13 APR 2019

Amendments at Council of Europe to try to influence report on Russians

The PRESIDENT* –

I call Mr Howell to support Amendment 16.

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) –

I do not wish to press the amendment.

The PRESIDENT* –

Amendment 16 is not moved.

I call Mr Howell to support Amendment 17.

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) –

Russia's activities are described in the resolution as merely an administrative mistake, but they are a fundamental attack on our common values and we should say that in the resolution.

The PRESIDENT* –

Thank you. Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? I call Mr Kox.

Mr KOX (Netherlands) –

As I said in committee, the resolution is structured to mention what the Assembly has done in a positive way and then come back to the problems. The content of the amendment is mentioned in the resolution, but the amendment would put it into the wrong place, so I advise the Assembly not to adopt it.

The PRESIDENT* –

What is the opinion of the committee?

Ms OOMEN-RUIJTEN (Netherlands) –

Against.

The PRESIDENT* –

I shall now put the amendment to the vote.

The vote is open.

Amendment 17 is rejected.

I call Mr Howell to support Amendment 18.

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) –

I do not wish to press the amendment.

The PRESIDENT* –

Amendment 18 is not moved.

I call Mr Howell to support Amendment 19.

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) –

I wish to press the amendment because we ought to say in the resolution that the situation has been caused principally by the Russian Federation's conduct.

The PRESIDENT* –

Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? I call Mr Kox.

Mr KOX (Netherlands) –

It is completely clear that the Russian Federation is doing wrong by not paying its contribution, but we have more financial problems and should not think that the Russian financial problem is the only one. We have far more problems and that is the essence of the resolution. We are talking about the whole Council of Europe, not only one member State, even though that member State does not behave.

The PRESIDENT* –

What is the opinion of the committee?

Ms OOMEN-RUIJTEN (Netherlands) –

Against.

The PRESIDENT* – I shall now put the amendment to the vote.

The vote is open.

Amendment 19 is rejected.

I call Mr Howell to support Amendment 20.

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – Amendment 20 reaffirms previous resolutions of the Council of Europe and states the purpose envisaged for the whole resolution.

The PRESIDENT* –

Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? I call Mr Kox.

Mr KOX (Netherlands) –

The resolution states that Russia violated international law by illegally annexing Crimea. It is already in the resolution. It would be better if the movers of some amendments read the report before pressing their amendments. It is already in the resolution, so I reject the amendment.

The PRESIDENT* –

What is the opinion of the committee?

Ms OOMEN-RUIJTEN (Netherlands) – Against.

The PRESIDENT* –

I shall now put the amendment to the vote.

The vote is open.

Amendment 20 is rejected.

I call Mr Howell to support Amendment 21.

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – The amendment speaks for itself. It would make the resolution clearer.

The PRESIDENT* –

Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? I call Mr Kox.

Mr KOX (Netherlands) –

The resolution states what has factually happened, so it would not make sense to delete those words from the text. We should not deny facts.

The PRESIDENT* – What is the opinion of the committee?

Ms OOMEN-RUIJTEN (Netherlands) – Against.

The PRESIDENT* –

I shall now put the amendment to the vote.

The vote is open.

Amendment 21 is rejected.

I call Mr Howell to support Amendment 22.

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – The amendment is important, for reasons described by one of the speakers in the debate. It is a sensible proposal to set out a budget proposition that reflects the absence of the money from the Russian Federation.

The PRESIDENT* – Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? I call Mr Kox.

Mr KOX (Netherlands) –

We have already decided that we will talk about all the budget and all the consequences of Russia's non-payment in our June part-session. That is the moment when we should debate such elements, not in the case of this resolution. I advise the Assembly to reject the amendment.

The PRESIDENT* –

What is the opinion of the committee?

Ms OOMEN-RUIJTEN (Netherlands) –

Against.

The PRESIDENT* –

I shall now put the amendment to the vote.

The vote is open.

Amendment 22 is rejected.

I call Mr Howell to support Amendment 23.

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) –

The amendment merely repeats the position taken in previous resolutions and sets out precisely what we want the Russian Federation to do. It is important to include that in the resolution.

The PRESIDENT* –

Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? I call Mr Kox.

Mr KOX (Netherlands) –

The resolution deals with the main challenges for the future and the role and mission of the Assembly. It calls for all 47 member States to live up to their obligations. It does not make sense to mention one, two or three States in particular, so I propose that the Assembly rejects the amendment.

The PRESIDENT* –

What is the opinion of the committee?

Ms OOMEN-RUIJTEN (Netherlands) – Against.

The PRESIDENT* –

I shall now put the amendment to the vote.

The vote is open.

Amendment 23 is rejected.

.I call Mr Howell to support Amendment 24.

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) –

This amendment is to restate the purpose of why we are here and why this Organisation is here. That should not be forgotten in this report.

The PRESIDENT* –

Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment?

I call Mr Kox.

Mr KOX (Netherlands) – T

here is nothing wrong with human rights, the rule of law and democracy, but as they are mentioned several times already in the report, to add it here once again is unnecessary. That is the reason that the Committee voted against the Amendment and I urge people here to reject it.

The PRESIDENT* –

What is the opinion of the Committee?

Ms OOMEN-RUIJTEN (Netherlands)* –

The committee is against.

The PRESIDENT* –

The vote is open.

Amendment 24 is rejected.

I call Mr Howell to support Amendment 25.

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) –

I withdraw Amendment 25.

The PRESIDENT* –

Amendment 25 is withdrawn.

I call Mr Howell to support Amendment 26.

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) –

This is an important amendment. We have a prohibition on countries joining us that still have capital punishment, but that is judicial capital punishment. Where countries try to kill people, whether members of their own community or others, as the Russians did in Salisbury in the UK, we should include that in here as well.

The PRESIDENT* –

Does anyone wish to speak against the Amendment?

I call Mr Kox.

Mr KOX (Netherlands) –

This Assembly and this whole Organisation rejects capital punishment, but to add it all of a sudden here in this report, on how to deal with our main challenges, is not the right place to mention it. So, I propose not accepting this Amendment.

The PRESIDENT* –

What is the opinion of the committee?

Ms OOMEN-RUIJTEN (Netherlands)* –

The committee is against.

The PRESIDENT* –

The vote is open.

Amendment 26 is rejected.


13 APR 2019

Speech at Council of Europe on anonymous donation of sperm

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) –

I start by saying how much I appreciated this report. I congratulate Ms De Sutter on the sensitive way in which she approached a very complex subject and on the careful handling she has given it.

I began by looking at this subject from a human rights point of view. There is a conflict between the human rights of the donor and of those who are being born from these processes. The report judges those different human rights and assesses them, coming to a perfectly reasonable conclusion. One good thing about it is that it shows that human rights are not static. They are not written down and kept the same for ever and ever; for example, they change as technology changes. The report also recommends that very good point. One recommendation that must be recognised here is that this should go to the Committee of Ministers.

In the UK, the rights of children born from these processes were recognised in 2005 and information is fully available at age 18. It is not, however, a straightforward issue. There is a need for counselling on many issues in finding out one's true biological parentage, which can be traumatic. In the UK, it is handled by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority in a two-stage process with some information made available when the young person is 16 and most of it when they are 18. We must recognise that the donor needs careful counselling, too. I am very pleased that Ms De Sutter did not recommend that we should go back and allow anonymity across the whole process retrospectively. There are very good reasons for taking away anonymity; the main one that sticks in my mind is for public health reasons, particularly with the advances on genetic diseases. Finding out the inherited diseases that we may already have is crucial.

I do not underestimate the need for people to find out who they are. The report aims to show that this is an altruistic process, required because the parents desire a child and a family. If we hold that firmly in our minds, we will achieve a good result.


13 APR 2019

Question at Council of Europe to PM of Armenia

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) –

Prime Minister, I would like to push you some more on the question of your relationship with Iran. Iran has a very chequered relationship with Europe. How do you see that relationship developing? How do you see it playing out in the context of Europe?

Mr PASHINYAN* –

I can tell you that in all my exchanges with senior European officials, I have noted that our European counterparts understand the importance of the Armenian-Iranian relationship; and they agree that we should pursue our vision of maintaining and developing positive, good relations with Iran. As to the international situation we have over Iran, that is rather challenging. In this political controversy, we have our friends on this side of the line and our friends on that side of the line. Of course, our hope – our appeal and wish – is that political disagreements with others, including this one, are resolved through dialogue. Dialogue is the only way in which we can pursue the solution to these problems in the 21st century and at our current level of civilisation, and we should do so. To be frank, in the exchanges with all our European counterparts I have seen an understanding and appreciation of the situation. I have not yet spoken with everyone personally but when I speak with our European Union partners and the other countries of Europe, I see that we have an appreciation and understanding of this vision.


13 APR 2019

Question at Council of Europe to PM of Georgia

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) –

Thank you, Sir, and it has been a great pleasure to work with colleagues of yours in the Council of Europe.

I will pick up where one of my colleagues left off. The Economist, which is an internationally recognised organisation, has classified Georgia as a "hybrid regime" and not a full democracy. That is no cause for congratulation, but I appreciate that it may be a step on the road to full democracy. You have parliamentary elections coming up next year. How will you make sure that you become a full democracy?

Mr BAKHTADZE –

Georgia is a full democracy. We switched to a parliamentary democracy after the election of the President of Georgia. You mentioned a very reputable magazine, but let me give you some other information, such as our success in the protection of human rights, our economic development and our transparency. I said that we are ranked number five in the open budget index, which measures important policy making by governments. That is a major indicator of Georgia's success. When it comes to democracy and the protection of human rights, the best indicator would be the Court in Strasbourg, where cases have decreased by 80%. We are No. 6 in the world in the World Bank's doing business index. But we understand that there are some shortcomings and we want to address them, using the recommendations of institutions that include the Council of Europe. We are fully motivated to do so. The Georgian Parliament is working intensively to implement into our legislation the recommendations that we received from the OSCE on the presidential elections conducted last year. Please be assured that Georgia will take its success story to another level, with your support and recommendations.


13 APR 2019

Speech at the Council of Europe on hate speech

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) –

With the permission of this Chamber, I would like to provide some personal context to my remarks, because I am the person Lord Blencathra mentioned in his speech who has been targeted with death in a hate crime. It came about because I have spoken out in support of Israel. I do not agree with everything Israel does, but it is an issue on which I simply cannot be silent and should not be silent, and an issue I am fully prepared to debate in a democratic way. The whole substance of the death threat to me fits in with the wider approach to anti-Semitism that others have spoken about.

The death threat was not started internationally; it was started by a young Briton who used social media to start a chain reaction that ended up in the threats of death. I was of course offered protection by our police service, but that is little comfort when you are in Strasbourg and what you have been offered is access to a scrambled helicopter in order to provide you with safety; it does not do that at all.

Others have also spoken of the Brexit-related horrors of attacks on MPs and their offices. One incident in Scotland involved people invading their office and threatening to hang them all. All we are doing as MPs is representing our constituents as best we can. We are doing so in a world where intolerance has grown greatly. There is not just one course of intolerance; across Europe there is a growing intolerance and we need to make our position clear and say where we stand. I agree with those speakers who have said we cannot sit idly by and let this happen. We have access to information and to discussions and papers and have a better appreciation of the issues, or at least we should have, and we should make sure they are well enumerated.

We must prevent hate crimes by challenging the beliefs and attitudes around them. We need to respond to hate crimes in our own communities. We need to increase the reporting of hate crimes so they do not go unreported. We need to improve support for victims, not that I am asking for any for myself. And we need to build an understanding of how hate crime works and the people who are behind it.


13 APR 2019

Speech at Council of Europe on sexism in parliaments

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) –

I agree with the comments that have been made about this issue affecting men as well as women, and I am sickened by the violence that many of my female parliamentary colleagues are facing. It is particularly offensive to us all that these attacks are aimed at women. We have all come into politics to serve our constituents to our best abilities. We may disagree on the best way to achieve that and on policy, but we have all come in to serve our constituents. However, these attacks on women make it less likely that we can achieve Parliaments which truly reflect society. In the UK, it is not just Brexit fury that influences this. It is also the spread of anti-Semitism and the attacks on female Jewish parliamentarians. It is clear that more women are facing aggressive attacks than men.

The report also mentions the current report in the UK on bullying and effective remedies. Abuse, bullying and intimidation are covered in it where those are mainly directed at women. I want to raise some general points on this. It should never be acceptable for women to have to experience this sort of activity and for no remedy to be available. It shows that a parliament that is doing this does not take the whole issue seriously. In the UK, as many of you will have seen, this has even raised questions about the behaviour of the Speaker of the House of Commons. The report rightly points out that if we do not tackle this, it may affect the ability or willingness of women to participate in political life, as so many speakers in this debate have already said.

I support the two recommendations made in the report that we are looking at, but the first of them is by far the more difficult: to change the culture. I think that we have underestimated the difficulty of changing the culture. You have only to look at a recent poll where one in two French-speaking Belgians think that society is still dominated by men to see the problems, but we must try to change that culture. The introduction of effective procedures for dealing with sexism and sexual harassment is much the easier thing to tackle. We are all doing that and, hopefully, all changing the situation.


13 APR 2019

Speech at Council of Europe on co-operation with EU on human rights

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) –

At the heart of this debate is the need for the Council of Europe to show that in the fields of democracy, the rule of law and human rights it is the pre-eminent Organisation in Europe. I believe it sits above the European Union in this respect. The European Union looks after 27 or 28 members, but this Council looks after 47 or 48 members. The European Union has assumed a role in some areas over its own members, but it has not done so over this Council. The European Convention on Human Rights remains the pre-eminent statement of human rights in Europe and also in many other places in the world. It is for the European Union to show that what it wants to put in place for its members at the very least conforms with our Convention and standards.

It would be wrong, for example, for the European Union to take on itself the work of the European Court of Human Rights, which remains a multilateral body. The expertise lies with this body and we must protect and indeed enhance it. That does not mean there should be no co-operation, but it needs to be based on this approach. This body has high standards of which we can all be proud, and it is crucial that it should have the highest job of monitoring these standards and principles.

If we as a body can monitor France, we can also monitor the European Union, and we should do so through the Monitoring Committee. It is necessary for the European Union to sign up to the European Convention and to be part of the system that has stood this continent in good stead for so long.

I cannot see what the European Union can do in this area that we cannot do. Of course, like any country, it can introduce rules to govern the human rights issues in its own area, but it cannot introduce rules to govern us. In other words, the Council of Europe must be seen as top dog and must hold ultimate responsibility for maintaining standards. Those standards have been established over a long period of time, with the help of the European Court of Human Rights, and we should make sure that they remain the standards to which Europe conforms.


13 APR 2019

Speech at Council of Europe on Sustainability

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) –

I thank the rapporteurs for an absolutely fascinating report. One of the most important things it does is to stress the need to involve all stakeholders in the process. This is not just a question of the involvement of central governments or organisations such as the Council of Europe; it is necessary to bring in a whole range of others. As a result of reading the reports, I am inspired to try to create a debate in my own parliament so that we can help to provide some scrutiny of the issues. However, in order to do that, we need to ensure that we act in the round; a debate in itself is probably not a very helpful thing. There may be a view on the problems that exist, and a debate may even help to provide some scrutiny, but we need to look at this issue in the round to ensure that we use all the parliamentary activities we possibly can.

I was interested to see that the report mentions the work of the International Development Committee in my own parliament, which had called for all of this activity to be brought together across government. However, as I have said, this is a process that needs to bring in all the different activities across parliament. Indeed, the report mentions that.

I will draw attention to goal 13, which is about controlling climate change. In my own constituency, I am working on an initiative called Young Climate Warriors, which brings schools and the Church together, and empowers children to help resist climate change by reducing our total carbon footprint. What the initiative does is to work on trying to create collective action across schools, so that children undertake similar activities on a set day and therefore have a feeling of belonging.

We should not forget how far we have come. I am aware that in my own country wind farms generated more electricity than coal plants on 75% of days in 2017, and that renewables – particularly solar power – outperformed coal for more than half the time. That is a very strong position for renewables. When that is combined with other factors, the result is that since 1990 – I know that is a long time ago – we have cut emissions by 40%. That shows that the £52 billion that we have spent on renewable energy since 2010 has been money well spent.


13 APR 2019

Question to Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner on antisemtism

Mr HOWELL (Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) –

Given the background in which the Council of Europe was created, I expected to see a little more in your report about what you have been doing to tackle anti-Semitism. Would you like to take this opportunity to tell us?

Ms MIJATOVIÆ –

Anti-Semitism has been on my agenda since I joined the office. I had several communications – sometimes not public – with the rabbi in relation to the attacks that happened here in Strasbourg, and I reached out to the Jewish community to show solidarity. I attended events when the anniversary of the Holocaust was marked, which I intend to continue doing. This week, I am going to Jasenovac in Croatia to mark the anniversary of the Holocaust and everything that happened there after the Second World War. That is just one example. I use transitional justice to address this issue, while building on everything that my predecessors did in relation to this topic. I agree; there is not much in this year's report, but that definitely does not mean that I have not been engaging and am not planning to tackle this issue prominently.


04 APR 2019

Business question on Henley bus

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I recently launched a new Saturday bus service in Henley. May we have a debate on buses to show how smaller, more local buses can help?

Andrea Leadsom

Congratulations to my hon. Friend—a number of hon. Members would love to do the same in their areas. He will be aware that the bus market outside London is deregulated and that decisions about service provision are primarily a commercial matter for bus operators. Individual English local authorities will make decisions on whether to subsidise bus services. The Bus Services Act 2017 provides the tools that local authorities need to improve local bus services and increase passenger numbers, but I am sure I am not alone in this place in thinking that we need to do more to provide better bus transportation for all our communities.


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