Skip to main content

Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 710: debated on Tuesday 8 March 2022

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The Secretary of State was asked—

Russia: Sanctions

1. What recent legislative steps her Department has taken to help strengthen the sanctions regime against Russia. (905920)

2. What recent legislative steps her Department has taken to help strengthen the sanctions regime against Russia. (905921)

21. What assessment she has made of the impact of UK sanctions imposed to date on (a) individuals and (b) entities associated with the conflict in Ukraine. (905942)

Together with our G7 allies, we have put the toughest sanctions on Russia in our history. We have sanctioned 228 individuals and entities. Our bank sanctions target £259 billion-worth of assets, compared with £240 billion by the US and £34 billion by the EU. We have also targeted more defence companies, cut access to British ports and closed airspace. Yesterday, this House passed new legislation to speed up the sanctioning of oligarchs, and from next Tuesday we will be able to do all of them.

A huge number of Bishop Auckland residents have contacted me expressing their concerns about the ongoing situation in Ukraine, so I am grateful to hear about the Foreign Secretary’s robust action. Following the amendments to our sanctions regime yesterday through the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill, does she agree that that will allow us to hit Putin’s allies harder and faster?

My hon. Friend is right. Amendments from the House of Lords to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 made it cumbersome and slow for us to sanction those individuals. They included making unlimited damages available to those individuals as well as requiring an impact test under the Human Rights Act. Yesterday’s Bill removes all of that, which means that by 15 March we will be able to sanction hundreds of individuals.

Given the barbaric invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the threats to cut off gas supplies to the west and the rising energy prices here in the UK, will the Secretary of State join me in calling for the continued expansion of renewable energy and for massively expanding and accelerating the UK’s nuclear programme to ensure that we meet net zero, dramatically lower our energy prices and ensure that we can never be held to ransom over our energy supplies?

My hon. Friend is right. The west can no longer be reliant on Russian oil and gas. We need to end dependency by agreeing ceilings with our G7 partners, agreeing a timetable for reduction and helping through price support and supply support those countries that are very dependent. Of course, nuclear and renewable energy will play a vital role in moving forward.

Targeted sanctions are critical if we are to avoid significant collateral economic damage. However, despite what the Government may claim, the facts speak for themselves. According to Castellan AI, the total number of sanctions placed on Russia since 2014 by country is as follows: the US, 1,200; Canada, 900; Switzerland, 800; the EU, 766; and the UK, just 271. This is not leadership, is it? Why are the Government so slow?

We have led on cutting Russia off from SWIFT. We have led on closing our airspace and closing our ports. If we look at the total financial impact—the aim here is to debilitate the Russian economy—we can see that the sanctions we have put on banks, defence, aviation and oligarchs add up to £364 billion. In the US, they add up to £340 billion, and in the EU, they add up to £124 billion. We have to look at the overall financial impact, and it is much higher for the UK than for our allies. Of course we encourage them all to do more, and we need to work together.

Will the Foreign Secretary speak to her colleague, the Home Secretary, about the cruel and chaotic way in which desperate Ukrainian refugees are being treated by the Home Office? It cannot be right that there is no visa application centre in Calais, with Ukrainian refugees who have travelled thousands of miles to Calais being redirected either to Paris or to Brussels. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that this brings the UK into disrepute?

The Home Office has placed staff in Poland and Hungary to help people, and the Home Secretary has announced a new pop-up application site in Lille. I can tell the right hon. Member that the Home Office has set up a surgery for MPs in Portcullis House, to which I am sure she will be very welcome to take any cases.

On International Women’s Day, does the Foreign Secretary agree that one way to amplify the message we are sending to Russia through sanctions would be to call on every woman in Russia—the mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts and friends of those in the Russian army who are attacking a neighbouring state and causing such misery and suffering—to send a message to those soldiers to stop it and return home?

My hon. Friend is right that; as well as the huge humanitarian crisis for the people of Ukraine, we are seeing the death of many Russian soldiers, many of whom have been sent to Ukraine under false pretences such as the claim that the Ukrainian people want liberation, which simply is not true. As we warned in advance of this invasion, President Putin has sent thousands of young Russian men and women to their death. That message is being received in Russia.

Two weeks into this awful war, Ukraine has suffered terribly but stands defiant. Putin is isolated, his economy is in freefall and his actions are condemned around the world. We are united in our desire to ratchet up pressure on Putin, but the UK has sanctioned just eight of the Navalny 35 list of oligarchs. The EU has sanctioned 19 and the US has sanctioned 15. We welcome the Government’s U-turn on sanctions legislation yesterday, which should help us to catch up, but sanctions against oligarchs work only if we know where their wealth is hidden. Will the Government commit to urgently reforming Companies House, to leave Putin-linked crooks with nowhere to hide?

First, the right hon. Gentleman needs to look at the overall size of our sanctions. The UK has targeted £364 billion-worth of assets, whereas the US has targeted £340 billion and the EU has targeted £124 billion. We have led the way, whether on SWIFT, freezing bank assets or closing ports.

As for the right hon. Gentleman’s point about the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018, it was the Labour party that wanted changes to make it tougher for us to sanction oligarchs. The hon. Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds), who is now chair of the Labour party, said on Third Reading that the Act gives Ministers “excessive power” that could not be

“justified by the need for speed”.—[Official Report, 1 May 2018; Vol. 640, c. 239.]

She even called for additional bureaucracy through a cross-Whitehall committee. The U-turn is on their side.

The world watched Putin’s premeditated stalking of Ukraine. We saw the lies, the false diplomacy and the manufactured grievances, and then we witnessed the destructive invasion of a sovereign state. This is a crime of aggression. The creation of a special tribunal will help the global community to hold Vladimir Putin and his cronies personally responsible for this war, and it would complement the International Criminal Court’s investigation. Ukraine’s Foreign Minister backs it, several of our allies and partners back it and leading lawyers back it. Will the Foreign Secretary now do the same?

I completely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we are seeing horrific crimes taking place in Ukraine, and they are the responsibility of President Putin. That is why the United Kingdom has worked with our allies to put a case to the ICC—there were 38 states, making it the biggest ever group referral to the ICC. That is the right route to tackle the war crimes that we consider could have taken place or are taking place in Ukraine. We want to work with countries to collect the evidence. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice will be travelling to The Hague to work on that specific issue.

I very much welcome the strong package of sanctions imposed by the Government, but if President Putin is to understand that we are serious, he also needs to know that we are going to be able to sustain that package over a considerable time. He will believe that only if we are honest with the public that that will mean not just a cost to Russia but a significant economic cost here. We have to make the argument that it is necessary to pay for it, in order to keep us safe and secure in the future, and I urge the Foreign Secretary to do so.

Of course, there will be an economic cost to these sanctions for British people, in their energy bills and in the cost of living, but that cost is nothing compared with the cost to the people of Ukraine of the horrific barbarism that they are facing or with the cost of allowing Putin to succeed. We know that if Putin does not lose in Ukraine, it will not be the limit of his ambitions. He has already been clear that he wants to see a greater Russia, which could encompass countries such as Moldova and the Baltic states. So it is vital that we throw everything at sanctions, and we help as much as we can with getting defensive weaponry into Ukraine, because this is a battle that Putin needs to lose.

The SNP has supported the Government’s efforts on Ukraine. We took some criticism for that, but it was the right thing to do. In that spirit, I have to say that there is mounting frustration on these Benches at the lack of progress on and ambition in the UK’s sanctions regime. The rhetoric is simply not matched by the reality, which is that the European Union has gone further and faster on these sanctions matters. I urge the Foreign Secretary to work more closely with the EU, particularly on the due diligence on individual sanctions, and to replicate the EU’s sanctions in order to complement the EU’s efforts and have a much more comprehensive sanctions regime, rather than sending it a nice letter with a month’s notice to sort its financial affairs.

What the hon. Gentleman says simply is not the case. We are seeking to debilitate the Russian economy. We have targeted and sanctioned £364 billion-worth of assets, whereas the EU has targeted £124 billion. Yes, there are specific issues over individuals, which we are addressing through the emergency legislation that went through the House which will be in place next week. We will be able to sanction all the individuals that he is referring to. It is simply not true to say that the UK has not led on this, as we have. We led on SWIFT, on banning ships from British ports, which I know he was arguing for last week, and on closing airspace to Russian planes. What he is saying simply is not true.

Support for Ukraine

The UK has been at the forefront of diplomatic, economic, humanitarian and defensive support to Ukraine. The UK was the first European country to provide lethal aid to Ukraine, and my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary is convening a group of countries to do more of that. We are the largest bilateral donor of humanitarian aid to Ukraine, including with our largest ever UK Aid Match contribution to the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal, which has now raised more than £100 million.

The Russian forces are doing to Ukraine what they supported the Assad regime to do in Syria: starve, bomb and target civilians, schools and hospitals. In Syria, with the support and funding of the UK Government, the White Helmets provided vital search and rescue services and other crucial support. That saved thousands of lives and helped to document the atrocities. Will the Foreign Secretary commit to supporting a similar organisation in Ukraine, to save lives there?

What is happening in Ukraine is simply abhorrent. Our current priority is supporting Ukraine through humanitarian aid. We are donating £220 million of humanitarian aid, which is the leading figure in the world. That will be used to save lives and protect vulnerable people. However, I will listen to my hon. Friend’s suggestion and see what we can do on that front, because we need to do all we can to address this horrendous humanitarian crisis.

I know that my right hon. Friend is as proud as I am that the sanctions on Russia that we have introduced to try to support Ukraine are the most powerful we have ever introduced in history. Does she agree that we may need to go further and that nothing should be off the table in terms of who or what we target? We need to do whatever it takes to cripple the Putin regime.

My hon. Friend is right: nothing is off the table. We have been and are working with G7 partners, whom we want to see go further in areas such as a complete ban on SWIFT and the complete freezing of all bank assets, and by committing to a timetable for reducing dependency on oil and gas because, fundamentally, Russia is a state propped up by the oil and gas industry and, to really tackle the funding for Putin’s war machine, we need to cut off that funding stream.

Since Russia’s invasion began we have seen horrific violence from President Putin against an independent sovereign nation. I know the Government will continue to support Ukraine against this barbarism and help her to return to safety. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that while the violence is ongoing we will do all we can to offer humanitarian support in the best interests of the Ukrainian people? Will she detail how communities such as North Devon can assist?

We have deployed humanitarian teams to neighbouring countries—Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Moldova—and they are working closely with local agencies. We have put a record sum into the DEC appeal, which is generating massive donations from the British public. It is important that, rather than donate goods, the public are encouraged to donate cash to the DEC appeal or other trusted charities and aid organisations. The Polish Government have said that donations in kind generate disproportionate amounts of additional work and costs, which prove ineffective and counterproductive to the needs of those affected, so I strongly encourage people to donate financially to the DEC appeal. That is the best way to get funding through to the brave aid workers on the frontline.

On Saturday, I attended a rally in my home town of Eastbourne where people demonstrated their solidarity with Ukraine and, as my right hon. Friend said, donated to the DEC appeal. That same morning, we saw a series of televised images of very sick children having to be evacuated from the sanctuary and specialist care of their hospital setting, under bombardment. What medical support are we providing to Ukraine and neighbouring countries so that those little lambs have a chance?

The United Kingdom is the No. 1 donor of humanitarian aid to Ukraine, with £220 million, and we are doing more than any other country on medical support, with the sixth flight of medical supplies having gone out to Ukraine last night. I assure my hon. Friend that Foreign Office teams and Ministry of Defence teams are actively supporting efforts to get very ill children out of Ukraine so that they can get the medical support they need.

I welcome the Government’s actions in response to the distressing humanitarian situation in Ukraine. Across Keighley and Ilkley we are all deeply concerned about the deteriorating events. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the substantial funding the Government have put in place will deliver vital support to aid agencies as they respond to this distressing deteriorating situation?

We can all see how terrible the situation is, with 2 million people fleeing Ukraine. As I have outlined, we are providing humanitarian assistance. We are providing Ukrainians with access to basic necessities and vital medical supplies, as people are forced to flee their homes. We will continue to work with our friends and allies throughout Europe to deliver as much as we can to those in need.

The Foreign Secretary knows that a vital way to help Ukraine is to prevent those who have stolen money from the Russian people from hiding it in our capital city, but after years of austerity, our hollowed-out enforcement agencies simply do not have the resources to go toe to toe with billionaire oligarchs. The world’s other major financial centre, New York, does not have the same problem and takes a much more robust and well-resourced approach to the tackling of illicit finances. Will the Foreign Secretary acknowledge that unless we properly fund our law agencies that can tackle illicit funding, we can have all the tough laws in the world but people will still see the UK as a soft touch?

We have established a cross-Government taskforce to enforce the laws that we are putting in place on oligarchs. It is important to know that the legislation that we passed yesterday will reduce the amount of bureaucracy required to sanction oligarchs. That will help us to target our resources better across Government, so that we can focus more of our efforts on enforcement. I was asked earlier about further measures on transparency. Those are all being introduced and we are very committed to doing that.

I was speaking to Ukrainian friends of mine who live in Kendal just a day or two ago. They have family in Kyiv and family in Crimea. In Kyiv, they know exactly, tragically, what is going on. In Crimea, they are completely in the dark and fed only what Putin tells them. Does the right hon. Lady agree that one way we can help Crimea and the whole of Ukraine is to ensure that people in Russia and Russian-controlled territories know the truth of the murderous barbarity being done in their name? Will she be encouraged—I am sure she is—by the fact that, in the past week, visits to the BBC’s Russian language website have trebled? However, that is only 10 million people, and there are 150 million people in Russia. How can she help us to ensure that information gets to the Russian people?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the importance of the BBC in communicating to the Russian people. The fact is that they have been lied to for years through disinformation via state TV, and we are now seeing Putin taking even more repressive measures to stop social media. One factor of this crisis is that young people in Russia are less likely to believe the regime because they have had access to social media. Putin is now trying to cut that off. We are working with social media companies to see what we can do. We have established a cross-Government information unit to communicate with the Russian people directly in the Russian language. Moreover, one impact of sanctions—and a reason why we have targeted banks—is that they send a message to the Russian people when they are forced to queue for money, when they cannot get on the tube, or when they cannot access the normal services that they have been accessing. I welcome the actions of corporates in Britain to withdraw their services from Russia. The message must get across to the Russian people that this appalling war is being fought in their name.

On the referral to the International Criminal Court, what more can be done to assist in the collection and preservation of evidence, including forensic evidence, of potential war crimes? I ask the question because, if that evidence is held in towns that, heaven forbid, the Russians eventually take, by the time the International Criminal Courts asks for it, it may no longer exist.

On our ICC referral to the prosecutor, which is now being taken forward, we are working closely with our allies on helping to collect that evidence. It is important that we did that early on. This is being led by the Justice Secretary who, as I have said, will be visiting The Hague to work out how we can make sure that that evidence is collected. May I praise the brave British journalists who are currently operating in Ukraine? We saw a terrible attack on the Sky team—completely unforgivable action by the Russian army. Those journalists are valuable in helping to collect the horrendous evidence of what is happening.

Ukraine’s national debt is already crippling its economy. In 2020, the debt stood at $94 billion. At this truly dark moment, it is unconscionable that Ukraine should be required to service that debt or to take on more. Can the Secretary of State tell us whether she has had any conversations with other Governments, the IMF, the World Bank, the G7 or EU Foreign Ministers about sweeping debt cancellation for Ukraine—perhaps along the lines of the mutual aid agreement struck by the allies in world war two?

The hon. Lady makes a very good point. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has been discussing that with G7 Finance Ministers. We are doing all we can to support Ukraine, enabling it to have the finances that it needs both to resist Russian aggression and also, eventually, to be able to rebuild its country after this horrendous invasion.

I agree with the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross), who asked the first question on this. Like all bullies, Vladimir Putin demonstrates horrific patterns of behaviour. He helped to starve Syrians in Aleppo and elsewhere, and now he is obliterating Ukrainian cities. But do we not also have to look at our own patterns of behaviour? I see the same administrative failures that hampered our response to Syrian refugees now limiting that desire that the British public have to help Ukrainian refugees. That administrative incompetence is harming our approach. What consideration has the Foreign Secretary made of the effect of the Home Office’s inadequacies on Foreign Office objectives?

We do have to learn the lessons of the past 15 or 20 years, where we did not do enough to tackle Putin and Russia, we allowed the build-up of force and we did not respond strongly enough to what happened in Crimea and the Donbas. I am determined to do things differently. That is why the UK is leading not only on diplomacy, but on the toughest possible sanctions and the toughest possible support for the Ukrainian people in their resistance. I have already briefed the House on the Home Secretary’s roll-out of new centres to help Ukrainian people with visas. She has opened up a family route and a sponsored humanitarian route, and we continue to take that forward. We are open for refugees.

Today, on International Women’s Day, we see all the women trying to escape with their families, their children and their mothers and fathers to reach places such as Poland, which has offered refuge to some 1 million refugees, and Ireland, which has taken several hundred thousand. Here in the UK, however, barely 100 have been able to find refuge. That is a shameful lack of humanity in the face of the greatest humanitarian catastrophe in Europe since world war two. Does the Secretary of State agree that this paltry effort to offer refuge is a stain on our otherwise commendable effort on the crisis in Ukraine? Will she urgently work with the Home Secretary, shake up the Home Office and get this sorted?

As I have said, the Home Office has opened new centres for people to be able to put in their applications. It is running a 24/7 helpline and has a surgery for MPs in Portcullis House. I also point the hon. Lady to the fact that we are the largest donor of humanitarian aid, with £220 million. We also want to help people to settle in the region; many people coming from Ukraine want to settle locally and we are helping in that effort by sending our humanitarian teams to the region.

On International Women’s Day, Europe is leading and united in welcoming more than 2 million refugees, almost all of whom are women and children, fleeing the bloody and murderous war by Putin against Ukraine and its citizens. Yet, pitifully, the UK stands at only 300 visas. Shamefully, we learned this morning in The Daily Telegraph that while Ireland has waived visas and expects to welcome 100,000 refugees, the UK Government have expressed fears that that would create a drug route to the UK. On the very day that President Zelensky will address this House, does the Foreign Secretary realise that the Home Office’s continued xenophobic and inhumane immigration policy must be, for her and her office, a complete humiliation, undermining the support for Ukraine and its people? Will she now call on her colleague the Home Secretary either to reverse that policy, or to resign?

As I have said, we have opened up two new routes. The Home Secretary has opened up a family route and a sponsored humanitarian route. We are also providing huge support in the region, working closely with the Ukrainian Government and local Governments such as the Polish Government.

Ukraine: Humanitarian Crisis

4. What recent discussions she has had with international partners on the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. (905923)

14. What recent discussions she has had with international partners on the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. (905935)

17. What recent discussions she has had with international partners on the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. (905938)

Russia’s assault on Ukraine is unprovoked, premeditated, barbaric and an assault on a sovereign democracy. The UK has committed £220 million of humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and the region. We are in regular contact with our allies across the world, as well as international agencies such as the UN and other humanitarian partners and donors, to assess the needs on the ground and to ensure an internationally co-ordinated response. We call on Russia to respect its obligations under international humanitarian law.

It is absolutely vital that the humanitarian corridors remain open to facilitate the safe passage of refugees from Ukraine as well as the safe passage of humanitarian aid into the country, so what steps has the Minister taken, in conjunction with NATO allies, to ensure that that happens?

We note Russia’s claim of creating humanitarian corridors. These are just not credible. The current humanitarian corridors that Russia has highlighted lead into Russia, and it is an obscene and offensive gesture to the Ukrainian people to invite them to take refuge in the arms of the country currently seeking to destroy theirs. It is not credible and we call upon Russia to allow proper, meaningful humanitarian access.

Constituents trying to help their elderly and disabled relatives out of Ukraine describe their arduous 19-hour journey from the south to Lviv for biometric enrolment due to the lack of safe routes in the south. They are now awaiting appointments in Poland, but who knows how long that will take? They need to know, as others have asked today, what more the Foreign Office will do with the Home Office to make this process quicker and more effective.

As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, the Home Office has established a forward presence, including just over the Ukrainian border into Poland, in order to facilitate cases like the one that the hon. Lady has raised. We continue working closely with the Home Office to ensure that its work on receiving Ukrainian refugees is as quick, effective and efficient as possible.

Mariupol has been described as a living hell by those who have been subject to the vicious bombardment in the city. What are the Government doing to get people who are under siege, including brave HALO Trust staff, rescued into some safety?

The hon. and gallant Gentleman raises an incredibly important point. Our ability to project influence into Ukraine is understandably heavily curtailed. We will continue working to ensure that potential human rights abuses are catalogued and put forward for subsequent trials in the International Criminal Court and other places, if relevant. I take the point about what more can be done to help the brave people who have stayed behind to do great work in Ukraine and what we can do to help them to evacuate the country. I cannot give him details at the moment but his point is well made.

The Foreign Secretary has spoken about the work ongoing with the Home Office to process applications of refugees coming over the border into Poland, but people are also flooding over the borders into Romania, Hungary, Moldova and other neighbouring countries. What more can we do on the ground in those countries to help to swiftly get people to our shores?

My hon. Friend raises a very important point. As we have said, the Home Office has established a forward presence in Poland, but also in the other countries bordering Ukraine, to facilitate the forward passage for those wishing to come to the UK. The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have made it clear that we intend to have a generous offer to the Ukrainian people of a refuge to those seeking that, and we will continue co-ordinating with the Home Office in its work to establish routes to the UK.

Apart from humanitarian reasons, there are siren voices suggesting that we should commit to a no-fly zone in Ukraine, notwithstanding our existing support to the country and our commitment to article 5 and to NATO. Will the Minister assure the House once again that there is no intention to intervene directly militarily in this war, for a host of reasons, including the fact that it would lead to a wider conflict?

The UK should be rightly proud of the support that we gave to the Ukrainian armed forces over a number of years through Operation Orbital and through the early deployment of NLAWs, or next generation light anti-tank weapons—the anti-tank missile systems that have proven so effective—and we will continue to provide support to the Ukrainians in their self-defence. The Secretary-General of NATO has made it very clear that it would be wrong for NATO to engage directly in the conflict with Russia that is the inevitable by-product of a no-fly zone. Putin is desperately trying to paint this as western aggression against Russia. We must not do anything that will allow him to perpetrate that perverse distortion of reality.

Is my right hon. Friend having conversations about contingency plans for what will happen if, God forbid, Russian forces start to deliberately attack nuclear facilities near the western borders? Those plans would need to lead to a mass movement of the refugees already in that area. Would he also agree that that would pretty much constitute an attack on NATO allies?

We take attacks, or the threat of attacks, against nuclear facilities very seriously. Nuclear safeguarding remains a priority for this Government. I will not be drawn on the conditions of what might be defined as an attack on NATO, but nevertheless we have made it absolutely clear that NATO is a defensive organisation. It has never expanded by force or coercion. Our support to the Ukrainians is steadfast, but there is a clear dividing line between an attack on one of our good friends—Ukraine—and an attack on a NATO member state.

This International Women’s Day, hundreds of thousands of women are massed in the freezing cold at the borders of Ukraine, traumatised children in their arms, as they flee from Putin’s bloody, unprovoked war. Families have been separated, thousands of homes have been destroyed, and whole cities have been cut off from water, food, healthcare and other basic services. This is an evolving humanitarian situation, and the pace and scale of displacement is unlike anything we have seen in Europe for a generation. Some 2 million refugees have already fled the country, and millions more may cross the borders in the coming days and weeks.

Can the Minister tell us how much of the £220 million announced for humanitarian aid is actually in Ukraine or helping those who have fled its borders, and will he agree to provide us with a monthly breakdown of pledges against what has been disbursed? We have to act swiftly and we need to know what has been disbursed to date, so will the Minister tell us?

As the hon. Lady says, this is a rapidly evolving situation. We have made recent announcements of humanitarian support, which are very significant—the largest in the world at this stage. We are more than happy to keep the House up to date with the disbursal of that humanitarian aid, and will do so through the normal means.

India: Economic and Security Relationship

6. What diplomatic steps she has taken to strengthen the UK’s economic and security relationship with India. (905925)

India is the world’s sixth largest economy and an important partner for the UK. In May last year, the UK and India committed to strengthening our economic and security relationship through a new comprehensive strategic partnership. Our trade with, and investment in, India is set to grow further, and we continue to work together on security and defence.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the UK’s development finance organisation, British International Investment, has a critical role to play in strengthening our economic ties with India and promoting the entrepreneurial spirit that our two countries share?

I completely agree about the importance of British International Investment across the world. I point to the firm statement that the Foreign Secretary gave to the Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday, in which she emphasised the need to strengthen our economic and defence relationship with India in order to pull it away from the orbit of authoritarian regimes such as Russia.

With India arbitrarily detaining UK nationals such as my constituent Jagtar Singh Johal for over four years now and failing to defend the democratic right of national self-determination for Ukraine, can the Minister tell us how the trade negotiations are going?

Again, I point to the important statement that the Foreign Secretary made yesterday. It is vital that we continue to strengthen our economic and defence relationship with India. However, the constituency case of Jagtar Singh Johal that the hon. Gentleman mentions was raised by the Foreign Secretary recently with her counterparts in India.

European Security

The UK is working closely with our G7 partners to make clear our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and that we will not accept Russia’s campaign to subvert its democratic neighbours. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is working extensively with her G7 counterparts, and met with them in Brussels on 4 March to co-ordinate our response to Russian aggression, including robust economic measures and financial sanctions.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the situation in Ukraine matters not just for European security, but for the whole world, and therefore we need a global response? Our global allies must join us in taking a tough stance on sanctions and strongly supporting the people of Ukraine. This attack on a democratic nation may have taken place on our continent, but it has significant global implications.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary discussed our potential sanctions response with G7 partners in Liverpool late last year, and he is absolutely right that the eyes of the world are watching our response on this, and the message we must send is clear: that the G7 and the wider international community, including countries in the far east, many miles from this conflict, are resolute in standing up against this kind of aggressive behaviour, and we will maintain that position.

I welcome what the Minister has said about co-ordination with the G7 on Ukraine, but does he agree that Putin seeks to create instability and insecurity elsewhere in Europe at the same time, including in the western Balkans, Moldova and the Caucasus. Can he tell us what he has been doing with G7 counterparts and our partners in the EU to address those attempts to create instability across the rest of Europe?

The Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary met the Prime Ministers and representatives of the western Balkans just last week. The hon. Member is absolutely right that we must not allow the situation in Ukraine to have a destabilising effect on other parts of the continent or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones) said, other parts of the world. We will continue our close engagement with partners in the region and beyond to ensure that we deal with the situation in Ukraine and do not allow it to have a destabilising effect more broadly.

Now that the world has woken up to the reality of the cold-hearted ruthlessness of Putin’s police state, does the Minister agree that the most important thing that members of the G7 that are also members of NATO can do to secure European security is to raise their defence budgets to levels that we used to spend when faced with this sort of confrontational approach from Russia?

My right hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. The UK is rightly proud of the fact that we have consistently met out 2% of GDP target for NATO expenditure. We warmly welcome the recent commitment of the German Government in what is a politically bold and incredibly important move to increase their defence spending. This situation in Ukraine is a reminder that peace comes at a price, and we have to be willing to pay that price to maintain peace.

Topical Questions

Putin’s actions have shattered European security. In response, we have been at the forefront of providing support for Ukraine, stepping up sanctions to debilitate the Russian economy, which funds Putin’s war machine, isolating Russia on the world stage, and strengthening NATO’s eastern flank. We cannot have a world where might is right and sovereignty and territorial integrity are trampled. I am rallying our partners to boost support for Ukraine and strengthen our collective defence.

There have been reports of several actions by Russian forces in Ukraine that violate the laws of armed conflict, including reports today of the shelling of a hospital in Mariupol. I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) in underlining how important it is to document these incidents, so that those responsible can eventually be held to account for their actions. Will the Government also do all they can to ensure the creation of a special tribunal to investigate the crime of aggression, because the Ukrainian people deserve justice?

I agree with the hon. Lady about the appalling atrocities that are taking place and the need to document those atrocities. That is why the UK with partners—38 states—put the referral to the International Criminal Court, and that is why we are working very hard with our partners to collect that important evidence.

T2. Putin’s Russia has been making aggressive statements towards Sweden and Finland. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the UK should be very supportive of their application to NATO, and we should look to expedite that, should they decide to apply? (905947)

NATO has a strong partnership with Sweden and Finland. I assure my hon. Friend that our close co-ordination will continue. Our relationship with Sweden and Finland extends to our valued partnership in security and defence bilaterally and through regional groups, such as the joint expeditionary force and the northern group. I note closely what she said about future applications to join NATO from those states.

Vladimir Putin’s decision to severely restrict the BBC World Service in Russia is, I am sure all hon. Members agree, an attack on freedom of speech and on accurate, trustworthy, excellent journalism. The BBC has provided reliable information to the Russian people as Putin wages an illegal and unprovoked war, which he claims to do in their name. Will the Minister tell us what steps he is taking to ensure that the BBC World Service is not targeted further in Russia and across the rest of the world?

The Government are firm in their defence of media freedom. The conflict in Ukraine has reminded us, if we needed reminding, how important the job of independent, honest journalism is internationally. The BBC World Service is a jewel in the British crown and the Russian language output that it provides is incredibly important in allowing Russians to understand what is being done perversely in their name.

T4.   Russia’s invasion of Ukraine all too vividly demonstrates the dangers of autocratic regimes. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that the UK actively supports the right of people to determine their own future wherever they are in the world, not least in Taiwan? (905950)

The world, including China, is watching how we and our partners respond to Russian aggression in Ukraine. The reality is that the only thing that Putin and Xi understand is strength, which is why it is so important that we bring more countries into the positive orbit of democratic, free enterprise and freedom-loving economies. That is what we are working to do with our partners in the G7 and more broadly.

T3. It was reported today that the UK Government regard Ukrainian refugees entering Ireland—women and bairns fleeing Putin’s bombs—as a security threat. When will the Government cut the hyperbole and the bureaucracy and give those poor souls sanctuary in this country? (905949)

The Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary have made it absolutely clear that we will open our arms to Ukrainian refugees. The Home Office is working to ensure that that is done promptly and we will continue to support the Home Office in its work in that area.

T6.   Putin has shown that he is prepared to attack nuclear power plants and has threatened to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the importance of maintaining the UK’s strategic deterrent as a NATO asset is all the more vital in these dangerous times? (905952)

My right hon. Friend is right about the reckless actions of President Putin and about the destabilisation and attempted destabilisation of nuclear facilities, which the United Kingdom called out at the UN Security Council. President Putin is trying to distract from his appalling invasion of Ukraine and the fact that it is not going according to plan by resorting to increased rhetoric. We simply should not respond to those threats.

T5. The Financial Times reported today that UK taxpayers may be forced to foot a £43-million bill for loans taken out by Russia’s biggest coal company and underwritten by the Government’s export agency. I ask the Foreign Secretary whether she knows who the Secretary of State for International Trade was at the time that the deal was agreed with one of Russia’s richest oligarchs and whether the Minister in question personally authorised the agreement? (905951)

I know from my time at the Department for International Trade that those agreements tend to be signed off by officials.

T7.   Earlier, Ministers mentioned humanitarian corridors. What is being done to ensure that they are safe, secure and appropriate? What are the UK Government doing to uphold international humanitarian laws? (905953)

My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. As I said in response to an earlier question, Russia’s farcical claim that it is opening humanitarian corridors eastwards is, of course, a nonsense. The Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion are typically doing so westwards into the countries bordering Ukraine. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has made the point that, in support of those people, the best thing the British people can do, wherever in the UK they are, is to make cash donations rather than donations in kind. We will ensure that that humanitarian support reaches the people it needs to, and we will continue supporting, both at the borders and here in the UK, those Ukrainian refugees as they flee conflict.

Despite our deep and historic ties both with Israel and with the Arab world, the UK was entirely absent from the process that led to the Abraham accords in the summer of 2020, and last year’s integrated review made no mention of them whatsoever. Does the Minister agree that if the rhetoric of global Britain is to mean anything, surely the UK should be central to encouraging more of our partners across the Arab world to normalise relations with Israel for the good of the whole middle east?

The Foreign Secretary made clear her commitment to the Abraham accords at the Gulf Co-operation Council and UK Foreign Ministers meeting on 20 December 2021. The UK warmly welcomes the historic steps taken to agree normalisation agreements between Israel, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Sudan, and we will continue to work with the US and regional partners to actively encourage further dialogue between Israel and other countries in the region to work towards a more peaceful and prosperous future.

T8. Does my right hon. Friend agree that to deter foreign states from sponsoring or launching cyber-attacks on the United Kingdom, now is the time, especially considering the recent Russian aggression, to show the world that Britain is willing and able to retaliate? (905954)

The UK remains vigilant to cyber-threats and we are ready to defend against them, working closely with our allies to deter, mitigate and attribute malicious cyber-activity. We are being very active in calling out the terrible cyber-activity by the Russian Government, and of course we will consider all levers of power to protect the UK’s security.

A year ago, the former Foreign Secretary commissioned an equalities impact assessment of the Government’s aid cuts. We have been trying for almost that length of time to get the document into the public domain. Today is International Women’s Day. Will the Foreign Secretary publish the report by 4 pm today?

The hon. Lady knows that, in the Budget we are doing this year, we are restoring the aid budget for women and girls back to its previous levels and we are also restoring the humanitarian aid budget. However, it is a matter of policy that we do not publicly release equality impact assessments because they have a chilling effect and people cannot be honest internally. That is why we do not release them, but of course I am very happy to discuss the issue with her further.

I thank the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) for bringing us on to International Women’s Day. Today is obviously an important day for celebrating the actions of so many courageous women around the world. Will my right hon. Friend speak today about those who have been made particular victims, those who have been chased out of their homes, the young women who have been sold into trafficking and not supported as refugees, and those women who are even now being brutalised in north Africa as they are forced over the border as slaves into southern Europe? Will she please speak about the action that her Department is taking to defend those women and girls?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point about how many women and girls are suffering, and covid has made that situation worse. That is why we are restoring our humanitarian budget, why we are restoring the women and girls budget and why we are working on our preventing sexual violence in conflict initiative to stop that happening, as well as increasing the amount of development spending we are using to tackle human trafficking, working with the Home Office. We are working on our international development budget, and we will be announcing it fairly shortly, along with our overall humanitarian strategy.

I think the importance of the international events the House is dealing with this morning is a clear demonstration that the Department is not ultimately the right place for the protocol to be dealt with. In that vein, can I ask that the Secretary of State recognise the huge damage being done by the protocol? It is costing businesses in Northern Ireland £100,000 per hour. It has damaged the sovereignty of Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom. It is costing a 27% increase in haulage prices. Will the Secretary of State now set a deadline—an absolute deadline—to deal with this matter once and for all?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I am dealing with this matter. I met various European countries last week to discuss reforming the Northern Ireland protocol, which simply is not working. Communities in Northern Ireland are being treated unfairly and there is an issue with getting goods from GB into Northern Ireland. We have put forward a concrete proposal that will also protect the EU single market and we need to see movement from the EU.

I have the honour of representing one of the largest Chagos islands communities anywhere in the world and the vast majority of them were absolutely appalled at the Mauritian Government’s recent publicity stunt in planting a flag on the outer islands of their archipelago. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that we support the UK sovereignty of the British Indian Ocean Territory?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and let me be absolutely clear that the UK is in no doubt about its sovereignty over BIOT. We were disappointed that Mauritius turned a scientific survey into a political stunt; the raising of Mauritian flags on outer islands of BIOT was an unhelpful way to approach a bilateral dispute. We removed the flags planted by Mauritius on BIOT. There certainly seems to be a range of reactions from Chagossians to this event; it is also very interesting to hear about my hon. Friend’s constituents, and I pay tribute to him for all his work representing Chagossians living in Crawley.

The Minister is cautioning against donations in kind to Ukraine because of the red tape our exports are tied up in as a result of the Brexit deal; I know that for a fact because I have explored it on behalf of a number of charities in my constituency. What action will the Department take to talk to EU counterparts and ensure the flow of humanitarian aid to Ukraine, given the complexity of sending second-hand goods and so forth abroad now?

What the hon. and learned Lady said is simply not true. The Polish Government, who the hon. and learned Lady should be listening to—and she should take responsibility here—have said that donations in kind generates

“disproportional amounts of additional work and cost, which proves ineffective and counterproductive”.

With all due respect to the hon. and learned Lady, I think the Polish Government know more about the situation on the border with Ukraine than she does.

What discussions are the Government having with our overseas territories and Crown dependencies to ensure that the measures we are taking on illicit finance are being supported by them—that those same rules are being introduced in their own territories as well?

The UK and the overseas territories stand united in condemning the Russian Government. The UK sanctions regimes apply to all overseas territories, which are completely in step with the UK and our international allies in implementing sanctions against Russia.

We know that the National Crime Agency is underpowered, but we also know we have a common interest with our European allies in the search for credible information about those oligarchs who should be sanctioned, so what steps are being taken to internationalise this search process to make sure we sanction those who should be sanctioned?

We are working with our international partners. I attended a meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council along with the US and Canada. We are talking about enforcement and are sharing lists and information to make sure our crime agencies are able to tackle this illicit activity.

Yesterday, the Foreign Secretary said that one of the things that pained her the most was the sale of embassy buildings over many years and she hoped no more of it would happen on her watch. Will she cancel the proposed sale of 45% of our Tokyo embassy estate, which would deeply dishearten one of our closest allies at a time when we are seeking to strengthen the western alliance?

I share my right hon. Friend’s deep attachment to our Tokyo facilities and am working very hard with our officials on what we can do to make sure we retain our terrific presence, which is just over the road from the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, and any help my right hon. Friend would like to give me as chairman of the all-party group on Japan would be very welcome, including financial assistance and help with the Treasury.

What representations has the Minister made to our counterparts in Kazakhstan on the security forces’ use of force on people protesting against living standards and on the oppression of peaceful protest?

Following the outbreak of violence in Kazakhstan, my noble Friend Lord Ahmad met senior representatives of the Kazakh Government, including President Tokayev’s special representative. In those contacts, he underlined the need to ensure that law enforcement responses are proportionate and in accordance with Kazakhstan’s international obligations. He also stressed the importance of conducting the investigation into the unrest urgently, transparently and effectively.

While the world rightly focuses on the terrible events in Ukraine, I remind the House of the terrible ongoing conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, where women in particular are suffering the most terrible attacks and there is also a potential famine. I know that the Minister is taking a deep interest in that, but can the Government do any more to help?

I thank my hon. Friend for continuing to shine a light on the terrible situation in Ethiopia. It is the world’s most severe humanitarian crisis. From north to south, 30 million people require life-saving aid, 5 million people have been displaced because of conflict and tens of millions of people are affected by the drought. Again, I urge all parties in the north of the country to lay down their arms and facilitate humanitarian access. Since December, one truck has got through, but 100 a day are needed. There is a high-scale risk of loss of life. We must continue to stand with the people of Ethiopia and, as my hon. Friend says, especially the women and girls on International Women’s Day.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Following the Foreign Secretary’s answer to me about the FCDO’s equalities impact assessment conducted in March 2021, I seek your advice on any other way to encourage her to fulfil her duty to the House, as is stated in the ministerial code, to be

“held to account, for…policies, decisions and actions”,

to be

“as open as possible with Parliament”

and to refuse to provide information

“only when disclosure would not be in the public interest”.

The Foreign Secretary said that the Government’s practice is not to formally publish equalities assessments and has added her view that that would have a “chilling effect” on the advice prepared by officials. However, that is confusing as a range of equalities impact assessments have been published in the past, such as for the Coronavirus Bill, and no one will be surprised that the former Department for International Development commissioned independent reviews of its assessment work and that the Independent Commission for Aid Impact also examined such issues. It is fundamentally deplorable that the Foreign Secretary has used the assessment to celebrate her Department but will not put the information into the public domain.

It is very important that scrutiny Committees have access to relevant papers and records to do the job that the House has delegated to them. The International Development Committee is best placed to assess what information is needed for its inquiries, and I trust that Members on the Government Front Bench have heard the hon. Member’s concerns and will respond to the Committee’s request in a timely manner and provide the papers.