[Relevant documents: e-petition 609530, Waive visa requirement for Ukrainian refugees; e-petition 607314, Pledge any necessary military support to defend Ukraine; e-petition 609382, Offer fast track asylum to any Ukrainians displaced due to the invasion; Written evidence to the International Development Committee, Correspondence from the Secretary of State relating to disbursement of humanitarian aid to Ukraine, reported to the House on 19 April 2022; Written evidence to the International Development Committee, Correspondence to the Prime Minister relating to disbursement of humanitarian aid to Ukraine, reported to the House on 9 March 2022.]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the situation in Ukraine.
Putin’s unprovoked, illegal war has now entered its third month. Russian forces failed in their initial war aims—they failed to take Kyiv and they have suffered heavy losses—but Ukraine now faces a renewed offensive in the east and south, and we are seeing appalling atrocities in Mariupol, Odesa and beyond. We must double down in our response.
So far, Putin’s planning has been riddled with misconceptions and miscalculations. He was wrong about Ukraine’s strength and determination. We must prove him wrong again in his expectations of our stamina and commitment. Our aim remains clear: Putin must lose in Ukraine and we will do everything that we can to ensure that.
We know that Putin’s ambitions do not stop at Ukraine. I am in constant contact with allies and partners to urge more action. I made the case to NATO and G7 Foreign Ministers earlier this month and in every exchange I have had with my counterparts around the world. Since those meetings, we have seen action in three areas.
First, we are stepping up our lethal aid. The UK has led this effort. We have supplied 6,000 anti-tank weapons and 120 armoured fighting vehicles, as well as ammunition and other weapons. We are helping other countries to deliver equipment by providing logistics support. We are also backfilling third countries’ stocks—for example, by offering to deploy British Challenger 2 tanks to Poland.
We are training Ukrainian troops to use the new equipment, and our allies are stepping up too. For too long there was a false distinction between defensive and offensive weapons. It became an excuse for some to drag their feet. That time has now passed. NATO allies are clear that we are delivering heavy weapons to Ukraine. That is what the Ukrainians need to halt the latest Russian initiative and regain control of their territory.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for the work that she and many other senior Ministers are doing. Does she recognise that one of the key conversations now is about the move to NATO-calibre 155 mm artillery, so that we can match the 152 mm that is being used in the east and the south against cities such as Kharkiv, Odesa and Mykolaiv?
My hon. Friend is right. We have been leading on providing that equipment. My hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces has informed me that the US has provided 200,000 rounds, and I know that we are working very hard to corral allies around the world to make sure that Ukraine has the equipment it needs.
Secondly, we are also relentlessly ramping up our economic action to choke off the funding for Putin’s war effort. The UK is leading the way: we have sanctioned more individuals and more organisations than any other nation. So far, we have designated over 1,500 individuals and entities, including more than 100 oligarchs with assets worth over £198 billion.
I think the Government are to be strongly commended for all the economic sanctions work they are doing, but how can that prove effective as long as Germany is pumping billions of euros into the Russian economy week in, week out for oil and gas?
My right hon. Friend is right that it is absolutely crucial that we cut off Russian funding from hydrocarbons. That is currently accounting for a third of the Russian economy, so it is a target of the United Kingdom to get others to follow our lead. We are ending all imports of coal, oil and gas by the end of 2022, and we want to see a timetable for others to do the same. It will only be when we cut off that supply of money from hydrocarbons that Putin will no longer have the funding he needs to supply his war machine.
The Foreign Secretary is right to encourage the freezing of assets both by ourselves and by others, but what will be the conditions for unfreezing those assets? Does she agree with me that all the billions owned by the kleptocrats and oligarchs ought to be turned to good purpose in due course, because we are going to need a Marshall plan eventually to rebuild Ukraine and undo the mess as best we can that the killer Putin has imposed?
I do agree with my right hon. Friend. We are looking at what we can do in the long term with those assets, and I am working very closely with the Treasury on that. We have also put asset freezes on 18 major Russian banks, and we would like to see other countries follow us. We have barred over 3 million Russian companies from raising money on our capital markets.
What has been very important in all of these efforts is that they have been closely co-ordinated across the G7, with the EU and with other partners around the world, including the Singaporeans, the Australians and the South Koreans. We have also taken decisive action on trade. We have cut Russia off from World Trade Organisation terms. We have banned high-tech exports and we have announced a ban on all new outward investment into Russia.
However, we cannot stop here; we have to keep increasing the pressure. As was asked about earlier, we do need to stop the imports of Russian hydrocarbons, and we need a new wave of sanctions. We are working on that with our partners to make further progress and put further pressure on the Putin regime. There are some people who say that the west cannot afford this, but we simply cannot afford not to do it, because if we do not end Putin’s war in Ukraine and we do not see Putin lose, we will see even worse consequences for the whole of European security.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, and her clear commitment, which the House endorses and supports. It is important to have sanctions and armaments in place, and for there to be accountability for the atrocities that the Russians have carried out. We have all heard the stories—they are hard to take in and listen to: ladies abused at levels that are hard to understand, children shot, homes bombed, and pregnant women killed. There has to be a system of accountability, and every one of those Russian soldiers who carried out those atrocities, and every one of their leaders and those above them, right up to Putin himself, must be held accountable. I know the Secretary of State is committed to that, but can we have it on the record today?
I am absolutely committed to ensuring that all those appalling acts, and all the perpetrators, are held to account and I will be saying a bit more about that.
We have been resolute in our diplomatic response, and we are reopening our embassy in Kyiv. I thank our ambassador, Melinda Simmons, and her team for their courage and action. We are isolating Putin on the world stage. The United Kingdom led the diplomatic push to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council, and we are using our presidency of the United Nations Security Council to expose Russia’s war crimes, and the appalling rape and sexual violence that we have seen used systematically in Ukraine. We gave President Zelensky a platform to detail the abhorrent crimes that have been committed by Putin’s forces, and we have launched the Murad code to set a global standard for evidence on sexual violence. We are working with 141 countries that voted to condemn Russia in the UN General Assembly, to toughen our stance.
Questions have been asked about what the future looks like, and the first thing that has to happen is for Putin to lose in Ukraine and fully withdraw the troops. We have to see the perpetrators held to account for the war crimes they have committed, and we must ensure that not only is Ukraine’s future security protected, but that Russian aggression of this nature can never happen again.
I support everything that the right hon. Lady has said about what the ultimate aim has to be. Is she concerned about what now appears to be Russia’s strategy, which is effectively to landlock Ukraine by pushing along the southern coast towards Transnistria in Moldova? That could drag Moldova into this conflict as well.
The hon. Gentleman highlights a very real risk, which is why it is right that we and our allies are stepping up our provision of weaponry to Ukraine, and putting extra support into Moldova. We are making sure that Ukraine is able to defend itself in future, but also that other vulnerable states are able to defend themselves against Russian aggression. In reality, at present the Russians simply are not serious about negotiations. Their claims of humanitarian corridors have proved to be false and lead either to Russia, or have been appallingly booby trapped against the civilian population. In the eventuality that Russia withdraws and Putin loses in Ukraine, any eventual settlement would need to secure both Ukrainian and European security, and that must be backed up by international enforcement—both economic enforcement and security enforcement. We know that Russia simply cannot be trusted to follow through on agreements it has signed up to, so there has to be full enforcement of any settlement that is eventually reached.
The Foreign Secretary is making an important point about the anxiety that this is creating across Europe, particularly in eastern Europe. As she knows, Finland and Sweden are reportedly seeking to join NATO in response to Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, and there is clearly great anxiety in that part of the world. Can she provide any further detail on what she is doing to reassure our democratic partners in Finland and Sweden that the UK will stand with them against Russian aggression?
We stand with Finland and Sweden. I recently met both countries’ Foreign Ministers at our NATO meeting in Brussels, and we would very much support their applications, but joining NATO is obviously a sovereign decision for Finland and Sweden to make. The result of Putin’s aggression, having claimed that he wanted less NATO, is that he is seeing more NATO. He has seen NATO united and more countries wanting to join it because of his appalling aggression in Ukraine.
While the war continues, we also need to ensure that we are supporting the Ukrainian people. We have supplied £220 million of funding, we are helping refugees and we are delivering food, medicine and other essentials. We are also helping to keep the Ukrainian economy afloat. Our overall package of humanitarian, economic and military support is worth $2 billion. Today, I can confirm that two convoys of more than 40 fire engines have arrived in Ukraine, packed with rescue equipment, and we are supplying 22 more ambulances to Ukraine, equipped with paramedic kits and medical grab bags.
The Foreign Secretary is helpfully outlining the help and support going to people in Ukraine, but I want to mention the difficulties of those trying to flee Ukraine who are running into our visas and immigration system. My constituent is trying to sponsor a mother and daughter from Kherson who would not leave that city even as the situation deteriorated. They have been left waiting three weeks for a visa. When we pressed the UK Visas and Immigration team, it could not even give us a timeframe, despite our highlighting the imminent danger to their lives. The situation in Kherson is now so dangerous that they cannot join their family in the UK due to a lack of humanitarian corridors. In this case, it is clear that Government bureaucracy and Home Office incompetence is getting in the way, and it is putting lives at risk. Will the Government speed up their visa process so that our constituents’ generosity actually results in safety for those fleeing the Russian invasion?
I know that the Home Office is working hard to speed up the visa process, and we are now seeing more visas come through, but I will be happy to raise the case that the hon. Member mentions directly with the Home Secretary.
As well as supporting Ukraine, it is also important that we support the other countries that are affected by Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine. We have seen an increase in food prices and are seeing an increase in energy prices. At the spring meetings, the UK helped to secure the World Bank’s largest ever financial commitment to low-income countries to help them deal with the issues of food security and energy prices. We are also supporting Ukraine by removing all tariffs on Ukrainian imports into the United Kingdom, and we hope that other countries will follow suit to help Ukraine to continue to secure the funding that it needs.
Throughout the crisis, the generosity of the British people has been incredible. They have donated more than £300,000,000 to the Disasters Emergency Committee and we have had the largest ever UK Government aid match of £25 million. Across the country, we have all seen Ukrainian flags flying in people’s gardens, the incredible Ukrainian community centres and the huge support for Ukraine among the British public. The British people are standing with Ukraine, and we are prepared for the long haul.
Looking to the future, when the war is finally over, we will continue to support a strong, sovereign Ukraine. We will help bolster its security against future threats. To that end, we are working on a joint commission with Poland to ensure that Ukraine has the means to defend itself in the longer term, including with NATO-standard weapons. We will also help Ukraine to rebuild. I am determined to work with the United States, the EU and other partners on a new Marshall plan for the country. We need to see a landmark international effort to rebuild Ukraine’s towns and cities, regenerate its industries and secure its freedom. We will also ensure that Putin and his regime are held to account for their crimes in Ukraine.
I am sure that the whole country and whole House are behind what the Foreign Secretary has said so far. One of the biggest changes since this dreadful war started has been President Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons. The Soviet Union, followed by Russia, had a commitment to “no first use”, but that appears, certainly in statement, to have changed. What is the Government’s response to that and does she believe that a change is needed in the integrated review?
The integrated review made it very clear that Russia was the No. 1 threat that we were concerned about, and it reflected that. President Putin and his regime are making these threats because they are not succeeding in Ukraine. It is very important that we focus on continuing to support the Ukrainians in their fight for their freedom and self-determination and that we are not distracted and put off our course by the threats from the Russian regime. That is what we continue to do.
I was talking about ensuring that Putin is held accountable for the appalling war crimes. We led calls at the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe for an independent investigation. It reported “credible evidence” of torture, rape, the killing of civilians and the forced deportation of over half a million people—scenes that we thought had been consigned to history.
We referred Russia to the International Criminal Court; the referral is now backed by 40 states. We are providing funding to the court and we have appointed Sir Howard Morrison to support the Ukrainian prosecutor general in her investigations. This House can be assured that we will do whatever it takes to bring the perpetrators to justice, either through the ICC process or other processes, if required. We will not rest until these perpetrators are brought to justice for these appalling war crimes.
The repulsive behaviour of Putin and his forces only strengthens our resolve to stand with Ukraine. This is a battle for Ukraine’s freedom and sovereignty and for the very principles of self-determination and the rule of law. Ukraine must triumph, and we will not relent in our efforts until it does.
Putin’s war is now two months old and it has already backfired. Ukrainians have resisted heroically. They have paid a great price but they remain undefeated and undaunted, with President Zelensky the embodiment of their courage. NATO has been united in its support and has shown more focus than ever since the cold war.
Tougher sanctions have been agreed by a broad range of countries, but this is no time to be complacent. The appalling truth is that Putin could still win in Ukraine. He continues to commit war crimes, and the longer that this war goes on, the more atrocities are revealed. There appears to be, frankly, no end to his aggression in sight. As the Secretary of State said, in that light, I welcome the decision by Melinda Simmons, the UK ambassador, to return to Ukraine. Having met her, I know that she would have been reluctant to leave in the first place. It is really good that she and her staff are back in the country.
We are deeply concerned about the reports from Moldova today. This looks worryingly like the familiar Putin playbook of fabricated grievances and concocted attacks that have been used in the past as a pretext for aggression. Will the Secretary of State address those worrying reports and restate our united support for Moldova’s sovereignty and territorial integrity? Putin must not be able to spread this damaging war beyond Ukraine.
We now need a plan to sustain opposition to Putin’s war, keep his criminal regime isolated globally and force him to pull out of Ukraine. That means maintaining the strength of our military, economic, diplomatic and humanitarian assistance, and it means working with our NATO allies to continue to supply Ukraine’s army with lethal weapons.
The Opposition welcome the 5,000 anti-tank missiles and 100 anti-air missiles that the Defence Secretary announced yesterday, but that is not the full amount. I would be grateful to know what the Secretary of State can tell us about the total number of weapons provided to Ukraine by NATO allies so far. Can she confirm whether the UK has started production of replacement next-generation light anti-tank weapons and Starstreak missiles?
It is vital that the Government address gaps in the UK’s sanctions regime. Will the Secretary of State back Labour’s call for a new US-style law to target those who act as proxies for sanctioned individuals and organisations? Will she finally fix the 50% rule, which allows a company to avoid sanctions if 49% is owned by one sanctioned individual and 49% is owned by another?
We also need a longer-term strategy to deal with the indirect consequences of this war, which could go on for months or, sadly, years. In their integrated review, the Government outlined their strategic focus, describing it as an Indo-Pacific tilt. Does the Secretary of State agree that the deprioritisation of European security at this moment was a mistake? As war ravages parts of our continent, we need to put past Brexit divisions behind us, stop seeking rows with our European partners and explore new ways to rebuild relations with European allies by exploring ideas such as a new UK-EU security pact.
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s generally consensual approach, but the fact is that if we entered into a new military or security relationship with Europe but without the United States, we would be fatally undermining the deterrent power of NATO. Putin would like nothing more. Will the right hon. Gentleman please be more careful in his recommendations? That is my advice.
I am grateful for the remarks of the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee. He is quite right that this is not in the absence of the United States; it is simply about underlining the fact that with France as the biggest defence ally within the European Union and with us, there is a key transatlantic relationship that the Europeans are talking about and that we have to be part of. We have to be in the room. I suspect that the right hon. Gentleman agrees with me on that point.
The shadow Secretary of State is entirely correct; I suspect that when my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith) gets to his feet, he will agree with what the shadow Secretary of State has just said. The two things that will rewrite the Euro-Atlantic security architecture are the upcoming strategic review that NATO will publish at the end of June in Madrid and the EU’s strategic compass, which brings something else to the table: not hard military power—the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) is right—but resilience, crisis management, sanctions, trade, energy security and much else. The European Union is a big tank that can take a while to move, but when it moves, my gosh, we notice it. The shadow Secretary of State is right that London and the European Union should have closer security arrangements in future.
I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman says. Just to underline the point, he will recognise that the decision by Germany totally alters the picture of defence in Europe over the next decade. We can sit on the sidelines and allow a conversation between France and Berlin, or we can be part of that conversation. It must be vital to our own industry that we are part of the conversation.
Very much in the spirit of consensus, I will entirely concede the right hon. Gentleman’s point if he believes that the effect of our being part of that conversation would be to help stop Germany paying for Russia’s war effort, as unfortunately it is at the moment.
The right hon. Gentleman has framed his point in a certain way, and I am reluctant to go down that path. When I went to Berlin with the shadow Defence Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), it was very clear that—particularly because of the key relationship that Russia had had with East Berlin—the withdrawal to which all the Germans we met were committed must of necessity be faced. I think some of language and rhetoric we are hearing is unhelpful to our German partners in this endeavour.
Putin wants to frame this confrontation as being between the west and Russia, but that hides the true nature of the divide caused by Putin’s war. It is a clash between imperialism and self-determination, between international law and the law of the jungle, between hope and fear. If a sovereign United Nations member state can be carved up with minimal consequences, all nations are threatened, and that is why growing the anti-Putin coalition is so vital. We have already had some success in that regard: 141 countries condemned Russia in the United Nations, and Russia was rightly booted off the UN Human Rights Council. I know that the Secretary of State led on that from the front.
Russia’s outright supporters are small in number—a gang of dictators with no respect for human freedom or human rights—but a much larger group have sat on the fence, abstaining on Putin’s monstrous act of aggression, and while 141 of the world’s nearly 200 countries have condemned Russia, in population terms the world is split much closer to 50:50. China has given political support to Moscow, even if it has formally abstained. However, the group of abstentions is much larger, including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, South Africa and many others. Isolating Russia is a diplomatic priority. That is why it was so wrong that the Prime Minister failed even to raise the issue of India’s neutrality on Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine in his recent meeting with Prime Minister Modi. As I asked her earlier, will the Foreign Secretary commit herself to doing so now?
One of the most damaging consequences of this war —the Secretary of State touched on this briefly—is the soaring price of food across the world, which risks a humanitarian catastrophe. If we are to build the widest possible coalition against this war, we must ensure that its costs do not threaten the most vulnerable countries in the world, and that means dealing with rocketing food prices. Before Putin’s illegal invasion, Ukraine was the bread basket of Europe: along with Russia, it accounted for 30% of the global wheat supply, 20% of corn, and more than 70% of sunflower oil. In fact, 12% of all calories traded in the world come from the two nations.
However, to defend themselves from Putin’s assault, Ukraine’s farmers have had to take up arms rather than pull up crops, and their tractors have towed away tanks rather than grain. The ports that they had used to ship their goods to a hungry world are under occupation or siege, and now some of their fields are littered with mines. Food prices rose to their highest ever level in March, up a third on this time last year. Maize and wheat posted month-on-month increases of nearly 20%. Meanwhile, the horn of Africa is facing a worsening drought which the UN says will put 20 million people at risk. Many countries in north Africa and the middle east are also vulnerable because they import more than 50% of their cereal crops. Lebanon is already facing huge economic difficulties and political instability.
Soaring food prices and shortages could cause a humanitarian catastrophe, but there is also the risk that countries and their publics will blame the sanctions for these price spikes rather than Putin’s bloody war, with a gradual unravelling of opposition to the invasion. That is why we need to put food security at the heart of our strategy. Does the Foreign Secretary agree with Labour that Britain should work with the UN to organise an emergency global food summit to put it at the very top of the international agenda? We need to secure commitments for action. The summit can be a focus for collaboration with major producers to increase supplies and meet growing needs. Some major agricultural producers, including India, may be in a position to produce more and to ease pressure on prices. We should be planning for the consequences of this war lasting for months and possibly years, and looking at how to manage new planting seasons for crucial crops.
We need to help the populations most at risk, and the UK and our global partners must help to meet the cost. Developing countries face a toxic cocktail of massive debts driven by the pandemic, rising interest rates and now soaring prices, in particular for food. The president of the World Bank has warned of an impending human catastrophe. Last week, the International Monetary Fund held its spring meeting in Washington and the announcements made there were welcome but they do not yet meet the scale of the challenge ahead. Can I ask the Foreign Secretary what further steps the UK will take with international partners and through institutions such the IMF and the World Bank to prepare for this economic crisis?
The Government said that they merged the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office to bring together diplomacy and development. This is a clear test of how that works in reality. The interconnections between Putin’s illegal war, soaring food prices and the vulnerability of the world’s poorest are clear, so why are the Government not yet connecting the dots? The mismanagement of the merger has so far left the combined Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office as less than the sum of its parts, leaking expertise and draining civil servants of morale, and the short-sighted cuts to aid have left the UK little room to respond to new emergencies. This contradicts the generosity shown by the British people and works against our own national interests, so when will the Conservative Government finally step up?
My right hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does he agree that we are still awaiting the Government’s long-awaited international development strategy that is needed to deal with all these issues of food shortages and healthcare? We have still had no sight of it, yet it is an integral part of bringing these things together.
My hon. Friend is completely right. As the world recovers from a pandemic that the global south is still in the midst of, and as the world faces rising food prices and rising inflation, it is extraordinary that we heard the Secretary of State say that we would have to wait until the spring. If one went outside, one might think it was the beginning of summer. Where is the strategy? We need to see it.
The latest figures suggest that the UK has issued 70,000 visas for those displaced and fleeing Ukraine. The Secretary of State will know—she will no doubt have got this from the emails coming into her own constituency postbag—that there are still thousands of families saying that they want to offer a home who are still waiting to be connected by her colleague the Home Secretary. The rhetoric is not meeting the ambition of the British people.
My right hon. Friend is making an excellent point. Like many colleagues, I have been approached by British people trying to help refugees. They are desperately trying to get them into this country and to safety. In one awful case, two large families are sharing a single room in Poland, with no money. Everything is ready for almost every member of the party to come to the UK. One piece of the documentation is lacking, and that is holding up the whole group. They are suffering terribly as a result. Please can the Foreign Secretary refer this matter on to her colleagues? I thank my right hon. Friend again for raising this point.
My hon. Friend makes his point well. It undermines our partnership with the people of Poland if people are still waiting in the queue because of UK bureaucracy. It undermines our reputation globally in these circumstances.
My right hon. Friend heard me raise the plight of a mother and daughter who are waiting to flee Kherson. They will not leave and go to Poland until their visas are sorted out, even though it is so dangerous there and despite the offer of sponsorship. Does he agree that, although it is heart-warming to see the response of the people of the UK, we do not want to see it wasted? Does he agree that we must see emergency protection visas for those fleeing Ukraine who want to reach the UK, with the biometrics and security checks done en route?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. How is it that the biometric process has held up the humanitarian effort? It feels as if there is a constant concern about security, but we know that the vast majority of those fleeing are women and children. As I said, this undermines our reputation globally.
More than two months on from Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, this war has entered a new stage. What Ukraine needs now is no longer old, spare weapons from the Soviet era but new NATO weapons to prepare for Putin’s new fronts. We have to recognise that this war will now endure for months, possibly years. Now is the time for long-term thinking about how European security must be strengthened. Now is the time for the Conservatives finally to act on the recommendations of the Russia report. Now is the time for the Conservatives finally to stop their cuts to the armed services.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, although it is clear on the Order Paper that the Foreign Secretary and her Department will be responding to this debate, the relevant documents include petitions relating to visas and it would be helpful if a Home Office Minister joined the debate to hear Members’ concerns?
The hon. Lady makes her point incredibly well. We want a joined-up Government in this global emergency.
Now is the time to protect the most vulnerable from the cost of Putin’s war, whether they are the vulnerable fleeing Ukraine or the vulnerable in the global south who have to be part of the coalition helping us stand up to this Russian aggression. Now is the time to rethink the already outdated integrated review. Now is the time to make Britain, our allies and partners secure.
I will not put a time limit on the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, but I know he will be mindful of the heavy demand to contribute to this time-limited debate.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I will be entirely mindful of the time, because I agree with many of the points that have already been made. However, it is worth making a few subsequent points.
In many ways, the first stage of this war—or the latest stage of this war because, of course, the first stage started many years ago—is coming to a conclusion. That conclusion is the end of the direct assault on Kyiv and the focusing of Russian military efforts in the south and east. We are therefore seeing a very different kind of conflict in the south. We are seeing a much more focused attempt by Russia to unite with the areas it already occupies in Moldova—the so-called Transnistria—and we are already seeing a much more acute effort by Russian forces to drive a wedge along the Black sea coast.
We are not seeing very much more Russian success, because the extraordinary courage of the Ukrainian people in the north is mirrored in the south, but we must repeat the points about how we move from this stage to a stage that leads us to victory. The Foreign Secretary and the Minister for the Armed Forces, who is sitting with her on the Front Bench, have already set out various elements of military support. We have already talked about introducing various elements of artillery and offensive weaponry to make sure that not only are the Russians stopped but that the occupied areas are liberated. We know the cost of that occupation, because the rape of Bucha will stand in the annals of history, like so many tragedies and horrors of humanity in years past. Sadly, as many of my Russian friends have said, the name of Russia will be dirt for generations because of the violence done in those communities and the abuses done to those innocents. So how do we move this forward?
Reports that post-mortem examinations have found evidence that women are being raped before being executed by automatic guns are incredibly concerning and indicative of war crimes. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the international community must be doing everything in its power to protect women and girls left behind?
There is no question but that what we are seeing too often, sadly, not just in Bucha, but in many other areas, including Kharkiv and Sumy, are war crimes. They are crimes against humanity in some cases as well. The sexual violence used against women and girls is truly horrific, and it is clearly not incidental but deliberate; it is clearly an ordered attack—an absolutely vile one.
Let us look at what we need to do. We need to move from the current phase into what this is going to be, which is a campaign, in the sense that it is now going to last. I am afraid that we do not see an easy resolution, a sudden ending of this conflict, peace breaking out and liberation being achieved. Instead, we see a grinding push back of those Russian forces and the need for all of us to be able to sustain this operation to push back the Russians. That will not be achieved if we rely on ex-Soviet equipment—on the stocks left behind at the end of the cold war and the fall of the iron curtain. We need to look at a Finlandisation of Ukraine; we need to be assisting it with the full conversion of its military to a NATO standard, which we can sustain, because we have the weapons, the industry and the factories that can then supply Ukraine. We have the ability to do that because we have the mass and the firepower to sustain the Ukrainians. But we can do that only if we make a deliberate effort and choice to change from where we are now to a proper campaign footing. But this is not just about Ukraine. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and the shadow Foreign Secretary have spoken a little about how this is fundamentally not just a battle for Ukraine; it is a battle for all the world and, very particularly, it is a battle for the UK.
Were Russia to be allowed to succeed, would Moldova not go next, with Georgia after that? Is it not therefore crucial, in the western interest, that we make sure that there is no success for Putin?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that this is one of those domino moments where we can hold the advance and prevent the next one from falling, or we can watch a series of them going down.
My hon. Friend spoke of victory. I wonder what he thought victory looked like. Given that it is unlikely that Putin is going to capitulate, how do we provide an off ramp for him to secure some sort of peace? Does it mean, for example, insisting that he gets out of Crimea? Does it mean insisting that he gets out of Donbas? Does it mean providing a guarantee that we will not entertain Ukraine’s membership of the European Union or NATO?
My right hon. Friend knows extremely well that we have no say either on anybody’s membership of the EU or on how the Ukrainian Government decide to assert their sovereignty over their sovereign territory. That is a matter for European Union members, of which we are not one, and for the Ukrainian people, of whom we are not some. So it is essential that we leave that to them to decide. On the NATO question, again I would argue that free countries and free peoples can associate freely with whoever they like. They can choose to make alliances or not to make alliances as they wish. We exercised that sovereignty only a few years ago in changing an alliance position, in changing a relationship with a large bloc, and it is for the Ukrainian people to have the same right and sovereignty to make those choices. It is not for me to tell them how to do it, and I am sure nobody in this House would make that choice for them. I did not actually use the word “victory”, my right hon. Friend did, but I am very happy to address it, because what he is touching on is: where does this end up? That is a very difficult question to answer. However this ends up, Putin already could, if he chose, sell this as victory at home. He could easily turn around and, using his propaganda machine, say that the dysfunction and disturbance he has caused in Ukraine—undermining the west, the disruption to our lives and the incredible violence he has brought to the people in Ukraine—has already, as he would put it, ended its move to the west. He could claim that as victory. The fact that he chooses not to do so should not mean that it is up to us to construct a story for him to lie to his own people. It is up to him to construct his own dishonesty. It is up to him to deceive his own people. It is not up to us to help him to do it.
Our job is to stand by those free people who are showing remarkable courage under the extraordinary leadership of President Zelensky. What is up to us is to decide where our line is. Today, for the people of the United Kingdom, we should be very clear—I am very glad that the Government are—that the people of Ukraine are on the frontline of freedom. What they are doing is defending fundamentally not just our interests in defending the rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of alliance and the sovereignty that we pride ourselves on so much on in our own country; they are also defending the rule of law and the freedom of trade and commercial agreement that defends fundamentally our economy, our people and our interests.
This is the final stage—forgive me, I have taken a little longer than I hoped—that we need to be looking at. Three great revolutions have happened in the past few years: Brexit, covid and the Ukrainian war. Each has pointed to the need for us to have greater resilience. Each has taught us the absolute imperative for us to look at our own country and see what lessons need to be learned here at home. The lessons on resilience are clear. They are about being able to produce and manufacture the essential items we need, whether personal protective equipment or weaponry, here at home. They are about the essential need to be able to support our own domestic agricultural economy, whether that is growing more of our own food or producing more of our own fertiliser. They are about the need to make sure that our economy, our country, is resilient—through education, economic output, manufacturing and agriculture—and reliant on itself as much as possible and with partners we can rely on and trust. That is a lesson the three revolutions have taught us and it is about time we learnt it. The very clear lesson from Ukraine is that we may not get a fourth lesson. The fourth lesson could come in a way that surprises us all and leaves us all exposed.
It is said that it is only when the tide goes out that we know who has been swimming naked. Let us hope the tide does not go out too soon.
Before I call the SNP spokesperson, everyone will have noticed that a lot of people want to contribute to the debate. I will introduce a time limit and it will probably be seven minutes.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I always remember the maxim that nobody ever criticises a speech for being too short. I commend it to the House.
I am glad to lead for the SNP on this important debate and I am glad that thus far there has been a broad note of consensus across the House on this really important issue. The SNP stands part of the international coalition in defence of Ukraine’s independence and the international rule of law. We have a very clear vision for Scotland’s best future, but there are times in life when we need to work together and focus on what unites. I am glad that the global coalition has come to the aid of the people of Ukraine in their heroic fight against this injustice.
I have had hundreds, if not thousands, of emails from people across Stirling. As I have been travelling across Stirling district, an area slightly bigger than Luxembourg, I have seen hundreds of Ukrainian flags in farms, houses, cars and windows. There is a huge sentiment domestically in support of the people of Ukraine and I am glad to give voice to that from the people of Stirling. I am also glad that we are working together in those aims today.
I will focus my remarks on four heads: military aid, sanctions, refugees and the future, a rather hazy concept on this and on other issues. On military aid, we supported the provision of materiel into Ukraine. Operation Orbital was a success. We support the provision of more aid into Ukraine militarily and assisting others to do so. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) will have more comments on those logistical points.
In the light of the invasion of Ukraine, we have seen that EU and NATO’s roles and presence in the world have evolved at lightspeed, particularly in the case of the EU. I take the points made by the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), but from our perspective it is vital that we see a new UK-EU comprehensive defence and intelligence treaty that formalises the co-operation that is already under way. That would not be in opposition to or undermine NATO—I am pro-NATO and believe that Scotland’s defence, now and in future, will be NATO-based—but the EU is evolving at lightspeed. PESCO—permanent structured co-operation—is growing arms and legs, and it is important that the UK is part of that discussion. We are going to see NATO’s strategic concept, and the EU’s strategic compass is of clear and present relevance to the people of these islands, now and in future. I urge the UK to be close to those discussions.
On sanctions, I would congratulate the Government on getting there. We are not there yet, and it was a patchy start as we saw the global community starting from different points, but we are getting there. I would be grateful to hear a continued assurance that if an individual or organisation is sanctioned by one member of the G7, the EU or the US, they will be sanctioned everywhere else as well. I would also like to hear about more efforts to bring the wider international community in on those sanctions. I think particularly of the UK overseas territories, because a number of loopholes are accidentally being allowed to develop. We need to be vigilant to the fact that they will be exploited by people who know how to exploit loopholes.
I ask the really quite basic question: what is the current value of the assets that the UK authorities have frozen? It must surely be a considerable number. I echo the calls that have been made not just to freeze but to sequestrate those assets, because they are ill-gotten gains, and to put them towards the Marshall fund for the reconstruction of Ukraine that we need to see. I know that discussions on that are under way, but there is a big source of funds before us that should be used urgently to those aims. We would also like to see considerably more complementarity in respect of where those moneys are going to come from.
The biggest area of disagreement between the SNP and the UK Government is on refugees. We believe the UK should have emulated—I hope it still might emulate—what the EU did in waiving visa restrictions for three years. That was a generous, big-hearted offer that was also pragmatic and workable. We are dealing with a war situation: the last thing that people need is new sets of paperwork to get themselves round. Instead of a visa waiver, the Home Office developed a new and complex system of bureaucracy that is simply not working. It is failing. There is not a Member of this House who does not have live cases of Ukrainians who are trying to get to the UK for sanctuary, and not one of us has not had needless bureaucracy tripping them up.
I have many constituents who are finding the situation incredibly frustrating, including Rachel Smith, who has been trying to get people over here. She applied to the scheme more than a month ago but has heard nothing and has basically been told, “Don’t call us; we’ll call you.” Does my hon. Friend agree that that is completely unacceptable to people who are fleeing a war zone?
I certainly do. I pay warm tribute to my hon. Friend for her work on asylum seekers in general, not just those from Ukraine. We have created in the UK a needless bureaucracy. The EU showed us what should have been done; the UK has done it wrong. We regret the decision that was taken. We will work within the system, but we think it could have been better.
The idea that MPs somehow have privileged access to the system is assuredly not the experience of my office. I pay tribute to a number of people throughout Stirling who have been pushing hard on this issue. In particular, I pay tribute to Trevor Geraghty from Stronachlachar, who is the chair of Strathard Community Council and has done a great deal to make Ukrainians feel welcome. I urge the Foreign Secretary and those on the Treasury Bench to take the issue up with the Home Secretary. The system is not working—it is failing—and a lot of people who rely on us are not getting the support that they need. The process needs to be properly resourced and properly done.
If I look to the future, I think of a number of points in, frankly, no particular order. It is now clear that NATO membership is rising strongly up the agenda for Finland and Sweden. I am glad to hear that the UK supports that move; we certainly do, too, while acknowledging that it is entirely a decision for the peoples of Finland and Sweden.
There is a risk of escalation to other fronts. I echo the point made by the Labour spokesperson, the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), about the risks in Moldova. A desperate Kremlin will use other fronts to try to foment discord, dissent and danger. I think particularly of Moldova, Bosnia and the caucuses. We need to be very alive to the prospect of that risk.
On accountability, I have called for, and support, the efforts that the UK is making to support the Ukrainian public prosecutor and the International Criminal Court in investigating war crimes and holding war criminals to account, but I have called for the publication of a specific document on all the ways in which that is being done, because I think that would be useful for us in holding those efforts to account and urging for more.
I would like to see the UK adopt an atrocity-prevention strategy, which I have also called for. I think Ukraine underlines the need for that to be brought through into the Foreign Office’s work, and I urge for that to be taken more seriously. Although the UK is updating policies, the integrated review is now badly behind the times. We need to see it refreshed, and the House needs to be involved in those discussions, because the premises upon which it was written have been upended—the UK is not alone in that—and we should all intellectually and honestly accept that.
On food prices, the implications of the war in Ukraine on an already perilously stretched global food supply chain are significant. I am particularly worried about that when it comes to the developing world, but food security should be far higher up our domestic agenda than it is. In fact, for domestic food production across these islands—however we define “domestic”—the situation has got far worse than better under this Government’s watch. We need complementarity across Government policies. Domestic food policy is being undermined by trade policies, which could undercut our farmers and make us even more dependent on food imports than we are at present. That is a deeply dangerous place for the UK to be, and I urge greater coherence on that point.
There are a number of implications from the war in Ukraine. Although there is a cross-party, united front in facing down the aggression from the Kremlin, there are a number of points for us to think deeply and honestly about in the long term. The SNP will be part of that discussion.
In earlier debates on 9 and 15 March, I set out my analysis—for what it is worth—of the nature of Putinism in the context of post-communist Russia, and I do not propose to try the patience of the House by repeating all that now. I will just say once again that the great country of Russia is in the grip of a sick, cynical psychopath who is himself firmly in the grip of small-man syndrome. Thus, he waves his shiny new intercontinental ballistic missiles at the world as if it had not been the case for the last half century that if Russia had wished to destroy the west, or if the west had wished to destroy Russia, either could have done that within the lifetime of a day.
What we have to look at more specifically are the political and military forces at work. I do not propose to dwell on the issue of the EU and its aspirations for a combined military voice, whether alongside, apart from or instead of NATO. All I say to the House today is what I have said for many years: without the United States and its military presence and power, there is no security for Europe, and I include the United Kingdom in that concept of Europe.
Once upon a time, it seemed crazy to suggest that the Kremlin archives would ever be opened, but at the end of the first cold war they were, and who knows, one day they may be opened again. I venture to suggest that when that time comes, it will be seen that one of the key factors that weighed heavily in Putin’s decision to do this monstrous thing of invading and raping the country of Ukraine was the way in which a new and apparently weak United States President betrayed the mission in Afghanistan—leaving not even in an orderly way, but in a disorderly way under the arbitrary pressure of a symbolic deadline. That, I am sure, sent a signal to Putin that he would never have a better chance than now to flex his military muscles.
There are the military means of opposing this invasion and the economic means of opposing it. I must say to the House that, while I praise all the efforts being made on sanctions, sanctions will not affect the outcome of this war unless and until Germany stops paying billions of euros to Russia to fund it. By all means let us go on with sanctions, but let us not fool ourselves into thinking that they can possibly be decisive under the present economic flow of wealth from Europe into Russia.
I want to make a point that I have not made before in these debates: this is clearly a David versus Goliath contest. People will nod at that and say, “Well, that’s a bit obvious.”, but I suggest that right hon. and hon. Members remind themselves why and how it was that David beat Goliath. Goliath was armed with all the might and the conventional weapons, but David was armed with a slingshot—a simple weapon that nevertheless proved more than a match for the traditional might of Goliath.
I suggest to the House that that is why, in most areas of the war it has been trying to wage, Russia has not been doing very well. Our Defence team can take a lot of credit for that, in terms of what they have supplied to Ukraine. Ukraine has been supplied with slingshots, in the form of missiles, that have meant that Russian aircraft are not safe in the skies, Russian tanks are not safe on land and Russian ships, as we have seen, are not safe in the Black sea.
However, there is one shot left in Goliath’s locker: the cruel, ruthless bombardment, from an apparently safe distance, by artillery, of Ukrainian cities. I am not quite satisfied yet with the answer we are getting on the question how we should be helping Ukraine to counter that. Matching artillery piece for artillery piece is not the answer, any more than matching tank for tank or aircraft for aircraft. We need to see a smart system of eliminating Russian artillery, in the same way that its other heavy equipment has been eliminated.
I suspect my hon. Friend is going to make a constructive suggestion in that respect.
On that point, targeted missiles of the kind we have seen launched at tanks at short range are an answer, but the argument in favour of moving to NATO calibre 155 is that, all things considered—of course shells come in different specifications—it offers slightly longer range. By using longer range, the Ukrainians can stay out of Russian 152 range and target them with their 155s, potentially forcing a change in Russian tactics. There is benefit in moving to NATO calibre as well as in directed missiles.
I do not dispute that at all, but we must remember that Russian artillery has Ukrainian cities to aim at, whereas Ukrainian artillery would only be aiming, presumably, at Russian artillery. That may be the best answer there can be, but I would have thought that some of the more modern, smarter systems such as suicide drones might be a more effective response.
That leads to my final point. When people say, “What does victory look like?”, it is not so much a question of victory over Putin as of showing Putin that, unless he desists from this, he will end up much worse off than if he gives up. What has happened so far is that his troops have paid a price that has not shown commensurate gains—his aircraft similarly, his tanks similarly and his ships similarly—so all he has left is this method of artillery. We want the Russians to think that every time they fire an artillery round, their artillery piece is going to be destroyed. We have a very capable Defence Minister doing the wind-up—I am delighted to see him nodding—and that is my one point that I wish to see addressed, because if we can show Goliath that all his weapons are useless and that we can supply the slingshots, perhaps Goliath will decide that it is better to stay away from the battlefield.
The war in Ukraine has entered its third month, with no end in sight. We all see the tragic scenes on our screens at night: innocent women and children being gunned down, targeted as they queue for bread and shelter from bombs, unable to escape Putin’s attacks; the war crimes, with, unfortunately, women and girls being raped and murdered, sometimes in front of their children; the indiscriminate attacks; Russian rockets striking railway stations; and dead bodies left in the street, people shot as they attempted to flee.
We stand with our NATO allies in providing military, economic, diplomatic and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine as it defends itself from this illegal and unethical invasion, but this Conservative Government need to move faster and harder on both economic and diplomatic sanctions against Putin’s regime. Too often, we have lagged behind the EU and the US, while promised measures have yet to be implemented. We urgently need to act against those who are the proxies for sanctions—individuals and organisations.
For years, the Tories have cosied up to Russian oligarchs, allowing their dirty money to pollute our economy, our politics and our institutions. There is no excuse. Why have the Government still not acted on the recommendations of the Russia report, or fixed Companies House, which allows oligarchs to shield their ill-gotten gains? Instead of strategically seeking to fill the gap of Russian energy, our Prime Minister looks to new authoritarians from which to buy oil. This is short-termist, to say the least, and ill-judged. Fossil fuel empowers the worst sorts of dictators. We need to urgently invest in a clean energy strategy and seek to look at how we address the food shortages and escalation in food prices across the world, which a clean energy strategy can also do.
While we open our doors to millions of frightened and fleeing Ukrainian refugees, many neighbouring countries wonder if they will be next, terrified as the history books are replayed, with the tales told to them of the second world war still imprinted firmly on their memories. We must not be on the wrong side of history here. I am incredibly proud that Wales is a nation of sanctuary for refugees and a super-sponsor of those fleeing Ukraine. I am especially proud of so many of my constituents in Cardiff North who have signed up to the Homes for Ukraine scheme and are sponsoring families in desperate need of safety and stability. But I am deeply ashamed at the incompetence of this Tory Government and their Home Office in putting Ukrainian lives in danger when they are still living on the frontlines of Putin’s missiles.
I personally have had two constituents contact me in just the past two days about situations where only some members of a family have been granted a visa to come to the UK. As such, the family have found themselves stranded in an unfamiliar country without the means to support themselves. Does the hon. Member agree that the Home Office whistleblower’s concerns are disturbing and must be addressed immediately?
Absolutely. It is incompetence, and I have seen the same incompetence with the lost applications of families that my constituents are sponsoring. Sarah, for example, is sponsoring a Ukrainian family with a severely disabled son. They are unable to flee to a refugee camp and outside Ukraine because of their son’s needs. They are stuck living with the daily horrors and the sirens. They are putting their lives on the line and waiting for visas that the Home Office lost. A constituent in Old St Mellons sponsored a mother and a baby, but an error meant that only the mother was granted a visa.
I speak to families desperate for help, and frankly I am furious at how difficult this Government are making it for vulnerable families, women and children to seek sanctuary when they have been forced to leave their homes, their loved ones, their brothers and their husbands—everything they know and love, they have left behind. We are facing the biggest refugee crisis since the second world war, yet the UK’s response stands in stark contrast to that of our European neighbours. We are refusing to match the EU’s decision to offer Ukrainians sanctuary and instead are offering a limited scheme that seeks to match families and individuals online like some twisted dating app. That is what I am hearing from my constituents. When I intervene to try to help those families and my constituents who have sponsored them, the response I get from Home Office officials is to email me back, asking me to stop contacting them. I am sure many of my colleagues have received that very same response.
Last week, I asked the Prime Minister if his 1,000th day would be his last. He lost his temper and told me that he was leading the way in standing up to Putin, but all I see are warm words and empty soundbites, and a Prime Minister more desperate to save his own skin than the lives of Ukrainians. As a world leader, the UK needs to be using its influence to bring about greater international support for Ukraine and set an example in welcoming refugees fleeing Putin’s heinous crimes, but the Prime Minister and his Government are at the moment failing in that task.
We are at a turning point in history—a turning point for our generation and our children. This war will touch every part of our humanity if it is not stopped and if we do not do all we can to prevent as much human suffering as possible. My constituents stand ready to support the Ukrainian people in need—why won’t this Government? Please, let us not be on the wrong side of history.
What a pleasure it is to take part in this debate, but what a pity that we are forced to have it. There is a grinding inevitability about where we are going with Mr Putin’s war. It is clearly going to escalate, and we need to be prepared for that. It is also a time to take stock of what Mr Putin has achieved, because no doubt those around him have been doing the same. One of the things that Putin wanted to do was to deny Ukraine’s statehood. Well, states are built out of conflict very often. Their founding mythologies often emerge from conflict. What a fine job Putin has done in forging a state in eastern Europe, if it did not exist already, because this conflict has given Ukrainians a sense of added statehood and of nation, and my word should they be proud of themselves.
Putin wanted to contain NATO. Well, that has gone well, hasn’t it? Sweden and Finland are applying for membership and Germany is at long last spending more than 2% of its GDP on defence and galvanising the alliance. Putin no doubt thought that it was an opportunity to display the might of Russia’s military. Well, that has gone well, hasn’t it? There are 15,000 dead without NATO having fired a single shot; a swathe has been taken through Russia’s starred officers; and there has been a decimation of its materiel and the sinking of the flagship Moskva.
As a cold war warrior, I have to ask why we were quaking in our boots all those years. Where is the threat of those Russian tanks sweeping across the central plains of Europe? My word, at this rate, they would struggle to wheeze their way through the Smolensk gate, let alone the Suwalki gap.
Why has Ukraine confounded our expectations? One reason is that it has something that Russia does not, which is what we pompously talked about in staff courses as the moral component of warfare. Ukraine has it; Russia has not. As Napoleon said,
“The moral is to the physical as three to one.”
He should jolly well know, and the people of Russia should know too, as a country with an acute sense of its own history.
The moral component has three elements: motivation, leadership and sound management. Together, they produce the will to fight, as we have seen graphically displayed in Ukraine. They are all contained, happily, within UK doctrine, which is why our armed forces are so good. The moral component is sadly lacking in a country that treats its own as dirt. People should not let the pompous goose-stepping theatre of 9 May fool them. From the sinking of the Kursk two decades ago to the destruction of the Moskva and its crew, the Kremlin has shown a cynical disregard for its people and their people.
Russia’s non-commissioned officer cadre is not a middle management cadre that we would recognise in our armed forces. The fixers, the doers, the cajolers, the junior leaders, the men who get things done—they are largely absent from Russia’s armed forces, which is part of the reason we have seen the destruction of the Russian army and its divisions. We should feel for Russia’s private soldiers, who are directionless, demoralised and disoriented. Bonaparte was correct: I would swap three Russian squaddies for a single Ukrainian any day.
None of that is necessarily good news, however, because a cornered animal lashes out. My right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) did not mention Goliath’s ultimate cosh—the thing that he has hidden behind his back. Russia’s Comical Ali, Sergei Lavrov, hints at nuclear escalation and we must steel ourselves for that. That he has even hinted at it shows how bad things are in the Kremlin.
The key, of course, is China, which could switch off this barbarism in a heartbeat. Where will Beijing stand when the Geiger counters start clicking over way beyond eastern Europe? Its soft power, regional and global ambitions, and attempts to present a more positive image to the global community have all taken a severe knock. Its supposed neutrality is not being borne out by its actions, but coercing, cajoling or bullying it is unlikely to be helpful.
Turkey has been doing its best, but it needs a great power to broker some sort of deal or off ramp, given that we are unlikely to be favoured with the Kremlin’s capitulation. Putin’s use of a low-yield nuclear weapon to awaken the Chinese dragon may just be what is needed in this scenario, but it may equally be his greatest misstep and the beginning of the end for him. All that then will be left will be for him to join his fellow mass killers Hitler and Stalin in the annals of infamy, and for his cronies to crawl away under whichever stones they can find, awaiting judgment and retribution from the world’s civilised communities. Slava Ukraini.
As I said when I intervened on the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) earlier, although the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office was identified as the responding Department, the debate is linked to two petitions related to visa issues. I am bitterly disappointed that we have not been joined by a Home Office Minister. I will now have to speak into the ether and send the Hansard transcript to the Refugees Minister, bringing the total number of letters that I will have sent unanswered to three.
I will talk about a number of cases in my constituency, and then put some questions on the record. I hope that the Minister may be able to answer them, but if not, that he will pass them on to the Home Office. I have a number of cases to do with the Homes for Ukraine scheme; quite frankly, the scheme is in a complete and utter mess.
A Ukrainian mother with two daughters applied five weeks ago. My team went to the MP hub in Portcullis House and asked if all the necessary documents were there. We were told that they were and there were no issues. Four days later, we were told that one of the daughters had a passport that had expired and it was no longer acceptable. Her father, still in Ukraine, had to go to the Ukrainian passport office—in the middle of a war—to pick up a new passport. His daughter’s application remains outstanding, despite his having sent a photograph of that passport to his wife two weeks ago.
The next example is of a mother, a father and a baby boy. The baby boy was too young to get a passport before he had to leave home. We were advised that it was possible to get the permission to travel document without that passport. Three weeks after being told that, we are now being told they need a new passport for that child.
The third case is of a mother and two daughters whose application was submitted. Three weeks later, they have been told they now have to attend a visa application centre to submit their biometrics. The passport had been attached to the online application, but it had been attached to the wrong section. They have to go and fill in the forms again, because it was attached to the wrong box on the form.
In the case of another of my families—a mother and two daughters—the daughters both had expired passports and they were told they had to get passport extensions, so they did. When they went on to the Homes for Ukraine forum online, they could not upload the new extended passports because they had already uploaded the expired passports, so they uploaded them into the travel and residency section. My constituent, who is trying to help this family, phoned the Ukraine Home Office helpline three times to ask if this was okay, and was told three different things: on the first call, that the family should travel three hours for a biometrics appointment; on the second call, that nothing further was required; and on the third call, that the new application would need to be submitted a week later. My team went to the Portcullis House hub and asked what the real answer was, and we were told the documents were on file and nothing more was needed. They have now suddenly been told, once again, that they have to go to a biometrics appointment.
When we have mothers and children or mothers and babies fleeing war on our continent, it is absolutely heart-breaking, frustrating and angering that the response of the Home Office is “Computer says no”, but that is what we are facing. I recognise that the Foreign Secretary said earlier that she would take up the specific case raised by the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley), but we all have cases—we have so many cases. I have given just a few examples, and I have many more. The system is not working, and we would like to know what will be improved.
I have a number of policy-related questions to put on the record. I have discovered that a number of applications between 18 and 25 March remain outstanding, even though applications put in after 25 March have been processed and approved. It would be good if the Government explained in what order applications are processed and why later applications are being processed when there is a window within which a number of applications appear to have disappeared into the ether.
Secondly, why are there delays, often of up to seven or 10 days, between visas being approved and permission to travel documents being sent? I tabled a named day question last week, asking the Home Office to provide an explanation for that delay. I should have received the answer this evening, but I received a holding response. Thirdly, why is the online system so clunky that my constituents, and the families they are trying to bring to safe harbour, cannot even change an email address or home address, or something along those lines? I have a constituent who is upsizing and moving to a larger flat so that he can bring in a family from Ukraine. He cannot update his home address, and he has been told that he has to start the application process all over again. The system is absurd!
I have been in touch with my local council, which also has questions. It is being given the numbers of families who are applying through the Homes for Ukraine scheme, but not the numbers of people coming under the Ukraine family scheme. It cannot get that information, so it does not know how many people to expect. It asks whether funding will be provided to local authorities to support Ukrainians who have come under the family scheme. No funding has been provided, yet those people can access benefits, health and education. The council also wants to know—it is still awaiting guidance on the matching process under the Homes for Ukraine scheme—what happens if the sponsor and Ukrainian family relationship fails.
Does the hon. Lady agree it is important that councils know who is coming so that they can plan their services accordingly? For example, tutors in English as an additional language might be required in schools.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right, and it is critical that local councils know how to plan their services.
The final point from our local council was that refuges apparently cannot swap from the Ukraine family scheme to the Homes for Ukraine scheme if the accommodation does not work. I have put a lot of questions on the record, and I sincerely hope that the Government have listened. I have already sent two letters to the refugees Minister, and tomorrow I will send a third. I am bitterly disappointed, as my constituents will be, that we do not have a Minister from the Home Office to respond to the debate. I am begging the Government: please listen to these concerns, and please, please fix the system.
The invasion of Ukraine is a despicable act by a desperate criminal regime, and how we respond now will determine the strength of our democracy and collective security for decades to come. We have a strategic imperative and moral duty to act. The people of Ukraine are putting up a fearsome resistance that is nothing short of inspiring. Sixty-two days on, Russian forces have been repelled from the north of the country, and are now confined to waging their war to the south and east of Ukraine. It is estimated that some 2,000 Russian armoured vehicles, 60 aircraft, and two key naval assets have been either destroyed or captured, with around 15,000 Russian personnel reportedly killed, all as a result of Vladimir Putin’s arrogance.
I am proud of the decisive action that the UK has taken to help Ukrainians defend their freedom and their homeland. The support provided is too extensive to detail in full today, but it is worth reinforcing that the UK has been leading efforts to co-ordinate an international response to Russian aggression since 2015, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Under Operation Orbital, our armed forces trained more than 22,000 Ukrainian soldiers, and the UK has led the world in being the first country to send defensive weapons to Ukraine, despite the resistance of many at the time. The UK has also provided key logistical support to help Ukraine even the odds in its struggle to maintain its freedom. I pay tribute to the Royal Air Force, who have worked relentlessly to help supply Ukraine with the vital equipment that it needs. I hope that many of our friends and allies will do more to follow suit.
Last week, a report published by the German newspaper Bild found that, disappointingly, Olaf Scholz’s office had vetoed more than two thirds of deliveries that the German Chancellor had previously promised. By contrast, in High Peak, I have been struck by the number of local people who have stepped up to offer their support in any way that they can. In particular, I thank Mike Chantler at Chapel-en-le-Frith Parish Council who, along with Whaley Bridge Town Council and others, has been leading the way in co-ordinating local efforts to reach out and support Ukrainians arriving in the UK and the households who are kindly hosting them. I also want to highlight local charities, including Little Cherubs and Buxton Baby Bank, as well as organisations such as Homes for Ukraine High Peak, the firefighters at Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service and others who have been doing such amazing work to help. We have seen many local businesses step up, too, including Lomas Distribution in Buxton, which sent a lorryload of essentials to Ukraine.
Back in February, together with a number of Conservative colleagues, I wrote to the Prime Minister to call on the Government to provide a flexible, pragmatic and compassionate policy for Ukrainians seeking temporary refuge in the UK. Our country has a long and proud history of taking in people in need and supporting the most vulnerable during their darkest hour. I am glad that the Government have listened. So far, more than 70,000 visas have been issued to Ukrainians. As a testament to the generous spirit of the people of High Peak, my office and I have been inundated with inquiries from constituents who are sponsoring visas for those fleeing the conflict. I am working as hard as I can to help resolve any applications that are still outstanding with the Home Office.
I remain concerned, however, about the life chances of Ukrainian children and their access to a good education when they arrive in the UK. We need a joined-up approach across Government and local authorities so that Ukrainian children have the best possible chance of rebuilding their life. A key part of that task must be identifying Ukrainian translators from among those arriving in the UK and putting their language skills to good effect as quickly as possible. We also need to keep in mind that many Ukrainians coming to the UK will be deeply traumatised by their experiences, so access to mental health support is essential.
I am proud of how High Peak and the UK have responded to the crisis, but it is essential that we maintain our resolve and support for the people of Ukraine. Russia is betting that the world will tire of the conflict and that international unity will fragment as the weeks turn to months. We must not let that happen. We are already hearing some voices—including, sadly, some in this House—trying to put pressure on Ukraine to negotiate a settlement with Moscow. That decision can be taken only by the sovereign Ukrainian people themselves. In reality, some of those calls for peace are actually calls for the Ukrainians simply to surrender and give Putin what he wants. The last couple of months have exposed some of those voices for what they really are, and it heartens me to see them so isolated, with many who only recently were echoing Kremlin propaganda scrambling to reposition themselves on the right side of history. Time will be their judge and ours.
Our job is to support Ukrainians in their fight to defend their freedom and their homeland. It has never been more important that we stay united and stand up for what is right.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate, and it is an honour to follow the contributions of so many right hon. and hon. Members.
I want to start by quoting the words of my constituent who grew up in Ukraine:
“I could never have imagined that in 20 years it would be a land at war—at war with its closest neighbour. It is too easy to think that these things will not happen to you. They can, and they do. And right now, they are happening just three hours’ flight away from where you and I live.”
In the past two months, since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, we have all seen the horror day after day on our TV and social media, with not just bombs but atrocities, abuse and rape. As one of my constituents told me, in war, it is always the women who bear the brunt of the abuse.
Our constituents have opened up their homes for newly arriving Ukrainian families. Students and staff at Chiswick School in my constituency filled and sent off the school van with donated clothes, blankets and other essentials. Children of Ukrainian and Russian heritage at the school worked together on the project. Polish Radio London, which is based in Isleworth, also organised donations, along with countless other businesses, residents and community groups.
In Ukraine’s darkest hour, people locally have shown amazing support. Although the FCDO and the MOD have done the right thing nationally in providing support for Ukraine, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) said, we need joined-up government. In many senses, we have had it, but the Home Office is failing to ensure that vulnerable Ukrainians and their families can arrive promptly in the UK. That is in stark contrast to the open welcome that has been offered by virtually every other European country.
More than 5 million people have already fled Ukraine. I have heard a number of heartbreaking stories from constituents about the choices that Ukrainians have had to make about whether to leave, including one whose family had to stay because their mother was bed-bound and they could not bear to leave her. However, the journeys of those who have made the heartbreaking choice to leave and seek refuge here have too often been unnecessarily difficult.
My London borough of Hounslow has a proud tradition of supporting and welcoming refugees, but even before Russia’s invasion, I was seeing problem after problem with the Home Office. Routine cases had long delays, my caseworkers could not get basic information from the Home Office and there were inconsistent decisions, as the hon. Member for St Albans (Daisy Cooper) described, with many people living in limbo as they wait. We remember the chaos as Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, with many UK citizens, those who had worked for the UK and those who had worked for human rights in Afghanistan failed by our Government. Many are still waiting.
I say that because the Home Office will claim that the Ukraine situation was unexpected, yet there are long-running problems in the Home Office. Sadly, the thousands of Ukrainians waiting for visas and their expectant hosts have seen those failings at first hand. I have been contacted by constituents who are sponsoring Ukrainians sheltering in train stations in Poland after having crossed the border. I am also aware of cases in which Ukrainians have returned home because they had nowhere to wait and could not wait any longer.
However, this is not just about delays; the scheme has fundamental gaps, which I worry will cause a serious problem. One such gap was that Ukrainians in the UK on tier 2 visas were unable to sponsor their family members to arrive under the first scheme. That deliberate move by the Government meant that one of my constituents had to wait weeks for the Homes for Ukraine scheme to open. With 5 million people fleeing Ukraine, many of whom have family living here—Hounslow is the third most populous borough for Ukrainians—why would the Government put those blocks in place and make arbitrary, inconsistent decisions that often split families up further?
Another gap is the UK Government’s failure to play a matching role under the Homes for Ukraine scheme. Instead, refugees were left in a wild west sponsor scheme, where they had to search on Facebook for people running the Homes for Ukraine scheme. The Times had a harrowing but depressingly predictable article about how Ukrainian women were being targeted by men in the UK who would offer them accommodation in exchange for sex. That is disgusting and vile. The Government should have played a role in matching refugees directly with sponsors in the UK, or used a reputable non-governmental organisation to do that.
The other contradiction relates to accommodation. The Homes for Ukraine scheme does not apply to fleeing Ukrainians joining family members who have come here through the family scheme. If their sponsoring relative lives in a one-bedroom flat, as my constituent does, and has no room for another adult and two or three children, the Ukrainian family members coming here have to declare themselves homeless. They have just fled war and our first act is to ask them to go to the housing department and declare themselves homeless; is that really what our Government intended when they set up Homes for Ukraine, from which such families are excluded?
Those are only a few of the issues that I have seen. They have all come from the same fundamental problem in the Home Office: a culture led by a mix of organisational failure and cynicism. Frankly, the Home Secretary has failed to fix the mess of her Department, and refugees arriving from Ukraine and their hosts and sponsors have had to bear the burden.
In this country, we have a history of accepting refugees at their time of need. That history goes back to the 50,000 Huguenots, and further. I hope that the Government will act, and act urgently, to ensure that this is a moment that lends itself to the historic tradition of doing the right thing and welcoming those in need.
It is a pleasure to speak in today’s debate and to follow so many right hon. and hon. Members. From the blitz on Kharkiv to the siege of Mariupol, the war in Ukraine and the hideous atrocities of the Putin regime have shone a light on the remarkable courage of the Ukrainian people. I want to tell the House about one such person in East Surrey.
My constituent Tanya watched with disbelief as Russian precision-guided missiles first flew into Kyivan residential tower blocks. She is a single mother of two children who moved to East Surrey from Ukraine a number of years ago, but her elderly mother Vira remained in Kyiv: owing to old age, she was no longer able to fly, and she had recently suffered a stroke, so she could not walk more than a few metres without help.
As we have seen so many times from the Ukrainians in recent months, however, Tanya did not balk at the challenge. She left her children with friends and drove 1,500 miles to the edge of her war-torn country to pick her mother up. Thanks to the Home Office’s help, she got her back here safely. It is a story of remarkable courage, but as we have heard today, the capacity for remarkable courage is not unusual for the people of Ukraine. If we are being honest with ourselves, I think we all hope that we have the kind of bravery that they have shown, but we all hope that we will never need it. I am so proud of Tanya and all she has done to protect her family.
I was also very proud on the day President Zelensky said that our Prime Minister had been an example to the world. I was proud that he highlighted Britain as Ukraine’s “most sincere friend”. I am proud that this was the first country in Europe that provided lethal aid and that it has been working with the Ukrainian people since 2015, backed by successive Defence Secretaries who have supported Operation Orbital and the British armed forces training the Ukrainian army. I am proud that this country has now granted safety to more than 30,000 Ukrainians fleeing the most awful brutality.
While our allies talk about Britain’s leadership, there are those in this country who always want to do us down. However, I believe we can and should take pride in the British response, which we can see in all our constituencies: in East Surrey, we have people like Lee Pearce in Woldingham, Alex and Charles Severn in Dormansland and Shashi Fernando in Caterham on the Hill. I have been bowled over by the kindness and generosity of spirit that my constituents in East Surrey have shown in welcoming people into their homes.
I put on the record my thanks to Jack Powell in my team for all the determination and energy that he has shown in working with local families. I also thank all the people who work in the Ukrainian hub in Portcullis House; I know that they have heard a lot from us.
This is only the beginning. It is clear that the relative safety and security that I have lived through is no longer something that we can take for granted. Britain is one of the only countries that has met its NATO duty to spend 2% on defence every single year since the target was created in 2006. That is important, because we know that defence procurement needs a long lead time. For example, our own aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, were first conceived in the early 2000s, while the House’s decision to renew Trident in 2016 will be realised in 2030.
Government Members know that we cannot wait until war has broken out to invest in defence. However, some countries in Europe that have benefited enormously from the economy of Europe have not lived up to their responsibility to the security of Europe. Now is the time for a reinvigorated NATO to be supported by a renewed commitment. I welcome all the moves from our allies, but it is crucial that they be maintained in peacetime, as we have done here in Britain.
There is clearly a growing threat from authoritarian states to our values in the free world. I noticed that an Opposition Member questioned our recent decision to have a tilt towards the Indo-Pacific, but I say moderately that part of the reason for Putin’s actions is that Russia has been emboldened by its relationship with China. The moves that we have made—seeking dialogue partnership with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, acceding to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership and working with AUKUS, which is a brilliant relationship—all feed into global security. I urge hon. Members not to be too narrow-minded.
President Kennedy said that democracy was not perfect, but in the free world we did not have to build a wall to keep our people in. However, countries that are increasingly hostile actors no longer need an actual wall. They have created digital walls through the use of disinformation and the nationalisation and state policing of the internet, which has created many intranets excluding news and views that are contrary to those that they wish to promote. Those are digital walls, and we in the House should be very concerned about them, along with the many other developments with which we are dealing in order to promote security around the world.
Let me finally say this. All people have a right to freedom and democracy, including the 44 million people in Ukraine. That is not a western philosophy; it is the foundation of humanity.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for East Surrey (Claire Coutinho). Much of what she said was, of course, right. There were parts of it with which I did not agree, and we may return to those later, but what she said about the generosity of the public was entirely correct. That is reflected from Surrey to the south side of Glasgow, as Members would expect and, indeed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss)—who is sitting beside me—knows.
Let me start with where I think the Government have got it right. I think they have got it especially right in terms of military support. We hear from President Zelensky that “weapons, weapons, weapons” are what will help him and his people to win this war, and Ukraine winning the war is actually what matters. It is fair to say that the Government have been leading on that front, and the hon. Member for East Surrey can indeed take some pride in the fact that that is recognised by the President and the Government of Ukraine. The official Opposition—together with me, as my party’s defence spokesperson, my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith) as our foreign affairs spokesperson, and indeed the First Minister of Scotland—have been on the same page, along with our leader here at Westminster, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford). Weapons, weapons, weapons are what will help Ukraine to defeat Russia on its territory.
There is a growing mood in Ukraine, a wish not just to push back against the aggression that we have seen from the current wave of the conflict. I have noticed a couple of references to the war having started in February this year, but of course it did not; it started in 2014.
The hon. Gentleman is making a good case about when the war started, but there is another good case for suggesting—given the hybrid, integrated approach to warfare that Russia has in its doctrine—that it started in about 2004 or 2005, after the orange revolution, although the violent and paramilitary aspects became more visible after 2014.
My fellow member of the Foreign Affairs Committee is most learned in these affairs, and I completely agree with everything that he has just said. What we will see, not just in Ukraine but around the western world, is an intensification of those other elements of the Russian warfare doctrine, such as cyber disinformation and the use of private military contractors.
The debate stood adjourned (Standing Order No. 9(3)).
Business of the House
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 15),
That, at this day’s sitting, the Motions in the name of Mark Spencer, relating to Business of the House (Today) and Business of the House (Today) (No. 2) may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.—(Scott Mann.)
Question agreed to.