My hon. Friend John Howell is the most assiduous of members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and I am delighted that he secured this debate. I am also very pleased, as the leader of the delegation, to have seen so many hon. Friends from that delegation here this morning.
I ask the Minister specifically to address the situation that currently faces the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. My hon. Friend the Member for Henley was absolutely right when he said that, following the annexation of Crimea, the Assembly suspended certain voting rights for the Russian Federation’s delegation. We must make it absolutely clear that the Russians were not expelled from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe; they chose to walk out. Having walked out, they have since singularly failed on any potential occasion to present their credentials.
Far from taking any remedial action in respect of Donbass, Crimea, Georgia or Moldova, the Russians have now threatened to withhold their payments to the Council of Europe to the tune of many millions of euros, which of course causes financial embarrassment. The United Kingdom delegation has made it plain that the Council of Europe is not for sale and its principles are not open to blackmail, but, unfortunately, money has become the driving force that has driven the outgoing secretary-general Thorbjørn Jagland and the current president of the Parliamentary Assembly, Liliane Maury Pasquier, to seek to negotiate with Russia, not over the Donbass region or Crimea or human rights, but over money. We now find ourselves in a position of grave danger. Diplomatically, the Russians expect that there will be an extraordinary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to seek to readmit Russia and to lean upon the rules committee of the Parliamentary Assembly to change the rules to make that possible. That would be an absolute outrage. It would make the future of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and its whole raison d’être very precarious indeed.
The Russians have made no move to release the sailors who were arrested on the warships that were boarded, no moves towards improvements in human rights, no movement towards withdrawal from Donbass and no movement towards a resolution of the situation in Crimea. That is entirely unacceptable.
It cannot be right that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, established after the war by Churchill, Jean Monnet and others to seek to bring an end to the twin threats of fascism and communism should be sold out by its current leadership in this way. The new president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, needs the support of the western world, not appeasement. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will send the message very clearly through the ambassador to the effect that the United Kingdom stands resolute and will remain resolute in its support of Ukraine.