Uk Relations With Russia

Mark made the following interventions in a Westminster Hall debate on Russia. He is answered by Greg Hands MP who tabled the debate:

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I had hoped to make a speech, but unfortunately I have another engagement. Whichever of the two approaches is taken, surely the single most important thing to remember is that we need to engage with Russia for trade purposes but also, given the issues of energy security and Islamic fundamentalist terrorism, it is better that we have strong engagement and that they are on our side rather than the other side on both those crucial issues for the decades ahead.

Mr. Hands: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. He has devoted considerable time to these issues. I read his very interesting article about UK-Russia relations last month. He is right to say that whatever one’s views about Russia and whether one likes the current Government or not, one must engage with Russia, because nothing will be gained by what is happening at the moment, which is a policy of complete non-engagement.

As I was saying, our Government take neither approach in terms of how they deal with Russia. They have simply allowed relations to ossify. There is almost no engagement whatever. I was about to contrast the approaches of our Prime Minister with the approaches made by Barack Obama and Angela Merkel, but in fact no approach has been made by our Prime Minister. Incredibly, to the best of anyone’s knowledge?this seems to be confirmed in parliamentary questions?our Prime Minister has never met Vladimir Putin since the right hon. Gentleman became Prime Minister two and a half years ago. The last time that we can be sure that the two men met was in 2006, at a meeting of the G8 Economic Ministers in St. Petersburg. We cannot be entirely sure on this, because 10 Downing street seems to have had a policy in recent times, under the current incumbent, of not answering parliamentary questions about visits or meetings.

Mr. Field: The logic of what my hon. Friend says is that we should be interfering with what BBC interviewers do, across the globe. That is not necessarily a positive route forward. Much as I understand some of my hon. Friend’s concerns, surely we should not underestimate the intelligence of people who read such interviews, and their ability to read between the lines. I wonder whether that is happening only in relation to Russia; presumably the BBC has sensitivities with other countries in its interviews with politicians or leading business folk. It is a slightly dangerous path if my hon. Friend is asking any Government effectively to interfere in the BBC’s operations abroad.

Mr. Hands: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, but I strongly disagree with him. Members of Parliament should watch carefully the overall direction that the BBC takes in its foreign coverage. It would obviously not be appropriate for us to interfere or intervene at a localised level, but we should all be concerned if the BBC is allowing the unmediated views of someone like Lavrov to be repeated at length.