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Amber Rudd MP: Day one of the Council of Europe's meeting

Amber_logo2Amber Rudd is Conservative MP for Hastings and Rye. Throughout this week she'll be reporting from the plenary session of the Council of Europe. Her first report appeared yesterday.

It seems I needn't have worried about friction between the Russians and the Poles in our European Democrat Group meeting on Monday morning.

For a start the Russian delegation is much reduced as they have not yet appointed new members since the election, so only a few of the regulars have been confirmed.  And the Poles have withdrawn from the group.  The criticism in the recent official Russian report heaped on the Polish pilots over the Smolensk crash last April, that killed the President and 95 others, has been too much for them - they blame Russian air traffic control.

But the friction instead bristled between the Armenians and the Turks over the "Armenian Genocide"  (and the Azerbaijan rep too) and  the French proposal to make it illegal to deny it. The French Senate incidentally debated and confirmed this late pm yesterday.  Three months before a general election...

The lively exchange of views was halted by our Chairman of the Group, our own Robert Walter MP.  But in the free debate later that afternoon it came up frequently.

Volunteers were sought from the Group to speak on behalf of us at the forthcoming debates.  I volunteered to address the Secretary General, Mr Thorbjorn Jagland following his presentation that afternoon.

I took the opportunity to ask him about costs.  It may seem a little low brow in an organisation set out to defend human rights to touch on money, but I had to. I pointed out the financial difficulties in Europe, the need for budget cuts effecting all governments, and the consequent difficulties. Should not the Council of Europe also be reducing costs to "share the pain"?  Unfortunately Mr Jagland chose to answer me by lauding the  fact that despite difficulties member states have managed to keep up their contributions.  I will press this point harder at the next opportunity.

Another theme that came up in the debate in the afternoon was human rights in Hungary.  There is concern that the new constitution will undermine human rights, particularly through limiting the media.  A speaker from Norway gave a powerful speech, drawing the link between the dangerous growth of extreme political views and their consequences with individuals,  such as the massacre in Utoeyu.

Christopher Chope MP gave a characteristically clear speech (dear reader- only three minutes!)  calling for better leadership in the monitoring of elections in new member countries following  what he had witnessed in Kazakhstan.

Sir Roger Gale  MP spoke up against the number of countries flouting Articles 5 and 6 by holding people without trial for over 10 months.  He called for members to implement these basic human rights protected by the Convention.  Here he was speaking up particularly for UK residents who are are being held without trial for over 10 months in countries, which as he put it as he named Spain, Greece, France and Italy, are hardly  developing ones.

There are some clear fault lines causing aggravation between member countries.  Remember, this is not the same membership as the EU.  We have a different objective too - not politics but human rights.  One of the founding reasons for the Council of Europe, coming out of the Second World War, was to find consensus amongst Parliamentarians of different countries.

Today we hear from David Lidington MP, Europe Minister, on the UK's priorities, which we expect to prioritise reform of the European Court of Human Rights.

Meanwhile, there will be specific debates during the week on the issues that members are most aggrieved by, including the situation in Russia, and the changes in Hungary.  It will be interesting to see if the forum of the Council does provide a successful platform for discussion and diffusing disagreements.   Critics describe it as a "talking shop".  But, as  Churchill, one of the founders famously said, "better jaw jaw, than war, war."


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