Question again proposed, That this House has considered the situation in Ukraine.
As I was saying, there is now a growing mood in Ukraine in favour of not just pushing back against the aggression that we have seen in the current wave of the conflict, but regaining the parts of its territory that were illegally annexed—stolen—by the Russian Federation in years going back to 2014. That is a most honourable and noble cause. Quite correctly, this Government and Governments before them have never recognised the illegal annexation and occupation of Crimea and the Donbas region.
So the Government have been good on weapons, and on economic support for Ukraine. The sanctions got off to a slow start—sometimes legitimately, I think it is fair to say—but we are getting there, and that is good. The Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), was right to say that sanctions would not help us in this conflict but we should be implementing them none the less.
However, one big subject has been coming up in respect of where the Government can do better. I challenge the assertion by the hon. Member for East Surrey that this is somehow talking the Government down, but I want them to do better on refugees. I am sure that the hon. Lady does as well, along with other Members on both sides of the House.
Who can look at the scenes in Mariupol, in Bucha or in Kharkiv where babies are wearing poly-bags as nappies and children have spent all of this war underground, 40-plus days at a time, essentially buried alive under their country by the regime in Russia and its armed forces—who can see those scenes and not want a better refugee system? We need to move as fast as the war in supplying weapons—I welcome the new contact group announced by the US Defence Secretary on that front—and we need to move as fast as the war to help people to get out of it. That is easy for us to say, standing here in this room among the green Benches, but it is not always easy to deliver. I accept that, but where the Government do have power, it is rather unfortunate that it is the Home Office that gets to exercise it, because the Home Office has never seen a problem it did not want to make worse. That is about the only thing it succeeds in. However, the Government do have the power to fix this, and we should have matched the offer of other European Union member states. I do not say that to make a Brexit leave/remain point; I say it because I think it matches not just the speed of the war but the level of ambition and generosity that all our constituents expect us to show.
The Minister for the Armed Forces, the hon. Member for Wells (James Heappey), will know that disinformation is one of my hobby horses. In terms of where this situation now goes geopolitically, I welcome the fact that the disinformation networks, particularly the Russian broadcast networks, have been so beautifully dismantled, not just in this country but across Europe, but we are seeing the Russia-China axis getting together—I suppose the hon. Member for East Surrey is right in that sense—and China using its disinformation networks to help Russia to get its propaganda message out where it otherwise could not previously do. That is something to keep an eye on.
Our own Euro-Atlantic area needs to be the focus. The integrated review is now out of date. There are some things in it that the Government can reasonably sustain, but fundamentally, it needs to be rewritten. I have never agreed with the Indo-Pacific tilt. I entirely accept the hon. Member for East Surrey’s point that there are important partnerships to be developed there, but the Euro-Atlantic area is where we find ourselves on the map, and no amount of Brexit, the global Britain project or whatever is going to change that. Europe is our fundamental area. I would argue, as a Scottish MP, that the high north and northern Europe is a fundamental area of operation for the United Kingdom. Indeed, it would be even if I achieved my constitutional project.
I am conscious that we are not even three months into this wave of the war, but as this all starts to land, having been shaken by Moscow, we need to think about how the Euro-Atlantic architecture is being rewritten. The twin pillars of security for these islands are NATO and the European Union, and although the UK is not part of the European Union, it remains an important security, intelligence-sharing and resilience partner. The strategic compass published by the European Union member states in March and the upcoming Madrid strategic concept from NATO member states in June will be fundamental to rewriting that architecture for a generation.
Of course NATO is the cornerstone of the hard military power; nobody seeks to deny that. I am a supporter of NATO. I have a slightly different iteration from my good friend the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee on the nuclear deterrent, but I get that it is the principal hard military cornerstone of Euro-Atlantic defence. But whether Members like it or not, the European Union is a serious and ambitious actor in resilience, crisis management, energy policy, trade and much else, and it is absolutely sensible to suggest that a comprehensive treaty between the UK and the European Union on these affairs should take place, however unrealistic that might be. Under this particular Government, we are not going to get it anytime soon, but I will bet any amount of money—if that is not against the “Erskine May” rules on what happens on the Floor of the House—that we will get there eventually, under this Government or perhaps another Government in the future. As that architecture is redrawn, as we do everything we can to help Ukraine and as we all marshal our ambition to ensure that Ukraine has a free and prosperous future with its sovereignty and integrity intact, let us all meet the moment with ambition, but let us do it not harbouring our own old-fashioned views of the world but recognising the moment that we find ourselves in now.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for her leadership and for her comments in opening the debate. It is sad that some Opposition Members are so keen to criticise and attack that they disregard the economic, military and humanitarian support coming from our country. It is clear that the Ukrainian people, President Zelensky and his team trust the Prime Minister, the UK Government and our people to deliver the support and equipment they need. I particularly thank our armed forces personnel, who spent many months training the Ukrainian army long before the Ukraine conflict was on everyone’s lips.
The hon. Lady, like me, is relatively new to this place. Was she as surprised and disappointed as I was to read in the weekend press that previous Defence Secretaries such as Michael Fallon pushed for armaments and support to be given to Ukraine, only to be turned down?
The history leading into any conflict will be pored over, and there will be various different accounts. We have to deal with the here and now. Having spoken to the parliamentarians who recently came over from Ukraine, I know they have faith in what this country is doing. We will learn on our feet as we go.
The people of Stroud care deeply about this issue. I receive emails all the time asking me to advocate for more equipment and more lethal aid, and to make sure we are doing whatever we can to support Ukraine. The majority of the public understand the complexities and the essential need to work with NATO, rather than trying to go it alone, despite the emotional pull to do more and more. Stroud very much wants to see Russia defeated and President Putin stopped in his tracks. We give respect to the Ukrainian forces that are keeping up the fight.
I will focus my remarks on the local work for Ukrainian families. The Minister for the Armed Forces and the Minister for Europe and North America are sitting on the Front Bench, and they are very aware that the fighters being brave for Ukraine need to know that their loved ones are supported and have safe sanctuary in the UK, or in whichever country they choose.
The schemes we have put in place are very important. We have already settled 88 guests across 43 properties in Gloucestershire, and many more people have put themselves forward to host families. My office is handling 55 applications, and over the last week we have had 27 confirmations that visas and permission to travel letters have been sent out. My website has an awful lot of information for anyone listening to this debate, and I give credit to organisations such as the Help for Ukraine Support Hub down in Dursley and Stroud’s Ukraine refugee community support network, which are doing a lot of organising.
It is right to raise concerns in this place where we see problems with procedures and schemes, but the Homes for Ukraine scheme has never been done before anywhere in the world. As we know, the Home Office is already stretched with various schemes to look after families from Afghanistan and Hong Kong, on top of all its day-to-day business. I am the first to criticise, sometimes but not always constructively, when I see problems, but I believe the public understand that, although we want to go faster, we have to be cautious on safeguarding. We have to get this right, and we have to make sure that children and women, in particular, are not at risk of trafficking.
I have permission to speak on behalf of the “team Gloucestershire” MPs, all six of us, on two key points for the Ukrainian refugees who hope to come to our county. First, I want to see fast work to organise a rematching programme for when placements through the host-matching programme break down for whatever reason. The second is the sharing of data between councils, particularly on the families scheme and on registering issues that arise with safeguarding cases and hosts.
I completely understand that there is a lot of focus on the original match scheme, but the rematching of willing sponsors with refugees is a vital part of the puzzle. We know that there will situations where relationships with hosts will break down, no matter how much effort is put in on both sides. There will also be situations where councils have to reject homes that are not considered right to host refugees, for whatever reason, and, more importantly, where safeguarding concerns are identified. We know that we all have hundreds of families in our constituencies who wish to take part—that is particularly the case in Stroud and Gloucestershire, because people have put their hands up quickly—so it makes no sense that the option available to families if a relationship breaks down or if there is a problem with the host is that they end up in a homelessness situation. I would like us to find a way to use that good will and the option for refugees and councils to rematch on a formal basis, not informally, so that we have all of the Government safeguarding and co-ordination put in place. I hope that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is able to achieve that soon.
Similarly, I hope we can tighten up data sharing, as that will be necessary for safeguarding and for ensuring that the schemes are efficient. In a local case, a 23-year-old female guest was coming to Gloucestershire, but the shared bedroom with a male sponsor was found to be unsuitable, and he had also made an inappropriate comment about the guest during a visit by the property team. Obviously, red flags were going up there, but there is no way to stop that match; the visa was issued. When spoken to, the guest said that the person was their boyfriend, but they have since moved on to another family and there is no way to track them. These are issues of safeguarding. We are talking about a vulnerable lone female. As I have said, we cannot stop the visas, and the guests are not deemed vulnerable under the legal definition as they are adults with no mental illness or disability, so councils cannot intervene. We cannot stop the original sponsors going on to rematch again, because there is no way of registering that there is a red flag for that host.
I am not going to be a negative ninny—I completely understand the complexities—but there are changes we can make to improve these schemes. I have been having wonderful conversations with people in Stroud. In my village of Frampton on Severn, everything starts with a WhatsApp group and there is a fantastic one looking after people who want to host or refugees who are coming. I want this scheme to work. I want it to be a strong pillar of our help for Ukraine, alongside the UK’s efforts from the MOD, Foreign Office and Home Office. It will bring comfort to those brave Ukrainian men and women fighting on the frontline to know that there are good, strong refugee schemes coming into this country. I look forward to working with all Ministers on a cross-departmental basis to achieve that. The world is dangerous, or it feels dangerous to us, but it is absolutely horrendous for quite a lot of people living in Ukraine right now.
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie), who raises a number of valuable issues about utilising the good will of the British public, working with local councils and the importance of data sharing for security and safeguarding.
I want to focus my remarks on highlighting a case, just as many right hon. and hon. Members have done. My constituent Kat Karpenko now lives in Vauxhall, but she was born and raised in Ukraine. Kat’s elderly parents are doctors and they lived in Irpin before Russia’s barbaric war began two months ago. Like many other Ukrainians, Kat’s parents refused to leave, and they volunteered at their local hospital. Devastatingly, it was bombed by Russian forces, as was their home. As a result, Kat’s parents were forced to flee their home, along with her disabled nephew, who needs medical check-ups and attention.
Let there be no mistaking that the bombing of the hospital and the burning of homes in Irpin are accidental. Let there be no mistaking that the horrific scenes coming out of Mariupol are accidental. Let there be no mistaking that the massacre in Bucha was accidental. We all know that these are the tactics of tyrants. The targeting of civilians is part of a fear tactic: to scare people not just in the cities targeted across Ukraine, but across the entire lands that Putin seeks to influence and control. Part of the fear is uncertainty: uncertainty that they will never be able to return to their home; uncertainty that they may never see their neighbours and close friends again; and uncertainty that they will spend months if not years as a refugee with nowhere to call home.
The humane treatment of refugees by the UK is not just a matter of compassion; it is a vital weapon against the fear tactics of Russia. I am proud that people in Vauxhall have stepped up with that humanitarian support. They have stepped up to that challenge with their enthusiasm for the Homes for Ukraine scheme. I am proud of my council, Lambeth, for the support programmes it has provided for the Ukrainian people in our area.
However, many Ukrainian refugees are still struggling to reach our country. In the early days of March, Kat’s parents travelled to Paris to apply for a visa as part of the Ukraine family scheme. Yet despite submitting their passports and biometric data for the visa and Kat’s nephew’s medical needs, Kat’s family are still unable to enter the UK and are moving from temporary accommodation to temporary accommodation. UK staff at the visa centre in Paris said it would take a matter of five days for the paperwork to be processed and their asylum granted. After almost six weeks, Kat’s parents and her nephew are still waiting.
The Ukrainian people are showing great courage and strength in the face of the appalling Russian onslaught. We need to support them, including by giving sanctuary to those fleeing war in Europe, as we have in past generations. No one from the Home Office is present, but I hope the Minister is listening. How much more additional support can we provide to Home Office officials? We know they are understaffed. Staff members from across the House who have contacted Home Office officials have in some instances received replies saying that they cannot help us. We cannot let down my constituents such as Kat, and so many others across the country. I hope that in his response the Minister will outline what more we can provide to boost military support and to support refugees and get them safely to the UK.
It is a privilege to follow other hon. Members in this debate. The whole House has shown that we are united in our support for Ukraine.
Vladimir Putin’s barbaric crimes are shocking and incomprehensible. His actions in Mariupol, Bucha and beyond suggest clear evidence of war crimes against the Ukrainian people. As Putin’s military aggression continues against the people of Ukraine, with reports involving civilians of murders, enforced disappearances, deportations, imprisonment, torture, rape and the desecration of corpses, there is a strong case for saying that Putin’s actions have gone well beyond war crimes and that we must explore recent reports of what could amount to a genocide of the Ukrainian people. I will support any attempts to hold this barbaric leader accountable for those despicable crimes.
The United Kingdom has shown Putin that we will not stand for his actions. We have made clear our unequivocal support for the Ukrainian people. We have led the way, in the G7 and beyond, in standing up to Putin’s aggression. We were the first country to start sending ammunition to Ukraine. The Government have played a key role in organising the donation and delivery of military equipment, with the Ukrainian military now equipped with hundreds of thousands of UK-supplied military equipment. We have just heard the Foreign Secretary announce that a further 6,000 anti-tank weapons will be provided, and over 10,000 missiles have been provided, all amounting to the provision of approximately £450 million-worth of military equipment.
My thanks go to the Secretary of State for Defence, the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister for their efforts. I was proud that our Prime Minister was the first G7 leader to visit President Zelensky personally in Kyiv. I was delighted that on that visit the Prime Minister announced another package of support for the Ukrainian army that will include armoured vehicles and anti-ship weaponry. It is clear that we are leading the way internationally to support the brave Ukrainian troops who are protecting their country and their democracy.
Let me touch on the other issues surrounding the invasion, which relate to food security. Ukraine is one of the world’s bread baskets. We have seen agricultural production there decline, which will pose a huge threat to global food security. Reports suggest that the 2022 grain harvest is likely to be 20% lower than it was in 2021 because of reduced sowing and yields following the invasion. Ukraine is the world’s fourth largest producer and exporter of agricultural goods. The reduced supply of grain will cause a global increase in its price that will inevitably have an effect not only here but in some of the most deprived parts of the globe. It all comes down to resilience: we must make sure that we have our own domestic food-production agenda to ensure our food security and increase our self-sufficiency above its current level of 63%.
At a local level, I am proud that so many people throughout my constituency of Keighley and Ilkley are showing their support for the Ukrainian people. The Keighley Ukrainian association and the Good Shepherd Centre have worked together to gather donations from near and far to send to those fleeing war in Ukraine. Thanks to their hard work, more than 40 tonnes of donations were assembled and sent a month or so ago. The amazing volunteers from Keighley have driven it all to the Polish border with Ukraine. That shows the incredible efforts of my constituents.
I pay tribute to the organisation Ilkley and Surrounds Support for Ukrainian Evacuees, which is led by Caroline Hyde from Ilkley, whom I met recently. This fantastic group is working incredibly hard at a local level to ensure that the right support is provided to the refugees who make it to Ilkley and the wider area of my constituency. In a short amount of time, the volunteers have created a great network of communications channels in my constituency to ensure that refugees have the right support to get into education settings and that healthcare settings are as supportive as possible.
The Home Office is getting through a huge amount of visa applications, but personally I still have 11 outstanding cases that I raise with the Home Office repetitively, on a daily basis—I was at the hub in Portcullis House again only yesterday. I urge the Home Office to look into those 11 outstanding cases so that we can ensure they are progressed as quickly as possible.
The Ukrainian people have shown incredible courage in the light of the poisonous actions of President Putin. Putin must fail. The Ukrainian people need and deserve our full support. I am proud that in Keighley and Ilkley and across the United Kingdom we continue to give them that support. We will not stop doing so until Putin is defeated.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Keighley (Robbie Moore) and I concur with much of what he said in his powerful speech.
Like Members from throughout the Chamber, I have been contacted by a large number of constituents who have opened up their hearts and made their homes available to refugees fleeing this horrendous war inflicted on them by Russia and Putin. Having been matched with Ukrainian guests, some of my constituents, such as Charlotte in Weaver Vale, are left waiting for weeks and weeks to hear about the arrival of visas for the people they want to shelter and provide refuge to. They are wondering what the best thing is to do. Some are currently funding guests who are staying in other countries such as Romania or Poland while they wait for their visas to be approved. Some genuinely worry, as hon. Members across the House have today, that vulnerable women and children—they are largely women and children—will be forced to head back into a war zone if they are not given that support soon.
A number of members of my team and I have made representations at the hub in Portcullis House, at the Home Office and to Ministers, but it has been like knitting fog. The bureaucracy of the system does not match the urgency of the situation. Women and children are fleeing for their lives—fleeing bombs, missiles and bullets. Horrendously, they are also fleeing sexual violence, which unfortunately we see reports about in the media from day to day.
I have a number of questions about the homes for Ukraine and family sponsorship programmes. They arise from experiences of hosts who have contacted me, from the work that I and my team have been doing, and from Cheshire West and Chester Council—in particular, Councillor Sam Dixon, who, as my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) knows, has done excellent work with Ukrainian refugees.
The concerns centre on both the time it is taking for visas to come through—that point has been echoed right across the Chamber—and other parts of the matching process. As the hon. Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie) rightly said, it is not clear what local authorities should do when things break down—when sponsors pull out of the scheme, for example, but are still matched with guests in the system. That risks guests arriving and presenting as homeless because, after fleeing war, they have nowhere to go. The last figure I had from the Local Government Association was that 147 people had presented as homeless. I want to put my request to the Home Office, through the Minister, on the record: will it provide an update, with those numbers, about what further support will be provided?
Similarly, if guests do not take up the offer but are still matched on the system, willing sponsors can be rematched with new guests. Also, to speed up the process, local authorities want to be able to perform pre-checks on potential sponsors who have registered, before they are matched with guests. Hon. and right hon. Members across the House have made a strong point about the need to ensure that safeguarding is hardwired into the system. Cheshire West and Chester Council and Halton Borough Council—another council that covers my patch—have raised concerns with me about what to do if sponsors do not pass checks. Further Home Office guidance is certainly needed.
Finally, both councils in my patch have raised questions about the lack of funding that people coming through the family sponsor scheme receive. Indeed, there is no funding at all for local authorities, despite the pressures on schools and GP surgeries, and the need for wraparound services. Many of the people involved, of course, have experienced horrendous things in war-torn Ukraine. That financial assistance is desperately needed. Another question that I would like the Minister to feed back to Home Office Ministers, who are not on the Front Bench today, is about the need to step up and provide additional support for people—the majority, actually—coming through that other route.
We urgently need clarity on all these points. Ultimately, the issues are creating unnecessary bureaucracy; we must ensure that people arrive here swiftly and safely. Look, the generous people of Britain have stepped up—they have opened their hearts and homes. At the moment, that generosity is not replicated by the Government.
It is a pleasure to take part in this debate. I start by praising the Prime Minister and commending the Government. The Prime Minister showed huge courage in going to Ukraine as he did, within range of artillery. That is exactly the sort of leadership we would expect from our Prime Minister and he showed it in abundance.
I also praise and commend the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian armed forces, who are doing the most remarkable job, in hell—the pictures we see of men, women and children being slaughtered make uncomfortable viewing, to put it mildly. However, let us not fool ourselves that we here in the west are safe. The bombs may not be falling in our countries, but Russian troops are bludgeoning all that we in the west hold dear: freedom, democracy and the right to live in peace.
Ukraine must not become the west’s sacrificial goat—after devouring it, goodness knows where the beast will go next. To that extent, NATO must gear up. I have huge praise for my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces personally, because he has done a tremendous job, but I am delighted that he is in his place, because the next part of my speech refers to some correspondence he and I have had. He might grimace at that point, but I shall plough on.
The UK is a significant and respected member of NATO, but we must gear up too. The best way to deter war is to prepare for one. While there are plans to modernise our armed forces, it will take too long to equip fully our men and women in the event that, God forbid, we face a war with Russia. Let us not beat about the bush: the west stands on a perilous cliff edge. As one of my colleagues said, the world order has changed, certainly for many years to come.
As a former soldier, I am appalled and shocked that we are due to reduce our Army by 10,000 and that, in the face of this clear and present danger, Ministers are not prepared to reverse what I am afraid I call a reckless decision to neuter our Army to a large degree. It is not just me saying that, but the outgoing head of the Army, He agrees, as do many distinguished former senior officers. Even now, battalions are woefully below strength.
The integrated review was right in many ways. I have the great honour and privilege of sitting on the Defence Committee, where we looked at it in great detail, and in many ways the Government got it right. What they unfortunately got wrong was putting the money into the right elements to ensure that the integrated review was actually worth the paper it was written on. I believe the integrated review did not take into account the fact that now in 2022 we could face a threat of a conventional war with a very well-equipped enemy.
What frustrates me and many others is that there seems to be no sense of urgency from the Government or the Ministry of Defence to take that into account and potentially to reverse some decisions that will be irreversible. We cannot just pluck battalions, aircraft and ships out of thin air, although I accept the Navy is being heavily invested in. I hope the meeting of Defence Ministers will see a flurry of military activity in both production and further deployment.
United we stand, divided we fall. Freedom is the most precious gift we could ever be given. Sometimes, as we have found in our history, we have had to fight for it. That takes resolve, investment and courage. The Ukrainians are showing that, and showing us what can be done. We are rightly doing all we can to help, but this war must be a wake-up call to the west. I hope never to hear the words, “If only we had learned from history” as once again our brave armed forces are sent to war ill prepared for it.
I thank your predecessor in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me permission to be absent from the Chamber for a short period to attend a long-standing constituency engagement online.
Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is an unprovoked and unjustified outrage—a grotesque violation of international law and a brutal attack on democracy. We all stand united with President Zelensky, with Ukrainians who are resisting Putin’s violence and with our NATO allies in opposition to this horror. Since the first images of the invasion appeared on our television screens, my constituents in Dulwich and West Norwood have been desperate to do what they can to help. I pay tribute to the many individuals and organisations across my constituency who have been mobilising support, fundraising and donating what they can to help refugees, and the hundreds who have offered their homes as a place of sanctuary.
But instead of leading the way, supporting and encouraging those who wish to help, the bureaucratic undertow of the Home Office is holding back the generosity of my constituents. I appreciate that the Ministers on the Treasury Bench are not from the Home Office, but I hope that they will convey to their colleagues that the problems are very serious. Constituents are contacting me daily about the problems they are experiencing in their efforts to provide sanctuary to Ukrainian refugees. My fantastic team are working flat out to support them, but the situation is dire. We continue to experience excessive delays. Cases take at least three weeks to be processed from the date that biometrics are submitted. Refugees who do not have a valid passport must first travel to a visa application centre in a third country before they can begin the application process.
This is creating particular problems for families with very young children. The travel bans during the covid-19 pandemic have meant that many families had not applied for passports for their children prior to the invasion. That means that some of the most vulnerable families are waiting weeks after the parents’ visas have been processed while they work out how to get their children to an in-person appointment in a third country. We are encountering frequent errors—applications going missing or technical errors meaning that the application process has to be started all over again. The communication and consistency of communication is terrible. The form and the process are very confusing. My office has seen several examples of parents listing children as part of their own application because it was not clear that they needed to submit separate applications.
In several cases, some family members have received an acknowledgement from the Home Office while other members of the same family have not. When my team have raised this with officials, they have been told that it is “hit and miss”. They were also told that no decision-making staff were on duty at the Home Office over the Easter bank holiday weekend so no applications were progressed during that time. The same official also said to one of my constituents that the Home Office was deliberately approving some family members and not others in a cynical bid to improve its statistics without actually increasing the numbers of people arriving in the UK. I hope that the Minister will be able to answer that allegation because, if true, it is very shocking indeed. There is chaos in relation to unaccompanied children, who are among the most vulnerable refugees, with visas being issued and then revoked, calling into question the Home Office’s approach to safeguarding.
In the meantime, the performance of the Home Office in all other areas outside of Ukraine has collapsed. My caseworkers tell me that it is literally impossible for them to get a response on visa applications or other Home Office issues for non-Ukrainians. The crisis in Ukraine has again laid bare that the Home Office is not fit for purpose and is in need of root-and-branch reform. In the meantime, it is the most vulnerable and traumatised women and children fleeing war who are suffering. They need much better than this. The Government must urgently get a grip.
I thank everyone on the Island who has been offering to take in Ukrainian refugees and helping out in any way with the aid effort, particularly Victoria Dunford in East Cowes, whose MAD-Aid charity has done wonderful work in Moldova and is now helping thousands of Ukrainian refugees in that part of the world.
Having served for a chunk of the past 10 years or so in the Army, I agree very strongly with what my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) said about his—justified—concerns about the size of the armed forces. There has been an ongoing debate about whether we go for mass and whether our enemy of the future will be a state or non-state actor, and the simple answer is that an armed force needs to be able to do both. We need resilience, mass and redundancy, and we do not have that. Our armed forces have been stripped back to the bone in part to justify cyber and all these new tools of warfare, but that does not excuse not being able to fight state-on-state conflict, as my hon. Friend says.
Indeed, as the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) was talking about earlier, we know that Russia has an integrated doctrine. In 2004, in the first stage of the Ukrainian war, Russia was using the tools of politics, oligarchs, power, information, warfare and economic warfare, along with espionage, assassination, blackmail and other things that the Russians have been doing for generations. That did not work, narrowly. From 2014, they moved to paramilitary violence, and that did not work either. Indeed, it brought the Ukrainian nation together almost more than any other event since 1991. Finally, since February, as we have seen tragically, Russia has gone for effectively full-scale conventional war. However, over the past 20 years, it has traced and used almost every tool of state power.
The Russians still believe in hybrid warfare, although in this stage of the war they are trying to achieve their political objectives using largely conventional means, which thus far is failing in sorts, but I am worried that a moral victory is not an absolute victory or a military victory, and they have got a significant chunk of Ukrainian territory. They have their land corridor. We will support our Ukrainian friends in the peace negotiations, but we know that the Russians will not give up what they physically hold at the time of those peace negotiations. At some point before any potential peace negotiations, the Ukrainians will have to take back that land.
When I was in Odesa and Mykolaiv the week before last, I was talking to the southern commander. For some of his regiments, he literally does not have a single armoured personnel carrier. He does not have a single infantry fighting vehicle to give to his units. He has three times as many men and women as he needs. He has almost none of the kit. Justifiably, all that kit is going via Kyiv, via the central Government—as is right—to the east. If there was the ability to be supported with enough kit and enough military equipment, the Ukrainians could open up a second front, and that would be of extreme importance, because they could potentially easily encircle and retake Kherson and move up to Berdiansk, destroying the Russian land corridor.
I worry about a few things in the coming months. I worry about the lack of kit, as I have just said. I know the Minister has the same list as we all do, but Ukraine still needs air defence, the infantry fighting vehicles and the artillery, hence the debate about 155 mm as opposed to different systems. I also worry that if Putin is victorious, we will live with nuclear blackmail for at least another decade or two. Moldova undoubtedly will be next, and then northern Kazakhstan, and then Russian-speaking chunks of the Baltic republics, so it does not stop at Ukraine, although it is the largest of those entities by far.
If Putin is not victorious, there will come a series of decision points in the next few months over whether the Russians wish to escalate up to the use of tactical nuclear weapons, and I will be very relieved if we get to the end of this war without the use of nuclear weapons, because although much of what the Russians say about nuclear weapons is bluff, some of it is not. If Crimea was threatened, or if their seized land in Donbas was threatened, or if this whole enterprise of the war was threatened, there would be decision points coming up where the Russians would take that decision whether to use nuclear weapons.
On that point, I was talking to Fiona Hill this afternoon—Trump’s former Russia expert—and we were both concerned, as people who have been following the Russia and Ukraine for many years now, by the lack of thinking through of issues and of wargaming problems. I very much hope that the Minister will be able to reassure me that at a NATO level, but also at a UK Government level, we are thinking through all potential scenarios in the coming weeks, months and potentially years ahead.
It is worth pointing out that this war has been proved wrong in almost every assessment. Putin terribly underestimated the Ukrainian reaction. The Ukrainians themselves did not believe the war would start for at least another six months. Germany believed it could prostate itself without any harm to the European order, and almost all nations failed to arm to deter this invasion. I worry that if we keep getting those assessments wrong, catastrophe awaits. We need to do the right thing, but we need to be assured in what we are doing.
Labour stands unshakeably with our NATO allies in providing military, economic, diplomatic and humanit-arian assistance to Ukraine as it defends itself from Putin’s criminal invasion. Our country has a proud and long tradition of standing up to dictators and tyrants. Our country believes in the rule of law, freedom and democracy, and we must stand with all those who share those values. We must stand with the people of Ukraine in their fight, because their fight must also be our fight.
As we have heard, there are concerns about what has happened, but there has also been praise. The Government have got some things right, but they have also got some things wrong. As a constructive Opposition, we have supported them where they have got things right and we have posed challenge to them with alternatives and solutions where we think improvements can be made.
As we have also heard, hon. Members desire the Government to go further on economic and diplomatic sanctions against Putin’s barbarous regime. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), in his opening remarks, said, we need to close the sanctions gap. It has happened slowly, but there is much more to do. The technical requests that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) made about the 50% rule and about tracking down intermediaries are important questions to which the Minister should respond. We need a US-style law to act against those proxies for sanctioned individuals and businesses.
It is important that there is no hiding place for dirty Russian money in Britain, but the truth is that there have been plenty of hiding places for far too long. There has been far too much cosying up to Russian oligarchs, which has allowed that dirty money to pollute our economy, our politics and our institutions. That must end. Those concerns have been cross-party in this debate and in many others, many of which have been led by the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee. We need to ensure, however, that the full recommendations of the Russia report are implemented, that Companies House is properly fixed so that oligarchs cannot shield their ill-gotten gains, and that we make progress to ensure that the dirty Russian money that is languishing in our property markets and financial system is truly gotten rid of once and for all.
It has been 61 days since Vladimir Putin launched his barbaric and criminal invasion of Ukraine, and there has been continued cross-party condemnation of it. Anyone watching this debate must know that our message is united: whatever party of the United Kingdom we represent, we stand with the people of Ukraine against Russian aggression. We must ensure that the events that we have seen in Bucha, Mariupol, Kharkiv, Kherson and many other Ukrainian towns, villages and cities are not repeated and are properly investigated. There should be no doubt that war crimes are being committed. They should be investigated and those responsible should be tried at The Hague, with a special tribunal to prosecute Putin himself.
Labour backs the provision of lethal assistance to our Ukrainian friends. We support the reinforcement of our NATO allies along NATO’s eastern flank and we have told Ministers that we stand ready to offer support should they wish to revisit defence spending and strategy. We have heard from the hon. Members for South Dorset (Richard Drax) and for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely), and from many Opposition Members, that now is not the time to cut our armed forces further. Now is the time to look again at the integrated review and to ensure that we have the capabilities and the strategy that we need. I suspect that the Minister has sympathy for that view, although he may not be able to voice it from the Dispatch Box.
I echo the praise in the debate for the armed forces, especially for our RAF, which is providing logistical support for the provision of weapons to our friends in Ukraine. That support for our armed forces is cross-party and timely.
Reports have broken during this debate that Russia has cut off the gas to Poland. That is a serious and dangerous escalation that illustrates the desperation of the Kremlin and the urgent need for Europe to move away from its reliance on Russian oil and gas. Britain stands with Poland, and it is important that we state that Putin must not be able to win, whatever desperate tactic he throws at this situation.
There have been concerns in this debate about what the future looks like, but there has been cross-party support for many of the measures the Government have introduced so far, especially on weapons, as the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) mentioned. However, we now need a clear strategy for what comes next, with potentially attacks on Odesa, Russian concentration on a land corridor along the Black sea, the risk of escalation—deliberate escalation—in Moldova and Transnistria, and the threats in the Caucasus, Bosnia and the Baltic states. That needs a clear plan from Ministers, and one that can be resourced, scrutinised and supported, because there is cross-party support for this.
However, there are also holes and concerns that we must address. Throughout this debate, Members on both sides of the House—the hon. Members for Stirling (Alyn Smith) and for Keighley (Robbie Moore) and others—have raised the issue of food security. We do need to make sure that food security is part of our national security. It has been for decades, but in the past few years we have forgotten that. We must make sure that we make food security part of our national security not just for our country, but for our allies and friends abroad.
Hunger, rising prices and shop shelves going empty are a reality not just in the horn of Africa, as my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary said, but in supermarkets from Plymouth to Scotland. Food security matters, and I am afraid I do not believe that the Government are taking this seriously enough. We need to have a food security strategy published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but it needs to be not a UK or England-only strategy, but one that takes into account the international context. I agree with the hon. Member for Keighley that we need to grow more food here. I think it is a good argument and I wish him luck in promoting it because, sadly, I am not yet convinced that the Government share that view. We need to make that case calmly and coolly not just because of prices and carbon, but because of national security.
There have been a number of very good speeches from both sides of the House during this debate, and I am proud to have sat through all of them and heard them. There is strong support for our Ukrainian friends, and sympathy and empathy for the Ukrainian people, but there have also been concerns about the broken refugee system that we have seen. Like “Knitting fog” was how my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) described it.
The bureaucracy that has been created in the Home Office does not match the urgency of the situation. Far too many of our constituents are not getting the support they need to provide a safe sanctuary for Ukrainians and Ukrainian families fleeing this war. That was raised by Members on both sides of the House. It is a shame that no Home Office Minister was here to hear the debate, and I think the call from the hon. Member for St Albans (Daisy Cooper) is a good one. I hope the Minister will add to his to-do list making sure that the concerns raised in this debate are properly passed on.
The Government have made shamefully slow progress in providing sanctuary for Ukrainian refugees. The reality is that an already stretched Home Office needs to go further, but going further means removing the impediments, bureaucracy and delay in what is happening. Our members of staff are not just spending hours on the phone to the Home Office trying to get answers; we can now see them queuing around Portcullis House on the parliamentary estate. Each member of staff waiting there represents one, two or three Ukrainian families—perhaps more—and it is a visible reminder of the failure of the Home Office to get to grips with this situation. It should not take Members of Parliament to raise issues for a system to work properly, and I encourage the Government to look again at this, because our values are at stake here.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, and I just want to emphasise the point I also made in my speech. I am sure my hon. Friend would agree—and I think the Foreign Secretary needs to hear this—that the families here welcoming and wanting to welcome Ukrainian families into their homes are only able to match with Ukrainian families struggling to flee from war through Facebook groups, which is a shocking attempt at managing this situation.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point.
The hon. Member for East Surrey (Claire Coutinho) mentioned a tilt to the Indo-Pacific, but we must first get our own backyard in order. That means securing the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, our friends on the European continent, the high north and the Arctic. Once we have secured our own backyard, a tilt to the Indo-Pacific may be possible, but we must ensure that support is here first of all. The British people expect our nation to be a force for good in the world, as does each and every Member of this House. There is still more progress to be made in providing sanctuary to those fleeing war, and ensuring that our strategy is clear for the future. We must revisit the integrated review and stop the cuts to our armed forces. We must ensure that our commitment to our friends in eastern Europe is strong and unwavering, and that we are going further to support those fleeing war and the horrors inflicted on Ukraine by Putin. We stand in solidarity with Ukraine.
I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for their well-informed and wide-ranging contributions to today’s debate. It is right that the House continues to show its full support for President Zelensky, and while there has been disagreement, so too has there broadly been overwhelming consensus that the UK is on the right side of this, that we stand with Ukraine, and that we will continue to support Ukraine in pursuit of the outcome it desires.
The Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister, and Government colleagues have been clear from the beginning that Putin must fail in his endeavours in Ukraine, and increasingly other countries around Europe and the world are saying the same. That consensus is welcome. It will, of course, catch Russia’s attention, and no doubt it will continue to sabre rattle as a consequence. That international resolve is not something that President Putin and his cronies expected, and it is far more powerful than any individual sanctions regime or any amount of military support that the entire world has come together—mostly—to say that this is the wrong route forward.
We are now in day 62 of President Putin’s illegal and barbaric invasion of Ukraine, and the next three weeks will be crucial in determining the outcome of the invasion. Having largely failed in all his initial objectives, Putin has now directed that Russia focus on securing control of Donbas and connecting a land bridge from Russia to Crimea in the south. Ahead of their annual 9 May victory day celebrations, it is likely that Putin’s forces will ramp up their operations in a bid to secure some kind of victory that he can celebrate with a parade in Red Square.
Therefore, the onus is on the international community to provide Ukraine with the weapons it needs urgently to defend itself by preventing Russian bombardments from the air and sea, as well as repelling armoured columns on land. As the Prime Minister confirmed to President Zelensky by phone last week, we are constantly providing more defensive weaponry to assist the Ukrainian resistance. The United Kingdom was the first European country to supply lethal aid to Ukraine, and the total amount we have spent on military support is now more than £450 million and rising every day—indeed, I had to delay the departure of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary from the Chamber, and I was grateful that she allowed me to go and sign off yet more support that will be shipped over the next couple of days.
This week alone we have delivered Wolfhound armoured vehicles, which provide increased protection for essential supplies, as well as 1,360 anti-structure weapons. We have also delivered a further 843 anti-tank missiles, on top of the 5,000 sent since the war began. They have been used to repel convoys of tanks to devastating effect. We have donated 167 anti-air missiles, including our Starstreak high velocity anti-air missiles, the fastest in the world at some 2,000 miles per hour. They have also made a crucial difference in helping Ukrainian armed forces to protect their people from aerial assault. As the Defence Secretary announced yesterday, we will be gifting a small number of armoured Stormer vehicles—those are Starstreak launchers on top of a combat vehicle reconnaissance (tracked) armoured chassis— which will further enhance Ukraine’s short-range anti-air capabilities. I see today that at Ramstein the Germans have offered a similar capability, which is very welcome.
When the Defence Secretary made his statement to Parliament yesterday, he mentioned that in 2020 we had agreed in principle to develop and sell a maritime variant of the Brimstone missile. Recently, Ukraine has been asking for longer-range ground attack missiles and the Government have been exploring whether Brimstone stocks could be released for such purposes. At the time of the Defence Secretary’s statement, we had expected that he would have been able to return to the House in a few weeks to confirm that that capability was ready for departure, but, such is the speed with which our technicians are now working and so effective is the partnership with industry that I am pleased to say that that has been moved forward. It is necessary to inform the House that we will be providing Brimstone in the next few weeks, probably while the House is prorogued ahead of the Queen’s Speech. That remains very much in line with our principle of evolving our support to Ukraine as the conflict evolves and its capability requirements change.
My hon. Friend asks that question having had a visit to Ukraine, and I think he has his suspicions that it is not. We are offering all the advisory support that we can on the Ukrainians’ logistics effort. For what it is worth, I think that they are doing an extraordinarily good job in a challenging operational environment with a huge amount of matériel flowing into Ukraine. Broadly, stuff is getting into the hands of frontline troops, but clearly, as with any army in any conflict, the logistics effort could always be better and we are seeking to support Ukraine in achieving that.
To ensure that the equipment provided is as effective as possible, we must also train Ukrainian troops in its use. That is why Ukrainian troops are currently on Salisbury Plain learning how to use 120 armoured fighting vehicles that they will be taking back with them to the frontline. We are also scoping options to begin navy-to-navy training ahead of the delivery of a counter-mines capability to the Ukrainian navy later in the year.
During the recess, the Minister for Defence Procurement and I hosted Ukraine’s deputy Minister Volodymyr Havrylov alongside Ukrainian generals on Salisbury Plain to look at the equipment that might be part of the next phase of our support to Ukraine. They were pleased with what they saw and we are now working with industry to deliver those capabilities. At the same time, we are still delivering, as hon. Members would expect, nearly 100,000 sets of rations, 10 pallets of medical equipment, 3,000 pieces of body armour, nearly 8,000 helmets and 3,000 pairs of boots. This week, another 4,000 night-vision devices will also be sent to Ukraine.
Our support does not stop there. The Ukrainians are most easily able to absorb former Warsaw pact kit, so we have been speaking to colleagues around eastern Europe and far further afield to encourage them to give up that kit with a commitment to backfilling from UK industry or indeed UK inventory where required. The reply has been hugely heartening.
Yes, in the round. That is certainly the case in Poland. Tonight, I am off to Poland to talk through the detail of it, but, as the Prime Minister announced at the weekend, the plan is to put a mission-ready British cavalry squadron into Poland to backfill some of the capability that Poland hopes to provide to Ukraine.
There were a number of excellent contributions to the debate, among which were some questions that I can answer relatively quickly. The right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) asked whether we are in the process of rearming, given the amount of NLAWs that we have handed across. We are, and that is through a combination of new orders and getting hold of new batteries to refurbish NLAWs that are out of date to backfill those that we have handed over to the Ukrainians.
Many colleagues mentioned food security and energy security, both of which are levers that Russia has held over Europe for too long. I will come back to that in my concluding remarks. My hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, was absolutely right to point out that the pandemic, Ukraine and Brexit have shown that there is a requirement to reconsider sovereignty and what resilience is required to be truly sovereign.
Many Opposition Members made points about the process for bringing Ukrainian refugees to the UK. As they so asked, I will ensure that my Home Office colleagues read Hansard in full and come back to those Members as they are able.
My right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) said that we require the slingshot so that David can fell Goliath once again. He mentioned the missiles that have been provided. He is absolutely right that the radars that enable counter-battery fire are the missing piece of the jigsaw—we are on it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie) made a wonderfully compassionate speech about support for refugees. My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Robbie Moore) rightly pointed to the war crimes and the requirement to hold the Russians to account for what they are doing.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax), with whom I have spoken often about this matter, reflected on whether our posture in the British armed forces is the right one as we go forward—indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) made the same point. As the Defence Secretary has always said, we are threat-based in our decision making. We have learned so far that we are on broadly the right track, but nobody in the MOD is too proud to admit that if the situation changes and the threat has changed, we will consider that as and when the time comes.
In the 90 seconds that remain in this debate, I will quickly reflect that if Putin thought that this was a moment to fracture the west, he has ended up with something very different. NATO is renewed and reinvigorated in its purpose and it has reinforced its eastern flank to reassure our allies there. Today, 40 nations came together at Ramstein air base in Germany, where a US-led conference led to an incredible doubling down of international resolve, in which the US has committed to re-arm and assist Ukraine in a transition to NATO calibres—that is really quite a moment—which the rest of the western countries there agreed to support.
Everybody is clear that Russia must fail. Why? Because the geopolitics of the Euro-Atlantic need to be different in the next 20 years from the way they have been in the past 20 years. That means ending the energy dependency and sorting out food security and the supply chain dependency. It also means standing up against the bullying, and it is time to stand up for some respect for sovereignty and a belief in freedom. Putin’s hubris has caused immeasurable cost to the Russian armed forces. Zelensky’s heroic leadership has brought Ukraine to a place where I think they can win. The UK, the US and our allies around the world will make sure that that is the case.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the situation in Ukraine.
Business of the House (Today) (No. 2)
That, at this day’s sitting, the Speaker shall not adjourn the House until any Messages from the Lords relating to the Nationality and Borders Bill shall have been received and disposed of.—(Mark Spencer.)
Under the order that the House just passed, I may not adjourn the House until any further message from the Lords relating to the Nationality and Borders Bill has been received. The House must accordingly be suspended. I will suspend it until 9.45 pm at the earliest and arrange for the Division bells to be sounded a few minutes before the sitting is resumed to warn colleagues that we are about to resume. For the convenience of the House, I repeat that the Division bells will not be sounded before 9.45 pm.
Sitting suspended (Order, this day).