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Eastern Europe

Volume 178: debated on Wednesday 24 October 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he has any plans to meet the European Community Foreign Affairs Ministers to discuss aid to eastern Europe.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State regularly meets his European Community colleagues to discuss the Community's relations with the countries of central and eastern Europe. We strongly support the Community's policy of making aid to those countries conditional on progress towards political and economic reform.

Although I recognise the vital importance of aid, in terms of trade credits and direct aid, to eastern European countries and the importance of exchanges of personnel through seminars and courses, is not it equally important to set up educational institutions, such as business schools, in eastern European countries so that people there can learn the sort of commercial skills that they will need in a newly competitive world? Will he ensure that the know-how fund is used to that end?

There have been some such projects under the know-how fund. In general, it is better to try to develop institutions in the countries involved rather than bring them here, which is what they ask for on the whole.

Will the Minister acknowledge that it would be daft for Britain to provide aid to eastern Europe if that would result in the displacement of British jobs, particularly in the textile and clothing industry? Therefore, will he take this opportunity to acknowledge, on behalf of the Government, that they do not regard the British textile and clothing industry as expendable and that there is absolutely no question of the multi-fibre arrangement being abandoned or phased out too quickly unless proper and adequate safeguards are put in place to protect the best interests of the textile and clothing industry and the British workers whose livelihoods depend on it?

Similar arguments can be made in relation to every sector of the economy where we are trying to liberalise trade with the rest of the world—for example, agriculture. There must be some respect in which, if we are serious about opening our markets to poorer countries, we are willing to stand against our sectoral interests sometimes.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that last week I had the opportunity of visiting the headquarters of the Stasi in east Berlin? Is not it perfectly clear that the Stasi hopes to return to power by establishing massive slush funds at home and abroad? Will my right hon. Friend ensure that when he talks to Community Ministers he discusses the recycling of looted Stasi funds into aid to eastern Europe?

However much money was deployed by former members of the Stasi, I do not think that they would return to power in a democratic society.

Does not Britain set a particularly bad example on this in the EC? The Prime Minister and other Ministers perambulate around Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland promising all sorts of help, but is not the sad reality that the total amount of know-how help for central and eastern Europe in this financial year adds up to £15 million, that all of it is already committed and that, despite the growing demand, desire and need for it, no new projects can possibly be sanctioned before April next year? Does not that show up Tory concern for the new democracies as the sanctimonious propaganda that we all know it to be?

The answer is no. There is still no parallel among other European countries for the know-how fund and I welcome the fact that the rapid spread of democratic and free enterprise societies in eastern Europe has meant that we can move much quicker than expected this year, and negotiations are already under way for next year. Such help has been far more effective than the huge generalised soft loans, many of which have not been taken up, which hit the headlines but do little good.

Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that contributions of know-how and other non-financial kinds are being co-ordinated in the same way as financial contributions within the EC?

Yes, we try to do that, but I am sure that there is always room for co-ordination to be improved. Our view has always been that if we have a good project we should back it first and try to co-ordinate later, rather than be too bureaucratic.