§ 12 noon
§ Lord Finsberg rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their policy in respect of the admission of the Russian Federation to the Council of Europe.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am glad to have the opportunity of discussing in the House a dilemma. Europe will be incomplete without the membership of Russia and I certainly support the principle of Russian membership. The Council of Europe has two entities—the ministerial side and the parliamentary side, in respect of which I have had the honour of leading the United Kingdom delegation for some seven years.
§ The Council of Europe has guest membership. Very briefly, that is within the gift of the Parliamentary Assembly. It gives us the opportunity of bringing in countries which are starting on the road to democracy. We are able, as it were, to give them the seal of good housekeeping. For example, Poland, Hungary and others have progressed from guest membership to full membership by fulfilling various human rights and standards and having free multi-party parliamentary elections, etc. Russia has guest membership and has asked to become a full member. As is normal, Ministers have asked for the view of the Parliamentary Assembly and unless it assents, it is not possible for Russia to become a full member.
We have to examine the human rights legislation and practice as well as the rule of law. In October 1994 the Council of Europe sent four senior distinguished lawyers, including the vice-president of the European Court of Human Rights and one of the chamber
presidents of the European Commission of Human Rights. I shall read to your Lordships three brief conclusions. The first is:
The experts have come to the conclusion that so far the rule of law is not established in the Russian Federation".
The second conclusion states:
With regard to the right to property and the freedom of movement, including the right to choose the place of one's residence, large cities, in particular Moscow, seem simply to ignore the Constitution".
The third conclusion says:
In sum, the experts have, after careful consideration of the evidence submitted to them and the findings during their mission, come to the conclusion that the legal order of the Russian Federation does not, at the present moment, meet the Council of Europe standards as enshrined in the statute of the Council and developed by the organs of the European Convention on Human rights".
It is important that we recognise what has been said. I should add that those are not the views merely of the Council of Europe because the United Nations Commission on Human Rights has just published a new report. There is one quotation which I would like to give to your Lordships:
In the St. Petersburg remand centre … the Special Rapporteur found no problems falling within his mandate. … On the other hand, despite the fact that some of the overflow from [an] isolator [prison] in St. Petersburg had been placed in Lebedeva, Kresty remained with an inmate population double its capacity. This meant that cells designed in czarist times for one prisoner and now considered as appropriate to accommodate six prisoners, in fact usually accommodate 12 prisoners who have to sleep in two shifts. The atmosphere and conditions … are oppressive and degrading … However, the conditions of detention in Moscow's … remand centres … [are] even more disgusting. They are believed not to be unique in the territory of the Russian Federation.
The Special Rapporteur would need the poetic skills of a Dante or the artistic skills of a Bosch adequately to describe the infernal conditions he found in these cells. The senses of smell, touch, taste and sight are repulsively assailed. The conditions are cruel, inhuman and degrading; they are torturous. To the extent that suspects are confined there to facilitate the investigation by breaking their wills with a view to eliciting confessions and information, they can properly be described as being subjected to torture".
I am trying to get across that I have no doubt that many of the laws passed by the Russian Parliament are in place, are well-intentioned, but are being wholly ignored throughout the Russian Federation.
§ It is again fair to say that no one doubts the Russian will to conform. According to Russian officials, the problem is lack of resources, financial human and material. But the passing of laws without implementation is absolutely unacceptable. Thousands of prisoners who have not been tried and who are on remand, but treated as prisoners, may have been in centres for up to two years. One of the problems is that the defence lawyers are not being paid: the state has no money to pay them.
§ Those are the brief facts and here is the dilemma. There is pressure from governments in Europe for early, speedy Russian membership of the Council of Europe. The standards of the Council of Europe, as your Lordships will know, have gradually evolved over a period of 45 years. It was quite recently at the summit of the heads of state and governments in Vienna, when Her Majesty's Government were represented by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, that warm 1489 tribute was paid to what had been done and it was pledged that those standards would be not merely maintained but would even be increased.
§ It is clear from what I have said that no rational human being can say that Russia is ready yet to become a full member of the Council of Europe. On the one hand—and this is our problem—do we refuse to admit Russia to the Council of Europe until she has reached standards that are acceptable in these modern days and acceptable to the Council of Europe? If we say, "You must wait until you have reached the appropriate standards" there are some in Russia who would use an expletive and who would want to distance themselves from the Council of Europe and from Europe in general. I do not merely refer to Mr. Zhirinovsky.
§ Perhaps I may very briefly tell your Lordships of an encounter which I had with Mr. Zhirinovsky when he paid his one visit to Strasbourg. We had a very pleasant conversation which is so often possible on a one-to-one basis. An interpreter was present. But the moment there was an audience he started ranting. The following night he went to a reception and his blue cap was stolen. He said that he would never return to Strasbourg because "It is a den of thieves". That was my one encounter with Mr. Zhirinovsky.
§ On the other hand, do we refuse, as I have said, to admit them or do we admit them knowing that their standards are unacceptable, but set a timetable for improvement and monitoring of what they are doing to fulfil their commitments? That is something which we have done for Romania and Bulgaria. There are very strict monitoring ideas, but they do not always produce the results that we would want.
§ If we adopt the latter idea of admitting Russia, monitoring it and helping it—and we have done an enormous amount so far—to achieve the standards, can we be certain that those standards will be set throughout the federation or will there be, as we have seen, big cities which opt out? If Russia does not conform and does not keep to the timetable, will any government or the Parliamentary Assembly have the courage to suspend or expel Russia from membership?
§ That is the appalling dilemma that those in your Lordships' House and in the other place have, as the United Kingdom delegation, to consider in the not too distant future. I hope that I shall have a helpful comment from the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, when she responds. Of course, the situation is the responsibility of the Parliamentary Assembly. But because it is such a major matter, their views as to which course of action is preferable are important. Whether those views are accepted by the Parliamentary Assembly is a different matter, because aside from what I have said, the entry of the Russian Federation into the Council of Europe will distort the whole concept, balance and structure of the Council of Europe. It will require substantial influx of additional finance. Again I ask my noble friend to say that, unlike previous occasions, when new members have been admitted at the request of governments, the increased costs will be covered by increased budgetary resources. That has not been done by governments of all parties throughout Europe. It is important in the concept of Russian membership because they need much more 1490 help, which we are willing to give them, in the training of parliamentary democracy, local government democracy and the rule of law.
§ I hope that I have not taken too much of your Lordships' time in seeking to explain one of the most intractable problems that I have ever had to discuss.
§ 12.12 p.m.
§ Lord Kirkhill
My Lords, the House should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Finsberg, for placing the Question before your Lordships this afternoon. At the outset, I substantially agree with the outline of his remarks. I might not fully accept the ultimate pessimism contained in his latter few comments, but I suppose that that is more a question of emphasis than of fact.
I believe that the Question which the noble Lord has posed can be divided into two questions. The first is a political one. The noble Lord has elaborated very fairly on the political realities which face the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe at this time. It might be worthwhile recalling that President Gorbachev, as he then was, visited the Council of Europe about four years ago. There he delivered his speech which has since become quite famous and has been referred to frequently as the Common European Home Theme speech. He chose to deliver that speech to the Council of Europe and not to the European Parliament—he had also received an invitation from that body at about the same time. So it is quite clear that even several years ago the Russian thinking was that their first step into Europe —into some European confederation or grouping—would be within the Council of Europe.
As the noble Lord, Lord Finsberg, pointed out fairly, it is reasonable to say that upon entry—if that occurs—it will be the first major world power within the Council of Europe. That, of course, will distort the present balance of influence within the Council of Europe. That is a challenge which the Parliamentary Assembly, and indeed the Committee of Ministers, must ultimately face if Russian membership becomes a reality.
The other political point to which I shall refer is that if Russia does not in the end accede to the Council of Europe, it poses these questions: Where does Russia go'? What link will she seek to develop? She is, after all, both a European and an Asian federation. I think that one can argue that she might begin to look for more Asian type links. Then the question has to be posed: Is that relevant to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and relevant to each constituent government member of that Committee of Ministers? Those are the geopolitical difficulties and, as I said, the noble Lord has fairly set them before your Lordships' House.
The next question which possible accession by Russia poses is the legal situation. I am currently chairman of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. It falls to my committee, in conjunction with the Political Affairs Committee and with the committee on relations with European non-member countries, to make the initial assessment of the possibility of Russian entry. Again, as the noble Lord pointed out, those three committees commissioned a panel of legal experts to 1491 visit, for a fairly prolonged period, the Russian Federation. It was led by Professor Bernhardt, and included in the panel were Professors Trechsel and Ermacora and Mr. Albert Weitzel. The remit placed before that group of eminent jurists was to report on the conformity of the legal order of the Russian Federation with Council of Europe standards. That was what it was asked to do.
The noble Lord pointed out the ultimate conclusion of its comprehensive findings. However, Mr. Trechsel makes one point in his report—gathered together in the final report, I may add—which I believe is worth reading out to your Lordships. The report states:A central question we have to address relates to the rule of law. This aspect is discussed in several sections of this report, especially in Mr. Trechsel's findings for the field of the administration of justice. While the Constitution"—that is, the Russian constitution—guarantees a comprehensive set of fundamental rights and establishes that international conventions are part of the Russian legal order and prevail over ordinary laws, this seems to be more theory than practice. In many important fields—civil law and civil procedural law, criminal law and criminal procedural law in particular—the essential legal codifications have not yet been reformed as planned and the work might still take a considerable amount of time. The traditional authoritarian thinking still seems to be dominant in the field of public administration. This might be due to the fact that certain personal components are still the same as in the former USSR. The courts can now be considered structurally independent from the executive, but the concept that it should in the first place be for the judiciary to protect the individuals has not yet become a reality in Russia".It is against that background contained in the conclusions of the eminent jurists' report to the committees of the Parliamentary Assembly concerned that I have to refer to a number of pertinent issues. The committee of experts states that the rights of national minorities, freedom of religious assembly and of ordinary style assembly, freedom of speech and freedom of the press, seem largely to be sustained in the Russian Federation at this time. They are not, therefore, ultimately critical of those basic freedoms and we must emphasise that point.
The administration of justice, the deplorable conditions within the prison system and the fact that, while in theory the rule of law has been altered by the constitution, in practice it is rather going on as it did before lead to a number of clear difficulties, to which I have just referred. Nevertheless, some representatives of the Russian authorities hold that the report of the eminent lawyers disregards the dynamics of the evolving situation in Russia. For example, the visit of the lawyers took place more than six months ago. Of course, some things have changed since then. The Russian view is that it is not the task of the lawyers to judge in what timeframe the most important legal and human rights issues can be brought into conformity with the standards of the Council of Europe.
For those reasons, the legal committee has decided to ask this of the Bureau of the Assembly—and I explain it to give noble Lords a little of the background. The Russian process of accession is developing its own momentum in procedural terms. We, or the legal committee, asked the Bureau of the Assembly to 1492 mandate the lawyers—the committee of experts to whom we referred—to return to Russia as soon as possible. My committee wishes to see the position for itself, so we shall visit Russia at the beginning of April.
After we have received the new report from the eminent lawyers, and after we have received and analysed the final answers to a questionnaire which our rapporteurs have developed and sent to the Russian authorities, and after we ourselves have surveyed the situation on the ground, in so far as we can, we will then decide as to what recommendation we might make to the rest of our parliamentary colleagues. But in any case—and this is very important and worth emphasising—Russia will have to commit itself in writing to making all the necessary improvements which we desire, which we ask of them and which the Assembly will demand. The legal committee, together with the political affairs committee, will continue to monitor the honouring of the commitments after the Russian accession. Each commitment has to be seen to be honoured. As a sign of goodwill, Russia must be seen to be making significant improvements—and I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Finsberg, emphasised this point earlier—particularly with regard to the appalling conditions within the prison system. They are so abhorrent as to be almost beyond reasonable description.
In my view, therefore, the development of the process of Russia's accession to the Council of Europe is now largely dependent on the attitude and actions of the Russian authorities themselves. If they ameliorate the legal and human rights situation and show some good will in co-operation with the Council of Europe, they will undoubtedly accede sooner rather than later. At any rate, in my view that is the likely outcome of the deliberations of the members of the Parliamentary Assembly when the issue comes before them for their ultimate consideration.
§ 12.23 p.m.
§ Baroness Hooper
My Lords, it is now five years since the Iron Curtain was pulled down. Many of us have looked with amazement and admiration at those countries of central and eastern Europe which have succeeded in bringing about a stable, pluralistic democracy and in transforming their economies from a centralised communist system to a decentralised, more capitalist system. However, in that consideration, there has always been a question mark over the Russian republic, in part because of its size, in part because of its significant history, particularly during the cold war period, and in part because of the underlying wealth of that country in terms of both human resources and other vital commodities. It is also because the Russian republic started its reforming process rather later than some other countries.
In that context we do well to remember the words of Bismarck much earlier this century when he said:It is a great mistake to underestimate Russia's strengths or Russia's weaknesses".I therefore consider this an opportune moment for my noble friend Lord Finsberg to pose the question to the Government. Like him and the noble Lord, Lord 1493 Kirkhill, I should declare an interest as a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe which will be required to vote on the matter early next year.
It is a remarkable privilege to be a member of that Parliamentary Assembly because we are able to meet and mix not only with representatives of the parliaments of those countries which are already members of the Council of Europe, but also, as my noble friend mentioned, with the parliamentary representatives of those countries which have applicant status.
In expressing my view that we would do well to make haste slowly in the case of Russia, I nevertheless recognise the importance of continuing to develop close contact both at national and international level. I recognise also the need to encourage and support both the government and the people of the Russian republic in achieving the necessary preliminary requirements for membership of the Council of Europe.
My reasons for urging caution include the difficulties so well outlined by my noble friend Lord Finsberg and the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill. They are human rights, freedom of speech and the need for transparency in its institutions and workings. Currently, we are all only too well aware of the agitation, to put it at its mildest, which is taking place over the situation in Chechnya. We have to look closely at the action being taken there because we must ensure that the standards of admission to membership of the Council of Europe are strictly observed. There are a number of consequences of membership. There is the inevitable pressure for Russia to apply for membership of the Western European Union and all that that implies once it becomes a member of the Council of Europe. There is also the inevitable pressure for Russia to join the European Union.
We all recognise that membership of the Council of Europe is widely regarded as a stepping stone to the deeper membership of the European Union. It is on the grounds of a pluralistic democracy and a human rights situation accepted by the Council of Europe that some of the new applicant countries for membership of the European Union base their readiness. I note with interest that recently there has been a joint delegation from the Russian Duma and the federal council to meet members of the European Parliament and various commissioners in Brussels.
The other reason I emphasise caution is that whatever we do in the case of Russia must create a precedent. If we go too quickly, what then do we do about other, smaller countries which may wish to have the benefits of membership of the Council of Europe? In the waiting room are Latvia, Albania, Ukraine, Croatia, Belarus and Moldova. We are not simply talking about the Russian republic in this situation. I hope very much that my noble friend the Minister can reassure us that Her Majesty's Government will be their usual pragmatic self and will exercise a restraining influence on those who wish to go too far too fast.
§ 12.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Finsberg, for providing the opportunity for this House to discuss this important 1494 matter. I speak from my experience since 1981 as a UK representative of local and regional authorities within the Council of Europe, on the former standing committee, and now as a member of the congress.
I speak in particular to support the noble Lord, Lord Finsberg, on the point he made about the need for resources to ensure that legislation is implemented with the maximum available support in terms of experience, knowledge and training from countries that have longer experience in dealing with legislation which meets both democratic and human rights standards within Council of Europe member states.
There is a concern that, were the programme to be extended to the Russian Federation, work that is being done in countries such as those that were referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, would be withdrawn and reduced, and it is work that is desperately needed. It is extremely important that the value that is attached to the principles that are enshrined within the Council of Europe—namely, democratic freedom and human rights—are not diluted, and that countries should not he admitted with undue haste without resources being made available to ensure that the legislation that is acceptable is being enacted in reality and is affecting the democracy and human rights of every individual citizen within those countries.
It is certainly the case—the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, was right when she referred to the fact—that there are other countries waiting and watching. I speak from the point of view of a particularly close relationship with one of those countries, Albania, where similar legislation is being enacted but where help and assistance are still needed to be able to implement that legislation fully; where the culture and traditions are so in conflict, and the experience of those who seek to enact the legislation is so far removed from the intention of that legislation that help is needed. I seek from the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, an assurance that Her Majesty's Government will extend the human resources, the expertise and training facilities.
My colleagues who have spoken have visited many of these countries. They have spoken of the desperate need to provide an extension to the extremely valuable LODE programme working for local democracy and the other projects dealing with human rights. It is vitally important that we do not allow an increase in membership to dilute the principles for which the Council of Europe was formed and must continue to stand.
§ 12.34 p.m.
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, I believe I am right in saying that the noble Baroness who speaks for the Government and I are at something of a disadvantage in this debate since we are the only speakers who do not have a direct involvement in the work of the Council of Europe. All the other speakers are either British representatives or members of its committees.
I listened with great interest to what was said about the problem, and in particular to the remarks of my noble friend Lord Kirkhill, who speaks with the special authority of chairman of the Legal Committee in the Council of Europe.
1495 Clearly, there are still a number of justifiable concerns about the human rights position in the Russian Federation. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Finsberg, and others about Russian prison conditions. Just to add another anecdote to what has already been said, I read recently stories of inmates being forced to work as long as 16 hours a day, doing work of an extremely disagreeable kind: they are forced to take a crouching position for many, many hours, and have to work with coarse thread, which leads to the deterioration of their eyesight; they have continually swollen feet and their hands are ripped up by that thread. We have also heard disturbing stories about police methods in Russia, particularly in the conduct of arrests and the obtaining of confessions. There are still restrictions on freedom of movement: for example, it is still necessary to have a permit to live in some of the great cities of Russia, including Moscow and St. Petersburg. All this and more indicate that old habits die hard.
However, while noting that nothing in the UK can be anything like as bad as prison conditions in Russia, Britain, too, still has a long way to go in terms of some of its own prison regimes. There are people who are still locked up for 23 out of 24 hours a day. Slopping out is still common in many of our gaols. Indeed, there are still things here that need doing in respect of some of the methods that are used by the police in obtaining convictions.
Moreover, there are a number of the existing members of the Council of Europe with far from perfect human rights records. I am sure that other Members of this House will agree. Turkey, of course, comes to mind.
A second, and perhaps even more important, concern was raised by my noble friend Lord Kirkhill about potential Russian membership of the Council of Europe; namely, respect for the rule of law. Concern centres on the question as to whether Russia is a state that is now properly based on the rule of law. The new constitution guarantees all kinds of rights, but it is a matter of implementation. As my noble friend asked, is the concept, for example, that the judiciary should be there to protect the individual now a reality in Russia? We have to ask questions about whether that is the case. It is apparent that the Russian Government need to take these matters very seriously and to try to speed up the implementation of reform in both these areas if they wish to gain the membership that they seek.
The noble Lord, Lord Finsberg, put the dilemma very clearly. I am indeed very grateful to him for posing this dilemma. There are very difficult political decisions involved. It would be very helpful to hear the Government's present thinking about the dilemma.
I note, however, that the new Secretary-General of the Council of Europe has indicated quite recently that he expects Russia to be admitted by next summer, and possibly as early as May. Clearly, allowing Russia to join other European democratic nations has many advantages. Again, that was clearly put by the noble Lord who introduced this debate. The more Russia and other European countries of the former Soviet Union can be drawn into the fold along with the stable Western democracies of Europe, the better. But I wonder whether 1496 the Minister could tell the House clearly whether the Government are now in favour of Russian membership, assuming that the Russian Government accept that progress must be made in the area of both human rights and the implementation of the rule of law. Could she also say whether the Government share the views of the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe about the timetable for Russian entry?
As the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, mentioned, there are a number of other countries seeking membership. I have a slightly longer list even than the one which she gave. Could the Minister also give some indication of the Government's views about the impact of Russian admission to the Council of Europe on those other countries and on their applications for membership, particularly those countries which were formerly part of the Soviet Union—Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine—all of which wish to join the Council of Europe?
My noble friend Lady Farrington mentioned the wish of Albania to become a member of the Council of Europe and the need for resources to help such countries move toward proper democracy—I do not just mean aspirations in a written constitution, but their implementation. I should like very much to support her argument for greater resources.
There are a range of views on Russian membership among existing member countries of the Council of Europe and their representatives at Strasbourg. Some favour early accession, some favour accession at a later date and others are opposed to accession. Presumably, the British Government are a little more pragmatic than those who oppose accession per se. I certainly think that the noble Lord, Lord Finsberg, is more open-minded and pragmatic than to take that view.
My noble friend Lord Kirkhill raised the question of the impact of Russian membership on the balance of power and influence in the Council of Europe. The Minister, speaking for the Government, may also like to comment on that. Could she also indicate whether discussions have taken place with other members of the European Union on this matter?
It is clear from the recent CSCE conference in Budapest that the Russian Government are concerned about the possible expansion of NATO eastwards to include east European countries. President Yeltsin attacked those plans as a threat to Russian security and argued that they were divisive with respect to the common objective to create greater European unity, especially between East and West. Could the Minister say whether the Government believe that Russian anxieties about being excluded from NATO should be taken into account in the decision about Russia's access to the Council of Europe? Could she perhaps say whether the Government believe that Russia's admission to membership of the Council of Europe will help allay any of the suspicions that Russia might have about being excluded from a more integrated Europe, particularly with regard to security arrangements? The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, raised similar questions about whether membership of the Council of Europe would lead to greater pressure from Russia for membership of other western European bodies.
1497 We must all hope that the huge steps that Russia has taken since 1989 towards democracy and becoming a successful democracy, where individual freedoms are both protected and respected, will continue. I myself visited Russia earlier this year and was impressed by the many changes that have taken place since I was last there, ranging from freedom of expression and independent newspapers to freedom of worship. But there are still worrying signs of the old authoritarianism, which is a matter for concern.
However, from this side of the House I hope that the setback to Russian accession to the Council of Europe, which was received when the eminent jurists and human rights experts published their report a few months ago, will be a temporary one. I also hope that with further progress in the next months—of course with proper monitoring both before and after membership—the Council of Europe Assembly and the Committee of Ministers will be able, in the not too distant future, to agree to Russia's accession and that Russia will play a full and positive role in the work of the Council of Europe.
§ 12.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Trumpington
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, is quite right. In a way, we are both outsiders today. I am sure that she will join me in thanking my noble friend Lord Finsberg for giving us the opportunity to debate this important issue.
The Council of Europe's work has never been more important. It plays a unique role in anchoring democracy, human rights and the rule of law throughout the new Europe. It is an organisation in which Her Majesty's Government play a full and active role. Perhaps I may also take this opportunity to express appreciation for the enormous contribution made to the work of the Council of Europe by the United Kingdom parliamentary delegation, and in particular its leader, my noble friend Lord Finsberg.
The Motion asks: what is the Government's policy on the admission of Russia to the Council of Europe? We wish to develop a close and co-operative relationship with Russia, both bilaterally and in multilateral forums. Russia can make a considerable contribution to global stability and security, particularly in Europe. Therefore, we want to see Russia play a full role in the international system. Indeed, without Russia that system could not work to its full potential. Underpinning democratic institutions in Russia is an important element in that process.
We have welcomed Russia's application to join the Council of Europe. Russia has made great progress in firmly establishing the principles of the rule of law, human rights and democracy, which the Council of Europe seeks to promote. Russia's membership would therefore help further to consolidate those principles. We wish to see Russia join as soon as possible once—I stress the word "once", in answer to my noble friend Lady Hooper—it has met the standards demanded by the organisation.
I cannot give the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, the answer to her question regarding the impact of Russia's membership on other countries in so far as that 1498 is still a hypothetical matter. Her question about Russia as a potential member of NATO is not in fact a question for today. I am sure that there will be other opportunities for the noble Baroness to raise that point. Our priority is for NATO to develop an open and wide-ranging dialogue and a substantive partnership with Russia.
My noble friend Lord Finsberg and the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, noted the recent Council of Europe report on the conformity of the legal order of the Russian Federation with Council of Europe standards, which highlighted, among other things, some serious shortcomings in pre-trial detention centres in Russia. The recent report by the special rapporteur to the United Nations Commission of Human Rights also drew attention to the very poor conditions in remand centres. The Russians recognise the serious nature of the problem. They want to take the necessary action to bring conditions in those institutions into line with acceptable standards. But that may take time, especially as resources are extremely limited.
My noble friend Lord Finsberg mentioned the recent report by jurists from the Court and Commission of Human Rights. That was mixed in its conclusions. For example, it rightly noted the considerable progress that had been achieved in the protection of human rights, but a number of criticisms were made. The overall conclusion was that the legal order and the rule of law did not meet present Council standards. There was some particularly trenchant criticism of Russian detention centres. Some commentators interpreted the report as a serious obstacle to Russian entry. The secretary-general of the Council stressed that it is an agenda for action which identifies those elements of Russian legislation and practice that must be brought into conformity with Council of Europe standards.
Dwelling on the Council of Europe standards, both my noble friend Lord Finsberg and the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, mentioned the maintenance of standards in the Council of Europe. Every member state in the Council must not only have functioning democratic institutions but must also accept the rule of law and the enjoyment by all people within its territory of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Those need to be met in practice as well as in theory. There is no question of Her Majesty's Government wishing standards to be lowered. Indeed, the Council would lose its credibility if it granted permission to states which had neither the intention nor the wherewithal to achieve those standards. But that must he balanced with the need to encourage the newly-emerging democracies of the east by welcoming them into our institutions.
Russia has made considerable progress in a short space of time. We believe that early membership is important for Russia and for its relations with other European states. But membership cannot be at any price. Certain standards must be met. Equally, we should not demand perfection before entry or ask more of Russia than of other recent applicants. There is a general appreciation that Russia is moving in the right direction and is responding to the suggestions for improvements. Nevertheless, it may well be that some matters could 1499 reasonably be left for resolution until after entry. Finding the right balance is the delicate task facing the rapporteurs from the Parliamentary Assembly.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Finsberg for giving me warning that he would be asking me what would happen if Russia failed to meet its obligations. This was also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill. Once a member of the Council of Europe, Russia will be judged just like any other member state. It will be expected to fulfil its obligations under the statute and the commitments it enters into when it joins. We shall have a clearer idea of what they will be when the rapporteurs produce their report. In relation to the sanctions available, the Assembly has its own procedures in place, of which my noble friend is well aware. The Committee of Ministers only last month adopted new procedures to tackle any possible slippage in standards. Those lay stress on dialogue and co-operation with the member state concerned. Beyond that, as my noble friend is aware, it is also open to the Committee of Ministers to take action under Article 8 of the statute which allows for the suspension of a state which is seriously in breach of its obligations. However, before then we would hope that the process of dialogue and co-operation would produce the required results.
My noble friend Lord Finsberg and the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, introduced the question of resources for the Council of Europe activities. The budget ceiling for 1995 has been set at a 2 per cent. rise over 1994. However, the Secretariat will have access to an additional 35 million French francs' worth of credits for 1995. That represents another 4.65 per cent. over the 1994 figures. I do not think the organisation can expect more at such a difficult time in Europe. Our own contributions, based on new scales, may rise by as much as 5.4 per cent. in 1995, amounting to around £15 million for the ordinary budget alone, with a further £2 million for the pensions and buildings budgets. I hope that those seeking yet further budgetary increases will study those figures with care.
My noble friend Lord Finsberg asked whether additional funds will be forthcoming when Russia joins. The best answer I can give is that officials are assessing what is likely to be needed. We shall need to see the results of that assessment before taking a decision.
I am appreciative of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, but what she said is a little wide of today's debate. It behoves all member countries to look at how they can best assist the countries she mentioned. Her Majesty's Government already provide "good government" assistance to many countries. However, I shall draw her remarks to the attention of my noble friend the Minister for Overseas Development. Of course, the Government recognise that the decision on Russia's application will be taken by the Members of the Council of Europe Assembly, who quite rightly value their independence of judgment. But it is the Government's hope that Russia will join as soon as possible when the Assembly is satisfied that the membership criteria have been met. It is important that 1500 Russia and the Council of Europe continue to work together in a spirit of positive co-operation to achieve that goal.