Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:59 pm on 30th April 2008.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Party Chair, Liberal Democrats 2:59 pm, 30th April 2008

And lost; I am a Millwall supporter. I am not suggesting that we make our winning British club teams even less British by importing more people from abroad, but players from Dynamo Kiev and elsewhere are very welcome, if they can be afforded to come and join us.

My third topical point is that as we all know, we have elections tomorrow, not just here in London but in the whole of Wales and England. One thing that has brought Ukraine to the attention of the British public has been the democratic process, which has been very exciting and dramatic. I want to give a little quiet encouragement. Of course things have been difficult, such as the constitutional arrangement, which has changed and developed since 1991. In a new and evolving independent democracy, that is what one would expect. We are not without our difficulties in our country when it comes to elections, as you well know from your part of the world and elsewhere, Mrs. Anderson. We do not do everything perfectly and we do not get it all right.

The good news, in a way, is that Ukraine, just like us, does not have a straight two-party system. There are blocs, and no party gets an overall majority, so there have to be negotiations. Sometimes they take a bit of time, but the United States does not solve such things immediately, as I recollect from a recent presidential election. I hope that people in Ukraine are not discouraged by that. Politics is sometimes difficult, but persistence pays off. I pay tribute to the persistence of the President, the Prime Minister, present and past Foreign Ministers and others who are determined to make a go of democracy and make Ukraine as credible as any other democracy in Europe. Mr. George paid tribute to the fact that the system has evolved quickly and become one that commands respect, having not originally met standards. We need to flag that up. None of us does democracy perfectly, and Ukraine has shown very well how to make progress.

I wish to make three substantive points. First, sometimes we in Britain—I am sure that this does not apply to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—forget how important a European country Ukraine is. Not only is it the second largest European country, it has a population of getting on for 50 million. It is almost in the big league with Germany, France, Italy, the United Kingdom and obviously Russia, which is both European and Asian. Although we sit off the western edge of the European land mass and Ukraine sits in the heart of the land mass at the other edge of Europe, we would do Ukraine and Europe no service if we neglected its potential and importance.

The hon. Member for West Suffolk mentioned Ukraine's huge agricultural importance. That is important not just for Ukraine but because of its ability to serve a continent in a day and age when we are all seeking to have food shipped from one end of the world to the other less frequently. It would be far better to ensure that we fed ourselves within each continent as far as possible, and grew our own food for our own people.

Secondly, Ukraine is strategically important to energy supplies not just for its own part of Europe but for Europe as a whole. We all understand that there are private sector interests, but public-led interests are also very much at play. We always want to say to Russia and Ukraine that there must be a negotiated agreement. That may be difficult—of course such things are difficult—but everybody's interests are served by the security of supply at a time when there are threats and risks to the energy industry and we are all trying to reduce our consumption.

Thirdly, Ukraine is hugely important because of its entrepreneurial spirit. The hon. Gentleman commended the fact that one driver of the ever-closer links between the UK and Ukraine is business interests. I have been hugely impressed whenever I have spoken to business people about their willingness to go and do business in Ukraine, and by Ukrainians' willingness to come and do business here, including in the brewing, sugar and construction industries. I hope that the building of football stadiums does not mean that the people in the construction industry, whom we need here to do things such as complete the Olympic site, will instead go off to build stadiums in Poland and Ukraine. I hope that we can have a division of labour.

I have two final things to say. First, I pay tribute to the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, which is an excellent organisation. In particular, it has recognised how important support for the deep development of institutional structures in Ukraine is. Members of the Rada are willing to work with Members of the UK Parliament to exchange experience and political learning. I hope that we can go further, and there have been conversations about the issue. There should be co-operation and dialogue between staff in our Parliaments, as well as between our civil servants and researchers. There should be dialogue between the UK's devolved Administrations and the autonomous region of Crimea, because they have a lot to learn from each other. There should be dialogue between our political parties, and I pledge on behalf of the Liberal Democrat party that we will be happy to continue pursuing such developments, not only around Kiev, but in the east, the north, the south and the west. We must also ensure that more women are involved in politics so that the country becomes a vibrant democracy.

I also pay tribute to the others who are building bridges. The British Council is really valuable in Ukraine, and the BBC now has a significant listenership for its Ukrainian language service. The bridges are becoming ever stronger, and the developments in Ukraine are extremely welcome and positive.

Of course, it is for the Ukraine Government to decide when and how they become more fully integrated into the European Union. However, my colleagues and I hope that it will not be long before Ukraine takes its full place as an independent country in a European Union of independent countries so that people recognise the phenomenal contribution that it has made, is making and will make not only to its part of Europe, but to Europe and the world as a whole.


Jeff Mowatt
Posted on 19 May 2008 12:58 pm (Report this annotation)

On the subject of Crimea which Simon mentions as one of two final points, there's a sustainable development project for the repatriated Tatar community of Crimea which is long outstanding due to corruption issues which hopefully, have now been resolved.

It proposes an investment of $40 million, outside the current scope of UK investment, in a full cost recovery approach in efforts to prevent inter-ethnic conflict which still presents a risk in this region.