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Volume 709: debated on Wednesday 2 March 2022

Yesterday, I was in Warsaw and Tallin reaffirming our commitment to NATO and our solidarity with Ukraine. Putin has gravely miscalculated. In his abhorrent assault on a sovereign nation, he has underestimated the extraordinary fortitude of the Ukrainian people and the unity and resolve of the free world in standing up to his barbarism. The UN General Assembly will vote later today, and we call on every nation to join us in condemning Russia and demanding that Putin turn his tanks around. If, instead, Putin doubles down, then so shall we, further ratcheting up economic pressure and supporting Ukraine with finance, with weapons and with humanitarian assistance. Today, the Disasters Emergency Committee is launching its Ukraine appeal, and every pound donated by the British people will be matched by the Government, starting with £20 million.

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

Men, women and children terrorised, murdered and maimed. Indiscriminate munitions unleashed on civilian populations with a total disregard for international law and human life. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that we will accelerate the transfer of military supplies to the Ukrainians and maintain this country’s proud record of support for refugees fleeing war?

I hope I spoke for the whole House when I spoke to President Volodymyr Zelensky this morning and told him that we will, indeed, do everything we can to accelerate our transfer of the weapons my hon. Friend describes. As the House knows, the UK was the first European country to send such defensive weaponry, and we are certainly determined to do everything we can to help Ukrainians who are fleeing the theatre of conflict.

I am very glad the ambassador is here to hear me repeat what I have said to him privately on a number of occasions, which is that this House and this country stand united in our support for the Ukrainian people in the face of Russian aggression. We are all appalled by the shocking footage that has emerged over the last few days. We must stand up to Putin and those who prop up his regime.

Roman Abramovich is the owner of Chelsea football club and various other high-value assets in the United Kingdom. He is a person of interest to the Home Office because of his links to the Russian state and his public association with corrupt activities and practices. Last week, the Prime Minister said that Abramovich is facing sanctions, but he later corrected the record to say that he is not. Why on earth is he not facing sanctions?

It is not appropriate for me to comment on individual cases at this stage, but I stand by what I said in the House and what we put on the record. Be in no doubt that the actions that we and this House have already taken are having an effect in Moscow. By exposing the ownership of properties and companies in the way we are, and by sanctioning 275 individuals already and a further 100 last week, the impact is being felt. In addition, we will publish a full list of all those associated with the Putin regime, and of course we have already sanctions on Putin and Lavrov themselves. The House will have heard what the President of the United States had to say last night. The vice is tightening on the Putin regime, and it will continue to tighten.

I hear what the Prime Minister says and the way in which he puts it. I hope it means we will see some action in the near future.

Last week, Putin summoned to the Kremlin the cronies who prop up his regime. They dipped their hands in the blood of Putin’s war, and among them was Igor Shuvalov, Putin’s former Deputy Prime Minister. Shuvalov owns two flats not five minutes’ walk from this House, and they are worth more than £11 million. He is on the EU sanctions list, but he is not on the UK sanctions list. When will the Prime Minister sort this out?

The House should be proud of what we have done already, and there is more to be done. Thanks to the powers that this House and this Government have taken, we can sanction any individual or company connected to the Putin regime. This Government were among the first in Europe to ban Aeroflot from our skies. This Government led the way last week on banning Russia’s use of SWIFT. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman talked to any of our European partners, he would understand the leading role the UK has already played and the impact that those sanctions are already having in Moscow. As I told him, the squeeze is growing and will continue to grow on the Putin regime.

I support the measures that have been taken so far. The ownership of Shuvalov’s flats is registered under Sova Real Estate, which is actually owned by Shuvalov and his wife. We know which oligarch lurks beneath that shell company only because of the information obtained and disclosed by Alexei Navalny, who was of course poisoned by the Russian state and now sits in a Putin jail. Transparency is essential to rooting out corruption. It should be built into our law, but it is not. I am ashamed that we know about Shuvalov’s Westminster flats only because a dissident risked his life. Is the Prime Minister?

I repeat that the UK, of course, is doing everything we can to expose ill-gotten Russian loot. We have been working on that for a long time. We were the first to impose sanctions on those who were guilty of the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman mentions. But what we are bringing forward now is the exposure of the ownership of properties in London, and across the whole of the UK, in a way that has not been possible before and that I believe will continue to tighten the noose around Putin’s regime. Be in no doubt: it was the UK that led the way on putting sanctions on the Russian central bank and on putting sanctions on Russian banks altogether. I am afraid that we are still out in advance of several of our friends and partners. We want them to go further, I believe that they will and we will continue to put pressure—ineluctable pressure—on the Putin regime.

The Prime Minister refers to the long overdue economic crime Bill, which, to be clear, we support and will vote through on Monday with speed. The key plank of that Bill is a register of who truly owns property in the UK, but it does not come into force for existing owners such as Shuvalov until 18 months after the Bill passes. At best, that is autumn 2023, which is far too long for the Ukrainian people. Why are we giving Putin’s cronies 18 months to quietly launder their money out of the UK property market and into another safe haven?

Let us look at the impact of what the UK is doing. The whole House should be proud of what we have done, because we have led the way on this. We led the way on SWIFT, on Aeroflot and on freezing the assets of banks. The right hon. and learned Gentleman asks about the speed of results. I can tell him that, on Thursday, $250 billion-worth of assets were wiped off the Russian stock market and the rouble fell by about 40%. We are now on the third day on which the Russian stock market has not been able to open. That is thanks to the package of global sanctions—western sanctions—that the UK has led in enforcing on the Putin regime. I think he should acknowledge that.

I have acknowledged it and I do again. What I am offering is support to speed this up on Monday. The Prime Minister knows he has the House with him when the economic crime Bill goes through. We could do this on Monday at speed, and I think the whole House would welcome that. So this is an invitation to work together, Prime Minister.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy published a White Paper this week. It rightly sets out that the UK’s companies register is being exploited to further the interests of the UK’s enemies and to help them to move stolen money into the west. But the same Department, on the very same day, published an economic crime Bill that did nothing to address that, leaving Companies House untouched and still exploited. So will the Prime Minister work with us to amend the Bill on Monday to include the most basic reforms such as identity checks for directors?

As I have said, we are bringing forward, at an accelerated pace, measures to whip aside the veil of anonymity of those who own assets in this country and those who own property in this country. Furthermore, we are going to be publishing a list of all those who have assets that are related to the Putin regime. I am delighted by the support that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is offering. If we can work together to make sure that we strengthen and accelerate the package, all the better.

We will work in that spirit to bring forward amendments on Monday to try to achieve all the ends that I have identified in these questions. I think that this can be voted through on Monday at speed, with the full support of the House. I am very pleased that we can show that unity with the ambassador here watching us.

In this week of darkness, we have seen glimmers of hope: in the resolve of Ukraine; in the unity of our allies; and in the bravery of Russian protesters. They remind us that the Russian people are not our enemy; they are the victims of thieves, who have stolen their wealth and stolen their chance of democracy. For too long, Britain has been a safe haven for stolen money. Putin thinks that we are too corrupted to do the right thing and put an end to it. Does the Prime Minister agree that this House and this country stand united in our support for Ukraine, and now is the time to sanction every oligarch and crack open every shell company so that we can prove Putin wrong?

Yes, and that is why this Government have brought forward the unprecedented measures that we have. I know that the whole House would agree with me that nothing we do in rooting out corruption and corrupt money in London or in any other capital—I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman very strongly—should for one minute distract from where the true blame for this crisis lies, which is wholly and exclusively and entirely with Vladimir Putin and his regime. I am glad that those on the Opposition Benches are as resolved as we are that Putin must fail in his venture and that we must ensure that we protect a sovereign, free and independent Ukraine. That is what we are going to do. With the unity of this House, with the continued heroism and resolve of the Ukrainian people, which is so amazing, that we have seen over the past few days, and with the unity of the west that we are seeing, which I think has also taken President Putin aback, I have no doubt at all that he will fail and that we will succeed in protecting Ukraine.

Q5. First, may I say how brave the Ukrainian people are and that they have the full support of the whole House? May I also commend the Prime Minister and the Government for the excellent actions that we have taken so far? Ukraine is very much the bread basket of the world and it grows much wheat. We therefore need to make sure that there is food security and also security of global food supply. Does the Prime Minister agree that we need also to look to our production in this country to make sure that we can maintain a good standard of food production and enhance our food production in order to keep good and affordable food for the future? (905801)

Yes, my hon. Friend knows whereof he speaks. He is a great advocate of UK food and farming. That is why we are increasing the farming investment fund to £48 million. We have a massive opportunity, particularly for UK fruit and vegetables.

May I join you, Mr Speaker, in welcoming the Ukrainian ambassador to our proceedings?

With every passing hour, the world is witnessing the horrors of Putin’s war in Ukraine. In Kherson, a family of five—a mother, her parents, her six-year-old daughter and her baby son—were murdered in cold blood by Russian troops. In the same city, a 12-year-old boy watched his mother die as he desperately attempted to save her from the rubble of her own home. These are war crimes happening in Europe right now.

Vladimir Putin is a war criminal, and, one day soon, he must face justice in The Hague. To prosecute Putin and his regime, the full range of war crimes charges need to be used, including the crime of aggression by a state, but the UK has always refused to sign up to the prosecution of this crime in international law. Surely with Putin’s crime of aggression in plain and horrific sight in Ukraine, now is the time to drop that opposition. Will the Prime Minister meet with me to discuss this, and will he amend the UK War Crimes Act 1991 and support the International Criminal Court prosecution of Putin for his crimes of aggression against the people of Ukraine?

I am, in principle, happy to meet the right hon. Gentleman at any stage, but I can tell him that, in my view, what we have seen already from Vladimir Putin’s regime in the use of the munitions that it has been dropping on innocent civilians already fully qualifies as a war crime. I know that the ICC prosecutor is already investigating, and I am sure that the whole House will support that.

I thank the Prime Minister for that answer. Let us work together across this House to ensure that Putin is prosecuted and held to account. Just as we seek to punish and prosecute Putin for his crimes, we need to help the Ukrainian people right now. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians are fleeing the horrors of this war, and they desperately need refuge and sanctuary. The United Nations estimates that well over half a million Ukrainian refugees need urgent help, most of them women and children.

This is a moment for Europe to stand united in the face of Putin’s war. The European Union has acted to waive all visa requirements for Ukrainian refugees; the UK Government stand alone on our continent in so far refusing to do the same. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, has made clear that our country stands ready to open our borders and our hearts to the people of Ukraine, but the UK Government must bring down the barriers. Will the Prime Minister join our European partners and waive all visa requirements for the people of Ukraine who are fleeing war?

The EU already, because of its Schengen border-free zone, has its own arrangements with Ukraine, and they have differed for a long time from those of the UK. What we have is a plan to be as generous as we possibly can to the people of Ukraine; the numbers that will come under our family reunion scheme alone could be in the hundreds of thousands, to say nothing of the special new path we are opening up, the humanitarian path, which is also uncapped. That is the right thing to do. What we will not do is simply abandon all checks. We do not think that is sensible, particularly in view of the reasonable security concerns about people coming from that theatre of war.

Q6.   On 28 July last year, every Labour councillor in Bury voted in favour of Andy Burnham’s plan to impose a 493 square mile clean air charging zone on my constituents and the residents of Greater Manchester. The Mayor’s plan is an attack on jobs and opportunity; it is based on flawed data and should be scrapped. Does my right hon. Friend agree? (905802)

Yes, and as somebody who once had to deal with a badly thought out low emission zone, it is totally wrong to impose measures thoughtlessly that damage business and do not do very much to protect clean air. The Mayor of Greater Manchester has done the wrong thing, and I am glad we are delaying it. I congratulate my hon. Friend and other local Conservative MPs in the Manchester area who have shown common sense.

My Wales-based constituent works for the British International School in Ukraine. The school employs 60 British citizens, most of whom thankfully escaped via a bus over the weekend. I heard the Prime Minister’s response to my colleague the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), but, given the lack of a humanitarian corridor, 173 Ukrainian colleagues from that school are stuck in Kyiv and Dnipro, and ineligible for the Home Office’s humanitarian sponsorship pathway due to the school being domiciled in Ukraine. Wales aspires to be a nation of sanctuary. Our neighbours in Ireland have waived all visa requirements for three years. Why will the Prime Minister not allow us to provide the same humanitarian welcome?

I thank the right hon. Lady very much and I know the whole House will want to help the 173 she mentions in Ukraine. I think the arrangements we have are right, and they will be very generous—they already are very generous indeed. The House should be proud, by the way, of what the UK has already done to take vulnerable people; I think we have taken more vulnerable people fleeing theatres of conflict since 2015 than any other country in Europe.

Q7. The nurses and doctors working at Warrington Hospital in my constituency provide selfless care for families living in some of the most deprived areas of England, where life expectancy is 12 years lower than the national average. At the same time, the population has expanded, with thousands of new homes being built in Warrington and putting pressure on services, particularly at the general hospital. Does the Prime Minister agree that tackling health inequalities is key to levelling up, and will he support my campaign for a new hospital in Warrington? (905803)

This Government are building a record number of hospitals—a total of 48—across the country. I am forbidden, unfortunately, from pre-empting the application process that I know my hon. Friend’s wonderful hospital is going through, but I wish him every possible success.

Q2. The situation in Ukraine continues to appal most of the world and shame the rest—and, importantly, highlights the need to break our economic dependency both on Russia and on China. Does the Prime Minister agree that our national security must be protected, and our food, energy, fibre and national infrastructure must be secure, both now and in the future, from hostile Governments? Specifically, will he commit to the real hydrogen strategy that both industry and trade unions such as the GMB are calling for by doubling the hydrogen production target for 2030? (905798)

I thank the hon. Lady for her very far-sighted question. That is exactly what we should be doing. We are moving to much more energy resilience and self-reliance. It was a shame that Labour cancelled so much of our nuclear power while it was in government—or failed to develop it. The agenda that she is setting is absolutely right, including on hydrogen.

Q9.   Last September, my constituent Dylan Rich, who was a talented 17-year-old footballer, tragically collapsed and died during a youth FA cup game. His family and his club, the West Bridgford Colts, raised money in his honour to buy more defibrillators to put on-site, but were faced with a VAT bill of hundreds of pounds on each life-saving device. Will my right hon. Friend commit to reviewing the VAT on commercial defibrillators to bring them in line with the zero rate applied to other medical instruments, and will he meet me, Dylan’s family and his club to discuss this much-needed change? (905805)

I think the whole House will want to echo my condolences to Dylan’s friends and family. My hon. Friend raises a very important and emotive issue. At the moment, defibrillators are bought through voluntary contributions and donated to charities that may be eligible for VAT relief, but I am very happy to meet her to discuss the matter further.

Q3. Will the Prime Minister instruct the Conservative party to give to Ukrainian humanitarian causes the £2 million it has accepted from Lubov Chernukhin? This includes £80,000 referred to in data released today by the Electoral Commission. I know he does not want to tar everyone with Russian links with the same brush, and neither do I, but leaked documents—[Interruption.] Conservative Members might want to listen to the question. Leaked documents show that Lubov Chernukhin received £8 million from a Russian member of Parliament, an ally of Putin who was later sanctioned by the United States. This is an opportunity for the Conservative party and for the Prime Minister to end the suspicion of conflicts of interest with Putin, while showing solidarity with the Ukrainian people. (905799)

It is absolutely vital, if we are to have a successful outcome in what we are trying to do collectively, united with Ukraine, that we demonstrate that this is not about the Russian people; this is about the Putin regime.

Q11. Does my right hon. Friend agree that choices always have consequences? Putin has chosen to inflict death and destruction on the people of Ukraine and must be made to pay, but others, including those in the Russian military and Russian oligarchs, could still choose to be on the right side of history. Will my right hon. Friend and other world leaders tell them to make the right choice and to make it soon, because in this conflict, time is life? (905807)

My right hon. Friend has made a very powerful and important point. I do hope that those who have any links with the Putin regime whatever—any so-called oligarchs and all those who are in any way associated with the regime—take this opportunity, as some brave individuals already have, to dissociate themselves from this barbaric invasion.

Q4. Two weeks ago in a letter to the Prime Minister, I outlined that over half a million people in the UK are immunocompromised, and to them, the idea of living with covid is frightening, while many charities such as the MS Society are not reassured by the Government’s lifting of restrictions around free testing and isolation. Does he agree that in order to protect this group, free covid-19 testing must continue, and include their families and friends as well as any unpaid carers, so that they can really be allowed to live with covid? (905800)

As I think I said to the hon. Lady last week, it is absolutely essential that those who are immunocompromised and the clinically extremely vulnerable continue to have access to free testing and all the therapies and antivirals that they need.