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12.45 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, is quite right. In a way, we are both outsiders today. I am sure that she will join me in thanking my noble friend Lord Finsberg for giving us the opportunity to debate this important issue.

The Council of Europe's work has never been more important. It plays a unique role in anchoring democracy, human rights and the rule of law throughout the new Europe. It is an organisation in which Her Majesty's Government play a full and active role. Perhaps I may also take this opportunity to express appreciation for the enormous contribution made to the work of the Council of Europe by the United Kingdom parliamentary delegation, and in particular its leader, my noble friend Lord Finsberg.

The Motion asks: what is the Government's policy on the admission of Russia to the Council of Europe? We wish to develop a close and co-operative relationship with Russia, both bilaterally and in multilateral forums. Russia can make a considerable contribution to global stability and security, particularly in Europe. Therefore, we want to see Russia play a full role in the international system. Indeed, without Russia that system could not work to its full potential. Underpinning democratic institutions in Russia is an important element in that process.

We have welcomed Russia's application to join the Council of Europe. Russia has made great progress in firmly establishing the principles of the rule of law, human rights and democracy, which the Council of Europe seeks to promote. Russia's membership would therefore help further to consolidate those principles. We wish to see Russia join as soon as possible once--I stress the word "once", in answer to my noble friend Lady Hooper--it has met the standards demanded by the organisation.

I cannot give the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, the answer to her question regarding the impact of Russia's membership on other countries in so far as that

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is still a hypothetical matter. Her question about Russia as a potential member of NATO is not in fact a question for today. I am sure that there will be other opportunities for the noble Baroness to raise that point. Our priority is for NATO to develop an open and wide-ranging dialogue and a substantive partnership with Russia.

My noble friend Lord Finsberg and the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, noted the recent Council of Europe report on the conformity of the legal order of the Russian Federation with Council of Europe standards, which highlighted, among other things, some serious shortcomings in pre-trial detention centres in Russia. The recent report by the special rapporteur to the United Nations Commission of Human Rights also drew attention to the very poor conditions in remand centres. The Russians recognise the serious nature of the problem. They want to take the necessary action to bring conditions in those institutions into line with acceptable standards. But that may take time, especially as resources are extremely limited.

My noble friend Lord Finsberg mentioned the recent report by jurists from the Court and Commission of Human Rights. That was mixed in its conclusions. For example, it rightly noted the considerable progress that had been achieved in the protection of human rights, but a number of criticisms were made. The overall conclusion was that the legal order and the rule of law did not meet present Council standards. There was some particularly trenchant criticism of Russian detention centres. Some commentators interpreted the report as a serious obstacle to Russian entry. The secretary-general of the Council stressed that it is an agenda for action which identifies those elements of Russian legislation and practice that must be brought into conformity with Council of Europe standards.

Dwelling on the Council of Europe standards, both my noble friend Lord Finsberg and the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, mentioned the maintenance of standards in the Council of Europe. Every member state in the Council must not only have functioning democratic institutions but must also accept the rule of law and the enjoyment by all people within its territory of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Those need to be met in practice as well as in theory. There is no question of Her Majesty's Government wishing standards to be lowered. Indeed, the Council would lose its credibility if it granted permission to states which had neither the intention nor the wherewithal to achieve those standards. But that must be balanced with the need to encourage the newly-emerging democracies of the east by welcoming them into our institutions.

Russia has made considerable progress in a short space of time. We believe that early membership is important for Russia and for its relations with other European states. But membership cannot be at any price. Certain standards must be met. Equally, we should not demand perfection before entry or ask more of Russia than of other recent applicants. There is a general appreciation that Russia is moving in the right direction and is responding to the suggestions for improvements. Nevertheless, it may well be that some matters could

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reasonably be left for resolution until after entry. Finding the right balance is the delicate task facing the rapporteurs from the Parliamentary Assembly.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Finsberg for giving me warning that he would be asking me what would happen if Russia failed to meet its obligations. This was also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill. Once a member of the Council of Europe, Russia will be judged just like any other member state. It will be expected to fulfil its obligations under the statute and the commitments it enters into when it joins. We shall have a clearer idea of what they will be when the rapporteurs produce their report. In relation to the sanctions available, the Assembly has its own procedures in place, of which my noble friend is well aware. The Committee of Ministers only last month adopted new procedures to tackle any possible slippage in standards. Those lay stress on dialogue and co-operation with the member state concerned. Beyond that, as my noble friend is aware, it is also open to the Committee of Ministers to take action under Article 8 of the statute which allows for the suspension of a state which is seriously in breach of its obligations. However, before then we would hope that the process of dialogue and co-operation would produce the required results.

My noble friend Lord Finsberg and the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, introduced the question of resources for the Council of Europe activities. The budget ceiling for 1995 has been set at a 2 per cent. rise over 1994. However, the Secretariat will have access to an additional 35 million French francs' worth of credits for 1995. That represents another 4.65 per cent. over the 1994 figures. I do not think the organisation can expect more at such a difficult time in Europe. Our own contributions, based on new scales, may rise by as much as 5.4 per cent. in 1995, amounting to around £15 million for the ordinary budget alone, with a further £2 million for the pensions and buildings budgets. I hope that those seeking yet further budgetary increases will study those figures with care.

My noble friend Lord Finsberg asked whether additional funds will be forthcoming when Russia joins. The best answer I can give is that officials are assessing what is likely to be needed. We shall need to see the results of that assessment before taking a decision.

I am appreciative of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, but what she said is a little wide of today's debate. It behoves all member countries to look at how they can best assist the countries she mentioned. Her Majesty's Government already provide "good government" assistance to many countries. However, I shall draw her remarks to the attention of my noble friend the Minister for Overseas Development. Of course, the Government recognise that the decision on Russia's application will be taken by the Members of the Council of Europe Assembly, who quite rightly value their independence of judgment. But it is the Government's hope that Russia will join as soon as possible when the Assembly is satisfied that the membership criteria have been met. It is important that

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Russia and the Council of Europe continue to work together in a spirit of positive co-operation to achieve that goal.

Royal Assent

12.56 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Lyell): My Lords, I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Act:

Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Act.

Motion for the Adjournment

12.57 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, it is one of the great pleasures of the Chief Whip to move the Adjournment and I should like on behalf of noble Lords on this side of the House to wish all noble Lords a very merry Christmas and a happy new year. I hope that the Recess will prove to be for all your Lordships a happy and refreshing break from the rigours of parliamentary business.

I should also like to seize this traditional opportunity to say on behalf of the whole House a hearty thank you to all those who work so hard in support of our activities.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I should like to offer our very best wishes for Christmas and the new year to those who serve us so well in the Parliament Office, Black Rod's Office and Hansard, and to the Custodians, the Refreshment Department, the security officers and the police. I should like to offer particular good wishes to the Doorkeepers and express my hope that their Christmas festivities last night were not too greatly overshadowed by proceedings on the Environment Bill. I should especially like to wish the Principal Doorkeeper a very happy retirement.

I wish all in the House, both Peers and staff, a very happy Christmas.


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