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Ukraine: Post-conflict Reconstruction

Volume 832: debated on Thursday 7 September 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what provision they are making in budgetary contingencies for future years for a United Kingdom contribution to post-conflict reconstruction of Ukraine.

My Lords, the United Kingdom and international partners are resolute and united in supporting Ukraine to rebuild and emerge from the war with a modernised economy resilient to Russian threats. The Ukraine Recovery Conference in London raised over $60 billion in international support, including multi-year commitments by the UK and others. We have allocated £395 million in bilateral assistance between 2023 and 2025, alongside up to $5 billion in fiscal support. Support for the year 2025-26 onwards will, of course, be confirmed after the spending review.

I hope that the Minister can confirm that the Treasury and the Foreign Office are very clear about the size and long-term nature of the commitment to rebuilding Ukraine. The Republicans in the US Congress, with whom many Conservatives are now very close, are saying that the United States does not really need to commit to supporting Ukraine. Many Conservatives who supported the leave campaign thought that we should not be paying into the European Union budget, much of which was going to the reconstruction and development of east European, formerly Soviet countries, which contributed to British security. To ensure that Conservatives in opposition do not attack whichever Government it is for raising public spending to support Ukraine long-term, can he reassure us that the Treasury has this publicly in the forward figures?

My Lords, the noble Lord knows that I respect him greatly, but I am surprised by both the tone and the substance of his question. This Government, together with the full support of His Majesty’s Opposition, have been resolute—and, indeed, there has been support from the Liberal Democrats and universal support for the action that we have taken, for the support that we have given and, of course, for the financial commitments that we have made on humanitarian assistance, economic support, financial support and defence spending.

I have just had a meeting with our outgoing ambassador, Melinda Simmons, and I pay tribute, and I am sure that all noble Lords join me in paying tribute, to her resilience. As a sign of affection and support between us and the Ukrainian people—it is perhaps a poignant and reflective moment, but an interesting one, which I think that we should recognise—on her departure, a beautiful gesture on their part was to name a specific pastry after Melinda and call it the Melinda pastry. That shows the strength of relationships that we have built.

I am proud and resolute in that support. The noble Lord talked about the US. There are many Republicans—and I am not there to comment on the Republicans and Democrats. One thing is clear, irrespective: we have seen strong support from across the United States. As the noble Lord knows, Secretary Blinken is currently in Ukraine. Our support is resolute, and this is across the piece, irrespective of change. From this country, from this House and from the other place, there is unity of purpose and unity of action—we stand with Ukraine.

I take this opportunity to reiterate the Opposition’s support for the Government and absolute commitment to that—and certainly a future Labour Government will continue that support for Ukraine. The noble Lord mentioned the conference; at that conference, Ursula von der Leyen said that €200 billion of frozen assets belonging to the central bank of Russia will be repurposed to fund Ukraine’s reconstruction. Can the Minister update the House on what we are doing about those repurposed sanctioned and frozen assets? That is the key—making sure that Russia pays with its own money.

First of all, I thank the noble Lord again for underlining the strong support of His Majesty’s Opposition. I have been very clear on the international stage that we speak as one—and I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, in that respect as well as to my noble friend Lady Goldie, who will respond to a debate on this issue shortly. On the issue of sanctions, I agree with the noble Lord, and we are supportive of those actions. More than 60% of Mr Putin’s war chest has been immobilised—that is £275 billion-worth. The end intent, with all legal considerations taken account of, is that it should be repurposed and service in rebuilding the infrastructure that Russia has destroyed in Ukraine.

My Lords, is it not important to recognise that among the destruction have been many historic buildings? It is very important that the Ukrainians are able to do what the Poles did in Warsaw—although under a very unhappy Administration. Is it not crucial that we give as much technical advice as we can, through bodies such as English Heritage, so that they can rebuild their patrimony?

My Lords, I take on board what my noble friend has said. I assure him that we are working to ensure that the infrastructure within Ukraine is developed in a more resilient fashion. We are providing technical support. We are working on energy infrastructure. My noble friend makes an important point about cultural heritage. We are working with bodies such as UNESCO to ensure that, first and foremost, we protect those heritage sites and that, where they have been destroyed, they are rebuilt.

My Lords, the Prime Minister confirmed in February that more than £2 billion of assets that previously belonged to Roman Abramovich of Chelsea Football Club were ready to be transferred to a humanitarian foundation to be spent on those impacted by the war in Ukraine. That money has not yet been transferred; the foundation has not yet been established; the humanitarian work has not yet begun. Will the Government move a bit more quickly to ensure that this happens as soon as possible?

I can confirm that that was the point my right honourable friend made. The current situation remains that those assets are frozen and cannot be moved unless a licence is issued by the OFSI department within the Treasury. I can assure the noble Lord that we are working in an expedited way with our colleagues in the Treasury to ensure that those funds can be utilised appropriately.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware of yesterday’s tragic news of the air raid on the Ukrainian city of Kostiantynivka, where 17 people were killed. Millions of pounds-worth of further damage was added to the literally hundreds of billions-worth of damage that has already been done. Surely we should be looking at a co-ordinated, Marshall-style plan for the rebuilding of Ukraine.

My noble friend raises another tragic event. I am sure that I speak for the whole House in saying that we stand once again in unity with the people of Ukraine. It was a blatant attack on a market in the middle of the day. We have heard about the 17 fatalities, and those are added to the many fatalities that have happened already and, tragically, I am sure that there will be others. I agree with my noble friend and I assure him that we are working exactly in that way, with cities being allocated to key countries—for example, there are elements within the city of Kyiv that are specific to UK infrastructure development. Of course, the real challenge is that, every time something is rebuilt, the Russians do not desist from destroying it again, so there has to be a plan. I assure my noble friend that we are working with international partners in that respect.

My Lords, can I ask the Minister to give some consideration to the scale of the problem? Does he recall that Europe got $13 billion after President Truman signed the Economic Recovery Act in 1948? Who is going to be as generous as that when it comes to Ukraine?

We are already seeing the support and generosity, not just of the United Kingdom and our partners in Europe and in the United States. We have been heartened in the advocacy that we have been doing, for example, across the Gulf states. We have seen the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia provide £100 million in humanitarian support. This trajectory will continue, and we are working towards the G20, which is the next important milestone. The UN General Assembly high-level week in New York will provide other opportunities to focus on a structured approach. But from what we have seen—and we should look at that as a precedent—everyone has come forward to provide the kind of technical and financial support that Ukraine needs.

My Lords, the Minister knows that I support the valuable assistance that has been provided to Ukraine. Can he give the House the assurance that, for any funds going forward, there will not, as happened with the previous funds, be a like-for-like matched cut in the official development assistance budget? We may win in Ukraine, but we will lose in the global South if the support we provide for Ukraine is cut from the emergency relief given to those countries most affected by this in Africa.

The noble Lord will be aware that we are producing a White Paper on the whole issue of international development to ensure that we can align our priorities and provide the support that is needed by countries around the world. I am proud of the United Kingdom’s historical record in supporting the most vulnerable communities; that will remain a priority. Equally, this is a very different situation that we face: this is a war in Europe, the like of which we have not seen since 1945. I believe, and I am sure the noble Lord agrees, that it is right that we support Ukraine at this important juncture.

My Lords, looking further ahead, the restoration and growth of trade will be an important part of Ukraine’s recovery. Have we looked to see whether we could build our trade in the longer term with Ukraine, and in which areas would we explore?

I can assure the noble Lord that we are doing exactly that. We are already looking at supporting Ukraine with generators through the Energy Community support fund. We are also providing a financial guarantee for a £47.5 million loan from the EBRD, we are looking at £35 million of innovation investment in energy recovery, and we are providing loan guarantees to Ukraine in the medium to long term.