16 July 2007 : Column 21
Alexander Litvinenko (Case Update)
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement on developments in the Litvinenko case. This is a situation that the Government have not sought and do not welcome. However, we have no choice but to address it.
The Government believe that Russia is a key international partner for the United Kingdom. We want to work with the Government of Russia and its people in tackling priority international issues such as climate change, Kosovo, Iran, the middle east peace process and Sudan. Russia plays a global role in the battles against terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, illegal migration, drugs and international crime. The cultural exchange between our two countries is extensive. Our bilateral trade relationship is large and growing, including considerable benefits for the City of London. British companies are making a major contribution to the Russian economy. For all those reasons we need a relationship based on trust and mutual respect.
On 28 May, the Russian authorities were presented with a formal request for the extradition to the UK of Andrey Lugovoy so that he might stand trial for the murder of Alexander Litvinenko in a British court. Let me remind the House of the relevant procedures. The Crown Prosecution Service is an independent prosecuting authority. Once the Metropolitan police have referred a case to the Crown Prosecution Service, it is then for the CPS to consider whether there is sufficient evidence to bring charges, and that it is in the public interest to do so. The CPS concluded that Mr. Lugovoy did indeed have a case to answer, and sought the assistance of the Home Office in requesting his extradition from Russia. On 6 July, the Russian deputy prosecutor general sent an official letter to the Home Secretary refusing to extradite Mr. Lugovoy. On 10 July, the Director of Public Prosecutions announced that, despite the Russian response, he continues to press for a trial of Mr. Lugovoy in England. Given the seriousness of the crime and our ambitions for our bilateral relationship with Russia, Russia’s reply to the CPS’s extradition request is extremely disappointing. It suggests that the Russian Government have failed to register either how seriously we treat this case or the seriousness of the issues involved, despite lobbying at the highest level and clear explanations of our need for a satisfactory response.
It is worth reiterating why this matters. The Metropolitan police have assembled a significant body of evidence against Andrey Lugovoy. I can confirm the following. It is alleged that this grave crime took place in London in November 2006 when Mr. Lugovoy poisoned Mr. Litvinenko by administering a lethal dose of polonium-210, a highly radioactive substance. It is part of the prosecution case that on the afternoon of 1 November, Mr. Litvinenko drank tea which he had poured, after an invitation from Mr. Lugovoy, from a teapot which was later found to be heavily contaminated with polonium-210. There is also evidence that shows a trail of polonium-210 on aircraft in which Mr. Lugovoy travelled to and from London.
On 23 November, Mr. Litvinenko died in a London hospital of an acute radiation injury. The facts are therefore that a UK citizen has suffered a horrifying and lingering death; his murder put hundreds of others, residents and visitors, at risk of radiation contamination; and the UK Government have a wider duty to ensure the safety of the large Russian community living in the UK.
The deputy prosecutor general’s letter says that the Russian constitution currently bars extradition. The Russian authorities have given no indication of a willingness to work with us to address this question. The situation is not unique. For example, other countries have recently amended their constitutions to give effect to the European arrest warrant. Indeed, Russia wants the EU and the UK to open their borders to free movement of people, goods and services as part of an intensification of relations. This needs to be matched by an equal Russian commitment to cross-border judicial co-operation.
Since Mr. Litvinenko’s death, the Government’s key priority has been to ensure the integrity of the legal process in order to secure justice for Mr. Litvinenko. The Director of Public Prosecutions made it clear that the allegations against Mr. Lugovoy refer to a crime against a British citizen in London. The appropriate venue for the trial is therefore London. Moreover, both the UN and the EU have reported their concern that the law in Russia is applied selectively. There would therefore be grounds for a legal challenge against the Government over any attempt to accept a trial in Russia.
Given the importance of this issue and Russia’s failure to co-operate to find a solution, we need an appropriate response. Our aims are clear: first, to advance our judicial process; secondly, to bring home to the Russian Government the consequences of their failure to co-operate; and thirdly, to emphasise our commitment to promoting the safety of British citizens and visitors. I have therefore agreed with colleagues across Government the following steps. First, we will expel four diplomats from the Russian embassy in London. Secondly, we shall review the extent of our co-operation with Russia on a range of issues; as an initial step, we have suspended visa facilitation negotiations with Russia and made other changes to visa practice. Thirdly, international agreements mean that Mr. Lugovoy could be extradited to the UK if he travelled abroad. Fourthly, we are grateful for the strong support that we have received from EU partners and close allies, including through the EU presidency statement on 1 June. We will discuss with partners the need for future EU-Russia engagement to take our concerns on this case into account.
The foundation of an effective international partnership is a set of shared values. The measures that I am announcing are intended to uphold key individual rights and vital principles of independent judicial process. On that basis, we will continue to work with the Government of Russia for mutual benefit. I will keep Parliament informed of developments as appropriate.
Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement, and I say at the outset that the Opposition support the tone and substance of the Government’s response to Russia’s refusal to extradite Andrey Lugovoy. As the Foreign Secretary said, the grounds for requesting Mr. Lugovoy’s extradition are clear: he is accused of murdering a British citizen, Alexander Litvinenko, here in London, by poisoning him with radioactive material in an horrific and calculating manner that caused incalculable suffering to the victim and grievous danger to the British public. Across British politics, we are united in regarding this matter with the utmost seriousness. In such circumstances, we have the right to expect co-operation from our international partners, and Russia’s failure to extradite Mr. Lugovoy in these exceptional circumstances will only damage its reputation in the world.
I should be grateful if the Secretary of State would clarify the following points. Both Russia and the UK are parties to the 1957 European convention on extradition, and signed a memorandum of understanding on co-operation in the legal field in February last year, which included an undertaking to
“co-operate in the sphere of extradition and in other issues of mutual legal assistance.”Can he explain what force those agreements have, if any, and have the Government referred to them in seeking Mr Lugovoy’s extradition?
The Foreign Secretary described the risk to Mr Lugovoy of facing extradition to the UK if he travels to third countries. Can he confirm that the Government will actively seek assurances from other countries that they will arrest Mr. Lugovoy if he enters their territory? In a recent interview President Putin stated that
“the request had no substance” —that is, the request for extradition — because Britain did not provide the materials documenting the grounds on which he should be extradited. What specific additional information did the Russian side request, which it claims not to have received? Additionally, what counter-proposals have the Russian Government put forward, and what view have the UK Government taken of those proposals? Are the Government considering any other options, such as a trial in a third country?
With regard to the expulsion of the four Russian diplomats, will the Foreign Secretary clarify the seniority of the diplomats in question, and whether Russia has indicated that it will take countermeasures? He also referred to changes to visa practice. Can he indicate what changes are envisaged? Does he agree that the issue must not be simply allowed to fade? In that respect, is it not vital that we seek the utmost support from our allies and friendly nations in reinforcing the message that Russia must abide by international rules if it is to receive the assistance and co-operation it hopes for on other issues?
We welcome the news that the Government have received strong support for their stance from European Union partners and close allies. Has the Secretary of State received any indications that that support will result in concrete measures being taken by our allies to reinforce our position, and what measures are the Government seeking from them?
In its approach to international co-operation, should Russia not be mindful of the fact that it has need of the friendship and support of Britain and the EU in its aspirations to join the World Trade Organisation, its pursuit of investment in Russian oil and gas fields and its desire to purchase foreign assets? In the long term, we — like the Government — hope to see Russia maintain its status as a key international partner for the UK and we hope for improved relations, as the Foreign Secretary said, so that we can work together on the pressing issues of nuclear proliferation, middle east peace, Kosovo and Iran. Is it not clear, however, that such improved relations are going to require a more positive and co-operative approach than we have seen from Moscow in recent weeks? However much we may hope for them, an appalling crime of this nature and gravity cannot simply be overlooked.
David Miliband: First of all, let me say that sometimes, across this Dispatch Box, spokesmen for different parties make commitments to work together in the national interest that are taken with a pinch of salt. However, on a previous occasion, the right hon. Gentleman said that he wanted to work with the Government on interests of national interest where there could be a bipartisan approach, and today he has demonstrated that he is a man of his word in that area. His support for the Government’s approach is very significant because it sends the signal that the measures we are announcing today have support across the political spectrum in the United Kingdom. I look forward to the response of the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore), who speaks for the Liberal Democrats. I hope that we can say at the end of our discussion about the statement that the measures have the support of the United Kingdom, not just the United Kingdom Government.
Let me go through the points raised by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). We perceived it as a positive step that the Russian Government wanted to sign the memorandum of understanding. However, that memorandum is an exchange of information about the extradition practices in different countries, not a legally binding instrument. I am disappointed that it does not transpire that the Russian desire to be party to it is reflected in the case that we are considering.
Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman asked about active assurances that had been sought from the Russian Government, especially in respect of the response from the deputy prosecutor general. He did not ask for more evidence, and I assure the right hon. Gentleman that substantial and sufficient information has been sent to the Russian authorities to make it clear that there is a case to answer. That is the responsibility of the Crown Prosecution Service.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned trial in a third country, which will doubtless be raised in the next few hours. The bar that the Russians use to justify failure to extradite to this country applies equally to another country. Either there is or there is not a constitutional bar.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the seniority of the diplomats who are being expelled. We have chosen to expel four particular diplomats in order to send a clear and proportionate signal to the Russian Government about the seriousness of the case. He also asked about visa practice and it may help if I explain the difference between the visa practice and the visa facilitation that I mentioned in the statement. Visa practice refers to officials from the Russian Government and visa facilitation refers to an attempt or desire on our part to speed up visa processes outside diplomatic circles. The latter cannot go ahead in the way in which we had hoped.
I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s support for the work of our international partners. I have obviously discussed the matter with G7 and EU partners, and we will take it further at the General Affairs Council next week.
The right hon. Gentleman rightly concluded that Russia and the United Kingdom have strong shared interests and that it is strongly in Russia’s interest to have a positive and co-operative relationship with the UK. That is our desire. Russia has every right to be a full and respected partner of the international community, but with that right goes responsibilities. Today is about asserting that those responsibilities as well as those rights should be exercised properly.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): May I also support the measured approach of the Foreign Secretary and the shadow Foreign Secretary? Given that the recent events follow harassment of our ambassador in Moscow and difficulties for the British Council in Russia, does the Foreign Secretary believe that there is a wider problem, which relates to not only Mr. Lugovoy but a growing difficulty with Russia accepting that it must abide by international norms of behaviour towards this country and other countries? In that context, I welcome my right hon. Friend’s remarks about European Union solidarity and remind him and the House that other EU countries, especially some of the smaller ones, have also experienced difficulties with Russia in recent weeks.
David Miliband: It is important that, in the discussion on the statement, I stick closely to the case in hand, which is that of Mr. Lugovoy and the integrity of our judicial process. However, my hon. Friend makes a good point about an issue that we could debate at greater length on another occasion: the way in which we, as part of the international community, help achieve a proper relationship between Russia and other countries, which has to be based on mutual respect. We are clear that Russia should have a respected place in the international community but that it must exercise the responsibilities that go with membership of that community. I look forward to discussing that with my hon. Friend and the Foreign Affairs Committee in due course.
Mr. Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD): I also welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement, but like everybody else I regret the circumstances that require him to make it. The murder of Alexander Litvinenko was a despicable crime, compounded by the perpetrator’s reckless disregard for the safety of countless others in this country and elsewhere. We agree that the lack of co-operation from the Russian authorities has forced the Government to act and we support the Foreign Secretary in all the measures that he has proposed.
May I draw the Foreign Secretary’s thoughts back to one of the points that the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee just made, about the harassment of British diplomats and employees of the British Council? Does he still have concerns about that wider difficult pattern of behaviour by the Russian authorities? On the broader issue of British and European links with Russia, does he agree that, now more than ever, Europe must work through a united approach, developing a constructive relationship where possible, but also seeking to restrain Russia when it proves difficult on issues such as Kosovo?
David Miliband: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support. It is significant that we should have cross-party consensus on the issue. I am also grateful to him for picking me up on not addressing properly the question that the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee asked about the harassment of diplomats and representatives of the British Council. Any such acts are extremely serious and completely contrary to the way in which civilised behaviour should be taken forward. That is obviously the case for diplomats, but it is also the case for the hard-working staff of the British Council, whether they be British citizens or locally hired citizens.
It may help the House if I report that the overwhelming majority of press and media comment in Russia about the work of the British Council is extremely positive. The scurrilous rumours that are put round about the council are completely without foundation. The operational work of the British Council — its priorities and its way of working — is set independently. It would be reprehensible for there to be any suggestion that its important work should be subject to any harassment or other interference.
Finally, in respect of the European Union, I shall be discussing the issue next week. We look forward to taking the issues under discussion forward with our European partners, including that of the wider bilateral relationship. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) is right that a range of countries want the issue on the agenda of European meetings, and we shall certainly contribute fully to that.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Is it not apparent that the more the Russians take the attitude that my right hon. Friend has mentioned, the more the suspicion grows that they have something to hide? In view of the circumstances, is it not also clear that if the Government had not taken this action, it would seem that we were not taking the murder of a United Kingdom citizen seriously? In all those circumstances, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on what is being done.
David Miliband: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his strong support. The heinous crime of murder requires justice, and I believe that the response that we have set out today is the right one. It is a proportionate response; who it is aimed at is clear as are the point it is trying to make and the aims that it is trying to secure. I am grateful for his support.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): The Foreign Secretary has told the House that the deputy prosecutor general’s letter says that the Russian constitution currently bars extradition. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman has taken advice from our embassy in Moscow. Is the deputy prosecutor general correct when he says that the constitution bars extradition? If it does, what is the process of amendment?
David Miliband: We are not entering into a legal argument with the Russian Government about the current status of the Russian constitution; what we are seeking is their co-operation in overcoming this obstacle. As I said in my statement, other countries, including Germany, have recently made amendments to their constitutions precisely to address the issues raised by the European arrest warrant. As I also said in my statement, the Russian desire is for greater interaction with the European Union and the UK. That must be on the basis of responsibilities as well as rights being properly exercised. It is on that basis that we have asked for co-operation from the Russian Government in addressing the issue. It is that co-operation that we have failed to secure.
Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): Given the recent treatment of British gas and oil interests in Russia and the way in which gas and oil have been used for political leverage with some of Russia’s neighbours, and in the light of the Litvinenko case and the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), is the Foreign Secretary confident that Russia is still a country with which we can do business?
David Miliband: It is important that we continue to do business with Russia, according to clear international rules. I have spoken to the director general of the CBI today, and tomorrow I shall meet representatives of some of the major companies that do business in and with Russia. It is important that that trade should continue, because our economic relations are important. It is also the case, however, that the business that we do and the economic links that we have should be founded on clear rules, which should be respected by all sides.
Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I very much agree with the Foreign Secretary’s judgment in making this statement today. There are broader issues involved, however, and I expect that they will be considered in the months and years to come. In particular, there is the question of allowing individuals such as Mr. Litvinenko into the UK and giving him a passport in double quick time. This is a grave concern, not least because of the great danger that was posed to many of my constituents in central London where he resided, as the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore) pointed out. The Foreign Secretary and I both have forefathers who have come to this country from abroad and decided to make their lives here and abide by the laws. Will he ensure that, when looking at people coming into this country from Russia or elsewhere, we do not allow anyone to come here who will agitate against other sovereign states?
David Miliband: The short answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is yes. We must ensure that people who come here have an independently assessed legal right to be here, and that they abide by the laws of this country while they are here. When they are British citizens, they will have rights under the 1957 European convention, which will be properly exercised. Those rights are clear, and they are not a licence to call for the overthrow of Governments, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out. Any such suggestions are investigated not by me but by the independent Crown Prosecution Service, and that will be the case for any citizen of this country, whether they are of long standing or have recently arrived.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): I wholeheartedly congratulate the Foreign Secretary on the approach that he has adopted today. A robust attitude is essential. We have only to read the Foreign Office’s own report on human rights abuses in Russia last year to see a catalogue including the suppression of the right of peaceful association and of non-governmental organisations and the systematic use of torture and abuse in the prison system throughout the Russian Federation. Does my right hon. Friend also worry about Russia’s recent decision to suspend its membership of the treaty on European conventional forces? Is not that a dangerous step to take?
David Miliband: My hon. Friend raises an important point. The treaty on conventional forces in Europe is the cornerstone of European security, and the announcement by the Russian President that he would suspend — although not withdraw — Russian engagement with that treaty is very serious. As I said in answer to an earlier question, I am addressing the Lugovoy case today, but there is a common theme here. That theme is about the rights and responsibilities that go with membership of the international community, whether in respect of legal questions or of military questions to do with conventional forces, and it is important that the Government of Russia, and every other Government, proceed on the basis of clear mutual respect of the rights of other countries as well as of their own rights and responsibilities.
Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): Mr. Litvinenko was my constituent. When I asked the former Home Secretary to pursue this matter without fear or favour, he said that he would do so. I regard the Secretary of State’s statement today as following up on that promise to a great extent, and I welcome his remarks. I hope that Russia will see the benefit of these relationships. However, there are many questions that I do not have time to put to the Foreign Secretary today, and I wonder whether he would agree to meet me and Mrs. Litvinenko so that we can ask him those questions.
David Miliband: I am keen to respond positively to the hon. Lady’s questions. If they are technical, I will arrange for them to be answered clearly; and if the hon. Lady and Mrs. Litvinenko would like to meet me or my colleague the Minister for Europe, I am sure that we can arrange a meeting with one or other of us.
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): May I make it clear that I, too, deprecate the murder and recognise the gravity of the situation caused to Londoners by that murder? The issue before the House today, however, is whether the response is proportionate and will have the desired effect. That is where my mood differs from that of the House; I am not sure that the response will be effective. Presumably, the Secretary of State will make a statement when he reinstates the four diplomats whom he is expelling — because that will happen; it happens by creep. Everyone knows that.
Secondly, I am deeply concerned about the House’s mood, which seems to be anti-Russian, regardless of the fact that we sometimes treat the Russians very arrogantly, and that they have people who they perceive should be facing their courts in London protected by our system. I believe that we should pause and reflect on whether our relations are spiralling down very badly. A few moments ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) referred to Russia’s stalling on the conventional armed forces in Europe treaty and there is also the attitude to Kosovo. I think that we are on a dangerous course — [Interruption.]
Mr. Speaker: Order. I think that we are on a course of asking too many supplementary questions.
Andrew Mackinlay: It is different, though, to the rest!
David Miliband: No one could accuse my hon. Friend of not being different. Let me say a couple of things to him. We have thought very carefully about this, we have not rushed to judgment and we have considered all aspects of our interests, but I believe that the response that I have announced today is proportionate. Secondly, it is not about being anti-Russian; this is not an anti-Russian statement. The clear desire of the UK Government and people of the UK is to have a close, co-operative and fruitful relationship with the people and Government of Russia, but I am sure that my hon. Friend would agree that that relationship must be based on clear rules. Finally, my hon. Friend talked about how “our system” was “protecting” certain individuals, but we have laws of the land, which are guaranteed by independent authorities. Anyone who flouts those laws of the land goes contrary to those independent authorities and will be taken up on that basis.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con): I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment as Foreign Secretary and endorse his proportionate response to the current crisis. The Russian Government have said that their constitution prevents them from extraditing Lugovoy, but they have offered a trial in Russia in a Russian court. The right hon. Gentleman might like to consider calling that bluff, but not in the way that the Russians are proposing. He has said correctly that having a trial in a third country would equally come up against the current Russian constitution, but that problem would not arise if a British court were permitted to hold a trial in Russia under British law. We have the precedent of the Lockerbie case in The Hague, where exactly those principles were applied. If the right hon. Gentleman and the Russian Government were interested in finding a way forward, that option should at least be considered.
David Miliband: I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who speaks with the authority of a former holder of my office, for his kind words on my appointment. I think he will find that the option he proposes — ingenious though it is — is not open to us, as it does not fall within the sort of creative work that we have been seeking with the Government of Russia. He will also recognise that, as I said in my statement, a proposal to conduct a trial in Russia could open our Government to legal challenge from our own citizens. Under whomever’s auspices the trial is carried out, that point carries a large degree of force.
Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): The Foreign Secretary’s calm and measured words should not hide the very tough and bold decision that he has taken. This is the first fight back by any European Foreign Minister against Russia’s bullying. When you and I were young men, Mr. Speaker, it was British communists who went to the Kremlin to kneel in front of their master; now it is British capitalists who are already on the airwaves saying, “Don’t cause trouble; don’t cause trouble”. But it is the Russians who are causing the trouble — whether it be on this particular issue or in respect of the British Council, the harassment of our ambassador, Kosovo or trade — and I believe that the whole of Europe will say thank you because at long last a British Foreign Secretary is taking a clear line. Yes, it is a difficult line and, in the light of what my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) said, a controversial line, but it is better to start as we mean to go on, and this is a very fine start indeed by someone who will prove to be a fine Foreign Secretary.
David Miliband: I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend. I look forward to his many contributions to our debates. As always, he speaks with an acute sense of history and an acute sense of the need for all European countries to recognise strong shared interests in this area. It would be wrong to be anything other than firm. No one is seeking to be macho; it is about being firm, clear and proportionate, and that is what we are seeking to do.
Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): I should let the Secretary of State know that, in relation to his appeal for a spirit of non-partisanship, the position on extradition is shared by governing parties from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — by the Scottish National party, Plaid Cymru and the Democratic Unionist party. Does he agree that normal countries with normal relations have appropriate extradition proceedings? Although it is not possible to make such arrangements at present, it must be a medium to long-term aim to do so. In relation to the question of European Union co-operation, can he confirm that were Mr. Lugovoy to travel to any European Union country, he would be subject to a European arrest warrant?
David Miliband: I do not want to ruin the hon. Gentleman’s career by saying that he has made a good point, but he has. The basic rules of the game that he describes are in the interests of all countries. Given the way in which the Government of Russia have sought to intensify their relations, not just bilaterally with us but across the whole of the EU, I believe that they recognise that. The hon. Gentleman is correct in respect of the position of Mr. Lugovoy, in that if he leaves Russia he will be subject to arrest.
Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford) (Lab): Diplomacy sometimes requires robustness; it certainly did on this occasion, and there will be widespread public support for the measures announced by the Foreign Secretary. In announcing expulsions to the Russian ambassador, I hope that the Foreign Secretary says that if the Russian Government are minded to retaliate, we shall not be deflected, but we shall continue to see the matter through if necessary. Because the murder in question came after a series of nasty murders in Russia of political dissidents and brave journalists who have criticised the Putin Government, such as Anna Politkovskaya, and because of the difficulties of obtaining rare radioactive isotopes and the skills required to transport them, many people must be worried that Russian state agencies might have played a part in the murder. If any such evidence comes to light — that would be serious, and I am not suggesting that there is necessarily such evidence — does he agree that even more robust measures will be required?
David Miliband: As I have said on two occasions already, I am determined today to stick to the terms of the CPS requirement for extradition. Those apply to Mr. Lugovoy and only to Mr. Lugovoy. Obviously, any other evidence that came to light would have to be considered by the CPS, but that would be a matter for it, not me.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): While I recognise and agree with the robust tones of the Foreign Secretary’s statement, I do not want any more than he does to see the outbreak of another cold war. Can he tell the House how many meetings he had with the Russian ambassador here on this subject, and how many conversations he had with his Russian counterpart?
David Miliband: I have spoken twice to my Russian counterpart during my two and a half weeks in office, including earlier today, because I thought it right and courteous to do so before I came to the House. As I said in my statement, the Russian ambassador met the permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office on 22 May, and has met him again today. The judicial channels have also been extensively used. If, when I get back to the office, there is further information in relation to the hon. Gentleman’s question that I have not given him, I shall write to him with further details.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): The death of Alexander Litvinenko was tragic and sinister in equal measure, and his killers deserve to be brought to justice, but does the Foreign Secretary believe that anything he has said today will cause the Russians to amend their constitution and extradite those accused of Litvinenko’s murder? If he does not believe there will be any change, why did he make his statement?
David Miliband: Obviously I believe that today’s statement will help to advance the three aims that I set out in it, otherwise I would not have made it. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman could not follow that clearly.
I think it important not just to send a signal, which we have done, but to take practical, concrete measures, which we have also done. Those measures are designed to make a particular point to particular people, and I believe that they will do so. They will also lead to further international engagement, which we will undertake in a serious way. However, as a number of Members have pointed out today, there is a wider relationship which needs to be founded on a clear basis of mutual respect. That applies in each case, and also in relation to the broader picture. Today’s announcement was designed to advance that relationship, and I believe it is our best hope of doing so.
Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): I join others in welcoming my right hon. Friend’s statement. We all hope it will have the effects that he has said are intended to flow from it. I welcome the robust terms in which he said that the heinous crime of murder must be pursued, and that that pursuit could not be set aside for any other ulterior political consideration, but how does he hope to respond to the Russian authorities when they allege hypocrisy on the part of the United Kingdom Government, and in the light of the United Kingdom Government’s attitude to the murder of Pat Finucane and others?
David Miliband: Tempting as it is to wander into the terrain offered by the hon. Gentleman, the temptation is not great enough for me to do so. I am sorry that he has not been able to view this case, and the rights and wrongs of it, in and of themselves. He indicated support for the Government’s position in this instance, and I am grateful for that. I believe that we had no option but to do what we have done, and I hope we can proceed on that basis.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): Like many other Members here, I sit on the Council of Europe with Russian members of the Duma. They understand the rule of law, and it is therefore disappointing that the Russian Government do not understand the rule of law that the Foreign Secretary has presented to them. I fully support his announcement, although it is sad that it had to be made.
Last week I was telephoned by a Russian journalist about this issue. I said that we were heading towards a crisis over procedures that were not being followed by Russia. He said he believed that there was a tit for tat: that the Russians had called for the extradition of people from this country and we had refused, and that they failed to see the distinction involved in this particular case. Will the Foreign Secretary comment on that?
David Miliband: There is no doubt that there has been a serious attempt to muddy the waters, but I am afraid the parallel that people have sought to draw does not apply. The protection afforded to citizens here under the European convention on human rights becomes relevant because of people’s concerns about the situation in Russia, not because of their concerns about the situation here. This case is also about the situation in Russia, and about the Russian authorities’ determination to co-operate with the United Kingdom Government to bring to book someone who is alleged to have committed a very serious crime.
While I hope the hon. Gentleman will phone his Russian friend back and explain to him that it is in the gift of the Russian authorities to ensure that in all cases there are proper procedures and proper protections, any citizen of this country who is accused of a serious crime in another country can be extradited as long as that does not violate his or her rights, and that is the basis on which we proceed.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Has the Foreign Secretary received any expert advice on the likelihood of a private citizen having been able to obtain a lethal quantity of polonium-210 from anything other than a Government-controlled nuclear agency, and has he suggested to the Russian Government that if they go down the old cold war route of tit-for-tat expulsions he has something else up his sleeve? I do not, of course, expect him to specify what.
David Miliband: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will understand my reasons for wishing merely to refer him to the content of my statement. It would not be appropriate to go beyond that. We decided what action to take after having looked at the issues in the round. I hope that he accepts that answer.