Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to today’s short but insightful and timely discussion. I will address the important questions that been raised. If there are questions that I do not cover specifically, I will flag them and write to noble Lords in the usual way.
First and foremost, on that final point, the Government work across government but also with key sectors. We also work with British companies so that they fully understand the impact of the sanctions being imposed, because challenges are being felt far and wide because of them.
Equally, I say from the outset to the noble Lords, Lord Collins, Lord Purvis and Lord Rooker, that we absolutely have to work in lock-step. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, is fully aware of my view as the FCDO Minister responsible for sanctions that the most effective sanctions are those where we work in absolute lock-step with our key partners—the likes of Canada, the US and the European Union. I assure all noble Lords that we have regular and frequent conversations about the designations we will make, but equally about the designations that other jurisdictions are making, to ensure that any semblance of difference can be addressed quickly and in an expedited form. Indeed, the measures we have had to introduce over the last few months reflect the Government’s desire to ensure that our own regime and framework reflect our ability to act, and quickly. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for recognising that. As all noble Lords will recognise, there is a need for agility to act very quickly.
While I cannot give assurance beyond what I normally state about future designations, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, that nothing, or no one, is out of our consideration for any designations of individuals or organisations. It would be speculative to go into any further detail, but we are looking at this in terms of ensuring that our sanctions team is extensively resourced and of working very closely with our allies in this respect. We have directly sanctioned more than 1,000 individuals and more than 100 businesses since Mr Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. This is constant. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that the number of designations and the information I see, and the fact that we are having our ninth or 10th debate on specific issues in this respect, reflect the Government really focusing on the priorities.
The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, asked about the Crown dependencies, as did the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, about the OTs. In all instances, our legislation has direct impact in the Crown dependencies and the OTs. There is an exception in two OTs—Bermuda and Gibraltar—where an Order in Council cannot be issued and they legislate for themselves, but they have been legislating to effect anything introduced in the UK jurisdictions elsewhere. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, we are working very closely with all our Crown dependency Governments, as well as the OT Administrations and Governments, to ensure they follow the UK Government’s lead. The Order in Council allows us to act decisively when it comes to the OTs.
I thank noble Lords again for their strong support of the Government’s position. As I acknowledged in my opening remarks, I am grateful in particular to the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Collins, for their strong support for the Government’s position, both in and outside the Chamber. As I have done previously, I will continue to update them as required and appropriate to ensure that they are fully up to speed with the Government’s position and the future actions that we will take.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, raised the important issue of VPNs and asked whether this was an offence under UK law. It is not as it applies in the UK and the EU. The issue is cutting off the information at the source of spread—that is, the ISPs and social media companies. The measures we and our partners have been taking act on the providers, not the individual users, of the internet. In our view, it is not appropriate to place the offence on individuals who may be using VPNs. That said, VPNs have been used as a tool to circumvent, as the noble Lord mentioned, but our position is that this is not unique to the UK; we are talking to our partners to see how, as Russia continues with its approach on misinformation, we can work in a more co-ordinated fashion.