HL Deb 08 December 2004 vol 667 cc901-3

3 p.m.

Lord Truscott asked Her Majesty's Government:

What support they will offer to the Ukrainian authorities to ensure that the forthcoming presidential election will be free and fair.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, we shall send up to 120 short-term and 10 long-term observers to the OSCE election observation mission for the rerun of Ukraine's presidential election, which should be held before 26 December. This represents more than 10 per cent of the 900 short-term and 60 long-term observers that the OSCE has called for and is double our contribution for the original rounds of the election.

Lord Truscott

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. I am glad that our country has met the OSCE requirement to double the number of observers following the last set of presidential elections in the Ukraine. Will the Minister join me in welcoming the package of electoral and constitutional reforms that have been passed today in the Ukrainian Parliament? Furthermore, will Her Majesty's Government use their good offices to ensure that there is no possibility of outside interference in the presidential elections?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that the constitutional reform changes which have been passed today in the Ukrainian Parliament, the Supreme Rada, are very much to be welcomed. They go a substantial way towards trying to resolve some of the underlying problems which were so evident in the previous rounds of this election. It is very much a matter for the Ukrainian authorities, but of course we support them in trying to run free and fair elections. In particular, we welcome the changes which have been introduced to limit the use of absentee ballots and mobile ballot boxes; we welcome the fact that the media will be freer to report on an unbiased basis; and we also welcome the fact that the Prime Minister will not be able to use some of his executive authority in the way that he was during the run-up to the previous election.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, we welcome the involvement of Britain, multilaterally through the OSCE, in monitoring these elections. Can the Minister say a little more about the involvement of other multilateral organisations, the Council of Europe and the EU, which appear to be playing quite a constructive role in the current delicate situation? Can she tell the House about the delicacy of the links between Russia, Ukraine and the West, which clearly overhang the election process?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the primary role in the running of free and fair elections falls to the OSCE. I represented the United Kingdom yesterday morning at the ministerial meeting of the OSCE which took place in Sofia. As regards the attitude of others around the table, it was clear to me that the Foreign Minister of Russia, Mr Lavrov, took a rather different view about what had happened in the Ukraine from that taken by, for example, Joschka Fischer speaking for Germany or myself speaking for the United Kingdom. The EU's role has been that of Mr Solana who, together with his colleagues from Lithuania and Poland, has been able to talk to the Ukrainian authorities about the ways in which they might approach running a free and fair election on the next occasion. So it has been primarily the OSCE— but with some help from Mr Solana and others— directly with the authorities in the Ukraine.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, does the Minister agree that this is a complicated situation? It is not a simple matter of democracy versus authoritarianism; there are ethnic and cultural differences. There are workers and miners in the east who will be concerned—as workers always are—about job security in the event of privatisation should the elections go in a particular way. It is a very complicated situation and a great deal of delicacy will be needed in handling it. Does the Minister agree?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the internal politics of other countries will always be complicated. My noble friend is right to point out that there are regional differences within Ukraine as to which candidate they support. However, what is not complicated is the fact that the OSCE produced incontrovertible evidence that the elections that took place were not free and fair. Yesterday morning I heard the representative of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the OSCE refer to the fact that in his view—that is, in the view of the OSCE—the elections had been a question of "premeditated fraud". That is a very big thing for the OSCE to say about any elections and we cannot take it lightly.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, in addition to sending many observers—which is a very good thing—will the Minister ensure that the British Council is strongly supported in its work in Ukraine? I am sure the noble Baroness recalls that the British Council has no fewer than five offices in both eastern and western Ukraine. Will she ensure that they are encouraged in their excellent work of not meddling but providing maximum information about good electoral practices, procedures and administration?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, has said, the British Council does excellent work in this respect. The United Kingdom has provided £3 million to help to create an environment in Ukraine in which free and fair elections can take place. The money is in the form of a bilateral contribution to the elections in Ukraine and is quite apart from the money that we have put into the OSCE's role in monitoring for free and fair elections.

Lord Kilclooney

My Lords, does the Minister agree that telling Mr Putin and Russia not to become involved in Ukraine and at the same time encouraging Poland and the European Union to get involved in Ukraine poses a question of double standards by the Government"? Would it not be better that the support given to the elections in Ukraine should come from institutions such as the Council of Europe, of which Ukraine is a member?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

No, my Lords. It is not a question of double standards at all. The Russians decided to make a declaration about the election in Ukraine at a time when it was obvious that there was considerable anxiety and unrest in Ukraine about the fairness of the elections and before the OSCE had had an opportunity to deliver its opinion. Others, including the United Kingdom, waited for the situation to clarify and to hear what the OSCE had to say. At that point, when the elections had been declared not to have been free and fair, there were interventions from the EU and others. Those interventions were of a very different nature and based on very different evidence.

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