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The good news, in a way, is that Ukraine, just like us, does not have a straight two-party system. There are blocs, and no party gets an overall majority, so there have to be negotiations. Sometimes they take a bit of time, but the United States does not solve such things immediately, as I recollect from a recent presidential election. I hope that people in Ukraine are not discouraged by that. Politics is sometimes difficult, but persistence pays off. I pay tribute to the persistence of the President, the Prime Minister, present and past Foreign Ministers and others who are determined to make a go of democracy and make Ukraine as credible as any other democracy in Europe. The right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) paid tribute to the fact that the system has evolved quickly and become one that commands respect, having not originally met standards. We need to flag that up. None of us does democracy perfectly, and Ukraine has shown very well how to make progress.

I wish to make three substantive points. First, sometimes we in Britain—I am sure that this does not apply to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—forget how important a European country Ukraine is. Not only is it the second largest European country, it has a population of getting on for 50 million. It is almost in the big league with Germany, France, Italy, the United Kingdom and obviously Russia, which is both European and Asian. Although we sit off the western edge of the European land mass and Ukraine sits in the heart of the land mass at the other edge of Europe, we would do Ukraine and Europe no service if we neglected its potential and importance.

The hon. Member for West Suffolk mentioned Ukraine’s huge agricultural importance. That is important not just for Ukraine but because of its ability to serve a continent in a day and age when we are all seeking to have food shipped from one end of the world to the other less frequently. It would be far better to ensure that we fed ourselves within each continent as far as possible, and grew our own food for our own people.

Secondly, Ukraine is strategically important to energy supplies not just for its own part of Europe but for Europe as a whole. We all understand that there are private sector interests, but public-led interests are also very much at play. We always want to say to Russia and Ukraine that there must be a negotiated agreement. That may be difficult—of course such things are difficult—but everybody’s interests are served by the security of supply at a time when there are threats and risks to the energy industry and we are all trying to reduce our consumption.

Thirdly, Ukraine is hugely important because of its entrepreneurial spirit. The hon. Gentleman commended the fact that one driver of the ever-closer links between the UK and Ukraine is business interests. I have been hugely impressed whenever I have spoken to business people about their willingness to go and do business in Ukraine, and by Ukrainians’ willingness to come and do business here, including in the brewing, sugar and construction industries. I hope that the building of football stadiums does not mean that the people in the construction industry, whom we need here to do things such as complete the Olympic site, will instead go off to build stadiums in Poland and Ukraine. I hope that we can have a division of labour.

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I have two final things to say. First, I pay tribute to the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, which is an excellent organisation. In particular, it has recognised how important support for the deep development of institutional structures in Ukraine is. Members of the Rada are willing to work with Members of the UK Parliament to exchange experience and political learning. I hope that we can go further, and there have been conversations about the issue. There should be co-operation and dialogue between staff in our Parliaments, as well as between our civil servants and researchers. There should be dialogue between the UK’s devolved Administrations and the autonomous region of Crimea, because they have a lot to learn from each other. There should be dialogue between our political parties, and I pledge on behalf of the Liberal Democrat party that we will be happy to continue pursuing such developments, not only around Kiev, but in the east, the north, the south and the west. We must also ensure that more women are involved in politics so that the country becomes a vibrant democracy.

I also pay tribute to the others who are building bridges. The British Council is really valuable in Ukraine, and the BBC now has a significant listenership for its Ukrainian language service. The bridges are becoming ever stronger, and the developments in Ukraine are extremely welcome and positive.

Of course, it is for the Ukraine Government to decide when and how they become more fully integrated into the European Union. However, my colleagues and I hope that it will not be long before Ukraine takes its full place as an independent country in a European Union of independent countries so that people recognise the phenomenal contribution that it has made, is making and will make not only to its part of Europe, but to Europe and the world as a whole.

3.11 pm

Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab): It gives me great pleasure to follow contributions from three such distinguished and experienced parliamentarians. I calculate that they have no less than seven decades of parliamentary experience between them, which almost—I stress, almost—makes me feel young again. I pay tribute to all three of them. The hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) gave a measured and comprehensive overview of the issues facing Ukraine. We then had a clarion call for democracy from my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), who, if anything, underplayed his role as the OSCE’s chief observer in the elections some years ago. His role in Ukraine was crucial, and his keen observation and willingness to speak the truth will be credited there for many decades to come.

I am also grateful to be following the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), because I want to start where he did by stressing some of the human links between our two countries. He mentioned football, and I first became aware of Ukraine as a result of playing football. I am the grandson of an Irish Catholic migrant to Yorkshire and I remember playing with, and occasionally against, the grandsons of Ukrainian migrants to Yorkshire—as I recall, they did not take any prisoners on the football field. That was my first link to Ukraine and the first time that I became aware of the country.

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As the years went by, and the iron curtain fell, I made friends and acquaintances among younger members of the Ukrainian community, some of whom had perhaps come to the west for the first time. When the Orange revolution happened, some of them contacted me in Parliament and asked what Parliament was doing about it. At that stage, the all-party group was not very active, but it was one of those moments in history when there was only one side to be on—the side of counting votes properly and having a proper democratic election. Now, the all-party group has links with politicians of all shades of opinion in Ukraine, and we are delighted to have members of the Tymoshenko bloc and the Party of the Regions with us today.

The Orange revolution was a pivotal moment in Ukrainian democracy. What a joy it was to be alive in Ukraine after that—everything seemed to go right. Not only was there an Orange revolution, but Ukraine qualified for the football World cup for the first time, economic growth took off and the country had not just one, but two world heavyweight boxing champions. It even won the Eurovision song contest, and we in Britain know how hard that is. Obviously, there was bound to be a bit of a reaction after such a honeymoon period.

As other hon. Members and acting members of the all-party group have said, we in Parliament try to do our bit. We are looking forward to hosting President Yushchenko and the Holodomor exhibition in Parliament in a couple of weeks, and there will also be the Inter-Parliamentary Union visit. The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey was right to stress the rich variety of organisations in Britain promoting links between Ukraine and Britain. The British Ukrainian Society, which he leads so ably, has taken such activities to a new level in the past year. Similarly, the Ukrainian-British City Club in London brings together young professionals. That highlights what a great asset young Ukrainian professionals in London will be to Ukraine in the years ahead.

I could discuss many of the current issues that have been touched on and which are being fiercely debated in the Rada. As has been said, there is a debate about whether Ukraine should stick with and strengthen its presidential system of government or move to a more parliamentary system. There are debates about the economy, with the Rada ratifying one of the 60 elements that are needed for full World Trade Organisation ratification to take place—the debate on the WTO will probably last as long as our recent debates about the EU. There is also a debate about inflation, which is now touching 30 per cent, and measures have had to be taken in recent weeks to bring it down. Finally, there is the very important debate about NATO, which has been touched on.

I thought, however, that I would make four more general, but crucial points about the future of Ukraine. My right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South concentrated on the development of democracy and referred to the OSCE’s judgement that the most recent elections had pretty much met almost the highest standards that one could expect of such elections. Friends of Ukraine in Britain are pleased that those democratic standards are being met, although we would rather that Ukraine reached the point where it
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did not have to prove its democratic standards by having a general election every six months. It is good that a Government have been formed, and I hope that there will now be a period of stability. The fundamental point, which more than one hon. Member has touched on, is that if democracy and much-needed progress in the judicial system—the country needs to go much further in establishing the rule of law—can take hold, Ukraine will have a competitive edge, particularly in attracting investment. As the hon. Member for West Suffolk said, the rule of law, democracy and a free media are not nearly as developed in many of Ukraine’s neighbours.

One of the advantages of having frequent elections as part of the democratic process in a young democracy is that the different parties have observed those elections in different regions of the country. This has been the first time that many young people who have supported a political party avidly enough to want to observe the elections have been able to do so. This is the first time, for example, that people from Donetsk have been to the west of Ukraine and vice versa and have taken part in electoral activity as part of civil society. Such things are binding the country together again and giving people a different view. It is also encouraging that although the east of the country generally votes one way and the west votes another, that is by no means monolithic now, and people in both the east and the west are voting against that trend. That can only strengthen democracy in Ukraine.

Finally on democracy, it is significant that the Rada is considering a law on the role of the Opposition. That was highlighted at the Foreign Office conference at Wilton Park, which many Ukrainian parliamentarians took part in, and which I was privileged to go along to for a little while. It took our Parliament centuries to appreciate such things. Hard though it is for me as a Labour politician to admit this, there will be a Conservative Government one day, and Conservative Ministers will have the cars and give the statements—I confidently predict that. It is part of the practice of a mature democracy that we treat others as we would want to be treated if we were in the same circumstances. Things such as the development of Short money and respect for the role of the Opposition are very important, and Ukraine is rapidly developing that culture.

Just a few weeks ago there was a conference in London to promote investment in Euro 2012. It was extremely moving that the shadow Foreign Minister, a member of the party of the Regions, gave a speech, supported by all his colleagues from the different parties in Ukraine, in which he said that the issue was so important that everyone needed to unite behind it, and make 2012 a success. That is my second point. Many hon. Members have mentioned 2012, but it is well worth mentioning that just as we must absolutely get the Olympics right, for the sake of the United Kingdom’s reputation, equally Ukraine, together with Poland, must make sure that 2012 works well. There are reasons for concern at the moment. Michel Platini of UEFA has expressed some concern, and Rada members of all parties, and, indeed, the mayors of the host cities, are all keen to get the infrastructure in place. There may be—I know there will be—points of
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co-operation between London and Kiev when we are both at the centre of the sporting world in 2012; and reputation, so my friends in investment banks tell me, is the thing above all that determines investment. Ukraine’s reputation is on the line in 2012 and I am sure the nation will rise to the challenge, but it cannot be complacent.

Thirdly, there is the question of relations with Russia. In recent weeks there have been encouraging signs that, despite strong rhetoric from both sides, both nations are capable of doing deals, when necessary. Earlier this week the Russian and Ukrainian Prime Ministers had important talks. Kommersant reported:

In the European Union, where a quarter of gas supplies come by such a route, that will be welcome. The Ukrainian Prime Minister was reported on Ukrainian news as saying that the two countries have prepared a plan for developing co-operation in ten priority areas, and the Russian Prime Minister described the work of the Ukrainian-Russian intergovernmental commission as sufficiently efficient—quite a phrase in itself. Those reports show that business can be done by the two nations.

As other hon. Members have done, I want to say a word about Ukraine’s European Union ambitions. It is perhaps one of the prime purposes of the all-party group to do a bit to advance those ambitions. There are two ways of thinking about the matter. Such ambitions can present a tremendous opportunity for Ukraine, and particularly its young people, in travel and business. However, what Ukraine can do for Europe is also important, as other hon. Members have said. Increasingly, Ukraine is an important actor in the region, in all sorts of discussions on issues including Moldova. Ukraine is a country, as has been said, with a rich history, and there is debate there about how much it should look to the future and how much it needs to come to terms with its history, including such events as the famine. That debate is for Ukrainians to have. However, with its rich history, and given the indisputable claim that Ukraine is a European nation with a place in the history of the continent and which can draw on that history and on the vitality of its young people, it will, before too long, take its place as part of the European Union.

3.24 pm

Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): It could be said that it is a tribute to the British Parliament that so many people with such expertise on Ukraine have made their voices heard, and have such an interest. I should prefer to say that it is a tribute to the great nation of Ukraine that so many people in Parliament take such a great interest in that extraordinary and unique country.

It is unfortunate, but it is not untypical of many hon. Members to use football metaphors to describe bilateral relationships. I think that it was Albert Camus who said:

He was a distinguished goalkeeper, though not quite in the same class as my right hon. Friend the Member for
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Walsall, South (Mr. George), who represented his country at football—not mine, but his. It was Wales, I think.

Mr. Bruce George: Not quite.

Stephen Pound: But many of us are acutely aware of the contribution that that skill has made. Also, I stress that constant references to Dynamo Kiev are in no way meant to denigrate Shakhtar Donetsk, a team for which those of us who support Celtic have great affection.

When one first visits Ukraine—and there has been much talk of a mature civic society and the civic responsibility of that community—one is immediately struck by the energy of a people who I suggest are almost unique in their determination and pride. My last football reference in this speech will be my appeal to anyone who seeks to understand a little of the Ukrainian psyche to read one of the most extraordinary books ever written: “Dynamo: Defending the Honour of Kiev”. That describes the famous death match when the last remnants of the Dynamo Kiev team were working in a bakery in Kiev and they ended up playing the German air force in a match refereed by a member of the Waffen SS. They were told that if they won the match it might cost them their lives. They went on and won it, and it did cost some of them their lives. We should all recognise that supreme pride and confidence in the nation, and the ability to bring something completely different that is so much a part of modern Ukraine.

When we talk about our country or Government supporting Ukraine’s application to join the European Union, we do not do that out of any feeling of charity. It is not entirely from self-interest; we do it out of recognition of European economic realities. Modern Ukraine is a country of immense potential in agriculture, industry and nuclear technology and there are areas where we have much to learn from it, and much work of value to do with it. The fact that this country is a strong and consistent supporter of Ukrainian accession to the EU is something of which we should not only be extremely proud; we should make the point to our Ukrainian brothers and sisters that it is done from the principle of mutual benefit and gain.

I cannot say how impressed I was when I visited—admittedly only one or two—cities in Ukraine, to see a nation that, although it sounds presumptuous to say so, is emerging, and finding its feet. There is an entrepreneurial community there, and an emerging mercantile community. The politics is transparent and fair, and as we have heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South, it is operated completely honestly. We have in Ukraine a great partner for the future. It is important for Members of this House to put on record our respect for those who brought Ukraine to where it is today, our appreciation for the work that they have done, and our hope for the future that our bilateral relations, supported so ably by many people such as the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring), and many organisations, come to fruition, and that we can stand side by side, brother and brother, in an emerging, stronger, deeper and wider Europe. Ukraine has seen great days in a long and extraordinary history. I suggest that its greatest days are yet to come. Let this country stand with that proud nation when that great day comes.

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3.28 pm

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) on securing the debate, and I pay tribute to his hard work as the chairman of the British Ukrainian Society. In his speech he set out very clearly the bilateral relations between our country and Ukraine and an overview of that intriguing country’s history and current situation. Positively, he also pointed out the very good work being done to strengthen links between our countries, and in particular by the hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) and the all-party group on Ukraine that he chairs. It is particularly good to hear that a delegation of MPs will visit Ukraine later in the year.

As with so many Westminster Hall debates about various countries, we should recognise that while the relationship with the country itself is important, we benefit from the presence of many people—in this case tens of thousands of Ukrainians—who live and work and contribute to society in Britain. It is important to be aware of that community and the positive impact that it can have on our economy and society.

So far, we have had an excellent debate, with contributions from the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), my hon. Friend the Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) and the hon. Members for Selby (Mr. Grogan) and for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound). I confess that I have been somewhat lost along the way with some of the football metaphors, but that aside I have certainly found the debate to be particularly interesting.

In my brief remarks, I would like to touch on the relationship between Ukraine and the various international organisations, on the issue of energy and on a couple of other issues before winding up. First, I would like to share with the Members present today my own experience of Ukraine, which thankfully is slightly wider than just reading a rather excellent novel, “A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian”, by Marina Lewycka.

Stephen Pound: It should be pronounced ‘Lew-i-za’.

Jo Swinson: I bow to the hon. Gentleman’s superior pronunciation; no doubt my version will look alright in Hansard, as long as I ensure that I give them my notes. One of the things that brought that book to mind was hearing the hon. Member for West Suffolk talk about the famine in the 1930s, the horrors of which are described in the book. It is clearly quite right that awareness is raised of that tragic period in Ukrainian history. As with so many events of that nature, it is important that, even once living memory fades, the rest of us do not forget because that is the best defence that we have against such an event happening again.

The hon. Member for West Suffolk also paid great tribute to WFD, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, of which he is a governor and director. It is certainly excellent news that extra money has been allocated to help WFD programmes in Ukraine.

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