Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman’s diatribe, and to his list of privatised utilities. May I suggest that

16 Apr 2013 : Column 315

he gets a new researcher? EDF stands for Électricité de France and it has been French for as long as it has existed. Please will he get a new researcher, to put him out of his misery as well as ours?

Mr Skinner: Yes, the hon. Gentleman has made his own case. Gatwick is owned by South Korea; Cadbury’s is owned by the United States; the M6 toll is owned by Australia’s Macquarie bank—on and on it goes. We could, then, talk about bringing the public utilities back into public ownership.

The whole concept of Thatcher was to divide and rule. She was also the one who said that “There is no such thing as society”—

Alec Shelbrooke: Keep going, keep going.

Mr Skinner: Yes, I know the hon. Gentleman likes it. That is why he is a thorn in the side of the leader of the Tory party now. I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman is falling out with him.

What I am saying is that it is important to remember that the people out there know where Thatcher stood. They have not forgotten it. I am talking about those communities where shipbuilding was destroyed in the early ’80s and where the steel industry at Corby and various other places was smashed when Thatcher brought in MacGregor, then brought him back, paying a £1.5 million transfer fee to Lazard’s bank for him to shut, it were said, about 20 or 30 pits. What happened in practice? We had 150 pits at the end of 1985 pit strike, and by the time Thatcher went, there were only 30 left. That is why people out there are angry, and why they demand of us—at least a few of us—to speak the truth on their behalf. That is why I am all in favour of Question Time because I have a list of questions I would like to ask the Prime Minister every single week.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for giving me the chance to talk about this issue. It is not about personalities; it is all about class. We must never forget that. We should remember where we come from. I remember my own family—with nine kids, who did not have two ha’pennies to rub together—and that is still embedded in my soul. That is why I speak as I do. I do not want to change; I never will. That will not get my hands on the Dispatch Box, but that is not a luxury that it has ever bothered me to get. It is important to remember that these words of mine do not come out of my mouth because of envy or greed, but because I believe that we have to look after those people who do not have two ha’pennies to rub together. That should be what motivates us every day of the week, including at Prime Minister’s Question Time. When the Labour party understands that as we do here today, it will be better for it. Thank you, Mr Speaker.

9.17 pm

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): It is a daunting prospect to follow two speeches that do great credit to this Chamber. I look forward to the next election when the voters in many lucky constituencies will have the chance of putting right the major defect in this House. We are elected here to represent how the country looks: at the moment there are more women here, but not enough of them; there are more ethnic minorities here, but not enough of them—and there is a terrible shortage of octogenarians. The people of Bolsover and Newport West will have a chance to correct that in future.

My point will be brief, but it is one of great importance. It is not just the pantomime of Prime Minister’s questions

16 Apr 2013 : Column 316

that will be absent tomorrow; also absent will be the valuable recent tradition of announcing the names of the fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am afraid that the Government have form on that. On two occasions, the announcement was changed from Prime Minister’s Question Time—the moment of the week of maximum attendance by Members and maximum attention by the press and public—once to a Monday and once to a Tuesday. It was only because of an outcry by Back Benchers that it was restored to its proper place.

There are other indications that the Government wish not to publish the names of the fallen, by which I mean the practice of reading out the names—it has been done—of the 179 fallen in Iraq and of the fallen in Afghanistan. It is now part of our orders in the House that that is not permitted. Why? Lance Corporal Jamie Webb died on 26 March, and was repatriated to this country on 4 April. Did anyone see any publicity about that? Did anyone realise that the event had taken place?

I went down to Brize Norton to inspect the facilities for the repatriation of our fallen soldiers. I was grateful to the Prime Minister for writing to me after last Wednesday’s debate in the House, because Brize Norton is in his constituency. Those facilities were very sensitively conceived, and one can think of hardly any improvement that could be made. There is provision for counselling, and rooms have been allocated for the coffins to be laid out with the appropriate religious regalia. Also—this is very touching—because many of the fallen were the fathers, or perhaps in some cases the mothers, of young children, a room has been fitted out with Peppa Pig toys for the children who turn up.

However, I believe that, sadly, an attempt has been made to hide the event at Brize Norton. A special entrance has been constructed so that the main entrance, and the attention that it might receive, can be avoided. When the procession went through the attractive town of Wootton Bassett, it was a touching sight. Passers-by would stop and bow their heads in respect and reverence. Now, however, rather than going through the main town, the procession skirts the local village and goes on to the main road, where no one can show respect.

I think it a great shame that there was no prime ministerial announcement of the death of Lance Corporal Webb. That meant that the country could not pay tribute to the 441st of our soldiers to die in Afghanistan. We hear today that we went into Helmand province in 2006 in order to reduce the growth of drug activity there. At that time only two soldiers had died in combat. Now 441 have died, and the growth of drug activity is at record level. I think it absolutely right for us to meet and to bring that part of Prime Minister’s Question Time back into being.

I congratulate my hon. Friends on their speeches. I agree with much of what they said. It would have been possible for the funeral to take place on a different day, and for Prime Minister’s Question Time to take place here. It is a great shame that although there was a minor announcement of that recent death, we have not paid that soldier the full respect that he so richly deserves.

9.22 pm

Mr Lansley: I am sure that the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) was present for Defence questions yesterday, and heard the Minister of State,

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Ministry of Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois), pay tribute to the recently fallen.

I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), for what she said earlier. It put me in mind of a caller to “Any Answers” on Radio 4 on Saturday, who said that, in his view, it was not a matter of whether one supported or opposed what Margaret Thatcher had done, but a matter of understanding what was proper, decent and respectful in relation to someone who had clearly been of immense importance to the country. Indeed, the hon. Member for Newport West said in the debate last Wednesday that history would judge her to have been a great Prime Minister.

The hon. Lady asked about the date of Prorogation. When she is able to tell me that we have completed all the business whose completion is required in the current Session, I shall be able to tell her the date of Prorogation, but I cannot do so until then.

No one would accuse the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) of having changed, but what did change was this country under Margaret Thatcher. Moreover, at each of the elections in 1979, 1983 and 1987 she was returned with an increased vote from the people of the country. That was another change.

The hon. Member for Bradford West (George Galloway) asked the House to search for a consensus. I am not sure that anyone has ever established a consensus with the hon. Gentleman. However, in the midst of a litany of false analogies and irrelevancies, he did say one relevant thing. He said “That is what we are here for: to be here.” I have to say to the hon. Gentleman and the House that since his election on 30 March last year, he has been here for just 13% of the votes.

George Galloway rose

Mr Lansley: No, I am responding to the debate.

Let me just say this: it seems to me that, to coin a phrase, the hon. Gentleman broke his own bat before coming to the crease.

George Galloway: I am grateful to the Leader of the House. He would not want to mislead the House or the public on that point. First, I was elected on 29 March, and the House of Commons has been on holiday 50% of the time since then. I am in the House of Commons every day; I just do not want to vote for Tweedledum or Tweedledee—

Mr Speaker: Order. May I ask the hon. Gentleman to resume his seat?

There are two issues here. First, it was not clear to me, but it has since been signalled to me, that the Leader of the House has concluded his speech; I thought he was giving way to the hon. Gentleman. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman should not accuse someone of misleading the House, which I thought I heard him suggest.

George Galloway: Mr Speaker, I said he “would not want to” mislead the House.

Mr Speaker: I am genuinely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that correction. There is no argument.

16 Apr 2013 : Column 318

The debate has been concluded by the Leader of the House. Those who wished to speak were called to do so. I do not think anybody would say I have been other than fair in facilitating a proper debate, and I listened respectfully to all the speeches, as I always do.

Question put.

The House divided:

Ayes 245, Noes 13.

Division No. 210]

[

9.26 pm

AYES

Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Sir Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, rh Gregory

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackman, Bob

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brake, rh Tom

Brazier, Mr Julian

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, Annette

Bruce, Fiona

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burt, Lorely

Byles, Dan

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Cash, Mr William

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Clappison, Mr James

Clark, rh Greg

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, Stephen

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Davey, rh Mr Edward

Davies, David T. C.

(Monmouth)

Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

Dinenage, Caroline

Dorries, Nadine

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Farron, Tim

Featherstone, Lynne

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fuller, Richard

Gale, Sir Roger

Garnier, Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, rh Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Gummer, Ben

Halfon, Robert

Hancock, Matthew

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Sir Nick

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Herbert, rh Nick

Hermon, Lady

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Huppert, Dr Julian

James, Margot

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Laing, Mrs Eleanor

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Leslie, Charlotte

Lewis, Brandon

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Long, Naomi

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Luff, Peter

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McCrea, Dr William

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Patrick

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, rh Maria

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Moore, rh Michael

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mulholland, Greg

Mundell, rh David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Brien, Mr Stephen

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Paice, rh Sir James

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, Mike

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pugh, John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reid, Mr Alan

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, rh Hugh

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simpson, David

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soubry, Anna

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stunell, rh Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Syms, Mr Robert

Thornton, Mike

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Simon

Young, rh Sir George

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mark Hunter

and

Mr John Randall

NOES

Bayley, Hugh

Corbyn, Jeremy

Cryer, John

Flynn, Paul

Galloway, George

Hood, Mr Jim

Howarth, rh Mr George

Lavery, Ian

McDonnell, John

McGovern, Jim

Mearns, Ian

Morris, Grahame M.

(Easington)

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Tellers for the Noes:

Kelvin Hopkins

and

Steve Rotheram

Question accordingly agreed to.

16 Apr 2013 : Column 319

16 Apr 2013 : Column 320

Ordered,

That, on Wednesday 17 April:

(1) the House shall meet at 2.30 pm and the moment of interruption shall be at 10.00 pm;

(2) notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 21 (Time for taking questions), no questions shall be taken other than questions which are in the Speaker’s opinion of an urgent character and relate either to matters of public importance or to the arrangement of business;

(3) the sitting in Westminster Hall shall begin at 2.30 pm and continue for up to four and a half hours; and

(4) in calculating the period of four and a half hours in paragraph (3) no account shall be taken of any period during which the sitting in Westminster Hall may be suspended owing to a division being called in the House or in a committee of the whole House.

Business without Debate

Section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993

Motion made,

That, for the purposes of its approval under section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993, the Government’s assessment as set out in the Budget Report shall be treated as if it were an instrument subject to the provisions of Standing Order No. 118 (Delegated Legislation Committees).—(Joseph Johnson.)

Hon. Members: Object.

16 Apr 2013 : Column 321

Sergei Magnitsky Case: Visa Restrictions

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Joseph Johnson.)

9.37 pm

Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): I am very glad to have the opportunity through an Adjournment debate to raise further the case of Sergei Magnitsky. I am grateful to hon. Members and my hon. Friends for joining me to support a case of continuing concern that involves not only the reputation of Russia but by necessity the response that we as a nation make to this scandal. I am very grateful that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe is here to listen and respond.

I should remind the House that Sergei Magnitsky was a Russian lawyer whose incarceration and death at the hands of the Russian authorities remains a standing reproach to that regime. He met his fate for raising the alarm about a $230 million fraud committed against the Russian state by its own officials. Mr Magnitsky would have been 41 on 8 April, not a dissimilar age to me. I am a fellow lawyer. I was able to practise without fear or favour. He was not.

Just over a year ago, the House debated the issue and took that opportunity to call for the Government to take action to target those individuals who are implicated in Mr Magnitsky’s death, and to take action in the form of visa and capital restrictions. A number of us called upon the Government to follow in the footsteps of, among others, the United States Senate by passing legislation to enact visa bans.

What has happened since then? In Russia things have gone from bad to worse. In March this year the Russian authorities closed the investigation into Mr Magnitsky’s death, having found that no crime had been committed, despite the findings of two independent domestic commissions. The Russian authorities also announced that they found no evidence of a link between Mr Magnitsky’s arrest and death in custody and his testimonies implicating Government officials in the theft of moneys from the Russian Treasury. Last month the Russian authorities finally launched a posthumous trial against Mr Magnitsky, the first in Russian history. That is not only an offence to natural justice but something truly out of the theatre of the absurd.

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): Will my hon. Friend confirm that anyone who puts the words “Russia”, “untouchables” and “Sergei” into a search engine will find the full documented history of what can be proven from Russian documents themselves?

Mr Buckland: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is absolutely right. Once again, Google manages to set in stone important words that lead inexorably to a wealth of evidence linking individuals to the unlawful killing of that lawyer.

I was saying that Mr Magnitsky’s trial is truly out of the theatre of the absurd. In fact, it is redolent of the ninth century, when a posthumous trial of a pope was held by his successor—Pope Formosus was already dead when he was tried for his crimes. We have moved on 1,100 years, but Russia seems to be going backwards.

Outside Russia the situation has also moved on. In December last year President Obama signed into law the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act,

16 Apr 2013 : Column 322

which removes United States travel and banking privileges from those identified as involved in the persecution and eventual death of Mr Magnitsky. It also penalises those involved in the fraud uncovered and other human rights abuses. I was pleased to learn that only last Friday the United States Treasury publicly listed the first 18 Russian Government officials to be banned from the United States under that law.

Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and for securing this important debate. Does he agree that although our relations with Russia are complex and delicate, we should never shy away from condemning human rights abuses and removing privileges from those associated with them?

Mr Buckland: I entirely agree. That sums up the thrust of the approach that I believe we should be taking in this case.

The European Parliament passed another resolution on the Magnitsky case in October last year, recommending that sanctions be enacted on the Russian officials concerned following the lack of progress in Russia and what we now know to be the effective closure of their investigation. In this House, the Foreign Affairs Committee has issued recommendations asking for the list of banned human rights violators to be made public, with specific reference to the Magnitsky case.

Nadine Dorries (Mid Bedfordshire) (Con): I wonder whether my hon. Friend is going to highlight that America has gone much further in both addressing the problem and doing something about it. Will he call for similar action to be taken in this House?

Mr Buckland: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Indeed, I have referred to the Act of both Houses of Congress, so it is clear that the United States has gone down the legislative route and is taking action. That is something I urge the UK Government to consider very seriously. There are two ways of doing that: either passing legislation or using existing powers to deny visas to those who are implicated. I will return to that point shortly.

I am also heartened that many legislators in the French, Swedish and German Parliaments have taken the opportunity over the past year, as we have done, to debate and condemn the scandal emerging from this disturbing case. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), offered some reassurance in the debate last year that the UK Government have expressed many times to the Russian Government their serious concerns about the situation, and I accept that the Government take human rights issues very seriously when considering our relations with Russia.

I also note that the Government said that they felt it best to wait to see how other countries such as the United States reacted and responded before we made any final decisions. Well, action has now been taken: other countries have moved on this. Not only that, but the situation has worsened dramatically, in the absurd, farcical way that I have outlined. We cannot stand on the sidelines any more. It is time that we took action, either in the form of legislation to enact our own visa

16 Apr 2013 : Column 323

restrictions against those involved in this grave injustice or through Executive action on a case-by-case basis to deny visa applications when made.

I have several questions for my right hon. Friend to which I know that he will do his best to respond. First, with regard to activities here in the United Kingdom of anyone implicated in this scandal, is an investigation under way, and what steps have been taken and what progress made?

Secondly, what is the status of the investigation into the sudden and unexplained death in Surrey some months ago of Alexander Perepilichnyy, a 44-year-old Russian business man who was linked as a witness to this scandal and who suddenly died in what can only be described as unexplained circumstances?

Thirdly, will the Government consider, on a case-by-case basis, the list of 280 persons that United States Congressman Jim McGovern has submitted to the US State Department detailing their role in this scandal, along with links to documents? Will the Government consider whether to issue those mentioned on that list with a ban forbidding their entry into the United Kingdom, in accordance with the policy that denies entry to known human rights abusers? Fourthly, will the Government support the European Parliament’s call to remove EU visa and banking privileges from the officials involved in the Magnitsky case?

I understand the diplomatic complexities that we face in poking a stick into a hornets’ nest, and I know how important our emerging trade relationship with Russia is. Russia has an important role to play, whether it is to do with the balance of our economy in Europe, with regional security, or with wider global security. None the less, it is simply not tenable for us to turn a blind eye to this situation. I accept that approaching it in a heavy-handed manner would perhaps be inappropriate, but we should make it crystal clear that we are not seeking to intervene in the judicial processes of another country but maintaining our right, as a free country, to criticise constructively and to operate our borders in a way that we see fit.

We should carefully enact visa restrictions so as to penalise those who are clearly linked to this and, indeed, other human rights violations in Russia. I believe that this would have a measurable impact on the lifestyles of many members of the Russian elite who come to London because it is an attractive city in which to stay and in which to shop. I ask this simple question: why should these people be allowed to shop when this injustice remains unaddressed?

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman is to be warmly congratulated on the subject of this debate. Does he not think, though, that his party would be better working in groups such as the Christian Democrats, its natural home, rather than being allied with groups that often contain many members of Putin’s party and other right-wing parties? Would that not be a way forward for his party so that it could attack these injustices with greater independence and vigour?

Mr Buckland: The Conservative party is not a sister party of United Russia. I accept that some work is done in the Council of Europe, but it would be unfair to say that we are in any form of grouping with that party. Many Conservative Members would regard such an

16 Apr 2013 : Column 324

association as inappropriate and undesirable, and that gives us, as Conservatives and as freedom-lovers, the leeway and the freedom to make the points that my hon. Friends and I seek to make.

Sir Peter Bottomley: Put simply, this is an issue not of party blocs, but of right and wrong. As the leader of the delegation of British MPs to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, I was pleased that we raised the issue of Sergei Magnitsky at a meeting. The leader of the Russian delegation, Mr Nikolay Kovalyov, who is a member of the Duma and a former director of the FSB who was succeeded by Vladimir Putin, listened with interest and respect to what we said. We did not get what we wanted from the Russian delegation, but I think they understand that Russia will be judged in part by how it turns from looking at Sergei Magnitsky—the person who tried to defend Russia—to looking at the persons who have stolen money from the Russian people themselves.

Mr Buckland: I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend. Like him, I have had the opportunity to address some of these issues directly with Russian politicians who have visited this place and sought a dialogue. It is important that none of us shies away from using every opportunity to raise difficult issues and to challenge in a proper way.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP) rose

Mr Buckland: I will give way one last time.

Jim Shannon: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way; I asked him beforehand if he would agree to it. Has he considered whether the Government and the Minister could address the issue of the assets of those involved who may be in the United Kingdom? That might be a way of making them accountable for their past misdemeanours.

Mr Buckland: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and think that that option should be considered. This issue does not stop at visas; capital restrictions would be a real way of hitting these people where it hurts. To return to my earlier point, it is a matter of reproach that such people are allowed to be economically active in our country while a glaring injustice remains unaddressed.

A huge fraud was committed against the people of Russia by their own officials. I am sure that if they wished to unravel this financial conspiracy they would have our full-throated support and co-operation, but in the absence of such an acknowledgement and action it is only right that Britain sends a clear message to those implicated in this scandal that we are on the side of justice and that those who do not share those values do the eternal name of Russia no service and are not welcome here.


9.52 pm

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): I first congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) on securing a debate on this important subject. The fact that Members from a range of political parties are present—some of whom have contributed by way of intervention—is a very clear message, not just to people who follow these affairs in the United Kingdom, but, I hope, to those in Russia

16 Apr 2013 : Column 325

who pay attention to our proceedings and those who do so on behalf of the Russian Government, that the case of Sergei Magnitsky has not been and will not be forgotten and that the fact that the causes of his death are not being properly investigated and no one is being held to account for his treatment while in prison in Russia cannot but do serious and growing damage to Russia’s reputation, not just in the United Kingdom, but in many other countries in Europe and around the world.

I want to begin by expressing my sympathy on behalf of the Government to the family and friends of Sergei Magnitsky. The tragic circumstances of his death have been outlined eloquently by my hon. Friend today and by many hon. Members in previous parliamentary debates on this subject. Every element of this case is of concern to the Government. The circumstances of Mr Magnitsky’s arrest, detention and eventual death, and the subsequent handling of the case by the Russian authorities are deeply troubling. I fully appreciate the strength of feeling about this case from many Members of the House.

As I have made clear in the past, the Government agree entirely with the sentiment that lay behind the resolution of this House of 7 March 2012, namely that we should defend human rights, condemn those who abuse such rights and tackle a culture of impunity for abusers, wherever the abuse takes place and whoever is responsible. In particular, the clear wish of the House in the resolution was to secure justice for Mr Magnitsky.

During the debate last year, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), made it clear that the Government would continue to handle the case within the long-established practices of this Government and previous Governments. He undertook to re-examine the situation after the passage of the American Act to ascertain whether there were lessons that we might draw for our own policy.

In recent weeks, the Russian authorities have formally closed the investigation into Mr Magnitsky’s death without any results. That happened despite the fact that it was not some outside body—not some non-governmental organisation or foreign Government—that concluded in 2011 that Mr Magnitsky’s death was probably the result of having been severely beaten and denied medical treatment, but the Russian presidential committee on human rights. It is therefore all the more dismaying that the Russian authorities should have closed the investigation into Mr Magnitsky’s death without results.

Sir Peter Bottomley: Would it be possible and diplomatically appropriate for this debate to be passed, with respect, to His Excellency the Russian ambassador in London, with an invitation to have a meeting, on or off the record, with Members of Parliament who are interested in hearing what he has to say, at which he could also, if he would be prepared to, hear what we have to say?

Mr Lidington: From my knowledge of the Russian ambassador in London, I am sure that he will be paying close attention to what is being said in the House this evening and that no prompting will be necessary. I am

16 Apr 2013 : Column 326

sure that he and his team in the embassy will take the words of my hon. Friend as an invitation for such a conversation to take place.

Perhaps even more worrying than their closing of the investigation is that the Russian authorities have launched a posthumous prosecution of Mr Magnitsky on charges of fraud. I confess that there is something macabre about such a spectacle. My understanding is that such a procedure is within the ambit of the Russian constitution and Russian law, but that it has been used on only exceptional occasions in the past. Trying a dead man and a man seen by many internationally as a whistleblower, to put it mildly, undermines efforts to tackle the perception of widespread corruption within Russia.

I am afraid that we have to conclude from what has happened in recent weeks in Russia that there is no evidence that the passage of the Act in the United States has brought or is likely to bring closer the outcome that all of us wish to see, which is justice for Mr Magnitsky’s family and a thorough, above-board investigation into his death. Altering our own fair and long-established practice of entry requirements for foreign nationals seeking to come to the UK would be unlikely to contribute to achieving justice for Mr Magnitsky either.

The duty of confidentiality means that the details of individual cases are not routinely discussed. As the House knows, the United Kingdom does not prejudge evidence against individuals speculatively.

When visa applications are made, they are considered on their individual merits, taking into account all circumstances and information available to us at that time. As the Home Secretary, the Foreign Secretary and I have regularly made clear in this House and outside, where credible evidence exists, immigration rules empower us to deny entry to those who abuse human rights. It is a declared policy of the present Government that people against whom there is credible evidence of complicity in the abuse of human rights, should not normally expect to be granted admission to the United Kingdom.

We continue to raise the Magnitsky case with the Russian Government, making it clear that in our view a lack of progress in the case is at odds with the efforts they are making to demonstrate the independence of their judiciary, and to portray Russia as an attractive place for foreign investors. Most recently, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised the Magnitsky case with Foreign Minister Lavrov during talks in London last month, and I did the same when I met Deputy Foreign Minister Titov in Moscow in February. Recent developments in the Magnitsky case will also be discussed, as a matter of serious concern, by senior officials at the next bilateral human rights dialogue between the United Kingdom and Russia. I remind the House that the United Kingdom is unique among all EU member states in holding annual bilateral meetings to allow formal discussions about human rights. That gives us the opportunity to hold Russia to account on the human rights obligations into which it has entered through its participation in various United Nations conventions, and in the European convention on human rights.

Let me try to respond to the specific questions posed by my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon. He asked about allegations that members of the so-called “untouchables” have been complicit in criminal offences committed in the United Kingdom. In relation to that, however, and to a couple of his other questions, he will

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understand that we have independent investigating and prosecuting agencies in this country, and it is not for Ministers to judge the credibility or strength of particular pieces of evidence. On the first question, we have a Serious Organised Crime Agency whose job it is to prevent, detect and contribute to the reduction of serious and organised crime, to gather, store and analyse information about such crime, and to deliver the statutory requirement set out in legislation and international treaties.

For reasons the House will understand, SOCA’s policy is to neither confirm nor deny any details of its activity, files it may have received, or specific requests concerning named subjects. However, that agency is always on the look out for and ready to investigate credible allegations of crimes of a serious international character that may have been committed.

My hon. Friend also asked about the death in Surrey of Mr Perepilichnyy. At present his death is still being investigated by the Surrey police, which they are treating as unexplained, and I therefore do not think I can comment or speculate on a live police investigation. Our understanding is that Surrey police believe they have access to all the assistance they currently require to carry out their investigation into the cause of death. My hon. Friend asked whether the Government would take into consideration the list of 280 people allegedly involved in the Magnitsky case that Congressman Jim McGovern submitted to the state department. As apparent from my earlier remarks, the Home Office would not consider documents provided speculatively in the absence of an actual visa application from an individual. Having said that, when a visa application is made, it is considered on its merits, and all circumstances and information available to us at that time are taken into account. When credible evidence exists that a person has been involved in human rights abuses, they should not expect to be allowed entry to the UK.

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My hon. Friend asked about EU visa and banking privileges. We would be willing to looking at any proposals at EU level and to discuss them with our EU partners. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) raised the question of asset freezes. For the reasons I gave earlier, we do not believe that introducing asset freezes along the lines that the United States has introduced them would contribute to the objective we seek. Asset freezes would also need to meet legal tests. When assets are frozen by the UK or another democracy, they can find that such decisions are challenged in the courts. There are ongoing cases in which even UN and EU asset freezes against individuals are being challenged through the courts. There would have to be credible evidence that could, if necessary, be tested in a court to justify asset freezes in any individual case.

The promotion and protection of human rights continues to be a key priority in our bilateral relationship with Russia. In recent months, we have seen a worsening of the human rights situation in that country, whether in relation to the Magnitsky case, the restrictive legislative changes on freedom of assembly, the moves against the opposition, the inspections of non-governmental organisations, or the draft legislation to curtail freedom of assembly for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Those concerns are set out in the Foreign Office’s “Human Rights and Democracy” report, which the Foreign Secretary launched yesterday.

We will continue to press Russia to take the initiative to ensure that the Magnitsky case and other cases are brought to thorough and transparent conclusions. That would send a positive signal on the protection of human rights and democracy in Russia.

Question put and agreed to.

10.7 pm

House adjourned.