July 25, 2007
Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) on securing this important debate, not least because he has had the courage to say something a little unorthodox. It would be all too easy simply to go along with the Government’s line on Russia and although I agree partly with their line, my hon. Friend has made an important contribution. We also had important contributions from the hon. Members for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) and for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who knows much about these matters.
One of the great concerns in our debates about Russia is that there is perhaps a lack of understanding about the importance of respect, face and a sense of courtesy and consideration, and many Russian politicians feel that they have not had those things from the west for quite some time. The Soviet Union was one of two global superpowers until 1991, and as the hon. Member for Manchester, Central rightly said, there was a real sense of damaged pride in the years following its collapse and the emergence of the Russian Federation, first under Boris Yeltsin and, more recently, under Vladimir Putin.
I do not suggest for one moment that there is a direct equivalence between our extradition demands on the one hand and the various demands from the Russian side on the other, but it is easy to see that Russia feels that there is a lack of respect for its system, when compared with ours. As I said, I do not suggest that there is a direct equivalence, but the issue goes to the heart of some of the concerns that now face the Foreign Office. It is eight years since Vladimir Putin became the Russian President, and there have been high hopes of a good, strong relationship between our two countries, and between Russia and the European Union, and it is a great shame that things have soured so quickly, to the extent that bilateral relations have deteriorated.
I want to talk about two main things in my brief contribution. First, there are the economic issues. Obviously, my constituency contains the Cities of London and Westminster, which are important economic areas, but the benefit that they receive from Russian money and bilateral trade has been be upset, and could be further upset, by the difficulties between our two nations.
To go back to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin about the conduct of the Home Office and, indeed, the Foreign Office, in relation to individuals such as the late Mr. Litvinenko who come to this country, I several times expressed concern in the House to erstwhile Home and Foreign Secretaries about the procedure by which individuals have come into this country and put my constituents at risk?because it was in the west end of London that the appalling poisoning in question took place.
In many ways our trade and economic relations with the Russian Federation have been a great success story in recent years. British investment reached more than £2.5 billion in the first nine months of last year, which makes Britain the single largest investor among G7 countries. That figure is expected to be much higher this year, not least because of the thriving oil and gas sector alluded to by the hon. Member for Manchester, Central. I understand that that bilateral trade has trebled in the past five years, and Britain is the world’s third largest destination for Russian investments. That is, I think, reflected in the great number of Russian companies coming into the stock exchange and AIM, and the large number of Russian nationals coming to live here, many of whom have not fallen out with the Russian regime at all. It must be stressed that such problems are very much the minority.
As has been pointed out, Russia is the world’s largest gas producer and exporter, and is currently the second largest oil producer. There is little doubt that, given the difficulties that the Soviet Union and Russia faced in the past 20 years, that fact has been used to exert a certain amount of political muscle, which is a matter of concern to us all.
There are some very wealthy?and some less wealthy?Russian individuals working in London. We want to encourage that, and to encourage many of our nationals to have the experience of going to work in such an exciting country, on the trade side. I fear, however, that because of the current concern, and our problem over extradition arrangements, we will encounter difficulties in the years ahead. I have a fax that arrived this morning from Count Andrei Tolstoy-Miloslavsky, a constituent of mine. As a businessman he said:
“that together they are in the process of ruining a very successful business relationship that we in business have built up with great difficulty and hard work over the years between the Russian Federation and Great Britain.”
The decisions to be made are difficult and I do not suggest for a minute that economic or financial considerations should bypass all others; they certainly should not. However, I have several times expressed deep concern about extradition arrangements. There are, as my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin pointed out, 21 outstanding requests for extradition of people in the UK, many of whom are connected to the now bankrupt Yukos oil company.
I have a great concern in relation to the Litvinenko case; I asked the Home Office several times for full details?and it was appropriate, not least given the circumstances of his death, that we should have such full details?of the precise arrangements that were made for him to get a passport in double quick time. I worry that we are allowing individuals into this country, not just from the Russian Federation but from many other parts of the world?including, in particular, areas of the middle east, giving rise to long-term problems?who are effectively using Britain as a safe haven from which to agitate against other sovereign states. We rightly have a proud record in this country of giving asylum to political refugees. We are obliged to do so under various international conventions. However, we need to give serious consideration to what is going on.
I am not naïve about the possibility that in certain cases individuals who come to this country from the Russian Federation and elsewhere may assist our security services, and that that is a reason for fast-tracking their passport claims. However, ultimately, if individuals come to this country and agitate against another sovereign state?against President Putin, in the present case, but the point also applies to people from Pakistan or Saudi Arabia who make difficulty?it is likely to be my constituents, and those of other hon. Members, who will be put at risk if there are shootings in the street, or poisonings and the like. It is vital to ensure that people who come to this country to settle, or who seek political asylum or are given British passports, do so on the basis that they understand the importance of the rule of law in this country, and that they accept those standards. We should send the message loud and clear that those who do not want to abide by those rules, and want to use Britain as a safe haven for agitation, will not be accepted.
In my constituency it was often thought that somehow we were protecting ourselves against terrorist attack by allowing people who were effectively agitating against sovereign states to come from the Arab world to Londonistan, over in the Edgware road. That is a naïve thought, and that naiveté was shown up two years ago on 7 July 2005. I hope that the Minister will give the matter serious consideration. I should have liked to say more, but I appreciate that other hon. Members want to say something in the debate. It is an important one, and I look forward to the Minister’s reply.