House of Commons
Tuesday 22 February 2022
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before Questions
Committee of Selection
That Stuart Andrew be discharged from the Committee of Selection and Christopher Pincher be added.—(Michael Tomlinson.)
Oral Answers to Questions
Business, Energy and Industrial strategy
The Secretary of State was asked—
Energy Sector Jobs
The Government are committed to protecting jobs across the energy sector, which already employs over 700,000 people across the UK and is creating thousands of new jobs through our net-zero strategy.
I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as a member of Unite the union, which tells me that OVO Energy has a tangled web of companies into which £40 million has been salted away without any clear indication of what the money is or where it is coming from. Meanwhile, it is making 1,700 of its employees—a quarter of its workforce—redundant and its boss Stephen Fitzpatrick has said that they should keep warm by doing star jumps and that he is doing them a favour by sacking them because of the jobs market. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is about time that OVO stopped threatening to sack so many of its employees and opened up its books so that we can see where all the money is going?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I speak to the operators of energy suppliers the whole time, as does my right hon. Friend the Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change, and we have had many concerns about the practices of some of these businesses and are very mindful of some of the accusations being made against OVO. I speak to Mr Fitzpatrick on a regular basis and I will absolutely pass on the hon. Gentleman’s concerns to Mr Fitzpatrick directly.
The other day I noticed that the Government said they were going to help and encourage people to invest more in the gas industry and help to produce more, but then I heard a statement contradicting that from my right hon. Friend’s Department. Will my right hon. Friend clarify whether the Government are prepared to see more gas extracted and greater licences?
I and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change have been very clear about the course we want to pursue. We do not believe it is the right thing simply to switch off the oil and gas sector. Unlike many Opposition Members, we do not believe in simply an extinction of the oil and gas sector; we think oil and gas is critical not only to energy resilience but to developing new technologies such as carbon capture and blue hydrogen production. We have maintained that position consistently for the nearly three years I have been a Minister in this Department.
We have to admire the audacity of the Secretary of State in talking about protecting jobs in the energy industry when of course his Government have presided over the loss of some 35,000 jobs in Scotland’s North sea industry over recent years alone. It gets worse, because this is the same Government who opted not to fund carbon capture and underground storage in the north-east of Scotland, costing some 20,000 new jobs. Can the Secretary of State clarify why on earth the public should trust the Tories when it comes to jobs?
I will make three points about that. Acorn was an excellent project, and we want to see it developed very soon in the next wave, which we want to accelerate. There is an extraordinary arrogance in Members of the Scottish National party giving us lectures about energy when they are not committed to nuclear and are in bed with the Greens who simply want to flick the switch to turn off oil and gas in their own country. I am very happy to compare our record as job creators with the hon. Gentleman’s Extinction Rebellion approach to the North sea.
I am afraid the Secretary of State does his reputation no good whatsoever by propagating such unfounded garbage. If he wants to talk about records, let us talk about records, because despite energy being reserved to this place, it is the Scottish Government who have delivered the £62 million energy transition fund; it is the Scottish Government who have just delivered £30 million to Aberdeen South harbour; it is the Scottish Government who have just delivered £15 million to the Aberdeen hydrogen hub; and of course it is the Scottish Government who have just delivered a £500 million just transition fund for the entire north-east of Scotland. After taking out some £375 billion from Scotland’s natural resources, when are the Tories going to give back?
I am not going to take any lectures from the hon. Gentleman about energy policy. His party is committed to a job-destroying coalition with the Greens, who want to switch the lights off the North sea. Everybody knows that; that is why investment is very difficult to attract, and our job is to militate against their Extinction Rebellion approach and encourage investment, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) said, in our North sea.
Jobs in the energy sector depend on an effective market, and that depends on consumers exercising their choice to change supplier, but switching fell by 73% in the year just gone compared with the previous year. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that we get back to an effective energy market?
There has been a critical issue with very high wholesale prices, which as I speak are about 200p a therm, whereas at the beginning of last year they were 50p a therm or lower; there has been a quadrupling of the price. The energy price cap has protected consumers, but we are talking to Ofgem all the time about how we can refine the cap to make it more sensitive to wholesale prices in the market.
Today marks the start of International Energy Week, formerly International Petroleum Week. The Secretary of State was billed to open the event, and he will know that, despite the rebrand, the lead sponsors include fossil fuel giant BP, which is investing just 2.3% of annual capital expenditure into the jobs-rich green energy sector. When will the Government end their cosy relationship with the fossil fuel dinosaurs and replace the outdated duty to maximise economic recovery with a duty to minimise the extraction of North sea oil and gas and to maximise clean, green jobs instead?
The hon. Lady will know that we have committed to the “Net Zero Strategy”, which was lauded across the world as a world-beating document. She also knows that, as I have said repeatedly and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change has also said, we are committed to a transition, not extinction. We have to work with fossil fuel companies and the industry to transition to a net zero future, and that is exactly what we are prepared to do.
Science and Innovation: Levelling Up
As part of our step-change increase in investment in science research an innovation—an increase of 30% over the next three years to £20 billion a year—we are putting levelling up at the heart of our investment through clusters around the country. That is why we are putting £200 million into the strength in places fund for 12 projects across the UK; making the groundbreaking pledge that 55% of BEIS funding will go outside the greater south-east; launching three innovation accelerators in Glasgow, Manchester and the west midlands; and extending eight freeports, with two in Scotland.
I thank the Minister for his answer. In Newcastle-under-Lyme, Keele University plays a substantial role in levelling up north Staffordshire through its work with local authorities and its Keele deals addressing economy, health, culture and social inclusion. There is also the enterprise zone, including the science and innovation park, which provides a home and support mechanism for more than 50 companies, with more to come. Will the Minister confirm that universities’ role in such work will be supported as part of our levelling-up agenda, as we get more money spent outside the south-east?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I pay tribute to his work and that of Keele. The enterprise zone is first class—similarly, the work of Keele University. I confirm that we are taking into account the very important role of universities in innovation and levelling up. He will see that reflected in the allocation of £40 billion to UK Research and Innovation and Innovate UK in the next three years.
The advanced manufacturing research centre at Sheffield University would like to open an innovation facility at Doncaster Sheffield airport, which may bring the likes of Boeing and hybrid air vehicles to Doncaster. It needs just £24 million to do that. I have met the Minister on the subject before. Will he come to Doncaster and meet all the stakeholders to see if we can get the project moving forward and let the real levelling up begin?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, because this is the third time that he has raised this matter with me. He makes in important point. The Boeing interest in Doncaster Sheffield airport is part of our plan to grow an aerospace cluster around the whole of the UK. I very much welcome the opportunity to visit him and meet Boeing and local stakeholders.
Last September, Llandudno in Aberconwy was identified as having the fastest economic recovery in the UK and, last week, an analysis of Companies House filings identified it as the start-up capital of the UK. I pay tribute to the entrepreneurs and businesses for making that happen. Will my hon. Friend the Minister join me in Llandudno with some of those entrepreneurs to see how we can nurture those green shoots, secure the growth and turn Llandudno into a growth and enterprise hub for north Wales?
With pleasure. My hon. Friend makes an important point: the Welsh dragon is roaring not just on the rugby pitch and in tourism, where Llandudno is the queen of Welsh resorts, but in the science, research and innovation economy. With the north Wales energy corridor, the south Wales life sciences cluster and plant health at Aberystwyth, Wales is a science and innovation engine that we intend to support. I pay tribute to his work in the area and look forward to visiting the Llandudno cluster as part of our work on supporting clusters around the UK.
The Minister may be aware that many rural parts of the north feel that levelling up does not really apply to them, but of course it must and it should. The Minister may be aware of Cumbria’s energy coast. We are a country with plenty of wind, plenty of water and plenty of coast. We should bear in mind that, after Canada, the UK has the second largest tidal range on planet earth and we are making use of nearly none of it. Will he commit to making sure there is a tidal, marine and hydro-energy hub in Cumbria, based in Kendal where Gilkes is so wonderfully based?
I absolutely agree. As a rural MP, I do not need to take any lectures from the Liberal Democrats on the importance of rural innovation. I will address the specific point about tidal power: we have just put £30 million into it. It would be good hear the hon. Gentleman—and his party—applaud the nuclear industry, which is an important part of that region.
I thank the Minister for his answers. With reference to university places for those from low-income backgrounds, will he consider greater financial aid for STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—for students from any part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to find their passion and long-term career?
The hon. Member makes a really important point that is at the heart of our £100 million innovation accelerator pilot programme. We have chosen the locations—Glasgow, Manchester and the west midlands—for the initial tranche, because we want to invest in places where there is strong world-class research and development and innovation cheek by jowl with lamentable deprivation. I very much hope that over the next few years we can extend it out to areas, including parts of Northern Ireland, where that similar pattern of excellence alongside deprivation is sadly still present.
Levelling up, really? The Campaign for Science and Engineering has shown that the proposals in the White Paper simply freeze the current proportion of regional science spend, with the golden triangle of Oxford, Cambridge and London continuing to receive the majority of public sector science spend. When it comes to private sector science spend, London’s share has actually doubled under Conservative Governments, because they will not give our towns and cities the powers and investment they need to build strong science economies. Will the Minister say whether the proportion of public science spend going to the regions will actually increase as a consequence of the levelling-up White Paper, or is this just more broken promises from the department for funny numbers?
I suggest the hon. Lady reads the levelling-up White Paper. If she reads it, she will see that it is a very substantial document that deals with precisely the points she has just made. [Interruption.] I will deal with the specific question she asked about devolution and extending investment around the country. That is why we have made a pledge—a pledge that the Labour party never made, by the way—to increase R&D spending outside the greater south-east. Our Department, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which is responsible for 75% of R&D, will move to being 55% outside the south-east. The point she misses is that we do not level up this country by destroying the golden triangle; we level up by building the clusters, moving from a discovery economy to a development economy. As a Member for the north-east, I thought she would be applauding the phenomenal growth in the north-east as a result of our policies.
Obviously, I welcome the targets to increase investment through levelling up in our regions, but the thing that really matters is not what the Government say in White Papers, but how the money gets to those businesses, particularly in Rossendale, Darwen and east Lancashire more widely. Will the Minister commit to publishing an easy guide for local businesses to work out how, through their innovation and their own R&D, they can access some of that new funding? Trash-talking levelling up by those on the Opposition Benches does not go down well in east Lancashire or anywhere in the north, because we believe in this programme.
My right hon. Friend makes a really important point. It was surprising to hear the Opposition not mention the phenomenal investment that is pouring in. In the end, levelling up will be achieved by the businesses of this country investing in partnership with us. I welcome the Bentley £2.5 billion investment and the Aston Martin investment in Wales. That is happening right now. My right hon. Friend’s point is well made. As part of our significant increase in Innovate UK funding, we are looking at how we can ensure small businesses find it easier to access grant funding. We are dramatically increasing Innovate UK funding. The key test will be whether small businesses around the country can access it.
Delivering our landmark net zero strategy is well co-ordinated across Government. The Prime Minister chairs the Climate Action Strategy Committee, which, along with the Climate Action Implementation Committee, provide two ministerial forums to drive co-ordinated action across Government.
The UK’s credibility as COP President over the next year rests on demonstrable climate action at home, but the Government’s net zero strategy has been torpedoed by the Treasury. Without the scale of investment needed to support households and industry, the Government cannot guarantee that they would put us on track for their 2030 or 2035 targets. Labour would invest £28 billion every year until 2030. What representations is the Minister making to the Treasury to get us back on track to meet our targets and deliver the benefits of a green transition?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question and for her engagement on this, but the basis of her question is not quite right. Actually, BEIS had more capital uplift in the spending review than, I believe, any other Department. We have doubled the amount of money going into international climate finance. My right hon. Friend the COP26 President is working tirelessly to show UK leadership in this space. In the time that we have had the presidency, the amount of the world’s GDP covered by net zero commitments has increased from 30% to more than 90%.
We are delivering on the hydrogen strategy that was published last August and will soon launch our £240 million net zero hydrogen fund and the first £100 million allocation round for electrolytic hydrogen projects and publish our sector development action plan.
Intelligent Energy in Loughborough is keen to build a hydrogen fuel cell gigafactory, hopefully in the east midlands freeport. How will my right hon. Friend help to promote hydrogen fuel cell technology and production in the UK so that we can lead the world in that technology, harness green jobs and growth and avoid having to play catch-up?
I thank my hon. Friend; it is always brilliant to get a question about that great hub of innovation and science in Loughborough, and it is brilliant to hear about Intelligent Energy’s plans to build a hydrogen fuel cell gigafactory in the east midlands. That is the kind of investment that will support highly skilled jobs in the UK’s nascent hydrogen economy and the Government’s levelling-up agenda. The Government provide support for fuel cells through various funds, including the Advanced Propulsion Centre and the automotive transformation fund, which have already committed over £38 million to 16 projects with a total value of almost £85 million.
Onshore and offshore, my constituency has more wind turbines than I can shake a stick at. Does the Minister not agree that we should generate hydrogen where the electricity is being made? Perhaps if he came to have a look at the wind turbines in my constituency, he would get the same delicious scones that I promised the Prime Minister when he comes to see the first space launch.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question; I think I have an existing commitment to go to his constituency. In fact, in my five months in this job, I think I have been four times to Scotland, and one of those visits was to the Whitelee wind farm, just south of Glasgow, to look at precisely what he mentioned . It is the UK’s largest onshore wind farm, which generates extra energy to produce hydrogen on-site, which will hopefully power Glasgow’s buses and dustcart fleet for years to come.
Does the Minister believe that the best way to stimulate the UK hydrogen strategy is to build hydrogen products that the public ultimately use, such as buses, trains and heavy goods vehicles? Will he commit to joining that up to the Department for Transport and encouraging it to get on with hydrogen bus development that will stimulate the entire economy?
The hon. Gentleman and I know that Northern Ireland has an incredible capability and tradition in bus making. He is absolutely right that hydrogen-powered buses have a big future. I mentioned Glasgow City Council’s commitment to move to hydrogen buses, thanks to the Whitelee wind farm; I imagine that we will want to do something similar in Northern Ireland. I look forward to further engagement with the Northern Ireland Executive on the topic.
The Government have announced a £120 million future nuclear enabling fund to support new nuclear and are aiming for a final investment decision on at least one more large-scale nuclear project in this Parliament, subject to value for money and relevant approvals.
Springfields nuclear fuel manufacturing facility employs hundreds of people on the Fylde coast. I thank the Minister for recently visiting the facility and for his personal interest in protecting the operations there. Will he commit to continuing to work with colleagues to explore the opportunities for developing operations at the site and protecting the hundreds of jobs that it sustains?
My hon. Friend is a passionate supporter of local jobs in Blackpool. He is right: in December, I visited Springfields, which is just outside his constituency. It reminded me of the strategic national importance of our fuel industry, which is why we secured £75 million in the spending review to preserve and develop the UK’s nuclear fuel production capability. That funding will support the UK supply chain to power the reactors of today and advanced nuclear in the future.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Fracking has proven itself wholly unsuitable for the Fylde coast, with seismic events in Fylde twice forcing national moratoriums. Will my right hon. Friend assure my constituents and me that he agrees that to deal with the energy crisis, we need to look to technologies of the future such as next- generation nuclear, powered by Fylde-manufactured nuclear fuel?
My hon. Friend is the MP for Springfields, as you rightly point out, Mr Speaker, and is a passionate backer of our nuclear industry. New nuclear is crucial to our plans for a low-cost, low-carbon resilient electricity system. On fracking, the Government’s position is unchanged: fracking will not be allowed to proceed in England unless compelling new evidence is provided that addresses concerns about the prediction and management of induced seismicity.
The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has rejected proposals aimed at increasing transparency and accountability. There is wide disparity from plant to plant in engagement with local communities on concerns about safety issues such as breakdowns. What does the Minister make of the NDA’s rejection of increased transparency? What steps is his Department taking to reassure communities?
I am not aware of any rejection by the NDA of increased transparency. I am happy to look at what the hon. Lady has to say; my experience from quite a few meetings with the NDA is that transparency is very good, but I am happy to engage with her if she has a specific concern in relation to transparency in any nuclear plant in or near her constituency.
To deliver the Government’s ambitious roll-out of renewables such as solar—but also nuclear electricity, if that is what the Government want—we need to proactively develop grid capacity. Why have the Government still not reformed the remit of Ofgem, which is a real barrier to increasing grid capacity?
The hon. Lady is right: we have to make sure that our grid capacity is good for the big expansion of renewables, and indeed for the big expansion of nuclear, which is what this question is about. By the way, she might have a conversation with some of her colleagues, two of whom have recently mentioned support for nuclear— against Lib Dem party policy, it would seem. We and Ofgem are looking very actively at grid capacity: a lot of reviews are going on and there is a lot of action to ensure that grid capacity is in place, not least for the quadrupling of our offshore wind capacity.
Solar Energy: Agricultural Land
My officials have regular discussions with DEFRA about the deployment of low-carbon solar photovoltaics on farms. Many solar farms are constructed with raised panels that enable the continued grazing of livestock. Solar energy can also help farmers to increase their revenue streams from land less suited to higher-value crop production.
A planning application has been submitted for a giant solar farm around Gainsborough, with an area equivalent to 5,000 football pitches. It is designed to be a so-called national infrastructure project in order to bypass all local planning. Local people will have no control; this development will enrich a few local landowners, and some entrepreneurs in London. Is it not time for an urgent discussion throughout Whitehall about how we can stop these companies bypassing local planning and secure proper community gain and the protection of agriculture, and, for instance, ensure that there are buffer zones around villages?
As my right hon. Friend knows, I am unable to comment on potential planning applications. Solar projects developed through the nationally significant infrastructure project planning process are subject to strict controls to protect local communities and the environment, including requirements for environmental impact assessments and public consultations. The Government recognise the importance of preserving the most productive farmland. Planning guidance is clear: where possible, large solar farms should use previously developed land, and projects should be designed to avoid, mitigate, and where necessary compensate for impact.
May I start by paying tribute to Sir Richard Shepherd, who has sadly died? He was a fantastic parliamentarian in the constituency next to mine, and he was very kind to me when I first came here.
There is a plan to build a battery energy storage system on green belt land. We appreciate that such a facility is needed to provide capacity for green energy, but will the Minister give a commitment that it will not be built on green belt land?
Let me first join the right hon. Lady in her tribute to Sir Richard Shepherd. I share her sadness at his passing, of which I was not aware. He and I used to overlap with each other, and enjoyed a number of very productive times together.
I do not know whether the right hon. Lady is referring to a specific planning application, in which case it may be difficult for me to comment on it. What I will do is agree to meet her to discuss it, and if it does relate to a specific application in or near her constituency, I will ensure that I have officials there to hear what she has to say about the proposal.
A large number of solar farm applications are being processed in Lincolnshire. Some are comparatively small in scale, but others, such as the Mallard Pass development, are significant and are causing great concern locally. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that the Government have a strategy to ensure that solar farms will be spread evenly across the country, so that rural areas such as mine do not see a disproportionate amount of development?
We are committed to ensuring that solar developments are carried out with local community support. That is the most important consideration. We recognise that in some cases solar farms can affect the local environment, which is why applicants must complete an environmental statement as part of their planning application, including assessments of the impacts on wildlife, land use and biodiversity. However, well-designed solar projects have been shown to enhance biodiversity.
We have engaged extensively with stakeholders, both formally and informally, on a range of reforms to our employment framework, and will continue to do so in order to ensure that they deliver on our plan to build a high-skill, high-productivity, high-wage economy.
May I first express my thanks, Mr Speaker, to you for your kindness to my partner and me when our son was born last month?
This week the Northern Ireland Assembly gave a commitment to legislate for miscarriage leave, and the Scottish Government have given a commitment to introduce three days’ paid leave in the public sector. Will this Government give a commitment to introducing paid miscarriage leave in the Employment Bill?
I congratulate the hon. Member and her partner on their fantastic news. It was a pleasure to meet her to discuss her private Member’s Bill on the subject that she has raised. We recognise that losing a baby at any stage is incredibly difficult, and we encourage employers to be compassionate. There is no statutory entitlement to leave for women who lose a baby before 24 completed weeks of pregnancy, but those who are unable to return to work may be entitled to statutory sick pay, and women are protected against workplace discrimination due to any pregnancy-related illness, including illness caused by miscarriage. That protection extends to two weeks after the end of the pregnancy.
The Government have already taken important steps to stop the abuse of non-disclosure agreements in universities. Will my hon. Friend look at how he can take this forward in his Employment Bill by talking to organisations such as Can’t Buy My Silence, which are doing important work on ensuring that non-disclosure agreements are not misused in the workplace to cover up criminal allegations?
I wonder if the Minister has done any stakeholder engagement with the new Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency, the right hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg). I ask that question because in The Times at the weekend the new Minister said:
“Sometimes the employer would think they need more protection from the employee.”
That view is wrong. Too many people are in precarious employment and do not have strong workplace rights, and the Employment Bill is a chance to begin to address that. Does the Minister agree with us that it is employees who need more protection, or does he agree with his colleague that it is the employers who need more help?
We will bring forward changes to the employment framework in due course. While we are working on that, and when parliamentary time allows, we are working on employment. That is why we have record numbers of people on payroll—men and women and people from all backgrounds, abilities and situations.
The Government strongly support flexible working. Only by championing a flexible and dynamic labour market will we grow our economy. I would like to thank the hon. Member for her response to the consultation we closed in December and I look forward to publishing our response in due course.
I have listened carefully to what the Minister has said and I am pleased that the Government are talking about making flexible working the default, but their proposal merely makes the existing right to request flexible working available from day one in the job. I am sure the Minister knows that that will do nothing to address the fact that a third of all requests for flexible working are rejected, which puts single parents and carers at a considerable disadvantage in the workplace and affects the recruitment process as well. What legislation will the Government undertake to address the fact that unscrupulous employers can pick on a range of often pathetic, unfair and broad reasons when they want to reject a request for flexible working? Will the Government be introducing any actual legislation, because that is what the Opposition want to support?
The hon. Member has reflected her consultation response in her questions. The consultation stuck to the principle that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to flexible working. We support the “right to request” framework, which facilitates an informed two-sided conversation but ensures that employers have the right to refuse requests that are unworkable within their business operations. Clearly, that will need to be robust if they feel that they need to reject a request because of the business situation.
Small Businesses: Energy Costs
We recognise the impact that rising energy prices will have on businesses of all sizes. To understand the challenges that they face and explore ways to protect consumers and businesses, Ofgem and the Government are in regular contact with business groups and suppliers.
Given that the Federation of Small Businesses has said that small business confidence in the north-east is now at minus 64%, can the Minister say what consideration he is giving to the measures put forward by the FSB to support small businesses in the energy crisis, including scrapping the planned national insurance contributions increase and extending the household rebate to be matched by an equivalent business rate rebate?
I met representatives of the FSB and other organisations yesterday, when we touched upon energy for businesses. We will always listen to those representative organisations. Clearly we want to ensure that the £408 billion of support in the last two years to protect businesses, livelihoods and jobs will help us to shape the recovery, with ongoing support from this Government—the Government for business.
Energy Price Cap: Prepayment Meter Customers
We are working hard to design this scheme at pace. We acknowledge that delivering the bill reduction for this payment mechanism will require a special focus, and that is why we are engaging with consumer groups and Ofgem to work out how best to design the mechanism.
People on prepayment meters will see their bills rise by £708, which is £46 more than for those who pay by direct debit. How will the Secretary of State ensure that people do not self-disconnect, leaving them without heat and means to cook? How will that be monitored? What thought has been given to private renters so that they do not lose out on the rebate due to the frequent tenancy changes in that sector?
We are constantly engaging with Citizens Advice, Ofgem and a huge range of stakeholders about how to protect the most vulnerable consumers. The package announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor only a couple of weeks ago includes £350, which goes halfway towards addressing the increase that the hon. Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue) describes. The warm home discount is being extended from 2 million people to 3 million people, and the uplift will be to £150.
The 4 million pre-payment meter customers in this country will be profoundly unimpressed by the Secretary of State’s answers this morning. Not only are they paying far more than the £693 increase on the price cap for customers with accounts, but it is uncertain whether they will have access to the £200 Government scheme to lend customers their own money, as they do not have accounts through which to do this. Indeed, many of them will miss out on the council tax rebate, too.
Would it not have been much more straightforward and fairer for prepayment meter customers if we had levied a windfall tax on companies that are profiting from high gas prices and provided those customers with a direct and non-refundable discount on their bills through their meter?
That is why we have £155 million that can be applied discretionally, particularly to protect these vulnerable consumers. Labour’s whole approach to energy security has been woeful. Labour destroyed the nuclear industry we had, without any progress, and it has created massive uncertainty in energy supply through its proposed windfall tax, which is not the way to produce energy supply that secures low-cost energy for our people.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s question on the importance of research into neurodegeneration and Parkinson’s, a cause I was proud to champion as Minister for life sciences. We are investing £20 million a year, including £14.8 million through UK Research and Innovation and another £6 million through the National Institute for Health Research. We continue to fund the UK Dementia Research Institute, and in the autumn we announced another £375 million for neurodegenerative diseases over the next three years.
More than 150,000 people in the UK will have Parkinson’s by 2030. Parkinson’s UK is clear that, to accelerate the search for a cure, research must be supported by improved infrastructure, including the use of digital technology and better clinical trial design. Will the Minister meet me and Parkinson’s UK to discuss how its proposal for a challenge fund could help to defeat Parkinson’s?
Yes, I would be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman. He makes an important point. The truth is that the next frontier in neurodegenerative science will be a mixture of neural pathways, neural mapping, digital science and deep-tissue phenomic and genomic science, which is why I was recently in Switzerland at the institute of neuroscience in Lucerne to see whether we can establish a collaboration.
The Government support growth by offering the automotive sector certainty, by making clear statements about our intentions regarding petrol and diesel vehicles and by supporting investment, innovation and a resilient supply chain via a taxpayer subsidy through the automotive transformation fund and the Advanced Propulsion Centre.
Following the recent announcement of £100 million of Government funding for Britishvolt in Northumberland, does my hon. Friend agree that this is only the beginning of the transition to a clean, green economy and that my constituents in Blyth Valley, as well as many others across the north, can look forward to a bright and prosperous future?
Yesterday, the Prime Minister said that he wanted British workers to be more like German workers. Let us be more like Germany: it has increased the number of manufacturing jobs by 1 million since 2010, whereas this Government have presided over a fall of 93,000 jobs. The difference is that this Conservative Government do not have a plan, whereas in Germany there is a plan for manufacturing. The Labour party has a plan in our country, too, so if Ministers really want to support manufacturing, why do they not use Labour’s plan to make, buy and sell more in Britain?
I am not sure that Members on these Benches will take any lessons from a Labour party that decimated manufacturing between 1997 and 2010. Before the pandemic in 2019, we had seen an increase in employment in manufacturing, and the expansive and multiple investments in manufacturing announced in just the past few months—at Nissan, Stellantis and Britishvolt—demonstrate this Government’s commitment to manufacturing for the long term.
As we all know, rising energy bills are a cause for concern for people up and down this country, but we have stepped in to give families some breathing space, with our energy bills rebate and council tax discount. Our supply of gas is secure; unlike many European Union countries, we are not dependent on Russian gas. Much of our supply comes from British territorial waters and from reliable import partners, such as Norway. The UK is the fastest growing economy in the G7, unemployment is down to record low levels and wages continue to rise. There are challenges ahead, but Britain is bouncing back from the pandemic.
My hon. Friend will appreciate the excellent statement made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer a couple of weeks ago. There was a range of measures totalling £9.1 billion, which included the council tax rebate for bands A to D and a £200 reduction in energy bills, totalling £350 to reduce bills. As I alluded to earlier, there was also an extension of the warm home discount.
The Secretary of State omitted to mention that inflation is now at its highest level for 30 years. Energy costs are spiralling and the private sector has yet to recover to pre-pandemic levels. Does he acknowledge that the Chancellor’s very large rise in national insurance, coming in April, will make a bad situation for British businesses even worse?
I am delighted to hear Members from the Opposition parties so bullish about our economy, given that we are the fastest growing economy in the G7! The hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) mentioned Germany; I was very struck by the Bundesbank saying that Germany was facing recession, but we do not hear about that. We are creating more jobs, we have announced record investment and the Government’s plan is working in terms of bouncing back better from the pandemic.
The Secretary of State did not answer the question, because he knows that this is a high-tax Government because they have created a low-growth economy. May I also raise his recent claim that fraud is not something that affects people day to day? Fraud is estimated to cost the British economy as much as £52 billion a year, so will he accept that he has got this wrong? Will he apologise to the 4.6 million people who are victims of fraud each year, and tell the House today what steps he will take to do better?
I will tell the hon. Lady exactly what steps I will take to do better. I will constantly and always fight against Labour’s socialism, its windfall tax, its inability to plan ahead and its total lack of remorse for the fact that it destroyed manufacturing jobs in the time it was in government.
I thank my hon. Friend for his long-standing and passionate interest in community energy. I was delighted to meet him and colleagues just before the recess. Through the introduction of UK-wide growth-funding schemes such as the towns fund, the Government are enabling local areas to tackle net zero goals. We intend to publish an updated retail energy market strategy in due course.
I will happily talk to the hon. Member offline about the extensive vaccine pipeline that we are in the process of procuring. It includes next-generation mRNA vaccines for both flu and the next phase of covid. We are ahead of the curve on the next phase, as we were during the pandemic.
My hon. Friend highlights the amount of opportunities that are coming to constituencies such as his in Staffordshire. I would be delighted to meet him to talk more about them.
I assure the hon. and learned Lady that we fully support the transition in the North sea transition deal and the oil and gas sector, whereas her party and the Greens are seeking to destroy it and destroy jobs. That is the fact that I want to raise here.
Energy security is an absolute priority for the Government. Our exposure to global gas prices underscores the importance of not only our own UK North sea gas production but building a strong renewables sector to reduce our reliance on energy imports in the first place. To that end, we recently published both a comprehensive net zero strategy and the North sea transition deal.
As the current energy Minister and the former exports Minister, I agree entirely with my hon. Friend on the export potential of the Rolls-Royce SMR technology, which has the potential to provide levelling-up jobs precisely in areas such as north Wales, as he so ably urges.
Last week was the ninth anniversary of the death of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, a nine-year-old girl who died following an asthma attack brought on by toxic air on a busy road on the South Circular. Our towns and cities need low and non-carbon transport solutions. We all know that electric cars are expensive, but second-hand electric cars are seldom available, which means that each car needs to be purchased from new. The current maximum Government grant for part-purchasing a new electric car is just not enough.
The death of the hon. Lady’s young constituent bears heavily on all of us as London Members of Parliament. I remind her that the principal responsibility for air quality in London rests with the Mayor of London. On the action that we are taking to encourage more low-carbon and zero-carbon vehicles, we have announced: the phasing out of petrol and diesel-driven cars; a big investment in our electric vehicle charging infrastructure; and a big move to hydrogen-powered vehicles. Work in these areas will see low and zero-carbon vehicles become the future of urban transport in this country.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point, which I would be keen to talk to him about. Although that is a Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport lead, we are tightening up on the intellectual property provisions, and we are minded to proceed with that legislation.
Unscrupulous employers have used the pandemic to slash their loyal workforce’s terms and conditions and threaten them with the sack. Court cases have been lost by Uber and more recently by Tesco, yet all we have from this Government are platitudes. They have done absolutely nothing to stop brutal fire and rehire practices. Will the Government’s much-fabled Employment Bill finally ban them once and for all?
This Government have been really clear that such practices should not be used as bully-boy negotiating tactics. Employers should refer to the strengthened ACAS guidance that sets out that dismissal and re-engagement should be considered only as an option of last resort.
My hon. Friend is an outspoken advocate for the Cornish cluster, which is growing fast. In addition to our groundbreaking pledge to increase investment in R&D outside the golden triangle to 55%, we are specifically investing in the South West Centre of Excellence in Satellite Applications, the Newquay Spaceport and work with the University of Exeter and Virgin Orbit. This is an exciting time for the Cornish economy.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister said that workers in the UK should learn from Germany, where workers do not have a habit of going into work when not well. Will the Minister learn from the German Government and bring in statutory sick pay that covers 100% of workers’ salaries instead of the measly 90% that is covered in the UK, which leaves so many workers in the terrible position of having to do the responsible thing of isolating while being sick and not being able to put food on the table? On that point, will the Minister take this opportunity—
Last year I organised the first ever High Peak jobs and apprenticeships fair, working with organisations such as Buxton & Leek College and fantastic employers such as Tarmac, Breedon Group and Ferodo. It was a huge success, with hundreds attending and many reporting that they had found jobs as a result, so I am delighted to announce the second High Peak jobs and apprenticeships fair, and I would love to invite the Minister to attend.
The Government hate a monopoly, so can the Minister come to the Dispatch Box and tell my constituents who are former employees of Together Energy why his Government are using the energy crisis to create an energy monopoly by the big players, as opposed to small and medium-sized providers?
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement about the situation in Ukraine. Last night, President Putin flagrantly violated the Minsk peace agreements by recognising the supposed independence of the so-called people’s republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine. In a single inflammatory speech, he denied that Ukraine had any “tradition of genuine statehood”, claimed that it posed a
“direct threat to the security of Russia”,
and hurled numerous other false accusations and aspersions.
Soon afterwards, the Kremlin announced that Russian troops would enter the breakaway regions under the guise of peacekeepers, and Russian tanks and armoured personnel carriers have since been spotted. The House should be in no doubt that the deployment of these forces in sovereign Ukrainian territory amounts to a renewed invasion of that country. By denying Ukraine’s legitimacy as a state and presenting its very existence as a mortal threat to Russia, Putin is establishing the pretext for a full-scale offensive.
Hon. Members will struggle to contemplate how, in the year 2022, a national leader might calmly and deliberately plot the destruction of a peaceful neighbour, yet the evidence of his own words suggests that is exactly what President Putin is doing. I said on Saturday that his scheme to subvert and invade Ukraine was already in motion before our eyes. The events of the past 24 hours have, sadly, shown this to be true.
We must now brace ourselves for the next possible stages of Putin’s plan: the violent subversion of areas of eastern Ukraine by Russian operatives and their hirelings, followed by a general offensive by the nearly 200,000 Russian troops gathered on the frontiers at peak readiness to attack. If the worst happens, a European nation of 44 million men, women and children would become the target of a full-scale war of aggression waged, without a shred of justification, for the absurd and even mystical reasons that Putin described last night. Unless the situation changes, the best efforts of the United States, Britain, France, Germany and other allies to avoid conflict through patient diplomacy may be in vain.
From the beginning, we have tried our utmost—we have all tried—to find a peaceful way through this crisis. On 11 February, my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary and the Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral Radakin, paid the first joint visit to Moscow by the holders of their offices since Churchill, who was also Defence Minister at the time, travelled to Russia with General Alanbrooke in 1944. They held over three hours of frank discussions with the Russian Defence Minister, General Shoigu, and the chief of staff, General Gerasimov, demonstrating how seriously we take Russia’s security concerns, how much we respect her history and how hard we are prepared to work to ensure peaceful co-existence.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary delivered the same messages when she met her Russian counterpart in Moscow on 10 February. I have spoken on a number of occasions to President Putin since this crisis began, as has President Biden, while President Macron and Chancellor Scholz have both visited Moscow. Together we have explored every avenue and given Putin every opportunity to pursue his aims by negotiation and diplomacy.
I tell the House: we will not give up—we will continue to seek a diplomatic solution until the last possible moment—but we have to face the possibility that none of our messages has been heeded and that Putin is implacably determined to go further in subjugating and tormenting Ukraine. It is because we suspected as much that the UK and our allies repeatedly sounded the alarm about a possible new invasion, and we disclosed much of what we knew about Russia’s military build-up.
Britain has done everything possible to help Ukraine to prepare for another onslaught: training 22,000 soldiers, supplying 2,000 anti-tank missiles, and providing £100 million for economic reform and energy independence. We will now guarantee up to $500 million of Development Bank financing. I travelled to Kyiv to meet President Zelensky on 1 February and I saw him again in Munich at the weekend. I spoke to him last night, soon after President Putin’s speech, and assured him—as I am sure the whole House would agree was the right thing to do—of Britain’s unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Now the UK and our allies will begin to impose the sanctions on Russia that we have already prepared, using the new and unprecedented powers granted by this House to sanction Russian individuals and entities of strategic importance to the Kremlin. Today the UK is sanctioning the following five Russian banks: Rossiya, IS Bank, Genbank, Promsvyazbank and the Black Sea bank. And we are sanctioning three very high net worth individuals: Gennady Timchenko, Boris Rotenberg and Igor Rotenberg. Any assets they hold in the UK will be frozen, the individuals concerned will be banned from travelling here, and we will prohibit all UK individuals and entities from having any dealings with them.
This is the first tranche—the first barrage—of what we are prepared to do, and we hold further sanctions at readiness to be deployed alongside the United States and the European Union if the situation escalates still further. Last night, our diplomats joined an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, and we will raise the situation in the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
Let me emphasise what I believe unites every member of this House with equal determination: the resolve of the United Kingdom to defend our NATO allies is absolute and immovable. We have already doubled the size of our deployment in Estonia, where the British Army leads NATO’s battlegroup, and when I met President Levits of Latvia and Prime Minister Kallas of Estonia in Munich on Saturday, I told them that we would be willing to send more British forces to help protect our allies if NATO makes such a request.
We cannot tell what will happen in the days ahead, but we should steel ourselves for a protracted crisis. The United Kingdom will meet this challenge side by side with our allies, determined that we will not allow Putin to drag our continent back into a Hobbesian state of nature where aggression pays and might is right. It is precisely because the stakes are so high that Putin’s venture in Ukraine must ultimately fail—and must be seen to fail. That will require the perseverance, unity and resolve of the entire western alliance, and the UK will do everything possible to ensure that that unity is maintained.
Now our thoughts should turn to our valiant Ukrainian friends, who threaten no one and who ask for nothing except to live in peace and freedom. We will keep faith with them in the critical days that lie ahead, and whatever happens, Britain will not waver in our resolve. I commend this statement to the House.
Yesterday was a dark day for Europe. The Russian President denied the right of a sovereign nation to exist, unilaterally recognising separatist movements that he sponsors and that seek to dismember Ukraine. Then, under the cover of darkness, he sent in troops to enforce his will. Putin appears determined to plunge Ukraine into a wider war. We must all stand firm in our support for Ukraine. We support the freedom of her people and their right to determine their own future without the gun of an imperialist held to their head.
There can be no excuses for Russia’s actions. There is no justification for this aggression. A war in Ukraine will be bloody, it will cost lives, and history will rightly scorn Putin as the aggressor. Putin claims to fear NATO expansion, but Russia faces no conceivable threat from allied troops or from Ukraine. What he fears is openness and democracy. He knows that, given a choice, people will not choose to live under the rule of an erratic and violent authoritarian, so we must remain united and true to our values across this House and with our NATO allies. We must show Putin that we will not be divided.
I welcome the sanctions introduced today and the international community’s efforts to unite with a collective response. However, we must be prepared to go further. I understand the tactic of holding back sanctions on Putin and his cronies to try to deter an invasion of the rest of Ukraine, but a threshold has already been breached. A sovereign nation has been invaded in a war of aggression based on lies and fabrication. If we do not respond with a full set of sanctions now, Putin will once again take away the message that the benefits of aggression outweigh the costs. We will work with the Prime Minister and our international allies to ensure that more sanctions are introduced.
Russia should be excluded from financial mechanisms, such as SWIFT, and we should ban trading in Russian sovereign debt. Putin’s campaign of misinformation should be tackled. Russia Today should be prevented from broadcasting its propaganda around the world. We should work with our European allies to ensure that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is cancelled. Whatever the sequencing of these sanctions, this will not be easy. Britain must work with our European allies to handle the disruption to the supply of energy and raw materials. We must defend ourselves and our allies against cyber-attacks. We must bring together the widest possible coalition of nations to condemn this action against a sovereign UN member state.
Ukrainians are defending their own country and democracy in Europe. We must stand ready with more military support for Ukraine to defend itself, and we must stand ready to do more to reassure and reinforce NATO allies in eastern Europe, but we must also get our own house in order. The Prime Minister said that the lesson from Russia’s 2014 invasion of Donbas is that we cannot just let Vladimir Putin get away it, but until now we have. We have failed to stop the flow of illicit Russian finance into Britain. A cottage industry does the bidding of those linked to Putin, and Russian money has been allowed to influence our politics. We have to admit that mistakes have been made, and we have to rectify them.
This must be a turning point. We need an end to oligarch impunity. We need to draw a line under Companies House providing easy cover for shell companies. We need to ensure that our anti-money-laundering laws are enforced. We need to crack down on spies, and we have to ensure that money is not pouring into UK politics from abroad.
Russian aggression has now torn up the Minsk protocol and the Budapest memorandum, but even at this late hour we must pursue diplomatic routes to prevent further conflict, so can the Prime Minister tell us what international diplomatic efforts are going on and what role the UK will have in that process? We know Putin’s playbook. He seeks division; we must stay united. He believes the benefits of aggression outweigh the consequences, so we must take a stand, and he believes the west is too corrupted to do the right thing, so we must prove him wrong. I believe we can, and I offer the support of the Opposition in that vital endeavour.
Can I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman, the Leader of the Opposition, for the clarity with which he has just spoken and the support that he has given to the UK’s strategy in dealing with this crisis in Europe? I think, if I may say so, that that will be noted, and the change in the approach taken by the Opposition over the last couple of years is massively beneficial—[Interruption.] I think a fair-minded person would acknowledge that.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has raised some important questions, and they relate to the ways in which we clamp down on Russian money in the UK, and indeed throughout the west. This country was the first to publish a register of beneficial ownership, this country has led the way in cracking down on wealth that is unexplained and we are bringing forward an economic crime Bill to take forward further measures. The House should understand that it is absolutely vital that we hold in reserve further powerful sanctions, as I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman acknowledged, in view of what President Putin may do next.
We want to stop Russian companies being able to raise funds in sterling or indeed in dollars, we want to stop them raising funds on UK markets and we want to strip away the veil that conceals the ownership of property in this country, and indeed throughout the west. We will work with our friends and partners around the world to achieve that, and the sanctions we are implementing today are very tough. Promsvyazbank is a top 10 Russian bank, which services 70% of state contracts signed by the Russian Ministry of Defence, but the measures we have prepared are much tougher still, and we will have absolutely no hesitation in implementing them.
We will get on with the business of diplomacy, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman is absolutely right to draw attention to the importance of diplomacy now, in spite of everything that is happening on the borders of Ukraine and now in Donbas. There is a G7 meeting straight after this statement, and we will be holding meetings in NATO, in the P5 and in every forum where it is relevant and possible to bring President Putin to understand the gravity of what he is doing.
The UK will continue to offer support to our Ukrainian friends, and I do think it has been right for us to be out in front in offering military assistance—defensive military assistance—to the Ukrainians. I think that has been the right thing to do. I spoke last night to President Zelensky, who made further requests, and we will consider them. We are doing everything we can to offer support in the time that we have, and we will do that, and I am glad that the right hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to support that as well.
It is absolutely vital at this critical moment that President Putin understands that what he is doing is going to be a disaster for Russia. It is clear from the response of the world to what he has done already in Donbas that he is going to end up with a Russia that is poorer as a result of the sanctions that the world will implement: a Russia that is more isolated, a Russia that has pariah status—no chance of holding football tournaments in a Russia that invades sovereign countries—and a Russia that is engaged in a bloody and debilitating conflict with a fellow Slav country. What an appalling result for President Putin. I hope that he steps back from the brink and does not conduct a full invasion, but in the meantime we must implement the tough package that we have put forward, and we will continue to offer the Ukrainian people all the support that we can.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and also the UK’s unwavering support for Ukrainian sovereignty at this gravest of times, which shows we can never take our eyes off Russia. But does my right hon. Friend share my concern that while the focus today is rightly on protecting Ukrainian independence and territorial integrity, what lies behind this is a wider worldwide trend of authoritarian states trying to impose their way of thinking on others, and that the battle in which we now must now engage is nothing more nor less than the defence of democracy itself?
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of his statement and thank the National Security Adviser, who has briefed Opposition leaders.
This is a dark day for the people of Ukraine and for people right across our European continent. Europe stands on the brink of war as a consequence of Russian aggression. It is a day that communities across Scotland, right across these islands and indeed across Europe desperately hoped would never come to pass. But although that sense of darkness defines today, how we now collectively respond will define the days to come.
This Chamber has, especially during recent months, seen fierce debate and disagreements, but today it is important to say, in the face of Russian aggression against Ukraine, that in this House we all stand together: we stand together and stand with our partners across Europe and indeed across the globe. But more importantly, we stand with the Ukrainian people, who are now under assault. A European country—an ally—is under attack. We should be very clear about what is now happening: this is an illegal Russian occupation of Ukraine, just as it was in Crimea. Russia has effectively annexed another two Ukrainian regions in a blatant breach of international law. This effectively ends the Minsk process. It is a further violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. No one should even repeat the Russian lie that this is about peacekeeping; this is warmongering, plain and simple. President Putin must hear the call from here and elsewhere to draw back before any further escalation can take place.
I and my party welcome the sanctions that are now being brought forward, but it is deeply regrettable that the delay has allowed many Russian individuals to shift dirty assets and money in the last number of weeks. However, may I ask the Prime Minister specifically if the Russian state and individuals will be immediately suspended from the SWIFT payments system? Just as economic sanctions against Russia are welcome, Ukraine needs immediate economic and indeed humanitarian support if required. When will economic and humanitarian support be enacted and what will it entail? Can the Prime Minister also confirm that there will be exemptions for partners of UK citizens residing in Ukraine to come to the UK? They need that certainty and they need it today.
In the days ahead we can no doubt expect a barrage of disinformation from the Russian media and its proxies. So can the Prime Minister update us on how the United Kingdom Government intend to combat that threat? This is also the moment to end the complacency in implementing the Intelligence and Security Committee’s Russia report; will the Prime Minister now commit to its full implementation and update the House accordingly?
Can I also ask the Prime Minister, after the UN Security Council’s brief meeting last night, when it will next meet and what co-ordination is happening across all international organisations to force President Putin to step back from the brink before it is too late?
Finally, let President Putin hear loudly and clearly that he must now desist from this act of war, this attack on a sovereign nation. Let us all demonstrate that we stand with the people of Ukraine.
I wholeheartedly thank the right hon. Gentleman for the terms in which he has just spoken and the unity and resolve he has just shown, in common with the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. The spirit this House is showing today is absolutely invaluable.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to raise questions about the speed with which we have been able to sanction various individuals. We brought forward the Magnitsky sanctions, as he knows, and he was important in that last year. We are bringing forward the registry of beneficial ownership faster than any other country, stripping away the veil on Russian dirty money. He asked about support for Ukraine; as I mentioned in the House, we have given £100 million-worth of support particularly for Ukraine’s energy crisis and also for other economic needs, plus the further $500 million I announced just now.
The diplomatic effort is now intensifying. The right hon. Gentleman asked about the forums in which it is taking place; there are more meetings in the UN. But ultimately, as he rightly says, this is up to Vladimir Putin: he and he alone can decide whether or not to halt what seems to be an absolutely irresistible march towards tragedy. It is down to him; it is in his head.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement today and the actions of him and his Government over recent weeks. I pay particular tribute to the Defence Secretary, whose unfailing efforts in preparing not just the people of Ukraine but our allies in NATO for this aggression has been exemplary.
As we are talking about sanctions today, and rightly so, will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister also commit to a foreign agents registration Act? We have seen the insidious work of the United Front for China, and indeed of different outfits for Russia, to undermine our democracy and threaten our way of life. Will he please bring in that Act, and while he is doing it will he finance much more the Russian service of the BBC so the Russian people can hear the truth, not the lies being spread by their own Government?
I thank my hon. Friend very much. The Russian service of the BBC has done an invaluable job and it is important that it continues to be financed. I will look at the details of its package. On his proposal for a foreign agent registration law, we are indeed considering what more we can do to counter threats to this country from within.
According to expert legal advice I have seen, there are serious flaws in the new sanctions regime: it may not affect oligarchs close to Putin who do not hold an official position in a company or who own less than 50% of shares; it is too narrow in defining the individuals it covers; unlike US legislation, it is limited in how we can sanction Russian Government officials; and the definition of “Government of Russia” excludes the legislative branch, including the Duma. That means that kleptocrats who have stolen from the Russian people and support Putin would not be caught. Of Navalny’s list of 35, only 13 would be caught: Abramovich, Usmanov, Timchenko and Deripaska would escape. Will the Prime Minister look again at the sanctions regime so that, in the words of the Foreign Secretary:
“Nothing is off the table”?—[Official Report, 31 January 2022; Vol. 708, c. 56.]
I understand the right hon. Lady’s concern but believe she is in error in what she says, because we can certainly target members of the Duma, Abramovich is already facing sanctions and in the announcements I have made today Gennady Timchenko, to whom she just referred, is specifically targeted; he is on the list, as are Boris Rotenberg and Igor Rotenberg. These are people who are very close to the Putin regime, but, as I said to the House, they are just part of the first barrage.
I welcome the Government’s efforts today, but Russia’s actions move us into a new and more dangerous phase of the crisis and require us to adopt a more robust, long-term approach to defending European security outside NATO’s borders. Sanctions alone will not be enough. Indeed, untargeted sanctions may play into Putin’s plan to pivot Russia ever closer to China. So would the Prime Minister agree that NATO must not be benched? It was created to uphold European security, and we must now consider how we utilise our formidable hard-power deterrence in responding to Ukraine’s calls for further help, not excluding the formation of a potential no-fly zone.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to place the emphasis he does on NATO, which has proved its value in the last 70 years. It is the pre-eminent, most successful alliance in history. It is a defensive alliance and we are now reinforcing it all across the eastern perimeter. What NATO is not doing—no NATO country is currently considering this—is sending combat troops to Ukraine, and he will understand the reasons for that, but that does not preclude support by NATO countries for Ukraine, including military support.
It is time to start treating Russia like the rogue state it is. I strongly welcome the Prime Minister’s statement in this darkest of moments and recognise the Leader of the Opposition for his strong cross-party support. In that cross-party spirit, I urge the Prime Minister to go further today and commit to the following. First, freeze and begin seizing the assets of every single one of Putin’s cronies in the UK and expel these oligarchs from our country as part of a much stronger sanctions regime. Secondly, recognise the existential threat posed by Putin to our NATO allies by immediately cancelling his misguided decision to cut our armed forces by 10,000 troops. Thirdly, no longer tolerate international sporting or cultural events hosted in Russia. Will he confirm what I think he implied in answer to a previous question, that he will push for this year’s champions league final to be moved from St Petersburg? President Putin has made a terrible decision. Will the Prime Minister ensure that he pays a terrible price?
Yes. Again, I am grateful to the right hon. Member and the Liberal Democrats for their support of the position that we are taking. We are indeed cracking down on ill-gotten gains in London and on the cronies of Vladimir Putin, as I detailed, and there is more to come. On defence spending, the right hon. Member should acknowledge that the recent increase was the biggest since the end of the cold war. On his point about sporting events, as I said, I think it inconceivable that major international football tournaments can take place in Russia after the invasion of a sovereign country.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that too many NATO Governments and political parties have accepted energy dependence on Putin and financial dependence on dodgy donations from Russian oligarchs? Given that we spent between 4.5% and 5% of GDP on defence throughout the 1980s until the end of the cold war, will he now accept 3% of GDP on defence as a suitable future benchmark?
My right hon. Friend is completely right to say that we have failed to wean ourselves off dependence on Russian hydrocarbons since 2014. That has been a tragic mistake by European countries. In the UK, we are in the fortunate position of having only 3% of our gas coming from Russia, but other European countries have learned that they have much more to do. By the way, I salute the decision of the German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, to cancel Nord Stream 2. It is a brave step by Olaf and the right thing to do. On my right hon. Friend’s point about defence spending, actually we are up at 2.4% of GDP—I think that is one of the highest figures in NATO—and we are the second biggest contributor and military power in NATO already.
America is key in all this. It is the largest economy and has the largest forces in NATO. We were honoured yesterday to have Nancy Pelosi in the Gallery. She is very close to the President of the United States. Did the Prime Minister have a chance to talk to her? It is wonderful to have cross-party unity in the House, but that is not enough. We need the United States to be firm in leadership with us.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. The UK Government have behaved with integrity and honour throughout the crisis. I echo his welcoming of Chancellor Scholz’s brave decision today to freeze Nord Stream 2. However, sanctions can only achieve so much when dealing with an undemocratic state and someone like Putin. What we are witnessing is the real-time cannibalisation of a European democratic state bite by bite. Ultimately, we will have either to ensure that Ukraine is given the means to defend itself from future aggression, or give some sort of security guarantee. Otherwise, we will find Russian troops on the borders of Poland, Slovakia, Romania and Hungary, which would be an absolute failure of western policy.
My right hon. Friend has recently written and spoken powerfully about the subject and he is completely right that we will have to dig in for the long term to support Ukraine in every way that we can: economically, diplomatically, by the provision of military support in the way that we are already. It will take time, but to return to the point I made in my statement: it is vital that President Putin should fail. I believe that he will fail because the giant facts are against him. He is taking on Ukrainian national feeling and in the end he will not succeed. We will help the Ukrainians to succeed.
The Prime Minister will know that part of the calculation of the Kremlin and President Putin is that the west will lose interest, as unfortunately we have in the past. Can he make it one of his key tasks to ensure that our allies are there for the long run? We have to be there until this is brought to a proper conclusion.
The hon. Member is completely right. The biggest threat is apathy and indifference. That is why what my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) said was so important. This is about not just Ukraine but democracy and the security of many other European countries—indeed, countries around the world. That is what is at stake here today.
I commend my right hon. Friend and his colleagues for their stalwart action so far. The fact is, Mr Lavrov said today that Ukraine does not have a right to sovereignty, so the scale of the ambition is surely clear to anyone who doubted it. I commend what he has done so far but, if we are going to hit them with sanctions, we need to hit them hard and hit them now. They need to feel the pain of the first part of this decision. Secondly, what is the ultimatum to them now? If they move further, are we going to take further action? We are facing the growth of the axis of totalitarian states. China will watch this and look at Taiwan. How we behave now and what we do as an alliance will dictate what happens in the far east.
We are hitting them hard now and we will hit them harder in the future. With every day that goes by on which Russia violates the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine, we will continue to punish Russia. In the end, I do not believe that President Putin has thought this through and I do think that he will fail.
Putin, as I have been saying for many years, is a bloodthirsty liar. When his ambassador came to the House a couple of weeks ago to talk to the all-party parliamentary group on Russia, he said it was absolutely preposterous that anybody could possibly suggest that any Russian troops would be going into Ukraine. That was a lie—not an inadvertent lie, a deliberate lie. But my anxiety is that we are not going anywhere near far enough today. In 2014, we were spineless in the end. We did not show enough resolve across the west or in the UK. We did not close down the dirty money process coming into the UK. I do not think Abramovich has been sanctioned, incidentally, just to correct the Prime Minister. I do not think he has been sanctioned yet at all. What the former leader of the Conservative party, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), just said is really important. Everybody in this House will work closely with the Government to deliver far more effective and secure sanctions if the Prime Minister asks, but they have to be now. We have to close the dirty Russian money down.
The Government are already implementing a draconian package of sanctions and we will go further. We are bringing forward the economic crime Bill and the register of beneficial interests. In addition to all the things I have announced today, we will be bringing forward further measures to hit Russian individuals and Russian companies of strategic importance to Russia, stopping Russian companies from raising money on London markets and stopping them even trading in pounds and dollars. These will bite, these will hurt and these will make a huge difference. But the House also needs to understand that President Putin’s failure will not just be caused by sanctions implemented by us and by our friends. His failure will also result from the determination of the Ukrainians to resist. In that, we will support them.
I welcome the sanctions and the Government’s significant efforts to expose false flag operations, but rouble by rouble we must rid our nation of Putin’s dirty money because of his acts overnight and those lives already lost. I urge my right hon. Friend to blacklist all Russian banks, to ban the City and law and accountancy firms from servicing all Russian state firms, to work with Turkey to deny the Russian navy access to the Bosphorus and to ensure we have an atrocity prevention strategy in place for when the paramilitaries go in alongside the peacekeepers.
These are perilous times for our friends in Ukraine, a democracy within our continent. Short of sending British troops there, we must provide them with every possible support. I am glad the Prime Minister is talking tough and taking a strong stand against continued Russian aggression and imperialism, but when will he stop playing tennis with Russian oligarchs in exchange for money for the Conservative party? Instead of talking about sanctions abroad, when will he finally help to clean up things closer to home, including fully implementing the recommendations of the Russia report?
The Government, as I said, are way out in front of our European friends and partners in what we are doing to implement sanctions on Russian entities. That is the right thing and I think that is where the House is today. We will continue to do that. Yes, it is absolutely vital that nobody should contribute to a political party in this country unless they are a UK national. That is what this Government insist upon. But may I just respectfully say—I have been listening to some of the contributions this morning—that we should not allow our indignation and rage at what is happening in Ukraine to spill over into casual Russophobia? I do not want to see us discriminating against Russians as people or simply on the basis of their nationality.
I commend my right hon. Friend for his prescience and resolve on Ukraine, and also that of the Defence Secretary. Can he confirm that escalating economic sanctions against Russia and fully effective defensive support for Ukraine can never be allowed to fail, given that Russia and President Putin’s aggression affects all its European neighbours and has an ever-increasing global reach, including even in places such as Africa?
My hon. Friend is completely right. The threat is not just to Europe. The threat from an aggressive and expansionist Russian agenda is everywhere, including in Africa from the Wagner group. It is up to the UK now to push back and that is what we are going to do.
Will the Prime Minister tell the House now whether the sanctions he has announced will actually put into effect the Intelligence and Security Committee’s Russia report, and whether he has full confidence that they will close down the so-called London laundromat, which is laundering dirty Russian money straight through the City?
The hon. Lady will have understood from what I said earlier that what we are proposing to do will go further than that report. We are cracking down today on Russian banks and individuals. We are proposing to stop Russian companies even raising money in London and to stop them trading in sterling. That was not recommended by the report she mentions, but that will do real economic damage where it is necessary to do it.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement and the sanctions against Russia, but does he agree that we cannot continue to relearn the lessons of the past when it comes to drawing a line and being willing to hold that line militarily? He has increased defence spending beyond the level it has been for many years, and I congratulate him on that, but the argument has always been that it must be tailored to meet the threat. As the German Chancellor mentioned this morning, that threat is changing. Will the Prime Minister commit to keeping an eye on defence spending to ensure that if we are asked to do so, we can hold a line and lead NATO in the way that I know he wants to lead it?
I thank my hon. Friend very much; he is absolutely right to draw attention to defence spending. It is great that the German Chancellor also now sees the importance of that. For a long time, my hon. Friend and I have been campaigning for Germany to shoulder more of the cost of defence in Europe, and that is a good thing. We have seen massive increases in our defence spending, but we want to make sure it is targeted on things such as tackling cyber and disinformation and all the modern forms of warfare in which Putin specialises.
I welcome the sanctions announced today on the five banks and the three named individuals. However, the Prime Minister will be well aware that there are many, many oligarchs who would, at face value, have huge wealth and huge assets in their own names, but that that wealth and those assets are absolutely in the gift of the Russian state and at the beck and call of the Russian state. Will he confirm that the sanctions we will be discussing and agreeing later today intend to ensure that those trusted custodians of Russian state money are able to be sanctioned in the way the three individuals named today are being sanctioned?
I really welcome the Prime Minister’s statement today and in particular the level of cross-House agreement that we must stand up to Russian aggression. I also welcome the decision by Chancellor Scholz to suspend Nord Stream 2. It always was an incredibly risky project, allowing great exposure to Russian gas. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that he is already considering what more can be done to protect our allies and friends in eastern Europe from the inevitable consequences of the risky position in which we find ourselves, in the dead of winter, with so much dependence on Russian gas?
The answer is that we need to work together to wean ourselves off and end the dependency on Russian gas. The House knows all the things we are doing to support our eastern European allies militarily, but we also need to share technology, particularly in renewables, to allow them to find a different future.
Whether the sanctions that the Prime Minister just announced will “hit Russia…hard”, as he said this morning, only time will tell, but he also said:
“there is a lot more that we are going to do in the event of an invasion”.
The Prime Minister has just told the House that he regards what happened overnight as a renewed invasion of Ukraine. If that is the Government’s view, why is he waiting and not imposing full sanctions on Russia now?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a couple of points. The House will have heard me on this issue several times; I have been very clear that we wanted to have the biggest possible package of sanctions ready to go in the event of a Russian toe-cap crossing into more sovereign Ukrainian territory. We will also make sure that we implement the waves of sanctions in concert with our allies; that is what we are doing.
While thanking my right hon. Friend for his statement, may I ask him to reflect on the fact that President Putin has already achieved so much of what he set out to achieve? He may have no intention of launching a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, but he has already committed the crimes that deserve the most severe punishment from the free world. What are we going to do to continue to strengthen and unify NATO, which is exactly what he did not want his policy to achieve?
My hon. Friend is completely right. What Putin has succeeded in doing is to greatly unify NATO and produce a much bigger commitment by not just the UK but other major European powers to the reinforcement of NATO’s eastern frontier. The French are doubling down in Romania. We are doubling down in Estonia. He is going to get much more NATO, not less.
For over a decade, Russia has been mounting cyber-attacks on our critical national infrastructure and commercial interests, and there were no consequences. For over a decade, Russia has been swirling dirty money around the City of London, and there were no consequences. In order for Vladimir Putin to understand that he has now gone too far, he needs to be certain that if sanctions and diplomatic means do not succeed, there will be consequences. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that those consequences need still to be on the table and that Vladimir Putin needs to understand that they will be used?
The right hon. Gentleman is completely right. We need to make it absolutely clear to Russia that as a result of this ill-conceived and disastrous venture in Ukraine, Putin’s country will end up, as I said, poorer, more encircled by NATO, engaged in a disastrous conflict with fellow Slavs and as a pariah state. That is what President Putin is willing on his people: a pariah state—that is what it will become.
There is more at stake than just sanctions; we have various international protocols that have been drafted literally over decades, going back to the last war. Where does this incursion into Ukraine leave us with those protocols and how can we enforce any further measures against any breaches of them?
My hon. Friend is completely right, because this action tears up the 1994 Budapest memorandum. It makes an absolute nonsense of the whole Minsk process—the agreement of 2014. That is ripped up, too. International law has been mocked by what President Putin has done, and that is what is at stake: democracy and the rule of law across the world.
Putin last night confirmed that he is a ruthless imperialist posed to destroy Ukraine’s sovereignty and self-determination. I, too, am grateful for the briefing from the National Security Adviser. We must now hit Putin where it hurts. As of this morning, BP’s website proudly proclaims that it is
“one of the biggest foreign investors in Russia”,
owning nearly 20% of Russia’s oil giant, Rosneft. Rosneft also has a secondary holding in London. Will the Prime Minister commit to imposing legally mandated divestment by UK firms in Russia, and if not now, when?
I congratulate my right hon. Friend and the Defence Secretary on their brilliant work at this very difficult time. Mr Putin is a bully, and bullies recognise only one thing: military force. If we are to fight for the freedom that we claim to hold so dear, we have to pay to defend it. Will my right hon. Friend go back to the EU and NATO, in particular, and say that we have to raise our spending budgets to at least 3% to have more planes, more ships and more men to deter Russia and not to wage war, but to prevent one from happening?
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement and welcome the sanctions against the three individuals that he has named. However, the regulations that he referred to, which will be discussed later today, will be effective only if there is the political will to implement them. Proposed new regulation 6(4) of the Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 defines an individual as being
“involved in obtaining a benefit from or supporting the Government of Russia”.
The right hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) said—and this is a fact—that oligarchs who are operating in this country with property are supporting the Russian Government financially and politically. Will we bring sanctions against those individuals? The Prime Minister named Abramovich, but he is one of many.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and I commend the west for seeing through the Orwellian doublespeak of Putin and his cronies. I agree with my right hon. Friend about a staged approach to sanctions, but now that we have an incursion into Donetsk and Luhansk, is not the next stage to demand an immediate withdrawal by Russia from those regions? If there is not one, further sanctions must follow as a direct consequence.
Yes; my right hon. and learned Friend is completely right. There should be an immediate withdrawal by Russia. I wish I could be confident that that will happen, but I am afraid that all the omens are pointing in the opposite direction, and I think that the House will need to consider a much bigger package of sanctions and further measures of all kinds.
The Polish Government have said that they must be prepared to accept up to 1 million refugees displaced by conflict or fleeing for fear of persecution, yet last week, when our Foreign Secretary was asked about accepting Ukrainian refugees, she said that
“we can’t make any commitments about any refugees at this stage.”
Amid conflict, we must always put direct support for people first, so will the Government commit today to accepting all Ukrainian refugees who wish to come to the UK as well as those persecuted in Russia for their resistance to war and Putin’s regime?
I thank the hon. Lady very much for her question. We are helping the countries that are directly vulnerable to an exodus of refugees from Ukraine. We have put another 1,000 troops on stand-by, and this country will continue to do what it has always done and receive those who are fleeing in fear of persecution. That is what we will do.
I strongly support the robust approach that my right hon. Friend has taken, and that indeed he took as Foreign Secretary, but Putin will have predicted and discounted western sanctions long ago. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we are not to be behind in the diplomatic chess game, we need to do some things that Putin is not expecting? First, we need a sustained increase in western defence capability and spend. Secondly, we need a sustained reduction in the ability of the Russian state to finance its own armed forces. We need economic and financial sanctions that last not just until the next Government decide to have a reset, but if necessary for as long as this dangerous man remains President of Russia.
We have seen a 10% increase in defence spending in this country, and we will sustain that increase in defence spending. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the financing of Putin’s armed forces; the tragedy is that they have been financed from the proceeds of the sale of Russian oil and gas to western European nations. That is what has got to end.
It is vital to stand in solidarity with Ukraine, in the face of outrageous Russian aggression, with robust, far-reaching sanctions and by closing down London’s money laundering machine now. Frankly, sanctions on five banks and three oligarchs are not anywhere near enough.
We must also recognise the extent of Russian meddling in our own politics. Will the Prime Minister stop studiously ignoring the Intelligence and Security Committee’s “Russia” report, which found credible evidence of attempts to interfere with the UK’s election processes? Will he finally commit to an independent and comprehensive investigation?
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement. Tough sanctions require tough compliance. He said that UK individuals and entities should not have any dealings with the banks and Russian individuals that he mentioned. Will he therefore give this House an assurance that for any UK individuals or institutions who have dealings with such banks and individuals, there will be the severest of penalties?
The three oligarchs whom the Prime Minister has sanctioned today have been sanctioned by the United States for four years. We need to do better than that. Will the Prime Minister re-examine the operation of unexplained wealth orders, not a single one of which has been issued since he became Prime Minister? Will he publish a list of all the Russians who have obtained fast-track visas for residency, as he referred to earlier, by giving cash to the UK Exchequer?
May I press the Prime Minister a little on his answer to the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn)? I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement, its robust approach and his confirmation that what President Putin has done amounts to an invasion of Ukraine, with the necessary measures that follow. In answer to the right hon. Gentleman, however, the Prime Minister seemed to suggest that if what Vladimir Putin has done is limited to these alleged breakaway republics, that is a line, and he has to do something else to trigger further sanctions. Will the Prime Minister confirm that what President Putin has already done means that we will follow up with further and stronger measures even if he does no more?
I think that it is inevitable, given what is happening in Ukraine and on the borders of Ukraine, that we will be coming forward with a much bigger package of sanctions. What we have today is an opening barrage that we are doing in common with our friends and allies.
The Prime Minister’s focus will rightly be on the here and now, but when he finds a moment to reflect on the recent failures in Afghanistan and the overwhelmingly clear fact that Russia was, is and will continue to be the greatest threat to peace and security in Europe, I wonder whether he might conclude that the Indo-Pacific tilt, as outlined in the integrated review, will need to be reassessed.
I welcome the statement and commend the Prime Minister and his Government on their robust approach, but I hope that he will take away from today’s exchanges the strong cross-party support for tougher sanctions now, because they are what is needed. Given the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the fact that we have now entered a new era in the battle for democracy globally, will he now consider a substantial and sustained increase in defence spending, well above the 2.4% that is required to ensure stability and peace in our time? Jaw-jaw, if indeed there is room for it in future, will be more effective with stronger armed forces.
I am proud of the very substantial uplift that we have been able to provide in our defence spending. We are the fastest-growing economy in the G7 as a result of the measures that this Government have taken. I am confident that we will be able to continue to give our armed forces the investment that they need.