Ukraine - Statement

– in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 24 February 2022.

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Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal 6:30, 24 February 2022

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place. The Statement is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, I have just come from a meeting of G7 leaders, joined by Secretary-General Stoltenberg of NATO, and with permission I will update the House on our response to President Putin’s onslaught against a free and sovereign European nation.

Shortly after 4 am this morning, I spoke to President Zelensky of Ukraine as the first missiles struck his beautiful and innocent country and its brave people, and I assured him of the unwavering support of the United Kingdom. I can tell the House that, at this stage, Ukrainians are offering a fierce defence of their families and their country, and I know that every honourable Member will share my admiration for their resolve.

Earlier today, President Putin delivered another televised address and offered the absurd pretext that he sought the ‘demilitarisation and denazification of Ukraine’. In fact he is hurling the might of his military machine against a free and peaceful neighbour, in breach of his own explicit pledge and every principle of civilised behaviour between states, spurning the best efforts of this country and our allies to avoid bloodshed. For this, Putin will stand condemned in the eyes of the world and of history: he will never be able to cleanse the blood of Ukraine from his hands.

Although the UK and our allies tried every avenue for diplomacy until the final hour, I am driven to conclude that Putin was always determined to attack his neighbour, no matter what we did. Now we see him for what he is: a bloodstained aggressor who believes in imperial conquest. I am proud that Britain did everything within our power to help Ukraine to prepare for this onslaught, and we will do our utmost to offer more help as our brave friends defend their homeland.

Our embassy took the precaution on 18 February of relocating from Kyiv to the city of Lviv in western Ukraine, where our ambassador, Melinda Simmons, continues to work with the Ukrainian authorities and to support British nationals. Now we have a clear mission: diplomatically, politically, economically—and eventually, militarily—this hideous and barbaric venture of Vladimir Putin must end in failure.

At the G7 meeting this afternoon, we agreed to work in unity to maximise the economic price that Putin will pay for his aggression. This must include ending Europe’s collective dependence on Russian oil and gas that has served to empower Putin for too long. So I welcome again Chancellor Scholz’s excellent decision to halt the certification of Nord Stream 2. Countries that together comprise about half of the world economy are now engaged in maximising the economic pressure on one which makes up a mere 2%. For our part, today the UK is announcing the largest and most severe package of economic sanctions that Russia has ever seen. With new financial measures we are taking new powers to target Russian finance. In addition to the banks we have already sanctioned this week, today—in concert with the United States—we are imposing a full asset freeze on VTB. More broadly, these powers will enable us to totally exclude Russian banks from the UK financial system, which is of course by far the largest in Europe, stopping them from accessing sterling and clearing payments through the UK. And with around half of Russia’s trade currently in US dollars and sterling, I am pleased to tell the House the US is taking similar measures.

These powers will enable us to ban Russian state and private companies from raising funds in the UK, banning dealing with their securities and making loans to them. We will limit the amount of money that Russian nationals will be able to deposit in their UK bank accounts, and sanctions will also be applied to Belarus for its role in the assault on Ukraine.

Overall, we will be imposing asset freezes on more than 100 entities and individuals, on top of the hundreds we have already announced. This includes all the major manufacturers that support Putin’s war machine. In addition, we will ban Aeroflot from the UK.

Next, on top of those financial measures, and in full concert with the United States and the EU, we will introduce new trade restrictions and stringent export controls, similar to those that they in the US are implementing. We will bring forward new legislation to ban the export of all dual-use items to Russia, including a range of high-end and critical technological equipment and components in sectors including electronics, telecommunications and aerospace. Legislation to implement this will be laid early next week. These trade sanctions will constrain Russia’s military-industrial and technological capabilities for years to come.

We are bringing forward measures on unexplained wealth orders from the economic crime Bill to be introduced before the House rises for Easter. We will set out further details before Easter on the range of policies to be included in the full Bill in the next Session, including on reforms to Companies House and a register of overseas property ownership. We will set up a new dedicated kleptocracy cell in the National Crime Agency to target sanctions evasion and corrupt Russian assets hidden in the UK, and that means oligarchs in London will have nowhere to hide.

I know this House will have great interest in the potential for cutting Russia out of SWIFT, and I can confirm, as I have always said, that nothing is off the table. But for all these measures to be successful, it is vital we maintain the unity of our partners, the G7 and other fora.

Russian investors are already delivering their verdict on the wisdom of Putin’s actions. So far today, Russian stocks are down by as much as 45%, wiping $250 billion from their value in the biggest one-day decline on record. Sberbank, Russia’s biggest lender, is down by as much as 45% and Gazprom by as much as 39%, while the rouble has plummeted to record lows against the dollar. We will continue on a remorseless mission to squeeze Russia from the global economy piece by piece, day by day and week by week.

We will of course use Britain’s position in every international forum to condemn the onslaught against Ukraine, and we will counter the Kremlin’s blizzard of lies and disinformation by telling the world the truth about Putin’s war of choice and war of aggression. We will work with our allies on the urgent need to protect other European countries that are not members of NATO and could become targets of Putin’s playbook of subversion and aggression. We will resist any creeping temptation to accept what Putin is doing today as a fait accompli. There can be no creeping normalisation—not now, not in months, not in years.

We must strengthen NATO’s defences still further, so earlier today I called for a meeting of NATO leaders, which will take place tomorrow. I will be convening the countries that contribute to the Joint Expeditionary Force, which is led by the United Kingdom and comprises both NATO and non-NATO members.

Last Saturday I warned that this invasion would have global economic consequences, and this morning the oil price has risen strongly. The Government will do everything possible to safeguard our own people from the repercussions for their cost of living, and of course we stand ready to protect our country from any threats, including in cyberspace.

Above all, the House will realise the hard and heavy truth that we now live in a continent where an expansionist power, deploying one of the world’s most formidable military machines, is trying to redraw the map of Europe in blood and conquer an independent state by force of arms. It is vital for the safety of every nation that Putin’s squalid venture should ultimately fail and be seen to fail. However long it takes, that will be the steadfast and unflinching goal of the United Kingdom, of every honourable Member of this House and of every one of our great allies, certain that together we have the power and the will to defend the cause of peace and justice, as we have always done.

I say to the people of Russia, whose President has just authorised an onslaught against a fellow Slavic people, I cannot believe that this horror is being done in your name or that you really want the pariah status it will bring to the Putin regime.

To our Ukrainian friends in this moment of agony, I say we are with you and we are on your side. Your right to choose your own destiny is a right that the United Kingdom and our allies will always defend. In that spirit, I join you in saying ‘slava Ukraini’. I commend this Statement to the House.”

Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office, Constitutional and Devolved issues) 6:40, 24 February 2022

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating today’s Statement. I think the mood of the House is sombre but also very angry. We welcome the new measures announced in today’s Statement and assure her of our support to ensure their speedy implementation. Could she pass on my thanks for the briefings I received on this issue?

This morning, as Ukrainians woke to the sound of sirens, military aircraft and tanks, they knew that their worst fears had been confirmed. Despite his false claims, President Putin’s invasion of a democratic and sovereign state is totally unjustified. It is a moment in history, the consequences of which will reverberate around the world.

Putin will learn that his aggression carries a very high price. The Moscow stock market collapsed this morning, the rouble has fallen in value and the human loss is already clear. We make it clear that we stand with the people of Ukraine and reassert that democracy will always triumph over dictators.

Resistance will not be limited to Ukraine. It is backed by the united resolve of democratic nations around the world. As the noble Baroness alluded to, there are also many people in Russia who are horrified by this violent aggression. The free people of Ukraine are supported by the entire NATO alliance in their resistance, many of whom will feel less safe and secure today. The decision to strengthen NATO’s defences is welcome and we must work with our NATO allies in eastern Europe to bolster their security, especially in the light of Estonia’s decision to trigger Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty.

The noble Baroness will recall that, earlier this week, I asked her for an update on our support to the Baltics. I understand that she was not able to respond then, but if she could give some further information today we would be grateful. We welcome that Sweden and Finland will attend tomorrow’s NATO meeting. This is a moment to show the world that we stand shoulder to shoulder with all those who feel the destabilising impact of this invasion.

The noble Baroness may know that noble Lords from across the House, some of whom are here today, including me, have been actively supporting peaceful protesters throughout Belarus through an adoption scheme of political prisoners. We particularly welcome the announcement of additional measures against Lukashenko’s regime, which is enabling this offensive.

We now must combine military assistance with political and financial support. There is no greater display of solidarity than to expose and tackle illicit Russian finance. The steps announced, including deposit limits, are welcome. The noble Baroness will have our support in implementing these urgently to prevent restrictions being circumvented. We must now go further. Although I accept the need for wider agreement to exclude Russia from financial mechanisms such as SWIFT, I urge the Government to act without delay to seek to achieve such an agreement. Given that the central bank of Russia is known to have developed an alternative to SWIFT payments, we also need to be prepared for any follow-up action.

I am pleased that the noble Baroness the Leader reiterated the UK’s intention to divest from Russian oil and gas. We should support others in doing the same. Many of our NATO allies in eastern Europe are heavily reliant on them, and we need to support them in transitioning from Russian fossil fuels as part of an international focus on energy security.

The noble Baroness will have heard calls on many occasions from Members of this House to bring forward the economic crime Bill, so the Government are right to commit to it today. We offer practical support to ensure that it is implemented. We need tough action on shell companies, urgent reform of Companies House, and zero tolerance for Russian interference and Russian money in our democracy. The noble Baroness will understand that these Benches have called for the Elections Bill to be used as a means of banning Russian donations to political parties. Sanctions have to go beyond just squeezing the Russian economy. They have to be part of an entirely fundamental change in our approach towards the Kremlin, so it would be helpful if the noble Baroness could outline what other legislation—she mentioned the economic crime Bill—will be brought forward as part of the Statement.

Can we say something about humanitarian support, because it is going to be crucial? The Government will have our support in any steps undertaken by our representatives at the UN, working with UNHCR and other appropriate agencies, to prepare for this. We must fully engage in our international institutions to secure humanitarian access under the Geneva conventions, and we must recognise the very great risk of large-scale displacement of people.

As we turned on our TVs this morning, no one could be failed to be moved by the shocking and very distressing pictures of Ukrainians fleeing their homes, some of them unable to carry their possessions with them, their cars stuck in traffic jams as they sought escape for themselves and their families. I hope the Minister will be able to confirm that the Government are already engaged with neighbouring allies to offer the UK’s support.

President Putin has made it clear that he sees any ally of Ukraine as an opponent of Russia. He is prepared to act as the world’s aggressor, whatever the consequences. Ukraine, NATO and the Government have our full support in challenging this barbarism, and we will do all we can with them to ensure that Putin fails. He will learn that his actions serve only to strengthen the alliances against his corrupt regime. The spirit of Ukraine will live on in the resistance and, while there will be dark days ahead, we will ensure that the price Putin pays for his aggression will outweigh the doomed pursuit of personal glory.

Photo of Lord Newby Lord Newby Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

My Lords, when we debated this issue on Tuesday and President Putin’s intentions were already pretty clear, I doubt that we fully comprehended the scale and ruthlessness of what he had in mind. Now we have no such doubts. By his own words, we know that he wants the demilitarisation of Ukraine, which he can achieve only by the successful subjugation of the whole country. We are united in offering our full support to the Ukrainian people in resisting this illegal aggression and, metaphorically at least, we stand alongside them in their defence of shared values, peace, democracy and liberal views.

There is therefore much in the Statement which we welcome. It is encouraging, for a start, that the G7 leaders have been working so closely together today, and we hope that this process continues. Some of the specific measures are particularly welcome. We welcome the exclusion of Russian banks from the UK financial system, the banning of Russian banks and companies from raising funds in the UK, the extension of these sanctions to Belarus, the freezing of assets on individuals and companies, and the banning of high-tech dual-use items as exports to Russia. There are, from the Statement, clearly still many details of how these measures will be worked through, and we will obviously co-operate with the Government on any emergency legislation required to do this.

There seem to be two glaring omissions from the list of sanctions announced this afternoon: the words “Rosneft” and “Gazprom” do not appear. Quite apart from their size, these two companies stand to gain more than any others by the rise in oil and gas prices that Russian action is causing. It would surely be sensible to freeze them from the City of London, and any activity in the UK more generally. Could the Minister explain whether that is really an omission, or if they might in fact be covered under the headline of the 100 banks and companies affected by these sanctions?

The Prime Minister said that the package means that oligarchs in London have nowhere to hide. Given that they are not actually hiding in London but do have assets here, what does this mean? Which oligarchs might be involved? It would, for example, send a strong signal if one of them were Roman Abramovich, one of Putin’s close allies. I say this not just as a Leeds United fan: will he be affected?

The Prime Minister says that the Government will introduce legislation covering unexplained wealth orders before Easter. That is fine, but why are the other measures in the economic crime Bill, particularly the reforms to Companies House, and the register of overseas property ownership, being delayed until the next Session?

The whole Bill is apparently ready. To have potentially to wait for more than a year before it is on the statute book seems plainly inadequate to us.

The Government say that nothing is off the table and specifically cites the SWIFT system as being in that category. As the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked: what is happening with SWIFT? Are the Government actively pursuing it with their allies, and is there any sense of when the exclusion of Russia from SWIFT might actually take place? Can the Leader of the House confirm whether any other measures are also under consideration, such as a blanket travel ban for all Russian nationals or a more complete trade ban?

In terms of the military situation, it is a positive step that NATO leaders are meeting tomorrow. However, the Prime Minister gives no clue about what he will be proposing to them. For example, will NATO—and, in any event, will the UK—be making more military equipment available to Ukraine? Does the UK stand ready, as we believe it should, to offer more troops and aircraft to NATO if they are requested?

The fog of war has descended on Ukraine. We cannot yet see clearly how events on the ground are progressing. However, we can see enough to know that Ukraine faces the gravest possible threat to its independence as a sovereign state and that the longer-term peace and prosperity of Europe is in the balance. We must now unite, both as a country and with our democratic friends, to defeat these threats.

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

I very much thank the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for their comments and support. The incredibly constructive and sombre tone which all noble Lords have taken in their contributions is gratefully received. I look forward to working with noble Lords across the House as we face this difficult situation.

The noble Baroness asked about the Baltics. We are working extremely closely with them. We are doubling the number of UK troops in Estonia in support of NATO’s enhanced forward presence. My noble friend Lord Ahmad visited there 10 days ago, so a lot of contact is going on. Of course, we will work with our allies and, as was mentioned in the Statement, we will have meetings with NATO leaders tomorrow to discuss this further. We are also deploying four more RAF jets to create a squadron in southern Europe. As I mentioned in the previous Statement earlier in the week, a small number of marines have been deployed to Poland from the UK and more will travel during the next week. These personnel were originally due to deploy on Exercise Cold Response in Norway but have been reassigned to this task. We will be working with our allies to look at what further support we can provide in the region and to Ukraine itself.

Both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord asked about SWIFT. As the Statement made clear, we have not ruled anything out in terms of sanctions. None the less, this is an area where we need to work with our global partners, and we will continue to have discussions with them to see as and when further action can be taken. I can assure the noble Lord that there will be a rolling programme of sanctions and actions. As we have already seen from Tuesday to today, significant developments have happened. Today, I cannot go any further than what has been said in the Statement in terms of shedding light on things to your Lordships’ House. I am sure noble Lords understand. As I hope noble Lords have already seen, I can assure the House that we are working globally with our partners to ensure that we are moving and responding to the situation as things develop on the ground.

In relation to legislation, as the Statement made clear, we will bring forward measures on unexplained wealth orders before the House rises for Easter. Next week, we will be laying SIs which will be able to implement some of the other measures. As I said in the Statement, we will set out further details before Easter on the range of policies to be included in the economic crime Bill, including on reforms to Companies House and a register of overseas property ownership. We are already taking action on multiple fronts to crack down on economic crime. Noble Lords will know that, in July 2019, we published Economic Crime Plan bringing together Government, law enforcement and the private sector to tackle fraud and money laundering. We have already delivered 37 actions within this. We have created a new National Economic Crime Centre to co-ordinate law enforcement response to economic crime and have introduced further new powers. Obviously, more work needs to be done, and we are focused on that.

The noble Baroness rightly asked about the humanitarian situation. We are providing financial and technical assistance to partners on the ground to ensure the system is prepared to support those in Ukraine who need it most. For instance, we are working with partners, supporting the Ukraine Humanitarian Fund through the UN humanitarian agency. We have already committed £100 million to new funding to aid efforts to build Ukraine’s resilience and reduce reliance on Russian energy supplies, and 1,000 more British troops will be put on readiness in the UK to support a humanitarian response in the region as and when we know where we need to deploy it.

The noble Baroness was absolutely right: the international community must speak as one in demanding full humanitarian access, respect for human rights and adherence to international humanitarian law. Once again, I thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their comments.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative 6:55, 24 February 2022

My Lords, of course the people of Ukraine are uppermost in our minds and thoughts, but should we not also remember that people have demonstrated on the streets of Russian towns and cities today? Can we do everything possible to utilise to the full the soft power of the BBC World Service to make sure that people in Russia know what is being perpetrated in their name? While we do that, should we not also give the boot to RT, which is a Russian propaganda tool in our own country? Finally, would it not be unthinkable if we did not make sure that the football tournament scheduled for St Petersburg takes place somewhere else?

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

I thank my noble friend, particularly for the opportunity once again to state that we have no quarrel with the Russian people; our quarrel is with the Russian leadership and President Putin’s regime. I thank my noble friend for giving me the opportunity to say that on behalf of the House.

In relation to Russia Today, my noble friend will know that the Culture Secretary has written to Ofcom to express her concerns. It needs to keep the situation under careful review. It does have powers to step in when broadcasting rules have been breached. It has, as my noble friend will know, previously sanctioned RT for serious failures to comply with broadcasting rules on impartiality. As we in this country obviously benefit, thankfully, from a free and open media, it is right that all regulatory decisions by Ofcom be made independent of government.

In relation to the football tournament, I think the Prime Minister has been very clear in his view that it should not take place in Russia.

Photo of Baroness D'Souza Baroness D'Souza Crossbench

My Lords, the Statement says that the invasion of Ukraine must fail and must “be seen to fail”. Can the noble Baroness the Leader say something about what failure might look like? Would it, for example, be similar to the rather bedraggled departure of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in the 1990s after well over 10 years of occupation?

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

I thank the noble Baroness for her question. I do not think I can stand here today and set out exactly that. What I can say is that we will be working with our NATO partners, as we have seen today through the G7, to ensure that we have a united front against Russian aggression and that we maintain a strong posture together, in order to make sure that we have the outcome in this situation that we all want.

Photo of Lord Robertson of Port Ellen Lord Robertson of Port Ellen Labour

My Lords, I am sure I was not the only one waking up this morning to listen to the news who was not reminded of that similar day in 1968 when we woke up to hear the news that Soviet tanks had crushed the velvet revolution in Czechoslovakia. In May 2002, when I chaired the NATO-Russia summit with President Putin as an equal member around that table, I thought that I had finally exorcised the ghosts of 1968. Only hours later, I stood on a platform beside President Putin at a press conference when he said these words:

“Ukraine is an independent, sovereign nation state and it will choose its own path to peace and security.”

Now, remarkably, the same man says that Ukraine does not exist as a state, does not deserve to be considered as one and that its democracy will be crushed. The leader of the Russian people—a people to whom we owe so much for our liberty today—is taking his country down the road to pariah status. The Russian people do not deserve this.

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

I thank the noble Lord. He has huge expertise in this area and speaks with great authority. He is absolutely right. Russia’s assault on Ukraine is an unprovoked, premeditated attack against a sovereign, democratic state. As we have discussed in this House in recent weeks, the Russian Government have repeatedly denied their hostile intent towards Ukraine. At the same time, they have amassed troops, launched cyberattacks and staged false pretences and provocations. As the Statement made clear, unfortunately, the Russian Government seem to have shown that they were never serious about engaging in diplomacy. I thank the noble Lord for his comments. I entirely agree with him.

Photo of Baroness Ludford Baroness Ludford Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union)

My Lords, when we eventually get the economic crime Bill, it and other similar legislation will be welcome, but critics would say that the challenge is enforcement. Do the Government plan to boost the resources of bodies such as the National Crime Agency, the Serious Fraud Office, HMRC and the Financial Conduct Authority to allow them to crack down on the abuses we see in London and the UK?

There is a very good article in the Telegraph today which reminds us that it is not just cash that is being invested in Londongrad:

“Russian reputations have also been polished, courtesy of London-based PR and libel law firms to whom the oligarchs pay generous fees” to protect both their image and the Kremlin’s. Specifically, will the Government tackle the abuse of libel laws to stop this crushing of free speech and criticism?

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

I thank the noble Baroness. Before I answer her points, I should say that I was a bit out of touch. It looks as if the football tournament has already been moved. I was not aware of that. This is good news. I hope that my noble friend is pleased.

As the Statement mentioned, we are setting up a new, dedicated combating kleptocracy cell within the National Crime Agency. We have ensured that it is staffed with both the resources and the people it needs to do its important work. We have done a lot in this area. For instance, the Criminal Finances Act 2017 has allowed us massively to step up our recovery of criminal assets. We seized £1.3 billion between April 2015 and 2021. We have also conducted around 7,900 investigations. There have been 2,000 prosecutions and 1,400 convictions annually for stand-alone money laundering or where it was the principal offence. Our record shows that we are committed to putting money into this area. We have also committed £400 million to tackling economic crime during the next three years through our new anti-money laundering levy.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, just three hours ago, at a meeting with the Ukrainian ambassador, he reported fighting in the government district of Kyiv. What more can we do to ensure the safety of President Zelensky, his family and his cabinet, not least because of our long and honourable record in providing, where necessary, a place of safety for Governments in exile?

When we respond to Putin’s illegal actions, will the Leader bear in mind that, in addition to economic sanctions, in 2000 Ukraine signed the Rome statute, which established the International Criminal Court? Will the Government urgently discuss with our law officers and the ICC how we can invoke its powers to prosecute war crimes committed on the sovereign territory of Ukraine, so that Russia’s military and political leaders understand that they can be brought to justice within the ICC’s jurisdiction without any veto at the Security Council, and that they can be prosecuted for atrocities committed on Ukrainian soil? Will the political leaders in the Duma who voted for these war crimes have sanctions imposed upon them as well?

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

In relation to the noble Lord’s comment about war crimes, conversations are ongoing within the discussions that are being had internationally. I cannot go further and give specifics in this Statement, but I can certainly say that conversations are being had across a whole array of issues. Yes, we are looking at imposing sanctions on individual members of the Russian assembly.

Photo of The Bishop of Coventry The Bishop of Coventry Bishop

My Lords, while weapons of war reduce people and property to ash, will the Leader join me in commending the Pope on calling for a day of prayer and fasting for peace next Wednesday, which is Ash Wednesday, and in commending the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury on calling us all to join in that world movement of prayer and calling all churches of this land to set aside Sunday as a day of prayer for peace? Also, would she care to expand on her answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, on the humanitarian response, especially in terms of how we are co-ordinating our response with European partners to the predicted refugee crisis? The Leader may be glad to know that Coventry City Council has assured me that it stands ready to do its part should that be needed, as it has been in the past.

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate and all the faith leaders he mentioned for the action they are taking. We stand united in the face of this Russian aggression and, once again, it is fantastic to have leadership from across all our communities standing together. I set out to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, a number of things that we are doing in relation to the humanitarian effort—in particular working through the UN, which we will continue to do. Of course, we will assess the situation and discuss with international partners other things that we may be able to do to help if we see a refugee crisis unfold within what is happening in Ukraine.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Chair, Built Environment Committee, Chair, Built Environment Committee

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Leader for taking the time to make this Statement and have a full Front Bench, as well as for finding time tomorrow for a proper debate. I want to return to the economic crime area and ask whether resources will be made available to Companies House for enforcement, because that is of course important and reform there is overdue. Also, will similar measures be taken in other countries? That would level the playing field, act as an incentive for good behaviour and reduce corruption in other countries.

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

As I have set out in our general discussion—obviously, there was also the G7 call today—we are working with our global partners on a range of issues. I am sure that discussions around the international rules have been part of that. As I said in the Statement, we will set out before Easter further detail on the policies that we intend to bring in, including reforms to Companies House, so my noble friend should not have too much longer to wait for that.

Photo of Lord Watts Lord Watts Labour

My Lords, I welcome the Government’s announcement today on the measures that they are going to take, but Putin will not just sit there; he will probably use cyberattacks as a way of hitting back at the West. Are the Government prepared to do the same back to him if that happens? Unless we do that, we will see continual cyberattacks. We need to make sure that he understands the consequences of what he intends to do.

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

The noble Lord is right; that is certainly an area we are looking at. He will know that we have put a UK cyber sanctions regime into force to ensure that the consequences of malign cyber activity are felt. We have specialist teams of cyber experts and intelligence analysts working round the clock to detect, decipher and deter Russian threats. We are also investing £2.6 billion in cyber and IT capabilities over the next three years.

Photo of The Earl of Kinnoull The Earl of Kinnoull Chair, European Union Committee, Chair, European Union Committee, Deputy Chairman of Committees, Chair, European Affairs Committee, Chair, European Affairs Committee

My Lords, I must say, it was good to hear of the strong co-operative approach with our European friends and neighbours; I very much welcome all that was announced today. Less good, however, was today’s news that one of the armoured columns started the morning in Belarus. The Belarusian leadership has been acting as cheerleaders from the side for Mr Putin on this. Can the Leader comment on that and confirm to us that the sanctions regime that will hit Belarus will be equally as tough and strong as the one that will hit Russia for this infamous act of brutality?

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

Yes. In the Statement, it was quite clear that the sanctions will also be applied to Belarus for its role.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, in responding to the Front-Bench questions, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House said the international community must speak as one. That is identifying it, I think rightly, as a world crisis, not just a European one, as it has sometimes been painted. I note the very powerful contribution from Kenya’s ambassador to the United Nations reflecting on his own country’s experience that the recovery from the “embers of dead empires” must be completed without creating new forms of oppression and domination. Will the UK go to the United Nations General Assembly to seek collective action under the uniting for peace procedure created by Resolution 377A, given that it is obvious that action by the Security Council would be blocked by Russia?

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

The noble Baroness will be delighted to know that my noble friend hotfooted it back from the UN this morning and will no doubt be able to give more information on that in the debate tomorrow.

Photo of Viscount Waverley Viscount Waverley Crossbench

My Lords, it might be helpful to have an insight from the Government about what is known about Russia’s endgame in this whole arena. Might the Leader be minded to respond to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, about the Cabinet and the President and their safety in Ukraine? I would just counsel that cool heads need to prevail in ensuring that the British media are not kicked out of Russia as a result of tit for tat, otherwise it will probably be less helpful than any other area.

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

The noble Lord invites me to get into the mind of Vladimir Putin and I am afraid that that is not something I am at all qualified to do, I am pleased to say. I am sorry; I forgot to cover the point from the noble Lord, Lord Alton: the Prime Minister is talking regularly to the President of Ukraine and so I am sure will have discussions around the issues that he raises. He spoke to him first thing this morning and is speaking to him very regularly.

Photo of Baroness Wilcox of Newport Baroness Wilcox of Newport Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

My Lords, if I may push the Leader of the House a little further on the question raised by my noble friend the shadow Leader of the House, what new legislation is being brought forward as a result of today’s Statement?

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

As I have said, there will be some SIs next week in relation to some of the sanctions. Through the debate we had earlier today, we already have some of the powers we need. There will be that and, as I said, we will be bringing forward measures on unexplained wealth orders before the House rises at Easter. We will also be bringing forward an economic crime Bill in the next Session, of which further details will be set out in due course.

Photo of Viscount Stansgate Viscount Stansgate Labour

My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Robertson, I well remember waking up in August 1968, not least because it was my birthday and, instead of being wished a happy birthday, I was told that the Russians had invaded Czechoslovakia. I want to ask one question arising out of the Statement. It says that the UK now has

“a clear mission: diplomatically, politically, economically—and eventually, militarily”.

Can I invite the Leader of the House to explain the use of the word “militarily” in that context? Does it imply that the UK will now continue to supply arms to Ukraine?

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

Yes, we have said that we will provide further support to Ukraine in terms of both lethal aid in the form of defensive weapons and non-lethal aid, such as body armour and helmets. We will be continuing to supply them and support them in that way.

Photo of Lord Austin of Dudley Lord Austin of Dudley Non-affiliated

My Lords, can the Leader tell us what support the Government will provide to the BBC World Service so that the citizens of Russia can continue to receive accurate information from the free and democratic West? Can she assure the House that Putin himself is on the list of people to be sanctioned? I underline the importance of making it absolutely clear to the Russian military, Russian officials and the security services in Russia that they will be held to account individually for war crimes committed during the invasion of Ukraine.

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

As I mentioned in answer to an earlier question, discussions are ongoing around the issues the noble Lord talked about. On the BBC and Russia, this was a question the Prime Minister was asked in the other place and I know that he and the Culture Secretary will be looking at how we can best support that to continue, because it is obviously extremely important to make sure that information that is true and valid is able to be accessed by the Russian people—and not just the misinformation and disinformation by the President.

Photo of Lord Beith Lord Beith Liberal Democrat

My Lords, has the Foreign Office offered any new travel advice relating not just to Ukraine and Belarus, but any neighbouring countries?

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

As I said on Tuesday, I think, British nationals were being encouraged to leave Ukraine. What we have also said now is that any who are still in Ukraine should register their presence, which will allow us to provide the latest information. Obviously, now there will be a lot of difficulties around this, but we have encouraged all British nationals to leave Ukraine. We are also providing an enhanced response in the FCDO, with teams working around the clock to support British nationals and respond to political developments. Obviously, we will continue to update travel advice as and when we can.

Photo of Baroness Featherstone Baroness Featherstone Liberal Democrat

My Lords, will the measures that the Leader of the House has announced target Putin’s personal wealth? I do not think he cares about institutions but I do think he cares about his wealth.

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

As I say, I cannot go any further than what was said in the Statement, I am afraid. As I said, sanctions and action is a rolling programme, but I cannot say anything more specific. I apologise.

House adjourned at 7.15 pm.