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Volume 759: debated on Monday 23 February 2015


Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions are taking place with the governments of other European Union member states regarding the handling of conflict in Ukraine.

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, and at his request, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, on 9 February, the European Union Foreign Affairs Council discussed Ukraine and reconfirmed its decision to apply additional sanctions on a number of Russian individuals. The informal European Council on 12 February also discussed Ukraine and welcomed cautiously the implementation agreement reached in Minsk. The Foreign Secretary has travelled extensively around the EU in recent months. He has raised Russia and Ukraine consistently with his EU counterparts.

My Lords, does the Minister recall that on 10 February she told the House that it was up to each individual NATO country to decide whether to supply lethal aid and that it was not the UK’s intention to do so? Is she aware that three days later, 20 armoured vehicles arrived in Ukraine, which President Poroshenko said would be armed and sent to the front to fight? This sale was organised by the Disposal Services Authority of the Ministry of Defence. How does she reconcile that?

My Lords, I am able to reconcile it, but it is still a matter of concern and the noble Lord is absolutely right to raise it. Export licences were agreed in December for the sale of 75 Saxon light-armoured personnel carriers. However, they were not carrying weaponry when we sent them. The exports were assessed fully against the consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria. I am aware of the report to which the noble Lord has accurately referred. Twenty vehicles have so far been delivered to the Ukrainian MoD. We are reviewing the licence against the consolidated criteria under the circumstances. The circumstances appear to be that an off-the-cuff record was made by one person to the effect that this non-lethal equipment would be retro-fitted and used. The circumstances in which we supplied it fully kept to the commitment I gave to this House. Our subsequent action is, again, fully in accord with the commitment I gave to this House.

My Lords, will my noble friend tell the House what her assessment is of the EU Select Committee’s report on relations with Russia and its principal recommendation that the European Council should take a more proactive line in determining that relationship? Will she also comment on whether we will have an opportunity to have a debate in this House before we rise? There will be a long break, during which we will not be able to do any scrutiny of Russia and Ukraine, so may we have a debate before we rise?

My Lords, I have to take refuge in the usual response that others would make when I was Chief Whip and say that it is not my decision; it is for the usual channels. However, my noble friend has raised a very strong point. Of course, it was she who led the House in a debate on Russia and relations with it back in October, in which so many noble Lords took part. On Friday last week, a significant report was published by the EU Sub-Committee on External Affairs. It took the committee seven months of hard work to produce it and I would not wish to dismiss it in the few minutes we have left; it deserves very serious consideration. The report makes it clear that the most important miscalculations were those made by President Yanukovych and President Putin in failing to foresee how the Ukrainian public would react to Yanukovych’s last-minute refusal to sign Ukraine’s association agreement with the EU. We should not fall into the trap of trying to blame ourselves for Russia’s invasion and destabilisation of another sovereign European state.

My noble friend has made an important point. The European Council will meet on 20 March. It is vital that it should roll over the tier 3 sanctions at that point and that, just as it has been, it takes a leadership role and has ready other sanctions to put in place if the current ceasefire disintegrates.

My Lords, does the Minister agree with the statement in the EU sub-committee’s report that cuts in Russian experts at the FCO and less emphasis on analysis led to a misreading of the depth of Russian hostility to EU plans for a closer relationship with Ukraine? Does the Minister also agree with the wider criticism levelled by the report at the failure of the UK to be active and visible in dealing with Ukraine? Is that not symptomatic of the UK’s broader failure over recent years to take a traditional leadership role in the area of foreign policy?

No, my Lords. I am afraid that the Opposition have broken ranks with their support on Ukraine at the wrong time. This country has shown leadership at the United Nations Security Council, where we have been securing negotiations on this matter with regard to sanctions. The report is very clear in what it says. I read it quickly over the weekend and now I shall read it more carefully. I can quote from the evidence given to the committee by David Lidington, who said that,

“pretty well every western Government had made various assumptions about the Gorbachev and Yeltsin years and, indeed, the early indications in Mr Putin’s first term as President, showing that Russia wanted integration into a global rules-based system, and steps such as G8—Russia’s participation continues in, for example, the dialogue of the six with Iran on its nuclear programme—showed that Russia was serious about being an international partner”.

Subsequently, Russia changed its attitude and we have responded to that.

With regard to Foreign Office matters, I refer the House to a letter I wrote to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, subsequent to when he spoke in the debate called by my noble friend Lady Falkner back in October. I am happy to put a copy of the letter in the Library if it is not there at the moment. It sets out in detail the training that is in place.

This House has a benefit that others do not. As I look around the Chamber, I see experience that only age can bring, and that is an experience that we should not forget. Those in the outside world, whether they are in the media, the Civil Service or in private service, do not have the experience that people in this House have, which is that we lived through the Cold War and therefore have a closer appreciation of what Russia can do.

My Lords, forgive my abusing the procedures of this House, but I just wanted to make it clear that the Opposition have not in any way broken our stance on Ukraine and I would ask the noble Baroness to take that back.

My Lords, I certainly would not wish to take any words back, although I welcome entirely the noble Baroness’s use of her position as Leader of the Opposition to make that statement. This is a self-governing House, and she made that intervention in a perfectly proper way. I am very pleased to hear her remarks, particularly as we are about to hear an EU Council Statement. Ukraine may be part of that, of course, and she will have another opportunity to respond.