Russia’s Attack on Ukraine

– in the House of Commons at 11:21 am on 3rd March 2022.

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Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 11:21 am, 3rd March 2022

We have entered the eighth day of Ukraine’s fight for survival. In the week since Vladimir Putin launched his unprovoked, premeditated and barbaric attack on a free and peaceful neighbour, the UK has led a united Western response to his brutality. We are working with allies around the world on multiple fronts to ensure that the Russian dictator feels the full cost of his invasion. On the military front, we have provided Ukraine with the weaponry to inflict significant losses on the invading Russian forces. On the economic front, we have worked with international partners to cripple the Russian economy, but as history has shown us, there are other powerful ways of isolating rogue regimes.

Culture and sport can be as effective as economic sanctions if used in the right way, and so in the last week I have been working to mobilise the full might of the UK’s soft power against the Russian state, and applying pressure both publicly and privately across the sectors to use every lever at their disposal to entrench Putin’s position as an international pariah. Culture is the third front in the Ukrainian war. Earlier this week, I brought together governing bodies from across sport and I made the UK’s position clear: Russia should be stripped of hosting international sporting events, and Russian teams should not be allowed to compete abroad.

Across sport, the arts and entertainment, we are ostracising Putin on the global stage. The upcoming Champions League final and Formula 1 Grand Prix will no longer be held in Russia. Likewise, Russia has been banned by UEFA, FIFA, World Rugby, the International Tennis Federation and the International Olympic Committee. Venues across the country have cancelled upcoming performances by the Bolshoi and Siberian ballets. Disney and Warner Bros. have pulled their films from Russia. Netflix has stopped its projects. BBC Studios and ITV Studios have stopped trading with Russia too, and Russia has been banned from taking part in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Putin is now suffering a sporting and cultural Siberia of his own making, and it will be causing the Russian leader real pain. Ask Ukrainian tennis player Sergiy Stakhovsky, who gave a very moving interview on the radio earlier this week. A few weeks ago, he was playing at the Australian Open. Now he is back in Ukraine, preparing to fight for his country’s survival. He said that Putin loves nothing better than watching Russia’s sports teams’ glory on the world stage, his athletes draped in the Russian flag.

Putin needs the kudos of these global events to cover up his illegitimacy and the hideous acts he is perpetrating in Ukraine. The Russian despot is desperately trying to hide the grim extent of his invasion from his own people. That is why I strongly support, and continue to encourage, the kinds of emotional displays of solidarity we have seen across sporting events in the last week, including the Carabao cup final and the Six Nations. Lights and symbols cannot stop bullets and bombs, but when Russians see their favourite footballers wearing shirts emblazoned with the bright blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag, it helps to open their eyes to the cold reality of Putin’s actions. Likewise, every time an international organisation or figure publicly stands up against what Putin is doing in Ukraine, they chip away at his wall of lies. I thank and applaud all those who have done so, in this country and internationally, and I continue to push for organisations to exile Putin’s Russia from their ranks.

That is why I have called on UNESCO to bar Russia from hosting its annual world heritage conference in June. It is absolutely inconceivable that that event could go ahead in Putin’s country as he fires missiles at innocent civilians in neighbouring Ukraine. If it does go ahead, the UK will not be attending. That is also why I urged the International Paralympic Committee urgently to rethink its decision to allow athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete. Such pressure works; the IPC’s decision was the wrong call, and I welcome the fact that overnight it has listened and this morning it has reversed that decision. I wish our athletes the best of luck in Beijing over the coming days. Later today, I will be hosting a summit with countries from all over the globe to discuss how we can continue to use the power of sport to isolate Putin at home and abroad. We have to keep ratcheting up the pressure. Putin must fail.

In my Department, we have been working tirelessly to use the power of tech and the media against the Russian dictator and to shut down and counter his propaganda and lies, because they are key weapons in his arsenal. The Department’s counter-disinformation unit has been working to identify and remove Russian disinformation online. Alongside the US and others, we have been working closely with platforms to take pre-emptive action against Putin, and to demonstrate the consequences of his brutality in real time to the Russian people. Apple has paused all sales in Russia, Google has added new safeguarding features to Google Maps and Search, and WhatsApp is hosting a helpline for Ukraine’s state emergency service that sends people information and critical news about the local situation.

While big tech has stepped up in a really positive way, we are also encouraging and supporting platforms to go even further to tackle certain challenges, including disinformation, service disruptions and the humanitarian crisis triggered by the conflict.

In this digital age, the Ukrainian war is being fought on the ground and online, so we need to use tech wherever we can as a force for good to counter Putin’s aggression, to expose his weaknesses and to bolster the people fighting for their survival in Ukraine.

From the very moment that Putin began his invasion, I was very clear that he must not be allowed to exploit our open and free media to spread poisonous propaganda into British homes. RT’s own editor-in-chief has called the network an “information weapon” of the Russian state. That is why I wrote to Ofcom last week, urging it to examine any potential breaches of the broadcasting code. Ofcom has since opened 27 investigations into RT and is now reviewing whether to revoke RT’s licence entirely.

In the meantime, those investigations have been overtaken by events. I was very glad to see yesterday that the channel is now officially off the air on British televisions, after it was shut down on Sky, Freeview and Freesat. I have also written to Meta and TikTok asking them to do everything that they can to prevent access to RT in the UK, as they have done in Europe. I am glad that YouTube has already answered this call and done so.

We are on the side of free media. That is why it was brilliant to see that the audience for the BBC’s Russian language news website has gone up from 3.1 million to 10.7 million in the past week. Despite his best efforts to censor reporting in Russia, Putin’s own citizens are turning to factual, independent information in their millions.

At this point, I would like to offer my heartfelt thanks and admiration to all those journalists, working for the BBC, ITV and other news outlets, who are risking their lives to bring us unbiased and accurate news from a live war zone. We will keep ratcheting up the pressure on Putin, and I will use all the levers in my Department to ensure that he is fully ostracised from the international community.

Photo of Chris Elmore Chris Elmore Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 11:31 am, 3rd March 2022

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of her statement. I associate myself and the official Opposition with the comments that the Secretary of State has made about the courage of the Ukrainian people and those who are returning to fight for their country. I add my support to all the journalists who have travelled from the UK and around the world to report—free reporting, challenging Putin’s agenda and countering his disinformation. Those journalists are heroes and we owe them a great debt.

We are in agreement. Indeed, my hon. Friend Lucy Powell, who cannot be here today, has long been calling on the Government and sporting and cultural bodies to take tough action against Russian aggression and Belarusian complicity.

Our thoughts today are with the Ukrainian people and armed forces. We see acts of heroism day after day and courage beyond words in the face of Putin’s illegal invasion. Only a few hours ago, Russian troops took control of the city of Kherson, a stepping stone to the port of Odesa, where Ukraine’s main naval port and navy reside. With each passing day, the situation continues to escalate. This situation requires the fullest and strongest possible international response.

Across this House, we all recognise the importance that Putin and Russia place on participating and succeeding in sporting and cultural events, from chess to ballet, to football. Indeed, in 2010, when Russia won its bid to host the 2018 World cup, Putin spoke enthusiastically about the impact that football had had on his native Leningrad during the second world war and how

“it helped people to stand tall and survive.”

Success in sport buoys a nation, boosts national pride, and offers an unrivalled feel-good factor, bringing people together. Indeed, sport can offer a cloak of legitimacy and deflection. Despots such as Putin crave this international attention and spotlight. We know the value that Putin places on hosting international tournaments and on Russia competing in international competitions. That is why we have been calling for full and immediate sporting and cultural sanctions against Russia and Belarus from the start, and for those countries to be banned from international competitions.

UEFA and Formula 1 moved quickly to cancel events in Russia. Others have now followed suit. Regrettably, though, some have dragged their feet, or are hedging their bets. International sporting and cultural bodies must hit Putin where it hurts and send a clear, immediate and unequivocal message to the Russian people that Putin has turned their country into a pariah state. We welcome this morning’s decision by the Paralympic committee to ban Russia from competing in the winter Paralympics. We should see no fudges, no ifs, no buts—outright bans must be the norm.

We fully support what the Secretary of State has announced today, but we have some questions. What further discussions is she having with sporting bodies on the complete and total boycott of Russia and Belarus? I understand that some, such as FINA, have said that Russian athletes and officials can take part, but with neutral status. She rightly raises tennis, but Russian and Belarusian players will still be able to play at upcoming grand slams, including Wimbledon, under a neutral flag—

Photo of Chris Elmore Chris Elmore Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

I can see the Secretary of State shaking her head, so does she agree with me and the Opposition that we must do more to ensure a total ban from tennis tournaments, ensuring that no Russian or Belarusian will play at Wimbledon?

On culture, we have seen British institutions, many of them recovering from covid, left with no clear guidance regarding the cancellation of the Russian touring ballet, for example. It should not be for individual organisations, teams or nations to boycott Russia alone. What guidance will the Secretary of State provide to UK organisations and institutions to ensure that they speak with one voice, and what pressure will she place on international bodies that do not ban Russia and Belarus outright?

What is the Secretary of State doing about those who have bought their way into the fabric of British life, such as Abramovich and others, buying football clubs and gifting to arts and other valued institutions? What is the advice for arts and cultural institutions that have received and do receive gifts from oligarchs and those who prop up Putin’s regime? What about football and sport more widely? Will she act quickly on Abramovich and other oligarchs to ensure that they cannot profit from Putin’s war? Why are the Government allowing oligarchs such as Abramovich time and notice to sort out their affairs and divest any assets that would otherwise be subject to sanctions?

We stand ready to support the Government’s actions, but we want to see them go further and faster on international bans. We also want to see the Government take Russian money out of our world-renowned institutions such as the Premier League and our arts and cultural scene. We have seen sportwashing, culturewashing and artwashing of dirty Kremlin-linked Russian money. We need action to tackle that now.

Finally, on disinformation, we welcome Ofcom’s investigation into RT. Online disinformation and fake news is rife. Russian bot factories are spouting lies and trying to distort the truth of Putin’s atrocities in Ukraine. We welcome the Secretary of State’s announcements this morning, but I ask her to go further. The online safety Bill should include additional measures on tackling that disinformation before it is put to the House for Second Reading. Can she give that commitment today?

It is right that the international response to Putin’s aggression should be exclusion from sporting and cultural events. Words must become deeds, and Putin should feel the consequences of his actions.

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. He has raised some valid points, all of which are being addressed. He spoke about athletes competing under neutral flags, tennis players coming to Wimbledon and other sporting events. As I said in my statement, I am holding a summit this afternoon with in excess of 20 of my ministerial opposites in countries around the world, and I hope we can take a joint position on this matter. It is important that we take a global approach as far as possible, because that will have more impact and will be a sustainable position for the long term.

Some of these issues are very difficult, involving athletes who have trained all their lives to compete in certain events. As the Prime Minister said at the Dispatch Box on Wednesday, we are not anti the Russian people; we are anti-Putin and his regime. However, the actions of Putin have consequences, and at this afternoon’s summit I hope we will reach a position on many of the issues the hon. Gentleman has raised, and release a statement afterwards.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Conservative, Chingford and Woodford Green

I welcome my right hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box. In line with her brief, I point out that we now know today that US intelligence has made it clear that President Xi knew about the invasion before it took place—in fact, he had asked the Russians to delay their invasion so that it would not affect the Beijing Olympics. We also know that when the Russian 4G system was attacked, hacked and brought down, it was Huawei, based in Cambridge, that helped to repair the system for the Russians.

I hear that the Government are thinking about a trade deal with China and that they think that China can be an interlocutor with Russia. May I remind my right hon. Friend and the Government that a similar argument was advanced in 1940, whereby Mussolini was going to be the interlocutor with Hitler, and Churchill refused that? When will the lesson be learned?

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I thank my right hon. Friend for his points. Obviously most of them are not in my brief and I cannot comment, but I am sure his comments have been heard. I cannot comment on his assertion that the invasion was held for the Beijing Olympics, because I do not know that is the case. As I said in my answer to Chris Elmore, we are holding an international summit this afternoon with world leaders —20-plus, I hope, by the time we get to this afternoon—to reach a position, and we will release a statement after that.

Photo of Chris Law Chris Law Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development)

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of her statement.

Last night people throughout Ukraine were once again subjected to vicious aerial bombardment from Russian forces, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has now confirmed that over 1 million people have fled Ukraine, with countless more displaced within the country. I urge the Government again to reconsider their position, as often we are not remembered for what we have done but for what we have not done, and so far every country in the EU has opened its borders and we are still arguing over that.

This morning, Putin’s propaganda machine was in full force, with schoolchildren throughout Russia to be given a virtual lesson on

“why the liberation mission in Ukraine is a necessity”.

Regrettably, this Government’s inaction has allowed the Russian state-owned Sputnik and Russia Today to spread Putin’s lies into every home across our islands. It is of course welcome that RT is now officially off-air on British televisions after it was shut down on Sky, Freeview and Freesat. However, this is not an action of the UK Government; it is because of sanctions imposed by the EU. I have asked twice this week already and got pithy replies as to why we would not do that. Why did we have to wait for the EU to take action before Putin’s propaganda outlets were taken off TV here? Why are the UK Government waiting for the EU’s sanctions to do their job for them?

Russian state misinformation has undermined western societies’ democracy and security for almost a decade now. The Secretary of State says that we are in the eighth day of Ukraine’s fight for survival. That is not true; it has been eight long years, and we have stood aside and allowed this misinformation on our television stations and our radio channels every single day during that time. Two years on from the Russia report, no action has yet been taken on misinformation and Russian state influence in the UK. Does the Secretary of State not agree that failure to act on Russian misinformation and influence over the past years has left the UK less able to respond to Putin’s aggression now? It is clear that more needs to be done to counter its effect throughout society and it must be done now, so what steps is she taking to crack down on Russian state misinformation online?

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I do not think the hon. Gentleman actually listened to my statement. We have been very strong in leadership right from day one—from the day Putin launched his illegal action. It is not the case that all roads lead back to Brexit, particularly in war. We, as politicians, are not able to control the free press in the UK, and that is a good thing, and all the organisations and companies that operate the infrastructure and the network that streams Russia Today are based in the EU. Therefore, the EU was able to use its sanctions quite rightly to close down that network of companies and the satellite used, which was over Luxembourg. It is not the case that Russia Today is streamed into British homes. As a result of concerted effort and discussions, Russia Today is no longer streamed into British homes, whether via TV, Sky, Freesat or Freeview. As I said in the statement, we have contacted Meta and TikTok to implore them to stop streaming Russia Today via their online platforms. It is my position that we will not stop until we have persuaded every organisation, based in the UK or not, that it is wrong to stream Russian propaganda into British homes.

Photo of David Jones David Jones Conservative, Clwyd West

Yesterday, the General Assembly of the United Nations voted overwhelmingly to condemn Russia for its aggression and to call for it to withdraw its forces from Ukraine. It is now clearly apparent that internationally, Russia is a pariah. Vladimir Putin operates on the basis of the dissemination of lies, so it is excellent news, as my right hon. Friend has said, that as a matter of practice, it is now impossible for British viewers to watch the lies being broadcast by Russia Today. While it is right that Ofcom should be independent, can my right hon. Friend convey to Ofcom what I perceive to be the feeling of this House—that it would be deplored were Russia Today ever to be seen on British screens again?

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. He may have seen that I published the letter that I wrote to Ofcom shortly after I wrote it last week. It has launched 27 live investigations into Russia Today. I hope that it expedites those investigations, and that they result in the removal of Russia Today’s licence so that it is never again able to have the platform to broadcast its propaganda into the UK.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee of Privileges, Chair, Committee of Privileges

I warmly commend the Secretary of State for the statement that she made earlier and on the tears that she was pouring out over journalists such as Clive Myrie, who are doing a fabulous job. I hope she will not be cross with me now—she likes being cross with me—but some of us are anxious about why we are not going further on the sanctioning of individuals. It is a mystery to me why Roman Abramovich has not yet been sanctioned. The Government know that he has been engaged in illicit activity and is a person of concern to the Government, which is why they have not been encouraging him to come to the UK. I do not know why Alisher Usmanov has not yet been sanctioned. He has been sanctioned by the EU, but not by us. He owns Sutton Place. I do not know why we have not seized that asset. I do not know why the UK has not yet seized a single yacht, flat or property of any kind while other countries in Europe are able to do that. Finally, I wonder whether the Minister will condemn John Terry today. I do not know whether she has seen this, but he has posted today a photo of himself with Roman Abramovich, who is one of Putin’s cronies. What will the people of Ukraine think of the former England football captain?

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I thank my friend the hon. Gentleman for his warm words. I think I just held the tears back—I am a blubberer, as he knows—and I commend him. For Members who have not been on these Benches for many years, he is not a Johnny-come-lately to this issue; he has been campaigning on these issues for many years, including on Magnitsky, and he is a good friend of Bill Browder. He has been raising the issue of Russia for as long as I have been here, which is a very long time. I thank him. It is no surprise to me that he is like a dog with a bone on this, because it has always been one of his passionate interests, and MPs are always at their best and most effective when they campaign in their moment, and his time is here, on this.

I heard everything that the hon. Gentleman said. I heard what he said in business questions. I have heard everything he has said since this happened last Thursday, and I have been watching him carefully—that may disconcert him. Obviously I cannot name individuals in the way that he can, but I know that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is working on sanctioning. He knows that sanctions are its responsibility and that it is working on those sanctions. I also know that he knows about issues around the National Crime Agency and others, and we all know that this is the mother of Parliaments. We are a legislator, and we abide by the principle of law. He knows that, too, and I know he will find that frustrating.

In football, however, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we have tolerated the investment of Russian kleptocrats for far too long. Yesterday’s announcement showed that we have reached a turning point. We need to ensure that football clubs remain viable—that is an important point. I will bring forward our response to the fan-led review as soon as I can, as well as an independent regulator and a fit and proper person test for owners. The fan-led review was led by my hon. Friend Tracey Crouch and it could not have come at a more opportune time. I see that as a turning point and there can be no arguments against bringing it forward.

I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman said. He knows that I am limited in what I can do in my Department. I cannot mention names. I hope that we will see the Foreign Office come forward with the sanctions that he is looking for.

Photo of John Baron John Baron Conservative, Basildon and Billericay

I, too, commend my right hon. Friend for her statement. Truth will out. Millions of Russians and Ukrainians are turning to the BBC for their news. May I suggest to her that in the battle for democracy in Ukraine and more globally, we will have to better resource our hard and soft power capabilities. Given what she has said from the Dispatch Box, does she accept that we need to spend more on some of the key components of our soft power capabilities, including the BBC World Service and the British Council, on a sustainable basis, not just a one-off basis? There is no shortage of state-on-state aggressors waiting in the wings.

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I hear my hon. Friend’s points. The situation in which we find ourselves in the Department is that we are re-evaluating many policies that have been long standing for many years, not having ever believed that we would be in the situation we are in today. I have heard what he said and I can only reassure him that we are having a number of discussions on a number of fronts.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

I join the Secretary of State in praising our BBC and the other free independent British journalists who have been proudly providing the finest objective independent journalism and putting their lives at risk, as she noted. That is in direct contrast to the squalid work of Putin’s misinformation organ, Russia Today. I note what she said about the Government not closing down free speech, but my constituents are asking why, in these exceptional circumstances, we could not stop Russia Today being on our TV sets straightaway rather than waiting for the EU to act.

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Because the infrastructure, the individual companies, the satellite that streamed Russia Today and the framework in which it operated were all sat in the EU, not the UK. The British television screens were in the UK, but the companies that operated Russia Today were in the EU.

As the right hon. Lady will know, the first thing that I tried to do, almost immediately, was to stop Russia Today streaming into UK homes. I was slightly frustrated by the fact that, of course, politicians have absolutely no influence over the free press, and nor should they. That is the responsibility of the regulator Ofcom, so the first thing I did was write to Ofcom and urge it to review the output of Russia Today. It announced that it was launching 17 investigations, which then increased to 27 investigations, but I was equally frustrated to discover that that would take some time.

In the meantime, events took over. The EU provided its own sanctions on those organisations based in the EU and on the satellite above Luxembourg. It ceased the transmission and shortly after that, transmission to Freesat, Freeview and Sky ceased. As I have said, apart from Meta and TikTok, people cannot see Russia Today on their television screens. It was purely due to the fact that those were EU-based companies, not UK-based companies.

Photo of Pauline Latham Pauline Latham Conservative, Mid Derbyshire

I really welcome the statement made by my right hon. Friend. I do hope we hear that UNESCO is withdrawing its conference in Russia, because that is totally inappropriate. If it needs a home, I am sure we could host the conference in Belper in Mid Derbyshire. Can my right hon. Friend confirm whether her Department is planning future cultural and sporting sanctions against this evil Kremlin regime?

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

We do not want to look as though we are being opportunistic in saying we could hold the conference in the UK, but I am sure many Members will have suggestions about their constituencies.

I want to make my position clear: no Russian or Belarusian athletes or sportspeople should be taking part in any sporting competitions. That is why, as I have said, I am meeting, I hope, 20-plus Ministers—my opposite numbers—this afternoon to reach a joint position with other nations, so that we can move forward on a platform of understanding that we all have the same opinion and the same approach, which will make it much easier to deal with such situations as they arise throughout this difficult period.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West

I want to praise the Secretary of State for what she said about our broadcast journalists, and I would perhaps add Channel 4 News and Sky News to the list she gave. I do hope she takes that into account when considering the future of Channel 4. I also want to praise what she said about my hon. Friend Chris Bryant. However, I do recall attending—and history should recall this—the best ever attended all-party parliamentary group meeting in this House when hundreds of her colleagues were mobilised to depose my hon. Friend as the chair of the all-party group on Russia because of his strong views on Vladimir Putin.

Leaving that aside, on the issue of Everton football club, Alisher Usmanov has been sanctioned by the EU for being a pro-Kremlin oligarch with particularly close ties to the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. Does the Secretary of State think it is acceptable that his assets are currently funding Everton football club?

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

On the hon. Member’s first point, I do not think that my colleagues hit the APPG

Hon. Members::

They did!

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Could I just finish the sentence? I do not think that my colleagues hit the APPG because of the views of Chris Bryant on Putin; they did so because they wanted a different chair—and I was not one of them.

I cannot comment on the football club that the hon. Member has mentioned. As he may know, my grandfather was one of the founders of that particular football club. As I have said, we are waiting for the Foreign Office and the sanctions that the Foreign Office is working on. We have reached a turning point in football club ownership in this country, which is why I will use every power I have, in my office and the Department, to ensure that we bring forward a fit and proper person test for football club owners and that we bring forward an independent regulator as soon as possible both to regulate football clubs and to ensure that they have the right ownership in place. It is important that we also protect the viability of those football clubs that are in question at the moment to make sure they remain football clubs and are still there.

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Chair, European Statutory Instruments Committee, Chair, European Statutory Instruments Committee

I commend my right hon. Friend for her statement. She is absolutely right that culture is an important front in this war, as sport and the arts are part of any country’s DNA. Russia is spreading lies and disinformation through the media, so will she do all she can to ensure that media platforms counter Russian disinformation and provide the opportunity for brave independent journalists to spread their work both here and around the world?

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I absolutely agree. My point is that the work of all our journalists—all British journalists—is of vital importance at this time. The work of an independent and free media—free from political interference—is of the utmost importance. We are seeing that now with journalists across all of our media outlets, including Channel 4. ITV has been doing an amazing job, as have Sky and the BBC—I cannot mention them all—and we have freelance journalists out in many countries as well. They are doing an amazing job.

The Russian Government are conducting an aggressive set of information operations against Ukraine and NATO in a transparent and shameful way to justify military action against Ukraine, and the campaign has been escalating. As I have said, this is just as much an online war as a boots-on-the-ground or a tank-stuck-in-the-mud war. Both in broadcasting and online we are doing everything we possibly can, using our disinformation unit, to minimise disinformation and the amount of propaganda that gets into people’s homes, and doing everything we can to ensure the Russian people get to hear about the true situation and what is actually happening in Ukraine.

Photo of Christine Jardine Christine Jardine Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury)

I also thank the Secretary of State for her comments, particularly on the journalists who are keeping us informed and ensuring the truth about what is happening in Ukraine gets out; we should never forget the threat to their own personal safety and the danger they are putting themselves in so that we can be informed. Can the Secretary of State assure us that such considerations will be taken into account when looking at the future funding of the BBC, Channel 4 and the media, particularly given that the Russian language service listenership has tripled to more than 10 million during this crisis? That shows the importance of the BBC World Service, which in its current format came into being in 1939. Can the Secretary of State assure us that the future funding of the World Service will be looked upon in the light of what has happened?

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I speak as someone who ran a school in Africa for a year and waited every day to hear the words announcing the World Service. First, it is funded through the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, not my Department, and also I have always said that the BBC is a great British global brand and it needs protecting. I have always said it was a polar bear on a shrinking icecap and we needed to review the funding model in order to protect the BBC and the best of the BBC, which includes the World Service.

Photo of Anna Firth Anna Firth Conservative, Southend West

On behalf of everyone in the new city of Southend-on-Sea, I welcome the statement and congratulate the Secretary of State on this vital work. She is absolutely right that we must isolate Russia completely and utterly in terms of culture, media and sport, but she is also right that we must lead the international community on this and we will only be successful if we can persuade everybody to join in with her vital work. Can she elaborate on the scope of the summit she is holding this afternoon, and assure us that key players in the G20 will be joining her in this vital work?

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I welcome my hon. Friend and thank her for her question and comments—and I welcome Southend to its city status, too. On the scope of the summit, we will be discussing all things sporting and relating to the war in Ukraine. There are some very difficult questions. Things are happening very quickly. Only yesterday the International Paralympic Committee issued a statement that Russian and Belarusian athletes could take part, and the change came only as a result of our leading—our pressure—and leading other nations. Rather than dealing with situations as they arise, it is important that we have a coherent position—globally if possible—towards these situations. I hope that, as a result of the summit, we will produce a statement that says, “This is our position” and that it condemns Russia and Belarus on the sporting stage. Do not be in any doubt: sport is incredibly important to Putin. It covers his illegitimacy. There is nothing he likes more than seeing Russian athletes on the world stage draped in the Russian flag. He needs it; we need to take it away from him and make sure that never happens again while this situation continues, and that is what the summit this afternoon will be about.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Rochdale

I join the voices urging the Secretary of State to look very seriously at how we finance the total UK media effort, which should cut across Government Departments. In particular, I want to return to the point she rightly made about the important role of our incredibly brave journalists. Underlying those incredibly brave journalists are some incredibly brave Ukrainians, people who are frightened to death and who have put up with the most atrocious circumstances of death, destruction, and violence. Will she ensure that those are the voices that are heard across Russia? In the end, they are far more important than British voices. Ukrainian voices speak very, very loudly.

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that comment, because we have not mentioned Ukrainian voices in providing information about what is happening in Ukraine via their own journalism and their own creative and inventive means of getting information out. He is also right to talk about our own journalists who are risking their lives in live war zones. We should, and we do, commend Ukrainians. Each one is a citizen journalist in their own right, doing their bit to bring to the world the horrors of what is happening in Ukraine today. They should be equally commended.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

I commend my right hon. Friend for all the work she is doing to isolate Russia, and Putin in particular, at this time. I am sure she will join me in welcoming the decision by Formula 1, which I think has been made while she has been in the Chamber, to not only cancel the grand prix in Russia but the contract with Russia, so there will not be future grands prix in Russia. Will she send a strong message to the sporting world that sanctions will continue to ratchet up until such time as Putin’s Government are no longer in power, and the Russians are free to choose their own leaders and return to the world of sport?

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Very well said. I commend my Sports Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend Nigel Huddleston, who has been holding conversations day and night since last Thursday. He has been working incredibly hard, along with officials in my Department. They have had no time off since last Thursday and have all worked equally hard. It has taken a huge effort to get to Formula 1 withdrawing from Russia, when all that planning, organisation and money was in place. It takes a huge effort to get the message out from the Department that we find it unacceptable, do not condone it and think it should be withdrawn. It is not just words from me; it is the effort of the whole Department, officials and Ministers alike.

My hon. Friend Bob Blackman is right. We will not condone any organisation that hosts sporting, cultural or creative events in Russia. We will campaign against that and push against that as much as we can. The purpose of this afternoon’s summit is to ensure that we are not just leading but are part of a wider coalition of Ministers and countries who hold the same position.

Photo of Karin Smyth Karin Smyth Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

It is right that we concentrate on sanctions and ostracising the Putin regime, but we will have to look to the future. As people leave their elderly relatives, and children wave goodbye to their parents, generations and decades of hate are being sown. After the last world war, we learned to build up relationships between cities and towns, and Bristol has often led the way in twinning, cultural partnerships and relationships. May I urge the Secretary of State and her colleagues to quickly start thinking about how we can support our towns and cities across the country to build relationships with towns and cities across Ukraine—and, in future, the Russian people?

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

We know about those stories of people leaving their families, the harrowing pictures of fathers leaving their babies behind and mothers leaving for Poland while fathers fight, through our print media, so it is important to mention our print media. As well as our journalists broadcasting from a war zone, our print media and print journalists are telling the stories, giving us the colour, backdrop and human stories behind what is happening. That is how we know so much. Those stories from our print journalists are also disseminated online so that people can read about what is happening. It is important that they get a mention.

The hon. Member is right, but she is talking about the future and, as she will accept, Ukraine is not in a position for that today. However, that will be an important part of the rebuilding, and we will be at the forefront of that. She is right about helping those towns and cities to rebuild, but when will that day come? As I stand here today, we do not know. We can only pray and hope that it is sooner rather than later. However, I reassure her that when that day comes, as we have led in the western world’s response against Putin, we will also lead in the recovery of Ukraine.

Photo of Virginia Crosbie Virginia Crosbie Conservative, Ynys Môn

I thank the Secretary of State for her statement and work in ensuring that Putin is in a sporting and cultural Siberia of his own making. Not all heroes wear capes; many wear flak jackets. I thank all the journalists bringing unbiased news, bravely challenging disinformation and helping to make Putin an international pariah. She mentioned stories, and it is particularly pertinent on World Book Day to thank all those journalists sharing important stories. Does she agree that they are heroes?

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

What can I say other than yes? Absolutely. We are all watching every broadcast of the news and we are all reading the newspapers. We all know the danger that journalists in both broadcast and print media are putting themselves in every day. We in the House of Commons are protected; they are in a theatre of war, putting themselves in harm’s way. We cannot commend them enough in this House today.

Photo of John Cryer John Cryer Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

The Secretary of State is acutely aware, as we all are, just how spineless and pathetic football authorities are when faced with people with large amounts of money. In fact, the Football Association’s only fit and proper person test is one question: “How big is your wallet?” If they have enough money, they can buy up whatever they like. The answer to that is already in her hands: the Crouch report, which she mentioned, and it has been with us for months. We had an urgent question on Derby County and the troubles it faces weeks ago, long before the Russian invasion. Will she implement the Crouch report as quickly as possible? That would protect our clubs—the fabric of our sport—against not just Putin’s gangster friends but other international criminals.

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I thank the hon. Member for his words on the Crouch report, which is incredibly valuable and opportune at this time. Its recommendations involve the establishment of a regulator, which is no easy feat and involves the Treasury and funding. Since the report was published in, I believe, December, my first statement was that, in principle, I accepted the role of an independent regulator. Given the situation that we are in now, we are looking to introduce the Crouch report as soon as possible, which will involve the establishment of an independent regulator and a fit-and-proper-person test. That work is being evaluated. I hope to do it as soon as possible. It is not that we do not want to do it; we are trying to do it as fast as we can.

Photo of Mark Logan Mark Logan Conservative, Bolton North East

Not that I ever watched it, but 206 was the channel number for Russia Today in my office in Westminster—obviously, it is no longer “Russia tomorrow”. Will the Secretary of State give us words of resolve to say that Putin may be Russia today, but he will not be Ukraine tomorrow?

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

What a fabulous statement—well said. What can I say? I can only agree. I cannot top that.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

We are all completely indebted to our British journalists in Ukraine who are serving not just us but the Russian people who are tuning in to hear the truth—often for the first time—about what is happening. For that to continue, we need to ensure that the digital and telecoms infrastructure is intact. What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that we make our contribution to keeping that infrastructure in place?

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

My officials have been holding conversations day and night—many operators are based in the US, not the UK—since Putin launched his horrendous war on Ukraine. We are doing everything that we can to assist both with telecoms structure and with ensuring that the messaging gets through to the people in Russia as people in Ukraine about what Putin is actually doing. As I said, as a result of some of those conversations, WhatsApp has launched an end-to-end encryption service that the Ukrainian people can access to find out what is happening in their location on a minute-by-minute, real- time basis and where they can get emergency support and help. All such services happen as a result of international discussions that are ongoing on an hour-by-hour basis.

Photo of Felicity Buchan Felicity Buchan Conservative, Kensington

The Science Museum in my constituency has decided not to proceed with an exhibition relating to the trans-Siberian railway. Does my right hon. Friend agree that our cultural institutions have shown great leadership in ostracising Putin and his cronies?

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I absolutely do. I commend every institution that has taken what some feel is a brave line, but it is the right line and the right position: not to engage with, not to display, not to interact with and not to provide facilities for any Russian cultural institution or exhibition. With all consequences come costs, and we will feel the pain of some of that, but that is nothing compared with the pain that the Ukrainian people are experiencing minute by minute. I urge all cultural organisations across the UK to take that hard line against Russia, knowing that, in doing so, that will help to expediate the end of this illegal occupation of Ukraine and get to a position where we can open those cultural pathways and start to help to build a Ukraine for the future.

Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Independent, Rutherglen and Hamilton West

Russia’s attack on Ukraine is unacceptable and must not be tolerated. The House has heard frequently about the financial difficulties facing the entertainment industry in the last two years. The Russian state ballet has had performances cancelled around the UK, with ticket holders to be refunded by venues. What support will the Government provide for venues that are now out of pocket due to cancelled performances?

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Hopefully, those organisations’ insurance policies will kick in as a result, because this is war. At the moment, all of our efforts are focused on helping the people of Ukraine and helping to beat Putin.

Photo of Scott Benton Scott Benton Conservative, Blackpool South

I commend my right hon. Friend for the way in which she has worked with cultural and sporting bodies to ostracise Russia. The premier league is one of this country’s best cultural and economic exports around the world. Does she agree that ending the broadcasting of premier league games in Russia and Belarus will help to expose the horrific extent of this barbaric invasion to the people of those countries?

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Yes, I absolutely agree. That is our leadership—don’t do it, don’t promote Russia, don’t broadcast Russia. Sadly, local Russians will suffer and pay the cost as a result, but I am afraid that Putin’s actions have consequences. We are holding conversations this afternoon—we have ongoing conversations—with officials and sporting organisations to take that hard line of not broadcasting, not facilitating and not displaying Russian football, Russian goods and Russian shows—anything. We must not do it.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I commend the Secretary of State for her statement, her resilience, her courage and her clear and strong leadership, which we all admire in this Chamber. Some say that politics and sport should never mix, but this is not about politics; it is about life and death. Every way we can, in every aspect of life, we must get the message across that we will not overlook, we will not forget and we will not accept Russia—that is the only way forward. Does she believe that in the present situation, as this House is saying clearly, the art world must consider its exhibitions? Will she allow it to make its own determinations whether those should continue, or will she issue guidance on what should and must be done?

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

The hon. Gentleman is right that sport and politics should never mix, but we are in the theatre of war and it is very different. Sport is a very useful tool in the theatre of war, particularly against someone like Putin—which is why sport and politics will very much be mixing. We are providing, we hope, the clearest leadership we can in our messages to sporting, cultural and creative institutions about what we expect of them.

Will we publish guidance? I hope that over the coming days and weeks, all those institutions will hear the message, heed the guidance that we are giving and make the right decisions themselves. A statement will be issued this afternoon as a result of the summit, and I am sure that more will be forthcoming over the coming weeks, but we hope that everyone gets the message loud and clear.

Photo of Andy Carter Andy Carter Conservative, Warrington South

I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. I very much agree with her approach of allowing the independent regulator to make decisions about who broadcasts in this country, because they are not decisions for politicians. However, may I say gently that next time she speaks to the chair of Ofcom, she might want to suggest that when a mad dictator declares war on a sovereign country, Ofcom could perhaps be a little more proactive in its approach to broadcasting in this country?

May I ask what steps the Department is taking to support UK media broadcasters and print journalists in the theatre of war to ensure that they are kept safe? It is highly likely that Russia will take steps to disrupt the World Service. What is my right hon. Friend doing to ensure that that free service is available to people in Ukraine and Russia?

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I am sure that the chair of Ofcom has heard my hon. Friend’s words loud and clear. On his second question, we cannot make any guarantees—it is a theatre of war. We cannot guarantee that the Russians will allow the BBC and British-based journalists in Russia to remain there; we cannot guarantee that we will be allowed to continue to broadcast; we cannot guarantee that we will continue to get messages to the people of Ukraine. The only promise I can make to the House is that we will do our very best to ensure that that is the situation for as long as possible.