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Ukraine: Disasters Emergency Committee Appeal

Volume 819: debated on Wednesday 9 March 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the value of charitable donations made to the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal for Ukraine; and what plans they have to increase their commitment to match donations.

My Lords, it is testament to the great generosity of the British public that the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal for Ukraine reached £100 million in just four days. This is a hugely valuable contribution and public donations have been boosted by £25 million of government funding, the largest ever aid match donation by any British Government. As of yesterday, the DEC Ukraine appeal stood at £121.5 million, including the FCDO UK aid match contribution of £25 million. Of course we have also committed more support to Ukraine during this crisis, which has reached almost £400 million.

I thank the Minister for his Answer, which is a tribute to the generosity of the British people. One problem has been the number of people sending goods rather than money. I hope the Government can encourage people to make cash donations, which are much easier to process. Is the FCO supporting people on the ground to buy up goods with the money donated so that it is spent in the most effective way for the relief of the people of Ukraine?

My Lords, if I may, I must first correct my noble friend: it is the FCDO. The development element of our work is extremely important and it links in with the humanitarian support. I confirm that through rapid deployment teams, including the assessments they are making, we are working directly with the Ukrainian authorities and the Ukrainian Government to determine exactly what is required on the ground. I agree with him; as my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has said, what is best for the Ukrainian people is for people to make cash donations, and the DEC appeal demonstrates the importance of that.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord and his colleague alongside him—the noble Baroness, Lady Williams—for their help in relation to a case flagged to me by World Jewish Relief, and which I flagged in your Lordships’ House on Monday, of an elderly lady in her 90s who was waiting for a visa in Warsaw. What action is he taking to ensure that the system to assist refugees in such a desperate situation is fit for purpose and properly funded, so that we do not have to come to him and his colleague with individual cases?

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for flagging that issue. I speak for my noble friend as well as myself, and I know that I speak for the whole of the Front Bench in saying that wherever there are issues it is our job to respond to Members’ inquiries directly to us in our own roles. If we can assist, as we have managed to do in this case, that is a tribute to the noble Baroness and indeed to the whole of your Lordships’ House about the importance of working collaboratively on this crisis. My noble friend will be taking an Urgent Question shortly on fitness for purpose, but I am assured by her and the Home Office that, for example, visa applications are being received. Over 10,000 people have already started their applications, and as of this morning over 1,000 visas had been issued by the United Kingdom.

My Lords, the incredible generosity of the British people in the donations that we are discussing is equally matched by the desire of business, of faith and community groups, and of families to take hold of and be able to use the sponsorship scheme that was announced this time last week but about which we have no detail. Surely we should be matching the financial contribution with the personal giving that people are now offering to those who will come to their home and receive sustenance and support from the British people.

My Lords, I agree. Again, through this crisis we have seen the best of humanity as people have opened up their doors and given their homes and support to people they do not know—strangers—across Europe. That applies equally to the United Kingdom. I know that my noble friend will be providing the House with an update shortly on the very point that the noble Lord raises.

My Lords, I begin by paying tribute to my noble friend Lord Tebbit, who has been such an inspiration to so many of us on the Government Benches for so very long. We were all deeply moved yesterday by the words of President Zelensky. I am sure his words will lead to further donations to the committee. Sadly, the torrent of words which have registered support for Ukraine has not always been matched by action. Given the lamentable decision of President Biden to veto the ability of Poland to send its MiG-29s to an American base in Germany, will Her Majesty’s Government match the courage of the Government of Poland—not to mention of the Government of Ukraine—and make available facilities in this country to which those MiGs could be flown and collected by Ukrainian pilots, then flown to Ukraine?

My Lords, I join my noble friend in the tribute he paid to my noble friend Lord Tebbit. I remember that one of my first appearances at the Dispatch Box was reflective of an ongoing cricket analogy that we have played out. I greatly respect the support that he has given to me over the years. I am sure I speak for many across the House in paying tribute to my noble friend Lord Tebbit for his services to your Lordships’ House and the country over many years. On the specific question, the United Kingdom has been at the forefront of support for Ukraine, including supporting its defence requirements. Defence is playing a central role in the UK’s response to the Russian invasion. We are working very closely with our allies and partners to fully understand the nature of what is required on the ground. We were reminded of this by President Zelensky, who is in daily contact with my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. I listened very carefully to what my noble friend Lord Howard said, and I will certainly take that back to the Ministry of Defence.

My Lords, I will follow up the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. Yesterday the Government made the very welcome announcement that they are opening out this humanitarian sponsorship scheme, but they did not say anything about how all these people who want to offer their homes can link with those who want to come here. Are the Government yet able to reveal how this contact is to be made?

I know that my noble friend Lady Williams and my colleagues in the Home Office are working on the very points that the noble and right reverend Lord raises about the detail of the scheme. I am sure that she will update the House on progress very shortly.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Howard, mentioned President Zelensky’s moving address to Parliament yesterday. He described the horrific conditions—the killing of children, the bombing of orphanages, schools and hospitals. Earlier this week UNICEF called for greater protection for unaccompanied and separated children crossing borders. What will the Government do to support those children to get to a place of safety?

My Lords, I join the noble Lord; I am sure I speak for the whole House when I say that we are taken by the horror of what is happening in Ukraine, particularly the targeting of humanitarian corridors, the specific targeting of civilian centres of population and the tragedy we now see of families being separated. He is right to raise the issue of vulnerable children, particularly unaccompanied minors. We have RDTs working on the ground in all neighbouring countries. I am in regular touch with all the UN agencies. Only this morning I exchanged messages with Filippo Grandi on specific requirements. I assure the noble Lord that I will provide regular updates on the specific support we are giving to particular vulnerable communities and, most importantly, to vulnerable children.

My Lords, while I agree with what my noble friend Lord Balfe said—that it would be better if donations were given in cash rather than goods—my noble friend will be aware that a number of individuals, charities and companies have attempted to supply goods and medicines through the EU to the people of Ukraine or people on the border, but have experienced great difficulty with customs and form-filling. Will my noble friend look at this and see what could be done to simplify the administrative burden for those who are trying to supply goods in kind?

My noble friend makes a very important practical point. I will certainly take that up. Later today I am leaving for meetings in Vienna with European partners at the OSCE. I am sure this point will be raised, particularly when we look at the OSCE’s set-up on civil society groups’ support for humanitarian efforts, which are also based across the border in Poland. I will update my noble friend accordingly. He makes a point which I am aware of, and we are working with European partners to unlock this particular issue.