, not just in 1939, but for the five or six years of occupation. When I finally watched the first videotape about the invasion of Poland in 1939, I saw the German soldiers come up to the border post, snatch from it the symbol of Poland—the white eagle with a crown—and throw the symbol on the ground. And then the tanks rolled over.

Hundreds of thousands of Poles were killed in that invasion. I feel very emotional about it even today and I find it difficult to speak about it, so I shall move on. I mention it, however, because I want the Minister to be aware. He may think, as do some English people, “What on earth is he talking about? It is such a long time ago and he is over-dramatising it.”

Dr. Howells: The English might.

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