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Volume 178: debated on Wednesday 24 October 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent representations he has made to the Government of Romania about the development of democracy there.

Neither I nor my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs plans to visit Romania at present. However, I hope that Ministers will be able to discuss economic matters with the Romanian deputy Prime Minister in the United Kingdom next month. My right hon. Friend discussed Romania's troubled progress towards democracy with his Romanian counterpart in New York on 2 October.

Despite 40 years of paranoid tyranny and the many betrayed hopes of the past nine months, will the Government now respond to the genuine encouraging trends in Romania with the first prosecutions of the miners who participated in the June repression and the fact that recent opposition demonstrations have not been harassed? Is not there a grave danger, however, that unless we take action now and acknowledge in a practical way the advances that have been made to the flawed but genuine democracy of Romania, we shall give encouragement to those sinister forces seeking to recreate the country's previous isolation?

I certainly agree that we must reward the steps forward, but we must not ignore those things that are still going wrong. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that we and our European colleagues were right to sign a trade agreement with Romania. However, we are holding back from further steps because there is evidence of further secret police activity of the old style and of the harassment of dissidents. I spoke to Doina Cornea about that when we met recently. It is a policy of carrots and sticks and both, I am afraid, are still necessary.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that whole-hearted political and economic co-operation with the Government of Romania will be difficult as long as that Government appear to have a less than healthy commitment to human rights and freedoms? Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is still a great deal of fear among the ordinary people of Romania that the secret police, the Securitate, are still up to their old tricks? Have we made it clear enough to President Iliescu and his Government that we want to see further progress towards a truly free society before there is real co-operation?

I believe that we have made that pretty clear. The Romanians are anxious to present the progress that they have made in as clear a manner as possible. As I said to the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn), we must not forget that other things still need a great deal of improvement. The meetings that we were able to have in Bournemouth with a number of principal dissidents under Ceausescu warned us that, as yet, all is far from being in order.