Previous Section Index Home Page

25 July 2007 : Column 250WH—continued

The hon. Member for The Wrekin is absolutely right: we have a long-term interest in a good relationship with a Russia that itself wants to be a good partner. The difficulty, frankly, and it has been an increasing difficulty
25 July 2007 : Column 251WH
over recent years, is to know what the motive is not of the Russian people—I emphasise that—but of the very specific narrow clique of people who run the Kremlin, round President Putin and round those who work within that ambit, because it is difficult to have a benign interpretation of developments in Russia in recent times.

The hon. Gentleman rightly talked about what I think he described as the failure to make progress on human rights. In fact, it can probably be more bluntly put—the erosion of standards in respect of human rights in recent years. The spate of murders of journalists may be fortuitous, but it has certainly served the purpose of limiting the political criticism that did exist in Russia from people such as Anna Politkovskaya, who was killed not so long ago. As with the case of Mr. Litvinenko, nobody has been brought before the courts in respect of the Politkovskaya case. Of course, that is a case in which the Russian authorities could have brought somebody before the Russian courts for a crime committed in Russia, but we still await developments in that respect. The rather sad interpretation of the situation is that it is not the ambition to bring those who murder journalists to court, because it is a very effective way of controlling criticism in the media. That has to be central to an understanding of Russia.

It also has to be central to an understanding of Russia that we have seen the Putinisation of the Russian economy, whereby the control of the economy is probably as tight now as it was in Soviet times. That is one of the paradoxes. Russia now has a quasi-market economy, but it is used for sectional and narrow ends and not in the interests, frankly, of the broad Russian population. That ought to concern us. The hon. Gentleman says that we ought to lock Russia in by way of a trade relationship. I would be delighted if I believed that that could be the case, but although many hon. Members have espoused in the House over a number of years the view that trade and economic freedom automatically implies political freedom, that no longer fits the reality of the modern world—not simply in Russia, by the way, but in other parts of the world. It is quite possible to run a successful trading economy—particularly if it is plumped up, as the Russian economy is, by the one factor of the massive increase in oil and gas prices—at the same time as deteriorating the objective circumstances of political democracy and human rights and basic freedoms.

Mr. John Horam (Orpington) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to refer to the Putinisation of the economy. Putin is doing a great disservice to ordinary Russian people, who get little benefit from high oil and gas prices. Nor are his actions in the medium and long-term interests of the Russian economy, whose failure to observe international norms is deterring badly needed investment in Russia’s oil and gas industries.

Tony Lloyd: I totally agree. Any examination of Russia’s economic future would show a number of things, one of which—this should be obvious—is that Russia is using the high value of gas and oil and will continue to do so for a long time. However, the benefits should be transferred not simply to narrow areas of exploitation and to industries downstream from oil and gas, but to the Russian economy more broadly. To do that, however, Russia’s antiquated oil and gas production process will
25 July 2007 : Column 252WH
have to be modernised, which means that a deal must be struck, not necessarily with the west itself, but with western companies, which have the technology to transform that production process. The hon. Gentleman is right, however, that uncertainties in Russia mean that there will be increasing reluctance to reach such a deal.

That takes us back to a central issue that I have discussed on many occasions with Members of the Russian Duma and with other people in Russia. There is a real issue about the incompetence of the Russian courts and the lack of certainty about what they will do, because there is a perception that they can be pressurised by the political elite. As long as that continues, and the courts are not prepared to treat fairly all those who use the Russian legal system, investors from this country and elsewhere will remain uncertain about whether it is possible to get a proper economic return on their investment. There are therefore major issues about the weakness and, indeed, the deterioration of the Russian institutions that should provide the framework for the trading system that the hon. Member for The Wrekin recommends.

I do not want to take up too much time, because other colleagues want to speak in this important debate. However, we have a genuine problem around the Litvinenko case, and the Government must pursue the matter and take a high-minded and proper view of what happens, because the issue is not negotiable. A technical solution involving institutions such as those created for the Lockerbie trials—third-country trials—might be a possibility. The difficulty, however, is that an extradition process that prevents the extradition of any Russian citizen to Britain would also prevent extradition to a benign third country. Equally, although it is interesting to speculate about courts in Russia made up of British and Russian judges and all the rest, there would still be a lack of confidence about the capacity and ambition of the Russian legal process to guarantee a trial that is fair to the accused and, in this case, the Litvenenko family, and which allowed the pursuit of justice more generally, so that those who are properly accused and found guilty know that their sentence reflects the crimes that they have committed.

Mark Pritchard: I would like the main suspect, Mr. Lugovoi, to come before a court—wherever that might be—but does the hon. Gentleman agree that it might be difficult for Mr. Lugovoi to have a fair trial in a UK court, given the sum of the media coverage?

Tony Lloyd: Lawyers will always argue about the capacity to hold a fair trial, but we should never allow people to argue that media coverage prevents trials such as that of Lugovoi, although such claims are made in respect of celebrities appearing within our own judicial process. It is unacceptable that someone who is guilty can get off by so publicising their case that it is prevented from ever coming to trial, and most of us would not accept that as a principle of justice in this county or more generally. We want Mr. Lugovoi to make a voluntary decision to stand before a British court, although I have no great expectation that he will do so.

Where the hon. Member for The Wrekin is right is that our relations with Russia will proceed over a long period. That is an important point, and neither we nor the Russians should underestimate how important our relations are to Britain. However, we must work at that
25 July 2007 : Column 253WH
relationship. This might not please every member of the Conservative party, but working through the European Union will be important in our long-term relationship with Russia. It is important that EU countries are not seduced by the flow of oil and gas and that we are absolutely adamant and clear that we have a collective interest in our relationship with Russia being one between equals, and that we cannot be bullied and bought with supplies of gas and oil.

It is important that Russia understands that message. Unfortunately, we have seen a growing self-confidence in Russia on the back of rising oil and gas prices. That is not a bad thing in a way, because Russian morale was unhealthily low after the cold war, which was dangerous for internal Russian politics. However, the emergence of a Russia that sees itself as a bully regionally or on a wider scale is equally dangerous. We want a Russia that we can deal with as a member of the Security Council and the United Nations—one that is a leading player in the world economy and a country of real influence.

We can treat Russia with respect, but if we are to have that respect, we must be able to depend on Russia to begin the process of reforming its political institutions. It must do that in line with the international commitments that it has made to uphold the proper standards of a law-based democratic society. In such a society, the basic human rights to which Russia has signed up under Council of Europe and United Nations conventions must be properly honoured. If we can get that message across to Russia, we will be able to have the relationship that we should have with a mature member of the world family.

Several hon. Members rose

Hugh Bayley (in the Chair): Order. Three hon. Members are trying to catch my eye, and I will try to start the winding-up speeches at half-past 10. I hope that hon. Members will co-operate so that everybody has an opportunity to speak.

10.7 am

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) on securing this important debate, not least because he has had the courage to say something a little unorthodox. It would be all too easy simply to go along with the Government’s line on Russia and although I agree partly with their line, my hon. Friend has made an important contribution. We also had important contributions from the hon. Members for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) and for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who know much about these matters.

One of the great concerns in our debates about Russia is that there is perhaps a lack of understanding about the importance of respect, face and a sense of courtesy and consideration, and many Russian politicians feel that they have not had those things from the west for quite some time. The Soviet Union was one of two global superpowers until 1991, and as the hon. Member for Manchester, Central rightly said, there was a real sense of damaged pride in the years following its collapse and the emergence of the Russian Federation, first under Boris Yeltsin and, more recently, under Vladimir Putin.

I do not suggest for one moment that there is a direct equivalence between our extradition demands on the one hand and the various demands from the Russian
25 July 2007 : Column 254WH
side on the other, but it is easy to see that Russia feels that there is a lack of respect for its system, when compared with ours. As I said, I do not suggest that there is a direct equivalence, but the issue goes to the heart of some of the concerns that now face the Foreign Office. It is eight years since Vladimir Putin became the Russian President, and there have been high hopes of a good, strong relationship between our two countries, and between Russia and the European Union, and it is a great shame that things have soured so quickly, to the extent that bilateral relations have deteriorated.

I want to talk about two main things in my brief contribution. First, there are the economic issues. Obviously, my constituency contains the Cities of London and Westminster, which are important economic areas, but the benefit that they receive from Russian money and bilateral trade has been upset, and could be further upset, by the difficulties between our two nations.

To go back to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin about the conduct of the Home Office and, indeed, the Foreign Office, in relation to individuals such as the late Mr. Litvinenko who come to this country, I several times expressed concern in the House to erstwhile Home and Foreign Secretaries about the procedure by which individuals have come into this country and put my constituents at risk—because it was in the west end of London that the appalling poisoning in question took place.

In many ways our trade and economic relations with the Russian Federation have been a great success story in recent years. British investment reached more than £2.5 billion in the first nine months of last year, which makes Britain the single largest investor among G7 countries. That figure is expected to be much higher this year, not least because of the thriving oil and gas sector alluded to by the hon. Member for Manchester, Central. I understand that that bilateral trade has trebled in the past five years, and Britain is the world’s third largest destination for Russian investments. That is, I think, reflected in the great number of Russian companies coming into the stock exchange and the alternative investment market, and the large number of Russian nationals coming to live here, many of whom have not fallen out with the Russian regime at all. It must be stressed that such problems are very much the minority.

As has been pointed out, Russia is the world’s largest gas producer and exporter, and is currently the second largest oil producer. There is little doubt that, given the difficulties that the Soviet Union and Russia faced in the past 20 years, that fact has been used to exert a certain amount of political muscle, which is a matter of concern to us all.

There are some very wealthy—and some less wealthy—Russian individuals working in London. We want to encourage that, and to encourage many of our nationals to have the experience of going to work in such an exciting country, on the trade side. I fear, however, that because of the current concern, and our problem over extradition arrangements, we will encounter difficulties in the years ahead. I have a fax that arrived this morning from Count Andrei Tolstoy-Miloslavsky, a constituent of mine. As a businessman he said:

25 July 2007 : Column 255WH

we have not quite got the organ grinder here, although perhaps we have the monkey; but this is a serious point—

The decisions to be made are difficult and I do not suggest for a minute that economic or financial considerations should bypass all others; they certainly should not. However, I have several times expressed deep concern about extradition arrangements. There are, as my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin pointed out, 21 outstanding requests for extradition of people in the UK, many of whom are connected to the now bankrupt Yukos oil company.

I have a great concern in relation to the Litvinenko case; I asked the Home Office several times for full details—and it was appropriate, not least given the circumstances of his death, that we should have such full details—of the precise arrangements that were made for him to get a passport in double quick time. I worry that we are allowing individuals into this country, not just from the Russian Federation but from many other parts of the world—including, in particular, areas of the middle east, giving rise to long-term problems—who are effectively using Britain as a safe haven from which to agitate against other sovereign states. We rightly have a proud record in this country of giving asylum to political refugees. We are obliged to do so under various international conventions. However, we need to give serious consideration to what is going on.

I am not naïve about the possibility that in certain cases individuals who come to this country from the Russian Federation and elsewhere may assist our security services, and that that is a reason for fast-tracking their passport claims. However, ultimately, if individuals come to this country and agitate against another sovereign state—against President Putin, in the present case, but the point also applies to people from Pakistan or Saudi Arabia who create difficulties—it is likely to be my constituents, and those of other hon. Members, who will be put at risk if there are shootings in the street, or poisonings and the like. It is vital to ensure that people who come to this country to settle, or who seek political asylum or are given British passports, do so on the basis that they understand the importance of the rule of law in this country, and that they accept those standards. We should send the message loud and clear that those who do not want to abide by those rules, and want to use Britain as a safe haven for agitation, will not be accepted.

In my constituency it was often thought that somehow we were protecting ourselves against terrorist attack by allowing people who were effectively agitating against sovereign states to come from the Arab world to Londonistan, over in the Edgware road. That is a naïve thought, and that naiveté was shown up two years ago on 7 July 2005. I hope that the Minister will give the matter serious consideration. I should have liked to say more, but I appreciate that other hon. Members want to say something in the debate. It is an important one, and I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

25 July 2007 : Column 256WH
10.16 pm

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I will be brief. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) will no doubt have more to say than I will. I want to take up a point that arose earlier, but I shall be careful about how I phrase it, because it concerns a constituent who came to see me some months ago; I shall not name him or his company. He is part of the arrangement to do with the residue of Yukos in the west. He came to see me, as constituents do, to explain to me some of the repercussions of what has happened, and the Russian Government’s pursuit of anyone and anything that has a relationship with the former Yukos company.

We all know that the Yukos affair has dragged on for a long time. Obviously, Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are currently in Russian prisons, and likely to be there a long time. However, it is probably less well known that other individuals—the majority of whom are not, I think, Russian—have been subject to a vigorous campaign from the Kremlin, which shows no sign of abating. That means that my constituent is no longer able to carry on his business to the extent that he used to. He has even to be wary about where he goes on holiday, because of the repercussions of action taken against him through the Russian Government in a third country or even this country. That is deeply worrying.

Mark Pritchard: I accept that there have no doubt been occasions, and perhaps will be in the future—let us hope not—on which the Russian state has been behind some targeting of individuals, but does the hon. Gentleman accept that some people have been killed, injured or kidnapped by people from criminal gangs and competitors in the black markets in which they deal?

Mr. Drew: I am sure that that may be the case, but it is not really the point that I am making. I want to keep my remarks brief, and to ask questions of the Minister, given that the Foreign Office has been helpful in the individual case I have described.

To conclude, there seems, from what I can see, to be a serious anomaly in current extradition provisions relating to Russia. Russian citizens who have been granted asylum in the UK cannot be extradited to stand trial in Russia; they are subject to our court process. As we know, Russian citizens cannot, according to the constitution, be extradited to this country. However, UK citizens in the UK, let alone those in a third country, have no such political protection. That is also the case with mutual legal assistance requests from Russia, which are subject to the court process, rather than any greater protection.

Through my hon. Friend the Minister, I ask the Government to call on the Russian Federation fully to respect the human rights of those who have been involved in the Yukos affair and to ensure that the rule of law and international treaty obligations apply. Until that happens, the Government should call on our European partners to deny extradition requests from the Russian Federation. They should also review its status as a category 2 territory under the Extradition Act 2003. These are important matters, and there is a matter of precedent here. Someone took on the business commitment of dealing with the residue of Yukos in the west and further afield, which someone had to do, and they are
25 July 2007 : Column 257WH
now liable to the Russian Government’s efforts to curtail their freedom. There is no more important issue for the British Foreign Office to deal with.

Next Section Index Home Page