Hong Kong: Human Rights

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Thursday 4th June 2020

(4 years ago)

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Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble (Con)
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My Lords, I welcome this debate as it gives us an opportunity to demonstrate our support for the people of Hong Kong. As has been made clear, there are difficulties and limitations on what we can do, and obviously we want as wide a grouping of people and other countries working on this, but one thing we can do, as sketched out by the Prime Minister this week, is provide a safety net that may lead to a gateway for entering into and working in the United Kingdom. I know that some people are concerned about this, but I point to the experience of Canada; people, many from Hong Kong, went there, integrated into the community and made a significant contribution. I am sure that that can happen again. We should keep that door open.

Israel and Palestine

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Thursday 13th October 2016

(7 years, 8 months ago)

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Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble (Con)
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My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on securing this debate. I support the two-state solution and I hope that the next time the Palestinians are offered a viable state they will accept it. It is important in this debate to remember that they have been offered a viable state at least twice. The first time was at the Camp David talks under President Clinton in 2000 when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak made a formal offer of such a state. Then around 2008, under Ehud Olmert, a further offer of a viable state was made. I can say that with confidence because shortly afterwards Olmert released a map to two Israeli newspapers of what would be the Palestinian state. The map clearly indicated, for example, that East Jerusalem would be part of the Palestinian state, and identified scores of settlements that would have to be removed.

The question then is: if an offer was made that appeared to be quite generous, why was it not accepted? Part of the answer was hinted at by Shimon Peres during the Olmert negotiations when he attended a conference in Jordan. He was asked that question, and I happened to be there so I am quite sure about the answer that was given. It was elegant and quite short. He said: “On all practical matters we are very close to agreement, but the emotional issues are getting heavier and more difficult”. I think—although obviously this is just supposition on my part—that the major emotional issue for Palestinians is that they would have to shoulder responsibility within the Arab nations for recognising the legitimate existence of a Jewish state in Arab lands. That is a very big ask. There is also the point, which was made repeatedly by Yasser Arafat in discussions with President Clinton, that if he accepted it, at the same time he should start arranging his funeral. That was not an empty statement; it was the reality of the matter. So, because we are now dealing with big emotional issues rather than technical ones of whether the line goes here or there and all the rest of it, it will not be easy to get round the current impasse.

I have no simple answer, but some points can be made. First, we and the Arab states must be thinking about what we can do to help them take the big emotional decisions. One point we hear with regard to the Arab states is that they could go back to the Arab peace initiative and sort of rebrand it, or fold that into the emerging agreement from the existing talks. Unfortunately, the Arab states that would support the Arab peace initiative are themselves now focusing on other issues and on the threats that they face, including the proxy wars going on between Iran and its allies and the Shia Muslim states as well. With that proxy war going on there is not much chance of movement being made in that direction.

Some people suggest from time to time that if the Palestinian issue were solved, that in itself would resolve all the other problems in the Middle East, but I am beginning to suspect that the truth is really the other way round. Until all the other issues in the Middle East are solved, we will never get the necessary momentum to resolve the Israel-Palestine issue, even though we can see the outline of the solution. So the other thing that we have to encourage the parties and their supporters to do is understand the difficulties of the other side. It is hugely important to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and to try to work out what his problems are and how we can help him deal with them.

However, we have a legacy, which was summed up by Shimon Peres on another occasion when he said that one of the problems was that each side distrusted the other and each side believed that it had good reason for such distrust. Somehow we have to get over that, but we have to remember that at the end of the day the only people who can solve this are the people who live there. That is hugely important; it is the Palestinians and the Israelis who have to solve this. We can offer help but it is not helpful for us, or any outsider, to proceed by berating one party or the other and wagging fingers at them.

EU and Russia (EUC Report)

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Tuesday 24th March 2015

(9 years, 2 months ago)

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Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble (Con)
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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”,

and:

“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.

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (EUC Report)

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Tuesday 17th June 2014

(9 years, 12 months ago)

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Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble (Con)
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My Lords, I join other members of the committee in thanking the staff attached to the committee for the help that they gave us in producing this report. I would also like to express my appreciation of the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, who handled these very complex issues in a skilful manner, as noble Lords will have seen demonstrated by his comprehensive introduction to this report this afternoon. That enables me to cherry pick, as I want to go to one particular bit of evidence that we received which I find absolutely fascinating.

This may not be news to other members of the House or the committee, but it was considerable news to me. I refer to the evidence of Professor Richard Baldwin, the director of the Centre for Economic Policy Research, who described to us the main factor behind what he called the sea change that has taken place in international trade over the past two decades. I will paraphrase what he said in explaining that sea change. Professor Baldwin said:

“Around 1990 the ICT revolution changed the nature of trade in the sense that it allowed stages of production that were done within a factory to be dispersed overseas”.

In a sense, that was nothing unusual: it had been happening between the rich countries—between the US and Canada, and with western Europe and the Common Market and so on. However, apparently, what changed since the 1990s was that that could happen along a north-south axis, between the US and Mexico, Germany and Turkey, Japan and Thailand. He said:

“It was a global change, driven by the ability to co-ordinate complex activities overseas”.

What was happening was that there was,

“not just goods moving between production bases. It was that ideas, knowhow, training, capital and people were moving inside rich company factories”.

At a later stage—on page 28 of the evidence document—the professor said that,

“the know-how is staying inside firms but crossing borders”.

and that possibly the best way to think about that is that,

“the notion of national competitiveness or comparative advantage … has been denationalised”.

That is a fascinating aspect of globalisation, which I am sure in general would be a good thing.

However, as Professor Baldwin says, that development requires particular forms of discipline. The firms are connecting across borders, so things such as infrastructure services, telecommunications, capital flows, investment insurance and intellectual property right assurances are transferring and that itself needs particular assurances to be built in so that companies can proceed to do that.

Apparently, once that started, the nature of some trading agreements changed. Those had developed through a series of bilaterals between Japan and its factory economies and between the US and its factory economies. The nature of this,

“makes it sensible to knit together some of these agreements”.

That is basically what is happening in the large agreements we are seeing, starting first with the Trans-Pacific Partnership—TPP—which started to knit those things together. TPP is, in effect, knitting them together under a US template, and the European Commission realised that in these circumstances there needed to be a European template on the table as well. That is the reason for the sudden emergence of TTIP, so that is the background to what is going on.

The second major point that the professor made, which was touched on by other noble Lords, is that a lot of what is happening here aims for regulatory convergence or harmonisation. That process has started and is going on. However, as was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, there is considerable bureaucratic resistance to that convergence and harmonisation, as national regulators are reluctant to see powers move from them to other ways of doing things. As the professor said,

“That is the best that TTIP will do: start a process in which, first, the regulations stop diverging and the existing ones start to move, or we get mutual recognition. That is a process, and the best we can hope with TPP is to set in place a framework for … going forward”.

The big thing is,

“starting a process, so I do not think it will be done at the end of this year or anything”.

He said that in a sense one should not be concerned about not meeting those targets; the important thing is that people are discussing issues and making progress in a dialogue, and,

“a lot of this stuff can be done without signing a free trade agreement”.

I can perhaps see how those comments chimed in with some of the evidence we got from the City, particularly from TheCityUK. Noble Lords will find that on page 37 of our report, which deals with the existing provisions for a dialogue on regulatory matters between Europe and the United States. That existing dialogue is criticised, and those criticisms are set out in the report at that stage. TheCityUK said to us that it was well aware of the reluctance of the Americans to put financial services on the table and the way in which they wanted to ensure that the Dodd-Frank Act was not in any way reopened. I hope I am accurately repeating what TheCityUK said to us—they had no great expectation of there being any significant move in terms of enabling financial services to be more liberalised. However, what they want is an effective and continuing negotiation or conversation between Europe and the United States. This might be the most important thing that comes out of this.

Reference has been made to having a living agreement. Reference has also been made to the evidence we received from the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, who used quite a few interesting metaphors. We have had the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, talk about his phrase about great trade agreements being a snapshot and what we really wanted was not just a snapshot—a picture taken at a moment in time—but a movie that is going on over a longer period of time. I have no great difficulty with the noble Lord’s reference to brownfield and greenfield. When he was referring to the difficulty of getting regulatory convergence in some areas where there were existing regulators, he likened that to a brownfield site, which is much more difficult to work with. It is much easier to work with greenfield sites—sites where there are no existing regulatory arrangements. The noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, at one point referred to moving into virgin areas where a more comprehensive set of proposals could be made. I am sure that will be necessary. I suspect, too, that the process that Professor Baldwin described about the way in which competitive advantage has been denationalised, in which firms are transferring know-how across borders into third-world or developing countries is a good thing and one which needs to be encouraged.

If we can get TTIP with all the bells and whistles, good; if we cannot, it is important we should not give up and say “Oh dear, opportunity lost”. We should ensure there is an effective dialogue put in place which can then be built on over time.

Ukraine

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Tuesday 25th March 2014

(10 years, 2 months ago)

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Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to support the Government of Ukraine.

Baroness Warsi Portrait The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi) (Con)
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My Lords, our focus is on a strong, independent and successful Ukraine that is free to make its own choices about its future. The Government have announced a £10 million package of technical assistance for Ukraine. We are continuing work on an IMF package and we have asked the European Parliament to confirm the removal of customs duties on Ukrainian exports. On Friday, the EU took a landmark step towards closer relations with Ukraine with the signing of the political chapters of an association agreement.

Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble (Con)
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I thank the Minister for that response. Presidential elections are to be held on 25 May and it is only to be expected that Putin will try to disrupt or degrade them in some way. In any event, a default by Kiev before the elections would be disastrous. Can we and our allies ensure that Ukraine will get the very substantial financial support it needs between now and those elections? I notice, incidentally, that the EU is talking about a package to be delivered over the next three years; that would be far too late. It would also be disastrous if the money being provided was stolen. I wonder what immediate practical help we could give so that corruption can be dealt with.

Baroness Warsi Portrait Baroness Warsi
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The international community recognises the concerns that my noble friend has referred to. It is important that money should flow into Ukraine to give it the stability it so needs, which will ensure among other things that the elections can take place in a stable environment. However, when we offer financial assistance, whether that be through the IMF, an EU assistance package or, indeed, bilaterally, it is important to ensure that it is for a specific purpose and that conditionality is properly looked at. There have been too many concerns about corruption in the past and it is for that reason that one of the areas we are working on with the Ukrainian Government is the issue of recovering assets which previous Governments have frittered away.

EU: Free Trade Agreements

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Monday 13th January 2014

(10 years, 5 months ago)

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Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress is being made in European Union free trade agreements.

Lord Livingston of Parkhead Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Livingston of Parkhead) (Con)
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The EU is currently negotiating 12 free trade agreements, including those with major trading partners such as the United States and Japan. The EU has also reached conclusion on 10 more agreements that have yet to enter force, adding to the 50 that have already been agreed and are now active. These negotiations are complicated endeavours, but I believe that the EU has made good progress. The Government will continue to be a champion for free trade and of the benefits that it brings to this country.

Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble (Con)
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I thank the Minister for that Answer, which draws our attention to the huge number of free trade agreements that are in course. I would direct his attention to the EU-US free trade agreement. In that connection, has he seen the projections that were issued of the benefit there would be to both the EU and the US, which, interestingly, appears to be roughly evenly divided? Does he agree that the assumption of a virtually equal division of the benefits should be revisited in the light of the huge competitive advantage that the US now enjoys, thanks to its access to abundant supplies of cheap energy, whereas we are increasingly locked into expensive energy to the disadvantage of our businesses?

Lord Livingston of Parkhead Portrait Lord Livingston of Parkhead
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My noble friend is right to draw attention to TTIP, the US-EU agreement, which will indeed bring substantial benefits. I believe that the UK is expected to gain around £10 billion a year, which is about £400 for every family in the UK, the US is expected to gain about £80 billion and the EU about £100 billion, so there are very substantial gains. In addition, there will be very substantial gains for the rest of the world, which are believed to be in excess of £80 billion.

I take my noble friend’s point that energy presents some challenges. Certainly, we hope to see the US exporting energy, so that the benefits of shale to global energy prices would help all industry rather than just those in the US. In any event, we believe that helping to have openness and convergence of standards will assist all citizens, not just in the EU but in the US and around the world.

European Court of Human Rights: Khodorkovsky Case

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Tuesday 23rd July 2013

(10 years, 10 months ago)

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the governments of Russia and other European countries about the Khodorkovsky case at the European Court of Human Rights.

Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble
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My Lords, the question is, “Why Khodorkovsky?”. There are a number of reasons. First, he is a successful businessman. He turned around a high-cost loss-making company into profit and increased production so that by 2003 it produced 20% of Russia’s oil and was Russia’s second-largest taxpayer. The leading Russian business newspaper, a joint Financial Times/Wall Street Journal venture called Vedomosti, awarded Khodorkovsky its entrepreneur of the year prize. Secondly, he challenged Putin. In a televised confrontation with Putin he cited opinion polling showing, among other things, that half the public believed that corruption had spread to a majority of state officials—including at the highest levels—and that more than 70% thought the use of the official justice system a waste of time. He concluded, “Corruption is spreading in this country. You could say that it started right here. And now is the time to end it”.

Thirdly, many feel that Putin’s response—arresting Khodorkovsky in October 2003 and driving his company into bankruptcy—marked a turning point in the development of the regime. The journalist Andrei Kolesnikov, described by Ben Judah as “the only ever defector” from Putin’s inner circle of St Petersburg friends, recalled a conversation with Putin in 2005 when he said, “I don’t like that after you arrested Khodorkovsky, I lost the feeling that I lived in a free country. I have not started to feel fear—”. Putin then interrupted him and said, “And did you not think that this was what I was aiming for”?

Kolesnikov recalls that after Putin’s inauguration in 2000 he was approached by a senior member of Putin’s inner circle to manage some funds for him. The funds initially came as gifts from various oligarchs. Kolesnikov was told that Putin wanted part of this money put into offshore funds. By 2005, $200 million had accumulated in this fund. In that year he was told to build a small house by the Black Sea for Putin—just 1,000 square metres, costing just £14 million. The project ballooned. The house became four times the size and was joined by a casino, a church, swimming pools and helipads, a summer amphitheatre and a winter theatre. Until the 2008 financial crisis, Kolesnikov divided the special fund between the building project and investments in a host of other businesses across Russia. Then he was told that all the funds were to be spent on the Black Sea palace. Kolesnikov later broke with Putin and fled the country. Ben Judah, in his book Fragile Empire, comments:

“What the Kolesnikov documents seem to show us is that Putin never changes. Instead, as he has grown more powerful, he grew ever more corrupt … He cannot change—and as long as he is in power, neither can Russia. Nor can the incestuous relationship of power and corruption that spiralled out of control under Yeltsin ever end”.

In 2007, after four years in detention, Khodorkovsky, whose trial had concluded in 2005 with an eight-year sentence, would have been eligible for release on parole, but in February of that year, new charges were announced which led to another conviction in December 2010. In February 2004 Khodorkovsky made his first application to the European Court of Human Rights, which concerned the circumstances of his arrest and pre-trial detention. In May 2011 the court ruled that there had been breaches of the convention and awarded the modest claim for $10,000 in full.

In March 2006 a second application was made to the ECHR concerning the first trial. This was ruled admissible in 2011 and last week it became known that judgment would be given on 25 July. A third application to the ECHR remains pending as does a fourth. As to the substance of these cases, I think it is sufficient to note that the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, which had an observer at the second trial, concluded that the proceedings were unfair and had not produced clear proof of guilt. Many others agree.

Khodorkovsky will become eligible for parole in a year’s time but there are fears of a third trial. These fears are reinforced by current events. Sergei Magnitsky, a young lawyer who exposed a huge tax fraud in which many government officials were involved, was arrested and died in prison in 2009. Last month he was posthumously tried and convicted of tax offences. Bill Browder, a British citizen, was convicted in his absence in the same trial. How do the Government view that conviction? Last week Alexei Navalny was convicted of embezzlement in another sham trial. Navalny came to prominence as a blogger exposing official corruption. He coined the phrase, “United Russia is the party of crooks and thieves”, and was prominent in the demonstrations protesting the fraudulent elections in 2010 and 2012. Putin weathered those protests, which were mainly confined to the emerging Moscow middle class. This led Navalny’s wife, Julia, to say in despair, “Putin has decided to turn Russia into an authoritarian state like Belarus. He is pushing, a bit here, a bit there, to find out how far he can go. And there is only one thing that can stop him. A gigantic protest, or the West”.

Yet Putin’s current policy is based on a huge gamble. In 2007 he could balance the budget on an oil price of $40 a barrel. In 2012 he needed a price of $110 a barrel and he cannot compensate by increasing production. The technological changes pioneered by Khodorkovsky have run their course and oil production is predicted to decline by 20% in the coming decade, while shale and liquefied natural gas pose long-term problems for Russia’s gas.

What should we do? First, we should be careful about the messages we send. Sixty individuals have been identified as being involved in the tax fraud Magnitsky uncovered and in his torture and death. In the USA, legislation has been enacted banning them from entering the US. In April, Dominic Raab tabled a Written Question asking if any of those had visited the UK. Mark Harper replied in July saying that the Government,

“is already aware of the individuals on the list and has taken the necessary measures to prevent them being issued visas for travel to the UK”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/4/13; col. 499W.]

However, a few days later he wrote to Hansard with a different Answer, this time saying in a letter that “applications for travel ... are flagged up for careful consideration on a case by case basis, no decision has been made to refuse their leave outright”. The amended Answer went on to refer to the longstanding policy not to disclose details of records of individuals and to reiterate that applications were treated on their merits,

“in line with our usual practice”.—[Official Report, Commons, 9/7/13; col. 2MC.]

The best thing that I can say about this apparently craven response by the Home Office is that it may be driven by a fear that in the absence of legislation it could not defend the policy to deny entry, but I am sure that the Kremlin will regard this as a fear of offending it.

The same, I fear, is true of last week’s decision by the Home Secretary to refuse a request by Sir Robert Owen, the coroner conducting the inquest into Litvinenko’s death. The coroner had requested a public inquiry because he could not hear in public secret evidence that might show the involvement of the Russian state in Litvinenko’s murder. Theresa May’s letter to the coroner conceded that international relations were a factor in the decision, and went on to say that inquests were more readily explainable to foreigners than an inquiry established by the Government under a chairman appointed by the Government. I am sure that the reaction to that in the Kremlin can be imagined. On this issue, I must ask the Minister: does this letter indicate that the Government are intending to amend or even abandon the Inquiries Act 2005, with the Home Secretary saying in effect that she could not use that Act in this case for the reasons that she gave?

In conclusion, we should have no illusions about the regime, and neither avert our eyes nor appease. Russia’s legal system is an extension of the ruling party, and the party and the Government as a whole are deep in corruption and will stop at nothing to preserve their power. I hope that the European Court of Human Rights will indicate the fundamental rights and freedoms of the convention in the cases that come before it, but what do we say to such a member of the Council of Europe? We should firmly oppose human rights abuses and the distortion of democracy; we should remind the Russians of their obligations as a member of the Council of Europe; we should press for a European law on the Magnitsky case—I say European because the Russians are adept at trying to divide the European countries on these issues—that imposes visa bans and freezes assets; and we should address the corruption that pervades the Russian system and, at the very least, stop the laundering of the dirty money that flows from there to here. That at least would hurt them in their pockets.

Bangladesh: Riots

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Thursday 14th March 2013

(11 years, 3 months ago)

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Baroness Warsi Portrait Baroness Warsi
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My noble friend raises an important point. I am aware that there was a protest on 13 March, at which a number of minority communities originating from Bangladesh expressed their concern. We are currently investigating who is behind much of this violence and we have said clearly that we expect all parties to exercise restraint.

Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble
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My Lords, what do we do and what can we do to promote human and civil rights in Bangladesh generally? Looking forward to the elections, will there be fair opportunities for minority groups to participate?

Baroness Warsi Portrait Baroness Warsi
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There should be such opportunities, and that was certainly the basis of many discussions I held with Sheikh Hasina, the Foreign Minister and, indeed, the leader of the Opposition, Khaleda Zia. It is important that these elections are inclusive and free from violence. There is an ongoing debate in Bangladesh about the interplay between political parties and whether they should be secular or there should be a religious base to them. When I was in Bangladesh, I urged all parties that it is important to ensure that political parties are defeated through the ballot box rather than through violence.

Sudan and South Sudan: EUC Report

Lord Trimble Excerpts
Wednesday 17th October 2012

(11 years, 8 months ago)

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Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble
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My Lords, I very much welcome the fact that this debate is taking place comparatively soon since the publication of the report. After taking out the couple of months in the summer, it is a comparatively early debate. I also welcome the new Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, to her position. I believe we do not have the honour of being her first debate—I think that was last week—but we welcome her here very much indeed.

This follow-up report is very short, just one page. The background has been ably set out by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, so I am not going to go through it. The core concerns are set out in paragraphs 3 and 4. Paragraph 3 says:

“The Committee is particularly alarmed that South Sudan has cut off the flow of its own oil”,

and paragraph 4 says that,

“economic or social development in South Sudan will become profoundly difficult, if not impossible, with rapid and serious adverse effects on its economy and people”.

That, of course, is absolutely right.

In many respects, South Sudan’s actions in cutting off the oil struck us as almost suicidal. However, looked at from another point of view, the South Sudanese were in a situation where they believed Khartoum was deliberately using the pipeline as a lever and was misappropriating some of the oil and consequently the proceeds of it. They felt that they could not allow themselves to be held to ransom by Khartoum. If they had said, “The effect of this on us would be horrendous”, they would effectively have put an ace into Khartoum’s hands. Therefore, while the action had all the implications stated in our report, the South Sudanese had to show Khartoum that if need be they could do without the oil, and that eventually this would start to hurt Khartoum and perhaps bring it back to a more reasonable position. Perhaps that happened; I do not know. My comments are speculative. I am aware that there was pressure from others. Perhaps they—and even the Chinese, who had a very clear interest in getting oil out of Sudan and South Sudan—had an effect.

When we think of the impact on South Sudan, we should bear in mind that its level of development is already comparatively low. None the less, it is a rich agricultural area where people exist largely by subsistence. However, the people have narrow margins to deal with and they have problems with intertribal disputes, as occurred last year. Of course, the flood of refugees into South Sudan was something that they could not cope with. We are looking at this from a development point of view; they are looking from the other end of the pipeline, where things appear rather different.

Since we produced the report, there has been a new agreement. On 27 September 2012 the co-operation agreement between the Republic of Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan was signed and countersigned on every page with the initials of the persons involved. Obviously one welcomes it; a new agreement is a good thing. However, one also asks the question: will the agreement be any better than the other agreements in resolving the outstanding problems?

It is important to step back from day-to-day matters and remember some of the basic facts about, first, the nature of Sudan and of the Sudanese Government. Sudan exists within colonial boundaries, and if ever there was a set of completely inappropriate boundaries, this is it. It unites sub-Saharan Africa with the north of the Sahara in terms of the peoples it covers. The ethnic and economic differences are enormous. In a sense, splitting the country is a sensible thing; one could say that it should never have been one unit in the first place. I will come back to this in a moment.

The second thing to bear in mind is the nature of the Khartoum Government. I will not go into detail, but refer noble Lords to comments I made in the 7 December debate on our first report. We are dealing essentially with an Islamist Government. We should remember that this is where bin Laden first moved when the Saudis drove him out of Saudi Arabia. The President of this Government was indicted as a war criminal. The regime has been responsible for enormous atrocities within its current boundaries and also in the area of South Sudan. My impression is that the regime is hunkering down under pressure and doing things reluctantly when it is forced to, and that if ever it gets a chance to get out from under that pressure and try to reclaim part of the authority that it had, or to destabilise others, it will not be able to resist the temptation.

When we consider these two factors we see that in this situation normal diplomacy will not work. The African Union is—perhaps “incapable” is too strong a word, but it is intrinsically unlikely to be effective. It is heavily inhibited by anything that changes the colonial boundaries, because of the implications that would have through country after country south of the Sahara. Furthermore, it is extremely reluctant to pass judgments on the character of Governments. Too many other African countries have skeletons in their own cupboards. Therefore, the African Union will not be effective in dealing with the character of the regime.

The only thing that will work is pressure. The only thing that produced the comprehensive peace agreement was pressure, and by pressure, I do not mean normal diplomatic pressure, I mean really strong pressure, exerted primarily by the US Government, which left Khartoum at one stage fearing that it was facing an existential threat. I am not saying that we should be trying to persuade the current US Administration to do that. I do not think we would have any chance if we tried and, of course, we must not make any assumptions about what might happen in future. As the interim report says, we end up saying that the international community should be doing what it can to bring about the resolution of the outstanding issues, and while, for the sake of politeness, we have to name check the African Union, the European Union and others, we ought to bear in mind that at the heart of the matter the people who are going to bring effective pressure to bear are those with the ability to do so, which, I am afraid, puts the ball back in someone else’s court.

Syria

Lord Trimble Excerpts
Tuesday 3rd July 2012

(11 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Howell of Guildford Portrait Lord Howell of Guildford
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I totally understand the noble Lord’s concern about an escalation and military intervention. With regard to the assessment that he has asked for repeatedly, I cannot, by the nature of the activities he is talking about, give him a precise assessment. We are talking about activities that are inevitably covert and not reported, where statistics are not gathered. As he knows from his enormous experience in the Middle East, rumour is fleet-footed and can rapidly escalate into all kinds of assertions about what is happening. We work very closely with Saudi Arabia and Qatar. We stick very closely to the EU embargo. That is our position and that is what we will continue to do.

Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble
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My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that the Turkish aircraft that was shot down recently was shot down by Russian equipment and that there may very well have been Russian personnel involved? Is it not the case that the Russians continue to supply equipment to the Assad regime that enables it to continue to oppress its people?

Lord Howell of Guildford Portrait Lord Howell of Guildford
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Regrettably, I can confirm that the Russians are continuing to supply attack helicopters and equipment to the Syrian regime, which of course is a regime of unparalleled violence that is using its equipment in the most evil and oppressive ways. I am afraid that I cannot give any confirmation as to what weapons actually shot down the Turkish fighter. The Syrians have offered to hold an inquiry with Turkey, but that is being resisted for the moment. It is a very serious matter and the Turks are arguing that it is an attack on NATO as a whole. I am afraid that the circumstances are all in dispute and I cannot confirm the first part of what my noble friend said.