[Relevant documents: e-petition 609530, “Waive visa requirement for Ukrainian refugees”; e-petition 607314, “Pledge any necessary military support to defend Ukraine”; e-petition 609382, “Offer fast track asylum to any Ukrainians displaced due to the invasion”.]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the situation in Ukraine.
Seven days ago, President Zelensky inspired us with his address to Parliament. This weekend, he was visiting wounded soldiers in hospital, leading from the front. We owe it to President Zelensky and the people of Ukraine to do our utmost to help them in their brave fight; we owe it to ourselves to stand up for security and stability in Europe; and we owe it to the world to keep the flame of freedom burning and to show that aggression does not pay.
In response to the unprovoked attack, the world has shown immense unity in standing up to Vladimir Putin, but we need to keep up the pressure. Our objective is clear: Putin must lose in Ukraine. We are doing this by cutting off the funding for his war machine, by providing weapons that the Ukrainians need to defend themselves and by isolating Putin on the world stage. The United Kingdom has been at the forefront of the international response, with a tough sanctions package and strong support, including defensive weapons and humanitarian aid. We will now enhance our work with allies to respond to Russia’s aggression.
We need to be strong to get peace. That is why we are building on efforts to cut off the funding for Putin’s war machine through sanctions. Today, I can announce that we will go further than ever before by hitting more than 360 more people complicit with Putin’s regime. They range from former President Dmitry Medvedev and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu to Putin’s propagandist Maria Zakharova. After today, we will have designated more than 1,000 individuals and entities under our Russian sanctions regime.
We are using our new powers under the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act 2022 to maximise impact. That would not have been possible without the extraordinary efforts of colleagues across this Parliament to get the legislation through the House so quickly, which shows our collective determination to lead by example in punishing the Putin regime.
The Minister is right that we are sanctioning a lot of people, but actually we name the people who are sanctioned, and then other people do the sanctioning by not engaging with them on a financial basis, not buying or selling properties and all the rest of it. At the moment, it is phenomenally difficult to find out from the Foreign Office sanctions list who is and is not sanctioned. For instance, I gather that it was announced last week that Members of the Duma were sanctioned, but they are still not on the Foreign Office website list, as far as I can see. I wonder whether there is a way of making the information far more readily available to the wider population.
We need to deal not just with the people who have £20 million houses, whom we have all heard of, but with the people who have £750,000 flats in London, bought with Russian dirty money—the many relatives of Abramovich and his ex-partners, for instance. Each one of them needs to be dealt with, and each one of those properties needs to be seized.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about ensuring that we give due publicity to the people, institutions and entities who have been sanctioned. I will ensure that the Department listens to his suggestion.
In December, we brought our G7 partners together in Liverpool to warn Putin that invading Ukraine would have massive consequences. We have followed through on that pledge. We have worked with our allies to cut off sectors of the Russian economy by targeting its defence companies, trade and transport sector, and by kicking banks out of the SWIFT financial system. We have led the way with our financial sanctions, targeting 10 Russian banks, and we have hit over £300 billion of Russian bank assets. All this amounts to the toughest sanctions package of any country. We will work with all our allies and encourage them to keep ratcheting up their efforts as well.
We will continue to provide lethal military aid to Ukraine. We were the first European country to send defensive weapons; we have already donated more than 3,600 next generation light anti-tank weapons and are now supplying Javelin missiles.
My hon. and gallant Friend makes an important point. We have heard anecdotally that Ukrainians are shouting “God save the Queen!” as they fire those weapons at the tanks that have been sent to destroy them. I am very proud that we play an incredibly important part.
I thank the Minister for giving way; it is very courteous of him. Is it not true that part of the reason we are where we are today is the historic long-term running down of our armed forces? The situation today sits very ill with the proposal to reduce the British Army by 10,000 men and women. Finally, we have all read in today’s Telegraph that inflation will reduce the size of the armed forces over the years ahead.
The sad truth, I think, is that Vladimir Putin has been plotting this expansionist idea of his for quite some time. I do not agree that it is necessarily linked with domestic defence policy in the UK, but we can absolutely be proud that British military technology, assisted by British military training, is helping the Ukrainians in their time of need and in their ferocious defence of their homeland.
My right hon. Friend has told us that the United Kingdom has taken the lead on our continent in freezing the assets of Russians. During his discussions with representatives of the European Union, have they been able to furnish him with an explanation of why they, as an entity, have failed to keep pace with Britain in that regard?
I am often encouraged to do a “compare and contrast” between the United Kingdom and our international friends and partners, but the simple truth is that there has been greater, tighter and closer co-ordination in response to Putin’s aggression in Ukraine than I could ever have imagined, and we will continue to work together extremely closely. We are proud of the fact that the UK Government have had a dramatic and detrimental impact on Russia’s finances, choking off Putin’s ability to fund this aggression, but we intend to go further, and we will do so in close co-ordination with those international friends and partners.
As someone who lost his guts, or at least his lunch, quite a few times when helicopters were having to jig because of the threat of Singer missiles—given to our allies at the time, decades earlier—may I ask whether the Minister can assure us that the Government’s measures are sufficient to ensure that our weapons do not end up on the black market in the hands of the wrong people at a future date? Will he also confirm that our weapons—the NLAWs and other pieces of aggressive equipment—will not end up in the hands of far-right neo-Nazis, many of whom we know to be making their way to Ukraine now from around the world?
Our priority, and the purpose of the defensive weapon support that we have provided, is to help the Ukrainians to defend themselves against the attacks of Russia. Obviously we hope that this conflict will come to a swift conclusion, but until then we will continue our support for the Ukrainians as they defend themselves. What happens at the end of this conflict, in terms of securing munitions, will be something on which we will work with the Ukraine Government and our national friends and partners, but at the moment our priority, quite rightly, is to help the Ukrainians to defend themselves against Putin’s attack.
May I ask my right hon. Friend about this distinction between defensive and offensive weaponry? The fact is that when a friendly nation finds itself under attack, all the weaponry with which we supply it is defensive. I should have thought that if we cannot intervene ourselves—and there are good reasons why we cannot—there is no reason at all why we cannot help the Ukrainians with their airspace problem by facilitating the necessary aircraft deliveries which they have requested.
My right hon. Friend has made an important point about munitions systems being inherently defensive when a country is under attack. He has also made an important point about airspace management, and I will come to that later in my speech. I intend to make some progress now.
Since 2014, we have worked to train more than 22,000 Ukrainian troops under Operation Orbital. As well as helping Ukraine to defend itself from attack on the ground, we must help it to defend itself against attack from the skies. That is why we will be sending more supplies, including Starstreak ground-based air defence anti-aircraft missiles. We and our allies need to do everything possible, within the UN charter on self-defence, to help Ukraine to defend itself, which is why I was with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister this morning discussing with and working with our Nordic and Baltic allies to increase defensive support as part of the UK-led joint expeditionary force. We must be robust in supporting our NATO allies living under the shadow of Russian aggression, so the UK, as NATO’s biggest European contributor, is doubling the number of troops in Estonia and Poland.
As Putin inflicts ever greater misery in Ukraine, we continue our humanitarian and economic support. We have pledged almost £400 million, which includes the supply of more than 700,000 medical items directly to Ukraine and more than 500 power generators to keep essential facilities such as hospitals running. We have also brought 21 critically ill Ukrainian children to the UK to receive life-saving cancer treatment. We are providing more humanitarian aid than any other European country. The British people have also risen to the moment by showing their own huge generosity of spirit. In the short time since our homes for Ukraine scheme was launched, more than 80,000 people have signed up for it.
That is lovely. It is not usually nice to be wrong at the Dispatch Box, but I am incredibly proud that the figure I quoted, which was accurate a few hours ago when this speech was written, has now been made obsolete by the enormous generosity of spirit of the British people. I think that that shows us at our best. The Disasters Emergency Committee’s appeal has now reached over £150 million, which we are supporting with our largest ever match-funding pledge of £25 million.
I do not doubt the generosity of the people of this country, but I am still worried about the generosity of the Government. May I give the Minister an example? A young Ukrainian family, related to one of my constituents, have thankfully made it into Poland, but although their visa appointment was over a week ago, they are still waiting for the outcome. Meanwhile, their hotel bills are rising and they are even considering returning to Ukraine—to a war zone. How humane is that response from the Government? Can they not make these decisions much more quickly?
The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and other members of the Government have made it clear that our intention is to be generous and to welcome Ukrainians with open arms. We are trying to facilitate that as quickly as possible, and the Home Secretary has spoken at the Dispatch Box about measures that she has put in place for that purpose. If the hon. Lady will pass on the details of the people whom she has mentioned, we will see what we can do to help, but I assure her that the generosity of spirit of this country will be felt by the Ukrainians who are fleeing persecution and attack from Vladimir Putin.
As well as supporting Ukraine directly, we are deploying our diplomatic efforts internationally. We are rallying the 141 countries that voted to condemn Russia’s actions at the United Nations to do even more. We have seen many of those countries support our sanctions worldwide, from Switzerland to Singapore, and we are working to draw more countries into the orbit of those that are prepared to stand up for the sovereignty of Ukraine. We are working with partners to reduce the economic dependency on Russia across the world, from the Indo-Pacific to Africa and the Gulf, through trade and British international investment. Everything we do will further isolate the Putin regime which has made Russia a global pariah.
Ultimately, we will hold Putin accountable for his crimes. We will work with prosecutors at the International Criminal Court to help them to obtain the information that they need, and we will not relent in our mission to see that justice is done.
Has my right hon. Friend seen the recent reports that the Russian navy is now massing off Odesa in a typical Russian tactical manoeuvre to open a new front? Is this not in fact a new opportunity to demonstrate to the world the unacceptability of Putin’s disgusting war and to invite open and international condemnation of his actions?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need to continue working internationally to enhance the coalition of nations that have denounced Putin’s actions and to increase the pressure on him to bring this war to a conclusion rather than opening up another front and increasing the suffering of the people in Ukraine.
We must be realistic that there will be a cost to the UK and to our allies of imposing these tough sanctions, but the cost of doing nothing is so much higher. We saw what happened in 2014 when the free world did not do enough to contain Putin’s aggression. He came back more aggressively, and that is why we cannot allow him to impose a settlement on Ukraine that vindicates his aggression. If we fail to stand up to Putin and fail to support Ukraine in its hour of need, we will live to regret it.
On that point, as we mount up the sanctions, we will be freezing more and more oligarchs’ and Russian assets, but we will not be selling them. We are not sequestrating them, so we are going to end up with a pile of assets. Are we at some point going to use those assets for the benefit of the Ukrainian people, or are we just going to wait until the war is over and hand them back, which I do not think would be as popular?
Just a single point on sanctions: what action will we take when people break those sanctions on Russia and take supplies? I am thinking particularly of the crude oil being taken by India. What action should we take in those circumstances against people who are still supporting Putin, with his money flowing into the country?
Ultimately, the enforcement of our sanctions regime is a task for Her Majesty’s Treasury. We will of course work across Government and internationally to ensure that the sanctions packages are robust and have the desired effect of ending this war in Ukraine. That is why the UK is working so hard and that is why, together with our allies and partners, we will ensure that Putin loses in Ukraine.
Three weeks ago, the world was changed forever. Vladimir Putin’s barbaric invasion marked the start of a crime of aggression against the Ukrainian people, but it was also the beginning of an assault on the fundamental aims of post-war Europe: peace, freedom and national sovereignty. After countries on our continent murdered one another on an industrial scale in two world wars in one century, after a cold war that threatened our planet with nuclear extinction and after horrific conflicts in the Balkans, we established an era of relative security in Europe. With the vicious tyrant in the Kremlin now shaking that all about, Ukrainians have defended their homeland with extraordinary courage and determination. Russian forces, fed a diet of propaganda by their Government, might have expected to be greeted as liberators. They have instead encountered not just the dogged and skilful resistance of the Ukrainian army but the courage of ordinary men and women willing to stand in the path of Russian tanks.
I completely agree with what the right hon. Gentleman has just said, but do those on the Labour Front Bench accept that, for too long, the west has basked in the peace dividend following our victory in the cold war? Democracy needs nurturing and protecting, because sometimes it is a fragile concept. Does he therefore agree that, having taken that for granted in the past, we need to do more to build our hard and soft power to ensure that in the coming battle for democracy, it is those who believe in the concept who actually win through?
The hon. Gentleman is completely right. After Georgia in 2008, after Crimea, after Donbas and after Syria, there is now deep reflection in the western community on what we could and should have done. It is important to remember that in a democracy such as ours, soft power always plays a part. That is why we should never undermine the BBC, the British Council, the role of our foreign diplomats in this endeavour or the importance of international development. We have soft power, but he is right to say that we also have armed, hard power, and we should be very cautious about the cuts that we have made to our armed defences. Sadly, Putin has deployed only hard power—or aggressive power in terms of his cyber-power—but we have the whole arsenal and we should reflect deeply on the complacency that has crept in over the last few years.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I am grateful also for the unity that has been shown across this House in our response to what Putin is doing in Ukraine, but I wonder, given that he referred to Syria, whether on reflection he regrets the stance taken by the Labour party in this Chamber when chemical weapons were used in Syria and Labour chose not to support the then Government’s position that we should take action alongside the Americans.
I entirely understand why the former Prime Minister raises that issue. She will know, too, that there is deep reflection on Capitol Hill and in Washington on what happened at that moment in time. This is a long curve; it is one that goes back to 2008. It is not just about that singular moment, but I understand why she raises it.
Can I go back to what the right hon. Gentleman said about soft power? He said that Putin was deploying only hard power. That is absolutely true in Ukraine, but for too long, large amounts of Russian soft power, by way of cash, have been flooding into various parts of the UK—into culture, universities, politicians and businesses. Is it not the case that we should pay a great deal of attention to ensuring that that cannot happen again?
Could I urge colleagues on both sides of the House not to bring the Syria vote into this dispute? The Syria vote hinged on the fact that it was proposed to depose another Arab dictator without regard to the nature of the extremists who would have taken over. We did exactly that sort of thing when we armed all sorts of groups in Afghanistan, and that did not work out too well for America either. This is a separate issue and we should not confuse the two.
The Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee gives the right context of the debate, as I remember it, at that time.
Ukrainians have defended their homeland with extraordinary courage and determination, and Russian forces, fed a diet of propaganda by their Government, may have expected to be greeted as liberators but have instead encountered dogged and skilful resistance from the Ukrainian army. Putin’s hopes for a brief campaign have crashed against the rocks of Ukrainian defiance.
That courageous resistance, however, has been met with growing brutality, with siege laid to cities, war crimes committed and civilians forced to flee, but let us look at the result of Putin’s war. There have been Russian casualties on a scale Putin could not have predicted. There is horrific suffering among the Ukrainian people who Putin claims are Russians’ brothers and sisters. Ukraine’s President has become an emblem of democracy standing up to dictatorship. The Russian economy is in freefall, the west is united, NATO is strengthened, Germany has announced a massive and historic increase in its defence budget, and even non-NATO states such as Sweden and Finland, which I visited last week, are exporting weapons to Ukraine. Russia stands isolated at the United Nations, condemned by more than 140 nations, while thousands show great courage in protesting against this war in Putin’s increasingly authoritarian police state.
This House is united in saying that defensive military support to Ukraine should continue. It is right that we help Ukraine defend itself, and the Government have Labour’s full backing in providing such support, including the new anti-tank and possible anti-air weapons systems announced last week. We need to get them into Ukraine as soon as possible, as they will be essential to maintaining Ukraine’s use of the sky. Last week the Government said they had taken the decision to explore a donation of Starstreak anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine. Has that decision been made?
I apologise to the House for intervening on the right hon. Gentleman a second time. I completely agree with what he just said, but there is a balance to be sought between offering essentially defensive weaponry and offering offensive weaponry, which is why some Conservative Members were concerned about talk of a no-fly zone or, indeed, the donation of Polish MiG jets to Ukrainian forces.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, in this age when soft power is important—the old adage is “talk softly but carry a big stick”—we should not consider any further cuts to our soft power capability, including the British Council?
I entirely agree.
From the beginning, this House has stood united in support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and against Putin’s aggression, so I welcome the news of additional sanctions. We support tough measures against Putin’s cronies and cutting Russia out of the economic system, but let us be clear that we were promised sanctions immediately after the invasion of Ukraine. Since then the Government have been playing catch-up.
The EU sanctioned members of the Russian state Duma on 23 February. Why did the UK not do the same until 11 March? I wrote to the Foreign Secretary on 27 February calling for a ban on the export of luxury goods to Russia. Why did the Government only do that today? The United States sanctioned Oleg Deripaska four years ago. Why did the British Government catch up only five days ago?
The Government’s delayed sanctions gave Putin and his cronies a get-out-of-London-free card. Roman Abramovich, who was sanctioned at the same time as Deripaska, is just one example. Because of Ministers’ tardiness, Abramovich was able to fly his jet out of Stansted and sail one of his superyachts to Montenegro, with his second boat not far behind. As the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) observed, that is £1 billion of assets that have left the United Kingdom.
For too many days during this war, the Government have been behind our EU and US allies on individual sanctions. They have been behind the Opposition on sanctioning banks in Belarus as well as Russia. They have been behind us on sanctioning the energy sector and on closing the loopholes that let Putin’s criminal cronies off the hook.
I accept the political point that the right hon. Gentleman is trying to make, but I am sure he recognises that we were first out of the traps on banking sanctions and that we led on trying to remove Russia from SWIFT. It is simply not fair to paint a picture that we have been following the EU and the US. There has been an international response in different areas, and it has come at different speeds.
The right hon. Gentleman is being generous in giving way.
The right hon. Gentleman is factually incorrect on the speed at which the UK applied sanctions compared with others, but does he agree that it is now important to start planning for Ukraine’s reconstruction? Somebody has to clear up this mess, and it will need some sort of Marshall plan. Does he agree that the sanctioned assets are ultimately fair game to be seized and used to rebuild Ukraine? In that respect, will he differentiate oligarchs and kleptocrats? The assets of the latter are clearly fair game, and the assets of the former may well be fair game.
I asked the Minister about seizing assets, and this follows from the point made by the right hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison). If we do not seize assets, we will not be able to redeploy them towards the reconstruction of Ukraine. I suspect the Government will need further primary legislation to do that, but does my right hon. Friend agree that the House would stand ready to do that if necessary? There will otherwise not be a Marshall plan for Ukraine.
My hon. Friend makes a good point about the historical enforcement of sanctions in this country, and of course the Opposition will stand ready to assist the Government if and hopefully when that legislation comes forward.
For more than a decade the Government have refused to clean up dirty Russian money. For any change to happen, Ministers have had to be dragged through the Lobby by Members on both sides of the House to rush through legislation that should have been passed years ago. We welcome the measures in the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act 2022, which was passed yesterday, although many are too weak.
The job is only half done. We must complete the process of shutting down the London laundromat and ending the impunity of Russian oligarchs and the corrupt elites and criminals from across the world who use Britain as a base for hiding stolen money. That means completing Companies House reform, closing loopholes that allow overseas territories to be used as offshore tax havens to shield dirty cash from all around the world, and effectively enforcing our laws, as has just been suggested.
This war has caused the gravest humanitarian crisis on our continent in decades and the biggest movement of people in Europe since the second world war. Almost 3 million people have fled, the vast majority of them women and children, with little more than the clothes on their back.
Yesterday I met the Romanian ambassador, who told me of the efforts under way to help and support those fleeing the war. I pay tribute to communities throughout Europe, especially in Poland, Slovakia, Romania, Hungary and Moldova. Britain has a proud tradition of supporting those in need. Quite simply, we must do our part, but Government bureaucracy is still standing between desperate Ukrainians and the generosity and good will of the British public.
The war in Ukraine is a seismic shift. Our short-term responses must be components of a longer-term strategy. We must match deterrence with diplomacy, standing firm and resolute in defence of our allies while minimising any risks of a direct NATO-Russia confrontation. Avoiding miscalculation and miscommunication, we must have a clear-eyed assessment of how this war could be brought to an end so that a free and sovereign Ukraine can be rebuilt for her people. NATO is rightly avoiding direct conflict with Russia, but that means that the costs of this appalling war are being felt almost entirely by the Ukrainian people. Putin deserves absolute defeat in Ukraine and the Ukrainian people deserve absolute peace. So we must play our part in pushing for a negotiated settlement, a deal for peace based on terms accepted by the democratically elected Government of Ukraine. We must have not only strong and effective sanctions, but a clear notion of how they can be used to bring about the outcomes we seek.
While we push for an end to Putin’s monstrous aggression, as well as for peace, democracy and freedom for Ukraine, we must remain open to the Russian people. They did not choose this war, so we must expose Putin’s fabrications, distinguish between the Russian regime and Russia, and bolster the work of the BBC World Service and others to communicate with authoritarian states, as has been said. We must revise our defence plans for this new era, scrap the planned cuts to the Army and protect our energy security with a green energy sprint, to move decisively away from fossil fuels and on to clean, cheap, home-grown renewables instead. That will end dependency on Russia, accelerate our path towards net zero and cut off finance for Putin’s war machine.
Of course Putin must withdraw, and I said that this should be based on the views of the democratically elected Ukrainian Government and their people.
It is rare that I agree with much at all that comes out of the mouth of our current Prime Minister, but I agree with the opening of his comment piece for today’s The Daily Telegraph, as the west did make a “terrible mistake” in letting Putin “get away” with his “act of violent aggression” in Ukraine in 2014. But the Prime Minister should also apologise for his own apologism, because in 2016 he foolishly blamed the EU for the illegal annexation of Crimea. In the absence of the Prime Minister, I am sure the Minister will agree that that was dangerously wrong, and that only Putin and his rogue regime can be blamed for these illegal acts of war.
The Prime Minister has made mistakes in advance of this war. He should apologise, too, for dining with an ex-KGB agent in April 2018, just two days after attending a high-level NATO summit that focused on Russia, as well as for foolishly declaring that the
“concepts of fighting big tank battles on European land mass ... are over”
as recently as November 2018. In the face of illiberalism, aggression and dictatorship, now is the time for us to reassert our belief in liberal democracy; reiterate our support for human rights at home, as well as abroad; reinforce our unshakable commitment to our NATO allies; and proclaim our belief in multilateral institutions, such as the UN, that are designed to build peace and prosperity, based on the rule of law. Because those who seek to divide us have these in their sights.
Order. As the House can see, a lot of people wish to catch my eye during this debate, and we want to get as many in as we can. I am not going to introduce a time limit at this moment, but if everybody could focus on speaking for about eight minutes, which is generous compared with the time allowed in most debates we have, at least we will be able to give everybody a fair share. I call Theresa May.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I thank the Minister for his speech and, as I said earlier, I thank everybody from across this House for the unity we are showing in the face of the heinous further invasion of Ukraine by Russia. There is a very clear message from this House and this country: Putin has brought war to mainland Europe; he has invaded a sovereign, independent country; and he is killing innocent men, women and children whose only wish is to live in freedom and free from Russian aggression. There should also be a clear message from this House that those responsible for initiating and prosecuting this war will be held accountable for their war crimes.
As I look around the Chamber, I am sure that there are going to be many speeches on a number of matters relating to the war in Ukraine: security and defence matters, military matters, sanctions and refugees. Indeed, such references have been made in the two opening speeches. I want to focus on one issue on which light has not been shone so far and where I have a particular interest. I say to the Minister that this matter is primarily for the Home Office, but I hope that he and the other Ministers on the Front Bench will be able to take these messages to the Home Secretary and ensure that they are taken on board and that action is taken.
The issue I want to raise is that of the trafficking of Ukrainian people, particularly unaccompanied Ukrainian child refugees, at the border areas. That is happening in Poland and in other countries to which Ukrainian refugees are fleeing. This issue has been raised with me by two non-governmental organisations that work globally on tackling modern slavery: Walk Free and the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery. It is a sad reflection on human nature that at the very point where these women and children are fleeing Ukraine for their safety in order to find refuge elsewhere, the criminal gangs have moved in to make money from the trafficking of what they consider to be yet another commodity—human beings. These gangs are attempting to make money out of this human distress and vulnerability.
The human traffickers moved in within a day or so of refugees starting to come across the borders. We have seen the photographs of the borders and we know that the numbers are such that the situation can be chaotic. It is very difficult; there are many unaccompanied children coming over. They are not necessarily orphans, but they may not have their family with them, and some of these children do not have papers. I understand that the Polish authorities are making valiant efforts to find papers and photograph children to find some sort of record of them in order to identify them. However, we know that there is no database and no real means of ensuring that identification and tracking of what is happening to those children. It has been suggested that a database is needed, and I know that efforts are being made to encourage the tech companies to help, and to do so quickly, by creating a database that can identify and track these children, to make sure that they are not unidentified and there is not the opportunity for the criminal gangs to take them away without anybody knowing that they have been there or where they are being taken. So my first ask for Ministers is whether they will now work urgently with UN agencies, the European Commission and the tech companies to find a resolution to this issue, to put in a place a system that means there can be no unidentified children left to the mercy of the traffickers.
My second ask is on the need to deal with the criminal gangs. Europol and Interpol almost certainly need to be involved, as do the various police and law enforcement agencies throughout Europe. There will be a key role for our National Crime Agency, which I believe should take the lead. I hope that if it has not already done so, the Home Office will take the issue up with the National Crime Agency and make sure that it has the resources it needs to deal with the issue. I also hope that the NCA and the Home Office recognise the urgency and importance of the issue of the trafficking of children.
My first point was on the need to reduce the opportunities for traffickers and my second was on the need to identify, catch and prosecute the traffickers, but we must also recognise that some children will be prey to the traffickers and some of them may be brought across borders and into the United Kingdom. It is possible to identify children who have been trafficked when they are brought through the border, so my third ask is for the Home Office to ensure that Border Force recognises the possibility of trafficked Ukrainian children being brought across the border and into the country, to reinforce its guidelines for Border Force staff on how to identify them, and to ensure that those staff are aware of this potential issue and are vigilant in dealing with it at the border.
As the Minister has outlined, the United Kingdom is in many ways rightly supporting Ukraine and putting pressure on Russia to stop its illegal invasion, but we have to look beyond the obvious. I suggest that the opportunities for traffickers in border areas is not the obvious but is, sadly, something that will lead to considerable further human misery. I trust that the Government will take the issue on board and act with urgency.
Three weeks ago, when we looked at the Russian troops amassing on Ukraine’s borders, none of us could have imagined the horror that we were going to witness. To see war crimes being committed, to see cities being levelled, and to see civilians being surrounded and stuck in basements without food, water or medicine—these are scenes that none of us expected. We certainly did not expect to see them in a sovereign, independent, modern-thinking country such as Ukraine.
I pay tribute to the people of Ukraine—the House is absolutely united on this. We pay tribute to President Zelensky and to the people for the bravery and resilience they have shown and continue to show in the face of the onslaught. I also pay tribute to the countries that have opened their borders to the refugees, and particularly to Romania, Hungary, Moldova and Poland. I have probably missed out some countries that are doing great work with refugees, but those are the countries into which refugees are initially crossing over.
We have to remember that this is not the first time that Ukraine has met the force of Russia. One hundred years ago, when Russia wanted to impose its will on the Ukrainian people, it enforced famine on Ukraine. Millions died during the Holodomor. We are already seeing the bodies pile up in this conflict. We need to do what we can and I fully support the lethal military aid that the UK is providing. It is crucial to Ukraine’s response.
I wish to focus my comments on the refugee crisis, which is the issue in which most of our constituents feel most invested but in respect of which, in many ways, they feel most helpless. On Friday, the Home Secretary wrote to MPs about the UK’s humanitarian response. Unfortunately, nothing in that letter reflected the scale or seriousness of this crisis; rather, it was a list of hoops that refugees would have to jump through. Frankly, it entirely lacked compassion. Let me read the House one sentence that stood out:
“I have two overarching obligations: to meet my first responsibility of keeping the British people safe and to meet their overwhelming demand that we do all we can to help Ukrainians.”
There was nothing about our need to help Ukrainian refugees directly. Even if I take that sentence at face value, it contains this idea of keeping British people safe and supporting Ukrainian refugees—two things that are not contradictory. There is no reason why we cannot do both.
We have to be clear that it is not British people who are being bombed out of their homes, who are seeing mothers and babies killed in maternity hospitals, or who are seeing families lying dead at the side of a road. It is not British people in Mariupol who have run out of food, water and medicine; whose homes have been obliterated by the Russian bombardment; and who now are holed in, surrounded and unsure of their fate.
I am not naive, and neither are my colleagues; we know that there is a threat to the security of the United Kingdom. But the threat is not from mothers running with babies in their arms. It is not from children who have had to leave without their family. The threat is already here. It is in multi-million pound properties scattered across the City of London. It is in oligarchs funding certain members of this Government. In fact, it is sitting along the corridor from us right now. If Russia wants to infiltrate, it already has done so, so let us get serious about our response. We need to act quickly, and quick action does not mean lengthy visa applications. In fact, I find the word “visa” particularly troubling when we are talking about refugees. Refugees do not need a visa; they need compassion.
Although I welcome the shift from the Government in the Homes for Ukraine scheme, the scheme is asking individuals to shoulder the responsibility, even to the point of identifying individual refugees—selecting the family that you fancy. This should not be up to individuals to co-ordinate; it is madness. I have been inundated with correspondence from constituents who wish to help, but how do they connect with refugees? I certainly do not know and neither do they. It has to be co-ordinated by Government, and it has to be fully co-ordinated with the devolved Governments and local authorities. It is not an individual problem and there cannot be an individual solution.
As an aside, I wish to direct my next comments directly at journalists. Disturbingly, some of us have now been asked by journalists whether we are offering our own homes to refugees. That is not appropriate. I do not put anybody on the spot, whether they be constituents, family members, or Conservative Members, to ask them what they can do to support refugees—as if it is some sort of kindness test—and neither should journalists. I do not know the personal circumstances of most Members here. I do not know whether they live in a mansion, or in a studio flat. I do not know whether they have children or caring responsibilities that would make things different. I do not know anything. It is none of my business, and, frankly, it is none of the business of journalists either. Although I might find myself on a different page to some Conservative Members in terms of the humanitarian response, I will not be asking anyone that question.
Let me also say that £350 to host someone—many people would host without money, by the way—is a cheap way of doing things. What that does not do is fund things, such as specialised trauma counselling. What it does not do is look at support services that will be required for children who have seen things that no child should see.
Up until that point, I was 110% with the hon. Lady, but my understanding from what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said yesterday was that £350 was the payment to the host family or household. All the other Departments, whether it was mental health, education, other health and so on, would all be having additional funds in order to meet those requirements. She makes absolutely the right point, but she arrives at the wrong conclusion.
If that is the case, great, but we need to know; we need to know what the money is and how it is being given out. If a local authority is taking people on, we need to know how much they will be getting. There are many local authorities that are still not receiving money for supporting refugees, including my local authority in Glasgow. We need to know that there is money to provide specialist services as well as money for host families.
Will one of the Ministers on the Front Bench help us here? My clear understanding was that Ukrainian refugees who come here will all be able to work immediately, will all be able to claim benefits immediately, will be able to have complete access to NHS services, and will all be able to get education. There is probably more to it. Would someone from the Front Bench nod, because it is really important that all our constituents understand that this is an incredibly generous package of help for people who badly deserve it?
If Ukrainian refugees have access to all those services, that is great—but those services cost money, so local authorities must be supported with the finances to provide that.
I have a list of asks. The right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) spoke about trafficking, which has not been talked about enough. We know where the main exit points are from Ukraine. We need to be in there, working with organisations on the ground such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Red Cross, to take people directly from those crossing points. There should be no opportunity, or at least we should minimise any opportunity, for traffickers to gain access to those who are already incredibly vulnerable. We need to transport people directly from there. It should not be a case of their having to get to Calais or anywhere else.
I ask the Government to work directly with devolved Governments to identify both capacity for supporting refugees and gaps in services. I have talked already about trauma counselling. We need to know how we are going to support properly those coming here. For example, the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) mentioned the ability to work. We must look at fast-tracking professional qualifications so that doctors and teachers can come in and work, and use the qualifications they have. In the case of teachers, in many instances they will be able to help Ukrainian children who are coming in and need language support.
Finally, we must look at examples of what other countries are doing. Let us look at what Ireland has done, for example: first, it has got people in quickly, but it has also looked at how it can utilise the skills that are coming into the country and how it can integrate people. We need to look at the best practice being displayed in other countries, rather than—as was reported—criticising their response. History will judge us on how we respond. We are three weeks in; it should not be another three weeks before we see anything.
Does the hon. Lady agree that the priority is getting people over here, and once they are here we can start looking into professional qualifications, skills and integration? We just need to get them out of Poland and Ukraine, get them over here and then we can take those things further.
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman: we should get them here, and then in a few weeks’ time we can look at the other things. However, the easiest way to get them here is to waive the visa requirements. In the past, Britain was a haven. In the 1940s, we saw the very best of this country. Let us not find ourselves on the wrong side of history this time.
Ukraine is Europe and Europe is Ukraine. I am under no illusion that the incredibly brave defence and sacrifices being made by the Ukrainian people against Russian aggression and barbarism is nothing less than a sacrifice on our behalf. While Ukrainian sacrifice is about defence of their land and their homes, for us their sacrifice is not about territory; it is a sacrifice being made by Ukrainians in defence of our democratic values, our peaceful existence, our western cultures and the post war non-violent settlement that we have enjoyed for so long and come to take for granted. All those things are now challenged by Russia’s totally unsupportable actions.
To lay the blame at the door of an unhinged Russian President or his criminal gang is easy, but it is not adequate. The causes of this disaster are long in the making and are painful for us in the west, because they show up weaknesses in our own political systems. In retrospect, we in the free west massively misunderstood the nature and implications of the demise of the Soviet empire. We assumed that that empire and its power elites would somehow disappear—that they would jump to western values, markets and regulation, and that they would demilitarise. We relaxed and took down our guard. We demilitarised, based on some vacant concept of the peace dividend and the ultimate victory of liberal democracy, and we hoped, with little justification, that Russia would become just like us. Most people actually welcomed President Putin, who in the early days made a play against corruption—that is, until the huge scale of his own corruption was realised. Then the west adopted an apologist attitude. Little was made of Putin’s viciousness in Chechnya, perhaps because that suited the western narrative at the time. The invasion of Georgia in 2008 went largely unnoticed in the west, even though it established a method of interference, fake causation and brutal attack that we have now seen repeatedly used by Russia in Crimea and in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk.
For those of us who have closely followed these events over the past decade, it has been a very frustrating period. Even when Russia attacked people in this jurisdiction, indeed using radioactive and nerve agent weapons, we reacted only in the most measured of ways, and yet the signs and the patterns—the lack of care for our values, the irrationality, the barbarism and the cynical geopolitical manipulation tactics—were always there. If there is one thing that comes out of this before others, it is that we must view our relationship with Russia on the basis of what it is, not what we would want it to be. Personally, I am horrified and disgusted by Russia—but I am not surprised.
We must recognise that Russia is quite content not only to use force but also to start using it on a much lower provocation level than us. So yes, even if we do not directly fight Russia, we must continue to provide the Ukrainians with all the military assistance they need. If they also need missiles to defend against planes, they should get them. If they need more anti-tank weapons, they should get them. If we need also to institute an urgent review of what military staff and equipment we and NATO will need in the event of Russian aggression continuing in the way it has been doing, we must do it. There must be no more weakness and no more ignoring threats.
I thank my very good friend for allowing me to intervene. The real problem the military have now is that the anti-aircraft missiles cannot go high enough, so they really need MiG-29s. There are pilots there that can fly them, and there are MiG-29s within the NATO alliance; we have seen the Polish ones. Let us do all we can to try to give them MiG-29s so that they can go up and get the aircraft that are beyond the reach of anti-aircraft missiles.
My right hon. Friend makes a great intervention. I absolutely agree that we should be doing everything we can to assist the Poles to get those planes to our friends in Ukraine.
If Russia is not prepared to live by our western rules and actually uses them against us, then we must remove it from our economic system. It has become clear that the west acting collectively has the ability to send Russia back to the economic dark ages and a barter society, if we have the political will to do that. Recent sanctions rounds and implicit western unity in this regard, not least the banning of Russian banks from the SWIFT system, have been heartening and often indeed led by our Government.
The further list of sanctions today, taking numbers, as the Minister said, to over 1,000 individuals, is welcome and impressive. Having said that, I do feel that if we had cracked down on Russian intransigence after its invasion of Georgia—which, by the way, Russia still partly occupies—we would have stopped much later pain in the west.
As my hon. Friend knows, I had the honour of meeting the chairman of the Committee on European Integration of the Parliament of Georgia in Paris at the conference a few days ago. Does he recall me saying that she said that Georgia has been warning about this for nearly 20 years now?
It has indeed, as I can say from a lot of first-hand evidence.
Sanctions against individuals will play an important role here. I saw how the Government were really getting it when they extended the Aeroflot sanctions to private jets. My next suggestion, as I have told the Minister before, would be to ban Russian yachts and planes from getting insurance. Sanctioning leads to asset freezes, so the Government will be left holding millions of pounds-worth of houses, boats and other assets, but what happens next? Will these assets be sequestrated and used for the benefit of Ukraine’s rebuilding, or will they be held to be returned to oligarchs after the war? The latter option may not be so popular, but it might be legally correct if we do not legislate further on this matter.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful argument on the use of sanctions and their importance abroad. Does he not agree that their use is also important at home? We are seeing dirty Russian money stolen off the Russian people being used by Putin in deliberate acts to undermine our national security, to silence voices in our country, to intimidate journalists and to disrupt the procedures of our courts. Does my hon. Friend not see that as a direct assault on the British people, being brought and paid for by Putin’s friends, with money stolen off the Russian people?
Yes, indeed, and in every regard. I am very pleased that we are now addressing that. Many have addressed the question of helping Ukrainian refugees. I do not have time to go into that in detail today, other than to say that we need to be generous to these poor souls to the greatest extent that we can.
Finally, but no less importantly, we should now be preparing a significant Marshall-type plan for Ukraine. Once Russia is out of Ukraine, which must be the only outcome we can believe in, Russia should know that as much as it will be humbled by our sanctions, we shall also help to rebuild Ukraine and to put Ukraine into a better economic situation than it is in now. The days of pandering to Russia are over. The suffering of the Ukrainian people, of the Georgian people and of others, including Russians demonstrating on behalf of us all, must not go unrecognised. We must keep up this action.
Nobody could fail to be moved by the images of Ukraine that we have been seeing on our screens for days now—the destruction, the death and the millions of refugees. It is right that we are in this Chamber discussing Ukraine at further length. None of us can know how long this conflict will last, but we do know that there is already a severe refugee crisis with the potential of literally millions of victims.
A number of Members on both sides of the House have already given vent to their frustrations at the Government’s response. Members have spoken about the Calais visa processing centre, which does not exist, and the Lille processing centre, which may as well not exist, because its whereabouts cannot be divulged. Instead, I will focus on the Government’s new scheme. The shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) yesterday called it a “DIY asylum scheme”, and she is right. It is the responsibility of Governments and states to ensure that the legal rights of those seeking asylum are upheld. It should not be dependent on the generosity of the people of Britain.
The scheme that has been announced is something of a curate’s egg—good in parts. Let me begin by praising those parts of the scheme that are commendable. The Secretary of State told the House yesterday that the scheme would begin with people with known connections to Ukraine and then be widened out, and that is sensible. There is a stipulation that accommodation is made available for at least six months. On the face of it, that is a sensible precaution—nobody wants to see vulnerable refugees moved from pillar to post—but it does highlight a structural problem with the scheme to which I will return.
It is a very good thing and correct that under this new scheme, refugees will be allowed to live and work in the UK for up to three years and receive full and unrestricted access to benefits, healthcare, employment and other support. Some of us have long argued that that should be the position for all refugees and asylum seekers, wherever their country of origin. The current position, where some of the most vulnerable people in this country are kept dangling with vouchers and minimal income, is itself inhumane and a recipe for exploitation of all kinds. It is costly and bureaucratic to run, and it demeans those we are supposed to help. The arrangements for the Ukrainians should be a precedent for the treatment of all asylum seekers, not an exception.
My hon. Friend tempts me; perhaps it is the case that it is easier to be humane with refugees who look like us.
In the first instance, the Government tried to apply the visa system to refugees, which is wrong in principle. Visas are discretionary for any Government and any Government are within their rights to limit or withhold visas, but that is not the case for refugees who have a right to seek asylum under international law. It is a category error to treat, or attempt to treat, refugees in that way because it breaches international law in principle and it is unjust. Yet with the new scheme, we have an asylum system in which, essentially, the responsibility for refugees has been outsourced; it is a DIY scheme, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan put it. That cannot be right. It is one thing to harness the generosity of the British public but quite another to leave vulnerable refugees waiting and hoping because their only chance of a decent life here depends on private generosity.
I remind the House that that model of community sponsorship has been used before for the 2014 group of Syrian refugees. By 2017, however, there were only 12 schemes across the whole country, six of which were in London. We know from the attempt to use community sponsorship for Syrian refugees that there are issues that need to be resolved: there needs to be strong local authority support, because when the community sponsorship ends, the local authority will have to provide housing and support; we need a better structure than we had in relation to the Syrian refugees; we need better planning and funding; and we need to be clear what happens when the community sponsorship comes to an end. It is not clear to me how outsourcing the reception of asylum seekers in that way meets our treaty obligations or whether the Government could be suspected of trying to shirk them.
I will also mention the contrast between the stated willingness to help Ukrainian refugees fleeing war and the approach to no less terrified victims of other wars, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen. They were wars and conflicts that the Government and their allies had a role in and that caused vast destruction and loss of life. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says that there are still more than 9 million Iraqi refugees worldwide, yet there are currently only 20,000 in this country. Whatever the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities may say, that is not generous and it is not even close to being proportionate.
The Government need to think through their proposals. They need to do more and much better and to abandon the notion of visas for refugees. There may have to be rudimentary security checks, but to make refugees, to whom we have a legal obligation, go through all the red tape of a visa application is wrong and does not meet the Government’s responsibilities in principle. The Government need to do more and do better. The British people have shown the way with their generosity and the Government need to step up and meet their responsibilities to refugees, not just in words but in practice.
The situation in Ukraine is terrifying and alarming. This appalling assault on a democratic sovereign state must end in failure for President Putin, but I fear there is much worse to come.
Success or failure for Putin could leave us with an unprecedented series of risks. He would become emboldened from a successful campaign that would give him confidence and expose other neighbouring states to the same fate. The risks that stem from failure for Putin are also frightening, as his frustration at the heroic bravery of the Ukrainian forces could lead to an escalation of the conflict to terrifying levels. We are aware of President Putin’s record with chemical weapons in Syria, we have seen his attack on Europe’s largest nuclear power station, and two days ago we saw the use of stand-off munitions landing less than 20 miles from the Ukrainian border with Poland.
The situation is set to get worse. The west needs to respond to the fast-moving picture with whatever intervention is necessary and be prepared for the domestic challenges that will ensue. United and severe action taken by allied nations will make a significant difference over time. Each country has played a major part in the areas where it can have the greatest impact. The UK’s contribution has been significant, particularly in providing necessary arms, but more work can be done in that area.
The scale of the UK’s sanctions, freezing of assets and financial penalties is among the most severe of any nation, with more than £250 billion of bank assets frozen—more than by any other country in the world—as well as action on the international payment facility, SWIFT. Some 500 of Russia’s high-value individuals have been sanctioned, in addition to scores of oligarchs, and their homes and other luxury assets seized. Although we use only a small amount of Russian oil and gas, it is right that they will be phased out as soon as possible, along with bans on technical goods, the sale of assets owned in Russia and the sanctioning of Russian politicians. The Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act will make it easier to intervene and yesterday the Secretary of State announced the welcome, limitless sponsorship programme to enable more refugees to come to the UK—I will return to that.
All these measures are important and will make a significant difference over time, but we must recognise that doing the right thing—offering support over time and in the long term—will have a domestic impact in the UK and around the world. Nothing compares to the experiences felt in Ukraine, but we will need to be ready for the consequences in access to food and supplies, higher inflation and a significant hit to our living standards in the United Kingdom.
I believe the public are ready for that. The generosity shown in offering accommodation to Ukrainian families is a heart-warming example of the nation coming together in response to a crisis in Europe. During the second world war, major sacrifices were made domestically, in addition to the direct war effort. Thankfully, the impact of the conflict in Ukraine will be less severe in the UK, but there will still be an impact. We need to be straight with the public and come together as a nation, as we have at other times of crisis.
I ask that the Prime Minister consider making a statement to the nation to highlight our need to act internationally, to prepare us for the potential impact locally and to say that we have to come together. We should not underplay the very real challenges and sacrifices ahead of us, but as we meet them we must consider that we are very lucky compared with people in Ukraine who face grave risks.
My final comments relate to the excellent sponsorship programme that was announced yesterday. The delays have clearly caused challenges and frustrations, but the scheme’s implementation must be our focus, and I hope the Opposition will recognise that we are in a time of crisis and need to come together. The public response has been humbling and quite fantastic. We need to prepare for the fact that Ukrainian families could be with us for some time, and we will rightly continue to give them all necessary support.
The only experience we have had in recent times has been of supporting Syrian refugees, but I want to highlight, among all of the well wishes and positive statements made by local authorities and individuals in this House and beyond, an example in my constituency. Two brilliant community groups, Croeso Cowbridge and Croeso Llantwit—Welcome Cowbridge and Welcome Llantwit—came together to sponsor families from Syria. This was done in response to local political leaders calling on people to come together, but the preparation, along with the need to win support from the local authority for every aspect, took four years. So far my local authority has only accommodated two families. We do not have four years to prepare. We do not even have four weeks to respond, but that demonstrates the scale of activity that needs to take place within the coming days.
The Ukraine families need to be at the centre of our consideration. The last thing any family need, as has already been suggested, is to be moved from pillar to post. As hosts, we need to recognise that we may need to support them for an extended period. Even if the conflict ended quickly, there has been so much destructive activity in Ukraine that many homes and communities do not exist any more. So I say to Members on the Government Benches, but particularly to Members on the Opposition Benches, that if there has ever been an occasion to come together, definitely call on the Government to support and to act, but do that in a positive spirit, because other people are watching and many of these families deserve the warmest welcome that we can provide.
It is a privilege to speak after so many interesting and varied speeches so far. Let me start by saying unequivocally that the Ukrainian Government and their people have every right to wage armed resistance against this unmentionable Russian invasion, which I believe is included under the UN charter. That is the first thing I wanted to put on record, but from now on some of my speech may find disagreement with Members in this place. I support the Government and their arming of Ukrainian resistance but, as I mentioned in an intervention, I also have questions. One of the roles of the Opposition and one of the roles of us in this place is to ask the questions that we think the Government are not asking or do not want asked. That is our job here and that is what I want to do today in my speech.
In my intervention, I asked whether we were doing enough to put in place precautions about the billions of pounds of arms that are going into Ukraine. Some of them— Stinger missiles and anti-tank weapons— are quite lethal. We know from our recent history that those weapons can be turned against us. I can go into a shop and find a tracking device to follow my bike, my iPhone or any device I have. There is software that can be shut down with kill switches. The more lethal and complex the technology, the easier it is for us to do that. I do not need the details—we do not need the details in this House—but I want to know that the Government are thinking a few moves ahead and that is what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about thinking beyond the immediate, trying to be strategic and thinking about the consequences of our actions now. Those actions are right—arming the Ukrainian people is right—but there are other actions that will come from this, so how do we make sure we learn from the lessons of the past?
I think it is time to pause and reflect: where do we want to be in six months, in a year, in 10 years? I want to ask some questions that have been raised by an organisation called Rethinking Security. I will quickly go through them now; there are about seven.
Do we see military might as inherently wrong, delegitimised because of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, or do we merely see it discredited in the wrong hands and validated in the form of our valiant allies and armed forces? Do we recognise the horror of all humanity caught up in war, or do we decide that, like malaria and cholera, this is some African or Asian malady that intrudes intolerably into safe, civilised Europe? Do we recognise that oligarchic interests have captured and corrupted our own political, economic and media structures, or do we make examples of a few Russian playboys and declare mission accomplished?
Do we really want to break our easy addiction to imported carbon, or do we just want to find a new dealer? I say that noting that the Prime Minister is on his way to Saudi Arabia, a country that has just executed 81 people and is conducting a brutal war in Yemen—I am smelling some inconsistencies here. Do we believe that Ukraine, Belarus and Russia are all integral to Europe, and commit to their eventual inclusion within a secure and just peace system, or do we decide that a new iron curtain is the best way to divide and subdue a continent at arms? Those are the questions we need to be asking, beyond the immediate.
I want to come now to the role of the oligarchs and their interests. This is the rot that is at the heart of our politics and economy. We have heard repeatedly how the Benches opposite are bankrolled by the richest, including oligarchs. That is who they represent. This is writ large in their policies and policy choices. But do not take my word for it. An investigation by openDemocracy in 2019 revealed that, in a decade of austerity, the Conservatives took £130 million in donations and 80% of their 2019 general election funding came from the elite Leaders Group, with exclusive access granted to group members for a fee of £50,000. There are other examples. Overseas territories, British tax havens, are responsible for 29% of the £245 billion in global taxes that the world loses to corporate, according to the Tax Justice Network. We know that donors and elites can essentially purchase a permanent seat in the House of Lords. Look at the owner of the Evening Standard, who, I am pleased to say, our own leader refused to be photographed with. We know that elites in our own media own 90% of UK-wide media and print and it is controlled by just three companies.
This is an incredibly important debate for us all. Feelings are very strong and a massive amount is being done by our constituents and by the Government in a series of different sectors. The hon. Gentleman has so much to contribute and so many valuable thoughts. I wonder whether he really needs to focus on an argument about the funding of different parties as his key contribution to the debate.
I think the reason many of us on this side want to focus on this is because, at the heart of what is going on, we understand that, for many years, Putin—the same man, the same circle that devastated Russia and asset stripped it—planted that money into the City of London. This was their city of choice. That happened on the watch of successive Governments, but the hon. Member’s Government as well. I think it is critical that we understand Putin and the people around him, and how they have enriched and engorged themselves and made themselves powerful. We have to understand how that has happened if we do not want it to happen again. We also have to understand how our democracy is being corroded by interests similar to those of the people in control of Russia.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the £30,000 accepted by the Conservative party from the wife of a Putin ally, Lubov Chernukhin? Let us be clear, in answer to the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham): Lubov Chernukhin is married to the former Deputy Finance Minister, Vladimir Chernukhin. At that time, the then Secretary of State for Defence, the right hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Gavin Williamson), was warned about cyber-attacks from Russia. We had the absurd situation where he himself took that woman around Churchill’s war rooms on a private guided tour. That is the point my hon. Friend is making. The Conservative party is steeped in Kremlin money.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention—[Interruption.] I can hear chuntering. I am sure Conservative Members do not want that mentioned. They want us to focus merely on what is happening in front of us. That is right, and much time will be devoted to it, but it is also important that we see the underlying trends and conditions that have in part enabled people such as Putin and the circle around him to come to power. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke) is chuntering from a sedentary position. He can make a point if he wishes to.
I will give the right hon. Member a quote—it will make the point very clearly:
“When confronting oligarchs and corruption, we need to look well beyond Russia, and not just at other autocracies but at our own national elites and the control that they have over politics and the media. It is too easy to blame Russia and some campaign of foreign subversion. The truth is that we have also been subverted from within and allowed our institutions to be captured and sold. Our media is oligarchic and so, increasingly is our politics. Whether Russian, Australian or British, such concentrated wealth and power is detrimental to our freedom and security.”
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way in the middle of his rant. Supposing that his absurd conspiracy theory were correct, can he point to one single policy decision by the Government—any Government—made as a result of his alleged corruption?
I take that back—I have the hon. Member confused with someone else, but don’t worry about that. He does not have a Caribbean home, and that is fine, but one of his colleagues does and he spent a vast deal of time during lockdown defending the interests of oligarchs in this country. We will move on. [Interruption.] The Minister is chuntering from a seated position—would he like to make a point?
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker; I appreciate your generosity.
In terms of increasing expenditure on defence, we must first ensure that what we already spend is spent properly and efficiently. I do not think we can say that about the Ministry of Defence’s procurement, which is known across Government to be ineffective and inefficient—I need only mention the Ajax armoured vehicle to make the point that billions have been misallocated and spent inefficiently and ineffectively. Before we start talking about spending more, let us not forget that we are one of the biggest spenders on armaments in the world, dwarfing Russia—we spend more than Russia every year—and that global spend on armaments is approaching $2.5 trillion, which is 20 times larger than what we have pledged to spend on the climate crisis, the biggest existential threat facing humanity. I understand that all eyes are on Ukraine and Putin now, but we must understand that poverty, inequality and the climate crisis are the biggest drivers of global insecurity, and, while spending money on weapons and warfare is right and appropriate, we must put that into the context of appropriate spending on other areas.
We already see right-wing Tory outriders such as James Forsyth saying that money will have to come from other sectors of Treasury spend to pay for defence increases. I and—I think—many Opposition Members feel that if there is to be extra spending on defence, that needs to come from the rich, not the public, the poor and my constituents, who have spent the last 10 years under austerity, just come through covid and now face a cost of living crisis. They should not be paying the extra for defence spending. If there are to be sacrifices, let them be made by the rich, not the vast majority of my constituents.
I will finish with a quote. You have been very generous, Mr Deputy Speaker. If the answer to the questions I asked earlier
“is not to defend the status quo by investing our common wealth into more arms, border walls and imported fossil fuels, then we have work to do. The first step is recognising how perilous the current order is and acknowledging the culpability of our own actions and those taken in our name. Solidarity with a common humanity deserving of a common security is the next step toward taking action to change the international system towards one genuinely opposing the threat and reality of war. The challenge then is to build-back-better a new international order supportive of human development, human protection and human security for all.”
I disagree with quite a lot of what the hon. Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis) said. However, I acknowledge the fact he served on the frontline in Afghanistan in the armed forces of the United Kingdom and that it takes a degree of moral courage to speak out against the overwhelming views of an audience. I am sure that he would acknowledge, however, that whatever courage it took for him to make that rather unpopular contribution—I dare say his contribution was possibly, in some respects, inaccurate—it took a lot more moral courage for Marina Ovsyannikova to speak out as she did on Channel 1 Russian TV. I wish to put on record in this House—I do not think it has been done yet since she did so—what her placard said:
“No war. Stop the war. Don’t believe propaganda. They are lying to you here.”
Because she knew the sort of society in which she lives would have her arrested and locked away for what she had done, she had pre-prepared a video which concluded as follows:
“Now the whole world has turned away from us”—
meaning the Russians—
“and the next 10 generations of our descendants will not wash away the shame of this fratricidal war.”
As a young mother with one Russian and one Ukrainian parent, who is better qualified than she to judge?
Yes, I am aware of that. And I feel that the more attention we draw to her courage and bravery in showing up the ruthless nature of the regime which Vladimir Putin embodies, the more likely it is that perhaps Russia will think twice before it goes even further than it already has.
Yes, indeed. Politicians often have harsh words to say about journalists, but I wonder how many politicians would put themselves at risk in the way in which so many journalists—American, BBC, Sky and all the other British journalists—are doing. Let us remember that when we are listening to reports about incoming missiles, those brave men and women are reporting from the very targets on which those missiles are ranged.
Near the end of the second world war, the joint intelligence sub-committee of the British chiefs of staff produced a report entitled “Relations with the Russians”. From years of experience of the Anglo-Soviet alliance against Nazi Germany, the JIC concluded that Russia would respect only strength as the basis for any future relationship.
According to the sneering psychopath Mr Putin, what his country is engaged in at the moment is a holy war against Ukrainian neo-Nazis. What he fails to remind people is that the second world war, with which he presumes to draw comparisons, was enabled only by the vicious agreement between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia to carve up Poland as a result of a secret protocol of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. When people in this country ask which event started the second world war, it is not enough to say that it was the Nazi invasion of Poland. It was the Nazi-Soviet agreement to invade Poland 16 days apart: Nazis from the west and Soviet Russia from the east.
Vladimir Putin is a product of that history and of that system. He earned his spurs in the KGB, schooled in the suppression of captive countries, steeped in the culture of communist domination and filled with regret that the Soviet empire imploded. According to him, its break-up was the greatest disaster of the 20th century—a revealing and curious choice when compared with the millions killed in two world wars, in the Russian civil war and in the forced collectivisations, the mass deportations and the hell of the Soviet gulag. Until the Bolshevik revolution came along, there had been a significant chance of Russia evolving along democratic lines, but then the cancer of Marxism-Leninism gave cynical psychopaths like him their ideological excuse to seize total control. Their opponents were denounced as enemies of the people and were put, or worked, to death with no semblance of due process.
Now that ideology has gone, but the ruthless mindset remains. Russian leaders no longer claim to be building a workers’ paradise, but they still believe that western capitalists will sell them the rope with which to be hanged.
May I draw on my right hon. Friend’s point about the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact? I am sure that he has seen the Putin essay. Paragraph 38 is really frightening for European security:
“Under the 1921 Treaty of Riga, concluded between the Russian SFSR, the Ukrainian SSR and Poland, the western lands of the former Russian Empire were ceded to Poland.”
Does that not make it clear that Putin’s intentions do not stop at Ukraine?
It makes it absolutely clear. That will be the very next point that I address.
Whereas Russia previously infiltrated by ideology, its leaders now bribe their targets with high-spending oligarchs and the temptations that they place in the way of western politicians. Gerhard Schröder, a former Chancellor of Germany, is the prime example—a man who has been chairman of Rosneft since 2017 and has recently, I believe, been a director of Gazprom as well. He has been at the heart of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) did so much to warn this House against when people were somewhat complacent about it.
For 40 years from 1949, two factors ensured the containment of Russia and the maintenance of peace: the deterrent power of western nuclear weapons and the collective security provided by article 5 of the north Atlantic treaty. No longer could an aggressor attack small European states that belonged to NATO without the Americans immediately entering the war. We know that it is Ukraine’s misfortune not to belong to NATO, and we can argue about whether that should have been permitted. I simply say what I have said all along, which is that if NATO over-extends the guarantee of article 5 to the point at which it ceases to be credible that the major NATO countries would fight world war three to defend the country in question, it undermines the credibility of the guarantee as a whole.
I will conclude by referring to what the former President Petro Poroshenko said on Sky TV at 1 o’clock today. He made a more appropriate parallel with world war two than Putin could ever make when he referred to what we called “lend-lease”, which was the decision taken and signed into law by President Roosevelt in March 1941 to give all sorts of high-value equipment and support to those countries that were fighting for democracy, even though America was not then in the war itself.
Former president Poroshenko quoted Churchill’s words:
“Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.”
He also said, “Don’t trust Putin…if you try to compromise with Putin he will go further.”
This relates to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke). There is no doubt at all that the battle that Ukraine is fighting now is the frontline of the battle that would face NATO if NATO’s credibility were undermined.
So it is quite simple, and I think that the Government could go further in terms of this rather artificial distinction between “defensive” and “offensive” weaponry. I believe that fighter jets—provided that they are crewed by Ukrainians and not by people of a NATO nationality—are a defensive weapon, and that we should operate according to a single practical slogan, namely that we will support Ukraine in its fight for democracy by all means short of war; and that means supplying them with the tools so that they can finish the job.
For over two weeks, we have witnessed the most profound threat to democracy in Europe since the second world war, and the humanitarian crisis that followed unfolding before us. When the time came for us to respond, in the first instance Ministers of this UK Government were once again out of kilter with the strong public opinion on how they should treat refugees fleeing war. We must remember that this is a Government who not only came to power on the basis of a Brexit promise to limit migration from eastern Europe, but have allowed an influx of Russian agents and oligarchs to feed dirty money into once respected institutions. The Prime Minister himself was at one time deemed a potential security risk owing to his cosy relationships with certain individuals.
More than 300 constituents have contacted me to express their anger at the pitiful response—in our name—from this Government. Mr Chambers from Bargeddie wrote:
“Steven please press this heartless Government into being more accommodating of these poor refugees.”
So far 2.5 million refugees have fled Ukraine, with the United Nations estimating that the number will double by the end of this week, and what have this Government actually succeeded in doing? They have created barrier after barrier and piled confusion on top of misery, using excuse after excuse and exploring any possible way in which they could avoid playing their full part in this European humanitarian crisis. The solution was staring them in the face all the while: waive visa requirements for Ukrainian women and children desperately fleeing war and in need of sanctuary.
Countries with far lesser economic output than the UK can go above and beyond to waive visa restrictions for migrants from Ukraine, so why can we not do the same? The answer is the lack of political will. Scotland and Wales have already committed themselves to becoming “super sponsors” for Ukrainian refugees, but the power to make such a decision lies in the idle hands on the Government Benches. If the shackles of this place—the shackles of Westminster—were not upon them, the devolved countries would have already become champions of humanity.
The hon. Member will have heard the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Minister for Intergovernmental Relations yesterday show complete willingness to work with the devolved Administrations, the Scottish and Welsh Governments, in the warmest way possible. Has the hon. Member looked at the data on the performance by the local authorities in each of those nations in receiving Syrian refugees? There may be an awful amount of rhetoric at the moment, but the activity is very different.
I thank the right hon. Member for his contribution, but the political point that he makes does not stand up to any form of scrutiny. Scottish councils stand ready to accommodate refugees. We did the same in the case of the Congo and Syria. It is up to the Home Office and this Government to provide the funding to allow Scottish local authorities to play their part.
My colleague makes a fantastic point, and I am sure that the House will take it on board.
Another constituent of mine, Mrs Fuller from Bellshill, wrote:
“Steven, we have tried to help in any small way we can through donations but this is a drop in the ocean of what is required when the real power lies with this Government.”
My constituent is absolutely correct, but what have this Government done with their power? They have limited family reunification, cut foreign aid budgets and denied women and children immediate entry. They are consumed by the idea of denying any prospect of residency. This Government should have shaped an immediate humanitarian response that went beyond warm words—something befitting the attitude of the general public across these four nations. Germany, for example, has already given all arrivals the right to work and children access to education immediately. The French have offered free train travel from Poland to France, with more than 100,000 refugees expected in the next couple of weeks. The Irish waived visa requirements immediately. And to the Polish, we must say dziękuję—thank you. We watched as they opened their borders, their homes and their hearts. We also watched as the UK dragged its heels as it amplified a post-Brexit state that contrasts starkly with the compassion shown by our EU counterparts.
We tend to forget Moldova, but it is always worth remembering that the poorest country in Europe has taken in a quarter of a million refugees. A quarter of a million! Does not that make it doubly shameful that what we are told is one of the wealthiest countries in the world has so far done so little?
I agree completely with my right hon. Friend.
Another of my constituents, Mr Strachan from Viewpark, wrote:
“As like many others, myself and my wife are disgusted at the UK Government’s failure to bring many more Ukrainian refugees to the UK. Ukrainians, and all refugees, are welcome in Scotland.”
That point about all refugees sends an important message, because we must not lose sight of all other atrocities that continue across the globe as well as the war in Ukraine. The conflicts in Palestine, Yemen, Sudan, Iraq and Kashmir are all ongoing, but without much concern or support from this Government. We all remember this Government announcing an Afghan resettlement scheme, yet almost six months later we are still no further forward with a solution for those who remain in the midst of a relentless Taliban regime.
This Government are all talk but no action, unless that action is to continue to arm the perpetrators of such conflicts. The UK sold £15 billion-worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia last year—the very same weapons that are now being used to terrorise the Yemeni people—and British-made bombs rain down on Palestine. How can we claim to be against such atrocities when this very Government are responsible for selling the arms that enable them? This UK Government cannot sit back and allow history to judge their actions. If they do, history will not be kind.
I hope that the people of Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill have, through me, made their feelings quite clear: the Prime Minister’s and this Government’s response is inadequate. The Prime Minister must ask himself: what is the price of compassion? Bureaucracy can no longer trump humanity when kindness and decency are required, and I sincerely hope that this Home Office and this Government will enact some decency and humanity in its operations, not only for Ukrainians but for all those suffering in conflicts across the world.
This will be a shorter speech, but I am afraid that we have to prepare for a long war. There will be escalation. We are seeing the build-up of the Russian navy ready to attack Odesa, there is a threat to Moldova, and in the western Balkans the Russians have been restoking that old conflict ready to make it explode once again and opening another front. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe and North America hoped that sanctions would bring this to an early conclusion, but I am afraid that they will not. Sanctions will take a long time. The Russians have a long history of bearing hardship, and it will take a long time before they blame Mr Putin for those hardships. We will have to bear the sacrifices that the sanctions will cause for our own people, but we can and must win this conflict.
What matters above everything now is the resolve and determination of our NATO allies that, however long it takes, freedom and democracy will prevail. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is fond of saying that Putin’s invasion must fail, but we can show more confidence than that: it will fail and Putin will fail. Dictators and despots who mount illegal foreign wars all fail in the end. Hitler, Mussolini, Galtieri and Saddam Hussein, they all failed.
However many die in this struggle, whatever the cost in the mangled bodies of innocent civilians and however many cities are flattened to compensate for Putin’s real powerlessness, he will fail. The wars of dictators always fail and will always fail. The whole evil edifice of the old Soviet Union, even that failed in the end. The lies, the corruption, the self-deceit, the lack of consent and the inability to inspire—Putin’s invasion is built on the same rotten values.
Democracy and our elected politicians are riven with imperfections, but our fundamental values shine across the seas and continents to illuminate the darkness. They inspire those who are fighting the invaders now, and they must inspire us also.
Ukrainians will never surrender, as President Zelensky told this Parliament last week, and we should not consider surrendering anything on their behalf, not their freedoms and not their territory. We never accepted the Soviet occupation of the countries of eastern Europe as a permanent settlement, and today those nations are free. We know that one day Ukraine will again be free, but to give our resolve meaning we must do more to support the fighting morale of the Ukrainian forces, as their morale is their vital component. They have, so far, surpassed the expectations so many had of them, they have humiliated Putin’s army and they have destroyed the fake aura of his invincibility. We must arm them in every way we can short of war, as my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) said. We must provide more ammunition, more ant-tank weapons, more anti-aircraft weapons, more humanitarian and military training and more humanitarian aid, and we should find a way to get them the MiGs.
We must not be intimidated from doing what is right to help another nation defend itself, but we must avoid overreacting to Putin’s escalations and provocations. There must be a clear distinction between the measured way we act and our iron will and resolve to win in the end. What we must not do is accept a political defeat while the military battle is turning against Putin’s army. In fact, the danger today comes from those who want to negotiate on Putin’s terms by inviting political defeat at the time when Putin’s war is going so badly for him.
There will be more destruction, more death, more indescribable horrors, more tragedy and more blood. That is the pity of war, as Wilfred Owen described it. We should pledge to rebuild Ukraine and pledge that this invasion will not stand, or the whole free world will pay the price for such a defeat for decades to come. We must rebuild our strength. We enjoyed a 30-year peace dividend, but the peace is over and the dividend is cancelled. NATO must rebuild the strength and deterrence upon which our security depends. The price of peace is eternal vigilance, a lesson we must never again forget. We will rebuild peace only through strength. Let us never again forget that we can have peace only through strength.
I agree with every word spoken by the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin).
All this was not only predictable but predicted repeatedly in this House by some of us, and we were shouted down for saying it. I said in 2014:
“We know how Putin reacts in a crisis…We also know about his territorial ambition.”—[Official Report, 18 March 2014; Vol. 577, c. 677.]
In that debate, hon. Members repeatedly trotted out the Russian line about the annexation of Crimea.
The Daily Telegraph, from 2007 to 2017, received £40,000 a month for “Russia Beyond the Headlines”, which was paid for by the Russian Government—it was Russian propaganda.
I am delighted that we now have a proper list of sanctions against people such as Nikolai Patrushev, Igor Sechin, Sergei Shoigu and Sergey Naryshkin. They should have been on the list right from the very beginning, as they are the very closest people to the Russian Government and they are completely entwined in the decision to invade Ukraine. But I am mystified at why some people are still missing from the list, including some of the broadcasters. Sergey Brilev regularly reports on the war in Ukraine for Rossiya 1 and always touts the Russian line. He has a £700,000 flat in Chiswick and a British passport, as well as a Russian one. Why on earth is he not on the list? Vladimir Solovyov, a 58-year-old who is also on Rossiya 1, is on the EU list but not on the UK one. Olga Skabeeva, a 37-year-old, is also on the EU list but not on ours. She is another person trotting out the Russian propaganda.
I do not understand why the former MP Rinat Khayrov, who is very close to the Defence Ministry, is not on the list. I do not understand why his close associate Rustem Magdeev is not, and neither is Khayrov’s daughter, Elsina Khayrova, who is unemployed but manages to have a £22 million mansion in Surrey, a £10 million art fund and £25 million spent on other properties around the UK. I do not understand why her husband, or perhaps soon to be ex-husband, Dmitry Tsvetkov is not on the list, and neither are so many others involved in Gazprom contracts. I do not understand why Abramovich’s properties that are owned through his “subsidiaries”, or rather by members of his family—Irina, Anna and Sofia—in Chester Square, Ebury Mews, Eaton Square, Cadogan Place, Hornbury Crescent, Tor Gardens, Fyning Hill and Goldring farm are not on the list. I do not understand why those have not yet been frozen as assets.
I do not know why Arron Banks is not on the list, either—even Isabel Oakeshott now thinks that he is an agent of influence for the Russian state. I simply point out that Nigel Farage received £548,573 from Russia Today in 2018 alone—this is from the Russian state.
We should not just be freezing assets; we should be seizing them. I do not think the Government have the power to do that. In normal times, we would not want them to be able to seize assets, but we need to have that power now. If we look at Chelsea football club, we see that it is in a kind of limbo at the moment. It ought to be able to flourish. I have no ill feeling against Chelsea football club—I am Welsh and I do not really care about football much. What I do care about is that the asset should be seized by the Government so that it can be spent on the reconstruction in Ukraine. If the Government do not take that power, they are not going to be able to do that.
That takes me to a point that I do not think the Foreign Secretary fully understood when she appeared before the Foreign Affairs Committee last week, which relates to the issue of war crimes. We have undoubtedly seen war crimes committed in Ukraine already: the bombing of civilians when they are trying to escape as refugees through ceasefire corridors, the bombing of civilian and residential areas where there are absolutely no military installations, and the use of phosphorus weapons. I would argue that nowadays we should also be considering the use of cluster munitions as a war crime.
Many of those issues will be addressed by the International Criminal Court, but the one issue that is more difficult for it, because it is not a part of international criminal law at the moment, is the initiating of a war of aggression. In the Nuremberg trials, the British deputy judge declared that it was not just an international war crime but the ultimate international war crime, because it encompassed all the other crimes inside it. The danger is, of course, that the President, the person who makes the final decision—the ultimate decision—the person at the very apex of the decision, is the one most distant from the individual decisions that may be made. I hope that all the people I mentioned earlier as the main elite in the Russian Government, and Lavrov as well, will be held to account at the ICC, but we may have to change the law to make sure that Putin himself is brought to justice, and that is what we must do.
History does not so much repeat itself as do human nature and nationalistic ambitions, despite decades of protestations of European peace and harmony. The current crisis goes back even further and with even deeper roots than are currently understood. We should never forget Bismarck’s warning that whenever he heard the word “Europe” on the lips of his fellow statesmen, he began to worry.
Central to the accumulating current Ukrainian situation is the fact that both Chancellor Kohl and later Angela Merkel, not to mention Gerhard Schröder and strategists in the European Union, contributed profoundly to the overwhelming strategic failure that we face today. This can be traced back to the bilateral treaty, underestimated by most at the time, between Gorbachev and Kohl in November 1990, with the wall having come down, as Maastricht loomed and as Margaret Thatcher fell. The treaty led to a massive shift in the balance of power in eastern and central Europe. By signing this bilateral treaty, they put Germany and Europe into a continuing state of dependency on Russian energy and in respect of related matters. We continue to pay the price.
In 1990, Chancellor Kohl was convinced that there had been a seismic shift in favour of Germany’s leadership of Europe. In a 2001 article in The European Journal, I argued that the situation was then coming to a head, with grave implications for the future geopolitical stability of Europe. I pointed to the inextricable relationship between Germany and Russia, embedded in Germany’s strategy, and to the indebtedness of Russia to Germany and therefore its dependency.
Russia’s debt, 40% of which was owed to Germany alone, was accompanied by a debt rescheduling agreement signed in Berlin in July 2000. The agreement was complemented by contracts for export credit guarantees provided by the German state-owned company Hermes. I emphasised my concern that Germany was then agreeing in principle to convert Russian debt into equity in Russian companies—in which Gerhard Schröder, the ex-Chancellor of Germany, became a major player. I believe that even now he is still the chairman of Rosneft, is on Gazprom’s board of directors and is chairman of the Nord Stream shareholders committee. Is that still so? Has he been sanctioned?
I warned then—in 2001—against German firms increasing their stake in Gazprom. At that time, natural gas exports from Russia to Germany amounted to 35% of Germany’s annual consumption. I argued that Vladimir Putin, scarcely heard of at the time, was a Russian nationalist who bitterly resented being dependent on America and who had a choice between building an alliance with China or with Europe. I argued that Russia’s dependence on Germany had within it the seeds of self-destruction and represented severe dangers to our future geopolitical stability.
By the arrangements I have described, Russia was enabled to weaponise its energy against the west in return for short-sighted hubris and self-interested greed. We live today with the consequences of those mistakes; therefore arises the tragedy of Ukraine. Nord Stream 2 —let alone Nord Stream 1—bypasses Ukraine, so it remains one of the greatest strategic mistakes of our time, conceived all of 20 years ago or more. It created Europe’s dependency on Russian gas and oil supplies, which must be totally ended now.
When we reflect on the fundamental shift represented by Olaf Scholz’s reversal of Germany’s defence policy and its increase in defence spending, let us remember that two swallows do not make a summer, and that it was a mere three weeks ago that I wrote an article in which I pointed out that Germany was providing only a few thousand helmets to Russia’s eastern European neighbours and merely pausing Nord Stream 2. It is now not a question of merely learning lessons with the benefit of hindsight: the real point is whether we will ever learn the real lessons of history and of human nature that need to be learned for the future. As I speak, Germany still depends on Russian oil and gas and Nord Stream 2 has only been paused, not yet completely abandoned.
Regaining our self-government has enabled the UK to become self-sufficient in deploying our new resources from the North sea licensing regime, as the Prime Minister has indicated. It has given us the ability to rely on, among other things, our own domestic nuclear industry—I pay tribute to the nuclear delivery group, of which I am a member, for all the work that it has done over the past six months—and, hopefully, sensible and balanced renewables. We must accelerate this programme at once as a matter of national interest. We must also encourage the European Union to do the same, and we must never forget that domestic national energy requirements and self-sufficiency are at the centre of gravity of economic and, therefore, political independence. We are part of an alliance. We will work in alliance with Europe, in alliance with the United Nations and in alliance with the United States and the rest of the world against Putin. We must never forget that we are in peril and that we have to fight back.
Let me start by echoing the fine tribute that the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) gave to Marina Ovsyannikova. Her bravery yesterday was extraordinary, as it has become so deeply dangerous in Russia to tell the truth. Her act of courage has inspired us all, and we wish her all the safety that she can possibly have right now.
I am proud that this House stands so united against the tyrant Putin and his murderous regime, and in support of the determination and extraordinary bravery of the Ukrainian people who face a level of horror and devastation that many have rightly said amounts to war crimes. I want to put on record my support for the many hon, Members who have spoken eloquently about the urgent need for Ministers to waive visas for refugees and to match the compassion and generosity of other EU countries. I share the concerns that have been raised about the lack of speed and scope of some of the policies on sanctions.
I want register my thanks to all those hon. Members who are working with me to put pressure on our own parliamentary pension fund to divest from Russian assets, including from companies such as HSBC which, according to Bloomberg data, owns equity stakes in five of the biggest Russian oil and gas companies.
In the short time available to me, I want to take a step back and focus a little more on what got us into the situation in which we find ourselves and on the action that is needed to tackle Putin’s long-running hybrid war of both violence and disinformation, which has long been in force, including here in the UK. It is an insidious strategy that deliberately undermines our public information sphere and our political institutions, and that deliberately seeks to divide the democracies that might stand up to him over Ukraine.
On disinformation, I suggest that we look no further than what is revealed in the Intelligence and Security Committee’s Russia report, which warned that there was credible, open-source evidence of attempted Russian interference in UK elections. It painted a picture of how Russian state influence in the UK is the new normal, with deep links between the Russian elite and UK politics, and how, crucially, the intelligence community had, in its own words, taken its “eye off the ball” on Russia.
It gives me no pleasure to observe that the Prime Minister is personally responsible for delaying, suppressing and then failing to investigate the Russia report. MPs, including myself, are now having to resort to the courts for a second time to try to get the Prime Minister finally to investigate. We are now going to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, alongside the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) and representatives from the other place. This curious lack of interest in evidence of Russian state interference in our electoral processes is, frankly, extraordinary, and stands in stark contrast to investigations undertaken in the US.
Then we come to the violence. As the news about Ukraine darkens even further, increasingly we think the unthinkable—would Putin, for example, use chemical weapons? The answer has to be yes, because he has already done so here on UK soil in 2018. The Salisbury nerve agent attack was part of Putin’s long-term strategy, message and hybrid warfare. The amount of nerve agent found in the bottle that was used against the Skripals and that killed Dawn Sturgess was enough
“to kill several thousand people”,
according to a recent interview with Fiona Hill, a former US national security adviser on Russia. Putin wanted us to know that he is prepared to use any weapon.
When Putin sent a weapons-grade nerve agent to Salisbury, it was a military operation and seen as an attack on NATO. As a result, there was far-reaching international co-operation, including sanctions. Our then Foreign Secretary, now Prime Minister, met NATO Foreign Ministers in Brussels for a crucial, highly sensitive meeting about Russia in the wake of that chemical attack on UK soil.
However, we have since learned the shocking news that, immediately following that meeting, the then Foreign Secretary ditched his security and travelled directly to the Italian villa of Evgeny Lebedev, the person with the life peerage who is now under so much scrutiny—the person who, as long as a decade ago, Sir John Sawers, then head of MI6, made clear was not deemed a suitable person to meet. While he was there, the Foreign Secretary also met Evgeny’s father, ex-KGB agent and oligarch Alexander Lebedev.
That raises crucial questions. Did the then Foreign Secretary inform the Prime Minister, the Foreign Office and the security services that he was going to fly from the NATO summit to meet an ex-KGB agent? If so, why was he travelling alone, without his security detail? Did he take classified documents with him? Did he inform the Prime Minister and the security services about the meeting after the trip? Was he debriefed? Did he provide a list of contacts?
Let me be clear: Salisbury was the first use of a chemical weapon in Europe since world war two. It was an attack on NATO soil and, as the Minister responsible for overseeing the British response, our now Prime Minister went straight from a classified meeting with NATO’s Secretary-General and alliance partners to meet a trained Russian intelligence officer. That is surely a national security breach of the highest possible order. That is why investigating that incident, the Russia report and every part of Putin’s arsenal—how he and those linked to him have created dependence and compromise via sports, finance, property, land and energy—is so urgent.
I say that not to score points, but because undermining democracy in the US and Europe was part of Putin’s strategy to divide and confuse the world as he prepared to attack Ukraine. We must be thorough. When the people of Ukraine are dodging bombs and bullets, we should not be dodging the truth.
The Kremlin must be reeling in shock. President Putin was no doubt briefed that a simultaneous rapid blitzkrieg into Ukraine on at least three axes would result in Russian forces triumphant in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities. The briefings were wrong, and the envisaged three-day rapid campaign has been ground into a humiliating slogging match, in which Ukrainian forces often give Russian troops a very bloody nose.
It is clear that Putin fully expected Ukrainians to show weak resistance, and at the same time to welcome their fellow Slavs with joy, flags and flowers. Wrong—very wrong. Ukrainians may be Slavs, but they now look much more to the west than the east. They do not want Mr Putin’s version of tyrannic government.
Putin is most certainly a tyrant, and one who has few inhibitions when it comes to those who disagree with or fail him. Since the third Russian major general was killed—apparently there are about 20 of them in Ukraine—Putin has sacked those in the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation, the FSB, who provided intelligence briefings on what the Russian forces could expect on entry to Ukraine.
Putin, an old KGB officer himself, will be under no illusions about the dangers he faces even at home. We have all seen, and my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) and the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) have mentioned, the incredible display by a placard-bearing TV editor, Maria Ovsyannikova, who appeared on the Russian state television Channel One news programme. That went right the way across Russia and would have made her point vividly. What an incredibly brave person.
Naturally we all hope that Putin’s premiership could be on an increasingly slippery slope, so as to get him out of power, but we should not bet on it. A huge percentage of the Russian population will still be with Putin—will believe what he is putting out—but hopefully the slow drip, drip, drip of resistance will eventually reach a tipping point, and the grey suits in the Kremlin will tap him up and suggest, “Time to go.” We all hope that, but we cannot guarantee it.
In the meantime, we in the UK must do all we can to support the Ukrainian people, who, I gather, are increasingly demanding that the Russians are convincingly defeated. Their anger at what Russia has done is growing daily as casualties mount up, homes are destroyed, and cities are wrecked. Russia has failed to establish total domination of the air—and that, by the way, is because of the considerable help that we the British have given the Ukrainian armed forces by means of training and anti-aircraft missiles. May I remind the House that we trained 20,000 Ukrainian soldiers prior to the war, especially in the use of anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons? Speaking as an infantry officer for a moment, those are perfect weapons in the kind of conflict we see in Ukraine. Held by single men and women, they are really effective in built-up areas.
My contacts who have good sources in Ukraine tell me that we the British are considered to have been an incredible friend to the people there, and our stock is very high because of the support we have given throughout the crisis. So we must continue to do everything we can to help Ukraine. First, obviously, we are going to give as much shelter and support to those poor people that come to our country. Secondly, we are going to continue to use every instrument, and even more instruments, to get to punish the people in charge in Russia—
I am very mindful of an escalation, because I am really concerned that Putin might start using chemical weapons when he fails to get into the centre of towns, as he did in Aleppo. The answer to the question is to provide MiG-29s from other countries to be flown by Ukrainian pilots, so that they can take on high-level aeroplanes.
Thirdly, we have to provide money—DEC is doing really well there—as well as weapons and ammunition, and frankly anything that will help the Ukrainians to maintain their incredibly plucky defence of their country. God bless Ukraine!
It is indeed an honour to follow the right hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) and other Members who have spoken here today. It is a huge privilege and honour to sit among so many people who hold democracy so close to their hearts in supporting the Ukrainian people.
Ukrainians and President Zelensky have displayed the highest level of bravery in the face of brutal Russian aggression. In the eyes of Vladimir Putin, Ukrainians have made an unforgivable choice: they decided to be an independent and democratic country. Like all dictators, Putin is terrified of losing power. He is fearful of having a partially Russian-speaking nation on his border succeed as a democracy. In Putin’s eyes, Ukraine has to fail, or the Russian people will see that there is a better way.
Ukrainians have made their choice. They want to be a European country. They want to become a member of NATO. They want to be free to make their own choices. Make no mistake, Ukrainians are fighting this war on behalf of all of us who are part of the free and democratic world. We must support them as if the future of our country and our way of life depends on it, because quite frankly, it does.
Ukrainians are asking for more support. They are asking for surface-to-air missiles capable of protecting their cities. They are asking for the Soviet-era MiG-29 jets that so many have mentioned today. Each day, these decisions are deliberated over instead of acted upon. They are asking for the missiles and the jets, not the pilots. More Ukrainian men, women and children will die. NATO members are already providing weapons and ammunition. Eastern European countries providing jets is no different.
In 2014, we let Putin take Crimea without any real consequences. Putin is a man who orchestrated the bombings that resulted in the deaths of 300 of his own people to help start a war to take power. He is a man who had his political rival shot for opposing war. He is a man who approved a poisoning on British soil that resulted in the death of a British citizen. He is a man who pre-recorded his declaration of war on Ukraine, after which he pretended to be open to diplomacy. Putin will not stop until he is stopped.
I understand why NATO cannot get involved directly, yet short of that, we should be doing absolutely everything possible. That means supporting eastern European countries in their efforts to send jets to Ukraine; sanctioning and cutting off all remaining Russian banks from SWIFT; and seizing the empty homes and yachts of Russian oligarchs in British territory, including overseas. Putin cannot be allowed to win this war. If he does, it will not just be the Ukrainian people who suffer the consequences; the world will suffer them as well.
I draw the House’s attention to my outside interests as set out in the register.
It is a huge pleasure to follow the hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer) and the very sensible speech she has just made, which underlines the unity across the House in facing this extraordinary and unjustifiable aggression by a member of the permanent five at the United Nations, tearing up 75 years of the international rules-based system and in contravention of everything that the UN has said and stood for and of the growth of international law.
Everyone in the House and the country will be haunted by the plight of the refugees. It is impossible to find words to set that out or explain it, but for many of us it will be the little girl, aged 10, terrified, her eyes wide with fear, clutching her cat as she came over the border from Ukraine. We must hope, as William Hague so eloquently said in The Times today, that
“a hollow structure…will lose its reputation and respect very quickly when its thieving and selfish reality is revealed to its own people. That may take months or years, but Putin’s henchmen would be well advised to start thinking about their escape route to Pyongyang.”
The whole House will agree with our former colleague. The Chinese today referred to the invasion as an “irreversible mistake”, and many of us this afternoon have saluted the extraordinary bravery within Russia of ordinary people standing up to this bullying maniac. I strongly support and congratulate the Government, particularly the Ministry of Defence, on giving the Ukrainians hope and some military muscle without starting world war three and on co-ordinating economic sanctions and the economic isolation of Russia across the western world and across European states.
I mainly want to talk about the humanitarian position, on which there is no need to look in our crystal ball; we can read the book of what happened in Syria. The House may recall that Jo Cox and I co-chaired the all-party parliamentary group for friends of Syria and held more than two emergency debates in the House.
If we want to know what the Russians will do to those cities in great peril in Ukraine, we need look no further than what they did in Aleppo, one of the great cities of the world, which, as the Nazis did in Guernica in 1937, they bombed back to the stone age. There were also indiscriminate attacks on hospitals. Let us imagine the bravery of the men and women, doctors and clinicians, who are working in hospitals in Ukraine and who know from Syria exactly what fate may await them. There were also massive breaches of the rules of war and of international humanitarian law.
Let us make no mistake about the danger of the use of chemical weapons, which was greatly enhanced when President Obama told the Russians that, if they used chemical weapons, they would cross a red line and action would be taken yet, when they did cross that line, no action was taken. Let us also remember the sheer numbers of people who were on the move. In Syria, 5 million people were internally displaced and 5 million people were outside in the surrounding countries—that is 10 million people out of a population of 20 million. That shows the scale of what may now face us.
The critical thing in humanitarian terms is that there should be a seamless approach where all of Europe and NATO share the burden fairly with the frontline states, whether they are in or out of the European Union.
Speaking as someone who has dealt practically with refugees and displaced persons, we should put our bureaux and our offices right at the border with Ukraine, perhaps in Poland. As people come across, we should be guiding them, helping them, protecting them and perhaps giving them some help to get to the UK or elsewhere. The European Union should be doing that—we should all be doing that—with the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UNHCR.
My right hon. and gallant Friend, who made such a great speech earlier, is absolutely right. There should be total solidarity with the frontline states and our European friends and partners in tackling this extraordinary crisis.
My second point on the humanitarian position is that we must also underline that there will be no impunity. I remember that, in a National Security Council meeting on Syria, the Foreign Office committed to collecting evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity by individual Russian and Syrian soldiers inside Syria. We must go after all those not only who fire on civilians but who give the order to fire on civilians, no matter how long it takes and wherever they hide. In Bosnia, we showed that we could go after those murderous people. They must be caught and put before due process. The use of social media, of course, will make it much easier to get the evidence that will then defy impunity and to get the message across to ordinary Russian conscripts serving there—those who give the command and those who exercise the command—of the deep jeopardy that they will be in, no matter how long it takes, when this is all over.
My final point is to caution the House against any sense that the humanitarian corridors are likely to be much of an answer. I am afraid that, too often, they are not what they appear. There are huge dangers in apparently separating humanitarian from non-humanitarian space. By definition, they are geographically limited and they undermine obligations under international humanitarian law to allow civilians to reach safety from areas of fighting and the ability of aid to reach those in need.
We learned in Syria that Russia uses humanitarian corridors to advance its military strategy: it uses them cynically to distract and manipulate, and to empty an area for military gain rather than for humanitarian support. They create an illusory sense of security and should, in any event, be run by the ICRC. They are used as an instrument of public relations and not of humanitarian support. I caution hon. Members that they are not safe and are only a very small part of the answer.
We have heard calls this afternoon for NATO to be rejuvenated, and it is being. We have heard about the increased necessity of defence expenditure, which I entirely endorse. The words of the former Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt), at the weekend were absolutely right. This is a terrible crisis. We must stand together on the economic sanctions and on the support for the Ukrainians, and we must hope that our former colleague, William Hague, is correct.
The world and all of us across this House have watched in unity the horrors of recent weeks, as Ukrainian civilians and thousands of soldiers have been killed in this predicted and premeditated invasion. For perhaps the only time in the next couple of months, I sat on the Conservative side of the House to watch Zelensky give his powerful speech, as we showed unity, with party differences put aside for that day.
The ongoing war has forced more than 2.5 million people, mainly women and children, to flee their country and face the prospect of many months of uncertainty in refugee camps across Europe. Indeed, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has called it the
“fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II”,
with many predicting that numbers could exceed 4 million people in the months ahead.
While many of our European partners have scrapped their bureaucratic red tape to enable hundreds of thousands of people who are cold, hungry, grieving and desperately in need of support to seek sanctuary in their country, our Government have offered little more than hollow promises until this day. Despite the Prime Minister last week offering hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians sanctuary in the UK, the Government were shamefully forced to admit that only 1,000 people have been admitted and given refuge on our shores. The visa processing centre that the Home Office set up in Calais was little more than a single desk that failed to offer desperate Ukrainians either appointments or walk-in access. Inexplicably, it was not even made public as tens of thousands of Ukrainians streamed across France in search of safe passage.
The reality is that this is the culmination of more than a decade of this Government’s hostile environment policy that, as everyone knows, is nothing more than a dog-whistle, anti-immigrant, racist agenda that prevents some of the most vulnerable people on Earth from seeking sanctuary on our shores, and has perhaps been too successful by far. On top of this, the Government have continued to push their inhumane Nationality and Borders Bill through this House. I believe that the Home Secretary should hang her head in shame and explain why we are the only country in Europe that has failed to offer an accessible route to reunite refugees with their families. By comparison, our partners across Europe have thrown open their borders, slashed red tape and taken countless vulnerable families.
In their hour of need, we can and must do better for millions of Ukrainians. It is completely unacceptable that already exhausted people, who have travelled hundreds of miles, women and children, are being asked to jump through multiple arduous and unrealistic hoops, while they wait nervously for weeks to find out whether they will be admitted. The best our Government appear to be able to offer is a do-it-yourself asylum scheme, where UK householders are asked to name refugees they wish to sponsor, which would suggest we are asking Ukrainian refugees to essentially crowd source their own asylum applications.
That is why we in the Labour party are calling for emergency protection visas for those fleeing Ukraine who wish to reach the UK. This would lift normal visa requirements other than biometrics and security checks, which can be swiftly done en route. That would provide a quick, simple and safe route to sanctuary for all who need it.
It will have escaped no one that, despite so little being done to help Ukrainians as they face the horrors of war, it is still far more support than was offered just months ago to those who were fleeing the brutal horrors of the oncoming Taliban regime in Afghanistan. In my Ilford South office, we still have more than 220 active cases of Afghan refugees, some of which are still receiving boiler-plate responses from the Home Office and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. Many are of people trying to flee Afghanistan because they continue to face oppression and threats to their lives; they are often people who worked directly with the UK Government. That is totally unacceptable. The promises we made at the time to take only 20,000 people over the next four years were deplorable, but showed the true face of our immigration and refugee policy.
On the issue of sanctions against Russia, it is clear we must go far further to cut out the rot of dirty Russian money in our political system. Despite repeated warnings over many years, our Government, far from failing to act, have openly embraced the oligarchic wealth that was stolen from the Russian people after the fall of the Soviet Union, and made Britain the destination of choice for kleptocrats, who hide their loot under our noses, not far from the very building we sit in. It should not have taken the invasion of Ukraine for the Government to take action. The moves to sanction individuals and freeze assets are long overdue, after repeated calls by Members on both sides of this House.
Did my hon. Friend watch the coverage of the occupation of Mr Deripaska’s mansion yesterday? None of us condones that kind of behaviour, but there were more Crown servants there yesterday than there are in the Treasury asset freezing team. Surely, for too long now, we have been soft on oligarchs and soft on the causes of oligarchs, and what we now need are proper sanction powers to go after the properties and to actually seize, not merely freeze, the assets.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention, and I see the frustration that people have felt that has led them to take direct action to make the point he makes.
That nicely brings me to my next point, which is about how unsurprising it is that the Conservative party has been so reluctant to crack down on these individuals as it would mean biting the hand that feeds it, whether that is our own Prime Minister ignoring the warnings of our security services before ennobling Evgeny Lebedev, the son of a billionaire Russian banker and former KGB officer, or as I said earlier in the debate, accepting £30,000 from the wife of a former crony of Vladimir Putin so they could dine with a former Defence Secretary and be given a private tour of the Churchill war rooms. That is unacceptable. These people walk in the same circles. This is the problem we see today.
Given that the Conservative party is so easily bought, major questions over Russian financial influence need to be addressed. That has potentially jeopardised our national security and corrupted the very politics and democracy that we seek to uphold. If Britain is to be seen at this moment as taking a new approach of compassion—genuine compassion—towards refugees, we should also take this moment to root out that dark money and truly defend democracy by cleaning up our politics, so that we can look Mr Putin and the people in the Kremlin in the eye with democracy in our hearts and defiance against totalitarianism in our eyes.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ilford South (Sam Tarry). I am not going to make a party political point, I hope, but I would just gently remind him and the hon. Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis) that it was in 2008 that the golden visas were introduced—2008—and who was the Prime Minister then?
Can I begin by thanking all those across my North Dorset constituency who have helped, donated goods or raised money for the people of Ukraine? Svetlana Parkinson is a volunteer who has galvanised a whole army of people operating out of the Exchange in Sturminster Newton, Shaftesbury town hall and Blandford Forum’s Ginger Viking. Tonnes of aid are coming through, with Johnson’s of Gillingham, South West Packaging, Dike & Son, Dorset Council and everybody rallying to help. I think this is important, and we will all have stories such as this in our constituencies. As Russia shows us the worst of mankind, we show our best and others show their best.
A lot of colleagues have spoken about the history of Ukraine, and many of us will recall the dead hand of Russia and its influence over its then satellite states and empire. When I was a young boy growing up in Cardiff, we had a large Polish Catholic community, and I share their faith group. The only time I ever raised money for a trade union was when we had bring and buys or jumble sales for Solidarity, which fought against Russia to bring democracy and liberty. Many of us will remember the moving scenes at Mrs Thatcher’s last party conference as Prime Minister when lots of leaders of newly liberated countries hugged her in thanks for the sterling work that she and Ronald Reagan did in pointing out to people that the flame of human liberty was still alive, and would never and could never be extinguished. The challenge we have with Ukraine today is that we cannot see a resurrection of that Russian empire.
I am principally motivated in my political life by Stefan Terlezki, who, as you will remember, Mr Deputy Speaker, was the Member for Cardiff West. His story was the story of the tragedy of Ukraine during the war. As a young man, he was sold into slavery by the Germans and the Russians, and then back again, but went on to become a Member of Parliament. I remember him telling me the horror stories of that time, and we should never allow Ukraine to go back to that.
Let me say a few words about refugees. I welcomed yesterday’s announcement. The scheme needs to be safe and swift, kept under constant review, and tweaked to meet new demands. The Home Office now needs to change its response attitude and its mindset. Hitherto, it has been trying to make peacetime rules serve wartime needs. That will not work; it has to change, and it has to show flexibility. I would much prefer it that we mirrored what the Republic of Ireland has done, rather than criticise that.
I hear Ministers talk about security. Nick Bailey, my constituent, nearly lost his life because of the Salisbury poisoning. My constituency is close to Salisbury, and many people go there. I cannot believe that we are the only country that takes the security of our nation and people seriously. We all do, and I urge that even at this stage, we give serious consideration to waiving visas. Principally, we are taking in only elderly men and women, and women with children.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is doing a fantastic job in rallying and corralling the international response. However, some of the narrative suggests that it is a competition of league tables about who is doing best and who has done more. We are all in this together, because politics, when it is at its best, is values-based. Actions and inactions have consequences, and we need to pull together.
I want to place on record something about which I think the House will agree, which is that our Defence Ministers were far-sighted in the way they helped Ukraine. They gave Ukraine the means to fight back, and the training to help it, and some percentage of the success is down to what the Ministry of Defence in this country did to help our Ukrainian friends. Thank you, Defence Ministers, all of you.
I agree with my right hon. Friend, and if our MOD ministerial team did not exist, we would have to create them. They have done a sterling job, and thank heavens for the Secretary of State.
Actions have to have consequences, and not just for Russia. The Government should enter into no free trade agreement, or indeed free trade agreement talks, with any country that is either supporting Russia or being ambivalent in resolutions condemning it. If the Commonwealth is anything, it is a Commonwealth of values, and those who are not prepared to step up to the plate and champion those values collectively should probably see their membership suspended. I was a rebel on what the Government wanted to do with aid. I am a firm supporter of overseas aid, and I voted against the cut. However, aid should not be given to those countries that will not stand shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the international community and ensure that our values are defended. It is an outrage that Russia still has a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. If we are not seeking ways to remove it, we jolly well should be.
I have mentioned values-based politics, and in my judgment, NATO can and indeed should be a values- defending organisation, as well as defending the physical territory of member states. NATO could act now in a far more robust way than it is doing. I urge our American friends to understand that leadership of the free world is more than a lapel badge, and that it carries responsibilities to act in defence of those values. I hear people say, “Ah, but Russia has got a nuclear deterrent. That has to constrain our response.” Well Russia is always going to have a nuclear deterrent. What happens if Russia moves into the Baltic states, or others? It will still have a nuclear deterrent, and Putin is still unstable enough to wish to use it. We need the international resolve that we rightly deployed in Kuwait—a sovereign country was invaded aggressively and unnecessarily, and the international community rallied to defend it. We have to defend Ukraine. We have to do as much as we can, whatever and however it needs to be done, and pray God we do it quickly. Ukraine will prevail. We can envisage no other finale.
It is a genuine pleasure to be part of this instructive and informative debate. We have had excellent contributions from across the House, reflecting how the House is united in standing with Ukraine. The integrity and resolve of both the Ukrainian Government and the Ukrainian people have awakened and unified the world. We were all inspired last week by President Zelensky’s address to the House. We stand with Ukraine and are determined to do all that we can to defeat Russia. As has been said many times, Putin cannot win.
I want to reflect, as other hon. Members have, on Marina Ovsyannikova’s incredible protest yesterday on Russian television. We must not forget that Putin does not act in the name of every Russian, so I want to take the opportunity to express solidarity with those Russian people fighting within Russia against the oppression that they face.
I will reflect on what my constituents have been saying to me and raise refugees and visas. In particular, I will talk about constituent casework from people who have been trying to get family members out of Ukraine. Charlie Hewitt and his Ukrainian wife Olga have been trying to get family members over, but they have battled and battled with UK visa processes. Charlie told me that he felt “baffled, ashamed and insulted”. He has taken his wife and her relatives to his second home in Spain, which does not demand visas from refugees.
Emma Truman raised the case of a friend of hers, who is another constituent of mine. He travelled to Ukraine to collect his elderly father. His father was forced to travel from Warsaw to the British embassy in Italy to collect his visa and, having travelled there the week before, could not get an appointment until Friday 11 March, so my constituent had to leave him there. Now he has to wait another five days while his elderly father is alone in Italy.
Tanya Luczkiw contacted us about her family members who had applied for visas. She has paid over €1,000 for visas, including for Valeria, an unaccompanied minor who turned 11 years old yesterday. Again, we see backlog, delay and difficulty. I am offended on behalf of my constituents that they are struggling with the system. So many of us have stood here so many times and said that we stand with Ukraine, but we are not standing with these Ukrainians. We are not making it easier for them. We are not helping them in their battle against the Russian state.
I welcome yesterday’s announcement by the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities of the Homes for Ukraine scheme, not least because nearly 100 constituents have contacted me to say that they are desperate to help, have space in their homes and want to accommodate Ukrainians. I was really pleased to hear that announcement, but I am anxious about us having to find our own refugees and name them before they can come here.
Most of us will have similar cases of both those who want to help and those who need help with family members. Does the hon. Member agree that that Government ought, as they did over covid, to start taking out massive advertisements in local newspapers to explain to people how the system is adapting and how people can help or get help?
I agree. I am also getting an awful lot of inquiries from people who do not have rooms to offer but want to help in other ways, so I would really like to see a co-ordinated campaign to harness all the good will that people have towards the people of Ukraine and what we can do practically to support them.
The Government are not providing people in this country with a way to identify refugees whom they can sponsor—they have outsourced that or said that charities could provide it. It is really important that we can match the incredible good will and effort with those people who really need it. The Government must do more to match refugees in Poland or other countries who need shelter with people here who are willing to help. Just saying that people can sponsor a refugee is not good enough if they do not know how to find or help them.
I am really grateful to a charity in my constituency called Refugees Welcome in Richmond, which came to see me on Friday. It is very concerned that the renewed focus on Ukrainian refugees will obscure the effort that is still going on to rehome our Afghan refugees. So many of them are still in hotels and I would really like to see a renewed focus on getting them resettled. I think the situations are different: we need immediate, potentially temporary shelter for women and children fleeing Ukraine; and our Afghan refugees—whole families—need permanent resettlement. The requirements are different. The effort to resettle one group does not need to take up the efforts already employed in resettling the other.
I want to talk a little about energy supply. The current crisis has focused everybody’s minds on where we get our energy from. I welcome the moves, not just from the UK but across the EU and elsewhere, to reduce dependence on Russian oil and gas. That will be a pivotal part of our sanctions. The transition away has to be a green one. We have to focus on investing in renewables and a comprehensive retrofitting scheme to improve energy efficiency and reduce demand. As well as helping us to achieve our net zero goals and reduce dependence on Russian oil and gas, it will be a huge help to low-income families in the face of rising fuel prices. I want to see a replacement for the green homes grant, which failed so desperately to deliver the commitment to insulation, in particular for low-income families.
I worry about our Prime Minister’s visit today to Saudi Arabia. My understanding is that he has gone to speak to the Saudi regime about increasing its oil output. I worry he has taken the wrong lessons from the past few weeks, if he is cosying up to another autocratic regime who, let us not forget, executed 81 people last week. If we are merely reorienting the supply of oil to us from Russia to Saudi Arabia, that is not sustainable and that is not the way forward.
I reiterate that if we are standing with Ukraine, we are standing with Ukrainian refugees. We must do more. People in this country want to help them, identify them and bring them over. I really want us to use this moment to recommit to renewable energy and an insulation revolution right across this country, starting with our low-income households, so we can provide them with real support in reducing their fuel bills.
Poland is playing such a critical role at this juncture in helping her neighbour to the east, I just want to say a few words as the only Polish-born British Member of Parliament in the Chamber and as chairman of the all- party parliamentary group on Poland. Some 84 Members have joined our group, making it one of the largest. If any colleague wishes to join, we would welcome them with open arms.
I remember 40 years ago being at school in Buckinghamshire when martial law was declared in Poland. The Russians, 40 years ago, were threatening an invasion of Poland to suppress and destroy the Solidarity movement and Lech Wałęsa, who were fighting for their freedom to escape the clutches of Soviet oppression and get out from behind the iron curtain. One of the most emotional things I experienced as a child was coming to school one day in 1982 and seeing huge numbers of lorries parked outside. Every child had brought food parcels to the school to send to Poland, because they saw on their television screens how the economy had disintegrated, and how martial law and the brutal communist dictator Jaruzelski had created food queues. Nothing was actually functioning. Now, 40 years on, I am very proud that the Polish diaspora here in the United Kingdom has played a tremendous role in gathering food, medicines and clothing to be sent to Poland to help Ukrainian refugees. The Polish community in this country is now almost 1 million strong. I pay tribute to my close friend Anna Buckley, who runs a Polish school in Wrexham, and to my friend Bogusław Malinowski, who is a member of the Shrewsbury Conservatives; they and many other Poles have been in touch with me and have been organising deliveries of food, clothing and medicine to Ukrainians. Poland has taken in more than 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees, and the figure is rising all the time. Polish people understand how interdependent they are with their eastern neighbour and how important it is to help at this time.
I have got to know the Ukrainian ambassador, my friend Vadym Prystaiko, over the past few years in my campaign against the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which many of us see as a tremendous threat to Ukraine and to our NATO partners in central and eastern Europe. I bowed my head to him and apologised that so many of us did not fully come to terms with or recognise the step-by-step salami-slicing tactics of the Russian Government. We should have realised that South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Donetsk, Luhansk and Crimea were major warning signs that this lunatic was starting to get out of control and would cause a major conflagration on our continent. When I was on the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, we visited Donetsk and Luhansk, but even then, when we saw the tremendous destruction, I was not fully cognisant of the potential dangers ahead, so I have apologised to the Ukrainian ambassador.
Putin is trying to ethnically cleanse Ukraine. He wants to target civilians and destroy residential areas because he wants to ethnically cleanse that beautiful country and Russify it. That is why it is essential for Britain to take a lead in creating a Marshall plan to help countries such as Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova, which between them have taken more than 95% of all Ukrainian refugees. Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania have the comfort of being NATO partners, so we know we stand by them under article 5—if the Russians cross that fence, both sides know what the ramifications will be for both sides—but Moldova does not have that protection. Just yesterday, the Prime Minister of Moldova, Natalia Gavrilita, said that her country is really struggling to cope with the 200,000 refugees who have poured across the border.
I recognise the need for us in the United Kingdom to support Ukrainian refugees coming to our shores, particularly those who have family already here; I have reached out to my Ukrainians in Shrewsbury. I appeal to the Opposition: if you want to hold the Government to account, as we do, please focus on how they are going to take a lead on our continent to create a Marshall plan in conjunction with the European Union and America to help our NATO partners such as Poland. We do not know how long this war will go on. We want to stand by them financially to give them the support they need to sustain looking after the Ukrainians, so that the Ukrainians are never ethnically driven away from their region by this brutal dictator.
This week marks eight years since the late, great Tony Benn sadly passed away. In one of his most famous speeches in this House, he recounted living in London during the blitz. He spoke of huddling in bomb shelters each night and of awaking each morning to a city on fire. Speaking to oppose military intervention in Iraq, he recounted the horror that he had felt as Nazi bombs rained down on London. With plans to give the green light for British bombs to fall on Iraq, he asked Parliament to see Iraqis’ humanity too. “Don’t Iraqis feel terror?”, he asked. “Don’t they weep when their children die?”
Benn’s speech has become a universal anti-war statement and is just as relevant today. Today, it is Ukrainians huddling in shelters each night and seeing their cities on fire each morning. Today, it is Ukrainians who live in terror as Putin’s bombs rain down on them, and who weep for their murdered children.
Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine has rightly been unequivocally condemned throughout the House, and I join colleagues in calling for an urgent ceasefire with every effort made to reach a diplomatic end before more lives are lost and an even more terrifying wider European war is triggered. However, amid the darkness we have seen extraordinary bravery and humanity, and not just from the Ukrainian people themselves—from the courage of Russian anti-war activists risking repression to speak out against the war, such as Marina Ovsyannikova, who last night protested live on national television, to the compassion of the British public who have opened their hearts to the Ukrainian people. I am proud that in Coventry, a city of sanctuary, local groups have been collecting donations for refugees. Across the country, more than 100,000 people have signed up to welcome Ukrainian refugees into their homes.
This is a testament to the common decency of the people, but, for all their talk, the Government have not matched that decency. Their DIY asylum scheme passes the buck, individualising a problem that demands a collective solution. Refugee groups warn that it does not go far or fast enough, with the most vulnerable, such as unaccompanied children, the most likely to be left behind. I therefore join the likes of the Refugee Council in calling on the Government to follow the example set by our European neighbours and waive visas for Ukrainians seeking sanctuary.
This brutal war has exposed some uncomfortable truths. Each night on TV we witness new horrors befalling the people of Ukraine. We hear the terror in their voices, and see the tears as they weep for their children. We rightly stand in solidarity with them and welcome Ukrainian refugees, but the Government should not limit that solidarity. This month marks eight years since the beginning of the Saudi-led war on Yemen, which has claimed more than a quarter of a million lives and pushed 20 million people to the brink of starvation. As experts have made clear, that war would not be possible without the Government’s support and the £20 billion-worth of arms that they have sold to the Saudi regime since it began.
Like Tony Benn, I ask, “Don’t Yemenis feel terror as well? Don’t they weep for their children when they die? Do we not owe them solidarity too?” From Putin’s slaughter in Syria, where he aided and abetted Assad in war crimes, to the bombs dropped in the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, events make us ask, “Don’t they feel terror when bombs are dropped on their homes? Don’t they weep when their children die? Do we not owe them solidarity too?” But instead, our Government respond with laws such as the Nationality and Borders Bill, dubbed the anti-refugee Bill because it will break our 70-year-long commitment to the 1951 refugee convention.
In that speech, Tony Benn brought to light our shared humanity and the horrors of war. As Putin’s bombs rain down on Ukrainian cities and destroy them, it is as clear as ever that that lesson still applies today. We must stand firm against wars of aggression, and in solidarity with all who flee their horrors.
My constituents and I have watched the plight of Ukrainians in horror. We have witnessed the appalling actions of Putin and Russia, the murder of civilians, senseless bloodshed to satisfy a man’s historical grievance. People often try to make sense of evil actions by ascribing them to some form of mental illness—lunacy, insanity, not thinking rationally—rather than confronting the sad truth that evil actions are performed by evil men. Levelling cities, forcing women and children in their millions to flee, lying and lying while watching one’s own country and its citizens become impoverished—that is not insanity; it is evil. It is often said that liberty is not free and peace comes at a price, but central to peace is a commitment to the rule of law. Evil men and evil deeds must be countered, condemned and criminalised, and the perpetrators must be convicted.
I strongly support the UK’s approach in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine—the supply of defensive weapons, the sanctions, the humanitarian aid and our refugee response—and I want to speak briefly about the last two of those.
I support the UK embargo on Russian oil and gas. It cannot be right that as we heat our homes and fill our cars and trucks, we are bankrolling the Russian war machine, but we need to go further and faster: we need to stop dead the imports of Russian war fuel. Someone said that the current situation demonstrates why we cannot pursue net zero. I strongly believe that it shows the opposite. Never has it been more important to have clean, domestic energy and to be dependent on no one else but ourselves. Imagine if we had that now. I am reminded of the saying that the best time to plant a tree is 50 years ago, but the second best time is today. This is why we need to crack on with expanding renewables and nuclear and supporting UK gas and oil during this transition period to clean domestic energy production.
Turning to the humanitarian response and our support for refugees, the people of Runnymede and Weybridge stand ready and willing to help. As always, our community response and the incredible offers of help have been amazing. It is not surprising that my constituents have come forward in such a way to support Ukrainians, as was seen just a couple of weeks ago at the “Stand with Ukraine” rally in Weybridge. I welcome the recent Homes for Ukraine announcement. I am concerned however, that the most vulnerable refugees may end up being disenfranchised. It strikes me that there is a danger that the system may be easier to go through for Ukrainian refugees who are more internationalist or who speak English. It is important that the scheme is monitored carefully as it is rolled out, enhanced and changed, to ensure that we support all refugees, not just people who have particular strengths in personal advocacy.
The hon. Member is making a powerful speech. On that note, we have heard throughout this debate that the Ukrainian refugees coming to the UK will be some of the most vulnerable, including older people, children and, especially, unaccompanied children. Is it not important that we ensure that the people offering their homes are fully vetted to ensure that they are providing a genuine safe haven for people fleeing a war zone?
I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. Just yesterday, I asked the Secretary of State to ensure that there was not only historical vetting but ongoing support for the people and the families who open their homes, to ensure that no one takes advantage of people’s vulnerability. Of course, there is always going to be a balance, and we need to crack on and get people over here as soon as possible, but the hon. Lady is right to say that ongoing safeguarding is a critical issue.
I worry that we will see even more huge movements of people. That is inevitable, and we need to strongly support dispersing people from Poland, where they are struggling. I repeat my call to work with our European allies to do this and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) said, to tackle the people smugglers and support the most vulnerable refugees. As we watch the horror and bloodshed in Ukraine and the murder of our fellow human beings, our brothers and sisters, we are all hurting. We want to do more and we want to see it stop, but the future is murky. Each path forward is beset with challenge and danger. Where is the golden bridge for Putin and Russia? I hope and pray that it is found soon, but if anyone can find it, President Zelensky can.
As Russia’s unjustifiable assault continues, it is important that we in the international community do everything in our power to bring this unprovoked invasion to an end. Equally, while we wait for that time, we should be doing all we can to support those most affected—those who are fleeing. We have heard a great deal of criticism of the Government’s response to the Ukrainian refugee crisis. Unfortunately, the overwhelming bulk of that criticism is fully justified. The Government’s response has been late, half-hearted, partial and discriminatory. We can rightly be proud of the response of the British public to the crisis, however. So many of them have opened their hearts and their purses, and now we hear that hundreds of thousands have even offered to open their homes. The response of the Government in no way reflects this generosity of spirit or this international solidarity. Worse, Ministers seem to believe that the appropriate response to justified criticism is to attack, or that the response to serious shortcomings is self-congratulation. It is simply not enough compared with our counterparts across Europe.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), the shadow Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, was right to be critical of the latest Government plan. As she said, it is not a plan but a press release. It is a DIY refugee scheme. I remind Ministers that we are a signatory to international treaties governing the treatment of refugees. None of them states, “You can let in some people who want to come, depending on the generosity of your own citizens.” That is not international law. The legal position is that refugees have the right to seek asylum and that states are obligated to grant it, where appropriate. That does not mean directing people to non-existent processing centres in Calais or to a secretly located centre somewhere in Lille. It does not mean denying refuge to people from a war-torn region because they do not have relatives here. I know the visa scheme has since been extended, but it is a visa scheme, which is not how the asylum system has worked.
I am sorry to say these failings have become customary under this Government and their predecessors. The Government have failed to meet either their legal or moral obligations since they took office in 2010. There have been attempts to push back refugees in the channel, refugees have been kept in buildings that are not fit for habitation and some have contracted serious disease in unsanitary conditions. We have seen others, including British citizens, wrongly deported from this country.
It should never be forgotten that this Government and their predecessors are indelibly stained by the continuing Windrush scandal. They are also yet to provide an adequate response to the many hon. Members who have raised the situation of African and Asian students in Ukraine who face discrimination while fleeing the war. Many might ask what that has to do with us, but this Government would surely like to send a message that no race or nationality is more worthy of safe passage or refuge than any other. The Government’s responses to date are woefully lacking.
Even in the light of all that, the Government persist with their anti-refugee Nationality and Borders Bill. We have to conclude that, like Pavlov’s dog, Ministers’ reflexes take over when they hear the words “migrants” and “refugees,” and their reflexes are distasteful and objectionable. They are not the reflexes of the people of this country, who are empathetic, charitable and giving.
As we have already heard, yesterday we marked eight years since the death of the late, great Tony Benn. Whenever I speak about this Government’s treatment of refugees, I am reminded that he said:
“The way a Government treats refugees is very instructive because it shows you how they would treat the rest of us if they thought they could get away with it.”
My advice to this Government would be to be more like the British people in their treatment of refugees, before the British people see them for who they really are.
This has been a fascinating and wide-ranging debate. The hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer) made an incredible speech. It was one of the best, and it got to the nub of the military side. It was a fantastic speech.
I was at the Rose-Roth seminar of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Kyiv in 2016, and it was noticeable that a Ukrainian former member of the Minsk group said:
“Appeasers of Russia must go.”
He called it a “Chamberlain complex” and believed it was
“a fundamental failure that people feel they can work with Putin. He gets away with it. The international community must recognise that Russia’s actions are not against just Ukraine, but the whole world.”
That was in relation to the invasion of Crimea.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin) had a Backbench Business debate in our first week back this year on the Russian threat, and at the end of my speech I made the point that we have to accept that we are back in a cold war situation and that we must adopt a cold war mentality again. That includes increases in defence spending, on which we have seen an incredible and welcome change in position—I do not call it a U-turn—from the German Government, who have said they will spend 2.2% of GDP on defence, as laid down in the 2014 Wales summit. That is indeed welcome in bolstering NATO, because people are now recognising that whether we like it or not, we are back in a cold war scenario, which means that we have to get the playbooks back out. They are about standing up and pushing back. I have often spoken in the House on various issues about countermeasures and counterbalances, and this situation is about counterbalances. This is about saying to Russia, “Don’t try to push the envelope, because we will push back.”
People who are trying to be apologists for Putin have said, “It was the NATO expansion to the east.” NATO did not expand to the east; the east wanted to join NATO. That is a very subtle difference. The people of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are jolly well grateful today that they have got the backing of NATO, because I do not think they would be sleeping easily in their beds if they felt that Russia may be able to just walk through.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that Mr Putin’s claim that he is worried about having a NATO country directly on his border if Ukraine joins NATO is rather given the lie by the fact that if he occupies Ukraine, he will have several NATO countries on his border?
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for that, because he touches on something very important. The drive to NATO membership accelerated substantially after Russia had invaded Crimea. Putin invited that move of the Ukrainian Government to look further to the west, as they saw their security threatened. A real analysis could be done of what Putin was doing in and around Ukraine three or four months ago. Was he probing to see what the reactions of the west would be? Was he thinking, “What could happen here? Perhaps I will focus my attentions elsewhere, in the ‘Stans or areas like that.” We have merely to read or analyse the Putin essay for it to become apparent how far this Third Reich mentality of his goes. He makes clear in that essay the centuries-held hatred towards the sacking of Kyiv, the capital of Rus. He also makes clear in that essay the countries he is going to go after—Lithuania, eastern Poland, Belarus; he basically names them. He uses the phrase “Russia was robbed”.
My right hon. Friend is hitting the nail on the head, because we know where this ends. Adolf Hitler did not accept the settlement at the end of the first world war and sought vengeance, and Putin has never taken the almost self-inflicted degradation of the Russian empire internally. He is like a bear with a sore head and that is potentially dangerous for a large number of people on the European continent.
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for that, as it leads on to what my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer) was saying—that the analysis that Putin has gone mad, has a terminal disease or is suffering as a result of steroids is probably just our trying to understand the reasoning of an evil man. There are more history books that analyse Hitler’s motivations and what happened than are written on anything else. There are so many parallels to be drawn with the situation we find ourselves in today, because Putin has kept testing and pushing. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) said, when the chemical weapons were dropped in Syria it was a huge mistake that nothing was done, purely because President Obama had said that it was a red line that would not be tolerated. If we are going to tolerate it, we should not say that in the first place, because we can now draw a chronological line from that moment to what has happened.
Let us remember that Putin has caused the assassination of people in Berlin, and the Russians have blown up a NATO arms depot in the Czech Republic and launched a chemical weapon attack on the UK. All those things happened in NATO countries and all were met with a limited response, although it was notable that after the Salisbury attack allies from countries outside NATO also got together to remove diplomats from their embassies. Nevertheless, Putin has disregarded the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty, used Syria as a training ground and is agitating the situation in the Balkans.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said that we must be responsible to ensure there is not an escalation, but if we do not stand strong, we invite that escalation. As I have said, we have to take a cold war approach, which means doing things that, quite frankly, will probably frighten us all, but we must make sure that the message is clear: our NATO nuclear arsenal is on the same stand-by as the Russian nuclear arsenal. We do not have nuclear weapons in order to use them; we have nuclear weapons to ensure they are not used. That is why Trident is described as a nuclear deterrent: it is a weapon used every day to prevent it from being used. If it is used, it is a complete failure of everything—but frankly we will not be here to have that argument. It is a weapon used every day to keep the peace.
Every day, we are seeing murder take place on a wide scale, at the hands of an invading country. We have not yet seen the destruction of Kyiv, as Putin did to Grozny, or the use of chemical weapons. If those things happen, there will be huge demands for intervention—not necessarily from NATO but from countries that want to help with air support. Please let us not get to that stage. As other right hon. and hon. Members have said, let us make sure that the MiG fighters can get to Ukraine. They do not have to match in numbers the Ukrainian air force because—I remind everybody—in the second world war the Luftwaffe considerably outnumbered the RAF, but that absolute determination to defend our homeland came through.
My thoughts and prayers and those of the constituents of Rutherglen and Hamilton West remain with the people of Ukraine throughout this time of hardship. Their bravery in the face of this conflict is admirable.
There have been times in recent weeks when the Government’s humanitarian response has been somewhat lacking, but I thank the FCDO for its daily briefings and the Secretary of State for Defence for his considered and informative updates to the House. I am also grateful for the meetings and work that goes on behind the scenes, which our constituents do not see.
The outpouring of generosity across the UK has been extraordinary, and my constituency has been no exception. I mention in particular Rain or Shine in Cambuslang, which has co-ordinated at great speed an overwhelming response from the community and organised getting the many, many donations to where they are needed. The UK public has shown beyond doubt that we stand with Ukraine and do not accept the illegal and reprehensible actions of President Putin.
In the January debate to mark Holocaust Memorial Day, I said that we might take for granted the privilege of freedom that we have if we cannot imagine the atrocities of the war occurring now on UK soil. The escalation of events in Ukraine since January have brought that sentiment into much sharper focus. I am sure none of us imagined that a war of this scale would be seen in Europe in modern times.
Putin’s invasion is not just illegal, or immoral: it is an affront to democracy and to the values of Europe and its people. It is the oppression of the freedom of hundreds of thousands of innocent people to feed the ego of one man. It is imperative that we all bear in mind that this is not about the millions of ordinary Russian citizens, both those still in Russia and those here in the UK. The huge number of Russians who put themselves at risk by going out to protest against this war perfectly illustrate that. We should condemn Putin and the enablers who surround him, but we must not allow a generalised anti-Russian sentiment to grow. Not only are ordinary Russians not responsible for this conflict, but so many of them fundamentally disagree with it.
Like all Members, I have been inundated with emails from constituents sharing their thoughts on the conflict. Although our individual and personal power to do anything might be limited, there is power in numbers. By far the most common issue that my constituents want to see addressed is visas and our offer to Ukrainian refugees. There has been some movement on that. I spoke in yesterday’s Westminster Hall debate, so I will not labour the point. I will, however, reiterate that the Government must do all they can to remove the red tape and now move at speed to ensure that Ukrainians can access sanctuary in the UK. The Scottish Government have been vocal about their intention to take in as many refugees as they can under their super-sponsor status. I hope that the UK Government will enable them to do so as swiftly as possible.
My constituents would also like to see the Government providing substantial humanitarian aid to the countries neighbouring Ukraine, such as Poland, Romania and Moldova, which are on the frontline of the refugee crisis and taking the lion’s share of the humanitarian response right now. I have also seen a huge number of constituents extremely concerned about the measures in the Nationality and Borders Bill, which will come back to this House soon. That is not by any means a new concern, but this new context has renewed the strength of feeling, and the calls in opposition, to legislation that is in direct contrast to the UK’s proud history of providing safety to those who need it most. The Bill fails to make the essential distinction between refugee and migrant and my constituents have highlighted the need for more safe routes to the UK and the removal of the criminalisation of refugees.
At the heart of any war are the people. Ukrainians have shown pride in their country and have fought back commendably. Most refugees are only looking for a brief reprieve and a safe house until it is safe to return home. My constituents and I wholeheartedly support any measures that will provide that. Imagine having suddenly to flee your home and leave the life you knew behind, with only a few belongings to your name, not knowing if your home will still be standing, if and when you are ever able to return, and knowing that you are unlikely to be able to communicate effectively and ask for help because you do not know the language wherever you first land.
That applies even more so for children, the elderly and the vulnerable who do not have the same autonomy as a healthy, able-bodied adult. They may not even grasp what is happening when they are having to leave. Any one of us would be frightened at the very thought of it, never mind the reality. Any assurances or comfort that are within this Government’s gift must be freely given to alleviate whatever small part of that fear we can.
First, I wish to send my solidarity to all the victims of Putin’s invasion. Thousands have lost their lives, so many have been injured, many more have been forced to flee their homes or now face a humanitarian crisis. We need an immediate end to the loss of life and suffering. That means that the Russian state must call a permanent ceasefire and withdraw its troops. As the United Nations General Secretary has repeatedly said, instead of more war, there must be a diplomatic solution to this dangerous crisis, one that respects the UN charter and delivers peace, security and human rights. Reports overnight, including from President Zelensky, suggest a glimmer of hope on that front. We must do all we can to support such efforts.
No matter how quickly this horrific situation ends, it will take years for Ukraine’s economy to recover and for lives to be rebuilt. So Ukrainians should not be forced to divert desperately needed resources to debt repayments. Ukraine faces debt payments of $7 billion this year alone and, so far, there has been no offer of suspension or cancellation of debts. The vast majority of emergency funding has been new loans, so Ukraine’s debt is ballooning. Surely, as an act of solidarity, all of Ukraine’s debts should be cancelled.
I want to put on record my utter shame at the way our Government have delayed and restricted those fleeing the war in Ukraine from seeking sanctuary here. The Government should have waived all visa restrictions, as other countries have, and that should still be done. Let this be the moment when, after years of the hostile environment, we say with one resounding voice, “Refugees fleeing war, torture and persecution are welcome here. Refugees from the world over are welcome here.” Let us remember, too, the refugees fleeing conflicts that are often driven by our Government’s selling weapons to tyrants who then create humanitarian catastrophes, as we have seen, and as we see with horrific consequences in Yemen.
The people in our country have been so generous in spirit and have shown such practical solidarity, in contrast with a Government who have not gone far enough. Only the other weekend, I went to the Polish Catholic Centre in Leeds. People from all backgrounds across our community were arriving there in huge numbers to donate toothpaste, sanitary products, clothes and so many other things needed by people fleeing from Ukraine to Poland.
Beyond the immense suffering in Ukraine, however, this is a dangerous moment for the wider world. We must do all we can to ensure that this war does not spiral into a wider one, creating even more bloodshed. For example, a no-fly zone could lead to the nightmare scenario of direct conflict between Russia and NATO countries, which in turn risks a nuclear war between the two biggest nuclear powers on earth. Everything must be done to avoid that.
Finally, I extend a hand of solidarity to the brave protesters campaigning in Russia for an end to the war. Already this century we have seen too many wars. The example that Russian citizens protesting Putin’s war are setting us is truly inspirational. Who could not be moved by the recent scenes of the arrest of 76-year-old pensioner Yelena Osipova for opposing the war? Yelena survived the siege of Leningrad that killed an estimated 800,000 Russians in the second world war. Yelena knows the horrors of war and bravely opposes her Government’s adding to that suffering.
We must be clear that ordinary Russian people, whether in Russia or this country, are not to blame for the actions of their Government. It is a Government of kleptocrats, representing the interests of the billionaire robber barons, with their palaces and yachts paid for with the wealth stolen from the Russian people—so solidarity with those anti-war protesters. Already this century we have seen too many wars, and “Not in my name” has been the call of peace movements worldwide against them. Today, brave protesters in Russia are saying, “Not in my name.” I stand fully with them.
It is an honour to speak in this important debate. I begin by paying tribute to President Zelensky, to the heroic men and women of the Ukrainian armed forces and to all the people of Ukraine, whose grit, resolve and courage in the face of this war and this bully are an inspiration to us all. I also commend our own excellent armed forces for the support they have given the Ukrainian army.
Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine is a grave attack not only on the Ukrainian people, but on sovereignty, democracy, freedom and the rule of law. I welcome the aid promised by our Government, but I have some questions about it. Can the Minister tell us how much has already been disbursed and where the aid will be disbursed to, and can he give us an assurance that projects for building peace in other areas around the world will not be displaced by the money being given to Ukraine? It would be not only morally wrong, but a false economy to stop peace and development in one region for Ukrainian aid in another. I hope he can give us assurances of that today.
I echo the sentiments of so many hon. Members and so many of my Putney constituents: refugees are welcome here. Too often until now, in their hour of need, desperate Ukrainians have been met with chaos, confusion and bureaucracy by the Home Office. We have been letting them down. I am pleased to see the improvements in the visa process, but I call on the Government to introduce an emergency protection visa for those fleeing Ukraine, who need to reach the UK as soon as possible. That would lift normal visa conditions, other than biometrics and security checks that can be swiftly done en route, providing a quick, simple and safe route to sanctuary for all who need it. They must also accept the Ministry of Defence’s offer of assistance to speed up the system and set up emergency centres, with information in Ukrainian about projects that we have here—the Homes for Ukraine project and others—so that people who are fleeing Ukraine can find out what they can do straightaway.
In my own constituency, I have been overwhelmed by the support and generosity of the people of Putney, who have written to me offering essential items and their spare rooms. I have spoken to churches, my local synagogue and local charities, which are unanimous in their belief that the Government must do more and which are ready to step up when called on.
One brilliant local charity, Refugees at Home, has already been working hard to pair residents with refugees. Its members have been finding host families for refugees and asylum seekers in the UK since 2015. They really are experts in the field of pairing refugees with homes. However, they are frustrated that better use is not being made of experienced schemes such as theirs. I seek assurance from the Minister that experienced local organisations will receive the support they need to contribute to making this scheme work and that it will not be set up to fail. Refugees at Home has said that
“matching hosts to guests requires sensitivity and experience, and it is important that homes are properly assessed prior to a placement being made. A simple DBS check is not enough. A proper home visit needs to be undertaken”,
there needs to be “follow-up support”, and
“move-on plans must be put in place”.
I call on the Minister to tell us how the pairings will be made. When I was an aid worker in Bosnia, I saw a lot of things during the war and after it, but the thing I most remember and most haunts me is the times I had to turn away people who were seeking aid—I had to make choices about whose home I could rebuild and not rebuild, the people I could give a food package to and not give a food package to. I will never forget that. We cannot put British people in the situation of having to do that. If they hear of a family desperate to come here, we cannot ask them to choose who they will pair with—who they will have in their home and who they will not—because that will be a decision they will never, ever be able to forget.
I would also like to highlight the risk to peace in the western Balkans. The violence in Ukraine makes clear Putin’s intention to fuel instability and division across the whole region, and the Balkans is no exception. Given the growing concerns about war in Bosnia, I hope that there will not be any destruction and that efforts for peace are redoubled. A good start would be a smart and creative sanctions policy on leaders in the western Balkans such as Milorad Dodik, who has already been sanctioned by the US and the EU for destabilising and corrupt activity and for attempts to dismantle the Dayton peace accords. Should we not consider sanctioning him and others, and not wait until it is too late to start talking about sanctions, as we did with Russia?
We can see the threat to peace in the western Balkans now and work with civil society organisations on the ground. The biggest threat to peace is to not have civil society organisations—the ordinary public—working for peace, and we can play our part in working with them. I have recently spoken to many that are doing fantastic work and they can do so much more with our support, as well as bolstering our NATO base there. There is not a moment to lose. It is not too late to take action for the western Balkans and we should act now before it is too late.
A week ago, this House stood as one to salute President Zelensky, who told us:
“We will not give up and we will not lose.”
His address, like his leadership, was deeply moving and deeply inspiring. Our Parliament, that day, truly spoke for the British people. The House has done so again today, with 26 speakers making a wide range of points. But at the heart of what every speaker has said is that we in this House, and in this country, are unified in our solidarity with Ukraine and in our condemnation of President Putin’s invasion.
The Ukrainians are showing massive bravery—military and civilians alike. We must do all we can to support their resistance, and the Government have Labour’s full backing for military and intelligence assistance to Ukraine to defend itself. We welcomed the delivery of more than 3,600 NLAW anti-tank weapons. I hope that the Minister this afternoon will be able to confirm that the Starstreak missiles that the Ukrainians need to defend against Russian air attacks are also now being delivered.
It is clear that President Putin miscalculated on the resolve of the Ukrainian military and on the strength of his own Russian forces. Three weeks in, his forces are still only making limited progress. They have still only taken three cities, all in southern Ukraine. However, Russia has such crushing firepower and Putin has such utter ruthlessness that we must expect more of their military objectives to be taken in the weeks to come. Whatever the short-term gains Putin may secure, we must ensure that he fails in the long run through Ukrainian resistance, tougher sanctions, more humanitarian help, wider international isolation, justice for war crimes being committed and, above all, long-term western unity and NATO unity.
More immediately, I fear that we must expect further escalation in Kremlin rhetoric and in the merciless attacks on civilians, yet these are the very tactics that are hardening resistance in Ukraine, and leading to protests in Russia and unified opposition in the wider world. Putin will have to negotiate, perhaps from a position of weakness, rather than strength, but certainly we must make that happen sooner, rather than later. All diplomatic efforts are needed to secure a ceasefire, negotiations and a full Russian withdrawal.
When Britain was one of the original guarantors, alongside Russia and the US, of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the 1994 Budapest agreement, it is deeply disappointing that today our British Prime Minister is playing a bit part on the margins of international diplomacy as France, Germany and the US—not Britain—lead the way.
The Minister shakes his head, but let me ask about China. China called yesterday for maximum restraint in Ukraine. Has the Prime Minister spoken to President Xi since the conflict began? When did the Foreign Secretary last speak to her Chinese counterpart? Was that since or before the invasion?
I turn to the contributions from many Members, which I think were in four sections and had four hallmarks. The first was great insight and expertise, and I will only recognise those Members who have returned to the Chamber for the wind-ups.
Order. I am checking on that, and it is somewhat disgraceful that there are Members who have taken part in this debate who are not here for the wind-ups. I am saying that as loudly as I can in the hope that it will be heard across this building. The right hon. Gentleman is right to make that point. As a matter of courtesy to him, those Members ought to be here.
I am less concerned about courtesy to me; I am concerned about courtesy to the House and the public, for whom we speak and are here to represent.
Turning to the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), when I talk about great expertise and insight, no one has done more about and knows more about human trafficking, and her warning about traffickers operating from day one among the refugees fleeing Ukraine is a serious wake-up call. She urges work with the UN agencies, tech companies, refugee groups and law enforcement agencies. She urges the Home Secretary to act, and I hope she gets more of a response than we have seen to date.
Turning to another true expert in the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is an expert on Russia, with a long track record of exposing Russian corruption and urging action on the dirty money that keeps Putin in power. He has worked hard to get the Government to this point, and he is clearly not going to give up.
I will pass over my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis), as he is not in his place. [Hon. Members: “He is!”] I beg your pardon; he has moved. Hon. Members have talked about defence spending, but he made the important point that it is how well, not how much that matters. Bearing in mind that the Public Accounts Committee report on the Ministry of Defence, published just before Christmas, described its system for delivering major equipment capabilities as “broken”, that may be a message that the Chancellor wants to hear and he may be wary of throwing good money after bad. The right hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns) is not here so I will move on.
The right hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke) said that we are back in a cold war scenario. I am not sure that he is right; the circumstances are new but some of the old determination on deterrence will certainly be required.
The second hallmark of the debate was the profound gravity with which hon. Members spoke about Russia invading and killing people in that sovereign country. I am disappointed that the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) is not here because he rightly said that Russia is a member of the UN Security Council and is tearing up 75 years of international law.
The hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin) said that he was making a short speech but rightly warned us to prepare for a long conflict. He said that securing long-term peace will require resolve and strength. The hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) treated us to a history of European treaties, including Maastricht, that have taken for granted our geopolitical stability in Europe over recent years.
The right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) was passionate and profoundly expert. He, my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Zarah Sultana) and the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) all spoke about the protest and bravery of Marina Ovsyannikova on Russian state TV yesterday. That is a clear image that Putin is fighting not just in Ukraine now—this is his new front. Domestic doubts about the invasion, protesters on the streets and western sanctions are all putting pressure on him. This must become his costly failure. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) was right to remind us of, and to offer the solidarity of this House and Britain to, the brave anti-war protesters in Ukraine.
The third hallmark of the debate was great emotional power and passion. My hon. Friend the Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer) said that the Ukrainians are fighting this war for all of us and we must do everything possible, short of NATO involvement. She is right. I pass over the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly), who is not in his place.
My hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson) rightly said that an attack on Ukraine is an attack on democracy, on peace, on freedom and on the rule of law. She pointed out what is at stake in this war. The hon. Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) warned us never to allow Ukraine to go back to the horrors of the Soviet era of control, and he is right. The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) reminded us that ordinary Russians are not responsible for this conflict. It is President Putin’s war and it must become President Putin’s failure.
The fourth hallmark of the debate was the strong solidarity that the House expressed with Ukrainians, led by the right hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), who said that Ukrainians look to the west, not to the east. That is what they are fighting for: the right to determine their own future as a democratic sovereign nation. He had the whole House behind him when he said that. I pass over the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), who is not here.
The sense of solidarity with Ukrainians was particularly strong in several contributions about the Government’s response to refugees, which, honestly, has been shameful and shambolic. They used the Home Office’s existing systems as a starting point, but they are simply not suitable in a period of war with almost 3 million refugees in three weeks. My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy) rightly made the point that the system is not suited to the emergency. She said that the Government must be more like the British people with refugees.
I hope the SNP spokesperson, the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan), gets her answers from the Minister about the support to local authorities that will accompany the DIY refugee scheme announced yesterday. Her hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Steven Bonnar) described the Government’s response on refugees as “pitiful”, although I thought my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) was more balanced and made a better case. She quite rightly said that in having a DIY asylum scheme, as announced yesterday, there is a risk that the Government are absolving themselves of the proper responsibility of the state for refugees.
Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South (Sam Tarry) took the Government to task for failing to provide what is needed most—a simple sanctuary route. He said we can and must do better for Ukrainians, as did the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney), who was asking for answers and for a better system for her constituents.
It is clear that Putin has miscalculated not just on the strength of the Ukrainian resistance and the weakness of his own forces, but on the international resolve to isolate Russia and on the strength of western unity and NATO unity. Our Labour commitment to NATO is unshakeable. The Government therefore have our full support for reinforcing NATO nations on the alliance’s eastern border with Russia. The Labour leader and I were able last week to fly to Tallinn and Tapa in Estonia to reassure Estonia of the united UK determination to defend their security and to thank our British troops deployed there from the Royal Tank Regiment and the Royal Welsh battle group.
Let President Putin be in no doubt that our commitment to article 5 is absolute. Let him not mistake NATO’s restraint for any lack of resolve. When Defence Ministers go to NATO tomorrow for the NATO meeting, we want the UK Government to demonstrate a leadership role in NATO again; to further reinforce the eastern flank of NATO; to encourage the nations to take a decision on an initiating directive to SACEUR, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe; and to argue for new priorities in the NATO strategic concepts to be agreed in June, for closer co-ordination with the European Union, and for greater collaboration with the countries of the joint expeditionary force.
As we strengthen our defences abroad, we must also strengthen our defences at home. We need the Government to publish the national resilience strategy they promised a year ago, and to halt further cuts to the Army. We need the Government to reboot defence spending to respond to new threats that the UK and Europe face. Labour in government did exactly that, with a big boost to defence after the 9/11 terror attack on the twin towers. We introduced the largest sustained real-terms increase in spending for two decades. If the Government act to boost defence as Labour did after 9/11, the Government will again have our full support.
When he opened this debate, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), the shadow Foreign Secretary, said that three weeks ago the world changed. Putin’s invasion was a grave violation of international law and UN conventions. It was also the start of an assault on the fundamental aims of post-war Europe: peace, freedom, democracy and national sovereignty. We have taken peace and security for granted in Europe since the end of the cold war. We have failed to confront Russian aggression. We must now be ready to deal with the consequences of this Russian invasion for years to come.
With the leave of the House, I would like to conclude this debate on behalf of my hon. and gallant Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces, who was unfortunately detained in his Department at the opening of this debate. He has apologised to the Chair, and he has asked me to put on record his apologies to the House.
Earlier I outlined the Government’s main objective in this conflict, which is for President Putin to fail in Ukraine, and I set out the means we are employing to ensure that this is the case. With the addition of 360 people sanctioned today, the United Kingdom has now taken action against over 1,000 Russian individuals and entities. The new powers afforded to the Government under the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act 2022 have been put to use and will continue to be used over the coming weeks and months. Bank assets worth over £350 billion have been frozen. We have cut off key sectors of the Russian economy, including those essential to the Russian war machine, and we have rallied allies to remove Russia from the SWIFT banking system.
These sanctions are already biting. The Russian stock market has not opened since the start of the conflict, which I understand is the most prolonged closure of the Russian stock market since the Bolshevik revolution. The Kremlin is desperately trying to hold back capital flight, even from its sovereign wealth fund. Putin’s economy is now desperately exposed, and the elites around him feel the pain. They must tell him to stop the war, because the international consensus that now threatens their wealth will not be broken. This conflict stops when Putin decides it stops, and he should realise that it should stop now.
The international community has also moved to ostracise Russia from international sporting and cultural events. Russian and Belarusian athletes have been blocked from the Paralympics, and they are out of the World cup. Major western corporations are ceasing business in Russia, and the Bolshoi ballet will not be coming on its planned tour of the UK. Russian sports fans are left without international games to watch. The artists, athletes and performers blocked from performing overseas and the hundreds of people queuing in recent days for their last McDonald’s must be dismal signals to all Russians that Putin is damaging their country.
In his desperate attempts to control the news, Putin has inflicted on his own people the blocking of western social media platforms, and the highly connected and often influential Russian influencers must be devastated. As trivial as their tears may seem in the face of the suffering in Sumy or Kharkiv, their tears reflect the anger of a generation of young Russian people whom Putin does not understand and does not represent. They do not want the digital and cultural isolation from the west that he is now inflicting on them, and they should follow the brave example of Marina Ovsyannikova in challenging the repression of free speech and access to the world of online information. Putin is inflicting on this generation of millennial Russians a complete and total change of their way of life, and I have no doubt that they will want to push back.
I am full of praise for the Government for now being able to sanction 1,000 individuals, but will the Minister confirm two things? First, can he confirm that a large number of them can be sanctioned for only 56 days under our rules, because it depends on the Act that we passed yesterday? Secondly, can he confirm that we will proceed with many more sanctions? The tiny number of people around Putin may not be moved by all of this, but the people who have £750,000 tucked away here as their possible bolthole are terrified of what may happen, and we need to get to them as well.
I can assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that we will continue applying sanctions to the Russians to continue the pressure on Vladimir Putin and to choke off the supply of money to his war machine.
The Government have announced nearly £400 million in both humanitarian and economic support to Ukraine. We are providing medical supplies, generators and other essentials. We are bringing Ukrainian children to the UK to continue their cancer treatment, and we have made the offer that the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine and other UK military medical facilities will be made available to injured Ukrainian service personnel. We will also welcome here Ukrainians fleeing from the conflict. We have put no cap on that number, and we have already seen that over 100,000 British families have offered to make their homes available to the refugees.
I appreciate that there might be difficulties with this, but would the Minister consider whether our offer should be open to injured Russian military personnel as well? If they are captured on the battlefield and they are injured, we should show them the humanity that we are obliged to under the Geneva conventions.
I will listen to what my hon. Friend has said. As with all military conflict this is based on medical need, but I will take the point he has made.
I feel that a number of Labour Members sought to create a grievance where I do not think there should be one. It is important that people recognise that the £350 some hon. Members have mentioned will go to the householder, but more than £10,000 of support will be made available to local councils for those being homed in the UK. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) made an incredibly important point—I am glad it was recognised by those on the shadow Front Bench—about the risk of people traffickers taking advantage of those who have been displaced by this conflict. We know that bad people take advantage of good people in times of difficulty, and that is why it is so important that we remain observant and vigilant, and that we prevent those evil people from prospering through the hurt of others.
The shadow Secretary of State for Defence was assiduous in reflecting the comments made to the House today, and rather than repeat the names of the right hon. and hon. Members he mentioned, I wish to put on record my thanks for their contributions. We heard from Opposition Members a commitment to the territorial integrity of Ukraine, and a commitment to collective defence. It is great, once again, to see Her Majesty’s Opposition being the true heirs of Attlee. It is incredibly important that at times such as this, although we may have differences, which have been aired today, the message sent out to our friends and adversaries alike is that we stand united as a House, and we stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian people.
We recognise that Ukrainians do not want to be refugees. They want to get home and back to the country that they love and are defending with such passion. We are keen to help them do so, which is why we will continue to provide the military aid they need. At the international donor conference, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary two weeks ago, there was a commitment of 4,241 next-generation light anti-tank weapons—NLAWS—which have been delivered. Other countries will also make donations. Thousands of sets of body armour and helmets, and a huge volume of small arms ammunition, rations, and communications equipment have been flown forward and moved onwards into Ukraine.
The shadow Secretary of State asked specifically about the provision of Starstreak high velocity anti-aircraft missiles. Those are being delivered, but he will understand that we wish to keep the timing, location and nature of that discreet. I assure him that we will help the Ukrainians to defend themselves against attacks from the air. The donor community grows because of the intervention of the Prime Minister, the Defence Secretary, and others.
My right hon. Friend is running ahead—he can clearly see the next page of my speech.
Through the work of the Prime Minister, the Defence Secretary and others, the donor community grows all the time, and a further donor conference will be convened by the Defence Secretary in the near future. We will push for more, just as the Prime Minister did with member states of the joint expeditionary force, a meeting of which he hosted this morning at Lancaster House. Countries that have not had appropriate weapons in their stockpiles have sent cash; others have provided transport planes to work alongside the RAF in making deliveries. All of that is co-ordinated thorough the fantastic work of the international donor co-ordination centre led by the UK’s 104 Theatre Sustainment Brigade, who are now established in Stuttgart alongside the US European Command.
Many colleagues on both sides of the House asked for more support for the Ukrainian armed forces and for more complex weapons to be made available. We speak regularly—every day—with our friends in Ukraine and are working day and night to deliver on the requests that they make of us. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) asked in particular, as others have done, about the delivery of MiG-29s from Poland and other western countries who operate those jets. The delivery of those jets to Ukraine is a matter for those donor countries, each of which will need to make its calculations about the risk of donating weapons, as we do when we donate ours. Whatever they decide to do, we will of course support them.
Many colleagues also focused on the work of our armed forces. Yes, I am biased, but we know, because the Ukrainians tell us, that both the equipment and training support that the UK armed forces have provided them over a number of years through Operation Orbital has been incredibly useful to them. We should all be proud of our armed forces personnel’s work in support of the Ukrainians. The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the Defence Secretary and others are all determined that the UK’s foreign and security policy reflects the threat that we face in the world today and that we have the opportunity to project UK influence. Despite the Opposition’s habitual narrative—I understand that Oppositions have to oppose—I assure the House that the UK is still a significant influencer on the world stage and a force for good in the world.
We are determined to support the Ukrainians. A number of right hon. and hon. Members spoke passionately—they were right to do so—about the bravery and resilience of the Ukrainians that we have seen, both in the military and civilians who have taken up arms in defence of their homeland. We are also witnessing incredible bravery from protestors in Russia. That brave resistance to Putin and the elites around him inspires us all. The UK and the world stand with Ukraine.
But for all the hubris in Putin’s planning, for all the incompetence in the execution and for all the lies told about the losses suffered, the Russian army remains a formidable foe. We must therefore recognise and, I am afraid, prepare ourselves for the potential of worse than what we have already seen. But the Ukrainian people must not give up hope. They are fighting heroically and holding back an invading armoured army.
Putin may feel that he has overwhelming power at his disposal, and he may feel that a decisive victory is still in his gift, but the Ukrainians are proving him wrong. He has already failed in his strategic objective. The international community has pulled together. The Ukrainians have pulled together and have fought like tigers. The international community and the Ukrainian people have seen him for what he is, and increasingly the Russian people are seeing it, too.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the situation in Ukraine.