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British-Soviet Relations

Volume 176: debated on Wednesday 11 July 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on current developments in British-Soviet relations.

Anglo-Soviet relations are better than ever. We are moving steadily from an era of confrontation to one of co-operation in an increasingly broad range of areas.

I note what the Minister says. Bearing in mind the historical changes that have taken place, especially in the past year, such as the ending of the Russian empire in eastern Europe, the democratic changes in the Soviet Union and the fact that the right-wing Conservative majority—[HoN MEMBERS: "Hard left."]—delegates at the party congress did not get their way, is not there a case for taking a far more favourable and flexible attitude towards the request for assistance in the immediate period? Why is there a hostile attitude towards such assistance? Surely it could be linked to the continuance of democratic changes in the Soviet Union.

I am confused by the hon. Gentleman's terminology. His hon. Friends—or in his case perhaps not his friends—in the Militant Tendency would be deeply offended by being placed on the right wing, which is where they would have to be placed according to the hon. Gentleman's categorisation. The hon. Gentleman knows that we take the view, and got some support from the Opposition for saying, that simply pouring money into an economic system which would waste it would neither help the progress of reform nor do any favours for our taxpayers. Tomorrow my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be making a statement showing why the Houston summit has clearly taken the view that much more analysis must be carried out first. What is more, we must be clear about what is being requested. The hon. Gentleman may be clear, but nobody else is.

Much as we would all like to help President Gorbachev, and bearing in mind the fact that some of the money sent to Russia might fall through their pockets, will my right hon. Friend remember that every day Russia is still producing submarines, tanks, guns and planes in undiminished numbers? Surely until that comes to an end we should be careful about how much money we lend them.

I totally agree. Mr. Shevardnadze said the other day that the Soviet Union spends about a quarter of its wealth on armaments. There would be no question of giving aid to any other country that spent that proportion of its wealth on armaments. As the Prime Minister of Canada said, Russia is still wasting thousands of millions of roubles propping up Mr. Castro. Russia could make cuts in many areas.