Wednesday 8 December 2021
[Peter Dowd in the Chair]
Ukrainian NATO Membership
Before we begin, I remind Members that they are expected to wear face coverings when they are not speaking in the debate. This is in line with current Government and House of Commons Commission guidance. I remind Members that they are asked by the House to have a covid lateral flow test twice a week if coming on to the parliamentary estate. That can be done either at the testing centre in the House or at home. Please give each other and members of staff space when seated, and when entering and leaving the room.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered British support for Ukraine’s membership of NATO.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I am very pleased to be called in this debate. Yesterday on the Floor of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) asked an urgent question on the situation in Ukraine, and today I am very pleased to initiate this debate, given the extraordinary situation and military build-up that we are starting to see on the border between Ukraine and Russia.
Yesterday on the Floor of the House, we referred to the Budapest memorandum, which was signed in 1994 by the United Kingdom and other major powers. Hon. Members will remember that the Budapest memorandum allowed Ukraine to give up her nuclear arsenal, which at the time was the third largest in the world, in return for certain security guarantees in relation to her territorial integrity and sovereignty. As signatories of the Budapest memorandum, we in the United Kingdom have a unique responsibility to our Ukrainian partners. During the course of my speech, I intend to highlight some of the growing and serious violations of Ukrainian security that we are starting to see, and explain why I and many others believe that it is essential to lobby our own Government on the issue and to take a lead in supporting our Ukrainian partners.
In a previous Parliament, when I was on the Foreign Affairs Committee, I had the opportunity to go to Donetsk and Luhansk. The Committee was writing a report on British relations with Russia, and we were taken to Donetsk and Luhansk to see for ourselves the situation on the ground. I have never come across anything like it, certainly in my 16-year career as a Member of Parliament. It was total, utter destruction on an industrial scale. All the buildings had been destroyed; all traces of human habitation had disappeared. What really struck me was not just the sheer material destruction of Donetsk and Luhansk, but the complete annihilation of wildlife and the natural habitat—something that I had never seen before. We saw for ourselves what the Russians are capable of, and what they can do to another European country on our continent. It is something that will stay with me forever. I will never forget those scenes in Donetsk and Luhansk.
I am the sole Conservative Member of Parliament to have been born in Poland, and the sole Conservative Member of Parliament to have been born in a communist country. I used to go back to communist Poland two or three times a year to see my beloved grandfather, when he was still alive. I understand what the Russians are capable of. I saw it in the country of my birth, Poland, where they had instigated and forced on the country an economically illiterate and politically Orwellian system, which—thank goodness—finally collapsed in 1989. We know what the Russians did to our partners behind the iron curtain between the end of the second world war and 1989, trapping all those European partners behind the iron curtain. The Russians are now trying to trap our Ukrainian partners behind a new iron curtain that they want to impose in what they perceive to be their sphere of influence.
Despite those concerns, when the Select Committee was undertaking the report, I was the sole Conservative MP on the Committee pushing for dialogue with the Russians. We had many debates about what we saw on the ground and what should be our recommendations to the Foreign Office. I think there was universal hostility, frustration, anger and suspicion towards the Russians from my colleagues, but I was the one MP who was trying to look at it in a more balanced way.
Certainly when we visited Donetsk, the independent monitors on the ground said that some of the ceasefire violations were half the responsibility of the Ukrainians and half the responsibility of the Russians. I remember trying to push back and talking about the need for dialogue with the Russians. I still believe that we need to have dialogue with the Russians, but things have changed significantly since we visited Donetsk and Luhansk.
The first concern I want to highlight is something that we have seen in recent weeks. We have seen and heard of the death of a Syrian child on the Poland-Belarus border. We have seen the extraordinary way in which the tyrant, Lukashenko, has been abusing vulnerable refugees, whom he has incentivised to come to Belarus in his attempt to instigate a new hybrid warfare against one of our major partners.
We have seen the extraordinary suffering that has taken place on that border, with vulnerable refugees being used in a cynical way as pawns for President Lukashenko to manipulate in order to put one of our NATO partners under pressure. As genuine refugees, he should be protecting them, but instead his soldiers pushed them on to the barbed wire fences of the border. Unfortunately, barbed wire has inevitably had to be put up on the Poland- Belarus border because of the vulnerability of that border and of Polish sovereignty, bearing in mind what is going on.
Why do I reference Belarus and President Lukashenko? We know that these actions could be stopped immediately by President Putin, who, to all intents and purposes, controls Lukashenko and what happens in Belarus. I would argue that the suffering and cruelty we are seeing on that border is, in part, the responsibility of President Putin and the Russian regime. Only inhumane, cruel people would behave in this way, and President Putin could, should and must stop it immediately.
Temperatures are dropping significantly as we move towards the winter, and the Polish winters are always very, very cold. We have seen the suffering on the border, and goodness only knows what will happen as the temperatures drop and as those people continue to stay at the border, in the most vulnerable circumstances.
That is one aspect of the hybrid warfare that is being used against our NATO partners, but there are others, including the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. I have secured numerous debates on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline here in the House of Commons and I have probably asked more questions about it than any other Member of Parliament. Why? Because so many of our NATO partners in central and eastern Europe, for many years, have been talking about how this German-Russian project—a 1,200 km gas pipeline under the sea from Germany to Russia, completely bypassing all our NATO allies in central and eastern Europe, and Ukraine—is a direct, deliberate threat to their security.
We are very pleased that the Poles and the Croatians, within the Three Seas initiative, are building liquified gas terminals on their coastlines. We are pleased and proud that they are stepping up and investing in huge new facilities such as Świnoujście on the Baltic coast, in order to import liquified gas from America and Norway, our fellow NATO partners. Nevertheless, many of those countries, particularly the Baltic states, Ukraine and others, still depend on gas and energy from Russia. This pipeline, which bypasses them and goes under the sea directly to Germany, is another way for Russia to try to manipulate, coerce, blackmail and intimidate countries in central and eastern Europe.
We have seen what is happening with the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, and I very much hope that the incoming German coalition Government, who have the Green party among them, will seriously reconsider the project, which is not only a violation of the spirit and letter of our NATO obligations—Germany, being a NATO partner, should take that into consideration—but, I would argue, a major concern from an environmental perspective. With a 1,200 km pipeline going under the Baltic sea directly to Russia, the security situation in the event of a confrontation with the Russians, as well as the ramifications for the environment, could be catastrophic if it were to come under attack or there were some other issue related to it.
There are concerns about Nord Stream 2 and cyber-attacks, but my last point is about assassinations, which have changed my mind about the Russians more than anything else, particularly those assassinations on British soil. Whether it is the Litvinenko or the Skripal case, most of us here in the Chamber—cross-party, throughout the House of Commons, as well as our electorate beyond—have been shocked by Russia’s complete disregard for normal diplomatic protocols and normal international behaviour. The Russians are prepared to send trained killers on to British soil to eliminate their political opponents.
The annexation of Crimea is a serious matter. The other day, I was interacting on the issue with a leading research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society who is an expert on Russia and Ukraine. He highlighted to me some real concerns about what is happening in Crimea in terms of ethnic cleansing, manipulating the Tatars and preventing minority Ukrainians from learning and teaching Ukrainian. There is an attempt to Russify the Crimean peninsula. I am pleased that we have sanctions against Russia because of its illegal occupation of Crimea, but concerned that countries such as Germany and others, for their own commercial gain, seem to be bypassing those sanctions and instigating some extraordinary, high-level commercial contracts with the Russians. Nord Stream 2 is a clear example of that.
The illegal occupation of Crimea is one thing, but the Russians have done something even more worrying, and with even greater potential ramifications. They have built a bridge across the Kerch strait, linking Russia directly to Crimea. They have invested hundreds of millions of dollars to construct that huge bridge to give them direct land access to the Crimean peninsula, so that mother Russia is connected to Crimea.
It is not just the bridge; the Russians are using the bridge, and the jurisdiction around it and the maritime control underneath it, to restrict access to the Sea of Azov. Mariupol and many other important Ukrainian ports are now completely prevented from being utilised because vessels cannot get out of the Sea of Azov into the Black sea, and further beyond to navigate the global seas and oceans.
The Russians are controlling everything that comes through the Kerch strait, not just military vessels. My understanding is that they have now banned Ukrainian military vessels from even going through that strait to the Sea of Azov, Mariupol and other parts of Ukraine, which is extremely concerning. I would like the Minister to refer to the restriction on vessels accessing the Sea of Azov when she responds to the questions we are putting to her.
I am very pleased that the United Kingdom has recently sent our own naval vessels to the Black sea in freedom of navigation exercises: that is something I welcome very much. Let us not forget that the Black sea is not a Russian lake—the Russians would like to think that it is, but it is not. It is an international waterway, and I very much hope that we continue our freedom of navigation exercises throughout the Black sea.
Most people think, “Where is the Sea of Azov, and what are the consequences of blocking it?”. It is the way Ukrainians access almost half their country, and a lot of the industrial products of eastern Ukraine are exported through Mariupol and the Sea of Azov to the Black sea. Our equivalent would be somebody coming along and blocking off the English channel. What would be the consequences for our country if the English channel were blocked off? What would be the consequences for our security if our naval vessels were not allowed to patrol the channel? It would be completely unacceptable, and would potentially lead to war.
We are also starting to see a build-up on Ukraine’s eastern frontier. We are led to believe that 90,000 soldiers are now on its borders, and are there deliberately as a provocation to Ukraine. According to experts I spoken to, some intelligence reports from the United States believe that there could be up to 175,000 Russian troops on the border with Ukraine by January, which is obviously of great concern to the Ukrainian Government in respect of their national sovereignty and security.
I must take a moment to pay tribute to the Ukrainian ambassador, whom I met the other day. He and his team are doing a superb job here, putting forward the Ukrainian perspective in a calm and measured way. Despite all the provocations they are under and all the stress and tension they are going through, they are still trying to communicate their message to us and our Government in a very diplomatic and professional way.
Apparently, Putin has some red lines of his own. Apparently, he will not tolerate or accept the following four countries ever joining NATO: Finland, Sweden, Ukraine and Georgia. Those are his red lines, and I must take a moment to condemn Madame Marine Le Pen, the candidate standing to be the next President of the Republic of France. On a recent visit to Warsaw, she is quoted in Rzeczpospolita—a major newspaper in Poland—as having said that Ukraine is a buffer zone and is in the Russian sphere of influence. I find it highly rude and inappropriate to call a European country a buffer. Let us pause for a moment and think how we would feel if somebody called us a buffer; not an independent sovereign nation, not a democratic society, not a country with its own language, history, culture and aspirations, but merely a buffer. It is not a buffer and it is not in the Russian sphere of influence.
I joked with the Ukrainian ambassador the other day because he said that Ukraine is also sometimes described as a bridge between east and west. I suppose it is slightly better to be called a bridge than a buffer. The ambassador joked with me, “No, we are neither a buffer nor a bridge. Who would want to live on a bridge?” This is an independent sovereign nation, and we must start to treat it as such.
I wonder what would have happened to Madame Le Pen’s ancestors if we in Britain during the second world war had said, “Sorry, you are now in the German sphere of influence. We are not going to support you. We are going to leave you to German occupation.” Frankly, her language has to be called out and challenged.
Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Regan taught us how we can only negotiate with the Russians from a position of strength. That is the one thing that I remember about Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Regan. I had the opportunity, when I was first elected in 2005, to meet Margaret Thatcher and thank her for the unique role that she played during the cold war, in giving material and moral support to the Solidarity movement in Poland, which was essential in helping the democratic movements in those countries to persevere in their fight against Soviet and communist oppression.
Margaret Thatcher taught us that the only way to negotiate with the Russians is from a position of strength. I will be 50 next month so I am old enough to remember December 1984 when she invited Gorbachev to Chequers. Konstantin Chernenko was the general secretary of the Communist party in December 1984, but Margaret Thatcher identified Gorbachev as a man she could do business with, and started that extraordinary process of negotiation with the Russians from a position of strength. That position had a united, solid NATO that was outspending the Soviet Union on research and defence capability, showing the Soviets that ultimately their aspiration of world domination would not succeed, and would fall apart because of our strength, unity and determination to outspend them by at least four to one on military capability and technology.
That is the lesson that we now need to learn. We need to negotiate with the Russians from a position of strength. That, I am afraid, is the only thing the Russians understand. They only understand if negotiations are entered from a position of strength and unity. Nothing would please President Putin more than a disunited NATO that is crumbling, divided and not spending a great deal of money on new investments and technology.
We need to increase our spending on defence. Many Conservative MPs, myself included, are extremely concerned at the cuts to our armed forces, whether they are to the number of ships being built or the number of soldiers we have. We understand and recognise the pressures on the budget but, nevertheless, the first duty and responsibility of any Government is the defence of the realm. That is not just the defence of this island; it is the defence of our continent.
When a country is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and the largest military power on our continent, that comes with huge responsibilities. We need to think about the defence of not just our NATO partners, but the other countries in Europe—those final few people and countries on the fringes of Europe that still do not have the comfort blanket of NATO membership and security. We also need to keep NATO strong against the dangerous moves by the European Union to create a single EU army.
I have been a Member of Parliament for nearly 17 years, and I have not had a single complaint about NATO from any of my 81,000 constituents. I have had a lot of complaints about the European Union, but not a single complaint about NATO—it does what it says on the tin. It is an organisation of 30 countries and, as hon. Members know, North Macedonia is the latest country to have had the privilege of joining what is probably the most successful military alliance in the world, and it was given that privilege last year.
We need to keep NATO strong and united against the moves to create a single European army, because I would argue that if it came to fruition, that would, at best, duplicate the services of NATO and, at worst, usurp the supremacy of NATO, destabilise it and push out those six countries that, at the moment, are inextricably linked to the common defence of our continent but are not, and will never be, members of the European Union. Let us just think about those countries for a second: America, Canada, Iceland, Norway, Turkey and the United Kingdom—six extraordinarily important partners that are committed to the defence of our continent. Turkey is protecting our southern flank, America and Britain are two permanent members of the UN Security Council, and Norway, Iceland and Canada are critical in keeping the Atlantic open in the event of hostilities between Russia and America. That is also something to take into consideration.
President Putin wants to undermine Ukraine and turn it into a vassal state like Belarus. He wants another puppet like Lukashenko to run Ukraine for him, and I have spent the last few days watching interviews with former President Yanukovych, who, after the Maidan revolution in Kiev, was whisked to safety to Russia in a Russian helicopter. Putin is keeping Yanukovych there, ready for when he can destroy the Ukrainian Government and reimpose another puppet who will basically give a veneer of independence to Ukraine. As we all know, however, the strings of the puppet will all be controlled from Moscow. We cannot allow that to happen.
I am coming to the end of my speech, but I want to mention the NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania in 2008 that stated the organisation’s commitment to NATO membership for Ukraine. That is a very important point, because the United Kingdom, as a member of NATO, is a signatory to the Bucharest statement of 2008. Let me read an extract from the Bucharest summit declaration:
“NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO. We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO. Both nations have made valuable contributions to Alliance operations. We welcome the democratic reforms in Ukraine and Georgia and look forward to free and fair parliamentary elections in Georgia in May. MAP”—
the membership action plan, which is the prelude and precursor to NATO membership, as well as the framework and grid—
“is the next step for Ukraine and Georgia on their direct way to membership. Today we make clear that we support these countries’ applications for MAP. Therefore we will now begin a period of intensive engagement with both at a high political level to address the questions still outstanding pertaining to their MAP applications. We have asked Foreign Ministers to make a first assessment of progress at their December 2008 meeting. Foreign Ministers have the authority to decide on the MAP applications of Ukraine and Georgia.”
That is a statement from 2008 whereby Britain and other NATO partners made it abundantly clear that the prelude and precursor to NATO membership—which is ostensibly carried out through the MAP, the membership action plan—would be instigated. That was over a decade ago, so I would like to ask the Minister for her assessment of what has happened since the Bucharest summit. What is her understanding of the MAP strategy for Ukraine, and what are the British Government doing to take a lead in supporting Ukraine’s MAP application process and ongoing movement towards a conclusion and fruition?
There are other things in that process, such as the enhanced partnership for peace which NATO affords, formed partly by countries such as Jordan, Australia, Ukraine, Georgia, Sweden and Finland. However, the real precursor to membership is the MAP, and that is what I will ask the Minister about today. That is why I have instigated the debate; I want to know about the MAP, and I am going to ask a lot of written parliamentary questions about the issue over the coming months and years.
Finally, I come to British leadership on our continent. Do Members remember what they used to say to us in 1999 when Poland, the country of my birth, joined NATO? Do they remember what they said to us when Poland and the Czech Republic joined NATO, when those central European counties were given part-defence partnership with us? They said that it was a step too far, that it would cause world war three and that it would trigger some sort of conflagration that would destroy Europe. That is what they told us: “Don’t give the Poles NATO membership, it is too dangerous. Let’s just leave them there, in the Russian sphere of influence.”
That is absolutely disgusting and disgraceful. That is not the British way. However, we showed that leadership to ensure that our friends in Poland, the Czech Republic, and other central and eastern European countries were given that right to join NATO. The same thing happened in 2004, when Romania and Bulgaria were allowed to join NATO. There were the same siren calls, “It is a step too far, it is going to cause another world war and conflagration with the Russians”. That did not happen.
The time has come to give our Ukrainian partners that same insurance policy. They are our fellow Europeans; let us remember that. They are our fellow European brothers and sisters, not some obscure country far away of which we know very little, and not some banana republic that we have no connections with. They are our fellow brothers and sisters, our fellow European brothers and sisters. With that comes a massive obligation to support them.
I have recently written a report on the Three Seas initiative, which I have sent to the Minister. That is a new grouping of 12 countries in central and eastern Europe led by Poland and Croatia, and we interviewed all 12 ambassadors in writing the report. It is a very exciting project that it is taking place in central and eastern Europe, and I very much hope that we can engage further with that initiative, as well as helping Ukraine. It is an opportunity for Britain to take a lead in central and eastern Europe. As Germany and France are undermining Ukraine for their own selfish, national commercial interests—specifically with the Nord Stream 2 pipeline—now is the time for Britain to show leadership.
Finally, the Ukrainians will remember our actions. They are in probably one of the most vulnerable, dangerous set of circumstances that any European country could face. We are lucky here in the United Kingdom to be perched on the extreme western fringes of our continent, as far away as possible from Russia. When a country has a border with Russia—I have been to the Polish-Russian border on many occasions—and the brown bear is next door, his claw scratching on the windowsill, everything changes. The Ukrainians are watching us now and will remember how we behave. I want to lead a campaign, which I hope other MPs will join, in a cross-party caucus to convince our Government that the time has come to show leadership and ensure our Ukrainian friends are finally given NATO membership.
Thank you for permitting me to speak in today’s debate, Mr Dowd. I thank the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) for leading the debate. He has not said a word that I do not totally agree with, so I add my support to his final statement—indeed, all his words—that we do our best across parties in this House to help Ukraine and its citizens. Like him and others who will speak shortly, I fully understand the necessity to support Ukraine physically, emotionally and militarily in such a way that it can feel secure and more confident, and can be assured that we will, as part of NATO and the western countries, add our support should it be necessary.
I am pleased to speak in this debate, and I look forward to hearing the Minister. I thank our United Kingdom Government, who have been very supportive of Ukraine. We urge others to follow our example and support the Ukrainians in their fight against Russian intervention and the potential—indeed, the reality—of invasion. Russia has for many decades posed a threat to democracy. We are probably more aware of that today than we have been in the past. There is no doubt that we must take further action to support the smaller countries that cannot protect themselves.
Along with others, I have an interest in history, and I have read some of the history of Ukraine. I am ever mindful—I was mindful of it before I came to this debate—of the famine and forced hunger that Russia put Ukrainians through in the past. Some 6 million, probably more, died as a result. Russia is no friend of Ukraine. Indeed, Russia is no friend of anybody in the western countries. Its ambitions are great and will be detrimental.
Since 2014, the disruption and intrusion into Ukrainian territory has been ongoing. Only last year President Zelensky approved Ukraine’s new national security strategy, which provides for the development of a distinctive partnership with NATO, leading towards membership. I was struck by the comment made by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham about Poland on its introduction to NATO and the comments from some countries about what would happen. Well, it did not happen for Poland and it will not happen for Ukraine, provided NATO stands strong. I commend him for those comments.
The sooner Ukraine is introduced to NATO, the better. I am keen and anxious to see that happen sooner rather than later. It is one small step forward in improving relations between Ukraine and the rest of the NATO states. As recently as 2019, President Vladimir Putin admitted that there was still a significant amount of military intelligence in Ukraine, so President Putin’s ambitions are clear. As of 2019, 7% of Ukraine’s territory is occupied by Russia—taken illegally and violently. The 7% of Ukraine that Russia now controls has no buildings, no growth, no wildlife and no habitat—desolation and total destruction. What Russia has done to that part of Ukraine it will do, but more so, elsewhere. There have been many reports of Russia’s undercover and special forces behind the lines, carrying out attacks, espionage and, indeed, the murder of Ukrainian citizens. That is something about which I am greatly concerned.
I am very grateful to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland for supporting Ukraine’s continued efforts to boost its naval capability, to which the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham referred. In 2015, the UK launched Operation Orbital, a non-lethal training and capacity building operation to aid the Ukrainian armed forces. I very much welcome that, but I perhaps wish that there was something stronger; we and NATO have to look at that possibility, and the United States has to look at it alongside us. Operation Orbital came shortly after the 2014 Russia-Ukraine war, in which it was estimated that 13,000 people lost their lives and 1.5 million people were internally displaced. Those internally displaced people are now residing permanently in Government-controlled areas of Ukraine.
I chair the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief. At the time of the war I highlighted, in some questions and statements, information received from eastern Ukraine about churches having been destroyed, and Baptist and other clergy having gone missing—what happened to them has never been disclosed. People in eastern Ukraine lost their freedom and the right to practise their religion, and it is time that Russia is held accountable for those crimes against humanity—crimes carried out against people who just happened to be Christians and to have a religious point of view. Their human rights were abused. Russia is a threat to religion and belief, and its human rights abuses are enormous.
In September 2020, further efforts were made by the Secretary of State for Defence, the right hon. Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace). He announced that the UK would lead a multinational maritime training initiative for the Ukrainian navy, enabling it to advance its own naval strategy to fight off Russian threats. Some £2.2 million of non-lethal equipment has been gifted to Ukraine. Despite the continued efforts of the UK and others, I believe that more needs to be done. We need more direct military intervention. Preventing war requires the military to be in place, so that others think twice before they do anything. The quicker we can bring about Ukraine’s partnership with NATO, the better.
In addition, we must do more to encourage our allies—to be specific, the USA—to help Ukraine. President Biden has recently been under pressure to say whether he will support Ukraine’s bid to join NATO, given the immense pressure that he is under from Putin. I know that Biden and Putin have had talks in the last few days. The NATO Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg, has previously stated that Ukraine needs to do more to fulfil promised reforms before it can be accepted for NATO discussions. I ask NATO and Ukraine to expedite those reforms. The quicker they can be brought forward, the quicker Ukraine can become part of NATO and the quicker we can provide support where it is needed.
Have the Minister and the Government had any update on the discussions that President Biden has had with President Putin? What was the outcome of those talks? President Biden is not accountable to us, but I am hopeful because he has had a very strong stance and his comments have reiterated the commitment of NATO and the USA to Ukraine. Is the Minister aware of what took place? I think that we in this House would be very pleased to have an update.
It is important that these promises are met, but I must emphasise further the importance of demonstrating the force of a network of liberty against malign activity. I welcome the recent efforts of the Foreign Secretary at her meetings with world leaders in addressing the concerns of Russian intervention. We must not forgot our commitment to protecting democracy, ensuring essential defence mechanisms and doing everything necessary to ensure that the relationship between Ukraine, NATO, the US and ourselves prospers.
I am proud of the continued efforts by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to aid Ukraine in its fight to join NATO. Until that is accepted, we must do more to ensure that Ukraine is strong enough to fight off Russian interference, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland must be seen to be one of the leading actors encouraging others to do so. I commend the Minister and the Government for what they have done. I look forward to the shadow Ministers’ speeches shortly. I believe that we must have a united front in favour of Ukraine, stand by them and ensure Russia knows that if it takes on Ukraine, it takes on us.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I congratulate and thank the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) for bringing the debate forward. He and I do not often find ourselves in agreement—in fact, I do not know whether we ever have outside of this issue—but we agree 100% on this issue. I start by declaring an interest, of sorts. I am very proud to be a recipient and holder of the Ukrainian Order of Merit, bestowed on me by the President of Ukraine, and I proudly hold that award as a strong and robust friend of Ukraine.
It is important to acknowledge, in the context of the debate, not just the current military backdrop that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, but two important anniversaries. One was Holodomor Memorial Day last month, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). Also, this month marks the anniversary of the start of the Revolution of Dignity in 2014, when Ukrainians, in that bitter cold weather—I do not know whether you have been to that part of the world at this time of year, Mr Dowd, but it is bitterly cold—camped out on Maidan Square, taking on the friend of a tyrant with almost unparalleled resistance to demand a democratic future for their country. And they paid, many of them, with their lives in doing so.
It is important that we understand that important anniversary and that backdrop to the debate. However, I lament the debate in one sense, because of the acres of empty green seats around me. The House needs to wake up, because we are facing a potential conflict that will not confine itself to the borders of Ukraine, but will impact every single country in Europe and beyond, and that includes this country.
I want to address the conflict in eastern Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. Like the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham, I too have been to eastern Ukraine; I was there almost four years ago with colleagues. We took the time to go to Donetsk and Kramatorsk—and we went out to Kharkiv, which is a bit more liberated, shall we say—and spoke to people there. I encourage anyone who goes to Ukraine that just as London is not the United Kingdom, Kiev is not Ukraine. Get out of the capital, head east and talk to people, and go west and talk to people about the conflict as well.
Although the hon. Member for Strangford mentions the number of deaths that the conflict has so far tallied up, we should take a moment to reflect on the fact that nearly 15,000 people have been killed in a war that barely gets a mention outside of escalating tensions reported in our national media, and we are not alone in that. It has displaced more than 1 million civilians within their own country—a country that we can fly to in about four hours from Heathrow airport.
I also want to address the annexation of Crimea, where there continue to be human rights abuses, in particular of religious rights, as rightly mentioned by the hon. Member for Strangford, such as the rights of the Crimean Tatars. It is worth emphasising that we do not recognise the illegal annexation of Crimea in any way, shape or form—I think we all agree on that.
There has been a lot of talk about military encirclement of Russia. Well, let us deal with that issue. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham rightly used the phrase “the new iron curtain”. There are currently more Russian troops stationed in countries bordering Russia than there are US troops stationed in countries bordering Russia. The Kremlin and its current office holder can have as many concerns as they like about Ukraine’s future defence posture and the alliances that it may or may not choose to join, including NATO or the European Union, but Russia does not get a veto on membership or aspirations for membership. The only countries that get a say in that are Ukraine—it is a stated aspiration of the current and previous Governments of Ukraine, and I would bet that, in any free and fair election, it will be the stated aspiration of the next Government of Ukraine— and the other member states of NATO, of which, last time I checked, Russia is not one. So the red lines and the desire for the veto should be seen for what they are—posturing on behalf of the Kremlin that should be given the cold shoulder.
It is worth reflecting on that encirclement right now and, in particular, as the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham rightly mentions, the situation in Belarus and how that becomes a new opening—a new platform—in a conflict that started in 2014; because Russia right now has stationed more troops around Ukraine than there are troops in the entire British Army, and we have intelligence from the United States that that number will get bigger early in the new year. We should also reflect on the steps that the United States has taken. After some capitals, in Europe in particular, were mildly sceptical of its intelligence, the US took the extraordinary step of sharing even more intelligence than it normally would, which has united NATO in recent statements and united NATO in its assessment of what may well happen next.
It is vital, therefore, that we give all the support we can to Ukraine. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham rightly mentions Nord Stream 2. I am minded to check his claim that he has asked more questions on that than any other Member of Parliament—I think he and I might be in competition there—but I will say this about the Government. I have always found it difficult to criticise the Government for their support for Ukraine; my only criticism is only that I want them to go further and faster. They do a good job. I have met the defence attaché in Ukraine; I have met the embassy staff who work with civil society groups and others. They do an excellent job; but I always want to see the Government go further.
On Nord Stream 2, finally the Government are starting to see sense, although it might be a bit late for that. I remember standing where I am now, when Alan Duncan was the Minister—perhaps even in the post now held by the Minister with us today—listening to him say that the issue was peripheral to British interests and that we did not have to worry about it that much, with Member of Parliament after Member of Parliament telling him otherwise. The money that is generated from Nord Stream 2 into Kremlin coffers ain’t gonna stay in Kremlin coffers. It will fund the new hybrid war not just in Ukraine, but across all of Europe as well. Despite there being so few speakers in the debate, we probably do not have time to go into what that might look like.
I completely concur with the hon. Gentleman’s statement about NATO. Former President Trump, who I suspect the hon. Gentleman is not a great fan of, nevertheless did challenge Jens Stoltenberg in a clear and sensible way when he asked him, “Why is it that you, the Secretary-General of NATO, allow one of its members to bypass and impede the security of our other NATO partners?”. If you are a member of NATO, that is a huge attribute, but it is also a huge responsibility. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Germany should think more reasonably and responsibly about the interests of fellow NATO partners, rather than just securing her own energy interests?
I do agree, and I hope that the new Chancellor, who has taken up post during this debate, will take a more robust position, not least because of Annalena Baerbock’s appointment as the new Foreign Minister of the German Federal Government, which the hon. Member mentioned. However, the less that is said about the Trump Administration and Ukraine, the better.
I end with some questions for the Minister, if I might. When will we see some detail on what the enhanced sanctions mentioned by the White House in the past few days might be, and how the UK would fit into a co-ordinated effort? What assessment have the Government made of Russia’s intentions post the call between President Putin and President Biden? If there is a further military escalation, what response can we expect—and can Ukraine expect—from the Government? I am thinking in terms of the full spectrum of options open to them. Will the Government now, for goodness’ sake, implement something —anything—from the Intelligence and Security Committee’s report on Russia?
On the impact that a further escalation of the conflict will have, will the Government publish an assessment of what that will mean for Europe, learning from Afghanistan? Some assessments say that if there is to be a full-scale invasion, we could be looking at up to 9 million Ukrainian refugees. We will need to take some of those people in. Will the Government give us assurances that if that were to be the case, we will not have a repeat of what has played out in terms of taking refugees as far as Afghanistan is concerned? Will they also outline what it might mean for grain supplies in Europe? There has been much talk about Ukraine being a bridge or a buffer, but it is actually well known as the breadbasket of Europe, and it is important that we understand what the consequences of a full-scale invasion would look like. Perhaps the debate would have more speakers if the House better understood that the conflict will come to this country as well.
On NATO membership, I support Ukraine’s aspiration to join NATO because that is its people’s aspiration and we should help them make that happen. Not to diminish the work already going on through Operation Orbital and much else, can the UK look to lead a coalition of NATO member states to deepen the work that we are doing to get to the important membership action plan? Can we start to second officials from whatever Departments we need to second them from, to really beef up the efforts to get Ukraine to the point where its aspirations can be met?
As the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham correctly said at the end of his speech, Ukrainians will remember. They will remember what we did and what we did not do. It is not good enough for us to pat ourselves on the back and think that we are in a good place, because events change and change fast, and so do people’s perceptions. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Mr Dowd. I thank the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) for securing this timely debate, not least following the developments in recent days and yesterday’s urgent question in the House.
I will begin by referencing the close ties between Ukraine and my country of Wales as well as my city of Cardiff, which was twinned with Luhansk for many years following the assistance given in the 1980s by that fine city’s citizens to Welsh striking miners. There are many fond and close connections between our two countries. I have had the pleasure of spending time in Ukraine in the past; I taught English in Lviv for some time in my early 20s and have many fine Ukrainian friends and connections and a deep affection for the country. Our friendships and histories are close. In Wales, our Counsel General, Mick Antoniw, is of Ukrainian heritage and a strong defender of the rights of Ukraine.
We heard a range of important contributions this morning and yesterday from Members from both sides of the House. The degree of unity, resolution, concern and attention to this issue, both in this place and across our allies, should not be underestimated by President Putin, the Russian regime and others seeking to destabilise Europe and undermine the liberties and aspirations of people wherever they may be, whether in Ukraine or across the continent. I therefore reiterate the comments of the new shadow Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy):
“It is important at moments such as these that we send the united message from all sides of this House that the UK is resolute in our support for the sovereignty, the independence and the territorial integrity of Ukraine.”—[Official Report, 7 December 2021; Vol. 705, c. 188-9.]
It is rare for me to quote Ministers, but we absolutely agreed yesterday with the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford), that it is right that
“the UK is unwavering in our support of Ukraine’s sovereignty, and its territorial integrity, including of its territorial waters, within its internationally recognised borders. Russia should uphold the OSCE principles…that it freely signed up to, which it is violating through its ongoing aggression against Ukraine.”—[Official Report, 7 December 2021; Vol. 705, c. 188.]
Ukrainians want a democratic future and to choose their own path. They must be allowed to choose their own political destiny. We welcome the dialogue between President Biden and President Putin yesterday, and it was rightly made clear in statements before and after that it should be understood that any attempt to further undermine Ukraine’s integrity or engage in dangerous military adventurism will be met with a strong, robust and resolute response. Nobody—not least us—wishes for or seeks further armed conflict. The Opposition welcome the unity and clarity with which our European and Atlantic allies have spoken. We hope that that message has been heard, that dialogue will continue and that the Russian regime will step away from the precipice it is currently sitting on.
Regrettably, this has been part of a wider pattern of dangerous behaviour by Russia and its agents, with tensions raised not only in Ukraine but through its support for the regime in Belarus and its actions, and recently in Bosnia as well. That follows the completely unacceptable and illegal annexation of Crimea and Russian actions in Donbass and other locations, including Georgia, in previous years. We must not forget that more than 14,000 people have lost their lives in the seven years of conflict in Ukraine’s east since Russian-backed forces seized large areas, nor must we forget those who tragically lost their lives in the despicable shooting down of MH17 over the conflict area. Nobody wishes to see further lives lost. Russia’s further ratcheting up of rhetoric and military assets in the region is both dangerous and irresponsible. Perhaps Russia thought we would look away, not least given the pressures of the pandemic and many other international matters. It should be assured that, when it comes to the stability and security of Europe and of Ukraine itself, we will not look away. We will stand by our commitments.
Michael Kofman from the US Centre for Naval Analyses illustrated today for the BBC exactly why concerns have escalated. We heard of the huge numbers of troops and assets. He said:
“While the current Russian military posture supports a range of contingencies…what's remarkable about it is the size of the combat elements assembled and the follow-on force designed to hold seized territory. Consequently, it looks like a credible invasion force, in excess of anything put together in 2014-2015, (the last time major Russian units were directly involved in the fighting) designed for a large scale military intervention.”
That is absolutely clear and tallies with other open-source intelligence that the United States and others have shared. We have also heard in recent days about medical and fuel supply chains to the borders of Ukraine being established, which only further unnecessarily escalates the situation. It is completely dangerous and completely unacceptable.
I turn to some questions for the Minister and other issues. In particular—I will return to this—I hope she will be able to provide further clarity and commitment on the types of financial and economic actions that are being considered, not least with regard to the Nord Stream 2 development, if the Russian regime foolishly chooses to follow another path. I agree wholeheartedly with a number of Members’ comments on that today and yesterday. Have the Minister and her colleagues been engaging with the incoming German Government, particularly the new Foreign Minister? Have they asked them to discuss the situation regarding the cancellation of Nord Stream 2 to ensure that Russia is not able to increase Europe’s energy dependency or weaken our unity with a chokehold on critical energy supplies during the winter? It is clear to anybody who has been watching the situation, as many of those in this room and the speakers in yesterday’s debate have been, that this has been a medium and long-term strategy by the Russian regime to destabilise Ukraine and others in the region, whether that is because they will lose potential transit fees or energy supplies. What other steps are we taking to reduce our dependency on energy supplies from Russia?
Opposition Members wholeheartedly welcome the support the Government have given to Ukraine, and the strong partnership and friendship we have. As has been said, this is not some far-flung shore, but a nearby friend, neighbour and partner, whose prosperity, stability and liberty is of mutual interest to us all. Ukraine has been an important ally since its independence in 1991 and has been working with us closely in military partnerships and through NATO missions for many years. We stand in support of international law, self-determination and the specific commitments that were made under the Budapest memorandum. We have specific responsibilities as a result of those, which have unfortunately been forgotten in some parts of this House. We must remind people about them and about the agreements that were made at that time.
We welcome the support that our UK armed forces and NATO partners have provided and continue to provide in Ukraine. We have trained over 21,000 Ukrainian military personnel in medical skills, logistics, counter-improvised explosive device actions, leadership, planning and infantry tactics, as part of Operation Orbital and in relation to the UK-led maritime training initiative. As has been referenced, it is absolutely right that we work with Ukraine to ensure the freedom of maritime navigation in the Black sea and the Sea of Azov, in line with international law and commitments.
As has also been said, our trade links are critical. We heard about Ukraine being the breadbasket of Europe. In 2019, almost 15% of British cereal imports originated in Ukraine. We must be clear about the impacts for us, our food security and our trading relationships going forward. Beyond that, we have provided official development assistance towards developing economic prosperity, peacebuilding and human rights initiatives. It is right that that continues.
We continue to work with organisations promoting diplomatic dialogue, freedom, human rights and peace, such as the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Can the Minister outline the latest conversations we have had at the OSCE, at the United Nations and at other bodies regarding existing agreements? She will be aware that the OSCE’s special monitoring mission continues its work, although it is often hampered in eastern Ukraine.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding me of a point I wanted to make about the special monitoring mission. I take the point that the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) made about breaches of agreements, but does the shadow Minister agree that it remains more than a bit absurd that the Russian Government are a party to that special monitoring mission and are therefore marking their own homework, as the fomenter of the conflict in eastern Ukraine?
Indeed. There are many frustrations around that mission and its ability to do its work, and about the wider context. In terms of those who are breaking the ceasefire agreements, the SMM reported 286 ceasefire violations, including 131 explosions, in just the last reporting period. In the Luhansk region, the mission recorded 261 ceasefire violations. What assessment has the Minister made of the current situation there? What steps are we taking to help de-escalate tensions and ensure adherence to the ceasefire agreement?
At times of high tension, it is critical that calm heads and accurate information prevail. In that regard, it is deeply alarming to see much of the false information emanating from the Russian media, the Russian regime and sympathisers in the region regarding the intentions of Ukraine, the UK, NATO and its allies. We cannot afford for military or political miscalculations to be made on the basis of misinformation or deliberate disinformation, and nor can we accept hybrid attacks on the critical infrastructure of Ukraine or other allies and partners. What assessment has the Minister made of the levels of false information circulating? What steps are we taking to counter and correct that, both directly with the Russian regime and to reassure our allies and partners, including Ukraine, when false information is circulated? What steps are we providing to support Ukraine and other partners to defend themselves against cyber-attacks and other forms of hybrid warfare?
At this time, our NATO allies in the region, in the Baltic states and in eastern Europe will—understandably —be deeply concerned about the direct impact of this escalation and indeed about the continued provocations of Russia towards them. Of course, we have UK forces and support present across the region, not least in Estonia, where Welsh regiments have served very bravely recently, which is very welcome. Can the Minister give some more detail about the discussions the Foreign Secretary had with our Baltic friends and others in eastern Europe on her recent visits, and assure them of our absolute commitment to our NATO partnership with them?
We have heard talk about the situation in Belarus. The Russian regime has additionally encouraged Belarus to antagonise its neighbours, including Ukraine, Poland and the Baltics, through the shameful use of human beings to create a border crisis, with the dictator Alexander Lukashenko continuing to attempt to push them across into Poland and other neighbouring countries, including Ukraine itself. We have heard about the tragic loss of life and the tragic humanitarian situation there, and those actions have rightly been condemned by many members of the Security Council. Can the Minister say what she is doing to work with our partners to de-escalate tensions and provide humanitarian support? Will she send a clear message to the Belarus Government that refugees cannot be used as pawns in a political game pushed by their sponsors in Moscow? What assessment has she made of the impact on the wider tensions that we are debating today? We must move in lockstep with our European partners to consider all appropriate responses to the unacceptable behaviour of the Lukashenko regime, including applying further sanctions. We have a debate coming up later today on the Magnitsky sanctions, and I am sure many of these issues will be raised then.
Finally, I come to an area where I do have some criticism of the Government; indeed, my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary raised this issue yesterday. As well as working with allies and supporting actions to support Ukraine, we must ensure we do all we can at home to challenge the Russian regime’s behaviour, tackling the untransparent and in some cases illicit sources of support that undermine our sovereignty and that of our allies, and that provide routes to influence even at the heart of our own democracy. We know that that is merely one step removed from even more offensive actions on our own territory—the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham referenced these earlier—whether that be murder or the use of chemical or radiological weapons, which cannot be tolerated, or a wide range of other unacceptable actions. We know that the UK continues to be a soft touch for corrupt elites and the dirty money that helps sustain the Putin regime. That was set out clearly in the Russia report and continues to be substantiated by further evidence, yet more than 18 months after that report was published none of its recommendations has been fully implemented. The Minister who responded yesterday failed to commit, so I ask again: will this Minister commit to taking the steps necessary to implement the recommendations in the Russia report?
As I mentioned, later today we will be debating Magnitsky sanctions and the Government’s failure to further expand the number of individuals subject to sanctions. To be fair, we welcomed and supported the set-up of that system, and we want to see it used further to tackle individuals responsible for deeply unacceptable actions globally, threatening our interests and those of our allies, to ensure that they are brought to book. The Minister will not want to be drawn on individual cases, but can she say whether the Government are considering further Magnitsky sanctions in relation to actions by individuals in the Russian regime with regard to Ukraine or the other issues we have discussed today?
Despite those criticisms, I conclude by reiterating our clear support for the broad approach being taken by the Government. It is only right that the Russian regime understands that when it comes to Ukraine we will take a unified, robust and appropriate response to unacceptable aggression and adventurism. We are united in this House, and we are united among our partners and allies. We urge Russia to de-escalate the situation and respect the liberties and territorial integrity of Ukraine, which it has previously shown scant regard for.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd, and to be a part of this interesting and insightful debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) on securing it. Normally the Minister for Europe and the Americas would respond, but I am delighted to take part while she is travelling on ministerial duties. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for securing this debate and for the real wisdom and insight he brings to it. I am also grateful to other Members who have contributed today. As has been mentioned, the debate follows an urgent question on the Floor of the House yesterday.
Our debate takes place in the shadow of a build-up of Russian troops on Ukraine’s border and against the backdrop of the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting in Riga last week, which has been mentioned. At that meeting, the Foreign Secretary, alongside our allies, made crystal clear to her Ukrainian counterpart our commitment to Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. We have repeated that support many times in the House, as the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), mentioned.
I should state that the current relationship with Russia is not the one we want. As we made clear in the integrated review, Russia’s actions pose an acute and direct threat to the national security of the UK and its allies, and we have shown in recent years that we take that threat seriously. As well as responding to and calling out Russian aggression wherever it occurs, we have been clear that serious criminals, corrupt elites and individuals who seek to threaten the security of the UK and our allies are not welcome in the United Kingdom. That is why we are also tackling elicit finance entering our country through groundbreaking legislation and our ambitious economic crime plan.
The UK remains firmly committed to Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. We want Ukraine to be secure, stable and prosperous, and we want Ukrainians to be able to define their own future. Any military incursion would be a terrible miscalculation, and the Russian Government should expect significant strategic consequences, including severe economic sanctions.
The UK does not stand alone. We are at the heart of the international community’s support for Ukraine, deepening its partnership with NATO. Together, we stand ready to continue and build our support for Ukraine across all areas, including energy, reform and defence. Last summer, we backed Ukraine to become an enhanced opportunity partner to increase political consultations, co-operation and joint training and exercises with NATO. We stand firm in our support for Ukraine’s membership aspirations, in line with the 2008 Bucharest summit declaration, which saw NATO allies agree that Ukraine will become a member of the alliance. Allies have reiterated this commitment at every summit since—most recently in June 2021—and that is as it should be.
The route towards membership requires Ukraine’s continued commitment to strengthen its institutions and to deliver the defence and security reforms agreed with NATO in its annual national programme. Ukraine needs to persevere with defence and security reforms as the route to membership. As mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham, it is a decision between all 30 allies to grant MAP. That does not prevent NATO and Ukraine from developing their interoperability. As I say, Ukraine achieved enhanced opportunity partner status last year. That is the closest level of partnership with NATO and offers valuable opportunity for engagement with the alliance as Ukraine moves forward with its reforms. I encourage Ukraine to make full use of its enhanced opportunity partner status, which allows for regular information sharing and co-operation.
In the meantime, it is vital that NATO allies continue to stand in solidarity with Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression and provocations and that we work to bolster Kiev’s defences and broader security in the region. That includes Ukraine’s energy security, which is one of the reasons why the UK remains opposed to Nord Stream 2. We are concerned about its implications for the interests of Ukraine and for European energy security, and we stand firm in defending our common interests. I want to make it clear that this support is fundamentally defensive in nature, because Ukraine poses no threat to Russia, and nor does NATO. It is a defensive alliance, which strives for peace, security and stability in the whole Euro- Atlantic area.
The UK remains a key and active member of the NATO alliance. UK military support for Ukraine covers many areas and has been expanded and extended. That includes training delivered through Operation Orbital, which has trained more than 20,000 Ukrainian troops. The training is defensive, is designed to save lives, focusing on the skills for which the Ukrainians have sought our assistance, and is delivered at the point of need.
We will continue to demonstrate our commitment to maintain regional security and freedom of navigation. We take part in periodic deployments, including under a NATO banner, such as Exercise Sea Breeze in the Black sea, and Exercise Joint Endeavour, where we tested and evaluated new techniques, alongside Ukraine. Those deployments have helped to maintain regional security, check Russian aggression and demonstrate NATO’s political support for Ukraine and other allies and partners in the region. In addition, in conjunction with our Canadian allies, we are the NATO contact point embassy for 2021-22. That provides further opportunities to strengthen NATO’s relationship with Ukraine, explain the responsibilities and benefits of the alliance and tackle false narratives.
As I mentioned at the beginning, the Foreign Secretary took part in the NATO Foreign Ministers’ meeting at Riga last week, where she discussed the current situation with the Ukrainian Foreign Minister. She reassured him of our unwavering support for Ukraine, including through NATO’s comprehensive assistance package. That package includes assistance on capacity building for cyber and logistics expertise, as well as developing Ukraine’s training programmes. The two are meeting again today at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, during the inaugural UK-Ukraine strategic dialogue.
Tensions on the Ukraine-Russia border, and on the border with the illegally annexed Crimea—
I thank the Minister for her response. With reference to my contribution and those of others, does the Minister know what happened between Biden and Putin? Can she update us on that?
The hon. Member has pre-empted me. I will come to that before I wind up, and give my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham a few minutes to conclude.
With our allies, we are closely monitoring the situation. It is critical that all sides avoid miscalculation. We are unequivocal in our message to Vladimir Putin to see reason and return to diplomatic channels. We have called on the Russian Government to abide by their international commitments, to provide transparency and see reason. NATO remains open to dialogue with Russia.
We will continue to work with our allies and partners to uphold the rules-based international system in relation to Ukraine and the institutions that underpin it. The Prime Minister has spoken to President Zelensky on a number of occasions to reiterate the UK’s support. He raised the issue of Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine directly with President Putin when they spoke ahead of COP26.
Turning to the call between Presidents Biden and Putin this week, President Biden voiced deep concerns about Russia’s escalation of forces surrounding Ukraine and made it clear that we would respond with strong economic and other measures in the event of military escalation. President Biden reiterated his support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. They also discussed the US-Russia dialogue on strategic stability, a separate dialogue on ransomware, as well as joint work on regional issues, such as Iran. After the call, President Biden called the French, German, Italian and British leaders to debrief them on the call and consult on the way forward.
To conclude, the UK will continue to stand by Ukraine’s side as an honest friend and close partner. Our support for Ukraine, alongside our allies, is crystal clear. Together, we can and must co-ordinate greater economic support, including energy support, to Ukraine. Similarly, we must be clear to Russia that an incursion into Ukraine would incur a high cost and result in massive strategic consequences. Russia should understand that the support we provide to Ukraine is to help Ukraine defend itself. Nothing in our support could be construed as a threat to Russia. NATO poses no threat to Russia. That is why Putin needs to see reason, return to the negotiating table and understand this: our support for Ukraine is unwavering. The United Kingdom will continue to build Ukraine’s resilience and stand up for its right to determine its own future.
I am very grateful to the Minister for her very positive remarks and I am very pleased with the unity among all political parties. It is a very pleasant experience to be able to, for the first time ever, agree wholeheartedly with an SNP Member, the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald)— I shall remember this moment.
I want to finish by saying that the Ukrainians are watching all of us. They look to Britain for leadership on our continent and it is extremely important. Ukraine will be one of the most important countries on our continent in the decades ahead. It is a huge country with massive resources and one of its greatest assets is its people. Anybody who has been to Ukraine—the hon. Member for Glasgow South has, and I have had the honour and privilege of visiting that beautiful country on many occasions—will have seen the spirit of innovation and courage of the Ukrainian people. It will be an extremely important country in the future. Our future relationship will inevitably be predicated on how we conduct ourselves today and what support we give them today at its most difficult time.
I remember the previous iron curtain, the gash that cut across our continent which lasted for 50 years. We saw the celebrations in 1989 when the curtain was finally taken down. There is no greater symbolism of the curtain coming down than the destruction of the Berlin wall by young people with pickaxes, finally chipping it away. After the sacrifice and courage of previous generations to tear down that curtain, we must not allow another iron curtain to be reimposed just a little bit further east. Let us not forget that the Ukrainians are our European partners, our European brothers and sisters. I am very proud that the Government seem to be taking a lead. I will be holding them to account on how we take that leadership role in giving them maximum support.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered British support for Ukraine’s membership of NATO.
Enterprise Zones: Waveney
Before we begin, I remind Members that they are expected to wear a face covering when not speaking in the debate, in line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. I also remind Members that they are asked by the House to have a covid lateral flow test twice a week if coming on to the parliamentary estate, which can be taken at the testing centre in the House or at home. Please also give each other and members of staff space when seated, and when entering and leaving the Chamber.
I will call the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) to move the motion and then the Minister to respond. There will not be an opportunity for the Member in charge to wind up, as is the convention for 30-minute debates.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the future of enterprise zones in Waveney.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd, and I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister. The purpose of this debate is to highlight the success of the enterprise zones in the Waveney area, and to make the case for amending the arrangements through which they operate in order to unleash further economic growth and job creation. If that is done, we would be very well placed in the Waveney area and better able to level up, build back better, and deliver clean and green growth.
Enterprise zones in their present form were established by the coalition Government. The original proposals were set out in the 2011 Budget and its accompanying plan for growth. Twenty-four enterprise zones were created during the 2010 to 2015 Parliament, including the Great Yarmouth and Waveney enterprise zone, which has been run by the New Anglia local enterprise partnership in conjunction with East Suffolk Council—formerly Waveney District Council—and Great Yarmouth Borough Council.
In setting up the enterprise zones, the Government asked the LEPs to nominate enterprise zone sites, taking into account economic potential, with an emphasis on stimulating additional growth, new businesses and new jobs. Vacant sites with little or no business occupancy were favoured. In the Waveney area, there are now six enterprise zone sites across four locations: Mobbs Way in Oulton, South Lowestoft industrial estate, Riverside, adjoining the port, and Ellough, near Beccles. Those enterprise zones have provided various incentives to promote the development of new business units. They include business rates discounts, a simplified planning process through local development orders, and access to super-fast broadband.
In the Waveney area, other than on two small extension sites, the business rates relief has now expired, although all business rates growth for 25 years from April 2013 is retained by the LEP and reinvested in the area. That is an important and welcome source of funds that is invested in infrastructure improvements. The Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft New Anglia enterprise zone partnership was awarded enterprise zone status in 2011, and the site came into operation on 1 April 2012. To date, across the Waveney and Great Yarmouth areas, the enterprise zones have attracted a total of £44 million in private and public sector investment, created 916 jobs, and facilitated the development of 17.9 hectares, or 44 acres, of new employment space. In short, they have been very successful.
The enterprise zones in Lowestoft got off to a very good start with the construction of 27 units in Mobbs Way in Oulton by MS Oakes Ltd, the majority of which are occupied. The availability of the incentives I have outlined was the catalyst for Mark Oakes building the units and thereby meeting a latent demand for business accommodation in the area. It is a great example of the public and private sectors working together to deliver significant benefits for the local business community, and is being continued on the adjoining Wolsey business park, where 12 units are now fully occupied. Businesses there are from a diverse range of sectors, including energy, construction, warehousing, media, IT, and the manufacture of clay pigeon traps.
While this debate focuses on the future of enterprise zones in the Waveney area, it is also appropriate to point out that they have been a great success in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis). Beacon Park has been exclusively developed for offshore port and energy logistics uses, while South Denes has seen significant investment and is the home of Seajacks, which is involved in offshore wind projects around the world.
With the expiry of the business rates relief and the extension of superfast broadband across the enterprise zone sites, there is now a need to reinvigorate the enterprise zone project in Waveney. With this in mind, in 2018, the New Anglia enterprise partnership—made up of East Suffolk Council, Suffolk County Council, Norfolk County Council, Great Yarmouth Borough Council and the New Anglia local enterprise partnership—commissioned a study to provide a new development and investment strategy for the enterprise zones. The report included a review of current development, identified barriers to that development, and proposed interventions across all sites. It highlighted the fact that little new development has been undertaken recently. The position is similar to that in many locations around the UK and can be explained by relatively low property values set against rising construction costs, which makes new development difficult to justify. Moreover, covid has exacerbated that trend.
The report also identified low demand for new business units on the South Lowestoft industrial estate enterprise zone, where there is a large amount of undeveloped land and where rental values have traditionally been low. Development there is further constrained because, since 2013, the site owner has been reluctant to bring forward land for development. That means that approximately 15.97 hectares allocated as an enterprise zone site are highly unlikely to come forward for development over the life of the project. At the same time, demand for units, particularly in the clean energy sector, has shifted to vacant sites around the port of Lowestoft. It should be pointed out that since the enterprise zones were allocated, large parts of the port have been cleared, and are thus vacant and thus well suited to allocation as an enterprise zone.
Associated British Ports, which runs the port, is pursuing a proactive approach to development, although it is constrained by the high cost of improving port infrastructure. Taking those considerations into account, East Suffolk Council now wishes to reallocate the existing footprint of the enterprise zone by reducing the enterprise zone on the South Lowestoft industrial estate by 7.8 hectares, leaving 8.8 hectares for future development. The 7.8 hectares would be reallocated to the vacant areas around the port, and would be available for clean energy and fishing-related developments.
This is a proposal for the reallocation of sites, not for a larger enterprise zone. Thus, the Minister will be pleased to learn, it would be cost-neutral. It would meet the current demand for units, and it would enable the enterprise zone partnership to invest enterprise zone funds in the relocated sites, making development more financially viable and the sites more attractive to occupiers. It is anticipated that the reallocation would create more than 300 jobs and more than 40 new businesses, and would generate between £1 million and £3 million of retained rates to be invested in the enterprise zone scheme during the project.
The business rates relief has been a great catalyst for promoting activity on the enterprise zone sites, incentivising developers to build units and encouraging occupiers to buy or rent them. Now that the relief has expired, other than on the two small extension sites, that means of stimulating economic activity is no longer there. It needs to be put back in place, and if that is done, it will help to promote development around the port and on the other enterprise zone sites, particularly at Mobbs Way and at Ellough. I therefore ask the Minister to give full consideration to extending the rates relief incentive for a further five years.
Since the enterprise zones came into operation in Waveney in 2012, there has been a sea change in the focus of regeneration activity towards the centre of Lowestoft, where the port lies adjacent to the main shopping area, which, like so many other high streets, has faced enormous challenges in the past two to three years. The proposal to reallocate the enterprise zone sites is in accordance with, and complements well, the Lowestoft town investment plan, which earlier this year helped to secure a town deal of £24.9 million. Exciting new opportunities are emerging, and it is important that we do all that we can to realise their full potential. LEEF, REAF and Eastern Energy Hub, on the power park, are three such initiatives taking place in the area.
LEEF—the Lowestoft Eastern Energy Facility—has been brought forward by Associated British Ports and, in the first instance, is a five-year plan involving an initial £25 million in port infrastructure to support the offshore energy industry. Three new deep-water berths will be provided, spanning more than 360 metres and with additional crew transfer vessel berthing capacity, along with 8 acres of supporting land.
REAF—the Renaissance of the East Anglian Fisheries —is a community-led project that has come forward with a long-term strategy to regenerate the East Anglian fishing industry, with Lowestoft as its hub. It is made up of representatives of the local fishing industry, East Suffolk Council, Suffolk County Council, Norfolk County Council, the New Anglia LEP and Seafish. I currently chair its steering group.
The strategy has been reviewed following the signing of the trade and co-operation agreement with the EU this time last year, and funding has recently been received from the Blue Marine Foundation to start work on implementing the 11-point plan. I will not go through them all in detail, but I will highlight three: first, to promote sustainable fishing practices and the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions—it is very much about clean and green growth—secondly, to invest in port infrastructure; and thirdly, similarly to enhance processing and marketing facilities. The reallocation of the enterprise zone will support those proposals, which will create jobs not just on fishing boats, but right along the supply chain, from the net to the plate.
The Eastern Energy Hub proposals involve the refurbishment of Gulliver, the existing wind turbine, and pairing it with electrolysers to produce hydrogen. That could then be used by municipal buses and refuse fleets in east Suffolk, with a nearby depot from which hydrogen-fuelled buses could run. In due course, one could move on to promote a hydrogen heating scheme in Lowestoft. As you can see, Mr Dowd, an awful lot is happening in the local area, and we need to use all the tools we can to stimulate and invigorate it.
In conclusion, I have two requests for the Minister. First, the 7.8 hectares of the South Lowestoft industrial estate enterprise zone should be reallocated to the port area adjacent to the town centre. That will meet the current demand from businesses and will generate funds that can be reinvested in infrastructure, creating a virtuous circle of economic regeneration, which, as I have said, will cost the Government nothing. Secondly, the rates relief incentive should be reintroduced for a further five years to incentivise developers to build units and encourage occupiers to buy or lease them to take up the numerous opportunities that I have briefly outlined.
Enterprise zones in Waveney are not an experiment. There is no need for a pilot, as they have a proven track record of success. The two changes that I am seeking to the way that they operate will create jobs in a coastal community that has deep pockets of deprivation. They would unleash a wave of development across a range of sustainable low-carbon sectors and deliver that trinity of levelling up, building back better and creating clean and green growth.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) for securing this important debate. He has always been—I knew this even before I was an MP —an incredible community champion. He always has multiple projects that he is promoting, and he is normally very successful in making them happen, so I was interested and excited by all the different things that he set out he is trying to achieve.
Let me start with enterprise zones. Since their relaunch in 2012, enterprise zones have established themselves as a real driving force for local economies by unlocking development through infrastructure, attracting businesses and creating jobs. Enterprise zones are about delivering long-term, sustainable growth by harnessing cutting-edge technology and enterprise, and their purpose is to encourage local economic growth and support businesses. To that end, they have been a huge success, as my hon. Friend said.
I have listened to my hon. Friend’s proposal with interest, and I thank him for his thoughts on the subject. As he has pointed out, the enterprise zones in Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft are a testament to the success of those interventions, having created around 1,900 jobs, attracted over 70 businesses and brought forward somewhere in the region of £51 million-worth of private sector investment—an incredible record. They are helping to sow the seeds for our transition to a green economy, too. As my hon. Friend mentioned, Lowestoft is the base of operation for Galloper and Greater Gabbard wind farms, which together will produce over 850 MW of electricity. That is enough to power 800,000 homes across the UK—a really incredible amount. Lowestoft is also home to OrbisEnergy, a worldwide centre of excellence that drives innovation and investment in renewable power technologies.
We have said from the outset that the Government-backed business rate discount will last up to five years and the enhanced capital allowances, where they exist, will be provided for eight years. Business rates retention will last for 25 years, giving councils a long-term source of revenue that can be borrowed against to fund infrastructure, or pooled to spend on other barriers to investment. Local authorities can continue to offer business rate discounts, should they choose to do so, and many continue to use the brand of enterprise zones to attract investment.
I am afraid that we have no plans to extend any enterprise zones, and my hon. Friend’s proposition to change the boundaries of enterprise zones would signal a precedent that we are wary of setting. Such a change would take up significant resource, and we are now focused on delivering the freeports programme, which is influenced heavily by what we have learned from enterprise zones. However, there may be other ways to achieve many of the things that my hon. Friend seeks.
As our consultation on freeports in 2020 showed, key aspects of the model include business rates retention, business rates relief, commercial spots for councils and local development orders, plus the provision of seed capital. All those things were taken from what we have learned from enterprise zones and built into the freeports model. The freeports will be national hubs for trade, innovation and commerce, regenerating communities across the UK, attracting new businesses and spreading jobs, investment and opportunities to towns and cities up and down the country.
In March, we announced that Felixstowe and Harwich were successful in their bid for a freeport, and officials are now working with them to develop the proposal. The freeport will provide jobs to the area surrounding Felixstowe and Harwich and further afield, where specialist skills will be required. It will also draw the attention of international investors to the opportunities in the wider East Anglia area, including the enterprise zones in Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft.
I turn to the particular question of levelling up Waveney. As my hon. Friend will know, levelling up is the absolute heart of the Government’s agenda, and the enterprise zone programme and freeports are just some of the tools at our disposal to help level up our communities. Some £290 million has already been invested in local growth projects in and around Waveney through the New Anglia LEP, which I have had the pleasure of discussing offline with my hon. Friend. That will boost jobs, build houses, leverage private investment and increase skills, and the funding has been used for a variety of local interventions, including £10 million from the local growth fund for improved flood defences in Lowestoft harbour. The money was put towards the tidal gate for the inner harbour, which will not only safeguard over 400 households from flooding, but support 22,400 jobs. Some £73 million has been provided to build the Gull Wing bridge—an iconic and much-needed third crossing, which I remember my hon. Friend campaigning hard for. The bridge will reduce congestion, regenerate the area and attract new investment for the local economy.
I turn now to the towns fund process. The Government recognise that towns such as Lowestoft must be at the absolute forefront of our levelling-up agenda, which is why we launched town deals for areas across the country, to unlock their full economic potential. As one of the 101 areas selected to agree a town deal, Lowestoft received £24.9 million in March to support ambitious local projects, transform disused buildings and public spaces, deliver new green transport and create opportunities for people to develop new skills. That includes £14 million to develop a new cultural quarter in the town, providing a new leisure and cultural venue and enhancements to the Marina theatre. Over £2.8 million will go towards the development of Station Square, a meeting place and gateway point for the seafront and town centre, and £2.6 million will be used to improve the port area, which supports the growth in the clean energy centre about which my hon. Friend spoke, and to enhance the public realm. I thank my hon. Friend for his work on that town investment plan, which will see that initial public sector seed funding, catalytic funding, unlock a minimum of £354 million of private sector investment in the area—an incredible sum. He and his colleagues involved in the town deal process can be really proud of what they are achieving.
My hon. Friend talked about REAF, a brilliant local initiative. I welcome the way in which local industry and local government in East Anglia have come together to consider how to create a more sustainable fishing industry, and I thank my hon. Friend for his work as the chair of the steering group. The REAF report contains some interesting ideas that the Government will certainly consider as part of our ongoing work on inshore fisheries management. The Government welcome the work to review the REAF recommendations in the light of the EU-UK trade and co-operation agreement and to develop a new delivery framework. I know that officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Marine Management Organisation have been discussing the framework with the REAF project team and are very encouraged by its focus on more effective fish marketing in the region and on using local opportunities and networks.
I know that my hon. Friend is passionate about the role that East Anglia could play in the emerging green economy, about which he talked in his speech. I share his enthusiasm for developing our emerging industrial strengths in areas such as offshore wind, the use of nuclear and hydrogen fuels, and carbon capture technology. The transition to net zero presents a real opportunity to support communities that may be impacted by climate change and flooding, and also to drive levelling up across the country. The Government are working closely with local partners to ensure that we maximise the economic growth opportunities that emerge from the transition to a low-carbon economy, as well as support communities around the country to adapt to the impact of climate change. I know that there are several examples in my hon. Friend’s constituency of communities taking advantage of those opportunities: for example, the ambition to create a self-sustaining hub at power park in Lowestoft, or Associated British Ports’ £25 million investment in the Lowestoft Eastern Energy Facility to create more quayside space, create deeper water, and provide officers and additional facilities for crew transfer vehicles. All that drives local economic growth.
We are proud to lead the world by ending our own contribution to climate change—not just because it is the right thing to do but because we are determined to seize this unprecedented opportunity to boost local economies. We want to build back better from the pandemic by building back greener and levelling up our country with high-skilled, high-wage, sustainable new jobs in every part of the UK. As part of that, “The ten point plan for a green industrial revolution” will mobilise £12 billion of Government investment, and potentially three times that from the private sector, to create and support up to 250,000 British jobs in clean energy, clean transport, nature recovery and innovative new technologies. Taken together, those programmes are helping to maximise the economic potential of my hon. Friend’s constituency.
We can and will do more. As my hon. Friend knows, the Government will shortly publish a White Paper that builds on existing action being taken across Government, and sets out a new policy regime that will drive change for years to come. Some of the challenges that my hon. Friend talked about, such as those pockets of stubborn deprivation in his constituency, will not be solved overnight, but we are determined to solve them. We want to restore pride in places across the country and we want people in those places once again to have the confidence that the Government are delivering their economic and social priorities, boosting long-term living standards and improving public services.
I thank my hon. Friend once again for securing this important debate. The Government are unwavering in our commitment to work with Members from across the House to spur long-term recovery from the pandemic.
I am most grateful to the Minister for highlighting the part that must be played in the transition to a low-carbon economy by Lowestoft, Suffolk and East Anglia and how that can create enormous opportunities for our area. It is not just a question of levelling up—we can be a global exemplar. I heard what he said on the simple, cost-neutral change of reallocating enterprise zone sites. He indicated that he did not want to go down that route because of concerns about the precedent that it would create. May I ask that, in correspondence between me, East Suffolk Council and him, we can continue to explore that a little further?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and am happy to correspond and continue to meet and discuss with him and local councillors all the opportunities in the area, which he has done a brilliant job of highlighting. There are many opportunities, including the UK shared prosperity fund, which is coming shortly, and the potential for devolution to drive a multitude of improvements in the area. He is right to make that point and I am happy to continue the conversation after the debate.
My hon. Friend is right to pick me up about not just tackling problems of deprivation but going from good to great. When I have been out in East Anglia, I have been struck by the sense that it is on the edge of something really exciting in many different ways. My hon. Friend’s ideas are central to the Government’s levelling-up agenda, building a recovery that sees all parts of the UK recover strongly from the pandemic and building a new and better economy and public services.
Question put and agreed to.
Sickle Cell Treatment
[Mrs Maria Miller in the Chair]
Before we begin, I remind Members that they are expected to wear face coverings when they are not speaking in the debate, in line with current guidance. I remind Members that they are asked by the House to have lateral flow tests twice a week. Please make sure that you give members of staff and other people lots of space when you are leaving or coming into the room. I expect that there will be a Division at around 3 o’clock, and I am advised that there could be up to four votes. If the Division bell rings, I will remind hon. Members what to do, but people who are speaking at around that time should bear that in mind, so that it does not freak you out—sorry, that is probably not parliamentary language—or catch you unawares.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the treatment of sickle cell.
Thank you for chairing our proceedings, Mrs Miller. I am very pleased to open this debate. I chair the sickle cell and thalassaemia all-party parliamentary group, which works for a better understanding of sickle cell and better treatment for those living with the condition. I am enormously grateful to all hon. Members who have supported the APPG’s work, including our late colleague Sir David Amess, who was one of our officers. I am also grateful to the Sickle Cell Society, which provides the secretariat function for the APPG. I also thank Parliament’s digital engagement unit, and the hundreds of individuals from around the country who have emailed me in advance of today’s debate.
The focus of our debate is the APPG’s recent report, “No one’s listening”, which has a number of findings and recommendations in relation to the care of people with sickle cell. The trigger for our report was the tragic and avoidable death of Evan Nathan Smith in North Middlesex University Hospital in 2019. The coroner’s report into Evan’s death, published in April of this year, found that he would not have died if medical staff had recognised his symptoms and treated him sooner. The report pointed to a
“lack of understanding of sickle cell disease in the medical and nursing staff looking after Mr Smith”
“a failure to appreciate the significance of those symptoms by those looking after Mr Smith at the time.”
Evan Smith was just 21 years old; he had his whole life in front of him. His death is not the only one in which a lack of understanding of sickle cell and mistakes in treatment have been contributory causes.
I thank my right hon. Friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) and all the other Members who have done a lot on this topic in the House. Despite this being a long-running disease, we have not paid enough attention to it at an institutional level, be that in primary or secondary care. That needs urgent redress.
I quite agree with my hon. Friend, and our report goes into many recommendations that could improve care. Indeed, it is a call to action; it is a call to arms. Following Evan’s death, the deaths of others and the many near misses involving sickle cell patients, we wanted the report to set out the changes that are needed to stop this story from repeating itself over and over again.
Sickle cell affects about 15,000 people in the UK, with many more carrying a trait. Patients with the condition experience periodic crises—bouts of intense, severe pain that sometimes require hospitalisation. The crises are treated with strong pain relief, and sometimes blood transfusions, and over time they can result in organ damage, an increased risk of stroke, other associated conditions and even early death. It is therefore common among sickle cell patients to have to go to hospital regularly, to present at A&E and to be admitted on to wards. This is an important point. For sickle cell patients, contact with the healthcare system or admission to hospital is not a one-off; it is a lifelong part of living with the condition.
To prepare our report, we took evidence in three oral evidence sessions in June this year. We heard from patients, clinicians and policy makers. We heard from Evan Smith’s parents, Betty and Charles, who spoke with so much dignity about the loss of their son and their determination to make sure that other families do not have to go through what they have been through. We received over 100 written submissions and, taken together, this is the most comprehensive report on sickle cell care that the APPG has ever produced.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his leadership on and commitment to this issue. The report that his APPG has produced has shone a light on some of the challenges faced by people living with sickle cell—whether it is around some of the negative attitudes, the lack of awareness and understanding, or, most importantly, patient care. Does he agree that tackling this issue and the multiple health inequalities that exist will require significant investment and resource from the Government, and an acknowledgement of the structural racism that exists within the health setting?
My hon. Friend makes some very strong points, and I will discuss some of them, including the question of race.
Since the report’s publication, I have continued to receive emails from sickle cell patients all around the country that confirm the report’s findings, and I want to put on the record my gratitude to each and every person who has taken the trouble to write to me, whether it was just after the report was published or in advance of today’s debate.
Let me set out the main findings of the report for the House. Let us begin with a positive: we found a good level of trust among sickle cell patients in the specialist haematology departments of hospitals that look after them on a long-term basis. We found clinicians passionately committed to better treatment and honest enough to tell us when that good treatment was not there. We found that where there is a good level of understanding and knowledge, sickle cell patients are generally well treated and well looked after, but we also found a huge gulf between the good level of confidence and trust in the specialist parts of the system, and treatment in the more generalised parts of the system—specifically A&E and general wards.
Our key findings include the unacceptable variability of treatment, depending on where someone lives or who happens to be on duty at the time; patients having to battle for the pain relief to which they are entitled; and protocols on pain relief—for example, that it be administered within 30 minutes of arrival—being regularly and repeatedly ignored or not being implemented. Witnesses told us of waiting for hours in excruciating pain. Some clinicians spoke of adherence to the pain relief guidelines within their hospital being as low as just 20% or 30%. There is a lack of compliance with care plans that have been agreed for individual patients, including with the hospital where a patient has turned up, and people have been told, “That doesn’t apply here.”
We found a dangerous lack of communication between the general and specialist parts of the system. In Evan Smith’s case, he had been in the hospital for over two days before the haematology unit even knew he had been admitted. That finding was described as “shocking” by one haematologist who gave evidence to the group. Such delays can contribute to mistakes, with the most terrible consequences. As well as deaths, we heard about a number of near misses where care had gone badly wrong and the patient had still survived.
There is a lack of awareness of the condition and a lack of understanding about how to respond to a sickle cell crisis among some NHS staff. Everyone in the healthcare system knows the key symptoms of a heart attack or a stroke, and how to respond to them. With sickle cell, however, the patient experience is often one of being caught in a perpetual loop of trying to teach staff about what is happening to them and what treatment they need, often at the time that they are experiencing excruciating pain.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way a second time; he is being very generous. Does he agree that that lack of awareness goes all the way through to the research community, whereby sickle cell is one of the most under-researched diseases, despite the fact that research into it has many different and interesting applications through its links to malaria and all sorts of other diseases, and that there is simply not enough research funding going into understanding this disease?
I very much agree with my hon. Friend. Indeed, the next finding that I was going to cite is a lack of research and innovation in treatment. There has only been one new drug approved in the UK for sickle cell treatment in decades and it was approved just before our report was published.
For each of the findings, we made recommendations: about training; about compliance with clinical guidelines; about reviews of sickle cell treatment in secondary care; about communications change; very importantly, about a stronger voice for patients in all of this; and in many other areas, too.
Underlying all those individual findings and recommendations are some key overarching themes. First of all, the experiences that I have described have contributed to a damaging loss of trust among sickle cell patients in the system that is there to help them. Some patients told us that they avoided going to hospital at all costs, no matter how serious their crisis, because they found the whole experience so exhausting and debilitating, or, as one woman put it,
“to avoid the mental strain of another battle...when she does not have the energy to advocate for herself”.
It cannot be right that people who need help have so little trust that they do not seek that help from the very system of care that is supposed to be there for them.
Secondly, there is the unavoidable question of race. Sickle cell is a condition that predominantly, but not exclusively, affects black people. Many patients told us of being treated with suspicion when they sought treatment, being regarded as troublesome by staff, being thought of as drug-seekers, and encountering negative and sometimes even hostile attitudes.
The principle of racial equality in healthcare is fundamental. No one is seeking to put one group of people above another, but we want to see equality in healthcare treatment and right now with sickle cell we do not have that. That situation is completely unacceptable and, following this report, it must be addressed.
Thirdly, the findings that we cite in our report are not new; these things have been happening for a long, long time. They have been raised time and again, and the fact that this situation is continuing has led to a great deal of anger and frustration among those living with sickle cell and their families.
Yet, even though all of those things are true, this might—just might—be a moment of opportunity. Why do I say that? Soon after the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care was appointed, he spoke about the “disease of disparity” and about how the covid pandemic had exposed a number of long-standing health inequalities, including racial ones. I welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to address these inequalities and his warm welcome for our report on the day it was published. Perhaps this is a moment when we are more aware of health inequalities than we would have been before the pandemic; maybe this period can be a turning point for change.
There is no need for this to be a partisan issue. No one is pretending that the findings in our report only began in recent years or under one Government. These things have been there for a long time. However, perhaps the experience of the pandemic will give us a new-found resolve; maybe it will mean that this time people listen.
From the Secretary of State and the Department to the NHS in every part of the United Kingdom, we want this report to mark a moment of change in the treatment of sickle cell. We want to ensure that the issues raised in the report are addressed once and for all, and that training is improved so that staff throughout the system understand, and have a knowledge of, the condition. We want to ensure that care plans and pain relief protocols are adhered to by both the generalist and the specialist parts of the system. We want to step up research and innovation in treatment and restore trust among sickle cell patients. Most of all, we want to ensure that there is equal health treatment for everyone, regardless of the colour of their skin. That is not too much to ask for, but we do not have it at present.
Today I appeal to the Minister, the Secretary of State, my own Front-Bench team and the other parties represented here to become our allies in this and to work with us. Please do not let this be a missed opportunity. Let us collectively resolve that we will not have me, or another chair of the APPG, standing here in a few years’ time making exactly the same points as I am making today. Let us make sure that this time people do listen, that we act on these long-standing failures in the care of people with sickle cell and that we improve healthcare for people with this condition once and for all.
I remind hon. Members that if they want to speak in the debate, they should indicate it by rising in the normal way. I intend to call the Front-Bench spokespeople and the Minister just over 30 minutes before the end of the debate, whenever that falls—I will clarify that if there is a vote. I will not put in a time limit; if everybody is respectful of each other’s time, everybody should be able to speak.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Miller. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) on securing this debate, on his very powerful speech and on his leadership of the APPG. I agreed with every word that he said. He is right that this issue should unite Members in all parties. I have the honour to have recently replaced our very good friend, Sir David Amess, as the Conservative officer of the APPG; I do so with pride. It is a great responsibility and I look to continue the formidable work that Sir David did for this very important cause, as he did for so many other causes in this House.
The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East has given a comprehensive account of a very powerful and impactful report. I want to highlight a number of its observations and recommendations, drawn from the evidence given by people who are living with sickle cell or, in many cases, have suffered the consequences of family members falling victim to the condition. My first point reflects on inequality, as referred to by the right hon. Gentleman. I have the honour of chairing the Science and Technology Committee, and some Members will have read the joint inquiry report that my Committee and the Health and Social Care Committee conducted; one of the chapters of that was about the differential impact of covid on different groups in society. We made some recommendations as to how we could improve our practice in future. As the right hon. Gentleman said, that also applies to sickle cell.
In particular, the report emphasises the need for a—if I may put it this way—geographical strategy for the management and response to sickle cell. As the right hon. Gentleman said, sickle cell disproportionately affects black people; we know that the distribution of people of ethnic minorities is not consistent across the country. That will mean that there are some places that have an ethnically diverse population who are used to coping with and helping people with sickle cell; other places will not. That cannot be left to chance; all places have people who will have sickle cell. It is very important that we put in place connections between those hospitals and trusts that have deep experience and those that do not. That would mean that experience could be accessed immediately when the circumstances arose. That is a very important commitment that we should make. The establishment of 42 integrated care systems across the NHS provides the ideal mechanism for that.
The second point from the report that I wanted to emphasise—which the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East also touched on—is the differential practice within hospitals. Some disciplines, such as haematology departments, have very high levels of understanding and expertise in caring for sickle cell patients, but other departments and disciplines within the same hospitals do not. I am particularly concerned by the patchy experience of A&E departments and emergency medicine. That is very important, and I hope that the Minister, in her response, will point to ways in which the diffusion of knowledge across hospitals—rather than its remaining in silos—can be seized on as a practical outcome of this report, as it is clearly attainable.
Thirdly, I want to emphasise the importance of giving timely pain relief to people presenting in A&E with sickle cell. We know that there is an acute need for that to be administered promptly. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence standard is that that should be within 30 minutes, but the report was striking in noting that only 30% of adults—for example—said that they were given pain relief early enough. It is greatly concerning that people are suffering great distress during that time, and that has longer-term consequences for their health. In this time of covid, and as we enter into the winter when, as we know from our experiences as constituency MPs, A&E departments come under particular pressure and waiting times are understandably longer, there is an especial need for emergency medical practitioners to be able to not only spot but respond to the very immediate needs of people presenting in A&E departments with sickle cell.
For the fourth aspect that I would like to emphasise, I will again draw from our work in our covid inquiry. A consequence of covid and the response to it in hospitals has been that, as we know, there are great restrictions on relatives and carers accompanying people into hospitals. We looked at the experience of people with learning disabilities who did not have people to advocate for them. Obviously we are talking about sickle cell, not about people with learning disabilities; nevertheless, the assistance of their relatives, loved ones and carers is particularly important. They are able to communicate the particular needs of the patient at a time when the sufferer may not be able to express themselves because of intense pain. I hope that might be recognised during the remaining period of this covid pandemic—that there are patients who need people to help communicate their needs if they are in a state that means they cannot do that directly themselves. Of course, one means of doing that is to pay attention to their care plans, so that they are followed. That would be a way in which we can ensure that the right treatment is given.
Those are just four of the themes that come out of a very comprehensive and powerful report, but they are four aspects that have a particular relevance to the immediate weeks and months ahead, as we face some difficulties across the NHS. It is important, as we seek to ensure that covid does not exacerbate inequalities, that this potential further source of inequality is attended to, and that action is taken by the NHS so that conditions during the weeks ahead can be better than they would otherwise be.
Thank you for calling me to speak, Mrs Miller. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, although “chairship” is a better word. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) for securing this important debate and for setting out a strong argument.
First, our thoughts must be with Evan Smith, who tragically died at North Middlesex hospital in my constituency. Owing to a determination to prevent further tragically avoidable deaths, the sickle cell and thalassaemia all-party parliamentary group must be given huge credit for putting together the hugely important “No One’s Listening” report on the failures in sickle cell care, and for producing an extensive and thought-through list of recommendations.
It has clearly been found that although the details of Evan’s case are particularly distressing, this is not just an individual failing of one hospital but the reflection of widespread shortcomings in care and a lack of institutional knowledge, which have led those with sickle cell to be fearful of receiving secondary care and of attending hospitals. Indeed, North Middlesex hospital is situated in an area with a large black population and, compared with the average hospital, it should have been adept at caring for sickle cell patients. Evidence of the dismissal of the pain of sickle cell patients sadly tallied with what has been highlighted by other studies of the disparities regarding the treatment of black people by healthcare staff, such as by Five X More, which has done work on black maternal health.
I wholeheartedly endorse the recommendations made in the all-party group’s report, and I want to highlight a number of those recommendations. First, the North London Partners integrated care system, within which my constituency and North Middlesex hospital fall, should develop a concrete plan to improve sickle cell care and share lessons learned from across the country. North Middlesex hospital should also engage with Betty and Charles, the parents of Evan Smith, regarding an appropriate memorial for their son.
I urge the Government to tackle the report’s recommendations with the seriousness that they deserve. Knowledge of sickle cell among healthcare professionals must be improved by mandating that universities should provide training in sickle cell as part of the curriculum, and healthcare in England should develop a mandatory e-learning module for staff treating sickle cell patients in high-prevalence areas.
The standard of care must be improved by developing individualised care plans for sickle cell patients, with copies passed to the patients and all their carers. NHS trusts should develop action plans to ensure compliance with the clinical guidelines to deliver pain relief to sickle cell patients within half an hour.
Finally, the NHS Race and Health Observatory should undertake a study of sickle cell care, examining how racism affects the experiences of patients, and the prioritisation that sickle cell patients are given compared with those experiencing other conditions. While sickle cell patient advisory groups are flourishing, they should be given the resources they need to have an oversight of sickle cell services across all hospitals. There is a lot of work to be done, but the way forward has been set.
I want to add that North Middlesex hospital has a unit for people who have sickle cell, so what happened to Evan should not have happened. The A&E experience for all patients who have sickle cell needs to be looked at with urgency. Thank you for listening.
Thank you, Mrs Miller, for giving me the opportunity to speak on this issue. I am my party’s health spokesperson and it is always a pleasure to speak on any health issue.
I was talking to a colleague about Stephen Pound, the former Member for Ealing North, who told me about this disease. He and I had a good, friendly relationship. I went to an all-party group event on sickle cell, and through Stephen’s introduction I perhaps gained some small knowledge of the disease. I want to speak today on behalf of those people who have sickle cell. We do not have it in Northern Ireland; thank the Lord we do not have it in Northern Ireland—[Interruption.]
I was just getting started.
There is a Division in the House. I am going to suspend the sitting for 15 minutes, and for 10 minutes for each subsequent vote, but may I encourage Members to return to this Chamber as soon as possible so that we can resume the debate and ensure that as many Members as possible can participate? Thank you.
Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.
Order. If the next break is 15 minutes long, and we have just one break, we should complete this debate at around 5 o’clock. Can Members bear that in mind?
I will not repeat what I have already said; I will not take more than four or five minutes, and then I will give other Members a chance to speak. I was referring to Stephen Pound, the former Member for Ealing North, who introduced me to sickle cell and understanding that process. This happened around the time that the daughter of one of my staff members had taken ill—she lives over here. I am not smarter than anyone else when it comes to health issues, but I just happened to say to my staff member, “I hope she hasn’t got that sickle cell.” From what I understand, she could not have had it. However, she did have primary biliary cholangitis; this is a lifetime health issue—a forever illness. It was just because at that time, I had been made aware of sickle cell, and I wondered if there was any connection.
Sickle cell can affect anyone, although it is more common in people from African and Caribbean backgrounds. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence estimates that there are currently 12,500 to 15,000 people with sickle cell disease in England, while data from NHS Digital shows that there were almost 25,000 hospital admissions in England in 2020-21 where the primary diagnosis was sickle cell disorders. It is very clear that there is a significant issue when it comes to sickle cell. I commend the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) for introducing the debate and raising awareness of the condition—I should have done so at the beginning; apologies for not doing so—and I support all the other speakers who are here today.
A stem cell or bone marrow transplant is currently the only cure for sickle cell disease. Neither are commonly undertaken in sickle cell patients. The US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute notes that a
“well- matched donor is needed for a patient to have the best chance for a successful transplant”.
In the introduction to sickle cell given to me by Stephen Pound, that was one of the things that we looked at in relation to transplant issues. However, most patients who have sickle cell disease are either too old for transplants, since the risks associated with transplants become greater as a person gets older—and the older someone gets, the less they may want to receive one—or they do not have a relative who is a good enough genetic match to be a donor.
There are many issues that need to be resolved. After reading the APPG on sickle cell and thalassaemia report into the quality of care received by sickle cell patients, “No One’s Listening”, my heart went out to those people who quite simply feel abandoned—many people do. How do we improve that? The Minister and I are good friends, and I know that, when asked for help with this issue, she will come back with a response that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East, and others, will be happy with.
The key findings of the report are a true indictment of the current state of play for sickle cell sufferers. Evidence of substandard care for sickle cell patients, either in a general ward or attending an accident and emergency department, including a widespread lack of adherence to national care standards, is unacceptable, as is the fact that there is clearly a low awareness of sickle cell among health care professionals. There are examples of inadequate training and insufficient investment in sickle cell care. In the Minister’s response, can she give some indication of how that can be improved, so that awareness can be raised and sickness levels addressed?
Many sickle cell sufferers feel that they are not getting answers. That is not a criticism of Government, but if we indicate that there is a problem, as we are doing through this debate, and there is a way of curing that problem, let us do that. There is a clear breakdown that must addressed, not simply clinically, with treatments being made widely available, but further with the training of medical staff and teams to understand this disease and its other medical contraindications.
Those are the issues that we are looking to the Minister to address. I support the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East and his attempt to highlight this plight, as he and other speakers have done so well—that will continue in the following contributions. They have not simply highlighted the problem, but pushed the Government and the Minister for action to begin the steps to rectify our current approach.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mrs Miller. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) for securing this important debate and for his tireless work as the chair of the APPG on sickle cell and thalassaemia. I would also like to reflect on the work of the late hon. Member for Southend West, who was a former officer of the APPG, on sickle cell and to say how much poorer we are today without his contribution, which I know would have been well received by all of us.
This debate is quite personal for me. Reading through the report about Evan’s lack of care and the failings brought back many memories. My late mother suffered from sickle cell anaemia, which is a disease that does not discriminate. My late mum was one of 12 children—same mum and same dad—but she was the only child who had full-blown sickle cell. Some of my aunts and uncles had the trait. I found out that I had the trait when I got pregnant with my daughter, who is now six years old. I went on to have a healthy daughter and a healthy son. My daughter has the trait, but my son does not. That shows how sickle cell can affect anybody.
Reading through some of the failings in Evan’s care—or lack of care—made me, as my late mother’s principal carer, remember some of the issues we encountered in the 1990s. As a young child, I had to learn about diamorphine, co-codamol, penicillin, folic acid and the large variety of painkillers that sickle cell patients have to take. I knew how important it was for my mum to have access to oxygen when she had shortness of breath, and to hear that Evan had to call 999 from his hospital bed to get oxygen, in 2019, and to see sickle cell patients failed so badly, breaks my heart.
My mum had two oxygen units at home; that is how severe her sickle cell was. I know that for many sickle cell patients this time of year is so difficult and that they have to make sure that they are wrapped up warm because, once they start getting cold, that pain gets into their bones. I spent many nights rubbing my mum’s legs and back, trying to help her relieve the pain. I know how important it is to make sure that when the ambulance arrives, the symptoms are properly outlined so that when she arrives at A&E she is prescribed with the right drugs, not paracetamol.
I know how to describe the searing pain that sickle cell patients face when they are going through a crisis, with doctors and some nurses looking at them with a blank expression because they do not understand. My mum used to describe that pain to me as someone chiselling at her knee, her bones and her joints. That is why patients need that strong pain medication, not because they are addicted to painkillers. Calling sickle cell patients addicts is totally wrong.
I know how important it is to ensure there is access to good quality housing and that patients who suffer from sickle cell have time off for appointments. I know how timely it was—a matter of life and death—that my mum got the blood transfusions she needed. This 21-year-old boy was failed. With the right level of care and support, sickle patients can lead a fulfilling life. My mum went on to have three healthy children—I am one of three girls—and thankfully, she saw her granddaughter before she died in 2015, when she was 60. Evan will never have that chance. He will not have a chance to start a family, his parents will not have a chance to see their grandchildren, and he will not have a chance to fulfil his life ambitions. Why? Because he was failed by the doctors and nurses who should have helped him. That area has a high prevalence of sickle cell patients, so why did they not know what to do? Those doctors and nurses should be caring for sickle cell patients, regardless of their race.
The APPG’s report highlights the many failings that took place. I will not go into it, as many Members have highlighted it, but it is important that we listen to its clear recommendations. The fact is that our communities, not just in London but right across the UK, are becoming more diverse, and we have to make sure that the people going into the health system now understand this disease. We are going to see more diverse communities, and this is not just about black, Asian and minority ethnic people in London, but about BAME people right across the country. Our population will continue to be diverse, which is something we should celebrate, but those people will be scared, not wanting to move to and live in areas where this disease is not understood. That understanding existed at King’s College Hospital where my mum was cared for, and at Guy’s and St Thomas’ in my constituency now, but there were times when my mum would be scared to visit family members in other parts of the country because she did not know whether, if she came into a crisis, she would be understood if she had to go into hospital.
Sickle cell patients should not be scared to travel and leave their areas, but basic things that should be available to everybody are being denied them. I thought the days of patients not being believed about their pain threshold—being told that they should come back, or that they should go and buy paracetamol over the counter—were over, but all those things seem to be happening now, so this issue is really important. I hope that the Minister will respond to the critical recommendations in this report with a clear action plan. No one should be failed in the way that Evan has been failed. No one should have to die because they suffer from sickle cell.
There have been some really powerful contributions to this debate, especially from my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi). I appreciate everything that she has shared, including the turmoil and difficulty that was endured when she had to care for her mother. I want to acknowledge that, and show her my appreciation and thank her for her contribution.
I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) on securing this important debate. He knows only too well the need to speak about the experience of children, young people and adults who have sickle cell disease and where they experience health inequalities. People with sickle cell disease desperately need us to raise their profile in this place, and I am so pleased that we are able to do so this afternoon. My right hon. Friend and I have worked hard on this issue together through the sickle cell and thalassaemia APPG.
It is truly shameful that the history of treatment of sickle cell in this country is a story of ignorance and neglect. That disease causes unimaginable suffering, most often to people of African and Caribbean descent, a group of people who already experience medical discrimination. I have frequently spoken out in this place about health inequalities, with specific reference to the impact of sickle cell in diverse communities, and the correspondingly poor investment into care and research. I have heard first-hand stories of the suffering of patients, both their physical pain and the psychological trauma of not being able to afford their medication or their condition not being understood as a student, in the workplace or, indeed, in hospitals. I have heard from people who feel worried about disclosing their illness—about their voices not being heard and their pain not being believed. A young man has told me that he is afraid to attend an A&E department in case he is not believed and treated correctly when he is in a crisis, and that is not the first time that I have heard this. Going into hospital should be about alleviating fears and worries. A hospital should be a place of safety, but that is not the general experience among some people who suffer from sickle cell.
When a doctor or nurse does know how to treat someone with sickle cell, that patient feels confident, but too often, that is not the case. Our nation has already heard about the case of Evan Nathan Smith—[Interruption.]
Order. The sitting is suspended for 15 minutes.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Everyone is back now, so I will recommence the debate. Just so that everybody can plan their day, I can confirm that we will end the debate at 4.56 pm. I will call the Front Benchers at 4.24 pm.
Thank you, Mrs Miller. Our nation should know of the case of Evan Nathan Smith, but there were also the deaths of two army recruits during military training. If they had been treated appropriately—all of them—their deaths could have been avoided. One of the young men was aged 21; the other was 31. They were undiagnosed with sickle cell. A coroner warned that their deaths could be repeated without urgent Government intervention. The recent inquiry by the APPG found that the majority of sickle cell patients surveyed had received inadequate healthcare support, adding to their physical discomfort and distress. Our NHS is underfunded, and it needs the resources to train staff to have specialist understanding of sickle cell.
The Government have decided not to fund the research that is so desperately needed and they need to say why that is. Will the Minister give young and old sickle cell sufferers hope for their future by ensuring that training on sickle cell is included in the teaching of medical, nursing and midwifery degrees at all universities and colleges? A further area that needs to be addressed urgently is how to respond to a sickle cell crisis. That information is needed, and these professionals need to know what to do.
A sickle cell crisis is when sufferers experience a severe attack. Their blood cells stick together, and it causes unimaginable pain across their whole body. Sadly, too often medical professionals do not recognise the signs of a crisis. Stigma and stereotyping have a part to play in this, and racial discrimination must come to an end. If necessary pain relief is not given, the condition can worsen and go on to affect internal organs, which causes other medical conditions. At its worse, it leads to death. That can be prevented if the Government have the will to make the necessary changes.
NICE guidelines state that the first dose of pain relief should be administered no longer than 30 minutes after a sickle cell crisis starts. Can the Minister tell me why that target is so often missed? Why does the Care Quality Commission not recommend it as an official guideline? What do the Government intend to do to address this?
The APPG report made several recommendations, including guidance for specific NHS trusts to improve their performance. It requested commitments to raise awareness of sickle cell in the medical community, from paramedics to A&E doctors and senior consultants. Professionals from across the public sector also need to be educated in what sickle cell involves, from nursery nurses to teachers and employers. Children, young people and adults with sickle cell need to be understood.
We should investigate whether we can test every baby for this disease. We know that around 300 babies are born with sickle cell each year. If they have not done so already, I ask that the Minister and her team urgently read the APPG report supported by research from the Sickle Cell Society and take heed of the guidance to change practices. Sickle cell patients like Shubby Osoba are describing sickle cell care as a lottery. On some days, in some hospitals, sufferers get the help they need. On other days, in other hospitals, they do not. That is just not good enough.
Over two years ago I asked the then Health Secretary, the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) if he would remove the current charge for prescriptions for sickle cell medicines. Some patients are on five different medications a day. For a lifelong illness, that is a heavy financial cost. The right hon. Member for West Suffolk promised to look into this, but all this time later nothing has changed. Will the Minister take forward this measure and relieve patients of yet another burden on their lives?
I also bring it to the Minister’s attention that it is more cost-effective for the public purse to prevent hospitalisation by adding this lifelong disease to the list for free medication than to treat people with this disease in hospital. I am sure Members would agree that prevention is better than cure. In this case, preventing a crisis by free medicine is much cheaper than being in hospital. I impress upon the Minister the need to have a conversation with the Chancellor concerning this issue. So much more needs to be done. On behalf of those with sickle cell and their families, I ask the Minister to respond appropriately to the serious concerns that have been raised by myself and other Members across this Chamber.
I remind hon. Members that we need to go to the Front-Bench speeches at 4.24 pm.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mrs Miller. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) on securing this debate and on his sterling work as the chair of the sickle cell and thalassaemia all-party parliamentary group. I also commend my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi). She always speaks with such affection about her mother, and I hope that she knows that her mum would be so incredibly proud of her if she were alive today.
The APPG’s landmark report, which was triggered by the tragic and avoidable death of Evan Nathan Smith in North Middlesex hospital, reveals the terrible truth of sickle cell treatment: the substandard care, the stigmatisation and the lack of prioritisation of this condition. As an officer of the group, I was pleased not only that the report came out, but to be able to give evidence as somebody who cared for someone with sickle cell—as someone who lost a loved one, my friend Adjuah, to negligent care. I sat with her through many hospital admissions, and I witnessed mistakes and mistreatment. She said to me on more than one occasion, “One day this hospital is going to kill me,” and one day it actually did. I hope that the Minister has read the report, has taken into account its many recommendations and will outline what steps the Government will take to improve the treatment of sickle cell and the overall experience of sickle cell patients in our national health service.
I also hope that the Minister will touch on what steps the Government will take specifically to improve the treatment of black sickle cell patients. Unfortunately, for those of African and Caribbean heritage, the experience of sickle cell is made far worse by the prevalence of institutional racism. In several past debates and in various inquiries, reports and personal accounts, we have heard how racist attitudes have a negative impact on a patient’s healthcare and experience: lack of research, which is certainly a major issue with sickle cell; biased perceptions of pain tolerance, drug habits and medical knowledge; and experiences of overt racism. All of that makes the experience of living with any condition difficult, but it makes living with sickle cell even harder.
When we talk about institutional racism in the NHS, we are sometimes met with Conservative Members saying, “Why are you calling our NHS staff racist?”. We are not calling NHS staff racist; we value our NHS staff. We are recognising that the institution of the NHS, which is governed by the Government, has issues when it comes to race, and that the policies and practices create biases that cause us problems. We want to know what the Government are doing about that.
Sickle cell is often referred to as an invisible illness, because of how the pain is experienced—often it is invisible to others. However, there is also a distinct lack of education and public awareness of the condition and the symptoms. I point specifically to the issue of education. I studied biomedical sciences and specialised in cellular pathology as an undergraduate. Because of the amount I knew about sickle cell before I went to university, I was struck by just how much it was used as an example but just how little those teaching me knew about its practical aspects. If we do not improve the education of those who treat people, we are never going to improve the outcomes. That definitely needs to be looked at.
The recent removal of discriminatory blood donation restrictions on black donors was a massive step in the right direction, which I really welcome. The largest beneficiaries of the change will be those patients who are often treated through blood transfusions and need rare blood subgroups, such as Ro, that are more common in black people. I have that blood group, so I give blood. Blood donations have gone down rapidly during the pandemic, but they are needed no less at the moment. I encourage all people from the black community, and from all communities, to give blood. I would love to see a blood donation stand in Parliament one day; there are so many of us here, and we should all be able to roll up our sleeves and give a pint or two.
I think that the Government have been keen to have blood donations, and the hon. Lady has very kindly volunteered and has been donating. She could perhaps be a poster lady for the campaign. Maybe the Minister will take that on board.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution, and look forward to seeing him roll up his sleeve as well.
Maintaining those discriminatory blood donation rules for so long was really poor. They were based on outdated HIV science and denied thousands of black sickle cell patients the treatment that they needed, but not only that; the legacy of those rules resulted in a reluctance among the black community to come forward to donate blood. The restrictions have resulted in a shortage of black blood donors and have had a severe effect on the willingness of the black community to donate overall. We have to undo that damage.
I call on the Minister to promise all of us here, and those who are keenly watching the debate, that the Government will act to improve the quality of care and treatment of sickle cell patients. Words are good, but action is better. My hon. Friends have touched on prescriptions and the barriers to receiving proper care. We want action on that. Those watching the debate at home do so in eager anticipation of something that will give them hope of better treatment. I sincerely hope that the Minister will not let them down.
I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) for securing this important debate, for the manner in which he opened it and for the work of the APPG that he chairs. He said we should all be concerned by the lack of understanding of sickle cell disease. I think we all agree with that fact. This has been a consensual debate and a valuable reminder that this issue is about the pain and loss that impacts on many families. That pain was well demonstrated by the personal testimony of the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi), who spoke so movingly of her mother’s experience. I am in full agreement that the increasing diversity of our communities amplifies the need for greater awareness of the disease.
The hon. Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) used the term “ignorance and neglect”, which summed things up pretty well, given that deaths from sickle cell disease are pretty much avoidable. She also highlighted the cost of sickle cell medicines—a point I will return to. The hon. Member for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy) also gave a personal account of her experience of the disease and spoke strongly about the institutional racism that has been experienced. This matter should concern all of us from all parts of the country. I commend her for her action on blood donation—something, I must confess, that I have always been too frightened to do myself. We all need to consider the importance of giving blood.
Like the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), I was impressed by the APPG’s report, “No One’s Listening”, published in November 2021 with its stakeholder group, the Sickle Cell Society. The report found that sickle cell patients too often receive substandard care; that community care for sickle cell patients is generally inadequate or non-existent, which leads to unnecessary admissions to hospital; and that awareness of sickle cell disease is low, as we have heard repeatedly.
The right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) highlighted the differential impact of geographic factors, even within the same hospitals. That is an important point that I had not properly considered, although I had thought about the race element affecting different parts of the country differently. The hon. Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) highlighted the fear of sufferers even of attending hospitals, particularly in areas with a high population susceptible to sickle cell disease. Again, that is a point I had not thought of, so I am grateful for that commentary.
Sickle cell disease overwhelmingly affects people from particular heritage backgrounds, and the report highlighted the role of racism in diagnosing and treating sickle cell patients. People from African, Asian, Caribbean, eastern Mediterranean and middle eastern backgrounds are more likely to have sickle cell disease or to carry the gene, and it is therefore impossible to debate this subject without considering race and the failings to adequately provide equality of treatment within the existing system. It is particularly concerning that many sufferers believe that racist attitudes affect healthcare providers’ perceptions of the disease. A number of Members highlighted the systematic racism that appears to exist.
Sickle cell disease is a genetic blood disease. There are treatments to manage it, but it is a lifelong condition. These disorders are inherited, with the only cure being transplants. Approximately 5% of the world’s population carries trait genes for inherited blood disorders, and around 15,000 sufferers in the UK have sickle cell disease, which affects how the body produces red blood cells. Normal red blood cells around the red blood cells affected by sickle cell disease harden and become sickle-shaped, like a crescent moon. This causes the red blood cells to die too quickly and block blood vessels, leading to symptoms that are often painful, as we heard in a number of testimonies.
The Scottish Government are committed to improving the availability of treatment services in order for patients with sickle cell disease to receive the care they need. The Scottish Government’s NHS recovery plan for 2021-26 sets out the plan for healthcare over the next five years, including investment of more than £400 million to create a network of 10 national treatment centres across Scotland, increasing capacity for diagnostic care. The plan also sets out the Scottish Government’s £155 million investment to provide general practices and their patients with support from a range of healthcare professionals in the community. The plan includes the recruitment of further pharmacists to help with patients’ repeat prescriptions and medicine reviews and of community nurses to assist with the diagnostic tests and chronic disease management.
It is vital that we design and develop services that meet the needs of everyone, with a focus on those experiencing health inequalities, and we have heard much of those inequalities today. The UK Government should follow the lead of the Scottish Government in the provision of free prescriptions to those who suffer from sickle cell disease and beyond. Sickle cell disease usually requires lifelong treatment, and a medicine called hydroxycarbamide—I probably spell it worse than I pronounce it—may be prescribed by a patient’s doctor to manage episodes of pain. Patients are usually told to take it as a capsule once a day.
In Scotland, we abolished prescription charges in 2011, but in England the current charge is £9.35 per item. There is a live petition—e-petition 588355—to encourage the UK Government to add sickle cell to the prescription charge exemption list. They responded on 6 August that they have
“no plans to make changes to the list of medical conditions exempting patients from prescription charges”.
That petition has a few days left for people to sign it. I encourage the Minister to reconsider the position on prescription charges and to support the recommendations detailed in the excellent all-party parliamentary group report.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Miller. Like everyone, I congratulate the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) on securing this debate on an extremely important issue. I pay tribute to the members, officers and staff of the APPG on sickle cell and thalassaemia. The report “No One’s Listening” is one of the most powerful, serious and substantial reports I have read in a long time in this place and while working in the health and care field. The detail, analysis and recommendations it provides are really important and cannot be ignored.
As we heard from right hon. and hon. Members, the report was carried out in response to the absolutely tragic case of Evan Nathan Smith, who died in the most utterly appalling circumstances with his whole life ahead of him. It is crystal clear from the coroner’s inquest that he would not have died had it not been for the failures in his care: the failure to get the pain relief he desperately needed, the failure to give him a timely blood transfusion and the utter lack of understanding about sickle cell Opposition the part of the staff looking after him, in an area where they should have known because of the local population.
Most importantly, the report highlights far more fundamental issues, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East picked out in his comments. First, this is not an isolated incident, as my hon. Friends the Members for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) and for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy) so powerfully and personally described. There is a pattern of years of substandard care in this crucial area. Patients understandably lose trust in the system. Secondly, there is the issue of race—the racial inequalities in the standard of care being provided and the stereotyping and discriminatory attitudes towards black people that have contributed to that. Of course, those two things are inextricably linked—
Order. Could I encourage the hon. Lady to project her voice this way?
I apologise. I should be speaking to people rather than into a void.
Unless we understand those two fundamental issues, we will never get the change we need. I want to use my time not to repeat what others have said but to talk about how we get real and lasting change, thinking about some of my own experience of working in health and care for 20 to 25 years. There is a lot in the report that is excellent. Much of it is coming from the top down, and there are important recommendations that should be followed, but the real change that we need to see is to give patients and their families far more say, control and involvement in the system, because that is how we will get lasting change.
Five key areas need to be addressed. The first is tackling the appalling variations in care that the report highlights. The really important issue, which my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall picked up, is that as our country becomes more diverse—something we should celebrate—this issue will not just affect London. That point was made in evidence to the APPG by Global Blood Therapeutics, which clearly said that the geography of sickle cell is starting to change, with patients increasingly moving outside London. In understanding that, we have to ensure that variations in care are ended in all parts of the country.
One of the most important recommendations in the report is that all NHS trusts should share findings of their internal reviews into incidents involving serious sickle cell care failings with the National Haemoglobinopathy Panel so that learnings can be communicated across the country. It is within the remit of the Minister and the Department to ensure that that happens, so I hope she will set out what she intends to do and what discussions she has had with NHS England about making it happen.
The second key recommendation around variations is that the CQC should make compliance with NICE clinical guidelines on the delivery of pain relief within 30 minutes for sickle cell patients an essential criterion that it uses when assessing NHS trusts. As far as I can see, the CQC has not responded to the report. I wonder what discussions the Minister has had with the CQC about that, because it is crucial.
The third issue around variation, which the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) touched on, is that we now have integrated care systems across the country. Every time there is an NHS reorganisation, and there have been many over the last two decades—I have been involved in some myself—we lose institutional memory about these issues and findings. What discussions has the Minister had with colleagues in the NHS about how we ensure that, when people have made changes or are trying to make a difference, that is reflected in the new ICSs as they get up and running across the country?
The second key issue is around communication and the lack of joined-up care. There are so many parts of the NHS where those conversations do not happen, and it is patients who are left telling people what they need. Will the Minister set out what she will do to try to ensure that NHS trusts improve communication within their own hospitals and follow the particular recommendation that all haematology teams are informed whenever a sickle cell patient comes into A&E or on to a general ward? I will pursue that with University Hospitals of Leicester in my constituency as a result of the report to ensure that it happens.
Thirdly, improved awareness of the condition and training are critical. That has the power to make one of the biggest differences. Staff are not purposely not understanding it; they need to be trained in it. The report sets out recommendations about universities having proper training, and says that the Nursing and Midwifery Council and the General Medical Council should urgently review their approach to training on sickle cell conditions. Again, I do not think that the NMC or the GMC have responded, although I may be mistaken, but unless people are properly trained how will they make a difference in the future?
The fourth issue is that of race, racism and discrimination within the NHS. I know from my own diverse constituency and the work that I have done with Leicester Against Racism that there is much that can be done to improve understanding of the different issues facing black, Asian and minority ethnic communities in the NHS, to improve access to and outcomes of care, to understand the implicit and explicit discriminatory attitudes that may be present in the NHS and, crucially, to have better representation of BAME communities in senior NHS leadership positions.
During today’s debate people have talked about their own experiences, understanding the issues and showing that Parliament can act on the issues that matter to our communities because of our diverse representation. That is what we need in the NHS. I hope the Minister will be able to say what NHS England is doing about those issues.
Last but by no means least, the NHS always changes its structures and organisations, and people move around, so it is often difficult to embed change in the system. In my experience, the only way to do that is to give patients and their families far more voice, and I include training in that.
Imagine if my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall—if she was not extremely busy representing her constituents—was involved in the training of health professionals and told her story so that people could hear what had happened to her. It would be a powerful driver of change if the people who use services could be part of the training and the way the system is regulated. That is how we will get real change in the system and I hope the Minister will set that out.
In conclusion, the report provides an opportunity to make substantial and lasting change. I hope the Minister will set out the Government’s response when she stands to speak.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Miller. I thank the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) for securing this important debate, for all his hard work chairing the sickle cell and thalassaemia all-party parliamentary group and for the report it has put together. It is a crucial report that highlights some of the gaps in the treatment, management and experience of those with sickle cell disease. I also thank the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) for sharing her experience. Hearing first-hand experience of what it is like to have a family member going through a sickle cell crisis and the experience of healthcare is extremely helpful.
Anyone who has read the “No One’s Listening” report cannot fail to be moved by some of the findings. It is such an important issue when we consider that the majority of patients who suffer with sickle cell are black. The tragic death of Evan highlights some of the disparities that are part of this issue. Managing the disease is much more than a physical problem. I thank the APPG and the Sickle Cell Society for the work they have done to shine a light on the challenges facing sickle cell patients. Any failure in care is one failure too many.
I want to reassure all colleagues here that the Government are not just listening; action is taking place right now. I think colleagues will be pleased by some of the changes already made since the report was done, which we want to build on. I am happy to work with the APPG and Members across the House to address the gaps highlighted in the report.
As the shadow Minister, hon. Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall), said, working with the sickle cell community is vital if we are to address these issues. NHS England is doing that, working with the community to develop a new service. The specifications have outlined a new model of care for the development of 10 haemoglobinopathy co-ordinating centres for sickle cell disease care in England, each leading a network of care and overseeing specialist teams and local centres.
What this means—what many have described in the debate today—is that those specialist centres, which is where patients experience really good care, feel very confident and get great advice, are now able to reach out to local centres and share their experience, so if a patient does not have access to a specialist centre, they can still access that specialist care through their local facilities. That is only just starting, but it is making a huge difference to the experience of patients and in supporting staff, many of whom might never have encountered a sickle cell patient. Some might have, but that might have been a long time ago. Having the support of specialist input is crucial.
In addition, the National Haemoglobinopathy Panel has been set up to run a national multidisciplinary meeting and to provide clinical leadership and co-ordination for those haemoglobinopathies co-ordinating centres, so that patients’ cases can be reviewed by a national group of specialists, and recommendations and support can be fed in.
NHS England also provided funding last year and this year to develop and update a national register—a database of UK patients with red cell disorders. Previously, although testing has been available for babies to identify whether they have sickle cell, that has never been fed into the NHS. With the new register, GPs and hospitals can all identify who in their local communities has sickle cell, and they can start to plan resources and services accordingly. Hopefully, no one will slip through the gaps, and when a patient turns up at A&E they will be identified as a sickle cell patient without having to explain all the issues that they face.
I thank the Minister for what she is saying about the list that will be created for babies. Will there be a similar list of professionals in certain areas who have experience of working with sickle cell patients? The Minister is saying that the list will be set up retrospectively, but it would be good to know what resources are already available.
The hon. Member makes an excellent point. The HCCs—the 10 specialist networks that have been set up around the country—will do just that. People will be registered, so that anyone who lives where there is a sickle cell community but no specialist provision is available can feed in and advice can be passed back and forth. This is the start of the process of making that happen in practice. There has not yet been an evaluation because the service is very new, but it is expected that when it publishes the results of its activity a significant improvement in standards will be seen. The results will be used to target areas of concern. We will see where improvements have been made and where improvements still need to be made. Once the service starts to report back, I think colleagues will be pleased with the progress.
The education and awareness of medical professionals was raised by everyone in the debate, and was highlighted in the “No One’s Listening” report. Health Education England has recently made improvements to the medical curriculum in relation to sickle cell and thalassaemia, and now the curriculum has, as core competencies, modules on those. Health Education England has held discussions with royal colleges to ensure that the curriculum is delivered to all four nations.
There are now two e-learning modules with sickle cell content—NHS screening programmes and the maternity support worker programme—and other e-learning programmes on wider areas, such as anaesthesia, radiology and pain management, are also including sessions on sickle cell. We are making some progress on that, but for me, as someone who has worked in healthcare, that education needs to be ongoing. It is great for people to get some education when they are students, but if they do not come across a sickle cell patient for five or six years, that learning might be at the back of their mind. We also need to focus on ongoing education.
NHS Blood and Transplant is working really hard to improve the service experienced by patients. Given that, until recently, blood transfusions were one of only two treatments for these conditions, much work has been done on that. NHS Blood and Transplant submitted, I believe, evidence to the report and described a number of areas in which it is involved that could be improved. Some of that is being worked on right now, including improving matching of more donors of African descent, improving co-ordination of care and improving consistent access to red cell exchange services. Some work is being done specifically on that area.
As has been mentioned by many colleagues, we know that sickle cell disease is particularly common in people with African or Caribbean family backgrounds. Health inequalities are made much worse if someone has sickle cell or has experienced covid, and we know that in maternity, women from black and Asian ethnic groups have disproportionately negative outcomes. I am meeting the Equalities Minister fairly soon to look at the specific areas of health where black communities in particular are disproportionately affected and have poorer outcomes. I am happy to update colleagues—we are very keen to look at those areas—and to work jointly with the Equalities Minister to improve outcomes in those areas.
The Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, launched this October, plans to tackle health disparities across the UK. The NHS Race and Health Observatory has also developed a new evidence-focused remit to tackle ethnic health inequalities, and sickle cell is one area that it is looking at. Coinciding with the launch of the APPG report in November, the observatory appointed a sickle cell expert, Dr Carl Reynolds, to drive forward work in this area. He is reviewing the evidence that contrasts sickle cell care with other rare genetic diseases, to examine the robustness of sickle cell patient care pathways within the NHS. That work will additionally support the work of other organisations and build on many of the report’s findings.
I will just touch on research and treatment. As, I think, the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East said, a new drug has been developed, and recommended by NICE, for sickle cell disease—the first in more than 20 years. It is expected to reduce the number of times that a patient will end up in A&E and go through a crisis. Research is vital to develop new drugs and improve treatments, and I want to reassure colleagues that funding is available.
The National Institute for Health Research has £1 billion per year set aside for research, researchers on any condition can apply for funding from that pot. It is often the case that researchers for rare diseases such as sickle cell do not come forward with proposals because there tend to be far more researchers and clinicians for better-known conditions, and far more charities driving researchers forward to apply for research funding. Not only funding, but help and guidance is available. If there is research that clinicians or academics want to do in this area, we are very keen to see them come forward and apply for that funding. If they are not successful, they will receive feedback as to why that was. Funding is available; it is not ringfenced for any particular condition, so researchers on all conditions may apply.
In conclusion, I again thank all members of the APPG for their hard work on behalf of the sickle cell community, but also for their important report, which highlights many of the discrepancies and gaps that sickle cell patients have been facing. Deaths such as Evan’s, simply because of a lack of care and expertise when he was admitted to hospital, are unacceptable, and we want to change that. I think that today’s debate really highlights how much work there is to do
Before the Minister sits down, there is one point that I do not believe she has touched on—prescriptions. I should be grateful if she would let us know whether the Government have any plans to make prescriptions free for people who require medication for sickle cell.
The hon. Member makes a good point. Most patients are probably young, of working age, and have to pay for their prescriptions, but around 89% of all community prescriptions are not paid for—they are free at the moment—and for those with long-term conditions, such as sickle cell, there are the prepayment certificates covering prescriptions for around £2 per week, no matter how many items they have to order. If, say, someone needed three items, that gives a saving of around £228 per year. I know that that does not give free prescriptions, but it is an existing system that patients are often not told about, and it can offer huge savings. I am happy to discuss that with the hon. Member after this debate.
I want to reassure colleagues that a huge amount is being done by the Department to improve the treatment of sickle cell patients. Clear and positive work is under way. It is quite new and innovative, and we hope it will make a difference in a very short space of time. There are still gaps in the provision of services.
I thank the Minister for the update that she has just given us, but she has not said anything about the bottleneck in A&E. Patients arrive and they are not listened to and not believed. What work will the Government do on that area of hospital treatment?
The hon. Member makes an excellent point. There are NICE guidelines on sickle cell, so I will ask departmental colleagues to look at how often they are not followed. The issue was raised about analgesia not being given within half an hour of someone presenting. That is in NICE guidance, and the guideline should be followed in A&E or other areas where patients are admitted. I am happy to look at the prevalence of that not happening and why not. Again, I think that a lot of it is not deliberate. Much of it is to do with the education of staff, who might be in busy A&E departments with lots of people in pain, and they might not realise the impact on a sickle cell patient who does not get analgesia in a timely manner.
On the point about A&E, I welcome, as I am sure colleagues do, the commitment to look at the figures. Given that we have APPG reports, could the Minister perhaps circulate them, through the NHS, to A&E departments to remind them of the current NICE guidance?
My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I am happy to work with departmental officials to look at how, if the NICE guidelines are there, we can make sure they are distributed so that all clinical areas are aware of them, particularly, as the point was made, to areas where there is a high prevalence of sickle cell that are more likely to see someone admitted to A&E. I am happy to take that forward.
I want to reassure colleagues that progress is being made. I want to place on the record my thanks to all those in specialist units who work really hard behind the scenes to improve the care for sickle cell patients and to get information out to the NHS across the board. Where there are gaps, I am happy to work with the APPG to make sure we address those.
I thank everybody who has spoken and contributed to this afternoon’s debate. It might be unfair to pick people out, but I want to pick out my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy), who was a witness when we took evidence for the inquiry, and my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi), who spoke so movingly and powerfully about her mum. To echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham, I know that her mum would be really proud of her for what she has said in this debate.
I am grateful to the Minister for her response and the spirit in which she has listened to the debate. It is good to hear about the specialist units, the expert who has been appointed, and the other things that she highlighted. It is good to hear about all of that. However, the test will be in the lived experience of sickle cell patients themselves. One problem highlighted in the debate was that often the protocols are there—the 30-minute guidance is there and the care plans agreed with individual patients are there—but in the day-to-day experience they are not being adhered to, so a part of the battle is to make sure that things already there are applied properly. Anything that the Minister and the Department can do to reinforce that is welcome.
I make a final appeal to the Minister to make the report a moment for change, not just a debate that is here today, gone tomorrow. I appeal to her to go back to the Department, gather the officials, call in the different key parts of the NHS and tell them: “This time we are going to listen. This time we are going to make a difference, and we are going to change things for good for people living in this country with sickle cell.”
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the treatment of sickle cell.
Levelling Up: Local Councils
Before we begin, I remind Members that they are expected to wear face coverings when they are not speaking in the debate, in line with the guidance, and I also remind them to have lateral flow tests twice a week. When you are coming into or leaving the room, will you also make sure to give other people lots of space?
I will call John McDonnell to move the motion and the Minister to respond. There will not be an opportunity for the Member in charge of the debate to wind up, as is the convention for a 30-minute debate. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is well aware of that.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the role of local councils in levelling up.
The debate is about the role of local councils in the levelling-up strategy that the Government are pursuing. I applied for it because I had hoped that the Government’s White Paper would have been published either last week or this week. Unfortunately, it has been delayed until the new year. Nevertheless, at least the debate gives us an opportunity to feed some last thoughts into the pre-White Paper discussions in Government on the way forward, although the reality is that the most valuable dialogue will most probably come as the Government plan the detail of the roll-out and delivery of the policies set out in the White Paper.
The Government have rightly put great emphasis on levelling up the country, so much so that we now have a new Department—the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. However, they have not yet defined what achieving levelling up would look like, what targets they have set themselves to achieve through that policy programme, or what the timescale for the programme will be. Hopefully, the White Paper will set out these things clearly when it is published in the new year.
There is widespread agreement that there is a need for levelling up. Way back in 2016, at a conference that I convened in Liverpool, I launched a similar policy with the CBI, using its regional government investment analysis at that time. That demonstrated the stark inequalities that exist. The figures are stark. London receives about twice as much capital investment per person as the south-west of England and the north-west of England receives only two thirds of the level that London receives.
Back then, I also used Department of Health statistics to demonstrate the consequences of inequality, and particularly the consequences of low incomes and poverty, with a difference in life expectancy of 20 years between Kensington in Liverpool and Kensington in London. The Minister may know that we have two Scousers in Westminster Hall today to evidence that.
The harsh reality, which we have all accepted, is that this imbalance of investment has meant that too much priority has been given to investment in parts of London and the south-east, as well as too many of the best jobs in the country. I speak as a London MP, because there are also grotesque levels of inequality within London and the south-east. Over-investment and the heat that it generates in such an particular economy has a negative impact on the area, with exorbitant housing costs that leave many workers priced out of ever owning their own home and paying a disproportionate amount of their wages in rent.
The other element, which I have drawn attention to in past debates, is the way that, just to keep a roof over their heads, families are working every hour God sends, which unfortunately undermines family life as well. The grotesque imbalances in our economy are not an accident, or even the invisible hand of the market. They are a deliberate, ongoing Government policy—one that has gone on for the last four decades, at least, regardless of the party in Government.
I looked at the detailed analysis of what the cost of levelling up would be. To bring every UK nation and region up to London’s level of funding would require an additional £30 billion in annual capital investment per year. Even to level up every nation and region to the current UK average, the capital spend required would be an additional £6 billion in funding.
To be successful, levelling up has to be about more than capital spend. It has to be about more than just physical infrastructure, important though that is. We need a comprehensive and holistic approach to building both the physical and the social capital of an area, but that cannot be done when local government funding from central Government is about £16 billion lower than it was in 2010. There has been a cumulative reduction of more than £100 billion in central Government funding for local councils over the last decade.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Miller. On the funding aspect, Liverpool has lost £450 million since 2010, with further cuts of £32 million expected in April. Levelling up rings hollow in Liverpool. The sustained attacks that we have seen, starting with the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition in 2010, have ripped the heart out of the fabric of Liverpool, so levelling up is hollow rhetoric there. I look forward to the next Government spending review for local councils.
The message I am trying to get across is that although the emphasis in Government announcements has been on capital spending, levelling up will not become a reality in cities like Liverpool and elsewhere unless we address the issue of council funding overall. When we debate the White Paper, I hope that we can have a serious and sensible debate about how, over time, we can address what has happened over the last 11 years. We can have a political knockabout about whether or not it was justified, but I think we just have to move on and look at how we can address the situation, perhaps being more creative than we have been in the past.
The situation is serious in Liverpool, but it is not just Liverpool. In recent years, we have seen three councils issue section 114 notices, while another dozen or so have had to call in exceptional financial support from the Government to avoid the same fate. I do not know whether the Minister saw the recent evidence session of the Public Accounts Committee, but we know that there are possibly dozens more councils in contact with the Department over their financial situation.
The issue of central Government funding has to be addressed. The figures are pretty stark. Since the 2015-16 financial year, local authorities have lost 41% of their central Government funding—equivalent to the loss of £8.7 billion a year. Although I accept that some of that has been offset by the retention of business rates and raising council tax above inflation in recent years, it has still left councils with significant real-terms losses in their overall spending power. It has had real consequences for all parts of the country.
According to the briefing provided by Unison, the local government union, councils in England have closed more than 859 children’s centres since 2010, although that figure has been contested—some people think it is actually more. They listed 940 youth centres and 738 libraries that have been closed, while funding for more than 1,200 bus routes has been withdrawn. That has an impact on communities across the country that has to be addressed if we are going to genuinely level up.
I will give an example. It is difficult to see how local economies can be levelled up if childcare and support for parents is not available. How can we level up our town centres and high streets if people do not have a means of transport to get there, or even just basic public conveniences when they do? My argument is that, when we debate the levelling-up White Paper—I look forward to it—we need to debate both the revenue and capital funding that is needed. Let us look at one region, the north-west of England; this example will be relevant to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne) and it is where I did the most intensive work on Labour’s policies, talking with local communities to find out what was needed. Local authorities in the north-west of England are receiving £1.2 billion less per year in 2021-22 in central Government funding than they did in 2015-16; that is a 36% cut. The calculation is that the north-west would need an extra £3.47 billion per year in capital funding just to reach London’s level. The north-west received nearly £500 less—well, £492 less—per person per year when compared with London.
We know of some councils that are so depleted by cuts that they did not have the in-house capacity to even submit bids for the levelling-up fund. These are funds that were allocated in the recent Budget, which we welcomed. We cannot have a begging-bowl approach, with councils fighting over scraps; we need a rising tide of funding that raises all local authority ships.
I want to talk about power. Levelling up must mean not just an injection of cash, but a redistribution of power as well. Councils need more than just greater resources in order to level up—they need to be given powers to do so. That is the message from all local authorities controlled by all political parties. I will watch with interest the Secretary of State’s recently floated idea for further Mayors—or governors, as he said—covering more of the country. It will be interesting to see how that can be rolled out. I am not opposed to it. I am not happy with the mayoral principle, but it has been established and it seems anomalous that there are Mayors for cities but not for other areas.
Let us talk about now. We have devolved Governments in the nations, and a dozen or so city-region Mayors in England. I hope the Government will listen to the demands from, for example, the Mayor of London for more powers. He is asking for more powers to set rent controls—powers which major cities around the world, from Berlin to New York, possess. Shelter, the housing charity, has recently published a report that explains the consequences of levelling-up infrastructure investment without taking housing need into account. I will use my area as an example; the Minister is welcome to come down and visit and we could have a discussion on site if necessary. In my area, a consequence of the welcome multi-billion pound investment in Crossrail is that land and house prices have shot up. Without new council housing or rent controls, local people are being forced out of the local housing market. Alongside the building of more council housing, a Mayor with powers of rent control would really help level up in London and areas like mine.
I hope the Government are going to listen and back the Mayors who are seeking to re-regulate the buses in Greater Manchester, Liverpool city region and West Yorkshire. It is a great policy. It is about improving infrastructure that will increase private investment, it is about a modal shift that will improve carbon emissions and improve air quality, and it is about increasing the act of travel, which has health benefits as well. I point the Minister towards the recent reports from Green Alliance, a coming together of various national environmental groups. They have pointed out how much more could be done on the Government’s climate change agenda if the powers and resources were made available to local government.
When I raised the issue before, Government Ministers have argued that council spending has been boosted by the retention of business rates and the ability to raise more through council tax in recent years. First of all, based on the National Audit Office’s figures, it is likely that councils’ overall spending power is now some £5 billion lower in real terms than it was in 2010. The Minister will also know that raising council tax has very unequal impacts: a 5% increase in Surrey raises about £38 million, while a 5% increase in Blackburn with Darwen raises £2.8 million. It is a similar story with business rate retention: councils with prosperous commercial centres can raise significant sums, whereas councils without such areas cannot.
As such, alongside discussing the levelling-up agenda in investment terms, it is now time to have a serious discussion in Government about a more radical reform of local government finance to provide a stable, locally determined income stream from councils. There have been discussions in all our political parties about options for doing so, but we need to bring those options forward more rapidly. For example, I am interested—as are a number of Conservative MPs—in some version of land value taxation that might transfer both resources and, more effectively, power to the local level.
I also want to raise the issue of debt, in the Liverpool context as well as that of other local authorities. We have a responsibility here: to be frank, central Government have encouraged local authorities to borrow, often heavily, to go into property deals in order to secure much-needed additional revenue income. The result is that the local government debt burden is now becoming crippling for some, which is why the Government should explore new mechanisms for debt relief for local authorities. I was here during the banking crash, and can remember when that whole exercise was undertaken and the bad debt bank was established to sort out the debts of the banks involved. It may well be that the most responsible thing at the moment is for the Government to take over some of that debt, and even write some of it off through a debt jubilee for some local authorities.
Finally, I am concerned that as the levelling-up policy programme is developed, it must be seen to be fair. We all have a responsibility on a cross-party basis to not allow even the perception of pork barrel politics to take hold in this country, which is why there must be the fullest openness, transparency, objectivity, and engagement in decision making about the distribution of resources. One proposal is to consider a Barnett formula-type approach, one that would be objectively based on population, to determine the distribution of capital investment alongside the local government finance formula. Another is the establishment of government structures that bring local government representatives into government more effectively. Some ideas have been floated on all sides, such as a new Cabinet sub-committee that invites Mayors and other representatives to participate, or—as suggested by the Local Government Association—a national taskforce on levelling up that, again, rebalances some of the relationship between local and central Government.
In conclusion, I hope that a central plank of the Government’s levelling-up White Paper and the subsequent policy direction will be the empowering of local government to show that councils can play their role in levelling up our nations and regions. The Minister and the Government will not find local councils lacking, either in enthusiasm or in commitment.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Miller. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) on securing this very important debate. I am not sure whether he or I will be more alarmed to find that we are, as he suggested, in quite strong agreement on much of this agenda.
I am so convincing, do not worry.
The right hon. Gentleman is always convincing when he talks about the lost opportunities caused by having parts of the economy overheating where people cannot afford a house, whereas other parts of the economy are crying out for investment. I felt that his was an echo of the Prime Minister’s speech, so we all find ourselves in at least a pretty high level of agreement on the challenge.
Does the Minister recognise that the Prime Minister is my next-door constituency neighbour?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention. We are being run by a west London mafia.
As a lifelong advocate for ending the kinds of regional disparities that run through the country, I want to reiterate the importance that I, and the Government, feel about restoring a sense of local pride right across the country. I will start by stating a very obvious point, which is that local councils are an absolutely central part of our levelling-up agenda. They have to be. They have long been huge parts of the democratic fabric of this country and I firmly believe that our huge ambitions for levelling up will not be realised unless local leaders and communities are properly empowered to deliver for their local areas.
Levelling up must now go beyond the first stage of devolution. It must be a mission that gives local leaders and communities the tools they really need, as the right hon. Gentleman said, to take control of their own destiny, boost people’s living standards and spread opportunity. It will not be an exercise in levelling down London or the south-east in order to lift up other areas; it will be one with a clear-eyed focus on using local leadership to spread opportunities to parts of the country that have long felt that Governments in successive decades have not been interested in their city or their region.
The levelling-up agenda will recognise that disparities are not just between everyone who lives north of Watford Gap on the one hand and everyone else. Cookie-cutter policies are not going to bridge the divides that exist between Leeds and Bradford, between Blackpool and Manchester, and between different boroughs in London. We recognise that there are some of the same issues in Darlington and in Hayes and Harlington. We also recognise that levelling up—I agree with the right hon. Gentleman—is a major challenge that will take some time, but work is well under way.
Nobody understands the needs of a local area as well as the people elected to serve as the leadership of that local area in local councils. We are taking forward several programmes that will press ahead with meaningful devolution, including the new county deals that the right hon. Gentleman talked about, to spread devolution across the whole of England beyond the larger cities, and new funding streams to give people the financial firepower to make the changes they want to see in their communities. For example, we have agreements with 101 towns across England that have seen £2.4 billion allocated to local projects through the towns fund and the efforts we are making to resurrect our high streets as we continue to respond to the economic headwinds of the pandemic, with £100 million of combined investment from our welcome back fund and the reopening high streets safely fund.
Those investments are just the start. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor and the Treasury have shown that they are foursquare behind the levelling-up agenda with the recent spending review. As part of that review, we committed £1.7 billion in the first round of our flagship £4.8 billion levelling-up fund, backing 105 different initiatives across the country, from the South Derby growth zone to an upgrade to the ferries to the Isles of Scilly. Both received nearly £50 million from the fund. Other successful bids that we have been funding through the levelling-up fund include the Bolton College of Medical Sciences, the reopening of the world’s oldest suspension bridge in County Durham, and the redevelopment of Leicester train station quite near to me. Those are examples of how the fund is flexible in backing the ambitions of different local places, whatever they may be. The funding builds on the foundations laid in the March Budget this year, with plans to bring regeneration, new prosperity and restored pride to 10 different places through the new freeports, which are levelling up in action. In fact, only three weeks ago Teesside became the first of those amazing freeports to open its doors for business and future investment from top-end employers.
In the time remaining, I would like to turn to local government finance. The right hon. Gentleman talked about the need to move on from the debates we had for a long time at the start of the 2010s. I think that is right. There is no point in re-rehearsing those arguments. We will not convince each other of our positions at this point. He talked about a rising tide of funding. We now have a rising tide of funding. For the last couple of years, our core spending power in local government has started to go up. At the spending review, the Treasury backed councils with an average annual increase in the core spending power of local government of 3% in real-terms per year.
The issue when talking about levelling up and moving on from 2010 is that in 2022 the budget cuts affecting my city once again will mean that, potentially, four community libraries will be shut down in some of the poorest wards in the country. Does that equate to levelling up? Last week, a study by Feeding Liverpool found that a third of my city are experiencing food insecurity. Again, how that does chime with levelling up and moving on from 2010, if in 2022 we will still be facing savage austerity? Austerity kills, and austerity enables poverty.
As I said, the core spending power of local government will be going up in real terms each year by 3%, on top of all the other things we are doing through the future high streets fund, the levelling-up fund and the forthcoming UK shared prosperity fund, to invest heavily in areas such as Liverpool and the wider Merseyside area. All those things are, at their heart, about investing in locally delivered early help for families of the exact kind that the hon. Gentleman would like.
The example of Liverpool has been given. It would be incredibly helpful, just to bring the Minister up to speed on a specific example of what is happening, if he would meet a delegation of the Liverpool MPs, maybe with the council leader, to talk about issues there.
I am planning to meet various leaders from Liverpool city region as part of the Mersey Dee alliance discussions, so I would be delighted to have that conversation. I am very proud of the progress we made for that city through the devolution deal, bringing new powers, new funding and the defragmentation of local government that I think we all agree on in principle.
In the months ahead we will set out in more detail our plans for the levelling-up agenda, with the White Paper that will give us the long-term blueprint, but that is not the end of the story. We have a levelling up Department that will continue to power ahead with this agenda over the coming years. The Prime Minister already gave a clear indication of our position in July when he said we take a flexible approach to devolution, so local leaders in our great cities and historic towns have the tools they need to make things happen for their communities.
Exceptional Mayors are already making a huge difference. If anyone wants to see levelling up in action, I suggest they take a trip to Teesside where, during his four years at the helm, Ben Houchen has managed to secure a brand-new economic campus in Darlington with civil servants from the Treasury, moving the Tees crossing to alleviate congestion and bringing the Teesside airport into public ownership, on top of the freeport that I mentioned. That shows that local areas do not need to be micromanaged out of SW1; they can get ahead if they are given the financial power and the local powers and leadership that they need.
There is no reason we cannot bottle and replicate the brand of leadership embodied in people such as Ben Houchen and Andy Street, our fantastic West Midlands Mayor, and apply it to other areas of the country, and so use local leadership and local government to drive forward this incredibly important levelling-up agenda that we all agree on.
Question put and agreed to.
Magnitsky Sanctions: Human Rights Abuses
[Relevant documents: e-petition 554150, Implement sanctions against the Nigerian Government and officials, e-petition 300146, Impose sanctions on China over its treatment of Uyghur Muslims, and e-petition 585237, Sanction Hong Kong officials responsible for human rights violations.]
Before we begin, I remind Members that they are expected to wear face coverings when they are not speaking in the debate, in line with guidance. I also remind Members to have a lateral flow test twice a week if the come to the parliamentary estate. Please be aware of one another as you move in and out of the room.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Magnitsky sanctions and human rights abuses.
It is a great delight to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Miller, and always a delight to be in the same room as you.
If global Britain is to mean anything, it has to mean a passionate commitment by the United Kingdom, in every corner of the globe, to liberty, personal freedom, a fair trial, the rule of law, freedom from torture, freedom from slavery, freedom of association, freedom of religion, freedom of speech and the right to a family life. Sometimes that will be inconvenient for us and for other countries. We may want strong trading partnerships with Colombia or Saudi Arabia, but we will always find it difficult to do business where human rights are trampled underfoot.
I have been banging on about all this for many years, and I will explain where it started. It goes back to 1986 when I was living in post-dictatorship Argentina. One night I was having a drink with a friend, whom I knew had had a difficult time during the dictatorship, when someone came in and sat at the next table to us. A few moments later, my friend disappeared. I presumed he had just gone to the toilet, but he did not come back for a long time. I went to look for him. He was in a shuddering mess on the floor of the toilets. I said, “What’s wrong?” He said, “That man at the table next to us tortured me for four months.” I asked him how he could possibly know that, because he had told me that he was blindfolded throughout that time.
My friend then said, “Well, the thing is, if somebody has every single day for four months grabbed you, shoved your face into a bucket of shitty ice cold water until you nearly drown, has tied you to a metal bed and applied electrodes to your tongue, the back of your ears and your testicles, and has beaten you senseless every single day for four months, you get to know not just what their voice sounds like or the smell of their breath, but the way they come into a room and sit down at a table. That’s how I know.” Ever since that day, I have thought how fortunate we are in this country to enjoy liberties and freedoms, which are guaranteed to us by our democracy and by battles that people have fought in previous centuries.
That is why I still fight today to end human rights abuses. I am proud that, in memory of the lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, a suite of Magnitsky sanctions is now available in British law. I pay tribute to the Government for introducing them. For me, building a “network of liberty”, to use the Foreign Secretary’s phrase from this morning, must mean more than just expanding free trade. It must mean expanding freedom. Sometimes, I have to say, it has felt like the Government have been reluctant to act. How many times did we have to urge the Foreign Secretary to act on Hong Kong? I still find it perplexing that Carrie Lam is not on any list. Why is the UK list of those sanctioned so much shorter than the US version? Do they care more than we do about human rights? I do not think so.
As co-chair of the new all-party parliamentary group on Magnitsky sanctions, I asked the Government to consider some names. My co-chair and I are going to be doing this on a fairly regular basis—that is our aim. It is important that we have privilege in Parliament. We do not want to abuse that privilege, but we want to be able to speak without fear or favour on human rights abuses around the world.
Let me start with China and the situation in Xinjiang, where—
Will the hon. Member give way?
That was very quick, but yes.
I want to thank the hon. Gentleman for his speech and for giving way. I want to put on record the Liberal Democrats’ support for the Magnitsky sanctions. Indeed, we welcome the cross-party support on this issue, which is shown in this room.
Members will be aware that the Uyghur Tribunal is going to report tomorrow. In that tribunal, Uyghur families have given harrowing stories of what they have suffered. Does he agree that tomorrow would be an ideal time for the Minister to announce sanctions against Chinese Communist party officials such as Chen Quanguo, who, as the Communist party secretary of Xinjiang will have overseen these crimes against humanity? We all know that those would potentially amount to the crime of genocide.
That was pretty much going to be my next but one paragraph. Of course, I completely agree. The Uyghur population have been and continue to be subject to mass detention, forced sterilisation, forced abortion, the forced removal of children and other forms of torture. To my mind and, I think, in law, that is genocide. It meets all the criteria that are laid down in the conventions. The UK Government have so far omitted to sanction several of those most responsible for these atrocities, all of whom have been sanctioned by the United States. I understand that some of the detail on that has already been provided by non-governmental organisations to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, and I am sure the Minister has that.
The hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) mentioned Chen Quanguo. He is referred to as the architect of the human rights abuses in both Xinjiang and Tibet. He is the party secretary to the Communist party in the region. He is responsible for the mass detention, torture, and cruel and degrading treatment of over 1 million people from ethnic and religious minorities. I still find it perplexing that parts of the middle east, where there are fellow Muslims, still fail to condemn that.
The recently released Xinjiang papers confirm Quanguo’s role in directing the Government’s policies in the region and he should be sanctioned.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. The Xinjiang papers talk about Chen Quanguo and the fact he was assisted by deputies, Zhu Hailun and Zhu Changjie in implementing the mass internment of the Uyghurs. I understand the Government have sanctioned four Chinese officials, but that is not enough. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government must now take steps to introduce further Magnitsky sanctions, including on Chen Quanguo, the architect of the Xinjiang genocide, and his deputies?
I am normally very reluctant to draw direct parallels with what happened in Nazi Germany, but when we see detention camps, people being taken away from their families and people being identified by virtue of their genetic make-up, it feels remarkably similar. If the world chooses to turn away at this point, in the end it will regret it.
There is an important point here about the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, which is known as the XPCC. It is a state-owned paramilitary organisation, known for its involvement in the mass imprisonment and severe physical abuse of the Uyghurs, and its use of forced labour to produce the majority of the region’s cotton. As the recent report by the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice shows, this cotton ends up in the global supply chain and people often cannot spot that the clothes they are wearing come from slave labour.
While the UK has recognised this use of forced labour and sanctioned a subsidiary of the XPCC, it has yet to sanction the corporation as a whole, despite the fact that it controls large swathes of the region’s industries, associated with widespread labour abuses. In relation to that, it is important that Peng Jiarui and Sun Jinlong, who have both held senior positions in the XPCC and have had command control over the arbitrary detention, ill treatment and forced labour of Uyghur Muslims, should also be added to the Magnitsky list.
Huo Liujun, the former party secretary for the public security bureau in the region, oversaw the use of artificial intelligence to racially profile, track and imprison members of the Uyghur community. Recent reports indicate this same system was used to target and forcibly sterilise Uyghur women. He should also be on the list.
Let me turn to Iran. As many Members will know, Iran’s arbitrary detention, torture and ill treatment of foreign and dual nationals for diplomatic leverage over other states has escalated since 1979, with state hostage taking becoming an institutionalised part of its foreign policy. We have seen this most notably with some of our own nationals, including Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is being held hostage in Iran and is now spending her sixth Christmas away from her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, and their daughter, Gabriella. Also, Anoosheh Ashoori has now been detained in Iran for four and a half years. Our hearts go out to them.
I understand that detailed evidence about this has already been provided to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, but let me list some people who I think should be added to the sanction list. Ali Ghanaatkar has acted as head of interrogations and as judge in Evin prison. In his role, he has been involved in the ill treatment of detainees, particularly in the use of forceful interrogations and threats, and in bringing false charges against them. He should be on the list.
Gholamreza Ziaei is the former head of Evin prison, which has become synonymous with torture and death and is where a number of British nationals, including Nazanin and Anoosheh, have been detained. As the head of the prison, he was responsible for the inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners and was sanctioned by the European Union in April this year. He has been sanctioned by the EU, but not yet by us. I think he should be on the list.
Ali Rezvani is an Iranian state media journalist for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-controlled 20:30 News. He has not only been involved in the interrogation of detainees but has revealed detainees’ interrogation files, broadcast forced confessions, forcibly detained family photos and spread misinformation regarding political prisoners, dissidents and hostages. He has peddled propaganda against victims to justify and encourage their ill treatment, thereby promoting, inciting and supporting Iran’s practices. He should be on the list.
On 25 October 2021, the military staged a coup in Sudan, overthrowing the joint civilian-military transitional Government. Since then, violence has escalated rapidly, with reports of the military torturing and killing protestors and carrying out enforced disappearances. It all sounds remarkably like Argentina. Again, I understand that evidence has been provided to the FCDO, but let me give some names. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan is the leader and public face of the military coup in Khartoum. Security forces under his command targeted activists, members of resistance committees and journalists, ordering their arbitrary detention or enforced disappearance. Al-Burhan has also implemented an ongoing internet blackout, trying to prevent news of his human rights abuses from leaving Sudan. He has failed, but he should be on the list.
Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, is the commander of the Rapid Support Forces, previously known as the Janjaweed—Government-supported militias that committed gross human rights abuses in Darfur. Under his leadership, the RSF played a critical role in the planning and execution of the coup and has repeatedly used excessive force to beat and kill protesting civilians in Khartoum. He should be on the list. Abdul Rahim Hamdan Dagalo is reportedly an active member of what security analysts describe as a small security council responsible for the planning and execution of the coup. The council has directed the militarised response to the protest, including the use of live fire against peaceful protestors. He should be on the list.
I turn finally to Rwanda. In August last year, Paul Rusesabagina, the subject of the film “Hotel Rwanda”, which many Members may have seen, and a vocal critic of President Kagame and a cancer sufferer, was drugged, bound and forcefully returned to Rwanda, where he has been imprisoned and tortured. I have met his daughters online, and it is a very upsetting story. A large number of international human rights organisations have recognised this case as one enforced disappearance. Two individuals are directly involved.
First, Johnston Busingye, Minister of Justice at the time of Mr Rusesabagina’s arrest and under whose authority he was detained and tortured. During a televised interview, Johnston Busingye admitted that the Government of Rwanda paid for the flight that transported Mr Rusesabagina back to Rwanda. He has since been removed as Minister of Justice and appointed high commissioner to the United Kingdom. As far as I understand it, the UK Government have still not given their agrément to the appointment. I hope they will announce today that they have absolutely no intention of doing so. He should be on a list of sanctioned individuals, not of people to be escorted to Buckingham Palace to have their credentials agreed by Her Majesty. Secondly, Colonel Jeannot Ruhunga, secretary general of the Rwanda Investigation Bureau, was also heavily involved with that unlawful kidnapping and the associated human rights violations. All these names should be added to the list of those sanctioned by the United Kingdom.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for securing the debate and for his work as one of the co-chairs of the APPG. If I am fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mrs Miller, I hope to raise the case of General Shavendra Silva, current chief of defence staff in Sri Lanka and apparently responsible for gross human rights violations including torture and extra-judicial killings. I appreciate my hon. Friend’s need to focus his remarks today, but I ask his APPG to consider that case at a further session down the line.
My co-chair, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), is telling me that we will, but my hon. Friend makes a really good point, which is that we need a proper process whereby we can feed into the Government all the suggestions and concerns that individual Members have from their connections with other parts of the world, and get good outcomes.
Right at the beginning of the process, I think I asked the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), something like 27 times when the Government would introduce Magnitsky sanctions. We now have them in place, but the whole idea was that there would be a parliamentary process for assessing who else should be added. We want to work with the Government to achieve that, because in the end we all share our humanity. If a child goes hungry in Botswana, that is a problem for the children of this country. If somebody is deprived of their freedom in Russia, Chechnya or any part of Africa, that is a matter for our freedom too. We all share in the same humanity.
Order. I plan to call the Front-Bench spokespeople at around 6.4 pm. We have four speakers on the list. If you do the maths, five minutes each means that everyone will get in. I call Iain Duncan Smith.
It is a pleasure to serve under your stewardship, Mrs Miller. As was referred to earlier, I am a co-chair of the APPG and we are in complete agreement about this. I will résumé the list, as it were, though not in the detail laid out by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant)—and he is my hon. Friend in this case. We should do so without fear of retribution, because that is the natural form of debate. I say that as someone who is already sanctioned by the Chinese Government. My answer to them is: “Yeah, so what?” Several countries have been mentioned. I congratulate the Government on having introduced the Magnitsky sanctions. There is no question that they have shown a willingness to take some actions, and we have put some people on the sanctions list. However, as has been said, we are not going far and fast enough, and that is the whole point of the APPG and of today’s debate.
I will start with China. As I said, I am sanctioned. Today the Prime Minister said categorically, as I understood it, that the policy of Her Majesty’s Government is to have a diplomatic boycott of the winter Olympic games in China. I think I was not alone in hearing him say that. He even illustrated it by saying clearly that not only Ministers but officials would not attend. Thus it is, de facto, a diplomatic boycott. I put that on the record and hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take back to the Foreign Office the clarity of that statement. As far as we in the Chamber are concerned, and now publicly, this country now has an official diplomatic boycott of the winter Olympics, and there can be no difference of opinion on that matter.
The abuses in China are phenomenal. It leaves all other countries behind it. The level, scale and ferocity of the abuses is unprecedented in modern times, when we think about the Uyghurs and the genocide. I know that the Government do not want to say genocide because they stand by the legal stuff about having to get it either through the UN or the International Criminal Court, but China is not a member of one and we know that it blocks the other. Every other country that I know of—many of great potency, such as the Americans—has declared it a genocide.
The hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) is quite right that tomorrow there will be the final outcome of the tribunal. There is no question in my mind that new names will come from that in due course, and we will look to get them sanctioned, but there is the genocide of the Uyghurs, the oppression and suppression of the Tibetans over decades, and forced labour camps. We should actually call them what they are, which is concentration camps, not forced labour camps. Why do we try to find another phrase that takes the meaning out of it? As my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda said earlier, they are concentration camps and this is redolent of that terrible time when turned our back on so many, and so many people died as a result. In addition there are the Christians, the Falun Gong and now the Inner Mongolians. China is arresting and persecuting peaceful democracy campaigners on a daily basis, threatening its neighbours, taking over the South China sea, killing Indian soldiers and threatening to declare war on Taiwan.
I do not know how much more a country can do to tell us its direction of travel. It is not as though the Chinese are hiding it or that it is a secret from us any more—they are very clear. We need to react to that and to make it clear that they will not get away with it. That is why I will repeat the names that have just been mentioned.
In China, we have Chen Quanguo, the Xinjiang Communist party secretary who has been talked about and is the architect of and key to the whole design of what is being done. He was also the key to what was done in Tibet—the Minister will no doubt make that point. We also have the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps. It is interesting, and unusual, to ban an organisation through Magnitsky sanctions, but it is state owned and clearly a paramilitary organisation, and it is up to its eyeballs in what is going on in Xinjiang.
We also have Sun Jinlong, who has a senior position in XPCC, as mentioned earlier, and very clearly part of the Uyghur genocide suppression. Huo Liujun is the former party secretary of the Xinjiang public security bureau. Critically, he has overseen the area of artificial intelligence and racial profiling—how can we say now, in this day and age, that people are being profiled and chased because of their race? It is almost like reading a book about the 1930s.
In going to Iran, I will not make any more of what has been made of it already, because we are limited in time, except to say simply that Iran is another despotic state that cares nothing for human rights or the rule of law. Again, I will repeat the names that have already been mentioned. Ali Ghanaatkar is head of interrogations and the judge at Evin prison. With the ill treatment of detainees and all the rest that has been mentioned, that man should be on the list. Gholamreza Ziaei, the former head of Evin prison, should also be on the list—no question at all about that—as should Ali Rezvani, an Iranian state media journalist who has also been involved in the interrogation and brutalisation of detainees.
In Sudan, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan—his name has been mentioned, but I repeat it—is the leader and public face of the military coup in Khartoum. He is a brutal individual who commands security forces and is hugely implicated in the ongoing arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance of key players in that area. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo is commander of the Rapid Support Forces, known for being the Government-sponsored militias that committed gross human rights abuses in Darfur. Many others have been mentioned, but I want to come to Abdul Rahim Hamdan Dagalo, who is reported to be an active member of what security analysts have described as the small security council. He is a brutal individual responsible for the planning and execution of the coup, plus the detention and torturing of many people in that country.
Finally, I mention Johnston Busingye in Rwanda. I reiterate this point: what exactly do the Rwandan Government think they are doing in nominating that well-known and abusive individual who has been responsible for so much of what is going on in that country as an ambassador to London. Goodness gracious me, I have no idea! Do they think that the UK is an easy touch, for some reason, and that they can easily get that individual in here and it will all be all right? We need to see a strong statement from our Government, first and foremost, and secondly—
Order. Will the right hon. Gentleman bring his comments to a close?
I am just finishing now, Mrs Miller.
Finally, I name Colonel Jeannot Ruhunga, secretary-general of the Rwanda Investigation Bureau, heavily involved in detention and torture. I simply say to my hon. Friend the Minister that the reason I am repeating the list mentioned by my co-chair, my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda, is that, whatever happens after this, I want to share a part of that. The Government must now sanction those people, at least as a start.
I call Afzal Khan.
I did not wish to speak, Mrs Miller.
You were on the list. I call Gareth Thomas.
I cannot compete with the quality of the two previous speeches. They were both excellent. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) for securing the debate.
I simply want to raise the case of one particular individual, who now holds the position of chief of the defence staff and commander of the Sri Lankan army, General Shavendra Silva. Those who have followed the terrible events in Sri Lanka at the end of the conflict in 2009 will be aware that evidence has emerged over the last 12 years of widespread human rights abuses at that time, including extrajudicial killings and extensive use of torture, deliberate attacks on civilian targets, including hospitals, and the use of weapons that have been banned internationally, such as white phosphorus and cluster munitions.
Despite repeated efforts by the international community, the Sri Lankan Government have resisted any efforts to bring to account any of those responsible for those abuses. Despite their best efforts, however, groups of individuals and non-governmental organisations have chronicled the evidence of those human rights abuses.
I hope that the Minister is aware that on 9 April the International Truth and Justice Project submitted to her Department a 50-page dossier setting out General Shavendra Silva’s complicity in the human rights violations that took place in the north of Sri Lanka towards the end of 2008 through to May 2009. General Silva was then commander of the elite 58 Division of the Sri Lankan army, which was very much involved in the conflict.
The US has already imposed a travel ban on General Silva and his family, having found him accountable through command responsibility for
“gross violations of human rights, namely extrajudicial killings, by the 58th Division of the Sri Lanka Army”.
The question is why we as a country have not followed suit and imposed similar restrictions on Mr Silva, particularly around travel but also around financial assets and so on, or used the tools available to us under the Magnitsky package of measures to hold at least one person properly responsible for those terrible abuses at the end of that conflict.
Although the Minister will quite rightly feel a responsibility to answer the questions and points put by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda, I will be very interested to hear, as will my constituents and many others across the UK, what her Department’s reaction is to the dossier that the ITJP submitted back in April.
I do not know whether I have to declare an interest as a fellow sanctioned MP. Slightly ironically, it means that I have a negative financial interest in this issue, because if I had any assets in China they would have been frozen, but let me put that on the record for good measure.
I know that I am very much the secondary or support act to the two proposers of the motion: my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) and the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). I congratulate them on securing this debate and on their work with the all-party parliamentary group. This is a really important subject and I am very proud that we have taken a lead with the Magnitsky sanctions that have already been announced. However, I am frustrated that we have not gone further and faster, and if the APPG can continue to put pressure on the Government to do so, it will be doing very good work indeed.
We must become a leader in the way in which we apply and enact Magnitsky sanctions, to encourage as many other like-minded Governments around the world as possible to follow suit. It is really important that we maintain a multilateral and co-ordinated approach, so that the impact is such that the targets of the sanctions and the countries in which, in most cases, they are part of the regime simply have to sit up and take note, causing them maximum disturbance, annoyance and inconvenience. It is really important that we do not just name people under Magnitsky sanctions, but follow through to make sure that they are very effective and have the desired impacts, so that they are not just a box-ticking exercise. We should also be doing a lot more to investigate their assets. I am afraid that London has too often become the home to some of those despotic regimes and the despotic people who prop them up through property and other, largely hidden, assets. We should be redoubling our efforts to investigate the laundering of money through London, particularly the London property market.
I am not going to alarm the Hansard Reporters by going through a whole list of names that are difficult to pronounce and even harder to spell, but I will reinforce the references made by both opening speakers to Chen Quanguo, the architect of the genocide in Tibet. It is under his watch that many of the more than 1 million Tibetans who have lost their lives since the invasion by the Chinese Communist party Government back in 1959 have died. He has overseen the eclipse of the teaching of the language, the culture, and the religion of many ethnic Tibetans, putting hundreds of thousands of nomadic farmers—who were simply getting on with their lives in the ways that generations of their ancestors have done for centuries—into concentration camps under the guise of retraining, slaughtering their herds and forcing them into a Sinicised lifestyle that is very alien to many of those people. That was the training ground for what he is now doing in Xinjiang, and we have heard all about the forced sterilisation, the concentration camps—let us call them out for what they are—the slave labour farming of cotton, and other things.
Magnitsky sanctions must be just the start of our clamping down on all of those things. There is a limit to what we can do, but we can have trade boycotts, we can have limitations on businesses doing business in certain parts of the world, and we can, I hope, have a full diplomatic boycott of China’s winter Olympics. When the Prime Minister refers to an effective boycott, and the Foreign Secretary repeats those words in a meeting I was in a little earlier, that can only mean a full boycott, which must include diplomats based in Beijing. It would be absurd if UK Ministers, officials and members of the Royal Family did not go to China but our ambassador in Beijing still turned up to the Olympics, as she apparently wants to. That must be made absolutely clear.
The second person I will re-emphasise, who has already been mentioned, is Carrie Lam. It is inconceivable that she should not be on a list, given that we are seeing the impact of the oppression that is snuffing out freedom, liberty and entrepreneurship in that country now, because many Hong Kong citizens are already coming to this country. We welcome them, and we will welcome many more who are fleeing the crushing abuses against their freedoms.
I will conclude—leaving plenty of time for all of our questions to be answered—by asking three questions of the Minister. First, how does the Foreign Office decide who goes on the sanctions list? What information does it require? Is there some sort of algorithm that decides it? If so, the list that the algorithm has come up with does not, strangely, include some names. What more could we, including the APPG, do to provide information that might make the Foreign Office’s job easier, making sure that the right people and more people go on that list?
Secondly, and really importantly, how do we co-ordinate our list with other countries? I know that when the initial Magnitsky names were announced, it was on the same day as some announcements were made by the EU and the US. As I said earlier, it is really important that these sanctions are internationally co-ordinated, but there is a question as to why the UK has sanctioned only 24% of the individuals and entities already sanctioned under the Magnitsky sanctions regime of the United States. We have common interests and we share the same values, so why have we not applied those sanctions to three quarters of the people who the United States thinks they should be applied to? Have we just not got round to it yet? Is the Foreign Office under-resourced in examining their credentials? Do we not trust the judgment of our allies in the United States? Some explanation of how the system works would be helpful because this is a really important innovation and a powerful tool that the UK can proudly use to stand up for the values, freedoms and liberties that we take for granted here, but which, alas, many other countries do not. Working with those like-minded countries, we can bring the change, and the freedom and the liberty, to many people who do not enjoy the luxuries that we do in this country.
It is great to see you in the Chair, Mrs Miller. Let me congratulate the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) on gaining the debate and the members of the all-party group on the work that they have undertaken to highlight the deep and profoundly worrying human rights abuses across the world.
I am sure we all agree that the abuse of individuals, political and religious groups, and, indeed, minorities across the world by a range of global state actors is well documented, but less well documented are the lesser-known non-state actors now participating in the field of human rights abuse. Nevertheless, the systematic utilisation of global finance to enable those crimes against humanity in many ways remains cloaked in secrecy, underpinned by the rightly named—at least as I see it—dark money.
Dark money is an issue that I and many of my SNP colleagues have taken a keen interest in since 2015. Like the hon. Member for Rhondda in relation to today’s debate, we do so for good reason, believing in an open, transparent political process founded on the rule of law, and believing in parliamentary democracy—a model that seeks to hold Government to account for their actions.
It used to be said that all roads lead to Rome—a very lovely place indeed—yet from my perspective in the political world today, especially in the age of dark money, the road always seems to lead to the Kremlin. The debate takes its name from the late Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer to whom the hon. Gentleman alluded. Magnitsky uncovered large-scale tax fraud while working for Hermitage Capital based here in London. Sergei, as we know, died in a Russian prison owing to mistreatment.
It is also well known that the previous Government believed that the then existing fraud legislation was actually enough. In February 2018, the then Foreign Secretary, now the Prime Minister, argued that the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill provided enough powers. At least some of us would say that, luckily, the then Prime Minister recognised the opportunity to improve existing legislation, and the tone changed with the Government saying they would consider changes to Bill, which has been mentioned by Members previously. We are glad that those came forward.
During the debate, various Members have highlighted some of the most egregious abuses of the dignity of the rights of people and peoples across the globe, from the profoundly familiar way in which the Uyghur people are treated and herded by the Communist party of China to the killing and torture of protestors during the military coup in Sudan. Given that Members have gone into some detail on those points, I will not give another detailed exposition of inhumanity, so let me follow the money that might finance those abuses and undermine democratic governance. Specifically, I want to refer to Scottish shell companies that have siphoned billions of dollars, including from the former Soviet Union, and, in particular, the link, cited by David Leask of openDemocracy, to an Uzbek business empire.
Mr Leask highlights the fact that in a rather unassuming southside-of-Glasgow trademark tenement lies the official headquarters of a company known as Yardrock Development. The investigation by openDemocracy revealed that the company in question is linked to the Uzbek President, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, and it will come as no surprise that this company is a Scottish limited partnership—a company structure known globally as the UK’s “homegrown secrecy vehicle”. Indeed, in recent years, some SLPs have been blacklisted by the United Nations Development Programme, and even by the World Bank, given the ongoing concerns relating to their ability to undermine transparency and good governance. SLPs are safe ports in a storm in murky waters for dark money. They are harbours offering access to doubtful financial probity and dodgy dealings.
Let us go back to Mr Leask’s investigation, which states that:
“In a report published this month, UzInvestigations, a group led by Professor Kristian Lasslett of Ulster University and supported by the Uzbek Forum for Human Rights, found that eight SLPs, including Yardrock Development, owned a total of more than $128m worth of equity in Orient Group companies… UzInvestigations said the Orient Group had risen in prominence with the support of the Uzbek state”
and its leadership—a company with direct links to the President via one of the owning group’s founders and shareholders, Oybek Umarov, who is
“a brother of Otabek Umarov, deputy head of the Presidential Security Service and Mirziyoyev’s son-in-law”.
Additionally, UzInvestigations has highlighted that another senior executive is even the
“son of a serving minister.”
Mr Leask’s investigation also states:
“Umida Niyazova, director of the Uzbek Forum for Human Rights, echoed Lasslett’s concerns. ‘As more wealth accumulates in the hands of those close to senior state officials, the link between extreme economic and political power becomes stronger,’ she said, adding: ‘This is a significant threat to any prospect of democratisation in Uzbekistan.’”
This is a slippery slope of authoritarianism, ably assisted by nepotism and Scottish limited partnerships. If allowed to go unchallenged, corruption in a political process undermines the rule of law, undermines the courts and undermines public confidence in liberal democracy. Corruption opens the door to the abuse of the person, a collective of people, a culture and a political movement. It emboldens those who use dark money to facilitate it. The role of SLPs in Uzbekistan cannot be glibly ignored.
We need only look at what is happening in Hong Kong, which has been mentioned briefly. Hong Kong might not have been in the news as much as it was previously, but that is largely due to the Communist party’s national security law. Let us be under no illusion: what we are witnessing is the death of democracy in Hong Kong.
Order. May I encourage the hon. Gentleman to wrap up his speech?
I will indeed, Mrs Miller; I will come to a conclusion in just a moment.
What we are seeing in Hong Kong are freedoms being destroyed and the rule of law, democracy and the right to freedom of expression being totally undermined by the Communist party. Will the Minister give us some clarity on the position on Hong Kong and those in the Communist party of Hong Kong? Can the Minister state that the Government recognise the impact of Scottish limited partnerships on the future of democracy—not only on these islands, but in Uzbekistan—and their role in facilitating the movement of finance that is used to undermine human rights across the globe?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Mrs Miller. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), everyone in the all-party parliamentary group and all Members who have contributed to the debate on the many serious issues that they have raised, and on the work that they are doing to highlight individuals who they believe should be sanctioned under the Magnitsky regime. I reiterate the official Opposition’s previous welcome to the Government’s implementation of the regime, which many in this House had long called for, including some in this room and the Opposition. I put on the record again our heartfelt condolences to the family of Sergei Magnitsky and I salute all those who have campaigned in his honour.
Tragically, human rights abuses are on the rise globally. Unfortunately, as we have seen, the pandemic has exacerbated such abuses around the world: criminals have been using the global disarray as a vessel to broaden their operations and corruption, and dictators have been using the pandemic as an excuse to crush political dissent. Indeed, 70% of the countries covered by the Economist Intelligence Unit’s democracy index have recorded a decline in their overall democracy scores, with the lowest scores since 2006. The Opposition have pledged to put human rights at the heart of our international policies with consistency and with a commitment and resolve to act to defend liberties, the rights of all around the world and our international obligations. This debate is therefore very welcome.
The Magnitsky sanctions have given us the power to stop violations against civilians without subjecting them to the consequences of broader-brush sanctions, which could harm them. They provide accountability, a deterrent against carrying out gross violations of human rights, compliance with international human rights law, respect for human rights, and respect for democracy, the rule of law and good governance.
We know that sanctions work and have a significant impact, especially if we adopt them in further partnership with allies. They have little impact if they are just used unilaterally, but when we work in concert with our allies, such as the United States and European Union, they can have a huge impact. Together, the UK, the US, the EU and Canada represent one third of global GDP, yet they are also the locations where billions of pounds’ worth of dirty blood money passes through. The potential to have an impact on individuals responsible for human rights abuses and corruption is at our fingertips, not least those who use London as their bolthole, as has been referred to.
It is welcome that corruption has been included in the regime of offences for which sanctions can be applied under the 2021 regulations. We hope that will act as a huge deterrent to the activity that sees £100 billion illegally flowing through the UK every year, according to the National Crime Agency. We have seen the FCDO designate 49 individuals with sanctions, including visa restrictions and asset freezes: Saudis involved in the death of Jamal Khashoggi, Russians involved in the murder of Sergei Magnitsky, Myanmar generals involved in genocide against the Rohingya and those involved in North Korean concentration camps.
A year later, we saw 78 designations identified by Redress, with 24 sanctions specifically on the basis of corruption. They included those in Russia, the Guptas in relation to South Africa, Sudanese businessmen and Latin Americans involved in bribery. I understand that the FCDO will not publish the list of individuals it is investigating to designate for sanctions. I appreciate the reasons for that but I agree with Members that the sanctions regime is not going far enough with the individuals designated. There is a great contrast between the UK, which has applied only 78 designations this year, and the US, which has designated 340 individuals. As the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) said, the UK sanctioned only 24% individuals and entities already sanctioned by the United States Magnitsky regime. We must go further.
Many important examples have been raised today; I hope the Minister will listen to them all. I want to draw attention to a few others. My former brief related to sub-Saharan Africa; my understanding is that sanctions have been issued only relating to South Africa and Gambia, when of course there are many other individuals who should be dealt with. We heard of Sudan; I want to draw the Minister’s attention to the situation of Eritrea and the horrific human rights abuses, including horrific sexual violence and sexual human rights abuses taking place in Ethiopia. I hope the Minister will actively consider individuals who have been involved in perpetrating crimes there and, of course, the wider crimes by the Eritrean regime against its own citizens.
We have heard about Sudan and Rwanda, and we should be considering locations from Cameroon to Zimbabwe when it comes to individuals responsible for heinous acts, as well as Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. We have rightly heard a huge amount of attention on China and Hong Kong; there have only been three designations against officials in the Chinese regime, despite horrific abuses against the Uyghur population. I agree with colleagues who raised the situation of Chen Quanguo—a prime example of an individual who should face sanctions. It is absurd that the US has designated that individual but we have not.
I hope the Minister will listen closely. We have heard excellent contributions about Sri Lanka. I have raised in this place other regimes, including Bahrain in the middle east. We also heard today of Iran. We need consistency in policies. If we are to apply sanctions, we cannot cosy up to regimes in other ways. Let us look at the situation of Saudi Arabia, which the former shadow Foreign Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), raised in relation to Saudi acquisition of assets here. I also want to raise concern about parliamentary scrutiny. They have that in the United States Congress; we should have it here.
I hope the Minister can outline the practical ways in which we can provide information confidentially—not just in debates such as this, with due regard to privilege—and how we will work across Government to ensure that information is fed in from all Government Departments, not just the FCDO.
I thank the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) for tabling this debate, and for his valuable co-operation as chair of the all-party parliamentary group, along with the other colleagues on the APPG. I am grateful to all hon. Members for their insightful contributions. I will try to address all the points raised and the countries mentioned within the time that I have.
On 6 July 2020, the Government established the global human rights sanctions regime under the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. The regime gave the UK a powerful new tool to hold to account those involved in serious human rights violations or abuses. It was intended to target individuals and entities involved in serious human rights violations or abuses, rather than entire countries.
Our global human rights sanctions regime reinforces our ability to defend the rules-based international system. It complements and enhances our global leadership on the promotion and protection of human rights around the world and enables us to use asset freezes and travel bans against those involved in serious human rights violations and abuses and those who profit or benefit from them. The human rights included in the scope of the regime are the right to life, the right not be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to be free from slavery and forced labour.
Since launching our global human rights sanctions just under a year ago, the Government have designated nearly 80 individuals and entities. Those designations demonstrate the Government’s commitment to standing up for human rights and minority groups, including those in Belarus, Myanmar, China, Russia and North Korea.
On 22 March, the UK sanctioned four Chinese Government officials and the public security bureau of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps for their role in the serious human rights violations that have taken and continue to take place against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. Those measures were taken alongside measures by the US, Canada and the EU, sending the clearest possible signal that the international community is united in its condemnation of China’s human rights violations in Xinjiang and signalling the need for Beijing to end discrimination and oppression in the region.
We heard earlier about the horrifying stories coming out of the Uyghur Tribunal. Will the Minister commit to examining the findings of the Uyghur Tribunal when its judgment comes out this Thursday?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his contribution, and I intend to cover the tribunal later in my speech. Just last week, alongside the EU, US and Canada, we imposed further sanctions against individuals responsible for human rights violations in Belarus, under our Belarus regime. We imposed an asset freeze on a key state-owned entity in order to maintain economic pressure on the repressive Lukashenko regime.
In addition to our new human rights sanctions, on 26 April we launched our global anti-corruption sanctions regime, which gives us the means to impose anti-corruption sanctions on individuals anywhere in the world. It represented a significant step forward for the UK’s global leadership in combatting corruption around the world and promoting fair and open societies.
Since the launch, we have designated 27 individuals who have been involved in serious corruption from nine different countries. We will continue to pursue such designations and promote our values around the world, using powers under both our global human rights and anti-corruption sanctions regimes throughout the year of action, starting with the US-hosted summit for democracy taking place over the next two days on International Anti-Corruption Day and International Human Rights Day.
I recognise that Members today referred to certain named individuals, and I am sure that they will fully understand that I cannot speculate—it would be inappropriate for me to do so.
There is one person that the Minister could undoubtedly speculate on, because he has been appointed as the Rwandan high commissioner. Surely the Government can announce whether they or not will accept his agrément.
I will come to that specific case a little later. I want to cover the points about how Parliament will be consulted and be part of the process, which was raised by several hon. Members. We recognise the range of views expressed by parliamentarians on the best approach to take on the designations proposals and we are grateful for the interest that they take in that. Of course, they can continue to engage with the Government in the usual ways—such as this debate—or they can write to the Foreign Secretary.
I will turn to some of the more specific questions and countries that were raised. On Sudan, we have condemned the abuses and we will continue to press for accountability, including by considering sanctions. However, we also note the fragile situation there, following the 21 November deal which reinstated Prime Minister Hamdok as a first step back towards democratic transition.
On Rwanda, which the hon. Member for Rhondda raised, I assure him that we are following the case of Paul Rusesabagina—the hon. Gentleman pronounces it better than I do—very closely. I assure him that the Minister for Africa has raised our concerns about due process. On Kashmir, I recognise the concerns. We have raised them with the Governments of India and Pakistan.
On the Uyghur Tribunal, we welcome any initiative that is rigorous and balanced, and that raises awareness of the situation faced by the Uyghurs and other minorities in China. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are following the work of the Uyghur Tribunal very closely, and will study any resulting report very carefully. Of course, the policy of successive UK Governments is that any determination of genocide or crimes against humanity is a matter for a competent court.
We and our partners continue to press for an end to hostilities in Ethiopia, and for Eritrean forces to withdraw, and we fully support all mediation efforts. I think it is fair to say that the scale of the human rights abuses detailed by the joint investigation report is horrific. I note that the Government of Ethiopia have set up a taskforce to take forward recommendations from the report, and we will continue to consider a full range of policy options, including sanctions.
As I explained, we work very closely with our partners, in particular the US, Canada and the EU, which have Magnitsky-style sanctions legislation. We co-operate very closely with Australia, which last week introduced legislation to its Parliament that grants it the power to impose global human rights and anti-corruption sanctions, because UK sanctions are most effective when backed up by co-ordinated collective action.
The global human rights sanctions and anti-corruption sanctions regimes have given the UK new very important and powerful tools. The designations that we have already made show that we will act to hold to account those involved in serious human rights violations or abuses, or serious corruption, without fear or favour. In close co-ordination with our allies, we will carefully consider future designations under the regulations. Through concerted action, we will provide accountability for serious human rights violations or abuses and serious corruption around the world, and deter those who might commit them in the future.
I call Chris Bryant to wind up.
Thank you very much, Mrs Miller. I am afraid that the Minister wound me up at the end. Why can the Government not simply say that somebody who has blatantly been involved in the drugging and illegal extradition of somebody to Rwanda will not be accepted as a representative of Rwanda to the Court of St James’s as a high commissioner? I cannot understand that. It is a very simple ask. I understand why Ministers always say, and say endlessly to us, “We don’t want to speculate about sanctions because that undermines the system.” We do not want Ministers to speculate; we want them to implement. It is quite simple.
I like the Minister enormously; she knows that I do. We want more action. Only 24% of those people who are sanctioned by the United States of America are sanctioned by this country. Why? Is it because we are more picky? Is it because we are more cowardly? I do not understand. There is no argument for it so far. I hope that in the new year, the Government will set aside a whole day for us to debate this matter in Government time, to understand how we can ensure that the UK is, and will always be, the beacon for liberty, freedom of association, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and the right to life.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered Magnitsky sanctions and human rights abuses.