I beg to move,
That the Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2022 (SI, 2022, No. 194), dated 28 February 2022, a copy of which was laid before this House on 28 February, be approved.
With this we shall consider the following motion:
That the Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2022 (SI, 2022, No. 195), dated 28 February 2022, a copy of which was laid before this House on 28 February, be approved.
The instruments before us were laid under the powers provided by the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018—also known as the sanctions Act. These instruments came into effect at midnight last night.
As stated by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, we have announced the largest and the most severe package of punitive economic and trade sanctions that Russia has ever seen in response to Putin’s pre-meditated, pre-planned and barbaric invasion. We will continue to ratchet up the pressure, working in concert with our allies around the world. We have already imposed sanctions on Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, five Russian banks, 120 businesses and a long list of Russian oligarchs. Taken together, this targets assets worth hundreds of billions of pounds. Throughout, we have worked with our allies, including to agree to remove selected Russian banks from the SWIFT system and we have agreed to target the Russian central bank, but we will go further. I want to say to this House that we will continue to stand with the Ukrainian people in their heroic efforts to face up to unbridled aggression and that nothing is off the table.
Let me take the right hon. and learned Gentleman back to what he said about the number of individuals who have been sanctioned, as I do not think it is hundreds since this situation in Ukraine—it is eight. It is hundreds since 2014, and that conflation is unhelpful. As I understand it, the Government are finding it difficult to get all their ducks in a row in relation to these individual oligarchs, and the European Union is doing this much quicker. I hope he heard what I said earlier, because I think that that is because the legislative measure used in the EU is more effective in providing legal certainty for the sanctioning body. Why do we not put names of people on our sanctions? There is not a single name on the measure before us. We do this in a very legalistic way and the danger is that Mr Abramovich will have sold everything by the time we get round to sanctioning him.
I note what the hon. Gentleman says, but it is not often that people refer to the mechanisms of the EU as speedy. If he says that they are speedier than ours, clearly that is something for the system to look at. But we have a system that we are using at the moment, that has applied and that is what we have to go through. We are acting faster than ever before and we are leading the way in this area.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend update the House on what action the Government are taking to deal with the loophole that remains Scottish limited partnerships? They remain popular with Russians and Belarusians in terms of being able to invest in property and raise cash in the UK, which undoubtedly goes to support some of the very people we are seeking to stop acting in the way that they are in Ukraine at the minute.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and of course he is right to focus on those areas in particular, as he has a marked interest in them as regards Scotland. Where these measures are applied, they apply throughout the UK. We always want to look at any areas where he might bring issues to our attention, but these measures apply throughout the UK—
I want to make a little progress. Last night, we laid new legislation in Parliament on financial measures, including on sovereign debt; a prohibition to limit access to sterling; and a ban on any Russian company issuing securities or raising finance in the UK. That significantly further strengthens our arsenals of sanctions against Russia and it comes alongside increased trade measures, including a prohibition on sensitive “dual-use” items, which could be used by the military, and a ban on a further range of crucial industry goods, from high-tech to aircraft.
I am going to make a little progress and then I will give way. Sanctions announced by the UK and our allies are already having an impact. Yesterday, the rouble dropped 40% of its value, before closing 25% down; central bank interest rates have more than doubled, from 9% to 20%; international businesses are quickly divesting, as we have been hearing in the media; and the rouble is now trading at about a quarter of what it was when Putin took power. That will have an impact on the institutions that prop Putin up and that prop his cronies up.
I appreciate all that my right hon. and learned Friend is doing, but we are talking about the cronies and not the institutions as well. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is right; I do not see why we cannot just use privilege in this House to name some of the three dozen “dirty oligarchs”. Why can we not use privilege? What law firms and lawyers are holding this up? How much money—how many billions of pounds—will have fled the country by the time we nail these people down?
We work with our allies around the world on names. This is an effort between allies; we co-operate and discuss the matters, and officials work on that. The idea is to continue to work with our allies to bring forward further sanctions and press for further collective action to reduce western reliance, for example, on Russian energy.
I want to pursue the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), because 23 people on the EU sanctions list are not on the UK sanctions list. There are some surprising omissions—not just the oligarchs on the Navalny list, but the commanders in chief of the Black sea fleet, of Russian aerospace forces and of the Russian navy, and the Russian Defence Minister. We need a timetable for adding these people to the list. Crucially, I want to draw the Minister’s attention to paragraph 3.1.3 of the general guidance on sanctions implementation, which states:
“The everyday use by a designated person of their own economic resources for personal consumption is not prohibited.”
I would like the Minister to look at how we actually prohibit the use of the mansions, the jets and the economic assets that these people own. I do not just want them frozen; I want them put beyond use.
Nothing is off the table. Everything is being considered and is open for consideration. We have rightly taken unprecedented moves, which have been extremely rare in international precedent, if not unheard of, and which go further, in many instances, than what our allies have done. We have led the way in a number of different areas. That is not to say that there is not more still to do. I accept that there is, which is why I say that nothing is off the table.
Let me make a little progress and then I will give way. The solidarity of NATO is resolute, which is why the UK and our NATO allies have been moving troops to our NATO allied states. We will continue to support the legitimate Government of Ukraine and the people of Ukraine in their self-defence against this attack by Vladimir Putin. Let me reinforce this point: we are going to use every lever under our control to that end.
I suppose the frustration is that we have been told for a long time that economic crime and kleptocracy and the proceeds of economic crime are going to be clamped down on, yet very little that is effective has happened. Now we are hearing something similar from the Minister. What is he doing to beef up enforcement to ensure that these sanctions are actually going to bite? We can have the best sanctions in the universe if we are not enforcing them; they need to be enforced, and fast.
These powers will have a maximum penalty of up to 10 years’ imprisonment, so that is a “bite” if they are breached.
It seems that the legal test required to sanction an individual is too high, because the Departments responsible are clearly struggling to amass sufficient evidence to meet that test—evidence such that they feel will be able withstand judicial review or legal challenges by the individuals concerned, who understandably will put together a serious legal team to challenge them. Anyone would do that and that is their legal right. What can this House do, through legislation, to assist the Minister and the Government in making that legal bar easier for them to reach? That is the challenge that Members on both sides of the House are raising today.
The House is as one on the wish and the need to apply these measures as expeditiously as possible. But of course my right hon. Friend is right to say that we have to do it properly, not least because a number of perfectly legitimate and lawfully acting UK businesses would be affected by these sorts of measures. It is right that they should not be injuriously affected by what occurs. It is right that, when we are imposing sanctions of up to 10 years’ imprisonment for a violation of these measures, we are also cautious in seeing that they are done properly. I can assure the House that we are working through names, but it takes time. There is a high burden of proof and we will work through it.
The reason we co-ordinate with our allies is to make our policies effective. If the process of co-ordination takes so long that people can remove their assets beyond our reach and prepare their legal defences so that we cannot overwhelm them, we are defeating ourselves—we are pursuing headline actions without effect. Surely we should limit the extent to which we delay those things and get on with it straightaway.
I am so pleased that my right hon. Friend says that, because that is exactly what we are doing. The greatest expedition is being applied to this matter.
The legislation follows the made affirmative procedure, as set out in section 55(3) of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. I know the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is familiar with that and supported it strongly in this House both in 2018 and before. The legislation follows the process of that Act, so I have no doubt he will support it. These statutory instruments amend the Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 and, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced, the powers they contain will prevent Russian banks from accessing sterling.
This is a significant and new measure for the United Kingdom. Russian banks clear no less than £146 billion of sterling payments into and out of the United Kingdom’s financial system every year. Without the ability to make payments in sterling, designated banks will not be able to pay for trade in sterling. They will not be able to invest in the United Kingdom. They will not be able to access the UK’s financial markets. This measure matches the power the United States already has to prohibit access to the US dollar, and shows our joint resolve with our American allies to remove Russia from the global financial and trade system. Around half of Russian trade is denominated in dollars or sterling.
The objective of sanctions is to limit the escalation of hostilities. I hope we are able to effect that through these measures, but does the Minister not accept that the list exists in some form, as has already been referred to, and the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) has already outlined a remedy? Surely it is not beyond the wit of man for us to come together to make these sanctions work and avert an escalation of hostilities?
That is what we all want to do. These measures will work; the reality is that they follow the mechanism outlined in the 2018 Act.
I must make some progress. Around half of Russian trade, as I have said, is denominated in dollars and sterling. We have already used the power to designate Sberbank, the largest Russian bank, and the same statutory instrument prevents the Russian state from raising debt here and isolates all Russian companies. I emphasise that again, because here we are going further than many of our allies, who have picked out a number of companies that they think may be closely connected with Putin.
With this statutory instrument, we prevent the Russian state from raising debt here and isolate all those Russian company—by the way, there are about 3 million of them. They will now be prevented from gaining access to UK capital markets. This measure goes further than those of our allies and bans all Russian companies from lucrative UK funding.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the banking measures provide an immediate ban? The effect is that if there are debts owed that should be paid into Russian banks, they will not be. That creates an immediate economic shock and plays an important role in doing so.
My right hon. Friend is certainly right that it creates an immediate economic shock. That is why the effect on the interest rates and on the rouble is as we have already seen: within hours, the shock to the economic system is significant.
Russian businesses listed in London have a combined market capitalisation of more than £450 billion, or nearly half a trillion pounds. That is the money we are talking about. It includes some of Russia’s largest state-owned enterprises, and the Kremlin is hugely reliant on those tax revenues. Banning them from raising debt in London will further increase—massively so, I submit—the burden on the Russian state. Global giants such as Gazprom will no longer be able to issue debt or equity in London. In the past seven years, Russian companies have raised £8 billion on UK markets.[Official Report, 31 March 2022, Vol. 711, c. 8MC.] That ends today.
The second piece of legislation will ban exports to Russia across a range of items, including those on the dual-use list and other goods and technology critical to Russia’s military-industrial complex, including its maritime and aviation sectors. It will also ban a range of technical and financial services related to such items. By enacting this measure in alignment with the United States, the European Union and other partners, we will collectively cut off much of Russia’s high-tech imports. Those include critical high-end technological equipment such as microelectronics, telecommunications, sensors and marine and navigation equipment. It will blunt Russia’s military-industrial and technological capabilities, it will gradually degrade Russia’s commercial air fleet, and it will act as a drag on Russia’s economy for years to come.
The Department for International Trade and Her Majesty’s Treasury will offer advice and guidance to UK businesses affected. Consular staff will continue to support British nationals in Russia as well as those in Ukraine, and I take this opportunity to commend our consular staff in those places.
The Minister said earlier that all these measures come into force immediately. Why on earth does the Government measure allow VTB Bank, the second-largest Russian bank, 30 days for clients to be able to remove their assets? I do not even know what the metaphor is in terms of horses and bolts and having already escaped, but this seems preposterous.
I do not think the individuals involved will consider it a weak measure; on the contrary, I think they will consider it a draconian measure, which is exactly what it is.
I want to return to another point and perhaps help the Minister a little bit, because we want to get at the companies, but we also want to get at the individuals—we need to get at both. We have been lax, and I hope he will accept that across this House we think the Government should take more action on individuals. May I suggest that, rather than going through the lengthy legal due diligence that he says is constraining his ability to act against individuals now, he could use the legislation we have on unexplained wealth orders, where the assets of individuals are impounded and it is up to the individuals to prove that they got them legitimately, rather than our waiting to see whether there is a case? Take the assets away and leave it up to the individuals to demonstrate to us that those are legitimate assets with no connection to Putin.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for mentioning unexplained wealth orders, because that is another thing that this Government have done in order to have the desired effect that she mentions.
In response to the hon. Member for Rhondda, the reason for the 30 days is to have a wind-down on certain measures to allow UK businesses to close their affairs. That is its purpose. It does not enable designated persons to move money within that 30-day window; it is designed to help UK businesses, which will of course also suffer as a result of these measures.
In addition to these two statutory instruments, we are further strengthening our sanctions package by bringing in shipping measures, imminently, and a prohibition on financial services relating to foreign reserves exchange and asset management by the Russian central bank. These will be before the House for consideration soon.
Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is part of a long-term strategy. If we give ground now, or try to accommodate illegitimate Russian concerns, the Russians’ strategy of aggression would not end. We are concerned that they might not stop at Ukraine; instead they might be emboldened. President Putin’s focus would simply potentially move on to the next target. That we cannot have. The UK has therefore been at the forefront of the response in terms of financial aid, aviation measures, lethal aid and sanctions, including on SWIFT.
Acting in concert with our allies, our measures will deliver a devastating blow to Russia’s economy and military for years to come. Co-ordinating with our partners, our sanctions will reverberate through Putin’s regime. We must remain absolutely firm in our response. We must rise to this moment and we must stand with the people of Ukraine. I am determined that we will continue to support them in that choice, and I commend these regulations to the House.
I thank Ministers and Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office officials for the pre-briefings they provided on these measures. I understand that in response to our request for briefings for Members across the House—because the Minister will have seen the great deal of interest that there is in the detail—the FCDO will now be providing those on a daily basis. I hope that the Minister can confirm that.
Russia’s unjustifiable and unprovoked attack on Ukraine is a heinous crime of aggression, and we stand united in this House in our utter condemnation of President Putin’s invasion and in complete solidarity with the people of Ukraine, who are showing extraordinary courage, resilience and sacrifice in resisting this onslaught. The desire for tough action on these matters is robust and united across this House and across this kingdom. In that regard, I do not want to detain the House for too long, but we do have a number of questions to ask the Minister. We are pledged to work with the Government to work at speed to ensure that the House can pass the necessary legislative measures. I think we first got these just before midnight last night and we are obviously debating them now. We will work with the Government on that, but we do have questions to ask and it is important to go through the proper procedures.
We urge the Government to go even faster and further, not least as we see the scenes today with Russian forces encountering courageous Ukrainian defences but the fighting getting bloodier and increasingly indiscriminate. The horrific reports from Kharkiv overnight, the alleged use of cluster munitions and the deaths and injury of civilians are deeply, deeply shocking. I am sure that colleagues will join me in welcoming the decision by the International Criminal Court prosecutor to open urgent investigations into some of the matters we have seen that have shocked the world. Russia must comply with the laws of armed conflict—the very basic principles that attempt to ensure at least some dignity, proportionality and discrimination to protect civilians and others amid the horrors of war. Those responsible must be held to account.
As we debate these regulations in the Chamber today, let us not forget why we are doing so: the dark spectre of a miles-long column of Russian armour that approaches Kyiv, a city of more than 2.5 million people. In recent hours we have heard shocking warnings from the Russians to civilians to avoid certain areas of Kyiv. The risks are huge. We heard in the statement earlier of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have already fled the country. We must continue to do everything we can to support the humanitarian effort to offer sanctuary in the UK and to assist the situation at Ukraine’s borders, including ensuring the full application of all refugee laws and ensuring that there is no discrimination when it comes to human beings seeking to flee to safety. As the humanitarian situation worsens, that is a stark reminder of the urgency of the need to do everything we can to step up the pressure on Putin to end this bloody campaign.
As the Minister pointed out, we have seen the effects that financial sanctions have already begun to have, with the rouble crashing by over 40%, the main borrowing rates up to 20%, and inflation skyrocketing. The Opposition recognise, as I am sure Members across the House do, the brave and difficult decisions that many of our allies and partners have taken to make these measures as effective as possible, including cutting Russia out from SWIFT, as we have long called for. I am acutely conscious that the sanctions will inevitably have difficult consequences for ordinary Russians, who did not choose this illegal war pursued by Putin.
In the past few days, we have seen brave acts of protest and criticism. It takes true courage to protest in Russia, as I am sure the Minister agrees. We pay tribute to all the Russians speaking up against the invasion. We must be clear that it is the Russian Government, not the Russian people, whose actions we condemn; it is Putin who is responsible for the economic consequences of these measures.
We will also see economic impacts here in the UK, as the explanatory memorandums to the regulations make clear, but that is no reason not to act robustly, broadly and swiftly. The unity of the UK and our allies is crucial in that endeavour. We welcome the efforts to co-ordinate with our EU, US and European allies and partners, both NATO and non-NATO, and with many countries around the world. We must build the widest possible coalition to oppose this war, but as many hon. Members have pointed out we cannot be the weak link in designation, implementation and enforcement.
The Opposition welcome the fact that the Government are bringing forward these measures. We will approach them in a constructive spirit, but I want to ask some detailed questions. First, as the Minister pointed out, certain measures relate to financial matters and others relate to dual-use materials, military supplies and other critical industry goods such as those for use in aerospace and communications. I hope that the Minister will provide more clarity on the question of immediacy. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) made an incredibly important point about the 30 days; we need to be absolutely clear that there will not be an opportunity for people to move assets or finances out or seek to circumvent the measures in some way.
The Government have to go through a legislative process and so on, but does the shadow Minister share my concerns, first, about warning certain individuals that they are on the target list, and secondly about the delay? I am not too sure how we are to make a distinction between British businesses that need to get their money out and those we are actually targeting. While we are getting a headline today, we are also giving a heads-up to the very people we are targeting.
I am sure that the Minister will say that we are not naming individuals to give them advance warning, but the right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) is absolutely right to bring up the fear of asset flight, as several hon. Members have done. We have already heard rumours today that a number of people are trying to dispose of assets and move money. I hope that the Government will name and shame the law firms and accountants who are facilitating that; they are the same enablers who have facilitated the illicit finance network and propped up the Putin regime for far too long in this country. Quite frankly, those law and accountancy firms and others involved should be ashamed of themselves.
Does my hon. Friend share my worry and frustration that there has been such a big gap between the Government’s rhetoric about economic crime, sanctions and kleptocracy, and what they actually do? Before we can fully support the sanctions suggested, we need reassurance that there is now no gap and that enforcement will be effective. The sanctions have to be effective, or they might as well not exist.
I completely agree about the need for effectiveness. A point has been made today about the slow pace of the designation of some individuals and entities. The Government have rightly talked about moving in lockstep with our allies, particularly in the EU, yet we still seem to be off pace in naming individuals—we seem to be moving more slowly. Some of the individuals that we have mentioned have already been sanctioned by the US and others for years or do not have significant assets in the UK. We need to ensure that our measures are meaningful, immediate, effective, deep and robust, and that individuals are not now sweeping their money and assets out of the UK.
What I found a bit disappointing about the Minister’s speech was its tone. We are all on the same side and trying to help, but there is still a question: why are we lagging behind? Is it that the legislation needs strengthening—I hope the Minister can see that across the House we are willing to work weekends to do that with the Government—or is it something else? He has not adequately explained why we still have not sanctioned individuals who are named by other jurisdictions.
The hon. Lady makes an important point. The Minister can be assured of our co-operation in getting these measures through quickly. He has already heard some suggestions for ways in which we might name individuals more quickly; I hope we will hear back from him about them.
We believe that we need to go further to widen financial and banking sectoral measures beyond Sberbank. My second question is about whether the Minister can explain why measures on corresponding banks have not been applied to all Russian financial institutions today, rather than just to Sberbank. Indeed, we understand that the measures have been expanded to include sovereign debt. The Opposition have called for that to apply to UK subsidiaries of entities as well. Will the Minister confirm the position?
I am going to pose a question for which I seek an actual answer—an unusual thing in this House. The Minister spoke about the problem of speed and co-ordination, and indeed the question of which banks were excluded from this process, which strikes me as a key issue.
These financial measures are like a hand grenade—a weapon that can kill or do damage to both sides: they will undoubtedly do damage to Germany, they will do some damage to us, and so on. We must seek financial weapons that do much more harm to the other side than to us because we may keep this up for years, and if we are to maintain support behind it we need to design it in that way. The Minister did not answer in those terms when I asked him the question, so I am interested to know whether the Opposition spokesman can.
It will clearly be necessary for us to propose and potentially impose measures for quite some time—for a number of years, according to the explanatory notes—and we have agreed to work with the Government on that. Obviously, as I have said, we hope that they are acting robustly, deeply and broadly now. It is crucial to send a very strong signal, not least given what we have seen. I certainly hope that Russia turns around and ends this illegal invasion, but at the moment we have to send that very strong signal.
Thirdly, there are some exemptions in the legislation, and it is not clear on the surface why they apply. For example, there is an exemption for correspondent clearing services relating to aviation assets. Can the Minister explain the reasoning behind that? There are other exemptions that clearly make sense, relating to humanitarian affairs and extraordinary circumstances, and I can understand why they are there, but can the Minister provide a fuller explanation?
Fourthly, the Government have previously referred to an intention to limit the deposits that can be made by Russian nationals. Do they still intend to introduce such a measure, which is not part of the package that we are discussing today?
Fifthly, we think that there are additional things that the Government could do. For example, the US immediately introduced a ban on all imports from Donbas regions controlled by Russia. Have the Government considered that? We have also proposed a ban on the export of luxury goods, comparable with what has been in place against Syria. If that were undertaken with our partners and allies, it could have a major effect in putting
the squeeze on those around Putin who enjoy their luxury lifestyles.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept, in the context of a wider set of points, that there is a significant argument for doing more in the legal field? Should we do more about protection against the abuse of libel law, abuse relating to the Data Protection Act, and the need for a foreign lobbying Act? The economic crime Bill and this statutory instrument are not the end of a process; they should be the beginning of a process to clean up our society. It is shocking that we have got ourselves into this mess.
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman, especially in connection with the measures relating to SLAPP suits that we debated recently in the House. This is a crucial point. There is a whole infrastructure here, a whole systemic problem. What saddens me is that many of these measures were set out so clearly by, for instance, the Foreign Affairs Committee and in the Russia report, but were not introduced. I hope that the Government will now bring forward measures in all these areas. The measures do not, of course, apply only to Russia; they apply to other regimes that are doing heinous things.
Sixthly, we support wider sectoral measures, to cover insurance and reinsurance, for example, preventing UK firms from underwriting transactions with Russian entities or activity in Russia. I understand that the sanctions we are discussing today will apply to insurance and reinsurance as it applies to the specific transactions covered by these sanctions, but will the Minister tell us whether the Government are considering a wider prohibition on the provision of insurance and reinsurance services more generally to Russia and those engaging with the regime, not least given the key role that the UK plays in the international insurance market?
Seventhly, we have heard the point rightly made by one of the Minister’s own colleagues, the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie), about Scottish limited partnerships. May we have some urgent answers on that?
My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) raised a point about the use of assets. My understanding is that these sanctions would, for example, prevent service companies from servicing a large mansion somewhere in London in respect of, say, cleaning or facilities. Of course, the individual would still be able to make use of the asset.
My hon. Friend is right. There is a secondary question that the Minister needs to clear up: if a Russian oligarch has a mortgage on a mansion, is the bank that holds the mortgage legally entitled to take debt repayments or not?
My right hon. Friend makes a crucial point. My understanding, which the Minister can clarify if necessary, is that it does apply to financial transactions including mortgages and remortgaging, but we need to understand this because we need to truly freeze the use of these assets and not allow loopholes.
As always, I must ask how these measures will apply to the British overseas territories and Crown dependencies. Will they be effective immediately in those territories or will we, or they, have to pass additional measures? We do not want a lag effect of days in those jurisdictions. I also want to ask about resourcing. I pay tribute to the officials in the FCDO sanctions unit, who are working on these matters at speed, but can I get an assurance from the Minister that their resourcing is being rapidly scaled up so that we can move swiftly, robustly and in a legally sound way? What consideration is being given to alternative routes for naming some of the individuals?
These are highly complex sanctions measures, especially in relation to the dual use of goods, and a major Government effort will be vital to ensure that there is detailed understanding across the private sector so that we can support their implementation, not least given the severe penalties outlined in the instrument and our desire for the measures to be implemented immediately and effectively. Will the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation issue urgent and clear new guidance on these measures? Similarly, will additional resources be provided to the export control joint unit to support compliance and enforcement? If we want the toughest measures, we will also need the toughest enforcement, but unfortunately many of the agencies have been lagging behind the US. They do excellent work, but they have not had the resources they need.
There are multiple reports today that troops from Belarus might have been entering Ukraine. They are unconfirmed at this stage, but we know that attacks have been conducted from the territory of Belarus. We have all previously called for wider sanctions against Belarus, and indeed the EU has laid out such sanctions. Will these measures be effective against Belarusian entities and individuals? As has been said, sanctions are important but they alone will not deal with the wider problems of illicit finance and the UK’s role as a hub for corrupt, Russia-linked money. This is a matter not just of individuals but of fixing a broken system in which poor governance, weak enforcement and a lack of transparency have allowed the UK to be a haven for ill-gotten gains. We have to take action across the board.
There is a range of additional measures, and the Minister has hinted that we might see measures relating to shipping. Again, we want to understand that these will apply globally, in the light of our overseas territories and Crown dependencies. Can he tell us when he expects additional SIs and designations to be laid? We want to work with him in co-operation, but we need to have that information in order to understand when these things are coming.
Finally, today is St David’s day, the national day of my home—Wales. I have previously spoken in this place of the strong historic ties between Ukraine and not only my home city of Cardiff but the whole of Wales. I am hugely proud of the demonstrations of support and solidarity that we have seen across Wales, including in Cardiff, as well as across the UK, and I am delighted to report that the Welsh First Minister has in the last hour announced direct support from Wales of £4 million for humanitarian and medical needs. Wales stands ready to welcome Ukrainians fleeing the conflict, just as we have done for Afghans and so many other people across the globe throughout history. I hope that a strong message goes out from this House and from across the United Kingdom that we will unite to impose the strongest measures and provide the strongest support we can to the Ukrainian people in these dark days.
I found much to agree with in the comments from the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), as I did in those of the Minister. Today’s moves to prevent Russian banks and businesses from accessing our financial system and to ban key exports to Russia are much-needed and, frankly, long overdue. We should have been doing some of these things—not all of them—some time ago.
Yesterday, the Foreign Secretary said that this legislation would immediately be applied to Sberbank, VEB, Sovcombank and Otkritie. These measures will undoubtedly inflict damage on the Russian economy and punish the Russian state, but we must go further. It may be that I have not completely comprehended the Minister’s intentions, but why are we applying this immediate legislation only to those specific banks? The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) made a good point on this. Why not immediately apply it to VTB, Gazprombank or Alfa-Bank—Russia’s second, third and fourth biggest banks? I note that the Americans have sanctioned the same banks in the same way, and I assume that this is to protect the operation of fundamental European infrastructure such as oil and gas.
That was the point I was trying to draw from the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth when I asked whether he thought we were trying to ensure we did the maximum damage to Russia but the minimum damage to our allies if we had to maintain this for a long time. I am interested to hear the Minister’s answer, because by excluding those banks in the immediate term, we will to some extent undermine our strategy. Time is against us and troops are bearing down on Kyiv as we speak. The longer we wait, the longer Ukraine and her people will be subject to indiscriminate missile strikes and the terror of Putin’s forces.
Similarly, I would like to hear what the Government are doing to stop these measures being bypassed by Russia’s erstwhile friends, allies and fellow travellers: China, India and Brazil. Again, if we allow 30 days and those countries are willing to facilitate it, Russia could bypass a very large component of what we are trying to do. There might be rouble-support operations by China, for example. How would we cope with that? If we do not succeed in this strategy, frankly, we risk Ukraine being turned into a European Vietnam, a prospect too horrible to countenance.
As damaging as today’s measures are to the Russian financial system, they will not hit Putin where it hurts most. For that we need to target many more of his allies and facilitators who have bought their way into British society. That is what is missing from these statutory instruments.
We need to target those who own businesses on our stock exchange. We need to target those who own London homes that we can no longer afford because of Russian operations in London. We need to target oligarchs who own football clubs that many of our citizens can no longer afford to attend because they are so expensive. For too long, we turned a blind eye to dirty money flooding into the City of London. The right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge), my successor as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, has a very strong record on this, and she will know that we have failed to use the tools we already have.
For example, we have had unexplained wealth orders at our disposal since 2017. In theory, they force a suspect to reveal the source of their wealth, and failure to do so results in the property under consideration being seized. Since 2017, only nine of those orders have been presented against four people, and only two of them succeeded.
I am very much enjoying the right hon. Gentleman’s contribution, and I thank him for what he said. Does he agree that, until we target the enablers—the accountants, lawyers and banks—supporting individuals or companies in laundering dirty money, we will not hit the heart of the dirty money industry that we are trying to attack with this legislation?
The right hon. Lady makes a point that will be made by my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) and others, and I have a lot of sympathy, but we have to be careful that we do not take away ordinary citizens’ rights—indeed, the proper rights of any individual—in how we deal with the lawyers, the accountants and so on.
Particularly in the lawfare area, a huge industry of enormous margins and enormous profits has been developed by various law firms, in particular, that have developed the tactics for defeating the Government’s imposition of proper laws.
My right hon. Friend and the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) raise a very important point. CMS took instruction from a Ministry of the Interior official who was actually a front for organised crime in the Magnitsky case. Should organised crime have legal representation? Yes. Should foreign organised crime have legal representation? Potentially. Does foreign organised crime have the right to hire companies such as CMS to try to use lawfare to attack freedom of speech and Bill Browder in this country? I would argue not, and that is the debate we should be having.
My hon. Friend and I sponsored the lawfare debate four weeks ago, and he played a sterling part—he made probably the most informative speech in the whole debate. Yes, we have to address lawfare, but it is a difficult area. There are quicker areas we can work on right now, bearing in mind that time means lives. We have to work faster than we have been.
As I said, the NCA was able to bring successfully only two unexplained wealth orders out of nine, but the truth is that it has 100 targets sitting in its files—not two or four—and it cannot pursue them. Its evidence was given to the Intelligence and Security Committee and is reflected in the Russia report, but Lynne Owens, who was then head of the NCA, said that it simply could not afford the huge legal bills that it faced. The truth is that frankly it does not have the huge calibre of skills—no agency can say that they have— that oligarchs with virtually infinite quantities of money can employ.
How can we get the Serious Fraud Office, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the Financial Conduct Authority, the Crown Prosecution Service and the NCA all to use this legislation properly? First, we must ensure that the costs of unexplained wealth orders are brought under control from the state point of view. Again, we must be careful that we do not undermine the rights of ordinary citizens, so we may say that the rules will apply only to unexplained wealth orders of, let us say, more than £50 million or something like that—that will not worry the ordinary citizen—and put a cap on expenditure. We must also use the private sector. We must say, “This is a national emergency” and ask everybody to put their shoulder to the wheel and make these UWOs work properly. The NCA has a list of 100, but those of us who took part in the lawfare debate know that roughly 140 Russian oligarchs should be on the target list. Not all of them are in Britain, but they should be on the list because their money may be in Britain, even if that is not the case.
It seems to me that there is a serious issue that should be in today’s regulations. I worry about the Government moving so slowly that their prey escape them and that the people who are in effect the enemies of the people of Ukraine by proxy get away with things that we should not allow. We must fight fire with fire and beat the oligarchs at their own game.
I will pick one oligarch out. We have already seen the results of actions taken so far, with oligarchs scrambling to protect their reputations. In the newspapers in the last few days we have seen Roman Abramovich doing things to protect himself. According to the Spanish Intelligence Committee, he is the man—or at least one of the men—who manages Putin’s business affairs. That is a really important issue in considering whether he should be on our target list. He was refused a Swiss residency permit due to suspected involvement in money laundering and contacts with criminal organisations and, when his UK visa was up for renewal, he chose to withdraw his application as it became clear that he would need to explain the source of his wealth due to the changes that we introduced in 2015. I picked one, but I could have picked any of 100-plus to illustrate that there is information and knowledge—it is not a question of being unable to identify the individuals. It should not have taken a war for us to make a start on that.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a brilliant speech. Will he give the House his perspective on the potential weakness in the sanctions regime? Its focus is obviously on asset freezing, but while Abramovich, who is widely regarded as Putin’s cashier, has tried to take pre-emptive measures by transferring control of Chelsea football club to a charitable trust, there is a real issue that the mansions, the jets and the yachts owned by oligarchs will continue to be available for their use because the regulations do not prohibit the use of economic resources for personal consumption.
That is true. We must also face facts on the sophistication of the targets that we are aiming at. The assets that the right hon. Member talked about—the blocks of flats, the grand houses and the yachts—are probably owned by six or seven layers of companies through various offshore entities in the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands or whatever, and it is incredibly difficult for the state to find out who the owner is. That is why these unexplained wealth orders are at least the first weapon that we should sharpen up. That is also why speed is important.
Every day we give to these people allows their advisers to develop more sophisticated tactics of concealment and distraction. In at least a couple of the unexplained wealth orders, it turned out that the state was pursuing the wrong ownership because of distraction tactics. Speed, determination, sophistication and clear targeting, which is not difficult given what I have just been saying, are critical to succeeding in this. It should not have taken a war for us to start rooting out dirty Russian money in the UK, but we are where we are and we must not wait any longer.
We must start by going after the 140 or so oligarchs who have been identified as having direct links with Putin. We must take that action immediately and make clear to those corrupt oligarchs that their money is no longer welcome on these shores, and indeed that it is unsafe while they continue to provide financial support to Putin, whatever they say in the public press. I would have liked that process to have started today with these SIs. Sadly it has not, but hopefully it will be in next week’s economic crime Bill. However, if that takes weeks as well, every single week means more lives lost, more opportunities for these people to escape justice, and a worsening of the chances of our rescuing the Ukrainian nation from the fate in front of it.
Let me start on a note of consensus. The Scottish National party supports these statutory instruments. We have already expressed that support, and called for many of the measures that have been included. Although I am instinctively uncomfortable with any Government—I include the Scottish Government in that—having this degree of power with an unlimited timescale, I think needs must and we should not pretend there is division where there is none. We support these measures.
I propose to offer a general critique of the UK’s more general approach, and then some ideas for future work on sanctions. As other Members have said, I am concerned that the UK’s general approach is reinventing the wheel and duplicating effort, particularly on naming individuals who are subject to sanction. The EU response in scale, scope and ambition—I am talking particularly about the civil protection mechanism, the European Peace Facility and the general response to the asylum situation—simply dwarfs the UK’s efforts in every possible way, and I would like the UK to co-ordinate far more closely with the EU’s efforts than it has done.
The EU has named a lot more individuals, on a different legal basis—I am a solicitor by trade, and appreciate that this needs to be done properly—and there is surely an opportunity for greater complementarity between the UK’s efforts and those of the EU on this. I would include sanctions due diligence in that, and I would like a reassurance that those talks are under way and that efforts are being co-ordinated. There is surely scope for doing this faster. This point has already been made, but effectively giving people three weeks’ notice that they are going to be sanctioned is surely the worst possible way to do it. We need to do this faster and better, and the EU can offer some assistance with that.
I appreciate that this point on refugees is outwith the scope of the SIs, but it is a point worth making, particularly after the lamentable statement that we heard from the Home Secretary earlier. All 27 states of the EU have granted all Ukrainian nationals a three-year visa waiver. They are not guddling about developing a new complicated scheme with new paperwork, rules and restrictions. They have said, “If you are in trouble and you need to get out, come on over and we will sort out the paperwork later.” That is the approach the UK Government should be taking. That would be clear, easy to understand, ambitious and it would be kind. I suspect that it would also be a damn sight more workable than the effort the Home Office has come up with to date, which I fear will not be sufficient for the needs ahead.
The UK needs to waive visas not wave flags—I have made that point before, and I will continue to make it until the UK Government take this seriously. We have not seen anything like the ambition that we need. Even William Hague in The Times today praised the EU’s decision on this issue, and criticised the UK Government. In an opinion poll yesterday, 77% of the UK population who responded to the survey were in favour of Ukrainians coming here without visas, and only 12% opposed that. The UK Government are out of step with the people of the UK on this, and I urge a change of heart.
That said, I have something of a shopping list on future sanctions activity. I am conscious that some of this is in train, some of it is not, and some of it is in places that we are not quite sure where they are. In no particular order—all of this needs to be done concurrently—we want to see an increased speed in sanctioning particularly Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and other military chiefs, as the EU has done. We want to see seizure of sanctioned individuals and companies’ UK real estate and assets. If people are to be sanctioned, they need to lose the use of their assets, not just suffer greater inconvenience.
I would like to hear a response from the Minister on extending the full sanctions package. For maximum deterrence impact, it needs to cover the overseas dependencies and territories—the British Virgin Islands in particular. I would be grateful for a reassurance beyond what I have seen in the statutory instruments that the overseas dependencies will be brought into those efforts, because I think that they are very important loopholes.
We need sanctions to be imposed on all the companies that Mr Putin or his family members are the owner or board member of, listed on the London Stock Exchange. That information should be publicly available, and it should be easily enough done. We want sanctions to be imposed on the family members of the oligarchs targeted, not just the oligarchs themselves. Often family members are used to hide or obscure where wealth actually is. When I was in Kyiv with colleagues a few weeks back, that was mentioned as a particularly effective way for pressure to be brought. We want to see all Russian banks removed from the SWIFT payment system, not just the ones that have been mentioned. I appreciate the work that has been done, but it needs to go further. We would also like to see greater effort and focus on Belarus and President Lukashenko particularly, and his family members.
We would like to see equivalent sanctions imposed on the Belarusian economy as have been on Russia, because they are a joint enterprise. Belarus is a client state of the Kremlin, and has demonstrated that it is every bit as culpable in this as Russia itself. We want to see sanctions on all oil, gas and extracted mineral imports to the UK, including delisting Rosneft from the London Stock Exchange. We want to ban payments from UK customers and registered companies to Gazprom in particular and other state-owned energy corporations. We want to see the sanctions imposed remain in place—this is the point that I made earlier about the time limit on them—until every centimetre of Ukrainian territory is back in Ukrainian hands. This needs to be a long-term commitment, as has been said by others, that cannot just be allowed to wither within a few months.
We want to trace all the connections between Russian companies and banks and Russian military-industrial companies. We want to see their assets frozen and to prohibit all transactions. As was said in last week’s emergency debate, the actions of the Kremlin in Ukraine are supported by not just a state apparatus but a deeply shadowy, complex, black-grey-opaque network of criminality around the world. It will take an international effort to track it down and unpack it, but we want to see efforts towards that. I would be grateful for an assurance that that is under way in a concrete sense, because it will be a long-term effort. We would also like to see work with other countries to eliminate the loopholes of sanctions policies. Again, it has been mentioned before that there are countries that may well work to undermine the sanctions. They need to be called out, and be aware that they cannot be allowed to be on the wrong side of history.
Finally, I would like to hear more about financial support for UK companies and individuals who will be impacted by this. UK individuals and companies that, through no fault of their own, have been conducting legal trade with Russian entities will suffer financial hardship because of this. It is right that if the state is banning that activity, and I certainly think that we should, there should be at least some financial consideration of the domestic impact of that on our companies and individuals.
We support the measures. We want to see more of them. We want to see more ambition, more connection to the EU’s efforts, more scale and, above all else, more speed. The Minister has an almost unique opportunity, given the cross-party unity in the House on this. I urge him to not let that moment pass. If we need to do something differently, we can do it differently. There is a willingness across the House to act. I hope that he rises to this occasion.
It was Lenin who said that there are some decades when nothing happens and weeks in which decades happen. It feels as if this week is one of those weeks. This war, as we know, is pernicious and wrong, and the Government are straining every sinew to ensure that it is not successful; indeed, the whole House is united on that front. These sanctions—I do not think this has been fully recognised by all quarters of the House—are the most extensive that have ever been put in place by any Government at any time. Think back to the days of apartheid South Africa. Think back to all sorts of regimes we have seen over recent decades. Never have a Government acted this extensively, indeed this swiftly. For that, the Government should be commended.
I have a couple of questions on the financial sanctions for those on the Treasury Bench. First, what is the position of individuals or institutions who may be assisting those trying to evade sanctions, either now or when these measures have come into force? For the avoidance of doubt, will the Minister clarify that it remains legal for UK entities or individuals to hold equities or debt instruments in businesses headquartered in Russia that were already held before the crisis started? It is important to get that clarification on the record.
On export sanctions, what safeguards are there? The Government are trying to prohibit the export of certain materiel to Russia that will help in the war effort against Ukraine, which we all condemn and we all deplore. What safeguards are there in the legislation for exports to third countries that are then smuggled to Russia, because that is a very obvious route that many nefarious individuals may take? Will the Minister also enlighten the House on what other types of equipment might be considered for inclusion within this export ban that are currently not included? What sorts of things are the Government also looking at?
These sanctions represent the right way forward. We are isolating Putin and we are squeezing the Russian economy in concert with our allies. It is worth noting—I agree with the words of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—that we are not taking military action directly. We are not doing that. The right way for a country like the United Kingdom and the world is not to try to escalate the military conflict, but to squeeze Putin, his Government and the Russian economy.
If I may, I will finish with a word about the City of London. There has been some discussion on both sides of the House and from former Chairs of the Public Accounts Committee, of which I am a very proud former member, about the City of London, and dirty money and cleaning it up. I speak as somebody—I should probably declare an interest—who was a corporate lawyer and a banker in the City of London. The City of London does many brilliant things, but I think we all recognise that it now needs to step up and help this House and the Government to show that might is not always right, and that morals and money are not always mutually exclusive.
I strongly support the imposition of these sanctions.
I am delighted by the tone of the debate, because on the Back Benches there is complete agreement. I hope the Minister will leave the debate emboldened by some of the ideas we put to him, so he can take them and translate them into action. I very much support the introduction of the two statutory instruments. I will speak specifically to paragraph (3) of statutory instrument No. 194 on the extension of powers to designate persons.
Before I come on to the detail, if I may, I would like to say two things. The Minister said that he wants to protect British companies and so do I, but there are a lot of British companies that are actually owned by Putin and Putin’s cronies. One of the problems we have is that it is so easy to establish a company here in the UK. Not only is it cheap—it is £12 and we do not mind that—but there is so little regulatory control of the data and so few powers for Companies House to verify that data and raise red flags where there are questions, that it is no good the Minister saying he wants to protect British companies. In so doing, he may often be protecting dirty money. That is why we were all so frustrated yesterday that the only move going ahead in relation to Companies House is yet another White Paper and yet another consultation. It really is time to act on that issue.
Across the House, we are all saying that the powers are there. The problem is that there does not seem to be an effective mechanism in Government to implement the powers and sanctions that we have. This is partly about resources—we have all talked about that—but I think it is also about political will, and the Government are trying to face both ways in relation to the City of London. There is a fear of undermining the financial services sector, which I understand, but in having that fear they are reluctant to take action where they should to eliminate dirty money. We will never have sustainable growth and sustainable prosperity on the back of dirty money, so it is a short-sighted policy. Having the political will, as well as the resources, is very important.
The hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) mentioned a list of 35 names, which I am familiar with—Navalny put it on Facebook just before he was imprisoned some time ago. I simply draw to the Minister’s attention, as others have, that 15 people on that list have already been sanctioned by the EU and the USA. Why on earth have they not been sanctioned here? What is stopping that happening? Until the strong words enunciated by the Government are enacted, we will not have confidence that our British Government are really doing all that they can to support Ukraine and the Ukrainians in their fight for democracy.
Did the right hon. Lady find the excuse that was given during the statement yesterday—that the Government have to gather the information on these individuals—rather limp? Surely if other Administrations already have sufficient information to do this, that must also be available to our Government.
That is indeed the case. It has been suggested that we could use parliamentary privilege to sanction those individuals through the House, or there is my suggestion that we use the powers under the unexplained wealth orders whereby the assets are removed and it is then up to the individual to justify the legitimacy of their access to those assets.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in many cases, it is not as though these assets are very mobile? They are expensive houses and apartments and other fixed assets. They are easily identifiable and could be sanctioned clearly, as Italy, France and others have done.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why the Government should readily undertake that action, and I would add to that list that places in English public schools can be identified and halted very quickly.
I have been handed a list today of 105 oligarchs. I think that these names are not on the list that the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon mentioned. These are wealthy businesspeople who are involved in companies of strategic importance to the Russian economy, in such things as energy, metals, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and construction. The list is of men—they are all men, I think—who have made a lot of money by robbing assets from the Russian people. That is where the money has come from and they have made their money only because they are close to the Kremlin, and they sustain their wealth only because they remain close to the Kremlin.
You will be delighted to hear that I will not read out the whole list, Mr Deputy Speaker, because I know that you think I go on a bit too long—
I will not read the list of more than 100 names, but I have picked out 10 that demonstrate not only the importance of tackling individuals, but their links to the UK. So we are complicit in this and we are facilitating it by not tackling this.
Alexander Abramov—my apologies if I mispronounce names—is the co-owner and chair of a multinational company registered and headquartered here in London, Evraz, which is a metals company. Together with his partners Roman Abramovich and Alexander Frolov, he owns a nearly 25% stake in TransContainer, which is the largest Russian container railway operator. His wealth is estimated at $6 billion.
Andrey Guryev is the majority owner and deputy chairman of PhosAgro, which is one of the world’s largest producers of fertilizers. It might well have been involved in the disaster in Lebanon—I am not alleging that, but the explosion in Lebanon arose from fertilizer that came through Russia. He has given 20% of the company to Putin’s university professor Vladimir Litvinenko, who is thought to be a proxy for Putin. He owns Witanhurst palace in London, which is valued at about £450 million, and his joint wealth with his family is estimated at $5.5 billion.
Leonid Mikhelson is the founder and chairman of natural gas producer Novatek, which is also listed on the London stock exchange. In 2017, he bought a 17% stake in petrochemical company Sibur from Putin’s reported former son-in-law, increasing his stake to 48%. His partner is Gennady Timchenko, a billionaire who is also a close friend of President Putin and whom the UK has also sanctioned. His wealth is estimated at $21 billion.
Mikhail Fridman has already been sanctioned by the EU. Fridman controls Alfa Group and LetterOne, both headquartered in Luxembourg. Fridman was investigated by the Spanish National Court between 2019 and 2021 for his role in the Zed bankruptcy. He owns £90 million of property and permanently resides in London. His worth is estimated to be $13 billion.
Vladimir Lisin is majority shareholder and chairman of NLMK Group, a leading manufacturer of steel products and responsible for one fifth of Russian steel production. NLMK is listed on the London stock exchange. Lisin also owns the railway operator First Cargo, as well as some ports and shipping companies. His estimated worth is $24 billion.
Petr Aven has been sanctioned by the EU. He is head of the largest Russian private bank, Alfa Bank. With his partners German Khan, Alexei Kuzmichev and Mikhail Fridman, Aven co-owns Alfa Group and LetterOne, both headquartered in Luxembourg. He is tipped to be the group’s direct link to Putin from his days as the Russian Minister of Foreign Economic Relations. He owns a mansion in Surrey and is a renowned art collector. His worth is estimated at $5 billion.
Suleiman Kerimov was sanctioned by the US in 2018. He gets most of his fortune from his 76% stake in Russia’s biggest gold producer, Polyus. He profited from co-investing in Russian shares together with the then First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, who was responsible for the Russian economy. The FinCEN files show that Kerimov paid £6 million to the Chernukhin family, who have been well exposed in the UK press. Kerimov’s family is worth some $10 billion.
Vladimir Potanin acquired a stake in Norilsk Nickel during Russia’s privatisation in 1995. Today, he owns just over a third of Russia’s largest nickel and palladium producer. Norilsk Nickel is also listed on the London stock exchange. Potanin also owns a pharmaceutical company, Petrovax Pharm, and a ski resort, Rosa Khutor, near Sochi. His worth is nearly $26 billion.
Yelena Baturina—sorry, she is a woman; Russia’s wealthiest, apparently—is the widow of Yury Luzhkov, who was the mayor of Moscow from 1992 to 2010. During her husband’s time as mayor, Baturina owned the construction company Inteko and cement factories, which benefited from the city’s commissions. She was the previous owner of the British property Witanhurst.
Finally—I have only chosen 10 out of the list—we have Vladimir Yakunin. He is an ex-KGB colleague of Putin. He ran state-owned monopoly Russian Railways between 2005 and 2015. He and his family extracted nearly $4 billion in assets and commissions from Russian Railways, in Navalny’s estimates. Most of those assets are now administered by his London-based son via a Luxembourg-registered investment fund. Yakunin is the founder and president of the Putin-linked World Public Forum “Dialogue of Civilisations”. We do not know, because we do not have a public register of ownership, but we think he owns two north London properties. I will undertake to send the Minister the complete list, from which I have raised only 10 examples.
My right hon. Friend, if I may call her that, will be able to work out, as a former Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, that 35 plus 105 comes to 140, which is the number I was using before. These are the people I was thinking of. The reason I say that is that although Vladimir Putin theoretically has no assets, in practice he is estimated to have something like $200 billion, and that $200 billion will be being held by the 140 people we have talked about. In targeting them, we are targeting him directly, and that is the incentivisation we are aiming at in this exercise.
Hear, hear. We all agree. I will send the complete list to the Minister. I ask him and his colleagues in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and elsewhere to forensically examine the circumstances of the people on that list and to come back to us all, so that we have confidence that the Government are enacting what they say they want to do and taking real firm action against those cronies of Putin who are propping him up and allowing him to create havoc in Europe.
It is a privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge). I will talk a little about enablers, but it might be helpful to talk a little about oligarchs as well, and I will try, just from my own experiences, having lived in Ukraine and having tried to keep abreast of what was happening in the Soviet Union when I lived there and since, to talk also about the role of oligarchs in Russian hybrid war. I will talk a little about the statutory instruments and give them some context, if that will be helpful.
I think it is pretty depressing that it has taken a major war in Europe for us to take economic crime seriously. We have been waiting on this Bill since 2018, and there is no excuse why it has not been on the statute book for 20 years, frankly. Previous Conservative Governments have failed—I am delighted that this Government are doing the right thing; I am not criticising this one—previous coalition Governments have failed and, frankly, previous Labour Governments have failed. I just do not understand how we have got ourselves into the mess we are in now.
Obviously I am going to support these regulations, the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill and whatever else the Government put up, but I stress to them that this is the beginning of a cleaning up of our legal system and finance system—this is not an end, but a start. We do not know how much money has flowed through our country using offshore accounts or Companies House. Our banks were not responsible for this corrupt flow of wealth—some of the worst in history. It was the Danish, German and Swedish banks that were responsible for that, but it is UK companies that they used.
I also say to the Minister that, as well as the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill, we need a foreign lobbying Bill and amendments to libel law and data protection law. We need to do more on SLAPPs—strategic lawsuits against public participation—where aggressive lawyers seek to intimidate campaigning groups, journalists and the like. We also need an espionage Bill.
We must toughen up the Solicitors Regulation Authority. I am told by whistleblowers working for the big companies that they do not do proper client checks and that “know your client” checks are non-existent for some of them. Some actually have a list of people that they specifically do not do those checks on because they know that they are inherently corrupt and inherently criminal. What on earth has happened to some of the major legal firms in this country that means that they specifically avoid “know your client” checks because they know that they will have to turn that client down if they do because those clients are corrupt, criminal or linked to organised crime? I am afraid to say that that is pretty shocking.
I note that some oligarchs are now distancing themselves from President Putin. Fridman, Deripaska and Abramovich have all come out with rather woolly statements in the last couple of days. I am sorry, but I don’t buy it.
Does the hon. Gentleman not find that it rather sticks in the throat that Mr Abramovich has been going around saying that he is an envoy of peace and claiming that he is somehow brokering peace between Ukraine and Russia, given his former involvement in the matter?
The hon. Lady brings me to a point about how oligarchs work. To go back to Ukraine, somebody such as Dmitry Firtash, who is now wanted by the Americans, was set up by Gazprom and Putin. He was given sweetheart deals to import vast amounts of cheap energy into Ukraine. The vast profits that he garnered from those sweetheart deals gave him a good life but, more importantly, he funnelled that money into buying up chunks of east Ukrainian industry, effectively as a front for the FSB, the former KGB. Critically, he also used it to purchase politicians and to fund the pro-Russian political parties in eastern Ukraine.
When it comes to oligarchs, therefore, it is important to understand that we are talking about an economic model within hybrid war. Of all the tools of hybrid war, if hon. Members read the Russian characteristics of war, they will see that the first characteristic of the Russian military doctrine is that there is an integrated military and non-military strategy. So they have their troops, paramilitaries, front organisations or assassins, but with that they have the politics, economics, culture, religion and even sport—sport matters very much.
When it comes to oligarchs, we are talking about not just obscenely rich people who are mates with somebody, but a structure of control and power, whether that is in eastern Ukraine or in the United Kingdom, primarily to facilitate vast money flows to tax havens or to intimidate and silence the western media into not reporting on those people. There are a series of outcomes to that, so I thank the hon. Lady for the intervention.
I return to Abramovich, Fridman and Deripaska. If they were so keen to smarten up their act—they are clearly scared of what might happen—I would like to know why, as of only a few weeks ago, they and their London lawyers were all abusing data protection Acts or libel law to target and intimidate individuals, such as Chris Steele and Catherine Belton, HarperCollins and others. At the end of last year and even this year, they have continued to intimidate a free press. They were enabled, and I make the point that it is not only the oligarchs but their millionaire servant class of enablers who enable the billionaire class of oligarchs who enable the neo-fascism that we see in Europe.
I commend the hon. Gentleman for his speech today, his past work in the area and his knowledge of it. Is the issue not also close to home in his party? A co-chair of the Conservative party has a business with, as I understand it, an office in Moscow with 50 people in it whose job has been to facilitate those oligarchs and others and to use their money around the world for expensive travel and other things. Should people such as him not question what they have done to support Putin and his regime?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a really good point. I do not have anything against Ben Elliot; he is a decent enough character. Do I think it is great that Hawthorn does PR for oligarchs? No, I really do not. Do I think it is great that there are Members of the House of Lords, whom we are not allowed to name—God knows why—who have set up their strategic advice so we know nothing about their clients, or who advise Russian oligarchs and their companies? No.
Do I think it is great that we have had a former member of the Scott Trust, Geraldine Proudler, who has represented the organised crime interest that killed Magnitsky? No, I do not. Do I think that there are advisers to the current Leader of the Opposition who have very questionable records when it comes to advice to oligarchs? No, I do not. Do I defend any Tories in that space as well? No, I do not.
What worries me is that, as well as having a very obvious commitment to not hurting the City of London—putting our national interests ahead of the City of London would be awful: it would never do—we build up a quiet collection of very powerful individuals who then effectively gently corrupt our system. I am sure they may be acting in the best interests, but, collectively, they have to be careful.
I think it was in the 1930s that Michael Foot wrote “Guilty Men”. In the past 10 years there have been guilty men and women who have done a really bad job of facilitating the agents of fascism, and those people are going to start coming out of the woodwork. It would be better for many of those people to consider their positions now, rather than becoming the targets for the media and people such as ourselves.
This is not my main point, but I just point out that it is not just Britain; after all, the chairman of Gazprom and the former German Chancellor is another such example.
The point that I want to bring my hon. Friend to is his question about the lawyers. I do not feel that I responded properly to his intervention about the professions involved here. It seems to me that professional bodies themselves have to look very hard at the issue. We also have to make sure that the law is enforced. What he is talking about—people ignoring the origin of the money being paid to them—is actually a breach of the law that those people understand.
I do not want to abuse privilege, but, to put it bluntly, I have been told of law firms that do not carry out client checks. I have been told of law firms that are effectively complicit in breaking the law. I have been told of law firms that are knowingly taking from organised crime, but doing it through a front. I will not start naming names now, but people are coming to me and telling me about this stuff—they are telling others here as well. It is a very serious that our legal systems have become so corrupted.
When it comes to solicitors, certainly in the Belton case, there is John Kelly at Harbottle and Lewis; Geraldine Proudler at CMS; Nigel Tait at Carter-Ruck—how often should that company have been mispronounced—which represents the interests of Rosneft; and Hugh Tomlinson QC, who represented all of them. Tait is also going after Charlotte Leslie for another client, as I think some here have mentioned. We have to wonder about the reputations that these people will end up with in a few years’ time, even if they are behaving as well as they might—I am being careful in what I say. Perhaps they are really lovely people, but perhaps their amorality will really begin to bite their reputations in a way that will be uncomfortable.
I just wonder: how on earth have we allowed this to happen? I would love an answer from a lawyer in Government. A free press should be intimidating kleptocrats and criminals. Why have we got to this position in our society—a free society, the mother of Parliaments—where we have kleptocrats, criminals and oligarchs intimidating a free media? We have a coalition not of the willing, but of the woeful. Oligarchs, Putin’s henchmen, team up with amoral lawyers—we know the oligarch model. We heard that from my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) and the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne). Just a few weeks ago, they told us how these firms set up a one-stop corruption shop to offer a form of legalised intimidation to silence not only their rivals, but journalists and authors.
There is also an unstructured, unregulated private eye business that is now collecting kompromat on people in this country. Do not get me wrong: people have the right to advice and legal representation, but that is being abused very badly in our society at the moment. To make the link with Putin, when it comes to the Belton case Catherine Belton says that the legal cases against her started two months after the Navalny video of Putin’s palace, when Navalny quoted from her book. As if by magic, a few weeks later three oligarchs, completely coincidentally, attack her to try to silence her and try to bankrupt HarperCollins and intimidate it into withdrawing the book.
The hon. Gentleman is outlining a damning case against those who facilitate. Does he accept that as long as we have a system in the United Kingdom where, as has been described in this House today, those with bottomless pockets and billions of pounds can use them to defend their ill-gotten gains, it will be a one-sided battle when it comes to the more limited resources of those seeking to expose them?
I completely agree, and the right hon. Gentleman is completely right. I am going to carry on for no more than a minute or 90 seconds, Mr Deputy Speaker. One of the most frightening things that I have read about our society was in the Intelligence and Security Committee report. In that, the head of the National Crime Agency said that it has to think carefully about which cases it can take on, because it is so costly and risky to take on some of the most powerful and, frankly, wretched people, who are lawyered up with these amoral lawyers who seemingly do not care. They have no moral concept of what they are doing but are happy to take the vast sums that these people are willing to pay to scupper the legal processes in this country, prevent the people’s will from being done via Government and prevent justice from being done. There are beginning to be elements of state capture, in extreme cases, in some of the things that are happening.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is also alarming when companies such as Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation can take individuals who work for organisations such as the Serious Fraud Office to court for having the audacity to lead an investigation into ENRC, and use SLAPP orders and litigation to weigh down not only the SFO, but the individuals who work for it? Surely we need to offer them our protection.
We absolutely should, and the hon. Gentleman makes another really important point. The lawyers go after anything and everybody they can to try to destroy them in any way they can. One of the most awful things I read was that Mishcon de Reya was in the process of financially destroying that Maltese journalist Galizia before she was physically destroyed. How awful is that? How much reputational damage are these people willing to endure for the bonuses they make? We are not talking about these people as individuals or as companies enough. We need to do that more.
I have been listening intently to what the hon. Gentleman has said, but surely there must be some remedy and solution. I would be very interested in his view on what practical steps we can take collectively to shut down these loopholes and stop these sharp practices.
There are lots of them; there are too many for me to go into, because I am genuinely trying to wind up my speech, Mr Deputy Speaker. The best way of doing that is to use privilege to get these oligarch names out on the Floor of the House, so that we do not have to worry about being sued for what we say about them and so we can get the sanctions out, rather than have them cart their money off to God knows where. We can cap costs in NCA cases. We also have to get the crime agencies talking much more holistically.
To round up, I seek a public inquiry into what has gone wrong in the past 10 to 15 years, because this system is becoming rotten at so many levels. I am talking about the amount of money; the corruption to some of the standards in the legal firms; and some of the former politicians—on the Opposition side and ours—who are, in effect, the public spokesmen for these people. It is wrong and there is progress to be made. I support these measures but they should be a start, not an end.
Like everyone who has spoken in this debate, I support these regulations, but I want the Paymaster General to become a paymaster for taking on Kremlin paymasters with a lot more force and power behind him. We are now about to see what could be the “Syrianisation” of the conflict in Ukraine. We have seen horrifying pictures of the shelling intensifying this afternoon. We know there are Spetsnaz and paratroopers ready to drop. We know Ramzan Kadyrov has readied thousands of Chechen fighters to go in and pursue a murderous, barbarous campaign. We are on the brink now of a humanitarian disaster in Ukraine. Therefore, what we needed to see from the Government this afternoon was a step change in a plan for economic warfare, targeted to defeat President Putin.
I said to the House yesterday that we remain troubled that our neighbours are so much further ahead in targeting and sanctioning institutions and individuals. The Foreign Secretary, who is not in her place, said something very strange in response: she said that
“this is not a competition”.—[Official Report, 28 February 2022; Vol. 709, c. 726.]
Of course it is not a competition; it is an exercise in not leaving a gap through which bad people escape justice and our campaign.
The ban on trading in state bonds is in place in Europe, but not here in the United Kingdom. The ban on import and export from breakaway regions is in place in Europe, but not here in the United Kingdom. The sanctions on state Duma members are in place in Europe, but not here in the United Kingdom. There are 23 serious players on the EU sanction list who are not on the UK list. They are key economic players, such as Mr Kostin, the president and chairman of VTB Bank.
Missing from our list are key political figures such as Anton Vaino, chief of staff to President Putin. Missing is Mr Grigorenko, the deputy Prime Minister. Missing are key propagandists such as Margarita Simonyan. Missing, surprisingly, are military figures such as the commander-in-chief of the Black sea fleet, the commander-in-chief of Russian aerospace forces, the commander-in-chief of the Russian army and the Russian Defence Minister. I am well aware that the sanctioning business is not a competition, but I want to know from the Paymaster General why these individuals who are being sanctioned by our neighbours are not in the regulations presented to this House.
I try to agree on this issue with almost everything the right hon. Gentleman says, but I would put an alternative argument to that point, and I am sorry to do so. People such as Gerasimov are potentially valuable because they are soldiers and can see some of the craziness of what the politicians are doing. The Black sea fleet is potentially a good target, but I would caution against going after senior military men, provided that they are seen to be credible military men. I apologise for disagreeing.
I am grateful for the nuance the hon. Gentleman brings to the debate. Gerasimov was not on the list I cited and I do not believe he is on the EU list either, but what disturbs me, which I have not yet heard an explanation for, is why these individuals are sanctioned across the channel and not yet sanctioned here. That deserves an explanation.
My second point is to push the Paymaster General on just what sanctioning means. We have heard a lot of rhetoric over the past week about the biggest and boldest sanctioning regime in living history, going further and faster against the Russians than ever before. Frankly, that does not say much, given the lassitude with which the Government have approached this question over the past few years.
I am seriously concerned that, whereas France is talking about taking away assets such as mansions, yachts and jets, paragraph 3.1.3 of the UK financial sanctions guidance in December 2020 does not prohibit the use of assets even if those assets are technically frozen. Are we seriously saying that we will step back and watch people such as Abramovich and Usmanov parade around the world in jets and in yachts and make use of property here in the United Kingdom because we did not tighten up the regulations strongly enough? Are we in this House seriously prepared to stand by and watch that? I do not believe we are.
Like my right hon. Friend, I am baffled by the Government’s approach. The Foreign Secretary said that she had a list that they were working through, but does my right hon. Friend agree that the action taken not just in France but, for example, in Italy, where the Italian Government have taken over certain properties, is the level of action we want to see here, and that some of these regulations are limited in what they can actually do?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are now seeing a sanctions gap emerge, where the UK is the soft touch, the weakest link, and the slowest to the punch. None of us in this House wants to be in this position. We all welcome the regulations that the Paymaster General has brought before the House this afternoon, but the question that we put back is: “Tell us what further power and resources you need so that we can genuinely be best in class around the world.”
One of the reasons the sanctions are milder than perhaps the right hon. Gentleman or any of us would like may well be the problem that in British law, the stiffer the sanction, the greater the reaction. We may well have to take action in two stages, by freezing the assets in the first instance and then sequestering them.
That could well be the case, but if the Paymaster General has told us this afternoon that nothing is off the table, then we in this House need to hold him to his word and ask him to come back to us with an explanation, because at the moment the regime prohibits the dealing in economic resources but permits the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation to make available those resources. Personal consumption is not prohibited, according to the regulation. I guess we are asking him please to commit to us today to look at this question and bring back proposals for our urgent consideration, because I believe I speak for the whole House when I say that we will give the green light at a moment’s notice.
I want to pull together some of the brilliant contributions that we have had in this debate over the past few years and, in particular, over the past couple of weeks. If we write down the contributions that we have heard from all hon. Members, we basically get a call on Ministers for a 10-point plan to drive hard behind the powers that are being granted. First, surely it is now time for a Minister for economic warfare. This came up in conversation with the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis). We are now settling into what will be a long confrontation with Russia, yet the sanctions team is in the Foreign Office, the instructions to the Bank of England are issued by the Treasury, and the Minister for Security is in the Home Office. I have been a Minister with a foot in two different Departments, and I can tell the House that it is an absolute nightmare. Surely it is now time to unite the political leadership in a single department for economic warfare that begins to take the fight to President Putin in a far more aggressive way.
Secondly, there are 12 different agencies currently tasked with taking on economic crime, and the Government, in their negligence, have not yet appointed a lead authority. Surely that now has to change. The National Crime Agency was bewildered to hear that a kleptocracy cell was being set up, as were the people in the National Economic Crime Centre. We have to do away with this nonsense and create a single lead agency that brings to this House a CONTEST-style strategy for taking on economic crime in which we prepare, protect and prevent, and pursue economic criminals to the ends of the earth.
Thirdly, there are Government reports that now need to see the light of day, starting with the Home Office’s review of the golden visa scheme. The Home Secretary has said that her ambition is for it to published. Why on earth has it not been published this week? We need to know where the weaknesses are, so let us get the facts on the table.
Fourthly, we need to resource the fight against economic crime far more seriously. Lynne Owens, the former director general of the National Crime Agency, is on the record as saying that its budget needs to double. When we consider the £100 billion-plus in economic damage to our country, surely doubling the National Crime Agency’s budget is a very small ask of the Treasury. While we are at it, we need to introduce cost capping orders in relation to unexplained wealth orders, as the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) said, so that the costs of prosecution are that much smaller.
Fifthly, we need policy infrastructure such as a register of beneficial ownership of property and a proper targeting system based on our financial information. There is a group of urgently overdue laws that must be introduced over the next couple of months. We need a foreign agents registration Act, an update to GDPR legislation so that abusive data subject access requests can be stopped, and SLAPP-back laws to allow judges to throw out abuses and attempts to silence journalists such as brave Catherine Belton and Tom Burgis. We need updated espionage laws before the House as quickly as possible.
I have to say to the Government that there needs to be a ban on political donations from profits earned outside the UK. We need a regime for calling in donations from improper sources for national security assessment. Fortunately enough, the Elections Bill is in the House of Lords, and as it happens I have tabled amendments that would allow us to achieve exactly that. The answer that normally comes back—it is getting slightly wearing now—is “Just because there are people with Russian links donating to political parties, not all Russians are bad.” No one is saying that. Stop patronising our intelligence!
We have named specific individuals with links to Russia, such as Mohamed Amersi, who, together with his partner, has given £750,000 to the Conservative party, despite making millions of dollars from a deal that involved President Putin’s telecoms Minister. In case anybody is in any doubt about the gravity of the situation, let me quote from a letter from Carter-Ruck that I have been sent in defence of Mohamed Amersi.
Haven’t we all!
The right hon. Gentleman might have had a similar letter. Mine is many, many pages long and must have cost an absolute fortune. It says:
“Our client did not know, and cannot reasonably have been expected to know or suspect, that Ms Karimova was the ultimate controller of Takilant Limited”—
that was the corrupt telecoms deal that he was involved in. Anybody who was doing business in the country knew that that family were behind pretty much every major industry. Mr Amersi is many things, but he is not stupid. At the bottom of page 4, the letter goes on:
“To be clear, all of our client’s…dealings in Russia and the former Soviet Union…were entirely legitimate, lawful and transparent.”
Surely this is not the kind of individual that the Conservative and Unionist party should be taking money from. I could go on; I have made previous contributions in the House about the matter. Dmitry Leus—a man whose cheque the Prince’s Foundation has sent back—has given something like £30,000 to the Justice Secretary’s constituency party. Please stop patronising our intelligence, stop telling us that all the donations were given under the rules that existed at the time, stop pretending that we are trying to smear the entire Russian people, look at the people writing the cheques with suspect links, and pay the money back.
Let me set out the final couple of points in our 10-point plan. In addition to the five pieces of legislation that need updating, we need to update the regulation of the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Many of us have heard time and again how firms such as Mishcon de Reya and Carter-Ruck abuse the legal process in order to create and inflate costs and intimidate others. Frankly, that has to stop.
As the hon. Member for Isle of Wight said, it is a tragedy that it has taken a war to bring us together across the House around a plan for tackling economic crime. When the Berlin wall fell, and also on that tragic day of 9/11, I looked out on the world and thought, “We are moving into a different era”, and now I think we are moving into a different era again. We will need to rethink the way in which we fortify our frontline with Russia across the NATO territories, and we will need to get serious about taking on the cancer of economic crime once and for all. If we do that, I believe that we will ultimately prevail.
As I am speaking at a late stage in the debate, much of what needed to be said has already been said, so I will not repeat any of it. Let me instead make three brief points.
First, what really matter now are those things that have a systemic impact on the Russian economy and on Vladimir Putin’s ability to finance the war in which he is engaged in Ukraine. We must be careful, as a House, not to fail to see the wood for the trees and go down the rabbit hole of interest in individuals and oligarchs. That is of course important, and I will return to it in my second point, but it will not make a material difference in the short term. Many of those individuals are not close to Vladimir Putin today. Many of them left Russia or are dual nationals. The situation is highly complex. I will return to that in a moment, but what really matter, and will make a serious impact, are the measures that have, broadly speaking, been put in place over the last few days.
Like a number of Members on both sides of the House, I was disappointed that, when we had a debate on this subject towards the end of last week, the initial package of measures was very limited indeed, but now we find ourselves in a position where the UK, broadly in concert with our allies, has brought forward significant measures. For some time I advocated the move on SWIFT, and we were told that that was unlikely to happen. It has happened, and I am pleased that the UK played a significant part in advocating it, although I find it disappointing that it has been done in a partial manner. I wish that we could move to a point at which SWIFT is turned off from Russia more substantially, if not in its entirety, and I suspect that that is the UK Government’s ambition, but it is being held back by some others, particularly European allies, who rely on it to remit payments for oil and gas to Russian entities.
I think the sanctions that were put in place against the Russian central bank were by far the most significant that we have imposed as an international community, because part of the effort put in by Vladimir Putin over the last two or three years was to build up £600 billion of foreign currency reserves. The fact that half of that is based overseas, in foreign banks and foreign central banks, is extremely important and material, if we can truly freeze those assets and prevent the Putin regime from accessing them. I warmly support those changes and hope that they are effective; we will all have to follow events to see whether they really are in practice.
I am still not certain why the UK has not sanctioned all the major Russian banks. There are still some that we have not sanctioned, and I should like to hear a good answer to the question of why that is. There may be an answer, but I do not see it. There are vested interests across Europe; for example, some major banks in Russia are owned by SocGen—Société Générale, the French bank—so it is quite clear to me why the French Government would not want to sanction that particular bank, but I cannot see a good reason why the UK Government would not want now to sanction all the Russian banks, which is something that we could do quite quickly. I should be grateful if the Minister could, on this occasion or in future, make it clear why we are not doing it.
When it comes to individuals, as I have said, I am sceptical about the impact of this in the short term. The term “oligarch” is bandied around, and there is a spectrum of those individuals, from people who are clearly gangsters to people who made money out of Russia in a way that none of us would regard as legitimate, but who are now quite distanced from the Putin regime. It will make very little difference in some cases, and in fact I suspect that Vladimir Putin will find it highly amusing and satisfying to see those individuals being punished.
My right hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. I fully understand that he is separating the institutional from the personal. The term “oligarch” is bandied about far too much, but does he accept that while the institutional stuff will hurt the Russian state, by targeting those people who remain close to Putin, we will then target him, especially if they remain the oligarchic facilitators of some of his overseas policy, which is effectively a parallel Kremlin policy to the official state?
I do, and I completely understand what my hon. Friend is saying. The point I am trying to make is that we must not spend all our efforts on the individuals, although most of us would like to see those individuals punished in some way or form, and that the most important thing is to target the things that will have a real and major impact on Putin’s ability to finance his campaign in Ukraine. On the individuals, there is a distinction—as my hon. Friend has just said—between those individuals who we know through our intelligence to be directly involved in the Putin regime today and others who may have drifted away, and we should order in priority those individuals that we take action against.
My second point is that the regime we have in place for targeting individuals is clearly not fit for purpose. We were told that there was a hit list of oligarchs and that we would be taking action against them, yet days have passed and very few if any further individuals have been put on that list of sanctions. That leads me to believe that the legal bar that we have to reach before sanctioning those individuals is too high and that the group of officials doing that work is either insufficiently resourced or we do not have the right people. That is no disrespect to those officials, but we need to be able to sanction these individuals faster than we are doing today; otherwise, our rhetoric simply will not match up with reality. I am afraid that that is the situation today.
Anyone listening to the rhetoric would say that it is very strong, but the action is fairly weak. I would like to hear from the Minister what more we can do to help him and the Government to get those individuals sanctioned. As I say, it feels to me that that means more resources for the team providing the legal basis, and a lower legal test in order to sanction the individuals. If that requires changes to the legislation, let us bring them forward to the House, because there is clearly cross-party agreement on this.
My third point is that a large number of British businesses are going to be affected by the sanctions, the overwhelming majority of which are perfectly legitimate individuals and businesses in our own constituencies. I would like to see the Government bring forward some simple plain-English guidance for those businesses as quickly as possible. It is not available today. If we look online, we can see that there is not much guidance at all, and the guidance that is available is quite complex. If we are going to ask businesses, including small ones, to abide by these rules and regulations, the Government need urgently to bring forward some plain-English guidance for them.
Linked to that is the point I made during the urgent question earlier in the week, which was that in order to address a small number of seriously bad apples, we must not do anything that hurts legitimate small businesses and entrepreneurs in this country. The issue I am most concerned about there is the reforms to Companies House in the White Paper. It is a great thing in this country that for £12 someone can incorporate a company and get their certificate of incorporation within 24 hours. With that comes a serious concern about nefarious intent from those individuals who are not legitimate businesses, but before we legislate for that, I want proper reassurances from the Government that legitimate businesses will not be hurt. I do not want to live in a country where that £12 becomes £500 or where 24 hours becomes four weeks, because we all know other jurisdictions around the world, including in Europe—France is an example—where it is much more complicated and time-consuming to incorporate a business and operate it legitimately.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to make this point. Surely we have to get the balance right, though. I say as a former Chief Secretary to the Treasury that we have to guard against the Treasury insisting that Companies House is in some way cost neutral—that it covers its own costs. We want to have good “know your customer” checks in place, but we also want to avoid that cost being loaded on to sky-high fees. I am afraid that resolving that balance might well require the Treasury to think creatively.
As two former Treasury Ministers, we both know that situation. In these discussions, I strongly urge the Chancellor not to lose the UK’s obvious competitive advantage of being a jurisdiction in which it is easy to incorporate a company. I do not want small businesses to be badly affected by these measures. We all talk in this House of our desire to help small businesses or to cut red tape, but invariably we do the absolute opposite. Tackling corruption and money laundering must not come at the expense of legitimate businesses in our constituencies.
I will leave it there, but my central point to the Minister is that our strong words are not being matched by our actions. If there is anything we can do to legislate further, I urge him to do so. We would not want the UK to be a laggard in not sanctioning the banks and individuals that we all wish to sanction as soon as possible.
My party fully supports this sanctions regime, on which the Foreign Secretary gave us some insight yesterday. This is a great opportunity, because the whole House is united behind the Government. I think the only party that would perhaps show any dissent if it were here is Sinn Féin, whose spokesman today accused the Government of an act of jingoism in sending arms to the Ukrainian forces and whose Members have consistently voted against any sanctions in the European Parliament.
There is a unique opportunity for the Government to listen to the concerns that have been expressed and to the support for the proposals, and to say, “If we are going to do this, let’s make sure we do it properly.” We have waited a long time for these sanctions, and we should have done it sooner because we know the malign influence that the oligarchs and this corruption have had on our society. Now is the opportunity to do it. With the unity of the House, let us make sure we plug all the holes and ensure that the legislation is effective.
This is important. I suspect some people might think this is just an opportunity to bash Putin’s friends here in the United Kingdom as a form of revenge that shows our opposition to his actions in Ukraine and the terrible way in which that country is being destroyed by his forces as we speak. As Members have shown in the House today, this is more about ensuring the gangster regime that is perpetrating the atrocities in Ukraine, that is seeking to stamp out democracy in that part of eastern Europe, is hit where it hurts.
Of course, as we have heard today, the whole point of the oligarchs and how they use their resources is to corrupt our society, to influence the political decisions we make, to ensure economic dependence on the Russian regime in other parts of Europe and to make sure that our future actions are limited because of their influence. If we do not remove that influence, all we do is prop up the very individual who is perpetuating what is happening in Ukraine at present.
It is clear that Putin requires the ability to show patronage to those whose support he needs, and the way in which abused wealth and illegally acquired wealth is used not just here but in other parts of the free world ensures that patronage.
I must say to the Minister that the weaknesses in the sanctions have been outlined, including the delay in implementing the orders. Yesterday, the Foreign Secretary told us the names of four banks that, in due time, when the legislation goes through, would have their assets frozen. I am sure that those banks are not sitting idly by today waiting until legislation goes through this House.
Although individuals were not named, we were told that certain categories of people would have sanctions imposed on them. I am sure that those individuals are clever enough to know that they are likely to be on the list when it comes out, or to fall into the sanctions net when it is in place, so they are hardly likely to be sitting around at present thinking, “I’m going to wait for it.” They will be taking action to ensure that assets that could be seized or frozen are no longer there. While some assets such as houses are fixed, many are not, and yachts worth hundreds of millions of pounds, aircraft and financial assets can be moved to the many countries named in the House that are still sympathetic to the Russian regime and will not hand them over to make them available for seizure or freeze them.
The Minister explained that the 30-day delay was to protect British companies. Is it possible to distinguish between British companies that want to protect their assets and oligarchs and other groups who want to get their assets out of the way quickly because they know that they will be targeted? Perhaps he can outline that for us. That needs to be dealt with.
We have also heard in explicit detail about how those involved in hiding and investing the ill-gotten gains from the Putin regime are using facilitators here in the United Kingdom. Whether it is done in the economic crime Bill or elsewhere, it is important that a message goes out to those people that they will be held culpable for what they do and how they use their powers. The one thing clear to me and to anyone following the debate is that the gangster regime that has taken over Russia has its tentacles in many parts of our economy—deep into some parts of our economy—and our civic society, and the legislation must deal with that.
We also need a level playing field. There is no point in having forces arrayed on one side against those with billions of assets to hide and protect—those who can use those assets to buy the best, and sometimes corrupt, facilitators to help them—while those trying to deal with them have limited resources. Whatever measures come forward—whether spending caps on legal cases or whatever; I am not an expert on that—must deal with that so that when we introduce sanctions, they are effective.
That is so important in a war to defend democracy in Ukraine and the people in Ukraine who see themselves facing oppression in the future. Since we will not give direct military support—I welcome that we are giving it indirectly—we must ensure that our economic weapons are used most effectively.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson). To pick up his point at a moment of reflection, we are all tired because yesterday we were here until late voting, but I walked into work this morning with a spring in my step because we have a democracy to walk into work for. We are here in this debate in defence of another democracy, and what a debate it has been. My goodness, would Russia not be a very different place if it allowed this level of discourse and challenge from both sides of the House and of the Government? That is what we are defending.
I wish to put on record my delight—I hope the whole House will join me in this—in congratulating the Servant of the People party, the party of Volodymyr Zelensky, which has become an associate member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. It marks the first step—one of many, I am sure—to show that the entire reason why Putin has done this, to try to split us apart, is not working and quite the opposite is happening. The Liberal Democrats are therefore proud to call the Servant of the People party our sister party, and I am sure all hon. Members feel that way about that party and all parties in Ukraine.
In that spirit of cross-party co-operation, I welcome these measures on behalf of the Liberal Democrat party. It is right that we are targeting the Russian financial sector and the export of dual-use and critical-use goods. I ask again about the 30-day grace period. One of the benefits of speaking last is that I waited for those who are much more practised in such things—a former Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, and others—to explain to me, a relatively new Member, what I did not understand. But I still do not understand. If we are not going to publish the names, even quietly, and assuming they do not leak, and if we cannot say who we are sanctioning and who is on that designated list, I do not understand how we can distinguish between a company that is legitimately winding up its business, and one that is winding up its illicit goods to go somewhere else. How do we do that without divulging that list to someone? I would like some explanation for that.
Does the hon. Lady think it strange that the Government are reluctant to name the individuals they are going to sanction? Our European partners are not only sanctioning individuals, but taking property off them and naming them publicly. Does she understand why the Government are reluctant to do that?
I am so grateful for that intervention, and I absolutely do not understand. I intervened about that at the beginning of the debate. I have listened to the whole debate and am none the wiser, having listened to many sage Members also try to work it out. I think we are owed an explanation from the Minister. He went away for a bit but he has come back, I hope with an explanation. What is going on? We have the benefit of parliamentary privilege in this place. I will not pre-empt what Mr Speaker may or may not allow in future business of the House, but if we need to sit here and read out all the names, we have to do it. But it should not be up to us, and a lot of the names are ones that the Government already have. The information is there, and there is no reason we should be waiting.
Some of the new names on the EU sanction list include Mikhail Fridman, Alisher Usmanov, Petr Aven, Igor Sechin, and Nikolay Tokarev—they are there. There is now a joint taskforce for sharing information, which is good. Apparently it always existed, so I did not quite understand the announcement—perhaps it is being shared more. However, if we look at the number of people we have sanctioned recently, it is nine, one of whom is Putin, which we all know is just symbolic. We can go further.
I disagree with the right hon. Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick), who said that these measures will not do very much. They will do quite a lot, because we know that is how Putin manages his money. If we go after these people, we are going after him. That is how he operates. The broader point, which it is important to make, is that it feels as if, because of the tragedy unfolding before our eyes, the wool is being pulled from many people’s eyes. I fully congratulate Members across the House who have been raising these points over many years and indeed across many countries.
Our own reports have also warned about this, not least the Russia report, which states:
“This level of integration—in “Londongrad” in particular—means that any measures now being taken by the Government are not preventative but rather constitute damage limitation… The links of the Russian elite to the UK…provides access to UK companies and political figures and thereby a means for broad Russian influence in the UK. To a certain extent, this cannot be untangled.”
How did we get here? That was the question that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) posed in his excellent speech. I will posit an answer. I think it was greed, and not just from one political party; it was a collective greed, and a wilful naivety to what has been in front of us. All the signs were there, and there was a collective wilful naivety for the sake of rapid economic growth and actually some very laudable aims—trade, for example, being a tool of diplomacy. We want to support business and the City. All those things can be true at the same time, but there came a moment when some people sniffed a rat and they did not call the exterminator. That was many years ago.
I think it was the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) who described this as a cancer. As we know, removing a cancer is painful to the person who has it—it can even be dangerous—but the reason we do so is for the person’s medium and long-term health. We have to do this, so I end simply by urging the Minister not to shy away from the difficult questions, or from things that are not coming in the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill and the overseas entities register, and to deal with some of the issues of lawfare, or at least put a framework in place in order to deal with them.
How can it be right, if transparency is the best disinfectant, that we do not allow our free press and media to investigate individuals and companies, because they are being consistently harassed? That is bad for democracy, so I hope to add my voice to all of those on the Back Benches in the debate. I urge the Minister, and the Government, to grasp this nettle, as painful as it may be. If he wants to go further and faster, the Liberal Democrats will support him.
I will give a brief preamble explaining why I support the sanctions. Then I will make three broad points, but I do not intend to take too long. We are all obviously struggling to come to terms with recent events, and tensions across Europe over the war in Ukraine are rising. It is shocking to recall that my own anxiety of nuclear war as a schoolboy in the 1970s and ’80s is now being revisited on our children.
I do not believe that war is ever a justifiable means to resolve a disagreement or an argument. Those who die are ordinary people caught up in the arguments or ambitions of more powerful actors. The perhaps hackneyed expression “jaw, jaw, not war, war” is something that we should always strive for, but when the tanks and shells are raining down on innocent civilians, we must stand against the aggressor. While that is true of events in Ukraine, it is also true of conflict and aggression the world over. I hope that this is a lesson that we all take from the events that are unfolding. Like many I marched against the invasion of Iraq, and my opposition to the case for that conflict stands. From that position of opposition to war, I stand against the ongoing aggression of Mr Putin against the Ukrainian people today. I support the sanctions, as does my party, as a means for de-escalation and preservation of life.
I will make the following key points about how we progress. First, we must acknowledge that President Putin has gone to considerable efforts to sanction-proof his economy, and that London’s reliance on dirty money must not impede international efforts to make such sanctions meaningful. That must be urgently addressed, such as by the mechanisms that were outlined by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). There needs to be a mechanism, a method, or at least an attempt to disaggregate UK businesses from the banks that are being given a 30-day warning that their assets are under threat. There are also risks regarding cryptocurrencies and Bitcoin, which Mr Putin may use to evade such measures.
Secondly, we urgently need to tackle the impact of such sanctions on ourselves. The UK and Scottish Governments should bring forward, as a matter of urgency, proposals to increase the output of North sea oil and gas, and establish alternative energy opportunities to temper already escalating energy costs and secure supplies to our friends and allies in Europe.
Finally, we must urgently look at all possible means, such as a windfall tax on energy profits, to cushion the blow on the plight of our own people who are suffering the impacts of poverty and a cost of living crisis.
President Zelensky has shown formidable leadership and courage. We must do all we can to support his people, preserve life and bring peace to Ukraine.
My party and the whole House stand with Ukraine. Putin’s attack on Ukraine is an unprovoked, unjustifiable outrage and all those responsible must be held responsible for their war crimes. It is a heinous violation of international law that will have tragic consequences—not just for the people of Ukraine, but for peoples right around our continent.
We stand in complete solidarity with the Ukrainian people as they bravely resist this assault. As this conflict goes on and on, and Putin becomes more and more desperate, the tactics he will use will become more barbaric. Therefore, the sanctions we employ against him must become more sophisticated, clearer and bolder. The horrific reports coming from Kharkiv and the alleged use of cluster munitions are already increasingly alarming. The attack today on a TV tower in Kyiv did little to justify the fabricated claims of de-Nazification, as they hit a holocaust memorial. It is our moral duty to do everything we can to help the Ukrainian people against what is a war crime, a clear war crime and more war crimes coming from Russia.
Somewhere in the Kremlin, there will be a desk officer in the Russian Foreign Ministry making a note of this debate. That note should say clearly that all MPs of every party implored the Government to go further. They all backed the sanctions that were being proposed, but they wanted more. More must come. That is a message I hope the Minister will take loud and clear from this debate.
Now is the time for the hardest possible sanctions to be taken against all those linked to Putin and his tyrannical regime, and against all the Russian Government’s interests, working in a co-ordinated and unified way with our allies to ensure that the Putin regime faces the severest possible consequences for its aggression. As was made clear by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne), there is now a sanctions gap between what the United Kingdom is proposing and what our EU friends are proposing. We must close that gap and do so immediately.
Labour will, of course, support these sanctions tonight and I think every party in this House will be doing the same. We have pledged to work with the Government to ensure that we can proceed quickly to ensure that the House can pass the necessary legislative measures. When the Government bring forward further measures, we will work at speed to ensure they can be passed. But there is still so much more to be done. Our Parliament sends a united message that we stand up for justice, democracy and sovereignty against the aggressor, and that we condemn in the strongest possible terms Vladimir Putin’s heinous and unnecessary invasion. We stand unequivocally with the Ukrainian people. The Minister must be in no doubt that there is more work to be done.
I want to briefly summarise the excellent speeches made on both sides of the House. Three main themes have been raised in this debate. First, much more is needed. Bolder sanctions are needed and soon. That means matching what our EU friends have done. It means closing the sanctions gap—that was very clearly set out—and it means acting faster against oligarchs who have been hiding Putin’s wealth, and through whom actions will have the biggest effect on the Putin regime. I pay tribute to Members such as the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) who set out clearly how that web, that network of oligarchs, helps to keep Putin in power. He survives on a sea of dirty money hidden in companies, behind the facades run by the oligarchs. We must go further to tackle them.
The second point that was clear in this debate is that we must target more individuals and more companies. My right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) made very clear that while some of our EU friends are targeting fixed assets, the UK Government have chosen not to do so yet. Some members of the public watching this debate will not understand why the French and Italian Governments are going after the mansions of oligarchs in their countries, while the oligarchs in the UK are able to enjoy their luxury lifestyles. The Minister says that he is doing more and I want to see that, because we need to explain to the British public that we are taking those measures. We want the Government to go further and we must do that.
The third point, however, is a difficult one for the House. Brilliant speeches by Members on both sides made it clear that we must get our house in order. My right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) made a clear proposal about reform of Companies House, which is long overdue and must be done at pace. Another consultation will not cut it; we need lasting reform.
The hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami) made a clear case for getting the City of London to step up. He remarked that “morals and money are not always mutually exclusive”. That will be a good lesson for many in the City of London—the corporate lawyers and bankers, the people who enable the dirty money to flow and who seek to shut down criticism—to take on board.
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight spoke about enablers and about Michael Foot. As a Plymouth MP, I feel that when someone mentions Michael Foot, it is normally good to quote him back. However, the hon. Member is right to draw parallels between this and Michael Foot’s “Guilty Men”, to talk about those who appeased and those who did not act when they could have done so. We must look closely at the hon. Member’s remarks about the guilty men of today—the men and women who facilitate the agents of fascism—but we must not pretend that that is news to us. This House is aware of Putin’s actions, painfully so—and not just in Georgia, Crimea and Salisbury. We have seen his actions and modus operandi, and we know that to tackle them we need to go further on sanctions and on joining up our efforts with our friends.
The sanctions that we are debating are supported, but I want to pick up on a point about the dual-use sanctions. When we looked at the different areas, we largely concentrated, rightly, on financial instruments. However, on dual-use sanctions, we are talking about not just dual-use goods, but ingredients and components of weapons of war, and it is clear that we should not allow UK companies to export them. I would like the Minister, with his officials, to look at whether there can be greater clarity on what dual-use items can be used in space, because overhead observation is an important part of what is happening in Ukraine. I would be grateful if he commented on the proposed OneWeb satellite launch—a publicly funded satellite provider—at the Baikonur cosmodrome, because it is not right that UK-funded satellite launches are taking place in what is effectively a Russian-backed facility. I would also like to press him on whether our UK satellites could be launched from our European facilities in French Guyana, which would ensure that we keep control and that progress on that project was unhindered.
I want to pick up on some points made about Belarus. If it is true that the invasion of Ukraine is not just Russian, but that Belarusian Government forces are engaged as well, we need to be clear that the sanctions must apply equally to the Government of Belarus, the financial instruments of Belarus and the powers that keep its dictator in power. Russia and Belarus are in a joint enterprise, as was mentioned. Belarus is a Russian client state.
The UK Government initially sanctioned Russia because of its recognition of the so-called breakaway republics. Why are we not using the same tools to pre-emptively sanction Belarus? If Belarusian forces engage in an attack on Kyiv or if they participate in or support Russian aggression any further than they have done, why are we not saying that here is the big stick that the west will hit them with? Let us get those sanctions ready. Let us get them supported. They can be activated on the intelligence that the Minister will be able to see but might not be able to share. We need to send a message, however, that Russian aggression and the aggression of any client states are unacceptable.
We have the ability to go further and the Government know that they will have the support of the House if they do. We can do much more to cut Putin’s rogue regime out of our financial system in terms of not just the banks and the threatening lawyers, but the property and the money stolen from the Russian people that has flowed through the City of London like a stinking sewer for far too long. A number of Members have made the point that it should not have taken a war for action to be taken. This is not a war of our choice, nor is it the choice of the Ukrainian people, but a war has started so our actions need to be serious and severe.
We need to go further. That is why Labour is urging the Government to widen the sanctions; to increase the list of individuals who have been sanctioned; to reform Companies House to crack open the shell companies that are hiding suspect wealth; to introduce an overseas entities Bill to lift the veil on property ownership; and, finally, to bring forward the full details of the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill to enhance that.
We do need to go much further, and that is what this House is calling for. Britain has a proud history of standing up to dictators and this House has a proud history of working in a cross-party fashion to enable the Government of the day to stand up to dictators. That is why the actions that I hope the Minister will take in the coming days should go far beyond the statutory instruments before us. Labour will not oppose the SIs—indeed, we support them—but we encourage the Minister, his colleagues and officials to go further, much further, because President Putin must be in no doubt about the resolve of this House to stand with the Ukrainian people and to hunt down the dirty money that enables his regime.
With the leave of the House, I will close this debate. The last three hours have shown us that the House stands united. It has shown us many things, but one of those is that we speak as one in support of Ukraine. Everyone I have heard in this debate, and I have been here almost the whole time, has welcomed these messages. I am grateful to Members who have contributed—there have been insightful and timely discussions—and I will try to address and respond to some of the important questions they have raised.
I emphasise that nothing is off the table. The measures we have taken have already had a hugely significant impact, but we are exploring what more we can do. We are consulting our allies to that end; in this interconnected world, it is crucial that we act as one where we possibly can. I cannot speculate on future designations; that would be inappropriate for many reasons—not least, as many have said, that it might warn individuals whom we would not wish to warn in advance. However, it is thanks to the leadership of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary that we have seen the most significant impacts. I want to address some of these points.
It has been said, for example, that the United Kingdom’s position has not been in tune with that of Europe. On the contrary, our position has been a leading one as far as the European Union response is concerned, but this is not a competition. Many Members have said that more can be done, and I accept that. However, the United Kingdom has placed an asset freeze on VTB, the second largest bank in Russia—an enormous institution—and we have done that along with the United States. The United Kingdom has banned sterling clearing with Sberbank, the largest bank in Russia. The United Kingdom has banned all Russian companies—over 3 million of them—from issuing securities and raising debt. The European Union has done none of those things, but we are focusing on high-impact measures.
It was mentioned that we need to target those listing on the London stock exchange. We have, as I say, prevented 3 million-plus Russian companies from listing on the London stock exchange. As the debate has been going on this very afternoon, I can tell the House that we have designated the Russian Direct Investment Fund and its chief executive officer, Kirill Alexandrovich Dmitriev. That has occurred this afternoon.
One Member—I think it was my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami)—asked about delisting existing securities. Although nothing is off the table, delisting existing securities could harm the investments of people in the United Kingdom without having any impact on those who originally issued them. That is why our measures are forward looking, including to prevent the raising of funds by all Russian companies.
The right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) mentioned Companies House, as did a number of other colleagues. As the right hon. Lady may know, the Business Secretary has announced a White Paper on corporate transparency and register reform, greatly increasing the information available. We are legislating for reform of limited partnerships law, new powers to seize crypto-assets, reforms to help businesses share information on money laundering, a register of overseas entities and a requirement for foreign owners to reveal their identities, so work is massively in progress in that regard.
Various colleagues asked about designated persons and their substantial assets. I emphasise that the asset freeze criminalises dealing with the economic resources of a designated person, so were UK nationals and firms to go on to deal with those designated persons, they would be committing a criminal offence, the sanctions for which are considerable.
I was asked about Crown dependencies and overseas territories. I understand that designations made under the regulations will apply automatically in the Crown dependencies. There may be a small lag in terms of the overseas territories, but I am happy to write to Members about that. We will check that position, but we are speaking as one, as are so many allies around the world. The Government agree that more enforcement resource is necessary. One or two colleagues mentioned that from the Labour Front Bench, and the point is accepted. That is why the Prime Minister announced a new National Crime Agency kleptocracy cell, targeting sanctions evasion. We are also introducing the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill today to reform unexplained wealth orders, removing key barriers to their use by the NCA.
I was asked about a shipping matter by my colleague on the Opposition Front Bench, the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty). UK Government Ministers have now signed legislation banning all ships that are Russian owned, operated, controlled, chartered, registered or flagged from entering British ports. That was effective from 3 pm this afternoon.
The position as far as the Donbas is concerned is that the Foreign Secretary has been clear that we will put these measures in place and extend measures applying to the Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk regions. On insurance, it will be prohibited to provide insurance or reinsurance to or for the benefit of designated persons in relation to controlled goods and technology.
On guidance, we have already issued statutory guidance, and the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation will be issuing further Russia guidance in due course. As to further banks, the Foreign Secretary has set out her intention to apply an asset freeze to all Russian banks, and I mention the wind-down period of 30 days, which a couple of colleagues also mentioned. The wind-down on certain measures is to allow UK businesses to close their affairs in an orderly fashion. I understand that the same process is taking place under the United States regulations and the European Union regulations. We are all acting as one here. It does not enable designated persons to move money. A request was made about a ban on state debt, which it was said applies in the European Union but not in the United Kingdom. That ban is in the regulations, which are in force now.
As far as the general position is concerned, the House will know that there has been a movement around the world to act in support of Ukraine. That is being led by this Government. It is being led in the field of lethal aid and financial aid, and it was led in the field of aviation sanctions and in the field of sanctions generally. As I mentioned in my opening speech, Her Majesty’s Government are determined to continue to work in close co-ordination with our allies to deal a devastating blow to the Putin regime and undermine its ability—his ability—to wage war in Ukraine. This House’s support for these regulations sends a clear, indefatigable message to the Kremlin and the people of Ukraine. I commend these regulations to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2022 (SI, 2022, No. 194), dated 28 February 2022, a copy of which was laid before this House on 28 February, be approved.
Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2022
That the Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2022 (SI, 2022, No. 195), dated 28 February 2022, a copy of which was laid before this House on 28 February, be approved.—(Michael Ellis.)
National Insurance Contributions Bill: Programme (No. 2)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the National Insurance Contributions Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Order of 14 June 2021 (National Insurance Contributions Bill (Programme)):
Consideration of Lords Amendments
1. Proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.
2. The proceedings shall be taken in the following order: Lords Amendments 2, 4, 1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12.
3. Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.
4. The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—(Rebecca Harris.)