I am pleased to be taking part in this important debate, in which there have been many thoughtful contributions by Members drawing on their personal interest and knowledge of Russia. In particular, I would like to congratulate my hon. Friend Stephen Kinnock on his speech, which reflected his extensive experience and understanding from his time working with the British Council in St Petersburg from 2005 to 2008.
This debate takes place in the week that the inquest opened into the victims, including PC Palmer, of the Westminster terrorist atrocity. The inquest and the human stories we are hearing remind us all of the human cost of terrorist activity. They remind us, as the Minister said earlier, that we should be proud of the police and everyone who keeps us safe. On behalf of Labour, I want to reaffirm that the Labour party condemns any use of chemical weapons, just as the whole House does. Chemical weapons are illegal under international law. The Labour party condemns outright the reckless, murderous attack in Salisbury and Amesbury, as the whole House does.
It is important that we go where the evidence leads and do not engage in speculation, but I also want to make it crystal clear, to use the phrase of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon, that, on the basis of the Prime Minister’s statement and the briefings I have received, I am clear that responsibility lies with Russia and that it was authorised at a very high level. There is no conceivable justification for such an attack, and it is to be condemned utterly. We look forward, if it at all possible, to the perpetrators being brought to justice. The comments today by the Russian state are in no way helpful. We want to see real co-operation from the Russian state on this matter. We do support the actions of the Prime Minister, including the expulsions of diplomats, thus far.
Our thoughts are with the family of Dawn Sturgess, and with Charlie Rowley who is still recovering from his ordeal. We are obviously very sad at the death of Dawn and we send condolences to her partner and her family. We also send our best wishes to Sergei and Yulia Skripal for a full recovery. We are thankful for what appears to be a full recovery by Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey.
The use of military nerve agents on the streets of Britain is an outrage and beyond reckless. It is easy to imagine how even further death and suffering could have been caused, such was the recklessness of the disposal. As I have said earlier on this matter, we must on no account cease from saying that we cannot have the streets of Britain turned into a killing field for state actors. This is what Jeremy Corbyn told the House in response to the Prime Minister’s statement last week.
The investigation into the shocking events in Salisbury must reach its conclusions. We need to see all the evidence and a full account from the Russian authorities in the light of the emerging evidence. As I said, on the evidence thus far, the finger points at Russia. We need to let the investigatory authorities do their work, and we need to continue to seek a robust dialogue with Russia on all the issues and make a series of demands on them regarding disclosure. Members may think that it is naive to make such demands, but we need to follow the international rule of law and we need to follow international processes.
Government Members have gone out of their way to attack the leader of the Labour party. I understand that it is an attractive tactic for them, and it is a tactic as old as the Zinoviev letter, to question the patriotism of persons and politicians on the left. But the Leader of the Opposition has long spoken out—and repeatedly spoken out—on human rights abuses by Putin’s regime.
The notion that because someone is on the left in politics somehow their patriotism is impugned was belied by a speech by Harold Macmillan, a past Conservative Prime Minister, in the other place at the height of the miners’ strike. He referred to the members of the National Union of Mineworkers, at a time when many Government Members would have been accusing them of being the “enemy within”, as the best men in the world. They beat the Kaiser’s army and they beat Hitler’s army. They never gave in.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 457, c. 240.]
It is simply wrong to assume that people in the Labour movement, at any level, are not as patriotic as anybody else in this House. Perhaps Government Members will want to question that.