HL Deb 18 April 1995 vol 563 cc390-402

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 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 pretend that the problems of Chechnya do not exist however much President Yeltsin may seek lo 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 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 lo 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 lo 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.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, we share with the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, the anxieties about the behaviour of the Russians in Chechnya and the worries about the Chernobyl nuclear plant in the Ukraine, I believe that my noble friend Lord Mackie of Benshie will wish to comment on the latter point. There will be a further opportunity tonight to discuss in more detail the Russian behaviour in Chechnya. My noble friend Lord Avebury will speak on that matter and I do not wish to trespass too far on what he may wish to say. However, I repeat that we fully share the anxieties expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis.

I do not go so far as the noble Lord in believing that expressing these serious anxieties about serious matters is a justification for delaying the House in dealing with these agreements on partnership and co-operation. They are long-term agreements and considerable potential—I put it no higher than that—exists for dealing with the problems which the noble Lord mentioned. I understood the Minister to say that there will be an interim stage in relation to the agreements and perhaps she will expand on that.

Before dealing with these serious issues in relation to the agreements, I wish to comment on their main thrust; that is, on the economic front. The conclusion of the agreements with the Russian Federation and the Ukraine, and of the later agreements with the independent states which the Minister mentioned, reflect a dramatic and historic change in the pattern of European trade since the dissolution of the Soviet empire. I can remember in my time at Brussels when the Soviet bloc simply refused to recognise even the existence of the European Community. Indeed, until 1989 the USSR traded mainly with its fellow COMECON countries. Only one-quarter of Soviet exports went to the OECD countries.

Today, the European Union is the largest trading partner of all former COMECON countries and half of all the exports of the new independent states of the former Soviet Union go to the European Union. Indeed, the Russian Federation accounts for over 80 per cent. of both exports and imports.

Therefore, the partnership and co-operation agreements are founded on that revolution in trading patterns. The agreements provide a framework which allows the economies to become gradually integrated into a wider European economic area. As I understand it, there will still be tariffs for the time being but there will be a general removal of quotas and quantitative restrictions. There will be new initiatives for direct investment from the member states of the European Union and an ability for companies to set up in the Russian Federation and the Ukraine.

Beyond that lies a free trade area and a good economic climate which will be important for the enlargement of the European Union and for good relations among the countries of eastern and central Europe when they face the possibility of membership of the Community and for good relations between Russia and the Ukraine.

Those are the long-term economic advantages which are inherent in the agreements, and they are important. But the agreements go further than trade and economic matters, as the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, underlined, and as was described by the noble Baroness in her opening remarks. The agreements offer a regular political dialogue among the new countries of the former Soviet Union and the European Union at ministerial level, at a regular parliamentary level and at a level of officials and civil servants. It is the potentiality of that dialogue which offers some modest cause for hope in facing the problems of the future.

As I understand it, the general principles of both the partnership and co-operation agreements lay down the importance of democratic values and respect for human rights as well as the matters relating to the principles of (he market economy which I have mentioned. Therefore, in our view, the agreements offer the possibility—and I repeat, it is only the possibility—of exercising a constructive influence, which is so very badly needed for the reasons outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. Relations between the Russian Federation and others of the new independent states are not easy, and, of course, relations within the Russian Federation are equally fraught. We recognise that from the horrible events taking place in Chechnya, as described in the press.

The European Union must seek to use both the interim stage and the final stage of the agreements to deal with the problems and to encourage co-operation among the new independent states of the former Soviet Union. I draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that, as I understand it, the agreements contain an opt-out clause under the final provisions which allows appropriate measures to be taken by either party when it considers the other party to have failed to fulfil an obligation under the agreements. The Co-operation Council, which forms part of the agreements, must be informed. That clause protects the fundamental principles of the agreements relating to democratic reforms and respect for human rights. It is an opt-out clause and therefore provides the European Union with an important degree of leverage in dealing with the future relations between ourselves, the Russian Federation and the other new independent states. It is vitally important. In our view, the long-term significance of the agreements is that the European Union should use wisely and well the possibility for influence which lies within the terms of the agreement and that particular opt-out clause.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, I had not intended to intervene in the debate until I heard the opening remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, when she mentioned that the order as it affects the Russian Federation would rectify the mistakes of history.

I wondered about that phrase. I wondered to which mistakes of history she could be referring. Was she referring to the four occasions during this century on which Russia has been under attack by external forces? In the First World War, Russia was attacked by the Germans. After the revolution, there were the wars of intervention by the western powers to which we were a party. In the 1940s, there was Operation Barbarossa and another attack on Russia by Germany. Moreover, for 40 years, virtually until 1989, Russia, the Soviet Union, had been subjected to a cold war and had been under attack again from the west, of which we were a part.

It is interesting to reflect that on two of those occasions we were effectively on the side of Russia and on two of them we were on the side of Russia's opponents. I wonder whether those are the mistakes of history to which the noble Baroness was referring.

Was she referring to the economic situation and the fact that since the end of the cold war we have seen the disintegration of the former Soviet Union? We have seen mass unemployment growing right across the former Soviet Union and also in the eastern European countries which came within the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union. There is such devastating unemployment that many women have to sell themselves to eke out a living. That is a reflection of the mass unemployment that has beset the European Union over the past 15 years. Is that the mistake of history about which the noble Baroness spoke—that horrendous rise in unemployment as a result of economic policies adopted by the leaderships of the western world and inflicted on the former Soviet Union, causing such human devastation?

We must ask ourselves whether the partnership agreement goes any way towards rectifying the mistakes of history. I think not. I am willing to be persuaded, but I fear that the noble Baroness would have to talk for a very long time before she could even begin to persuade me that these agreements will rectify any of those mistakes of history. However, I shall be interested to hear what she has to say on that subject.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder whether he has reflected on the number of countries that Russia and the Soviet Union has attacked in the 20th century.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, will the Minister be kind enough to comment on the concerns voiced by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and by my noble friend about Chernobyl and extend her reply to cover the question of nuclear weapons? Large numbers of nuclear weapons were stationed in the Ukraine under the control of the Soviet Union's central military authorities. Concern has been expressed for a long time about the competence to deal with those military weapons and, indeed, about any co-operation that there may have been with the central Russian authorities in the Soviet Union—the central staff—who control those weapons. There have been many stories about neglect and competence and, indeed, about the sale of nuclear material. Can the Minister reassure the House that the Ukrainian Government are doing all that they can about such a very dangerous situation?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, today's short debate has produced many points of interest. Certainly, I would not have put forward the draft orders today had I not been convinced by the very arguments that the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, used; namely, that it is far better to have the contact and to work on such matters with the countries concerned. Therefore, I hope that I can set to rest some of the anxieties expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, was absolutely right when he talked about these being long-term agreements with very considerable potential for convincing those in Russia and, indeed, in the Ukraine of the wise way of proceeding.

As we all well know, partnership and co-operation agreements can offer substantial encouragement to the process of reform in those countries. That is what I believe every Member of your Lordships' House would wish. However, I have to say that those reforms will be as much in the interests of our own member states of the European Union as they are in the interests of the Russians and the Ukrainians. In my opening remarks I was careful to say that it would be some time before the partnership and co-operation agreements came into force. I spoke of the interim agreements which have been negotiated with each country to bridge the gap before the PCAs enter into force. Perhaps I may repeat what I said; namely, that the interim agreements will bring into early effect the trade provisions of the wider-ranging partnership and co-operation agreements. Therefore, we are starting with the trade elements which obviously assist us in influencing the countries concerned. As the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, said, the very fact that we are working towards agreements which bring members of those countries together with members of the European Union in discussion on a regular basis is another channel for influence in addition to those we have already established.

I turn now to the misapprehension that the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, appears to be under. When the noble Lord reads the record of my initial remarks, he will note that I said that 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 European Union. I went on to talk about the remaining countries—among which I list Russia and the Ukraine—and said, for which European Union membership is not on the agenda for the foreseeable future". Therefore, I was not in fact referring to Russia. I was referring to the Baltic states and also the countries of central Europe.

In talking about the issues that are before the House today, I should give your Lordships some further information about the main features of the partnership and co-operation agreements. The aim is to intensify the political and economic links between the European Union and the two countries concerned. So there is regular political dialogue at all levels—not simply at head of state level—to effect, impress and, perhaps, change unwise thinking that may, as we know, still exist at some levels in Russia or in the Ukraine.

The second main feature is that of closer trading links, in particular through the abolition of quotas on most goods, by giving most-favoured-nation treatment on tariffs and by abolishing discriminatory internal taxes. The agreements allow for talks in 1998 about eventual free trade areas. The third aspect of the PCAs is that they make it easier to do business in each other's territory. In particular, they set out the terms on which companies can set up, provide a regulatory framework for investment, and aim to bring Russian and Ukrainian practice into line with that of the European Union in areas like competition or the protection of intellectual property.

The fifth main feature is the framework for continued economic co-operation under the TACIS programme— that is, the European Union programme of assistance to the former Soviet countries. Therefore, we have a regulatory framework; we have a framework of political dialogue at all levels; and we have a working arrangement which will bring people closer together. Regular dialogue is a feature of the agreements to which the orders refer.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, asked a direct question about how one would sustain a responsive democracy in Russia. I believe that the answer must be the very sort of contact about which I have just been talking in outlining the partnership and co-operation agreements. The noble Lord asked several further questions about doubts among other European nations as regards ratification. Of course, the timing of ratification is, as ever, a matter for each member state. As the noble Lord well knows, ratification by 15 member states may take a very long time. At the end of the process, when all 15 member states have ratified, the Council will decide whether or not to allow the agreement to enter into force.

I made clear in my initial remarks that certain changes had to be undertaken by Russia and, indeed, by the Ukraine, before the agreement would enter into force. Moreover, the matters will also have to be debated by the European Parliament. I believe that we have many opportunities to ensure that the changes take place. That is exactly what we wish to do. I shall deal shortly with some of the opportunities that we have already been using to effect the changes that both the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth - and, indeed, all of us—wish to see. Certainly, the most effective time to apply the final pressure will be before the agreement enters into force. Most partners agree with that aim. Therefore, I cannot say whether Denmark will delay ratification. That is a matter for Denmark.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, asked about the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. Obviously, that is not covered by the orders in any way, but I can tell the noble Lord that while the Russians have argued for some time that the treaty (agreed originally between the Warsaw Pact and NATO) allows Russia insufficient armoured forces in its flank regions, especially along its troubled southern borders, Russia would be in breach of the treaty as of this November if it maintained forces beyond the limits allowed. We were discussing the problem with the Russians well before the Chechnya crisis erupted in December. We believe that the treaty contains sufficient flexibility to address the Russians' concerns. We have made clear to Russia that we will view very seriously any breach of its terms. But as I said, this issue does not affect the particular orders we are debating today.

Let me come to the main parts of our debate, particularly the questions of Chechnya and Chernobyl. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, that obviously the Ukrainian accession to the non-proliferation treaty last December was a most welcome step. We were able to assist by signing a memorandum on security assurances and a statement on European security issues. We have committed ourselves to provide the Ukraine with practical help so that the implementation of the trilateral agreement on nuclear weapons takes place, as, clearly, the noble Lord wishes. We also have some other plans for training and retraining with the Ukrainians which fit in well with the needs as we, and now the new Ukrainian Government, see them, for getting rid of the horror of the nuclear threat which certainly existed in the Ukraine but which President Kuchma seems determined to get to grips with, I am glad to say.

Having started on the Ukraine let me continue by answering the questions of the noble Lords, Lord Clinton-Davis and Lord Thomson of Monifieth. We are already working extremely closely with the Ukraine. We have good contacts and we are helping—as I indicated to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie—with nuclear safety as regards weapons and also Chernobyl. The PCA for the Ukraine provides for the implementation of separate agreements on nuclear safety. We have given assistance via the TACIS programme. About £215 million has been committed to nuclear safety across the former Soviet Union in the past three years. We and the European Union are also donors to the nuclear safety account administered by the EBRD which gives grant assistance for safety upgrades at the higher risk reactors. That goes to Chernobyl and to other reactors as well. We have made a bilateral contribution of over £13 million to that alone. The PCA also provides for specific co-operation to mitigate the effects of the Chernobyl accident which both the noble Lord and I well remember debating when he was a commissioner and I was the responsible Minister in the European Foreign Affairs Council.

Last July, at the G7 summit in Naples, we agreed an action plan to help the Ukrainians reform their energy sector, including the closure of Chernobyl. There are some 200 million dollars worth of grants from the G7 in support of that plan and there is a European Union offer of some 100 million ecu in technical assistance and 400 million ecu in loans. We are working out the exact ways in which this plan is to be activated with the Ukrainians. I am glad to be able to bring the noble Lord up to date and tell him that only last Thursday President Kuchma gave a commitment to the visiting mission of G7 and EU representatives that Chernobyl would be closed down by the year 2000. That is a welcome commitment and obviously overrides any comments that the plant director may have made in the past. That is now on the books and it will be done, It is a realistic timetable for the closure of Chernobyl whereas dates given before were not realistic. We hope therefore that by targeting our western support the Ukraine will not only stick to the timetable but will do the job thoroughly not just with Chernobyl but with the other nuclear reactors too. I give way to the noble Lord.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister and indeed for the response she has given although she and I disagree about the possibility of compartmentalising these various issues in relation to Russia and the Ukraine. However, I understand the way in which she has put these issues. When I said "compartmentalising" the Minister looked a little puzzled. I meant in terms of exercising pressure at the appropriate time, setting aside certain issues and hoping that one can deal with them separately from the rest. I am not at all sure that that is right, but be that as it may. Closing down Chernobyl by the year 2000 poses a problem over the next four and a half years. Can the Minister give the House any indication as to how, during that interim period—I am sure most of us will be pleased to hear the news that the Minister has recounted to the House—these problems may be mitigated because the peril will remain over the course of the four and a half years?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I find the noble Lord's comment about compartmentalising rather strange. When I talk about appropriate times, I mean every single time that Ministers meet with Ukrainian Ministers. Whenever we have the opportunity, we have committed ourselves to assisting the Ukraine to improve its nuclear safety and therefore we will not lose an opportunity of taking up the issues. I spelt out rather carefully for the noble Lord what we are doing. That does not mean that we will be waiting for four years. What it does mean is that we are already engaged and that we are working on various programmes of training and assistance. We are keeping not just a watching brief; we are acting within the EU action plan I described, which is backed by the G7 leaders, to make sure that the Ukrainian energy sector is made as safe as possible, leading up to the closure of Chernobyl by the year 2000 but taking account of the needs of the other reactors in the meantime. I think the noble Lord is being a little parsimonious with his comment on the matter but I shall leave that because I am convinced that the G7/EU mission last week was a good step forward.

We know that there has been slow progress in some sectors but at least we now have the Ukrainians absolutely determined to get on with the job. When the European Union finance Ministers set conditions for the release of the balance of payments assistance recently, they included a requirement for progress on nuclear safety. That is why I am not in favour of any further delay either as regards these orders or indeed as regards giving support for economic reform because were we to do that we would certainly not advance the day that Chernobyl was closed; we would slow it down. Therefore there is every need to get on with this job of influencing, as we are seeking to do.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I am sorry to cause the noble Baroness concern but I want to clarify something, I am persuaded by her argument that in relation to the Ukraine the pressure that has been brought to bear has been wholly helpful, but it was only today that I and the House were able to learn from the Minister the latest information, about which I am sure the House will rejoice.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for those remarks. Perhaps now I should move on from the Ukraine, where progress is really being made, to Russia where I have even more sympathy for the anxieties expressed by the noble Lord than perhaps I could have on the question of the Ukraine. Obviously, we are not going to make progress with Russia unless we are closely involved with it in supporting the democracy which is growing in Russia. I think that the noble Lord could not be more wrong when he talks about President Yeltsin sweeping the major problem of Chechnya under the carpet. He has never been allowed to do so in any contacts with western leaders; nor will he be. Chechnya is a major setback to progress in Russian-Western co-operation. We have made that clear in every single contact with the Russians, most recently when Prime Minister Chernomyrdin was here in March.

However, our response should be measured. Cutting off, or slowing down, support for Russia is likely to be counter-productive. It would damage the reform process on which a number of leading liberal Russians are making real advances. It is interesting that many of them say clearly that without our pressure they would not have achieved what they have.

The current situation in Chechnya is that the Russians have taken control of all the major towns. There is still some fighting but at a much lower level than before. We know that there are Chechen fighters in the mountains, and no one can rule out a prolonged guerrilla campaign. We know that there is a massive refugee problem, with possibly more than 40 per cent. of the population displaced from their homes. The British Government have acted to help the people who have been made homeless with a contribution of more than £2 million of emergency aid. Humanitarian organisations, with our help and help from the European Union, are finding it easier to operate throughout the region.

The Russian Government are continuing their dialogue with a range of local leaders and influential figures in an attempt to find a political solution. It is as a result of the encouragement from nations such as ours that the Russians are now making more progress than two months ago. We have told the Russians that there are three key priorities. Fighting should stop as soon as possible. Immediate humanitarian relief must be allowed through to all those in need. And a political agreement must be worked out which will allow the Chechen people to express their identity within the framework of the Russian Federation.

As the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, knows, we have fully supported the efforts of the OSCE to help find a solution. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Inglewood will comment on this matter in greater detail when he replies to the Unstarred Question on the Order Paper today.

I want to make one further point concerning reported flagrant violations of human rights said to have been committed in Samashki. We have received a number of such reports. The European Union has expressed its deep concern at the events in Samashki. We condemn the actions committed against civilians, which are in total violation of fundamental human rights. A statement was issued on Saturday, and we have made a solemn appeal to the Russian authorities for an end to violence against civilian populations.

That is why we feel very strongly about this issue and why I stated clearly in my opening remarks that Chechnya is one of the problems that has to be dealt with by the Russians before the PCAs come into being. There is more that can be said on the subject, but as we have a debate on the Order Paper today about Chechnya it is best left until then, and I return to the orders before us on partnership and co-operation agreements.

I assure your Lordships that we have no intention of going beyond the interim agreements until such time as the matters on which our debate has concentrated have been resolved. That is why, in the interests of influencing and reforming those countries, we believe that partnership and co-operation agreements should be progressed even if they will not be completed until we are fully satisfied. These long-term agreements have considerable potential for good because they aid dialogue and influence in the way I described earlier. I commend them to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.