Ukraine: Arms Supplies - Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:40 pm on 19 April 2023.

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Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Labour 3:40, 19 April 2023

To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have, if any, to increase arms supplies to Ukraine in view of the possible Ukrainian offensive.

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My Lords, the UK and our allies and partners are continuing to respond decisively to provide military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine as the conflict evolves. The UK is recognised as a leading nation providing support to Ukraine, training more than 12,000 recruits, providing £2.4 billion-worth of support, including hundreds of thousands of rounds of artillery ammunition, and leading the world on the gifting of vital capabilities such as multiple-launch rocket systems and Challenger 2 tanks.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Labour

My Lords, there has been a considerable build-up to this planned offensive that has been talked about. Indeed, some people are saying that they think it will be a game-changer. I have to say that I do not think that it will be a game-changer, but I think it is very important. Certainly, the intelligence leaks from America have not helped it very much at all. The problem we have, not just in the UK but in other allied countries, is that we have not mobilised our defence industries to actually start producing the weapon stocks that are absolutely needed day by day. We should have started this more than 12 months ago, and industry needs to be working 24/7. Will the Minister tell us whether we are now mobilising these defence firms? Do the Government consider this offensive by the Ukrainians to be extremely important, because it might well grind down the numbers of Russians again and give the Ukrainians a boost, and, I hope, improve their morale while damaging the morale of the Russians?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

In response to the last part of the noble Lord’s question, we regard everything Ukraine is doing as vitally important—hence our commitment to supporting Ukraine in every way that we can. On our relationship with industry, we have remained fully engaged with the sector. Allies and partners have done the same to ensure both the continuation of supply to Ukraine and that all equipment and munitions granted in kind from UK stocks are replaced as quickly as possible. Within NATO, the UK’s position is not unique with regard to industrial capacity and stockpile replenishment. There has been an intelligent conversation with industry, which realised that it had a role to play and, to be fair, is now discharging that role.

Photo of Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Conservative

My Lords, it is not just about delivering munitions to Ukraine; it is about upgrading and modernising its armed forces. There, of course, our interests align, as we seek to upgrade and modernise our own Armed Forces. Can we be sensible and clever about this, where perhaps the money we are spending is of dual use and can act as a catalyst to advance our own procurement programmes? We have already seen one example, with the sunsetting of AS-90—the artillery system being given to Ukraine—and the introduction of Archer. Surely there are other opportunities as well.

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My noble friend makes an important point. This is certainly something that has been on our radar screen, and for that matter on the radar screens of our allies, particularly within NATO. For example, we have not been replacing like with like; we have been looking holistically at what our need is once we have supplied support to Ukraine. I reassure my noble friend and the Chamber that we are indeed engaged in the very issue to which he quite rightly refers.

Photo of Lord Stirrup Lord Stirrup Crossbench

My Lords, the anticipated offensive will be an extremely hazardous undertaking. It will be made all the more perilous for the Ukrainians without at least local control of the air. How confident is the Minister that the Ukrainians have been given the wherewithal to be able to achieve such control?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I say to the noble and gallant Lord that it is interesting if we just put a little context around this. Russia planned a major offensive effort through the winter and, quite simply, has not succeeded. This is a slow-moving conflict, and both sides have effectively neutralised each other’s air power. That is a remarkable achievement for a country the size of Ukraine responding to an air force capacity the size of Russia’s. It demonstrates that this is about a multi-faceted approach, both strategically and in specific support for Ukraine, in trying to ensure collective help; the real clout of what we are offering is the aggregate effect of what every other country is doing along with the UK. I reassure the noble and gallant Lord that we are in daily touch with Ukraine, and we seem to be closely attuned to what it looks for.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

My Lords, despite all the calls with honourable intent for increased military support and NATO participation, should we not be seriously considering opening up back channels with the potential for an exchange of views, if not negotiation? If that proves impossible, are we considering the route to a settlement? A settlement is required that takes into account the interests of innocent non-combatants who are suffering on the front line. It may also require a compromise on the Crimea.

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

It is for Ukraine to determine its position in any negotiations, just as it is for Ukraine to determine its democratic future. As friends and international partners of Ukraine, we will always work to protect and defend the country’s sovereignty. I observe that, if there are to be any peace negotiations, it is only by going into them from a position of military, economic and diplomatic strength that Ukraine will secure a strong and lasting peace.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative

My Lords, is the Minister aware that high street banks are having to withdraw provision of financial services to firms exporting armoured fighting vehicles to Ukraine because of money laundering regulations? Is she further aware that Ministers have indicated at the Government’s Dispatch Box that they see the complete integrity of the money laundering regulations as more important than exporting armoured fighting vehicles to Ukraine?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I am aware that my noble friend has raised this on previous occasions. He understands that it is not really within the MoD’s bailiwick; it is more a matter for my Treasury colleagues. I suggest that my noble friend refers to them for a response.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Newnham Baroness Smith of Newnham Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Defence)

My Lords, can I press the Minister further on the initial Question from the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, about not just conversations with industry but procurement? The Minister implied that the Government have been talking to industry, which is fine, but can she confirm that orders have been placed so that adequate capabilities are available both to the UK and in whatever we are supplying to Ukraine?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

Orders have certainly been placed by the UK. I do not have specific information in front of me but I shall inquire and will submit whatever detail I can to the noble Baroness.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords)

I again make clear from this Front Bench that His Majesty’s Opposition fully support what the Government are doing on Ukraine and will continue to do so. The Committee of Public Accounts today published its report MoD Equipment Plan 2022-32. This makes a number of serious points about the Government’s ability to supply Ukraine with the equipment it needs. Building on my noble friend Lord West’s Question, what are the Government going to do to enable industry to deliver the military equipment that we need, and quickly?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I do not want to pre-empt the department’s response to the Public Accounts Committee, which will be prepared and submitted in due course. I can say that there is an element of divergence on how facts and circumstances are interpreted, but that is for the more detailed response. I reassure the noble Lord that, on the basis of previous criticism of the MoD by the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee, significant reforms have been effected within it. To be fair, the noble Lord is aware of many of these, and there is no doubt that they are delivering improvement. As to the committee’s overall report, it falls to the department to respond fully in the appropriate time period.

Photo of Lord Craig of Radley Lord Craig of Radley Crossbench

My Lords, it is well known that much equipment is being provided to Ukraine by its allies. Will that be sufficient to ensure that Russia does not embark on further offensive action?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

As I indicated earlier to the Chamber, I can tell the noble and gallant Lord that we are in daily contact with Ukraine. Wherever possible, we seek to ensure that intelligent responses are given to the pressing needs that Ukraine identifies. We do this in consort with our allies and partners, as that is the only sensible approach. The noble and gallant Lord is aware of the significant support that has already been provided, not just by this country but by our allies—notably the United States. That programme of activity includes the Defence Secretary attending a meeting of the Ukraine defence contact group, hosted by the United States, this Friday in Ramstein. That is another forum where we can work out how best to continue to provide support to Ukraine.