Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

As has been said, my noble friend Lady Hamwee, who is working on another Bill today and cannot be here, raised this issue at the Report stage of the Housing and Regeneration Bill. At the time, the Government said that they would prefer to bring in the change through an order, giving time for consultation. Obviously, one cannot object to consultation but, like the noble Lord, Lord Bates, I think that it would be

12 May 2009 : Column GC357

interesting to hear a little more about what people said in the consultation. Clearly, there is consensus that this is a good idea.

Over the years, ideas about tenancies and who runs public housing have led us to the situation that we find in the order. I do not know, but I would not mind betting that at some time, someone, even before my noble friend, pointed out the difficulties that stock transfer could lead to in relation to what we now call tolerated trespassers. As a member of the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee, I have become aware that a great deal of extra bureaucracy is created—especially through unintended consequences—because not enough care is taken in primary legislation. I took the trouble to look back at the notes of the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee when the order came through. They stated:

“The problems caused by the legal consequences—or in some cases by uncertainty as to the consequences—where ex-tenants continue to live in their homes, have been an unintended result of the protection of tenants under the 1985 and 1988 Acts”.

It is important that, when primary legislation is being drawn up, there is extra vigilance to try where possible to avoid unintended consequences, because that is why we are here today.

As I said, the order remedies problems for both tenants and landlords. It is almost universally welcomed. Let us hope that there will be no more unintended consequences. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about the consultation and to reading the guidance, some of which may also come through the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee.

Baroness Andrews: I am grateful for the welcome for the order. I will answer such questions as I can and, on those that I cannot, I will write to the noble Lord. He asked, first, whether tolerated trespassers can vote. No, not in a stock transfer ballot; no, not while they are tolerated trespassers. If the order grants them tenancy status, should there be another stock transfer they will certainly be able to vote. He also asked how they know that they are tolerated trespassers. That is part of the problem. Many do not know until an incident such as I described occurs, which makes it clear that they have no rights. They have drifted into a state of limbo with no one informing them. They have gone on paying their rent and have been able to stay in their home and the agreement has been concluded with the landlord without them understanding or being told that there has been a change of status. That is an unfortunate situation.

The numbers that were true up to 2007 are probably still broadly accurate. The range of tolerated trespassers as a whole, including the band of trespassers who come into our framework because the landlord has changed, is in the region of 250,000 or 300,000. We have no reason on the evidence to think that that has increased very much; I think that that is certainly true of the smaller group within that number.

On the language, I agree with noble Lords that “tolerated trespasser” is an unfortunate and aggressive term. It has been coined by the courts and has a negative connotation. The noble Baroness is right to point out the oxymoronic quality. I can say only that it is a commonly understood term, although the way in

12 May 2009 : Column GC358

which I have described it does not make it sound as if it is. But it is common currency. However, when we make this change, I hope that we will not come across it again with any frequency.

Consultation was a very important part of the exercise. The response rate to the consultation was very low—in double figures—but within it we captured all the people who were representative of the key bodies and stakeholders. Because the RSLs and the local authorities are the key organisations that are affected, we were able to consult them fully and to get a proper response from organisations such as Shelter that speak on behalf of tenants. The consultation exercise was robust and we got a good spread. It is probably worth quoting Shelter, which said:

“The effective abolition of the tolerated trespasser achieved by Schedule 11, together with the creation of new tenancies for existing tolerated trespassers, will ensure that the law is no longer tainted by the irrational consequences of this doctrine”.

Certainly, Shelter is extremely content with what the order achieves.

I find myself a bit surprised that I have answered most of the questions raised by noble Lords. If I find that I have not answered any when I read Hansard tomorrow, I will do so in writing.

Motion agreed.

EU: Russia (EUC Report)

Copy of the Report

Considered in Grand Committee

5.17 pm

Moved By Lord Teverson

Lord Teverson: First, I should make it clear that this report was very much put together under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Roper last year. Certainly, his strong work moved on from the original Russia report of May 2008, which came up with similar conclusions. There are no contradictions, but clearly events in Russia moved on quickly. The Russia-EU relationship and the issues discussed in this report are ever current. During the past week, we have had the NATO manoeuvres, a suspected mutiny of the tank corps in Georgia and strong language yet again between Georgia and Russia, with NATO interventions as well. We have had recent conferences about energy and pipelines and, of course, we have all the implications on Russia’s economy of the worldwide credit crunch and financial crisis. This report is very much as alive and active today as when it was written. No doubt we could write another one, although we will resist the temptation, in a few months’ time.

The report concentrates on the war—indeed, that is what it was—between Georgia and Russia. The committee was clear that responsibility for the war was shared by all the parties. Indeed, we said that,

12 May 2009 : Column GC359

However, we felt strongly that the force used by Russia and its forces was entirely disproportionate, although we completely agreed that there were a number of provocative statements and other actions by Georgia’s President Saakashvili. I was interested that the Government’s response to the report also described Georgia’s actions as “reckless” in this regard. The committee would very much agree with that.

Where we differed from the Government was that we felt that there were mixed signals to Georgia from the United States Administration, who had perhaps given the Georgian Administration overconfidence in trying to reclaim parts of South Ossetia. We believed that those signals were reckless and that the unfortunate consequences of the war that followed were very much shared by both sides. However, we cannot get away from the fact that the Russian response to whatever the Georgian provocations were was entirely disproportionate. We must keep that in mind as we consider the rest of the areas that this report covers.

The committee felt that the ceasefire was an issue on which the European Union had been particularly successful. Perhaps that was due to a strong presidency at the time. The actions of President Sarkozy were immediate. He was able to talk directly to President Medvedev of the Russian Federation and, through that, there was a ceasefire relatively quickly, there was a withdrawal at the time, even though it was not perfect, and there were talks in Geneva. We say in the report that that illustrated that this was an area in which the European Union, perhaps alone in this conflict, was able to intervene successfully and prevent this major conflict from becoming worse.

However, post-ceasefire, we have a number of concerns, particularly over non-compliance by the Russian Federation and the limited access given to the EU monitoring mission to Georgia. We would be interested to hear from the Minister an update on the monitoring force and, most of all, on the fact that Russia has continued to occupy South Ossetia and Abkhazia with not just observation forces but other forces and has recognised them as independent sovereign states. We see that as regrettable and something that needs to be solved; the position needs to move back. Some of us in the committee commented that it is even more important now for the European Union to explain and maintain its position on Kosovo and to say why that recognition is not in conflict with our position on South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

On the Russian Federation more broadly in this conflict, one area of special concern to the committee was that of passports being issued outside the federation to new Russian citizens. We felt—and some of our evidence showed—that this practice was quite substantial. It may not be a problem in its own right and it is clearly within the sovereign right of a nation state, but we felt that, when tied in with the Medvedev doctrine of protecting the life and dignity of Russian citizens wherever they are, it produces a particularly dangerous combination for the future and is a signal that Russia would consider intervening in other nation states where it felt that such protection was necessary. We felt that that was a new and dangerous step to take, particularly in relation to the Caucasus and Russia’s near abroad.

12 May 2009 : Column GC360

On the economy, issues have arisen because of the fall in the price of oil, but again the committee felt strongly that the European Union should continue to encourage full integration of the Russian economy into a global setting and support its moves with regard to the World Trade Organisation.

We have also to consider the energy question. The committee looked at the second crisis that came along this winter in the Ukraine. We felt that the EU, frankly, did not apply the lessons learnt from the problems that arose in 2006. Indeed, the report describes this quite distinctly as a policy failure. Certainly the Russian Federation, when it turned off energy supplies to the Ukraine, seemed to have no regard to the response of the European Union and the effect on eastern and southern Europe in particular. There was no European influence at all; the presidency has not been effective in this area. The committee calls for a unified European energy strategy as a matter of key importance in our energy relations with Russia. We believe that the Nabucco pipeline and other ways of bypassing Russian influence over energy supplies to eastern Europe are important considerations. I know that there have been conferences on this recently and I would be interested to hear from the Minister where the Government feel that Europe is going in this area.

The crisis was started because Russia was very sensitive about the agreement that Georgia and Ukraine could apply to join NATO. In considering this, the committee felt that maybe this was not the most important thing to pursue in the short term. In military areas, the emphasis should be on practical co-operation between NATO and those two states. We felt that the NATO decision added to bad feeling between Georgia and Russia and was not helpful towards resolving problems in the short term. However, the committee welcomed the Eastern Partnership, launched by the Czech presidency. It is a good policy tool with which to work with Georgia, Ukraine and the other eastern states, because European Union membership is something that should be actively pursued over time.

Overall, as the Obama Administration might have said, the committee has not pushed the reset button. In fact, the relationship between the EU and Russia needs to remain hard-headed, pragmatic and unsentimental. We should continue to strive for a partnership and co-operation agreement, but it needs to be made on a different basis according to a new agenda and should include issues such as counter-proliferation and climate change. There is also a great need to try to unfreeze those frozen conflicts that are bound to unfreeze themselves in a hostile way if they are not solved diplomatically. Obviously, Moldova is part of that.

Russia is clearly an important neighbour and one of the major European powers. It does not always play by the rules that the European Union would like it to play by—indeed, Europe has been pressed and divided more by Russia’s actions than by actions in other parts of the world—and it very much challenges European unity. Our conclusion is that there needs to be a pragmatic relationship and that Europe needs to be much more unified and hard-headed.

12 May 2009 : Column GC361

5.30 pm

Lord Anderson of Swansea: I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on providing such a good platform for this debate in his introduction. I congratulate him particularly because he inherited the report from his predecessor.

My starting point is the first editorial in yesterday’s Financial Times, which was headed: “Talk to Russia, Remember Georgia”. That neatly summarises the appropriate response to Russia in the current warmer climate, although there are clearly cooler patches, as the noble Lord indicated.

From the heady confrontation of last August during the invasion of Georgia, we are moving towards a more mature relationship with greater recognition of the convergence of interests between the European Union and Russia, but we cannot, as the Financial Times editorial has said, ignore the old concerns.

In its first report, the committee’s analysis of relations between the European Union and Russia is generally broadly correct. Both reports were based on evidence from a variety of sources, and, I like to think, provide a useful compendium for those outside Parliament to gain an indication of the subject—something which I thought particularly important when I had the honour of chairing the Foreign Affairs Committee in the other place. Its conclusions are linked to our committee’s report on the European Union security strategy, which we published at the end of last year. Gone are the naive assumptions about Russia in the 1990s, for example that Russia was just like us. We clearly need a deep understanding of Russia’s history and geography. One wag said that history is geography spread over time.

There have been quite significant changes since our first report in May last year. That report was correct at the time, but as has been said in another place, an amendment has been moved since then. One amendment is the world recession, which has had an effect on Russia. In the 1930s, after the Wall Street crash, Soviet Russia was largely insulated from the recession at that time. The new globalisation affects Russia too; the fall in oil prices has had a marked effect on Russia’s budget assumptions. Perhaps one can also detect in Russia’s foreign policy a certain reduced arrogance, as was noted in the speech last week of Mr Rogozin, Russia’s ambassador to NATO, and the greater willingness on the part of the Russian Federation to explore areas of co-operation with the West.

The second major change was the election of President Obama. Perhaps we were all expecting far too much in this case. I was in Egypt yesterday, and there were enormous expectations of him, not only in the Middle East peace process but in the coming speech on 4 June on relations with the Islamic world. In all parts of the world, there are perhaps unrealistic assumptions about what change means and what we can realistically expect from the new US Administration. It is clear that the new Administration gives high priority to discussions with Russia; one thinks of the speech of the Vice-President at Munich. The signals are very positive in broad terms, even on Afghanistan; although Russia was clearly instrumental in helping to persuade the Kirghiz Government to close the US base, which

12 May 2009 : Column GC362

was a useful conduit for Afghanistan, it has at least partially stepped into the breach, perhaps because it wishes NATO to be dependent on it for its supplies, leaving aside the Khyber Pass. There is a new spirit of co-operation and new opportunity, and unnecessary provocations have been put on hold. Last week I was in Washington where it was clear that, whereas perhaps six months ago we would have been talking about the problems of the siting of missile installations in the Czech Republic and Poland and about NATO expansion to Georgia and Ukraine, those have now been frozen—they are not frozen conflicts, but frozen initiatives. That is a useful change.

As the noble Lord has said, we still have the tit-for-tat over spies and there were problems when NATO had its recent well planned military exercises in Georgia, but the indications are positive, particularly in respect of non-proliferation and the preparations for the non-proliferation treaty. The European Union, with regard to our Eastern Partnership, is perhaps rather less ambitious. There were mixed motives anyway; in part, this was a response to President Sarkozy’s initiative last July in respect of the Mediterranean, an initiative that is meeting broadly the same problems as the Barcelona process.

There are continuing areas of concern, as we mentioned in our first report. There is the Russian pressure on Ukraine. We looked particularly at problems of energy security, not only in January this year but in 2005 and 2006, and the fear that Russia, by encircling the European Union, is trying to make us increasingly dependent on Gazprom and Russian energy institutions generally. Certainly, a number of countries in the European Union and those outside it such as Serbia appear to be playing largely to the European game.

We said in our report that we hoped that the danger of Russian encirclement and the danger of dependency on Russian gas supplies would lend a new impetus to the Nabucco project. I hope that the Minister will say something about this. Yesterday the press were telling us about an agreement reached last Friday between the European Union and Turkey that, again, is designed to break the stranglehold; it would allow a pipeline to cross Turkey to Azerbaijan and possibly, even later, to go underneath the Caspian to bring in supplies from Turkmenistan. This is important and I hope that my noble friend will say a little more about the agreement with Turkey and its significance.

The main change, as the noble Lord who opened this debate said, is that since we produced our report last May, there has been the Russian invasion of Georgia. I shall not talk about the responsibility for that; it is clear that there were Russian military exercises in the area shortly before the invasion, but it is also clear that there were provocations by the Georgian president. We now have a much more nuanced approach to the responsibility, which, we hope, will be made clear in the report to be produced in a few months by the Swiss diplomat who is examining the issue on the ground. Both sides are rather more guarded now, but clearly Russia is in breach of its international obligations in the agreement that was reached between President Sarkozy and President Medvedev last August. Russia has recognised the breakaway provinces and has been

12 May 2009 : Column GC363

joined only by Nicaragua. It has failed to withdraw to the old frontiers prior to the invasion. There is some evidence of ethnic cleansing in South Ossetia, particularly in Abkhazia. There are increased military personnel, more than envisaged in the Medvedev-Sarkozy agreements. The noble Lord has referred to the Russian build-up of the naval base and other military bases in Abkhazia and the barring of access, to a large extent, for EU monitors.

This is clearly a major breach by Russia. I recall some years ago reading a learned article by a US academic in foreign affairs who said that he was sitting in his car in Grosvenor Square when he looked up and saw the high point of diplomatic wisdom, which said: “Do not enter box unless your exit is clear”. If we apply that to Russia in today's circumstances, it is sad that there is no clear exit. There is no exit strategy for withdrawal from South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Ideally, a diplomat would say that it is our job to provide a ladder down which Russia can climb, but given the developments in those two provinces, the loss of face would presumably be too great and we are likely to be saddled with those areas of insecurity for some considerable time to come.

It would be helpful for my noble friend in his reply to tell us our prognosis for Abkhazia and South Ossetia. There is indeed a great deal of thuggery and it is said that there is not a warm relationship between North Ossetia, in the Russian Federation, and South Ossetia. Is it our assumption that Russia will eventually annex those two breakaway provinces and continue its military build-up? What are our aims in the area? Do we realistically expect Russia to withdraw?

What is clear is that the Russian invasion of last August and its subsequent activities are very much in breach of and undermine the proposals made by President Medvedev for a new security architecture in Europe, both before and at the time of the Evian conference last September. I concede that the proposals are still very broad, but they involved the recognition of territorial integrity and the inviolability of frontiers. That has clearly been breached by the Georgian invasion. The more worrying section of the Medvedev proposals concerns the special responsibility for Russia and its near abroad and for Russian citizens—particularly when, as in Ukraine and elsewhere, they are producing many new passports for those citizens. I would hope that at the very least, looking at the possibilities in the Crimea and Moldova, there will be renewed emphasis on the part of the European Union and NATO on cauterising or dealing with the frozen conflicts in the near abroad that can further complicate our relations with Russia.

In conclusion, we clearly need to work together with Russia. We need to build bridges. We need to build an infrastructure of understanding, both culturally and commercially. Where we can, where there is clear mutuality of interest, we need to work with the Russians—yes, in Afghanistan—in arms control, perhaps the most promising of the areas concerning the Non-Proliferation Treaty; and on the technical side of NATO, in bringing new life to the NATO-Russian Council in air-sea rescue and other matters. We need to be ready

12 May 2009 : Column GC364

to consult more and to develop the habit of working together—yes, to mutual benefit, but as the Financial Times editorial said, do not ignore old concerns. Perhaps we should remember the warning of the Lady of Riga.

5.44 pm

Lord Crickhowell: I, too, must thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for his admirably clear presentation of the committee’s conclusions. As he indicated, one thing we have certainly learned in Sub-Committee C over the past 18 months is that you cannot carry out a major inquiry, put it on one side and think that you have finished. When we produced our first report on the European Union and Russia in May—we started in July 2007—the oil price was rising above $100 a barrel, the Russian economy was being buoyed up by high energy prices and foreign currency reserves were about $425 billion, with another $140 billion in a stabilisation fund. If the prospects for the medium and long term were uncertain, the immediate questions were about Russia’s use of its sovereign funds and the scale of its overseas investments. When we published the follow-up report nine months later, the oil price was around $50 a barrel and, as we stated:

“Russia’s economy has been severely affected by the financial crisis and global economic downturn”.

In the first report, we identified the common neighbourhood, Russia’s “near abroad”, as a particularly sensitive area that should be treated as such by both parties, but we did not foresee the war in Georgia that took place two months after its publication. Perhaps we should have done, or at least been more conscious of the possibility of an explosion in an area where causes for conflict can be traced back for generations, and which one witness described as a “very brittle, explosive country”. There is also plenty of evidence that, whatever the provocation given it as its excuse, the Russian military had been preparing for its intervention for a considerable period. As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, its response was disproportionate.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page