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Sergei Magnitsky

Volume 541: debated on Wednesday 7 March 2012

I beg to move,

That this House notes the passage of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Bill through the United States Senate, the Bill to condemn corruption and impunity in Russia in the case and death of Sergei Magnitsky in the House of Commons in Canada, the approval of the resolution of the Dutch Parliament concerning Sergei Magnitsky dated 29 June 2011, and paragraphs I and 20 to 21 of the resolution of the European Parliament of 14 December 2011 on the EU-Russia Summit; and calls on the Government to bring forward equivalent legislative proposals providing for a presumption in favour of asset freezes and travel bans for officials of the Russian state and other countries, wherever the appropriate UK authorities have collected or received evidence that establishes that such officials:

(a) were involved in the detention, physical abuse or death of Sergei Magnitsky;

(b) participated in efforts to conceal the legal liability for the detention, abuse or death of Sergei Magnitsky;

(c) committed the frauds discovered by Sergei Magnitsky; or

(d) are responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture or other gross violations of human rights committed in Russia or any other country against any individual seeking to obtain, exercise, defend or promote basic and internationally recognised human rights, including those set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966.

I first thank the Backbench Business Committee, chaired by the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel), for granting the debate, and the sponsors of the motion representing all three main parties, who include five former Foreign Ministers. I also commend the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who has consistently raised the matter.

The debate was inspired by the brutal death of Sergei Magnitsky, a young Russian lawyer. Between 2007 and 2008, while working for Hermitage Capital, he exposed the biggest tax fraud in Russian history, worth $230 million. His legal team was then subjected to varying forms of intimidation. While other lawyers left Russia, fearing for their lives, Magnitsky stayed on to make a stand for the rule of law in Russia and strike a blow against the breathtaking corruption there. That bravery cost him his life.

Magnitsky was arrested in 2008 on trumped-up charges of tax evasion. In Putin’s Kafkaesque Russian justice system, the very tax investigators that Magnitsky had exposed turned up to arrest him. He was dumped in a filthy, freezing and overcrowded cell for eight months and fed putrid meals such as porridge with insect larvae and rotten fish, if and when he was fed at all. In such squalid conditions, he suffered acutely painful bladder and pancreatic problems. Eventually, a year after his arrest, he was transferred to hospital for emergency surgery, but when he arrived he was not treated at all. Instead, he was handcuffed to a bed and beaten by riot police. Doctors found him an hour later, lying on the floor. He was dead.

The Russian authorities blocked all attempts to bring those responsible to justice. Sixty people have been implicated in the persecution of Sergei Magnitsky, his client or in the original tax fraud, and they have been named by the US Commission on Security and Co-operation in Europe. They include senior officials such as the former deputy Interior Minister and the deputy prosecutor-general. The Moscow Public Oversight Commission, a watchdog mandated under Russian law, concluded that Magnitsky was tortured to death, but all the suspects were cleared by Russian investigators, some have been promoted and some decorated. In fact, the only people on trial are Magnitsky’s employer and Magnitsky himself, who is now the subject of Russia’s first ever posthumous prosecution.

Sergei Magnitsky joins that noble Russian tradition of dissidents who stood up for the rule of law, democratic reform and free speech—the tradition of Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov through to Anna Politkovskaya—but like many others who have been silenced for defending just causes throughout the world, Magnitsky stood for more than just Russia. Such people include Chinese human rights lawyer, Gao Zhisheng, tortured for defending property rights and free speech and currently held incommunicado at an unknown location; photographer Zahra Kazemi, arrested for taking pictures of the families of missing protesters in Iran, who gathered outside Tehran’s notorious Evin prison—she was jailed, tortured and beaten to death; and Hamza al-Khateeb, who was arrested during the Syrian protests last year. A month later his mutilated body was returned to his family. He was just 13 years old.

This motion is about keeping the flame of freedom alive for those brave souls. It calls on the Government to produce legislative proposals similar to the Bill going through the United States Senate with bipartisan support. It targets Sergei Magnitsky’s tormentors, who left a documentary trail of their crimes, but it would apply wherever there was evidence that a state official anywhere was responsible for torture, extrajudicial killing or some other gross human rights abuse, or was complicit in covering up such activities.

The evidence would need to be independently assessed by the Director of Public Prosecutions, by the Attorney-General or by some other appropriate authority. The designated person would be named and shamed, a stain on any regime that left him or her in post and a spur for reformers at home; they would be banned from entering Britain; and their assets here would be frozen. Of course there would have to be due process to allow anyone to challenge their designation, and the Government could make exemptions on the grounds of national interest, but the Secretary of State would have to publicly justify exempting anyone—a safeguard against misuse.

We would in effect be creating a presumption that targeted sanctions be imposed on those responsible for the worst international crimes against those who defend the freedoms we take for granted in this House and in this country. We would be sending a clear message that those responsible for such atrocities should not be able to fly into Britain, buy up property in Knightsbridge or head off down the King’s road for a bit of light Christmas shopping, as if nothing had ever happened.

This motion is not anti-Russia. It is pro-Russia. It is an unequivocal affirmation of our solidarity with those Russians who are suffering for having had the temerity to question the mafia-ridden practices of Putin’s nasty regime.

The hon. Gentleman is making a very powerful case. Does he accept that one of the problems in Russia is that although those in positions of leadership can perpetrate crimes against individuals by using the full undercover agencies of the state with absolute impunity, the one thing they most value and would not want to lose is the freedom to travel and to use their money, often stolen from the Russian people, in a life of luxury outside Russia?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that explanation of and rationale for what we are trying to achieve. It is precisely that. We are not seeking to exercise extraterritorial jurisdiction by depriving anyone of their freedom; we are merely saying, “You cannot come into this country if you have that kind of blood on your hands.” So the motion is not anti-Russia, but pro-Russia.

I will not, because time is limited and many others want to speak.

The motion is an expression of solidarity not only with freedom fighters around the world, but with legislators in the United States, in Canada, in the Netherlands, in Sweden, and now in Italy, who are also scrutinising legislation or calling for Government action to hold to account those responsible for these terrible crimes.

Let me be clear about this. If we enacted this law, it would not end impunity overnight in Russia or anywhere else in the world, for that matter, but it would help to puncture it. It would express Britain’s disgust and our resolve not to turn a blind eye to such heinous crimes, and it would honour those such as Sergei Magnitsky, who died struggling to keep the flickering light of freedom in his country alive.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) on securing this debate and commend all right hon. and hon. Members who have supported the motion.

In all parts of the House, there is strong and unequivocal condemnation of the brutal treatment and alleged murder of Sergei Magnitsky. Mr Magnitsky, as the hon. Member for Esher and Walton has explained, was a young Russian lawyer working on behalf of a British firm in Moscow. He is thought to have uncovered the biggest corruption case in Russian history—a case that implicated politicians, the police, judges, and members of the Russian mafia. Days after Mr Magnitsky filed a criminal complaint and testified on the involvement of the tax police, among others, he was arrested on spurious tax charges by the same tax police officers against whom he had testified. He was held in pre-trial detention for nearly a year. In prison, he was mistreated, denied medical treatment and beaten. He died just days before the one-year limit within which he could be held without trial expired.

As the motion underlines, this is one of several cases in Russia in which human rights defenders and those exposing corruption have been brutally murdered. World-renowned journalist Anna Politkovskaya, human rights activist Natalya Estemirova, and human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov have all been killed in cold blood for pursuing the truth. The brutality of the killings has even extended beyond Russia’s borders, with the murder of political exile Alexander Litvinenko on British soil five years ago.

The hon. Lady mentions cases including that of Natalya Estemirova. A couple of years ago, I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Chechnya and, unfortunately, to see at first hand some of the appalling human rights violations there, including what had happened about the assassination of Natalya Estemirova. We may know who is responsible in the case of Sergei Magnitsky, but does the hon. Lady agree that one of the major problems is that investigations into such cases to get to the root cause of who has committed these appalling crimes are not undertaken, and that we need to use all diplomatic efforts to encourage the Russian authorities to do so?

I do agree, and I will turn to the so-called investigation very soon.

I have given a shameful list of crimes in which justice never seems to be done. While those who bring to light allegations of corruption and abuse by the Russian state run a high risk of being murdered, those responsible for their murders appear to run little risk of being caught and punished. On the contrary, they seem to operate in a climate of impunity. These cases must be accounted for by the Russian Government.

The case of Mr Magnitsky has rightly been condemned around the world. Motions similar to the one that we are debating are being considered in other Parliaments in Europe, notably in Italy, Poland, the Netherlands and Sweden; and the European Parliament has agreed on a resolution. A private Member’s Bill has been presented to the Canadian Parliament, and in the US, Senators Cardin and McCain have introduced a Bill in the Senate. Our debate is about what the British Government are able or willing to do about the Magnitsky case and others in which a culture of impunity prevails.

In the UK, we have a long and proud tradition on human rights. A Conservative politician, David Maxwell Fyfe, was instrumental in drafting and introducing the European convention on human rights. Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have been outspoken on the Magnitsky case and on other human rights abuses. Britain cannot turn a blind eye to the Magnitsky case.

I sincerely hope that the Minister, in responding to the motion on behalf of the Government, will not repeat the same line that that we have heard countless times—namely, that it would be inappropriate to comment on this case until the official Russian investigation has reached a conclusion. That goes back to the point made by the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson). In June last year, a Home Office Minister, the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), said that the British Government were waiting on the report of the Russian investigation, which was due in August last year. In January this year, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham), restated that position and said that the investigation was now expected to report on 24 January.

Given that the investigation into Mr Magnitsky’s death opened in November 2009 and has been delayed 11 times since, I hope that the Minister now accepts that the delays are unacceptable. Will he assure me and the House that we will not hear the same wait-and-see policy from the Government today? There are good reasons to doubt that the investigative committee will ever get to the truth of who killed Sergei Magnitsky. A delaying tactic by the Russian Government must not be allowed to become a convenient delaying tactic for our Government. In the light of that, what measures will the Government take to increase the pressure on the Russian Government in the Magnitsky case and many others?

Beyond that case, it is important that this debate takes account of the broader concerns about the horrific conditions in Russian prisons, which are well documented. According to Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service, 4,423 people died in Russian prisons in 2010, and a huge number of Russian prisoners suffer and die from tuberculosis.

In July last year, President Medvedev’s human rights council reported that Sergei Magnitsky’s arrest was unlawful and that his detention was marked by beatings and torture aimed at extracting a confession of guilt. The only action of the Russian authorities in response to that evidence has been a decision to put the dead victim back on trial. That is unprecedented in Russian legal history. It is not only a grotesque parody of justice, but a gesture of contempt for the international community and the human rights norms on which it is built.

The motion refers to the international covenant on civil and political rights, reminding us that raising human rights issues is not about interfering in the affairs of the Russian Government, but is a way of holding Russia to its international obligations. Russia has signed the European convention on human rights, the universal declaration of human rights, the charter of Paris and the EU-Russia partnership and co-operation agreement, to name but a few. In signing each of those agreements, Russia made a solemn commitment to respect human rights. As a result, it has enjoyed the privileges that go with being a member of the international community. It is therefore reasonable to ask whether the Russian Government are living up to their side of the bargain.

Turning to foreign affairs, Russia is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and is soon to become a member of the World Trade Organisation. It has a key role to play in foreign policy in aiding the stability of Afghanistan and preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Russia’s role is also important in the case of Syria. As the Minister said this weekend, its refusal to co-operate with the international community is prolonging the horrific situation in Syria.

In conclusion, we recognise that only 22 years have elapsed since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the 70-year domination of communism, and that a period of deep economic turmoil accompanied the transition. We want to see Russia back on the path of reform, not going backwards, which is what the cases of Sergei Magnitsky and many others demonstrate. We want a successful, open, democratic Russia, free of endemic corruption, where the rule of law is protected, not eroded; a Russia that has a strong voice in the world and that works with the international community, not against it.

In the run-up to Sunday’s presidential elections, Vladimir Putin promised to root out corruption and to guarantee human rights. We want to see those promises delivered. If the Russian Government do not put Russia back on the path of reform, their economy is likely to stagnate, their population will continue to decline, discontent will grow, and Russia’s stability will be at risk. That is not in Russia’s interests, nor is it in ours.

We support the motion as a signal of our condemnation of the impunity for those who disregard human rights in Russia and our condemnation of those who are responsible for Sergei Magnitsky’s death. We urge the Government to continue to press the Russian authorities using all the available channels and all the upcoming opportunities, including through the European Union. It is important to note that the motion sets out steps that go beyond the precedents set by this and previous Governments in acting on such matters. We are less convinced by those points and urge the Government to reflect on how best to exert influence on the Russian Government to encourage them to meet their human rights obligations, including in the Magnitsky case. However, we share and echo the overriding emphasis of the motion. It unites the House in its condemnation of the criminal and brutal acts perpetrated against a brave and committed man. It rightly calls for pressure to be increased on the Russian Government to deal with the case in a fair and just manner, without delay and without equivocation.

I begin by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) and others for raising this important subject and securing the Back-Bench debate. I also thank the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) for her remarks. I will listen carefully to Members who speak in the debate. I am conscious that many colleagues wish to speak, so I will try to keep my remarks to 10 minutes or so, but I assure Members that I will stay for the rest of the debate and reflect carefully on the matters raised.

I express my profound sympathy, on behalf of the Government and all Members, to the relatives and friends of Sergei Magnitsky. The circumstances of his death are deeply troubling, as my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton set out. The fact that no one has been held to account for it is a matter of serious concern to the Government, and we raise the issue with the Russian authorities at the highest levels and at frequent intervals. It is important that those responsible are brought to justice, and we urge the authorities to do that. The issue is wider, however. The death of Sergei Magnitsky serves as a stark reminder of the human rights situation in Russia and the questions about the rule of law there. My remarks will cover both the specific and the general.

The presidential elections are now behind us. A new Government are coming in, and we shall engage with them with determination to secure justice for Sergei Magnitsky and to address the wider issues at stake.

I want to give way only a couple of times, in order to protect others’ time, but I will happily give way to the hon. Gentleman.

I ask the hon. Gentleman to listen to my remarks, and then he will understand the position that the Government take.

Most Members are familiar with the circumstances of Mr Magnitsky’s death, but I will give the Government’s view. Mr Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer working for Hermitage Capital Management, was arrested in November 2008 and taken into pre-trial detention, where he died nearly a year later. Before his arrest, Mr Magnitsky had been working to uncover an alleged tax fraud against the Russian state by certain law enforcement officials. He had given evidence against a number of Interior Ministry officials accused of tax fraud, and a number of the same individuals are alleged to have become involved in Mr Magnitsky’s investigation and detention.

In July 2011 the Russian presidential council on human rights published a report, which found that Mr Magnitsky had been denied medical treatment and beaten while in detention. Both those abuses contributed directly to his death. No one has yet been held to account for his death by the Russian authorities. The Russian investigative committee, which leads the criminal investigation into his death, appears to have made little progress, which we regret. The publication of its findings on Mr Magnitsky’s death has been postponed four times in 2011 and 2012, and the findings are currently due to be issued on 24 April. The lack of progress on the case is deeply troubling for all who care about human rights and about Russia.

We raise our concerns about the case with the Russian authorities at all levels, as the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East suggested we should. The Prime Minister discussed it with President Medvedev during his visit to Moscow in September, and most recently the Minister for Europe raised it with his opposite number Titov in late January. He urged the Russian authorities to complete a swift, thorough and transparent investigation into Mr Magnitsky’s death with no further delay, and that is the position of the UK Government.

There is no doubt that the case has wider implications on the rule of law and respect for human rights in Russia. Indeed, that is the premise of today’s debate. Mr Magnitsky’s death in pre-trial detention is not an isolated incident but a fate shared by about 50 to 60 people in Russia every year. The initiative behind the motion speaks to an instinct that we in government, and all of us in Parliament, share—to defend human rights, condemn those who abuse them and tackle a culture of impunity for those who do so, wherever it exists. The Foreign Secretary has always been clear that human rights are at the heart of the Government’s work around the world. As he has said, they are

“part of our national DNA and will be woven deeply into the decision-making processes of our foreign policy”.

The motion proposes that the UK should adopt a presumption in favour of travel bans and asset freezes for Russian officials allegedly implicated in Mr Magnitsky’s death. It starts with the Magnitsky case but goes beyond it, envisaging the application of that presumption to individuals charged with similar abuses in other countries. We are aware of the developments in other countries to which the motion refers. A Bill has been introduced to the US Congress, and in the Parliaments of the Netherlands and Canada there have been discussions in support of visa bans against officials allegedly implicated in Mr Magnitsky’s death. However, we are not aware that the Netherlands or Canada has taken action further to the discussions in their respective legislatures. I understand that the US Bill is still being discussed in the Senate. We cannot predict whether it will come into force or what form it might take if and when it becomes law. If Congress passes the Bill and the President approves it, we shall certainly look closely to ascertain whether there are lessons on which we might draw.

On travel bans, hon. Members will know that immigration rules enable us to refuse a visa when, for example, information on an individual’s character, conduct or associations makes entry to the UK undesirable. Entering the UK is a privilege, not a right. Equally, asset freezes can be deployed against individuals when those measures would effect meaningful change.

The House will also appreciate—here I must repeat words stated by the Government and previous Governments—that the UK has a long-established and globally consistent practice of not commenting routinely on individual cases. The Government and previous Governments have pursued that policy, and it remains our approach.

In the cases of Mr Magnitsky and others, we want the Russian Government to ensure that justice is done and measures to be put in place to prevent such cases from happening again. More broadly, the Government remain concerned about the rights afforded to ordinary Russian citizens and have been clear that more should be done to address them.

To that end, we have a twin-track approach to human rights in Russia. First, we promote dialogue bilaterally, raising cases at the highest levels. Our annual human rights dialogues with Russian officials give a clear opportunity to voice our concerns and track progress.

Secondly, we support non-governmental organisations that are working on those critical issues. For example, we are working with the Russian NGO, Social Partnership Foundation, to address the problem of deaths in pre-trial detention. This financial year, we have spent £1.25 million on projects supporting human rights and democracy.

Our work on human rights is wide ranging. Priorities include: better support and protection for human rights defenders; supporting increased monitoring and reporting of human rights abuses; and urging the Russian Government to investigate fully the unresolved murders of journalists and human rights defenders. The low success rate in prosecuting those responsible for the crimes perpetuates the perception of impunity.

This week, we were encouraged to hear that President Medvedev has asked for a review of the trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. We will follow progress on that with interest.

Political rights are an integral part of the picture. As the Foreign Secretary highlighted this week in his statement on the Russian presidential elections, while the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights election observation mission gave a positive assessment of voting on election day, it identified problems with counting at some polling stations, unequal campaign conditions and limitations on voter choice. Those issues should not be overlooked. A Russia with greater political freedoms, including the registration of political parties, freedom of assembly and freedom of the media, is in the interests of Russians and the wider world. I take the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton that the motion is about and for the benefit of Russia, not a criticism of Russia.

It is a time of great opportunity for civil society in Russia to help bring about evolutionary change. Civil society has shown its considerable energy in recent months. We will work closely with the Russian authorities and Russian NGOs to encourage developments in a positive direction on human rights in the coming months and years, and we will continue to work at all levels to achieve justice for Sergei Magnitsky.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) on securing the debate. It is important that it is on a motion because the Government must decide what they will do. They must decide whether to support it, and thus take the action that it demands of them.

Several attempts have been made to try to ensure that the debate never came to pass. The Russian ambassador in London attempted to repress a previous debate, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane), a former Minister for Europe, led. I know that the Russian ambassador also tried to ensure that you, Mr Speaker, stopped today’s debate happening. That shows a complete misunderstanding of the political process in this country and the need for democratic and open debate. No ambassador should write to the Speaker of this House to try to prevent a debate. It is perfectly legitimate for us to debate what we choose to debate.

This is extremely important. I have already had to intervene on this with Mr Speaker after the Russian embassy put on its website a statement attacking me as a parliamentarian for raising the Magnitsky case. Someone has to talk to this Russian ambassador and tell him crudely to butt out of House of Commons business.

I had already made that point, but I wholeheartedly agree with my right hon. Friend that we will discuss what we want. I very much hope that nothing is put in the way of the all-party group when we go to Russia so that we can meet not only members of the Government, but members of the opposition.

There are two basic problems in Russia at the moment, the first of which is the impunity that attends so much criminality. Hon. Members have referred to Anna Politkovskaya, but many other journalists have been murdered. Had journalists been murdered in this country, everybody around the world would have been howling and demanding justice. Similarly, we are unable to get justice for the murder of Mr Litvinenko, because Russia maintains that no extradition is allowed for any Russian citizen. That prevents justice and means impunity for those in Russia.

The second problem is the regular, systemic state abuse of the criminal justice system in Russia, which has meant that Mikhail Khodorkovsky has been imprisoned on spurious charges—Amnesty International has declared him and Platon Lebedev as prisoners of conscience. It is right that we pursue such issues to try to ensure that there is a proper criminal justice system in Russia, and one that does not depend on torture.

I must confess that the Government’s response tonight is very disappointing. For a start, I did not know that our foreign policy was to wait for the United States of America to make up its mind in its Senate and Congress on what it will do about immigration before we decide what we will do. We should be free to make our own decision, particularly because the one thing many significant Russians in the Putin regime value above all else is the ability to travel to London. London is the place where they like to do their banking and shopping, and where their families like to go for their education, and so on. Ensuring that the people involved in the murder of Sergei Magnitsky and the corruption he unveiled are unable to come to this country is a vital part of ramming home to the Russian Government that we want better relations with them and that we want to do more business with them, but that we can do so only when human rights are respected and corruption weeded out.

The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful case. On exactly that point, is not the other advantage of the motion that it will help to counter the impression that is forming among many British people that we are becoming a safe haven for all sorts of Russian crooks and gangsters?

That cuts both ways, because another problem with how the Russians use the criminal justice system is that they try to extradite many people from this country whom they claim are criminals. One such person is Mr Zakayev, who was accused of murdering a Russian Orthodox priest. The said Russian Orthodox priest stood up in court and gave evidence that he had not been murdered. In all cases thus far in which extradition from the United Kingdom has been sought, the judge has decided that the case has been proceeded with not on the ground of seeking justice, but on purely political grounds. That is something we must deal with.

I am certain that the Government are not allowing any of those people in. From all the nudge-nudge, wink-winks I have had—[Interruption.] I got a nod from the Minister just now—[Interruption.] No, he is just brushing his nose. It is clear from other Ministers and from those nudges and winks that the Government have no intention of letting any of those people into this country, but it is now time for them to say so openly. That would make a significant difference. Ministers trot out the line that no Government ever talk about whether people are being refused entry to this country, but that is not true.

I am not asking the Minister to do it routinely. I am asking him to do it in this specific set of circumstances, because I think it would be profoundly successful in transforming the views of the Russian regime.

The Minister’s speech, in effect, was a speech against the motion. [Interruption.] It certainly was not a speech in favour of the motion, and in this House a Member can only make a speech in favour or against a motion, because, in end, we either allow the motion to pass, which means voting for it, or we vote against it.

I am delighted with that. I think, in that case, the hon. Member for Esher and Walton has secured an important victory. However, it is regularly the case now, in these Back-Bench business debates, that the Government allow the motion to pass because they know they would lose the vote, and then do absolutely nothing about what the House has resolved. That brings the House and the Government into disrepute. I hope, therefore, that if the motion is agreed to—it sounds as though it will be, if the Government are supporting it—the Government will take forward everything laid out in the motion. I hope that they will have a timetable for implementing that by the end of the year.

Everybody in the House wants to do better business with Russia. Every businessman I have known who has done business in Russia has said that the biggest problem is the financial and political corruption, which makes it difficult for them to do clean business, and no business, especially since the Bribery Act 2010 was passed, wants to do dirty business. I say to Mr Putin that now is a unique opportunity for him to show a change of mind and of tack on human rights and political rights, and it is a unique opportunity for this Government to move forward and ensure that the Russians seize that opportunity.

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman. There is great interest in the debate, so to maximise the number of contributors in the short time available, I am afraid that I must impose, with immediate effect, a six-minute limit on Back-Bench contributions.

May I first reassure the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) that the Russian ambassador knows perfectly well that he will have no influence in the House of Commons? He is anxious that his bosses in Moscow see that he has done everything in his power to make their views known.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) on giving the House the opportunity to consider a matter that has already been debated in many other Parliaments around the world. That is much to his credit. This debate is primarily about the personal tragedy of Sergei Magnitsky and his family. Magnitsky was a man of extraordinary courage and integrity, a symbol of the new Russia, both in his life and, sadly, in his death. He was a representative of the new Russia. The people who murdered him were symbols of the old Russia and, in some ways, the old Soviet Union.

To a significant degree, in some ways I am more disturbed by what happened to Magnitsky than by what used to happen in the old Soviet Union. The Soviet Union made no pretence of being anything other than a totalitarian state. It had no interest in the rule of law as we understand it. Indeed, on this issue, I suspect that it would have reacted quite differently from Mr Putin and Mr Medvedev. The Politburo would not have tolerated the state theft of $230 million from the Treasury by public officials acting in a criminal fashion.

President Medvedev would have us believe that Russia is now a country of the rule of law, but we know very well that in practice that is sadly not the case. Instead of moving towards belief in the rule of law, Russia is moving towards being a society that might very well be tolerating a relationship between the Russian state and organised crime that is deep and serious, and which extends to the highest levels of Russian society. That is a serious accusation to make, but the facts seem to point in that direction.

First, as I indicated, this has been no minor act of theft from private individuals, companies or some local department. The theft involved, by public officials, was from the Russian Treasury of $230 million. Of course, scandals happen in other countries. The test is the reaction of the Government to such situations. Not only has no serious effort been made to identify, try and punish those responsible for the theft, but the opposite has happened: the person who exposed the fraud was himself persecuted, and at the end of the day was murdered. That is a very sad situation. Medvedev and Putin have gone through the motions of punishing some minor officials, but instead of praising Magnitsky for what he did, he has been persecuted.

I do not necessarily suggest that Mr Putin or President Medvedev were personally involved, but there are only two possible explanations for their failure to respond. The first is that they are impotent to do so. That may be true of Medvedev, but I frankly cannot believe that Mr Putin is anything other than able to have responded, if he had so wished, in the most fundamental way, to identify not only the perpetrators of the crimes against Mr Magnitsky, but the theft from the Russian state. The only other explanation has to be that, for reasons of their own, those at the highest levels of the Russian Government are prepared to tolerate criminality of the most serious kind, because there is a sufficient common interest between those who have political power and those who wield power through organised crime to make doing what they did preferable to taking action of the kind that should have been taken.

I do not underestimate the seriousness of what I am saying, but if we could see Magnitsky’s fate as an isolated incident, one might be more charitable about the policy of the current Russian Government. However, as has been said, from the Opposition Front Bench and by others, there are so many cases of flagrant disregard for the rule of law. It is the blatant political interference in the judicial system—which goes way beyond the tragedies of the Magnitsky case—that is important. For some time now, Mr Putin and Mr Medvedev have been alleging that the fate of Khodorkovsky was nothing to do with politics, but entirely to do with his breach of the criminal law. The timing of the decision to review his case could not have been more political, and illustrates that those who were responsible for putting him in prison may now be realising that the reaction that that created throughout the world means it is time to allow him to be released.

The final thing that I would like to say in this short debate is simply this. By approving the motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton, we are not only showing solidarity with all those fighting for the rule of law in Russia, which is just as an important as the creation of a pluralist democracy, but saying to Mr Magnitsky’s family—we cannot say it directly to Mr Magnitsky himself—that we honour his memory and his achievements, and we are doing what we can to help what he tried to achieve.

It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), because my heart soared when he spoke in Foreign Office questions in January to call for the public naming of the 60 officials associated with Magnitsky’s death. I congratulate the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) on securing this debate on the Floor of the House.

Just as my heart soared when I heard the right hon. and learned Gentleman, it sank when I heard the official Foreign Office brief read out at the Dispatch Box this evening. The Minister of State knows that I am a fan of his, but in this case I urge him and the Foreign Secretary to make it clear that they are Ministers with a democratic duty to speak up for the House of Commons, which now wants clear action to be taken. It is nonsense to say that we have not named people banned from coming into this country. We have named Martha Stewart, the cook, for goodness’ sake. We also named George Raft, the actor, and Pablo Neruda, the Chilean Nobel prize laureate. If they were good enough to be named, so too can some of these Russian thugs.

I am not proposing a policy of latter day Palmerstonian “advocatus Britannicus sum”, or “Because I am a lawyer representing British interests, I must have some special protection.” I am saying that, as we develop and shape our diplomacy in challenging and difficult times, we have to leave some rusty old tools in the Foreign Office toolbox firmly locked up and sharpen our approach.

I am not going to repeat the comments on the nature of the Russian state that have already been well made by other hon. Members. I am not sure that it consists solely of a relationship between politicians and criminals. Russia is not a functioning constitutional, democratic state that observes the rule of law. There is no distinction between political and business life there, or between state employees and those who run enterprises of any sort. Mr Putin is the chief executive officer of an enterprise, and his Russia exists in order to enrich him and those associated with him, going right down through the state machine. This is vertical power, and what happened to Magnitsky was not a sequence of accidents; it was authorised at a very high level.

The campaign is important, but where are the British lawyers? In the 1970s, when Russian psychiatrists were abusing their medical professionalism by signing off on dissidents being imprisoned for being mentally disabled, the British and American legal and psychiatric professions rose as one to condemn them and expel them from international associations. Where are the British lawyers today? Why are they not standing up for their fellow solicitor or fellow silk in Russia?

We need to look at the broader question of how we deal with Russia. The snow revolution might have petered out on Sunday, but Russians have lost their fear and passivity as they look upon Putin as another long-serving leader. Such leaders exist in western, democratic countries too but, as with Helmut Kohl, Mrs Thatcher and Mr Mubarak, there comes a moment when the fear has gone. I believe that Britain should also lose its fear of speaking up for democracy in action, and take consequent actions.

Under the 70 years of sovietised Russia, very few Russians could travel, but during the Yeltsin and Putin years, we have gone back to the pre-1917 tsarist days when the rich of Russia came here, bought villas and were educated at Oxford, and Prince Obolensky scored great tries for England. Now, they are back in town. I have no particular objection to them, but the one thing that they will understand is being told that they no longer have an entry ticket into London.

I want to make a tiny party political point. I do wish that the Conservatives would quit their alliance with Putin’s stooges at the Council of Europe. They are there for different reasons, and I am not going to go into any of that now, but it is embarrassing that some of our colleagues and friends sit with the Russians in our main human rights body in Europe, at which the Russians are present and can be held to account. The Russians get a free ride there.

I would also like to ask some of our journalists to stop being Putin’s little helpers. If our poor Prime Minister goes for a ride on a horse, it makes the front page of The Times, and everyone mocks him and scorns him and says it is very serious. If Putin pulls on an ice hockey shirt and does a bit of midnight ice hockey, the editor of The Times is there, swooning at the feet of this majestic specimen of manhood. I do not expect the Chelsea football club programme, or The Independent or the Evening Standard, to be tough on Russia, but I think that the rest of our papers could be a bit harder on it.

I finish by quoting Anna Politkovskaya. At the end of her book, “A Russian Diary”, published after her murder in 2006, she wrote of Putin:

“So far there is no sign of change. The state authorities remain deaf to all warning from the people. They live their own life, their faces permanently twisted by greed and by irritation that anybody should try to prevent them from getting even richer. Our state authorities are only interested in making money. If anyone thinks they can take comfort from the optimistic forecast, let them do so. It is certainly the easier way, but it is also a death sentence for our grandchildren.”

I am not a member of the all-party group, and I have never spoken in this place about anything to do with Russia. However, I recently chaired a meeting at which Sergei Magnitsky’s former employer spoke, in detail and with emotion and depth, about Sergei’s life and death. It was impossible not to be moved, which is why I have come to speak in the debate today and to make a case for our Government to support the motion. That man died in the most horrific circumstances and he was the most principled of people. Sergei Magnitsky was killed by corrupt officials because he was a principled man who exposed officials as thieves, when a huge amount of money to be paid in tax to the Russian state disappeared overnight. Overnight, those officials, politicians, police officers and tax inspectors suddenly became very rich individuals indeed. That is the simple, tragic background to what we are discussing today, but the ramifications reach far further.

A ruling elite has sprung out of the chaos in Russia during the 1990s, and it preaches to the masses nationalism and pride in a powerful Russian state. At the same time, this ruling elite is weakening its own country through corruption, nepotism and greed. That contradiction is not for us in this House to solve. It is not our affair; we have no powers over Russian business. Proud Russian people, furthermore, do not take kindly to foreign interventions into their domestic affairs. The British Council would be able to inform us about that.

The British Government and this House, however, have influence over who enters this country and who crosses our borders, and over our domestic affairs, particularly in respect of foreign visitors. We do not have an entirely open border policy for Russian citizens. Indeed, I have been told that the visa regime between the two countries can make for an incredibly tiresome process. On rare occasions, we reserve the right to say to particular citizens of the Russian Federation that they are not welcome in the UK and we can deny them a visa.

Is there any greater indication that someone’s presence in the UK is not welcome or desired in this country than the fact that we are dealing with thieves, murderers, torturers and corrupt individuals? Yet, as my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) said, the fact that these people can just pop into our country to do a bit of Christmas shopping is distasteful in the extreme. At the very least, we need to put some process in place to make sure that they are refused entry at the border.

On Sunday, Vladimir Putin was elected President of the Russian Federation for a third term. Mr Putin is known and recognised for his patriotic pride, and the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) spoke about how Putin often displays this in taking off his shirt, attending ice hockey events or throwing in curling events to show us what a big proud man he is. He resents interference in Russian politics from anywhere outside Russia, which makes it ironic that the Russian ambassador thinks that this matter is unique to Russia. These Russians feel that they can interfere in what happens in our politics by trying to prevent this debate from taking place.

I am grateful for that point of order. I hope that the clock will be held so that the time available to the hon. Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Nadine Dorries) will not be reduced.

I can tell the House that I received a letter from the Russian ambassador, drawing my attention to what he regarded as the errors contained in the motion and the merit of what he thought to be that fact—I emphasise that this was what he thought to be that fact—being communicated to the sponsors of the debate. I replied to the ambassador, noting his letter and underlining to him that he must not expect me, as an impartial Speaker, to comment on the contents of either the letter or the motion. I reminded him of the date of the debate, and indicated that if he wished to communicate his views in writing to the sponsors of the debate, it was open to him to do so. I hope that my meaning was clear—that this House debates what it wants to debate and that if other people wish to send letters, they can send letters, but it is not the responsibility of the Speaker to act as a post person.

Mr Putin does not want Russia to be treated any less fairly than any other country in respect of trade, defence or intelligence. That is fair enough, but he cannot expect Russia to be given any special treatment. Criminals—thieves, and those who have committed gross violations of human rights—are not welcome in the United Kingdom, no matter what passport they hold, and such criminals who happened to be British would be pursued to the full extent of the law.

Russia is held in deep affection in my office. Culturally, I am in awe of the country. Ilya Repin is one of my favourite artists. He was introduced to me by a master at Winchester college, Paul Thomas, when I went to speak there some years ago, and ever since then we have taken an interest in Russia—perhaps not quite as deep an interest as is taken in a certain Liberal Democrat Member’s office, but a deep interest none the less. However, that does not blind me to the faults of the Russian Government. What greater fault can a Government have than not only failing to protect their citizens, but being the agent through which they suffer, and protecting those criminals instead of the victims? I support the motion wholeheartedly.

I too support the motion, and thank the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) for initiating it. It is surely not a coincidence that the debate is taking place just after the Russian election. Indeed, it could be said to be pertinent, given that claims of corruption and vote-tampering seem to be legion.

When I began to research the case of Sergei Magnitsky, I felt as though I was reading a far-fetched conspiracy theory novel by someone like John le Carré. The difference is that this is not fiction but fact. It happened, but as yet it has remained unchecked and unpunished. I am a great believer in the sovereignty of individual countries. I believe that Europe interferes in our judicial system far too often, and it is not often that I would try to make contact with another judicial system, but when the corruption is as blatant as this, and when those involved are as unrepentant as they are, I believe that it is my duty as a Member of Parliament—and, let me respectfully add, the duty of the House as well—to stand up and be counted, and to say, “This is not right.”

What happened in the case of Sergei Magnitsky was and is not right. This young man of 37 was simply doing his job when he came across intrigue at the highest levels, and instead of taking a step back, he stood up and paid the ultimate price. The father of two was a hard worker, an intelligent man who believed in truth, and when he uncovered a criminal web as a result of 14 months of solid investigation and was able to point, with evidence, to those involved in the theft of $230 million from Russian taxpayers, he made a statement naming those involved. That did not happen by the way; it happened after months of investigation and discussion with many witnesses. The evidence that Sergei had would clearly have put people in jail if it had been heard in a British court, but it did not do so in Russia.

Sergei was arrested by the subordinates of those whom he had named as being involved within the police, but refused to back down and retract his allegations. He was imprisoned in a cell with eight inmates and four beds—a cell with no windows in the cold November Moscow winter—and was then moved to cells with no toilets, containing raw sewage. After continuing to refuse to withdraw his allegations, he was moved from prison to prison approximately 10 times. With each move, his property—not that he had much—disappeared, including, on the occasion of his last move, a water boiler that was essential to purify the harmful drinking water.

After six months of that mistreatment, Sergei became ill, lost almost 3 stone in weight, and was diagnosed with pancreatitis and gallstones. Both are treatable conditions, and in a British jail he would have lived, but because in the Russian jail it did not suit the authorities for him to get better, he did not. When he again refused to withdraw his complaint, he was denied medical treatment despite 20 formal requests, and was sent to a maximum-security prison with no hospital where, after screaming in agony for days, he was eventually moved to solitary confinement, chained to a bed, and beaten to death by eight men on 16 November 2009.

I ask Members to think about that date. I remember clearly what I was doing on 16 November 2009. I was doing my former job in the Northern Ireland Assembly, debating child poverty and trying to move Northern Ireland forward, while that young man was being beaten to death for being an honest man and for daring to stand up to those in power. I ask Members, “What were you doing on that date?” They may not recall exactly where they were on 16 November 2009, but I ask the question for a reason.

Just as I stood up for children's rights to live a life without poverty in the Assembly in 2009, today I must stand up in the House of Commons for a man who told the truth. I stand up against those who perpetrated the act, and who, rather than being punished, have been rewarded and promoted. I stand up against those who now seek to continue the torture of Sergei's family by charging him after his death with the very crimes that his evidence showed others to have committed, and I hope that the House will do the same. I stand here as a proud British man who is not prepared to continue to reward those who perpetrated this act against this young man—and against the people of Russia—and who believes we must take our place on the global stage and condemn what has happened. We must ensure that those involved do not have immunity and will not be free to travel to, or engage in enterprise in, our country, as the hon. Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Nadine Dorries) said.

There are times when the world must condemn another country’s decisions. This is one such time. We must condemn Russia’s determined protection of those who were involved in either perpetrating or facilitating the theft of $230 million in taxes and the unjustified imprisonment, torture and eventual murder of Sergei Magnitsky.

I fully support the motion and ask that we all uphold the ethics of this young, courageous man who said that he would not allow such things to happen in his country. We must not allow those involved to enter, or benefit in any way from, our country. We must send out the clear message that we will side with the United States, Canada and Holland in standing up for what is right. The British Government must act on behalf of Sergei Magnitsky.

I am glad that we are having this opportunity to discuss this disturbing case, as it is very important that we do so. The death of Sergei Magnitsky in prison, when guilty of no crime, makes us appreciate living in a society where we enjoy rule of law. That he was ever imprisoned in the first place shows that Russia still has a long way to go if it is fully to leave behind the stark inhumanity of the Soviet period and reach the sunlit uplands of being a well-constituted, constitutional state.

There has been progress, however, although it has been limited. We should welcome the Russian investigative committee’s acknowledgment that Sergei died because of the conduct of the authorities who imprisoned him, and a criminal case has opened against the two doctors involved. It is disturbing, of course, that there have been delays, and it is ridiculous that Mr Magnitsky is now posthumously back on trial.

However, this debate also gives us an opportunity to discuss what is going on in Russia at present. Ever since marrying my half-Russian wife, I have taken a deep interest in Russia. I have no interest to declare, as she is not linked in any way with anyone associated with Putin or the Soviet era. Her family was expelled in 1917, despite donating the Michael palace—or, perhaps, because of that—where my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Nadine Dorries) can see the Repin masterpieces.

I have long been interested in Russia, therefore, which is why I was delighted to be asked by the Council of Europe to go there this week as one of its official observers. I think I am the only Member to have been in Russia this week; I have been there for the past five days. I travelled there full of cynicism about what is going on in Russia, and with concerns about Mr Putin’s party, and I should state at the outset that I do not condone in any way the restriction on the number of candidates or the lack of airtime for opposition candidates—they had some airtime, but not in prime time.

On Sunday, I spent 13 hours visiting polling stations in a rather drab suburb of St Petersburg, and I was impressed. Frankly, there is democracy working there. I was out at the polling stations before dawn, seeing the transparent ballot boxes being opened. The count was operated not by party officials, but by local people, mainly teachers. As far as I could see, it was done properly, according to the rules. I talked, through an interpreter, to many observers from all parties, who were present at all times. I saw the votes being counted. Generally, the atmosphere was good, and I saw no intimidating police presence.

I therefore want to rebalance the debate slightly. There has been a lot of Russia-bashing and Putin-bashing so far. I make no defence of the regime, but we must bear in mind that in my own lifetime Russia was a terrifying Stalinist dictatorship where people could be shot for expressing their point of view, so let us at least acknowledge that there has been some progress. Even 22 years ago it was a stultifying one-party state.

So was Spain, but the changes in that country have been much more dramatic and serious. Did the hon. Gentleman not see the reports of people who work for the Russian state being told that if they did not hand over a postal ballot form for somebody else to vote on their behalf, they would lose their jobs?

Well, we had accreditation and we were allowed to go and see all the absentee voting rolls. In the polling stations I visited, the absentee voting rolls were only about 10% of the total. Even if 10% of them were fraudulent or represented votes made under pressure from others, that could not significantly have affected the result. I am afraid that, whether we like it or not, in the polling station where I saw the count Putin won clearly. That leads to the question we have to ask ourselves: is Putin the bar to liberal pluralist democracy that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) described in his excellent article earlier this week in The Daily Telegraph, or is there some evidence that the reason why he is quite popular in Russia is that not all Russians want pluralist liberal democracy? I make no defence of that point of view; I just ask that question. In his article, my right hon. and learned Friend said that

“the only opponents permitted to stand in the election were the Communists and an unelectable oligarch”,

but all the parties represented in the Duma were allowed to stand. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) laughs; I do not pretend that the election was perfect, but progress is being made. We have to acknowledge that there were other candidates.

I think the hon. Gentleman is putting too positive a gloss on this. May I remind him of the case of Grigory Yavlinsky, the candidate of the Liberal Democrats’ sister party in Liberal International in Russia, Yabloko? He was simply denied the opportunity to stand by an electoral commission. It was not a fair election.

I immediately acknowledge that, and I do not condone the exclusion of any candidate from standing or the lack of prime-time airtime for Opposition candidates. I do not pretend it is a perfect democracy, but the House of Commons has to appreciate that this is still an infinitely freer election than has happened in the past in Russia. At least some progress has been made; let us not knock that.

There has been talk about the case of Mikhail Khordokovsky. I do not defend the tumbling and the show trial of that oligarch, but we have to remember what happened under Mr Yeltsin’s rule. He sold off the family silver to his friends, cronies and supporters, and there was no limit to the power of the oligarchs under him. I do not defend the trial, but Mr Putin was clearly sending a political message to the Russian people that no oligarch is above the rule of law.

My hon. Friend might make that argument regarding the first conviction, but what message was Mr Putin sending by bringing Mr Khordokovsky to trial a second time, after he had served his sentence, and having him sentenced to many more years in prison?

Straight away, I make no defence of that, but we have to appreciate the internal politics going on in Russia. That is all I am trying to do. I do not think we should indulge ourselves, pleasant as it may be, in Putin phobia, which is sometimes nourished in our own commentariat. There are double standards and the democracy is not perfect, but unfortunately many of the Russians to whom I and others have spoken conclude that the west would rather see a Russia that is poor, weak and unstable as long as it subscribes to our notions of liberal democracy—and it is not for us to lecture them—instead of a Russia that is rich, influential and stable. That is primarily what they want. They might not share all our views about liberal democracy, but ordinary Russians whom one can talk to in the street are primarily interested in their pensions and their quality of life, which has improved immeasurably in the past 10 years. I therefore support the moderate tone that the Minister has taken today. We have to have an environment of respect for the Russian Government and we have to encourage dialogue with them rather than continually giving them lectures that, I am afraid, have absolutely no resonance with the Russian people. It is true that Russia is changing too slowly, but at least President Medvedev has attempted to reform the police service and get rid of the Soviet “people’s militia” system, so some progress is being made.

The death of Sergei Magnitsky leaves one cold and those guilty of it are thoroughly contemptible. Of course we condemn what is going on, but I think our Government are taking a measured and sensible approach in seeking to prevent any of those people from coming to this country and in not seeking to predetermine the outcome of trials that are taking place in Russia. My hon. Friend the Minister’s attitude in seeking to preserve good relations with an essential trading partner is a balanced and right approach, which I support.

Order. With three remaining colleagues wishing to contribute and a short winding-up speech by the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) still to come, I am afraid that the time limit must be reduced with immediate effect to four minutes.

Although it is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh), I rise from the Liberal Democrat Benches of the coalition to support the motion unequivocally. I am pleased that there has been such cross-party unity—from the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). The motion was also signed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell). That cross-party unity is important, not least because the UK bears a special responsibility in the case of Sergei Magnitsky. He was working for a British company, Hermitage Capital, and the gentleman who has spearheaded the worldwide campaign for justice, Bill Browder, is a British citizen. Our country therefore has an obligation to lead the campaign. The example being set by legislators in the United States, the Netherlands and Canada is one that we should and can follow.

The world has changed since the 1970s and the 1980s—the hon. Member for Gainsborough is right about that. Democracy has flourished in Latin America, eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Africa and Asia, and we hope that it will now flourish in the middle east and north Africa, too. Russia has been part of the process. It is undoubtedly a freer country than was the Soviet Union, yet the implication of all the issues we are discussing is that democracy is, if anything, in danger and potentially going in reverse in Russia, in a way that it is not in eastern Europe, Latin America or even Africa.

It is right that we are increasingly intolerant of human rights abuses worldwide, whether committed by monsters such as Joseph Kony of the Lord’s Resistance Army in central Africa, or murderous regimes such as that of Bashar al-Assad. Some mechanisms are useful against that kind of leader—for example, the International Criminal Court. In the case of Sergei Magnitsky and cases like it, however, the situation is more complicated. Russia is a country with democratic structures and space for opposition and pluralism; nevertheless, the state and the judicial system are being used as a mechanism for oppression. People are acting with impunity and assuming that they can get away with it indefinitely. We need mechanisms that will target not just the leaders but the accomplices, to discourage people from participating in such activity all the way down the food chain. For that, we need a faster and more effective process than referrals to the ICC.

I agree with the hon. Member for Rhondda: we should not necessarily be waiting for measures to be implemented in other countries before we recognise that it might be right to act in this country. I accept that there are constraints on what the Minister can tell us, and I absolutely accept his personal commitment to human rights and democracy. He has done extraordinary work to raise those issues even when it was inconvenient to do so, not just with the Russian Government, but with many other Governments worldwide. I certainly give him credit, but it is important that we support the motion and seize our opportunity.

It is important, too, that we do not send mixed messages, for example in our suggested reforms to the European Court of Human Rights. There is danger in saying that national Governments can pick and choose which cases go forward. If we do that, it might be possible for Russia to do it too, which in the context of the Magnitsky case would be very dangerous. I am happy to support the motion. I recognise the constraints, but the time has come to speak out and to act.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) on initiating this important debate. I am happy to support the motion, which I signed along with 40 other Members.

Such is the strength of feeling in the House that the debate is a welcome addition to the growing chorus of concern both in this country and internationally about the scandalous case of Sergei Magnitsky. I speak as a fellow lawyer who worked for many years in a free and open legal system, where justice was done and seen to be done. It chills me to the bone to think that a fellow lawyer who was doing his job had to suffer the most appalling indignities and death at the hands of the very authorities he was trying to expose.

For those of us who have heard the account of the life and death of Sergei Magnitsky, the sense of shock and outrage never lessens. For those who are hearing the case for the very first time, I would characterise it in this way: an independent lawyer was arrested, imprisoned, ill-treated and killed for blowing the whistle on the massive theft of tax revenue from the Russian state by its own officials. A simple recitation of those facts underlines the seriousness of the case. It is sadly indicative of the state of kleptocracy, plain and simple, into which the Russian state seems to be descending.

The Conservative party human rights commission, which I have the honour to chair, heard evidence from Bill Browder and others about the Magnitsky case as part of our ongoing inquiry into the role of professional people in countries around the world with poor human rights records. As my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton said, this debate is not just about Russia—it is about freedom itself. The motion is not anti-Russia. Those of us who love Russia and its people, who have visited the country on several occasions both before the end of communism and after, want to see it thrive and march down the road to freedom. At present, though, Russia is sadly far away from that road. That is why the approaches taken in other countries and other legislatures, most notably the United States Senate, are commendable. They point a clear way to concerted international action to deal with the perpetrators of such crimes in a way that affects them most significantly: by limiting their freedom to visit countries such as Britain and by freezing the assets that we know they own internationally. That is not interference in the domestic affairs of another country, but international action designed to express our disapproval, our disgust, at the role of officials in concerted and organised state corruption.

It is time for Russia to have its chance to reach freedom. All we are saying today to the Russian state and to those responsible for these crimes is that they should turn away from oppression and corruption, acknowledge the sins of the past, deal with them properly and join the free world in the fullest sense.

Sergei Magnitsky was born on 8 April 1972 and died on 16 November 2009, so he would have been younger than two of my children.

On 4 June 2007, Colonel Kuznetsov went with other people to take documents from Hermitage’s offices. On 24 December there was an application for a refund of capital taxes, which was approved in 24 hours. That was the stealing of the $230 million. The best description of what happened is on the website The Wikipedia article on Sergei Magnitsky is also pretty good. We have talked a little about the Cardin list, on which Benjamin Cardin, a senator for Maryland, lists 60 people who have been involved in the Magnitsky case. Two have been prosecuted. Of the lawyers who have been trying to help the investigation, one has been killed and five have been exiled. A colonel was put in charge of the investigation when complaints were made. It seems incredible that the head of tax office No. 28 in Moscow ends up with millions of dollars abroad when she and her husband together were earning about $38,000 a year. The colonel, who officially earns the equivalent of $10,000 a year, has more than £1 million in property in various countries.

I could go on, but the point is better made by reference to the full 75 pages of documentary evidence. There have been 3,500 articles in the Russian media on the case. It is not a question of only the west being interested; people in Russia are, too. Within about a month of the tragic death of Sergei Magnitsky, the Moscow public oversight commission reported on 28 December 2009 what it thought had happened, but two years later, the Moscow authorities have not reacted. A Russian investigative committee has extended its term nine times and has still not reported.

My view is that Russia has a chance to recognise what it got wrong. Stealing $230 million was one crime, but arresting, maltreating and then murdering Sergei Magnitsky was a second, and then there was the cover-up. I pay tribute to the Russians for allowing many other Russians to find out much of what has happened, and the documentary trail is listed in the russian-untouchables list. Then there is the official position of the Russian Government. I believe that the former President understood that things had gone dramatically wrong, and the current President might understand that as well. I call on both to say what they will now do to give justice in Russia to a Russian, and give hope to those who work with them. Russia will either get worse or get better, and I hope that this debate will be part of helping it get better.

I rise for a second time to wind up this timely debate, in which we have heard 12 powerful speeches from right hon. and hon. Members both sides of the House. The shadow Europe Minister, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds), raised the wider human rights situation in Russia. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) spoke of the state abuse of the Russian justice system. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) talked powerfully about the deep link between the Russian Government at the highest levels and organised crime. The right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) called for sharper diplomatic tools to address the situation and create some accountability. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Nadine Dorries) talked about the damage corruption is doing to Russia itself. We heard other powerful and eloquent speeches, for example from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh), who talked about his recent experience of monitoring elections, the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood), and my hon. Friends the Members for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) and for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley).

I thank the Minister for his welcome update on the Sergei Magnitsky case and what the British Government are doing about it. I am delighted that they share the instincts that underpin the motion and are shared by so many of its sponsors. I understand that it might be tempting to wait and see what happens with the US Bill as it goes through the Senate, but I hope that the debate might spur the Government to take a lead. I hope that the Minister will heed the will of the House and consider the legislative proposals that have been talked about in the context of the forthcoming Queen’s Speech, so that we can take a stand against the henchmen of tyrants and despots and deny them the privilege of setting foot on British soil or buying up British property, as we would a terrorist or gangster. I commend the motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House notes the passage of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Bill through the United States Senate, the Bill to condemn corruption and impunity in Russia in the case and death of Sergei Magnitsky in the House of Commons in Canada, the approval of the resolution of the Dutch Parliament concerning Sergei Magnitsky dated 29 June 2011, and paragraphs I and 20 to 21 of the resolution of the European Parliament of 14 December 2011 on the EU-Russia Summit; and calls on the Government to bring forward equivalent legislative proposals providing for a presumption in favour of asset freezes and travel bans for officials of the Russian state and other countries, wherever the appropriate UK authorities have collected or received evidence that establishes that such officials:

(a) were involved in the detention, physical abuse or death of Sergei Magnitsky;

(b) participated in efforts to conceal the legal liability for the detention, abuse or death of Sergei Magnitsky;

(c) committed the frauds discovered by Sergei Magnitsky; or

(d) are responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture or other gross violations of human rights committed in Russia or any other country against any individual seeking to obtain, exercise, defend or promote basic and internationally recognised human rights, including those set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During the debate you kindly answered a question about a communication from the Russian ambassador. If you feel that it would be suitable to invite the ambassador to a reception, many of us would like to come and listen to what he has to say about the matter we have just discussed.

It is very good of the hon. Gentleman, and very helpful, to seek to arrange my extra-Chamber calendar in the way he proposes, but I will reflect and digest—

If the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions put that proposition to the House, I think that it would be divisible and there would be a Division. I note what the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) has said. As he knows, there is no secret about the communication from the ambassador to me or my reply.

On account of the notable succinctness of the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) in winding up the debate, we are in a position to come to the statement at 6.59 pm, rather than the advertised time of 7 o’clock.