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Lord Henley: My Lords, dare I say it, nonsense. As I said in my original Answer, we will give Answers which are appropriate to the Questions that are asked.

Business of the House: Arrangement of the Order Paper

3.8 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That Standing Order 38 (Arrangement of the Order Paper) be dispensed with to enable the Prayers standing in the name of the Lord Carter and the Motion standing in the name of the Lord Willoughby de Broke to be taken before the Home Energy Conservation Bill this day.—(Viscount Cranborne.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Building Societies (Joint Account Holders) Bill

Read a third time.

Lord Hayhoe: My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Hayhoe.)

Lord Eatwell: My Lords, I believe that it is appropriate at the passage of this important Private Member's Bill, introduced in another place by Mr. French and managed so ably in your Lordships' House by the noble Lord, Lord Hayhoe, to draw attention to the fact that the measure was originally introduced in a slightly different form by my noble friend Lord Dubs. Perhaps I may congratulate my noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Hayhoe, and Mr. French on the passage of a small but useful Bill which will bring considerable benefits to a number of building society account holders. It is also appropriate at this time to thank the Minister for his positive and constructive approach to the passage of the Bill and to hope that he will emulate his current conduct when we discuss a further building societies Bill later today.

Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Lord will have to wait until later. With the exception of his thanks to me, perhaps I may echo what he said and give in return my thanks to him for his constructive approach to the Bill and offer again my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Hayhoe and to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, on getting the Bill through.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.

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European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Partnership and Co-operation Agreement between the European Communities and their Member States and the Russian Federation) Order 1995

3.10 p.m.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 20th March be approved [15th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, it may be for the convenience of your Lordships to take the draft order concerning the Russian Federation and bracket it with our debate on the Ukraine order which follows on the Order Paper.

The orders specify the partnership and co-operation agreements between the European Union on the one hand and the Russian Federation and Ukraine on the other as European treaties under Section 1(3) of the European Communities Act 1972. They are mixed agreements; in other words, some of their provisions fall within Community competence and others fall within the competence of member states. They therefore require ratification by all EU member states and the assent of the European Parliament before they can enter into force. In the case of the United Kingdom, the draft orders need to be approved by both Houses so that we may ratify the agreements.

The break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991 presented the West with a unique challenge. Out of the debris left by the collapse of the monolithic Soviet system there emerged 15 sovereign independent states, each with its own needs and perspectives. The European Union needed to construct a new, individually tailored relationship with each one.

In the case of the Baltic states, as with the other countries of central Europe before them, we were able to correct the mistakes of history by welcoming those countries back into the European fold with the prospect of eventual membership of the EU. But for the remaining countries, for which EU membership is not on the agenda for the foreseeable future, a different but equally important framework was required—one which for Russia would reflect in particular her importance as a major world player on the borders of the European Union. We needed to develop a relationship based on partnership and practical co-operation to help these countries through the difficult process of establishing genuine political and economic reform.

The partnership and co-operation agreements, which are explicitly based on respect for democratic principles, provide for regular political contacts, increased trading opportunities and wide-ranging economic co-operation. The first such agreements were signed with Ukraine and Russia in June last year. Similar agreements have since been signed with Moldova, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. We expect to lay draft orders on those agreements later in the year. It remains the objective of the European Union to negotiate partnership and

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co-operation agreements with the remaining countries of the former Soviet Union as soon as those countries are in a position to fulfil the political and economic obligations contained in such agreements.

It is likely to be some time before the partnership and co-operation agreements with Russia and Ukraine enter into force. To bridge that gap, the European Union has negotiated interim agreements with each country. Those agreements will bring into early effect the trade provisions of the wider-ranging PCAs. We hope to sign both interim agreements shortly. But before that is possible, we will first require certain reassurances from each country. In the case of Ukraine, there remains a question mark over its ability to enforce the shipping provisions of the agreements. We hope that that will soon be resolved. Meanwhile, in the case of Russia, the Foreign Affairs Council has decided to delay signature of the agreement until the Russian authorities have addressed our legitimate concerns over events in Chechnya. We hope that our concerns on Chechnya are resolved so that signature can take place. I am sure noble Lords will express great anxiety over that.

It is in everyone's interests that the process of reform in the former Soviet Union—and especially in Russia and Ukraine—should succeed. Of course the success of that process does not lie entirely in our hands. But I believe that the countries of the European Union can help that process along by providing substantial and practical support. These agreements provide a workable framework for that European Union support. I commend the orders to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft orders laid before the House on 20th March be approved [15th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Baroness Chalker of Wallasey.)

3.15 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her explanation of the orders, but I raise immediately the issue of their appropriateness at this time. The Minister knows of the concern because I notified her of it.

The Minister referred to the word "partnership" in her observations. But partnership involves certain mutual obligations. I wonder whether at present Russia is performing her side of the deal. Part of the essence of the order in relation to Russia is that it should include not just the promotion of trade and investment but also support for democracy. All those important objectives have been imperilled by the disastrous Russian policies in Chechnya. I wonder whether it is wise for this House to give its imprimatur to the order at this stage, bearing in mind the fact that it will almost certainly be interpreted by the Russian Government in a way that may be different from the Minister's aspirations.

Over the next few weeks President Yeltsin will be holding top level talks with western leaders. I suspect that he will be trying to sweep the problems of Chechnya under the carpet, at least for those purposes. I do not believe that it is at all wise for us perhaps to be interpreted, even though it is not the Government's intention—I recognise that—by the Russian Government as colluding in their purpose. We cannot

18 Apr 1995 : Column 392

pretend that the problems of Chechnya do not exist however much President Yeltsin may seek to camouflage them. There have been appalling atrocities, the indiscriminate bombing of civilians, and all sorts of savagery, which are unacceptable.

The question before the House is whether it is in the interests of the United Kingdom and the European Union to raise these important issues demonstrably with President Yeltsin. In my view we should not have had the debate today. We should have considered deferring it until the discussions with President Yeltsin have taken place.

In this ignoble enterprise, President Yeltsin has been forced to look for support from the most dubious allies; Zhirinovsky's neo-fascists and the communists. Therefore, are our interests to be served by proceeding in the way that we have? How best can we sustain a responsive democracy in Russia? Is it by failing to ensure that the Russian Parliament and Government will understand in the most specific terms our deep anxieties about what is happening?

On the other hand, how do we target the political elite for condemnation without hitting the broad mass of the public, many of whose kith and kin have been committed to the terrible struggle and some of whom have perished? An appalling dilemma confronts the Government and I do not disguise that fact. However, I question their tactical approach to the issue.

The Russian Government appear to be untroubled about international reaction to what has happened. Indeed, they have appeared to be untroubled about what has happened in relation to their ignominious deal with Iran and about the breaking of the spirit, if not the letter, of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty.

The partnership deal is not wholly accepted within the different institutions and by the different member states of the European Union or by other institutions in Europe. I understand that the Danish Government have indicated that they are not prepared to go down this road while the Chechnya situation persists. I wish to ask the Minister whether there are other dissenting voices among the member states of the European Union. What is her reaction to the Danish situation? Does it remain as stated a few weeks ago; that the Danish Government will not go down this road?

I believe that respect for democratic principles and human rights must constitute an essential element of the partnership agreement. Clearly, it is not being observed in that way by the Russians. Therefore, it is interesting to note that in the view of the European Parliament the partnership should not be proceeded with,

    "until the military attack and gross violation of human rights against the people of Chechnya have come to an end and a serious start has been made to find a political solution to the conflict".

What is wrong with that observation?

On 2nd February the Council of Europe decided to suspend its consideration of Russian membership of the council. It did so because of the situation that has persisted in Chechnya. On 6th February, the IMF postponed talks because of fears that extra expenditure on Chechnya operations and the reconstruction that would be involved would make a significant difference

18 Apr 1995 : Column 393

to Russia's plans for its 1995 budget and deficit. Those are serious matters and I hope that the Minister will respond to the specific anxieties relating to Russia.

I turn to the second order, which relates to the Ukraine. I was surprised and delighted that the Minister reflected on the issue of shipping. However, I wish to know why she did not refer to the controversy about the decommissioning of the Chernobyl plant. What element of co-operation or partnership is being reflected by the Ukrainian Government in that regard? Is there to be a firm timetable for the closure of that plant, which imperils us all? We know from the events that took place in Chernobyl some years ago that the nuclear cloud imperilled populations all over the European Community, as it was then called, and that elements of danger persist. Now we hear that the situation in relation to Chernobyl has become depressingly worse. Does the Minister accept that position? Is it not totally unsatisfactory that, despite all that, the Chernobyl plant director should have warned that the nuclear plant would remain in operation until the end of its planned life if western countries failed to meet the cost? He went on to say:

    "It is up to governments and countries which are worried about Chernobyl to pay for its closure. Ukraine does not have a problem with Chernobyl. It is a worry for the West".

In my submission, that view is totally unacceptable.

However, one must balance those remarks with the considerable gains that have been recorded in the Ukraine in recent times. Mr. Kuchma has won over Ukraine's nationalists by his firm suppression of militant separatism in the Crimea and the region has retained a certain degree of autonomy, but that appears to have squared well with the ambitions of the Ukrainian Government.

I wish to be fair to the Government of the Ukraine. I have recorded only one gain, but there are many others and in many respects there has been bold leadership by the Ukrainian Government. However, their derisory attitude about legitimate concerns relating to Chernobyl gives rise to great anxiety not only in this country but throughout the European Union. I believe that those concerns should have been addressed more specifically by the Minister in her earlier observations rather than having been omitted completely.

We in this House do not have the opportunity to do more than register those anxieties and I hope that I have done so reasonably adequately.

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