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Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I hope that he will clarify a point about the University of Derby study. Will that include a policy evaluation of the way in which legislation in comparable democratic societies has been framed and operates in practice? I have in mind particularly the two recent Acts enacted in the Republic of Ireland and the legislation in, for example, Canada, New Zealand, the Netherlands and Northern Ireland. Will the study consider that in the way that the Street report did back in 1967, which Sir Geoffrey Howe, as he then was, Geoffrey Bindman and the late Professor Harry Street undertook? They looked at the pattern of legislation in North America, and that was a great help. Will the University of Derby study take that into account, or should it be left to separate initiatives? I have in mind, for example, Professor Hepple's ongoing study into that matter at the moment. I hope that the noble Lord will clarify that matter.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for asking that important question. I am told that the interim report which was published earlier this year, which I have not had the advantage of readingI would not be at all surprised to hear that the noble Lord has read itincluded some references to exactly the points that the noble Lord makes. As we speak, it is not intended that the final report will deal with the matters that he mentions. However, I assure the noble Lord that I shall relate his comments to the Home Office to ensure that when decisions are taken they are taken on the basis of, as it were, comparative studies of what happens elsewhere.
Lord Ahmed: My Lords, this has been a helpful debate. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in it. I am grateful for the support I have received from all sides of the House. I am particularly grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford for having travelled from Liverpool, where he was attending a conference, to speak in the debate.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to open this debate on an important topic. The debate takes place at a relevant time. Any consideration of our relations with Russia must start with President Putin. My impression is that he is likely to turn out to be a useful person with whom to do business. He has the advantage, which was not available to his predecessor, of commanding a majority in the Duma. He was elected with 53 per cent of the popular vote, which puts him in a strong position.
The policy statements of his government and his own actions give a strong impression that he is a genuine democrat. However, I think that in that connection we have to make two reservations. The first is that he appears to be rather heavy-handed with the media. We have had recent examples of that. Secondly, of course, there is the whole problem of Chechnya. I am sure that noble Lords will agree with me that we support the Government in the representations that they have made to Russia in that connection, and we shall continue to give them our support. Can the Minister who is to reply to the debate report any progress by the commission which President Putin appointed to look into that question?
I wish to raise three other topics. The first concerns economic relations. Russia's economy is in a disastrous situation. The IMF estimates that its GDP is now equivalent to 2 per cent of that of the United States. There has been an immense flight of capital. Domestic demand has fallen dramatically. Capital investment has dropped every year for the past 12 years. Of course the European Union has an interest in the success of the Russian economy. The European Union accounts for 40 per cent of Russia's trade. It is in our interest to help Russia, if we are allowed to do so. We can help by encouraging the development of institutions which will help the rule of law and by encouraging observation of the rule of law. Those are two key factors in the future of Russia's economy. We can help Russia to prepare for admission to the World Trade Organisation.
The next subject I want to cover is the question of ballistic missile defence. That is even more important than the two topics I have already mentioned. Noble Lords will be familiar with the proposals that President Clinton has put forward in recent days for anti-ballistic missile screens in Alaska and in the rest of the United States. It is pretty clear that if those projects went forward, they would involve a breach of the anti-ballistic missile treaty, unless that treaty were amended.
Ballistic missile defence is a matter of great interest to countries other than the United States and Russia, not least to the United Kingdom. There is a very important question as to whether, if such an anti-ballistic missile system were installed, it would work. I know of no proof that it would. I foresee that we might have a long and difficult process of negotiation, involving many countries, only to find after all that, with all the pain it would entail, the system did not work.
If the matter is mishandled there are some serious dangersdanger of the loss of START II; failure to embark on START III negotiations; failure to achieve any international agreement on the control of fissile material; dangerous consequences perhaps for the effectiveness of our own nuclear deterrent; and in particular a worsening of relations between Russia and the West, which could be serious and long-lasting.
Why is President Clinton in such a hurry? I am not convinced that there is the need for hurry that he seems to feel. As I understand it, he was proposing to make a decision on the matter this summer. It is clear from last weekend's discussions between the two presidents that any agreement, if it is achieved at all, will take some time to achieve. I do not see how it can be achieved by this summer.
Nevertheless, last weekend's meeting had some constructive results. The statement of principles is quite important. It reaffirmed the ABM treaty, but agreed that it could be amended. It showed an acceptance by Mr. Putin that there is a threat from rogue states; the first time, I think, that Russia has accepted that. It agreed that 68 tonnes of weapons-grade plutonium would be made unusable by the two participant countries. It also agreed that a joint centre would be set up in Moscow, manned by nationals of the two countries, to exchange information about launches of ballistic missiles, including, in due course, missiles launched from countries other than the two directly involved. That agreement has potential for interesting development.
The third question that I want to raise is that of the broader political relations between us and Russia. Critical engagement, which I understand is the phrase that the Government are inclined to use, particularly about Chechnya, is not enough when we look at our relations with Russia as a whole. We should be bolder than aspiring simply to that, because Russia is no longer a belligerent and stubborn enemy. We should achieve better results in understanding its concerns, especially the concern that is quite clear from recent Russian official documents, since President Putin has been in officethe concern not to be sidelined.
The best example of a mistake made by the West in that context occurred in Kosovo, when NATO provided no role for Russia in peace-keeping planned to take place after the ceasefire, despite the fact that the ceasefire was secured by Mr. Chernomyrdin, the former Russian Prime Minister, working with President Ahtisaari of Finland. That led, we will all remember, to the dramatic seizure by the Russian forces of Pristina airport. The Russian proposal was to overfly Eastern Europe with several thousand troops coming into Kosovo, which was thwarted only by the courageous refusal of, I think, three East European countries to allow them to overfly.
The reality is that we avoided a clash between the West and Russia by a fairly narrow margin. I have never understood, and have never seen explained, how NATO failed to provide in advance for a Russian role. The Prime Minister played a prominent part in NATO's affairs at the time. KFOR had its origins in NATO's rapid reaction corps, in which the United Kingdom has a central place. After the Pristina airport event NATO rapidly found a role for Russia, which shows that it could have been found in advance. I do not understand how that failure occurred.
I shall be interested to hear the noble Baroness's reaction to that question, because it seems to me that that incident, along with others that I do not have time to go into, has rankled in the minds of especially the Russian military ever since. That accounts to a large extent for the tougher and more militant line that Russia has taken in its external affairs. We must recognise that Russia has great potential for trouble for the West if we do not secure a more lasting and better relationship with it. It could, for example, accentuate the selling to other countries of arms, including nuclear materials, for which it has already been to some extent responsible. If it lost faith in the West, or had bad relations with the West, it could one day team up with China, if ever China became more hostile.
The best way of influencing Russia for the better in the future is to determine to establish warmer and closer relations, and especially to understand Russia's concerns better. In the past few days President Clinton has said that the European Union and the United States should integrate Russia into the world community and that,
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest. I have various business links with Russia. Secondly, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, for putting down this Unstarred Question. We are having an extremely important debate, and I am sorry that there are not more Peers participating in it.
I initiated a debate about relations with Russia on 6th April 1998. That debate concentrated on trade relations with Russia and with the former Soviet Union as a whole. I was rereading the debate this afternoon. All the broad points that one can make today were made then: the need for long-term investment, for long-term relationships and for a multifaceted approach to building institutional relationships. While those broad points are true, there has been a roller-coaster ride over the past couple of years for those who have invested in Russia. Some of the major British investments proudly mentioned in the debate two years ago have since turned sour. People are even more cautious about investing new money in Russia in the current climate.
I do not want to concentrate on trade. I want to mention some other issues to do with our relationship as a whole with Russia. I want to mention Chechnya, which has dominated our relationship in recent months. My noble friend the Minister has answered a number of questions about Chechnya and has rightly referred to the need for a critical engagement with Russia on the issue. She will know that our noble friend Lord Judd has been at the forefront of that critical engagement through his work with the Council of Europe where Russia has now been suspended from the parliamentary assembly. Members of the parliamentary assembly will be looking to see the results of that critical engagement before they consider restoring the voting rights of the members of the Duma and will see what progress the Russian Government have made in response to that critical engagement.
As to other institutional arrangementsa point touched on in a slightly different way by the noble Lord, Lord BlakerI, too, wish to talk about NATO. I shall argue a different point from the noble Lord. I believe that NATO is proving quite constructive in rebuilding relations with Russia, particularly over recent months. We have seen the NATO/Russia permanent joint council start working again; and we have seen KFOR operating quite effectively with Russian troops as a part of it and Russian commanders in NATO. It is interesting that the tough security and defence institutions are finding it easier to work with the Russian Government than are the human rights-based institutions such as the Council of Europe and the OSCE.
This was a point emphasised to me on Monday at the WEU assembly. We were addressed by Javier Solana, the European Union high representative, and there was an opportunity for parliamentarians, including Russian parliamentarians, to ask him questions. He was asked about his personal relationship with President Putin and he gave a very convincing answer. He said that he had met him on a number of occasions and had discussed a number of issues in great depth. He certainly made the argument
Ilike everyone in the debate, I suspecthave made many Russian friends over the past 10 years or so. A point worth repeating is that personal relationships seem to be more important in Russia than in other parts of the world. They are fundamental to doing business and achieving ends. Here in London, of course, it is now very common to hear Russian spoken in the streets, on the buseseverywhere. My noble friend Lady Smith of Gilmorehill has done a huge amount of work to foster relations between the Russian Duma and the Westminster Parliament.
Criticism is part of the nature of a mature and growing relationship. A constructive criticismwhich I know is the approach taken by the Governmentis something we can offer Russia without undermining our growing friendship.
On trade, I agree completely with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, that it is about building competence in Russian institutions. The Russians themselves have lost all confidence in their banks, in their law and in their institutions. I very much hope that the Know-How Fund and the TACIS funds and the like will be increasingly directed towards helping the Russians to rebuild their institutions so that the Russian people themselves have faith in them.
As to Chechnya, ultimately the ball is in the Russians' court to demonstrate that they understand the European Convention on Human Rights, having signed up to it when they joined the Council of Europe.
As to security and defence, there is a paradox here. There are tremendous opportunities in security and defence for building a number of relationships at different levels. As I have argued before, I believe that such institutions are in advance of other institutions in re-establishing relations with Russia.
The Unstarred Question asks whether relations with Russia are satisfactory in the light of the presidential elections. I suspect that my Russian friends would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, when he said that President Putin is a man with whom we can do business. From different political parties, they all say to me that he is honest, he is young and he is able. They are all more hopeful for their future than they were a year or so ago.
I hope that when my noble friend replies to the debate she will speak about the range of our relationship with the Russians and the Russian Government, and how she will seek to shape that relationship, with criticism and with encouragement, to build a deeper understanding in the future.
Baroness Stern: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, for initiating the debate. It is a privilege to participate in a debate initiated by someone with such a distinguished career in the field of international relations.
I am aware that other speakers in the debate are taking, and will take, a wide geopolitical view of the relationships between the UK and Russia and the prospects after the recent elections. I should like to focus more narrowly, if I may, on questions which are nevertheless very important: a question of human rights and a question of reform in an area of human rights where the UK Government have played, and are playing, a supportive role.
First, I wish to echo the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, and to draw your Lordships' attention to the report by Human Rights Watch published on 2nd June which highlighted more human rights abuses in Chechnya. The report describes killing, arson, rape and looting in Aldi, a suburb of Grozny, on 5th February this year by Russian riot police and contract soldiers, and it calls on the Russian Government to bring those responsible to justice. The abuses reported by Human Rights Watch are appalling, and I hope that the Government will continue to make it clear to the Russian authorities that some effective action must be taken to bring those responsible to justice.
Perhaps I may declare an interest. I have been involved in prison reform in Russia since 1991 in my capacity as a board member of the international non-governmental organisation Penal Reform International. I must also declare that the International Centre for Prison Studies in King's College, London, where I am a senior research fellow, is also working on prison reform in Russia. In particular, a new project is just beginning at the international centre, supported by the Department for International Development, which will create a three-year working partnership between the pre-trial prisons in Moscow and prisons in England and Wales and Northern Ireland.
On 12th January, I spoke in your Lordships' House on the subject of the epidemic of tuberculosis in Russian prisons. Perhaps I may allude to the facts that I presented then. It is estimated by the Russian authorities that about 96,000 of the 1 million Russian prisoners have active tuberculosis, and that between 20 per cent and 40 per cent of those have a variety of tuberculosis that is resistant to the main anti-tuberculosis drugs. This resistant strain of tuberculosis is highly contagious and responds only to a long course of drugs that are very expensive.
So, the Russian prison situation is not just a human rights issue; it is also a public health issue; and an issue of relations between our two countries since TB is highly contagious. Many thousands of prisoners leave prison every year and take their untreated or half-treated infection with them. With the growth in international travel, such diseases spread very rapidly from one country to another.
On Sunday 27th May, I visited Mattroskaya Tischina pre-trial prison in Moscow. I visited the TB section where there are hundreds of prisoners with active TB. The cells were slightly less overcrowded than the normal prison cells. In the TB section each cell holds about 20 people, sleeping in bunks in two tiers. I pay tribute to the dedicated prison medical staff I have met in Russia who work very hard, with limited resources, well beyond the call of duty. The staff claimed that their medicine supply was just adequate, and that they had the facilities to test for drug resistance and to change the drugs if resistance was found.
We also visited the normal cells, which hold more people than there are beds. Those prisoners who were allocated the day sleeping shift, while others sat on the floor, slept soundly on while a party of about 10 people crowded into their packed cell to talk to the prisoners held there. That is what that prison is like after a great improvement in the situation. The governor told us that the number of prisoners he was locking up had gone down from 6,500 to 4,500 thanks to the efforts of the government to speed up the trial process.
The TB situation is very bad, so I should like to ask the Minister in her reply to tell us how the Government's plans to help with that are taking shape; whether they are yet in operation; what is the position on the promised World Bank loan for TB control and treatment; and whether that loan will help the situation in the prisons.
Another threat is now emerging: HIV infection and AIDS. The figures are frightening. The World Health Organisation reports a massive rise in the rate of HIV infection in Russia in 1999 and its spread into cities where until that year it was completely unknown. Prisons are becoming reservoirs of HIV infection. I ask the Minister whether the Government have plans to offer help with this also so that the HIV epidemic does not reach the same proportions as that in relation to tuberculosis.
In 1996 the Russian Federation joined the Council of Europe, and by so doing accepted that it would work to achieve European standards in its prisons. I am sure that the Council of Europe would feel that it had received great co-operation from the Russian authorities in trying to implement that enormous change.
In June 1998 the Russian Federation took another great step and transferred responsibility for the prison service from the Ministry of the Interior to the Ministry of Justice. It was an enormous upheaval and it is reported that it was carried out successfully.
In October 1999 Vladimir Putin, before he became president, visited Kresty prison in St Petersburg. That prison was built to hold 3,000 prisoners. At the time of his visit it was holding 10,000 prisoners. That moved him to say that action had to be taken.
In Europe there are 2 million prisoners. More than 1 million of those prisoners are in Russia. The imprisonment rate in the Russian Federation is the highest in the world, with the United States a close second. So the amnesty that passed through the Russian Parliament on 26th May was a most hopeful sign and should be warmly welcomed. There is one problem with it, however: 120,000 prisoners, including 10,000 juveniles, will be released from prison. They will be let loose, many of them destitute and with few alternatives to a return to petty crime.
Resettlement arrangements for released prisoners in Russia are patchy and in some places non-existent. I wonder therefore whether the Minister could look at the suggestion of adding to the range of issues being discussed with Russian officials the possibility of giving help with the resettlement of ex-prisoners. That is an area where UK experience is extensive and where help could be effectively given, and would, I am sure, be well received. I look forward to the Minister's response.
Baroness Cox: My Lords, I warmly congratulate my noble friend Lord Blaker on introducing this debate on this very important subject, at a time when Russia is at such an historic, critical, inevitably challenging and sometimes painful transition from 70 years of Soviet communism to a free-market based democracy.
The people of Russia have achieved a very great deal in the past decade in the establishment of democracy, economic reform and civil society. They have also had to confront many challenges to their internal and external security, most formidably from the recent Islamist terrorist-instigated wars in Chechnya and Dagestan.
Inevitably, there have been mistakes which have incurred legitimate criticism within Russia and from the international community. But a balanced appraisal is essential if Russia is to receive the support I believe it deserves and which is it is in the interests of this country to provide.
The political achievements are evident in the "New Russia" which emerged just a decade ago, which is fundamentally different from its tsarist or its communist past. An ideology-based, authoritarian society has been transformed into an open society, and the peaceful transition of presidential power by democratic elections, political pluralism, freedom of expression and a market economy, all of which are functions and touchstones of democracy, have been achieved.
There are still deep problems: notoriously widespread corruption; an entrenched Mafia; economic insecurity and poverty for many people, especially the elderly and the unemployed, as the stabilities of the old system are swept away. But the Duma, strengthened by last year's parliamentary elections, and a new president committed to strong leadership, with the opportunity for stable interaction between executive and legislative branches of government, now give Russia an unprecedented opportunity for legislation to address these urgent problems.
In this process, Russia needs support and understanding. The Duma and presidential elections reflect a new development in the political culture of Russia. The Duma is attaining more power and respect. Even though the presidency is very strong, it is working with the Duma; and there is growing respect throughout Russia for the legitimacy of the institutions of civil society. This is a very important development in the growth of democracy, and an encouraging indication of the emergence of a healthy political and economic system. I believe that it is cause for hope that Russia has crossed the point of no return in its transition from a cynical political communist system, trusted by no-one, to a western-style democracy with growing public trust in the legal system and the rule of law. Indeed the importance of the rule of law was appropriately highlighted by my noble friend Lord Blaker and by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby.
At the individual level, there are comparable signs of hope. For example, in Christian Solidarity World-wide, we are privileged to be working with the Russian Federation Ministry of Education and with Moscow city government. At their invitation, we are helping to change the policy of care for orphaned and abandoned children away from the Soviet system of incarceration in brutalising institutions to promoting foster family care. We have been profoundly impressed by the commitment, professionalism and sheer goodness of
I was particularly interested in the experiences just described by the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, of positive developments in what had been an horrendous prison system, and also in the problem of tuberculosis. MerlinMedical Emergency Relief Internationalwith which I am working, is undertaking a major tuberculosis programme in Siberia, based in Tomsk. There are formidable problems, but there has been great progress. Merlin received international acclaim, and that was very much due to our Russian colleagues.
But too often the media have focused on the problems, presenting negative, and I believe one-sided, images of Russia, and nowhere more so than with the tragic war in Chechnya. I do not minimise the suffering of the Chechen people. Merlin, which I have already mentioned, has been deeply involved in humanitarian relief work there. But I am concerned that the situation has been inadequately presented by the media, which have tended to demonise Russia and have failed to apportion any significant blame to Chechnya. Whatever the history of Russian-Chechen relations, the situation in Chechnya in the 1990s deteriorated to widespread terrorism and anarchy, with gross violations of human rights, murders, abductions, public executions, torture and terrorist activities. Russia could not stand by.
Russia then faced a direct confrontation by an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 terrorists, including veteran Islamist jihad warriors, who had moved into Chechnya with an agenda to take over not just Chechnya, but also Dagestan and other countries in the Caucasus such as Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh and, ultimately, the Caspian oil basin.
The evidence for this analysis is available, but time does not permit me to present it this evening. However, Congressman McCullom, speaking in the US House of Representatives, summarised this evidence effectively. He said that,
I think that the world should be more appreciative of what Russia has done to contain that terrorism. Whatever critical dialogue it may be engaged in, that is a front line that Russia has held for the rest of the world. I should therefore like to ask the Minister for an assurance that the Government of this country are not in any way supporting those who are fighting against Russia in Chechnya, and I look forward with great interest to the answer to that question.
Perhaps I may conclude by urging the Government to do everything in their power to support President Putin and his colleagues as they strive to enable Russia to develop as a free, open society and to make its own distinctive contribution to the international family of democratic nations.
Viscount Waverley: My Lords, I wish the Putin presidency well. Certainly, Russia is a proud nation with inestimable burdens and seemingly unsure about its position in the world. There is, however, no doubt about the importance of welcoming Russia as a working partner.
In some ways the president is a contradictory figureproud of his Soviet values and its institutionsbut he has shown himself, as with Chechnya, to be ruthless, with no latitude; some would say authoritarian. He clearly has a firm view of national interests and talks of the need to preserve democratic principles, but will then stress the need to maintain stability.
These are early days, but I believe we should have no illusions about with whom we shall be dealing. For all those reasons, it is absolutely right that our Prime Minister should have engaged in the manner that he did, so allowing for British interests to impact at the earliest opportunity.
Russia faces many challenges. The degree of continuing state influence and crime and corruption, together with the pace of embracing democratic principles, would inevitably further economic decline. Although I believe that there will be trappings of democracy, they will not develop into civil society. By extension to that, vital to Russian interests will be the need to attract foreign investment and economic assistance. The Minister should, I believe, impress on the president the worldwide competition for both and the need to create a conducive environment, including a commitment to the rule of law. Indicators suggest that President Putin is sensitive to IMF programmes and creditor concerns. That is helpful, particularly because his chief economic adviser is a staunch liberal.
I take a special interest in CIS affairs and believe that we shall see a more coherent and assertive regional policy. Neighbouring Baltic states report a sea change in Russian policies since Putin's arrival on the national scene. In addition, Afghanistan and all that it stands for will have to be addressed. I should very much like to know whether the Prime Minister had the opportunity of discussing any form of assistance with the president in matters relating.
I am also of the view that special attention should be paid to Russian sensitivities. While presidents Clinton and Putin are to be congratulated on their recent Moscow initiatives, the proposed American missile defence system taps into Russian fears of western double-dealing. Russia could react adversely, but then again we have to address any legitimate concerns that we have while working to create an atmosphere of businesslike accommodation.
It is unclear to me who is in the sphere of influence in Moscow. To what extent are the old guard excluded and are we now dealing with a new band of post-communists? All in all, given the upcoming American elections, interesting times lie ahead.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, it is a convention of the House to thank those who introduce debates of this kind. However, my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Blaker
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