Motion to Approve
That the Regulations laid before the House on 10 February be approved.
Relevant document: 30th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee.
My Lords, we laid this instrument to strengthen our response to the grave situation that we face today in Ukraine. Sadly, the need is now greater than ever. As stated by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, we will be tightening the ratchet in response to Russia’s aggressive actions. Noble Lords will be aware that my right honourable friend will make a Statement in the other place at 5 pm today, where he will set out in further detail the work of this Government on this important issue. As noble Lords will also be aware, the Statement will be repeated here at a convenient time after 7 pm. Therefore, at this point in time, I cannot go into any further detail on the specifics of our response in advance of those Statements being made.
We are seeing the situation playing out as many of us feared it might. President Putin has used disinformation, lies and false flag activities to justify his unprovoked and unjustifiable invasion of Ukraine. Later today the United Kingdom, working with international partners, will bring forward an unprecedented level of sanctions to punish this aggression and persuade those around Mr Putin that this is frankly the wrong thing to do. We will continue to stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian people.
Sanctions announced by the UK and our allies are already having an impact, as we have seen today with direct impacts on markets and the rouble, which has stooped to a record low. These sanctions are impacting and will impact Russia. The institutions that prop Mr Putin up and the people around him should take note. The decision to invade a sovereign territory, Ukraine, is unjustified and will be met with an unprecedented and universal response, which is already under way.
Mr Putin has been clear that he wants to recreate a Russian empire and claim back places he defines as Russia, but these places he describes are sovereign states in their own right. Let us be absolutely clear: Ukraine is not part of Russia. The fantasy Mr Putin is trying to play out of tsarist expansionist Russia must be stopped now. I assure your Lordships that we will bring forward an unprecedented, co-ordinated sanctions response to punish this appalling decision.
For your Lordships’ information, I say that the G7 will meet later today to discuss the severe co-ordinated sanctions we will be imposing on Russia. Ukraine, of course, is not a NATO country, but we will help it with self-defence. We are talking with other leaders to co-ordinate our response, as well as our response when it comes to sanctions. The solidarity of NATO is clear. We stand together. That is why the UK and other NATO states have been moving troops to our NATO allies. We will continue to support the legitimate Government of Ukraine and, importantly, the people of Ukraine in their self-defence against this attack by Vladimir Putin. We will use every lever under our control in pursuit of that end.
The legislation follows the “made affirmative” procedure set out in Section 55(3) of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. The statutory instrument amends the Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. It allows the Government to impose sanctions on a much broader range of individuals and businesses who are or have been involved in
“obtaining a benefit from or supporting the Government of Russia”.
These include those that, first, carry on business as Russian Government-affiliated entities; secondly, carry on business of economic significance to the Government of Russia; thirdly, carry on business in a sector of strategic significance to the Government of Russia; and, fourthly, businesses that own or control, or act as a director, trustee or equivalent of, one of these entities.
It is very clear from the events of last night that Russian aggression against Ukraine is part of a long-term strategy. If we give ground now, or we try to accommodate illegitimate Russian demands, Russia’s strategy of aggression—we fear—will not end here. Who will be next? Russia, if we were to give way, would be emboldened. President Putin’s focus would simply move on to the next target. What is being done is an attempt to turn back the clock to years gone by, and perhaps a mythical past, to rebuild the Russian sphere of influence. We must be absolutely firm in our response.
As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will set out in more detail to the nation later this afternoon, what we do today will shape European security for many years to come. Together, we must rise to this moment, and we must stand united with Ukraine and with the people of Ukraine. In the Revolution of Dignity, it was the Ukrainians who risked their lives to choose freedom; they fought for democracy. I am determined that we will continue to support them in that choice which they made for themselves. I therefore commend the regulations to the House and would also share once again that it is our intention, as I said at the start, to go much further.
Amendment to the Motion
“As an amendment to the above motion, at the end insert “but that this House (1) regrets that the sanctions are inadequate, and (2) calls on Her Majesty’s Government to lay more powerful and effective sanctions before both Houses.”
My Lords, first, I sincerely thank the Government and the Opposition Whips for agreeing that there should be some extra time for this important debate, in light of the current situation. I also thank the Minister for his introduction and for the helpful conversations we have had informally. I hope that he will take the opportunity of listening to the debate—I know he always does—and then passing on some comments and suggestions to his colleagues in the FCDO and to the Prime Minister—and I hope he may be able to answer some questions without pre-judging what the Prime Minister might say later.
The situation is unpredictable. Today is a really dark day for Ukraine, and for Europe and the world as a whole, because the future is now terribly unpredictable. I know some Ukrainian MPs who are delegates to the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, as my noble friend does as well, and I fear for them. They will be among the targets if things go wrong in Ukraine, because they have stood up at the Council of Europe and elsewhere and fought the cause of Ukraine very valiantly.
It is clear that the current sanctions have not deterred Putin. The Foreign Secretary said—I think rather infelicitously—that some sanctions had to be “left in the locker”. It is now clear that, while they have been in the locker, they have had little or no effect. So we must now immediately extend our sanctions, and I am glad that the Minister has indicated that that is the intention. We must intensify our co-ordination with the United States, the European Union and other countries.
First, I suggest that we need to expand the list of Russian oligarchs subject to sanctions. The European Union unanimously agreed to target 27 individuals and entities who are playing a role in
“undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine”.
Yet, so far, we have sanctioned only five banks and three Russian billionaires. We must extend to at least the European Union’s 27—and beyond, I hope.
The Minister has indicated in a letter to us all that the Government are planning to introduce legislation to prevent the Russian Government from raising finance. This needs to be done urgently. I ask the Minister: can he confirm that this legislation will be brought before both Houses of Parliament at a very early opportunity, so that it is not allowed to drag on?
We should also introduce export controls on Russia, stopping shipments to Russia of microchips, computers, consumer electronics, telecommunications equipment and other items made anywhere in the world if they were produced using US, UK or EU technology. Most importantly of all, we must disconnect Russia from SWIFT. Russia is heavily reliant on SWIFT due to its multibillion exports of hydrocarbons denominated in US dollars. The cut-off would terminate all international transactions, trigger currency volatility and cause massive capital outflows. In my view, and the view of people far more expert than me, it would probably be the most effective action we could take—yet it has not even been mentioned by the Government so far.
We should also sanction luxury property in the United Kingdom.
I am grateful for that support from the other side. Russian businesspeople and officials accused of corruption or links to the Kremlin own at least 150 huge properties in the UK, worth £1.5 billion, according to Transparency International. I accept that there would be some difficulties in doing this, and it would require significantly more resources for our law enforcement agencies, but it should be looked at and I think it should be done.
I also agree that we should target the members of the Duma, the Senate and the Presidential Council. The Minister has indicated that they are compiling evidence, but I hope they will do it quickly because, unlike the oligarchs, they actually advise Putin. Sanctioning the western luxuries they all enjoy—I have seen them enjoy property, schooling and holidays in Europe and the US—will cause a groundswell of discontent. I see some of them as Russian delegates at the Council of Europe. They are parroting the words of Putin; they are his voices in the Council of Europe. I will come back to that in a minute. Mr Tolstoy and Mr Kalashnikov —strange names, but they are very familiar—are hardliners and people we should be dealing with. The only likely way that Putin can be replaced is by people in Russia, and I hope we can make sure that pressure is put on them to do that.
We should also look to provide further lethal and non-lethal aid to Ukraine and neighbouring nations such as Poland, Latvia and Lithuania. We could assist further with intelligence surveillance reports. I know from my time on the Intelligence and Security Committee how good our intelligence agencies are. We can do that without directly entering the conflict and sending troops.
Finally, the leader of the UK delegation to the Council of Europe, John Howell MP, has suggested that we should now expel Russia from the Council. That is a move I would support, as one of the UK delegates to the parliamentary assembly. I hope the Minister, who has the Council of Europe in one of his many and increasing responsibilities, will look at this, because it needs to be done in a co-ordinated way— not just by the parliamentary assembly but by the Governments of the 46 other countries.
Putin needs to know that we are going to take these strong actions and take them now to stop him in his tracks and prevent any further aggression and the inevitable bloodshed that will result. I move this amendment.
My Lords, I rise briefly. I take comfort from what my noble friend the Minister has said and pay tribute to the resolve being shown by the Prime Minister and the Government—but they need to do more, as the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, has said.
This is not new. Litvinenko was poisoned in 2006 not a mile from here; Salisbury, Skripal, et cetera, took place in 2018; the invasion of Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, took place in 2008, and Crimea in 2014. We must understand the pattern here. As the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and I think my noble friend the Minister agree, we must take action now and it must be really dramatic.
I refer my noble friend to a debate that took place in the other place led by my right honourable friend David Davis about lawfare, and how people living in London took Catherine Belton to court for libel for having the temerity to suggest that various oligarchs were in league with Putin. The book is called Putin’s People, and her costs were £1.5 million. I hope that all the lawyers who were working for the oligarchs hang their heads in shame. I do not notice many lawyers here today. Of course we want the rule of law, but we do not want our liberal values used against us, and that is what has been happening.
I also refer my noble friend and the House to—I am sure people watched it—a television programme called “McMafia”, with James Norton. Of course, it was fiction—we all understand that—but it was fiction based on fact. We need to wake up in this country. Putin has been running rings around us and around the West; he has been testing our resolve and has found it wanting. Now is the time to seize the initiative. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, is absolutely right: a lot of this high-end property, both in London and elsewhere, was bought with looted money. We need to seize it, freeze it and then get the lawyers to work and see where the money came from. We might need legislation to do that, but we cannot sit back and say this is business as usual. There is a war in Europe in our lifetime. We must act now.
My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on his opening statement. We all believe that sanctions must be tougher and go much further. I agree with everything that my noble friend Lord Foulkes has said, particularly in relation to SWIFT. That is a very good mechanism for bringing Putin and the rest of his mob to reality.
Having visited Ukraine pre pandemic, and having worked with NGOs there, which have wrought such wonderful, positive changes, I urge the Minister, through his department and others, and the embassy in Ukraine, to work very carefully and closely with these NGOs. In particular, might I make a plea for those NGOs working on LGBT issues? When we look at the history of Russia under Putin, and its views and treatment of minorities—particularly the LGBT+ minority—they and we have much to fear, so anything the Minister can do in this regard will be welcomed, not only by friends and sympathisers in this country, but by those NGOs and individuals who currently feel vulnerable and under great threat in Ukraine.
My Lords, I always think about the inadequacies of the Government’s response to the Intelligence and Security Committee’s Russia report. I recall the paragraph that talks about the penetration of our society and politics by people from these autocratic states, which, to some extent
“cannot be untangled and the priority now must be to mitigate the risk”.
We now need some much more decisive action from the Government to mitigate that risk and to see how far we can untangle this.
I was very struck by the inadequacy of the Government’s response to that report in the following respect. The Intelligence and Security Committee recommended that the Government should publish the evidence that they had collected on foreign penetration of British politics. We know that that has happened on the right and on the left: on the hard right and on the hard left. The Government’s response was that they had
“seen no evidence of successful interference”
in British politics. That is a phrase that I would love to have drafted if I had been a civil servant: it lets them completely off the hook. There clearly is evidence of foreign penetration, whether or not it has been successful, and the Government should now publish that in full.
I will ask the Minister a question about the Crown dependencies and the overseas territories. We are now extending—and there are more to come—sanctions against Russians close to Putin, and their money. Much of the money that has come through the London laundromat has gone on to the Crown dependencies and the overseas territories. When the British Government, as the sovereign, enforces sanctions, what happens to the Crown dependencies and the overseas territories? Do we ask their permission? Do we suggest that they might possibly consider that it is desirable to follow within the next few months, or do we, as their sovereign, say that on a matter as important as this, they must now follow?
My Lords, I rise to ask one very specific question about the impact of sanctions, but before I do that, I would like to associate myself with the earlier remarks commending the Minister on his introductory description of where we are and why we should roundly condemn Russia’s actions. He got the tone of that exactly right, and we need to continue with that.
I am conscious that, later today, we will take the Statement from the Prime Minister and have an opportunity to debate that, and we will have a long debate tomorrow. I therefore intend to restrict myself to sanctions, although I share all the ambitions of previous speakers that we will be able to extend our influence on a legal basis against the interests of people who are supporting this dreadful and inexcusable criminal behaviour that is taking place as we speak.
Here is my question. These sanctions need to be meaningful. I carefully read the debate on them in the other place, and I have read the letter that the Minister sent to us all thereafter, which deals with a number of the technical and legal points that were raised in that debate, some of which have been repeated here today. I am clear that nowhere in that debate did the Minister say at any point what the three persons mentioned in the sanctions on Tuesday—Gennady Timchenko, Boris Rotenberg and Igor Rotenberg—are not able to do today that they were able to do on Monday; nor did anybody say what impact these sanctions would have on any of those relatively small banks. They may be very important, but what are those banks not able to do today that is within our jurisdiction that they were able to do on Monday?
I raised this issue with the Leader of the House when that Statement came on Tuesday to your Lordships’ House. I said specifically that I recognised that this was a framework for the sanctions to be made, but the implementation of them depended on a suite of legislation, not only for their existence but for their actual use properly for the purpose for which they were designed. She gave me a very comprehensive answer, but the answer was all, “We have plans to”, “We intend to”, “We are working on”, “We are looking at”. I am not quoting her exactly, but it was all prospective.
We need to put into position a suite of powers that will then allow us to do what we need to do, so as we debate these sanctions, we should not kid ourselves that we are having an impact on Putin or any of his acolytes today, but we may have in the future. Interestingly, today, before the Prime Minister makes the Statement to the House of Commons, it is being reported that he is promising massive sanctions designed—and this is the interesting phrase—“in time” to hobble the Russian economy. Why do we not already have the ability to change the way in which Companies House practises and its ability to pour out shell companies that people can use to hide their assets? Why do we not have anti-money laundering legislation that is used in an impactful way to prevent the sort of stuff that is going on? Why do we not already recognise that we have people in the City of London who make a significant living out of facilitating all of that sort of behaviour, and they do it openly, with nameplates on the door that tell people that that is what they are doing?
It is important that the Government recognise that what we are doing here is legislating for potential, but it is not potential that will be impactful, although it may, for a couple of days, affect the sentiments of the stock exchange.
My Lords, a few days ago, I was in the House of Commons at a meeting of the All-Party Parliament Group on Russia at which the ambassador said quite clearly that Russia had no plans to invade. That can lead to only two conclusions: his Government do not tell him what they are doing or he was not telling us the truth. There can be no other conclusion in the middle.
I am very sorry that we are where we are today because, as the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, will know, I worked pretty ceaselessly in the Council of Europe to try to get the Russians back on side. I worked in the legal affairs committee with them and said to them “Look, if you want to be in the Council of Europe, you’re very welcome, but basically you have to underline and support what we are trying to do”. In a very short temporary period as chair of legal affairs, I was instrumental in getting a couple of rapporteurships allocated to the Russian delegation. I spoke to it about the need to reflect the values of the council in producing the report. In other words, being a rapporteur was not a licence to print Russian propaganda but an opportunity for members of the Russian delegation to show that they were prepared to produce reports reflecting the views of the council in a legal and human rights situation.
What has happened overnight is absolutely dreadful—there is no other word for it—because it destroys many months of work that has taken place, particularly outside the United Kingdom. Members may have noticed that on numerous occasions I have urged the British Government to work with their French and German counterparts because I thought that the French and German foreign ministries were trying very hard to lead Russia to a place where it would settle its disputes with Ukraine through the Minsk process, negotiation and talk.
I am sure that it is recognised today in Berlin and Paris that that has failed. At the beginning of this week, I had lunch in this House with some German politicians who were hopeful of it working. They pointed out to me that Nord Stream 2 had been put on hold, not cancelled, and it could be revived. We talked about it, and one of the points that was made was that, of course, it goes two ways: it can bring gas from Russia and, once it is in the European gas network, it can pump it back. Indeed, some of my German interlocutors said that one of the guarantees that they could give would be that, if Russia threatened Ukraine’s gas supplies, Germany could supply it with gas. I mention that because it shows that, right up to the last minutes, the foreign ministries in Europe were trying to find a peaceful solution.
However, we now have to be firm because, as the peaceful solution has not worked, it cannot be said that no consequences flow from what has happened. So, clearly, we not only have to have sanctions, but if we are going to have sanctions that work, they have to be agreed among the larger players in Europe. That, frankly, means that we have to do what has been suggested about the overseas territories and we also have to stand up and be quite firm with Hungary and Austria because countries that are making large profits out of Russia have to realise that they are either in a European solidarity pact or on the other side. They cannot be on both sides at once.
I say to my own party that it has to stop taking Russian money. Indeed, it has to stop taking foreign money. Looking at the United States, I discovered a long time ago that you cannot donate to American political parties. At one point, I tried to donate a sum of money to the American Democratic Party, but it was refused on the grounds that I had no standing in American elections. It would be very simple for us to say that there could be no donations to British political parties from any person or group that did not have standing with the British electorate.
We really need to look at this because I am afraid that, beyond this House, there is great cynicism about politics and money. We are largely seen as being in it for what we can get out of it. In my Conservative association, I have heard jokes about the Prime Minister playing tennis at so many hundred thousand pounds a match. This is not the way to run a democracy.
It has a consequence, which is that there is a lot of impunity. People look and say, “Oh, well they don’t mean it. They are not doing much—a couple of banks and three individuals”. We really have to sit down and say, “Do we intend these sanctions to work?” We have to realise that many of the Russian people in London with Russian money have bought golden visas and are proudly walking around with British passports. When the Home Secretary talks about taking citizenship away from people who break the norms of British society without telling them, I wonder whether she has considered looking at some of these people because surely they are in the wrong as well.
So I say to the Minister: I will back the sanctions. I am sorry that we have come to this point. I am sorry that the Russian state does not realise that common sense, decency and good practice should lead it to pursue what it sees as its legitimate expectations, but we do not, through a path of peaceful negotiation. What has been done is no longer acceptable in international politics, and we should make that very clear. All I ask is that the Minister co-ordinates with his European colleagues and we have a united European view, in so far as we can, on this matter.
I will make a short contribution. In this very interesting debate, mention has been made of Russians who have obtained funds by corruption and who come to this country and buy property or otherwise invest. Is the Minister confident that these regulations confer power to act against such persons? As he said, the only change that is made by these regulations is to give power to take action against those who have obtained
“a benefit from or supporting the Government of Russia”.
As the Minister rightly said, that concept is narrowly defined in new Regulation 6(4). The fact that you have obtained vast wealth by corruption in Russia, and you have come here and bought property or engaged in other economic activity, is not necessarily sufficient to bring you within the scope of these regulations, as I read them, but I would be delighted if the Minister tells me that I am wrong.
My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s statement, and will be brief. I am also very grateful to the Government and the usual channels for enabling us to have a debate tomorrow. However, it is true that the regulations we are discussing today—which I think the whole House supports—are out of date. Indeed, I do not know when my noble friend drafted his amendment, but my guess is that everything has been overtaken by the events we woke up to find this morning.
What is going on is not just war of a kind that many of my generation never thought we would see, but also a battle of ideas and information. This morning, I watched Russia Today. I am not in favour of banning it, because it is interesting and important to know what the other side—as it were—is saying about this conflict. To give it credit, I saw a report from Berlin which listed the overwhelming criticism by European leaders on what is happening. However, I am sure that the Foreign Office and the Government are monitoring what the Russian people are being told. I put it to the Minister that we should do more to influence public opinion, because sanctions, if they are to work, are not going to work just on the people at whom they are aimed. The world is a rather more sophisticated and international place than it used to be. There will be people in Russia who are eager to understand more about what we are saying has happened and for us to use our power of information to counter the disinformation that they are being fed.
Could I ask my noble friend what assessment the Foreign Office has been able to make about the extent of internal opposition to President Putin? Were there any signs that sanctions have strengthened that internal opposition to him?
I wish to be identified with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and the Minister in particular, and all other noble Lords who have spoken today. I am prompted to ask a question in response to a remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes: that it is up to the people of Russia to determine the country’s future. Of course, he is right. However, I am tempted to ask the Government whether nothing short of regime change would be a practical solution. The Minister might wish to at least consider that point at some stage.
I think that a message ought to be passed to the British ambassador in Moscow that the time has possibly come when her husband might wish to relinquish his post as the executive director of the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce, both in Moscow and London. It probably does not stand well with the issues with which we find ourselves in today’s world.
Is the time now coming when we should prepare the people of this country for war? What action, therefore, are the Government taking to protect the security of the UK’s energy, cyber networks, food and general defence, given the complete breakdown in relations with Russia?
My Lords, I have a quick question for the Minister. It is a little wide of the regulations but related to it: the hole in the dyke could be Switzerland. Have we had conversations with Switzerland, and are we going to close any holes there?
Following on from the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, I rise briefly to ask my noble friend the Minister a question. The hostilities against Ukraine started with cyberattacks. There have been multiple cyberattacks and ransomware attacks on at least one firm of which I am aware in North Yorkshire, but FatFace and a number of other companies as well. What advice are the Government giving to companies, local authorities and, not least, the infrastructure network—to which the noble Viscount referred—to ensure that we can keep ourselves safe from such cyberattacks at this time?
My Lords, I will be very brief. Of course I support the comments from my noble friend Lord Foulkes. However, in relation to the Council of Europe, I hope the Government, in doing what they are currently doing—although they need to go a bit faster, as many noble Lords have said—are thinking about an exit strategy. We need one. While we are cutting ourselves off from Russia because we are almost at war, it is still important that the dialogue continues between us. It is also important that we understand the feeling from the people in Ukraine—as well as the people in Russia, as the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, said. I hope that the Minister will keep the dialogue open as long, and as widely, as he can, because getting out of a war is extremely difficult.
My Lords, like other Peers, I welcome the introductory remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad. Clearly, from these Benches, we stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. Like the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, I intend to focus my remarks almost exclusively on the question of sanctions and the statutory instrument before us. However, I also want to touch very briefly on the issue of the Council of Europe.
These Benches support the views of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and his amendment because, while the passing of the statutory instrument is necessary today for sanctions to be effective, there is a very real question about whether the sanctions go far enough. In his opening remarks, the Minister said that the Prime Minister is proposing to give a Statement this afternoon and he will go further, so the Minister cannot pre-empt that. This is fully understood. However, if your Lordships’ House were to support the amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, then it might be the quickest time in history when the House of Lords has voted on something. If we hear the Prime Minister doing something rather more effective and expansive, we might all be able to celebrate the fact that swift action has been taken.
Overnight, we received the letter from the Minister which has been referred to and in which he says:
“Since announcing the package on Tuesday, both the speed and level of co-ordination between the UK and its allies on these sanctions has taken the Russian elite by surprise.”
If the Russian elite were taken so much by surprise, and we went from potential mobilisation to full-scale invasion of Ukraine, what does that tell us about the way that they have responded? Do the Government really think that the elite have been taken so much by surprise that they have acted precipitately, or have they not really been taken by surprise? The sanctions proposed so far by the United Kingdom seem very limited. Other countries have done far more; as the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, pointed out, the European Union imposed much wider sanctions overnight.
Yesterday, at Questions, the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, stressed that the UK was acting
“in lockstep with our allies”.—[Official Report, 23/2/21; col. 218.]
If that is the case—without pre-empting what the Prime Minister will say this afternoon—could the Minister reassure the House that the UK will indeed work with our European Union allies to ensure that our sanctions are at least as broad and deep as theirs?
Could the Minister perhaps reflect on the question of Russian membership of the Council of Europe? Some of the criteria for Council of Europe membership relate to human rights and the rule of law. What on earth is Russia doing in the Council of Europe? Should we not be at least considering suspension of its membership? It might not be a sanction which falls within the statutory instrument, but it would be a sanction. Have the Government thought about it?
My Lords, of course these sanctions were laid in a different context. Earlier today, I said that the Opposition fully support the Government and will continue to support them in all their actions against Russia. We should be in no doubt, as the Minister said, that this is an assault on a democratic and sovereign European nation. It is an act of war in no one’s interests. We will fully support all the necessary action.
However, while we welcome the Statements that are going to be made—and we are going to have a four or five-hour debate tomorrow when we can make our contributions—it really is important that we work in a fully co-ordinated way. I certainly welcome the ministerial statement on G7 co-ordination, and the fact that the noble Lord has spent much of his time recently building relationships with allies more broadly than just across Europe and the G7, which will be vital if we are going to stand up to this act of aggression.
I have a couple of other points to make. I share the concerns of my noble friends Lord Browne and Lord Foulkes, about what possible action will be included. I know the noble Lord has given a commitment that action will be ramping up as strongly as possible, but we need to consider every possible action beyond sanctions. I pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, about the actions we might want to take on illicit finance and some of the oligarchs who operate here. I hope the Minister can assure us that the Government have all the necessary powers to take action. If they do not, let me assure him that the Opposition will support every step taken to ensure that the United Kingdom has the necessary powers to act, and we will co-operate with the Government to ensure that this is done as speedily as possible.
During our discussions earlier this morning, no one will have been surprised that the photographs, pictures and newsreels from Ukraine were pretty appalling, and of course there will be a humanitarian crisis developing. Indeed, it has already developed: people are escaping the bombs, and I hope the Minister can assure us that we will take all possible steps to provide humanitarian support, particularly for those fleeing the conflict. I share the view about ensuring that we hit the Russians with the strongest possible economic sanctions, and the SWIFT financial mechanism is something we should obviously explore. I know the Minister will not be able to make any commitments today in advance of Statements and the consideration we will be giving tonight at 7 pm, so I will not carry on, but I reassure the Minister that he has our full support in the proposed actions that are to come.
My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords for their support for the position of the Government, but to be frank it is the position, and rightly so, of our country, which stands united against the aggression of Vladimir Putin in terms of what has happened overnight. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, made a specific point about what is in front of us—with his legal prowess, I know that is what he is focused on—but as I said in my opening remarks, events have superseded where we are today. While this was tabled, rightly, as a debate on what had already been laid before us, equally, as I have already alluded to, there is more to be done in this area. Statements that will be made later by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will certainly detail the extent to which further action can be taken.
I can share with the noble Lords, Lord Foulkes and Lord Pannick, and others that we are also looking closely at the economic crime and corporate transparency Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, knows that I have advocated strongly for this, and my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have recently reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to bringing it forward. This legislation will, of course, significantly enhance our ability to clamp down on dirty money in the UK by reforming Companies House, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace. It will also require foreign companies that own property in the UK to reveal their beneficial ownership, a point made by my noble friend Lord Robathan. As we heard from the Prime Minister on 2 February, we are committed to bringing this legislation forward; however, as I said at the start, there are certain things I cannot pre-empt, so I will not go further, but I assure noble Lords that that is very much on our agenda.
My noble friend Lord Balfe rightly raised various issues concerning people of Russian origin. I say at the outset that we need to be very clear that our argument is not with the Russian people. There are people in our country who are dual nationals—British nationals of Russian origin who are British citizens. Many of them are critics of Mr Putin, and I am sure I speak for every Member of your Lordships’ House when I say that it is completely wrong to in any way put everyone together. This is a clear action by President Putin, and that is what we should be calling out.
The noble Lord, Lord Browne, spoke about the implications for those individuals already mentioned. Of course, we are in the process of freezing assets and imposing travel bans on the individuals already named. He raised a wider point about the impact that our sanctions have had under various regimes. We have sanctioned 81 individuals and entities—for example, those involved in human rights violations. I think sanctions do have an impact. They send a very strong message to different parts of the world—whether in the context of human rights or as we broaden the issue to include corruption and illicit finance—that we are ready to take action, particularly on the assets of people who may be resident here in the UK, or indeed by restricting their travel. This does have an impact.
The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, raised the issue of members of the Duma and the Federation Council. We are looking closely at those who voted in support of annexing parts of the two republics—the illegal annexation—and I will share information with noble Lords on specific names and institutions as we move forward. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, asked whether the statutory instruments will apply to the OTs. I can confirm that they will automatically apply to the OTs and Crown dependencies, and we will be co-ordinating with them. The noble Lord knows from our time spent considering the Sanctions and Anti-Money-Laundering Bill the importance of pursuing public registers, as they have all now committed to doing.
The noble Lord, Lord Browne, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, my noble friend Lord Balfe and others said that action must be co-ordinated in order to be effective. This has become part of my own mantra, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, knows well: sanctions are only good enough when they are co-ordinated with our partners, and I assure noble Lords that we are working very closely with them. Yes, because of certain legislative extensions and broadening of legislation, there are certain sanctions we have not applied, but we are working very closely with our European partners, the United States, Canada and Australia to ensure that there is co-ordinated activity in this respect, and that international co-operation will remain at the heart of UK sanctions policy. We will continue to work very closely with the EU and other international partners to tackle these shared objectives. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, that, as I said in answer to a question earlier this morning, I recently discussed this specific point with the German Minister.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, asked about the Russia report, to which the Government have published their response. I listened carefully to his concerns, and he is right that we have seen the impact of Russian interference around the world and the cyberattacks that have been generated, to which my noble friend also referred. My noble friend also asked about support to Ukraine. Of course, we are working with them, but to be clear, when I met the Ukrainian Foreign Minister yesterday, as well as the physical intervention—which turned from an incursion into what is now an invasion of the sovereign territory of Ukraine—the issue of disabling all communications in Ukraine and how best we can mitigate such action was very much part of our discussions.
The noble Lords, Lord Foulkes and Lord Collins, and other noble Lords raised the issue of SWIFT and what could be imposed and what that would mean. What I can say at this juncture, without going into detail, is that, simply put, we have not ruled anything out in terms of sanctions. What we are proposing, and certainly what will be heard later, will be a toughening up of our sanctions regime. We are very conscious to identify all those entities and individuals with strong links to the Kremlin.
The issue of disinformation was also mentioned briefly. The Russian Government are—and since the events of last night continue to be—conducting an aggressive set of information operations against Ukraine and, indeed, NATO. It was that particular disinformation that they used as a trigger to launch the invasion into the sovereign republics of Ukraine.
The noble Lord, Lord Cashman, raised an important issue about human rights. He knows how central this is to my own thinking. On Monday, I hope, events prevailing, to be at the Human Rights Council, where I will have various discussions with key partners on what more we can do within the context of the multilateral system. The noble Lord is, of course, right that the issue of human rights within Russia has been a particular challenge. Indeed, my noble friend talked about the opposition within Russia. We do not need to go further than the appalling treatment of Mr Navalny to see how Mr Putin has first suppressed internal opposition and has then moved, as we saw last night, to suppressing democratic progression in other near neighbours.
I assure the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, that we are using our sanctions regime. Indeed, in December 2020, we announced designations of Russian individuals and entities responsible for the torture and murder of members of the LBGT community in Chechnya specifically. In that regard, I thank the noble Lord and the noble Lord, Lord Collins. We have worked very closely on these issues, and they remain very much at the forefront of our mind.
On the broader issue of freedom of religion or belief, we have again seen the appalling suppression of the rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, in Russia, and we will continue to focus with our international partners on how we can act further in this respect.
I said at the start of this debate that events had overtaken us. Rightly, we need now to look at the here and now. In doing so, what my right honourable friend will detail later today will reflect many—
I wonder if the Minister can just deal with the question laid by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and me about the Council of Europe.
I was very much coming to that. I met John Howell and discussed what our approach should be. Again, this was in advance of recent events. As the noble Lord and noble Baroness will know, I regard the Council of Europe as an important way of engaging with those countries which perhaps we would not normally engage with through other institutions. The issue of whether Russia should remain part of it will, of course, be a matter for the Council of Europe. I have noted very carefully what the noble Lord has said in this respect.
One thing that I have always retained from my own experience of diplomacy is the importance of continuing to communicate in some shape or form. What was very clear to me with Russia yesterday at the United Nations was that when the Secretary-General of the United Nations rightly—I am sure noble Lords agree—condemned Russian actions, and this was in advance of what happened last night, even he became the subject of extreme criticism from the Russian representative. That was coming from a P5 member of the Security Council of the United Nations, which was set up to ensure that we address the scourge of aggression and conflict.
Let us not forget in particular the aggression and conflict that took place in Europe. Sitting there in the chamber and listening to what was unfolding in front of us, it was very clear. In my later meeting with the Secretary-General, he again reflected that this was perhaps the biggest challenge he had faced during his tenure, not least because it was being initiated by a permanent member of the UN Security Council, a body that was created to address conflict and sustain peace.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, for our earlier discussion and for his understanding. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said that we should see firm and complete action on the amendment that has been proposed. I hope that through the assurances that I have provided to the noble Lord outside the Chamber, as well as in my statement and the remarks that I have been able to share with noble Lords today, he will be minded to not press his amendment.
Equally, I assure noble Lords that as Minister responsible for the FCDO’s business in your Lordships’ House in what is a fast-moving, fluid situation—I have already shared this with the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and it is extended to other Front-Bench spokesmen in this respect—I will continue to engage directly not just in your Lordships’ House but outside the Chamber to ensure that I share the most up-to-date information and the action that has been taken. One thing that is very clear to me from the two sessions we have had thus far in your Lordships’ House is that unity is needed, and unity is what I hope is being heard from this Chamber and from the other Chamber by the Russian people. I also hope that we are providing hope to the Ukrainian people in the current challenges and the conflict and aggression they are facing.
I thank the Minister for his, as usual, comprehensive and very helpful response. While I am tempted by the suggestion from the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, to press this so that we are ahead of the game, as it were, my head has not been turned by my successful vote earlier this week. In light of the Minister’s very helpful response and the assurances that he gives privately as well as publicly, and the fact we will have the Prime Minister’s Statement repeated at 7 pm this evening and a whole day’s debate tomorrow, I think it will help to express the way in which this House, this country, is united against the Russians if I withdraw my amendment.
Amendment to the Motion withdrawn.