House of Commons
Monday 25 April 2022
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Before we start today’s business, I want to say something about the article in The Mail on Sunday yesterday about the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner). I said to the House last week, in response to a point of order about a different article, that I took the issue of media freedom very seriously. It is one of the building blocks of our democracy. However, I share the view expressed by a wide range of Members—including, I believe, the Prime Minister—that yesterday’s article, which reported unsubstantiated claims, was misogynistic and offensive. That is what we believe.
I express my sympathy to the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne for being subjected to this type of comment, which, in being demeaning and offensive to women in Parliament, can only deter women who might be considering standing for election, to the detriment of us all. That is why I am arranging a meeting with the chair of the press lobby and the editor of The Mail on Sunday to discuss this issue affecting our parliamentary community. I am also arranging a separate meeting—I believe we now have a time this evening—with the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Safe and Legal Routes to UK: Nationals of Ukraine and Afghanistan
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for your statement.
The Government have introduced two new safe and legal routes for Ukrainian nationals: the Ukraine family scheme and the Homes for Ukraine scheme. As of 21 April, more than 71,000 visas had been issued under both schemes. Under the schemes, neither route is capped, and the Ukraine extension scheme permits Ukrainians who are already in the UK to extend their stay.
Members from throughout the House have called on the Government to make it easier for people from Ukraine to seek sanctuary in the UK. Will the Home Secretary explain why the schemes for those who try to flee the Taliban are so limited and why, according to her own Department, the Nationality and Borders Bill does not establish safe and legal routes for those fleeing war, conflict or persecution?
First, the new plan for immigration spells out absolutely the Government’s approach to safe and legal routes. As I have said many times in the House, every safe and legal route needs to be bespoke, based on the crisis that we are seeking to address.
Secondly, in response to the hon. Lady’s question about Afghanistan, she will know that under the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme we will welcome up to 20,000 at-risk people who have been affected by the most appalling events in Afghanistan. That scheme was announced last year and will include women and girls and members of minority groups, given their vulnerability.
A family who are still in Ukraine have been reporting back to their Homes for Ukraine sponsors in Halifax that they have been able to hear the bombs getting closer every day of their 29-days-and-counting wait for a visa. The family in Ukraine have twins under the age of 10 who have, remarkably, had their visas processed at different speeds. A Home Office whistleblower has described the scheme as “designed to fail”. Government figures show that 40,000 visas have been issued under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, yet just 6,600 Ukrainians have actually arrived in the UK, because families who need to travel together cannot do so because the visa of just one family member, often a child, is delayed. Will the Home Secretary explain why, if 40,000 visas have been issued, so few Ukrainians have arrived in the UK? What is she doing to correct the situation?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question because she makes an important point. There are a number of points to make in response.
First, on the reason why low numbers have come to the UK, as I have already said, more than 71,000 visas for both schemes have been granted. The Minister for Refugees, Lord Harrington, went to the region just 10 days ago to find out why and what more could be done to bring over families who have been granted their visas to come over. First and foremost, as we have heard repeatedly from the Ukrainian Government and from Governments in the region—[Interruption.] Would the hon. Lady like to stand up and respond? First of all, those families want to stay in region. That is a fact and that is exactly why we are working with the various Governments in region.
The hon. Lady made an important point about families and younger children. Much of that is down to the checks, because they are not always travelling with parents. Safeguarding checks are being undertaken to ensure that they are all linked members of families. They are important checks that have to take place.
Less than half of 1% of Ukrainians fleeing Putin’s war have so far found shelter in the United Kingdom. There are currently more sheltered in Ireland than are sheltered here, despite our neighbours being 13 times smaller in terms of population. The real reason for this situation is the unnecessary, inappropriate and shambolic visa system that the Home Secretary has decided to impose. Approximately 140 other countries allow visa-free access. Surely, even at this late stage, the Home Secretary must lift visa requirements for all, or at least some, Ukrainians fleeing Putin’s war and get things moving.
I have repeated many times the reason why we have checks and visas. I appreciate the political difference between the Government and the hon. Gentleman’s party, but we are not members of the EU; we do not have open borders. I acknowledge that he has a fundamentally different point of view when it comes to open borders and not having checks on those who come to our country but, in this case, security checks are vital.
There is a whole of Government effort to counter these dangerous and unnecessary crossings. That effort is reflected in the recent changes that the Government have made to operational primacy. We continue to work closely with the French to prevent crossing attempts, guiding vulnerable migrants in France towards support there, and tackling the vile criminal gangs that profit from them.
I have raised small boat crossings with the Department on a number of occasions, and I am grateful for the continued efforts to bring the crossings to an end and to ensure that we control illegal immigration. Does the Minister agree that it is important that we use every single power we have to prevent these illegal crossings, which continually put lives in danger; to clamp down on the gangs that facilitate them; and to continue to provide the legal routes by which so many people have already made safe crossings?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the distinction between illegal entry into this country and people coming via safe and legal routes. I know that his constituents in North Warwickshire and Bedworth feel very strongly that the Nationality and Borders Bill needs to pass into law. We need its comprehensive measures to build on our existing powers, to get to grips with this issue, and to tackle it fairly but robustly. I am sure that he will join me in encouraging the other place to get on and pass the Bill this week.
The people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke are delighted with this groundbreaking economic and development partnership with Rwanda, which will help to break the business model of vile people smugglers once and for all. Does my hon. Friend share my concern and that of my constituents that the Labour woke warriors are quite happy to stick with the status quo, meaning that more people are going to leave safe mainland France, risking their lives and putting thousands of pounds in the hands of smuggling gangs, which will mean more death in the channel and illegal economic migrants continuing to enter the United Kingdom?
One thing we absolutely know is that my hon. Friend’s constituents are very perceptive. They will recognise that the Labour party has no credible alternative that recognises the scale of the challenge and all its complexities. We need the measures in the Bill; we need the Rwanda model to come to fruition. We are getting on and delivering on that priority.
To avoid desperate Ukrainians being added to those trying to cross the channel, the Government’s schemes for Ukrainians need to work. Can the Minister explain why the very helpful Members’ hub in Portcullis House has been stopped from issuing permission-to-travel letters to MPs? I dealt with a family last week. For two of the family members, the letters were sent to me and I could let the family and their host family here know, and they were all happy about it. For the third family member, the system was stopped at the end of the last week, and officials are saying that they are now no longer allowed to issue MPs with those permission-to-travel letters. It is a complete shambles. Will he sort it out?
The right hon. Gentleman will recognise that I am not the Minister with direct responsibility for the refugee scheme, but I will gladly ensure that his feedback is heard by my noble Friend Lord Harrington. If the right hon. Gentleman would like to share details of those specific cases, we will gladly look at them at pace.
Despite this Government continually patting themselves on the back, there remain far too many cracks in the Homes for Ukraine scheme. In a recent article published by The Guardian, an anonymous whistleblower has revealed that he dealt with numerous cases in which UK visas had been issued for an entire family apart from just one child, effectively stopping the family from travelling to safety. Over the past few weeks, I have been in contact with a constituent who has been doing all she can to help a family from Ukraine who are in that exact scenario, but she is getting nowhere. What is the Minister doing to plug those gaps and to ensure that entire families, not just individuals, can reach the UK safely?
If the hon. Lady can provide the specifics of that case, I will happily ensure that that is looked at quickly. It is also fair to say that the number of caseworkers dedicated to this work has been increased, and we try to ensure that cases are grouped so that families are processed consistently together, which makes sense, but I would be delighted to look at the specifics of this case.
The deeply misjudged Nationality and Borders Bill and the Rwanda offloading plan will not only make cracking down on criminal people traffickers much more difficult, but make the cost to the British taxpayer criminally expensive. The British people deserve to know how their taxes are being spent, not least because the failed Australian model ended up costing £1 million per refugee. I ask the Home Secretary how many refugees she expects to send to Rwanda each year. The Prime Minister says it is tens of thousands; is that correct? How many can they house in the detention centres? What will the cost per single refugee be? What will the £120 million be spent on? Finally, given that her most senior civil servant refused to sign off on the plan, when will the Home Secretary publish a comprehensive cost forecast of her unworkable, extortionate and profoundly un-British Rwanda offloading agreement?
I thank the Home Secretary, the Minister and all her team for bringing about the so-called Rwanda plan. I know the whole of Dudley is behind her, as is the rest of the country—unlike the Labour party, which has no plan. I ask the Home Secretary and her team to continue with the same steely resolve that I know she must have applied to get here as they move on to delivery and implementation.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support for the policies we are bringing forward. He recognises the gravity and importance of the issues we are dealing with. We will not rest while people continue to put their lives in the hands of evil criminal gangs, whose only concern is to take a profit from those individuals. They do not care whether people get here safely. That has to stop, we have a plan to stop it and we are going to get on and deliver it.
The Minister claimed that the Rwanda scheme will be a way of diminishing the small boats crossing the channel, but he will be aware that at least one Member of this House does not support his scheme: the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), who is not only a former Prime Minister, but a former Home Secretary. Can he explain to the House why he disagrees with his colleague, and what makes him so sure that his scheme will not fall in the courts?
I have huge respect and admiration for my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). The bottom line here is that there is no single intervention that will resolve the issue, but we must strain every sinew. We believe this is an important policy intervention that will shift the dynamic and help to preserve lives. That is a fundamental imperative and we cannot put a cost on it. I am convinced that this policy will deliver, along with the wider package of measures we are introducing. I encourage the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) to be in the right Division Lobby this week and to pass the Nationality and Borders Bill into law.
Violence Against Women and Girls
Tackling violence against women and girls is a top priority for this Government. Since publishing our cross-Government tackling violence against women and girls strategy last July, we have launched a communications campaign to challenge perpetrators and to drive rejection of these awful crimes. We have supported the introduction of a new national policing lead and provided more than £27.5 million for 79 local projects to improve women’s safety in public spaces.
Violence against women and girls is both horrific and, unfortunately, endemic. It must be stopped. Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming our plans such as the tackling domestic abuse plan, which, alongside the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, will play a vital role in stamping out these horrific crimes?
I thank my hon. Friend for his astute observations and strongly agree that that Bill is absolutely vital as part of our package of measures to respond to violence against women and girls. The House will like to be reminded, no doubt, that it contains measures to ensure that serious criminals, including sex offenders, will be punished more harshly and spend longer in prison. It strengthens management of sex offenders, introduces more electronic tagging, and ends the automatic halfway release from prison for serious and violent sex offenders. It is therefore a shame that Labour Members persist in voting against the Bill. I very much hope they will change their stance at the next opportunity.
The Home Affairs Committee recently published its report on rape investigations and prosecutions. We very much welcome the Government’s making male violence against women and girls a strategic policing requirement. However—following on from the news today about sexual offences taking record times to get to court—we also recommended that all police forces should have specialist rape and sexual assault units, as there is clear evidence that they investigate better, make better decisions and, very importantly, communicate with complainants far more effectively. When will the Government make sure that all police forces have specialist RASSO—rape and serious sexual offences—units within their constabulary?
I thank the right hon. Lady for all the work that she is doing, across the piece, on tackling violence against women and girls. She is right to say that this is a huge priority for the Government. On training for police forces, she will know of the work that we are doing in the end-to-end rape review. We are taking a forensic look across the whole system, including through the work of Operation Soteria across all the police forces. That includes a strategic and comprehensive approach to training police officers. We want to go further than ever before in training and equipping our fantastic policemen and women to investigate and bring to justice the perpetrators of these crimes.
In the Home Office’s violence against women and girls consultation last year, viewing violent pornography was linked to aggressive attitudes towards women. What action is my hon. Friend taking to address that really worrying issue, particularly given the Online Safety Bill that is currently going through the House?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her continuous involvement in and advocacy on these issues. She will know that the Online Safety Bill includes a range of measures to make the internet much safer for everybody. Everybody should have a right to view the internet without coming across this disgusting material. In addition, our domestic abuse plan and our tackling violence against women and girls strategy include significant funding for tackling the perpetrators and deterring them from entering into these forms of behaviour in the first place.
Shocking new figures today show that sexual offence victims face the longest ever wait for their day in court, with some rape victims waiting four years. The Conservatives seem to have given up on law and order and given up on victims. That is because their leader has given up on obeying the law. Of the 300 rapes committed today, fewer than three perpetrators will make it to the inside of a courtroom, let alone the inside of a prison cell. Is it not the case that under the Tories dangerous perpetrators are being let off and vulnerable victims of this awful crime are being terribly let down?
This is exactly why we have introduced to the House the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. If the hon. Lady was listening to my earlier remarks, she would have heard me setting out the stronger sentences, the increase in electronic tagging for these perpetrators and the raft of protections to keep women and girls safer. She will also know through the many exchanges that we have had in this House of the work that we are doing on the end-to-end rape review across Government. This is a cross-Government effort bearing down on the very challenging issue of rape prosecutions. We are determined to return those prosecutions to a much better rate and we are working across Government to do that.
Fraudsters should have no space to operate, and later this year we will publish our renewed strategy on how we protect the public and businesses, reduce the impact on victims, and increase the disruption and prosecution of fraudsters.
The Minister knows that fraud accounts for more than a third of all crime. Last year, Thames Valley police in Chiltern and South Bucks, which covers my constituency, had 194 Action Fraud victim care reports. One constituent told me, with great distress, that they had stopped reporting scams, because they think that Action Fraud has become a crime reporting agency and is no longer a crime investigation agency. We need a new service dedicated to effectively tackling online fraud, not just recording it. Will the Minister commit to establishing a new online crime agency to do just that?
I can confirm to the hon. Lady that we are making constant improvements to Action Fraud through the City of London police, and are also investing in a wholly new Action Fraud system for 2024. In the meantime, I encourage her constituent and all our constituents to report fraud. One particularly striking statistic is that more than 76,000 scams have been automatically taken down as a direct result of our constituents forwarding scam emails to the suspicious email reporting service.
In 2021, fraud and computer misuse increased by 47%. In 2020, an estimated 99.99% of total cyber-crime went unpunished. Just weeks ago, academics at the University of Oxford estimated that during covid alone, £37 billion—or one third of the total NHS annual budget, and twice the annual budget for policing—is likely to have been lost to fraud. When working families are facing rising energy costs and a cost of living crisis, and are paying more and more taxes and more for services, can the Minister tell me why, under this Tory Government, gangs of criminals are getting a free run at the public purse?
Gangs of criminals certainly do not get a free run, and we will be investing and doing more than ever before to bear down on fraud. During the covid era—the trend had started already, but it accelerated then—while other forms of crime got depressed, there was a boost to some of this distanced crime that people do over their computers. Crime overall across the world is changing, and our response must change in a way that is commensurate to that. We must ensure that we take the most effective action. Part of that is the spending review commitment that has just been made; there is also the new economic crime levy, which represents an additional £400 million over this spending review period.
Fuel Supplies: Environmental Protests
In advance of the recent irresponsible and self-defeating protests, there has been regular engagement with the police, local authorities and industry to ensure that these protests can be managed effectively, and that there is no risk to fuel supply. All fuel supply points are fully operational, and we will continue to work closely with the police and industry to ensure that supplies are maintained.
Does the Minister agree that while the right to protest is a fundamental liberty, this type of behaviour just infuriates the public, whom we need to get on side with our net zero campaign? It is particularly unfair to the self-employed. If they cannot get fuel for their vehicles, they cannot get to work and they do not get paid. Will he ensure that the police and the law stay on the side of the law-abiding, so that everyone can earn an income?
I certainly will ensure that, and my hon. Friend is right to point out the impact, particularly on those who rely on their vehicles for their work, of these irresponsible and self-defeating protests, many of which have been extremely dangerous. It is worth also reflecting on the other impact, which is that hundreds of police officers are pulled away from policing neighbourhoods across the UK, because forces provide each other with mutual aid. We have brought police from as far away as Scotland, the south-west and Wales to help deal with these protests, and that has a direct impact on crime in all our constituencies. We are all committed environmentalists and want less use of fossil fuels, but this is not the way to achieve it.
UK Airport Passport Control Delays
Easter saw Border Force maintain a secure and effective border, with minor inbound border control disruption, in a period with one of the highest levels of international travel in the past two years. Before Easter, in February and March 2022, more than 85% of queue measurements were under 45 minutes for non-EU passengers.
I thank the Minister for that response. I recently wrote to him regarding the experience that my constituents, the Collins family, had at Newcastle airport when returning from holiday at a quarter to 11 at night a week or two ago. The father is a British-born citizen, and the mother has settled status and is of German origin. The children are both British and German citizens. They describe Border Force, which was not allowing the little boy, Nico, who is five years old, into the country, as being “hostile” and “unpleasant”, and as having an “unsympathetic manner”. That is not the way that anyone should be treated by Border Force, certainly not a five-year-old child. The child had his German passport; his British passport was waiting at home. When the family showed Border Force an email that they had received saying that, they were eventually allowed in—a five-year-old child, who is a British citizen, was eventually allowed into his home. What has the Minister to say? I think an urgent investigation and an unreserved apology to the Collins family are required.
I thank the hon. Lady for bringing that experience to the Floor of the House of Commons. I am, of course, sorry that any such distress was caused to a family, and particularly to a child so young. She will understand that it is difficult for me to talk about a particular case at the Dispatch Box without having all the facts available, but I will be happy to follow up with her separately.
It appears that travellers are experiencing severe delays not only at passport control, but with processing passport applications and renewals. Although I fully understand that the Minister has set out the pressures that staff are facing, can he reassure me that backlogs will be addressed and airport issues will be sorted out before my constituents go on their summer holidays?
I reassure my hon. Friend that, in spite of the fact that there has been a surge in demand, as she would expect considering the patterns that we have seen in the past couple of years and the fact that international travel is now returning, that is absolutely something that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), who leads on passport issuing, is across to ensure that the necessary capacity is there.
Passport delays are affecting our constituents’ ability to take holidays and take up jobs abroad. There are ever-lengthening queues at passport control, and generous constituents who signed up for the Homes for Ukraine scheme are having their first experience of the Home Office’s chaos. When will the Home Secretary realise the impact that her Department’s appalling record on managing the gateways into and out of our country is having on the UK’s reputation, here and across the world?
No, there really is. When we talk about Border Force and passport control, that is about inbound. As I said in my answer to the hon. Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott), there are times when queues grow, and I do not like to see that happen. Sometimes it is because of factors beyond our control, such as so-called flight bunching when lots of flights arrive together or when flights are late. Border Force is working extremely hard to try to project demand as best it can to ensure that the staffing is there, and it is taking considerable measures to match up to that demand.
Border Force officers work tirelessly, not just to secure our borders but on all sorts of security work to safeguard our borders, and to intercept illicit and counterfeit goods at airports and at sea. That work covers more than 140 major sea and airports across the UK. I have commissioned an independent review of Border Force to identify ways in which its operation can be improved.
My Ynys Môn constituents are concerned about illegal immigration. Will my right hon. Friend thank Border Force—its staff in Holyhead have increased from 20 to 60—for its work? Can she reassure people across Anglesey that the Government remain committed to giving refuge to all those who need it, while acting compassionately and swiftly to remove those who do not?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I, too, have seen the work under way and what the teams do at Holyhead, which is incredible on many fronts; there is not only passenger work, but commercial work. She is right to highlight the issue of illegal migration and the work that Border Force does on that. The House has discussed some of that today. Holyhead is the second busiest port in the UK, and as a result of Brexit the team has expanded—she will know that; she has met them, as have I—from 20 to 60, meaning more skilled local jobs for her constituents.
Will my right hon. Friend assure me that as the Government rightly help those most in need from Ukraine, they will continue to make the security of the British public a priority through the use of biometrics and other security checks for refugees entering the United Kingdom?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. First and foremost, we have security checks for very good reasons to do with the domestic safety of our homeland. At the same time, work is under way, as he will be aware, on the digitalisation of our borders, which is part of the post-Brexit global Britain work that is taking place. In fact, all Ministers from not just the Home Office but the Cabinet Office are heavily involved in that work.
The Government take this issue extremely seriously. We are taking a range of actions, including reclassifying GHB and related substances from class C to class B drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. These are the so-called date rape drugs that have been used in drug-facilitated crime, and we are of course considering the case for a specific criminal offence to target spiking, should it be required.
A constituent who has got in touch with me has had the dreadful problem of having her drink spiked. It has been a dreadfully traumatic experience, but on top of that, she can no longer go out and socialise with her friends because of the anxiety it has caused. What tougher sentencing we can introduce, and what preventive measures can we take to stop this dreadful crime ever happening again?
My hon. Friend is right that drink spiking and needle spiking have a very serious impact. I fully understand the anxiety of his constituent, and of course all our hearts go out to her. I very much hope that she will take some reassurance from the funding that the Government have provided to the Norfolk police and crime commissioner. He has been granted £427,000 for a range of practical initiatives designed to keep women safe on the streets at night, including drink spiking kits, taxi marshals, street pastors and more. I am sure his constituent will be pleased to know that there is already a range of offences under which people can be imprisoned, and some of those offences attract a life sentence.
HM Passport Office: Service Standard Times
During the pandemic period, over 5 million people delayed applying for a British passport. This has led to unprecedented passport demand. To meet this, we have increased output to unprecedented levels. Since April 2021, HMPO has introduced a range of contingency measures, including technical improvements and a bolstering of its resources. This has helped to deliver record output, with over 1 million applications processed last month alone.
My experience cannot be unique; I think it is echoed by other Members in the House. This Easter, families and children in my constituency lost holidays due to the Passport Office failing to meet its service standard times. In telephone communications with the Passport Office, my staff and I have been misadvised and hung up on, and have received a series of broken promises. MPs once had valuable and effective links with passport offices to resolve complaints. Notwithstanding the contribution of the Home Office Parliamentary Private Secretaries—I thank them for their interventions—why can I not deal with my excellent local Durham passport office to resolve complaints, instead of waiting for hours, and failing to make progress, on so-called bespoke MP hotlines?
I would just point out that between January and March, over 90% of cases were completed within six weeks, but we advise people to allow up to 10 weeks for their application. Again, we are getting through this, but I recognise the point that the hon. Member makes about MPs’ contacts. That is certainly a point we will pick up; we need to make improvements there.
The hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) is certainly not alone: all our constituents are having to cancel holidays, miss funerals and rearrange visits, with even the new 10-week target routinely being missed. What will be done to avoid that predictable mess getting worse? Can we be assured that the 10-week target will not be lengthened further as we approach the summer?
I go back to the fact that we dealt with 1 million passport applications last month alone. To put that in context, we usually deal with 7 million in a whole year. Where there are compelling and compassionate circumstances, such as a funeral, applications can be expedited. For some time we have advised people to allow up to 10 weeks for an application to be processed. Last year we sent 4.7 million texts reminding people whose passports had expired to renew them. We have no intention of further extending the standard. We are processing most passports well within that time, but this is a virtually unprecedented surge in demand, and if people are planning to travel this summer, we advise them to get their application in as soon as possible.
“Unprecedented” might be true, but the surge should absolutely have been foreseeable. I hear what the Minister says; my constituents tell me that in their experience, the process has been either very good or an absolute shambles. I agree with what the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) said: there needs to be a better interface between Members of Parliament and the Passport Office. Constituents going abroad for a family funeral, for a holiday or for business reasons are not getting through to the office, and are lied to by officials when they do. Something needs to be done to arrest that, and quickly.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. Early in January, we were processing about 60,000 passports a week, and by mid-March we had nearly trebled or even quadrupled the output of the service. I agree that we must review the performance of the hotline for MPs, particularly for instances where there are compelling or compassionate reasons for expediting an application.
Refugee Convention 1951
Part 2 of the Nationality and Borders Bill defines the key provisions of the refugee convention. In developing this policy we have considered factors such as the law in other jurisdictions, case law and academic works. All provisions of the Bill, as well as our asylum policy framework, are a good-faith, effective interpretation of the refugee convention and are compatible with it.
The Nationality and Borders Bill as it stands does not comply with the 1951 refugee convention. Former Supreme Court judge Lord Brown has said of the Bill that
“several of these provisions flagrantly breach our obligations as interpreted by the UNHCR”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 4 April 2022; Vol. 820, c. 1882.]
Lord Brown has tabled an amendment to ensure compliance with the convention. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will support Lord Brown’s amendment?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising that point. Under the Vienna convention, it is for Parliament to interpret our international obligations. We will always act in accordance with our international obligations; we have made that consistently clear. The Bill has been through appropriate due diligence, and we will get on and deliver it.
Tackling economic crime is a key Government priority. We have expedited legislation—the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act 2022—to crack down on Russian dirty money and corrupt elites in the UK. We have also set up a new dedicated kleptocracy cell in the National Crime Agency to target sanctions evasion and corrupt assets hidden in the UK.
I thank the Minister for that answer. GPT Special Project Management was fined roughly £28 million by Southwark Crown Court last year for bribery offences. The key whistleblower in that case was my constituent, Ian Foxley. He has had 11 years without a single penny in income because he blew that whistle, as nobody will employ him now, of course. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we want to crack economic crime, we must incentivise whistleblowers to come forward, and protect them when they do? Will he listen carefully what my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mary Robinson) says tomorrow in introducing her 10-minute rule Bill, when she will set out the case for whistleblower reform?
My hon. Friend is right about the value of whistleblowers, who should be able to come forward without fear of recrimination. We have continued to improve the whistleblowing framework, including by extending eligibility for protections and introducing a reporting requirement for prescribed persons—the bodies to whom people can make a whistleblowing disclosure. My hon. Friend has campaigned consistently on this matter and is expert in it, and I am keen to meet him to discuss his points further.
Operation Pitting Evacuees
We continue to support those who were evacuated under Operation Pitting—the UK’s largest evacuation operation in some decades—in particular with the search for permanent accommodation, based on working with local councils to identify that.
Operation Pitting has evacuated some 15,000 Afghanis. Altogether, refugees and asylum seekers are costing the UK a surprising £4.7 million a day in hotel accommodation, of which £1.2 million is spent on Afghan refugees, but hotels are clearly not the best option for education and schooling of children. We would like to have those refugees in the north of Scotland and the highlands, and they would like to come to the highlands. Will the Minister meet me to discuss how we can expedite that?
I am delighted to hear that housing is available in the highlands to support these people. We would be keen for them to make their new home in the highlands, which is a fantastic part of our United Kingdom. I would be delighted to meet the hon. Member to discuss how we can get those families on the way to a permanent home in a welcoming community.
Operation Pitting was a remarkable success in evacuating Afghans, but also remarkable is the number of Afghan women seeking refuge who have been left behind and are now on the Taliban hit list. I have been trying to chase updates on a number of Afghan women but have been unable to get any response from the Home Office. It has been made clear to those women that the Taliban will kill them unless they can escape Afghanistan. Will the Minister meet me to try to help me to progress their cases?
Asylum Seekers: Relocation to Rwanda
Our world-leading migration and economic development partnership with Rwanda will be a major boost to Rwanda and allow us to focus our efforts on people in need, not those who have the ability to pay people smugglers to make dangerous, illegal journeys from safe countries such as France.
The policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda is unworkable and unethical, and it will either cost billions or result in so few people being sent to Rwanda that it will not act as a deterrent to all the evil people smugglers. Will the Home Secretary tell me how much the policy will cost per person, or what her maximum budget is?
We have discussed this several times in the House in the last week. The UK is providing an initial investment of £120 million of support for the partnership as part of the new economic transformation and integration fund. I heard what the hon. Member’s party said—Labour Front Bench Members were chuntering about this last week—in calling the policy extortionate and unworkable. Of course, that is completely illogical because if it is not workable, it will not cost the British taxpayer money.
The Home Secretary deserves immense credit for her plan and her robust approach to deterring illegal immigration. The fact that we have not seen any small boat crossings in the last three days is evidence that some of the pull factors are being removed. Does she agree that if that trend continues, the cost of the policy will take care of itself?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and comments. First, Labour is still trying to work out that doing nothing is not an option at all, because people have died. Secondly, the policy is exactly that: it is all about deterrence as well as ensuring that we can provide the right safe and humane approach for people who need our asylum system while cracking down on people smuggling gangs.
The Nationality and Borders Bill is the vehicle for the new plan for immigration. That is how we will address the challenge of illegal migration for the first time in over two decades through comprehensive reform of our asylum system. Illegal migration is facilitated by evil people smugglers, and the British public despise those people smugglers and want their Government to act to remove foreign criminals as well as deal with the whole issue of illegal migration. The Bill will mean that we can better protect and support those in need of asylum, deter illegal and dangerous routes of entry to the UK and, of course, remove more easily those with no right to be here. The Bill has already been strongly endorsed by the elected House, and it is vital that the other place now works to ensure that it becomes law.
Last week, I met directors of the Lancaster business improvement district to discuss antisocial behaviour in our city centre. Will the Home Secretary accept my invitation to come to Lancaster to meet the directors of Lancaster BID and hear about the work they are doing to fund a BID warden to support police in Lancaster city centre to reduce antisocial behaviour?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. If I may, I would like to pay tribute to both her police force and the police and crime commissioner, Andrew Snowden. I was in Lancaster recently, about a month ago. I would be delighted to visit again, I really would. I want to emphasise the power of business improvement districts in dealing with issues such as antisocial behaviour, giving businesses the confidence they need and ensuring they have police support so they can carry on investing in their businesses and creating jobs locally.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is a point to reflect on the United Kingdom’s contribution to the Ukraine effort. As well as the long-standing aid and military support, the Government’s commitment and the Prime Minister’s leadership, over 70,000 visas have been granted, and rightly so, to people who are fleeing war and persecution. And, of course, our schemes are completely uncapped.
I have been contacted about a pensioner who found nothing was done about serious harassment by her neighbours; shop owners who said nothing was done about someone who repeatedly smashed their windows; a burglary victim given nothing more than a crime number, and a rape victim who found herself being investigated rather than the rapist until the case was dropped—victims who are all being badly let down. Under the Conservatives, even though more crimes are being reported to the police, arrests and prosecutions have gone down sharply. Why is the Home Secretary letting so many more criminals off?
On the contrary, the right hon. Lady may want to back our Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill when it comes to police, crime, courts and sentencing. She will also reflect on the fact that when the statistics for crime in England and Wales for year ending September 2021 were published, neighbourhood crime was 33% lower than the previous year, burglary offences were lower than the previous year, and other offences including robbery, vehicle offences and theft from the person were also down. This is a Government who have invested record sums in policing and training. Look at the work we are doing with police and crime commissioners across the country. There are a few other points that, if I may, Mr Speaker, I would like to make to the right hon. Lady. When it comes to courts—
The Home Secretary is out of touch with what is happening in communities across the country. Overall crime is up by 14%. Right across the country, fewer rapists, fewer thieves and fewer burglars are being sentenced because they are not being arrested or taken to court in the first place. Since 2015, arrests by the police are down by a third, charge rate is down by nearly two-thirds, and cautions and community penalties have more than halved. It does not matter what her rhetoric is, the reality is much more bleak. This is the equivalent of hundreds of thousands more criminals getting away with their crimes.
Order. I say to both parties that we really do want you to have good questions, but when with more substantial questions like that please ask them earlier and do not try to force them into topicals. All you are doing is stopping me calling the Back Benchers who did not get in earlier. So please, let us work to help each other.
I commend my hon. Friend on the initiative that she has shown through this twinning arrangement. It is incredibly important, and the House should pay tribute to our friends in Poland, and the Polish Government in particular, for everything that they have been doing to support Ukrainians.
The main response to this issue should be safe and legal routes. The Government keep saying that they have them. I submitted a written question asking for the detail of all the routes available, and the detail of those routes fits on half a page, because there are practically none for the entire world.
If the hon. Lady has read the new plan for immigration—I hope she has—she will be very clear about the Government’s policy on safe and legal routes. I have outlined today a number of safe and legal routes to which the Government have committed, including two routes for Ukrainian nationals and the two routes for those who fled Afghanistan last year.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Although Opposition Members yell about the lack of support, I will come back to a number of points. First, doing nothing is not an option. We have to do everything that we possibly can to break up these evil people smugglers, who are unhinged and will stop at nothing to exploit individuals. Secondly, through the new plan for immigration and our wider work through the Nationality and Borders Bill, which is coming back to the House tomorrow, we want to bring our plan together and deliver for the British people.
On 31 March, Lord Harrington had to apologise for inadvertently misleading the other place when he said that a drop-down arrow was available on the form for Ukrainian refugees in the Ukrainian language. When he apologised, he said that that was “in train”. Will the Home Secretary ‘fess up and confirm that it is Home Office policy not to have a translated version of the form, or if it is, where is Lord Harrington’s severely delayed train?
Today, my constituent Graham Hughes is doing his latest humanitarian run to Poland. He hopes to return with a Ukrainian refugee and her 11-year-old daughter, who recently managed to escape the horrors of Mariupol shortly before the evacuation routes closed but are now waiting anxiously in Lviv. Despite Graham and his partner having applied to sponsor them nearly a month ago, they have yet to be granted passage to the UK. Graham and Katherine are ready to bring these people to safety in Durham. Will the Home Secretary do everything possible to expedite that?
Through the hon. Lady, I would like to pass on our thanks to her constituent who is now travelling to Poland. I will need the details, if I may take them from her, to ensure that the visa side and the sponsorship side match up, and then we can pick this up.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Nottinghamshire police on hitting their recruitment uplift target a year ahead of schedule, so we now have more police officers in Nottinghamshire than at any time in the past 10 years? Can she commit to a date when the long-promised police funding formula review will start?
I commend Nottinghamshire police and their outstanding chief constable for all the work that the team have been doing. They have been really focusing on driving down crime through recruitment and the training of new officers. My hon. Friend rightly asks about the police funding formula, which is under way through the Minister for Crime and Policing. It is deeply complicated, as my hon. Friend will be well aware, but we are happy to report back on it.
One mother from Barnsley submitted her daughter’s passport application in January, five months in advance of their holiday next week, but she is yet to receive it. My office has had to wait two hours to speak to someone at the Home Office today. What is the Home Secretary doing to address the unacceptable delays in passport applications?
The hon. Lady will have heard the comments from the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), about work at the Passport Office. The hon. Lady said that her constituent submitted her passport application in January. If we can have the details, we will pick the case up, but that is a very unusual delay—there must be a problem.
Now then: the world-class Rwanda plan has been welcomed by anybody who actually lives in the real world, because it saves lives in the channel. Unfortunately, that lot opposite do not live in the real world. Does the Home Secretary agree that the Labour party now has a chance to either back the plan or back the criminals?
My hon. Friend, as ever, is very clear. It is world-class and a world first, and we are proud of it. It is a partnership that our partners in Rwanda are proud of as well; they have an exceptional history of resettlement of refugees. My hon. Friend is absolutely right; the British people want change—they absolutely do. We say to everyone today, “Back the plan, but also back the Nationality and Borders Bill.”
I am extremely concerned about the safeguarding of our young people at outdoor music festivals, which attract more than 7.1 million people, many of whom are under 18. There is currently more licensing provision for the recycling of a plastic cup than for our young people, who have suffered serious sexual assault, including rape, by spiking. Will the Minister work with me and others to create a gold standard of licensing for these events in order to protect our young people?
I am very happy to work with the hon. Lady—we have already spoken about the issue, and I am grateful for her interest in it. As the country gets back to festivals this summer, we all want young women and girls—and all young people—to enjoy themselves safely, so I will work with the hon. Lady across Government to take forward the asks that she has presented to us.
I have been alarmed to hear of large-scale and dangerous hare coursing in my constituency. Heavily armed people are coming on to farmers’ land and then livestreaming the chases to China, where they are the subject of heavy betting. Will my right hon. Friend support Thames Valley police in their efforts to tackle this appalling offence, and reassure farmers in Buckinghamshire that rural crime will always be taken seriously by this Government?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue. He knows of the strength of feeling about it among Front Benchers and others on our side of the House, which is why we have the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill—we are urging all Members to back it. I commend Thames Valley police in particular for all that they are doing on this.
It is 61 days since Russia invaded Ukraine, and 74 days since my Russian counterpart assured me that the Russian army would not be invading. As the invasion approaches its ninth week, I want to update the House on the current situation and the steps that we are taking to further our support for the Ukrainian people.
It is our assessment that approximately 15,000 Russian personnel have been killed during their offensive. Alongside the death toll are the equipment losses. A number of sources suggest that, to date, over 2,000 armoured vehicles have been destroyed or captured. That includes at least 530 tanks, 530 armoured personnel carriers, and 560 infantry fighting vehicles. Russia has also lost more than 60 helicopters and fighter jets. The offensive that was supposed to take a maximum of a week has now taken weeks. Last week Russia admitted that the Slava-class cruiser Moskva had sunk. That is the second key naval asset that the Russians have lost since invading, and its loss has significantly weakened their ability to bring their maritime assets to bear from the Black sea.
As I said in my last statement, Russia has so far failed in nearly every one of its objectives. In recognition of that failure, the Russian high command has regrouped, reinforced and changed its focus to securing the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. A failure of the Russia Ministry of Defence command and control at all levels has meant that it has now appointed one overall commander, General Dvornikov. At the start of this conflict, Russia had committed more than 120 battalion tactical groups, approximately 65% of its entire ground combat strength. According to our current assessment, about 25% of those have been rendered not combat-effective.
Ukraine is an inspiration to us all. Its brave people have never stopped fighting for their lands. They have endured indiscriminate bombardment, war crimes and overwhelming military aggression, but they have stood firm, galvanised the international community, and beaten back the army of Russia in the north and the north-east.
We anticipate that this next phase of the invasion will be an attempt by Russia to occupy further the Donbas and connect with Crimea via Mariupol. It is therefore urgent that we in the international community ensure that Ukraine gets the aid and weapons that it needs so much.
As Defence Secretary, I have ensured that at each step of the way the UK’s support is tailored to the anticipated actions of Russia. To date we have provided more than 5,000 anti-tank missiles, five air defence systems with more than 100 missiles, 1,360 anti-structure munitions, and 4.5 tonnes of plastic explosive. On 9 March, in response to indiscriminate bombing from the air and escalation by President Putin’s forces, I announced that the UK would supply Starstreak high-velocity and low-velocity anti-air missiles. I am now able to report that these have been in theatre for more than three weeks, and have been deployed and used by Ukrainian forces to defend themselves and their territory.
Over the recess, my ministerial team hosted a Ukrainian Government delegation at Salisbury plain training area to explore further equipment options. That was quickly followed by the Prime Minister’s announcement of a further £100 million-worth of high-grade military equipment, 120 armoured vehicles, sourcing anti-ship missile systems, and high-tech loitering munitions for precision strikes.
However, as we can see from Ukrainian requests, more still needs to be done. For that reason, I can now announce to the House that we shall be gifting a small number of armoured vehicles fitted with launchers for those anti-air missiles. Those Stormer vehicles will give Ukrainian forces enhanced short-range anti-air capabilities, day and night. Since my last statement, more countries have answered the call and more have stepped up to support. The Czech Republic has supplied T-72 tanks and BMP fighting vehicles, and Poland has also pledged T-72 tanks.
The quickest route to help Ukraine is with equipment and ammunition similar to what they already use. The UK Government obviously do not hold Russian equipment, but in order to help where we do not have such stock, we have enabled others to donate. Alongside Canada and Poland, the Royal Air Force has been busy moving equipment from donor countries to Ukraine. At the same time, if no donor can be found, we are purchasing equipment from the open market. On 31 March, I held my second international donor conference, with an increase in the number of countries involved to 35, including representatives from the European Union and NATO. So far these efforts have yielded some 2.5 million items of equipment, worth more than £1.5 billion.
The next three weeks are key. Ukraine needs more long-range artillery and ammunition, and both Russian and NATO calibre types to accompany them. It also seeks anti-ship missiles to counter Russian ships that are able to bombard Ukrainian cities. It is therefore important to say that, if possible, the UK will seek to enable or supply such weapons. I shall keep the House and Members on each Front Bench up to date as we proceed.
The MOD is working day and night, alongside the US, Canada and the EU, to support continued logistical supplies, but not all the aid is lethal. We have also sent significant quantities of non-lethal equipment to Ukraine. To date, we have sent more than 90,000 ration packs, more than 10 pallets of medical equipment, more than 3,000 pieces of body armour, nearly 77,000 helmets, 3,000 pairs of boots and much more, including communications equipment and ear defence.
On top of our military aid to Ukraine, we contribute to strengthening NATO’s collective security, both for the immediate challenge and for the long term. We have temporarily doubled the number of defensive personnel in Estonia. We have sent military personnel to support Lithuanian intelligence, resilience and reconnaissance efforts. We have deployed hundreds of Royal Marines to Poland, and sent offshore vessels and Navy destroyers to the eastern Mediterranean. We have also increased our presence in the skies over south-eastern Europe with four additional Typhoons based in Romania. That means that we now have a full squadron of RAF fighter jets in southern Europe, ready to support NATO tasking. As the Prime Minister announced on Friday, we are also offering a deployment of British Challenger 2 tanks to Poland, to bridge the gap between Poland donating tanks to Ukraine and their replacements arriving from a third country.
Looking further ahead, NATO is reassessing its posture and the UK is leading conversations at NATO about how best the alliance can deter and defend against threats. My NATO colleagues and I tasked the alliance to report to leaders at the summit in June with proposals for concrete, long-term and sustainable changes. Some of us in this House knew that, behind the mask, the Kremlin was not the international statesman it pretended to be. With this invasion of Ukraine, all of Europe can now see the true face of President Putin and his inner circle. His intention is only to destroy, crush and rub out the free peoples of Ukraine. He does not want to preserve. He must not be allowed to prevail. Ukrainians are fighting for their very lives and for our freedoms. The President of Ukraine himself said as much: if Russia stops fighting, there will be peace; if Ukraine stops fighting, there will be no more Ukraine.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. His presence is welcomed this afternoon by the whole House. We know that it is not entirely his fault, but it is nearly seven weeks since he was last able to give us a statement on the situation in Ukraine. That was the day after President Zelensky addressed this House. The Secretary of State said then, as he did this afternoon, that he would keep the House up to date. May I say, on behalf of the public, that we would welcome more regular statements as the Russian war on Ukraine continues?
Like the Secretary of State, we salute the bravery of the Ukrainian people, military and civilians alike. That bravery is led by President Zelensky personally, but it is typified by the military last stand of the troops at the Azovstal steel plant and by the people’s resistance in Russian-occupied Kherson. We also renew our total condemnation of this brutal Russian invasion of a sovereign country and our determination to see that all those responsible for the mass graves in Mariupol, for the crimes, rapes and assassinations in Bucha and for the civilian bombings in almost every town and city across Ukraine are pursued to the end for their war crimes.
We welcome the role that the UK is playing and the further UK military assistance to Ukraine that the Secretary of State has outlined today, which has Labour’s full support. He says the UK has provided 5,000 anti-tank missiles and 100 anti-air missiles, but these direct donations are a fraction of the total. Can he tell us the total of such weapons provided so far by western allies? Has the MOD yet signed contracts and started production of replacement next-generation light anti-tank weapons and Starstreak missiles?
This is the first day of the third month of Putin’s invasion, and it is a new phase, as the Defence Secretary said. What is needed now is no longer old, spare weapons from the Soviet era but the new NATO weapons that Ukraine will need for Putin’s next offensive against Odessa or Kyiv. We need to shift from crisis management in response to the current conflict to delivering the medium-term military support that Ukraine will need. What is he doing to ensure this step change in support?
Given that 5 million refugees have now left Ukraine, what is the Secretary of State doing to offer the 700 personnel still held at high readiness in the UK for humanitarian help? Is it still the case that the MOD has offered only 140 armed forces personnel to help sort out the shameful shambles of the Home Office’s visa and refugee systems?
I just got off the tube after visiting NATO’s Allied Maritime Command in Northwood. They took my phone off me, so I did not realise we were having this statement, which is why I am using handwritten notes this afternoon. This is a proud, professional, British-led multinational command, and I pay tribute to it for the work it is doing, day in and day out, to keep us all safe.
NATO has proved to be such a powerful security alliance because it pools multinational military capacity, capability and cash, with an annual budget of more than $1 trillion, to protect 1 billion people, but Ukraine reminds us that the greatest threat to UK security lies in Europe, the north Atlantic and the Arctic, not in the Indo-Pacific. This reinforces NATO as the UK’s primary security obligation, but the Secretary of State gave us only a paragraph on NATO.
Our leadership in NATO could be at risk as Britain falls behind our allies in responding to this invasion of Ukraine. More than a dozen European countries are now rebooting security plans and defence spending, but the UK has not yet done either. I therefore urge the Secretary of State to revisit the integrated review, to review defence spending, to reform military procurement and to rethink his Army cuts. We will be dealing with the consequences of Putin’s war for many years to come, and now is the time for longer-term thinking about how the strategy for European security must change.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. We spoke last week about the timing of this statement, which I had hoped to make tomorrow, but the United States has called a 40-nation meeting in Germany and I will therefore not be here. I took the opportunity to make this statement when I could. I am sorry if he has cut short his trip, and I would be delighted to arrange with the Navy for him to return to the headquarters, without his phone, for longer in custody.
As I said, I promised to keep the House updated, and I have not only briefed a number of colleagues from this House, from across parties, on a number of occasions, but given Members access to our intelligence officials and senior generals in order that they can get the latest throughout. My hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces has responded to two debates and answered one urgent question—I will not take the credit for the UQ; Governments get asked UQs, but they provide an opportunity. We will continue to update all Members, and I am happy to have another cross-House dial-in for all Members on the subject—it is incredibly important that we do so. Just as it is important that we calibrate our response to Russia, it is important that the Government calibrate their response within the House, so that we make sure that everything is not a surprise to Members and that we consult as we go along.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about NLAWs and Starstreaks. We have an ongoing relationship with the industry, and we will be replacing them or are replacing them. Not surprisingly, there is now a lot of interest in those British-made products, but it is very important that we replenish our stocks. Obviously, we are in that line to do so. The Treasury has agreed to fund the new-for-old replacement of those, but it is very important, given the state of the Russian Government, that we make sure we replenish as soon as we can. There is a daily relationship with our industry; the Minister for Defence Procurement speaks to those in the industry at least once a week, and the Prime Minister will soon convene a meeting with all the leads to make sure that we are doing everything we can, not just for ourselves but for Ukraine and others. Sometimes there is a bit of juggling whereby I release something that we do not yet need, so that another country can have it first or it goes to where the threat is more pressing, or we persuade a friendly country to divert its order so that it can come to us or to Ukraine. We are often involved in that basic defence diplomacy, whereby we know a country is buying something such as an NLAW, it does not need it right now and we see whether we can take it off its hands and it then delays its order. We try to make sure we do that as much as possible.
I am delighted to place in the House the international update on how much has been donated. Obviously, some countries are more open than others about what they have done, so I will place in the Library a table showing those things. It is not for me to let another country’s identity be known if it wishes to keep that secret, but what we can publish, we shall.
I can inform the House that in the past week alone we have supplied 1,000 anti-tank weapons, 14 Wolfhound armoured vehicles and 4,000 night-vision goggles. I can update further that to date we have also supplied 5,361 NLAWs—up from the original 2,000; more than 200 Javelins; and 104 high-velocity and low-velocity anti-air missiles—this will grow to more than 250. Obviously, if we supply any more new weapon types, I will inform the House as we do so.
On NATO, one of the discussions we will have on the sidelines tomorrow is, obviously, the future for NATO. A few weeks ago in Brussels, NATO Defence Ministers tasked NATO to go away and come back with its long-term plans. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that we are in crisis management and the short-term response, but we need a long-term plan. We need to know what NATO will look like and how western Europe—or Europe, including many of its new members—will contain Putin after all this has passed. We are dealing with a man who has clearly been involved in an illegal invasion of a country and war crimes against the Ukrainian people. We need to know how we are going to live with that neighbour in Europe, should he still remain. That is an important consideration for all of us and it goes to the heart of defence reform and our spending. Of course, as I have always said, as the threat changes, so must our defence posture, which includes funding. As I have said publicly, in the here and now we are getting the spending we need, but he is right to raise the issue of medium-term and long-term funding, which we will definitely be looking at.
The right hon. Gentleman made a point about how we are now “the only country”, but that is because we were the first country; when we had our £24 billion settlement, no one else in NATO had yet gone there. Sweden had gone there but it was not in NATO, and so had Australia. So his comments are slightly punishing Britain for being the first, because we did this way before the invasion of Ukraine and a lot of the increases he is talking about have been afterwards. That is not to say that we should not look at what more we can all do and how that knocks into other areas.
You heard it here first, Mr Speaker: there was a request for more urgent questions that I am happy to oblige.
I very much welcome the statement, which focused on the operational. However, the reality is now dawning not only that this conflict could last for months—indeed, years—but, more widely, that Europe has entered a new and dangerous era of insecurity. I therefore pose two fundamental questions to the Secretary of State. First, what does success in Ukraine look like? Are we doing enough to prevent Ukraine from losing but not enough to make sure that it wins? What is our strategy? Is it to push Russia back to the pre-February lines or, indeed, to liberate the entire Donbas region? If it is in Europe’s wider security interest to see Putin humiliated in Ukraine, the entire mainland must be liberated. That must be our strategic aim.
The second fundamental issue, on which the Secretary of State touched, is our defence posture. Threats are increasing, but pressures on our armed forces and equipment are growing. Is it not now time to increase defence spending to 3% of GDP?
My right hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner for spending 3% and I consider him my long-range artillery when it comes to the lobbying in the long term, whatever we see as a result of the situation in Ukraine. Our strategic aim is twofold: first, Putin must fail in Ukraine—he must fail in his invasion—and I think he is on course to do that; and he must fail in his occupation of Ukraine, and I think he has definitely failed to achieve that. The fine tuning of that is as much a matter of Ukraine’s choice as it is anybody else’s. Ukraine gets to choose where it wishes to settle for peace. We will do everything we can to support it.
For my part, I want Putin not only beyond the pre-February boundaries; he invaded Crimea illegally and Donetsk illegally, and he should comply with international law and, in the long run, leave Ukraine. Overall, Putin needs to wear the cost and the consequence of what he has done on his shoulders.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. We on the SNP Benches welcome the additional measures that the United Kingdom is taking to support Ukraine, and we also welcome the Secretary of State’s engagement with the SNP leadership in this place.
The statement highlighted the bravery of Ukraine’s defence forces, but I am sure the Secretary of State also acknowledges that alongside that bravery is an exceptional tactical efficacy, in stark contrast to the Russian invaders. I am sure he would have no hesitation in agreeing with that observation.
The Secretary of State highlighted in his statement Russia’s apparently reduced ambition to consolidate in the east of Ukraine, around Donbas, and to try to secure a land bridge to Crimea through Mariupol. Will he reassure the House that enduring economic pressure and further military support will continue to frustrate Russian ambition and aggression?
It was a great pleasure for me to meet in Warsaw earlier this month the Royal Marine commandos from 45 Commando in Arbroath. What more can NATO allies do to ensure that our partners on NATO’s eastern flank are further reassured of NATO’s determination to stand firm against any and all aggression towards our allies?
Finally, I welcome the details of the £100 million for higher-grade equipment, including anti-ship missiles, but the Secretary of State will be all too well aware that we cannot get an awful lot of higher-grade equipment for £100 million. I would welcome any further advice he can give the House on that. On the anti-ship role specifically, will the Secretary of State confirm that Brimstone missiles will have no role in that application? If possible, will he discuss with us what role the UK’s Harpoon missiles will have in that application? If we are not donating UK stocks of Harpoon missiles, is that because we do not have enough ourselves?
On the Harpoon missiles, we are not currently providing them. Our Harpoon missiles are launched from ships, and very few nations launch Harpoon missiles from land—I do not think any do nowadays. There is a lot of media around this invasion and not a day goes by on which I do not have to counter stories that have somehow appeared. I think some of them are made up. The AS-90s going to Ukraine was another story—it appeared in the Express this weekend—but no, they are not. I do not know where that story came from, but it is not true.
On Brimstone missiles, we made a commitment 18 months or two years ago, when we were selling a fast-attack patrol boat to Ukraine, that we would sell it armed with maritime Brimstone missiles. Those ships are not yet in the country; they have not yet been purchased or delivered. However, if we decide to provide Brimstones in whatever guise, I will inform Members of this House when we do so. I will not close that off as an opportunity; it is a perfectly legitimate thing. There are different sophistications between block 1, which is just land Brimstone, and the at-sea developments that we have never bought. They have a range of capabilities. First and foremost, if we do provide Brimstone, we will look to provide it for the land, using stock that we already hold, but not as yet for the sea.
What more can we do for our eastern colleagues? I always advise colleagues of the Joint Expeditionary Force—many Members present already know about it—which is a tremendous group of the 10 Nordic countries. I recently asked colleagues from around the House to the dinner when we had the JEF summit here in the UK. The JEF is composed of the Scandinavian and Baltic states, the United Kingdom and Iceland. It is a tremendous grouping of people. Some people describe them as the beer-drinking nations; I am less charitable and describe them as the nations with probably the worst weather in Europe—that is what uniquely binds us together. We are the doers in Europe; we get on and do, we share, and we exercise and train together. The JEF also involves Finland and Sweden. I think it is a very good group.
As for 45 Commando in Arbroath, they have done and are doing an excellent job in Poland, as the hon. Gentleman said. They are incredibly professional, and there is more work for them to do.
It is clear that the supply and use of missiles has turned military assets such as ships, aircraft and tanks into costly losses and liabilities. The one gap appears to be artillery. I know the Secretary of State said that we are supplying some artillery, but as earlier episodes show, the counter to a weapons system is not necessarily the same weapons system but a missile to destroy it. What can be done to prevent Russia from using artillery to raze cities to the ground without engaging Ukrainian forces properly, which is the one area in which it still seems to be succeeding?
My right hon. Friend has put his finger right on the heart of the current race. The race is on to equip the Ukrainians with the same long-range capabilities that Russia has, so that they are not outranged and pinned down. That is why we started first and foremost by sourcing 152 mm around the world—Soviet calibre—so they can keep going with that.
In parallel, we and a number of nations are exploring providing either 105 mm, which is our main lightweight gun, and the 155 mm in more mobile versions than the big armoured AS90s. One thing that this modern battlefield is showing is that people had better move quickly once they have fired their guns, because they can be very quickly found by pretty cheap off-the-shelf unmanned aerial vehicles. Exactly as my right hon. Friend said, there is a race on in parallel. We have now seen a number of eastern countries providing 155 mm howitzers; that unlocks NATO ammunition. We will play our part and make sure it gets to them.
In addition, the intelligence around artillery has to be improved, so we are exploring counter-battery radar, so that as soon as Russia fires a shell at you, you know exactly where it came from, and you can return the favour.
The Secretary of State may have heard that I have been calling for a more regular performance. I am a great admirer of his, but I have been starved of his company. I am very pleased that he has made the statement—many of us are encouraged by the information he has given—but is he aware that the people of Mariupol have been dying of starvation and lack of water? We have a Navy; has it not been possible to supply food, water and that sort of stuff by sea? I may not be a logistics or military expert, but it seems strange that those people have been starving and we have not sent food.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s deep sense of frustration—not at listening to me, but regarding the people of Mariupol. The nations of the Black sea govern the Black sea through the Montreux convention, a very old piece of law, and at times of war they can shut the Black sea to any nation other than Black sea nations. Turkey did that at the very beginning, which disadvantages Russia more than anyone else, and therefore we could not go in even if we wished. I have already spoken to the Turks and the Romanians about minesweeping capability, because it is clear that this summer a lot of the grain will not go out through Ukraine, but it might go out through neighbouring countries such as Romania. That is very important. At the moment, however, it is not possible for us to put ships into the Black sea and, while Russia will not be able to replace its ships, that gives it another sense of strength in trying to control the area. That is why the Ukrainians need anti-ship missiles to ensure they get at least some access to their coastline.
As Russia flounders on the battlefields of Ukraine due to the bravery of the Ukrainians, President Putin has raised the possibility of using tactical nuclear weapons. Can my right hon. Friend ensure that the Government and our allies do everything they can to deter President Putin from taking that disastrous step?
We have all seen with concern the playing in of nuclear weapons by Putin, either in earlier statements or recent test fires. I remind colleagues that NATO is a nuclear alliance; Britain, America and France are in possession of nuclear weapons, and that is first and foremost a strong deterrent to him. He can invest in many other different missiles, but fundamentally some are out there right now under the sea; our brave men and women of the Royal Navy, silent and able to deliver a nuclear effect if they had to in defence of this kingdom or in defence of NATO. It is important that Putin does not forget that.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and commend his leadership and that of his team throughout this crisis. He has already outlined an impressive list of equipment that we, our NATO allies and our EU allies have provided for Ukraine. Some of what we provide is legacy equipment and some is from inventory. Can he assure me that the cost of that is coming from the Treasury’s central reserve and not the Defence budget?
I wrote to the Secretary of State last week about a few issues; I hope he will have a chance to look at the letter today, which comes with a present from some Ukrainian soldiers. Returning to the issue of 155 spec, which is a potential game-changer, is he saying that we are leaving that up to other countries because we do not have the field guns ourselves? Will he look at supplying AS90 or has he ruled AS90 out altogether? Secondly, there are some specific naval supplies mentioned in the letter, but more generally, from Odesa to Zaporizhzhia, there is still a lack of body armour and medical kits. What reassurance can he give me on that?
We will be flowing more body armour to Ukraine next week. The United States is sending 200,000 155 shells and, I think, two battalions-worth of 155 tubes—I am not a gunner, but apparently that is the term—and at the same time we will scour whatever we can. The Ukrainians are also interested in our 105 guns and we will look to provide those. The AS90 is a very old 155 armoured vehicle, as my hon. Friend knows; it is over 40 tonnes, and one of the challenges is to get it from one side of Ukraine to the other, with low loaders and big logistics. If we can help to source 155s that are more mobile and modern, that is the better way to proceed.
I too put on record my thanks to the Secretary of State for his co-operative attitude towards me as an Opposition spokesperson for defence. At a recent meeting of the Servant of the People party, which incidentally is a sister party to my own party, an impassioned plea was made: as the Russians have retreated from parts of Ukraine, they have left a ghastly and deadly legacy in the shape of landmines. The Ukrainians are doing their very best to get rid of this hideous calling card, but already a number of Ukrainians have been killed in their efforts to get rid of the landmines. We in the UK possess the equipment and skills to help to rid Ukraine of landmines, so may I ask the Secretary of State to look kindly on that request from Ukraine?
Yes, of course we will look at that issue. It has not appeared yet in the shopping list from the Ukrainians to me, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I visited Mariupol and places in other countries a few years ago and saw the minefields left behind after 2014, when the Russians destroyed everything and then left minefields across acres of farmland to impoverish the people there and leave their mark.
I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement that there will be a deployment of British Challenger 2 tanks to Poland to allow our Polish allies to send the Soviet-era tanks to Ukraine, but, to my knowledge, there has not been an agreement within NATO to facilitate Polish MiG fighter jets being sent to Ukraine. As this war continues, we are very much aware of the need for the Ukrainians to have additional air capability to take on the Russians. Will he use his good auspices in the coming NATO meetings to press our American allies on this issue?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. This is really about bilateral enabling rather than NATO, as an organisation, but he is right. In fact, the Ukrainians are after ground attack aircraft more than air-to-air ones, and so, rather than the MiG-29s, the Su-30s and those sorts of aeroplanes. I will certainly raise it tomorrow with my US counterpart when I see him. It is important, but at the moment we are focused on the deep long-range artillery.
While taking nothing away from the incredible performance of the Ukrainian army in defending its country, we all cannot help but be struck by how completely useless the Russian forces seem to be and how inefficient in organising themselves in this campaign. Having said that, there are increasing reports of mercenaries being used by the Russians. To what degree are they involved in this conflict, and is there any way to prevent them from getting into positions where they can participate?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to point out the Russians’ woeful performance. I do not celebrate the loss of anyone’s life, and when I see the huge casualty rates of Russian soldiers, I think, as a former soldier, that it is a disgrace and a betrayal of those young men. It is hard to have sympathy when clearly it is not just the generals who are engaged in the war crime and butchery that we have seen, but mothers and wives in Russia are left behind because the arrogance of generals, poor performance and corruption has led many of those young men to their deaths.
On the hon. Gentleman’s point about mercenaries, yes, we see evidence of the Wagner Group now being actively deployed in Ukraine. We have seen some free Syrian fighters. We have seen media reports around Chechnya volunteers. The Wagner Group is a pain and a pest globally used—deniably, apparently, but it is not really that deniable—as an arm of the Kremlin. We have seen it in Africa. We see it in Mali now. We have seen it in Libya and elsewhere. The international community needs to come together to deal with the Wagner Group because whatever happens in Ukraine—its members are not getting very good kit and they are being some of the first to die, so it is not a great recruiting advert for it—it is going to be a problem that we have to deal with.
I commend the Secretary of State for the actions he has taken to help Ukraine. In history, this will be seen not just as war crimes but as a genocide. Will he work with me to persuade the Foreign Office that, although obviously different from the Holodomor in the 1930s, this will be seen as a genocide in the same way?
What is really important on the accusation of both genocide and war crimes is that it does not need a politician to make that allegation. We are lucky in this part of the world to have the International Criminal Court, courts in the Hague and independent investigators who are right now collecting evidence and will be able to point a finger without any favour or political agenda. That is a really important difference between us and them. The Russians would love politicians in the west to be standing up and pointing fingers because then they can say, “You would say that, wouldn’t you?” I want to see our respected judiciary and our law enforcement agencies gathering the evidence and then putting it to the people who politically we all think are clearly responsible for many of the problems in Ukraine.
I commend the Secretary of State not only for his statement today, but for his diligence and commitment over the past number of months. He may recall that I suggested during a previous statement that NATO being publicly so explicit that there would be no troops on the ground was a vulnerability for Ukraine. As we see, the Russians are becoming more desperate and diabolical in the tactics that they use, from rape to war crimes, genocide, the threat of chemical attack and potential technical and tactical nuclear attack. How sustainable does he believe it will be for the international community to give support, but stay far removed?
When NATO says, “NATO deployment”, what it is referring to is NATO deployment. It is perfectly possible around the world for Britain, France and others to deploy unilaterally. We deployed into Poland recently. We are doing that not as a NATO country, but as Britain supporting one of our oldest allies. When this phase finishes, and let us hope it does soon—we had Op Orbital in Ukraine, we had British trainers on the ground right up until pretty much the last and we sent the Ranger regiment to train people on NLAWs just before the invasion—we will inevitably wish to go back to help Ukraine in its long-term planning. It is important that we help them move out of crisis to a long-term plan and a long-term ability to defend themselves, and Britain will always offer that opportunity with our training of troops. When we start doing that is open to debate, but I do not rule anything out.
I commend my right hon. Friend for his leadership and work, and the work of his colleagues, in ensuring that our friends, the Ukrainians, are able to defend themselves. I was recently in Lithuania. The Lithuanians made it clear to me that the Baltic states are deeply worried by some of the behaviour of one or two members of NATO. They commended the UK for its leadership against any kind of attempted settlement. There was the slow behaviour of the Germans at the time, until the UK pushed them to do more on the banking system, SWIFT and so on.
One of the things the Lithuanians were questioning me about was whether NATO looks strategically. My right hon. Friend said just a few minutes ago that each individual country looks at these arms trades and transfers separately, but does NATO now see that, once Ukraine has succeeded in defending itself from defeat, it must move on to the next bit of the posture, which is to be able to move on to the offensive? Does NATO therefore look at all these arms, including aircraft, as raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), as a way for Ukraine to take the fight back to the Russians?
My right hon. Friend probably served in northern Germany, like me, where permanent presence was used as one of the most important deterrents to the then Soviet Union. We were not just there for the short term; we were there for a very long time. When we are asking NATO to come up with a long-term plan, it has to involve such things as the long-term containment of Russia. He is correct that the best defence is offence. Showing that we are well-equipped, capable, ready, deployable and deployed is one of the best ways of making President Putin cease what he is doing. I do not think that means NATO deploying outside of its borders, but it does mean ensuring that we are very quick to respond and are overmatching Russia in everything it wishes to explore, so that Putin does not dare do it.
As this war has intensified, the distinction between providing defensive, as opposed to offensive weapons has largely disappeared, as increasingly heavy equipment is being transferred. The Secretary of State said previously to the House that he would support the provision of suitable aircraft to the Ukrainian air force. Further to the question asked by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), what is the Secretary of State’s current assessment of the appetite of countries to provide to Ukraine suitable aircraft that could be used in this new phase of the conflict?
There are some that have an appetite; there are not many. Some of the equipment is quite old—a lot of the MiG-29s in the east come from the fall of the Berlin wall, so hon. Members can gauge their age. There are some useful ground attack aircraft in Europe and, as I say, I would defend any one of those nations’ options of deploying them. One of the ways that we could help to support them is by backfilling by supplying our Typhoons to patrol their skies and so on. The hunt is still on. If anyone comes forward, I am happy to support them. Sometimes they have been updated with third countries’ equipment, which gives those countries a veto, and I will work to persuade those third countries to release any holds on them as well.
The first lesson, “Don’t take Russia at its word; take it on its action”, is the most important lesson for many in the international community. We gave up on that a long time ago, but that is the first thing. There will be a lot of lessons. I would not rush into that, because we also need to learn from the Ukrainians, who are rightly focused on fighting rather than on a feedback loop to us, which will be essential in understanding it.
The big lesson is that we must prove to the world that ripping up international law and being more brutal than an adversary still does not get someone to win. One calculation that President Putin and his generals have is, “We don’t care about human life; we don’t care about international law; and if we just maintain that, somehow, we’ll achieve victory—irrespective of the cost and the human suffering.” The international community has to be totally unified in demonstrating that as folly.
I thank the Secretary of State for his update on the deployment of UK personnel along NATO’s eastern flank. Can he detail what role they are playing in the humanitarian response, including supporting the processing of visas for Ukrainian refugees? Alongside all the military equipment, is the UK looking at delivering potassium iodide to civilians in Ukraine?
On medical supplies, my right hon. Friend the Health and Social Care Secretary has provided significant amounts of health stocks, but I am happy to look at that further for the hon. Lady. On the issue of visas, we have offered and we have fulfilled any request from the Home Office. If it asks for more, it will get more, if that is what is required to speed up the process.
I pay tribute to our brave Ukrainian friends and I commend the Secretary of State for his steadfast support for them. Stevenage is home to MBDA, which manufactures Brimstone. Can he clarify whether we will be making Brimstone available? What can we do to upgrade the Ukrainians’ advanced cyber capabilities to disrupt Russian communication command and control?
On the latter, I cannot really comment on those operational issues. All I will say is that Britain and Ukraine had a long-held cyber relationship many years before the invasion and we continue to understand its cyber needs.
MBDA has done an amazing job with the multinational consortium, including BAE and others, in the making of the weapons systems that are being used right now. As I have said, I do not have any objection in principle to some of the Brimstone variants being deployed into Ukraine. In principle, we agreed to sell Brimstone anti-sea some months ago—18 months or two years ago. If we decide to put Brimstone in, we will of course ensure that the Chair of the Select Committee and the Front-Bench teams are notified. They are still a short-range missile—the block 1s have a range of about 7 km—and they are not strategic. The right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) asked about defensive and offensive, but we now need to move to tactical versus strategic. We are still not in a strategic place. With its range, Brimstone would be a tactical weapons system but nevertheless very efficient and capable.
The Secretary of State will have seen the recent Defence Committee report that was very critical of the Government’s decision to deploy the Royal Navy in basically taking over Border Force and dealing with the small boats issue. It defined that policy as “ill-defined” and “prematurely announced”. What assessment has he made of the risk that Operation Isotrope could lead to the diversion of scarce Royal Navy resources at this time, when the focus surely has to be on our national security and on deterring Vladimir Putin’s aggression?
The hon. Gentleman will be relieved to know that there is no such risk. The P2000 patrol boats were not going anywhere other than UK shores. Nor indeed were inshore vehicles, or the batch 1 offshore patrol vessels; they were not going to go anywhere else. The rest of it has really been about bringing a military command and control mindset, and the ability to mass and mash together intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to the better command and control umbrella over the whole thing. That is what we are trying to do, that is what we are starting to deliver, and it is as much about a cultural change as anything else.
On a recent visit to Georgia with the all-party parliamentary group on Georgia, we saw joint working between Georgian troops and NATO personnel, largely from the countries that the Secretary of State referred to earlier. Could he say a little more about the joint working that we are doing with Ukrainian forces to enable them to use to maximum effect the very valuable military equipment that the UK is providing?
Georgia is a very important partner for us around the Black sea. It obviously knows itself what it is like to be on the wrong end of a Russian invasion, and it is very important that we help Georgia’s resilience to that. It is also important that we recognise what Russia, having consolidated, then tries to do in countries such as Georgia, which is divide, corrupt and continue to manipulate. That is why it is very important that Britain’s relationship with Georgia is a long and enduring relationship to help it with its own resilience.
Delivering the defensive equipment that has been so vital to Ukraine’s success in resisting the Russian invasion has been really instrumental, and I think the Government deserve all credit for their work in that respect. But could the Secretary of State state what the UK’s current overarching aims in this conflict are, and confirm that support for Ukraine will continue long term irrespective of who occupies No. 10?
I am grateful and thank the hon. Member for his comments. Our objective is to push, or help Ukraine push back Russia from both its actions since February, and if Ukraine takes the choice to continue to try to push Russia out of its illegally occupied territories, then of course the west and the international community will stand by it in doing that. I think, in its simplest form, Britain wants to help Ukraine be free to choose. What it chooses is slightly secondary to the fact that it has the freedom to choose in the first place as a sovereign state. That is what we are all trying to work for, and the only country that does not want to do that is Russia.
One of the main lessons from this conflict seems to be that, alongside the courageous resistance of the Ukrainian people and the military, one of the reasons it has not gone to plan for Russia is the failure of its logistics in seemingly running out of food, fuel and other supplies. Could my right hon. Friend confirm that one of the lessons we will learn and the whole world should learn from this is that top-quality logistics, such as the UK armed forces have, is even more essential perhaps than military manpower?
It is really important. We see, from photographs, Russian soldiers going to war with not much equipment, poor equipment, rations that are years out of date, not just a few days or weeks, and all of that has a horrendous effect on morale. We see them at war with cheap handheld radios—not their own radios, because they do not work—and we see them badly prepared. Bad battle preparation leads to defeat often and that is often the mess they are in. We saw that some very expensive equipment got stuck in the mud because they used cheap tyres from somewhere else. Those things matter. It is also an important lesson for our defence that sometimes the less sexy things are actually the things we should invest in. They are often the things first cut when the Treasury comes calling and you pay for it in the end.
Is the Secretary of State concerned that, if Putin is allowed to retain the territories in the south and east that he has invaded, he will claim that and be able to claim that to some extent as a kind of victory? In that context, what does he think of the comments of retired General Philip Breedlove, the former NATO commander in Europe, today, who said that now might be the time for NATO or a coalition of the willing to at least consider having troops on the ground in the north and west of Ukraine, so that more Ukrainian resources are freed up to fight in the south and east?
It is definitely a valid suggestion. If we were to fast-forward to a frozen conflict in which 80% of Ukraine was still sovereign, it would be entirely up to Ukraine to decide who it wanted to invite on to its territory, and for what purposes, just as it invited us there for Operation Orbital. People seem to forget that until this invasion, Ukraine was a sovereign country with two occupied parts. Ukraine had British, Swedish and Canadian soldiers on its territory, and we went exercising with 5 Airborne Brigade last year; that is all possible. If Putin decides to hunker down for some form of frozen conflict, we should remember two things: first, he will be back for more, because that is what he did in 2014; and secondly, he still does not control Ukraine.
Today is Anzac Day, when we commemorate the sacrifice of Australians and New Zealanders in conflict. Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to those who lost their lives at Gallipoli, and since then? Does he agree that Australia and New Zealand are important partners in supporting Ukraine, not least with New Zealand’s Hercules aircraft and crew, which recently arrived in the UK?
Yes, it is really important to remember the sacrifice made by New Zealand and Australia in a theatre of a war so far away. It is also important to recognise their solidarity with us on this conflict. Australia has given the United Kingdom funds to help purchase equipment for Ukraine. Australia and New Zealand recognise that this is a war of values, and a battle to show that the despot cannot and must not be allowed to win. They are doing everything they can to stand by us. We should not forget that, and we should also be very grateful for it.
How much Ministry of Defence spending in Ukraine is being counted as official development assistance? What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that ODA spending by other Departments is not at the expense of other situations around the world where there is a desperate need for aid?
I understand the furrow that the hon. Gentleman is trying to plough, and I will send him a letter. I do not think any of the spending is being counted in that way, from what I can tell. It certainly does not appear, in my submission, that this is a diversion; the question is simply, “How can we help the Ukrainians? How much does it cost? Can we afford to take the risk with our own supplies? If not, can we buy the supplies from somewhere else, and will the Treasury reimburse us?” It is really simple.
The Secretary of State is right to salute the bravery of the heroic Ukrainian forces and highlight the failures of the Russians, but that should not in any way allow us to become complacent about the threat that Russia continues to pose. I hear what he said about the Ukrainians deciding where we go from here, but does he agree that there can be no return to normality in our relationship with Russia until it has got out of all the areas that it has invaded in this invasion?
There can be no return to normality for President Putin and his inner circle. What they have done, despite international warnings from presidents and prime ministers who endlessly asked them not to do it, is build their own cage—and they are living in it. From my point of view, they need to remain in it.
We have already seen that the war in Ukraine will not be brief, and Vladimir Putin’s intentions will not be limited. With that in mind, are the Government beginning to look strategically, long-term, at the implications of the situation in Ukraine and the ambitions of Vladimir Putin?
There are two parts to that. The first is the need for some form of commission or get-together to plan Ukraine’s long-term defence, its posture and how it will equip itself, because just like any other army, it will become exhausted and worn out. Also, it is important that we—not just Britain or the EU, but the international community—do not forget that when all this is over, we have to help Ukraine to rebuild over the long term. Russia is destroying things—one need only look at the photographs—and they will not be rebuilt in a few weeks. If the international community is serious about sending a message to Putin, it should do so, but not just militarily, now; this is also about long-term development, and access to economic freedoms and prosperity. That will demonstrate the difference between Russia and Ukraine.
I talked earlier about the joint expeditionary force. Irrespective of whether those countries joined NATO, it would be incomprehensible to me if Britain did not, for example, go the aid of Sweden should it be attacked or invaded. It is a fellow European country with huge links to our country, the same values and so on. One of the reasons why the JEF—Finland and Sweden, plus eight NATO countries—is such an important grouping of nations is that we totally share the same values, and have the same professionalism in our armed forces and the same capabilities. Britain signed a memorandum of understanding with Sweden—originally, I think, in 2014—to further our defensive co-operation, and we are working to see what more we can do in the near future.
Ukraine is facing a financial crisis, with the Financial Times reporting that revenues are at around half of pre-war levels, and the fiscal gap for this month alone is projected to be $7 billion. The International Monetary Fund has approved an administered account for countries to make donations through a secure vehicle. Has the UK made a contribution to the account? What efforts are being made, together with partners, to provide Ukraine with hard cash?
We have given, I think, more than £100 million in aid, but I will write to the hon. Gentleman with details about the IMF fund. He is right that we need to focus on that as much as on military aid. The United States announced a significant amount of funding for Ukraine only over the weekend.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. The International Atomic Energy Agency has announced that it will undertake a mission to Chernobyl, after gunfire in the area raised concerns about the potential for a major radiation leak. Will the Secretary of State say what discussions he has had with the IAEA, and what it expects to find?
If I am not mistaken, the IAEA’s relationship is with the Foreign Office and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. However, I will happily find out the answer for the hon. Member. Of course, we are concerned about activity around Chernobyl and other things. I do not think that Russia did what it did around Chernobyl by accident.
Before I call the Minister to make a statement on the Government’s response to the fan-led review of football governance, I must put on record my disappointment that the Government have apparently already trailed their response extensively to the media. It seems to me that we have a courteous Minister, but somehow Downing Street seems to ignore him and decides to put everything that the House should hear first out to the media. It is not satisfactory. It is discourteous, not only to the House but to the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), who has put in so much work in this area. It is very disappointing that anybody could believe that she should be cut out. When she catches my eye, she will be given more time to put her case about all the hard work that she has done.
This might just be a lesson for the Government to stop being discourteous. Think about the people who get elected—those on both sides of the House. I do not blame the Minister, as I know that Downing Street loves getting these messages out on a Sunday night, but why has it not recognised that even the Prime Minister is a Member of this House? It might be good for us all to hear things first. As I say, the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford would not normally be given extra time, but I reassure her and the House that more time will be given to her.
First, I accept your comments, Mr Speaker—I certainly mean no discourtesy to this House—and I will have discussions about them with colleagues. With permission, I would like to make a statement setting out the Government’s response to the independent fan-led review of football governance. This is further to my written statement issued earlier today. The Government’s response has been provided in hard copy to the Vote Office, and I will place a copy in the Libraries of both Houses.
First, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) for all her hard work, and indeed I thank the entire panel for their diligence on the review. I also thank colleagues from across the House and all stakeholders who have debated these matters at length—in many cases for a number of years. Most importantly, I want to thank the dozens of clubs and thousands of football fans from across the country who contributed to the review. They sit at the heart of the review and our response to it.
Football is a defining part of our national identity and has been a central part of British life for over a century. English football has had some extraordinary success. Our premier league has grown to become the most watched sports league in the world. However, good governance of our clubs has not kept pace with that expansion and development. The football pyramid has come under threat in recent times, with clubs risking collapse. Many fans have felt alienated from their clubs. It is obvious that reform is needed to keep our national game alive and thriving.
The Government have already taken strong action to support the reform of football. This includes financial support to help clubs through the pandemic, and amendments to competition law to provide financial stability to English football. We also committed to undertaking a review of football governance in our manifesto—a review led by fans, for fans, to protect the future of professional football in this country. In late November, the independent fan-led review of football governance published its report. I am today pleased to announce the publication of the Government’s response to that report. Our response acknowledges the clear case for reform and sets out our approach to moving forward. It marks a significant step in protecting our national game. Today, I am confirming that the Government will introduce an independent regulator for football, in law, as part of a wider plan for reform. An independent regulator is just one of 10 strategic recommendations set out in the report. I am pleased to say that the Government will endorse all of the review’s strategic recommendations. Some are for the Government to implement, and some are for the football authorities to take forward. We expect them to take action, too.
As well as surveying thousands of fans directly, the review benefited from over 100 hours of engagement, involving representatives of over 130 clubs. This all built a clear picture of the challenges in the game. The review, and our response, are for the fans who make our national game what it is, and without whom football would be nothing. To coincide with the response, we are also publishing the findings of a Government-commissioned study by academics and football finance experts Kieran Maguire and Christina Philippou. Their analysis confirms that there is a widespread issue of fragile finances across English football clubs, and that action is needed to secure the sustainability of the game.
The sum total of our plans amounts to significant reform. In our response, we are committing to publishing a White Paper in the summer, which will set out further details of the implementation of this reform. Through a new financial regulation regime, the regulator will usher in a new era of financial competency and sustainability for our clubs. We also recognise that who runs our football clubs goes hand in hand with how they are run, so the regulator will establish a new owners and directors test, replacing the three existing tests, in order to ensure that only good custodians and qualified directors can run these vital community assets. The strengthened test will include a new integrity test. Recent events have shown the importance of our having confidence in the custodians of our football clubs.
Fans have a crucial role to play in the future of football in this country, and for that reason we believe that fans should be properly consulted by their clubs on key decisions. The regulator will therefore set a licence condition that sets out a minimum level of fan engagement to ensure that clubs are meaningfully engaging fans. We also acknowledge the crucial role that football clubs play in the identity of this country, particularly in the communities that are so intrinsically linked with their local team. The stadium, colours and badge are an integral part of that. We therefore believe that they should have additional protections. That includes a mechanism requiring fans to consent before any changes are made to those key items.
Our manifesto commitment was instigated by the financial jeopardy that so many clubs were being pushed into. The long-term health of professional football in this country is dependent on fairer distributions throughout the football pyramid. That is why we agree that the Premier League should strengthen its support across the football pyramid. We expect further action from the football authorities on this important recommendation. If they do not come to an agreement on financial flows through the pyramid, we reserve the right for the regulator to have powers in this area.
Football also needs to ensure that there is a clear and supportive pathway for players. That is why we agree with the recommendation that the welfare of players exiting the game needs to be better protected. I have asked the football authorities to act with urgency on that matter.
Taking forward those recommendations and securing the future of football is a key priority of this Government, but that priority stretches beyond Government. The review contains actions specifically for the Football Association, the Premier League, the English Football League and the Professional Footballers’ Association, on which we expect to see action, without waiting for Government legislation.
The majority of the review looked at issues related to the men’s game. Women’s football has gone from strength to strength over the past few years, with a record number of tickets sold for this year’s European women’s championship to be hosted here in England. The Government have shown that we are right behind women’s sport in every aspect, so we will launch a dedicated review of women’s football in this country.
As well as the women’s football review, I am pleased to confirm that the FIFA women’s World cup and UEFA European women’s championship finals will be added to the listed events regime. As a result, the tournaments will continue to be available to free-to-air television broadcasters, hopefully inspiring the next generation of Lucy Bronzes and Ellen Whites.