House of Commons
Monday 28 February 2022
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Before we begin today’s business, I wish to thank the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) for withdrawing his invitation to the Russian ambassador to address the all-party group on Russia. I was very uneasy about the visit and did not think it appropriate to invite a Russian official who had said only weeks before that there would be no invasion. Therefore, I am grateful for that decision.
I would also like to thank the hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) for his successful efforts in ensuring the suspension of the Russian Federation’s right of representation in the Council of Europe.
I also say to all hon. Members, and all those who follow our proceedings: we stand in solidarity with Ukraine and its people and have raised their flag at the House of Commons. I will send around an email about further events planned this week to show our support for them and their fight for freedom.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
PCSOs: Neighbourhood Crime
The whole House will be united in horror and revulsion at Putin’s war on Ukraine. I will update the House on the action that we are taking to help British nationals and Ukrainians and to hold Russia and Putin’s Government to account later in Question Time. For now, I want to reiterate the Government’s unequivocal support for the people of Ukraine, who are being truly heroic.
I echo the Home Secretary’s comments and am sure that we will extend a generous and gracious invitation to those fleeing from Ukraine.
In the year to September 2021, 1.7 million cases of antisocial behaviour were reported to the police. In Cambridge, I have more and more people coming to me with problems. We used to have police community support officers, who were a welcoming, reassuring, uniformed presence on our streets. Where are they now?
Strong local policing is absolutely in the DNA of neighbourhood policing. The hon. Gentleman will be well aware that this Government are not only funding but backing the police, with almost £15.9 billion in this financial year, and increasing police numbers to 20,000. He will also know that his local police recruitment numbers have gone up and that his local force has already recruited 138 police officers.
I was very pleased to see Thames Valley police launch a new recruitment campaign for PCSOs. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking PCSOs for all they do to support the people in Wycombe and across Thames valley and the whole country? Will she also join me in welcoming that campaign and encouraging people to apply?
I agree and congratulate Thames Valley police force; it has exceptional leadership and all officers there and across the country are doing great work. That recruitment campaign is vital and is going incredibly well. We have just over 11,000 new police recruits and officers on the streets of England and Wales and the numbers will grow and grow. Of course, this is all about keeping our communities safe.
The PCSOs are doing a fantastic job of supporting residents with regard to the increase in car crime happening in one area of Hull. What particularly upsets residents, however, is seeing those criminals uploading videos to TikTok and celebrating their crimes. Will the Home Secretary update us on what her Department is doing to work with social media companies to help them identify evidence of criminality and support police investigations?
The hon. Lady is right, and she will recognise that criminals who upload videos absolutely are pursued by the police and law enforcement agencies to bring them to justice. She asked specifically about work with technology companies and online platforms and providers. That is always ongoing, including through some of the wider work relating to the online harms Bill.
The increase in police officers in the south-west is welcome, but what is being done to tackle drugs, and will the Home Secretary meet me to see what we can do to stop antisocial behaviour happening in towns such as Brixham and Dartmouth?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; drugs are a scourge across society and they blight communities. We have a great deal of work taking place on drugs, and I will happily meet him and any colleagues to discuss that. Not only do we, first and foremost, have the county lines programme, but we believe in supporting individuals who suffer from addiction, and that is exactly what Project ADDER is doing.
Sexual Violence: Nationality and Borders Bill
The Government recognise that sexual violence is a devastating crime that has a long-lasting impact on victims. The Nationality and Borders Bill, which is part of our new plan for immigration, will strengthen our ability to protect vulnerable people. On 16 September, we published an equality impact assessment, which includes an assessment of the potential impact on people who may have experienced sexual violence.
Last week, a joint letter with more than 60 signatories across Scottish civil society, including Rape Crisis Scotland, Amina Muslim Women’s Resource Centre, the Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance, SAY Women and the Women’s Integration Network, criticised the Nationality and Borders Bill, saying:
“It is a gift to abusers and exploiters, and we have no doubt that it will harm survivors of sexual violence, gender-based violence and those who flee persecution.”
Scotland wants no part of the Bill. It is not in our name. Will the Minister take the opportunity to remove the Bill now?
I hear what the hon. Lady says. I am sure that people in Scotland are as concerned as the Government are about people risking their lives in the hands of evil people smugglers, making dangerous crossings of the channel, and all the risks that that presents to life. The fact is that sensible discretion will be built into the whole approach, with various checks throughout, good reasons and a trauma-informed approach. That is precisely what we have committed to; it is exactly what we will deliver.
Violence Against Women and Girls
As part of the violence against women and girls strategy launched last July, we are bringing forward legislation against stalking, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and wider domestic abuse. The strategy is overseen by the VAWG inter-ministerial group, which I chair.
Does my right hon. Friend recognise the importance of the continuing work of police and crime commissioner Jonathan Evison, his team and the Humberside police service on the You Are Not Alone campaign, which aims to raise awareness of support for victims of domestic violence and, indeed, perpetrators? I think that it is really important work, and I hope that she will recognise it.
I thank my hon. Friend for her comment and for the work that the police and crime commissioner and her local police force are undertaking. The You Are Not Alone campaign was launched during the pandemic. I recommend it to anyone who is a victim of any form of domestic abuse or violence. It is a successful campaign, and I pay tribute to police and crime commissioners and to our police officers across the country, who have been supporting it and making sure that they provide support to victims of abuse.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that the shadow policing Minister, the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones), has said:
“Harsher sentences don’t act as a deterrent.”
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that that is wrong, that harsher sentences actually do work, and that we are prepared to put domestic abusers and violent and sexual offenders behind bars for longer to make our streets, especially in Rother Valley, safer for women and girls?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is right that we change our laws, have tougher sentences and make sure that perpetrators absolutely feel the full force of the law. He is right to make that case. The Government are also undertaking wider work on perpetrator behaviour and education campaigns across all Departments.
We all agree that women should be able to go about their lawful business free from intimidation and able to use public spaces, yet every day thousands are affected by protests outside abortion clinics that are designed to shame women out of their legal rights to healthcare. Will the Secretary of State meet me to ensure that we have consistency nationally on the situation and that protesters who seek to control women’s bodies and stop them making choices are stopped and moved away from the clinic gates?
The all-party parliamentary group on commercial sexual exploitation is conducting an inquiry into the pornography industry in response to growing concerns that online pornography is fuelling violence against women and girls. Will the Government establish the necessary legal framework to prevent and address the harm associated with the production and consumption of pornography?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I agree with the sentiments that he echoes and would be very happy to meet him to discuss the matter. There are many, many legitimate concerns about pornography and the wider harms—age access, age verification and all sorts of issues, some of which the Government are picking up right now. The online harms Bill is one area, but there are other things that we can and should be doing.
Since the publication of the VAWG strategy, rape charging has fallen to an all-time low, leaving more people accused of rape in communities than ever before. Operation Bluestone found that the monitoring of previous offenders was failing to use
“intelligence to establish whether suspects had been named in previous offences.”
Operation Soteria found that
“officers were not routinely monitoring known offenders of sexual crimes”,
leading to a “total lack of morale” among police. This week the inspectorate said that alleged rapists were escaping justice, citing a case in which an alleged rapist was acquitted after the police and the Crown Prosecution Service had failed to present evidence in court showing that he had allegedly raped two other people previously.
I ask the Home Secretary to set out for the House exactly where, in the strategy and in her plans, are the proper monitoring and offender management that will stop any offender, let alone the most violent and repeat rapists, because that is not even nearly happening now.
As the hon. Lady will know, both the rape review and the criminal justice taskforce have been clear and explicit about the actions that are being taken across Government. Operation Soteria, which she mentioned, is being rolled out to 14 other police forces. It is important for us to fix these key gateways—the way in which the police investigate cases, the handovers to the Crown Prosecution Service, and how it all works throughout the criminal justice system—and that is being done as a result of the rape review and work with the Justice Secretary. [Interruption.] I hear the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) talking about “12 years”, but the rape review report was published last year. This Government are fixing many of the long-established problems in the criminal justice system that have led to some of the most appalling outcomes. We can all agree, if on nothing else, on the need to fix those appalling outcomes for rape victims.
North Wales police recently received half a million pounds of UK funding for the safer streets and safety of women at night campaigns. Having been out with the police on foot patrol, I ask my right hon. Friend to join me in congratulating Inspector Claire McGrady of Wrexham town police and Wrexham Council on acknowledging the issues involved, increasing CCTV and lighting provision, and providing a weekend welfare centre.
My hon. Friend is right; the safer streets fund and many other initiatives that the Government are leading to protect citizens and the safety of women across our communities are making a difference. The work of police forces with police and crime commissioners demonstrates how targeted resources can keep the public safe, and give the public, including women, confidence in their communities.
The Home Secretary has talked in a muscular fashion about the need for exemplary punishment of the perpetrators of violence against women and girls. She will recall her commitment to the deportation, where appropriate, of offenders in Rochdale, and indeed in other parts of the country. She also committed herself to meeting me to discuss the issue, and I still await that meeting. May I have an update?
The work of organisations such as the Sexual Abuse and Rape Advice Centre in my constituency is vital. I have seen at first hand how SARAC supports survivors of rape and domestic abuse. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that she will work with such organisations to ensure that they have a chance to feed in their expertise on how we can support victims and tackle violence against women and girls?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that she has personally led in campaigning and raising awareness, and also on the work of her local organisations—I have visited her constituency in the context of other issues. The role of the third sector is vital; it provides an important gateway and a lifeline for so many, and of course the Government continue to support it.
Citizenship: Legislative Framework
While we do not plan a wider review, the Nationality and Borders Bill will make several changes to the British Nationality Act 1981, allowing people to acquire citizenship where they had previously been unable to do so because of historical anomalies.
It is often overlooked that this political state shares a common travel area with our neighbours across the sheuch, as some of us would call it. I dare say that, from citizenship frameworks to asylum policy, this Government have a lot to learn from Ireland about implementing humane and just policy for those coming to the UK. What steps, if any, has the Department taken in recent days to learn from the best practice seen in the Republic of Ireland in terms of its legislative frameworks for citizenship?
We always look at the practices in other countries, and I would point out that our visitor route is more generous than the equivalent in the Republic of Ireland. I am actually meeting an Irish Minister later today. We are looking at how we can amend nationality law to make processing slightly easier so that we no longer need to look into people’s past immigration history, but we have already done that recently in relation to a grant of indefinite leave to remain or settled status under the EU settlement scheme.
I congratulate the Government on changing the rules last week with regard to Commonwealth soldiers, who will no longer have to pay for their citizenship if they have served for six years. That was a great decision and I thank the Government very much for it. Does the Minister agree that similar flexibility will be needed in the near future with regard to Afghan refugees who are based here? A young family came to see me in my surgery last Saturday. They are now well settled, but they are concerned about how long it will take them to get citizenship. And of course, quite soon, similar questions will be raised with regard to Ukrainians.
On 8 August last year, the Home Office sent a family from Halifax back to Afghanistan on a voluntary return flight. That family felt they had no choice but to apply for the voluntary return scheme, having had their claim for asylum refused the year before. Kabul fell to the Taliban just seven days later, on 15 August. The family have three children—the youngest is just five years old. Can the Minister explain how the Home Office could ever have allowed this to happen? Can he confirm whether this has happened to others? Can he put on record that the five-year re-entry ban, which would ordinarily apply to someone who leaves the country via the voluntary return scheme, will not apply in these appalling circumstances?
I am obviously interested to hear of the case that the shadow Minister raises, and I would be interested to meet her to discuss it further, particularly if the family is in Afghanistan, as it may not be appropriate to share the details on the Floor of the House. I would be happy to meet her and have a conversation about the circumstances of that case.
We fully recognise the concern that my right hon. Friend raises. In fact, that same concern has been raised by many Members across the House and many campaigners. We will do all we can to make streets safer for women and girls, and if that includes a new offence, so be it.
I know that my hon. Friend the Minister agrees with the Law Commission that misogyny should not be a hate crime. Does she not also think it appropriate that she should agree with the Law Commission that public sexual harassment should be a specific offence? I would like to echo the words of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who has just said that women should be able to live their lives
“freely, safely and without harassment”.
Can we stop looking hard at this and actually bring forward some legislation to make it happen?
As I have just said, if the work we are doing with the Law Commission, legislators and others makes it clear that we need to make a new offence, that is exactly what we will do. I would like to draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to the work that the police are doing to keep women safer. They are recording more VAWG crimes, there is an increased willingness of victims to come forward and there are improvements in police recording. We know we have more to do, which is why this evening we are launching a national communications campaign to tackle the perpetrators of public sexual harassment.
But last week the Minister could not have been clearer in her view that the test as to whether there should be legislation in these areas was what the Law Commission said about it. She was absolutely clear that, because the Law Commission did not recommend that misogyny should be a hate crime, that should not be the law. Why is she not equally clear on sexual harassment?
I welcome the Government’s broad support for tackling violence against women and girls, including in public, and for banning virginity testing and hymenoplasty in the Health and Care Bill, which is going through the other place. I also welcome their backing for the private Member’s Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham)—the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill—to ban child marriage in England and Wales. Our Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will look to extend some of those issues, for example by outlawing breastfeeding voyeurism and ensuring that violent offenders spend more time in prison. Does the Minister agree that, by voting against that Bill, the Opposition are failing to send the right message on protecting the victims of crime?
I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the sheer scope of the work we are doing to tackle these atrocious crimes. Violence against women and girls is appalling, and this Government are focused and united on stamping it out. I would like to see the Opposition voting with us this evening to support the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Given the very loud comments Opposition Members have made from a sedentary position, I expect to see them in the Lobby with us this evening.
We have introduced a new global points-based immigration system that works in the interest of the whole of our United Kingdom, including Scotland. We continue to deliver a comprehensive programme of engagement on the new immigration system, including with each of the devolved Administrations.
President Zelensky’s formidable leadership and valour should inspire and humble us all. Like many MPs, I have constituents with family and close friends in Ukraine. Given the humanitarian crisis, will the Minister please advise us on what discussions are taking place with the Scottish Government to develop comprehensive, rapid accommodation for Ukrainian refugees, such as Ken Stewart and his family, across these islands now and in the coming days?
I briefly spoke with Neil Gray on Friday, ahead of potentially meeting more formally, about potential options for Afghan nationals currently in bridging hotels and those leaving Ukraine to be both housed and settled in Scotland. If there are individual cases at this stage, please feel free to bring them to my attention, and we will look into them.
I have had that since I was 13 years old, Mr Speaker. You are not the first, and I am sure you will not be the last.
The Opposition support the call of the Welsh and Scottish Governments for the UK Government to offer sanctuary to Ukrainians who are fleeing the horrors of war, but the UK Government’s response has, once again, demonstrated the toxic combination of incompetence and indifference that are the hallmarks of this Home Secretary and her ministerial team.
Over the weekend, the Minister, who is responsible for safe and legal migration, tweeted that the Ukrainians who are running for their lives should apply to come to our country on seasonal fruit-picking visas. That tweet was the modern-day equivalent of “Let them eat cake.” Thankfully he has deleted it, but will he now come to the Dispatch Box to apologise unconditionally for that tweet? Will he also offer swift, well-managed and safe sanctuary to these victims of Putin’s barbarity who require our support?
I am interested in contrasting those comments with what the Ukrainian ambassador said yesterday. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will shortly announce more. As I have already said, it was useful to have a constructive conversation with the Scottish Government on Friday.
The Minister will have heard loud and clear during his call with Neil Gray on Friday that the Scottish Government fully support replicating the European model and lifting visa requirements for Ukrainian nationals now. The UK Government are now alone among our European allies in asking Ukrainians to jump through visa hoops to reach sanctuary here, and they are even more alone in legislating to criminalise, marginalise and impoverish those who seek asylum through their anti-refugee Bill. Surely basic human decency requires an urgent rethink on both counts.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will shortly say a bit more on what we are looking to do for Ukrainians. Yes, it was a productive conversation with Neil Gray, but one thing that would certainly help us to support more of those seeking asylum in this country would be if 31 of the 32 local authority areas in Scotland, including the hon. Gentleman’s own, were not refusing to be dispersal areas.
The beating crime plan lays out the Government’s commitment to working with local agencies to drive down antisocial behaviour. We ensured that local agencies have flexible tools and powers to tackle it through the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, and in the levelling up White Paper we announced that the safer streets fund will be expanded to include the prevention of ASB as one of its primary aims.
There has been a spate of antisocial behaviour and a rise in burglary in Thornbury and, particularly, Alveston over the past few weeks. Avon and Somerset police has provided strong support and recruited 670 new officers in the last year and a half alone, which is very welcome, but what steps can my hon. Friend take to make sure these new officers do not just concentrate their activity in the core city areas but support rural south Gloucestershire, too? Will she meet me to discuss what more we can do to keep communities such as Thornbury and Alveston safe?
I completely sympathise with my hon. Friend’s constituents, who are suffering from antisocial behaviour and burglaries. I welcome his acknowledgement that the Government have ensured that Gloucestershire has additional police officers. Those officers are deployed by the chief constable and the locally elected police and crime commissioner, so it is absolutely down to them. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be advocating most vociferously to ensure that they are targeting those additional officers where they are needed.
Despite the best efforts of our fantastic police officers, the careless use of unlicensed off-road motorcycles is a huge aspect of antisocial behaviour in Redcar and Cleveland. The use of these bikes, largely by teenagers and young adults, has resulted in significant damage to private property and to the living environment for local people. Sadly, it often also includes the transportation of illegal drugs. Will the Minister commit to visiting Redcar and Cleveland with me to see the extent of the problem, speak with some of the people affected and help us devise a plan to tackle this criminality?
I would be delighted to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency—perhaps I can visit the Gloucestershire constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall) on my way there. My hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Jacob Young) is absolutely right to highlight the detrimental impacts of this type of behaviour. Of course, our legislation gives those responsible the ability to deal with antisocial incidents. I understand that he faces a particular issue in Eston hills, so perhaps he can take me there and we will see what we can do together.
Is the Minister aware that some kinds of antisocial behaviour sometimes become violent and that some of the young people swept into that have autism backgrounds? Is she concerned that under joint enterprise it is now believed that many young people are in prison who should not be there? Is she worried about joint enterprise and is she making any investigation to do something about it?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. On the broader issue of those suffering from autism, we absolutely are aware that a number of factors contribute to young people sadly being caught up in crime, either as perpetrators or as victims. We are working widely across government with our colleagues in the Department for Education and the Department of Health and Social Care, and I point specifically to the excellent work we are doing in the violence reduction units up and down the country and through the youth endowment fund, which targets and specifically funds projects to help young people avoid a life of crime. I would be happy to talk to him in more detail about the specific issue he raises with me.
What assessment has the Minister made of the link between youth antisocial behaviour and a lack of youth-focused community spaces and initiatives? What discussions have taken place across Government about ensuring that communities have the resources to support young people before antisocial behaviour occurs or escalates?
The hon. Lady will be aware that the issue of youth violence is a key priority for the crime and justice taskforce, led by the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister. My colleagues in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport have recently allocated £540 million to additional youth services up and down the country, which is a fantastic initiative to enable young people to be engaged in productive activities so that they are not tempted by a life of criminality.
I am very happy that Ipswich is getting £25 million through a town deal, but when I talk to town centre businesses and my constituents I find that many of them are very concerned about crime and antisocial behaviour. It is actually putting some people off going into the town, and in Dial Lane a number of businesses have had their windows smashed. Does my hon. Friend agree that as we support our town centres in coming out of the pandemic it is crucial that we tackle antisocial behaviour, and that one way in which we can do that in Ipswich would be by looking at the police funding formula for Suffolk, which I have banged on about quite a lot, to make sure that we get a fair deal and a bigger police presence in the town centre, so that businesses and my constituents feel 110% secure to spend money in the town centre?
I am pleased to say that because of my hon. Friend’s ardent campaigning there are more police officers in his area. I wish to highlight for him the safer streets fund, which is exactly the kind of initiative that we are putting into town centres to tackle these issues, through things such as better street lighting, CCTV and additional security for residents. The latest round of our safer streets fund is focused on targeting violence against women and girls. That will specifically look at patrols, safer streets and training and the night-time economy.
Antisocial Behaviour and Organised Crime
The beating crime plan laid out the Government’s commitments to working with local agencies to drive down antisocial behaviour and tackle the organised criminal business that often drives the most visible crime felt in local neighbourhoods.
Crooks, fraudsters and those with links to organised crime are exploiting loopholes in the law to access taxpayers’ cash in the exempt supported housing sector. The Minister for Crime and Policing is aware of the problem and he knows that the proliferation of this type of housing units is causing an avalanche of antisocial behaviour that is destroying neighbourhoods. He recently promised, when he visited Birmingham, that he would have urgent conversations with colleagues in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Department for Work and Pensions, but in the Opposition Day debate that took place in this Chamber last week there was no reference to any such conversations having taken place and no Home Office interest in this matter. Can the Minister tell us what steps are being taken by Home Office officials and Ministers after that visit to Birmingham by the Policing Minister to make sure that the Home Office plays an active, cross-Government role in shutting down the loopholes that causing chaos in communities?
As my hon. Friend knows, low-level drug use is sadly commonplace across many towns and cities in the UK. It is the scourge of my community and often acts as an escalator into more serious crime, but is yet rarely challenged by the authorities. Will she therefore agree to reinforce the message that drug use is illegal, that it should be treated as a crime and that it should carry an appropriate penalty enforced by police and courts alike?
My hon. Friend will no doubt be aware of the robust and sweeping action that we have taken to tackle drug use, which is led by my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Minister for Crime and Policing. The 10-year drugs plan sets out how we will eradicate drug taking from our country. Let me also highlight the work that we have done on county lines, which is a hideous scourge that affects many young people. Funded by Government, some of the work that has taken place has closed down county lines programmes—more than 1,500 lines—made more than 7,400 arrests and seized £4.3 million in cash.
It is important that the services that the police provide, whether digitally or face to face, are all accessible, so that everyone can come forward to report crime and interact with police officers in any way that suits their requirements. We are committed to giving the police the resources they need to fight crime and keep the public safe. That is why policing will receive up to £16,900 million in the coming financial year.
Does the Minister agree that the police and crime commissioner for Cheshire needs to reconsider his priorities when he is talking about closing down Ellesmere Port police station to the public and getting rid of 40 police community support officers while, at the same time, giving his deputy a 33% pay rise despite their having been in the post for five months?
As I understand it, there is a consultation ongoing about how the Cheshire police should interact with the public they serve. I would hate to jump to any conclusion about what may or may not be decided, but, Mr Speaker, you will be aware that all police and crime commissioners should be reviewing their property strategy in the light of the massive expansion in police officer numbers that they are seeing at the moment, to the extent that, in the next 12 months or so, we expect to see the highest number of police officers that the country has ever seen.
Catalytic Converter Theft
We are working with police and manufacturers through the national vehicle crime working group to tackle the theft of catalytic converters.
In many areas of the country, crime is going down. It is going down in many areas in Bromley and Chislehurst, but one area where it is not is the explosion in catalytic converter thefts in my constituency. Ours has been identified by the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead as one of the highest areas for this crime. These are not opportunistic thefts. Does my right hon. Friend agree that these are thefts by organised crime gangs seeking valuable metals that are sold for considerable amounts of money—platinum and palladium—carried out by men armed with baseball bats, threatening violence? Will he ensure that much greater priority is given to this crime and that we clamp down on the handlers of these stolen goods by greater enforcement of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013?
My hon. Friend, with his usual acuity, has put his finger on the button of this issue. It is cause for significant concern in parts of the country, and he is right that it is a product of prices in the metal market. He will be pleased to hear that just this month the British Transport Police co-ordinated a national week of intensification on acquisitive crime, looking particularly at catalytic converters, and that the work we have done on scrap metal dealers will go some way to dealing with the problem. However, we need to work much more closely with manufacturers to ensure that they do as much as they can to design out the theft of converters. Let us hope that in the years to come, as we all convert to electric vehicles, it will become a problem of the past.
Hate Crime: Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Communities
The Government take all forms of hate crime seriously and we will shortly publish a new strategy setting out how we intend to tackle those abhorrent crimes. I assure the hon. Lady that we have sought views from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.
Following Ministers’ welcome criticism of Jimmy Carr’s abhorrent joke celebrating the genocide of Roma and Sinti people, the Traveller Movement said that if the Government were serious about reducing discrimination against GRT communities, they would scrap the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Does the Minister accept that it is hypocritical for Ministers to condemn racism from others while pushing through a Bill that the Government’s own impact assessment confirms will discriminate against Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people?
I am afraid the hon. Lady is completely wrong about the Bill. It is a vital Bill to keep the public safe and protect them from sex offenders, violent rapists and other criminals. The comments she refers to were horrible, and it is clearly unacceptable to mock victims of genocide. We are clear that all forms of hate speech are unacceptable.
Violence Against Women and Girls
Tackling violence against women and girls is a top priority for this Government. Our actions include publishing a cross-Government strategy on tackling VAWG, to be followed shortly by a complementary domestic abuse plan; bringing in world-class legislation to tackle stalking, forced marriage and female genital mutilation, as well as the landmark Domestic Abuse Act 2021; further increasing our funding for support services to £185 million a year by 2024-25; and making public spaces safer.
In December last year the Government rejected the recommendation to create a firewall to enable migrant victims to safely report domestic abuse to the police without fear of being reported to the immigration authorities. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services said that that would be in the public interest. Can the Minister say how exactly the Government plan to protect victims too frightened to come forward, and to protect the public from the rapists and abusers left free to offend with impunity?
Our domestic abuse plan and all the work we have done sets out clearly how we are going to protect the most vulnerable victims of domestic abuse, including those who may find themselves in the immigration system. We have support schemes for those women, and we take this seriously; we work extremely sensitively with our policing partners, who have specialist trained officers to recognise such cases and get support to the victims.
Remarkably, despite all the talk on violence against women and girls, the Home Secretary and the Minister still fail to grasp that misogyny is the driving force behind it. The offending histories of many perpetrators reveal how they escalate from lower-level criminal behaviour—offences that many do not report because they do not think they will be taken seriously, such as exposure, street harassment and catcalling. Racism, homophobia and ableism are addressed in law, but no such protections are afforded to women and girls. Why do the Home Secretary and the Minister continue to turn a blind eye to the culture that exists and is the root cause of violence against women and girls?
With the greatest respect, I think the hon. Lady completely mischaracterises the Government’s comprehensive, sweeping, serious and well-funded response to violence against women and girls, which she has heard me and the Home Secretary refer to earlier in this session. On the specific issue she raises, I highlight the fact that the police are recording more crimes of violence against women and girls, and there is an increased willingness of victims to come forward because of the work we and the criminal justice system have done. There is always more to do, but crime reporting in the VAWG sector is up by 12% to September 2021 on the same period of the prior year.
We have heard lots of words on strategies, taskforces, roundtables and action plans, yet many victims will never see justice, and more and more criminals are getting away with it. The House of Lords has voted to introduce a new crime of sex for rent, which Labour Members support and will be voting for tonight. Will the Minister back us?
My colleague the Policing Minister will be speaking to that amendment later, and we will be consulting on this specific issue. However, I want to highlight that there are already offences on the statute book to tackle this particular abhorrent form of behaviour.
English Language Tests
As I said recently in the House in response to an urgent question, the Home Office is awaiting the findings of the upper tribunal presidential panel, who are currently considering the case known as RK/DK, which we hope will bring further clarity to the ETS TOEIC issue. Once we have received and digested the judgment we will announce our next steps.
After 2014, over 30,000 overseas students lost their visas, accused of cheating in English language tests. It is now clear that the great majority of those students were entirely innocent. It is now over 12 months since the Home Secretary rightly told the Home Affairs Committee:
“We need to find a resolution”.
Why wait for the outcome of the court case? There is no need to delay. Why not now bring forward the resolution the Home Secretary has rightly promised?
Given that the judgment is believed to be fairly imminent, it makes eminent sense to wait for it and then announce our next steps fully taking into account what it says and what it concludes. As the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, given the passage of time we have already amended our guidance to make it clear that where a person’s right to a private and family life in the UK is relevant, the interception of a previous TOEIC test is not an invariable ground for refusal if they make an immigration application.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Putin’s war on Ukraine is monstrous and unjustified. I am in regular contact with the Ukrainian Minister of the Interior and the ambassador to London. The United Kingdom stands firmly with the people of Ukraine, and, as this House would expect, Britain is stepping up to play its part in responding to the terrible situation on the ground in Ukraine.
The Government have already announced the first phase of a bespoke humanitarian route for the people of Ukraine. The new route responds directly to the needs and asks of the Ukrainian Government. Every conflict and threat situation is unique and requires a tailored response. Our new route will continue to keep pace with the developing situation on the ground and has so far already supported hundreds of British nationals and their families resident in Ukraine to leave. UK Visas and Immigration staff continue to work around the clock to assist them. The route has also enabled dependents of British national residents in Ukraine who need a UK visa to apply through the temporary location in Lviv or through the visa application centres in Poland, Moldova, Romania and Hungary. Over recent weeks teams have been surged to these areas and applications have been completed within hours.
We are in direct contact with individuals and we have also lowered various requirements and salary thresholds so that people can be supported. Where family members of British nationals do not meet the usual eligibility criteria but pass security checks, UK Visas and Immigration will give them permission to enter the UK outside the rules for 12 months and is prioritising all applications to give British nationals and any person settled in the UK the ability to bring over their immediate Ukrainian family members. I can confirm that through this extension alone an additional 100,000 Ukrainians will be able to seek sanctuary in the UK, with access to work and public services. We are enabling Ukrainian nationals already in the UK to switch free of charge into a points-based immigration route or to the family visa route. We are extending visas for Ukraine temporary workers in some sectors, and they can now stay until at least December 2022, primarily because no one can return to Ukraine. Anyone in Ukraine intending to apply under the family migration route should call the dedicated 24-hour Home Office helpline for assistance before making an application.
Britain continues to lead and is doing its fair share in every aspect of this Ukraine conflict. I urge colleagues not to attempt casework themselves, but to directly refer people to the helpline number. Duplication of effort would waste precious time and cause confusion. This is the best and most efficient way to help people.
Over the weekend, I have seen Members of this House calling for full visa waivers for all Ukrainians. Security and biometric checks are a fundamental part of our visa approval process worldwide, and they will continue, as they did for the evacuation of people from Afghanistan. That is vital to keep British citizens safe and to ensure that we are helping those in genuine need, particularly as Russian troops are now infiltrating Ukraine and merging into Ukrainian forces. Intelligence reports also state the presence of extremist groups and organisations who threaten the region, but also our domestic homeland. We know all too well what Putin’s Russia is willing to do, even on our soil, as we saw through the Salisbury attack and the nerve agents used on the streets of the UK. The approach we are taking is based on the strongest security advice. The Prime Minister has set out myriad other ways we are supporting Ukraine.
There will be other statements in the House today, but there are two other points I would like to add. The Nationality and Borders Bill is at Report stage in the other place. It contains provisions to allow visa penalties to be applied to specific countries that do not co-operate with the return of their nationals. I am now seeking to extend those provisions so that a country can be specified if it has taken significant steps that threaten international peace and security, have led or are likely to lead to armed conflicts or are in breach of international humanitarian law. The extension would draw on the precedents from the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. Those powers will be available as soon as the Bill receives Royal Assent. The sooner that happens, the sooner this House and all Members can collectively act.
We are ever mindful of the cyber-attacks and disinformation emanating from Russia.
I am sure the House would like to listen to the actual measures we are bringing in. The cyber-attacks and disinformation will be met with robust responses, and we have stepped up all international co-operation on that.
Finally, what is happening in Ukraine is utterly heartbreaking and profoundly wrong, but together with our international partners, we stand with the heroic Ukrainian people. Further work is taking place with diplomatic channels, and the Ukrainian Government have today requested that the Russian Government be suspended from their membership of Interpol, and we will be leading all international efforts to that effect.
We did try to arrange with the Home Secretary’s office that the statement should be up to 500 words. I think we will find that that was beyond 800 words; it took six minutes. I think the House would have benefited from an actual statement. If we cannot have one tomorrow morning, I suggest someone might like to put in for an urgent question, because I believe the House would benefit from that, as there was so much in what the Home Secretary said. I will be extending topicals.
I recognise my hon. Friend’s concerns about the use of the property in Blackpool, which he has strongly expressed to me on previous occasions. We are looking to double the number of asylum decision makers and to take forward a programme of simplification and modernisation of processing to increase the number of decisions we make, cut down the backlog and reintroduce a service standard for the time taken for an initial decision.
The Home Secretary said that she was announcing a bespoke humanitarian route, but it is extremely unclear from what she said what the details actually are or who it will apply to. The Ukrainian people are showing great bravery, but we know that people, particularly mothers and young children and elderly parents, have left to find sanctuary. The UK has always done its bit to help those fleeing war in Europe and it will come as a relief to many people who have been calling for action if the Government are prepared to do more.
I must ask the Home Secretary, however, why there is so much confusion about it. The Russian invasion began five days ago and other countries responded with clear sanctuary arrangements immediately. Troops have been gathering since mid-January and British intelligence has been warning of an invasion for weeks. We have had a weekend of complete confusion. We still do not know what the arrangements are. Why was nothing worked out already? How on earth is the Home Secretary so poorly prepared for something that she has been warned about for so many weeks?
Let me refute every single point that the right hon. Lady has made. All intelligence, rightly, has pointed to the invasion for a considerable time, and the Government have been working for that, as we know, in terms of the wider Government response. [Interruption.] If I can start to respond to some of those questions, all hon. Members would benefit from paying attention and listening.
When it comes to providing visas and support for Ukrainian nationals in the United Kingdom, our schemes have been put in place for weeks—there is no confusion whatsoever. They have been in place in countries switching routes. They have been well publicised and well documented. We have been working through our visa application centres. [Interruption.] Again, perhaps the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) would like to listen, rather than being responsible for some of the misinformation that has been characterised and put out over the weekend. Those routes have been open and available.
A helpline has been available for weeks. We have had people working in the region and in country in Ukraine for weeks and weeks. We obviously closed down our operations in Kyiv, because we removed staff from there—
The Home Secretary said that the routes have been in place, but she has been trying to get people to use existing visas, which do not work in a time of crisis. That is why her Immigration Minister was suggesting that people come and pick fruit.
At a time when many people want to stay close to the Ukraine, we know that there are family members or extended family members—people who have connections here in the UK—who want to come and join family and friends. They will still not know what the situation is as a result of the Home Secretary’s words today. Let me ask her something very specific about the elderly parents of people who are living here in the UK, who are not covered by her announcement yesterday. Will the elderly parent who tried to join her daughter in the UK, who was turned down and made to go away by UK Border Force at the Gare du Nord, be able to return to the Gare du Nord today and come safely to the UK?
My hon. Friend makes a very sensible point, because, of course, there is a conflict taking place. The work of the Government is absolutely right now to support the people of Ukraine, and in particular to support those who need to come over to our country.
After this weekend I have to say that, not for the first time, I am struggling to understand what the Home Office is announcing and why it is announcing whatever it is. May I ask, for example, about my constituent who is fleeing Ukraine? Is he able to be accompanied by his mother-in-law, sister-in-law and niece? Again, why not do the simple thing and the just thing, and lift visa restrictions altogether?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right in the case he makes about mental health, and I know that he is doing some great work on this as well. We are doing a huge amount in Government, working with the Department of Health and Social Care in particular, focusing on mental health support, such as the TRiM—trauma risk management—programme and things of that nature. I know he has a particular interest in this, and it is something I would like to discuss with him further.
I am more than happy to lavish praise on North Wales police, which does a fantastic job along the coast there, as do all our police officers up and down the country. I am pleased to say that we are making enormous progress on our recruitment programme. As I hope my hon. Friend knows, we are well over 11,000 now, and I expect to hit the 20,000 target shortly.
Jo, a constituent, came to Britain in 2001 and served for five years in the Army, including in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he developed post-traumatic stress disorder. He served time for drink-driving offences, but he sought help for PTSD, stopped drinking and rebuilt his life. He now has two children in Coventry and no connections in Zimbabwe, his birthplace, where he was tortured the last time he was there. However, on Wednesday Jo is set to be deported to Zimbabwe, and I have had no reply from the Minister to my urgent correspondence on this case. So will the Home Secretary step in and stop Jo being deported from the country he has served and where his family lives to a place where he will be at risk of torture?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. It is fair to say that casework inquiries on these matters are treated urgently, and it is one that will no doubt cross my desk within the coming hours. Of course, the flight in question later this week relates to individuals who have committed very serious criminality, but I will of course ensure that the individual case is looked at.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the importance of the review of the Computer Misuse Act. Since my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary launched that review last year, a number of very good and important suggestions have come forward, which we are currently reviewing. Meanwhile, of course, we continue always to update our approach, including to the National Cyber Security Centre and, more immediately, to the online safety Bill.
In the evidence the Home Secretary gave to the Home Affairs Committee on 2 February, she said that a major obstacle for accepting more people under Operation Warm Welcome for Afghans fleeing the Taliban was the lack of suitable accommodation because of Home Office contracts. The Select Committee has been warning about this for some time. I think that the Home Secretary has announced a bespoke humanitarian policy for those Ukrainians fleeing—[Hon. Members: “No, she hasn’t.”] Oh, perhaps she has not; I am sorry there is not a statement to clarify that. What I want to know is: what is she going to do about the lack of accommodation that the Home Office provides for asylum seekers and refugees in this country?
We are certainly concerned about the lack of suitable accommodation across the United Kingdom in terms of dispersal areas, which is why we are keen to sign up new areas to become dispersal areas. I am pushing my own council and, as I have already said, there are 31 out of 32 areas in Scotland that could do with signing up as well.
Does the Home Secretary accept that many Members of this House are dismayed that she did not make a statement in the normal way, so that she could have been questioned in the normal way? Does she further accept that that is not just disrespectful to the House of Commons, but it shows a lack of real concern for those desperate people escaping Ukraine?
Constituents in Tatton are increasingly concerned about the growing number and range of online fraud and scams, and the ability of Action Fraud to deal with them. Many of those crimes originate outside the UK, with some from hostile states such as Russia. What is the Minister doing to counter that?
My right hon. Friend is right, and we share her constituents’ concern. We are looking constantly to upgrade and improve Action Fraud, and I encourage her constituents to carry on reporting those instances of fraud. Together with the rest of our constituents, their forwarding of dodgy emails to firstname.lastname@example.org has so far led to 73,000 scams being removed.
Will the Home Secretary publish her review into the tier 1 gold-plated visas? Will she suspend all tier 1 visas for people who have connections with the Putin regime, and will she look into the veracity of applications for British citizenship by Russian oligarchs who are connected with Putin?
Another young life has been tragically lost to a knife in Milton Keynes. Does the Minister agree that as well as record numbers of police on the streets, the courts and the Crown Prosecution Service need to work with the police to ensure that there are real deterrents to carrying a knife on our streets?
My hon. Friend is right, and I am very sorry to hear of the crime that took place in his constituency. As he will know, the fight against knife crime is at the forefront of the Government’s priorities, and as he said, alongside deterrent sentencing and assertive and extensive policing, we need to work on long-term solutions to turn young people’s lives away from crime. I am pleased that I was able to visit the Thames Valley violence reduction unit last year to look at the extensive work it is doing to put in place exactly those kind of programmes.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to update the House on our support for Ukraine in the face of Putin’s premeditated, pre-planned and barbaric invasion. Ukraine has suffered horrific attacks. Missiles and air strikes have torn through apartment blocks. Tanks have rolled into once peaceful cities. Innocent people, including children, have lost their lives.
The situation is fluid, but as of today, Putin has not taken any major cities. The advance has been slowed by Ukraine’s fierce resistance. Putin’s invasion is not proceeding to plan. He expected to take cities quickly. He expected Ukraine to retreat. And he expected the West to be divided. Instead, his forces were met by the heroism of President Zelensky and the resolute determination of the Ukrainian people. He has been met by a united west, together with our friends around the world, and we have taken decisive action.
Today, we have acted with the US, the EU, Japan and Canada to cut off Russia’s central bank from our markets. The rouble has fallen by more than 40% as a result. As much as $250 billion has been wiped off the Russian stock market and, today, its stock market is closed. The EU, Germany, Sweden and others are following our lead in providing defensive weapons to Ukraine, and Germany has frozen Nord Stream 2.
Putin has been confounded by our collective response. That is why he is resorting to more and more extreme rhetoric. But, of course, the situation remains dire. The Government and people of Ukraine are facing a continued onslaught. The days ahead are likely to prove tougher still.
The UK and our allies will have to undergo some economic hardship as a result of our sanctions, but our hardships are nothing compared to those endured by the people of Ukraine. Casualty numbers are rising, and more than 300,000 people have already been displaced. This is a struggle for Ukraine’s freedom and self-determination, but it is also a struggle for freedom and democracy everywhere and for the survival of a Europe whole and free. We feel a particular responsibility as the UK is a signatory to the 1994 Budapest memorandum, which provided Ukraine with security guarantees.
This premeditated invasion, in violation of international law and multiple international commitments, cannot succeed. Putin must lose. We are doing everything that we can to stop him and to restore Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We will do this by backing Ukraine against unjustified aggression, by degrading the Russian economy and stopping it from funding Putin’s war machine, and by isolating Putin on the world stage.
First, we are backing Ukraine with defensive weapons, humanitarian aid and economic support. The UK was the first European nation to send defensive weapons to the country, and those weapons are being used today to halt Russian tanks and defend Ukrainian towns and cities. Our latest consignment of defensive support left Brize Norton over the weekend. We are also leading on humanitarian support. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced a further £40 million of humanitarian aid, which will provide Ukrainians with access to basic necessities and vital medical supplies. We call on Russia to enable humanitarian access and safe passage for civilians to flee the violence. The UK is also supporting Ukraine’s economy, including through £100 million of official development assistance and guarantees of up to $500 million in development bank loans.
Secondly, we are cutting off funding for Putin’s war machine. We are coming together with the US, the G7 and the EU to take further decisive steps. We have been joined by Australia, Singapore, Switzerland and many more. There is a growing list of countries who are determined that this aggression cannot stand. We have agreed that many Russian banks will be removed from the SWIFT system, kicking them out of international finance. That is the first step towards a total SWIFT ban. Our collective action against Russia’s central bank will prevent it from deploying its international reserves to mitigate the impact of our sanctions.
We are also launching a joint taskforce to hunt down the assets of oligarchs hit by our sanctions. The UK is proud to lead by example. We have already put in place the largest package of sanctions in our history. We have sanctioned Putin and Lavrov, Russia’s defence industry and a growing list of oligarchs. We have approved asset freezes on several Russian banks and we are banning Russian airlines and private jets from our airspace, but we are determined to go much, much further. We want a situation where they cannot access their funds, their trade cannot flow, their ships cannot dock and their planes cannot land.
Today, I inform the House that I will be laying two new pieces of sanctions legislation. The first will introduce a set of new powers against Russia’s financial sector, including powers to prevent Russian banks from clearing payments in sterling. With over 50% of Russian trade denominated in dollars or sterling, our co-ordinated action with the United States will damage Russia’s ability to trade with the world, and as soon as this legislation comes into force, we will apply it to Sberbank—Russia’s largest bank.
I will also be imposing a full asset freeze on three further banks: VEB, Russia’s national development bank; Sovcombank, the third largest privately owned financial institution in Russia; and Otkritie, one of Russia’s largest commercial banks. We will bring in a full asset freeze on all Russian banks in days, looking to co-ordinate with our allies. The same legislation will prevent the Russian state from raising debt here, and will isolate all Russian companies—more than 3 million businesses—from accessing UK capital markets. Global giants such as Gazprom will no longer be able to issue debt or equity in London.
The second piece of legislation will ban exports to Russia across a range of critical sectors. This includes high-end technological equipment such as microelectronics and marine and navigation equipment. This will blunt Russia’s military-industrial capabilities and act as a drag on Russia’s economy for years to come. I appreciate the consequences of this step for British people and British businesses operating in Russia. The Department for International Trade and the Treasury will offer advice and guidance to affected UK businesses. My consular staff will continue to support British nationals in Russia, as well as those in Ukraine.
We will keep ratcheting up our response. More legislation will follow in the coming weeks, sanctioning Russian-occupied territories in the Donbas, extending more sanctions to Belarus, and limiting Russian deposits in UK banks. We will continue working through our hit list of oligarchs, focusing on their houses, their yachts, and every aspect of their lives. In addition, we will introduce the economic crime Bill tomorrow; my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary will set out more in the next statement in the House. This is all about flushing out the oligarchs’ dirty money from the United Kingdom. We will continue to work with our G7 allies to cut off the Russian economy and cut the free world’s dependence on Russian gas, depriving Putin of his key source of revenue.
Finally, we are leading the diplomatic effort to ensure that there is a chorus of condemnation against President Putin. In the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, a key part of the European security architecture, 45 countries condemned Russia by name. At the UN Security Council on Friday, more than 80 UN members voted for, or co-sponsored, a resolution condemning Russia’s aggression. Russia stood alone in opposing it. Putin is isolated. No one is willing to back his war of choice. In recent days, I have spoken to my counterparts in more than 20 countries around the world. Yesterday, I met G7 Foreign Ministers. We were joined by Ukraine’s brave Foreign Minister, my friend Dmytro Kuleba. Everyone is clear that Putin must lose, and we will carry on increasing the pressure until he does.
We have all seen Ukraine’s determination to fight. Putin’s war could end up lasting for months and years, so I say to our Ukrainian friends, “We are with you. In Britain, and around the world, we’re prepared to suffer economic sacrifices to support you. However long it takes, we will not rest until Ukraine’s sovereignty is restored.”
I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of her statement, and for the briefing that she continues to give me on Privy Council terms.
We have all been inspired by the gallant and tenacious actions of Ukrainians in defence of their country. This is true courage under fire. President Zelensky has epitomised the bravery, dignity and resolve of a nation fighting back, and fighting for values that we all share—democracy, freedom and the rule of law. The Foreign Secretary is right when she says that Putin’s invasion is not so far going to plan, but does she agree that we must not let our focus slip for even a second? We will continue to stand united with our allies and partners, supporting Ukraine and opposing this outrageous campaign of aggression.
This morning, I had the honour, with the shadow Defence Secretary my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), of meeting Ukraine’s ambassador. He thanks all sides of this House for the united opposition we have shown to Vladimir Putin’s illegal war and the support we continue to show for Ukrainian sovereignty. Putin is not only facing a united west; he is facing a truly United Kingdom. Together, we have enacted sanctions that are having a strong effect. The rouble has crashed by over 40%, the main borrowing rate is up 20%, and inflation is reportedly hitting about 65% per year. Oligarchs are being frozen out of their bank accounts and the central bank of Russia is being blocked from part of the $640 billion war chest that it holds in foreign reserves. Labour’s priority is to cut off Putin’s rogue state from our economic system and to undermine his campaign of aggression in Ukraine.
We recognise that on 24 February the European security order changed. Our continent faces a transformed strategic context. Our world is at the start of a new era. I pay tribute to the political courage shown by all our partners, particularly our allies in Germany who have recognised that by taking the difficult and brave decisions to provide Ukraine with lethal weapons for its fight and to commit to the significant increases in defence spending that this new reality demands.
Yesterday, President Putin raised the alert level of Russian nuclear forces. As the five nuclear weapon states, including Russia, reaffirmed in January, a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. What assessment has the Foreign Secretary made of that decision, given the understandable concern it will have caused among the public?
Turning to sanctions, we welcome the further steps the Government have announced today. Labour has been calling for some time for progress by the UK, the EU and the US on cutting off Russian banks from SWIFT. The moves finally to clamp down on dirty money—so long demanded by Labour and colleagues across the House—are long overdue. It is regrettable that it has taken so long and a crisis of this nature for such action, but we welcome the steps and will study them carefully. However, there is still more the Government can do.
The last time I stood at the Dispatch Box, I asked what steps the Government had taken to ensure that members of Russia’s legislature, the Duma, could be sanctioned. Still today, I am waiting for that answer. Similarly, although I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s action against Russia’s financial sector, the Government should go further to ensure sanctions can also be placed against Russia’s extractive industries, energy industries and technological industries. We must ensure that the insurance industry cannot underwrite and de-risk Putin’s war. As I said at my last time at the Dispatch Box, it is vital that the sanctions are broad enough to inflict damage on every aspect of Russia’s economy. We welcome the moves the Government have taken to ensure Russia is cut out of the SWIFT banking system, but can the Foreign Secretary explain what dialogue she has had with our allies on cutting the country out of the Visa-Mastercard system, too?
Finally, can the Foreign Secretary give assurances that Putin will also feel the consequences of his despicable actions in terms of international opportunities available to the country in sports and culture? The diplomatic unity of the west is crucial, but we must also widen the global coalition opposing the war. Some countries, such as Kenya, have spoken out with clarity and elegance against Putin’s imperialism, but others have stayed silent. Some are even allies of the UK and fellow democracies. What steps is the Foreign Secretary taking to ensure the widest possible range of voices speaks up in opposition to this war?
As well as commending the bravery of the Ukrainians defending their country, we must also praise the courage of the ordinary Russians taking to the streets of Moscow, St Petersburg and beyond under the threat of repression to show their opposition to this despot. This is the fifth day of fighting. Ukraine is still facing an all-out war from Putin’s army. It is a mark of the bravery of Ukraine’s forces that neither Kyiv nor Kharkiv have fallen. We salute their courage, and this whole House will continue to stand with them.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his statement of unity; a strong message is going out to Putin and around the world that the United Kingdom is united in our support for Ukraine. We can see that from the demonstrations and from the public concern and interest in this appalling act of aggression and invasion that has taken place.
Yesterday, I joined a call with the G7 Foreign Ministers. We agreed that the sanctions that we had put in place so far are having an impact, but we need to do more. We need to work in unison and act in unity. We also agreed to increase the supply of defensive weapons in Ukraine.
The right hon. Gentleman is correct: Germany has taken courageous steps. It has transformed its energy policy and its defence policy, and we have seen a huge rising of public opinion right across Europe. I also want to praise Japan, South Korea and Singapore, which have put sanctions on for the first time.
I and my Foreign Office colleagues are putting in calls to Foreign Ministries around the world. We are encouraging more countries to put on sanctions and to speak out at the UN. The right hon. Gentleman is right that there are some countries that are democracies which should be standing up against the invasion of a sovereign democracy, and we are making that point to them day and night. What we are seeing is that Putin is completely isolated. There is nobody else backing him up in international forums and there is a growing group of countries prepared to put sanctions on and to supply defensive weapons. We are leading the charge in bringing those countries on board.
On the specific issues that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, we have a hit list of oligarchs and Duma members that we are working through to sanction as soon as we can. Foreign Office officials are working through the night. We have extra lawyers and have tripled the amount of people in our sanctions department to make that happen. We are looking at more sanctions on the energy industry and the technology industry. We want to see a total ban on SWIFT transactions. We are encouraging our allies across the world to back that. We also want to see a full bank freeze in the coming days.
It is vitally important that we maintain unity with our allies. There are many countries that are heavily dependent on Russian oil and gas. The UK gets only 3% of its energy from Russian oil and gas. The figure for some countries is as high as 90% or 100%; we have to reduce that over time, and that is what we are working on through the G7.
I am very pleased that the right hon. Gentleman has backed the approach we are taking. I want to continue to work cross-party to do all we can to support the brave people of Ukraine and to make sure that Putin loses.
I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment. She has been working literally through the weekend, night and day, to get these sanctions right and to get them in place. Will she join me in assuring the Russian people that the moneys frozen—the moneys seized—which are, let us face it, very often stolen from them in the first instance, will be held and returned to the Russian people when this criminal conspiracy that laughably calls itself a Government falls and they actually have a proper Administration to which it can be returned? Will she also join me in urging many other countries around the world to join together and create a single fund from which a repayment mechanism can be created for the damage done to Ukraine and the rebuilding of Russia in due course?
My hon. Friend is right. Our issue is not with the Russian people, many of whom are now protesting against this appalling regime; it is with Putin and his cronies. That is who we are targeting with our hit on oligarchs. My hon. Friend is right that that money should be protected. I will look into the idea that he puts forward.
I am grateful for sight of the statement. The SNP is part of the global coalition in defence of Ukraine in international law. I commend the Foreign Secretary and her Ministers on the openness with which they have dealt with Opposition Members. That trust will be reciprocated; this is too serious a time.
If anything, I urge more. I support the statement and we will support the sanctions measures as they come forward, but I urge more and I urge faster ambition, particularly on refugees. The UK needs to waive visas, not wave flags. The EU has really given the lie to the generosity of the UK’s response on refugees by waiving visas for three years for all Ukrainian nationals. The UK needs to do the same. I appreciate that it is not in the Secretary of State’s remit, but I really urge the Government to act on the issue, because it is certainly the one most raised with me.
The EU’s response through the civil protection mechanism and the peace facility dwarfs the UK’s. The EU has acted with one voice: 27 member states are acting together. I really urge the UK to complement those efforts and match their scale and ambition in its measures, which we support but wish to see more of.
I have some specific questions about sanctions. We all agree about tackling oligarchs, but what plans are there to tackle and target the family members of oligarchs? When we were in Kyiv recently, that was mentioned as a particularly effective way of putting on pressure. I also note that there will be an advice facility for UK businesses affected by the sanctions. Is any consideration being given to providing financial aid for UK businesses hit by the sanctions? That seems the morally correct thing to do.
The Foreign Secretary will be aware of reports of a Russian tanker heading for Orkney to pick up oil. Will the legal powers to impound such vessels be in place in time for us to do so?
I agree that we need to continue to do more on sanctions. We are working night and day, including with our allies, to get tougher sanctions, the full ban on SWIFT payments and the full asset freeze on banks, which we want to introduce in the next few days, as well as targeting the oil industry and the gas industry, which is ultimately the most important thing because it is funding Putin’s war machine.
As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said at Home Office questions, we are creating a new Ukrainian humanitarian route to enable families of British nationals to come to the United Kingdom. It will mean that an additional 100,000 Ukrainians can seek sanctuary in the United Kingdom.
Through the export support service, the Department for International Trade will be helping businesses. The Secretary of State for International Trade will lay out more details in due course.
Further to the latest announcement that Switzerland, Japan and other democracies are joining to impose sanctions, what more can we do to convince other democracies that have not condemned this atrocity or implemented sanctions to do so?
My hon. Friend is right. There is nobody in the world lining up with Vladimir Putin and his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, but we need more democracies and more sovereign nations to stand up, because we cannot have a world where might is right and international law can just be ridden roughshod over.
We in the Foreign Office and Ministers across Government are making those points to our counterparts around the world, but this is where I think parliamentarians can help: many people in this House have good contacts with overseas Governments. We need to encourage those Governments to stand up and put sanctions in place. I had a call this morning with some Foreign Ministers who had never put sanctions in place before but are now considering it. There are many more who are on the verge of imposing sanctions. I strongly encourage Members across the House to get on the phone to those Ministers and those Governments, because this has created global outrage and we need to see that reflected in complete degradation of the Russian economy.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for the progress that she is making. I ask just two questions. First, it is still unclear to me and, I think, to most members of the public whether members of the Duma can be sanctioned by this Government. Will the Foreign Secretary clarify that point for us? Secondly, it is not just Russia; jurisdictions such as Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan are also complicit in supporting Putin in his endeavours. Is she taking any action to sanction members of those jurisdictions?
Members of the Duma can and will be sanctioned. We are working through the list of members in the same way as we are working through our hit list of oligarchs. I will look into the issues surrounding Kazakhstan and other nations. We are already sanctioning Belarus, and we will shortly impose more sanctions on it for its complicity in this abhorrent invasion.
It is indeed day five of the fighting, but the bells of St Michael’s in Kyiv continue to ring as the Ukrainians thwart the progress of the Russian Red Army. Good on them: Slava Ukraini to our friends in Ukraine. But sanctions, although they are so important, will not be enough. May I urge the Foreign Secretary to see how we can widen the sanctions package internationally? Any sanctions that we impose will be mopped up by Russia’s new long-term friend China. The United Nations General Assembly is sitting today; may I urge the UK to table a resolution on sanctions which means that China is obliged to follow them along with everyone else?
This sanctions package has been agreed across the G7, which represents more than 50% of the global economy. That is a significant hit on the Russian economy, and it will help to degrade the Russian economy over time. The key issue is reducing dependency on oil and gas, but, as my right hon. Friend says, we must also ensure that there is no sanctions leakage into other countries. I have spoken to my Chinese counterpart. The Chinese did not vote with the Russians at the UN Security Council. I am making very clear to China, and to other major nations, their responsibilities to protect the sovereignty and self-determination of Ukraine, and we continue to put pressure on them.
The Foreign Secretary may be aware that last week I named 35 Russian oligarchs who are on the Navalny list, At the top of that list was Roman Abramovich, who curiously decided a couple of days ago—and said it out loud—that he wanted to transfer Chelsea football club into some kind of trust. The concern is, of course, that oligarchs are working with their lawyers and their accountants to do the same. Can the Foreign Secretary assure the House that we will not stop but will follow the money, and no matter where it may or may not be transferred, we will find it and we will seize it?
I can indeed assure the hon. Lady that that is exactly what we are doing. We have a very large team of people working through our hit list of oligarchs, and we are also looking at their properties and their ownership of yachts. We have already grounded their private jets. My right hon. Friend the Business Secretary will make a statement immediately after this about the economic crime Bill, which will give greater transparency to the opaque corporate structures operated by some of these people and organisations, and will bring much more clarity and sunlight.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend and all the team on their robust leadership in the course of this. It has brought a great deal of cheer in Ukraine.
My right hon. Friend also spoke about chasing the oligarchs. We should remind everyone that the oligarchs are mostly in possession of Putin’s own personal fortune, which is in the order of $200 billion to $250 billion, squirrelled away through their accounts. However, my right hon. Friend will be slightly hamstrung, because although we pursue the oligarchs and their money, it is still not an offence for those who have worked with them—their lawyers, their estate agents and all the others—to fail to yield the information about what deals they have done. Will she now, in the Bill, make it mandatory for all those in the chain immediately, when someone is sanctioned, to pass that information up directly, or they will themselves be committing a criminal offence?
My right hon. Friend has made a very good point. We are looking at what we can do to target the families of oligarchs, the people who work for them, the people who support them and the people who enable them, because ultimately all these people are supporting the Putin regime, and we ultimately need to stop the financing of that regime.
The armed forces and the people of Ukraine are fighting hard and fighting brave, and their courage is an inspiration to us and to all freedom-loving peoples around the world. On financial sanctions, I commend the Government for taking a lead in the west on those sanctions. Following on from the comments of the shadow Secretary of State on Visa, Mastercard and Diners Club, which are of course American companies, I have been on the phone this weekend to the US Congress, as the Foreign Secretary might expect. Can I ask her to get on the phone to Secretary Blinken to put pressure on him for perhaps a temporary ban in order that we have not only external pressure but internal pressure?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his leadership of the all-party parliamentary group on Ukraine. We will be doing more with our friendship group for the Ukrainians to raise international support behind the Ukrainian cause. I can tell him that I have been on the phone to Tony Blinken on many occasions in the last few weeks. He is going to travel to Europe this week, and I will be meeting him. I will also be in the United States the following week. The UK does all it can to ensure that the G7 is moving forward in all these areas of sanctions, including financial services, and we will not rest until we have completely cut the Russian economy off, and cut it off from its supply of oil and gas money to ensure that Putin does not have the money to fund his war machine.
The people of Northern Ireland stand with the people of Ukraine and we commend the Government for taking a lead in the international community on many of these issues. The Foreign Secretary spoke of humanitarian assistance. Will that extend to the United Kingdom opening its doors to some of the refugees from Ukraine?
We are already donating £40 million of additional humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. We are also providing direct support in the neighbouring countries, helping our friends the Poles and the Slovaks with the exodus of refugees from Ukraine. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has announced that we will be supporting the immediate families of British citizens here—[Interruption.] I understand what the right hon. Gentleman is saying about further support for those refugees.
I spent yesterday afternoon with dozens of members of Huddersfield and Colne Valley’s Ukrainian community, along with other political figures from the area. They really welcome what we are doing on sanctions, as well as our humanitarian aid and military support, but one of the many questions they are asking is about visas. Can the Foreign Secretary please reiterate the announcement that was made in the last hour and explain what it means for getting those people’s families and loved ones back to the UK safely?
My hon. Friend is right to suggest that we have a very strong Ukrainian community right across the United Kingdom. We are determined to do all we can to support the Ukrainians in their fight for freedom and sovereignty. We are introducing the new Ukrainian humanitarian route, which responds directly to the needs and asks of the Ukrainian Government. This gives British nationals and any persons settled in the UK the ability to bring over their immediate Ukrainian family members. This extension alone will mean that an additional 100,000 Ukrainians will be able to seek sanctuary in the United Kingdom. I am sure that the Home Secretary will outline more details of the scheme in due course.
I also want to say that I stand with Ukraine and support the Foreign Secretary in the measures she has announced this afternoon. I congratulate her on the unifying way in which she is doing that, but does she agree that the language we use is incredibly important in these delicate times? Also, can she say anything about the Commonwealth’s involvement?
The hon. Lady is right that language is very important. This war is not on behalf of the Russian people; this war has been instigated by President Putin, and it is very important that we focus on the personal agency that he has had in mounting this unprovoked attack on Ukraine. I understand that there is huge strength of feeling across the United Kingdom, and we reflect that in everything we do.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the announcement that she and the Prime Minister made about humanitarian relief. I urge her to join other European countries in helping to shoulder the financial burden of the humanitarian load on the frontline states. Most people who flee across the border want to stay as close as possible to the areas from which they have been driven, and all European countries must give the strongest support to those driven out in great fear and terror by this extraordinary and barbaric Russian behaviour.
The hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) asked about our friends across the Commonwealth, and I assure her that we are approaching them to secure their support for the sanctions, for the strong stance against Russia and for the Ukrainian people.
On the subject of humanitarian relief in neighbouring countries, we have sent teams to support Poland and Slovakia. We have launched our campaign, and we will launch a further public appeal to secure further humanitarian donations. In fact, I am due to meet my Polish counterpart in Geneva tomorrow, and we will be working very closely with our allies in eastern Europe to support the people of Ukraine.
I welcome BP’s decision to divest from Rosneft after I raised the issue with the Prime Minister last week.
International sanctions now include Russia’s civilian aircraft fleet. The UK has a part to play in their enforcement because, as of yesterday, 713 leased Russian aircraft are registered in Bermuda, a British overseas territory. For far too long, weak UK regulation of Londongrad and tax haven overseas territories has enabled Putin’s regime. What discussions has the right hon. Lady had with the British overseas territories to ensure the immediate and effective implementation of UK sanctions against Russia?
Many of my constituents are affected by the war in Ukraine. Like me, they recognise the need for the toughest possible sanctions on Russia. The Foreign Secretary’s statement is welcome, but it does not go far enough. What steps is she taking to ensure that sanctions are imposed on the extraction and technology industries?
I announced today that export controls will apply to critical technologies, which will make it much harder to invest in the oil and gas industry, the technology industry and, of course, the military-industrial complex in Russia. The hon. Lady is right that the fundamental issue here is that Putin is reliant on oil and gas revenues, which is where we need to work with our G7 partners. Continental Europe is predominantly dependent on oil, gas and coal from Russia, and we need to help it to reduce that dependency so that Putin has nowhere to source his funds. That is what we are doing through the G7.
As a matter of superior tactics, does my right hon. Friend accept that the right way to deal with a robotic, sneering psychopath firmly in the grip of small-man syndrome is not to impose sanctions in a piecemeal and gradually escalating way but to seek to inflict maximum economic pain at the earliest possible moment?
Yes is the answer, and that is what we are doing; we are pushing as hard as we can for the toughest possible sanctions. This is the biggest package of sanctions the UK has ever put in place in our history, and we want to do even more and we want to push it with our allies. Together with the G7, we represent half the global economy, and that is what will really shift Putin’s behaviour. That is what will really degrade the Russian economy and stop him being able to fund his war machine.
Listening to the right hon. Lady’s comments, I am not entirely sure yet what the hold-up is with clarifying the plans to sanction Russia’s political ruling class—members of the Duma, Senate and presidential council; the top echelons of the security and defence services; and public television employees. Is she able to set out for us a little more about how soon we might see that happen, given the need for action to be swift, decisive and clear?
I assure the hon. Lady that we have a hit list of oligarchs and Duma members—those key personnel we are talking about. We will be announcing those as we build the evidence and case against them, but we need those cases to be legally watertight—that is what is important—so that when we hit them, the hit sticks.
May I offer the Secretary of State a little advice, as I have been in the House for quite some time? No one now likes oligarchs, but some important and substantial figures we call oligarchs in London and in this country are very intelligent people who are influential on Putin. Does she agree that she should consult them as a way of getting a voice of experience and reason to Putin, in order that we could get a better, peaceful resolution of this horrible crisis?
Let us be absolutely clear: this is unprovoked aggression by Putin, after months of warning that there would be severe consequences and a long-running conflict. I do not believe that this is somebody who is capable of reason on that level at this stage. We have to be tougher than tough. We have to be tough with our sanctions, and with the military aid that we and our allies are supplying, because it is only strength that Vladimir Putin understands.
The UK and our allies have delivered meaningful economic strikes against Putin, but we now see the encirclement of civilian towns, the illegal and indiscriminate use of cluster weapons, Chechen militia and calls for more indiscriminate attacks. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that we will maintain maximum pressure, map and record all atrocities for future prosecution and also commit to drawing up plans for what happens if we see the use of incendiary munitions or chemical weapons?
Regrettably, my hon. Friend is right; that is the type of action we are seeing being contemplated. Everybody involved, including Putin’s advisers and generals, should be aware that the International Criminal Court is already looking at this and at potential war crimes being committed, and we are urging a full investigation to take place.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for her statement. She talks about a hit list of oligarchs. She knows as well as I do that some of the individuals on that list are well-known and some are not so well known, but the one thing they all have in common is that they have all supported and continue to support Putin’s regime. Will she tell me about the timescale in dealing with some of these individuals? She says that she wants more evidence, but surely we have the evidence against certain of those individuals. What timescale is she talking about for when we will see lists of these individuals being printed and sanctions taken?
May I commend the resolute approach being taken by my right hon. Friend and ask whether she will consider secondary sanctions—sanctions not against Russian entities but against entities in other countries that seek to profit from the gap left in trade—as it is totally unacceptable for others to profiteer from this invasion. The move will also increase the pressure on Russia, as it did successfully on Iran.
I sat on the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill Committee and watched in horror as the right hon. Lady’s party walked away from the opportunity to sanction Russia on the flow of dirty money through the UK. I am sure that, with the benefit of hindsight, she and her party realise what a grave mistake that was. The action that she has announced is welcome, but will she now take action against Scottish limited partnerships, which are having a profound impact on many nations, and the secrecy havens that are the British overseas territories, notably the British Virgins Islands and the Isle of Man? Given her Government’s failure, surely these actions need to come now.
Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the secondary legislation being introduced is now in the Vote Office, or that it will be very soon? Will she also please confirm that, from a practical point of view, the consequences of this legislation will be set out in clear and simple language and in an easily understood way so that the people who are affected by it—British businesses and British individuals—can understand precisely and easily what is happening?
I can assure my hon. Friend that the legislation will be in the Vote Office as soon as possible. It is important that we get it absolutely right. He talks about businesses being affected. There will be advice through the export support service run by the Department for International Trade, making sure that businesses have all the information they need.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Russian people are being consistently lied to by Russian state media about both the scale of Russia’s military action and the resulting loss of life? Does she agree that that makes the role of the BBC World Service and other trusted media all the more important, and will she bear that in mind when considering any calls for taking action against Russian state media in this country?
My right hon. Friend is entirely right. There is, quite simply, a pack of lies being produced on Russian state media. He is also right about the vital importance of the BBC World Service and other services from which the Russian people can hear a more balanced and truthful version of events. He is also right about the consequences and the unintended consequences of preventing channels from operating in the UK as there could be reciprocation, which would then make it harder for the Russian people to hear the truth.
I have been overwhelmed by messages from constituents who are horrified by Russia’s action in Ukraine. This morning I visited Lewisham Polish Centre, which is doing brilliant work co-ordinating the local relief effort for those fleeing the country. What everyone I have heard from has asked for, however, is an assurance that we are putting forward the strongest possible package of sanctions, providing humanitarian relief for refugees fleeing to neighbouring countries and offering comprehensive safe sanctuary routes to the UK. May I press the Foreign Secretary to give us those reassurances today?
I can reassure the hon. Lady that we are doing all of those things. The sanctions that we currently have in place on Russia are the toughest, in terms of the size of the package, that the UK has put on any country in our entire history. Importantly, however, we are doing more; we are working with our allies to do more every day.
My constituents cannot understand why we still allow Russian state-owned oil tankers to use UK ports. The Russian state-owned oil tanker NS Century is currently at the Finnart oil terminal on Loch Long, a port adjacent to Coulport, which is a home to the UK’s nuclear arsenal. Why, when we are imposing such harsh economic sanctions on the Kremlin, are we continuing to allow Russian state-owned oil tankers to go freely about their business, particularly so close to this most sensitive military installation?
If the BBC World Service comes to my right hon. Friend to ask for additional funding to increase the broadcasting in Russia and among Russia’s supporters and allies, will she entertain and agree to such requests?