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Tonight, I want to confine my remarks to the subject of last year’s war between two European nations. I have become very involved in the fall-out of that war. For my sins, if that is the right phrase, I am one of the five political group leaders in the Council of Europe, and
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that has taken me and my colleagues to Tbilisi twice, to South Ossetia once, to the buffer zone when the Russians were still there, to Gori, to Moscow—I have been once and I am going again—and to the United Nations in New York. The subject is clearly much on my mind.

Although the subject might not immediately appear to be so, it is of some relevance to the summit that will take place at the end of this week. The European Union, commendably and quite rightly, has civilian monitors in Georgia. Most of us would wish that they were in South Ossetia, too, but I shall come back to that. The monitors are doing the best they can and they are at risk because the violence is resuming. We need to take that risk seriously.

The dispute is far from settled, and if it were to become violent again the consequences for every member state in the European Union could easily become catastrophic. We got off lightly last time, and I do not think that we can assume that we might again. As Georgia wants to join the European Union, we have to discuss the matter. We welcome those who are able to join the European Union, but there have to be quite serious doubts about the timetable, if there ever was one, for Georgia. I hope that we will not turn our backs totally on Georgia but will discuss where we go from here. The subject is relevant to this debate, although it might not be everybody’s top priority.

How should the EU and every member state respond to what happened? I am one of those who do not believe that anything will be gained at this stage by playing the blame game. The facts are still in short supply and an independent inquiry is crucial. That is why I welcome what the EU has managed to achieve. I wish the inquiry well. In due course, when we have an independent international report, considering the issue of blame might become appropriate, but for now I do not think that it is. However, from my involvement thus far, I believe that it is sensible and safe for us to draw three interim conclusions.

First, the war did not start on 7 August. The vicious fighting might have started on 7 August, but the war started a long time before that. Another safe interim conclusion is that both sides are at fault. Both sides entered into commitments when they joined the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Council of Europe, and they have patently broken those commitments. It is also clear—I have seen it with my own eyes—that there have been human rights violations on both sides. Both sides are at fault and I do not see the point of trying to say who is worse. The final interim conclusion that I have reached is that we all—individually, nationally and internationally—share some of the responsibility for what happened. There were warning signs. Comments were made by both sides over a longish period. We might have heard them, but we did not seem to pay much attention to them. I believe that that will become one of the lessons to be learned.

When this matter is discussed at the summit, as I trust it will be, I hope that the leaders ask themselves three really straightforward questions. How can they and we help the civilian victims on both sides? What should the EU say about Russia and Georgia to the Russians and the Georgians, and what should it do? How can we reduce the risk of further and future armed conflict in our continent? That is the first group of questions.

As for the civilian victims, I have seen with my own eyes the destruction caused by both the Russians and
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Georgians in South Ossetia and the buffer zone. That was tragic and heartbreaking, but all I shall say is that bombs, shells and missiles do not discriminate between nationalities, or between the innocent and the guilty. They simply destroy everything and everybody. Thankfully, help has been and is still being sent: some of the internally displaced people have been rehoused, but there is still an enormous amount to be done. The onset of winter makes the crisis ever more crucial, and renders it ever more necessary that we ask what more we can do.

There are three things that the summit might like to consider. It should consider how we can give more assistance, and how we can send more to help the people in the region. I am not criticising what has happened, but there is still more to be done. We can also ensure that the aid reaches the recipients for whom it is intended, and insist that those who wish to return to their own home should be allowed to do so—unless, of course, they have been bulldozed by one side or the other.

The second and third tasks that I have set out are not going as smoothly as they ought to. We have heard about the difficulties experienced by the Red Cross in getting deliveries to certain places. I find that unacceptable, but we have also found that people’s access to their homes is being forbidden. That is especially true in the Kodori gorge region, a mainly Georgian area in Abkhazia where Georgians are finding it difficult to get into their homes. Akhalgori in South Ossetia is essentially a Georgian town, but its inhabitants are finding it hard to get back home.

We cannot allow that to continue, and we have to ask what is stopping people returning. One of the most crucial elements is the demand that people who wish to go back home must give up their Georgian citizenship and accept Russian passports. Some people say that that story is right, others that it is wrong, and still others claim that it has been invented, but I should like to share with the House the proof of its authenticity.

I have in my hand a Russian passport, one of a batch of brand new passports captured from a Russian vehicle. All the passports claim to have been issued in 2004: they all have a complete name, as well as a proper photograph and seal. They are genuine Russian passports—except for the fact that none of them has been signed by the recipient. Not one of them had been asked for. I hope that the summit will say that that is unacceptable, and that we cannot tolerate people being kept out of their homes unless they do something quite unrealistic and unjustifiable.

The second question that I hope that the summit asks is a really tricky one—what do we do and say to the Russians and the Georgians? We must start with the very simple message that going to war in Europe—whatever the reasons, circumstances and justification—is totally, utterly and completely unacceptable. Two countries went to war and it does not matter who is to blame, because we have to say, “Up with that we will not put.” It may be that one side or the other was provoked, but that does not matter: both sides used disproportionate force in whatever it was that they were trying to do, and neither can use the excuse, “We were provoked so we had to respond.”

Both Russia and Georgia say regularly that they wish to join fully the family of democratic nation states in Europe. That is their wish, and it is mine too. I want to help both countries achieve that end, and I hope that the EU wants to help them too, but another clear
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message has to be sent: if Russia and Georgia want to join the Europe that we believe in—the Europe of democracy, human rights and the rule of law—those principles are not negotiable. We will not make an exception because a country is small or big: our message must be, “You are welcome into our family, but we’re not going to negotiate and weaken what we believe in just to make it easier for you to join.”

When these matters are discussed, we must insist that President Sarkozy’s six-point plan is implemented in full by both sides. Until that happens, we will not be in a position to make progress on anything else.

As I said in an earlier intervention, I realise that the Council of Europe is one of those organisations that people sometimes forget exists, but its Parliamentary Assembly recently drew up a list of things that have to happen. When they joined the Council of Europe, both Russia and Georgia signed up to solemn commitments, one of which was not to use violence. I hope that the EU will join the Council of Europe in requiring that the list of things that the Council says has to happen must be achieved before any more progress can be made.

Although there is a list of things that we can all do, I am not overly impressed by the progress that has been made thus far. I understand that it is in the EU’s interest for us to resume negotiations on a partnership and co-operation agreement with Russia, but that would send the wrong signals. It would be to say, “You can go to war with a neighbour and we’ll still talk to you.” I do not think that we should send that message. At last week’s summit of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Finnish presidency wanted an agreed statement to be issued. The presidency said that it was better to have no statement at the end of the summit if any attempt was made to water down the wording. What happened? There was no statement.

Even the Council of Europe is not beyond criticism. The ambassadors, with the Swedish Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, had a list of things that they could do and needed to do, but they could not even bring themselves to vote on any of it. Thus far, the signals that we have sent have not been very promising, and I urge the summit to toughen up its act. As was said earlier in the debate, the Russians in particular are more willing to listen than we realise. They are more prepared to move than they might have been six or 12 months ago, and we should not miss the opportunity that we have with them.

The third question that I urge the summit to ask is, “What can we do to prevent further violent conflict?” There are three lessons that we can learn from last year’s war. The first has to do with frozen conflicts—and God knows that there are enough of them in our continent—but we assume that they will stay frozen for ever at our peril. We need to revisit the whole issue, and all frozen conflicts.

The second lesson is that we ignore the warning signs at our peril, irrespective of where they come from, and however overblown they might be. The third and perhaps most urgent lesson is that we would be fools to believe that a ceasefire marks the end of hostilities. We believe that at our peril. As I said at the outset, it is perfectly possible for the war to start again. We need only look at what is happening on the ground; low-scale violence on both sides is gradually moving to worse and more
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violence. That is how things started last time. If we do not do something to stop that, we are running a serious risk.

There is an issue that the European Union has to rethink. Rightly and courageously, we sent civilian unarmed monitors to the region. They have not been allowed on both sides of the border, and because gunmen on both sides are staring each other in the face, those unarmed monitors are at risk as the violence ratchets up. There are EU monitors in the area, as well as the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which is finding it difficult to get into South Ossetia. The United Nations is in Abkhazia. The time has come to bring all that together, and to say that we need armed peacekeepers on both sides of the border. We ought to discuss that with the United Nations in the first instance. That is not to criticise the EU unarmed monitors, but we are putting them at risk, and I do not think that they will solve the problem in the long term.

I said at the outset that the conflict is probably not the top priority for the summit, but it has to be on the agenda. It is an EU issue, even though neither of the countries concerned is a member of the European Union. We must always bear it in mind that last August, two European countries once again went to war. Both had given solemn undertakings that they would do no such thing. Both had said, “We want to build a country with democracy, human rights and the rule of law.” Both said, “We will settle disputes exclusively in a non-violent way,” and both countries have broken their word. I hate to say it, but if the European Union, the OSCE and the Council of Europe do nothing on the back of that, we become a laughing stock.

However, there is a risk of doing too much. If we do too much, and the result is that we throw people out of an organisation, or they choose to walk away from us, we can no longer talk to them. Democracy, human rights and the rule of law are values and concepts. We cannot force them on people. We can only encourage and help people to develop them, and we can only do that if we keep talking.

6.43 pm

Ms Patricia Hewitt (Leicester, West) (Lab): It is a pleasure to take part in this debate and to follow the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), who made a very interesting and well-informed speech. It was also a pleasure to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), who speaks with deep passion and knowledge about Turkey, Iraq, the Kurdish people and their culture. She gave us a rather pertinent reminder of what an unfree Parliament really looks like. However, rather than following those two Members in speaking about the European Union’s external relations, I want to revert to a point that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made when he opened the debate—the essential link between the steps that we and other countries are taking to support economic recovery, and the steps that are essential to supporting the greening of our economies.

Europe already has the most advanced carbon trading system in the world. I think that I am right in saying that some 60 per cent. or so of the world’s carbon trading takes place within the European emissions trading system. Many years ago, as Economic Secretary, I was
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responsible for the Treasury’s contribution to the green agenda. I worked with business leaders and leaders in the City of London on the beginnings of a carbon trading system, initially within the United Kingdom, and then more broadly across the European Union.

Despite all the enormous problems that have arisen in the global financial system, and the profound mistakes, made by many, that gave rise to those difficulties, it is worth reminding ourselves that, in the City of London, there are deep-seated skills in trading issues. Those skills will stand us in good stead as we develop, both in Europe and globally, the emissions trading system that we need as a central part of our programme to tackle climate change.

We have learned important lessons from phase 1 of the emissions trading scheme. I welcome the fact that the British Government have been at the forefront of ensuring that those lessons are learned for future phases of the European emission trading scheme. Those lessons include the need to have a single, Europe-wide cap on carbon emissions, rather than national caps, which undermined the contribution that our country made to the earlier stages of the European emissions trading system. We also learned that one goal is to auction as quickly as possible all the permits within the trading system, rather than to have substantial or universal free allocations. Of course, allocations of that kind provided such windfall profits in the first phase. There is also a need to bring aviation within the scope of the trading system as quickly as possible.

On all those points, the Government are doing exactly the right thing in supporting the European Commission and urging our fellow European Union member states not to backslide on the changes that need to be made to strengthen and reinforce emissions trading. There is one point on which I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe could comment. I believe that I am right in saying that the European Commission proposes that some—not all—of the revenues that will come from the auctioning of permits for emissions trading should be earmarked for investment in climate change measures, such as clean coal demonstration projects or energy efficiency projects. I also think that I am right in saying that the Government do not support the Commission in that proposal, and oppose the earmarking of part of the revenues from the auctioning of permits.

That reflects the long-standing orthodoxy of the Treasury, which has always been against the hypothecation of any tax revenues. I have said on other occasions, and argued when in government, that I think that the Treasury is wrong in its blanket opposition to hypothecation, and I urge the Government to look again at their position on that issue. It will be much easier to persuade other member states, and indeed the public more broadly, of the need to auction permits for emissions trading if the public can see that at least some of the revenue from that auction will go directly to measures that will support a more efficient, more sustainable economy.

Jo Swinson: I am listening with interest to what the right hon. Lady says about how we fund the mitigation activities that are needed if we are to tackle climate change. Given that the Stern report pointed out that 1 per cent. of gross domestic product ought to be spent on such activities, surely it makes sense to use some of
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the auction revenue to fund those necessary activities; otherwise, the money will have to come from somewhere else. Auction revenues may be one of the most painless places to get the money from.

Ms Hewitt: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that point, and for her support for my argument; I think that she is right. The action that the European Union is already taking, and will take, on climate change through a strengthened emissions trading scheme is vital in itself, as is the contribution that the largest single market in the world can make towards reducing pollution levels. It is also essential because it is by showing that kind of leadership that the European Union can exert great influence on the rest of the world. Such leadership was shown when the EU adopted before 1997 the target of cutting CO2 emissions by 15 per cent. below 1990 levels. It did so as a deliberate part of its strategy to influence the outcome of the Kyoto negotiations, and that is precisely what happened. The EU target of a 15 per cent. cut in greenhouse gas emissions affected the ultimate outcome of the Kyoto negotiations and their commitment to a 5 per cent. reduction across all Kyoto signatories.

The EU, looking ahead to next year’s Copenhagen convention on climate change, has set the target of a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 20 per cent. by 2020, with a further commitment to achieving a 30 per cent. reduction if there is an agreement at Copenhagen that, critically, involves the United States, China and other major emerging countries. Again, that 20 per cent. reduction—potentially 30 per cent.—has been adopted with the double aim of greening our own economies in Europe and of influencing the scale of global ambition at the Copenhagen summit. I urge the Government if, indeed, they need any urging at all, to stick to their support for that goal of a 20 per cent.—potentially 30 per cent.—reduction, and to urge other member states and Governments to stay with that commitment.

The critical difference at Copenhagen is the presence of the new United States Administration, and I strongly support the remarks of the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) on that issue. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, President-elect Obama has already made clear the huge scale of his determination to introduce as quickly as possible in the new year an economic recovery package for the United States that will also, as he has said, enable the US to come out of recession stronger, more competitive and, above all, more sustainable. I believe that he is absolutely right in the scale and direction of his ambition. If I have one criticism of the Government’s pre-Budget report it is that we have not yet done enough—and we are doing a lot—to use the fiscal stimulus that we have rightly put in place to support the economy during the downturn to make our homes, offices and, dare I say, the House energy efficient. We need to do so on an even bigger scale, and the time to do so is during the economic downturn, when unemployed people need retraining and when work to green our environment, buildings and economy is urgently needed.

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