The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Tuesday 1 March.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a Statement updating the House on the Government’s humanitarian response to the terrible, unjust war that Putin is waging in Ukraine. We are united across the House in horror at what is happening, and the whole country stands with the heroic people of Ukraine. I have come straight from a meeting with our dear friend and colleague the Ukrainian ambassador to London, and I have just heard at first hand about some of the pressures and tensions inside the country.
Putin must fail in his assault on Ukraine. Working closely with the Ukrainian Government and allies in the neighbouring region, the United Kingdom is standing shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine, sending military support and defensive military aid and training thousands of Ukrainian troops, as well as introducing one of the toughest sanctions regimes in the world. We are supporting NATO partners, pressing for more economic reform and energy independence in Ukraine, banning Aeroflot, and calling for an end to Russian involvement in the SWIFT banking system.
We will continue to think robustly and creatively about what more we can all do. As I said in the House yesterday, the Government will table amendments to the visa penalty measures in the Nationality and Borders Bill, so that we can slow down and effectively stop the processing of Russian visas or those of any state that poses a threat to our national security or the interests of our allies across the world. The Government of Ukraine have requested that the Russian Government be suspended from Interpol. The UK wholeheartedly endorses that position, and we are rallying other international partners to call for and support it as well.
Yesterday I announced the first phase of a bespoke humanitarian support package for the people of Ukraine, having listened carefully to the requests from the Ukrainian Government. We have already made significant and unprecedented changes to the immigration system. We have helped hundreds of British nationals and their family members resident in Ukraine leave the country, with Home Office staff working around the clock to assist them. The right honourable Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, Yvette Cooper, raised a specific case yesterday, and I am pleased to confirm that the person concerned has been able to travel to the UK.
Family members of British nationals resident in Ukraine who need a UK visa can apply through the temporary location in Lviv, or through visa application centres in Poland, Moldova, Romania and Hungary. We have created additional capacity in all locations apace, in anticipation of the invasion of Ukraine. That includes a new pop-up visa application centre in Rzeszow, Poland, whose total capacity is currently well over 3,000 appointments per week. Our contingency plans have been enacted and are expected to increase total capacity further to 6,000 appointments a week, starting this week. By contrast, demand across these locations is usually approximately 890 biometric appointments per week. There remains availability of appointments and walk-ins across all locations. Should more capacity be required, we will of course deliver it. Our rapid deployment teams are already in the region; the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office sent them in a few weeks ago to support this whole effort.
I have also removed the usual language requirements and salary thresholds for people to come to the UK and be with their families. Where family members of British nationals do not meet the usual eligibility criteria but do pass all security checks, we will give them permission to enter the UK outside the usual rules for 12 months. This means that British nationals, and any person settled in the UK, can bring over immediate Ukrainian family members. Through that policy alone, an additional 100,000 Ukrainians could be eligible to come to the UK and gain access to work and public services. There is no limit on the numbers eligible under this route. Anyone in Ukraine intending to apply under the family migration route should call the dedicated 24-hour Home Office line for assistance before applying. Ukrainian nationals already in the UK have been given the option to switch, free of charge, to a points-based immigration route or a family visa route. Visas for Ukrainian temporary workers in some sectors are being extended, so they can now stay until at least 31 December this year.
As I said yesterday, I have heard some Members call for visa waivers. Russian troops are seeking to infiltrate and merge with Ukrainian forces. Extremists are on the ground in the region, too. However, I want to emphasise the seriousness of the security situation on the ground. That is not something that can be discounted lightly. I am sure that if the Opposition want a security briefing from our colleagues, we will happily provide one, but I am very sceptical about how they treat and respect security advice.
As I was saying, extremists are on the ground in the region, too. Given that, and also Putin’s willingness to do violence on British soil—and in keeping with our approach, which we have retained consistently throughout all emergency evacuations, including that of Afghanistan —we cannot suspend any security or biometric checks on the people whom we welcome to our country. We have a collective duty to keep the British people safe, and this approach is based on the strongest security advice. These measures have been designed to enable swift implementation—that is the point: swift implementation —without the need for legislation or changes to the Immigration Rules. The Ukrainian people need help immediately, and we are putting it in place now.
I can also set out phase 2 of our bespoke humanitarian support package for the people of Ukraine, as outlined by the Prime Minister earlier today. First, we are establishing an expansive Ukrainian family reunion scheme so that British nationals and people settled in the UK can bring a wider group of family members to the UK. We are extending eligibility to parents, grandparents, adult offspring, siblings, and their immediate family members. Again, the scheme will be free. Those joining family members in the UK will be granted leave for an initial period of 12 months. They will be able to work and have access to public funds.
Secondly, we will establish a humanitarian sponsorship pathway, which will open up a route to the UK for Ukrainians who may not have family ties with the UK, but who are able to match with individuals, charities, businesses and community groups. Those who come under this scheme will also be granted leave for an initial period of 12 months, and will be able to work and have access to public services. The Home Office will work closely with all our international partners on the ground to ensure that displaced Ukrainians in need of a home are supported. My colleague the Secretary of State for Levelling Up will work with the devolved Administrations to ensure that those who want to sponsor an individual or family can volunteer and be matched quickly with Ukrainians in need. There will be no numerical limits on this scheme, and we will welcome as many Ukrainians as wish to come and have match sponsors.
Making a success of the new humanitarian sponsorship pathway will require a national effort from the entire country, and our country will rise to that challenge. This is a generous, expansive and unprecedented package. It will mean that the British public and the Ukrainian diaspora can support displaced Ukrainians in the UK until they are able to return to a free and sovereign Ukraine. We are striking a blow for democracy and freedom against tyranny. Above all, we are doing right by the courageous people of Ukraine. We will help British nationals and their families get out of Ukraine safely. We will support our displaced Ukrainian friends, and we will respond robustly to Russian threats here in the UK. We will not back down. We will do what is right. I commend this Statement to the House.”
My Lords, the Minister got a rough ride on Monday when he answered a PNQ on visa restrictions for Ukrainian refugees. The whole House was frustrated by the Government’s response. Since then—yesterday—we have had the Home Secretary’s Statement in the other place, and there was moving applause for the Ukrainian ambassador at Prime Minister’s Questions today.
Today, the Ukrainian people face horrors of a potential scale that we have not seen in Europe since the Second World War. The whole of Parliament wants the Government to ensure that we play our historic role as a welcoming country for refugees and play our part in providing support for the Ukrainian people in their hour of need. I want to repeat many of the questions that my right honourable friend Yvette Cooper asked yesterday to better understand the answers. In saying that, I freely acknowledge that this is a rapidly evolving situation.
First, in the past few days, there has been some confusion over which family members can join UK nationals and those settled in the UK. We welcome that the Government have listened and extended the types of family members who are able to join loved ones safely in the UK. I have read estimates of between 100,000 and 200,000 family members. Can the Minister comment on that? Can he also confirm that, whatever the number is, it is not capped?
Secondly, many people, mainly women and children, are fleeing today’s terror. They will want to stay close to home, in neighbouring states—a point repeatedly made by the Minister on Monday. What will be done to support these front-line states? We may not be in the EU any more but we are in the Council of Europe, and these countries are our friends, with the same values as us. We should do everything we can to support refugees in front-line states.
Thirdly, the Government have said that the family reunion scheme will be free, but there are reports that some people are being charged to access visas to join family here. Can the Minister guarantee that people can now access the family reunion scheme for free? Further, does the sponsoring family member have to be a British national or have indefinite leave to remain? What about Ukrainians who are here on work or study visas, or those who come here as lorry drivers or on visitor visas?
Fourthly, have the Government considered an emergency humanitarian or protection visa that could still include all the significant security and biometric checks the Home Secretary has talked about but could be done swiftly and go broader than family members?
Fifthly, the humanitarian sponsorship pathway announced in the Statement is a community sponsorship scheme. We welcome this, but the existing community sponsorship scheme takes a long time. What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that the scheme can work quickly? How many people do the Government hope to help in this way, and when can we expect the first Ukrainian refugees to arrive under this scheme? The Government’s Statement does not include a resettlement scheme. What plans are there to go further and provide a resettlement scheme in addition to the community sponsorship?
I understand that this is a fast-moving and desperate situation. I ask that the House gets regular updates; I am sure that it will. As I said in opening, the Minister got a hard time on Monday. I hope that in this short debate we can focus on the practical things the Government are going to do to ameliorate the situation of our friends and comrades in Ukraine in their hour of need.
My Lords, we all condemn Russia for its unjustified aggression in Ukraine and stand with the Ukrainians in their heroic defence of their homeland, but not everyone can stay and fight. There will be many vulnerable Ukrainians who need at least short- to medium-term sanctuary—in particular, women, children and older people need to be removed to safety.
My understanding is that this Statement is now out of date, following the intervention of the Prime Minister overnight. The Statement talks about a new route, but can the Minister confirm whether all these people will still need a visa to come to the United Kingdom? Can he also confirm that under the provisions of the Nationality and Borders Bill—were it to be in force—they would all be committing a criminal offence with a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment if they came to the UK without a visa, and that because there is no direct route from Ukraine to the UK, they would be treated as second-class refugees? Does not the Ukrainian humanitarian crisis highlight exactly why many noble Lords oppose the provisions of the Nationality and Borders Bill?
Can the Minister also confirm that the elderly parents of a Ukrainian national settled in the UK can now be brought to the UK, but only after the Prime Minister overruled the Home Secretary, who wanted to restrict the new arrangements to close family members only? In the Statement, the Home Secretary talked about 100,000 Ukrainians eligible under government schemes. Since then, the Prime Minister has said that the number is 200,000. What is the number now?
The Home Secretary gave the excuse for not allowing visa-free entry that security and biometrics were a fundamental part of our visa approval process. She went on to say that Russian troops are infiltrating Ukraine and merging into Ukrainian forces and that intelligence reports state the presence of extremist groups and organisations that threaten the region but also the UK. Can the Minister confirm that the Russian army includes octogenarians and child soldiers?
We are talking about women, children and the elderly—the vulnerable who need the safety and security we, and their families here in the UK, can provide. What is the security risk that women, children and the elderly could potentially be Russian soldiers or members of extremist groups that threaten the UK? As the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, said earlier this evening, why can people’s security status not be established on arrival in the UK?
The Statement says that the Government are extending the visas for Ukrainian temporary workers “in some sectors” who can now stay until at least December 2022, primarily because people cannot return to Ukraine. In what sectors are Ukrainian temporary workers employed in the UK where they can safely return to Ukraine?
The Statement says that Britain continues to lead—how can that be true when Poland and other EU countries are allowing visa-free entry and the UK is not?
In the Commons on Monday, the Home Secretary tried to link measures, such as the temporary ban on the issuing of visas to nationals of a country that threatens international peace and security, to the Nationality and Borders Bill. She said:
“Those powers will be available as soon as the Bill receives Royal Assent. The sooner that happens, the sooner this House and all Members can collectively act.”.—[Official Report, 28/2/2022; col. 701.]
Are the Government really saying that they cannot stop issuing visas to Russian nationals in a time of crisis such as we are facing now without new primary legislation? I thought Brexit was about taking back control of our borders. Is the Minister seriously suggesting that they cannot, today, stop issuing visas to the citizens of a hostile foreign state? I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Ponsonby and Lord Paddick, for their questions. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for reminding me of Monday. It was a little bit difficult, but as I am sure he is aware, I did not actually have the full information—or indeed any information. However, I will endeavour to do a little bit better now. However uncomfortable it was for me, we should certainly remember that it was a good deal more uncomfortable for those people in Ukraine fighting for their sovereignty, so that is worth bearing in mind at all times.
If I may, I would like to start by craving Noble Lords’ indulgence and making a couple of general points to address questions which I have not been asked but which are important and germane and came out of the House of Commons debate yesterday. I echo the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, about the response given to the Ukrainian ambassador as he arrived in the other place today. It was genuinely moving, and I think it is a sign that the Commons, and, indeed, your Lordships’ House, is united in support of the people of Ukraine and all those who are working tirelessly for it. I also echo the comments of my noble friend Lord Ahmad when he spoke about Ukraine the other day and thanked the Opposition Benches for their help and support through this process.
The question I would like to answer which I have not been asked, but which came up a lot in conversation in the other place, is what Members might like to be able to do if they get petitioned with individual cases, because I cannot talk about them for obvious reasons. Just to give an idea of some of the help that is available, individuals can refer to GOV.UK or contact our free helpline. I am going to give the number very carefully so that Members can refer to it in Hansard. The number is: 0808 1648810. Noble Lords can ask for advice on those cases. It is a free helpline and it works around the world. If, for any reason, noble Lords cannot get what they need from that helpline—and that should not be the case—we suggest referring via a constituency MP in the usual way. If, for any reason, that does not work, there is a Portcullis House referral system. Just in case any noble Lords have any individual cases that may need addressing, I thought it was worth pointing that out.
In order to answer the various questions that I have been asked, I am going to run through the scheme as announced. Before I do, I want to point out that this is a unique scheme that has not been done by this country before. We have established the Ukrainian family scheme, which will significantly expand the ability of British nationals and people settled in the UK to bring family members to the UK. As my noble friend Lady Williams has just said, that extends the eligibility to adult parents, grandparents, children over 18, siblings and all of their immediate family members. Under this scheme—which will be free—those joining family in the UK will be granted leave for an initial period of 12 months. They will be able to work and to access public funds. Given the range of family members who will be able to come through this route, we estimate—the numbers are inexact for obvious reasons, but this is the best estimate I have—that it might help around 140,000 people to come to the UK. I stress, however, that this is not a capped number, so, in a sense, it does not matter what number I give here, because it is not capped.
We will make emergency changes to Immigration Rules on 15 March to create this route, but we are introducing a concession to the existing rules to enable families to apply via a bespoke application process no later than Friday 4 March—this coming Friday. If people call the helpline before that, someone will get back in touch with them. We will also consider anyone who applied on the existing family route, or existing concessions, under the new scheme if they do not meet the rules. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asked me about fees: any fees that have already been paid will be refunded. There are no other barriers: all the usual requirements around language and salary, for example, have been removed.
That will mean that although we would encourage Ukrainians not to apply before Friday, we do have mechanisms for those in urgent need to apply now. Eligible family members who have already made applications under the existing family rules will be considered under the Ukrainian family scheme if they do not meet the family rules. As I have said, they will also have their application fee and any applicable immigration health surcharge payments refunded.
Secondly, we have committed to establishing a Ukrainian sponsorship humanitarian visa offer, which will open up a route to the UK for Ukrainians who do not have family ties with the UK, but who we will match with individuals, businesses, community organisations and local authorities who are willing and able to act as a sponsor. All those benefiting from this offer will also be granted leave for an initial period of 12 months and will be able to work and access public services.
The Home Office will be working closely with the UNHCR and others on the ground to ensure that displaced Ukrainians in need of a home who wish to come to the UK are aware of this offer and are able to apply. DLUHC will be leading on this offer. It will work with the devolved Administrations to ensure that individuals and organisations who want to sponsor an individual or family can volunteer to do so, and they will be matched with Ukrainians in need. Again, there is no arbitrary limit on this scheme: we will welcome as many Ukrainians as wish to come and for whom we have sponsors. I anticipate that DLUHC will be working with local authorities and charities, but the department would welcome thoughts and suggestions on that particular route. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asked me if only family members can sponsor. British nationals or settled persons can sponsor, not those with temporary leave; but, as I said, we would encourage people to apply anyway.
Turning to the subject of visa waivers, in essence, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked me why we will not go further and announce a visa waiver. Visas are an important security tool and are entirely consistent with all our other Immigration Rules. There is a risk that hostile actors or other individuals with links to serious and organised crime or corruption could exploit the arrangements to travel to the UK undetected if security checks are not in place. The Government do not believe that they should unnecessarily put the UK’s security at risk.
I understand what the noble Lord was saying about women, children and octogenarians in the Russian army, but I do not wish to go further and speculate as to what sorts of things the Russians might get up to. We have seen what they are capable of doing in peacetime. It is not peacetime any more, and I would not like to speculate what they might be capable of doing now.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, also asked me about visa penalties. The Nationality and Borders Bill contains provisions which allow the UK to apply visa penalties to a country which is being unco-operative in relation to the return of its nationals. Those powers include slowing down the processing of applications, requiring applicants to pay more or, critically, suspending the granting of entry clearance completely. I am told that an amendment will be tabled tomorrow, along with a letter outlining and explaining exactly what is going on with this feature. It would probably be better to wait until tomorrow and see the letter; I have not seen it, so I do not know what is in it.
There were also questions about the variety of existing visas and what is available to Ukrainian nationals already here on existing points-based system routes. They can extend their leave in the UK. Ukrainian nationals on an existing visitor visa can, exceptionally, switch into a points-based system immigration route without having to leave the UK. Ukrainian nationals on an existing visa can apply under the family route for further leave without meeting the immigration status requirement, provided they meet the requirements for leave based on exceptional circumstances. Ukrainian nationals on an existing seasonal worker visa will have their leave in the UK extended to 31 December 2022.
Finally, Ukrainian nationals in temporary work, such as HGV drivers and so on, will have their leave in the UK extended to 31 December 2022 as well. I think the point the noble Lord made was about temporary visas generally; I think that is covered by that particular point. However, all visa routes remain under constant review. As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said, this situation is incredibly fluid, so I expect there to be further changes as and when circumstances dictate.
The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, referenced Yvette Cooper’s comments yesterday in the House of Commons when she talked about which family members and how many. I think I have answered that. I want to stress that it is not capped. However, she also made the point—and made it very well—that a lot of people do not wish to be too far away from their loved ones, who are probably fighting in Ukraine as we speak.
That leads on to the humanitarian support we are offering. It is quite considerable. The FCDO has a humanitarian support team in place. We are providing an additional £40 million of humanitarian support, which I think my noble friend Lady Williams referred to earlier. That will provide access to basic necessities and vital medical supplies both in Ukraine and the wider region. That is on top of the $100 million of ODA already pledged for energy security and reform.
I mentioned the humanitarian team from FCDO, but military logistics experts are also operating in the countries neighbouring Ukraine. Obviously, we call on Russia to enable humanitarian access and safe passage for civilians to flee the violence, and we have 1,000 troops on standby to support the humanitarian response in the region should they be needed. We also stand ready to further support Ukraine’s economy through £500 million in multilateral development bank guarantees.
I think I have dealt with most of the questions I have been asked. If I have not, I apologise and will hope to come back to them when I have had a chance to skim through my notes in a little more detail. For now, I hope that answers most of noble Lords’ questions.
My Lords, I personally very much welcome the work the Government have done in putting together a really strong sanctions package and persuading other countries to come in the direction we wish to go. But I asked two questions in the debate on Friday that were not replied to. I would be grateful if either I could be given a reply now or the noble Lord could provide it in writing.
My first question was: what are we doing to muster a broad international scheme to ensure that exports to—not from—Russia, particularly of dual-use items, are prevented? During the Cold War there was a scheme called CoCom, which the vast majority of the West subscribed to. Are the Government considering resuscitating that? Secondly, what are the Government doing about countering the tidal waves of disinformation that are coming out? That means not just telling RT that it cannot broadcast but being able to get facts across to the Russian people ourselves while undermining the regime’s extremely misleading presentations and narrative.
I thank the noble Lord for that question. I cannot answer the question of whether we are planning a new version of CoCom, which I am not familiar with, but we have seen plenty of information delivered at the Dispatch Box in both Houses as to the sanctions applied to Russia, which I am very sure include dual-use items.
On the question of broadcast misinformation, disinformation and so on, the point was made in a meeting I was in earlier that the BBC World Service is one of the finest tools for delivering honest news. I know that message was received and it will be acted on.
I can give two answers. First, if they qualify under the British citizen or the settled status visa programme, they are more than entitled to use that scheme in order to apply for their visas. If they are currently stranded in or near Ukraine, they can go to one of the visa application centres. Obviously, we have also announced the humanitarian visa, which I think will encompass them. As I say, and will keep saying, that scheme is uncapped.
My Lords, can the Minister assure us that the helpline advisers will be fully trained? A journalist on the Independent had a tweet a few hours ago saying they are getting lots of calls but they have no information to give out. As I understand it, he said that was true, in a sense—they will have the information by Friday and they will call people back. Perhaps some planning could have taken place for this situation, which we have known was going to happen for weeks, if not months.
What is the situation of EEA citizens who have settled status? Can they sponsor Ukrainian family members in the same way that UK citizens and Ukrainian nationals can?
Lastly, I really do not see the need for these new amendments to the Nationality and Borders Bill. I do not understand why the Government cannot just refuse visas without some complicated new scheme under the Bill. Finally, I congratulate Eurostar on giving free tickets to London for Ukrainian refugees.
On the first question, part of the problem with the helpline is that one of the things it is having to deliver is access to a new application form that had to be developed in four days. That is not quite ready. The noble Baroness shrugs her shoulders on that point, but I think it is important to bear in mind that we are doing everything we are doing in liaison with the people of Ukraine and the Ukrainian Government. My noble friend Lady Williams just made this point.
The Home Secretary is regularly in contact with the Ukrainian authorities and the ambassador, and we are very much following their lines. I refer noble Lords, if they are interested, to an article in the Times this morning, talking about the diplomatic difficulties in making excessive plans early. I accept the point that this is a fluid situation and that it needs to be done, but it is important to bear in mind that this is happening at record speed. I am told that forms of this sort that have to be developed digitally normally take months, not days. This is being done very quickly.
I answered that question at such length that I have completely forgotten your second question—and I just said “your”, so I apologise for that as well. It was to do with EEA citizens. I cannot answer that specifically, but I cannot imagine, given what I have said about Ukrainians with settled status and about British citizens, that that would not be the case. As I have said already, this is meant to be a generous scheme, not a bureaucratic scheme.
On the last point, I have referred to the letter that is coming with the amendment today. I hope I am not piling too much pressure on the letter, but I have not seen it and I am not going to pre-empt what is in it.
My Lords, we are very grateful for the Minister’s Statement. He was not able to answer all the questions from my noble friend on the Front Bench. He was asked about the assistance we are giving to countries that border Ukraine, particularly Poland, which is taking the brunt of refugees. What can we do to build capacity on the ground to support those refugees? Speed is obviously of the essence. I know the Statement says we have one pop-up assessment centre: clearly, that is not going to be enough, even for the numbers we are thinking of taking. Everything is being done for the first time—we appreciate that—but what else can we do to support the Poles to develop their own humanitarian response and also to make sure we are doing everything we can as early as we can for those desperate people?
I thank the noble Baroness for that question. I think I have answered about some of the humanitarian actions that the Government have already taken and enacted very swiftly. Obviously, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said, the situation is incredibly fluid, and I have no doubt that the Government will react to circumstances on the ground as and when required, at the request of the countries involved. I think I am right in saying—if I am not, I will correct myself later—that very recently, some Royal Marines were redeployed to that part of the world. It is happening, and happening fast.
The visa application centres, to which I think the noble Baroness was referring, are in the following locations. We have them in Poland, in Warsaw. There is the new one in Rzeszów, which I think I referenced on Monday—possibly the only thing I referenced on Monday. We have ones in Moldova, Romania and Hungary. and one is still open in Ukraine, in Lviv. We had to close the one in Kyiv, for obvious reasons. Demand across them is actually not as high as we would have expected at the moment, but we are none the less increasing capacity. More biometric kits are being redeployed and capacity is increasing on an ongoing basis.
My Lords, so much is falling on the Poles and the Hungarians, particularly on Poland, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said. I make a suggestion for my noble friend to pass on to his ministerial colleagues: I do not expect an affirmative answer, but I do not want a dismissal. In the past, it has been found that it can sometimes be extremely helpful, in time of war, to have a resident Minister from this country stationed abroad. I put it to my noble friend that it would be symbolic, helpful and probably much appreciated by our former fellow members of the EU if we gave some thought to that now.
I imagine that the Minister, like me, has been in awe of the demonstrations of physical courage by so many of the citizens of Ukraine. I hope I can persuade him to accept that there have been some illustrations of political courage. I have particularly in mind the policy reverses of Germany: to supply defensive weapons to Ukraine, to increase defence expenditure by €100 billion and to suspend Nord Stream 2. Mr Putin can hardly be thought to have expected any of that.
My Lords, I very much appreciate what the Government are doing and the Statement that was given. One of the elements that is lacking from it, however, is any reference to religion. One cannot understand the politics of Russia or Ukraine without understanding the history of the past 1,200 years, what is intended to be part of the reunification of the original Rus—I speak as a Russian linguist and former Soviet specialist at GCHQ. If we do not understand the role of religion, we are in danger of short-term, reactive, tactical activities in relation to the current conflict, whereas the Russians, certainly, have been running a long-term strategy under Putin, in which he has been extremely successful thus far. What role is religion playing in the Government’s assessment of how to care for refugees, which we have talked about, and in establishing back channels with the Moscow patriarchate and the Ukrainian patriarchate?
I thank the right reverend Prelate for that. He will not be particularly surprised to learn that I do not know the details on that subject. I will facilitate contact with the Foreign Office so that he can explain, using the depth of his expertise. I also point out that the setting up of the humanitarian visa scheme is being done by DLUHC, in consultation with a number of NGOs and other bodies. I strongly recommend that the right reverend Prelate gets in touch with DLUHC to pass on some of those suggestions, which strike me as incredibly sensible.
The right reverend Prelate has brought this subject up. There are about 15,000 to 20,000 troops stopped 30 miles away from Kyiv. They are conscripts and, as the right reverend Prelate has said, they have been highly religious and devoted to their beliefs for hundreds of years, except for the time when Stalin was in power. They are back and very devout.
I have concerns for these conscripts. As noble Lords know, Kyiv is the most sacred icon for Russia and for many others outside of Russia. That was the place where, nearly 1,900 years ago, the very first Orthodox church was built in Ukraine. That was the beginning, if you will, of the people being converted to Christianity. That is something so special in their mind. You could go all over the world and people talk about it. Today, when you go there, the cathedral is right on top of it. If these young men are asked to destroy it completely with artillery, I think that many of them will refuse or desert. In the history of war, if you desert, you got shot. If you were—
I thank my noble friend for his question, and indeed for the history lesson. I was not aware of some of the things that he has said, although I take note of them and think that they are very interesting. Lots of other historical moments are happening. The other day, we saw the missile strike on the Holocaust site, which was equally deplorable. Russians were cheerfully pulling the trigger on that, so I do not know where they will stop. I will take back the points he made.
My Lords, I have listened carefully to provisions in relation to Ukrainians. They are appropriate. Being denied the right to live should be a wake-up call to the Government to be generous to the maximum. The Afghan citizens resettlement scheme took three months to establish as a working system. What measures are being taken to ensure that those moving through Europe have all the information about the new Ukrainian family scheme, including timeframes, eligibility for close family members and processing requirements for applications? Once the policy detail has been established, can the Government confirm how many Ukrainian applications can be processed in the immediate weeks of March, so that we do not leave hungry Ukrainian families out in the cold?
I thank the noble Viscount for his question. I hope he would agree that the Government have been very generous. The full communications will be available on the GOV.UK website. As we are not expecting people who are potentially living in difficult situations to be able to look this up on the internet, communications will be handed out at the visa application centres. Access to all this information will also be available via the helpline which I have already tried to describe.
I turn now to what will happen once the policy details are all in place. The visa application centres are currently processing under capacity, but capacity is being ramped up. Therefore, I am not in a position to say how many people might be processed in due course, because I suspect that the number will keep rising depending on circumstances.
My Lords, I welcome the tougher stance which the Government are taking on sanctions since last week. However, would it not make things swifter and more straightforward to make it a legal requirement for law firms, accountants, financial services firms, businesses and others to provide information they have on the finances, assets and business activities of people or companies which are sanctioned?
I thank the noble Lord for his question. As I am sure all noble Lords have seen, a letter was received yesterday from the Home Office and from the Business Secretary talking about the forthcoming Bill which will go through the House of Commons next week and will be in your Lordships’ House in a couple of weeks. The noble Lord makes some very sensible suggestions. I do not know what the legal niceties would be, but I will certainly take those suggestions back.
My Lords, I will ask the Minister to try again with the question asked by his noble friend Lady Verma which was about people who are leaving Ukraine but are not Ukrainian nationals. In particular, the BBC was showing pictures of Afghan refugees who had been in Ukraine. As I understand it, they would not fall under the humanitarian sponsorship pathway because the statement says that this pathway is for Ukrainians. For those people who do not have Ukrainian citizenship but are fleeing, will the Government make any offer to them—and, particularly, to anyone who is from Afghanistan?
My Lords, no one should deny that the United Kingdom Government have been leading many Governments across the world in response to the crisis in Ukraine with a strong package of sanctions, et cetera. However, as the situation develops, further measures will be necessary. Can the Minister clarify how long those choosing to come to the United Kingdom can stay under these regulations, and will that period be extended?
My Lords, does the Minister agree that sporting sanctions are a vital ingredient in the overall package? Bearing this in mind, does he share my concern and dismay about the decision of the Paralympic committee to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete next week, albeit as individuals and not flying their flag?
My Lords, will the Minister draw to the attention of his noble friends in the Foreign Office the report this morning from the World Food Programme suggesting that 29% of all the grain and wheat sold to countries in the Maghreb and Middle East—the poorest of the poor—comes from either Russia or Ukraine, and that this is likely to be severely disrupted? There is also its figure that 400,000 people have already left and that it is now making preparations for some 3 million refugees in neighbouring countries. What more can we do to support the World Food Programme and the International Committee of the Red Cross?
That question obviously goes back to something that my noble friend Lord Benyon was discussing earlier on food security. Clearly, it is an issue not just for any particular part of the world but for us all. I have tried to go through some of the details on the humanitarian responses but there is another thing I should have mentioned earlier—I picked it up when I was googling before I came in here. I noticed that this morning, or during PMQs, the Prime Minister also announced that every pound donated to the Disasters Emergency Committee’s Ukraine appeal by the public will be matched by the Government, starting with £20 million. I also reference the fact that we have given an additional £40 million of humanitarian support. I appreciate that that does not fully answer the noble Lord’s question but it is a go at it.