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Russia: Threats to Individuals in the UK

Volume 789: debated on Thursday 8 March 2018

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of Russian threats to individuals residing in the United Kingdom, following the suspected poisoning of Sergei Skripal.

My Lords, I hope the House will understand that I am reluctant to be drawn on specific threats to specific individuals, but I assure noble Lords that the Government take very seriously their responsibility to protect the UK, UK interests and citizens and those living in the UK. A Statement on the events in Salisbury will be delivered this morning in the other place by the Home Secretary and repeated in this House this afternoon.

My Lords, the Minister will remember—because she took the Criminal Finances Bill through this House—the concern expressed around the House about the torrent of dirty money from Russia into this country. Beyond that, BuzzFeed estimates that there have been up to 14 suspected murders involving Russia. Now we have the incident of Sergei Skripal. These represent outrageous violations by Russia of the rule of law. Can the Minister tell the House what she thinks is the appropriate diplomatic response?

My Lords, my noble friend is slightly straying into Foreign Office territory in relation to the diplomatic response. He is also jumping several stages ahead, because this is an ongoing investigation to which conclusions have not yet been reached. My noble friend is absolutely right to raise the issue of the torrent of dirty money: he was very vocal on this during the Criminal Finances Bill, and that Bill—now an Act—was meant precisely to ensure that criminal assets could not be hidden in, for example, dwellings or property in this country.

My Lords, I will stick to something for which the Home Office is responsible, so that the Minister cannot shift it elsewhere. Have the Home Office, the Home Secretary and the Ministers yet replied to the letter that they received from the Home Affairs Select Committee in the other place, relating to the BuzzFeed reports about the 14 suspicious—or not so suspicious—deaths, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks?

In relation to BuzzFeed’s stories—that is precisely what they are, media stories—I cannot answer the noble Lord; I do not know the answer to that question, but I will find out and let him know. If people have concerns around the BuzzFeed story, they should put those concerns to the police, because they are dealing with this.

My Lords, in the last few years, a number of Conservative Ministers have insisted that the greatest threats to British sovereignty came from Brussels, Paris and Berlin. In the light of the consistent Russian incursions into British sovereignty, does the Minister not agree that Russia provides a much greater threat to Britain’s sovereignty, and that it might make sense to co-operate rather more closely over the long period with Brussels, Paris and Berlin in order to combat that?

I repeat my assertion that this Question is about the death of two individuals. No conclusions have been reached by the police as yet. Clearly we are treating it very seriously indeed, but I cannot comment in the early stages of this investigation.

Should it be the case that the hands of the Russian state are all over this attack, can my noble friend assure me and the House—and indeed the nation—that Her Majesty’s Government will ramp up sanctions and other measures against Russia?

Again, we need to establish the facts of this case. The police have not reached any conclusions; there is an ongoing investigation and clearly any actions against this country by other states will be dealt with in the strongest possible terms.

My Lords, my noble friend referred to the death of two people. Was that a slip of the tongue or have these unfortunate individuals now died?

As far as I know, the individuals have not died. The policeman in question is showing evidence of slight improvement this morning.

My Lords, I am sure that everyone in the House would condemn this outrageous and cowardly attack. While I recognise that the Minister cannot speak about the diplomatic measures that might follow if the evidence leads conclusively back to Moscow, does she agree that, in terms of deterring future attacks, one of the most powerful actions would be to show that there can be no impunity from this kind of attack, and that, therefore, bringing the individuals responsible for this to justice would send a very powerful signal?

I repeat that anybody who carries out an attack on a citizen of this country in such a way will be dealt with severely.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there might be merit in having a relationship with Moscow rather than the current sub-zero arrangements, whereby no agencies have any communication that constitutes a relationship?

Again, I cannot speak for the Foreign Office on what relations are currently like, but I can certainly take the noble Lord’s point away.

My Lords, are we engaging in any dialogue with Putin to point out that the things going on, such as threats to undersea cables, new nuclear weapons and missiles that can strike accurately all parts of our nation, and hunting down and trying to find our ballistic missile submarines, are not the actions of a modern state in this globalised world, and that this behaviour is just not appropriate?

My Lords, I can take all the comments away but at this point in the investigation I cannot comment on some of the things the noble Lord talks about.