HC Deb 10 January 1996 vol 269 cc190-1
2. Mr. Etherington

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about Britain's relations with Russia. [6839]

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

We enjoy a close and co-operative partnership with Russia.

Mr. Etherington

Will the Minister assure the House, in view of the escalating danger in Chechnya, which has been worsened by the hostage crisis this week, that the Government will use every endeavour to urge restraint on both sides in the dispute to try to bring about a peaceful settlement? Will he state what is being done in terms of European security to try to ensure that the situation does not escalate further? Will he guarantee to the House that regardless of commercial considerations, human rights will be paramount?

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

I can certainly assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government will do everything that they can to help to bring the Chechen problem to a peaceful solution. It is important that that should be so. There was a debate on Russia in the House at 1 pm and if the hon. Gentleman had attended it, he would have heard that point expounded in greater detail. I assure him that it is extremely important that human rights remain paramount. The Government will do everything they can to ensure that that is the case.

Mr. Elletson

What effect has the war in Chechnya had on Britain's relations with Russia? Does my hon. Friend agree that while Russia's brutal campaign in Chechnya continues, it would be wrong—indeed, it would be nothing short of appeasement—to reward its leaders and its Government with membership of the Council of Europe?

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

My hon. Friend was present in the debate earlier. He and other hon. Members may like to refresh their memories from Hansard. The Chechnya problem is terrible. The behaviour of the Russian forces was bad and the behaviour of some of the rebels has also been bad. We have condemned both sides in the war equally. We wish the matter to be brought to a peaceful solution as soon as possible.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

Does the Minister agree that although Russia, by reason of its history, its size and its influence, should enjoy special status, United Kingdom policy should be based on the legitimate expectation that the programme of economic and political reform will be continued? Will the Government support that programme rather than any named individual?

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

I assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that the Government will do everything that they can to support the programme of reform.