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Eastern Europe

Volume 170: debated on Thursday 19 April 1990

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the outcome of his discussions following his recent visits to Poland, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria.

The principal purpose of my right hon. Friend's visits to Poland, Czeckoslovakia and Bulgaria was to support political and economic reform in those countries and to seek export opportunities for British business men.

As he is one of the foremost defenders of British fishing interests, will my hon. Friend allow me to congratulate him on organising a three-month course on fisheries management at Hull for Polish fisheries managers, at a cost to the British taxpayer of £133,000? Does my hon. Friend agree that, in view of the size of the eastern bloc fishing fleet and as trawlers no longer have to eavesdrop on boring ministerial conversations and can concentrate instead on fishing, it is important that Britain leads the way in showing the eastern bloc fleet how to conserve its stocks rather than continue to plunder them recklessly?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The project that he mentioned is an example of the carefully targeted aid that we envisage for eastern Europe. On eastern European fisheries capacity, EC resources are shared out according to track record and there is no case for allowing east European vessels to fish Community waters. I have made it clear at a number of Fisheries Councils that we will not allow Soviet, Polish or other vessels into the North sea.

The West German fleet underfishes by about one third of its capacity and there is room for East Germany to take some of that quota without seeking any general allocation at European level. Of course, some eastern European waters might be available for western fisheries if East Germany joins the European Community.

However, I completely agree with my hon. Friend; we are not in the business of giving away a scarce resource, particularly to those who might not be most attentive to its conservation.

Will the Minister give assurances that measures to help east European farmers will cause minimum disruption to the home industry, for example with regard to the bulk import of cheap fruit pulp? If the object of the exercise is to increase finance for east European farmers, would not it be more sensible to do that by fixing cross-border prices rather than by using the tariff system, which can cause great disruption to the home industry?

When proposals were made to give concessions under the generalised system of preferences to Poland and Hungary, the United Kingdom argued that they should be restricted. We have since had close discussions about careful monitoring of the price arrangements. We can sustain imports provided that the prices are genuine and not dumping prices. We are in touch with the Commission and we will ensure that aid is specific and limited, that it will not damage our industry and that we do not make a greater contribution than anyone else to the necessary process of liberalisation in eastern Europe.

During my right hon. Friend the Minister's extremely successful visit to eastern Europe, did he detect any enthusisam to revert to the old-fashioned and failed economic policies of socialism and communism, or did he find an enthusiasm to embrace many of the economic policies that our Government were the first to introduce in this country over the past 10 years?

I understand that when Belisarius reconquered Italy, he coined the phrase, "If you seek a desert, look around you". I think that my right hon. Friend the Minister looked around eastern Europe and saw that 40 years of socialism had had the same effect. He gained no impression of an anxiety to revert to communism, but of a considerable anxiety to learn some of the elements of capitalism.