House of Lords
Tuesday, 24 March 2015.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Peterborough.
Economy: Public Finances
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord Deighton on 13 February (HL 4675), what plans they have to reduce the deficit and to make the public more aware of the effect on living standards of the United Kingdom’s debt servicing costs, which are currently £766 per annum per person or £1,841 per household.
My Lords, the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts that this year the Government will cut the deficit in half as a percentage of GDP from its post-war peak in 2009-10. It is forecast to fall every following year, reaching a surplus in 2018-19. The Government set out in the Budget document that reducing debt as a share of GDP will help to control debt interest and reduce the burden of these costs on future generations.
I thank the Minister for his very sagacious reply. Does he agree that, if the public were more aware of our huge national indebtedness, they would be more receptive to the need to put it right? So when he is a Minister in the next Government, will he ensure that every effort is made to encourage the nation to save more, export more, import less and reduce subsidies generally, not least the £14 billion a year net that we give to the European Union, which should be treated as overseas aid?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his optimism about my future career prospects. I agree with what he says about savings in particular. That is why the Chancellor announced at the Budget a new personal savings allowance of up to £1,000 for basic rate taxpayers, more flexibility in the operation of ISAs and a new Help to Buy ISA for first-time homebuyers.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that Labour has today made a clear pledge to the British people that in government we will not raise the rate of VAT nor extend its coverage? Will the Minister, close as he is to the Chancellor, give a similar pledge to my party; or will the coalition parties follow the pattern of 2010, with the Liberals warning of a VAT tax bombshell and the Tories staying silent—and, in the weeks after, in coalition, increasing VAT from 17.5% to 20%?
Would the Minister agree that one reason for the credit crunch and the financial crisis seven years ago was the prolonged low rate of interest of 5% a year? Now that the Government have extortionate debt servicing costs at a 0.5% base rate, what plans do they have when interest rates go up, as they will? How will they service those costs, and at what rate are they borrowing for long-term debt at the moment?
My Lords, one of the main reasons why we need to get debt under control is that the long-term borrowing costs are very significant. Whatever the interest rate, even with current low rates of interest, we are spending 2.5% of GDP per annum on servicing it, significantly more than we spend on the aid budget. Because interest rates are low and because we have a very credible economic policy, we have been able to borrow long term at low interest rates—but none the less we need to get the debt down because we want to get the borrowing costs down.
Does my noble friend accept that the Government’s change of heart, which has meant that every taxpayer now has a proper breakdown of where their tax goes, is an enormous advantage? If you read it carefully, you see that the cost of our membership of the European Union is extremely small, very good value and that is where we should stay.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the public should also keep in mind the fact that nearly half of local government spending is on adult social care and the care of children, and that includes 14.63% on children? While local government has risen to the challenges to its funding over recent years, there is real concern that it cannot take much more.
My Lords, the way in which we ensure that local government and all other aspects of government are funded effectively and appropriately is by having a very strong, thriving, sustainable economy. The fact that our growth rate is the highest among the G7, unemployment is down and employment is up, is the biggest long-term guarantor of a sustainable funding basis for local government and, indeed, all other forms of government expenditure.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Vinson, mentioned exports as if they were doing rather well. I do not think that they were mentioned in the Budget but does the Minister agree that our trade balance is a disaster, as is our productivity, which has not grown at all since 2010? Would not the Government be better served by looking at these fundamental factors in the real economy?
My Lords, last month’s trade figures were the best for 15 years. No doubt the noble Lord would say that that is not good enough. However, we have spent more money more effectively through UKTI in building up our trade with less traditional countries such as China. Further support was given to that in the Budget.
My Lords, in 2010 the Government inherited £786 billion of debt. Five years later that figure is now £1,540 billion—almost double. The Chancellor in his Budget said that the Government were paying the debt down. Was he telling the truth?
My Lords, it is no secret that this Government have borrowed over half a trillion pounds as we have slowly got to grips with the mess we inherited. Debt has come down by about 1% of GDP for each year we have been in government—the level of consolidation that the IMF says is most appropriate in these sorts of circumstances.
Arts: Concert Hall for London
My Lords, the Government have spoken to a range of interested parties about the proposed new concert hall, including the Greater London Authority. The Chancellor recently announced £1 million of funding to support a feasibility study into the new concert hall, which will report back in the autumn. Work on the study is already under way.
With Crossrail opening in 2018, thereby making access to central London far faster than on much of the London Tube network, instead of the Government sponsoring a feasibility study into yet another concert hall in London, why not build a new international concert hall on a site on the Crossrail route that is accessible to Heathrow and on land that is far cheaper than in central London? May I suggest building it in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead? Surely, the Home Counties deserve their share of major projects, following upon Crossrail?
My Lords, every major city in the world has a concert hall within the centre of the city. London and the United Kingdom are in need of a new concert hall in the capital city. The acoustics here are poorer than in all our competitors, and that is why the new hall is likely to be in central London.
Is my noble friend aware that the last five years have been halcyon years for music in London? One can look at who has been put forward for the Young Musician of the Year, the social policy of the Royal Opera House and all the events taking place in the parks of London. Are the Government not right to look at their policy and prepare properly to ensure that we have one of the best international concert halls in the world?
My noble friend is of course absolutely right. We need a concert hall that is comparable to those in Berlin, Vienna and Paris. The only way to get that is by re-examining this issue, which we are doing, along with Sir Simon Rattle, the GLA, the Barbican and the London Symphony Orchestra, so that we have a concert hall of international standing.
My Lords, I have some experience of superb acoustics, having sung in Australia’s most iconic building—the world heritage Sydney Opera House. I was a top tenor in the Hong Kong Welsh Male Voice Choir at the time. Might I invite the Minister to consider a joint project for a concert hall on the £18 billion Nine Elms Lane development around the American embassy and Battersea Power Station? There are plans for shopping malls and two new Tube stations, but the area risks being a cultural desert—although the developers claim that there will be a modest theatre and Damien Hirst is threatening the site with an art gallery. I declare an interest as a resident of Nine Elms Lane.
My Lords, I am sorry to have missed my noble friend’s performance in Sydney. They are still talking about it down under. One reason why the site being looked at is in the City is the strong possibility of City sponsorship, which should not be ignored. However, I am sure that the feasibility study will look at matters in the round and consider my noble friend’s remarks.
My Lords, I welcome the prospect of a new, state-of-the-art, large concert hall in London, not least because I went to a concert at the magnificent new Philharmonie in Paris last month. However, I question whether this is the best way to spend hundreds of millions of pounds promoting our musical culture. Will the Minister seek to ensure that the funding for any such hall comes primarily from private sources, and that public funds are focused on national initiatives such as the Government’s laudable national plan for music education, benefiting students and schools right across the country?
The noble Lord is right to say that this is not an either/or question; it is important that we focus money on music education as well. We have been doing that with the music hubs, and that is an important part of the equation. Clearly, the feasibility study will look at all aspects but that will certainly include trying to lever in a significant amount of private money. However, I repeat that we need somewhere of national significance.
My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Royal College of Music. The Minister did not mention concert halls a bit closer to home in Birmingham and Manchester, which are world-class. It must surely be sensible to have an equivalent concert hall in the centre of London. At this stage of proceedings, it would be very helpful if he could give an indication of the likely cost of such a concert hall.
The noble Lord is quite right: there are concert halls of great standing outside London. He mentioned two; there is also, of course, the Sage in Gateshead. That is why we need somewhere in the capital city that is comparable to those great centres. The feasibility study is, of course, to look at the cost; I am not in a position at this stage to give any indication of what that will be.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that when Prince Albert died, Queen Victoria asked Sir Henry Cole to handle the building of a memorial in a concert hall? He appointed a captain in the Royal Engineers, whose previous design achievement had been the creation of a portable bath for use on active service. When the captain died, Sir Henry asked the Queen whether she would be satisfied if he replaced the captain with another officer. The Queen said she was perfectly happy, but she thought perhaps it might be wiser if the rank was a major.
My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister might have sympathy with the view that has been expressed that there is not much point building a new, expensive concert hall in London if cuts mean that poor children cannot afford either music lessons or instruments. I would also like to ask the Minister whether the feasibility study will take into account the views of London’s many orchestras, including the several BBC orchestras, and not just the LSO.
The noble Baroness is right to mention the importance of catering for disadvantaged children, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, as well. The point is that the music hubs are catering for disadvantaged children. If noble Lords look at Manchester and Coventry, that is exactly what is happening. I absolutely agree that we need to ensure that that is the case.
Defence: UK Territorial Waters
My Lords, this Government take security of our maritime boundaries very seriously. Our Armed Forces have a multilayered submarine detection capability, using highly effective assets including frigates, submarines and anti-submarine helicopters, and maritime patrol aircraft support from NATO allies. We, in turn, often support them when they have capability shortfalls. It is routine for NATO allies to support each other in this way and demonstrates one of the benefits to the UK of NATO membership.
My Lords, we have a robust range of measures for detecting and shadowing non-NATO vessels that may seek to enter our territorial waters without authority. We continue to develop new detection capabilities to maintain our operational advantage. SDSR 2015 will allow us to review the full spectrum of submarine detection capability, including maritime patrol aircraft. Meanwhile, RAF air crew are flying in allied MPA to retain the skills to regenerate the capability, should we decide to do so.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the National Maritime Information Centre, established by the last Government but funded since then by the current Government, gives very good situational awareness of our waters, but we need assets to track and monitor things. Normally we have three offshore patrol vessels; one is in the West Indies, filling in because we do not have enough destroyers and frigates. We have only one frigate in UK waters, acting as the fleet ready escort—only one, in a great maritime nation such as ours. That shortage of assets is bad.
My question, though, relates to the helicopters that he talked about. I asked two years ago, a year ago, and I ask again now: has the Merlin Mk2 incorporated fully the ASW capabilities of the MRA4 Nimrod? Each of the previous times the Minister said, “Yes we’re doing it, yes we’re doing it”. Have we done it?
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord West, about the numbers of destroyers and frigates. The fact is that the size of our destroyer and frigate force is inadequate to meet all the tasks demanded of it both by NATO and nationally. Indeed, a number of important tasks have been gapped over the years, including the Article 5 operation in the eastern Mediterranean, and of course we have increasing threats as we speak. What are the Government doing, and what will they do, to ensure that the current inadequate number of destroyers and frigates does not drop below 19 and that the destroyer/frigate force actually increases in size?
My Lords, I realise that this is a very sensitive area, but I do think that the public and Parliament are entitled to a little more information in this area and that the Minister and the MoD should not shelter behind generalisations. Specifically, how does Russian submarine activity off our shores compare with activity off the shores of our allies? Secondly, is the Russian activity increasing and, thirdly, is it very much focused on Faslane and our deterrent capability?
My Lords, I am sure my noble friend will appreciate that for reasons of national security I cannot discuss the detail of such events, as to do so could allow conclusions to be drawn on the UK’s capabilities. However, I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord West, and my noble friend that we take the security of our maritime boundaries very seriously.
My Lords, I appreciate the sensitivity of this, but can the noble Lord go a bit further and tell us whether we have an estimate of activity around the waters of Scotland and whether the Scottish Government are aware of any problems of this nature? Although it is not a matter for them, it is a matter of interest to the people of Scotland.
My Lords, again, I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lord; I cannot discuss this issue, but I can tell him that defence is a reserved issue and is not the business of the Scottish Government. We will not compromise on the defence of the United Kingdom.
My Lords, the severe pressure on the public finances in 2010 and the urgent need to bring the defence programme into balance meant that we could not retain all our existing programmes and that we had to prioritise between capabilities. The aircraft’s future high support costs were a clear factor in that decision. It is also well known that the MRA4 project suffered from repeated delays and cost overruns, and was still suffering from technical problems in 2010.
My Lords, further to the Minister’s answer to my noble friend Lord Soley, we all understand that defence is a reserved matter, but would it not be sensible to let the First Minister of Scotland know the threats from Russia so that we get a more sensible policy in relation to the Trident nuclear deterrent?
Air Quality: London
My Lords, the mayor is responsible for working towards air quality objectives in London. Nationally, the Government have committed £2 billion since 2011 to address air pollution. As part of this, the Government work closely with the mayor, the GLA and London boroughs to improve air quality, including providing support via our air quality grant fund for a range of projects.
My Lords, will the Minister confirm that last week the Mayor of London issued a warning that pollution in London had reached a dangerous level? That level was so dangerous that advice had to be given to thousands of Londoners—people with certain health conditions, young and old—that they should not go outside and should not take strenuous exercise. Is it not a disgrace that our capital city does not have decent air quality?
It was not the fault of the European Union. This was combined with particulate matter from a number of local sources. The Government provided information to the public, including health advice on UK-AIR, the Government’s air quality website. However, I agree that more needs to be done to clean London’s air.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the European Court of Justice ruled last November that in 40 out of 43 urban areas in this country the legal limits for nitrogen oxides were exceeded. She will also be aware that Public Health England estimates that 28,000 people a year in this country die prematurely as a result of air pollution. Given these figures and facts, is it not time for the Government to take stronger action to tackle urban air pollution, not only in London but in many other cities in this country?
My Lords, air quality has improved significantly in recent years. Average roadside concentrations of NO2 levels have fallen by 15% since 2010. However, I entirely agree with the noble Lord that more needs to be done, and a great deal is being done. For example, we are using the tax system on vehicles and cars to encourage the purchase of cars with low CO2 emissions regardless of whether they are petrol, diesel or other fuel types. A great deal is going on with buses and other forms of public transport to ensure that their emissions are as low as we can make them.
My Lords, I live in the most polluted part of the UK—central London—and I am still, fortunately, surviving. However, is the Minister aware that when traffic calming measures were introduced—I received this answer in your Lordships’ House—they resulted in greater air pollution? They slowed down the traffic so much in places such as the road through Hyde Park that it created a conflict: how do you deal with both of these issues so that you can slow traffic but not increase pollution?
My noble friend is right: there is work to be done on road design, road junctions, local planning and the design of buildings, all of which can have an impact on air pollution. Certainly traffic calming measures sometimes cause pollution to rise, but that is part of the constant review to find different ways of cleaning the air.
My Lords, given that the mayor is now worried about air pollution in London, has the Minister had any conversations with him about whether his decision not to proceed with introducing congestion charging in west London has helped to improve the health of people in London or make it worse?
My Lords, I have not had a conversation with the mayor. That answers the first of the noble Lord’s questions. Congestion charging has had some effect, but not a great deal, on air pollution. We use a combination of factors such as encouraging people to use bicycles, to walk or to drive vehicles which do not use the worst kinds of fuels—all play a part. We need to use a combination of factors.
My Lords, it is well understood that poor quality air produces many incidences of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as cancer. Does it not make sense for this to be a core area of health policy and a positive way to close the gap of £30 billion which is expected in the NHS budget by 2021?
My noble friend makes an important point. Defra works closely with the Department of Health and Public Health England and its advisers, as well as the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants. We have daily air quality forecasts which provide accompanying health messages because a combined cross-departmental effort is required to tackle this problem.
My Lords, in her response to the question put by my noble friend Lord Dubs, the noble Baroness referred to an expenditure of £2 billion to improve air quality. Is that £2 billion a national figure or is that the money to be spent just in London?
The sum of £2 billion is predominantly for London because I am answering questions on London and the mayor of London’s programme. Defra has an air quality grant programme of £1 million and there are various other programmes. In this context, however, we are talking about what is being done to improve London’s air.
I am not entirely sure how that arithmetic is worked out, but I know that the departments are in constant dialogue with each other to try to ensure that the best case is made for improving air quality and for tackling the health problems that go with poor air quality.
It is all very well telling people how bad the air is, but you then need to tackle the problem itself. All these methods of communication help if they alert people to when it is safe to go out or when they should stay at home and not drive their cars. I think that that may well be one method to be pursued.
Privileges and Conduct Committee
Motion to Agree
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. The third report from the Committee for Privileges and Conduct recommends various amendments to the Code of Conduct and the guide to the code, and one other change. If these amendments are agreed, the code and the guide will be republished for the new Parliament.
The first proposal is to allow the Committee for Privileges and Conduct to consider the suitability of a sanction recommended by the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Conduct in the absence of an appeal by the Member who has been found in breach of the code. Should the committee decide that a recommended sanction requires further consideration, it will give the Member concerned the opportunity to make representations before deciding whether to alter the sanction.
The second proposal is for this House to follow the House of Commons practice of keeping all terminated interests in the Register of Lords’ Interests for one year after the Member gives them up. At the moment, hospitality and gifts remain in the register for a year, but other interests are deleted as soon as they are given up.
The third proposal is that the Registrar of Lords’ Interests should no longer send an annual reminder to Members inviting them to check and update their entry in the Register of Lords’ Interests. This practice is potentially confusing as it might be taken to imply that Members have to revise their entries only once a year, whereas the code requires the register to be amended within one month of a change in a Member’s interests. Instead of the annual reminder there will be regular reminders through other means.
The fourth proposal clarifies the definition of a personal client as it is used in relation to the provision of public affairs advice in paragraph 57 of the guide.
The fifth proposal is that the requirement to register interests should apply to Members whose leave of absence lapses at the end of a Parliament from the date that they take the oath in the new Parliament. The committee also recommends that the Code of Conduct for Staff of Members of the House of Lords should apply to Members’ staff with a parliamentary email account but no photo-pass.
Finally, the report recommends that the Committee for Privileges and Conduct should have the power to respond to requests to redact personal details given in written evidence to a defunct Select Committee, such as an ad hoc committee that has been disbanded. I beg to move.
My Lords, I should like to ask the Chairman of Committees a question on the first of the proposals in relation to the committee considering sanctions against Members. Paragraph 2 of the report states:
“We believe that in rare circumstances it may be appropriate for the Committee for Privileges and Conduct to consider whether a sanction recommended by the sub-committee is appropriate even in the absence of an appeal”.
On the following page, sub-paragraph (iii) sets out the proposal that the committee should have the power to look at any recommendations that come up from the sub-committee and can take its own decision as to whether they are appropriate. Indeed, it can increase the sanction as well as reduce it. However, it does not say anything about that being in rare circumstances. What is the intention of the Chairman of Committees on this? Should it be an exceptional step for the committee to take or should it be considered, so to speak, pro forma, in which case you do not really need the sub-committee’s decision in the first place? I should be grateful for his views on that.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord for raising that issue. It is important to clarify this matter. The committee saw this as being in exceptionally rare circumstances. It would be a very occasional route to take in very specific circumstances. I have been Chairman of Committees for more than three years now and I can think of only one example that would come anywhere near this. It is certainly not meant to be as part of a routine consideration of a sanction.
Emissions Performance Standard Regulations 2015
Energy Efficiency (Domestic Private Rented Property) Order 2015
Energy Efficiency (Private Rented Property) (England and Wales) Regulations 2015
Contracts for Difference (Allocation) (Amendment) Regulations 2015
Motions to Approve
That the draft regulations and draft order laid before the House on 2 and 25 February be approved.
Relevant documents: 22nd, 23rd and 25th Reports from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, 27th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 17 and 19 March.
Mortgage Credit Directive Order 2015
Bank of England Act 1998 (Macro-prudential Measures) Order 2015
Bank of England Act 1998 (Macro-prudential Measures) (No. 2) Order 2015
Motions to Approve
Rural Payments Agency: Basic Payment Scheme
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given to an Urgent Question in another place. The Statement is as follows.
“This is the first year of the new basic payment scheme. Because the new common agricultural policy is so complex, we needed to invest in a new computer system to administer claims. The existing SPS computer system would not have been able to cope. The core of the new rural payments system is working well, based on systems in other countries with portal to register and map. To date, over 80% of farm businesses in England have registered successfully on it so they can submit a BPS claim, and we continue to encourage all farm businesses to register online as soon as possible.
However, there have been some performance issues with the online interface that enables farmers to input the data directly. We have been working to address these issues since February. Our priority has always been to ensure that farmers can submit their claims by the deadline. That is why we have acted and made some adjustments to our plans. The RPA is now offering farmers and their agents the option of using existing paper-based forms to finalise their claims. Information from these forms will then be input by the RPA on to the system.
There are two new ways that farmers can complete their claims. Farm businesses with little change to their land will be fast-tracked by the RPA, particularly those that have permanent pasture. They will receive an email in April that summarises the land and entitlement information already held, together with simple instructions on completing their claim by email. The RPA has identified approximately 39,000 farmers in this category. Secondly, farm businesses that need to map new features can use blank existing forms to prepare their claims before they are sent a pre-populated form in early April. They can submit their claim by email or post or through an RPA drop-in centre, 50 of which have been established. Separately, all agents will have received maps of their clients’ land from the RPA by the end of next week. Those dealing with the most complex cases will be offered additional support. The RPA is also working to give agents direct access to the system so that they can make applications quickly.
This is a pragmatic response which applies to the application process in 2015. It means that we will be able to make payments to farmers from when the payment window opens in December 2015. All data entered so far on the rural payments scheme system have been saved and will be used by the RPA to complete farmers’ claims this year.
A number of EU member states have faced implementation difficulties in implementing a new CAP. In parallel, the Commission has offered an option for member states to extend the deadline for basic payment scheme—BPS—applications to 15 June. This was discussed in Council on 16 March and confirmed by the Commission on 19 March.
In conclusion, the core of the new system works and we are not abandoning anything. We will continue to use it. It will enable claims to be processed efficiently this year and will be the basis for service improvements in future years. The action we announced last week to provide paper-based assistance will ensure that applications can be submitted on time, and this has been welcomed by stakeholders. Given the imminent general election, we are keen to keep up communications across the House”.
I thank the Minister for repeating the response to the Urgent Question. How foolhardy of a Conservative-led coalition to insist on 100% online submissions in a year that sees the introduction of the new basic payment scheme. I declare my interest as a farmer in receipt of EU funds.
Many farmers will depend on this scheme, as they have on the previous systems, to be able to remain in business—how vital it is to them that the RPA can function constructively, honestly and professionally in a timely fashion. However, registering for a claim is not the same as completing that claim. Is the process now a twin-track approach of new information being submitted on paper while existing information is held online? What information will the RPA give to farmers to reassure them regarding claim reconciliations that the RPA may do, as the Statement said, without imposing penalties?
It has previously been stated that the new scheme is too complex for paper. Now that farmers are reverting to paper, is there an increased risk of errors that once again may result in penalties being levied or disallowance being imposed from Europe? Why did Ministers in the department not insist on and implement contingencies earlier to save farmers time and expense at this very busy time of year? Most importantly, can the Minister say whether the mapping functionality in the RPA can be made to work or will it need to be replaced completely?
My Lords, the complexity of the CAP is not what we would have chosen, and in the implementation we have tried to find the simplest option. I suppose that, in essence, in answer to the noble Lord’s questions, the RPA does whatever it can to help farmers meet the deadlines and fill in the forms. There are 50 RPA drop-in centres, which I mentioned; there is a helpline; and there are mobile units to help reach the most isolated and vulnerable farmers. In addition, handbooks have been sent to all farmers to try to help ensure that all farmers manage to get the claims that they need when they need them.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for the statement she made. Equally, we should thank Defra for trying to deal with the most complicated system that I have experienced since 1972. I declare an interest as a farmer, and one who has dealt with the various changes over the years to the common agricultural policy system.
The only people who have gained this year are those who are advising farmers—an army of people—on how to fill out the forms and deal with this. Of course, we have seen this coming for some considerable time, and the way that it has been dealt with obviously proved that the computer system that exists was totally incapable of dealing with this complex system. I hope, therefore, that the response will be as sound as it can be. I am well aware that farmers are coping as well as they can, but I am equally well aware that they are spending an awful lot of time dealing with this problem at a time when they should be farming rather than filling in forms.
My noble friend Lord Plumb speaks with a great deal of experience in these matters gained over many years. It is a complex issue and Defra is fully aware that we need to get all the help that we can to farmers, particularly at this time of year. As I outlined, there are many ways in which the RPA is there to help and assist, and we hope that the transfer will happen as straightforwardly as we can possibly make it.
My Lords, I declare a serious interest as I do all the paperwork online for my wife, who farms and is trustee of a second place, so I will be trying to file for two estates. We were a quarter of the way through when the computer system went down at the weekend with no notice. It then kept saying that it would give us access as soon as possible but was offline for another week. Eventually, the latest announcement that we were going to paper was made. Trying to map the scale of complexity that we have on bits of paper that are blank is ridiculous. The whole place was mapped and inspected a few months ago, and the Rural Land Register has completely accurate maps in place. Why are those not being used? They show the deductions and the only things that need to be added are cropping and greening.
Also, the single payment system was up and running perfectly well but is about to be taken down in a few days’ time. Why not use that as the basis, because it has all the maps and has done for the last 10 years? All that has to be added to it are the crops, as opposed to just simple crop codes, and then a greening percentage. It is not that difficult. Maybe someone practical who understands IT should be involved. I have been doing this for 12 years, since IACS was going online. Maybe someone who actually understands how the system works at the sharp end could advise on how this can be sorted out. Trying to do it on paper is going to be a disaster; it will be like back in 2005 when the students tried to put it online and the mapping errors took a year or more to sort out.
I hear what the noble Earl says. The paper exercise is designed for people who are unable to access a computer. Any data that are already on the computer have been saved. The RPA has written to all those who may have broadband problems, if that is an issue. The data should not need to be re-entered if it is already on the system.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a recipient of payments under the basic payment scheme since, I think, its origin. I commend the Government and the European Commission on having responded to the great difficulties that many people have had in re-registering this year. I spent two and a half hours over the weekend trying to register myself online and was entirely thwarted because you have to start off by verifying your identity. Although I tried two channels—the Experian and the Post Office channels that were available—both resisted steadfastly the notion of my existence. I felt like saying, “Cogito ergo sum”. I think it is a good idea when public administration responds to technical difficulties like this that have been experienced by many members of the public. I hope that, going forward, the Government continue to be sympathetic in this way to the problems of farmers, who are great experts in farming but not often in IT. Will the Minister explain whether it is the intention of Her Majesty’s Government to accept the offer of the European Commission to delay the final payment until 15 June? We have been told that that was suggested by the Commission but that it is up to member states to decide whether to take it up.
I am sorry that the noble Lord has had such problems proving his identity. On the difficulty of registration, more than 80% of farm businesses have successfully managed to do it, but, of course, one needs to concentrate on those who have not. The Government are considering extension of the deadline to 15 June, and it will be a matter of seeing how we progress with the online registrations as they go.
My Lords, I am a farmer in Northern Ireland. The problem that we all have there is that, even if we fill in the forms correctly, the Government will not pay. They just put it off and put it off. Sums of money they owed to me and neighbours were more than six months overdue. We run with bank accounts that are frequently overdrawn at certain times of the year. If the Government do not pay, the banks get on our backs and where do we go? If we ring government Ministers, they do not know.
Increasingly that is the case, but the RPA has written to all farmers, who may not all be online, and equally to all those who may have broadband problems in the areas where broadband is not completely rolled out. By way of the helpline, the mobile units and so on, the RPA is trying to make sure that those who are not online get help.
My Lords, I am very sorry about that. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord needs to phone the RPA helpline and, like the noble Lord, Lord Davies, discover whether he exists. I wish him luck. The helpline and the contacts are there to try to iron out those initial problems.
Falkland Islands Defence Review
My Lords, with permission, I shall repeat a Statement on the Falkland Islands defence review. The Statement is as follows:
“Safeguarding our citizens and their way of life remains the most important responsibility of government and of defence. In March 2013, the Falkland Islands referendum reaffirmed the islanders’ overwhelming wish to remain British. Of the 92% who voted, 99.8% voted in favour of maintaining their political status as an overseas territory of the United Kingdom.
We will always defend the right of the Falkland Islanders to determine their own political future. The Ministry of Defence retains responsibility for the external defence and security of British interests in the south Atlantic, and to that end undertakes regular assessments to ensure that we have in place the appropriate defensive capability.
In autumn 2013, my predecessor asked officials to undertake a thorough review of the forces that we hold on the Falkland Islands and our contingency plans for their defence. The objective was to ensure that our enduring commitment to the defence of the islands is sustained effectively. That review has now been completed.
The review’s conclusions remain operationally sensitive in the light of potential threats, and I hope that the House will understand that I cannot disclose much of the detail.
However, I can tell the House that we have updated our assessment of any threat to the islands. This includes a consideration of the changes that may arise from the islanders’ plans to develop their economy, including the potential for development of an oil and gas industry. We continue to discuss these issues with the Falkland Islands Government.
I have endorsed the assessment of the Chief of the Defence Staff and the Commander of Joint Forces Command that the current military presence is broadly proportionate to the threats and the risks that we face. Our forces in the south Atlantic are entirely defensive, and are at the level required to ensure the defence of the Falkland Islands against any potential threat.
However, I have also agreed a number of measures designed to ensure our resilience for the short, medium and longer term. I can tell the House that these measures will include the return of military support helicopters, which were removed in 2006 to support operations in Afghanistan. On current plans, this will involve the deployment of two Chinooks, which will be operational by mid-2016. This is a significant capability, which will provide reactive, 24/7 tactical mobility in order to allow a swift and decisive response to any emerging incidents. The helicopters will also bring a heavy lift capability and will enhance the training opportunities available to the resident infantry company.
We also have plans in place to deliver enhanced operational communications for the headquarters at Mount Pleasant to better enable the sharing of real-time operational data, and I can confirm that we will be renewing the ground-based air defence system when Rapier comes out of service around the end of the decade. We will also maintain our commitment to provide a Falkland Islands patrol vessel, currently HMS “Clyde”.
In addition, we intend to carry out a number of projects to replace some of the ageing infrastructure, for example the refurbishment of Mare Harbour and the replacement of the existing power generation systems at Mount Pleasant Airfield. A major modernisation of the fuels infrastructure is also under way and is now nearing completion.
In total, we expect to invest up to £180 million in improving and modernising our infrastructure on the islands over the next 10 years. In addition to the operational improvements that I have already mentioned, we are also taking action to improve the quality of life of those who serve in the Falklands, including planned improvements to their accommodation, and a new primary school.
Although there will be some changes in personnel numbers as the Sea King helicopters are withdrawn and the Chinook force stands up, I have decided that for the foreseeable future we will keep our numbers at around their current level of about 1,200 personnel, military and civilian.
I know that the House will want to join me in taking this opportunity to pay tribute to our brave men and women, military and civilian, who leave behind their families and friends for months or years at a time in order to ensure the right of the Falkland Islanders to remain British. We will always remember the bravery of the 255 British servicemen who gave their lives for that cause.
I am aware of the close interest that the Defence Select Committee takes in the Falkland Islands, and of the committee’s most recent visit there earlier this year. I am grateful for its insights, some of which echo the findings of this review. I have written earlier today to the committee chairman.
The review that we have undertaken confirms our commitment to the Falkland Islands. We will continue to defend the right of the islanders to determine their future and maintain their way of life against whatever threats may exist. This review ensures that we will continue to have the right mix of people, equipment and infrastructure to deliver that commitment in the years ahead.
We are not complacent. The Government will continue to remain vigilant, but on the basis of the review and the follow-on measures that I have established I am satisfied that the Government can be confident in their continued ability to defend the south Atlantic islands. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in the other place by the Secretary of State on what is a busy day for the Ministry of Defence, with one oral ministerial Statement and no fewer than five written ministerial Statements.
In his Statement today, and on the radio this morning, the Secretary of State—in response to a question about a newspaper report that Russia was working on a deal to lease 12 long-range bombers to Argentina—said that he had been reviewing the defence of the Falkland Islands and it was right to do that every so often. He went on to say that we needed to modernise our defences in the Falklands to ensure that we had sufficient troops there and that the islands were properly defended in terms of air maintenance and maritime defence. He added that our commitment to the Falkland Islanders having the right to remain British, and to proper protection by our forces, remained absolutely clear. We would certainly endorse that commitment, not least in the context of the outcome of the 2013 referendum when the Falkland Islanders made clear their emphatic wish to remain British. We, too, wish to express our gratitude to our personnel who have served, and continue to serve, in the Falklands, and in particular to our 255 service personnel who made the ultimate sacrifice and the hundreds who were injured in action retaking the Falklands.
Can the Minister say whether the Government regard the threat to the Falkland Islands as having recently increased and whether the Statement today is the response to that? On the radio this morning, the Secretary of State simply said that the threat had not reduced; he did not say that it had increased. Do the Government regard Russian influence in the region as increasing? What, if any, new diplomatic initiatives are taking place with the Argentinian Government and other Governments in South America, as well as with our allies?
In the Statement, reference was made to the refurbishment of the harbour in the Falklands. It would be helpful if the Minister could indicate when that work is likely to be completed. Can he also say how soon the missile system will be upgraded?
We certainly support the measures that the Government have announced today, but I would like to ask where this announcement fits in with the pending strategic defence and security review, since the Government have presumably decided that the announcements today could not wait until the SDSR planned for later this year. On the radio this morning, the Secretary of State said that he had started a review of the defence of the Falkland Islands last year—not, as I think is indicated in the Statement today, that it had begun in 2013. Last year, the Secretary of State said in the other place that he was,
“very clear that the next SDSR is being carried out next year”—[Official Report, Commons, 20/10/14; col. 662]—
that is, in 2015; and that the Government had not started on the review in 2014, since “that awaits next year”. Now we know that a review of what is surely one important part of our existing and future defence commitments was in fact already taking place when the Secretary of State made that statement. Can the Minister say what other aspects of our existing and future defence commitments are currently the subject of review at ministerial level? I ask that in the context of the Government’s apparent lack of willingness to engage with the public in general—and key stakeholders in particular—on the 2015 strategic defence and security review, which is now scheduled to be completed in some nine months’ time. Yet we now find that what appear to be key decisions have just been made in respect of the defence of the Falklands, which will surely have implications for the 2015 SDSR, on which very little significant progress, if any, has apparently been made.
Indeed, it appears that a further key strategic defence decision has already been made by this Government since the Secretary of State repeated on the radio this morning the statement made by the Prime Minister that there will be no further cuts in the size of the Regular Army, a statement that likewise must have some considerable significance for the direction and content of the SDSR. The Prime Minister’s statement was an interesting one. Does the reference to no further cuts in the size of the Regular Army also extend to no cuts in the future size of our intended 30,000 Army Reserve strength, or was the silence on any commitment in respect of the Army Reserve both deliberate and significant?
Have any other decisions impacting on the 2015 SDSR recently been made before there has apparently been any attempt to involve the public or key stakeholders in consultations on the 2015 SDSR? Finally, while I reiterate our support for the measures that the Government have announced today, do the Government feel that the situation in the Falklands from a defence point of view is such that the decisions could not have been announced later this year as part of, and in the context of, the 2015 SDSR?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his broad welcome for our conclusions to the review. I join him from these Benches in paying tribute to those who are currently serving in the Falkland Islands. Like him, we remember those servicemen who were lost in the battle long ago.
The noble Lord asked me a lot of questions; I was not able to write quickly enough to get them all down, but I will undertake to write him a letter with the answers as soon as I possibly can. He mentioned the recent referendum and the democratic right of the Falkland Islanders to remain British. This Statement sends a strong message to the Falkland Islanders.
The noble Lord mentioned the review. We review all our activity routinely. However, in 2013, given the time that had elapsed since the comprehensive review of the Falkland Islands, officials and Commander JFC advised that such a comprehensive review would be appropriate. Ministers agreed with this advice and provided clear direction for that review.
The noble Lord asked whether Russian influence had increased in the region. The Ministry of Defence undertakes regular assessments of potential major threats to the Falkland Islands to ensure that we retain an appropriate level of defence capability to address such threats. He asked if the threat had increased. There is no current evidence of Argentina’s intent or capability to launch a credible military attack on the Falkland Islands, but we are not complacent and the Government remain absolutely committed to the protection of the Falkland Islands and its population.
The noble Lord mentioned the story in the newspaper this morning. I have no idea where that came from; I have asked officials at the MoD and they do not know either.
The noble Lord asked me about the missile system being upgraded. Our current short-range air defence system—Rapier—is due to go out of service at the end of the decade. Due to the age of that system it would be impractical to sustain it in the longer term, and therefore it needs to be replaced if UK forces are to continue to be able to provide defence to our deployed forces against an air threat.
The noble Lord asked about diplomacy. We have warm relations with most of the South American countries. I meet a number of Foreign and Defence Ministers from these countries, and I assure him that none of them has ever mentioned the Falkland Islands to me. Still, I am sure that these diplomats have noticed the Falkland Islands referendum. We want to have a full and friendly relationship with Argentina as neighbours in the South Atlantic and responsible fellow members of the G20, but we will not negotiate away the rights of the Falkland Islands people against their will or behind their backs.
The noble Lord asked when the harbour is going to be refurbished. It will be done by the end of 2017. I am afraid I could not keep up with all his questions, but he asked me about the 2015 SDSR. As he knows, a lot of background work is being done on that. The decisions on the Falklands Islands announced today are separate from the SDSR, and in all honesty the Statement is not making very big decisions.
As this is probably my noble friend’s last defence Statement as a Minister in this Parliament, I congratulate him on his exemplary service as a Defence Minister over the past five years. I understand that HMS “Clyde” is an off-shore patrol vessel. Does my noble friend agree that we should strengthen the permanent Royal Navy presence in and around the Falkland Islands?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his very kind, totally undeserved, words. The Falklands Islands patrol vessel capability will be retained when HMS “Clyde” leaves service in 2017. I assure my noble friend that we always have either a Type 45 destroyer or a Type 23 frigate available to reinforce the Falklands Islands.
I have no idea whether this is the last appearance of the noble Lord at the Dispatch Box—of course, on this side we all hope that the Government are defeated in the forthcoming election—but if it is his last performance in this role, I shall say how much our side have appreciated the courtesy and conscientiousness which he has always shown in fulfilling his roles in this House. The depth of his genuine commitment to our military and to the defence of the nation has never been doubted by anybody.
As the noble Lord knows from many discussions and debates, I have always believed that capability and threat are not independent variables. It is not an accident that since NATO started cutting its defence expenditure Mr Putin has become ever more bold and ever more aggressive. At present, Cristina Fernández is in a very difficult situation and is facing a major scandal and the collapse of the Argentinian economy. She could well be tempted to have a go at some adventure if there was a quick trick to be taken. A strong signal needed to be sent and the Government appear to have done that—that is how I interpret the Statement today. All of us on this side of the House will endorse my noble friend in giving the Government support on that.
There is one question I want to ask. Everybody who knows the Falklands knows that we cannot go on much longer there unless an effort is made to refurbish and rebuild the barracks which were constructed after 1982 and at that time were due to last for 20 years. They are already in a state of embarrassing disrepair. Are there any plans to replace them or to refurbish them?
My Lords, I welcome the Statement that the Minister has made, and I endorse the comments about his conduct and attention to the House in his time as Defence Minister, which have been admirable. If there is any relevance in the story that appears today, I hope that the Government are making the strongest representations to the Argentinian Government about the unwisdom of becoming involved with Russia at present and what that might mean for the continent of America. The United States of America has previously taken a slightly detached view about the relationships and has viewed the Falklands as a matter between the United Kingdom and Argentina. Were there to be Russian involvement in some way, it would be of keen Interest to the United States.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his very kind words. As regards Russia, the Ministry of Defence undertakes regular assessments of potential military threats to the Falkland Islands to ensure that we retain an appropriate level of defensive capability to address any such threats. We remain vigilant and are committed to the protection of the Falkland Islanders.
My Lords, I lost 22 of my boys when my ship was sunk in the retaking of the Falklands, so the islands are particularly close to my heart. I am very glad that we are showing a commitment to keep defending them. The Argentinians’ behaviour is consistently extremely bad; for example, they are calling the new class of frigates they are buying from China “Malvinas class”, which is a clear statement of intent, even if currently they do not have the capability to do much about it.
I am concerned that our strategy for the whole South Atlantic has not been cleverly put together as regards things such as the British Antarctic Survey, how we look upon Antarctica, the other islands we are responsible for, the mail steamer that goes from Tristan da Cunha, as well as the defence aspects of the Falklands, all of which should be looked at together. Every time I go to the Falklands I am delighted to see that society there is now wealthy and vibrant, getting wealthier—and, my goodness me, if they get oil, they will be like Kuwait. Are they going to pay a large chunk of that £185 million? We seem to have almost no money, looking forward to our large defence budget, which will plunge to below 2% of GDP.
My Lords, I pay tribute to those brave sailors who went down on the noble Lord’s ship. He asked me about the oil situation. The Falkland Islands Government have said that if the oil exploration is successful they would wish to share some of their revenues with the UK to offset the costs to Her Majesty’s Government of the defence of the islands.
My Lords, we on these Benches share in the complimentary comments on the Minister’s contribution to all defence questions—I thank him very much indeed. I hear what the Minister said about there being a destroyer or frigate available to go down and help the patrol ship should the occasion arise, but sometimes these destroyers or frigates can be quite a long way away. Does the Minister agree that the best form of defence for the Falkland Islands is to have a visible, upthreat, maritime presence of significance? A patrol ship does a good job, but it is not a very serious deterrent. Therefore does he agree that the frequency with which the destroyers or frigates can get down to the Falkland Islands and show themselves there from time to time should be increased—and that there should be the odd submarine visit as well? As a corollary to that, we need a destroyer frigate force larger than the 19 we currently have.
My Lords, I can assure the noble and gallant Lord that the destroyers and frigates are within a certain number of days’ sailing distance from the Falkland Islands—we are very insistent on that. I think he will agree with me that sometimes an invisible deterrent is as effective.
My Lords, the Minister has made an important Statement, but it really says, “We’re continuing as we are, doing some routine maintenance” —which after 30 years is hardly surprising—“and we’re sending a couple of Chinooks there next year”. That seems to beg the question: why has this become an Oral Statement rather than just a Written Statement?
EU and Russia (EUC Report)
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I thank my colleagues on the committee for their perseverance and very considerable help. We have had a long journey, which has required a great deal of hard work, mutual understanding and attention to each other’s views, and I am extremely grateful for their support. My only regret is that, under the rotation rule, so many of them will be leaving the committee at the end of this Session. I should also like to offer profound thanks to our two outstanding assistants, the committee clerk, Sarah Jones, and our policy analyst, Roshani Palamakumbura. I speak for all my colleagues in expressing our admiration, as well as our gratitude, for the exceptionally high quality of their contributions. Finally, I thank the usual channels for enabling this report to be debated so soon after its publication and before Parliament winds up for the election. I quite understand that, as a result of the speed with which it is being debated, there cannot be a formal government response, but I hope that the Minister will be able to reply to points made during the debate.
Before turning to my speech, I should say how very much we all look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith. He will speak with great authority as a former diplomat in Moscow and Kiev. Having looked him up on Wikipedia, although it is not always accurate, I believe that he has charitable and business interests in Ukraine. An additional reason for me to listen very carefully to what he has to say is that he was educated at Ampleforth, though a great many years after I was at that school.
I am not able to speak for other reasons, but I think that all of us who were on the committee would say that the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, chaired it with great skill. He was an exemplary chairman and we should thank him very much indeed.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord—or I think I can say my noble friend—Lord Foulkes, after that accolade. It certainly gets my speech off to a good start. I thank him very much.
As the title of our report indicates, our focus is on the events leading up to the current Ukraine crisis and looking beyond it to the future. I should make it clear, as does the report, where we stand on the present situation. Russia has to understand that taking over other people’s territory, whether in eastern Ukraine or Crimea, is unacceptable. Such actions cannot be allowed to stand. For as long as the present conflict lasts, the European Union should maintain sanctions and be ready, if required, to step them up. Therefore, I welcome last week’s European Council decision, which is in line with our approach. Sanctions cannot be an end in themselves; they must be a means to an end. Do Her Majesty’s Government believe that there should be a process whereby progress in resolving the underlying dispute and its causes is linked to a ratcheting down of sanctions? In short, should there be a carrot as well as a stick?
I have another question. In our report, we argued that, while the dispute lasts, other avenues of communication should be kept open, such as cultural links in commemoration of our shared history in World War II. Do the Government agree, and have they and other EU Governments yet taken a decision about wreath-laying in Moscow on 9 May, which is of course a particularly difficult day for British Ministers?
I turn to how the EU should proceed in future in relation to Ukraine and other ex-Soviet republics. The committee believes that, while Russia has no right to dictate to sovereign states on its borders, those states and the European Union need to take account of Russian interests and sensitivities. The historic, geographical and current economic links between those states and Russia are such that, if the EU is to play a constructive role in helping them to develop their economies and societies, that cannot be done in the teeth of Russian opposition, as the present crisis shows. This will require big changes of attitude on the part of Russia, and I will say a word about that in a few moments. However, as a committee of the British Parliament, our policy recommendations are directed to the British Government and the European Union.
The first step, I believe, must be to set goals for the EU’s relationship with those countries that take account of how far short of meeting the criteria for EU membership they currently fall and how long it will take them to catch up. We should be prepared to help them close the gap but this will require tough love. In Ukraine and elsewhere, financial, technical, social and expert aid must all be subject to strict political and financial conditionality and accountability. Inevitably, this will create resentment against the donors, but these countries have indicated that they want to draw closer to us and our values, with a view to perhaps one day joining the European Union. We must therefore make it clear that the aid is to help them to do that, not to evade or defer difficult reforms, and certainly not to garner support against Russia.
With Russia, the challenge is of a different order: it is about how two large powers with different political and social systems can work constructively together as equals on common problems in a shared space. This will require sensitivity, mutual respect and an understanding on both sides of different historical perspectives. We on the EU side must try to understand why Russia feels as it does about EU enlargement and NATO. On the evidence that we took, I think we all agreed that President Putin’s views are to a large extent shared by most of the Russian population, and that any foreseeable successor to President Putin would most likely hold the same views. On their side, the Russians must try to grasp the impact that the USSR’s post-World War II expansionism has had on Europe’s collective psyche, and why so many countries on its borders feel as they do about drawing closer to the European Union. It is in this context that the committee believes that co-operation between the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union might provide a way forward. Let us together explore how far and in what manner the rules and requirements of these two organisations might be aligned. This could provide a useful framework within which to develop closer EU-Russia economic relations and to develop the countries that border on both the European Union and Russia.
Much as we should like to see better EU-Russia relations, there is nothing starry eyed about the committee’s approach. We attach importance to holding Russia to the obligations it has freely entered into in respect of the World Trade Organization and the European Convention on Human Rights. We also believe that even if Russia is willing to tolerate corruption and lax business practices, to put it kindly, within its own borders, these must not be allowed to contaminate its dealings with this country or the rest of the EU.
I end with an exhortation. The committee believes that since the end of the Cold War there has been a decline in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s analytical and language skills in relation to Russia. Indeed, only last week we were surprised to learn at a seminar that we held that, in recent years, the head of the Russian desk has sometimes turned over on an almost annual basis, and that at least one recent holder of that office did not speak Russian. I do not know whether the Minister will be able to cast light on that. Whether or not she can do that, I hope that she will assure the House that if there is a Conservative Government after the election, they will devote sufficient diplomatic resources to the vital Russian relationship.
My Lords, there is a large number of speakers in this debate. I remind noble Lords that the advisory speaking time is eight minutes. If noble Lords keep to that or less, we will finish this debate by 7.30 pm—four and a half hours from its outset—which will allow us to finish by 10 pm.
My Lords, I am sure that I speak for the whole House in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, and his colleagues on, and thanking them for, a particularly interesting report. Like the noble Lord, I share keenly the anticipation of the maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith.
The issue of Russia’s identity is not new. Not that long ago, historically speaking, the language of the court in St Petersburg was French. Against this, there has been a long-standing, introspective and profound search by others for the true soul of Russia. The Russians are proud people. The heroism, courage and great human cost of their contribution to World War II should never be forgotten or underestimated. It was crucial to the defeat of the Nazis. The endurance of the Russian people was well demonstrated in how they came through the cruel policies and purges of the Stalin era. For all these reasons, we must beware—whatever our intentions—of perceived triumphalism and of our own self-righteousness. We must, after all, remember the ongoing questions of the implications of the Iraq war.
I have felt for a long time that comparisons can be made with Versailles. I have been surprised to hear some say that the Russians have illusions de grandeur. Now we have a former KGB colonel, Putin, in charge. Of course, in Russia, the KGB is an elite, with its own schools and universities, and to understand Russia, one has to understand that. With it goes arrogance and unacceptable corruption.
I was one of those who had a dream of what might be possible following the end of totalitarian communism and the fall of the Berlin Wall—an exciting new Russia, playing an imaginative part in world affairs. That has not happened. We have to ask ourselves for a moment how far we contributed to that reality. Perhaps we cannot discount the prevailing ethos of romantic ideology and grotesquely oversimplified economic doctrines of the age of Reagan and Thatcher, as compared with the collective wisdom and experience of mixed economies, accountable capitalism and liberal democracy in mainland Europe. Are we perhaps reaping some of the rewards of our own misjudgments? The issue was how to build a society, not just an economy, in Russia—how to make the transition from A to B.
I am one of those who longs for wise, visionary and imaginative leadership, aiming at what global society could be, rather than just numbers and territory-mesmerised autocratic managers—a reassertion of strategy, as distinct from tactics. This report is particularly interesting because it faces that challenge and suggests practical, rather than self-defeating and grandiose, means of meeting it. It emphasises the importance of identifying common interests—striving for constructive relationships with the Russian people, rather than just hostile, punitive relationships. But, as the noble Lord so rightly said, that demands tough and forthright relationships as well. What has happened in Ukraine and Crimea; what happens in our territorial waters and our airspace; what happens with the scattering of lethal, radioactive poison across London: all these things demand resolute responses.
There is one issue that illustrates what I am saying very well. I should declare an interest. For nearly four years I was rapporteur to the Council of Europe on the conflict in Chechnya and, inevitably, in the northern Caucasus. We did not take that issue seriously enough. We may have fidgeted with the teaspoons in our conversations and said that there were people in Britain who were rather worried about human rights in that situation, but we did not tackle it head on and say, “You are contributing to future world instability because you are driving people into the hands of militant extremists, and this will strengthen the international dimensions of the jihadist movement”. We did not say that as firmly as we should have—and I cannot really see what has happened more recently in isolation. We should also remember the heroes of Russian society: people such as Anna Politkovskaya, Natalia Estemirova and too many other journalists who have been assassinated because of their stand for truth. All this is a matter not just of Chechnya and the north Caucasus, but of Russia itself.
As the committee argued, our objective certainly must be good, strong relations with Russia. To have these we will have to be firm and unyielding in our stance along the way on issues such as those that I have just mentioned. Above all, the report argues, as I see it, that we should build relations with the Russian people and with civil society, from education, law and cultural exchange, to the demanding issues of media freedom and human rights. After all, that is what we did so outstandingly well in our contribution to the building of a new, post-Nazi Germany. We took people from all parts of British society and put them in to work in the community. If I may make a personal remark, I remember that my own mother became very devoted to the work she did in a community in Germany, trying to build up concepts of local democracy.
We should be grateful for this report. It is constructive and balanced, and it makes a good start for our deliberations.
My Lords, I had the privilege to serve on Sub-Committee C of the EU Select Committee. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, for steering us so skilfully through this complex inquiry, which was so topical that the landscape seemed to change virtually from meeting to meeting. I endorse his thanks to the clerk, the policy analyst and the special adviser for their magnificent policy and technical support.
I will confine my remarks to the two very different points in this report to do with language and language skills. First, one of the report’s conclusions was:
“There has been a decline in Member States’ analytical capacity on Russia. This has weakened their ability to read the political shifts and to offer an authoritative response. Member States need to rebuild their former skills”.
The same deficit was found in our own Foreign Office as in the member states as a whole, and was thought to have occurred over some time in relation to Russia and the region. Sir Tony Brenton, a former British ambassador to Russia, told us that UK diplomacy has,
“suffered because of a loss of language skills, particularly in the Foreign Office”.
This point is all the stronger for echoing one of the conclusions of another Select Committee report, on soft power, which was debated in your Lordships’ House only two weeks ago.
Language skills and the cultural knowledge and understanding that go with them are a very important part of the analytical capacity that we found wanting. The report recommends that the FCO should review how its diplomats and other officials can regain this expertise. The new FCO language school is a first-class resource that is already making a contribution towards equipping some of the right people with Russian language skills prior to postings. About 10% of the 800 or so civil servants who had been on courses at the language school up to last November were studying Russian. If the recommendation on regaining linguistic and cultural skills is to be implemented on a solid, long-term basis, we need to see some changes much further back in the pipeline and not have to wait until people are already part of the Foreign Office or the Diplomatic Service for access to an intensive Russian course.
As a nation, we need to see a sea-change in our attitude towards language learning and a dramatic improvement in the take-up of languages at school and university. On Russian, I can give the House a very up-to-date picture of what is going on in schools from data published only last week in the 13th annual Language Trends survey. The curious thing about Russian is that at A-level take-up has nearly tripled over the past 20 years to nearly 1,200 in 2014. However, before anyone gets too excited about this apparent progress, it seems that the increase is largely due to increased numbers of native Russian-speaking non-UK nationals, mainly at independent schools. By contrast, a tiny proportion of state schools offer Russian—between 1% and 2%.
At university level, over the last 10 years there has been a 51% decline in the number of entrants to Russian and east European studies degree courses. Only 14 of our universities now offer Russian as a single honours degree and only 17 offer degrees in which Russian is a significant component. No universities in either Wales or Northern Ireland offer Russian, and only three in Scotland do—down from six quite recently. Slavonic languages other than Russian have fared very much worse still. I hope that the Minister will agree that the languages pipeline needs urgent attention and that the problems with Russian in particular, in the light of this report, cannot be solved simply by leaving it to the Foreign Office language school. Indeed, even with the benefit of the language school, only 27% of posts in the Diplomatic Service associated with a level of proficiency in Russian are actually filled by someone who meets the required standards.
The second language-related issue that appears in this report concerns not UK nationals but Russian nationals and ethnic Russians whose language rights may have been threatened or undermined by an EU member state. The report observes that the treatment of Russian speakers was one key theme in Russia’s actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. A proposal in the Ukrainian Parliament to repeal the 2012 language law allowing Ukraine regions to have Russian as a second official language was seen by many Russian-speaking Ukrainians as an alarming threat, even though it was subsequently withdrawn.
More pertinent still as far as the EU is concerned is that in Estonia and Latvia, two member states, Russian does not have the status of an official language, and in both countries citizenship rights, including the right to vote in national elections, are dependent on a language test in the official language. The result is that ethnic Russians, mainly older people, are denied citizenship and are unable to participate in the political process.
President Putin has, in various public statements, made much of this discrimination against Russian speakers living in EU countries and has accused the EU of double standards. Some of our witnesses thought that the plight of ethnic Russians was simply being used by Putin as a convenient pretext, that their social isolation was perhaps exaggerated, and that in any case in strictly legalistic terms Estonia and Latvia were violating no specific EU standards. Nevertheless, it is more than uncomfortable that any EU member state should make citizenship conditional on these terms and thereby hand Putin a card to play that suggests that the EU does not practise what it preaches.
I am one of those people who believe that it is perfectly reasonable to state that English would be a requirement for British citizenship, and I have no problem in principle about what happens in Estonia and Latvia. However, does the Baroness not agree that Putin has stated that Latvian and Estonian citizens who take the language test and then apply for and receive local nationality will no longer be allowed into Russia without a visa? He is preventing contact between the Russians living in those two countries and Russia, which he is then complaining about.
The report acknowledges that point about visas. My point is that it is short-sighted to hand Putin a card to play that enables him to accuse the EU of double standards. The report concluded that there is a prima facie case requiring this historical grievance by ethnic Russians in Estonia and Latvia to be investigated. That is as far as we went. I hope that the UK Government will press for this investigation to be pursued by the EU so that any excuse for any level of Russian interference in these states on these particular grounds can be effectively neutralised and removed.
I look forward to the Minister’s response on this and to my earlier points about language skills.
My Lords, it is a very interesting report. I am sorry that I was not on the committee because it sounds as though it would have been rather enjoyable under the skilled chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Tugendhat.
I have four points to add. First, in trying to curb Vladimir Putin’s ambitions and mischief making and the general Russian neurosis and paranoia which seems to prevail in its public opinion, the important starting point has to be that what is going on is a world issue and not only a western issue. Nothing will change decisively unless and until China and the Asian powers are as much engaged as the West professes to be. Of course, the sanctions we have applied and are threatening to apply more of can be hurtful to both sides—indeed, they are proving quite damaging to both sides—but as long as China ignores them there will always be an eastern back door through which Russia can escape and trade.
Putin has made it clear that he relies increasingly heavily on the East. He is working hard for new customers for his gas, for allies in the East—particularly China but other countries as well—and for joint development. He and Gazprom have finalised huge future deals for gas supplies to China and he welcomes proposals from Beijing for the new Silk Road, the Beijing-Moscow high-speed rail link and for a general vast development of links between middle Asia, the Pacific and China. Putin sees Russia not as just a European player—he never did—but as a world power straddling Europe and Asia. He wants near neighbours to play that game as well and to give him the respect that he feels he is due. That is the first point I want to make.
My second point concerns energy. There is only a little about it in the report—I understand why there was not an extensive delving into the complexities of energy—but of course it is a central issue to UK-Ukraine relations and to EU-Russia relations. The dependence on Gazprom, which the report mentions, of the eastern Europeans can be reduced by interconnectors from western Europe, and the current energy union ideas from Brussels are aimed at trying to develop that. However, Europe is always going to be an important customer of Russia, even after interconnector development, greater efficiency and importing more LNG from other countries, including the United States. In any case, Russia is giving up seeing Ukraine as a major transit route. It has shrugged off the South Stream plan, which was to take gas under the Black Sea, and is now connecting into Europe via Turkey on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. Russia plans to sell its gas into Turkey, and through Turkey into Europe that way. This demonstrates that Russia thinks that the unsettled Ukrainian state will continue for a very long time.
My third point is this. Putin will, in the end, be contained—it will be gradual—by other, bigger forces than sanctions. Russian banks need to borrow, but they can no longer do so at the favourable interest rates they could get when they had access to the West. Russia needs a lot more inward investment and trade than it has. The Russian people are connected with the rest of the world as never before at every level of citizenship, from school children upwards. The rouble has collapsed, the stock market has collapsed, and the price of oil has collapsed. All those things will eventually check him, particularly as the price of oil, contrary to many people’s hopes, will stay very low and will not go back to $100 dollars a barrel for a long time.
All these things will shape and put pressure on Putin, but I am not sure that sabre rattling will do so. That is because Russia is playing a very different game on the military side. It believes in “new methods of conflict”. Incursions are never to be central or openly military—that is the new doctrine. The new technique is known as maskirovka, which is not a conventional battlefield where the results can be defined and clear victories won; it is always something that is not what it seems. Russia will stir up minorities and do deals with individual countries, as it is trying to do now with Hungary in seeking to break up the European Union from within and proposing nuclear power, and of course it will take offence at the slightest provocation, as we have seen in the papers this morning over the VE Day celebrations.
Incidentally, talk of “arms to Kiev”, which some have suggested, also raises some curious maskirovka issues. Ukraine is one of the largest manufacturers and exporters of arms in the entire world. In 2012 it was the fourth largest. Ukraine supplies most of Russia’s helicopter engines and half of its nuclear arsenal is built there. So “arms to Kiev” for those who are urging it—like the US Congress calling this morning for lethal weapons to go to Kiev—means that those arms could end up anywhere. Knowing the area, as experts do, they will probably end up in the wrong hands.
To understand Russia today, we have to position ourselves somewhere midway between Kafka and Tolkien: nothing is what it seems. I did have some personal experience of the Magnitsky case, which involved bogus police, bogus tax authorities, bogus courts, bogus judges and bogus company officials who had stolen the identity of the company of Mr Bill Browder, to whom I was an adviser at the time. He set it all out in his fascinating book, Red Notice. All that indicates that fraud, scam and murder are the norm, as we saw so tragically the other day with the murder of Mr Nemtsov just outside the Kremlin.
In the long term, as this excellent report sets out, we have to live with Russia, as do all the other Asian powers. That is probably best done on both an EU and a national bilateral basis because we have to work on both tracks. The EU on its present integrationist path is always going to be a discomfort and irritation to Russia, whereas a less centralised, relaxed and, I hope, reformed EU would obviously be less threatening. Each EU state should feel free to build its own type of relationship with the Russian state and the Russian people.
Finally, the report talks about “sleepwalking” into this situation. I am not sure that that is fair. It is good journalism because of course all the newspapers picked up the phrase, but I am not sure that it is a good analysis. All along, there has been a perfectly clear awareness that Russia was on an uncertain and unpredictable course. It was trying to be a great power again and could not understand why it had lost power, but it was not behaving like a great power. Putin changed course completely. I heard him say in his earlier presidency that he wanted to work very closely with Europe and change the political face of Russia, but the Putin who came back in the second presidency was a completely changed man. It was an event that of course surprised, but it was not a surprise that anyone could have sensibly anticipated, however expert they were and however good their knowledge of Russia. Crimea was no surprise at all. Those of us who have been there know that it is a really beautiful place, but its heart was always with Russia. It was always amazed to find itself part of Ukraine and wanted to go back to Russia.
One does not need to be too much of an expert on a country to sense where it is going. In fact, quite often great reams of experts fail to predict things accurately and get things wrong, although I do not think that the blame game is really necessary. I learnt Russian at school but I do not think it helped me understand less or more the mysteries and the total unpredictability of the Russian trajectory.
There are plenty of surprise events ahead. We heard this morning that one may be coming in Argentina, with the decision of the Russians to supply weapons to Mrs Kirchner. I point your Lordships’ eyes in the direction of Kaliningrad—the old Königsberg, of course—where a huge build-up of Russian troops is taking place as they reinforce their vast naval base there. That is an area where we should be prepared for trouble. There are many difficulties ahead, and we have to use the same subtlety as the maskirovka experts will use against us.
My Lords, I should first like to express my deep appreciation for the assistance and guidance that I have received from all those who work in this building. I know that my experience differs in no way from others who have come before me, but it has been a real encouragement to encounter such courtesy and helpfulness from the officials, staff and doorkeepers on whom the functions of this House depend. It is not just their civility that I wish to pay tribute to but their infinite patience.
I welcome the committee report which has prompted this debate. I have lived and worked in Russia and Ukraine for over 30 years, and I continue to take a close interest in the region, as detailed in my entry in the register of interests. The report contains a great range of insights and level-headed recommendations, but I shall try to limit myself to a few specific points arising from it. Before I do so, I should like to make some observations on the current situation in eastern Ukraine in particular, which of course post-dates the publication of the report.
It is always rash to make predictions of events in time of war, but in my assessment, Putin has achieved militarily what he wanted to achieve in Donetsk and Lugansk: he has won his battles and humiliated the Ukrainian leadership; he has created an island of instability in eastern Ukraine; and he has destroyed much of Ukraine’s economy—the mines, factories and infrastructure in the region are shattered and people have fled.
Undoubtedly, there will be flare-ups, but for the time being at least, and assuming as an overriding caveat that Kiev observes, or accepts, the ceasefire, in my view the Russian military phase is largely over. Economic pressure, I believe, will characterise the next steps. In the last month, the Russian Government have relieved Russian private banks of their exposure to Ukrainian businesses. Over $50 billion of bank debt will be absorbed by the Russian Government, allowing the Russian commercial banks to restructure their balance sheets and giving surety over Ukrainian assets to the Russian state. I believe that, in the next 12 months or so, there will be a Russian push to buy out distressed Ukrainian assets. To put the policy in perhaps simplified but, I believe, not misleading terms, Russia’s aim will be to become as close to a 100% shareholder of Ukraine as is possible.
In that context, therefore, I want to make just three points. The first relates to the evidence that the report collects on “hard questions of strategy”, integrated foreign policy and diplomatic competences. I believe that one day Russia’s interventions in Ukraine will be seen as a critical mistake. Nevertheless, if we are to attempt to resolve the great instability in eastern Europe, at some stage we will have to negotiate with Putin—with Russia. Who “we” are is another matter—a most important one, indeed—but there has to be a process of negotiation on strategic issues. At the moment there is no process.
Of course, the German Chancellor and the French President have twice now gone to Minsk. They have shown much courage and persistence, but these very necessary negotiations were essentially about a ceasefire and peacekeeping. We know that there is a strategic basis on which Putin will negotiate. There is a specific framework. But we have not yet entered that stage and, until we do, I agree with the report that there will be no real settlement of this conflict.
Secondly—although I say this with regret—part of the problem lies now with the Ukrainian Government. They came into being with much promise of renewal and democratic process, but, as with previous Ukrainian Governments, there is constant constitutional conflict between the Prime Minister and the President. As the report recognises, the seeds of this crisis have been sown over 20 years of Ukrainian government mismanagement, but the mismanagement—if that is the right word for it—continues. Even now, and despite Minsk, the Ukrainian leadership says that the constitution should not be altered—that is code for abandoning Donetsk—and it believes that the country should join and be armed by NATO. That reads to me like a suicide note which the Ukrainian nation will not accept. At the same time, with the war receding, deep splits are being exposed in the Ukrainian power elites. These threaten stability and play to the Russian line that the country is sliding into lawlessness.
That leads me to my final point, where I would like to pick up on those parts of the report that allude to an ideal of a Ukraine transformed into an attractive civil society with a people whose energies are released—a model state, dare one say, for the region. Over the past year, the mood of the country has fluctuated through hope and disillusionment, but I see that at most levels of civil, social and economic activity there is now a widespread recognition that the country has missed the turning point that occurred, for example, in Poland some 10 years or so ago, when there was a fundamental change of direction. There are and there have been innumerable reform programmes for Ukraine on the table, but I believe that there is now a recognition that it is time to find the political will to implement some major changes, starting with legal reform—without which, in my view, there is little point attempting others. It is time that genuine mechanisms were devised and enforced so that investment funds reach the real economy.
For Ukrainians, the only incontrovertible answer to Russian pressure is to develop in their country a prosperous climate that will deliver the rule of law and economic success. That is the forward-looking, optimistic scenario on which I should conclude, but not before saying how truly honoured I am that your Lordships have welcomed me to your numbers.
My Lords, it is a great honour to be the first to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, on his very fine maiden speech. Given his deep immersion in the questions before your Lordships this afternoon, it is a tad anxiety-inducing to be the next in line on the speakers list.
The noble Earl carries one of the most lustrous and resonant names in British political history. His great-grandfather, the last Liberal leader to preside over a wholly Liberal Government, has occupied a special place in our shared historical memory since those of us of a certain age first read Roy Jenkins’s excellent biography of HH Asquith in the mid-1960s. The noble Earl’s immensely distinguished Crown service has been rather more in the shadows than that of his great ancestor, but he has done the state some very considerable service in his diplomatic career. Although I know that he is too discreet to mention it, the noble Earl possesses a special place in intelligence history as the officer who spirited that remarkable and brave man, Oleg Gordievsky, out of Russia and into Finland in the boot of his car. I am sure that his maiden speech this afternoon is but the first flow of a cataract of wisdom and judgment to come in future debates, which we anticipate with keenness and enthusiasm.
Like so many of your Lordships, I am a child of the Cold War. Born in the late 1940s, ours was the first generation to grow up in the shadow of the bomb. We knew what those mushroom clouds over Japan in the last days of the Second World War meant—an entirely new era in international affairs. We did not need a degree in theoretical physics when we read about the H-bomb tests in the 1950s to understand that these new thermonuclear weapons were over 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That the Cold War ended without general war and nuclear exchange was and remains the greatest shared boon of our lifetime. Yet here we are, in the spring of 2015, a generation after the Cold War ended, debating Russia’s capabilities and intentions, trying to read the mind of the man in the Kremlin, and worrying about the dangers inherent in escalating tensions and about the condition of the critical Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949, signed for the UK almost exactly 66 years ago by the magnificent Ernest Bevin.
There is a school of thought that the Cold War did not die, rather that it went dormant for a time. There is something in this argument. For example, the Queen’s most secret servants will tell you that the Russian intelligence service has exactly the same number of officers operating under diplomatic cover in London as it did in the mid-1980s; around 34 the last time I looked. With its deep and traditional faith in human intelligence, the Russians also keep a string of “illegals” living under deep cover in our islands, who are fiendishly difficult to detect unless they make a slip. The Queen’s underwater servants in the Royal Navy Submarine Service will tell you that the deep Cold War never really ceased and has picked up noticeably over the last few years. Indeed, I experienced a whiff of it myself in the Atlantic off Florida when witnessing a test launch of one of the Royal Navy’s Trident D5 missiles following the mid-life refit of HMS “Vigilant”. I was on board the survey surface vessel, just two and a half miles from where the missile would burst from the ocean. Another three miles beyond me, a huge Russian spy vessel dripping with electronics could be seen trying to get into the test area and being prevented from doing so by the US Coastguard. When it was all over, the captain of the Russian spy vessel came across the open channel to congratulate all of us, in a perfect Oskar Homolka English accent.
The finely judged and carefully calibrated report on the EU and Russia before us today stimulated a range of deeper memories for me and aroused one particular current anxiety. My most vivid memory is of a study of unintended East-West escalation produced by the Cabinet Office’s Joint Intelligence Committee in the weeks following the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, when we truly neared the nuclear rim in a crisis that pretty well came out of the blue—Berlin rather than Havana being the place where we thought the greatest tensions would be played out. In November 1962, the JIC defined “escalation” as,
“the process by which any hostilities, once started, might expand in scope and intensity, with or without the consent of Governments”.
There followed a passage in that JIC assessment, which the report before us today summoned from my memory. It read like this:
“Once any hostilities had started agreement on a cease-fire would involve one side or the other accepting a tactical defeat or both sides a stalemate on what must be a highly important issue. The chances of such an agreement would be better if the attacking side realised that it had miscalculated the importance to the other side of the interests involved or the will and ability of the other side to resist”.
This is exactly what happened after Mr Khrushchev covertly placed his intermediate-range ballistic nuclear missiles on Cuba.
I am not a “history repeats itself” man, but I am with Mark Twain when he said that history may not repeat itself but sometimes it rhymes. In the context of Russia, Ukraine, the EU and NATO, I think that it is the possibility of unintended escalation—of a misreading of minds, intentions and possible responses—that most worries us. In Bevin’s time, Article 5 of the NATO treaty was as powerful as it was simple. It says:
“The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all”,
and that the parties individually and in concert will take,
“such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area”.
It was that clarity and simplicity that helped keep the Cold War cold.
The framers of that treaty almost exactly 66 years ago could not have foreseen the end of the Cold War, Poland and the Baltic states as full members of NATO, and a range of unimaginable new instruments at the disposal of the Kremlin. Stalin may have possessed what we thought were 175 divisions and, from August 1949, an atomic weapon, but Putin has a gas tap and he has cyber. What kind of attack and what magnitude of damage inflicted on a near-neighbour Article 5 country would be deemed to have activated Article 5 in current circumstances?
We live in an age of what is called “ambiguous warfare”. Mr Putin is a skilled player of this; it is what he does best. His currency may be falling, his GDP shrinking and the hydrocarbon clock may be ticking long term against his oil and gas position, but this is an activity at which he excels, and it is, I suspect, a near-constant temptation for him. Yet Mr Putin, too, is a child of the Cold War. He, too, grew up in the shadow of the bomb. He knows full well what a serious Article 5 incursion would mean.
Nerves need to hold within the NATO alliance. A new containment strategy needs to be pursued for as long as is necessary. I share the Select Committee’s conclusion that firmness combined with a pursuit of a new, more co-operative relationship with Russia when possible is the way forward to prevent current anxieties and crises,
“deteriorating into something resembling the Cold War”.
It might be fraught; it will not be edifying; it will not be swift; but it is what has to be done.
My Lords, I add my congratulations on the maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, for securing this debate, which provides a valuable space in which to explore the multifaceted and fast-changing situation in the region. The EU Committee’s report has opened a welcome opportunity to reassess the UK’s relationship with both Russia and Ukraine on a bilateral level and as part of the EU.
I wish to cast my remarks in the light of the recent visit of a delegation from the World Council of Churches to Ukraine. The delegates’ visit to the Monastery of the Caves in Kiev served as a reminder of the very complex relationship of church and state power on which Rus’ was built centuries ago. Ukraine and Russia share this history. It is impossible to unravel national identities that intertwined through the polities of Kiev, Novgorod and Muscovy, and on to the present day.
With this complex interplay of identities in mind, there is a clear need for an EU strategy towards the region that extends beyond united action on sanctions. The urgency of the situation in the region is compounded by the pending association agreements with Moldova and Georgia, which could render these states vulnerable to further Russian aggression. Further, as the committee report notes:
“The historical grievance of the rights of ethnic Russians in Estonia and Latvia offers the Russian government a convenient pretext which could be used to justify further destabilising actions in those states”.
I echo the report’s call for more steps to be taken to facilitate access to citizenship for ethnic Russians who have long-established residency in those states but who may have limited ability in the official language. We must act now to heal fissures in society that could otherwise be exploited.
Among those whose political identity cannot be neatly delineated are the too often forgotten non-Russians who remain in Crimea. While the immediate priority for the region must be the cessation of fighting, the international community must not allow the annexation of Crimea to become tacitly legitimate. It is imperative that we continue to challenge the validity of last March’s referendum, persevering in our insistence that representatives from the OSCE be allowed into the territory.
I strongly commend the EU Committee’s attention to the importance of holding Russia to its human rights commitment. It states in recommendation 55:
“The EU and Member States must continue to raise the human rights situation in Russia in international forums and to press Russia on human rights violations in their bilateral relations. It is not sufficient for Member States to delegate this to the EU institutions”.
This commitment to ensuring equal treatment for all must also encompass a renewed effort to tackle corruption, which has already been referred to by other noble Lords and which blights the opportunities of so many. As the report states:
“Combating corruption should be an essential part of the EU-Russia relationship. Only in this way will the EU be able to prevent the theft of assets from the Russian people”.
In pressing for the observance of human rights commitments in Ukraine and Russia, the UK must look with care to the integrity of our own position. I am glad that the report presses this point by stating:
“If the UK is to retain its credibility in its criticisms of Russia on human rights, then its position would be undermined if it sought to weaken its own commitment to the Convention. Such a move would resonate in Russia in a very significant way and would be a powerful tool of propaganda for the Russian government”.
The remainder of my remarks will pertain to the report’s recommendation on continuing dialogue and exchange with Russia to avoid the entrenchment of the current conflict. As well as the importance of various cultural exchanges—the arts, language skills and other soft power—faith groups and civil society groups have a key role to play in facilitating cultural and educational co-operation.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate in particular is uniquely positioned to show leadership in working for communication, peace, unity and reconciliation. As the majority church in Ukraine, with congregations in all parts of the country and on both sides of the lines of conflict, and having officially declared and reiterated its commitment to the territorial integrity and unity of Ukraine, the UOC has a special capacity and leadership responsibility to be a bridge over the opposing political divisions throughout the territory of Ukraine.
The All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations also has a key role to play as a facilitator of peaceful ecumenical and interfaith relations, encompassing as it does almost every church tradition represented in Ukraine, as well as the Muslim and Jewish communities. The council has remained impressively united despite all the difficulties facing Ukraine at the moment.
The various denominations and faiths hold different perspectives on the origins of the conflict, but still there is great potential for the churches and faith communities of Ukraine to play a lead role in transcending the competing nationalisms that can feed conflict, by addressing the social, economic and humanitarian needs that have been compounded by the fighting. This moral leadership is backed up with civil society action, with the central role being played by churches in meeting humanitarian needs in the affected regions. It was significant that during the violence in spring 2014, St Michael’s cathedral was used as a field hospital.
The unmet need remains very great. It is important that in the midst of our debate, as people are talking about the long-term strategy in the region, we do not forget the reality of daily life for tens of thousands of Ukrainians. Many are displaced from their homes and living in shelters and temporary accommodation. With even basic infrastructure destroyed, the battle to rebuild their lives is very difficult. We need a more adequate humanitarian response to the human suffering resulting from the conflict, and to support and strengthen the efforts of the churches and faith communities of Ukraine for justice and peace.
My Lords, since I came to your Lordships’ House almost 18 years ago, I have had the great good fortune for eight of those years to sit as a member of Sub-Committee C. Those years have been among the most interesting that I have had among my colleagues here but now that most of us will be rotated under the rules from the committee, I want to say how grateful I feel to the staff and advisers who we have had in putting this report together, as well as for the quite outstanding leadership of my noble friend Lord Tugendhat.
The background to this report is of course the intolerable and outrageous behaviour by Russia in recent times. This report should be seen as a wake-up call, principally to the European Union. Our criticisms in the report are directed principally at Brussels, but also at member states’ capitals. Whatever failings we may have suggested with regard to the United Kingdom, they are overshadowed by its leadership over the years in international affairs in Europe, which is of course exemplified by our defence budget being 2% of our GDP—the largest in Europe and the fifth largest in the world.
First, I want to draw attention to Russia as it is today. In 2014, according to the most recent figures by the International Institute of Strategic Studies, the Russian defence budget was only around 12% greater than that of the United Kingdom. It has increased substantially in recent years, particularly with its nuclear capacity, which Mr Putin never fails to remind us about. A lot of that extra money has gone towards the Navy but the ground troops are visibly stretched and not fully equipped. They are not as potent a force as we may think, but they are of course capable of putting substantial numbers into shows of force and intimidating postures at the frontiers of the European Union and NATO.
That is the defence side but, on the economic side, we should not forget the parlous state of the Russian economy today. The collapse in oil prices and the rouble, and the flight of capital overseas, together with the effect of sanctions and the extra cost of the Crimean occupation, could be catastrophic for Russia. The committee heard from Mr Kasyanov, the former Prime Minister of Russia and, of course, an opponent of Putin. At a time when oil prices were around $80 a barrel, he told us that Russia could be in a major crisis in two years’ time. With oil prices now below $60 a barrel, I guess that Mr Putin must be losing quite a lot of sleep over this.
We must recognise that relatively modest conventional military resources and concerns over looming economic problems could cause Mr Putin to be at his most dangerous and unpredictable at this moment, in the difficulties in which he finds himself. So with this background, we must ask what we ought to do about this. I hope that this does not simplify it too much but the reaction of the European Union and NATO should be defined as the iron fist in the velvet glove. Above all, NATO—with, I hope, full European Union support—must make it absolutely clear that the principles of Article 5 and the commitments of NATO members that an attack on one is an attack on all, as the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, said, are a totally non-negotiable red line. Any incursion, including a cyberattack that we can pin on them, into the Baltic states or on other NATO territories must invoke a positive and immediate reaction, and he should be aware of that at this stage. NATO must work immediately to create what was defined in the Welsh summit last autumn as a readiness joint task force. We must work to create this with redoubled urgency.
Having been in Washington in the past few weeks, I would be surprised if the United States did not provide Ukraine with potent defensive equipment in the near future, although I wonder whether Ukrainian troops are capable of handling some of this weaponry. I also believe that anticipation of a crisis is better than reaction to one. So far as I am concerned, I should like to see us move more military assets closer to NATO’s eastern frontier now. We already have fighter aircraft in the Baltic states but I would not be at all averse to seeing more.
So much for the iron fist. What might be the situation with the velvet glove? The European Union’s task must now be to make every effort to convince the Russians that we wish to live in peace and harmony with them. Trying to find relationships between the European Union and the new Eurasian Economic Union is one way that one might go about it, as has been mentioned. However much they irritate us, we must make real and positive efforts to review the past and, if necessary, seek to recognise ways in which we have missed opportunities to recognise Russian interests and susceptibilities.
It is not too late to forge a new, lasting partnership with Russia. The immediate question will be whether all participants, especially in Russia but also in Kiev, will implement the Minsk II agreement. Once that agreement is firmly and permanently implemented, we can start to talk about reducing sanctions and finding ways in which we can live more happily together.
My Lords, I warmly congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith. With this debate, we have certainly played into his strong suit. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, and the members of the committee. They stress as a continuing theme the need to understand Russia and Russian civilisation. In our country we have lost much of that expertise, as the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, mentioned in her contribution. I recall that when we recognised this in the 1960s we set up the Hayter report, as a result of which several new posts were established in our universities. Where are they now? I understand that many of them no longer exist. We need to encourage the study of Russian and Russian civilisation.
I have two preliminary observations. This is of course a fast-moving situation. The report was ordered to be printed on 10 February, two days before the conclusion of the Minsk II agreement. Secondly, the report exposes the effect of the limit of the remit of the House of Lords European Union Committee: we do not have a foreign affairs committee so everything must be looked at through the lens of the European Union, which has meant that the report is not as rounded and comprehensive an analysis as it might have been. Hence, for example, the important NATO dimension is hardly examined in the report but it would have been had there been a foreign affairs committee, as in the other place. To be fair, the report mentions the Council of Europe, which has exercised its own sanctions in its Assembly, in that the Russian delegation has withdrawn itself.
Equally, as mentioned by the right reverend Prelate, paragraph 325 of the report contains a postscript on UK government policy on the European Convention on Human Rights. If we were to have a pick-and-choose policy in relation to the convention, that would certainly give the Russians a major precedent to pick and chose, and we would devalue any influence we might otherwise have.
A crisis of this magnitude throws important light on the principal actors in the drama. What does it tell us about Russia? Given its economic weakness, which the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, has just underlined, President Putin has played his cards with consummate skill. We must understand Russia’s fear of encirclement, its desire to end the perceived humiliation after the loss of the Soviet Union and the Soviet empire, the reaction to the anarchy of the 1990s, the search for the restoration of great power status and the pivot to the east to make up for the loss in the west. All this explains the return to traditional themes of authoritarianism, patriotism and the role of the Orthodox Church. It also exposes the weakness of our policy assumption before and after the 1990s that Russia was on a journey to western-style democracy.
On NATO expansion, many serious observers argue that Secretary James Baker gave the clear impression to Russia that, in return for recognising the independence of the Baltic states, NATO would not expand eastwards. The Istanbul summit put an end to that. I understand the Government’s case that Ukraine is a sovereign country which can choose its alliances as it will, but to join NATO would be hugely provocative to Russia. A wise course would be for President Poroshenko to recognise this and for NATO to give a similar undertaking. That is surely necessary if we wish to live in peace with Russia.
What does the crisis tell us about the West? Once military intervention has been ruled out, only sanctions and attempts to isolate Russia remain. So far, there has been a remarkable degree of consensus within the European Union but, as last week’s Council illustrated very clearly, this may well not last as President Putin is seeking to divide and conquer. It is possible that there will not be the required unanimity when we renew the current sanctions, particularly tier 3. As over Georgia, economic interests will prevail. There will be business as usual. For example, last week, we saw Russia’s incremental quasi-annexation of South Ossetia to provide a possible precedent for Donbass.
What does the crisis tell us about the UK’s role? We recall that the UK was one of the four signatories of the Budapest declaration 1994, which has now been massively breached by Russia redrawing national boundaries. The fact that we were not part of the EU team at Minsk can be construed only as a signal of our diminishing status.
How should the West respond? On the economic side, clearly we must mobilise western capital, with conditionality, for Ukraine. We should continue to assist with constitution building with the Venice commission and other groups, and particularly with proposals for decentralisation. Just as Ukraine will have to deal with Russia for energy supplies, we should aim to make progress with Russia in areas of policy of common interest. Russia apparently showed a very positive response at the pre-conference on the non-proliferation treaty. Other areas include counterterrorism, ISIL and Iran. We should maintain sanctions but be ready to ratchet down if Russia continues broadly to observe Minsk II. Overall, the trust has disappeared.
Finally, Galbraith said something like, “All foreign policy decisions involve a choice between the disastrous and the unpalatable”. It would be disastrous to provide Ukraine with US arms. Can one imagine the effect when the first Russian soldier was killed by US guns? It would, nevertheless, be unpalatable but realistic if we were to allow some time for monitoring the implementation of Minsk II.
Crimea is not mentioned in Minsk II. Surely, like it or not, it is now permanently part of Russia, symbolised by the fact that Russia is spending €3.5 billion to construct a 19-kilometre bridge that will link Crimea across the straits to what it would call its motherland, to be completed by 2018. A credible referendum held in Crimea now would probably confirm the illegal one. It is absurd for the US to argue that sanctions must remain until Russia gives up Crimea, which would mean indefinitely. Obviously the options with regard to Donbass are very difficult and different; there would have to be negotiations over the autonomy measure. It is also unpalatable to yield to Russian aggression and lies, but we shall have to live with the new, nationalist Russia: keep doors open, but sup with a longer spoon. Almost 70 years after Kennan’s historic article, we should perhaps re-examine the case for containment.
It is a great pleasure to hear the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, demonstrate how viable it can be to this House to have the participation in our debates of an intelligent former member of the Diplomatic Service. It has been a very long wait, I can tell you.
When I served in the embassy in Moscow, nearly 50 years ago, our boss in London, the superintending under-secretary, was a ferocious man who spoke 14 European languages and had spent the war in Moscow and Kuibyshev, where the embassies were moved when Hitler’s army got near Moscow. He demanded quite a high standard of analytical skills from those who worked for or to him, and of course in the embassy it was a sine qua non that everybody spoke Russian. Our ambassador was an extremely lucky man, because he not only spoke brilliant Russian but was lucky enough to be the brother of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock.
That is a shameless hook on which to hang the fact that I greatly regret the news that the noble Baroness will stand down from our House this week. I speak only for myself, but I think the whole House will agree that the penetration and focus of the intelligence and judgment that she has brought to bear in our debates has been extremely striking. It used to light up both the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge, it has lit up our debates, and we will miss her very greatly indeed.
The point in the excellent report by the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, on analytical skills is correct. The Foreign Office has lost a good deal of the expertise that Duncan Wilson and Tom Brimelow had, but it may have something to do with lack of resources; relatively speaking, and absolutely, the Foreign Office is much less well resourced now than it was then.
On the substance of the report, one has to start with Crimea. President Putin has now admitted in a public interview that he decided on 22 February last year to annex Crimea. That was three weeks before the sham referendum on the Crimean peninsula. He made up his mind even before there was any attempt to generate a grievance among the Russian speakers. The OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities had just confirmed that there was no threat to the Russian-speaking people in Crimea. The whole excuse for annexation was manufactured.
I am not terribly happy with the Minsk agreements for many reasons, but one of them is that they say nothing about Crimea. Moreover, the European Council has, in a way, added to the problem by deciding that the sanctions would terminate in December, when the Minsk programme terminated—if one were to assume, perhaps implausibly, that the Russians carry out the full Minsk programme—so it is entirely related to action pertaining to the Donbass. What about Crimea? Is a policy of non-recognition quite enough as a response to the first major change in the post-war settlement and a breach of all our basic texts, including the Helsinki text and the Paris charter? Is it enough just to look the other way? In particular, is it enough for this country, as a signatory of the Budapest memorandum of 1994? Then, with our partners the Americans, the Ukrainians and the Russians, we committed ourselves to ensuring that the territorial integrity of Ukraine was respected, that no economic pressure was brought on Ukraine and that no violence, or threat of the use of violence, was brought against Ukraine. The Russians have clearly breached all three commitments. What do we do? Do we do nothing at all? It does not add to the credibility of such texts if we do nothing at all. The Ukrainians would not be in the fix that they are in today if they had retained the nuclear weapons that we and the Americans urged them to hand over. They handed them over in exchange for this text, but is it just a bit of paper? It has John Major’s name on it, and John Major is an honourable man. Would it not be dishonourable to do nothing about it now?
I have grave doubts about whether sanctions will do the trick. Sanctions do some damage, but the sanctions that do most damage to the Russian in the street are the counter sanctions on Russia’s imports of our western consumer goods and foodstuffs. There are shortages in the shops; the Russians see that and they blame NATO—they blame us. It has accentuated the spiral of the narrative of plucky little Russia under threat from the wicked West. I can see that if you tightened sanctions so that they actually affected the Putin inner circle, as the American sanctions do and ours do not, you might achieve more. But, frankly, I do not think that this will be done by sanctions, and it will not be done by a ceasefire, which will probably be honoured no better than it has been in the past.
We have to raise Putin’s perception of the price to him of carrying on doing what he is doing to Ukraine. We first need to convince him that we would not let Ukraine collapse economically and not let it go completely down the tubes. The report by the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, has an interesting suggestion at paragraph 282 that we call an international conference of potential donors. I do not know about that. I certainly think that it would be very good to know the Government’s view about that. The Finance Minister of Ukraine was in London yesterday seeing the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Did Mr Osborne offer any help? I do not know, but I hope that we are offering help.
On the question of arms, I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. I think we need to convince President Putin that we would not let Ukraine’s defence forces collapse. I am not arguing that we should send UK Armed Forces, and neither is President Poroshenko, but he is asking for people to send arms. If we regard Ukraine as an independent country and regard him as its legitimate leader, does he not have a right to self-defence? I have difficulty with the argument that it is provocative to the aggressor to assist the victim, and that appears to be the argument: the Russians would not like it, so let us not do it. I do not buy that argument.
I agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, said about NATO. I think that is exactly right. It needs to be clear that Article 5 means something to us. I entirely agree with that, but I disagree with those in the US Congress who argue that we now need to see tactical nuclear weapons deployed in the Baltic states and in Poland. That seems to me very rash. We should stick to the 1996 NATO position that there is no plan, intention or reason for the forward deployment of tactical nuclear forces.
Conversely, I think that the Americans were wrong as regards the 2008 NATO communiqué and the invitation to Ukraine and Georgia to join the alliance. That was a mistake. It would be good to make it clear to all parties that it is a dead letter, that NATO’s invitation is not currently open, and that the Ukrainian regime is not currently seeking such an invitation. If that could be codified in some way, it might contribute to finding a solution, because I do not think that the solution lies in ceasefires or sanctions but in finding a settlement. One needs to find out what President Putin wants and see to what extent that is compatible with what is right for Ukraine—a judgment for President Poroshenko.
The committee is right to suggest that there is a dialogue to be had between the Eurasian Economic Union and the EU. It is also right to suggest that the President of the European Council, the former Prime Minister of Poland, has a very important part to play in this, not just operationally but given that he is who he is.
There is one last thing for us to do that is really rather important. I apologise to the noble Lord opposite for carrying on, but I did speak about general matters for a moment or two at the start of my speech. Yesterday, I was surprised to note that the Prime Minister’s Statement on the European Council did not mention the first, and for most members of the European Council the most important, matter discussed at that Council, which takes up a third of the Council’s conclusions: the plans for energy union. These will be extremely difficult and may well end up much less ambitious than the original Commission plans, but this is the real way to respond to an aggressive Kremlin. We need to reduce the perceived dependence on energy from Russia. Actually, we are not dependent on it; Russia is dependent on us. It needs to sell to us, and that need is greater than our need to buy from it. But in some member states, particularly Austria and Hungary, the pressure of the energy link is working perversely as regards the interests of the European Union and Ukraine, so I would say that one of the most important things to do is to press on with energy interconnection, both electricity and gas, and get as far as we can get, realistically, with an energy union.
My Lords, I have the pleasure of being a member of the sub-committee that produced this report and it is only right that I should start by echoing the praise addressed to the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, for his chairmanship of it, and to the staff who helped so much in producing the report.
It is also a pleasure to have been here for the maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, who referred to the turning point for Poland many years ago. Going back to the immediate post-Soviet period, Belarus, rural Ukraine and Poland were all much of a muchness in economic prosperity. However, in the years since, Ukraine has not developed much and Belarus has managed a little, but Poland has surged ahead enormously and is now many times more prosperous than those other two countries. That example was instrumental in fuelling the protest in Ukraine that led to the change of regime and the turning point in its orientation between Russia and western Europe. We then saw Putin realising that, against that shift, he had little chance of seeing again an Administration in Kiev that would be malleable from his point of view. He proceeded to try to minimise his losses by being revenged on Ukraine and trying to ensure that it was destabilised—at best, by another frozen conflict; at worst, perhaps by the scenario that the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, pointed out. That is very much the background.
Reference was made to the first thing that Putin did, which was the operation in Crimea. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, reminded us that Putin has confessed that he had planned that long before his Crimean referendum, which has also been rightly criticised in this debate. I remind Members that another referendum took place at the time of the break-up of the Soviet bloc. It was held by the Ukrainian Government, on whether Ukraine should become independent. At that point, the USSR still existed. The referendum was held on 1 December 1991; 84% of the population voted and 90% were in favour of independence. However, the interesting figures were in the Luhansk oblast, where the vote for independence exceeded 83%. In neighbouring Donetsk, it reached almost 77%. Even in Crimea, more than 54% voted in favour of independence. In Sevastopol, the figure was 57%. Those areas have a significant Russian-speaking population and, in 1991, when faced with the question of whether Ukraine should leave the USSR and create an independent state, there were clear majorities that were well above the percentage in the Scottish referendum. That is something we need to bear in mind.
I turn to the committee’s report. Possibly one of the most crucial observations in the recommendations is in paragraph 168, which states that,
“the EU and Member States face a strategic question of whether Europe can be secure and prosperous if Russia continues to be governed as it is today”.
It goes on to say that Russia has created a,
“geopolitical competition in the neighbourhood”,
“The EU’s capacity to influence the internal politics of Russia is limited, and Member States have not demonstrated an appetite to make the attempt. Therefore, if influencing Russia’s future governance is not on the agenda, Member States instead need to devise a robust and proactive policy to manage competition with Russia in the shared neighbourhood”.
The report goes on:
“The first step is … to distinguish between the legitimate and the illegitimate security interests of Russia”,
stating that Russia,
“has a right not to be excluded from the eastern neighbourhood. However, it does not have the right to deny or threaten the sovereign rights of its neighbours”.
That should very much be the starting point of one’s approach.
As to the subsequent steps, I find myself in agreement with the noble Lords, Lord Jopling and Lord Kerr: the first priority is to deter future aggression. We were hoping for a ceasefire in Ukraine and hope that there will be no further action, but it is hugely important that we deter, and put sufficient resources in key places to deter. It is interesting that we are discussing this having heard a Statement about the Falkland Islands, one element of which concerned making sure that there is effective deterrence there. I had jotted down the Baltics and the Balkans as places we should prepare to deter Putin from. I had not thought that the Falklands would come into the frame so quickly and we will no doubt hear more about that. However, in the Baltic states, and possibly in the Balkans, we need sufficient forces on the ground to up the bar for Putin so much that he is deterred from aggression.
The question will arise about the nature of the support that we give to Ukraine, which is very much the position that the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, spelled out. Clearly, we need to give it substantial economic and financial support. We should do what we can to turn it into a stable and prosperous state. The EU does that quite well and it ought to make it its priority in this case, whereas deterrence is clearly the priority for NATO action. However, in addition to improving the economy, that will be extremely difficult if Russia continues with its programme of destabilisation.
The question then arises of what further support we give. Here I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, about supplying various degrees of military support. That has to be looked at and done carefully, but there is no reason to believe that it cannot be done effectively. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, commented on the capacity of the Ukrainian forces to handle that. Not so long ago, I heard a person with considerable military experience refer to some of the assistance that the US has already given to Ukraine. In particular, it has given a radar system that will detect the use of mortars, so that the Ukrainians can work out exactly where the mortars are being fired from and adjust accordingly. This military gentleman praised the skill with which the Ukrainian forces had used it, but they do not yet have a counter battery capacity, which would return fire at the mortars. That is possibly the next step to consider, but I leave that to others, particularly in view of the hour.
Finally, we have heard a lot of nuclear sabre-rattling from the Russians. They have done this consistently over the last year or two, dropping hints and reminders of their nuclear capability. It even happened yesterday, with some threats directed towards Denmark and the Danish navy. This very much worries me, because it is the sort of thing where mistakes can happen. If the Russians keep talking about their nuclear capability, they might talk themselves into doing something foolish. Deterrence there is of the normal form, but I very much hope that we find other ways of getting through to the Russians the message that this is a step that should never be taken.
I begin by congratulating my colleague and noble friend Lord Oxford and Asquith on a most penetrating speech. It was very helpful that he brought his own experience and knowledge to this debate. I hope that we will hear more from him as these problems develop. I cannot think that they will go away immediately. I also want to express the sense of privilege that I had to serve on Sub-Committee C in preparing this report. I thank the clerk, the policy adviser and, above all, our chairman for his very persistent work in producing what I think is one of the best reports that has emerged from the European Union Select Committee.
The crisis that we face in the deterioration of relations between the EU and Russia has to be acknowledged and acted on. It is not entirely due to Russia. In my opinion it has overreacted to issues that we have given rise to. We heard evidence—it was reported most knowledgeably by Rory Stewart MP—that the Foreign Office has downgraded its capacity in Moscow, and indeed in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office itself. We also heard that that had happened with the EU representatives in Moscow. It seems that we have blundered into this mess through failure to recognise what was happening in Russia.
The breakdown of the Soviet Union was enormously humiliating to the political class in Russia, but also to the citizenry. The citizenry has been appealed to by the political leaders. We have seen the troubles in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Georgia, Transnistria, and Nagorno-Karabakh and have not reacted strongly enough to them. It is not suitable now to neglect the Crimea as something that has been achieved or set back. My daughter, who is a film-maker, was in Ukraine three months before the balloon went up. She made a film about Ukraine and the Crimea that was, in some sense, a documentary. It demonstrated the great love the Russians have for the Crimea and how, over the generations, they have built up their connections in stone. It was shown at the British Film Institute after the explosion and I think it was very observant.
We do not seem to have had a sufficiently coherent response to what has been going on in Russia. One of the pieces of evidence that we gained when we were in Brussels was how the trade department had not kept the political departments fully aware of the development of the association agreement with Ukraine; the AA took the observers by surprise in Europe. That was a failure of the European Union’s structure. It is also clear that Russia has been very concerned about its security.
It seems to me that we should have been engaging in constant dialogue with Russia about those matters in which we share an interest. The partnership and co-operation agreement has, of course, been suspended now, which is a great misfortune. The involvement of Russia with our interests is clearer. In 2013 the natural gas imports from Russia to the European Union were 39% of its requirements. We should have had more engagement with the setting up of the Eurasian union and we should have got to grips more with the Eastern Partnership and the six countries of the former Soviet Union. We have been too slow to reappraise our relationship and that, I think, is well brought out by the report.
How can we get back into dialogue? I agree with those who say that we cannot abandon sanctions or the pressure that we are putting on Russia so long as it is prepared to split up sovereign nations. However, there are many matters in which we could engage. We can develop a sense that we have a common interest in a security architecture and in resolving the economic problems that are afflicting both the eurozone and Russia. Because of our and its membership of the Council of Europe, we can discuss the European Convention on Human Rights. We can pick up Putin’s assertion in 2010 that he wanted to see an economic space from Lisbon to Vladivostok. I think he actually meant that co-operation was to be thought about. We must also remember that culture, education and science are things that we have in common, and we must appeal to the citizenry of Russia in continuing to cement our dialogue. We do not want Russia to feel drawn increasingly to the East and out of contact with the West. That, it seems to me, is the priority that we have to face now.
My Lords, we must all deplore the tragic loss of life caused by Russia’s invasion of Crimea and its infiltration into eastern Ukraine and, before that, Transnistria and two areas of Georgia, flouting international law. Nothing that is said today about mistakes by the EU or ourselves can take away from the brutal actions of the present Russian Government. Many, many Russians have opposed the latest invasion—some were parents of fallen soldiers—but they have been silenced by oppression and propaganda. That is why I welcome this debate, having served on the committee, and I warmly thank the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, for his patient chairmanship.
This debate could be called Russia’s nimby because the essence of it is the extent to which Europeans should intrude—or, to put it more politely, be invited—into Russia’s back yard. Historically, we Europeans should perhaps have learnt our lessons and realised that the great bear was bound to growl and lash out the moment any smarter, smaller animals approached him. But of course there is also a clash of civilisations. We in the European Union are naturally proud of ours. We think that we have got the human condition about right and that the Copenhagen criteria of justice and the rule of law should eventually suit everyone in the world. What else, we say, are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the European convention for if they are not statements of global faith? Universality for many liberal-minded people now is not even debatable.
However, we have to acknowledge that there are degrees of awareness and belief. There are Europeans in Russia and Russians in Europe, all with very different standpoints. Mrs Thatcher’s simple test was to ask whom one could do business with. If we are selling our house to an oligarch, presumably we are not in the least concerned about his attitude to human rights, but if he proposes marriage to one of our family then we begin to be concerned about his motives. I believe that we should make much more effort to understand Russia’s point of view. The Russians say that the EU has been treating Russia as though it was a prospective EU candidate—I quote from the evidence—
“prepared to sacrifice its interests and sovereign rights for the sake of future membership”.
I think the committee accepted that there is some truth in that.
At the end of the Cold War, there were genuine overtures on both sides and discussions of Russia’s future—if not within the EU, at least in harmony with what the EU was doing. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, described that era. Then, after Yeltsin in 2000, the scene changed again and this is where we say that the EU and its member states were “sleep-walking”. I stand by that phrase.
The importance of the new Commission’s review of its neighbourhood policy, coming up in May, is that it inevitably includes countries such as Ukraine which are already within the Russian sphere of influence. As the heroes of the Maidan in Kiev argued a year ago, the EU brings potential economic and social benefits, depending on the reforms that must pave the way. In Ukraine, especially, alongside Russia’s influence there are equally powerful religious beliefs and cultural traditions which come down from Poland and Austria and which are entirely European, as there are, it can be argued, with French and other influences within Russia, so on that score the nimby theory breaks down very quickly.
Time should be a healer, but how rapidly we seem to move on from our universal belief. We are already forgetting about Crimea. The OSCE has just cancelled a photographic exhibition in Vienna marking the anniversary of the Crimean invasion. The Ukrainians cannot believe that the West, having condemned Russia’s military action so recently, should now even disown the photographer.
The situation in Georgia, seven years after the war with Russia, remains very serious. There is considerable uncertainty in Abkhazia and South Ossetia over the borders, visas, the use of language, Russian subsidies and many other critical issues. I visited Georgia last July just after the signing of the new association agreement. I know that the agreement still promises economic and trading advantages, but trade has stagnated, tourism is still suffering and the political scene is fragile following the reshuffle of Ministers.
In our report we said that we should look forward to renewed EU dialogue with Russia, and this is now being bravely led by Chancellor Merkel. We should build upon our mutual interests in foreign policy, such as the nuclear negotiations with Iran and possible ways forward in Syria. We should recognise our strong cultural ties and the value of educational exchanges. The right reverend Prelate mentioned the importance of churches and non-governmental organisations. All these must be rebuilt. We should also take part at some level in the 70th anniversary commemorations in May. I hope that the Minister will clarify what will be happening then.
It is conventional to say that we have been well served by the staff. However, more than that, we have depended on the skills and expertise of our clerks, Roshani Palamakumbura, Sarah Jones and, before her, Julia Labeta, and our adviser Dr Samuel Greene. To all of them we owe a debt alongside the gratitude that we owe to our chairman.
My Lords, as a member of Sub-Committee C, I join with colleagues in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, for his great skill as a chairman and his patience in guiding us to our conclusions. It was not always easy as there was a certain amount of division in the committee. I also pay tribute to our policy advisers, Sarah Jones and Roshani Palamakumbura, and our adviser Sam Greene.
I join in the general condemnation of Russia’s and Mr Putin’s actions. He runs a paranoid regime, where his opponents are imprisoned and critics harassed or worse. The annexation of Crimea was illegal and an explicit denial of Russia’s promise to respect its neighbour’s territorial integrity. It is obvious, too, that Mr Putin, in exchanges, has not acknowledged or told the truth about his country’s involvement in eastern Ukraine. However, having said that, the actions of a state—even an authoritarian state—are rarely the consequences of one person, and, in the few minutes that I have, I would like to explore precisely why Russia has reacted as it has done.
Lord Salisbury, the great Victorian Prime Minister, once remarked that the first evil in diplomacy was war and the second evil was an obvious diplomatic triumph. He presumably meant that the latter often sows the seeds of the former. People often quote Mr Putin’s remark that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was the greatest disaster of the 20th century, as though that in itself was a sinister observation. I suspect that many people in Russia share that sentiment, not because of any great attachment to communism but because of the economic pain and the chaos that followed.
Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary under George W Bush and also under President Obama, said:
“When Russia was weak in the 1990s and beyond, we did not take Russian interests seriously. We did a poor job of seeing the world from their point of view, and of managing the relationship for the long term”.
While we were taking evidence in our committee, we heard much argument over whether assurances were or were not given to Russia in the past about the expansion of NATO. Sir Rodric Braithwaite, the former UK ambassador to Russia, was quite emphatic that such assurances were given. He provided the dates and the names of the people who were present, including himself, and said that these assurances were confirmed in Foreign Office documents. Whether these assurances were given or whether a different interpretation can now be placed on them because circumstances have changed, it is clear that the Russians were deeply unnerved by the expansion of NATO.
This was not a view expressed only by President Putin: it goes back to President Yeltsin, who, in 1995, at the time of NATO’s bombing of Serbia said:
“This is the first sign of what could happen when NATO comes right up to the Russian Federation’s borders … The flame of war could burst out across the whole of Europe”.
In 2008, President Putin warned that including Ukraine or Georgia in NATO membership, as had been proposed at a summit in Bucharest, would be perceived as a direct threat to Russia.
Extraordinarily and ironically, George Kennan, the US diplomat and the architect of western containment of the Soviet Union, expressed his anxiety in 2008 after the first round of NATO expansion. He said:
“I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely, and it will affect their policies … I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else”.
We may regard NATO as a defensive alliance, but it was originally aimed against Russia. Security can be a zero-sum game: one person’s security is another person’s insecurity.
Perhaps we do not sufficiently appreciate what a big decision it was when Russia allowed Ukraine to declare its independence. Russia was giving up a territory with which it had the most profound emotional and spiritual links, going back 1,000 years to the time when Kiev was the first Orthodox capital of the country.
We in the West and in the EU say that we do not recognise spheres of influence. Does this really accord with history and the realities of the world today? Try telling that to Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua or Bolivia. For Russia, of course, EU associate arrangements were the stepping stone to full EU membership, which it saw in many cases as leading to full NATO membership.
When we were taking evidence, we heard plenty of criticism of the EU’s handling of the proposed association agreement and comprehensive free trade agreement with Ukraine. Insufficient consideration appears to have been given by the Commission to the tension between the free trade agreement and Mr Putin’s proposed Eurasian Customs Union. Some officials who appeared before us admitted that almost no thought had been given to Russia and the effect on the Russian economy, and that there had been little contact with Russia even though the impact on the Russian economy was potentially considerable.
We may not like Moscow’s position, but it is not difficult to understand the logic. Ukraine is a huge expanse of flat land that Napoleon and the Nazis crossed in order to invade Russia. Ukraine is seen by Russia as a buffer state of enormous strategic importance. After President Yanukovych was removed, proposals were put forward in the Ukrainian Parliament to cancel the Russian lease on the naval base in Crimea. Russia would have lost access to the warm waters of the Mediterranean, and it allowed President Putin to speculate about having a western base in Crimea.
We all know about Winston Churchill’s speech in 1939 about Russia being a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. However, he also said:
“It cannot be in accordance with the interests of the safety of Russia that”,
“should plant itself on the shores of the Black Sea”.
Churchill would have understood Russian fears—even if they were illusions—about its base in Crimea.
I have concentrated on viewing the situation from a Russian point of view because it needs doing. However, we have to deal with the situation as it is: to understand is not to forgive. I support the imposition of sanctions. I agree that if there is not further progress, sanctions should be increased. I agree that we should stand by our Article 5 commitments. It is important that Minsk 2 should be upheld. This applies to Mr Putin and, equally, to Mr Poroshenko and the Government in Kiev. They should not be allowed to add new conditions to the agreement.
There are other things that we should be doing and encouraging. First, we need to consider devolution—even asymmetric devolution—within Ukraine. Secondly, we need to fashion an economic rescue plan for the country, funded jointly by the EU, the IMF, Russia and the United States. Lastly, and most importantly, the West should agree to Ukraine as a buffer between NATO and Russia, akin to Austria’s position in the Cold War. We should publicly rule out NATO expansion to include either Georgia or Ukraine.
We need a prosperous Ukraine—one that cannot be presented as a threat to Russia and one that will allow the West to repair its relationship with Moscow. We need Russia for many different issues and it is in all our interests to find a solution that enables us once again to have a better relationship with Russia and end this tragic situation.
My Lords, I have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, his committee and staff before on an excellent report. It should be read in conjunction with the excellent recent report on soft power from the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. The two link up rather well.
I rather take the view, as the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, said, that we need to understand the Russian position, but I also strongly take the view that when you understand bad behaviour and its origins you do not justify it. The noble Lord made that point in a single line. It is very important. It is easy to look back on Russian history in the 20th century and see what a disastrous history it was: two world wars, famine, dictatorship, failed revolution, collapse into ignominy in the later part of the century. Russia is not a country you would have wanted to have been born into in the 20th century.
Just as that is true, the other side of the same coin is that you would not have wanted to have been born in one of the eastern European states that were occupied by the Soviet Union or, as those states saw it, by Russia. Indeed, I remember seeing groups of German troops in what was then East Germany, and a large group of armed Russian troops a few hundred yards down the road. That was common throughout, because those countries were held in occupation, and what they remember is not only the occupation but the failed revolutions, whether in Hungary or Czechoslovakia, and the brutality with which they were put down. They also remember, and this is particularly true of Ukraine, the mass famines and deportations that were driven both by the Nazis and by the Russian communists. In other words, there is an appalling history in this belt of countries that makes it easy to understand why they are behaving as they are.
As I say, understanding behaviour is not the same thing as condoning it, so it is also important to recognise that this is an incredibly difficult area for the world to address and one that in my view, as I have said before in the House, is profoundly dangerous precisely because it is difficult to predict how it is going to develop. Several people have said that they think that Mr Putin is a skilled strategist. I do not think he is, but he is extremely good on tactics. I am deeply worried. In what I thought was a rather perceptive speech, the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, hinted that the problem of Russia under Putin is that there is not really a strategy that in the long run will be beneficial either to Russia or to the other countries in the region. It is a profoundly dangerous strategy, because at the very least it will blow up into a major conflict in one area or another.
One of the problems driving Russia at the moment, and to which many speakers have referred, is that of nationalism. Mr Putin is a strong nationalist. The problem with nationalism is that if you use your Russian populations in the border areas, as has been done in Ukraine, you cannot necessarily control them. The noble Baroness on the Front Bench who is to respond to the debate for the Government will know that I was saying some years ago that there could be no peace settlement in Syria because Putin would not allow it until Assad was winning. That has turned out to be true. It is true not because there is necessarily some wickedness in Putin, but because he believes that all this is about the loss of Russian world power and Russian nationalism, which are so important to him. That very nationalism is dangerous. It is also out of kilter with what is happening in the rest of the world.
One thing which the report brings out so well, and which is probably the central message that I would like to re-emphasise, is that the European Union does not have a clear strategy for how to deal with this. In fact, what troubles me, and as the report indicates, there are divisions growing within Europe. People have mentioned Hungary, but I am not sure what is going to happen with Greece at the moment—something that has been mentioned outside this House. One can see that there is the danger of a certain fragmentation of a coherent policy within the European Union, and it is obviously in Mr Putin’s interests to play on that. He would like to see greater disintegration, if you like, within the European Union and NATO.
That raises the question: how can we in the European Union make sure that we have a common policy towards Russia? When people say to me, “Oh, at the end of that road there is a common foreign policy and a common defence policy, and that will lead to a European nation state”, perhaps the first thing I would say is that history tends to indicate that a severe external threat often creates a united state in some form. Indeed, we need only look back to the origins of the United Kingdom to see how we created a nation state out of four separate nations in large part because of threats from outside of what were then religious wars. We do not have to go down the road of a common European foreign and defence policy, but my goodness we really do have to have a clear strategy towards what Mr Putin is doing in Russia.
This is not just about the issues in Ukraine; there are issues along several of the boundary areas. It is also about the corruption in Russia. It is about the fact that polonium-210 can be transported from a nuclear reactor somewhere in Russia across to Moscow and then to London, be used to poison a person, and go back again with no action taken by that Government. It is the whole issue of the Russian policy of trying to push at boundaries in a way that is destabilising not just for Europe but for the rest of the world. That is one of the reasons why I rather like the recommendation made in paragraph 282 that we should organise an international conference to help Ukraine not only on economic regeneration but on dealing with the corruption that is inherent within Ukraine itself, because that has been part of the problem. We need to do that not just in the European context but externally. I really do not believe that some of the other emerging great powers—India, China, South Africa, Brazil—think that it is a good idea to have a major power changing borders by force. They certainly do not think that it is a good idea to get a power to give up its nuclear weapons, as Ukraine did in 1994, and then start dismembering that country. What does that do for nuclear disarmament anywhere? It is a profoundly serious problem.
I have great respect for the Russians, but a danger pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, with regard to sanctions is that one of the things that drives Putin is his belief that the West is decadent, whereas Russia can suffer bravely and with courage. That is what sanctions do. I do not have an alternative and I think that we have to impose sanctions—I strongly support them at the moment—but we need to recognise how intensely serious this issue is.
To my mind, the problem of how we deal with Mr Putin’s Russia is a greater threat to world peace than what is happening in the Middle East. The Middle East is actually containable; Russia is not containable, and at best this situation has the makings of a new Cold War drifting into the future. It is not easy, but I will say this to the noble Baroness who is going to respond for the Government: please can we start doing all we can within the European Union to get a clear and coherent strategy on our foreign policy reaction to Russia and to the dangers in the border areas? There are answers; they are far too complex to deal with in my final minute, but they are there and they need to be developed in full.
My Lords, I have an important interest to declare, which is that I have been involved in business in Russia since 1995. I started that in the belief, which I still hold, that it is through commercial interchange that eventually we will restore some of the optimism about Russia’s future that many in this House have had for a number of years, although we have certainly found ourselves and our judgment somewhat questioned by the experiences in Ukraine.
We have heard two outstanding speeches. The maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, was quite remarkable and I find myself agreeing with almost all of his analysis. I have watched his career with great interest for some decades. He certainly does great service to the memory of his great-grandfather, whom I have been writing about with interest in The Military Conversations of 1906-1914. We look forward to hearing much more from the noble Earl. The other speech that I found myself agreeing with—we do not always agree on these matters—was that of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. His words on sanctions are well worth careful scrutiny. We often embark on sanctions with the best of wishes and intentions, but unfortunately they can yield poor results and they often produce the very effects that we do not want, particularly in the country that is most affected by them. In this case, a great many countries are affected.
All the members of the committee deserve to be congratulated on the report and on the tone that they have brought to this discussion. It is very different from the tone of discussion, I dare say, in another place and particularly in the newspapers of this country. We have to change that. We have to develop a much greater understanding of the complexity of the issues and we must do so fairly urgently.
What is Britain’s role? Paragraph 82 of the recommendations and conclusions says:
“As one of the four signatories of the Budapest Memorandum (1994), which pledged to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity, the UK had a particular responsibility when the crisis erupted. The Government has not been as active or as visible on this issue as it could have been”.
That is a matter of great regret. During the crisis inside Ukraine and in Kiev, the French, German and Polish Foreign Ministers went into negotiations. In the light of the fact that, no sooner was the ink dry on that agreement, it was effectively torn up in front of everybody’s eyes, it may have been quite a good thing that we were not involved in that rather deplorable example of EU negotiations, but staying out of that particular involvement carried with it our then acquiescing in what I think was the brave and necessary involvement of the President of France and the Chancellor of Germany in direct negotiations with Ukraine and Russia.
This country has a responsibility to try to find a way of dealing, in international law, with the annexation of Crimea. This will not be changed, probably for a number of years, but we need to lead the discussion, because eventually it will have to be changed. Of course, if Ukraine and Russia can reach an agreement, it will be settled in international law. That is probably the most desirable outcome and it eventually will have to be part of such an agreement. But to help that process we should point to the necessity of a wider discussion—widening it means that it is always easier to reach agreement—and indicate that one area that could be brought into that discussion is the question of Moldova and Transnistria. Putting that into the international discussions over the annexation of Crimea would be sensible. There is a lot to be said for widening this to all the disputed areas and boundaries in and around Europe and central Asia, which will come back to haunt us if we do not settle them.
Among the other aspects that have been raised in this debate, a great deal has been said about this whole issue of why Russia feels encircled. History shows us exactly the same: if you look to the origins of the 1914 war, there is no question but that encirclement was a big factor. It was felt not just by Russia at various stages but by Germany and by other countries. We need to respect that in international affairs.
One person who does not carry much weight these days in Russia is Mikhail Gorbachev. There is no doubt, in my judgment, that he can fairly claim that, with the full might of the Soviet Union behind him, he could have clamped down and there would have been no unification of East and West Germany. There has been some correspondence recently in the Guardian, on 6 and 9 March, with a NATO spokesman claiming, unwisely I think, to interpret Mikhail Gorbachev’s actual position. Gorbachev was under no illusion during the negotiations that went on following the fall of the Berlin Wall and throughout that period that his sensitivities on behalf of Russia—historic sensitivities—were going to be respected. Reference has been made to Ambassador Braithwaite’s assessment, which I value and trust greatly. More importantly, one should go to the text of the main spokesman for the West, President George Bush Senior, who made important statements and conducted one of wisest pieces of diplomacy in relation to the United States and Russia that we have seen for 50 years. His Secretary of State, James Baker, also made commitments. You cannot tear these up or ignore them, although they are not an excuse. Gorbachev said about the present crisis:
“One of its causes, though not the only one”—
an important reservation—
“is the unwillingness of our western partners to take account of Russia’s point of view, legitimate interests and security. Verbally, they applauded Russia, especially during the Yeltsin years, but in deeds they took no account of it. I am thinking mainly of Nato’s enlargement, the plans to deploy a missile shield, and the west’s actions in areas important to Russia (Yugoslavia, Iraq, Georgia, Ukraine). They literally told us: it’s not your business. As a result an abscess built up, and burst”.
We must return to this area to try to find our way through these difficult questions.
The contribution of those who have said that Russia has to be part of the solution is also important. The economic strength of Ukraine has to be built up, but it will not be built up just by relying on EU disbursals, the IMF or anybody else. Russia has an interest in Ukraine: it will invest there and will need to become a partner in investment. It is not going to be easy; it will be very difficult to break down the hatreds, almost, that have emerged in the last few years between people in Ukraine and Russia who previously worked evenly and well together. It will take time.
I suggest that Britain’s role is strategic. At the time, I was not keen on the decision at the NATO summit in Chicago to continue with dual-capable aircraft. In retrospect, I believe that it was a wise decision. I agree with those who have said that there is no case for these aircraft to be deployed now to new NATO members, but I believe that Britain should take a very active part in the whole of that issue and discussion. We may have a role to play. That whole aspect of NATO’s strategy has to be looked at again, but we should not consider deploying such aircraft in sensitive areas. These are issues to which we will return.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the committee on an excellent report and add my voice to those who have paid tribute to the first-class contribution to our debate from the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith.
Recent contributors to this debate have emphasised that Russia has legitimate interests. There is no argument about that, but the question in my mind is whether President Putin is a respectable and representative bearer of those interests and whether he deserves the kind of co-operation and regard that I think all of us would like to give to the Russian state. My reluctant conclusion—the evidence seems to me to bear this out—is that it is very difficult to deal with this man on terms that one would regard as honest and straight- forward. He has a track record of oppressing his neighbours. There is no good reason, and no provocation from the West, that could justify what happened in Georgia and the proclamation of the so-called independence of the enclaves of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, for which, I might say, we simply gave him a rap on the knuckles.
He has developed, not just in theory but in action, doctrines of spheres of influence. You can argue about their legitimacy, but the fact is that he has used them to oppress his neighbours and to override the sovereign rights of inhabitants of other countries. He has arrogated to himself the right to protect Russian-speakers irrespective of their citizenship. He has a track record of fairly aggressive activity.
At home, he has shown himself to be a very revisionist authoritarian. He has suppressed domestic opposition, built up military force and drummed up a nationalist agenda which now provides the background against which he can maintain his domestic popularity. He has not concealed this. I do not disagree with those who say that we should nevertheless have regard to Russian interests, but we must do something more effective than we have done so far about his preferred methodology of pursuing his agenda: propaganda, subversive activity in neighbouring countries and skilfully devised irregular military action which is carefully calibrated not to trigger any specific article of the Washington treaty. As a result, we have found it very difficult to deal with him.
He has obviously been encouraged by the inability of NATO Governments to devise a credible response. I say to those who think that the wise thing to do would be now to rule out NATO membership for either Georgia or Ukraine that they should think of two things: first, the destabilising effect that that statement would have in those countries, which also have interests in the matter; secondly, would Putin really regard this as fair dealing? I think he would regard it as an immense prize, enabling him to gobble up these countries even more effectively. I would be against any such declaration. It is a separate issue whether we pursue actively their membership of NATO and I would certainly not be in favour of that in the present circumstances.
We have to recognise that Putin has demonstrated determination that Ukraine should not be allowed to move westwards—it is part of the area that he wants to keep under his control and in which he can actively interfere. We have been proposing that the possibility of European Union membership should be available to Ukraine. Not only does Putin oppose Ukraine’s membership of NATO, it is increasingly clear that he does not like the implications of an association agreement or of membership of the European Union. I do not think that we can allow those policies or attitudes to stand. The Ukrainians have a right to fashion their own destiny.
As a result of the present situation, we face some fairly unattractive choices. Obviously, one of them is a result of what has happened in eastern Ukraine—to match force with force. That would be disproportionately risky and I would not support it at all. But I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, that we should actively consider the sale of weapons that will increase the defensive capability of the Ukrainians. I cannot see why they should be put in a position where they are outgunned and outmanoeuvred by separatist forces in part of the country.
These are all calculated risks. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, also mentioned something that I very strongly agree with; that is, the consequences of the failure of the Budapest memorandum. That has very wide consequences for those who wish to promote, as I would like to see it, a reduction in nuclear proliferation and, indeed, encouraging countries to go non-nuclear. What conclusions do you draw if the result of giving up your nuclear weapons is to be invaded?
The Kiev Government face a difficult task, politically and psychologically. Ukraine has not been a successful country so far and they are now faced with the extraordinarily difficult task of fulfilling their side of the Minsk agreement, which demands that they do certain things, without having full control over the situation on the ground or much certainty that anything liberalising that they do will actually bear fruit. But they have to make the effort and it should be a high priority of western policy, including of our own country, to help them in this task. The Government’s initiative in proposing a good governance fund is excellent, although it will need resources from other countries and a much wider effort on the part of EU member states, along with international agencies, to accelerate the economic development of Ukraine.
Finally, what about future policy towards Russia? We do need one, as the noble Lord, Lord Soley, rightly said. We need to keep open the door to a more constructive relationship in a post-Putin world—I fear it is going to be a post-Putin world—and, as far as we can, we should try to prevent the spread of antagonism into other areas of policy. We have a strong interest in not having overspill but we must signal the unacceptability of current Russian policy in Europe. I agree that sanctions are not an end in themselves and will not do the whole job but I do not think that we can do anything but continue to signal our disapproval and they have to stay in place, at least until the fulfilment of the Minsk agreement. I hope this will be on time, although I admit that I am not optimistic.
We need to learn some lessons. We need to work against the Russian hardliners, as was said yesterday, projecting our understanding of the world and our values in a sophisticated and well resourced information strategy, which the European Union ought to engage in. We ought to do something about defence. The decisions taken recently by NATO at the Wales summit are a beginning but they are only a beginning, and it is right that we included cyberattack as coming within the purview of Article 5. We need more rapid implementation than we are getting at the moment and NATO needs to revive its almost defunct military planning capability. We need to look at security in the round.
The most recent UK national security strategy did not have European security as a focus. That has to change. European security and the defence of our dependent territories are surely the meat and potatoes of British defence and foreign policy, and we must not allow other threats to our security—I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Soley; they are not equally deadly—to distract us from the importance of ensuring the security of our own continent. Of course, there is a wider scope to this in the fringes of our continent, which are also increasingly in flames. The capabilities we need cannot be realised for less than the 2% undertaking to NATO. I hope that the Government will stop messing about on this subject, which damages their credibility and undermines the confidence that our allies have in this country.
My Lords, I declare my interests in this part of the world as represented in the register, and I join the many people who have already congratulated the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, on a speech that was both deft and comprehensive. It covered almost all the points that I wished to make and certainly everything I wished to agree with. I look forward to hearing a great deal more from him. I welcome this report and found much in it to agree with. I managed to find a few points that I would like to add.
First, Mr Putin is a creature of the post-Cold War world and, unwelcome though it may be to hear it, the West carries some responsibility for creating the conditions that brought him to prominence. Much has been said today and elsewhere about how the West mishandled relationships with Russia. I do not propose to rehearse all that again in detail now. In brief, Russia—humiliated, isolated and increasingly turbulent, and not least as it experienced a very sudden loss of empire—responded to a person who offered a return to strength and respect. To an extent, he has succeeded. But in doing so he has stifled civil society, established total control of the media that shapes public opinion, suborned the judiciary and the rule of law, and embarked on a series of aggressive external adventures, of which Ukraine is but the latest.
Today President Putin, working through a very small clique, is almost synonymous with Russia. He is unpredictable, antagonistic to the West and at the same time seemingly both in total control and beyond any control or accountability—but also seemingly hugely popular. I wonder if things could have been different. If the West had shown a bit more vision and less triumphalism—which now looks horribly like pure hubris—and thought a bit more about working jointly on the concerns that the West and Russia share, I believe that we would not now be facing what the report calls “outright confrontation and competition”. For example, I remember, in 1991, one man in Russian intelligence telling me that the West and the USSR had actually shared a great deal of intelligence on matters such as Northern Ireland during the Cold War, but this co-operation seems to have been discarded almost overnight. He was baffled that the West did not seem to see the common problem that we were going to have with Islamic fundamentalism to the south of Russia. Subsequent events have, of course, proved how tragically prescient those remarks were.
Secondly, I would like to ask one or two potentially uncomfortable questions about sanctions. I support sanctions; they have been necessary, and they have quite understandably been used to punish Russia for the invasion of Crimea. The people and the economy of Russia and other countries have indeed suffered. From a strategic point of view, however, surely we must recognise that Mr Putin is not going to be in some way “brought to heel”. His whole credo and platform are based on the very opposite of this. The situation in Crimea has not been reversed—indeed, as other noble Lords have said, there seems to be a creeping acceptance of it. Can the Minister tell us what evidence there is that sanctions have had any effect in causing Mr Putin to change his mind or his ways? More strategically, what are the likely outcomes if the Russian economy really does crumple under the sanctions, low oil prices and other economic headwinds that have been referred to? Surely the European Union and the Foreign Office must have thought this through to some sort of end game. Finally, how effective will sanctions be if the oil price should recover?
On Ukraine, the report refers to the West as “sleep-walking” into a crisis. I agree with an earlier speaker who felt that that was perhaps unfair, but there is a hideous civil war in Ukraine that is going to take a very long time to resolve. It has already cost thousands of lives. Mr Putin has a collection of frozen conflicts and it is hard to see how he could now return Crimea to Ukraine without humiliation.
We are where we are, and both the West and Mr Putin have made blunders along the way. The only way forward, as I see it, is for the West to make unoccupied Ukraine work economically. That would be hugely expensive—Natalie Jaresko, the Finance Minister from Ukraine, referred to the $40 billion IMF stabilisation bailout as just a first step—and extremely difficult to achieve. But surely it is something that, sooner or later, is going to have to be done. If we fail, Ukraine will remain corrupt and war-torn, a failed state and a basket case on Europe and Russia’s borders. Some would say that that is exactly what Mr Putin wants, but maybe it also holds the germ of an idea for how we could eventually re-engage with Russia on this very difficult issue.
Finally, on Russia itself, we have a good many reasons to criticise Mr Putin and his regime in the strongest terms. However, our difficulty with Russia started much earlier in the missed opportunities of the 1990s. We are now stuck in a cul-de-sac characterised by what this report calls an “adversarial mindset” on both sides. We may never—certainly not while Mr Putin is in charge—see Russia wish to subsume its interests in a wider European community. We cannot ignore Mr Putin’s actions, but we simply cannot allow Russia to become another pariah state and a destabilised and destabilising force. As other speakers have said, we need to base our strategy much more overtly and obviously on three things: a better understanding of how the Russians see themselves; a focus on common areas of interest; and a long-term view that includes the next generation in Russia—it is with them that we are going to find the solution to these problems and not in our own. That approach at least offers some kind of starting point for what I have called before in this House rebooting the relationship with Russia for the long term, whether or not Mr Putin himself remains in the Kremlin in the years ahead.
My Lords, I warmly congratulate my noble friend Lord Tugendhat on so effectively presenting this brilliant report—and it is a brilliant report. So many people outside your Lordships’ House have read it and complimented all the work of the committee in producing it. It certainly has been a fantastic read for us all.
For some years, I have been chairman of the British Ukrainian Society, which I now declare. Indeed, one of its directors is my noble friend Lord Oxford, who now brings all his experience and understanding to our deliberations. I warmly congratulate him on such a superb maiden speech.
When the Soviet empire collapsed, the departure and independence of Ukraine were very keenly felt by many Russians. But Ukraine has always aspired to be independent, and that spirit provoked savage reprisals by Stalin. Before the Second World War, Stalin effectively starved to death millions of Ukrainians—the Holodomor. In this Palace of Westminster, we have sought to commemorate this tragedy with artistic and photographic exhibitions. It is certainly an event that has scarred the memories of the people of Ukraine.
Regrettably, since independence, Ukraine has been both ill governed and highly dependent on Russian energy supplies. Russia, in turn, has used energy as a weapon of foreign policy, using differential pricing to influence those whom it favours or dislikes. Therefore, Ukraine has been dependent on Russia not only for energy supplies and transmission but as its major export market. Regrettably, a number of those who have led Ukraine politically since independence acquired massive wealth. Former President Yanukovych, now in exile in Russia, apparently built up a fortune of some $70 billion. His effective removal by outraged Ukrainian citizens following the Maidan demonstrations led to the subsequent invasion by Russia, furious at his departure, of Crimea and the Donbass. Ukraine has perennially been in debt to Russia. Indeed, the failure of President Yanukovych to sign the EU Association Agreement was linked to Ukraine’s debt to Russia, which the agreement did not cover. That is because the EU essentially believed, with some degree of understanding, that any money provided would simply be stolen. And so this president turned to Russia.
It was a key policy of the new Ukrainian Government under President Poroshenko to decentralise authority to the regions of this vast country. But this was not spelled out and acted upon sufficiently when they came into office, which might have pre-empted the rise of separatist sentiment. This still needs to happen, but in a way that does not dismember the country, which appears in some respects to be Russia’s objective. Does the Minister agree that the EU must encourage Ukraine to move forward on this decentralisation process as the opportunity presents itself?
The question we all ask ourselves is this: what is Russia’s objective? It seems quite clear to me, somebody who knows Ukraine very well, that it is to make Ukraine ungovernable and drive away any foreign investment to ensure Russia’s continuing dominance and influence.
The British Ukrainian Society is fully part of a process that is now under way in Vienna. The French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, a hero of the Maidan demonstrations, called for a Marshall plan. In an echo of this, a small group of us, including him and my noble friend Lord Oxford, is helping in this process. It has a degree of support from President Hollande. In a remarkable demonstration of unity, but also of clear necessity, Ukrainian federations of employers and employees have come together to underpin this initiative. Work streams are being set up in such diverse areas as trade, health, EU association, anti-corruption and judicial reform, headed by distinguished Europeans, including from this country and including members of your Lordships’ House, who will analyse rigorously what is necessary to provide a wholly different constitutional and economic climate. We hope that in September we will be able to report on this. Depending on the level of stability in Ukraine, our clear intention is to launch a major reconstruction fund embracing private sector investors. Of course, the role of the IMF and others is crucial, but we are hopeful that the huge opportunities in Ukraine, not least in agriculture and in IT, will be attractive. We have been pleasantly surprised in discussions in Washington at the level of interest not least from those in the United States. Such a fund would help disconnect Ukraine from the massive current economic shadow of Russia which impacts it so directly.
One of the more troubling interplays has been the extent of involvement of politicians there with different business groups which so dominate the economy. I mention this because, in the fullness of time, more competition is crucially needed. However, confiscation, nationalisation or punitive tax rates, advocated by some, are not seen as a wise priority in Kiev in key government circles, although one oligarch in the last day or two, who appears to have had a private army, has challenged the state’s authority in a completely unacceptable way.
As we have heard, the aggressive behaviour of Russia has been well documented. Nevertheless, it is certainly unwise for some to call for NATO membership of Ukraine, which before the current tragedy was never a live issue. That simply gives Russia a self-justifying excuse to continue its aggression.
Ukraine is a European country that deserves much better than it has suffered. As the excellent report of the European Union Committee makes clear, there are potentially practical ways of trying to engage with Russia at a national and EU level while making it absolutely plain that there will be a heavy price if this offer is spurned. Yet for all the huge energy and commitment of the current Ukrainian Government to initiate much needed reforms, ultimately they will have to recognise that, however unpalatable, no country can escape the reality of its geography.
My Lords, Russia is a country that I know reasonably well. My first job was in the Diplomatic Service. In my 20s, I spent a year learning Russian, and three years as second secretary in Moscow in the 1970s at the height of the Cold War. I have been back more than 20 times since then, including in recent years. I also know reasonably well Ukraine, which I first visited in the days of the Soviet Union and, most recently, about a month ago. I shall be there again from tomorrow morning, visiting, I hope, the front line in Luhansk and Donetsk provinces.
Like, I imagine, most people who have some sense of affinity and affection for Russia, I was particularly disappointed that the end of communism did not mean, as it did in the rest of eastern Europe, the emergence of a successful democracy and of a successful, sustainable and diversified economy, and still less that Russia re-entered, as I had hoped it would, the European family of nations which it had been definitely a part of before 1914—diplomatically, economically, culturally and intellectually. Those were the years of Blok and Yesenin, of Rachmaninoff, the Ballets Russes and Stravinsky; and the years in art of Malevich, Tatlin and the young Kandinsky—an enormous flowering of talent and striking originality.
It is very sad that Russia has gone the way that it has. Some people say that it is the fault of the West. It is arguable that we might have done more to support or be sympathetic to the requirements and difficulties of Yeltsin, but in the Putin era it would have been very difficult to blame the West for that. The shadow of the Soviet Union, which had shortened, has fallen and ever lengthened over Russia during the past few years. The state, the regime, controls now all the broadcasting media and has an effective veto over all the printed media. There is an increasing sense of fear in terms of people’s willingness to express themselves freely. There is a labyrinthine kleptocracy—not a word that is mentioned in the report, unfortunately. The best account of that—I do not need to go into it—is in a remarkable book of which noble Lords may have seen very good reviews in the Times Literary Supplement and The New York Review of Books: Karen Dawisha’s Putin’s Kleptocracy. Unfortunately, because of legal blackmail or fear that some oligarch, perhaps put up to it by Putin, might spend millions of pounds suing it for some form of libel, the projected British publisher, Cambridge University Press—I am sorry to have to say this about an institution related to one of my own universities—has cravenly decided not to publish here, so anybody who wants that book has to look to the United States, as I did, to get it.
The worst aspect of all, however, has been the regular murder of critics or supposed enemies of the regime. Some names, such as Politkovskaya, Litvinenko, Magnitsky and, most recently, Nemtsov, are now world renowned—these were deeply brave people who will go down in history—but there are many others whose names are much less well known. It is deeply worrying, and it has objectively not been possible for us to have, even had we wished it, the kind of relationship of confidence, the ability to discuss in a friendly and mutually supportive way the future of the world, which we would like to have had with the Russian leadership. It is not possible to deal with people on that basis who behave in that fashion.
However, deal with them we must. They are there and, as has rightly been said, Putin is now enormously popular and is likely to remain in power for a long time. That is a reality that we have to cope with, so how do we deal with him? The first thing to remember is that we must deal with him in the only currency which he understands, which is that of power realities. There, I slightly disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. Economics is part of power realities; sanctions are important. I described in the House at the time the reaction of the West to the invasion of Crimea as derisory and said that it would almost certainly encourage Putin to come back for a bigger bite elsewhere. The sanctions that we came up with when he invaded, or took part in the subversion and take-over of, parts of eastern Ukraine have been slightly more robust. That has induced slightly greater hesitation in Putin which is much to be welcomed. But we need to go a great deal further. We need certainly to consider much fiercer sanctions if there are any further breaches. I think that I was the first person to suggest in this House, in November, that we should look at the possibility of denying Russian banks, or certainly those associated with the regime, access to the interbank market—the SWIFT system. I see that that idea has been taken up recently in the United States Congress by John McCain and others and it would be an extremely effective weapon. However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, that we need to do other things as well. We need certainly to make sure that the Ukrainian army is supplied with reasonable, including lethal, defensive weapons. I have raised that point in many different contexts in this House during the past few weeks. I certainly agree with him that we need to make much greater progress in ensuring that the European Union gradually weans itself from excessive dependence on Russian natural gas. I support the initiatives in building up a European common energy policy designed, among other things, to achieve that objective. It is enormously important to reinforce our commitment to Article 5. We want to put right out of court, out of anybody’s imagination, in Moscow the idea that they might have a go at a NATO or EU member. For that purpose, the high-readiness reaction force which NATO is now considering is very useful, but the best way of reinforcing the Article 5 commitment would be to put our troops, or NATO/EU troops from elsewhere in the Union and the alliance, in the front line, within 100 kilometres of the frontier, so that if there was trouble, they would be likely to be killed in the first hours of any conflict. There is no greater commitment that you can make than that to support your allies.
If we do those things, we have a reasonable chance of reaching a reasonable accord. I would regard a reasonable accord as one in which there is a genuine election—not at the point of a gun but with proper campaigning, international observers and so forth—in Crimea and in the areas of Donetsk province and Luhansk province that have been occupied to see what the local population really wants. If they want to join the Russian Federation, that is fine—they have a right to do that and it can go ahead—but equally, as a quid pro quo, the rest of the Ukrainian population would also have a right to determine their future, and if they wished to do so, their right to join the EU and to join NATO would be respected by Russia. That is essential. Some people say that that is unrealistic or, as the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, said in a lucid speech with which I mostly disagreed, that we should ourselves exclude that idea. That would be quite wrong. To try to create a separate status for Ukraine that did not allow it to join NATO or the EU would be wrong for two reasons. First, it would be wrong morally. It would be a terrible betrayal. It would amount to saying that the people of Crimea can have a free choice, because they want to join Russia; the people in the rest of Ukraine cannot have a free choice, they are not sovereign. That would be a disgraceful retreat, psychologically damaging and very dangerous, because of course it would encourage Putin to go further. Secondly, it would not work. The Ukrainian population would not accept it, and why would Putin respect it? Russia has already signed a piece of paper from which the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, quoted extensively, the Budapest agreement, under which Russia guaranteed the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. That agreement has been breached in just about every respect, and I think that Putin regards it as some sort of joke.
We should be quite clear about our determination to preserve the right of sovereignty, to which we are committed, and therefore the right to self-determination of Ukraine in future. It would be a great mistake for us, in my view, to allow a situation to arise in which there is uncertainty and seen to be something to play for. That is to invest in future instability and attempts by Putin to change facts on the ground. It would also be a great mistake to allow Ukraine to join the EU but not NATO, because that would mean that we had a commitment under the Lisbon treaty but the United States did not have a commitment under the Washington treaty to support Ukraine. Again, that would be an area of uncertainty that could be exploited in future, which could be destabilising and which could lead to exactly the sort of nightmares which we all hope to avoid.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, on his excellent maiden speech. According to the Daily Telegraph, he was MI6 station head in Moscow, but I know that he could not possibly comment. I also commend the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, and the committee on the excellent report before your Lordships’ House today. I heartily agree with most of it.
I begin by reflecting on the appalling murder of Boris Nemtsov on 27 February, which has just been mentioned. He was a charming and articulate member of the opposition who I met several times during the 1990s when I was a member of the European Parliament’s delegation for relations with the Russian Federation. Nemtsov’s assassination was one of the worst acts of violence against a leading liberal in Russia since the murder of Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova outside her St Petersburg apartment in November 1998. Almost 20 years on, history seems to repeat itself in Russia.
The report states:
“The EU’s relationship with Russia has for too long been based on the optimistic premise that Russia has been on a trajectory towards becoming a democratic ‘European’ country”.
It also states that there has been a loss of member states’ analytical capacity on Russia and a loss of specialist Russian expertise in the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Both statements are sadly very true.
When I wrote my book, Russia First: Breaking with the West, in 1997, the clue was in the title: breaking with the West. I argued then that the West effectively lost Russia in the mid-1990s when, humiliated and marginalised by the West, as the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, referred to, Russia decided to pursue its own strategic interests and distinct future Eurasian path. Neither meant that Russia would turn into a western-style democracy with a fully fledged market economy. It was obvious then, and it is even more obvious today.
I think that I have met virtually every British ambassador who has served in Moscow since the late 1980s; standing out head and shoulders above the rest, Sir Rodric Braithwaite and Sir Rod Lyne—real Russian/Soviet experts. I do not believe that the FCO is currently capable of reproducing their expertise, experience or analytical capabilities, which is worrying.
The report is also right to identify two evident policy failures in the run-up to the Ukrainian crisis: first, the failure to be aware of Russian hostility to the association agreement referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont; and, secondly, the crucial importance that Moscow attached to preventing Ukraine from joining NATO. Imagine, if you would, the situation back in 1962, to which the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, referred, if Cuba had said that not only was it going to install Soviet ballistic missiles 90 miles from the USA but it would also join the Warsaw Pact. War would have been inevitable. In 1983, the US invaded Grenada, a Commonwealth country, after a coup by a revolutionary group. Incidentally, the UNGA condemned the invasion as a,
“flagrant violation of international law”,
and the only reason why the resolution did not pass was because the US vetoed it in the UN Security Council.
It is also correct that Moscow misjudged the West over Ukraine. With Transnistria, a European country had already had its territory divided by pro-Russian separatists after a war in the early 1990s with little or no reaction from the West, while Georgia, after the 2008 war, remains divided to this day. Russia was genuinely surprised by the strength of the West’s reaction to its role in the Ukrainian crisis.
That brings us to the question of sanctions. Here I disagree somewhat with the report’s conclusions. It states that sanctions are fine in the short term, although there is no evidence that they have shifted President Putin’s stance on the Crimea or Russia’s perceived vital strategic interests. In the long term, the sanctions are adjudged to be,
“detrimental to the EU’s interests as well as to Russia’s”.
I think that the sanctions, apart from making the West feel virtuous in “punishing” Russia—again, a word used by the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell—will be purely counterproductive, as some witnesses to the committee noted. They play into the hands of the nationalists while achieving virtually nothing politically. Economically, Russia is suffering far more from the fall in the price of a barrel of oil than from sanctions, so in that sense OPEC has far more leverage than the West. The EU has 12 to 14 times more trade with Russia than the US, so if anything, sanctions will damage Europe much more than Washington.
Finally, I agree with the report’s emphasis on a greater EU dialogue and engagement with Russia through, for example, reconvened summits and a focus on issues of shared interest. While I am sure that everyone in your Lordships’ House would welcome a diplomatic solution to the Ukrainian crisis based on Minsk II, I hope we can also agree that, as the report says, it would indeed be,
“a failure of imagination and diplomacy if the crisis in Ukraine were to result in a long-lasting era of colder relations”.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Tugendhat and his committee for the excellent work that they have done in producing the report. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Oxford and Asquith on his excellent maiden speech. I say that because the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, who is sadly not now in his place, welcomed him as a fellow member of the Diplomatic Service. I welcome him as another example of the goodness of the hereditary system and the by-election system in bringing people into this House who can make a contribution who might not otherwise be taking part in national politics.
There are a number of examples of larger countries breaking rules with impunity. We have seen it in the EU itself, with France and Germany making agreements and then breaking them. Some people point the figure at China. Now we have Russia breaking an international agreement. Whatever one thinks of Mr Putin and his actions, I believe that we might have reason to be grateful to him. I say that because he has made us wake up. He has certainly shaken up the former Soviet Union states—some of which are now in the EU, some of which are not—which were perhaps a bit starry eyed about what the West could offer and how much benefit there could be from the West. It has certainly shaken up the West. By the West, I mean the EU and the US. It is one of the sadnesses that this report is inevitably more EU based than internationally based, because the EU policy towards Russia will have to take account of what the US is doing.
I ask my noble friend on the Front Bench what she expects the EU’s reaction to be to the US supplying arms to Kiev. Will there be a united response, or will an American action divide the EU rather than a Russian action?
The report rightly highlights some of the failures of the West and shows as a result what a tricky negotiating partner the EU can be at times. It is striking at paragraph 235 how shocked Mr Putin was that for once the EU was unified and had a strong sense of purpose. The noble Lord, Lord Owen, mentioned the understandings that the US had with Russia, which seem to be broken with fairly good impunity on its side.
My noble friend Lord Jopling said that he hoped that NATO would have full European support, but that is a big if. Can there be full European support? This takes me back to the point that we might be grateful to Mr Putin, because we now have a better chance than there has been to date of having a long-lasting European response to the Russian problem.
When I talked to people in the Czech Republic, particularly the older generation, I was struck by what a generation gap there seems to be. These people were born under the Soviet regime—the noble Lord, Lord Soley, mentioned what a transformation they have had—and they are finding it extremely difficult to adjust to western European standards, which the young seem to pick up fairly quickly. There was certainly a hankering to go back to a more structured, family-orientated way of life that existed in the Soviet Union, much though they disliked the oppression at the time. Mr Putin’s actions have made that older generation think that they were perhaps being slightly misty-eyed about what had happened in the past and that the reality, whatever difficulties that generation gap produces, is a better alternative.
I was also struck by the fact that the Lithuanians who gave evidence to us in Sub-Committee A did not want to talk about the single currency but about defence, because they saw the euro as part of defence. The remark that particularly struck me was that the Russians could attack them much more easily if they had their own currency, but now that they were part of Europe they saw its currency as part of their defence policy and were much more resilient to any difficulties that Russia might cause.
I want to ask my noble friend about what I read at the end of last week that really thrilled me: that we were going back to one of Mrs Thatcher’s old policies—giving help to the former Soviet states for good governance. This was a hugely important part of the Foreign Office brief then. If we are to give £20 million a year to the former Soviet countries for good governance and improving their way of life, I hope that my noble friend will be able to tell us more about it.
We must be under no illusion as to what the Government in Russia are up to. I stress again, as some noble Lords have done, that we need to separate out this Government from Russia itself. We are not criticising Russia, because there have been different Governments. We heard before this debate started that Russia is now exploring selling ships to the Argentinians, who are going to call those ships the Malvinas-class destroyers. That is another way of getting at the unity of the EU and separating parts of the West from itself. I hope that as a result of all the damage, horrors and evils that have happened over the last couple of years, we will emerge with a stronger, more united EU and a more sensible regard for some of the sensitivities of Russia and treat it as a more equal partner than in previous years.
My Lords, we owe a considerable debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, for having introduced such a perceptive and timely report on a topic of major significance for our foreign policy and that of the rest of Europe, and for ensuring that it is debated without the sort of delays to which we are all too accustomed.
I would suggest that there are few more futile efforts than that of a number of commentators who pose—and try to answer—the question of whether Ukraine or the Islamic State should have a higher priority in our foreign and security policy formulation. We do not have the luxury of that choice: both pose a fundamental challenge to the rules-based international order, which it is in our interests to sustain. Both pose threats to democracy, human rights, our security and that of our allies, with the risks of mass migration and the destabilisation of whole regions on Europe’s doorstep. I suggest that both need to be countered effectively if we do not wish to find ourselves having to take more costly decisions further down the track.
I doubt whether anyone would contest one of the report’s main findings: that we and the European Union were ill prepared for, and rather misjudged, President Putin’s reaction to the events in the Maidan and the fall of Yanukovych. I would add only that President Putin seems to have been equally ill informed and ill prepared, and equally to have misjudged the European reaction and the effects of the economic sanctions imposed in response to his illegal actions. I enter a modest plea of not guilty, as I recall a conversation in Vilnius in October 2013 with a Lithuanian parliamentarian who was exuding optimism about the future course of events, to which I replied, “Provided that there is not a Putin surprise”. Well, there was a Putin surprise. Europe’s misjudgment has given rise, as is often the case in democracies, to a rather excessive tendency to blame ourselves. Putin’s reaction, as is often the case in authoritarian regimes, consists of blaming absolutely everyone else. Neither of those reactions seen a very useful guide for future policy, so what should our future policy be?
I would certainly argue that any viable European policy needs a clear element of deterrence and containment as part of it. We should be prepared, and make sure we show others that we are prepared, to impose new economic sanctions if Russia does not stick to the letter and spirit of the Minsk agreement. There should be no question of easing sanctions unless every part of Minsk is implemented, in particular the provision for Ukrainian control and international monitoring of the whole Russia-Ukraine border. I would argue that we should also fulfil our 2% of gross national income commitment for defence spending to NATO and press others to do so, too. We should be more active in supporting NATO members closest to Russia and refuse to legitimise Russia’s seizure of the Crimea, from which President Putin has now stripped away the veil of deceit. I feel that it was a pity that Ukraine and Russia never gave any thought to the creation of a sovereign base area for Russia’s Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol. That thought may come forward in some years’ time.
I suggest that we should give no ground to Russia’s demands for a sphere of influence, any more than we ourselves should make any such demands. That includes that we should not be championing the extension of NATO’s membership. However, we also need a positive element to our policy towards Russia to match the deterrence. The report was wise to suggest that the EU should be ready in due course to explore the scope for co-operation with the Eurasian Economic Union. We should take every opportunity to make it clear that the free trade agreements with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia were not intended to constrain—and will not constrain—or damage those countries’ trade relations with Russia. We need a massive and substantial effort to reform Ukraine’s economy and free it of the cronyism and corruption that has hitherto been its bane. Here I pay tribute to the maiden speech of the noble Earl, who knows so much more about these matters than I do and spoke very interestingly on that aspect.
With regard to Russia itself, we obviously persisted too long in nurturing the illusion that we could somehow or other bring about its transformation into a normal European state and economy just like the others. Still, were we wrong to offer help after the collapse of the Soviet Union? I myself do not think so. Clearly we must now deal with Russia as it is, but surely we do not need to leave our values outside the door when we do so.
Then there are the lessons to be learnt for our own diplomacy, on which the report has some justifiably critical things to say. If we go on squeezing the FCO and the Diplomatic Service resources, there will be more unfortunate consequences down the track. I thought that the report was a little less revealing on how on earth we came to be absent from such a key area of policy. I do not understand how we came not to be represented in the key moments in the Ukraine crisis or how we came to subcontract the main decisions to Germany and France. Where was the Foreign Secretary when his colleagues were heading off to Kiev in the crucial period of this crisis? We did not absent ourselves from the Balkans in the 1990s nor from the nuclear negotiations with Iran. As a signatory of the Budapest memorandum, should we not have been playing a more active role?
I am sure that this will not be the last occasion when we debate this range of issues, nor should it be. It is fashionable just now to lament the demise of the post-Cold War settlement in Europe and, more widely, of the overall rules-based structure of our world. However, surely we should not accept that as a given; we should be pushing back against it. To do so, we need to strengthen and increase the credibility of our main international structures of which we are members: the EU, NATO and the UN. I hope very much that the Government who are formed after the election will put that strengthening of those institutions and structures at the heart of their foreign and security policies.
My Lords, my interest in Ukraine first began when I became secretary to the Parliamentary Space Committee, when I had no real idea of the strength of Ukraine in the space sector. Before that, I had been brought up with a Russian governess and knew that there was food all over the Soviet Union. I remind your Lordships that 25% of the total agricultural output of the former Soviet Union came from Ukraine, and 70% of the sugar from sugar beet. It was the fifth largest exporter of wheat and the third largest exporter of cotton, and had 25% of the workers in the agricultural sector. This information is historical but has become quite important to modern-day Russia.
Ukraine had a state company called Yuzhmash, which used to produce 6,700 tractors a year. It then went into the space business, first by employing German prisoners of war to construct a large military equipment factory at Dnipropetrovsk, which was Ukraine’s fourth largest city, and then developing into a major centre for nuclear arms production and space and ballistic missile design that employed 50,000 people. This interested me as secretary to the Parliamentary Space Committee, and I wanted to look at the missiles. They kindly arranged for me to go down there. I arrived at Kiev and was told that I would have to wait until the next day for a plane. I said, “Can’t I go down now?”. A chap came up—a pilot—and said, “Well, I’m on the way back with my plane. Would you like to come with me? You won’t mind the dog and the puppies”. So that is how I first got to Ukraine.
As I say, Yuzhmash was employing 70,000 people, but the main Soviet missile activity was in Hrunecheva in Russia, where they are now launching or preparing six new rockets, including one proton rocket. As well as that, Ukraine was a great shipbuilder. Being secretary of the House of Lords Yacht Club, that interested me as well, so I asked if I could have a look at the ships. My bank then set up a team to buy ships from Ukraine. The thought was that we would buy product tankers, general purpose vessels and reefers, which could be chartered out into the market and fully financed. I had not realised that before its independence Ukraine had supplied 60% to 70% of the Soviet Union’s ships, most of them for Russia. At the end of 1995 some 126 vessels, mainly product tankers, had been built at the Kherson shipyard alone. So Ukraine became a much broader country for me to look at. We asked whether they could build some ships for us. Then I heard about the Know-How Fund, so I wrote to it— I did a packet about how you build a ship and so on. The fund gave me £100,000 so we set out to see what we could do to develop demand for ships that the British marine sector could use. It seemed quite simple to build a ship. They built many ships extraordinarily quickly and very easily. We set up a shipbuilding company with them. We took a team of all our experts from the United Kingdom—we did not build ships anymore, which, as my family comes from the Clyde area, has always upset me—and placed an order for some ships, which were surprisingly cheap and economic. At the end of the day, the project failed for reasons of bureaucracy, but their shipbuilding knowledge was valuable.
Given its strength in the agricultural sector, with its 9,000 tractors, I thought that Yuzhmash would still be in business, but it has been closed down. That seems rather strange when it was a very good operation, but it seems effectively to have been alienated by the Soviet Union. My concern, therefore, is: what is going on? Surely Ukraine’s remarkable agricultural capability and ability to increase production has a cash flow value that could help the world and ourselves. If they can build ships—they still have the facilities there—and we could find orders for those ships, which are needed in the international market, there must be some opportunity.
When I have been to Kiev I have usually got into trouble because I ask too many questions. I wanted to know about religion, for example, and before I knew it I was locked up in some archives or some underground thing with a chap with an enormous long beard with weights on the end. I did not know that this was a very senior man of the church, that it is important that you should have a long beard to be respected and that in order to do that you put weights on the end of your beard to make it grow longer. This was some of the technology. I learnt from them all about how they had hibernated in these caverns during the war. Then, when they had nothing else to do with me, although I am completely tone deaf and have no idea about music—I could not even sing middle C at school—they sent me off to the opera for three or four days running, all as part of some propaganda exercise. Finally, they said, “Look, what can we do together?”. I checked with my colleagues from the bank and found that we could willingly finance things in Ukraine, but the politics were beyond my pay grade.
Ukraine is a country that I love. It was intriguing to be able to ask them questions such as, “Did you really send those rockets to Cuba?”—although maybe I should not be saying these sorts of things. I had been to Cuba quite often as well, and I asked the Cubans if Ukraine had sent the missiles. I never really knew the true story. It was said that the missiles had indeed been sent, but they had not necessarily arrived. So the Ukrainians had to send some more but, as there had been no reaction from the Cubans, the Ukrainians sent some photographs of the missiles on the cargo boat. When I went to Cuba, the Cubans said, “Yes of course, we know all about that”.
This lovely world of Ukraine has intrigued me for a long time. To some extent they are European. With those assets and that agriculture production, when we are short of food in the EU, maybe we could invite them to come along. The question is: who do you talk to there now? It seems to me that Putin is gradually concentrating control as much as he can within a small area around Moscow, and countries like Ukraine may be left out in the cold.
Ukraine is a country that I love and respect. If any of your Lordships would like a bit of fun, I would willingly take you down to look at the old missile factory, although it is not producing missiles anymore. The people there are still nice.
My Lords, I feel very much in the minority since those who have spoken, often very eloquently, know so much about Ukraine, particularly the last speaker. It is a pleasure to take part in a debate to which the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, has made such an admirable contribution. We look forward to hearing from him often in future.
At first sight, Russia’s behaviour towards Ukraine is not very different from the sort of conduct that great powers have always offered to smaller powers who are their neighbours, but first sight is practically always a mistaken concept. The present Ukraine crisis is quite different from other crises. First, all intelligent Russians know something of what the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, drew our attention to; namely, that before the First World War, the export of wheat from Ukraine made a substantial contribution to Russian wealth. The black soil of Ukraine was well known throughout the international agrarian world.
Secondly—this is perhaps more important—all historically minded Russians know very well that Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, was the first centre of Russia at the end of the 10th century. It was the motor of Russian Christianity, as many of us who have the privilege of living in West Kensington recognise every day as we pass the statue of St Volodymyr at the entrance of Holland Park. In those days of the remote past, there was a definite Russian concept in Ukraine. It took a very long time to be superseded by the Grand Duchy of Moscow, which was the centre of Romanov, communist and Putinesque Russia. I think Moscow was first mentioned in the chronicles in 1147.
Ukraine is now formally independent and is recognised as such by the signatories to the Budapest agreement, which include this country and Russia. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, was quite right to say that we should not forget that; nor should we allow Russia to forget it. A scrap of paper it may be, but it is scraps of paper that make civilisation. In this House, there seems to be a certain reluctance to be proud of the fact that we won the Cold War and to feel that we imposed a humiliating sanction on the new Russia. However, many of us must respect the victory. The average eastern European would be astounded to hear some of the speeches made in this House. Ours was a modest, quiet celebration; there was no ceremony in St Paul’s at the end of the Cold War. Can we honestly believe that that was a damaging thing which humiliated Russia? I feel that perhaps we did not do enough. To blame some of our actions for the later evils of Russia seems a false piece of historical writing.
If one is going to be serious, the entry of the Baltic states into NATO must be represented as a triumph. I remember a great friend of mine, Lord St Oswald—other noble Lords may also remember him—who every year used to insist on trying to put the capture of the Baltic states by the Russians on the agenda of the United Nations. He was always very politely told to delay his humanitarian gesture, which he did. He would have been delighted that Riga, Vilnius and Tallinn are now NATO capitals.
All the same, we all hope—this was a point made eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling—that in the long run we shall be able to recover the possibility of friendship and collaboration with a civilised Russia. The long chain of great Russian novels and plays reminds us that Russia may in time be able to contribute to world civilisation as much as any other western country—indeed, many of us would say more.
There is a certain similarity between the present and the situation in Finland in 1940. We loved the Finns and admired their bravery, but we needed to be the allies of the Soviet Union—of Russia and Uncle Joe—and we made such an alliance, which was such a triumphant part of the last part of the Second World War. For details of the Winter War, as it was called, in 1940 between Russia and Finland, I recommend very strongly, as if I were your Lordships’ history tutor at university, the second volume of Harold Macmillan’s memoirs, The Blast of War, chapter 3 particularly.
There is one more point that we should address. It is frequently said that we do not want to see a repeat of the Cold War. Of course we do not, but that is not very likely because the Cold War was a war of ideologies, not a war of states. The great American ambassador Chip Bohlen said that we would not be able to deal with Russia sensibly until she had ceased to be a cause and had become a state. She has at least become a state and ceased to be a cause, and perhaps in that respect there is reason for optimism in the long run.
My Lords, I must begin by congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, on what I can only describe as an impeccable maiden speech. I hope to hear him very often in future. I also thank my noble friend Lord Tugendhat and his team for an outstanding report from which I have learnt a very great deal—and I have learnt a great deal more from the debate that has followed.
I have one regret about it, and it comes pretty early. In paragraph 5 we read:
“The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the cornerstone of defence for its EU Members, is outside the scope of this report”.
I understand the reasons for that, and it would have been an unmanageable task to have written that into this report, particularly in the time available, and I dare say that it would have been pretty difficult to assimilate, but it has to be said that in Putin’s mind NATO stands as a very important shadow behind everything that is going on in Europe.
This brings me on to sadly familiar ground. I speak really out of a sense of duty because I realise that although here they are more numerous, in the country as a whole the proportion of people who have lived through history since before the Second World War is small. I was fortunate enough to have a highly intelligent historian as my father and guide who had fought through the First World War, and I have read a bit of history myself, and I find what I am hearing and seeing now extraordinarily, sickeningly similar to what happened when I was a child under tuition.
I was born in 1930, and at that time, a nation that felt itself to have been humiliated by recent history threw up a dictator who achieved astronomic popularity by playing on that card and annexing neighbouring territory on the grounds of ethnic appropriateness. He did so with the freedom afforded by neighbouring states being ridiculously underequipped to resist him. The fate of the gallant, brave but tiny British Expeditionary Force underlines what I am saying. What have we now? We have a great European country that considers itself to have been recently humiliated by history, led and dominated by a tyrant who has no respect whatever for human rights—which is another echo—and who is annexing neighbouring countries on the grounds of ethnic similarity. We also have a British Government, as we had in 1937 to 1939, who seek to restrain the policies of that dictator, backed by wholly insufficient military force to give credibility to any threat that might be made.
Clausewitz said, if I remember correctly, that war was diplomacy carried on by other means. If I say that, I suppose people will begin to dismiss what I have to say, thinking that old men who recount the past are trapped in the definitions of the past. However, the Putin era has redefined not diplomacy but war, as we have heard from my noble friend Lord Howell. The equivalent English word is “masquerade”. The word I want is “maskirovka”—my noble friend nods—which is very different until it shades into warfare. The definition is important because NATO, in Article 5—hence my regret that it could not be in this report—has a very clear definition of the infringement of the rights of a country, which is based entirely on the old-fashioned concept of tanks rumbling across the frontier. However, in Ukraine we have what has been—and, I do not doubt, will continue to be—the infiltration of personnel and light equipment across the border. Therefore I see a repetition and I just pray that it does not go the full course, as it did in 1939.
How long does it take to prepare and to be sufficiently credible in one’s armaments? Noble Lords will recall that the turning point in the downward spiral of our fortunes in the 1939 to 1945 conflict was the building of the Supermarine Spitfire. The Air Ministry gave the contract to develop the prototype on 3 January 1935, and 14 months later, on 5 March, the first flight of the prototype took place. The Air Ministry ordered the first 310 Mk1 aeroplanes on 3 June 1936, and 23 months later the first production Spitfire flew for the first time. It was not until August 1939 that No. 19 Squadron became the first to receive the Spitfire in bulk. Much less glamorous, in the background, and differently constructed, the Hurricane was statistically far more important in the Battle of Britain. The Spitfire was built of stressed skin, which was the up-to-date method; the Hurricane was built of steel tubing with fabric over it, with a Merlin engine inside, and had four machine-guns.
Despite that time lag, of 1935 to 1939, we are still wondering whether we should stick to 2%. We have to, and there may be costs to that which are not very acceptable. But I, for one, do not want my children to have their children in the middle of another world war. It has to be fought if we are to protect all the values of our society, and world health.
If the right reverend Prelate, who has gone back to his flock, were here, he would perhaps be muttering, “Blessed are the peacemakers”, and saying that we should be beating our swords into ploughshares. But it is beating your swords into ploughshares that precipitates war if the other chap has not done it as well. When the Americans say, “You are not strong enough—you can only be a small unit within our army”, that says to the Russians, “Come on, have a try”. We have to be strong and make the sacrifices necessary to do that now. They will be hugely greater if we do not.
My Lords, I thank the committee, and the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, in particular, for the excellent analysis in this report. I know it has been widely read and appreciated, not just in this House but across the whole continent, and I thank them for their work.
There have been some excellent contributions this afternoon; it has been great to listen to so many people who understand this part of the world. In particular I express my appreciation for the maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, which gave a particularly insightful view of the situation in the area, and which was a very good analysis of what is going on today. The most shocking fact I heard this afternoon was that the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, served in the FCO in Russia 50 years ago—so he must have been about 15 years old at the time.
At the outset I underline that the Labour Party stands as one with the Government as regards their response to events in Ukraine, although it should be underlined that we were disappointed that the UK was not more involved and engaged in drawing up the Minsk agreements. The report looks at how the situation was arrived at and at where we go from here. Whether the situation in the Crimea could have been averted is a moot point. It seems that very few analysts saw the annexation coming and that, to a large extent, events on the ground ran ahead of diplomatic and political control.
One issue highlighted in the report is the decline in Russian expertise in the FCO. It seems as if certain elements within the coalition Government seemed to have taken Fukuyama’s “end of history” to heart, believing in the triumph of western liberal democracy—a point that the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, emphasised. Perhaps they were lulled into a false sense of security by the release of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Pussy Riot just before the Sochi Olympic Games began. How wrong could they have been? Politics and international political tension is on the increase rather than decreasing, as was predicted, and we need to ensure that we have an adequate diplomatic and political response to the changing situation, as regards not just Russia but further afield in the world.
The lack of Russian speakers in the FCO is underlined in the report, as the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, emphasised. The report also suggests that there might have been some misreading of Russia which could have been avoided if more experts had been in place in the EU, who would have been able to flag up the fact that, among other things, Russia was becoming increasingly upset—and felt “humiliated” and “encircled” —by the rapprochement of Ukraine to the EU.
We have learnt that it was a grave mistake to take our eyes off Russia, and that we misunderstood the character of Putin. When it comes to Russia, we do not need generalists but experts who are there consistently and who have built up a rapport with Russian diplomats. It is worth noting that China has been far more successful in its relationship with Russia through careful handling of where Chinese and Russian interests overlap. Can the Minister inform the House whether there has been a beefing up of the Russian department at the FCO and if there are any Ukrainian speakers on the staff? I wondered also whether the Minister would be open to using and engaging with think tanks that have a degree of expertise on Russia to help with advising on Russian affairs.
Russia’s foreign policy must be interpreted frequently as a tool of domestic policy in a country which prides the “strong man” standing up for his country. Russia still contests that many of the states which surround it geographically are its own sphere of influence. The speed of the Ukraine-European Union Association Agreement, according to the report, took the Russians by surprise, and it is clear that Russia often conflated the EU with NATO. It saw the association agreement as a direct threat to its own ambitions to develop further its own trade partnership, the Eurasian Economic Union. It seems that, at EU level, there was very little or no effort to reassure Russia that the association agreement was not a zero-sum game whereby Ukraine would have to curtail trade with Russia. But none of this excuses the fact that, for the first time since 1945, an invading army has redrawn the borders of a country in Europe through force and, in the process, has broken a whole raft of international agreements to which we and the Russians have signed up. The united condemnation of Russia and the imposition of sanctions was absolutely the correct response, and it is essential that the EU remains united in its dealings with Russia. As the report suggests, we need to be willing if necessary to step up sanctions.
It is vital that the Minsk agreement is implemented in full. We were pleased to note that in the European Council last week a commitment was made to the effect that EU sanctions on Russia should be eased only in the event of the full implementation of that agreement, despite misgivings in some quarters, as alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. It is clear that the security dimension of the EU is becoming more and more important. This demands common action, resolve, and a clear commitment to our continuing place in the European Union, on which, of course, it is very difficult for this Government to deliver.
There is without question a vast array of corruption in Ukraine, which must be halted. Ukrainian Assistant Defence Minister Yury Biryukov estimated that 20% to 25% of the money allocated to the military budget is stolen. But as the report clearly states, Ukraine is in an extremely precarious situation economically and it would be in nobody’s interest to see the country implode. There is a humanitarian crisis, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans said. It would be in nobody’s interest to see the country go backwards, so let us support Ukraine, but let us do it with our eyes wide open—with tough love, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat.
So what will happen next? Russia is undoubtedly feeling the pain of the sanctions, but more prominently perhaps the collapse in the price of oil. That is already having a real impact on the economy of the country, but there is no reason to believe that Putin’s attitude will change. Putin likes to play by Putin’s rules and nobody else’s. He is, as we are aware, enjoying popularity ratings of 80% in the polls, due in no small part to his so-called victory in Crimea. His support on this issue comes even from Russians who might be seen traditionally on the liberal wing.
The trust between Russia and the West has gone. Even Putin himself has admitted since the publication of this report that it was he who initiated the annexation of Crimea for the Russians. Russia seems to be determined to goad the West and the UK in particular—for example, through honouring Lugovoi, the “alleged poisoner” of Litvinenko, during the recent hearing in London. There does not seem to be much point in playing Mr Nice Guy with Putin; he does not respond to that kind of treatment, and we must respond directly to provocative action from Russia. Beyond this, however, we need to understand that we must do everything possible to avoid a direct military confrontation with Russia; we must learn to live with each other, because we live in the same neighbourhood—we have no other option. Therefore, we need to elaborate a better understanding of the concerns of Russia, but, I should underline, without acting as if we are apologists for or appeasers of Russian aggression. We need to simultaneously show strength when necessary—a strength understood by Putin—and stop talking past the Russians in conversation. We need to develop a clear strategy, together with the rest of the EU, towards Russia, as my noble friend Lord Soley said. We need to be clear that we have absolutely no idea of what would replace Putin if he were to go, so let us make sure that we do not jump out of the frying pan and into the fire. The collapse of Russia is in no one’s interests.
Finally, we were slightly disappointed by Britain’s failure to take a leading role in responding to the events unfolding in the Ukraine, despite being a signatory to the 1994 Budapest memorandum on security assurances. Is this a symptom of Britain moving away from its traditional leadership role in EU affairs?
This is certainly the last time that I shall be speaking during this parliamentary Session from the Front Bench, so I thank the committee for its work over the Session and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for her work on the Foreign Affairs team—and, in particular, for the much appreciated initiative of the regular briefings that she has held with the FCO.
My Lords, this has been an important debate, covering one of the most crucial foreign policy issues that we face today. As my noble friend Lord Tugendhat said, it has taken place under slightly unusual circumstances, coming as it does before the Government have had the opportunity to issue their formal response to the committee’s report. That response will be coming within the usual timeframe. But I perfectly well understand why the committee wished to go ahead at this early stage. There has been a clearly expressed view around the House on more than one occasion that we should have a full debate on the situation with regard to Russia and Ukraine. We have debated it in the past but, apart from the debate about the association agreements, not within the past month or so. We are, of course, running out of time to have this kind of debate. As Dissolution faces us next Monday, it was perfectly understandable that noble Lords wished to go ahead now with the debate.
When I attended the Human Rights Council in Geneva earlier this month, I had a bilateral meeting with the Deputy Foreign Minister of Ukraine. I reaffirmed the UK Government’s support for Ukraine and assured him that we would continue to raise awareness of the crisis there. The committee has assisted me in carrying out that commitment by holding this debate today.
I thank the committee for its detailed and far-reaching work on this critical issue and I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Tugendhat for his expert chairmanship. The Government agree with a great deal of the committee’s findings, but there are also a number of conclusions with which we must disagree. Today I will seek to address some of the main themes.
It is important to consider the roots of this crisis, as so many noble Lords have done. They lie in Russia’s rejection of the rights of the people of Ukraine to choose their own future, free from external interference. Since 2007, Ukraine had been working towards an association agreement with the European Union. It was not a secret, it was not rushed, it was not a surprise to Russia—it was an open and transparent process between a sovereign state and the European Union. But when Russia decided that it did not like the path that its sovereign neighbour was following, it responded in the worst of ways. Under pressure from Moscow, Ukrainian President Yanukovych cancelled negotiations with the European Union. When the people of Ukraine took to the Maidan to protest and to express their democratic right to demand a new course for their country’s future, they were met with threats, intimidation and violence. Protesters were shot and killed by security forces acting on behalf of the Yanukovych Government. President Yanukovych then fled to Russia.
The events that then followed are well known. On 18 March 2014, Russia illegally annexed Crimea. I assure the right reverend Prelate and others that we do not forget Crimea. I will return to the matter of sanctions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, in a little while. Within weeks, Russian troops and weapons started crossing the border to support separatist proxies in fighting Ukrainian forces in Donbass. In July, 298 civilians lost their lives in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, by a missile from an area controlled by Russian-backed separatists.
Moscow’s actions in ignoring sovereign borders, illegally annexing territory and using military force in order to preserve what it sees as Russia’s sphere of influence constitute the biggest threat to European security since the fall of the Iron Curtain. Today we heard important analyses from around the House from noble Lords who lived through the Cold War and practised diplomacy during that era and beyond. It was important to hear their perspective because it is in that way that we learn. Perhaps one of the most moving testimonies was from my noble friend Lord Elton, to whom I am grateful.
I turn to analysis. Russia has proved itself an unpredictable and dangerous actor, willing to risk international security and its own economic stability to satisfy its geopolitical aim of preventing Ukraine leaving its sphere of influence and forming a closer association with the EU. We reject the claim that the UK or EU together “sleepwalked” into the current crisis. The UK and EU were well aware of Russia’s hostility towards the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, particularly in the run-up to the Vilnius Summit in November 2013. Of course, Russian military action was considered as a possible response, but at the extreme end of its available options. However, no one could have predicted the scale of the unjustifiable and illegal Russian intervention in eastern Ukraine. As noble Lords have remarked, the proximate cause of the crisis was the sudden collapse of the Yanukovych regime in Ukraine the following February after weeks of street protests in Kiev. As President Putin has now publicly confirmed, it was this event that triggered the decision by the Russian leadership to annex Crimea—an unprecedented action that tore up all the rules of security in Europe. The associated decision-making process was therefore days, not weeks. The blame for what has followed in the Donbass lies squarely with the pro-Russian separatists, backed by the Russian authorities, not with a benign association agreement between the EU and Ukraine which had been under negotiation for more than seven years. I should say at this point that I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for his support when we discussed the association agreements for Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia and I am grateful today for the support for the wider policy on Ukraine expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely.
A criticism throughout the committee’s report is that the Foreign Office and the EU lacked sufficient analytical capacity on Russia and an understanding of Russian goals. The noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, has a lot of experience of the teaching of languages and their use and she argued that we lacked capacity with regard to language skills in this area. This House is an example of the importance of expert knowledge and the value of long-standing experience. We recognise that there is always more that we can do to build knowledge and insight. It is certainly true, simply due to the passage of time, that there are very few officials in any government department or agency with direct professional experience of working with the old Soviet Union before it collapsed. My noble friend Lord Tugendhat and the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely, referred to the high turnover of staff in our Russian department and the nature of our capability. It is true that as a response to the Ukraine crisis we upgraded the position of Director Eastern Europe and Central Asia, as well as adding a new additional director and new deputy directors, which meant that the staff necessarily changed. However, that occurred because we were trying to improve our response and our staffing ratio. It is, of course, not true that none of those incumbents spoke Russian; some did. However, we do not employ our directors primarily for their language skills; rather, it is their leadership and policy skills that come to the fore in London, where they work. However, when we speak to the Russian embassy in London, we expect to speak in English. That is because when they speak to us in Moscow, they expect to speak to us in Russian, and that is where the language expertise should lie.
Through necessity we have increased resource and analytical focus on other parts of the world in recent years—for example, the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa. However, that does not mean that we have taken our eyes off Russia. I have just explained the upgrade that has taken place in that regard. Since 2010, the Foreign Office has increased from 43 to 56 the number of Russian speakers posted to Russia and the former Soviet Union. This week, the Foreign Office will launch an eastern Europe and central Asia cadre of experts, already counting 400 members, designed to pool experience and ensure that officials working on this region have the support and skills to lead first-class foreign policy towards Russia and the region.
I also cannot accept wholesale the report’s claim of a decline in the EU’s Russia expertise. In the past 11 years, the EU as a whole has absorbed lifetimes of experience of officials working with Russia and the Soviet Union through the accession of the Baltic states, the Visegrad four, and Black Sea states. The EU’s response to the crisis has always been in support of one clear goal—the restoration of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.
The noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, asked what action was being taken on the basis of the Budapest memorandum and thinks that we were absent from that. We were not. As I said back in October, we have tried to engage in discussions on this but the Russians simply refused on that particular point. Throughout the whole period, the Prime Minister spoke to President Putin eight times in 2014. They met most recently at the G20 in Brisbane on 15 November. The Foreign Secretary—both the current and the former one—spoke to Foreign Minister Lavrov five times in 2014, most recently in a phone call on 9 August, and the UK is playing a key role in resolving the crisis in Ukraine through the EU, UN and NATO. That goes also with regard to comments by some noble Lords about what appears to be our taking a back seat over Minsk. That is by no means the case. We have led throughout on negotiations and sanctions. It is only because of the imposition of sanctions, as I will repeat in a moment, that President Putin came to the table and we got Minsk I and what some call Minsk II.
The committee’s report notes the remarkable degree of unity seen in Brussels over the course of the crisis. I will give way but I am aware of the time.
I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way. She raised the Minsk I and Minsk II agreements. An important issue arises which I tried to raise yesterday in questions on the Statement. However, I received no satisfactory answer from the Leader of the House. Yesterday’s Statement on the Council said that the sanctions would not be eased until the Minsk agreements were fully implemented. I think that I have cited that correctly. The implication there is that if the Minsk agreements are fully implemented, sanctions will be eased. However, as the noble Baroness knows, the Minsk agreements do not mention Crimea. The prospect therefore arises under the terms of the EU Council Statement yesterday that sanctions could be eased, or indeed removed, while Ukraine remained occupied by Russia. Am I reading the situation correctly? What actually is the policy of the Government and the EU in relation to sanctions and Crimea aside from sanctions and the rest of Ukraine which is dealt with in the Minsk agreements?
My Lords, I assured the noble Lord that I would be answering his question later but he is so eager that perhaps, with the leave of the House, I will jump about a bit. I hope I will not confuse the rest of the House too much but at least I may perhaps enlighten the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, who asked pertinent questions on this matter.
Will the sanctions relating to Crimea be lifted if Minsk is implemented? A moment ago, I had a quick read of yesterday’s Hansard while we were continuing the debate. No, we do not, and will not, recognise the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia. The change of borders by force is a direct challenge to international security. Sanctions relating to Crimea will remain in place until Russia returns it to Ukraine. This was made clear most recently in a statement by all 28 EU member states at this month’s Foreign Affairs Council, predating last week’s meeting. The agreement reached at the March European Council was to make clear that the tier 3 sectoral sanctions adopted in response to Russia’s actions in Donbass, not Crimea, will be lifted only once the Minsk agreement has been implemented in full. I appreciate that for some there has been conflation of the two types of sanctions. That is as far as one can go. I intend to speak about Minsk. Perhaps I may leave it at that point.
My Lords, I have gone as far as I can in elucidating the matter and ought to return to the major issues around this.
We have unified in the EU around a strategy of three pillars to restore Ukrainian sovereignty. First, we are supporting Ukraine through reform assistance, emergency funds, military training and ensuring that its vital energy needs are met. We are giving Ukraine a basis on which to resist Russian pressure and succeed as a sovereign country. My noble friend Lord Risby, in particular, asked whether the UK should push Ukraine towards decentralisation. We need to continue to support Ukraine, particularly on its political commitments, such as setting out modalities for local elections on constitutional reform and reaching out to the east through national dialogue. That is part of the implementation of Minsk.
The second pillar is the diplomatic track. We are clear that this crisis will be resolved diplomatically only in a way that secures Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity in the face of Russian-backed aggression. Russia and its separatist proxies must abide by the commitments they made at Minsk.
The third pillar is pressure on Russia, primarily through sanctions. The UK has led the EU in ensuring that it agrees robust sanctions that, in concert with the fall in oil prices—to which noble Lords referred—and Russia’s own structural problems, deliver real economic pressure on Russia. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, that is why we have seen Mr Putin willing to come to the table to discuss agreements made at Minsk last September and last month. Until Russia meets the entirety of its commitments made under the Minsk agreements of September and March, we are clear that the full pressure of sanctions must remain. I am referring to Minsk, not Crimea. To do anything else would simply reward continued Russian aggression.
My Lords, if I go further, I will test the patience of the House myself. I should return to this matter; I am already going to run over what on this length of debate would be a 25-minute speech. I am hoping not to reach that.
The European Council agreed last week to link clearly the duration of sanctions against Russia,
“to the complete implementation of the Minsk agreements, bearing in mind that this is only foreseen by 31 December 2015”.
This is a clear demonstration of the political will of the EU to maintain the pressure on Russia for as long as is necessary. My noble friend Lord Howell made a skilful analysis of the Russian perspective of the geopolitical world, as did other noble Lords.
While we have focused on Ukraine, it is clear to the Government that we do not have a Ukraine crisis but a Russia crisis, of which Ukraine is the unfortunate victim. We need only look elsewhere to what Moscow terms its “near-abroad”—a term that other noble Lords have used—to see how the ripples of the Russia problem are disturbing others. Georgia’s 2008 conflict with Russia showed the international community the dangers of appeasing Moscow. The fundamental truth behind all the incidents in the eastern neighbourhood is that they reflect Russia’s world view—a world of great powers and vassal states, and a world in which the EU and Russia are strategic competitors, not strategic partners. I am grateful to the committee for so clearly identifying the true nature of this relationship. The Government are in full agreement.
How we respond to our recast relationship with Russia is a key priority, and I must respectfully disagree with the committee’s claim that the UK has no Russia strategy. On the contrary, we have a clear strategy that recognises many of the same risks and opportunities that the committee brings out in its report, and which will form the basis of how the UK interacts with Russia in the coming years. Fundamentally, we must recognise that Russia can no longer be considered a partner. Both our attempts to forge a modern and mature political relationship have, sadly, failed. None the less, we agree that we must continue to engage with Russia where it is in our interests to do so. After all, Russia is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and we must continue to co-operate on the key global challenges we all face. We all want to continue to trade with Russia. The report is correct in its assertion that Russia must not simply be ignored in Europe’s eastern neighbourhood. We agree. We must also do more to support civil society in Russia and to forge closer people-to-people links between us.
At the same time, we must also do more to protect ourselves, our allies and our eastern partners from Russian manoeuvring. Many noble Lords made reference to NATO. I will not repeat the excellent guidance we received from my noble friend Lord Jopling about the new, high-readiness joint task force. I will merely add an elucidation to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and others with regard to Article 5. We agree that what Article 5 means is clear. I can say also to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, that we confirm our commitment to the intent of Article 5. However, I have to say that we have always made it clear that there is not a military solution to the crisis in Ukraine.
Further, the EU and UK must support those countries in our neighbourhood that want to benefit from closer association with our way of life. That is where I am brought to talk about the Good Governance Fund, which was referred to by my noble friends Lord Caithness and Lady Neville-Jones. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced at the March European Council last week a new UK technical assistance programme to support reforms in countries in the eastern neighbourhood and western Balkans. In the first year, the fund will provide expert advice, training and assistance to the Governments of Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. There will be options to extend the fund to other countries in further years. We expect the work to be up and running this summer. The initial £20 million will come from DfID in the next financial year, but this will be a cross-government department fund. Future funding will therefore be confirmed in due course.
I add my congratulations to those of other noble Lords to my noble friend Lord Oxford and Asquith on his remarkable and informed maiden speech. It is one of those occasions where one might say one expected nothing less. He set the bar high with his experience before he came here and he proved that he will be a most valuable Member of this House. He and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, raised the importance of strengthening the rule of law and democratic accountability, as well as reforming the police and, in particular, the justice system. I agree. We must also have anti-corruption measures to help improve transparency and encourage effective management of public finances—and to strengthen independent media to ensure balanced and accurate news and public affairs reporting. All those matters will be the subject of spending that can be achieved from this new fund. That is what it is for—to give support on those matters.
I was also interested to hear from my noble friend Lord Howell and others, such as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, about the crucial matter of energy and energy supply. I accept that the EU needs to reduce its dependence—or at least its perceived dependence—on Russian energy.
I have reached the closing part of my speech. I know that I am at 22 minutes, but I am going to test the patience of the House because I have been intervened on. I know that in a timed debate of this length I could be allowed 25 minutes, so I will rush on.
I reiterate my appreciation for the committee’s work and for the high-quality debate that we have had today. We strongly welcome the fact that the committee’s report includes a wealth of evidence, taken from a wide range of sources. However, I place on record my concern at the prominence given in some parts of the report to unjustified claims. In particular, there are assertions made by Alexander Yakovenko, Russia’s ambassador to the UK, that the committee should regard with the utmost scepticism, as I did when I met him in November and challenged his version of events. For example, he said that the EU was not ready to discuss with Russia its concerns regarding the association agreements—it was. He said that the Maidan protests were dominated by neo-Nazi and other extremist groupings. He said that the Maidan protests were supported by the EU and the US and were part of a deliberate plot against Russia. These are key elements in a deceptive Russian narrative, in which the West is to blame for Russia’s problems, and in which NATO seeks to encircle and threaten Russia. That is not the real picture. We do not see the world in such terms. We reject the charge that we have trampled over Russia’s legitimate concerns.
I can assure the committee that this Government have no intention of allowing the current crisis to break all links between Russia and the West. Diplomacy in all its forms, including all the cultural channels, is the route to better EU-Russia relations. It is right that we should follow that route: diplomacy suffers when dialogue ends.
My noble friend Lord Tugendhat asked a particular question: will the UK be represented at the 9 May Victory Day commemorations in Moscow? Yes: the UK has close historical ties with Russia, based on the sacrifices that we made in the Second World War. We have a responsibility to honour the sacrifice of our own service men and women during that conflict and pay our respects to those who died fighting for a shared cause. We will therefore be represented there on 9 May. That is the spirit in which our relationship with Russia must continue: one of continued negotiation and business, but not one of business as usual until Russia respects the sovereignty of Ukraine.
My Lords, I thank all who contributed to this debate and who made it such a notable occasion. I think that my colleagues on the committee and I have been greatly encouraged by the degree of support that the report has received. I also add my voice to those who congratulated my noble friend Lord Oxford and Asquith on his outstanding speech, with all the knowledge and insights that he brought to bear. Finally, I thank my noble friend the Minister for her comprehensive response and for the frankness with which she dealt with those issues on which the Government and the committee are not entirely in accord. I cannot pretend that she entirely convinced me, but she did convince me that, if she is still in post after the election, the Foreign Office will be in very good hands.
Oil Palm Plantations
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I tabled this Question because I want to know the Government’s assessment of the current extent of tropical rainforest destruction. I have sought information about this in the past and I would be grateful if the Minister could bring the facts up to date in her reply. Allied to that is the very real problem of oil palm plantations. So many of these massive plantations grow in areas that were once thriving, multispecies forests. What is the Government’s view on palm oil? What action are they taking to alert producers, manufacturers and consumers to the damaging impact that these plantations have on both our climate and the abundant life that used to thrive in the former forest environment?
Over recent years, there have been a number of attempts to get international agreement on how to regulate and control the logging of rainforests. As a result of these various meetings, there must now surely be greater understanding of how vital to our survival these forests are. Yet the destruction continues. Just a few weeks ago, the Guardian reported that companies are planning to clear more than 23,000 hectares of primary rainforest in the northern Amazon region of Peru. In total, as many as 1.5 million hectares have been identified as forest areas suitable for exploitation. Palm oil is now seen as one of the biggest threats to the Peruvian Amazon and is also now threatening the security of the great tropical forests in Gabon and the Congo basin region. Sound land management laws and plans are urgently needed to stop the indiscriminate felling of these forests.
It almost beggars belief, when so much is known about the value of rainforests, that Governments can still connive in their destruction. I am well aware that important meetings are to take place in coming months in this connection. The UN Secretary-General is personally giving huge emphasis to the need for concerted action on sustainable development goals. There is going to be a meeting in New York in September, and I very much hope that our Prime Minister will be present and participate in it. There will also be the vital intergovernmental climate change negotiations in Paris in December, at which I hope the future of the world’s tropical forests takes centre stage. That meeting must, this time, herald real action.
In the few moments left to me, I will focus on the spread of oil palm plantations and the devastating impact that it can have on human, plant and animal life. Palm oil is now found in 50% to 60% of all packaged foods, and the demand for it has been growing rapidly. According to one source, when compared with the level of demand in 2000, consumption of palm oil is predicted to double by 2030 and to triple by 2050.
Indonesia and Malaysia are the countries principally engaged in the conversion of rainforest to oil palms. They account for something like 86% of global palm oil production. When natural forests and peat-lands, which store very large stocks of carbon, are converted to oil palm plantations, carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, and that has a serious effect on climatic conditions. The logging and burning also destroy the homes and habitat of forest-dwelling people and wildlife. Most people would, I am sure, be horrified to learn that as consumers of products containing palm oil we are engaging in the slaughter of a long list of plant, insect and animal life.
A major tragedy is the destruction of so much of the primary forest cover in Borneo and Sumatra. Some 300,000 different animal species are affected as a result. The Sumatran tiger and rhinoceros, the sun bear and pygmy elephant, the clouded leopard and proboscis monkey are all threatened. The Sumatran tiger could become extinct in three years. Perhaps the most iconic creature of all is the orangutan. These wonderful, intelligent and sensitive animals share 97% of their DNA with humans. They play a vital role in maintaining the health of the forest ecosystem. In two decades, at least 50,000 of these animals have died as a direct result of forest clearance in response to the growing demand for palm oil. Orangutans are being mercilessly killed and their young captured and sold as pets for human entertainment. Unless something is done now, they could become extinct in the wild in five to 10 years.
So what is to be done to stop this slaughter and desecration? There are steps that can be taken, but they need to be driven by determined political will. First, of course, we must engage with the Governments of the producer countries. We have to accept that the production of palm oil is increasingly important to their economies. To what extent is international financial support being provided under the auspices of the REDD+ scheme? Who is monitoring and checking what happens to the funds being distributed?
Most urgently, there should be an immediate halt to the development of oil palm plantations on peat-land. This usually involves burning and results in substantial greenhouse gas emissions. It is also important that there is active shareholder and customer pressure on companies using palm oil to be open about what they are doing. Transparency is essential. Referring to “vegetable oil” on the label is simply not good enough. If manufacturers use palm oil, that should be declared. Consumers could then make an informed choice about whether to continue using the product.
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil offers some hope of international action. Founded in 2004 and now widely supported, one of its targets is to ensure that all palm oil used in the UK comes from sustainable sources by the end of this year. However, we have to recognise that acquiring certificates of sustainability could very likely involve the clearance of secondary or degraded forest land. Partially logged primary forest can sometimes be retrieved and restored for the benefit of wildlife and humans. There are in fact loopholes, quickly exploited by the unscrupulous. We need to be more precise, for example, in the definitions of tropical rainforests the better to guarantee their protection.
To sum up, the logging of rainforests is a real threat to the survival of life on this planet. To go on conspiring in their destruction is selfish, senseless stupidity. We must wake up to our own responsibilities for what is happening. Great forests are being felled; whole populations of forest-dwelling people are being cast aside; thousands of mammals, birds, insects and plants are being crushed; and our climate is being polluted and changed—all this so that we can enjoy palm oil in products such as crackers, crisps, cream cheese and chocolate. It really is madness. It has to be stopped and stopped now before it is too late.
My Lords, in view of government targets for this year, my noble friend Lord Eden is timely in his introduction of this debate. We will all be very grateful to him.
I should like to make a few brief points: on our further actions to achieve the objective that total United Kingdom consumption should come from sustainable resources, on how we monitor these endeavours, on the persuasion of our European partners, and on concerted action internationally.
Recent evidence is certainly encouraging. In 2013 we learn that between 55% and 71% of United Kingdom palm oil products were passed by the body that analyses and certifies derivations, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. Many United Kingdom business consumers are thus supportive. These include a high proportion of processors, manufacturers and distributors. Nevertheless, another not insignificant proportion while co-operative remains less than committed. What plans are there to increase commitment, not least that of those now designated for targeting, including small and medium-sized enterprises and the hospital sector?
Can the Minister also say which incentives the Government intend to offer and to what extent mandatory European Union requirements within the renewable energy directive will be implemented?
For the proper monitoring of progress, one continuing problem may be the technical difficulty of segregating and recording quantities that are genuinely those of sustainable palm oil. In view of this, how far does my noble friend consider that the current arrangements for analysis and monitoring should be adapted to achieve greater accuracy and transparency?
On European solidarity, a number of states are as concerned as we are, particularly the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries, while in any case the renewable energy directive obliges all EU members to implement its standards.
However, several other interventions could strengthen both European and international resolve. On this issue there is a case for European states to come together, either formally or informally, whether in small or larger groupings. The United Kingdom might take a lead in that. All the more so would such an initiative serve to persuade European consumers to use sustainable palm oil. If that is worth entertaining in Europe, not least is it also worth considering internationally by forming working groups of states to promote the same purpose. Might the Government, therefore, facilitate such projects, both within and outside Europe?
Then there is the potential impact of Europe’s own good practice upon states elsewhere and its encouragement only to use sustainable resources. This goal is well supported by the EU’s membership, as it is by the Council of Europe’s affiliation of 47 states. Can my noble friend say what plans there may be to deploy European influence accordingly?
So far there is cause to take heart. We can be proud of our own results. Elsewhere, there is evidence of willingness to match these. Yet, as my noble friend Lord Eden reminded us, to the detriment of animals and the environment, far too much unnecessary destruction of the rain forests still occurs. Nationally and internationally, to attain a 100% use of sustainable resources a great deal still has to be done and attention given to combined and co-operative measures to raise commitment.
My Lords, I should like to speak briefly in the gap for two reasons. The first is to endorse most wholeheartedly the powerful, persuasive and utterly convincing speech of my noble friend Lord Eden. He spoke with a controlled passion and a deep knowledge that ought to have a wider audience. I hope that his speech will be drawn to the attention of many people, because he has highlighted a real global threat. When he talked about the possible impending extinction of species such as the orangutan and the Sumatran tiger, there can be no one who would not be extremely concerned and moved by what he said.
However, I speak for one other reason. Noble Lords who have looked at the green pages may have seen that there is a list headed, “Forthcoming retirements”. Although we did not have a valedictory speech—it would be marvellous if we had one during the Queen’s Speech, although none of us knows quite when that is going to happen—we now know that my noble friend Lord Eden is going on 11 June. So if by chance this should indeed prove to be his last speech in your Lordships’ House, and it will certainly be his last QSD, I think he deserves the thanks and approbation of us all, not only for what he has said this evening and for the manner in which he is preparing to depart this House but for what he has done over so many years.
I have many fond memories of my noble friend, the first of which dates back to 1970 when I, as the young Member of Parliament for Cannock, and he, I think, as the Minister of State for Industry at the time, invited him to come to Cannock. Together we donned our miners’ uniforms, put on our helmets and went down the Littleton Colliery. From that moment on, I always looked upon my noble friend as a good sport and a Minister who was determined to understand the areas for which he was responsible. He has shown noble Lords tonight that although he may have aged—it is not very noticeable, because he looks much the same as he did all those years ago—he has not lost the spark of youth, the determination to tackle important issues, and the ability to draw the attention of your Lordships’ House to their importance.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for a very eloquent tribute to the wonderful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Eden. Perhaps we ought to start a tradition where provision is made for a valedictory QSD on retirement so that we can discuss topics of great importance. The House has benefited greatly from the distinguished and long career of the noble Lord, Lord Eden, and the passions that he has sustained throughout his time in this place, including his interest in the Rainforest Alliance and the Jane Goodall Institute. It is clear that this is a subject which is dear to his heart and I am grateful to him for his speech. It has given us a comprehensive overview of many of the issues associated with the destruction of rainforests arising from our use of palm oil.
It is obviously true that palm oil is now almost ubiquitous in many of our packaged foods. The statistic is often quoted that 50% of supermarket products contain palm oil. Over the years the profile of this issue has risen and there has been increasing pressure on the supply chain to become more sustainable and to reduce its impact. Indeed, the UK among other countries has signed up to a target of using 100% sustainable palm oil by this year. So my first question for the Minister echoes one that has already been posed by the noble Lord, Lord Eden: how are we doing on that target? Will we reach 100% by the end of this year? It seems that we are making progress because the noble Lord talked about that, as did the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, in relation to the percentage that might be deemed sustainable. However, how we are going to reach the 100% target is the question.
Underlying that is the thorny question of how to prove that the certification process is robust. Since 2004 we have approached this issue on the basis of self-regulation. An NGO-led initiative created the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil production. It is a multi-stakeholder process which seems to have had some success, but the very organisation which formed it, the WWF, stated recently that it is in need of fundamental reform. There are still concerns about whether the certification process is robust enough. Those concerns include the continuing threat of deforestation and logging, the planting of plantations on peat land, the fear that forest fires are being used to clear land which is subsequently planted, the use of pesticides and, indeed, the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the intensive agricultural practices used on palm oil plantations. We rely on this certification process, yet there is a fear that it is not robust. We ought to remember that the process is only certifying roughly 18% of global production of palm oil. What of the other 82%?
It is difficult to find the right adjective, but my fear is that the process is not rigorous enough and is self-policing in a way that means it is not being done with enough due diligence and seriousness.
I looked into the RSPO a bit further, as I was interested in the membership of the round table—who the governors are and who sits on the board. It seems to me that the board is predominantly made up of people with vested interests. The largest number of seats goes to the oil palm growers, followed by the palm oil processors, the consumer goods manufacturers and the bankers—that is pretty much everyone, bar two environmental conservation NGOs and two social development NGOs. What seems to be missing is any representation from the scientific community. Indeed, where are the Governments in this?
I am an old-fashioned environmental campaigner and I believe in regulation. I think that we can pursue these issues through voluntarism and encouragement of labelling, but ultimately, if we are serious about avoiding deforestation, there has to be a UN-based international approach to this. We are entering a period where we are gaining ways to gather and process information about our globe and the planet we inhabit. We now know more, more quickly, about what is happening on the planet that we all share. I would have thought, given modern surveillance and everything that we can do with satellite monitoring, there ought to be a more considered approach from the UN as to how we manage the lungs, essentially, of the planet—the forests that keep our planet rich in biodiversity and provide such vital climatic services, such that we cannot afford to lose them.
Of course, it is easy to say that, and at the heart of all of this is a tension between economic development and the need to preserve biodiversity. It is very easy for us in our developed societies in the West to say, “We must discourage the commercial exploitation of these forests and this land because we rely on it”. That almost imperialistic view of how to engage with this problem cannot continue or be sustained. We must find an answer with those producing nations, whereby they can move to more sustainable economic growth patterns and are rewarded for preserving those things to which we attach so much value, such as the biodiversity and climatic services of these forests.
As the noble Lord, Lord Eden, mentioned, we are going to see some sustainable development goals set in New York, and we will then move to Paris, where we will discuss the UNFCCC. I fear that we might be pinning rather too many hopes on to that one meeting in Paris. We already face the challenge of how to control our fossil fuel-based energy emissions. In parallel, we have been discussing the related and very important issue of land-use change and deforestation and trying to create incentives to preserve our forests. Until very recently, there was a proposal that we ought to be engaging in some kind of carbon trading, where we would allow polluters to continue polluting in order to preserve forests. I think now it is finally being realised that these two things need to be done separately: we need to price carbon and reduce carbon emissions as well as creating financial incentives to preserve our rainforests and, indeed, the forests all over world that sustain biodiversity and act as a carbon sink. But where will the money come from? That seems to be the nub of many problems to do with these international global issues where there is a high degree of complexity due to equity and sustainable development—who is going to pay whom to do what, and who will oversee it? I do not have the answers and I do not think we will have time to arrive at them this evening, but relying on a self-regulating system that is now over a decade old has been criticised from a number of quarters for lacking teeth. I note that on 9 March, 100 members of the RSPO were suspended due to the failure to report. It feels like this initiative might well be running into the buffers. Perhaps we need to go back to the UN charter and back to Rio, and start to rethink how we deal with these big issues of global land management.
Tonight’s debate has focused on palm oil—quite rightly, because it brings an interesting and unique set of challenges—but it is by far not the only crop that has these associated problems. Soya production is another example—in fact, it is probably an even more widely used product in terms of volume—that we must tackle. There are countless other non-food related crops where you could question the sense of using land for them. I would include in that the global land given up for tobacco production, which also has a deforestation impact.
There are big issues to be looked at but I am not convinced by the voluntary, vested interests-led, stakeholder approach. It feels a little dated and possibly needs to be looked at again in the light of member state co-operation. This has to be sorted out at government level. We probably need to look at some form of international oversight. We thank the RSPO for the work it has been able to do but the time has probably come to acknowledge that it is time to move on.
I have enjoyed this debate very much and again thank the noble Lord, Lord Eden, for his contribution tonight and for his passion for this topic throughout the years. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I start by sincerely thanking my noble friend Lord Eden of Winton for raising this very important issue. He became the country’s youngest MP in 1954 and went on to join the Lords in 1983. On his retirement this June, he will have served an incredible 61 years in Parliament. His expertise will be sorely missed. I thank my noble friend Lord Cormack for the tribute that he paid.
I also note that my noble friend Lord Eden was vice-president of the International Tree Foundation for more than 40 years, which brings me back to the subject of today’s debate: the impact of palm oil plantations on our planet’s climate and biodiversity. Needless to say, the Government are fully committed to responding to the challenge of land use change to our planet’s climate and biodiversity. Globally, as we have heard, around 13 million hectares of forest were converted to other uses or lost through natural causes each year between 2000 and 2010. More action is needed if we are to meet our objective of halving deforestation by 2020 and ending natural forest loss by 2030.
We have heard from my noble friend Lord Eden and the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, of all the uses of palm oil, and global demand for palm oil is expected only to grow. Estimates by the Earth Security Group suggest that demand will increase by 32% by 2020. Production of palm oil is already increasing in Colombia, Brazil, Papua New Guinea and areas of west and central Africa. Yet there is growing recognition that unsustainable production of palm oil may increase the destruction of tropical rainforest and drainage of peat-land areas. In turn, this destruction has major impacts on biodiversity, climate change and the land rights of local peoples, as we have heard.
For example, we know that clearing forests and peat-lands releases huge amounts of greenhouse gases; oil palm plantations hold fewer than half as many vertebrate species as primary forests; and conversion of forests to plantations can reduce the number of bird species by at least 60%. The species most at threat are those which rely on habitats that are not found in palm oil plantations: animals as diverse as the Malaysia river frog, the orangutan—as we have heard—and the Borneo elephant.
We recognise the need for a better understanding of these impacts if we are going to respond in the most effective way. That is why Defra and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, together with the Stockholm Environment Institute, have developed a model to assess the potential impact of UK imports on the environment and biodiversity overseas. A project using this model to evaluate the impact of palm oil plantations on biodiversity in south-east Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and South America is due to report in May, and we look forward to those results. However, this should not delay, and has not delayed, the Government from taking action to promote both the supply and the demand of sustainably produced palm oil.
Efforts have been made to produce palm oil more sustainably, and chief among them, as we know, is the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. The RSPO is a global, multi-stakeholder organisation where businesses and NGOs have worked together to agree principles and criteria for the sustainable production of palm oil, develop a certification system and bring certified sustainable palm oil to market. However, I hear the concerns that the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, has when she asks: where is the scientific community and where is the rigour in their inspection? The RSPO has been effective in many areas and is the key international organisation driving the move to sustainable palm oil. Without it, the transition would be extremely difficult. There are still some areas of the RSPO principles and criteria that the Government would like to see tightened, notably the inclusion of a standard on greenhouse gas emissions.
The noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, also wondered about the inclusion of the United Nations. In November 2014, the United Nations environment programme and the RSPO signed a memorandum of understanding, which aims to raise global awareness and generate market demand for sustainable palm oil. Moves are in hand on that.
In the UK, we have been working with trade associations, NGOs and others since 2011 to encourage the switch to the sustainable sourcing of palm oil. During the Prime Minister’s visit to Indonesia in April 2012, we announced that we would work with British trade associations and companies to set out a road map to achieving sustainable palm oil use nationwide. In October 2012, we published a joint statement with key palm oil-using sectors, setting out that:
“The United Kingdom is working towards achieving 100% sourcing of credibly certified sustainable palm oil by the end of 2015”.
The noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, talked about this, and we are working towards it. The Government are also a signatory to the statement and fund a support service for businesses to move to sustainable sourcing. We track progress towards this shared ambition through annual palm oil consumption reports. We have also amended the government buying standard for food and catering so that all food and catering products bought by central government must meet sustainability requirements from the end of 2015.
The UK is one of the leading importer countries encouraging the move to sustainable palm oil and the latest figures show that the UK is making progress. Analysis shows that the estimated proportion of UK palm oil imports supported by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil certification was either 55% or 71% in 2013, depending on the trade data source.
Internationally, we are working with Governments, the private sector, scientists and civil society in a range of countries to incentivise sustainable palm oil production and reduce carbon emissions and habitat loss through combating deforestation.
My noble friend Lord Dundee raised the issue of European co-operation. We are supportive of greater knowledge exchange and co-ordination between national commitments and have already participated in a number of meetings with representatives of other national commitments. More generally, the EU is considering the development of an action plan on deforestation and forest degradation, as outlined in the EU’s seventh environmental action programme. The Government support consideration of an action plan to promote Europe-wide action on the supply and demand of commodities linked to deforestation. We will certainly seek to work with our European neighbours in this respect.
I would like to highlight two key programmes aiming to make a difference in Malaysia and Indonesia. The first is the Government’s £3.9 billion international climate fund, for which tackling global deforestation is a priority. In total, over £500 million has been committed to forestry projects, and a number of noble Lords asked about the funding for this. The Department for International Development has recently invested £60 million in a new programme that has the potential to improve the productivity of existing smallholder palm oil plantations, whose yields are typically half those of professional plantations and who apply higher environmental and social standards. In that way, we can help farmers increase their yields without having to clear more forest.
Secondly, since 2013, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s South East Asia Prosperity Fund programme has supported a project that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, particularly those linked to palm oil plantations. This project has created a knowledge exchange network between policy advisers, local and international NGOs, businesses and scientists. The network disseminates scientific information and informs evidence-based policy development on sustainable oil palm production in Malaysia and Indonesia.
These programmes support wider government action to protect endangered species and valuable peat-lands affected by the demand for palm oil. In 2013, the orangutan was a featured species in our awareness-raising campaign, If They’re Gone, which focused on the need for sustainable palm oil. The Government have provided $500,000 to the Global Tiger Initiative, which aims to double tiger numbers in the wild by 2022.
My noble friend asked what progress was being made on REDD+ and who was monitoring the distribution of funds. UK International Climate Fund finance for forests is used for all three phases of REDD+. DECC, Defra and DfID support the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, the BioCarbon Fund and the Forest Investment Program. These programmes are administered and monitored by the World Bank and are subject to periodic independent review. We welcome the progress made by more than 50 countries in developing programmes that support efforts to slow, halt and reverse deforestation. Separately, I note that this week my noble friend Lord De Mauley is leading the UK delegation in Botswana in a follow-up conference to last year’s London conference on combating the illegal wildlife trade.
However, this Government’s efforts do not stop there. The UK is playing a leading role in negotiations both on a legally binding climate agreement and on the sustainable development goals. I assure my noble friend that we will be represented at the New York meeting in September. My noble friend was quite right to highlight the opportunity that these negotiations will afford. Both are essential for the international community and should enable us to agree an effective response to global issues and to protect our planet’s natural resources.
My noble friend Lord Eden asked about the blurring of the definitions of “forest” and “rainforest” which enables people to avoid conservation obligations. All international agreements which promote the concept of sustainable forest management apply to all types of forest, irrespective of their origins. That is deliberate, as it allows recognition of the specific economic, social and environmental roles played by different types of forest.
My noble friend asked what Her Majesty’s Government’s objectives were for the Paris COP in December. Here, the UK is working with EU member states and other countries to secure a legally binding agreement with mitigation commitments for all in Paris at the end of the year.
My noble friend Lord Dundee asked how we target SMEs in the hospital sector. The door remains open to organisations wishing to sign up to the UK statement. Defra is working with the Central Point of Expertise on Timber and trade associations to provide support to businesses including SMEs on sourcing sustainable palm oil. We recognise that there are a significant number of SMEs in the food, drink and hospitality sectors, and CPET has been working with the relevant trade associations to provide support that meets the needs of its members. My noble friend also asked to what extent mandatory EU requirements, in particular the renewable energy directive, would be implemented. Since 2011, all biofuels rewarded under the UK’s renewable transport fuel obligation have had to meet mandatory sustainability criteria provided for the renewable energy directive.
I am extremely grateful to noble Lords for the issues raised in today’s debate. I hope that I have covered the various questions raised in my reply, but I will be more than happy to pass on any specific questions to my counterparts in DfID, Defra and DECC. Once again, I thank my noble friend Lord Eden for initiating this debate on such an important topic and for the passion with which he spoke. I also thank other noble Lords who provided contributions and questions on this issue. We shall all hope for real action and engagement in the months ahead and for an improvement in the situation as it stands.
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, it is 50 years ago this very month that Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov made the historic first space walk. He created a new world record of immense magnitude. Alexei’s achievement has inspired thousands upon thousands to become cosmonauts, astronauts, engineers and pilots. How did he achieve that remarkable feat? By sheer optimism, effort and the synergy of a team that pushed the boundaries of ambition, technology and physical and mental fitness.
In the memorable summer of 2012, 32 new world records in eight sports were set at the London 2012 Olympics, and an astonishing 199 Paralympic and world records were set at the Paralympic Games. For each of those athletes, achieving that record was the finale of an incredible journey. For many, it started when their talent was spotted by a teacher or a parent who encouraged them to join a local sports club and, as they say, the rest was history.
An incredible part of our sports ecosystem are the 150,000 clubs and community projects, all started by local people wanting to do their bit, helping, supporting and encouraging kids, regardless of their talent, to be the best that they can be. Our little Leos or little Lindas are inspired by clubs to get involved in community sport, and some of them go on to compete at regional and then national events. Ask any of our elite athletes, as I have, and they will tell you that grass-roots sport was a vital component in developing their full potential and broadening their ambition.
That vital component is built on the foundation of thousands upon thousands of unpaid volunteers in every town and village across the country. They are volunteers like Ken, who turns up week-in, week-out, on a wet Wednesday in Wigan to coach at the local running club. They are volunteers like Sue, who on a hot summer’s day in Slough can be found indoors teaching teenage girls synchronised swimming at the local pool. These unpaid volunteers outnumber paid staff by 20 to one, and are often more highly valued. Not forgetting my background as an accountant, to me, “value” is a good word to use, because each volunteer is investing their time to help others achieve their potential.
The Join In Trust, which I have the privilege to chair, and to which I shall return later, recently published some research into the social value of sports volunteering. The Bank of England’s chief economist, Andy Haldane, says:
“Whether seen from an economic or social perspective, volunteering is big business, with annual turnover well into three-figure billions”.
Join In’s research, entitled Hidden Diamonds, shows how huge those figures are. Each sports volunteer creates more than £16,000 of social value every year. That is the equivalent of Croatia’s GDP. Join In’s recruits add the equivalent of the GDP of the Cayman Islands.
Why, if income from drugs and prostitution is included in the GDP figures, is the social value of volunteering not? If it were, the UK would be rated fifth in the world, ahead of Japan, but, of course, that is not why volunteers do the amazing work that they do. Many do it to help their communities. Research shows that sports volunteers are four times more likely to trust others in the community and eight times more likely to feel that they have some influence over their local communities. They are a really important element of community cohesion, which is vital when so many things threaten to tear our communities apart. Many say that they volunteer to give something back because they were helped by others. A few of those volunteers may have gone on to become top-class athletes in their own right, but most feel that they benefit from improved self-esteem, physical and mental fitness or learnt team skills.
Now there is a new generation of volunteers, each creating capacity for more than eight other people to become active—one volunteer creating capacity for eight and a half people to become active. Volunteer Dean Scopes in Fareham, has done just that. Seeing Join In on the telly, Dean logged on to the Join In website and set up a profile to recruit others to help him run a kids football team. They were so successful that they set up not one but two teams. That is important because data from Public Health England show that almost a third of 10 to 11 year-olds are overweight or obese, so getting kids into sport is an effective and inexpensive way of averting the chronic health time bomb that is on the horizon for this generation. The health and emotional well-being of volunteers also benefits, as volunteers are measurably happier than non-volunteers.
We are a nation which loves our sport and whether we wish to participate or spectate, there is so much on offer here in the UK. Following the success of the Olympics and Paralympi