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Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, that the draft orders laid before the House on 5th and 12th December be approved [2nd and 3rd Reports from the Joint Committee].--(Viscount Ullswater.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Council of Europe: Russian Federation Admission

12 noon

Lord Finsberg rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their policy in respect of the admission of the Russian Federation to the Council of Europe.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am glad to have the opportunity of discussing in the House a dilemma. Europe will be incomplete without the membership of Russia and I certainly support the principle of Russian membership. The Council of Europe has two entities--the ministerial side and the parliamentary side, in respect of which I have had the honour of leading the United Kingdom delegation for some seven years.

The Council of Europe has guest membership. Very briefly, that is within the gift of the Parliamentary Assembly. It gives us the opportunity of bringing in countries which are starting on the road to democracy. We are able, as it were, to give them the seal of good housekeeping. For example, Poland, Hungary and others have progressed from guest membership to full membership by fulfilling various human rights and standards and having free multi-party parliamentary elections, etc. Russia has guest membership and has asked to become a full member. As is normal, Ministers have asked for the view of the Parliamentary Assembly and unless it assents, it is not possible for Russia to become a full member.

We have to examine the human rights legislation and practice as well as the rule of law. In October 1994 the Council of Europe sent four senior distinguished lawyers, including the vice-president of the European Court of Human Rights and one of the chamber

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presidents of the European Commission of Human Rights. I shall read to your Lordships three brief conclusions. The first is:

    "The experts have come to the conclusion that so far the rule of law is not established in the Russian Federation".

The second conclusion states:

    "With regard to the right to property and the freedom of movement, including the right to choose the place of one's residence, large cities, in particular Moscow, seem simply to ignore the Constitution".

The third conclusion says:

    "In sum, the experts have, after careful consideration of the evidence submitted to them and the findings during their mission, come to the conclusion that the legal order of the Russian Federation does not, at the present moment, meet the Council of Europe standards as enshrined in the statute of the Council and developed by the organs of the European Convention on Human rights".

It is important that we recognise what has been said. I should add that those are not the views merely of the Council of Europe because the United Nations Commission on Human Rights has just published a new report. There is one quotation which I would like to give to your Lordships:

    "In the St. Petersburg remand centre ... the Special Rapporteur found no problems falling within his mandate. ... On the other hand, despite the fact that some of the overflow from [an] isolator [prison] in St. Petersburg had been placed in Lebedeva, Kresty remained with an inmate population double its capacity. This meant that cells designed in czarist times for one prisoner and now considered as appropriate to accommodate six prisoners, in fact usually accommodate 12 prisoners who have to sleep in two shifts. The atmosphere and conditions ... are oppressive and degrading ... However, the conditions of detention in Moscow's ... remand centres ... [are] even more disgusting. They are believed not to be unique in the territory of the Russian Federation.

    The Special Rapporteur would need the poetic skills of a Dante or the artistic skills of a Bosch adequately to describe the infernal conditions he found in these cells. The senses of smell, touch, taste and sight are repulsively assailed. The conditions are cruel, inhuman and degrading; they are torturous. To the extent that suspects are confined there to facilitate the investigation by breaking their wills with a view to eliciting confessions and information, they can properly be described as being subjected to torture".

I am trying to get across that I have no doubt that many of the laws passed by the Russian Parliament are in place, are well-intentioned, but are being wholly ignored throughout the Russian Federation.

It is again fair to say that no one doubts the Russian will to conform. According to Russian officials, the problem is lack of resources, financial human and material. But the passing of laws without implementation is absolutely unacceptable. Thousands of prisoners who have not been tried and who are on remand, but treated as prisoners, may have been in centres for up to two years. One of the problems is that the defence lawyers are not being paid: the state has no money to pay them.

Those are the brief facts and here is the dilemma. There is pressure from governments in Europe for early, speedy Russian membership of the Council of Europe. The standards of the Council of Europe, as your Lordships will know, have gradually evolved over a period of 45 years. It was quite recently at the summit of the heads of state and governments in Vienna, when Her Majesty's Government were represented by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, that warm

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tribute was paid to what had been done and it was pledged that those standards would be not merely maintained but would even be increased.

It is clear from what I have said that no rational human being can say that Russia is ready yet to become a full member of the Council of Europe. On the one hand--and this is our problem--do we refuse to admit Russia to the Council of Europe until she has reached standards that are acceptable in these modern days and acceptable to the Council of Europe? If we say, "You must wait until you have reached the appropriate standards" there are some in Russia who would use an expletive and who would want to distance themselves from the Council of Europe and from Europe in general. I do not merely refer to Mr. Zhirinovsky.

Perhaps I may very briefly tell your Lordships of an encounter which I had with Mr. Zhirinovsky when he paid his one visit to Strasbourg. We had a very pleasant conversation which is so often possible on a one-to-one basis. An interpreter was present. But the moment there was an audience he started ranting. The following night he went to a reception and his blue cap was stolen. He said that he would never return to Strasbourg because "It is a den of thieves". That was my one encounter with Mr. Zhirinovsky.

On the other hand, do we refuse, as I have said, to admit them or do we admit them knowing that their standards are unacceptable, but set a timetable for improvement and monitoring of what they are doing to fulfil their commitments? That is something which we have done for Romania and Bulgaria. There are very strict monitoring ideas, but they do not always produce the results that we would want.

If we adopt the latter idea of admitting Russia, monitoring it and helping it--and we have done an enormous amount so far--to achieve the standards, can we be certain that those standards will be set throughout the federation or will there be, as we have seen, big cities which opt out? If Russia does not conform and does not keep to the timetable, will any government or the Parliamentary Assembly have the courage to suspend or expel Russia from membership?

That is the appalling dilemma that those in your Lordships' House and in the other place have, as the United Kingdom delegation, to consider in the not too distant future. I hope that I shall have a helpful comment from the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, when she responds. Of course, the situation is the responsibility of the Parliamentary Assembly. But because it is such a major matter, their views as to which course of action is preferable are important. Whether those views are accepted by the Parliamentary Assembly is a different matter, because aside from what I have said, the entry of the Russian Federation into the Council of Europe will distort the whole concept, balance and structure of the Council of Europe. It will require substantial influx of additional finance. Again I ask my noble friend to say that, unlike previous occasions, when new members have been admitted at the request of governments, the increased costs will be covered by increased budgetary resources. That has not been done by governments of all parties throughout Europe. It is important in the concept of Russian membership because they need much more

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help, which we are willing to give them, in the training of parliamentary democracy, local government democracy and the rule of law.

I hope that I have not taken too much of your Lordships' time in seeking to explain one of the most intractable problems that I have ever had to discuss.

12.12 p.m.

Lord Kirkhill: My Lords, the House should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Finsberg, for placing the Question before your Lordships this afternoon. At the outset, I substantially agree with the outline of his remarks. I might not fully accept the ultimate pessimism contained in his latter few comments, but I suppose that that is more a question of emphasis than of fact.

I believe that the Question which the noble Lord has posed can be divided into two questions. The first is a political one. The noble Lord has elaborated very fairly on the political realities which face the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe at this time. It might be worthwhile recalling that President Gorbachev, as he then was, visited the Council of Europe about four years ago. There he delivered his speech which has since become quite famous and has been referred to frequently as the Common European Home Theme speech. He chose to deliver that speech to the Council of Europe and not to the European Parliament--he had also received an invitation from that body at about the same time. So it is quite clear that even several years ago the Russian thinking was that their first step into Europe --into some European confederation or grouping--would be within the Council of Europe.

As the noble Lord, Lord Finsberg, pointed out fairly, it is reasonable to say that upon entry--if that occurs--it will be the first major world power within the Council of Europe. That, of course, will distort the present balance of influence within the Council of Europe. That is a challenge which the Parliamentary Assembly, and indeed the Committee of Ministers, must ultimately face if Russian membership becomes a reality.

The other political point to which I shall refer is that if Russia does not in the end accede to the Council of Europe, it poses these questions: Where does Russia go? What link will she seek to develop? She is, after all, both a European and an Asian federation. I think that one can argue that she might begin to look for more Asian type links. Then the question has to be posed: Is that relevant to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and relevant to each constituent government member of that Committee of Ministers? Those are the geopolitical difficulties and, as I said, the noble Lord has fairly set them before your Lordships' House.

The next question which possible accession by Russia poses is the legal situation. I am currently chairman of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. It falls to my committee, in conjunction with the Political Affairs Committee and with the committee on relations with European non-member countries, to make the initial assessment of the possibility of Russian entry. Again, as the noble Lord pointed out, those three committees commissioned a panel of legal experts to

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visit, for a fairly prolonged period, the Russian Federation. It was led by Professor Bernhardt, and included in the panel were Professors Trechsel and Ermacora and Mr. Albert Weitzel. The remit placed before that group of eminent jurists was to report on the conformity of the legal order of the Russian Federation with Council of Europe standards. That was what it was asked to do.

The noble Lord pointed out the ultimate conclusion of its comprehensive findings. However, Mr. Trechsel makes one point in his report--gathered together in the final report, I may add--which I believe is worth reading out to your Lordships. The report states:

    "A central question we have to address relates to the rule of law. This aspect is discussed in several sections of this report, especially in Mr. Trechsel's findings for the field of the administration of justice. While the Constitution"--

that is, the Russian constitution--

    "guarantees a comprehensive set of fundamental rights and establishes that international conventions are part of the Russian legal order and prevail over ordinary laws, this seems to be more theory than practice. In many important fields--civil law and civil procedural law, criminal law and criminal procedural law in particular--the essential legal codifications have not yet been reformed as planned and the work might still take a considerable amount of time. The traditional authoritarian thinking still seems to be dominant in the field of public administration. This might be due to the fact that certain personal components are still the same as in the former USSR. The courts can now be considered structurally independent from the executive, but the concept that it should in the first place be for the judiciary to protect the individuals has not yet become a reality in Russia".

It is against that background contained in the conclusions of the eminent jurists' report to the committees of the Parliamentary Assembly concerned that I have to refer to a number of pertinent issues. The committee of experts states that the rights of national minorities, freedom of religious assembly and of ordinary style assembly, freedom of speech and freedom of the press, seem largely to be sustained in the Russian Federation at this time. They are not, therefore, ultimately critical of those basic freedoms and we must emphasise that point.

The administration of justice, the deplorable conditions within the prison system and the fact that, while in theory the rule of law has been altered by the constitution, in practice it is rather going on as it did before lead to a number of clear difficulties, to which I have just referred. Nevertheless, some representatives of the Russian authorities hold that the report of the eminent lawyers disregards the dynamics of the evolving situation in Russia. For example, the visit of the lawyers took place more than six months ago. Of course, some things have changed since then. The Russian view is that it is not the task of the lawyers to judge in what timeframe the most important legal and human rights issues can be brought into conformity with the standards of the Council of Europe.

For those reasons, the legal committee has decided to ask this of the Bureau of the Assembly--and I explain it to give noble Lords a little of the background. The Russian process of accession is developing its own momentum in procedural terms. We, or the legal committee, asked the Bureau of the Assembly to

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mandate the lawyers--the committee of experts to whom we referred--to return to Russia as soon as possible. My committee wishes to see the position for itself, so we shall visit Russia at the beginning of April.

After we have received the new report from the eminent lawyers, and after we have received and analysed the final answers to a questionnaire which our rapporteurs have developed and sent to the Russian authorities, and after we ourselves have surveyed the situation on the ground, in so far as we can, we will then decide as to what recommendation we might make to the rest of our parliamentary colleagues. But in any case--and this is very important and worth emphasising--Russia will have to commit itself in writing to making all the necessary improvements which we desire, which we ask of them and which the Assembly will demand. The legal committee, together with the political affairs committee, will continue to monitor the honouring of the commitments after the Russian accession. Each commitment has to be seen to be honoured. As a sign of goodwill, Russia must be seen to be making significant improvements--and I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Finsberg, emphasised this point earlier--particularly with regard to the appalling conditions within the prison system. They are so abhorrent as to be almost beyond reasonable description.

In my view, therefore, the development of the process of Russia's accession to the Council of Europe is now largely dependent on the attitude and actions of the Russian authorities themselves. If they ameliorate the legal and human rights situation and show some good will in co-operation with the Council of Europe, they will undoubtedly accede sooner rather than later. At any rate, in my view that is the likely outcome of the deliberations of the members of the Parliamentary Assembly when the issue comes before them for their ultimate consideration.

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