Georgia — Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:46 pm on 11th December 2012.

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Photo of Lord Harries of Pentregarth Lord Harries of Pentregarth Crossbench 2:46 pm, 11th December 2012

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their assessment of the current political situation in Georgia.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, following broadly free and fair parliamentary elections on 1 October, Georgia is now negotiating a tricky period, with a difficult cohabitation between the Government and the President. It is incumbent on all sides to work together to consolidate Georgia's democratic progress. This message was delivered by my right honourable friend the Minister for Europe, David Lidington, on his recent visit to Georgia on 21 to 22 November.

Photo of Lord Harries of Pentregarth Lord Harries of Pentregarth Crossbench

I thank the Minister for his reply, but does he agree that there are very worrying signs coming from Georgia? More than 20 members of the previous Government have been arrested, including many high-ranking officials, former Cabinet Ministers, the deputy mayor of Tbilisi and the chief of the defence staff. It may be that some of those are guilty of misconduct, but will the Government join with other members of the European Union to make it quite clear to the new Prime Minister that the due process of law must be followed in every case and that there should be no hint of what has already been termed political retribution against former members of the Government?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, we are concerned about the number of political figures who have been arrested and we are following that situation very closely. The sentiments that the noble Lord suggested have been expressed by a number of foreign ambassadors and Foreign Ministers. There have been discussions with the Georgians in Brussels. Ivanishvili, the new Prime Minister, visited Brussels in the context of the NATO-Georgia council on 5 December. An active dialogue is therefore under way.

Photo of Lord Haworth Lord Haworth Labour

My Lords, Georgia is a sovereign, democratic and proud country, but is it not the case that recent events are staining its reputation for democratic development? Is not the Georgian Dream becoming the Georgian nightmare? Will the Minister comment on the cancellation of Prime Minister Ivanishvili's visit to Washington? Some reports say that while his party is busy arresting and harassing opposition parliamentarians that should remain the case. Would he be welcome in this country while this situation continues?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, it is a little too early to be quite as definite as the noble Lord has been. This is a new Government who have been in office for, in effect, less than two months, and the Georgian Dream coalition is extremely diverse. It is led by the richest man in Georgia, who has very little previous political experience. It is finding its way. Georgia is the most democratic among the former CIS states. It is not by any means a perfect democracy, but one has to recognise that the elections were seen as being broadly free and fair, and there was a democratic change of Government. We have to cling to that and bring all the pressure we can to make sure that the new Government fulfil their full democratic obligations.

Photo of The Bishop of Wakefield The Bishop of Wakefield Bishop

My Lords, perhaps I may move the focus to Russo-Georgian relations. Prime Minister Ivanishvili made most of his millions in Russia and it is reported that he either has been, or is about to be meeting President Putin. Will the Minister comment on the Government's informed understanding of how Russo-Georgian relations may alter or whether they will remain as they are?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, we would welcome an improvement in relations between Russia and Georgia. The new Government have indeed attempted to open a new dialogue with the Russians, but so far, as far as I am informed, the Russians have not responded very favourably. The problems of Abkhazia and South Ossetia remain; Russia still does not accept the territorial integrity of Georgia. There is a long way to go, but in the context of the multinational Geneva talks in which Britain also plays a part, we would very much like a more positive dialogue between Russia and Georgia to take place.

Noble Lords:

Order.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, there is plenty of time for both noble Lords. I think that we can hear from the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and then my noble friend.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Chair, EU Sub Committee F - Home Affairs, Health and Education

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dykes.

I should admit that I was in Georgia by chance the week before the parliamentary elections, and, perhaps to offset some of the comments this afternoon, I should say that the massive demonstrations that took place then after the revelation of terrible human rights abuses in Georgian prisons were impeccable. There was no violence on the part of protesters and there was no force used by the police. What we need to do, surely-

Noble Lords:

Question!

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Chair, EU Sub Committee F - Home Affairs, Health and Education

I said that what we need to do, surely, is support those people in Georgia who showed that degree of maturity in advance of the elections.

Noble Lords:

Question!

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I thank the noble Lord for those comments. The previous Government were not perfect. There is a very large prison population in Georgia and prison conditions were clearly awful. The current Government are not perfect either; media freedom is still very limited, but we have to do what we can to encourage a process of transition to full democracy, which is still under way.

Photo of Lord Dykes Lord Dykes Liberal Democrat

Is my noble friend confident that the October 2010 constitutional measures will ensure greater accountability and duty by the president to avoid the Putin-Medvedev interchangeability that is such a feature of Russian politics?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, one of the worrying concerns has been that the Government have published a proposed series of cuts in the budget that would sharply cut the budget for the presidential administration. We are doing everything that we can, as are a number of other foreign Governments, to encourage a constructive cohabitation between the president and the current Government until the presidential elections next year.