Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:50 pm on 30th April 2008.

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Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Minister of State (Europe) 3:50 pm, 30th April 2008

Thank you, Mrs. Anderson, for presiding over our proceedings in this fascinating and informed discussion. Although I am tempted to call it a debate, in the traditional sense, it has been more of a conversation than a debate, but it has been the better for it. There is a wealth of experience in Westminster Hall today, including personal experience of visits to Ukraine and contact with Ukranian politicians and diplomats. I am at a slight disadvantage, being one of the few right hon. and hon. Members speaking today who has not yet had the opportunity to visit Ukraine, but I seek to remedy that in the near future.

I congratulate Mr. Spring on securing the debate and for the way in which he set its parameters, in the context of the impending visit by the President of Ukraine on 15 May, to which we in Her Majesty's Government and so many others are looking forward with a great sense of anticipation and expectation.

I put on the record Her Majesty's Government's great sadness about the dreadful civilian helicopter crash in the Black sea earlier this week. We offer our condolences to the families of those who lost their lives. There were a number of tragic fatalities. It is important that Her Majesty's Government and Opposition parties put that on the record today.

At the start of the debate, the hon. Gentleman mentioned the recognition of the remarkable improvement and evolution in the relationship between the United Kingdom and Ukraine, as did my hon. Friend Mr. Grogan and other hon. Members, including my right hon. Friend Mr. George, my hon. Friend Stephen Pound and the hon. Members for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) and for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois). It is a great cause for celebration in the UK and, I am sure, in Ukraine that these relationships continue to strengthen.

The hon. Member for West Suffolk mentioned that process, and his part in it, and spoke with great modesty about his role in improving the relationship between parliamentarians. We should all like to put on the record the remarkable work that he has done in strengthening bilateral relationships between the UK and Ukraine. He was kind enough to mention—as did a number of hon. Members on a cross-party basis—the excellent work done by that young man, my hon. Friend the Member for Selby.

There is an increasing understanding in the UK of the importance of, and the complexity of, Ukrainian society. The opportunity to increase understanding will be amplified with the excellent decision to co-host the European 2012 football championships. It is a remarkably opportune moment for Ukraine to highlight itself as a nation, a culture, an ally and a friend, and an excellent opportunity for inward investment and so much more. I do not want to pursue the footballing analogy much more than that, Mrs. Anderson. However, I had cause for celebration earlier in this season in respect of the underperformance and failure in Europe of a Ukrainan team, Shakhtar Donetsk, which was defeated by my team, Celtic. Hon. Members have paid tribute to the great skill of the current Chelsea player, Shevchenko, although my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North cannot really expect him to be a Fulham player next season.

I want to talk about the specific points raised. Remarkable practical assistance is being afforded by the UK Government to help Ukraine in its efforts to develop and integrate more closely with both the EU and NATO. Successive British Governments have supported Ukraine's development as it has faced many challenges, and it has, by any objective analysis, overcome remarkable obstacles since gaining independence in 1991. Our total assistance during this period has exceeded £100 million. Assistance has rightly evolved, as the country has changed, from supporting transition from the post-Soviet system to assisting its move towards EU standards. In January 2006 the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development rightly re-classified Ukraine as a middle income country.

It is a cause for some delight that, as a result of the progress that has been made, the Department for International Development closed its bilateral programme a few weeks ago, in March 2008. It is never a cause for celebration when programmes end, but the fact that we are moving away from DFID involvement to a more sustained economic relationship is emblematic of the way in which Ukraine continues to change. However, that does not mean—it should never be misconstrued as meaning—that the UK will no longer take a close interest in Ukraine's socio-economic development. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office will continue to support political and economic reform to Ukraine through its "Reuniting Europe" programme and bilateral funds worth more than £900,000 in 2008-09. We will also provide support through funding for multilateral organisations, including the European Union, the World Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Ukraine is a priority country for European Commission support. More than 17 per cent. of the Commission's aid to Ukraine is provided by the UK as part of our overall share of the EU budget. Again, that is a reminder of just how engaged the UK continues to be in supporting Ukraine.

I will not be able to answer every point in the time I have left, but if colleagues wish—the tenor of the debate suggests that they would—I will circulate a more detailed response on the issues that I cannot capture now.

There is an element of EU enlargement fatigue in other European capitals, but we in London do not share that fatigue, the Government do not share it and it is fair to say that it does not appear to be shared by any Opposition parties. I would argue, and the Government would, too, that it is in our strategic self-interest for Ukraine to be a full, equal member of the EU in time. We have not set a timetable—it would be wrong for us to do so, because this is a condition-based accession process—but we are clear that if, in time, Ukraine fulfils its criteria, it should be admitted into full membership of the EU. The European neighbourhood policy, which is important, should not be regarded as an alternative to eventual EU membership.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South and the hon. Members for East Dunbartonshire and for Rayleigh asked about the Ukraine and the NATO perspective. Let us be clear about what was declared at the NATO summit. No third country has or will have a veto over Ukraine's aspirations to be a member of NATO. NATO allies agree that Ukraine will become a member of NATO and that we must help it move towards that objective as soon as possible. NATO also reaffirmed the importance of the NATO-Ukraine relationship and will now begin a period of intensive engagement with Ukraine, at a political level, to address the outstanding questions on the membership action plan.

There is an important point to be made about public perception and opinion in Ukraine in respect of NATO. There is strong Government support for Ukraine's membership of NATO, but more has to be done to encourage wider public support among the population of Ukraine towards that ambition. The UK Government will play an important part, wherever we are invited to do so, in advising the Ukrainian Government on how to ensure that there is an educated, informed conversation in Ukraine about NATO membership.

The UK looks forward to President Yushchenko's visit and will continue to work closely with Ukraine to pursue our common goals and interests. Our two nations have a strong, enduring friendship that we believe can only be strengthened by continued dialogue. Ukraine is a strategic partner for the UK in the world and we are determined to see, and are committed to, an ever-closer working relationship and Ukraine's eventual membership of the EU and NATO.

I congratulate the hon. Member for West Suffolk once again on securing today's debate and for the way in which it has been conducted.


Jeff Mowatt
Posted on 19 May 2008 11:25 am (Report this annotation)

In addition to my comments above in reponse to Richard Spring's statement, especially those on the HIV epidemic in Ukraine, I would like to point out that in January 2005, we were told by DfID that additional project funding for Ukraine was unlikely. I enquired of the FCO on the same subject last month following the termination of DfID funding in Ukraine and received no reply at all.

I read here that the FCO aims to support socio-economic development and yet, having ourselves been active in this sphere within Ukraine for 5 years, one finds that enquiries are simply disregarded.