Ukraine - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:40 pm on 21 December 2022.

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Photo of Baroness Smith of Newnham Baroness Smith of Newnham Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Defence) 2:40, 21 December 2022

My Lords, as so often, I am very happy to associate myself with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. However, unlike yesterday in the questions on the Statement on the Afghanistan inquiry, I have a whole series of additional questions to put to the Minister. These are intended not to undermine anything that the noble Lord said but simply to press a little further.

Clearly, we must all salute the resilience of Ukraine, President Zelensky, First Lady Zelenska and the Ukrainian people, who have done so much to stand up not just for their own liberty and freedom but for freedom more widely, as the Secretary of State said yesterday in another place. It is indeed right that the United Kingdom and our NATO allies have been supporting Ukraine. I thought the words of the Secretary of State yesterday were very well measured, that

“our support is calibrated to avoid escalation”,

because that is absolutely vital. There is a very real danger, as I thought the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, touched on, that this conflict could become much wider. Clearly NATO countries want to support Ukraine, but it is Ukraine’s war. It is right that we support by training Ukrainian service personnel and providing equipment, but we need to avoid escalation.

To press a little further, I wonder whether the Minister could clarify what work is being done to ensure that we have adequate contacts with the supply chains and those supplying military hardware to ensure that, down the line, there will be sufficient capabilities for His Majesty’s Armed Forces. We have raised these issues many times over the last 300 days, but the longer the conflict goes on the more important it is to ensure that there will be no difficulties with capabilities, not just in supporting Ukraine but for the United Kingdom Armed Forces themselves.

In addition to the question of capabilities, there is another. It is welcome to know, as everyone is aware, that the Royal Navy has been in the Black Sea and that the Army has been in various parts supporting the Joint Expeditionary Force in Eastern Europe. Can the Minister tell us what assessment has been made of the impact on our Armed Forces of all the requirements that are being put on them? Yesterday, we talked about the need for our Armed Forces personnel to stand in to replace key workers during the strikes. Again and again, we are calling on our Armed Forces. Does the Minister think we are giving them sufficient support? Should we be thinking about reversing the cuts to the Army?

Beyond that, there are clearly questions about what Russia has been doing and the activities that it has perpetrated—war crimes, alleged atrocities of rape, and many other atrocities that have been put forward. In particular, there appear to be many Ukrainians whose bodies cannot be identified. Last month I was in the Falkland Islands, visiting on the 40th anniversary of the liberation. There, of course, we have attempted to put graves for Argentinian soldiers, who were not easy to identify. That was by way of reconciliation, in some ways.

Last year, I was in Bosnia where there are mothers still weeping because the dismembered bodies of their dead children are scattered. In the light of what we are seeing in Russia, will the Minister say whether the Government are ready to consider supporting the idea of some sort of tribunal on war crimes perpetrated by Russia in Ukraine?