Before I call the Minister to open the debate, it might be helpful if I remind the House that although the Salisbury incident is not at this stage sub judice, Members should nevertheless exercise discretion and avoid saying anything that might prejudice a future trial. I am sure that Members are well aware of that and will show the customary and appropriate constraint.
I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the Salisbury incident.
Let me underline your comment, Madam Deputy Speaker, about the ongoing case. This is a very important case, with two suspects who have been named, and you are absolutely right that we must maintain caution throughout our discourse inside and outside the House to ensure that we do not undermine it. I ask colleagues engaging in today’s debate to remember that. It is of course a challenge that the individuals we seek are in a difficult jurisdiction, but nevertheless our rule of law is what we set our values by and that is the difference, perhaps, between us and many others.
I apologise for intervening so early in my right hon. Friend’s speech. He mentions Gatwick airport and the rail route the suspects took into central London, which are in my constituency. I appreciate that almost 50 million throughput passengers a year travel through Gatwick airport, but what assurances can be given that passengers and, indeed, my constituents who work at Gatwick airport will be kept safe from this appalling rogue and reckless action of foreign agents?
The assurance I can give my hon. Friend about this incident is that, throughout the whole process of the investigation as it has unfolded, we have sought expert scientific and public health advice to ensure that people who could have been at risk were not disregarded, whether or not they were in the threatened area. We felt that at Gatwick, for example, there was no threat to his constituents or the people who work there, but we made our decision by seeking the advice of our world experts in places such as the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory and Public Health England.
This also underlines an important point: when a hostile state is determined to try to use its full resources to penetrate another state, the challenge is much greater. The logistical support of that state in assisting its agents is significant. For example, these two individuals travelled on genuine Russian passports, making them harder to spot. There was clearly some attempt to create a legend to ensure that they circumvented our checks. This is only speculative, but at the other end of the aeroplane journey the baggage checks were probably not, I should think, as good as they might have been.
If I may just set the scene by pressing on a bit, I will happily give way later.
As hospital staff and paramedics worked to save the lives of the Skripals, the two suspects left London and travelled to Heathrow, flying back to Moscow at 10.30 pm on
Novichok is a deadly chemical nerve agent, and it was used in this attack. We believe that it was brought in in a counterfeit perfume bottle, in the packaging of a Nina Ricci bottle. That bottle was then recklessly discarded on the streets of Salisbury and had the potential to kill or injure dozens or hundreds of people. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has recently reported that, having tested it, it is confident that the liquid within the recovered perfume bottle had a very high level of purity.
Since the incident in March, some 250 detectives, led by SO15, have worked around the clock, trawling through 11,000 hours of CCTV and taking more than 1,400 statements. They have worked painstakingly and methodically to identify exactly which individuals are responsible and the methods they used to carry out the attack.
The Minister, like the Prime Minister a few days ago, has today presented clear evidence linking this incident to the GRU and the Russian state. He has also pointed out how the attack was facilitated by the apparatus of the Russian state. Does he therefore agree that it would be appropriate to ask the Foreign Office to look again at expelling further Russian diplomats beyond those expelled already to degrade their ability to plan and execute such activities on our soil as well as the other espionage activities they conduct?
My hon. Friend makes a point in response to the horrific facts of this case. We of course seek to keep pressure on the malign activity of the Russian state—to push it back, as the Prime Minister has said—and we will keep all options on the table for doing that. For now, we are working on a number of measures, to which I shall come later, to push back Russia’s activities, and we are doing our best to degrade Russia’s intelligence services.
Given the crystal clear evidence of Russian state involvement in these attacks—indeed, in the masterminding of them—why have the Government reached the conclusion that the other deeply suspicious deaths of Russian dissidents and others on British soil should not be reinvestigated?
I read the BuzzFeed allegations about the 14 deaths that that report viewed as suspicious. We have re-examined those cases, with other people looking at them—rather than only the officers who initially did the investigations, we have peer-group looked at them—and I have tested the assurances that I have had. In those cases, the investigations themselves did not throw up anything that would currently lead us to be suspicious. At the same time, the investigations and actions were done properly. That does not detract from the fact that Russia clearly uses lethal force where it chooses and that that must be challenged where we find it.
The important thing to tell the House is that, having visited the investigation a number of times, I believe that it is absolutely clear that the United Kingdom is in a unique position to solve this issue. We used a network of expert police officers from the local forces of many Members present today. It was incredibly refreshing to visit the investigation and find police officers from Devon and Cornwall and from all over the country. We have used the counter-terrorism network to share our knowledge and expertise. I met officers who had worked on the Litvinenko case. Britain has a real depth of experience of investigations of this type, and we have some of the best people in the world with some of the best equipment in the world. I can reassure colleagues that, although this attack was horrendous, we should be really proud of what our police and intelligence services have achieved, and that has been built on successive Governments’ investment in those organisations and the fact that, fundamentally, we do learn lessons from our past mistakes. Good organisations do that.
Does the Minister agree that if we are to defend ourselves against threats such as the one we saw in Salisbury, we need to change the record, particularly with some Opposition Members and the scepticism that they have shown towards the work of our security services? It is about time that we realised that our security services are working for our national security. We should take their judgment seriously, not go on social media and rush to dismiss it.
My hon. Friend is right. When we meet the people who do the job of keeping us safe every day, we find that they are honest, law-abiding, decent people of all backgrounds and all political persuasions who are determined to uphold this country’s values, which include the rule of law and the protection of rights. It is unfair to doubt them in the way that they are sometimes doubted in parts of the political arena, when it is often politicians who have made regretful decisions, rather than it being about the intelligence services’ intelligence.
We have heard a number of supportive voices from both sides of the House, including from the Labour party and members of its Front-Bench team. I will say one thing about the leader of the Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn. He has for many years challenged the Government of the day when our intelligence services have done something that he does not like, and he is allowed to do that. He has a record of that and he is proud of it, and there is nothing wrong with doing that. When the Russian intelligence services have done the same, he has somehow not yet been able to make the same challenge to the Government of Russia as he has historically made to the Government of Britain. That is where I would leave it; I think that is the best way to reflect on it. Apart from that, I do not doubt the Labour Front-Bench team’s support of our police and blue-light agencies; nor do I doubt the wishes of Labour Members to support this investigation and to discuss it and the next measures to take, many of which they have supportived. Labour should, though, think about calling out the responsibility for this attack. I think that is a fair position to take.
I hope that the Minister will follow my logic. A couple of weeks ago, it was widely reported that the head of MI5 had offered the Leader of the Opposition a detailed briefing on the threats that this country faces. Does the Minister know whether, after the Prime Minister’s statement and what she said about the GRU’s involvement, the Leader of the Opposition has decided to take up that very sensible offer from the head of MI5?
My right hon. Friend will understand that it would be wrong for me to detail conversations between our intelligence services and the Leader of the Opposition, our Prime Minister or anyone else. I regularly give briefs, in an open manner and on Privy Council terms, to some Opposition Members, including the shadow Home Secretary, Ms Abbott, and we have a full and honest discussion about things. I have never found the shadow Home Secretary wanting; she has always wanted to know and has always been engaged. I am not going to speculate about the Leader of the Opposition’s relationships with the security services or anyone else; I am simply reflecting the fact that the people in our police and intelligence services are good people and they are doing the right thing. That does not mean that we do not hold them to account, because we do. The Intelligence and Security Committee does, along with everything else. The important thing about this event is that it was not an ad hoc, amateur event; it was the state-sanctioned use of a chemical weapon on our soil that lead to the death of a British citizen and could have led to the deaths of many more. It is therefore unbelievable that we should have any doubt about calling people out when they are found. It is now in multicolour, and we can see all the presentations.
To go back to the point that my right hon. Friend has made so eloquently, as ever, many would argue—I certainly would—that it is not just about the Leader of the Opposition; it is part of the hard left’s long history that they subscribe very quickly and far too easily to that conspiracy theory, which invariable means that they take the default position that all the brave men and women who work in our security forces so admirably, as my right hon. Friend has described, are wrong, and they act in a wrong way.
What I take from my right hon. Friend’s point is that we should let the message come out from this debate that there is nothing wrong with working in our intelligence services and our police forces and stopping terrorism and espionage on our streets. It is a noble thing to do, and those who do it should not be hounded for it. I must say that her characterisation of the hard left or whatever may have been as it was in the 1980s and 1990s—there are certainly people like that from the Momentum movement in my Twitter feed—but I would add that the rules have changed in the 21st century. We see conspiracy theories among nationalists, peddling all sorts of things. We see the far right in Europe in league with some of Russia’s friends and allies. The rules have changed: multimedia and social media have given volume to conspiracy theories. Trust is so important for us on both sides of the House, and we have to maintain that. I trust our judiciary, and I trust our leaders. We have to maintain trust.
I thank the Minister for giving way. May I simply express the hope, through you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that we do not have a sectarian debate but recognise that we are facing a real threat to our country, and that that requires us to act collectively? The shadow Home Secretary has made Labour’s position clear, and we should go forward from that.
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. I am trying to be as pragmatic and as accurate as possible about my view. I made it clear what my view was of the particular statement by the Leader of the Opposition. I have also said that I do not characterise that as the collective view of the Labour party. We will see what the statements are, and they may be different from the response that we heard last week. But I want to move on. I said that that was the only political point I was going to make, because it was important, but I want to move on now to where we have got with the investigation.
Following the work of the police and the intelligence services, which identified these individuals, the Crown Prosecution Service concluded that there was sufficient basis on which to bring charges against the two men for the attempted murder of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury on that day. The two men identified by police are also the prime suspects in the poisoning of Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley. Our world-class experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down and the OPCW have confirmed that the exact same chemical nerve agent was used in both cases. The two incidents now form a single investigation, and there is no other line of inquiry.
The security and intelligence agencies have carried out their own investigations into the organisation behind the attack. Based on that work, the Government have concluded that the two individuals named by the police and the CPS are officers from the Russian military intelligence service, also known as the GRU, which is a highly disciplined organisation with a clear and effective chain of command.
This was not a rogue operation. The attack was almost certainly approved outside the GRU at a senior level of the Russian state. Although I cannot go into operational detail about the work of our security and intelligence agencies, I can say that this conclusion is based on a clear body of intelligence.
This was a despicable act in which a deadly and illegal nerve agent known as Novichok was used on the streets of Britain. I know the whole House will join me in recognising the remarkable resilience shown by the people of Salisbury in the face of this act. The Government stand ready to assist Salisbury in getting back to normal. We have released £7.5 million to support business and tourism in the town and a further £5 million to support the cost of policing. I know that, throughout this process, my hon. Friend John Glen has been keenly and eagerly active in making sure that Salisbury, along with the county council, gets the resource and support it needs to deal with this.
I want to take the Minister back to how we counter the Russian threat to security in this country and elsewhere. As Secretary of State for Energy in March 2015, I used powers never used before to force the sale by LetterOne of its North sea oil assets. This was in the context of Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia. Following the terrorist outrage in Salisbury, are the Government looking at using powers such as the unexplained wealth orders to investigate the cronies of Putin whose presence here brings our country into disrepute and does not help the fight against Russian aggression?
I will get to my response later on, but the right hon. Gentleman makes the point that we have to deal with Russian state aggression across a wide front. We have said that we will use all legal powers within the rule of law to push back the malign action of the Russian state. The Criminal Finances Act 2017, which had cross-party support, gives us tools to deal with illicit finance. It is a fact that some of the two biggest flows of illicit finance into this country come from Russia and China. Therefore, it is obvious that we will be looking in those areas and making sure that we deal with such illicit activity, but we also look elsewhere. I cannot comment on individual investigations, but where we see a break in the law, whether it be illicit finance or any other type of malign activity, we will act using those powers and push it back.
The Bill went through only yesterday with a large majority. I was disappointed that not all parties could support it. Labour supported it, and I enjoyed our going through the Lobby together. I urge the Liberal Democrats to think again and not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Clearly, there were issues that not everyone agrees with. I do not think that voting entirely against the Bill would have helped our security or indeed the businesses that could have been compensated by Pool Re for loss of trade as a result of terrorism. Nevertheless, it is why, in that Bill, we have the measures against a hostile state. We wanted to mirror what we have in schedule 3 as well as in schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 and give our police and ports that power to examine individuals.
Is the Minister aware that the Danish Government recently announced an 11-point plan to deal with malign Russian influence? Many of those points were among the 10 items that I have discussed with him and that I wrote to him about last week. I do not pretend to be a font of all knowledge on this—absolutely not—but I am merely trying to present good ideas to the Minister to use. Will he meet me to discuss them, and can he give me any indication of where any of those points may be of benefit, specifically the one in relation to the standing group or organisation that could look into state subversion in the UK of both official and unofficial, state and non-state, kinds?
I have spoken to my hon. Friend. He has not only considerable experience in this area, but some interesting and refreshing ideas that I have discussed with him and that I am happy to discuss further with him. He makes another point, which is that if we are to respond to any hybrid threat, whether that is from Russia or any other hostile state, we need to be as co-ordinated and nimble as the people doing the planning. One of the unfortunate characteristics of some of the hostile states is that they do not really have collective Cabinet responsibility. They are quite able just to decide that they will all do something and everyone is told to do it. At the very least, we must be more nimble and co-ordinated. Our work in that area is ongoing. What I can say to him is that, because, over the decades, investment has gone into the intelligence services, our specialist police and, increasingly, the National Economic Crime Centre, we are in a position where we have effectively funded all the actors on the stage. They have the capability, but we now need to make sure that the direction of their work is improved. That is what we work at every single day. I will perhaps be able to say more about it to my hon. Friend at another time as the work is currently in progress.
We will get to that in a second.
I wish to express my gratitude to all the emergency services, and also to the staff at Salisbury District Hospital. It must have been very frightening for them suddenly to find on their wards a weapons-grade lethal nerve agent and, at the same time, the world’s press—not the local press, not the national press, but the world’s press—on their doorstep. They also had to put up with some rather odd behaviour by a Russian television crew who went down there probably to just cause trouble. Those hospital staff had to go to work and to live with not knowing whether they had come into contact with something. It must have been incredibly worrying. They have behaved brilliantly as has the leader of their hospital. I also want to place it on the record that the joint working with the DSTL, which was, by chance, down the road, really made a massive difference. I am sure that it gave confidence to the nurses, the doctors and the other staff at that hospital that they were in good hands and that answers would be reached.
I want to pursue exactly that point. First, may I support the Minister’s remarks on dealing with this Russian state aggression that has brought this terrible nerve agent into our country? Will he tell us a bit more about the public health costs and the extra public health measures that may now need to be introduced to deal with this alarming development?
I was going to come to that, and we should also thank the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which basically took over the decontamination of the site when the crime scenes were released and worked continuously with Government scientists and international experts to ensure that we got it right. We will jointly fund the decontamination costs. Part of the support package for the local authority will include that, but obviously there will also be internal money going out, but the work is being funded.
Again, this goes back to the United Kingdom’s expertise and knowledge, but from about 2010 we already had in place something called the chemical, biological or radioactive response framework. It was an easy-use, off-the-shelf guide to what to do and where to get scientific advice—Members who have sat on the Science and Technology Committee will know that it held an inquiry about 18 months ago into whether that advice is shared correctly through local government—so the network and the structures were in place. Certainly I have never felt that DEFRA or the local authority wanted for support. There are lessons to be learned. I went down to visit DSTL and the laboratories last Monday. We have seen a nerve agent that we have not seen before—it is not something that I think any of us would have predicted 10 months ago would be on our streets—and that will feed into our ongoing work on decontamination and detection capability. We are confident that DSTL and our aerospace sector have some of the finest minds in detection, and we will continue to invest in ensuring that we keep that.
Following the incident in March, we took action against Russia with one of the toughest packages of measures that the UK has levied against another state in three decades. We have expelled 23 Russian diplomats who have been identified as undeclared Russian intelligence officers. In doing so, we have helped to degrade their capability in the UK for some years to come. Twenty-seven other countries, as well as NATO, joined us in collective solidarity and, in recognition of the shared threat that we face, expelled 153 intelligence officers, the largest collective expulsion ever. Mr Putin should be under no illusion: the solidarity shown that day by the international community in response to the actions of the GRU has not waned.
In the United Kingdom, we have introduced schedule 3 of the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill, which had its Third Reading last night and has moved to the other House, to allow examining officers to stop, question, search and detain a person at UK ports and the border area in Northern Ireland to determine whether the person appears to be, or has been, engaged in hostile state activity. I was also pleased that Parliament passed the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018, which was taken through earlier this year by the Foreign Office and which gives us powers to sanction individuals or entities for a wide range of purposes, including those who fail to comply with, or are in breach of, international human rights law.
I absolutely join the Minister in welcoming the so-called Magnitsky amendment to the sanctions Act, but in the last few years, five other countries have passed and implemented Magnitsky legislation, which has led to 79 named Russian citizens being sanctioned. Those countries are the USA, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Canada. It has been four months since the Magnitsky amendment was passed in this House, yet the Government have done absolutely nothing to implement the legislation. Will the Minister please explain why the Government are so reluctant to take action and implement the Magnitsky amendment?
We are not reluctant, and I am interested in the hon. Gentleman’s examples that are European member states, because he will know, with his European background, that sanctions are implemented at a European level. As a member of the European Union, we have always sought to implement our sanctions as the European Union. We stand ready to use the new powers on sanctions after Brexit, where we can.
There are three routes to sanctions, it seems to me. The first is through a collective operation with the European Union—it issues an Order in Council that this Government can apply as a regulation the next day. The second is through the United Nations, which recently named, for example, Burmese generals, who we should be able to sanction quite separately from the European route. The third route is under the new legislation. Will my right hon. Friend at least confirm that work is in train to ensure that everything has been done to allow the Government to unilaterally sanction named individuals under that system on
We have made it very clear that we will use the powers set out in the Act. I am not going to say that we are about to fire a starting gun or say, “Here’s the list.” That will be for the Foreign Secretary and the Government collectively. We now have the power to act through our sanctions Act. We will not hesitate to use it, and there is more to come. I am trying to ensure that the legislation coming before the House over the next few months will include serious crime as a factor for laying a sanction, because it is important to see what the Americans have done around cyber-crime and serious organised criminals in that space.
No, I am going to move on.
We introduced many provisions in the Criminal Finances Act 2017. They included asset-freezing orders, of which we have used many, and unexplained wealth orders, which we used within six weeks against what I shall describe as an overseas individual—obviously the court decides how much I can tell hon. Members about individuals—and there are more in the pipeline. I know that Members are impatient to know why we cannot just issue lots of unexplained wealth orders. The simple reason is that the provision became law at the beginning of this year. We used it very quickly and we have to work it through the judiciary. At the high end, the oligarchs and their type use lawyers, and lots of them, to test these things. The wheels grind and there are more orders in the pipeline, but we have to ensure that this is tested, that the judiciary gets used to it and that we learn from the first use—which, by the way, has gone well to date.
The Minister is absolutely right; I found that the legal issues around the use of such orders requires a little bit of time, and I have sympathy with him on that point. However, can he at least reassure the House that the Government are absolutely determined to use unexplained wealth orders and other powers to chase down dirty money and stop Britain being used as a haven for it?
There is a reason why my title has changed from Minister of State for Security to Minister for Security and Economic Crime. The Prime Minister said not so long ago in a speech that she is determined to step up the response to illicit finance in this country and target those individuals. We have put some resource behind that. We have put in place the National Economic Crime Centre, and we are absolutely targeting and driving investigations in that area in a much more aggressive way than in the past. I have been very clear with the National Crime Agency and the other agencies that this is about targeted cases and sending messages, but it is also about going after facilitators—those who allow those crooks to enjoy their money in London. We must ensure that we deal with them all—not just the far-distant crime baron, but the smart, perhaps sharp-suited individuals who think they are just helping and not really engaged, but who in fact are absolutely corrupting our system, littering our streets with dirty money and then allowing those crooks to enjoy it.
It is just a minor point, but when it comes to all the lawyers facilitating the work of these oligarchs who are testing and playing the system—they are very aggressive in the United States, as well as in London and elsewhere—should we not be gently highlighting the fact that these companies that are taking on significant Russian players are being used to test the law? They have a very ethical basis for doing so, but at the same time they are taking an awful lot of money from our adversaries and enemies to learn how to game the system.
Tempting as my hon. Friend’s suggestion is, vilifying people who carry out the role of defending plaintiffs is not how we do business in this country. We are not Russia. Reputation is clearly important to some of those companies, and no doubt they will bear that in mind. However, everyone has a right to a defence. It is up to us to make sure that the law is in the right place to deal with this.
I fully expect that in some of these cases we will be successful, while in others we will probably try but not be successful. That is partly because of the myriad facilitators, shell companies, foreign jurisdictions and corrupt jurisdictions that this money comes through. One challenge is that in some cases the money is already cleaned when it comes here. It is not being washed here; it is cleaned, has come into the system, and has bought nice houses and everything else. That is why we squeeze at one end with the unexplained wealth orders and the asset-cleaning orders, which have also been used quite successfully recently, and then, at the other end, we have better regulation through the use of the suspicious activity reports regime. That regime has, for far too long, been in need of reform to make sure that people are making those reports when they see suspicious activities. I see some horrendous stories where people have handed over hundreds of thousands of pounds in cash and people have not thought that it is remotely suspicious, so have not made any report. People have bought houses with cash, and somehow some estate agents have not thought that that is remotely suspicious. There is an obligation—a legal obligation—on them to report these issues. Funnily enough, when we follow up on those cash purchases, they are, more often than not, a dodgy purchase.
The Minister is describing a situation where the people who wish to do our country harm are very creative and have very expensive advisers to quickly get round the rules. Can he assure this House that the economic crime unit that he described in a previous answer to me will, within the law, be as creative as possible to chase down these people?
I can give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance. The key point about the unit being part of the National Crime Agency, within a policing and intelligence-led environment, is that a target-led investigation is often about bringing to bear more than just criminal charges. It is often about disruption and discouragement—using the whole paraphernalia of the state to make life difficult, to recover assets, or to persuade people to go elsewhere. It has to be about everything, partly because of the scale of this. It does not matter how well we fund it—the scale of illicit finance throughout the world is so large that we have to pick our targets well and develop the case around them.
I have no doubt, though, that in dealing with illicit finance, especially illicit finance that has come here from Russia, for example, the National Crime Agency has the right people with the right skill set to deliver and the right leadership under its director general, Lynne Owens. We have already had arrests and progressed a number of cases, and I think that over the next few months, or maybe years, we will see some results. The message has certainly already gone out in the City that, through the use of the unexplained wealth orders and having them on our statute book, we are stepping up and taking this seriously. In my conversations with the United States Government, I find that they are delighted to engage with us and to help us in finding international money launderers. We are helping each other to make sure that people do not hide in different jurisdictions.
As the Prime Minister said last week, we have repeatedly asked the Russians to account for what happened in Salisbury in March. I am afraid that I have to report that our requests were met with obfuscation and lies. They responded with disinformation on an industrial scale. They tried to blame terrorists, our international partners, and the United Kingdom itself. They have accused “English gentlemen” of killing those whom they consider to be beneath them, as one of the theories of what happened. They have tried to blame the future mother-in-law of Yulia Skripal. They have even tried to blame the Prime Minister herself. This deluge of disinformation merely reinforces their guilt and does them no favours whatsoever.
It is clear from the way in which the Russian Government have responded that they show no remorse whatsoever. Will the Minister therefore suggest to colleagues in the Foreign Office that they encourage Germany and the EU to revisit their enthusiasm for the Nord Stream project, because that would bring with it the dual advantage of diminishing Russian leverage over our friends and allies in eastern Europe while also hitting Putin very hard indeed in his bank account?
It is just good energy policy for any country not to be dependent on one single source, either because of political exposure or just because of differences on energy. It is really important that we always make sure that our energy policy is diverse. Obviously, our European partners have tried to do the same, and I would urge them to continue with that.
As Secretary of State for Energy, working at the EU Energy Council, I helped the European Commission to draft Europe’s energy security strategy, which is very much aimed at reducing Europe’s dependence on imports of Russian fossil fuels. That is good for climate change and good for security. Can the Minister assure the House that after Brexit, that level of influence on Europe’s energy policy will be there in some other way, because by being at the table we were able to hit Putin in the pocket very effectively?
I think that, in the middle of the negotiations, that is what we are trying to do. Our relationship with Europe post Brexit is not just about taking or giving—it is still going to be a partnership. Our security will be a partnership. Our relationships with NATO and many of the countries in NATO will be a partnership. On strategic issues like energy, it is in the interests of both the European continent, as it will be then, and us to have that strategic dialogue. We will need each other for energy policy whether we are in or out of the European Union. I would certainly share the right hon. Gentleman’s view that we must continue to work at delivering that.
This was a chemical weapons attack that left four people fighting for their lives and one innocent woman dead. I know that the thoughts of the House will be with the friends and family of Dawn Sturgess, in particular. We will never stop pursuing justice for Dawn Sturgess and other victims, nor will we ever stop pursuing the people responsible for this malign attack. As the Prime Minister told this House last week, were the two suspects within our jurisdiction, there would be a clear basis in law for their arrest for murder.
I thank the Minister very much for the speech he is giving. I am sure that the House will be aware of the remarks made by President Putin today in saying that these are not criminals but citizens. Does he agree that if the President is so assured of that statement, he might want to encourage those individuals to come to the UK for trial?
I believe in the British justice system, and if they are innocent, they will be acquitted. I have every faith in that, so I would urge the President to hand those individuals over for a trial. They are suspects and they are innocent until proven guilty.
We have obtained a European arrest warrant and submitted an Interpol red notice so that if these individuals leave Russia in future, they can be apprehended and brought back to the UK to face justice. We have not made a formal extradition request, because we have learned from experience, following the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, that such a request would be futile. The UK does not have an extradition treaty with Russia, and the Russian constitution prohibits extradition of its nationals. But should either of these individuals ever again travel outside Russia, we will take every possible step to have them detained, to extradite them, and to bring them to face justice here in the United Kingdom.
As the Prime Minister also said, we have taken action against the GRU itself. The Salisbury incident is but the latest example in recent history of Russian malign activity in which the GRU has played a key part. The GRU has been involved in the botched coup in Montenegro and the illegal annexation of Crimea. Last year, we determined that GRU hackers were responsible for the indiscriminate NotPetya cyber-attack, which caused some £15 million-worth of damage in the United Kingdom. We exposed its despicable use of chemical weapons in Salisbury, we have exposed its operatives and its methods, and we will share this information with our allies in recognition of the shared threat we face. It is important to remember that the message to our international partners is that if the GRU can do it here, it can do it anywhere—in those people’s countries as well. People who are perhaps tempted to think that Russia is going to be their friend should reflect on the actions it took this year in this country with a nerve agent. We will use every means possible to counter the threat by the GRU, both covert and overt, to ensure that the threat it poses to the United Kingdom is reduced.
The use of deadly, illegal chemical weapons on our soil is part of a pattern of behaviour: Russia’s actions in Crimea, the Donbass and Montenegro; repeated violations of the national airspace of several European countries; sustained cyber-espionage and election interference; and a Russian-made missile belonging to the Russian army launched from territory held by Russian-backed separatists, bringing down civilian airliner MH17.
My hon. Friend makes the point that the GRU’s fingerprints have been all over these types of events. MH17 was a civilian airliner travelling between Schiphol and Asia, and 200-plus people—women and children going on holiday—were blown out of the sky. It is an outrageous thing to have happened to anyone, and it seems that Russia does not want to bear responsibility for any of that. This is way outside any international norm—it is on another planet from any international norm—and it is time that we said, “Enough is enough.”
Russia has now started to undermine international institutions and degrade the structures and treaties that keep us safe. Russia is failing to act as a responsible member of the international community—one that has the privilege and responsibility of a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. The Russian state must account for the despicable use of chemical weapons by the GRU on British soil. It must recognise that there can be no place in any civilised international order for the kind of barbaric activity we saw in Salisbury in March.
Regrettably, there are some who repeatedly flout the established rules of international conduct, their flagrant disregard threatening the entire international rules-based system. We have acted to protect our citizens and allies against the malign activities of those who disregard international norms and to send a message to all those who would contravene the international rules-based system: you cannot and will not act with impunity.
Deterring unacceptable actions by Russia and other malign actors is critical to our collective security. Recent joint action using transparent, multilateral mechanisms such as the OPCW demonstrates the strength of our shared commitment to tackle the threat of malign state activity and to reinforce the global rules-based system. The June European Council endorsed a comprehensive package to tackle hybrid threats, including the creation of a new chemical weapons sanction regime. We will continue to work with our European partners for its speedy adoption. The US has announced additional sanctions against Russia for the Salisbury attack, and in June, the G7 agreed in Canada a rapid response mechanism to share intelligence on hostile state activity. NATO has subsequently strengthened its collective deterrence, including through a new cyber operations centre.
As the Prime Minister has said, we will push for new sanctions regimes against those responsible for gross human rights violations and cyber-attacks, as well as robustly enforcing the existing regime against Russia. We will also work with our partners to build the OPCW’s capacity to attribute chemical weapons in Syria and more widely.
Malign actors have, for some time, been using a range of methods to undermine the international norms and laws and our security and prosperity, and it depends on us to make sure we take a stand. They are trying to destabilise our advanced democracies, open societies and free economies. Those methods range from conventional military interventions to acts of non-military aggression in the form of disinformation and cyber-attacks. All these methods are designed to destabilise by sowing chaos, fear, uncertainty, division and mistrust.
In the face of such behaviour, the international community must continue to unite and to defend the laws, norms and institutions that safeguard our citizens. We must maintain and build on our strong alliances with those who share our values, stand shoulder to shoulder with our many partners and allies, send clear messages to malign actors that unacceptable behaviour will not be tolerated and remain resolute, determined and united against those who seek to divide us.
I thank the Security Minister for the way he has opened the debate.
The Prime Minister said on
“based on a body of intelligence, the Government have concluded that the two individuals named by the police and CPS are officers from the Russian military intelligence service, also known as the GRU. The GRU is a highly disciplined organisation with a well-established chain of command, so this was not a rogue operation. It was almost certainly also approved outside the GRU at a senior level of the Russian state.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 646, c. 168.]
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his generosity on that point. He says that the Opposition now accept that, but—this goes back to a point made by the shadow Home Secretary—they did not at the time. The Opposition were specifically putting out lines that were very similar to those being put out by the Russian state at the time.
I totally reject the suggestion that we were somehow putting out lines similar to those of the Russian state. With regard to implications that the hon. Gentleman is trying to make about the Leader of the Opposition, I have looked carefully at what the Leader of the Opposition and his spokesperson have said about this in recent weeks, and it is pretty clear. His spokesperson has said:
“very strong evidence points to Russian state culpability, and obviously Jeremy condemns the Russian state for that culpability.”
How much clearer could you be? The Leader of the Opposition said on
“Based on the analysis conducted by Government scientists, there can be little doubt that the nerve agent used in this attack was military-grade Novichok of a type manufactured by Russia.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 638, c. 559.]
He said on
“The use of military nerve agents on the streets of Britain is an outrage and beyond reckless.”
He also said:
“No Government anywhere can or should put itself above international law. The Prime Minister previously outlined that the type of nerve agent used was identified as having been manufactured in Russia. The use of this nerve agent is a clear violation of the chemical weapons convention and, therefore, a breach of international law.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 646, c. 170-171.]
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman believes it was sensible to suggest that we send a sample of this material to Russia, as if Russia would receive it and say, “Oh yes, it’s a fair cop—this is one of ours. We did it.”
What is an entirely sensible suggestion is to follow the procedure set out by the OPCW, and in doing it ourselves and by ourselves adhering to those rules, we are setting an example to the rest of the world about how to deal with the suspected use of chemical weapons.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and for setting out so clearly the views of those on the Front Bench of Her Majesty’s Opposition. Would he like to take this opportunity to point out that Chris Williamson is clearly saying something with which nobody on the Opposition Front Bench agrees and that his views are very much alien to Labour party policy?
My hon. Friend the Member for Derby North is not a member of the shadow Front Bench, the last time I checked. It is up to Back Benchers on both sides of the House to put their views as they see fit—[Interruption.] Looking at the Back Benches today, I look forward to the contribution of my hon. Friend Stephen Kinnock.
The Prime Minister confirmed that the poisoning agent used on the Skripals was part of a group of nerve agents known as Novichok. A further 48 individuals were also assessed in hospital in relation to the incident. We of course also think of all of them and of what they went through at that time.
Four months later, on
Having been admitted to hospital in a critical condition, Dawn Sturgess sadly died on
I want to say a word about the police and the intelligence services. With 1,400 statements and more than 11,000 hours of CCTV—and a report from the OPCW that I mentioned in response to an intervention—we commend the police, the security services and the UK’s colleagues at the OPCW, as well as the people of Salisbury, for their patience, co-operation and fortitude in these very difficult circumstances. Following consideration of that evidence, the Crown Prosecution Service and Scotland Yard announced on
We understand, as the Security Minister has set out, that on
The Prime Minister has indicated that, although there is no extradition treaty in place with Russia, as has already been mentioned in this debate, she has none the less issued an Interpol red notice and taken advantage of the European arrest warrant. The Security Minister and I debated this in the context of the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill last night. We of course all hope that, after
The attack in Salisbury was an appalling act of violence. Nerve agents are abominable in any war and it is utterly reckless to have used them in a civilian environment in this way. In the words of the shadow Home Secretary in July:
“We cannot allow the streets of ordinary British towns and communities to become killing fields for state actors.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 644, c. 537.]
The Security Minister has already set out the behaviour of the Russian state during the course of the investigation. Russia has consistently failed to answer the questions put to it by the international community. It has responded with obstinacy and mocking, which I suggest demonstrates a lack of respect for the gravitas of this situation. The language it has used is not the language of a state dedicated to helping to shed light on the events that have happened.
The use of this agent on the streets of Britain is shocking. The exposure to military grade nerve agents by a foreign state is a reckless, dangerous and egregious breach of international law. Opposition Members believe that it is incumbent on all states to act within international law and with respect for human rights.
I recognise the point that the hon. Gentleman made about condemning the Russian Government. I would like to put on the record the last statement by the Leader of the Opposition in his response to the statement last week, which was an opportunity to condemn the Russian state. I have just reread the response. There is condemnation about the act and the reckless use of a nerve agent and so on, but the closest I can find to a condemnation of the Government of Russia is the final line, which says that
“we will support any reasonable action to bring those responsible to justice and to take further action against Russia for its failure to co-operate with this investigation.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 646, c. 172.]
What I do not see is a condemnation of the Russian Government for this act in Salisbury. I ask the hon. Gentleman to make it clear that it is his party’s position and his leader’s position that they condemn the Government of Russia for this act.
I am quite happy to do that. When I set out the statements by the Leader of the Opposition, I was quoting both his words following the Prime Minister’s statement and indeed what his spokesperson said on his behalf. I will read again—I have already read it once to the House—what the Leader of the Opposition’s spokesperson said on
“It’s clear now that very strong evidence points to Russian state culpability, and obviously Jeremy condemns the Russian state for that culpability.”
It could not be any clearer. That is what my right hon. Friend said through his spokesperson. There it is.
Well, that is the position. I have read out the position pretty clearly. It is the second time I have done so. I say to the Security Minister: we worked in a consensual way on the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill and I hope that we can continue to do that in our response to this terrible incident and send out a very clear message that we are united in the measures that need to be taken to keep our country safe.
The expulsion of the diplomats has already been mentioned in the discussion in this House. They were identified by the Prime Minister as undeclared intelligence officers. This also led to the amendment of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill that—
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I will continue the point.
There are increasing checks on private flights, customs and freight, and the development of the new legislation to tackle hostile state activity. The Security Minister will be aware that we have been discussing that throughout the passage of the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill. Indeed, I and the shadow Home Secretary both voted in favour of the Bill on Third Reading last night. As the Security Minister well knows, we of course have reservations about a number of things—some of them we have resolved, and some I hope to resolve before the Bill appears in the other place—but both I and the shadow Home Secretary voted in favour of the principle of updating our laws and of providing protections against hostile state activity. I will come back to some of those measures.
The suspense as I wait for my hon. Friend’s intervention is starting to overwhelm me, but I will continue.
The Opposition are of course pleased with the solidarity that has been forthcoming from the international community and with the action taken in support of the UK position. I again make it clear that we on these Benches will back any further reasonable and effective action—whether against Russia as a state or the GRU as an organisation. I now turn to those actions.
Following the poisoning of the Skripals, the Prime Minister promised in March to develop new legislative powers to harden defences against hostile state activity. The amendments, clauses and schedules of the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill make particular provision on that. The Opposition believe in strong powers and strong safeguards, and we have sought to ensure that they are included during the passage of the Bill. The powers are now there. I hope and trust that they will go through the other place, come back to this House and get on to the statute book later in the year so that they can be used to deal with these types of situations.
In her September statement, the Prime Minister confirmed that, in addition to those border powers, the G7 have agreed to share intelligence pertaining to hostile state activity via a rapid response mechanism; that the EU has agreed a package to tackle hybrid threats; and that NATO has strengthened its collective deterrence via a new cyber-operations centre.
Cyber is obviously an important part of how we deal with this issue going forward. I have visited GCHQ and seen some of the work that goes on. The Opposition will continue to make the case for that work to be appropriately funded and that the capacity must be there to act as we need to. America has also announced additional sanctions against Russia in the light of the Salisbury attack, and, as I said a moment ago, support from the international community to back UK action is welcome on both sides of the House.
I turn to the Magnitsky amendment and other issues. In March, the shadow Chancellor talked about the need to tackle the “global laundromat” operation, in which immense sums of money obtained from criminal activity are laundered here. The Security Minister made the point, which I totally accept, that the money may well have been cleaned before it arrives on these shores. None the less, we have to do all we can to implement the measures that have been identified. We are pleased that the Government accepted the Magnitsky amendment; it is important to have the powers to seize assets when we believe that there is a situation with a corrupt foreign official or other matters that require action.
The Security Minister also spoke, on the radio earlier this week, about unexplained wealth orders, which are an important part of our weaponry. He is indefatigable and will be here to wind up as well as having opened this debate. Will he clarify how many unexplained wealth orders have been used so far, whether they have been used specifically in respect of Russian nationals and the extent to which he intends to press their use in future?
The action being taken on money laundering is, of course, very important. However, the Magnitsky amendment relates specifically to violations of human rights. I urge my hon. Friend to take this opportunity to ask the Minister to accept, during his winding-up speech—on the record, from the Dispatch Box—that there is no reason whatever why the United Kingdom cannot take unilateral national action on the basis of the Magnitsky amendment.
Clearly, we would like action to be taken at an EU-wide level, but the fact that Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have all taken unilateral action, implementing their Magnitsky legislation, clearly demonstrates that there is no reason why the United Kingdom cannot do the same. Could we have an explanation of why EU membership has been used as an excuse for total inaction—it is now four months since the Magnitsky amendment was passed? The Government could simply take the list of Russian citizens who have been sanctioned by those other countries under their Magnitsky legislation and use that as a starting point.
My hon. Friend asks a sensible question and then makes a sensible, practical suggestion about what the Government could do. The Security Minister is in his place and has heard the point made by my hon. Friend, who made the same point in an intervention on the Minister. If he addressed that issue during his winding-up speech, that would be useful for both sides of the House.
If the Baltic states that my hon. Friend referred to are able as EU members to take unilateral action, why does the Security Minister feel that the UK cannot follow suit? Also, if action has already been taken by EU member states against specific individuals, why can the UK not do the same? If the Minister addressed that in his closing speech, that would be welcome on both sides of the House.
I turn to Wiltshire police, the local police force. It is estimated that the response to the Salisbury attack has involved more than £7 million in additional costs alone for the force; the figure may be higher than that. I understand that the Government have offered some additional sums to cover the costs—I have seen the figure of £1.6 million—but do they propose to offer any additional money beyond that to Wiltshire police?
The Opposition have always said that we cannot have security on the cheap. The Security Minister often refers to the counter-terror budget, but the reality is that we cannot see that in isolation. When terror incidents happen on our streets, they always draw in mainstream policing resources.
The most important factor in anti-terror policing is local intelligence, which often helps the police to do their job better. To help to facilitate that local intelligence they need the funding, but we all know that police forces are underfunded. What does my hon. Friend think about that?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Community police are the eyes and ears for our intelligence about what is going on in our streets. Cutting 21,000 police officers clearly has an impact on capacity. I urge the Minister to speak to the police Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Prior to this debate, there was an urgent question in which the issue of police numbers was repeatedly raised on both the Opposition and Government sides of the House. I urge the Security Minister to press the Chancellor for more money for our overstretched police.
I have set out that we will back any further reasonable and effective actions, either against the Russian state or the GRU as an organisation. I should also say that we have no quarrel with the Russian people—of course we do not. Many questions, however, need answers, and those answers can come only from the highest echelons of the Russian state.
I start by thanking Nick Thomas-Symonds for the robustness and clarity of his condemnation of the Russian Government for their part in these outrages. It would be wrong for us to pry into private grief, but what he said from the Dispatch Box bore very little resemblance to what his leader had said during the statement two weeks ago. That, of course, was corrected by his spokesman afterwards, but at the time he used weaselly words. I thank and congratulate the hon. Gentleman for laying out the real stance of the Labour party: that it strongly condemns the Russian Government for this appalling outrage on the streets of Salisbury.
Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to slightly rephrase his description of the words used by the Leader of the Opposition.
Of course, Madam Deputy Speaker; I should have said that I was quoting from Hansard: my right hon. Friend Boris Johnson used the word “weaselly” about that particular statement. If he was incorrect, alongside him I apologise for that. Even if the statement were weaselly, I perhaps should not have said that. I apologise, of course, and withdraw the remark.
I have the very good fortune to be able to speak for all the people of Wiltshire, the very simple reason being that I have the very great good fortune not to have been noticed by those who make appointments and am therefore not a Minister. All the other Members in the county of Wiltshire, all seven of us—leaving aside my hon. Friend Dr Murrison, who will be joining us very shortly—are Ministers and so are not able to speak in this debate. I hope that I can speak on their behalf. It is very nice to see two of my hon. Friends from Wiltshire on the Front Bench, my hon. Friend Michelle Donelan, who has recently become a Government Whip, and of course my hon. Friend John Glen, who has done magnificent work in the aftermath of this appalling outrage in his constituency. I hope that anything I say about his constituency will not be incorrect in any way. I am sure he will correct me afterwards if it is. He has done huge work. I hope to be able to speak for the people of Wiltshire as a whole on this one occasion by virtue of my strength as a Back Bencher.
I agree with what my right hon. Friend the Minister said about Russia and security—I agree with what the Labour Front Bench spokesman said, too—but I hope you will understand, Madam Deputy Speaker, if I speak largely on local Wiltshire issues, rather than on the broader security issue. I may touch, just briefly, on Russia a little bit later.
The first thing I think we should do, and it has been done by most speakers throughout the past couple of weeks, is pay enormous tribute to the emergency services in Wiltshire, in particular the ambulance service, the Odstock Hospital workers and the police, who did such a superb job both on the occasion itself—on the two occasions, I should say—and in the aftermath. We now know that Novichok was used and that it was localised. We now know there were only two outbreaks. At the time, however, it must have seemed to the police and NHS workers that it was quite possible that this was a huge appalling chemical incident and that thousands of people would be affected. Nevertheless, they did their job with huge dedication and courage. I salute them very much for it. I also pay tribute to the Army and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down. They made a huge contribution in the aftermath of the event. I also pay tribute to Wiltshire Council. My noble Friend, Baroness Scott of Bybrook, has been very strong in the support she has given the people of Salisbury and the rest of the county in the aftermath of the event.
The hon. Member for Torfaen, on the Labour Front Bench, raised a point about the cost to Wiltshire police, which has been estimated to be between £5 million and £7 million. I had a very clear response from the Prime Minister, during her statement last week, that the Home Office would indeed cover the costs borne by the Wiltshire police. I very much welcome that and hope that that is the case. We have been here before with the entirely unnecessary investigation into Ted Heath, on which Wiltshire police spent £1.7 million. I am glad to say that we eventually persuaded the Home Office to cover those costs. I hope that the same will apply here. Equally, I hope that the very large extra cost borne by the national health service and others will be borne by the Government in one way or another.
I very much welcome the fact that the county as a whole has already received more than £6 million from the Government. Some £327,000 of Government and council funding has been granted to 60 businesses particularly affected by the outrage. Some £92,000 of capital grant has been provided by the local enterprise partnership to support 29 businesses through these difficult times. Some £208,000 has been provided in business rate relief to a total of 50 businesses. Business drop-in centres have been provided in two locations, in Salisbury and Amesbury. That is already a significant level of support from the county council and the Government, but it is very important that we continue to provide that national support.
It would be wrong to exaggerate the effect that these incidents have had on the people of Salisbury, Amesbury and the surrounding district. They were, of course, appalling incidents and there was a real feeling at the time of concern that the effect might be wider than it turned out to be. As a result, there has been some downturn in tourism and commerce in Salisbury—some 12.9%, I am informed—but it is recovering rapidly. The people of Salisbury are resilient in every way. The businesses I have spoken to realise that they must offer something for the people who come in from the surrounding area, and they are already doing that to a significant degree. I do not think that we should talk Salisbury down in any way, shape, size or form. The people of Salisbury are well able to handle this. Now that it has been made plain that there is no risk of any kind at all to pedestrians or passers-by in the city of Salisbury or elsewhere, I think that people will return rapidly.
Tourism is, of course, enormously important to Salisbury. After Malmesbury Abbey, which is of course by far the finest church in Wiltshire, Salisbury Cathedral is a huge attraction and will no doubt attract large numbers of people—as does Stonehenge just down the road. It is very import that we make it plain to people everywhere that there is no risk if they visit Salisbury: they may go there without any form of risk of any kind whatever and we can put this incident behind us.
Wiltshire Council has put in place a long-term recovery programme for Salisbury and south Wiltshire, laying out a whole portfolio of measures it will be taking in the area to encourage footfall to recover. I particularly welcome the fact that the Government recently announced that the 2019 National Armed Forces Day, from 28 to
Madam Deputy Speaker, you may not be aware that the expression, “as different as chalk and cheese” actually comes from the county of Wiltshire. Up in the north we have cheese and dairy, while down in the south they have chalk downlands. Down there, of course, they are members of the Church of England, whereas we in the north are non-conformists. So the difference between chalk and cheese comes from Wiltshire. We are one county divided by the great Salisbury Plain. On this occasion, I think that we speak as one county and one people. We entirely reject the appalling incident that occurred in south Wiltshire and we are determined to support the people of Salisbury and the surrounding district in their recovery from it.
I could not finish without adding my total condemnation of the event itself and adding one view of it. I would just like to ask why we think that Mr Putin chose to carry out this act at all and why he chose to do so in such a peaceful county town as Salisbury. Partly he did so because the Skripals were there, but my view is that he did so entirely intentionally. He wanted us to know it was him. He wanted us to know it was Russia. It was part of a power move not dissimilar to the way that he flies his aeroplanes over our airspace and the way he gestures in all sorts of ways. He wanted to demonstrate the strength of the Russian people by using this dreadful nerve agent in the middle of Salisbury. After all, he could have pushed them off a bridge or done all sorts of other things. He used a chemical nerve agent in the centre of Salisbury highly intentionally. Mr Putin understands one thing and one thing only, and that is strength. He does not understand politics, the law or international conventions. He understands strength. That is why, when he has used strength in this disgraceful way by using a chemical nerve agent in the centre of our city, we must respond with strength. We cannot let it pass. We cannot cast a blind eye to it. We must, must, must respond strongly and with clarity to what he has done. We need strength in our response to Mr Putin.
Finally, may I say just one more thing? This may sound a little counter-intuitive. I am just about to go off to Finland for a conference of international parliamentarians with an interest in the Arctic. There, there will be 16 Russian parliamentarians of one sort or another. I am confident that I will be discussing Arctic matters with them perfectly coherently and perfectly sensibly, and that these are good people. The people of Russia are not bad people. The people of the Duma, curiously, are not bad people The Duma is a very fine organisation, albeit entirely ignored by the Russian establishment. It is very important that we maintain our soft-power connections with the people of Russia. We should have exchanges with them in all sorts of ways: on science, on exploration, on the arts and so on. It is very important that we maintain our talks and connections with the ordinary people of Russia. They are not our enemy; Mr Putin and his regime are our enemy.
I thank the Minister for his speech, and I associate myself with the remarks made about our thoughts going to the families of all those affected by these events. In particular, it is valuable for us to remember the family and friends of Dawn Sturgess, who tragically lost her life. It is valuable for us to reflect on the fact that somebody has lost their life and been murdered. That is very important to remember. I also want to reflect on the Skripals, who have made a recovery, and Charlie Rowley, who has also, thankfully, made a recovery.
I associate myself with the remarks made not only by the Minister but by the Opposition spokesman, Nick Thomas-Symonds, about the bravery of the police, medical personnel and others involved. Let us not forget that when the police and medical personnel were called, they were dealing with exceptionally dangerous substances. They were sent on to the frontline, into harm’s way, on our behalf. I associate myself with the remarks made about the bravery of the police services in Salisbury, but also the medical personnel and others involved.
We support the measures that the Prime Minister has outlined, that such attacks—and they are attacks—cannot and will not be tolerated. We are absolutely united in our condemnation of Russia’s actions. In line with the UK Government, the Scottish Government will not conduct any ministerial meetings with Russian Ministers until further notice. Official-level engagement will continue as planned, with senior official engagement requiring ministerial approval, but the Scottish Government and colleagues in the UK Government will be working on together on that.
The hon. Gentleman knows that I hold him in the highest regard and respect, and his statement is most welcome. Let me also say how much I appreciate the comments made by Ian Blackford.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree with the First Minister of Scotland—I think that this is also the general opinion of leading politicians in Scotland—that it is inappropriate for Members of the Scottish Parliament and this Parliament to appear on RT, and will he join me in urging Alex Salmond, the former First Minister, to quit RT?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. Obviously, I agree with my leader about RT, and I have been very clear on that in the past. I would add that there are Members of this House—in the hon. Gentleman’s party, as well as in the Labour party—who have taken payment for appearing on RT, and I hope that he is vociferous in condemning those Members of his own party.
I know that the hon. Gentleman does, and I respect that. I would also say that RT continues to be an Ofcom-regulated broadcaster, so it should be for people’s own judgment, rather than for me to tell them, whether or not they should appear on an Ofcom-regulated broadcaster, but I thank him for his intervention.
This was a chemical weapons attack on UK citizens on UK soil, which we condemn unequivocally, and we thank the Minister, his colleagues and all others involved for the work they have put into this so far. There can be little doubt that the murder attempts—this was murder and attempted murder—were authorised by the Kremlin. Russia’s actions can only reasonably be characterised as an extrajudicial, state sanctioned murder of a foreign citizen on a foreign soil, which we condemn without any equivocation.
My right hon. Friend Ian Blackford has already called for stronger action against Russia in the wake of the Salisbury attack, saying it was clear that the attacks was an “act of state terrorism” and that tougher financial sanctions are needed to make Russia “sit up” and pay attention.
For some time—this is not in the Minister’s portfolio, but I hope he will ask his colleagues to reflect on it—the Scottish Government and Scottish National party Members in this place, not least my party leader, have looked to the Government to tighten up the regulatory framework relating to Scottish limited partnerships. I hope that he will take back to his Government colleagues the message that we are very willing to continue to work with them on that.
My commitment during the passage of the Criminal Finances Act 2017 stands. The work is ongoing, but we absolutely see the dangers and vulnerabilities of how those tools are used at the moment, and there is a lot more that can be done. I am grateful to the SNP for raising the issue with us in the House and in relation to the Criminal Finances Act. It is a niche thing: anyone who is not in Scotland or who does not happen to be in one of the other countries that, remarkably, have huge amounts of them will probably not have not come across them.
I thank the Minister for his work on the issue. If I may gently say so, however, the one area on which I disagree with him—although I am sure that he actually agrees with me—is that I do not think it is particularly niche, given the volume of foreign transactions. I know that is not the point he was making, and I hope that he will take my comment in the spirit with which it was intended.
It has been pleasing to see the collective robust response of the international community to these attacks. In particular, the UK’s ambassador to the United Nations, Karen Pierce, has done an excellent job in very difficult circumstances. She said that the nerve agent attack was a
“direct challenge” to the
“rules-based international system that has kept all of us safe since 1945.”
I associate myself with those remarks.
The European Union has been an extraordinarily valuable tool when we seek to confront Russian aggression, whether in the UK, Ukraine or elsewhere in Europe. We welcome the leadership that the United Kingdom has shown on Ukraine. I hope that I do not step outside the spirit of the debate, but I am concerned about the effect that Brexit will have on that, and I know that that is also of concern to a number of Ukrainian politicians. I hope that Ministers will bear in mind over the coming weeks and months that our relationship with our European partners is absolutely crucial when it comes to Russia. I also gently welcome the fact that a European arrest warrant has been issued. I repeat that it is an incredibly valuable tool in these circumstances, and I hope that Ministers will reflect on its value over the coming months.
On Russian bullying as a whole, all of us in this House need to reflect on the fact that this is not entirely new. Since the fall of the former Soviet Union, we have seen acts by Russia in places such as South Ossetia and Abkhazia and in Georgia, whose territorial integrity we respect. We have seen Russia’s heinous actions in Syria. We must remember that the state that can most hold back Assad and his murderous regime is Russia. I want to highlight in particular the targeting of the White Helmets online, which should appal each and every one of us. None of us should be in any doubt about the way in which they are being targeted at the moment. There is also the illegal annexation of Crimea and the ongoing conflict in the east of Ukraine, and the shooting down of the Malaysian Airlines flight. None of us should forget that the actions in Salisbury, as appalling as they are, are in line, unfortunately, with the way in which Russia has carried out its foreign policy in recent years.
In addition to addressing how Russia has carried out its actions here, I want to reflect on how it is viewed by many of its nearest neighbours. The Baltic states have thrived since independence in the early 1990s. The very fact that we have had to deploy UK and NATO troops to the Baltic states should be of concern to us all in this day and age.
Finally on soft power—this welcome point was well made by James Gray—the people of Russia have contributed hugely to European civilisation. We have benefited enormously from our relationship with the Russians. I hope that nobody will mind if I plug the great work of Billy Kay—I should add that he is my constituent—who in his excellent BBC Scotland series looks at the links with Russia, particularly those between it and Scotland, over the years. We have benefited from that fruitful relationship. We should be grateful to people in Russia for their ongoing contributions to science and culture. It is why we benefit from a strong relationship and why soft power and maintaining those relationships are so important. In particular, I will mention the excellent work of the British Council. We should continue to support its work in Russia—this is not one for the Minister, but I hope that he will relay the message to his colleagues in the Foreign Office—because it is as important, if not more important, than it ever has been.
As we reach the centenary of the end of the first world war, none of us should forget the huge price paid by the Russian people in that conflict and the second world war. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude for the sacrifices they made in the 20th century in particular. That is why we should stand with the people of Russia. We are right to reflect on the victims of Salisbury in this debate, but we should also reflect on the other victims of Putin’s Russia—the human rights activist who finds himself targeted, the LGBT activists who find themselves targeted by the police. In particular, I would like to highlight Mothers of Russia. These are mothers who have lost their sons and daughters in Putin’s wars who find themselves targeted because they want to find the truth for their children. It is appalling. They are among the bravest people I have ever had the good fortune to meet and a credit to their country.
The hon. Gentleman made a powerful point about the British Council and its excellent work. Will he join me in condemning Russia’s decision, in response to our expulsions in March, to order the closure of its activities in Russia—the very thing, if anything, that will help to lay the foundations for improved relations in the future?
Of course, I absolutely agree with the Minister in condemning that. The work the British Council has done has been outstanding. The bravery of its employees, both Russians and UK nationals, is something for which we owe them an enormous debt. I realise that this subject is very close to the heart of Stephen Kinnock as well.
To conclude, we stand with the UK Government over Salisbury, but we must also stand with the people of Russia, who fundamentally are the Putin regime’s biggest victims.
I start by thanking all those involved in the investigation surrounding the Salisbury incident, including the 250 detectives and the thousands of police and security officers. They have played a vital role in protecting and enhancing our nation’s security, and for that we owe them our deepest gratitude. We should never forget their unfaltering determination to comb through 11,000 hours of CCTV footage and record over 1,400 statements, for it is such efforts that save lives.
We should also give thanks for the role the NHS played in saving the lives of Sergei and Yulia Skripal and its efforts to assist Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess. I also commend the Government for their proactive approach in obtaining a European arrest warrant and issuing an Interpol red notice for the suspects. I also commend my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for her excellent statement last week in the House. The tone and information were perfect and just what was required.
This was an attack that ultimately left one person dead and others fighting for their lives. Such barbaric acts have no place on the streets of this country, especially not at the hands of a foreign Government. I fully endorse the Prime Minister’s comment that if the men who carried out this attack ever step out of Russia we should use every means available to bring them to justice. Her response has been swift and proportionate, unlike that of the Leader of the Opposition, who demonstrated at worst a lack of patriotism and at best a stunning naivety in showing such openness to the Russian version of events.
We must remind everyone—ourselves and the international community—that this is not the expression of some dislike for the Russian people, but rather a full condemnation of the actions of the Russian Government. I have personally been appalled by the levels of immaturity displayed by the Russian embassy in London. The attempted murder of two innocent people is never a laughing matter, but based on their satirical and sarcastic social media posts, it is clear that the Russian embassy staff think it is. Whether you are the accused or not, this is disgraceful behaviour, and they should be ashamed of themselves.
I also commend the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and our international partners for the largest ever collective expulsion of Russian diplomats and intelligence officers. More than 150 have now gone. Now, more than ever, we should be tightening and reaffirming our international partnerships in the face of such adversity. Let us also use this important moment to highlight the need to safeguard nuclear materials and protect our energy security. In this regard, the passage of the Nuclear Safeguards Act 2018 is a turning point.
Since invading Ukraine in 2014, Russia has launched a campaign of cyber-espionage and disruption, notably hacking the Danish Ministry of Defence and the Bundestag. I commend work in my own constituency on the cyber-security apprenticeship scheme, based at Energus, which is exactly what we need to do more of. Such apprenticeships are enjoyed by the employees and benefit our national security. The Government are also building on the considerable technical expertise in GCHQ—our world-leading cyber-specialists—and have invested £1.9 billion in cyber up to 2021.
Salisbury and the surrounding area now have an opportunity to recover and look towards a brighter future, and I echo the comments of my hon. Friend James Gray. Salisbury is a place steeped in history and set in a picturesque rural landscape, the home of Stonehenge and an original copy of the Magna Carta—[Interruption.]—and I know that my hon. Friend John Glen is serving his community well at this important time. I wish the people of Wiltshire the best as they endeavour to recover from this year’s events, and I commend the Security Minister for his speech to the House today.
I remember my first flight to St Petersburg in May 2005 as clearly as if it were yesterday. I was on my way to take up my post as director of the British Council’s operations in St Petersburg and felt a palpable sense of hope, combined with a healthy dose of trepidation. I was looking forward to improving my Russian and getting settled into my new life in St Pete, before formally starting the job in September. I was also, however, wondering what the coming years held in store for me, given the parlous state of the bilateral relationship.
Equally memorable, but for very different reasons, was my flight out of Russia in January 2008. The British Council had become a pawn in the stand-off that followed the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko by two state-sponsored hitmen on the streets of London, and we had been forced to close our St Petersburg office.
In spite of the aggression and unpleasantness that came to dominate the relationship between the British Council and the Russian authorities, Russia will always hold a special place in my heart. It is a fascinating country of contradictions, extremes, suffering and joy, and I will never forget my time there. A wise person once said, “You can leave Russia, but it will never leave you”, and I can certainly confirm the truth of that statement.
The world view of the Russian people is shaped by the conviction that those who seek to exploit and undermine nasha Rodina—the motherland—are constantly hovering on her doorstep, and their default position is therefore to strike first, to subjugate their neighbours and, from that platform, to build a sphere of influence. From the empire-building of Peter the Great to the establishment of the Soviet Union and its extension to the eastern bloc countries, to the constant and furious opposition to the expansion of NATO, through to Putin’s adventurism in Georgia, Ukraine and Syria, the narrative of encirclement provides the backdrop to every chapter of Russia’s turbulent history and actuality; but understanding the historical, cultural and geopolitical forces that shape Russian behaviour is by no means the same as excusing it.
The Russian Government have literally been allowed to get away with murder for far too long. There are 10,000 dead in Ukraine, and 10 times that number in Syria. Alexander Litvinenko was brutally murdered by the Russian state; at least a dozen more adversaries of Mr Putin have died in suspicious circumstances on the streets of London; Anna Politovskaya and Boris Nemtsov were assassinated in Moscow, a stone’s throw from the Kremlin; and now we have seen Sergei Skripal, his daughter and a British police officer struck down by a nerve agent on the streets of a quiet town in Wiltshire, followed by the tragic death of Dawn Sturgess.
The Skripal attacks have of course provoked a great deal of speculation about why the Kremlin would choose to carry out such a high-profile hit just a few short months before the World cup. In my view, the explanation is a simple one, encapsulated in two simple words: greed and self-preservation. The Putin regime has no guiding ideology. It exists in order to protect and further the financial interests of a narrow elite, and to preserve its grip on power. It is a kleptocracy, turbo-charged by hydrocarbons.
The hon. Gentleman has mentioned the dependence of the financial elite on the economy in Russia. He will be aware that Russia depends primarily on oil and gas for its exports, while countries in the European Union are very dependent on oil and gas exports from Russia which are not currently part of the sanctions regime. Does he agree that it is the responsibility of every nation in Europe to try to reduce that dependence on Russian gas, so that we can make the sanctions much more effective?
I agree that a tough sanctions regime is absolutely the right one. The question is how targeted it should be, and how best to target it. A sanctions regime which has a very general broad-brush impact on the Russian people may well not be hitting and targeting the right people. What I like about, for instance, the Magnitsky sanctions and the unexplained wealth orders is the fact that they are directly targeting the Russian elite. Our argument is not with the Russian people; it is with the Russian state and the corrupt nexus of Government officials and oligarchs that are making this happen. I think that we must tread very carefully.
In the case of oil and gas, the secret, in my view, is the European energy union. If we invested in the interconnectors and the integrated energy market, we would drastically reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian gas. That relates particularly to Germany, 30% of whose gas imports come from Russia. The key to Russia is through Germany, and I think that the key through that is the energy union of the European Union.
Yes, I do share that concern. I think it is clear that, at the very least, a pause is necessary, and I think that the European Union needs to take the required action to make that happen. We need to pause and review how it will work, but Europe needs a plan B for its energy, and the key must be to reduce its dependence on Russian hydrocarbons. That must be the strategic objective.
When oil is selling at over $100 a barrel there are rich pickings, and the nexus of Government officials and mafia bosses who run modern Russia are able to co-exist in relative peace and harmony, but a few years ago the price dropped to nearly $40 a barrel, and although it has risen recently, it is still struggling to reach $70 a barrel. The pie has therefore shrunk, which has constrained the Kremlin’s ability to incentivise and buy loyalty. What do you do if you are a Russian President who is no longer able to offer the carrot to your henchmen and cronies? You must then deploy the stick. You must send a message, loud and clear, to all those who may know your secrets and may be thinking about betraying you that retribution will be brutal, cruel and swift.
While assassinations on the streets of Britain are Putin’s specific weapon of choice when it comes to securing the loyalty of the various clans and cabals that run Russia, he also knows that he must retain the broader support of the Russian people, which he has done through a series of cynical and ruthless foreign policy initiatives and military interventions. He knows that he needs to compensate for the abject failure of his Government to place the Russian economy on a sustainable growth footing, and he does so by seeking to unite his people against a range of common enemies. It is the oldest trick in the book. Thus the Russian threat to our security is not only through the Salisbury attack, or through the murder of Litvinenko; we see it in the invasion of Ukraine, and we see it in the indiscriminate bombing of Syria. From 24 to
As we have seen with the refugee crisis and the threat from IS, the effects of the Russian intervention have rippled on to our shores. President Putin deploys state-sponsored murder in order to retain the loyalty and discipline of his immediate entourage, and he uses military aggression in order to secure the broader support of the Russian people. Both of these strategies represent a grave threat to our national security and the security of our partners and allies, and both must therefore be tackled and defeated.
Russia’s geopolitical influence and substantial military clout stand in stark contrast to the small size and fragile state of its economy. In 2013 Russia’s economy was roughly the size of Italy’s and considerably smaller than Germany’s. Russia is grossly over-reliant on hydrocarbons, with approximately 70% of its GDP linked to the oil and gas industries. With the price of a barrel of oil plummeting, the value of the rouble tumbling, the demographic time-bomb ticking, sanctions biting and poor economic policy decisions compounding these problems, the Russian economy is facing a perfect storm. It is against this backdrop that sanctions as a foreign policy tool are ultimately likely to have real effect. The sectoral sanctions imposed by the EU in the wake of the shooting down of flight MH17 by Russian-made missiles in July 2014 certainly led Russia to tread more carefully in terms of incursions into eastern Ukraine, and there is some evidence to suggest that President Putin is not actively seeking to up the ante there.
The Government must now build on the success of those measures by committing to the following. First, we must ensure that the Magnitsky amendment to the sanctions Act is implemented effectively. It needs to be implemented effectively without excuses about our membership of the EU being an impediment; that clearly is not the case because Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have all implemented their Magnitsky legislation.
I have now seen the Estonian and other measures, and I would not want the hon. Gentleman to make out that they are sanctions regimes. They are a travel ban regime under which the country sets out a list of named people it will prevent from entering it. They are not sanctions regimes in the way we would understand that; they are travel bans saying, “You can’t come to our country.” We in this country do it differently; we have always had that power and we regularly take steps to keep people out of this country either through exclusion or refusal of visas if they pose a threat to the common good or a security threat and so forth. I am afraid that the Baltic states regimes are not sanctions regimes; they are a predetermined list of people not allowed into the country. We already operate a case-by-case scheme; we just do it differently.
I thank the Minister for that clarification, but it remains a mystery to me that it is now four months since the Magnitsky amendment was passed by this House and we have not even drawn up a list of names and made it publicly available, whereas the United States, Canada, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia have all produced lists of names of Russian citizens whom they intend to sanction, or have sanctioned albeit initially by travel bans which can clearly be built on. It is still a mystery to me why four months have passed and there has been absolutely no follow-up whatsoever on the Magnitsky amendment, so I look forward to hearing a little more from the Minister on that in his winding up.
The second key point is on unexplained wealth orders. Again, far too little action has been taken to instigate those targeted measures. Thirdly, while I have been robust in my comments on the Magnitsky amendment and on the unexplained wealth orders, I believe that the measures that the Minister set out from the Dispatch Box on the work we are doing multilaterally and internationally, through the G7, the UN and elsewhere, are absolutely to be welcomed and fully supported. The shadow Minister, my hon. Friend Nick Thomas-Symonds, has already expressed support for them.
It is also vital that we argue forcefully for the completion of the European Union’s energy union. The EU’s fragmented energy market and infrastructure are causing several EU member states, including Germany, to be more reliant than necessary on Russian oil and gas, which in turn gives Russia disproportionate influence in its dealings with the EU. By investing in interconnectors and integrating the energy trading market, the EU would fundamentally rebalance its relationship with Russia.
My abiding memory of my time in Russia was of a burgeoning sense of polarisation between society and state. I saw and heard the values, instincts and hopes of growing numbers of young, well-educated and internationally minded Russians contrasting sharply with an increasingly reactionary and authoritarian governing elite. Support for Mr Putin was, and still is, relatively strong and widespread, but it is also brittle. He derives his legitimacy from the fact that people are prepared to trade the rule of law, pluralism, transparency and freedom of speech for what they perceive to be security, stability and economic growth. However, when Russian holiday jets are being blown up in response to military adventurism, and when recession and inflation become the dominant features of the Russian economy, many more Russians will start to draw the conclusion that their president is failing to keep his side of the bargain.
Change in Russia will not come any time soon, however, as evidenced by the recent election. President Putin can still count on the support of the majority of Russian voters, with the only notable exception being the growing middle classes in Moscow and St Petersburg. Clearly, the assiduously developed propaganda that is pumped out by the state media machine plays a major role in maintaining Putin’s approval ratings, but my time in Russia also taught me that the Russian people are still traumatised by what they perceive to have been the chaos and humiliation of the Yeltsin years, and the stability that Putin brought following that turbulent period continues to underpin his popularity today. It is therefore essential that we respect the will of the Russian people. Vladimir Putin has been the leader of choice for more than 15 years, and he will in all probability continue as president until 2022.
Let us therefore engage with Russia as it is, not how we would like it to be. Let us demonstrate through our words and deeds that we truly understand the history, culture, interests and foreign policy objectives of this vast nation with its huge potential, but let us also be absolutely clear, strong and resolute in the face of Russian aggression. That clarity, strength and resolution must start right here in this House. The Kremlin will constantly and consistently attempt to divide us, and we must not allow it to do so. That is why it is vital that my party makes it crystal clear that we support the words and actions of the Government, the EU and our NATO allies in the action that we are taking against the Russian state. This is not the moment for whataboutery. This is the time for a robust defence of our values and for the clear recognition that if we give a bully an inch, he will take a mile.
Let us therefore move forward together, across parties and communities, to forge an unbreakable and unanimous position on this issue of profound importance to our national interest, and let us send this message to Mr Putin, loud and clear: the British people will no longer tolerate the brazen and reckless actions of your regime, and we will no longer tolerate the way in which you and your cronies use London as a laundromat for your ill-gotten gains. We will therefore act rapidly and robustly to deliver the changes that are long overdue. We have the utmost respect for the history and culture of Russia, and we will never forget the tremendous sacrifices that the Russian people made when they stood shoulder to shoulder with us to defeat the Nazis. We also accept that Russia will probably never be a liberal democracy, and we have absolutely no desire to impose our world view. Nobody in their right mind is talking about regime change, but we do need to see radical behaviour change.
I referred to respect, the Russian word for which is uvazhaniye, and underlined the importance that Russia rightly attaches to being respected by others. But respect is a two-way street, and it has to be earned. If the current occupants of the Kremlin wish to earn our respect, they must radically change their mindset and behaviour, and they must do so now.
It is a great honour to speak in this debate and to follow Stephen Kinnock, who has just given a superb example of the knowledge, experience and eloquence for which he has become renowned in this House. In my brief remarks, I will pick up on some of the themes he mentioned in relation to our broader security response.
What was so shocking about the appalling outrage in Salisbury, apart from its intrusive nature and the way it undermined our norms of behaviour and our sovereignty, was the extent to which it was an entirely brazen act. However, we must keep it in the context of a long list of brazen international acts by the Russian state that have violated the post-cold war security settlement in Europe and have sought to undermine the international norms that civilised states should observe in their interactions with one another. Some of that interference has been conventional, some of it has involved the use of cyber-warfare, and some has been a mixture of both—a classic form of hybrid warfare. We will all be aware of the long list of instances, starting in 2008 with the invasion of Georgia and moving through to annexation of Crimea and the invasion of eastern Ukraine in 2014, leading on to the downing of MH17 and the outrage in Salisbury.
Those events are well known, but less well known is the impact of Russian state activities in the cyber-sphere. In the Minister’s superb opening remarks, he mentioned the NotPetya virus, the most virulent that the world has ever encountered, which caused some $10 billion-worth of damage worldwide and had a significant impact in this country. I am delighted that the Government are enhancing our national counter-cyber-attack capability, and I commend the Minister for announcing £1.9 billion of extra funding until 2021 to turbocharge the tremendous work of GCHQ in countering the cyber-security threat that our country faces every day. I also commend the Minister for bringing forward improvements to our border security and defences. The proposals, which are going through Parliament in the form of the Counter-terrorism and Border Security Bill, will give our security forces, emergency services and Border Force the capacity to deal with state hostile activity on the same basis as they may deal with terrorist activity.
Winston Churchill famously declared that Russia was an impenetrable state, with motives that are hard to decipher. He said:
“I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”.
Churchill was speaking in 1939, but today, ironically, the reverse is true. The Russian state’s agenda on the world stage is very clear. It wants to dominate its neighbourhood, by force if necessary, and to undermine and overturn the international order, particularly the security order that we have enjoyed for a long time in post-cold war Europe. How do we guard against that? My simple belief, picking up on some of the themes discussed by the hon. Member for Aberavon, is that we and our allies need to achieve peace through strength. We must meet Russian threats with total resolve. The Prime Minister, in her response to the outrage in Salisbury, was a model of swift and resolute action, and the diplomatic coup that she managed to achieve—our expulsion of 23 diplomats followed by similar action by some 27 allied countries—was a remarkable triumph that sent a clear signal to the Russian state.
To return to what Stephen Kinnock said—“You can leave Russia, but it will never leave you”. It is 18 years since I visited Russia; I travelled from Moscow down to St Petersburg. We should remember that our argument is with the Russian state—with Putin—not with the Russian people, whom I found on my visit to be incredibly warm and welcoming.
I am very grateful for my hon. Friend’s contribution. Like him, I have enjoyed travelling in Russia—in Moscow, St Petersburg and many other cities—and I have always been very touched by the Russian people’s hospitality and tremendous sense of pride in the magnificent Russian heritage and culture, which we should all enjoy. He is right that our argument is with the Russian state, not the Russian people.
As I have said, our Prime Minister achieved a tremendous diplomatic coup, but our resolve and response must also be in the conventional sphere. I am very pleased, therefore, that we now contribute some 800 soldiers to the enhanced forward presence—a combined NATO presence in Estonia and other Baltic states and eastern countries. That is a very clear signal that we will commit conventional forces to deter Russian aggression on NATO’s borders.
We must also be aware that our deployment to Estonia and our contribution to the enhanced forward presence contains a lesson, which is that we urgently need to relearn our ability to exercise, deploy and sustain military force at scale. We have not done that since the end of the cold war. We must take note of the fact that, this week, the Russian military is conducting a large-scale military exercise—the Vostok manoeuvres—involving some 300,000 soldiers in eastern Siberia. Our NATO equivalent, which also takes place this month, will involve 40,000 soldiers. We need to relearn those lessons urgently, and I hope they will be incorporated into the modernising defence programme. Simply put, the British Army needs two fully manned, fully equipped divisions that can be deployed at reach and sustained for as long as we need them to complete those sorts of operations.
I very much support everything my hon. Friend is saying. Does he agree that, in retrospect, it was perhaps a bit premature to abolish, as part of the strategic defence and security review in 2010, the joint chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear regiment, which was created in 1999? He will have noticed members of our armed forces on the streets of Salisbury recently, and if there were incidents of that sort in the future, possibly involving biological or nuclear devices as an alternative to the chemical one that was deployed on this occasion, we might need the kind of expertise that we thought we were growing from the Royal Tank Regiment and the Royal Air Force regiment in 1999.
I agree entirely. We need to maintain the ability to react to chemical, biological and nuclear warfare, and I hope that lesson will be contained in the findings of the modernising defence programme, which should be announced towards the end of the year.
“The policy and practice of the Russian Government has always been to push forward its encroachments as far and as fast as the apathy or want of firmness of other Governments will allow them to go, and always to stop and retire whenever it was met by decided resistance.”
Lord Palmerston knew what he was talking about, because at that point he had just concluded, in victorious fashion, the Crimean war with Russia.
I will finish by saying that this decided resistance—this resolve—has been exemplified in a superb fashion by our Prime Minister and our emergency services. I hope and am confident that this resolve throughout our Government, our armed forces and our emergency services will be maintained in our dealings with Russia long into the future.
It is a great privilege to follow my hon. Friend Leo Docherty, who, as ever, gave a very insightful speech, especially on matters related to the defence of our country. I have felt fortified by what I have heard this afternoon and I congratulate the Minister on his opening remarks. The remarks of Stephen Gethins were wholly appropriate, and they resonated with my own feelings on the subject. Stephen Kinnock gave a masterful exposition of the relationship that we should aspire to have with Russia and how we should go about establishing that.
The attack on Salisbury was an attack on us all. I am sure I speak for other Members when I say that it was as real and personal to me and my constituents as it would have been had it been an attack on the streets of Stirling. A few days ago, relatively speaking, I had the privilege of welcoming my hon. Friend John Glen to Stirling and was able to speak with him at some length about the impact of these events on the people of Salisbury and Amesbury. I pay tribute to them for their fortitude, endurance and patience. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, too, because I have become aware of how hard he has worked for his constituents throughout this period of what can only be described as an emergency.
I also pay tribute to the Prime Minister and both the previous and current Foreign Secretaries for the work they have done in response to these events. The Prime Minister’s patience and commitment to service to this country have paid off in how our allies, in an unprecedented way, responded to the events in Salisbury. The evidence suggests that an attack by a foreign power on British soil occurred during which a British citizen was murdered and several more people were made seriously ill. Comments have already been made in tribute to the valour of Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, who, in response to an emergency call, did what is all too often the case with our blue light services, and went towards danger without fully appreciating the danger that he was putting himself in.
An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. We must approach this as one nation. The spirit and tone of this debate has undoubtedly conveyed that. Comments have been made about the degree of our indebtedness to the security services of our country, and I echo those sentiments. Now is the time for us to stand together and meet this challenge with the combination of fortitude and resolve that we have seen from the people of Salisbury—and even, I would suggest, with a degree of truculence. We must first seek to prepare and to tackle any deficiencies that might be discernible in our defences against the likelihood of a repeat attack—whether that is an attack of the same style against individual British subjects or one against critical national infrastructure.
I am particularly concerned about cyber-security, and endorse what has been said about it in the debate so far. Cyber-security and physical security go hand in hand when it comes to addressing this threat. I echo the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot about the modernising defence programme. Things have changed dramatically in recent years in respect of where the threats to the nation’s security lie. I very much hope that when the time comes to present the modernising defence programme, the Government will take a realistic view of what we need to do and not shy away from being on the level with the British people about what the cost might be of our response to these threats.
People sometimes say, perhaps too casually, that there are no votes in defence, but I cannot agree. My constituency has a long tradition of association with our armed forces, and there is certainly a strong feeling there about the need for this country to maintain its defence posture with strength. I do not think that we currently have sufficient strength in our defence. The point was made earlier about the need for there to be critical mass in our response to the threats the country faces. Reference was made earlier to the Vostok exercises. Quite frankly, it is mind-boggling just to listen to the scale of what these Russian exercises—the largest conducted for decades—consist of: some 300,000 soldiers, 36,000 vehicles, 1,000 aircraft and 80 ships. It should also give us pause for thought that these exercises are being conducted with the Chinese. The prospect, sight and sound of President Putin and Chairman Xi making pancakes, eating caviar and taking vodka shots in Vladivostok ought to make us think very seriously about our nation’s security.
My hon. Friend is making a fine speech. Even more chilling than the exercises he describes were the Zapad 17 exercises last year, where an alleged 125,000 Russian soldiers, all armed with tactical nuclear weapons, took part in a huge exercise within 100 miles of the borders of NATO, near Estonia.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that contribution, which underpins why our friends and allies, especially in the Baltic states, are incredibly nervous about the developments that have transpired in recent times. That is why I intervened on the hon. Member for Aberavon to ask about the Nord Stream 2 project. I hope that our Government’s representations to the German Government are as forthright as they need to be in respect of the risks and dangers posed to European security by their determination—or at least so it appears, from the outside looking in—to proceed with the Nord Stream 2 project. I very much hope that our representations to the German Government are of such a nature that they are in no doubt as to how we see that situation.
The spirit of Russian adventurism is disturbing. Mention has already been made of action in Syria, as well as, of course, the annexation of the Crimea and the ongoing violence and threat in the eastern part of Ukraine. I feel particularly strongly about the fate of the 298 people on board flight MH17, who were shot out of the sky over eastern Ukraine by Russian missiles. Among those 298 passengers and crew were 10 British subjects—although all lives have equal value, regardless of which passport they hold. In the context of the matter we are debating, we should refer often to that particular incident, because it cannot be allowed to be forgotten—swept away under the carpet like so many other things in recent history and conveniently forgotten. Justice needs to be done for those people and their families.
I absolutely endorse the comments that have been made by a number of Members that we should bear no malice towards the people of Russia. I have previously mentioned in this House that our elder son spent two years in Russia. He went to Novosibirsk, in Siberia, which is not the warmest part of the world to go to, as well as to Omsk and Ulan-Ude. My wife and I will be forever grateful for the incredible hospitality, kindness and generosity of the people of Russia whom my son lived among and worked with during his time there. We have nothing but admiration and affection—I can speak from the heart on this issue—for the people of Russia. I had the opportunity to go with Luke to Moscow. He is a fluent Russian speaker. He loves Russia and its culture; he is immersed in it. That infectious love that he has for Russia and the Russian people has been transmitted very freely among all of us in his family circle, so there is no malice and no malintent towards the people of Russia, but there is strong objection to the activities of the Russian state.
Let me speak now as a Scottish Member of Parliament. There are regular incursions by Russian military aircraft into British airspace over Scotland. The RAF is regularly scrambled to go out to meet that threat head-on. That represents the threat that the Russian state poses.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his speech and for bringing up the issue of Russian incursions. As a Member of Parliament for Leuchars, I can say that that is something that has been of particular concern to a number of my constituents. I wish to pay due regard to everyone who works at Leuchars for the excellent work that they do, and I know that he and his hon. Friends will also reflect on the work that is being done at Lossiemouth as well.
I am grateful for that intervention and endorse the sentiment behind it.
In concluding, let me say that I hope that we will remain united behind the steadfast and resolute leadership of the Prime Minister; that we will use the influence and soft power that this country undoubtedly has—as was witnessed by the response of our allies to the events in Salisbury—to bring pressure to bear unceasingly within the international rules-based system on the Russian Government, on the broader hierarchy of Government and on other prominent people in Russia; that we will use all of the laws available to us in this place, in this country and on a global basis; that we will, as I have said, be indivisible in standing with our Prime Minister in defending and protecting our country from this threat; and that we will be the Parliament that is prepared to do whatever it takes.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Stephen Kerr and a particular pleasure to follow Stephen Kinnock, who made an excellent speech. I will not be attempting any of the Russian language in mine. It is also a huge pleasure to follow my hon. and gallant Friend Leo Docherty, whose remarks about the Vostok exercises should be very sobering for all of us in this House. The issue deserves a lot more attention than it gets in our 24-hour news media cycle.
One interesting idea in politics is the idea of the Overton window. As everyone knows, it is the idea that, when people start to say things that were previously considered unacceptable and unsayable, they move the boundaries of the debate. It seems to me that the people who run Russia today are trying repeatedly to hammer away at the norms of the international rules-based order to normalise what should be outrageous and make us think that actions that should be unbelievable to us are just par for the course.
Other Members have already mentioned these things but to recap, in recent years, the Kremlin has invaded Georgia, occupied the Crimea, fomented war in the Donbass, shot down a passenger jet full of innocent civilians, launched cyber attacks and disinformation attacks across the west, and violated the airspace of a number of countries. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling, I was struck by the shooting down of a passenger jet over Ukraine and profoundly sad to see the “Rough Guide” in the wreckage. These were people just trying to go on holiday.
In this country, the people who run Russia have killed a man in the middle of London, attempted murder and killed one person in Salisbury, and put many more people’s lives at risk by deploying military-grade chemical weapons on the streets of a quiet cathedral city, and that is just what we know about. I was very glad to see the former Home Secretary launch an investigation into the 14 other suspicious deaths linked to Russia in recent years. It seems to me that we can never be too sceptical about the actions of the Kremlin, which is now in the hands of people who are almost unimaginably cynical, ruthless and gangster-like.
As other Members have pointed out, it is important to always talk about the people who run Russia or the Kremlin rather than “the Russians”, to quote the shorthand that people occasionally use. It is impossible for those of us who have been there not to be charmed by Russia and the Russian people. In fact, it is hard not to feel very sorry for a people whose wealth has been systematically looted by Mr Putin and his cronies. To give just one example, I read in the Financial Times that the wealth of Mr Putin’s closest friend, Sergei Roldugin, has been estimated at $130 million. That is somewhat surprising, given that the man is a cellist. Perhaps we should all go busking in Russia, as it is clearly lucrative, although perhaps he has other sources of income, because the Panama papers revealed his involvement in taking money in and out of Russia and various other shady places.
I was incredibly grateful for the Minister’s update on progress and congratulate the Government on achieving international co-operation and the largest mass expulsion of Russian diplomats. I wonder whether I can press him on the next steps, including in building an apparatus and a campaign to combat Russia’s sophisticated disinformation campaign, in which it has invested a lot of time and money. My hon. Friend Mr Seely has already made this point, but we know that Russia has made a huge investment. Russian disinformation comes from all kinds of sources, from fake news outlets to TV channels, and operates on all kinds of different levels, from buying up influential people, from celebrities to politicians, to creating networks of bots on social media.
The strategy that Russia is implementing is enabled by the rise of social media. A couple of hon. Members have referred to this, but the strategy is always the same: to sow so many different lies in so many directions that the waters are successfully muddied. They include, in this case, “We never had Novichok,” “We had it, but we got rid of it,” “It exists, but maybe it was stolen or leaked out of the country,” “Maybe it was terrorists,” “Maybe it was the British Government,” or, “Maybe it was the ‘mysterious gentlemen’,” whom the Minister mentioned earlier. And of course, no lie is too big. If a man is killed with radioactive polonium in the centre of London and there are radioactive footsteps leading all the way back to Russia—“Well, maybe he was a dealer in nuclear material around the world. Maybe he effectively killed himself.” Literally, the comparison is with Hitler: no lie is too big, too outrageous or too audacious to be told. I am therefore profoundly sad whenever I see credulous, nice people in Britain being used as useful idiots as part of a sophisticated strategy by people who are not nice or naive, but incredibly ruthless.
Although the techniques—the botnets and so on—are new, the strategy is not. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Aldershot referred to Lord Palmerston. I am also reminded of the words in George Kennan’s “Long Telegram” of 1946. The strategy is to
“disrupt national self confidence, to hamstring measures of national defence, to increase social…unrest,” and
“to stimulate all forms of disunity.”
That is the strategy—disunity internationally and in each country in the west. The Russian state has invested incredibly heavily in this disinformation apparatus, and we need equivalently strong mechanisms, and credible sources, to help us to fight against it across the west. Will the Minister update us on what is being done on that?
Will the Minister tell us a bit more about efforts to build a common sense of purpose across the liberal democracies to uphold the international rules-based order? I commend the Government for securing the large mass expulsion and action in all the main international forums. The Minister mentioned the G7, the EU, and NATO—the NATO cyber centre, in particular. Will he update us on what further actions he will be taking in all those international forums and, in particular, whether these issues will be put on to the agenda for their future summits?
The strategy of the people who run Russia today is, in effect, to walk through the gaps in our attention. It is do something terrible, wait a while until we lose interest and are distracted by something on Twitter, and then do a new, terrible thing in a new place. It is to exploit the weakness of democracy, as our attention can easily be distracted by other things, and to constantly probe it. If they find resistance, they will fall back for a bit, but they will probe and probe again until they are convinced that the cost of that probing is too high to continue.
Let me reflect for a moment on how far we have fallen back since 1989. The spirit of that period was that we would all be friends—that Russia would become a liberal democracy with the rule of law, join all the relevant major international institutions and be part of the community of nations. Even at the point where Mr Putin attained power, we still hoped that, after the rather chaotic period under Boris Yeltsin, he would be a strong man, but a strong man who believed in the rule of law. Gradually, it has become apparent that that is simply not the case. We have seen liberal opposition leaders shot on the streets of Moscow and a constant probing of the west in every possible way.
This is profoundly sad. I have a happy memory of standing on an ice floe in the Neva in St Petersburg in the 1990s, having an ice cream and talking to a Russian professor. We remarked on how wonderful it was that we could have that conversation, which, only a few years before, would have been impossible. It seemed then that our countries were guaranteed to become firm friends. There are still a lot of people in Russia who want that to happen. The only depressing part of the speech by the hon. Member for Aberavon was when he said that he thought that Russia might never become a liberal democracy. There are still a lot of people in that country who do want that to happen, but it never will unless it becomes clear to the people who run Russia that there is no future in gangsterism, and no possible way to gain any advantage in continuing to outrage the norms of the international community.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Aldershot talked about peace through strength. Funnily enough, we will also get democracy and liberal reform in Russia through strength. Only by having a firm response of the kind that the Government are now leading can we not only keep our citizens secure but help to build a brighter future for people in Russia.
It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Neil O’Brien, who made a very powerful speech, as have so many speakers in this debate. I pay tribute to Members in all parts of the House for the strength of their contributions. I pay particular tribute to the Prime Minister and to the Security Minister. At all times, their response has been sure-footed, decisive, resolute, and, most importantly, proportionate. That has been the hallmark of the British response. I am delighted to commend it.
A lot of Members across the House recognise that the situation we find ourselves in today regarding the state of Anglo-Russian relations is a very sad one. Although other hon. Members have made this point, it does bear re-emphasis: the Russian regime would have us believe that there is rampant Russophobia in the UK. Literally nothing could be further from the truth. As other Members have said, we have no quarrel with the Russian people; we have enormous admiration for them. This is a country that has made such enormous contributions in science and literature. In science, they have done pioneering work on lasers and in computer science. This is the country that invented the technology behind fracking, for example. In literature, many of us will have studied Pushkin, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Dostoyevsky, Solzhenitsyn, Blok, Pasternak and so many others.
We also pay tribute to the astonishing resilience of the Russian people. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of Russian history can be in nothing less than awe of the sacrifice that they showed in the second world war, or, as they would put it, the great patriotic war. There is no Russophobia and our quarrel is only with the Russian leadership. Indeed, our affection for the Russian people cannot blind us to the actions of that leadership.
Others have rehearsed this, but I will as well. This is a country that has invaded another sovereign state. It seems utterly extraordinary that we should even be saying those words at this time in global history. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough indicated, it is having the effect of normalising the outrageous. To invade a sovereign state is an extraordinary action. We have heard about the downing of MH17, with 298 people killed, but almost as shocking as that was the campaign of disinformation, which must have added immeasurably to the anguish of the families of the innocent people. The Russian state put out that MH17 was blown up by a missile intended for the Russian President’s plane and, in a suggestion of incalculable insult, that the plane was already full of dead bodies and deliberately crashed. To put out that kind of nonsense and propaganda is shocking. We have also heard about the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko, the violation of international airspace and election interference.
When it came to the Skripals, again, there were palpable lies and disinformation. The Prime Minister herself was blamed and even, lest we forget, Porton Down. I welcome the fact that the British Government have been robust but also lawful and proportionate, which must always be the hallmarks of our response. Beyond that, there has been a sophisticated and capable effort to mobilise international opinion. There has been a strong united response from 28 allies, with 153 Russian intelligence agents expelled.
I want to take this opportunity to make two points. First, in my capacity as the Member of Parliament for Cheltenham, I want to thank the intelligence agencies, and in particular GCHQ. These are some of the finest public servants anywhere in our country, not just because of their sheer intellectual brilliance and the abilities that they bring to bear serving the mission and the national interest, but because of their dedication to the values that mark us out internationally. In my experience, both as a lawyer before I came into this place and as a Member of Parliament, they are scrupulous about remaining within the law, defending the values we stand for and doing so in a way that is to the credit of this country.
My second point is this. The UK now has an offensive cyber-capability. That was made clear by George Osborne when he came to GCHQ in Cheltenham in November 2015, and it has been made clear subsequently. What we as a nation need to do, consistent with the values that I have just articulated, is to be clear about how we go about using that offensive cyber-capability, if at all. What are the rules of engagement? We are very familiar, of course, with the rules of engagement for conventional weapons, but what are the circumstances in which it is appropriate to deploy our offensive cyber-capability? What is the threshold of attack on us that is to trigger a response?
I say those things for three reasons: first, because the intelligence agencies look to us for a lead and want that lead; secondly, because we owe it to them to ensure that they comply with their best instincts of remaining within the law; and thirdly, because we always have to be mindful that, in these difficult circumstances, things can spiral out of control, and we do not want them to spiral out of control or escalate unnecessarily.
The hallmarks of our response must be consistent with the approach we have shown hitherto. We must be resolved. We must be determined. We must be clear. We must be united. This kind of behaviour is outrageous, inappropriate and will meet with a proportionate and condign response. It is easy to say that, but sometimes it is more difficult to achieve. We must turn our attentions with dispatch to ensuring that our cyber-response is calibrated, lawful and proportionate.
Like my hon. Friend, I pay tribute to the actions of the Prime Minister and, indeed, of the Security Minister. As he said, it is her sure-footedness that ensured the global response to the outrageous incident in Salisbury was so united. We should bear in mind that that global response was itself a tribute to the actions of our security services. The global response was also part of something that has perhaps surprised many constituents. The absolutely certain tone from across the world when it came to assessing the actions of Russia—or, rather, the Kremlin—speaks volumes, and we should all pay attention to that.
In this short speech, I do not want to dwell too much on the extraordinary use of hard power by Russia, which so many people have talked about. Whether in Crimea and the Donbass or in shooting planes out of the sky, we know that Russia has exceeded the standards of common decency by more than anyone had perhaps thought possible. Instead, I would like to talk a little bit about some of its soft power.
In my opinion, too many of my constituents have come back from visiting Russia for the World cup with a view of a country that they would say, and rightly so in some ways, feels very much like Britain. They have been to extraordinary football stadiums and seen some extraordinary things, but in that process they have also seen a Russia that wants to project an image of itself as a country that is not the kind of country we know Russia—the Kremlin—in fact is. Given that soft power, I think FIFA made a serious mistake in awarding the World cup to Russia. Such soft power has been allowed to continue, which is why I pay tribute to the work of the British Council and of the World Service in spreading British values around the world and in trying to combat what Russia has, in some cases, allowed itself to stand for.
Similarly, we have talked about Magnitsky amendments or Magnitsky Acts, which are a serious attempt to challenge the soft power of oligarchs who have often come up through very cloudy methods or gained fortunes in very difficult legal circumstances in a way that certainly would not have happened in this country. There are too many people who act as Putin’s ambassadors around the world, which allows his views and attitudes to global security to become normalised.
That brings me to the main point I want to make, which builds on what others have said. The attitude of the Russian state has been to produce a fog of multiple versions of what happened in Salisbury. I think that we are now up to more than 30 individual, and largely mutually exclusive, versions of the truths that have been explicitly suggested from the Kremlin. That in itself is a shocking tactic, but it is one that the Russians have used for many years.
What is different today is that too many of our constituents who we would have thought were sensible and decent people have found themselves exposed to that propaganda and have become a little bit too convinced that some of it may even be true. Too many of my constituents have got in touch with me worrying that perhaps the British Government were not actually on the right track with this. They have seen some of the propaganda and become too convinced.
The same goes for people who have got in touch with many of us about the White Helmets, suggesting that it is not in fact the Nobel prize-winning organisation that it is, but that we should doubt whether it is on the right side of the argument. Many people who have been in touch with us to defend Tommy Robinson are probably in the same boat. We should bear in mind that it is not the spreading of propaganda by Russia that is new, but the relative credibility that people seem to give it, and that is largely thanks to the internet.
We talk about British soft power, but we should also be careful in considering future regulation—and there needs to be regulation—of what the social media giants and the internet can do. We should not allow the pretence that they are simply platforms for the spreading of whatever someone happens to want to put online, but say that the networks have to bear some responsibility for the impacts they have on society when that is palpably negative.
I say that as one who spent more than a decade writing about technology; I started this conversation thinking that the free speech enabled by the internet would allow our liberal values to win the argument. Now I cannot help but feel that we need to do something—I do not have an answer; none of us would wish to regulate free speech in an old-fashioned and limiting way. However, the Minister has rightly talked about some of the conversations involving the previous Home Secretary and the current one about what we can do to talk to social media companies in particular, so that they take the responsibility that we would all like them to take without limiting freedom of speech.
We can do a couple of things. We should stop saying that social media networks are mere conduits, but hold back from pretending that they are entirely publishers; the idea that Facebook is the same as my old employer, The Daily Telegraph, is clearly not right. They occupy a middle ground that we have to regulate in a sensible way.
We can do other things, which have to come back ultimately to making a greater effort at transparency online. That means indicating not just what is a political campaign but where it comes from and who has funded it. I commend the work of the Cabinet Office in trying to produce what a digital imprint might look like online. In my own paper for the Centre for Policy Studies, I proposed some specific wording for what that sort of imprint might look like: saying, for instance, who has funded something—specifically who they are. That is what we do in printed campaigning literature, and it is what we should be doing online. However, we cannot pretend that that would ever result in a situation where there was something at the bottom of an article of fake news saying, “This item has been funded by the Kremlin and here is who you can get in touch with.” We should not be quite so naive, and I am not suggesting for a moment that the Minister would be.
We also need to encourage social media networks to build on the work they have already done in identifying trusted sources and what sources being shared online have as a history. Many sources have very plausible names and kinds of history, for which a little debunking goes an awfully long way. We should work with social media companies to do more of that. We cannot pretend that every one of our constituents will consult a Channel 4 fact checker as soon as they see something a little suspicious online.
As input, this all sounds relatively small, but we should bear in mind that if we do not tackle the attitudes of our own citizens to what they read on the internet in respect of the approach that the Russians have taken, we risk more and more people not believing one particular version of the truth, but doubting the credibility of our own security services in general. Now more than ever, we must have faith in those security services. That may involve their being a little more open than they have in the past and building on the enormous openness that they have adopted in recent years, compared with what they were like decades ago. A little openness from the British will go a long way in tackling what, if we nip things in the bud, will be a serious victory in the long term.
I end by paying tribute, as I did at the beginning, to the work of the Prime Minister, the security services and the Security Minister. We have to be absolutely unashamed in saying that we should have confidence in our British values and our British security services. If we do not, we will allow an aggressive Russian state to punch through in a way that would do untold damage at a civilian level, as well as at a national level.
I am pleased to be taking part in this important debate, in which there have been many thoughtful contributions by Members drawing on their personal interest and knowledge of Russia. In particular, I would like to congratulate my hon. Friend Stephen Kinnock on his speech, which reflected his extensive experience and understanding from his time working with the British Council in St Petersburg from 2005 to 2008.
This debate takes place in the week that the inquest opened into the victims, including PC Palmer, of the Westminster terrorist atrocity. The inquest and the human stories we are hearing remind us all of the human cost of terrorist activity. They remind us, as the Minister said earlier, that we should be proud of the police and everyone who keeps us safe. On behalf of Labour, I want to reaffirm that the Labour party condemns any use of chemical weapons, just as the whole House does. Chemical weapons are illegal under international law. The Labour party condemns outright the reckless, murderous attack in Salisbury and Amesbury, as the whole House does.
It is important that we go where the evidence leads and do not engage in speculation, but I also want to make it crystal clear, to use the phrase of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon, that, on the basis of the Prime Minister’s statement and the briefings I have received, I am clear that responsibility lies with Russia and that it was authorised at a very high level. There is no conceivable justification for such an attack, and it is to be condemned utterly. We look forward, if it at all possible, to the perpetrators being brought to justice. The comments today by the Russian state are in no way helpful. We want to see real co-operation from the Russian state on this matter. We do support the actions of the Prime Minister, including the expulsions of diplomats, thus far.
Our thoughts are with the family of Dawn Sturgess, and with Charlie Rowley who is still recovering from his ordeal. We are obviously very sad at the death of Dawn and we send condolences to her partner and her family. We also send our best wishes to Sergei and Yulia Skripal for a full recovery. We are thankful for what appears to be a full recovery by Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey.
The use of military nerve agents on the streets of Britain is an outrage and beyond reckless. It is easy to imagine how even further death and suffering could have been caused, such was the recklessness of the disposal. As I have said earlier on this matter, we must on no account cease from saying that we cannot have the streets of Britain turned into a killing field for state actors. This is what Jeremy Corbyn told the House in response to the Prime Minister’s statement last week.
The investigation into the shocking events in Salisbury must reach its conclusions. We need to see all the evidence and a full account from the Russian authorities in the light of the emerging evidence. As I said, on the evidence thus far, the finger points at Russia. We need to let the investigatory authorities do their work, and we need to continue to seek a robust dialogue with Russia on all the issues and make a series of demands on them regarding disclosure. Members may think that it is naive to make such demands, but we need to follow the international rule of law and we need to follow international processes.
Government Members have gone out of their way to attack the leader of the Labour party. I understand that it is an attractive tactic for them, and it is a tactic as old as the Zinoviev letter, to question the patriotism of persons and politicians on the left. But the Leader of the Opposition has long spoken out—and repeatedly spoken out—on human rights abuses by Putin’s regime.
The notion that because someone is on the left in politics somehow their patriotism is impugned was belied by a speech by Harold Macmillan, a past Conservative Prime Minister, in the other place at the height of the miners’ strike. He referred to the members of the National Union of Mineworkers, at a time when many Government Members would have been accusing them of being the “enemy within”, as the best men in the world. They beat the Kaiser’s army and they beat Hitler’s army. They never gave in.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 457, c. 240.]
It is simply wrong to assume that people in the Labour movement, at any level, are not as patriotic as anybody else in this House. Perhaps Government Members will want to question that.
I am not suggesting for a second that the right hon. Lady is not patriotic, but she did say in the past:
“Every defeat of the British state is a victory for all of us.”
She has not yet recanted those remarks. Will she take this opportunity to do so entirely?
That is taken out of context. The idea that I as shadow Home Secretary can have my commitment to British democracy and to this country impugned is, I am afraid, wrong. My parents came from an island. When the second world war was called, they heard the call and came willingly—they were not conscripts—to defend their mother country. They would not understand why Government Members assume, for reasons I can only speculate on, that somehow my commitment to British democracy and the rule of law can be challenged.
In drawing my remarks to a close, it is indeed true, as Government Members may wish to remind me, that I voted against certain counter-terrorism measures, particularly ID cards and 42-day detention without trial. But I did that walking through the same Lobby as many Conservative MPs. I was proud to have done that because I did not believe at the time that those measures made us safe.
We are a parliamentary democracy—we are not Russia—and in a parliamentary democracy the role of the legislature, including Opposition politicians, is to ask questions. For Government Members to suggest that because we ask questions we are somehow complicit with terrorism is really quite wrong.
We on this side of the House are clear that all the evidence we have to date points to Russia, and we are clear that it was authorised at the highest level. We support the Government in the action they have taken, but we will not take aspersions cast on politicians or persons on the left about their patriotism and willingness to defend their country.
The events in Salisbury were horrifying. It is only by perhaps luck that more people were not killed or made extremely ill. We congratulate the police, the security services, the NHS, the ambulance service and all the other people who came together after this terrible event. But there can be no question but that we on this side of the House are as committed to British security as any other Member. I am glad to have had the opportunity to speak in this debate.
I will start by clearing the air. I have sat through this debate from the beginning, as has Ms Abbott and indeed Nick Thomas-Symonds on the Labour Front Bench, and I have just heard the right hon. Lady’s speech. She will have heard me say at the beginning of the debate that I did not question the motives of the Labour Front-Bench team or their commitment to security. In all our meetings and discussions, I have found the shadow Home Secretary to be engaged and to care about security. I have not heard a single person make the assumption that people on the left are less patriotic than people on the right. In fact, I made the point, when one of my Back-Bench colleagues raised it, about the growth of nationalism in the 21st century and how far-right nationalists were peddling the same tune. It was as if she had come with a prepared speech aimed at tackling the stereotypes of her own office—the idea that we were all queuing up to say these things.
The only point I made about the Leader of the Opposition—not the Labour party, not the Front-Bench team, not my friends in the Labour party—was that I had not heard from his own lips, during last week’s statement, which was the perfect opportunity, a condemnation of the Russian Government; it had to be left to his spokesperson later. It is important that such a thing be heard from the lips of the party leader and at the right time. I do not doubt that collectively the Labour party is condemning the Russian Government and has at its heart a commitment to keeping us safe. We will continue to disagree about the methods and the balance of power between liberty and our security services—we will continue to have our disagreements—but we will continue also to agree.
In this matter, from the time I have spent with him personally, I do not doubt Jeremy Corbyn. We visited Iran together once. Interestingly, it was I, Jeremy Corbyn and the former Member for Blackburn, and I found myself to be the most pro-European, if anyone is interested—
Order. I need to emphasise that we do not call hon. Members by their names. We refer to their constituencies or, in this case, to the Leader of the Opposition. I am afraid that both Front-Bench spokespersons were guilty of it, but I could not let it go the third time.
The casual 21st century—it is becoming a bad habit! I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker.
There are things on which we disagree fundamentally, but my opening speech was not an attack on the Labour party or the left collectively. We can argue about our methods, but I do not doubt people’s patriotism on the left at all. I have served as a soldier with people who voted Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and the rest. Our patriotism has nothing to do with our politics.
The incident in Salisbury was an appalling and despicable act. Operatives of the Russian military and intelligence service deployed an illegal chemical nerve agent on the streets of Britain. This intentional act resulted in the death of an innocent woman and left four others fighting for their lives. Our thoughts remain with all those affected, particularly the family and friends of Dawn Sturgess. I acknowledge once again the dedication and professionalism of the emergency services and the staff at Salisbury District Hospital and of the police and security and intelligence services.
In summing up, I should set out what we have done to return Salisbury to normal. I thank the police and experts from Public Health England for their hard work in ensuring that the public spaces immediately affected by the incident are once again accessible and safe. I extend my thanks to the Defence, Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down, where more than 430 world-leading scientists and experts have been providing specialist advice and assistance to Wiltshire police, the well-led Wiltshire County Council and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I also thank the military personnel for their support in helping to clean up Salisbury and return it to normal as quickly as possible while ensuring public safety. They did this at risk to themselves. Obviously, they were wearing protective clothing, but who knew early on how widely this deadly nerve agent had been spread and the risk posed?
The clean-up work by DEFRA is well under way on a small number of potentially contaminated sites to bring them back into safe use for the people of Salisbury and Amesbury and their visitors. In total, nine sites were identified from the first incident in Salisbury as requiring some level of specialist decontamination. This work is now complete at six sites. The three other sites remain cordoned off so that the clean-up work can be carried out safely.
In connection with the June incident in Amesbury, there are currently three sites of decontamination. In addition, 21 vehicles involved in the response to the first incident, in March—a mixture of emergency response vehicles and private vehicles—have been moved to a hazardous landfill site. The clean-up process on the streets of Salisbury and Amesbury has been comprehensive and exhaustive, and I am content to say that it is our assessment that all the areas that have been handed back after the decontamination process are now safe. Indeed, I visited a number of those sites in Salisbury last Monday, and it was good to see the people of Salisbury back to normal: cafés were full, people were enjoying the park, and children were paddling in the river. We should pay tribute to the people of Salisbury, who have not been put off by this horrendous incident, and who are determined to get that wonderful cathedral city back to normal.
I must, however, echo the advice of the chief medical officer. We must ensure that the public remain vigilant. It is important to guarantee that no other materials are present elsewhere. As other Members have already pointed out, it is vital that the public continue to follow the advice of the chief medical officer, and not to pick up anything that they do not recognise as an item that they themselves have dropped. We must continue to be guided by that advice, and we must give the police, the local council and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs the space and resources that they need to proceed with their valuable work ensuring public safety.
It is with that in mind that I again pay tribute to the patience and resilience of the people of Salisbury. I also pay tribute to the city council and, indeed, to the county council for its response to what was not only an outrageous attack, but a situation that was highly complex and difficult to deal with. Who would plan, who would regularly exercise, for the releasing of a nerve agent on our streets? They acted extremely professionally, and, on behalf of my officials, I must express my gratitude for the way we were able to work together to deliver the right package of decontamination to help to reassure the public—and, indeed, to deliver a package to support the local community and help it to put itself back together.
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend: the resilience of the people of Salisbury is remarkable. One group that he has not mentioned—I am sure that it is inadvertent—are the healthcare workers who were involved, particularly those at Salisbury District Hospital. The rapidity with which an extremely unusual set of symptoms was diagnosed accurately at the hospital was truly remarkable and an exemplar. Had that not been the case, the outcomes might not have been as favourable as they were. My right hon. Friend will recall that the media were talking of the imminent demise of the Skripals, and the fact that that has not occurred is largely due to the expertise deployed at Salisbury District Hospital.
My hon. Friend may not have been present at the beginning of the debate. In my opening speech, I paid considerable tribute—as did the hon. Member for Torfaen—to the staff and clinicians, and to the paramedics who initially went to the victims’ aid. We were incredibly lucky, not only with the professionalism that we encountered in Salisbury, but because of Salisbury’s proximity to the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory and the knowledge that it could provide. Some of the clinicians had, in the past, had expertise in or knowledge of matters of this kind. That was a significant piece of luck. We could have been looking at a worse situation had this happened a long way away from where it did.
Let me return to our support for the council and the people of Salisbury. The Government have committed a £10 million package to support local businesses, to boost tourism, and to meet some of the policing pressures. In the coming weeks and months, we will continue to work alongside the council and businesses to identify further or exceptional cases arising from the incident, to ensure that Salisbury, Amesbury and, indeed, Wiltshire are not adversely affected by events that were completely out of their control.
I also note Members’ concern about the pressure that was placed on Wiltshire’s vital public services, including the local police and NHS. I am happy to commit myself to ensuring that neither will be left financially worse off as a result of the events of March and June. So far we have provided £6.6 million in special grant funding for Wiltshire constabulary, and we will continue to work closely with the local police forces and health services to identify rapidly when and where further funding is needed.
As I have said, painstaking and methodical police investigation has identified sufficient evidence to allow the Crown Prosecution Service to bring charges against two Russian nationals for the attack. These same two Russian nationals are also the prime suspects in the investigation into the poisoning of Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley, and both incidents now form a single investigation.
The two suspects were from Russian military intelligence. It was not a rogue operation, and the attack was almost certainly approved at the senior levels of the Russian state. Ultimately, though, how and why this decision was taken are questions that the Russian state can answer. The action we have taken against Russia since April constitutes some of the toughest packages of measures we have ever taken. Many Members contributed today with regard to the next steps and I want to respond to a number of them.
Stephen Kinnock talked about sanctions. I am as keen as he is to use the sanctions mechanism to tackle and push back against Russian activity, including illicit finance. The sanctions he highlighted in respect of Estonia and the other Baltic states relate to travel bans. We have that power already and use it on a case-by-case basis to deter people, stop or exclude people from coming to this country; we have used it and we will continue to use it, not just around this particular issue but around many other issues. Also, there is already in place an EU-wide sanction list covering 150 individuals, including the chief of the general staff and prominent people in the GRU; it is like a “Who’s Who” of the Russian state, linked to both Crimea and the leadership of Russia and its security. It makes for interesting reading: the European Council journal document is comprehensive, with the siloviki—the internal security state of Russia—named in considerable numbers. I do not think that the list would be very different if it were compiled purely on the Salisbury incident; it is a fairly comprehensive list, and so long as we remain in the EU we will press to keep it up to date and in place, not only with regard to Salisbury but in recognition of the fact that Crimea was invaded by another sovereign state.
My hon. Friend Trudy Harrison will know only too well that Russian state activity extends a lot further than just the south-east. Barrow-in-Furness, the home of our submarine manufacturing, is not far from her constituency, and for many years what goes on up there has been of interest to a number of states. We must remember that hostile states are not only concerned about London and the centre; we saw action in a cathedral city in England and we see activity up and down our country. That is true of Scotland as well, and I welcome the strong support of the SNP Front-Bench Member, Stephen Gethins. He made some clear points about the good influence of Russia in Scotland and vice versa, but about the negative influence Russia could have on the people of Scotland, too. We should note that the SNP support has been extremely strong, and I welcome that.
I heard the discussion between the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend Stephen Kerr about Russia Today. My instinct is that we are better than Russia. I think RT is like a comic channel—I do not find it sensible at all—but we do not go around banning media outlets. That is the job of totalitarian and other such states. We ask media outlets to comply with the regulation of Ofcom, the regulator, and if Ofcom makes a recommendation, it makes a recommendation; it will not be interfered with by Ministers, and it will not be up to me to tell it to go and pick on people. We believe in that type of operational independence and we should not forget that it is what makes us better than them.
That also goes to the point made by my hon. Friend Neil O’Brien about soft power: the power of these hostile states to use our open media sometimes to manipulate us and our political systems and spread seeds of doubt.
I am now going to say something rather controversial from the Conservative Benches. I am an incredible fan of the BBC, and one of the things that gives me hope that the United Kingdom is not as vulnerable as some other countries to that type of malign behaviour is that our mainstream media—ITV, Sky, BBC News—usually all start from the point of view of accepting the same facts. They might interpret them differently, but they are a vital reference point in what is in this century a hectic, crowded and shouty social media space. To me, the soft power of the BBC World Service and the BBC’s reputation, as well as of ITV’s main news, is really important, and I hope that it will help to protect us from some of that malign disinformation. If that means that I have to swallow some of the things that the BBC says about me and my Government, I shall just live with it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough also asked what more we could do about internationalising the response and keeping it going, and about reaffirming our commitment to the international rules-based system. I was at the G7 in Toronto discussing these matters. We should not underestimate how supportive the international community is, not only of our response but of our view of the Russian state and where it has got to today. Other countries may express themselves differently, and they may do things in the covert space rather than in the overt space, but there is a genuine recognition not just by the Five Eyes, the NATO members and the European states but by middle eastern and Asian states that this is unacceptable and a dangerous direction for Russia to be taking. Those nations know that if Russia can use a nerve agent here, it could do it anywhere. We have felt no weakening of that resolve, and we will continue to invest in it to ensure that the international response is the way to proceed.
As ever, my hon. Friend Alex Chalk made a brilliant speech. Not only was it proportionate and necessary, but he made the point that we have to respond in a proportionate and necessary way. This is another thing that makes us different from those kinds of regimes. Yes, we could indulge ourselves by going beyond what is proportionate and necessary, and we could appeal to the populist agenda on certain occasions, but what keeps the international community and our free media with us is the fact that our responses are proportionate and necessary. Throughout this debate, we have talked about suspects and people that we wish to put on trial. We have not convicted them. I hope that justice will catch up with them and that they will face trial one day.
My hon. Friend Leo Docherty talked about the predominantly military activity that we are seeing at the moment, with Russia entering our airspace, the major exercises taking place on some of our allies’ borders and the stepping up of the military rhetoric. That is a matter of serious concern to our allies, because some of the Baltic states are not far away from those large exercises. We question whether their purpose is purely to exercise soldiers rather than making a menacing statement to people Russia disagrees with.
Coming back to a point made by Richard Benyon, who is no longer in his place, I understand the impatience felt by many Members about illicit finance and about locking up or dealing with people they view as oligarchs funded with illicit money or criminals. Carrying out investigations into those types of people is a difficult, resource-intensive and complex thing. In the case of a number of those people, we will get there from around the world, not from one particular country, based on who presents the most threat, who could do the most harm, who has stolen the most money or who is corrupting us here. Those will be the guiding principles, but the biggest guiding principle will be the operational independence of our law enforcement agencies.
Again, what makes us different is that I do not sit in my ministerial office picking up the phone and telling our police to pick on whoever I choose. Of course, Ministers can push, test and question how much resource the police are putting in and how much resolve they are committing. We can ask whether they are picking up on public opinion or on the desire to do something. We can help them with priorities when it comes to the reputation of the United Kingdom. Ultimately, however, it is about the decisions of professionals, coupled with advice from the CPS and others, about how and when we take action against individuals.
This Government could not be clearer. We want action on illicit finance. We passed the Criminal Finances Act 2017 and the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. The Labour party passed the Bribery Act 2010 and we implemented it. We have produced a suite of legislation that allows us to take the matter on and to build Britain’s reputation as a better, more transparent place in which to do business. That is why I was pleased that we moved from 10th to eighth in Transparency International’s rankings. We are moving up, not down. I feel the impatience of others, but things are not easy when we are dealing with people with layers of facilitators and so on.
Many right hon. and hon Members made the point that the Russian people are our friends. We all have the highest regard for Russian culture and the Russian contribution to our history. This is not Russophobia or an attempt at regime change; this is about dealing with unacceptable, reckless, dangerous, aggressive behaviour by the agencies of Russian state—the GRU in this case—and a direct challenge to our values, not only in the west but around the world, and to the international rule of law. Thanks to our values and perhaps our size, this country has decided that we are going to take a stand. Perhaps that is why they choose to attack us here in our country; we represent the very things they hate.
When I say that we are better than them, that sometimes costs us something. It means that we have a freer media and open travel, which gets abused by people coming to carry out the attack in Salisbury, for example. However, that is the cost of being better. The strongest message that we can send to Mr Putin in response to the Salisbury incident is that we are better than them. We have identified the people whom we suspect carried out this attack. We seek justice, but not summary justice, and we will continue to pursue them. We are not just going to sit back and say, “That’s enough.” We are going to press and push back the malign activity of the Russian state if we see it in our media, the military space, the espionage space or cyber-space, and we will do that using the resources that we have invested in over decades.
I am grateful that the whole House has been united on this issue, on the response and on pushing back against Russia, but my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham was right about our actions being proportionate and necessary because we also have to resolve the situation. There have been lots of outrageous events, but our aim is to have good relations with the Russians one day. It is worth their while reversing some of their actions and their views. We want to get them back into the international order of things. We cannot demonise or act recklessly; our actions must be proportionate and necessary. We will defend our values. We will pursue the individuals involved for justice. I am proud of the work of the people of Salisbury, the NHS, the blue-light services and the intelligence services in dealing with the horrendous incidents in March and June, and we will not let up the pressure.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered the Salisbury incident.