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Commons Chamber

Volume 709: debated on Wednesday 23 February 2022

House of Commons

Wednesday 23 February 2022

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Women and Equalities

The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—

Sexual Offences

1. What steps she is taking with the Home Secretary to tackle the potential causes of recent trends in the level of reported sexual offences. (905705)

10. What steps she is taking with the Home Secretary to tackle the potential causes of recent trends in the level of reported sexual offences. (905715)

We know that rape and sexual offences are still too often hidden crimes and we want to see more victims having the confidence to report. We have seen a large increase in police-recorded sexual offences. There is some good news in that, because it is likely to reflect victims having additional confidence to come forward to report in the wake of some high-profile cases and the reopening of the night-time economy. We are committed to doing everything we can to prevent these crimes and bring perpetrators to justice. That is why we have outlined, through our rape review, a robust plan of action to drive improvement at every stage of the criminal justice system.

One in 75 women who report rape see their case come to a conclusion and a conviction. What does the Minister say to women who say, “I haven’t had my case properly investigated, I haven’t had my day in court and the police are telling me there will be no further action—why don’t I just get my brothers and cousins to go round and sort him out?”? What does she say to people who are so desperate that they take the law into their own hands?

I would never condone people taking the law into their own hands, and I am sure that the hon. Member agrees. However, we are aware that there are issues across the whole criminal justice system. On the Crown Prosecution Service and court system, we have opened ourselves up to transparency and our partners in the police forces and the CPS have said that they need to do more. To improve the rate of rape prosecutions, we have set ambitious asks of all our partners across the criminal justice system, and I will continue pushing that.

Labour Members believe it is time for judges to be able to hand out enhanced sentences and increased punishments for all crimes that are committed on the basis of prejudice against women, so why are the Government seeking to overturn our call to make misogyny a hate crime?

I have had a number of questions on this topic this morning. The Government are considering the Law Commission’s proposals on this issue. That is sensible and right. I am sure that all hon. Members would agree that there is no point in our putting measures on the statute book that would have a harmful effect on prosecutions, but that is exactly what the Law Commission’s legal experts have suggested would happen. We are therefore not minded to make misogyny a hate crime, because that is not the way to tackle these systemic issues. We are determined to deal with violence against women and girls, but I am afraid that that is not the way to do it.

Public sexual harassment is a gateway crime to some of the more serious sexual offences highlighted by my hon. Friend. She may not agree that misogyny should be a hate crime, but does she agree with the Law Commission that public sexual harassment should be a specific crime? Please can we see action to have it legislated for quickly rather than pushed into the long grass?

My right hon. Friend is right that the Home Office is looking carefully at whether there should be additional offences. I draw her attention to the fact that a number of measures are already on the statute book. I encourage women and girls to come forward; in fact, we are producing and creating a high-profile national communications campaign across TV and all our broadcast systems to encourage exactly that. We want to stamp it out and for perpetrators to be tackled.

Women and girls who are victims of human trafficking suffer the most appalling sexual offences, yet in 2020 there were only 13 convictions for human trafficking. Today, I have published my private Member’s Bill—the Human Trafficking (Sentencing) Bill—which would require the Government to review the situation to ensure that more victims see the perpetrators behind bars. Given what the Minister has said, will she assure me that the Government will support my Bill on Friday?

I thank my hon. Friend for his consistent advocacy for the victims of some of these most appalling crimes. He and I have spoken in detail about the measures that the Government are already taking to protect women and girls. Through our modern slavery legislation, they are at the centre of our protective measures. We will put our arms around them. We are already supporting them through the national referral mechanism, and we should be proud of that work. We are leading the world in our support for victims of trafficking.

The Minister’s awareness of problems with tackling sexual crimes is not good enough. We need action. Recording misogyny as a hate crime helps to

“seek justice and get support for victims”.

It helps to

“build a picture of intelligence which informs policing plans,”

and it sends

“a powerful message that this behaviour is not acceptable and there will be consequences.”

Those are direct quotes from officers in the North Yorkshire police and Nottinghamshire’s chief constable. Can the Minister explain why the Government seem to disagree and are planning to overturn Labour’s amendment to make misogyny a hate crime?

I am afraid the hon. Lady was not listening to the response I gave earlier. I was very clear that we do not seek, as responsible legislators, to put measures on the statute book that have a harmful effect. The experts at the Law Commission—[Interruption.] I wonder why she is shaking her head. I advise her to read its report in detail, which is clear that the Labour amendment she champions would make it harder for us to prosecute sexual offenders and rapists. We on the Government Benches would not like to see that taking place.

I have been listening: I have been listening to police forces, to their officers and to victims. That is why we support the amendment.

Next week marks a year since Sarah Everard’s kidnap and murder. That appalling case should have spurred action to tackle the epidemic of violence against women. Instead, sexual offences and rape have hit record highs, while prosecutions have fallen to record lows. We must treat this violence as seriously as we treat terrorism and organised crime. Will the Government make violence against women and girls a strategic policing requirement?

I think there is a lot of agreement across the House, despite the tone with which the hon. Lady has spoken to me. Violence against women and girls and dealing with rape prosecutions is a priority, which is why we have allocated record sums to tackle those horrendous crimes. The measures she mentions are something we are looking at and we will come forward with more information shortly.

Gender Recognition

2. If she will take steps with Cabinet colleagues to de-medicalise the process of obtaining a gender recognition certificate. [R] (905706)

The Government are clear that we want transgender people to be able to live their lives as they wish. The previous Government consulted on the Gender Recognition Act 2004. Having listened to the full range of views expressed, we concluded that the balance currently struck in the legislation is correct. We therefore do not intend to change the requirements of the Act.

On Monday, the Minister for Equalities, the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) said the Government would remove the rule whereby a trans person’s spouse has to consent to their gaining a gender recognition certificate. Yesterday, that had changed to helping to avoid spousal consent issues. Can the Minister categorically confirm today that the Government will remove that veto power altogether?

Yes, I did use the shorthand of spousal veto, which I know lawyers say does not exist. The no-fault divorce legislation about to be enacted will remove that effect that people are being asked to have removed. That is the advice I have received. If the hon. Lady says that the advice is wrong I will double-check it, but the advice I have received is that the new Act will remove that obstacle to divorce.

Social Mobility

The Government believe the circumstances of one’s birth should not determine life outcomes. As part of our plan to increase opportunity, we recently published the levelling-up White Paper to address regional disparities, which is one of the key drivers of social mobility across the UK.

In the civil service’s most recent diversity data, there is data on all the protected characteristics but nothing on social background, which has historically been a problem in the civil service, particularly at senior levels. Will my hon. Friend look at that so that we know whether the civil service is open to all backgrounds and is making its own contribution to social mobility?

Social background is not a protected characteristic in the Equality Act 2010, but the civil service did begin implementing socio-economic background measures for its workforce in 2018. Many Departments collect that data, but declaration rates have not yet reached a sufficient threshold for publication. However, I understand that the Cabinet Office is working with Departments to increase declaration rates to enable publication in next year’s civil service statistics publication.

On a visit to Holy Family School in Keighley earlier this month, I was able to share the fantastic news that my constituency will become one of the Government’s key education investment areas. What role will my hon. Friend’s Department play to ensure that increasing social mobility is at the heart of plans, alongside the levelling-up White Paper, to transform the life chances of young people across Keighley?

I am delighted that my hon. Friend’s constituency will benefit from the Government’s education investment areas and will invest in areas where educational attainment is weakest. Important initiatives such as that will help us to spread opportunity and level up the country. Equality has an important role to play and my officials are working closely with Departments to encourage focused and evidence-based action.

On social mobility, does the Minister appreciate that some are concerned about the proposals that would mean that people would not have access to funding for tuition fees unless they meet certain grades at GCSE and A-level? Will that not impact more heavily on poorer families?

I thank the right hon. Lady for her question. The Department for Education will have done an equalities impact assessment on any new policies that it will announce. Those will be taken into account to make sure that people who are most at risk and most vulnerable are not prevented from taking up education in any way.

Children from poorer backgrounds are four times more likely to suffer a serious brain injury by their fifth birthday and again in their teenage years than children from wealthier backgrounds. That obviously limits their opportunities in life. What will the Government do about that?

I am afraid that I do not have an answer specifically on what we are doing on brain injuries, but I will get the relevant Minister to write to the hon. Member and provide the appropriate information.

Hate Crime: Misogyny

4. What plans she has with the Home Secretary to bring forward legislative proposals to make misogyny a hate crime. (905709)

6. What plans she has with the Home Secretary to bring forward legislative proposals to make misogyny a hate crime. (905711)

As I said, the Government currently have no plans to make misogyny a hate crime. The reason is that we have consulted the legal experts on that subject. The Law Commission concluded that the proposal could do more harm than good in our efforts to tackle violence against women and girls, and I am sure that the hon. Lady would not wish to see that happen.

I thank the Minister for that, but the reality is that more than 80% of 18 to 24-year-olds have already experienced sexual harassment in a public place. If the Government were to legislate, it would allow the police to act. Does she not agree that, more importantly, it would also send a message out to people across this country that misogyny, sexual harassment and bullying based on gender is unacceptable in every sector of life?

No, I do not agree, and that is not what the Law Commission said. It said that that would be actively unhelpful and harmful to our efforts to tackle exactly the issues that the hon. Lady mentioned. I am afraid that I am at risk of repeating myself: we want to bring these perpetrators to justice and we are tackling this issue at the source. Making misogyny a hate crime would make it more difficult to prosecute all forms of hate crime, including those related to race and ethnicity.

I fear that I am going to ask the Minister to repeat herself, because the Government’s response to persistent violence against women and girls has been to support the Path Community app, which asks women to protect themselves by sharing journeys home, and to launch StreetSafe, which asks women to report where they feel unsafe. That yet again puts the onus on women when they are not the problem. Last year, a study of sexual aggression in UK male university students found a correlation between misogynistic views and a proclivity for sexual violence against women. What message does it send that the Government’s response to persistent violence against women is, “There’s an app for that.”? I urge the Minister, please, to tackle the root cause and work with the Home Office to make misogyny a hate crime.

Women in the Workplace

To support women in the workplace, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will extend redundancy protections after return from maternity leave and introduce neonatal leave and pay and one week of unpaid carer’s leave. It has also recently consulted on measures to increase the availability of flexible working, and it looks forward to publishing its response to that in due course.

We know that women face particular challenges in, for example, caring responsibilities and making progress in paid work, but rather than addressing that problem, the Government’s Way to Work scheme will pressure people to take any job quickly rather than helping them to obtain good, sustainable jobs that they are qualified for. What discussions has the Minister had with colleagues at the Department for Work and Pensions about supporting women into good-quality, well-paid jobs and not just the first thing that turns up?

I am afraid that I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. As I have just heard from the Minister responsible—the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies)—individual circumstances are taken into account and we are doing the very best we can for women in the workplace.

Maternity Action has recently highlighted that

“over the past decade the value of the basic rate of maternity, paternity and parental pay has also declined relative to women’s median weekly earnings, from 42% in 2012, to just 37% from April this year.”

Of course, new parents now also face a Tory cost of living crisis. There is overwhelming evidence for the value of supporting the youngest members of our society and the families who care for them, so will the Minister urge her colleagues to match reality to the rhetoric, introduce the long-awaited employment Bill and take the steps necessary to support parental leave and pay to better support new parents?

The Government take the issue very seriously; I know that my colleagues in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy are working very hard on it. I expect that we will hear very much more on the matter shortly.

12. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has an important role to play in supporting women in the workplace through its statutory duty to enforce the Equality Act 2010. What support are the Government giving the EHRC as it faces attacks from those who seek to undermine its independence? (905717)

I thank my hon. Friend for that really important question. I have to say that I have been shocked by the really disgusting remarks that have been levelled at the chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in particular. It is a disgrace that people are attacking the body that is supposed to be furthering equality in this country. No good can come of that.

I am sure that colleagues across the House share my desire for more people from minorities to take part in public life. That is one goal that we all share, but it is in jeopardy when the EHRC chair, an experienced parliamentarian from an ethnic and religious minority, can be subjected to vile, horrific personal abuse simply for encouraging others to comply with equality law. We support her. It is not healthy for our democracy for online smears and falsehoods, especially the ones that have been put forward by Vice News, repeated by those in the mainstream media who should know better, and deliberately designed to undermine public confidence in the independent regulator responsible—

ILO Convention 190

7. If she will take steps with Cabinet colleagues to ratify ILO convention 190 on violence and harassment in the world of work. (905712)

The Government have made clear our intention to ratify International Labour Organisation convention 190 on violence and harassment. I am pleased to confirm that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions plans to deposit the signed instrument of ratification at the ILO in Geneva shortly.

Ratifying ILO convention 190 on workplace violence and harassment is a key demand of the new “Get me home safely” campaign led by Unite the union. It is also meant to be a key priority for this Government, but the Minister has simply said that there will be moves to sign the convention. There have been many, many promises. What on earth is happening? Is there a seeming reluctance to accept ILO convention 190? Will the Minister get on and make sure that it is signed? There has been a huge increase in violence against women, particularly in the workplace.

The UK already has the necessary legislation in place to implement the convention. We will be required to report on compliance to the ILO in due course. The visit to deposit the ratification has been delayed as a result of covid-19 and the omicron variant; we will achieve it at the soonest possible date.

Topical Questions

The appointment of Katharine Birbalsingh as chair of the Social Mobility Commission has been a welcome boost to the agenda. I would like to inform the House that she has begun the recruitment process for new social mobility commissioners to support her in delivering change. I look forward to meeting the new board when the process is complete. Its work will be critical to helping the Government to deliver our levelling-up agenda.

Under new rules introduced last month, out-of-work universal credit claimants have just four weeks to find work; the previous limit was three months. Given that women are more likely than men to claim universal credit, as Welsh charity Chwarae Teg has highlighted, will the Minister confirm what consideration, if any, was given to how women would be affected? Has a full equalities impact assessment been carried out?

I am reassured by one of my colleagues that that is not the case. Individual circumstances are taken into account. I am sure that if the hon. Lady writes to us, we shall be able to provide more details in order to correct the record.

T2.   As the Minister will know, a hate crime occurs when a crime is committed and is aggravated by the victim’s protected characteristic, yet in recent weeks we have seen the existence of a statue described as a hate crime, along with the sale of Midget Gems in a supermarket. Neither is a crime, let alone a hate crime. Does the Minister agree that trivialising such incidents and misrepresenting hate crime will make victims of disability hate crime less likely to report those crimes? (905720)

I fully agree with my hon. Friend and would encourage all of us to choose our words wisely. It is important to remember that hate crime is a devastating and often violent crime, requiring evidence to be presented in court and proved to a criminal standard. I would encourage victims always to report such crimes.

Black, Asian and ethnic minority women face overwhelming health inequalities in our country, as has been revealed by the recent NHS Race & Health Observatory report. The Government promised us a comprehensive women’s health strategy by the end of 2021, and they have broken that promise. Instead, we have had a vague vision document, and now a taskforce to increase understanding of the problem, but no concrete steps to solve it. The Conservatives have had 12 years in which to act. When are they going to do so?

I am afraid it is not the case that nothing has been done. I have been working very closely with Ministers across Departments, looking at the very issues the hon. Lady has raised. We did launch a women’s health strategy in December, and more will be coming. She may not have noticed this, but on 23 December the Government published “Our Vision for the Women’s Health Strategy for England”, and there is far more detail to come. These are not issues on which we ever stop working, and I hope to be able to work with Members across the House to deliver on the strategy.

T5. I have a tragic case in my constituency. A 14-year-old girl was a victim of rape, and now her attacker has been allowed to live 120 metres away from her, causing her and her family intolerable distress. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the case, and will she work with me to ensure that victims can live safe in the knowledge that their abusers will never be allowed to live near them again, and that judges will prioritise the rights of victims over their attackers? (905723)

I am of course appalled to hear of that tragic case, and either I or a Minister from the Ministry of Justice will be happy to meet my right hon. Friend. It is vital that we protect the public, particularly from sex offenders, which is why offenders on licence are subject to a number of conditions, including where they live and work.

T3. We know that hate crime is often intersectional, especially in diverse constituencies such as mine. Many victims have more than one identity: they may be black, and they may also be LGBT women. However, the current legislation does not allow multiple characteristics to be recorded, so often the data lacks accuracy and depth. Will Ministers please work with us to address this, so that we can build a real picture of the people who are being targeted by hate crime? (905721)

The hon. Lady raises a very interesting and important point. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities and I will work on this, and see what more we can do to address that specific issue.

T7. Shared parental leave was a brilliant idea, introduced by a Conservative Government, but there is one type of new parent who receives almost no support: the kinship carer of a baby. What can my hon. Friend do to ensure equality for all types of parenting? (905725)

The Government value the vital role that kinship carers play. Eligible kinship carers who adopt are entitled to adoption leave and pay, and employed kinship carers may also be eligible for other leave entitlements to balance work with caring, including emergency leave, the right to request flexible working, and unpaid parental leave. However, we will continue to look at this issue.

T4. I want to share the words of one of my constituents with the House:“I am emailing you because of the unfairness of people on legacy benefits who did not receive the extra £20 a week support because of Covid… This is discrimination of Disabled people which I am one of… I could not leave my home for nearly eighteen months because of Covid, this money would have helped with heating costs.”This month, Kamran Mallick, CEO of Disability Rights UK, said:“With rising energy bills, increasing inflation and benefits pegged at a horrendously low level, millions of Disabled people are living in conditions comparable to the nineteenth century work house.”Can the Minister let me know— (905722)

In relation to the challenge in the High Court to the Government’s decision not to extend the universal credit uplift to those on legacy benefits during the pandemic, Mr Justice Swift said:

“My conclusion is that the difference in treatment…resulting from the 2020 Regulations was justified”.

I would ask the hon. Gentleman’s constituent to please use the benefits calculator on gov.uk and to talk to his work coach in case there is any support locally that he is missing out on.

Four in 10 young women in this country have received an unsolicited naked image of a man’s genitals. This sort of abuse has absolutely no place in our society. Will my hon. Friend please ensure that this is made a sex offence in the online safety Bill?

I thank my right hon. Friend for her consistent campaigning against this disgusting form of abuse against women and girls. I can do no more than refer to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who is sitting behind me and who has himself committed to introducing cyber-flashing as an offence as soon as possible.

Before we come to Prime Minister’s questions, I would like to point out that the British Sign Language interpretation of proceedings is available to watch on parliamentlive.tv.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

I can announce to the House that in the light of the increasingly threatening behaviour from Russia, and in line with our previous support, the UK will shortly be providing a further package of military support to Ukraine. This will include lethal aid in the form of defensive weapons and non-lethal aid.

I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in congratulating Team GB’s curling teams for winning gold and silver medals at the winter Olympics.

I know that Members across the House will want to offer condolences to the family and friends of our former colleague Sir Richard Shepherd, who sadly died earlier this week. He served as the MP for Aldridge-Brownhills for 36 years.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

By 2027, Didcot in my constituency will be 42% larger than it was a decade earlier; Wantage and Grove will be 59% larger. There are thousands more houses going up in Wallingford, Faringdon and all the villages I represent, but not a single new GP surgery. Does my right hon. Friend agree that where we build new houses, we have to build new infrastructure so that people can still access the services they need?

Yes, of course my hon. Friend is right. That is why we are making record investments in the NHS and in schools and roads—as we can, thanks to the strong growth in our economy. I will make sure that he gets a meeting with the relevant Minister to discuss his immediate local concerns.

I join the Prime Minister in his comments in relation to Sir Richard Shepherd. We all want to deter aggression in Europe. We are not dealing with breakaway republics, and Putin is not a peacekeeper; a sovereign nation has been invaded. The Prime Minister promised that in the event of an invasion, he would unleash a full package of sanctions. If not now, then when?

As I said, the UK has been out in front in offering military support to Ukraine, and I am grateful for what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said yesterday about the need to make sure we keep ammunition in reserve for what could be a protracted struggle over this issue.

Let the House be in no doubt about the extent of the package set out yesterday and about what we are already doing, because I do not think people quite realise that the UK is out in front. We have sanctioned 275 individuals already, and yesterday we announced measures that place banks worth £37 billion under sanctions, in addition to more oligarchs. There is more to come. We will be stopping Russia raising sovereign debt, and we will be stopping Russian companies raising money or, as I said yesterday, even clearing in sterling and dollars on international markets.

That will hit Putin where it hurts, but it is vital that, after this first barrage, we work in lockstep with friends and allies around the world to squeeze him simultaneously in London, Paris and New York. Unity is absolutely vital.

I hear what the Prime Minister says about sequencing and further sanctions, but there has already been an invasion. There is clearly concern across the House that his strategy could—unintentionally, I accept—send the wrong message. If the Prime Minister were now to bring forward his full package of sanctions, including excluding Russia from financial mechanisms such as SWIFT and a ban on trading in Russian sovereign debt, he will have the full support of the House. Will he do so?

I am grateful for the general support that the Opposition have given not just to our economic sanctions but to the package of military support, which will intensify. We want to see de-escalation by Vladimir Putin. There is still hope that he will see sense, but we are ready to escalate our sanctions very rapidly, as I have set out.

Under the measures that this House has already approved, we can now target any Russian entity or individual. Not only can we already target the so-called breakaway republics in the oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk but we can target members of the Duma who voted to recognise them. This is the most far-reaching legislation of its kind, and I am glad that it has the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s support.

It does have my support, and we will support it if it is used. We must also do more to defeat Putin’s campaign of lies and disinformation. Russia Today is his personal propaganda tool. I can see no reason why it should be allowed to continue broadcasting in this country, so will the Prime Minister now ask Ofcom to review its licence?

I believe my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has already asked Ofcom to review that matter, but we live in a democracy and a country that believes in free speech. I think it is important that we leave it to Ofcom to decide which media organisations to ban, rather than politicians—that is what Russia does.

The request was for a review, and I am glad to hear that the review is now happening. [Interruption.] I will not be deflected from the unity that this House needs at the moment.

At the weekend, the Prime Minister said that if Russia invades Ukraine, he will “open up the matryoshka dolls” of Russian-owned companies and Russian-owned entities to find the ultimate beneficiaries within. Well, Russia has invaded and it is time to act. If he brings forward the required legislation to do this, he will have Labour’s support. Will he commit to doing so in the coming days?

As I said, we are bringing forward in the next wave of sanctions measures that will stop all Russian banks, all oligarchs, all Russian individuals raising money on London markets. We are also accelerating the economic crime Bill, which will enable us in the UK to peel back the—[Interruption.] In the next Session. It will enable us to peel back the façade of beneficial ownership of property in the UK and of companies. It has gone on for far too long and this Government are going to tackle it. But on all these measures it is very important that the House remembers that they are more effective when all financial centres move forward together, and that is what the UK has been organising.

I think I heard the Prime Minister say that the economic crime Bill will be in the next Session, but I hope I misheard that. I can assure him that if he brings it forward in this Session, in the coming days, it will have our support. There is no reason to delay this.

Let me turn to the Elections Bill. As it stands, the Bill would allow unfettered donations from overseas to be made to UK political parties from shell companies and individuals with no connections to the UK. Labour has proposed amendments that would protect our democracy from the flood of foreign money drowning our politics. We can all now see how serious this is, so will the Prime Minister now change course and support these measures in the House of Lords?

We have very tough laws—tough rules—in this country to stop foreign donations. We do not accept foreign donations; people have to be on the UK electoral register in order to give to a UK political party. Before the right hon. and learned Gentleman starts chucking it around, I just remind him that the largest single corporate donation to the Labour party came from a member of the Chinese communist party. [Interruption.]

No, Mr Speaker, at this moment, as the House agreed yesterday, we have to stand united, and I am not going to be deflected from that. I note that the Prime Minister did not agree to change the Elections Bill. I think that is a mistake, and I ask him to take it away and look at those amendments in the Lords again. Putin has invaded a sovereign European nation. He has attacked because he fears openness and democracy, and because he knows that, given a choice, people will not choose to live under erratic, violent rule. He seeks division, so we must stay united. He hopes for inaction, so we must take a stand. He believes that we are too corrupted to do the right thing, so we must prove him wrong, and I believe we can. So will the Prime Minister work across the House to ensure that this is the end of the era of oligarch impunity by saying that this House and this country will no longer be homes for their loot?

I do not think any Government could conceivably be doing more to root out corrupt Russian money, and that is what we are going to do. We can be proud of what we have already done and the measures we have set out. I am genuinely grateful for the tone of the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s last question and for the support he has given. He is right to say that it is absolutely vital that we in the UK should stand united. People around the world can see that the UK was the first to call out what President Putin was doing in Ukraine. We have been instrumental in bringing the western world together in lockstep to deal with the problem—to bring together the economic package of sanctions that I have set out.

As I have said, there is still time for President Putin to de-escalate, but we must be in absolutely no doubt that what is at stake is not just the democracy of Ukraine, but the principle of democracy around the world. That is why the unity of this House is so important today. It is absolutely vital that the United Kingdom stands together against aggression in Ukraine, and I am grateful for the broad support that we have had today from the Leader of the Opposition.

2.   Following last week’s Q&A at the Shepley Village Association, and after receiving a huge number of complaints from constituents, it is clear to me that speeding is a major problem not just in Shepley, but across all parts of Dewsbury, Mirfield, Kirkburton and Denby Dale. Does my right hon. Friend agree that rather than action being taken after people have been killed or seriously injured in collisions, prevention is better than cure and the Department for Transport circular 2007 needs a long overdue review? (905690)

Yes. As a cyclist, I share my hon. Friend’s passion on this issue. We do need to crack down on speeding, which plays a role in excessive deaths on our roads. The Department for Transport is updating the circular on the use of speed and red-light cameras that my hon. Friend mentioned and I urge him to get in touch with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

Yesterday, we on the SNP Benches made it clear that the SNP stands united against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which needs to be met with tougher and stronger sanctions. As the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) rightly said, however, we should not be waiting for Russia to attack others before we clean up the corruption that Russian money has been fuelling in the UK.

Under the Tories, a sewer of dirty Russian money has been allowed to run through London for years. In 2017, I went to the Prime Minister when he was Foreign Secretary and raised the issue of limited partnerships, of which 113 have been used to move $20.8 billion out of Russian banks—corruption on an industrial scale. Why did the Prime Minister do nothing back then, and why is he still doing nothing now?

The right hon. Gentleman was right to come to me then—I have always enjoyed talking to him, as I have told him many times—and he is right on the issue. We do need to stop corrupt Russian money in London and every other financial capital. That is why we have already taken the steps we have taken, but we are going much further to uncloak the true owners of Russian companies and Russian properties in this country, and it is high time. No country is doing more than the UK to tackle this issue.

That meeting was five years ago, and I offered to work with the Prime Minister. Five years ago, and nothing has happened. The truth is that Russian oligarchs who give the right people in power a golden handshake have been welcomed into London for years. Their activities were not stopped; they were encouraged. Plenty of those golden handshakes just so happened to find their way into the coffers of the Conservative party—in fact, £2.3 million since the Prime Minister took office.

A leading American think-tank has publicly raised concerns that

“the close ties between Russian money and the United Kingdom’s ruling conservative party”

are a block to stronger sanctions. How can our allies trust this Prime Minister to clean up dirty Russian money in the UK when he will not even clean up his own political party? Will he finally commit to giving up the £2.3 million that his party has raised from Russian oligarchs?

I just think it is very important for the House to understand that we do not raise money from Russian oligarchs. People who give money to this—[Interruption.] We raise money from people who are registered to vote on the UK register of interests. That is how we do it. The right hon. Gentleman’s indignation is, I am afraid, a bit much coming from somebody whose very own Alex Salmond is a leading presenter, as far as I know, on Russia Today, which the Leader of the Opposition has just called on this country to ban.

4. The River Wye, pollution, flooding, house building and the wider environment are all important to my right hon. Friend, so will he meet me to discuss the future of the Environment Agency? (905692)

I am always happy to meet my hon. Friend—and I congratulate him on his recent elevation—but I must say that the Environment Agency faces many challenges and does an outstanding job of building flood defences. Some 314,000 homes are better protected since 2015 and we continue to invest massively to help them. I am always happy to meet my hon. Friend.

Yesterday, when I asked the Prime Minister about Russian meddling in UK elections, he looked very shifty before claiming that he was not aware of any. Yet, when he was—[Interruption.] Yet, when he was Foreign Secretary in 2017, he appeared at a joint press conference with the Russian Foreign Minister. When Lavrov claimed that there was no evidence that Russia had interfered in UK elections in any way, the now Prime Minister corrected him by saying that there was no evidence of “successful” interference. Can the Prime Minister tell us what evidence he has seen of unsuccessful interference? Has he actually read the Russia report, which is very clear that there is credible evidence of interference? [Interruption.] Given that, as his Defence Secretary said earlier this week, information is as powerful as any tank, can he explain why he is turning a blind eye to allegations of Russian disruption—

The challenge is to get those on the Front Bench moving quickly. We want to get speed into this, so I am sure that she is ending now.

Given that, as his Defence Secretary said earlier this week, information is as powerful as any tank, can he explain why he is turning a blind eye to allegations of Russian disruption? Why is he playing fast and loose with our national security—

I repeat what I told the hon. Lady ages ago—if I have got her right. I have seen absolutely no evidence of successful Russian interference in any electoral event.

7. I welcome the steps that the Government are taking this year to help hard-working families in Orpington with their energy bills. The majority of people receive at least £350 of support. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that even those not eligible for the council tax rebate will still receive additional support thanks to discretionary funding set aside for local authorities? (905695)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I can tell him that the people of Orpington and elsewhere will receive support if they do not qualify for the council tax rebate from the £144 million fund that he rightly mentions.

5. How does the Prime Minister think it looks, when we are in a cost of living crisis, with our constituents struggling to put food on the table or coats on their kids’ backs, and members of his Cabinet are throwing their toys out of the pram because they want to eat foie gras and wear fur? (905693)

We are tackling the cost of living crisis, which is caused by a global inflation spike, with everything that we can. I thank my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in particular for what he is doing to abate the costs of energy—lifting the living wage by the biggest ever amount and helping people on universal credit. The single best thing that we have done on the cost of living is making sure that we have millions more people into work. There are 430,000 more in employment now than there were before the pandemic began. That is how we are tackling the cost of living, and we will get on with it.

8. Last month, I held a careers fair at the Woodlands Campus of Solihull College, which trains apprentices for the automotive, construction and aviation industry. These apprentices are talented and hard-working, which is why Flybe has chosen Birmingham Airport in my constituency as its national headquarters. Will the Prime Minister take up my invitation to visit Solihull College and meet these wonderful apprentices and then also visit Birmingham Airport to see how the aviation industry is recovering from the pandemic? (905696)

6. The right hon. Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer) is currently under investigation for Islamophobia, following accusations that he told a fellow MP that her being a Muslim was making colleagues uncomfortable. How did the Government punish this behaviour? With a promotion that puts the accused Member in charge of the complaints procedure. Of course, we all know that the Prime Minister himself is no stranger to derogatory remarks about Muslim women, so let me ask the Prime Minister— (905694)

10.   I have just come from a meeting with the London Pedicabs Operators Association, Transport for London and the Department for Transport, where sadly my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) confirmed that on Friday he will be objecting once again to my Pedicabs (London) Bill, which means it will fall. Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agree that it is time we legislated for pedicabs, to ensure that they are safe for women and girls to use, that we rid ourselves of the dodgy fares and that the noise they create is regulated? Will he work with me to legislate for and to regulate pedicabs once and for all? (905698)

When I was Mayor of London I always yearned to be in a position to put that through Parliament, and now I am. I am very grateful to my hon. Friend and we will ensure we give parliamentary time to make it possible. It will be a boon for cyclists and a boon for taxi drivers, and it is high time we did it.

9. We have a humanitarian crisis of food poverty in all the constituencies represented in this House. We have more food banks than branches of McDonald’s, and people face starving or freezing in their homes at this very moment because of the horrific cost of living crisis and because of political choices made by this Government. In 2015, the Government signed up to delivering the 2030 sustainable development goals domestically, including ending hunger. Can the Prime Minister tell me who, and what Department, is responsible for delivering the goal of ending hunger domestically, and can he send me a copy of the plan to deliver it? (905697)

The whole of Government is engaged in that campaign. To that end, we have expanded free school meals for five to seven-year-olds, which helps 1.3 million children, we have boosted the Healthy Start vouchers by one third and, of course, the holiday food and activities programme continues to run, with a £200 million fund. The best thing we can do as a country and a society, however, is keep going with our plan for economic growth with higher-wage, higher-skilled jobs putting bread on the table of families up and down this country.

12. Liberty Speciality Steels is an important steelworks in my Stocksbridge constituency, which produces high-quality steel and has provided high-value jobs for generations. Sadly, following the collapse of Greensill Capital, the parent company Liberty Steel has faced financial uncertainty for some time, threatening the business and thousands of jobs. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the steel industry sits at the heart of our levelling-up agenda, and will he commit to looking at all options to support the business through this period of uncertainty, as the Government have done so effectively for Sheffield Forgemasters and British Steel? (905700)

I thank my hon. Friend for everything she does to champion steel. She is right that it is of strategic importance for our country; we must look at ways we can help the steel industry to have access to cheaper, low-carbon energy, and this Government will do everything we can to ensure that that happens. So far we have provided over £600 million since 2013 to help with the cost of energy and put in a £350 million industrial energy transformation fund, but I stress to the House that that alone will not be enough. As we transition to a low-carbon future, hydrocarbons must also have their place.

11. Unpaid family carers are treated appallingly by this Government. I am not talking about paid care staff in care homes, but about people who provide care, unpaid, for family members. While food and energy costs skyrocket, carer’s allowance is increasing in April by only £2 to a miserly £69 a week. That insulting amount will be more than swallowed up by the £2.50 cost of a single lateral flow test so that carers can keep the person they care for safe. How can the Prime Minister justify this tax on caring? (905699)

I think that the whole House understands the pressures on carers and the immense amount that they contribute to our society. We are doing our best to support people throughout our country. I think the House also understands that we cannot indefinitely support universal free testing. We are uprating the carers allowance, and of course carers are also entitled to the increases that we are putting through in universal credit.

14. Can I follow up my right hon. Friend’s statement on Monday on removing the covid restrictions? I welcome the further support for the immunosuppressed. Will he ensure that the NHS reviews the system for identifying the most vulnerable, as I think that some who are at risk are in danger of being missed—for example, those with blood cancers—and will he then ensure that the relevant testing and antiviral drugs will be readily available, alongside boosters, for the immunosuppressed but also for their carers? (905702)

My hon. Friend makes a very important point about the immunosuppressed and the need to identify them correctly. We currently think that there are 1.3 million. Yes, of course they will have access not only to testing but to vaccines and boosters, as well as priority access for new therapeutics and antivirals.

13. Last October, a promising young footballer in my constituency called Kamran Khalid, a former winner of Chelsea FC’s Asian Star scheme who had played for the famous Senrab FC in Wanstead, was on his way home to see his mum after finishing at the gym, and he was stabbed 24 times—murdered just yards from his front door. One of the alleged perpetrators was as young as 15. I hope that the Prime Minister would agree with me that far more needs to be done to stamp out the scourge of knife crime, including addressing the underlying causes. Will he agree to meet me and Kamran’s mother Samina, who has said that losing her 18-year-old son has “left a void in her heart forever”,to discuss what more can be done to make our streets safer and ensure that other families do not ever have to suffer this heartbreaking loss? (905701)

I totally share the hon. Gentleman’s feelings about his constituents and the tragic loss in the family concerned. We must crack down more on knife crime. That is one of the reasons we are putting more police out on the streets. It is also why we are rounding up the county lines drugs gangs, who play a big part in this, sadly. We have done 2,000 so far and there is more to do. That is why we are recruiting many more police and giving them the powers they need to come down hard on those gangs.

15. The Government’s commitment to £25 million for a new electric bus fleet in Warrington will have a transformational effect on public transport across Warrington. Does the Prime Minister agree that the right way to spend that £25 million is by buying British-made buses, supporting highly skilled manufacturing jobs right across the United Kingdom? (905703)

Yes, I thank my hon. Friend, who is a great champion for Warrington. Warrington has secured £20 million for new zero-emission buses. I am delighted to say—this is a statistic that I can barely believe but it is here in my brief—that 80% of buses in Britain’s urban areas are already produced domestically, which is a fantastic thing. We all want to see more of that, and I hope that Warrington will consider excellent UK bus manufacturers when it comes to its next contract.

Yesterday the Prime Minister told me that we can sanction Duma members through the Government’s new sanctions package. The Minister for Europe and North America, the right hon. Member for Braintree (James Cleverly), told the House that we can sanction Duma members not through the new regime but as an extension of pre-existing sanction rules. Yet this morning the Foreign Secretary said that the legislation for sanctions against Duma members will take weeks to be made legally watertight. So, Prime Minister, who is right? How can we say that we are standing strong against Russian aggression when our sanctions response is such a muddle and such a mess?

The whole House would agree, I hope, that it is quite a thing to sanction parliamentarians, and that is what we are doing, and not only that—just in the past couple of days, we have put forward the biggest package of sanctions against Russia that this country has ever introduced, and we are coming forward with even more. They will have an impact not just on Duma Members and people who voted for the secession of the oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk, but on the entire Putin regime, and I am glad that the Labour Opposition, at least for now, support the sanctions.

This is day six for thousands of households across East Sussex who have no power and no water. As we become more and more reliant on electricity, we must become more resilient. Can I ask the Prime Minister to ensure that the utility companies work together, that water companies have to have generators in place so that the water does not fail when the power does, and that local resilience forums are fit for purpose and communicate with their local communities? We need more help on this, Prime Minister—please help us.

I thank my hon. Friend very much for what he says about people in East Sussex. I know how tough it is for people who have been short of power for days on end, and it is no consolation to them for me to say that 97% of those who lost power have now been reconnected. We are working as fast as we can with local authorities and the electricity companies to ensure that they get their power back, but also to ensure that we build in more resilience for the future.

Let us be clear about this: is it not an absolute disgrace that a Privy Counsellor, adviser to the Queen and former First Minister of Scotland sees fit to broadcast his half-baked world views week after week on Russian television?

That was a brilliant, powerful question with which I think the whole House assented. Would it not have been more powerful if it had come from the leader of the Scottish National party?

The Prime Minister will have seen the devastation in Shrewsbury from the flooding of the River Severn. This is the third year in a row that Shrewsbury has faced these appalling floods. I chair the caucus of 44 Conservative MPs who have the River Severn, Britain’s longest river, flowing through their constituencies. Will my right hon. Friend help me and our caucus to do everything possible to find a long-term solution to managing Britain’s longest river? In the meantime, we have put forward four opportunities for flood defences in Shrewsbury to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Will he please take an interest in those, because Shrewsbury cannot afford a fourth year in a row of flooding?

My hon. Friend is completely right in what he says about the Severn and the violence of the flooding in the Severn area, which I have seen for myself several times. There are still flood warnings in place along the Severn, and all I can tell him is that we are working flat out to put in place the remediations to help people who have suffered from flooding, but we are also investing £5.2 billion in the flood defences of this country.

The leader in this morning’s Times is a scathing criticism of the Government’s limited sanctions against Russia. If the Prime Minister will not listen to Members of this House, will he at least listen to The Times newspaper?

I have the utmost respect for the media, and I of course study it as much as I can, but I have to say that the package that the UK has put forward has been leading the world, and there is more to come. [Interruption.] I hear somebody on the Opposition Benches saying that it is weak so far, but it is not—it is strong and it will be very strong. Something that would also be strong would be to take the Whip away from the 14 Labour Members who say that the aggressor in Ukraine is NATO. That would be a strong thing to do.

Points of Order

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Have you been given notice that an Education Minister will make a statement to the House on the Government’s response to the Augar review; the future of student and university finance; and the financial arrangements governing student loan repayments? No less than 1,000 days after Augar reported, it seems that the Government are, once more, more interested in briefing journalists than in informing the House on the future of our universities. It is extraordinary that the Government are yet again choosing to announce serious changes to higher education in that way. This morning, students will have seen their hard work belittled by Ministers—

Order. You have raised the point of order; you cannot make a speech on it. The Secretary of State may wish to answer you.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can you give me some guidance? Twice in Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister referred to Alex Salmond and talked about him being one of our own, which is quite disgraceful. Alex Salmond has nothing to do with the Scottish National party. He is the leader of—[Interruption.]

Order. I am sorry, but I want to hear the point of order, because I have to answer to the question. I must hear the question.

Alex Salmond is not a member of the Scottish National party. Indeed, he is a member of another party. Moreover, the SNP has made it quite clear that no parliamentarian is permitted to appear on RT. To be traduced in the way that we were by the Prime Minister is simply unacceptable and he should withdraw his comments.

You have absolutely put it on record that Alex Salmond is no longer the leader of the SNP. That was many years ago and, as I understand it, he is now a member of the Alba party. That has now been corrected and I am sure everyone is aware of it.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will recall that, yesterday, I raised a point of order about the Prime Minister saying to the House that Roman Abramovich had been sanctioned when it turned out that he had not been. I gather that the Prime Minister has now corrected the record. I wonder whether there is a means of ensuring that, tomorrow, Hansard is printed in gold letters, or red letters, because that is the first time. It is particularly exciting that it has only taken a Russian billionaire to get the Prime Minister to correct the record.

I think it has just been gold-plated. It has certainly been registered and you will be able to read it tomorrow.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Earlier today, before PMQs, a joint written ministerial statement was published on the decision to waive the right to remain application costs for non-UK personnel of our armed forces who have served at least six years—a cause that was supported by 200 Members of the House in a letter to the Home Secretary some while ago. It provides a clear and affordable pathway to British citizenship for all those, of whatever nationality, who have been prepared to serve the United Kingdom. Could you help to secure time for a debate on that important measure?

The hon. Member has been here long enough to know that business questions are tomorrow and he will be wanting to raise this. I will give him a pat on the back because he has done a great job.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The leader of the SNP may have inadvertently misled the House earlier. He said that no SNP member appears on Russian television. I am told—[Interruption.] I thought he did; perhaps he would like to clarify. I thought he said that every member of the SNP—[Interruption.]—had been told not to appear on Russian television.

Order. We cannot both be on our feet at the same time. I would say that is not the case. We will be able to read Hansard tomorrow and if you feel it is not correct, you can come back with a point of order.

Energy Pricing (Off Gas Grid Households)

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision about the application of the energy price cap in relation to households without mains gas supply; to require the Secretary of State and Ofgem to make proposals for measures to ensure that households do not have to pay more for energy because they do not have access to mains gas supply; and for connected purposes.

Let me lay out the key points of the issue and then describe how vital it is for people to be protected from a crisis on top of a crisis, because they are caught in a specific energy price trap that is none of their making and that is set to bring additional hardship and misery to people already being financially crushed by a cost of living crisis that has been imposed on them.

The current price cap introduced by the UK Government and Ofgem is based on the assumption that households across the nations of the UK consume energy with a split of 80% gas and 20% electricity. However, about one in six households across the nations of the UK are currently off gas grid. The result is that these households are forced to pay about four times more for their energy bills than the so-called average household. We have a ridiculous situation in which Ofgem’s own statistics tell it that more than 15% of all UK households cannot get mains gas, yet it treats them as if they do, based on that 80:20 split in favour of gas. This ignores the energy price consequences for those who need to fill that 80% gap with other forms of fuel, such as domestic oil or other unregulated fuel, all of which have soaring prices themselves. This is grossly unfair. The inevitable result is that most off gas grid households then become wholly reliant on electricity. This is discrimination, and this is unacceptable. The UK Government are failing families across the nations of the UK simply because of where they live.

However, that is not the worst of it. From 1 April, Ofgem will set its price cap tariffs—they will be painful for most households, as we know already—at 28.34p per unit for electricity and 7.37p per unit for gas. What this means is that those who cannot access the assumed 80% of their energy from mains gas will be paying four times as much as those who can and nearly twice as much for the standing charge. The Ofgem average consumer faces an eye-watering rise in their bill of 54% or £700 a year, which takes them to about £2,000 a year. That is bad enough, but spare a thought for off gas grid customers, many facing colder rural conditions, who will see their bills hit an outrageous £4,416 for the same net energy usage. It gets even worse for those on prepayment meters, who face even higher energy price caps.

People and families are already struggling even before this combined cost of living crisis and energy price conundrum, coupled with the callous UK Government cut of £20 a week in universal credit. People now find themselves in some cases literally powerless. They no longer have a choice even between heating or eating. For some—too many now, and many more coming soon—that is the shameful reality of life in the UK under this UK Tory Government. The kick in the teeth is that consumers in off gas grid areas, such as those in the highlands and islands that I represent in my constituency of Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, can often see clean and cheap renewable energy being generated in their own backyards.

People in off gas grid areas are also likely to be faced with higher transport costs. They are highly likely to be living in older properties that are less energy efficient. Crucially, they are likely to have lower than average incomes. What chance do they have if nothing is done to help them? Fuel poverty, and the extreme fuel poverty I am describing, can lead to many negative outcomes—far too many for me to list in the time that I have here—but the charity Crisis has raised concerns about rapidly accelerating homelessness. That is just one of the possible consequences of the rising debt, rent and mortgage arrears for many as a result of this.

What is the point in having a UK energy regulator if it is unwilling to ensure that, at very least, people are equitably treated, whether they live in an off gas grid area or with the benefit of being on it? Either Ofgem or the UK Government can make the required change, and they must not be allowed to play off each other, or to deflect and hide behind each other on this issue. The Government could choose a mechanism such as a vulnerable area designation, ensuring that all off gas grid households are not charged any more than on-gas households are for the same number of units used.

The UK Government should also commit to an immediate and urgent review of regulated energy prices and their component costs, to level the playing field for all households. That process should begin immediately. There is an undeniable moral duty to intervene, and to rescue the affected families and children right now from impending financial disaster. Sorting that injustice should be swift, but while those levers are being pulled, there should be no delay in emergency action to support people facing those impossible challenges.

Along with longer-term reform, and in addition to the designation of vulnerable areas, the UK Government should play catch-up and help people in other ways. For example, while instructing Ofgem to create vulnerable area mechanisms and commencing that review of regulated energy prices, they could reinstate the £20 per week cut to universal credit. The Chancellor’s loan scheme does not provide meaningful help for those I have described; it simply pushes a small part of the problem out.

The Scottish Government are using the consequential funding, but as the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy, Kate Forbes MSP, pointed out, much more is needed than small loans and council tax discounts. The UK Government could give further assistance, for example by copying the Scottish Government, who have introduced the Scottish child payment and now doubled it to £20 a week, and are operating the child winter heat allowance, up by 5%. They are supporting carers and disabled people with additional grants, including help for severely disabled children and low-income households. Replicating all that will not solve the problems people face, but it would help people across the UK, and allow Scotland to provide even more help through consequentials and spending, so that more people might be helped through this escalating crisis.

I mentioned older, less energy-efficient homes. The Scottish Government announced an additional £80 million to help households to install energy efficient measures aimed at reducing heating bills. I urge people to take advantage of that, but the UK Government should play catch-up on their own commitment to boost it. The UK Government have so far allocated only a fraction of the £2.5 billion they pledged for the home upgrade grant—another measure that could exist in the longer term if the will existed on the Government Benches.

At the heart of this issue is a badly broken, discriminatory system that must be fixed. Yes, it needs emergency interventions, but the problem will persist and get worse, driving people into desperation, due to the lack of thought given to the problem of off gas grid inequality. This Bill would fix that. Ofgem and the UK Government cannot now say that they have not been warned of the dire consequences of inaction. Let us see them work together to grasp this challenge for once, to do the right thing, to support people and families, and to support the Bill and take the urgent steps that are desperately required.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Drew Hendry, Ian Blackford, Brendan O’Hara, Jaime Stone, Pete Wishart, Angus Brendan MacNeil, Alan Brown, Ben Lake, Liz Saville Roberts, Hywel Williams, Richard Thomson, and Stephen Flynn present the Bill.

Drew Hendry accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the first time; to be read a Second time on Friday 18 March, and to be printed (Bill 258).

Points of Order

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to correct the record. Yesterday, I said that the Israeli Labor party and Meretz party—Labour’s two equal sister parties in Israel—had written to our current leadership in support of a boycott of goods and companies in the occupied territories. The letter, sent in July 2020, in fact came from the former Speaker of the Knesset, the former party chair, the former interim President of Israel, and other former and current MPs from the respective parties. Although that might be the view of the Meretz party—the larger of the two sister parties at the time—it has been expressed clearly to me that that was not the view of the Israeli Labor party, and it did not say that in the letter. I wish to correct that for the record clearly today.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The House will be aware that recent storms have battered and bruised much of the country. First Storm Arwen hit parts of Scotland, and more recently Storms Dudley, Eunice and Franklin left more than half a million homes without power and saw some rivers burst their banks. We have been reached out to by people in Sussex and Surrey, specifically near Guildford and in areas such as Peaslake, Frimley Green and Cranleigh, which are still without power after the storms. Have you had any indication, Mr Speaker, of a forthcoming Government statement about those ongoing issues? Have Ministers made any commitments about travelling to meet people in those areas that are still affected by the storms?

As the hon. Lady knows, normally the Government would not bring forward a statement on an Opposition day, but she has certainly ensured that those on the Government Benches have heard the point about Ministers visiting the area. There is a great opportunity to raise that issue once more at business questions.

Opposition Day

[13th Allotted Day]

Countering Russian Aggression and Tackling Illicit Finance

I beg to move,

That this House expresses solidarity with the people of Ukraine, and supports their sovereignty and Ukraine’s territorial integrity; condemns Russian aggression and emphasises the UK’s commitment to NATO; resolves to end illicit finance that rewards and sustains the Putin regime in Russia; calls on the Government to introduce an Economic Crime Bill, an Overseas Entities Bill and a register of beneficial ownership by the end of March 2022; and further calls on the Foreign Secretary to make a statement to this House on the implementation of the recommendations of the Intelligence and Security Committee’s Russia Report, HC 632, published on 21 July 2020.

My ancestors knew what it was like to have freedom taken away at the barrel of gun. They knew what the twisted lies of imperialism sounded like. They knew what it was like to live without the vote. They were taken from their homes, enslaved, shackled to ships, and forced to work for the profit of a foreign empire. No act of authoritarianism is ever the same, but Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine in recent weeks are an ugly attempt to restore the Russian empire.

The Russian President denied the right of a sovereign nation to exist. He unilaterally recognised separatist movements that seek to dismember Ukraine. Then, under the cowardly shield of the night, he sent in tanks and soldiers to enforce his diktat. Putin’s crimes against peace need a united and immediate response: a full set of sanctions, possible now; to provide continued support for the Ukrainian army; and to clean out the dirty Russian cash in our system. However, to stand up to Putin in the long term, we need to stand up to Putinism. Putin is not unique. He is the figurehead of an ideology that is being emulated by despots and dictators around the world.

My right hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does he agree that not nearly enough action is being taken to crack down on illicit Russian influence in the UK? Our structures are set up to be so opaque that we have no idea of how strong Russian influence is. With Putin’s money still being funnelled, can we not create a proper register of overseas entities, clearly to see and address this issue?

My hon. Friend is right. The cornerstone of any democracy is the accountability and transparency that allows the general public to see who owns what. I will come on to more of that in a moment.

I appreciate that my right hon. Friend will say more on this issue. It is estimated that there is at least £2 billion of dirty money in the London property market—much of it is concentrated in high value areas including Kensington and my borough of Westminster—and we do not know the beneficial owners of those properties. Was he as surprised as me to hear the Prime Minister say that we may not expect the economic crimes Bill until the next Session?

My hon. Friend is so right. These properties are pricing out young people and challenging working people. Often, the lights are off and no one knows who owns them. If that is not an urgent issue, I do not know what is. I was staggered when the Prime Minister said that it did not merit action until the next Session.

It is not just about urgent action. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is outrageous that legislation on publishing the beneficial ownership of UK properties owned by entities abroad was promised by the Government in 2016, there was consultation on a draft Bill—I think a Bill is sitting in Government, ready to go—and it was promised again in the 2019 manifesto and at G7 meetings but has yet to appear? Is that not an utter scandal?

My right hon. Friend is right. In six years, there has been promise after promise—we have had more promises from the Dispatch Box today—and we are still waiting. It is not worthy of our great democracy. The public deserve better.

Further to that point, my right hon. Friend will be aware that the Treasury Committee has published a report on economic crime in which it calls for an economic crime Bill, so this matter is supported not just by Opposition Members but by many Conservative Members. There is support right across the House, so why is there a lack of urgency from the Government?

My hon. Friend is right. We are talking about foreign ownership of property in our country, and that ought to command cross-party support. Just six or seven years ago, I would never have thought that this would feel like a partisan issue and be the basis of an Opposition day debate. It should have had time on the Floor, and we should have had an economic crime Bill years ago, but it takes the Opposition dragging the issue into the public domain to get a response.

To stand up to Putin in the long term, we need to stand up to Putinism, because Putin is not unique; he is the figurehead of an ideology that is being emulated by despots and dictators around the world. Putinism is imperialism. Putinism is authoritarianism. Putinism is ethno-nationalism. The Russian regime represents a fundamental geopolitical threat and we will not defeat the broader threat until we tackle the ideology that underlies it. Part of our message to Putin must be that his actions are a historic mistake.

This is not the first time that a Russian leader has waded into conflict as a result of his ideology. The same thing happened in East Berlin in 1953 when the USSR moved in to suppress riots. It happened in Hungary in 1956 when Russia sent in troops to invade the country as well as in Czechoslovakia in 1968 and in Afghanistan in 1979. None of those acts of aggression was a success in the long term for Russia, and civilians caught in the middle always pay a terrible price. In the invasion of Czechoslovakia, Russian soldiers strode in convinced that their invasion was liberating the Czech people from capitalism, but, when they are arrived, normal Czechs surrounded the invading forces and said, “Why are you here? You aren’t liberators—you are aggressors.” The Russian troops were deflated; the propaganda that they had been fed was a lie. The same thing will happen if Putin moves on the rest of Ukraine.

Only the Ukrainian people should have the freedom to determine their own futures. That fundamental belief in self-determination is shared across so many of our borders. It is a founding principle of so many of our closest allies and partners across this great continent and beyond it. The logic of democracy is why Putin will never win in the end. Any reward that he gains will be pyrrhic.

Putin has made his move. The wider threat that Ukraine faces is immediate, but the consequences for Europe and the west are also stark. This is likely the end of the post-cold war era, but we do not yet know what era is next, because it has not been decided. The effects of this moment will depend as much on our response to this aggression as on the aggression itself.

I thank the right hon. Member for putting forward an impressive contribution to the debate. Following his line of thought, does he agree that, having decided our first step of imposing sanctions, we must do so properly and with wisdom? We also need to act in co-operation with other nations to ensure that we do not see Russian money supply transferred from our banks to friendly banks—those in Switzerland, for example, among other nations—in the next few days.

The hon. Gentleman is right. He knows a lot about violence and the corruption of money to fund that violence, and I am sure that the whole House is grateful for his wisdom.

What we know is that autocrats from around the world are watching to see if we meet this test of our strength and resolve. China will be watching to see how the west responds to Russia as it plots its next move. We must be strong not only to defend the people of Ukraine whose dignity and resilience has been an inspiration to all of us throughout the crisis but to defend the liberal international order that we need to stay safe.

Labour would go deeper, broader, stronger and faster on sanctions. The Government’s targeting of just five banks and three individuals is simply not enough. They claim that these are the toughest ever sanctions on Russia, but, after the annexation of Crimea, the UK froze the assets of almost 200 individuals and 50 entities alongside a range of other measures. Labour would go much further. We would increase the depth of sanctions by targeting more oligarchs and more banks. We would increase the breadth of sanctions by widening the measures beyond just asset freezes to sectoral measures, blocking dealing in Russian sovereign debt and banning the fake-news producing Russia Today. We would ramp up the speed of sanctions—we would not wait for Putin’s next act of war but introduce the full set of sanctions now. We would increase their coherence, moving in lockstep with our allies who have sanctioned more people more quickly than us. We would have stopped Nord Stream 2 and targeted Belarus as well, and we would make our sanctions stronger by targeting the systems people operate in as well as individuals. That means reforming Companies House so that it is fit for purpose, creating a register of overseas owners of UK property, as has been mentioned, delivering a strong economic crime Bill, as has been mentioned time and again, and implementing the recommendations of the Russia report finally in this House.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that an estimated £100 billion a year is run up through money laundering, fraud and corruption, so he is right that it is imperative that the Government take action now. When the Minister for Security and Borders, the right hon. Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds), gave evidence to the Treasury Committee, he admitted that the Government have been found wanting—not his words, but more or less so—and that there is much to do. This week is the moment to act.

My hon. Friend mentions £100 billion a year: money that could have been spent on schools, money that could have been spent on hospitals, money that could have been spent on our post-covid recovery.

I thank my right hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene once again. The words the Minister for Security and Borders, the right hon. Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) used when giving evidence to the Treasury Committee were that he was “not happy”—that is the quote in our report—with the progress the Government have made in tackling economic crime. That is in the Treasury Committee report. I share his unhappiness with the progress the Government have been making. If the Minister is not happy with the progress the Government are making and we are not happy with the progress the Government are making, we can only guess why there still seems to be a lack of progress.

I have to say to my hon. Friend that it is challenging all our consciousness when the Government say they are not happy and the Minister says he is not happy and nothing happens. They are in charge and they have to fix this.

Sanctions are the way we punish Russia for its crimes, but there is so much more action we should have taken years ago to defeat the corruption, crime and lies that define the ideology and operating system of Putinism. That means rooting out the dirty money that is corrupting our economy and our democracy. It is no use tackling Russian aggression abroad while doing nothing to tackle Russian corruption at home. For a decade, the Tories have failed on this. Worse, they have enabled it. We are working with the Government on standing up against Russian aggression in Ukraine, but we must work in the UK to get our own house in order. It is a great shame that the UK is regularly described as the money laundering capital of the world. It is shameful that our US allies have said they are concerned that the influence of Russian money has compromised us. It is shameful that the Tories have failed to stop Russian money from turning London into a laundromat for ill-gotten gains.

Our openness to kleptocracy and its money has weakened our country. Dirty Russian money props up Putin’s regime by shielding the dark money of the Russian oligarchs and Putin himself. It fuels crime on our streets. When kids risk their lives to deal drugs on county lines, that is dirty money. When vulnerable women are trafficked across the country to be abused, that is dirty money. When people are forced to live in fear because of criminal gangs on the streets, that is funded by dirty money. Dirty money makes the housing crisis worse by inflating prices and buying up properties to lie empty as assets not homes. And it leads people to ask questions about the Conservative party, which has accepted £2 million in donations since Boris Johnson took power in 2019. Mr Speaker, it must give that money back.

One thing my right hon. Friend has not mentioned yet is tier 1 visas. I note that Lubov Chernukhin was given a tier 1 visa in 2011 and Alexander Temerko was given a tier 1 visa in 2011 by Conservative Home Secretaries. Subsequently, between them they have given millions of pounds to the Conservative party and lots of individual Members of this House have taken money from those individuals. It certainly looks like corruption, does it not, if you give out a visa, do not insist on that person surrendering their Russian nationality, and those people use extensive shell companies in the British Virgin Islands and elsewhere to hide where their money is coming from? That is corruption, is it not?

My hon. Friend is right. We cannot have one tier for the elite and another tier for everybody else. That is the problem and it should have been dealt with years ago.

What concerns me is that the way that Russia is set up at the moment—I described it yesterday as a mafia state—means that if you are going to make money out of Russia you have to have the permission of Mr Putin, otherwise you are out of the picture. Does my right hon. Friend therefore not share my concern that a lot of the money coming in is directly or indirectly linked to the activities of Putin himself?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We note, do we not, individuals who are the target of sanctions in Europe and who have been the target of sanctions in the United States since 2018? And we wait and we wait and we wait. And we wonder why this Government are so slow to act.

Today, we call on the whole House to come together to end the tidal flow of dirty Russian money flooding into our country by: ending our openness to fraud and money laundering with an economic crime Bill that should be brought forward this month; fixing our inadequate regulation of political donations by reversing the Conservative’s Elections Bill that is setting us back; strengthening our lax mechanisms of corporate governance; enabling our national agencies to clamp down on economic crime; and blocking the threat of foreign interference in our politics. We need transparency with an overseas entities Bill and the reform of Companies House to shut down the shell companies that obscure the origins of wealth and hide corruption, and reveal who owns land from abroad. Finally, this House must come together and recognise the urgency of implementing the Russia report, which was published in July 2020—nearly two years ago.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way and I welcome the commitments he has made on the sort of action a Labour Government would immediately put in place. There is one area he has not covered, which I think is of great importance: the role played by the financial services sector and the enablers here in London in supporting money laundering and illicit finance. Whether lawyers, accountants, the banks or other advisers, they are often complicit in this activity. Does he agree that the economic crime Bill also needs clauses that tackle the role of enablers in enabling illicit finance?

My right hon. Friend is exactly right. Over two thirds of our economy is the service sector. The consultants, lawyers and accountants are absolutely a part of the process of dirty money and the laundromat. We must act to deal with them. [Interruption.] Of course not all of them, but there are facilitators and we expect to see the appropriate clauses in the economic crime Bill.

Defeating Putinism starts with leadership that represents our values. If we are to be taken seriously on the world stage when we talk about democracy, we cannot be watering it down at home with unfair reforms such as voter ID and loose rules about overseas donations. If we are to be credible champions of international law, our leaders must practise the laws they set at home. The best way to defend the rule of law is to follow it.

The right hon. Gentleman rightly emphasises what the UK can do to clean up matters in the UK. One commentator has talked about the need to tackle what he calls the ecosystem of Russian influence over UK democracy, which would mean going further and including direct donations to politicians—some of whom are Members of this House—the actions of public affairs companies and lobbying companies, and in particular the funding of think-tanks. Does he agree that a very comprehensive package of measures is needed?

The hon. Gentleman makes the list more comprehensive and he is exactly right.

Enough is now enough. Putin has invaded Ukraine, a sovereign state and a friend and partner of the United Kingdom. That is an attack on the hopes, dreams and aspirations of ordinary Ukrainians. We can no longer let him exploit the holes in our system at home to enable his aggression abroad. This is not a partisan issue, and nor should it be difficult. It is shameful that the Government have not acted long ago. We want to work with the Government not only to win against Putin’s aggression abroad, but to defeat the ideology of Putinism at home. We are united in this House in support of NATO, in support of freedom, and in support of democracy and equality. Let us send a clear message to President Putin and authoritarians around the world that the UK is no longer a haven for dirty money.

I thank the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) for securing this timely debate and join him in expressing our united support for the people of Ukraine and their territorial integrity. We have seen events unfolding that none of us thought we would ever witness again.

We have unreservedly condemned this outrageous and unjustified act. This action is inconsistent with the United Nations charter and a clear breach of international law. It demonstrates flagrant disregard for Russia’s commitments under the Minsk agreement and represents a further attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We continue to call on Russia to observe its obligations under article 2(4) of the United Nations charter to

“refrain…from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”.

We reiterate our unshakeable commitment to the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of Ukraine. We insist that the Russian Federation immediately returns to compliance with its obligations under the United Nations charter and its commitments under the Helsinki Final Act and the 1994 Budapest memorandum. We demand that the Russian Federation immediately withdraws all its military forces from the territory of Ukraine, unconditionally and without exception. We also insist that the Russian Federation allows and facilitates the safe and unobstructed access of humanitarian assistance by international agencies for those in need in Ukraine. Yesterday, the Prime Minister announced, here in the House, the UK’s response to this action.

I agree with the Minister’s fine words, but two weeks ago, the Prime Minister told the House, on Ukraine, that the UK’s role was “to lead the West”. In the meantime, Germany has put Nord Stream 2 on hold indefinitely. Today, the European Union has sanctioned Duma deputies, the Russian Defence Minister and the Russian air force and Black sea fleet commanders, and it has brought in asset freezes and sanctioned 23 individuals, five banks and an internet troll factory. The USA has also extended sanctions. Is the UK actually leading the west?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I would say that we absolutely are leading, with our allies. I will come on to the package of measures and some of the points that have been raised, as well as what we will go on to do.

The UK is one of the largest and most open economies, and London is one of the world’s most attractive destinations for overseas investments. Those factors not only make the UK attractive for legitimate business, but expose the UK to illicit finance and money laundering risks. We are well aware that individuals with links to the Russian state may seek to further their reputation and influence in the UK through strategic investments. We continue to look in close detail at the nature of those relationships. We examine the intentions of those individuals; professional enablers, individuals or entities who facilitate corrupt elites; and what that money can be and is being used for in the UK.

Money obtained through corruption or criminality is not welcome in the UK or in our Crown dependencies and overseas territories. The Government are at the forefront of tackling illicit finance, combating the threat from source to destination, including those linked to Russia.

Does the Minister share the concerns of our security services that Putin and Russian individuals who happen to be Tory donors could have undue influence in this House or the other place?

We are conscious of all influences from different states. I will come on to some of the measures that the Government have taken to combat illicit finance and some measures that we will take forward.

I believe that there are Ministers and Government Members who are frustrated at the lack of progress that the Government are making in tackling money laundering and fraud, which brings me back to the question of why. The Government have the majority that they need, they control the timetable and they have been in power for more than a decade, so why is there a lack of progress on the issue of Companies House? Our Treasury Committee report again talked about the slow pace and the lack of progress. What else does the Minister need for us to make progress on this issue, when we in the Opposition are offering an open door and saying, “We will support it.”?

I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention. I will set out the steps that the Government have taken and come on to—[Interruption.] Let us start with the actions that we have taken and then look at what we will do.

First, we have announced significant new investments. In the 2021 spending review settlement, £42 million was announced for economic crime reforms and £63 million for Companies House reform. In addition, the introduction of the economic crime levy will raise an estimated £100 million a year from 2023-24 to fund new economic crime initiatives.

Secondly, we are strengthening our law enforcement powers. The Criminal Finances Act 2017 introduced new powers to combat dirty money in the UK. It allowed for the proactive investigation of assets owned by suspected criminals and corrupt public figures.

Thirdly, we are developing new tools to target illegitimate wealth. [Interruption.] I will come back to these points. In April last year, the UK launched the global anti-corruption sanctions regime, which allows the Government to impose asset freezes and travel bans on those involved in serious corruption around the world. That is a strong personal deterrent and has been used so far to sanction 27 individuals in 10 different countries.

I am delighted that we have Magnitsky sanctions; I campaigned for them for 12 years—as did many other Members, including the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely), who is on the Government Benches—so it is a great thing that they are there. However, when the Minister talks about Companies House reform, the legislation is there. It is ready and waiting. The most disgraceful thing that I have ever heard is a Companies House official telling a Committee of this House, “I’m really sorry. We sometimes just daren’t take things forward because we know that Russian oligarchs have much deeper pockets than we do.” The truth is that our integrity as a country is being bought. We have to change that.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I will talk about what we want to crack down on, but, as he will recognise, such things need to be legally robust.

To go back to the examples that I was giving before that intervention, the UK is a world leader in corporate transparency. It is the first country in the G20 to implement a central public register of company beneficial owners, showing who ultimately owns and controls UK companies. However, we are determined to go further to crack down on dirty money and financial exploitation, and we are enhancing the already strong regulation, supervision and legislative powers that are at our disposal.

More in sorrow than in anger, I raise the issue of Russian money and its role within the Conservative party. Fedotov, Temerko, Chernukhin, Mikheev, Knaster and New Century Media are all Russians or Russian companies who have close links to the Conservative party and have given money to Conservative MPs, Conservative constituencies or the Conservative central office. The figure I have is greater than the one that Labour Front Benchers have been using; I think it has been at least £3.6 million over the past decade.

I urge the Minister—I really do say this more in sorrow than in anger—to go back to her colleagues, sort this out and get that money out. I would not give it back to Russia; I would give it to organisations such as Transparency International, which does a fantastic job helping us to fight corruption. Until the Conservative party does so, it will have no credibility at all in the argument on fighting corruption.

Let me be clear. The Conservative party does not accept foreign donations—after all, they are illegal. All donations to the party are received in good faith, after appropriate due diligence, from permissible sources. Donations are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission and published by it, and they comply fully with the law.

Let me just finish this point. There are people of Russian origin in this country who are British citizens. Many are critics of Putin, and it is completely wrong and discriminatory to tar them with the same brush.

I am sorry that the Minister has to defend the indefensible. Will she confirm to the House today whether the vetting of Mohamed Amersi’s donation surfaced the news that he made $4 million in a business deal with a man who was President Putin’s telecoms minister? Did the vetting cover that—yes or no?

As I say, donations to the Conservative party are received in good faith. They receive appropriate due diligence, are from permissible sources, are properly and transparently declared to and published by the Electoral Commission, and comply with the law.

I will make progress, because I want to turn to sovereign debt. If Russia stages any further invasion into Ukraine, we will not hesitate to implement a comprehensive and unprecedented package of sanctions in close co-ordination with our allies around the world.

May I make a little progress? I have been quite generous, to be fair.

The package will include measures to stop the Kremlin’s access to UK financial markets for sovereign debt. That means that the Russian Government will be unable to access UK services to raise capital through the issuing and trading of sovereign debt.

To pick up on the point about Nord Stream 2, we welcome Chancellor Scholz’s strong response to Russia’s egregious actions: Germany’s decision to suspend Nord Stream 2. We in Europe must now wean ourselves off dependence on Putin’s oil and gas. For example, in 2020 less than 3% of the UK’s total gas supply came from Russia.

Many hon. Members have mentioned the economic crime Bill. We are committed to bringing it forward.

The Minister says we need to wean ourselves off Russian gas. That is eminently sensible, but I have a slightly wider question: do we need to wean ourselves off Russia more generally? Let me put it this way: does the Minister think it right in any circumstances that Tony Blair went to see then acting President Putin in 2000 or that David Cameron went to Moscow in 2011, almost to beg for Russian investment and placings and listings on the stock exchange? Surely we have made mistakes over a long period that have to do with political reputation as much as with the practicalities of gas supply.

The point that I want to make is about where we are today and where we have been for the past few days, weeks and months. Let us be honest: the build-up of troops on the border of Ukraine has been happening over some time.

We are committed to bringing forward the economic crime Bill. It will establish a new public register of beneficial ownership of overseas companies and other entities that own or want to buy UK property. It will ensure that individuals and entities can no longer hide in the shadows. It will also include reforms to Companies House that will bear down on the thousands of UK companies and other corporate structures used as vehicles for facilitating international money laundering, including from Russia.

We have increased checks on private flights, customs and freight travel under existing powers to prevent security threats to our people. On 17 February, the Home Secretary took decisive action to shut the tier 1 investor visa route to all new applicants of all nationalities, with immediate effect.

In response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine yesterday, we announced our first package of sanctions measures. With immediate effect, we froze the assets of five Russian banks. Four of those banks are involved in bankrolling the Russian occupation: Bank Rossiya, which is particularly close to the Kremlin; Black Sea Bank for Development and Reconstruction; IS Bank; and GenBank.

Sorry, but I will just make a little progress. [Interruption.] Just a moment—just hold fire for a second, if you do not mind.

The assets of one further bank—Promsvyazbank, the pivotal bank in propping up Russia’s defence sector—have also been frozen. We will also freeze the assets of, and impose travel bans on, three oligarchs: Timchenko, Russia’s sixth richest oligarch; and Boris and Igor Rotenberg, long-standing associates of the regime.

The Minister is being very generous in giving way. I am hearing that apparently No. 10 is telling the media that sanctions on the Duma members who voted are still being finalised because it needs evidence. What more evidence does it possibly need, considering that the EU has already announced that it is sanctioning 351 Members of the Duma?

The hon. Lady is very lucky to be looking at her mobile phone. I am not looking at my mobile phone; I am fairly focused on the debate in hand. [Interruption.] I am going to focus on the sanctions that we announced yesterday and the statutory instrument that the House approved.

To go back to my last point, no UK individual business will be able to deal with them until they have returned to Ukrainian control.

I will make progress, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind. I think I have been pretty generous so far.

Over the coming weeks, we will extend the territorial sanctions imposed on Crimea to territory occupied by Russian forces in the so-called breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. We will also sanction those Members of the Russian Duma and Federation Council who voted to recognise the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk, in flagrant violation of Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty.

This will not be the end. Yesterday’s announcement was just the start of our upward ratchet.

The Minister has repeated the points made yesterday about sanctions against banks. Can she explain to the House what her Government will do to sanction the large state-owned banks? If we sanctioned Sberbank, VTB and Gazprombank, for example, as well the non-state owned Alfa bank, it would actually have a serious impact on the Russian Government. At the moment, we are neither here nor there.

I am not going to speculate on further sanctions. That is normal, standard Government policy, because to do so would undermine future sanctions. All I will say is that this will not be the end. Should Russia stage any further invasion into Ukraine, we will not hesitate to implement a comprehensive and unprecedented package of sanctions in close co-ordination with allies around the world.