Sanctions

Lindsay Hoyle Excerpts
Friday 24th May 2024

(1 month, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
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If the hon. Gentleman would like to write to me later today, I will make sure that the team looks at the information as soon as possible.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. I know it is the final day for the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), but we still have rules in this House about being critical of Members of another House. Could he still use that caution, even on his last day in the House?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
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Thank you, Mr Speaker.

This legislation is needed to clarify the sanction measures for which HMRC is solely responsible for enforcing on those it would investigate on referral from OTSI. It will therefore establish a consistent approach to the enforcement of trade sanctions. It will facilitate HMRC and OTSI working in close partnership so that they can robustly enforce all trade sanctions against Russia and other target countries using civil and criminal powers.

On the financial sanctions side, the statutory instrument also includes new obligations for persons designated under the Belarus regime to report any assets they own, hold or control in the UK or worldwide as a UK person to the relevant authorities. The measure is another step in improving the transparency of assets owned, held or controlled in the UK by designated persons and will strengthen the ability of HM Treasury’s Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation—OFSI—to implement and enforce UK financial sanctions.

Importantly, the measure will act as a dual verification by enabling the comparison of disclosures by designated persons against existing reporting requirements that bite on firms such as financial institutions. Under the new requirement, the Government will be able to penalise those who make deliberate attempts to conceal assets to escape the effects of sanctions. An equivalent reporting obligation was placed on designated persons under the Russia regime in December 2023. The extension of this requirement to Belarus ensures alignment between the Russia and Belarus regimes, which is particularly vital given the frequent overlap of the Belarus and Russia sanctions regimes and the co-operation between the two states in relation to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

We have also included several sanctions on Belarus on the export of so-called battlefield goods, which include goods such as electronic equipment, integrated circuits and firearms and aerospace technology. These new measures prohibit the import of Belarusian aluminium into the UK—both the metal itself and aluminium products. Aluminium products are a sector of strategic importance to Belarus and have been its top export to the UK. Although the UK nexus with the Belarusian economy is limited, the signalling impact of our sanctions on Belarus is, and will remain, important. We keep these sanctions under constant review and reserve the right to introduce further measures so that the Lukashenko regime continues to feel the consequences of its lack of respect for human rights and its support for Putin’s war.

Finally, we are also revoking the Burundi sanctions regime. That will remove an empty regime from the statute books. The decision in 2019 not to transpose into UK law designations under the original 2015 EU sanctions regime reflected the improved political situation in Burundi. We do not have the same level of concern about the widespread political violence in Burundi that led to the original decision to impose the regime, so we have made no designations under it. As we set out in the recent UK sanctions strategy, the Government keep their regimes under review and respond to changing circumstances. We are committed to lifting a regime out of a specific measure or revoking a designation when the original objective is no longer served by its continuance.

To conclude, sanctions continue to play an important part in the UK, which continues to build on its already impressive sanctions capability. In the years since the landmark Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018, our approach to sanctions has evolved considerably to respond to the changes in the world. We will continue to work on sanctions to meet any new challenges. I commend the regulations to the House.

Catherine West Portrait Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab)
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May I echo your comments, Mr Speaker, about the Deputy Speakers who are, sadly, stepping down at the snap general election? I also thank the Minister for setting out the purpose of the regulations, for her general cross-party working, and for her assurance that the Security Minister and the Treasury are looking at such sanctions, because they need a cross-Government approach. I also echo her comments about the excellent work of officials at the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation.

Labour supports the necessary and common-sense steps being taken in the statutory instrument. We will not seek to divide the House on it, although it might have been nice to have considered it last week, rather than this morning, from the point of view of one’s nerves. As a party, we have consistently supported the Government in expanding the UK sanctions regime as it relates to a variety of countries, but particularly Russia since the unlawful and barbaric invasion of Ukraine.

We have also been candid and honest where we think that Ministers are not going far enough or have acted too slowly in holding global actors to account, or where there are considerable loopholes in our regimes that they continue to exploit. When it comes to the integrity of our sanctions regime, we have made it clear that Labour will work assiduously with partners and allies to counter the plethora of threats posed by actors across the world, will ensure proper enforcement, and will bring about the seizure of Russian state assets for the purpose of supporting Ukrainian reconstruction.

Before turning to the measures, I will raise a more general issue that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), the shadow Minister for Europe, has brought to our attention on several occasions. On the enforcement of monetary penalties for breaches of the UK sanctions regime, the OFSI website shows that only one penalty has been issued against the Russian regime since the start of the war in Ukraine. Can the Minister elucidate whether that is the case? Is the website out of date, or is there another reason why our enforcement is woefully low—in comparison with the USA, for example? I hope that she can supply clarity on that.

Labour supports the measures. They will prevent a designated person being a director of a company or overseeing the promotion, formation or management of companies, which is a necessary step in dismantling the ecosystem of illicit finance in which designated persons skirt sanctions and retain access to their wealth.

I ask the Minister for clarity on one point. Concerns have been raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House about the issuing of licences that grant designated persons dispensation to become exempt from given provisions. Can she clarify whether there will be ministerial oversight of the granting of those licences? Will the Treasury, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Department for Business and Trade work in lockstep to ensure cohesion and co-ordination when it comes to their granting? Last year, revelations came to light regarding a licence issued to none other than Yevgeny Prigozhin that allowed him to sue a UK journalist. That is what can happen when licences are issued without proper scrutiny. I hope that the Minister can provide clarity on their granting.

We also support the measures relating to the mandate of His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs on Belarus, as well as the new reporting obligation on persons designated under the asset freeze to disclose the value and nature of any funds or economic resources that they own, hold or control in the UK. We also support the prohibition of export from the UK of items critical to Russian weapon systems and military development, in addition to certain aerospace goods; the prohibition of Belarusian aluminium imports; and the ban on the provision of ancillary services.

Why has it taken so long to bring in those prohibition measures? It seems unconscionable that well over two years since the onset of the war in Ukraine—do not forget that the House’s Belarusian concerns were raised before then—UK items that could be used in Russian weaponry are making their way via Belarus to the frontlines, potentially aiding and abetting Russia’s war effort against the people of Ukraine. We understand that any sanctions regime is a work in progress, but we cannot continue to countenance UK exports filtering through to Putin and the cronies who facilitate his war machine, especially given the situation in and around Kharkiv at present.

I thank the Minister for setting out the measures, though, as I said, they could have come earlier. I hope that she can provide clarity on the concerns that I raised. Labour will continue to support further expansion of our sanctions regime, but it is becoming ever clearer that the actions that we take today will have lasting ramifications. In devising such actions in the next Parliament, we will strive to be even bolder, swifter and more ambitious.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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We come to a maiden speech. I call Chris Webb.

--- Later in debate ---
James Heappey Portrait James Heappey (Wells) (Con)
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I rise to speak briefly on sanctions, but before I do so, I congratulate the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Chris Webb) on an excellent maiden speech. It is my privilege to give my final speech on the back of such a brilliant first speech. Although I am sure that those in Conservative central office will have other ideas, I hope it is the first of many speeches he gives in this House.

This place matters in terms of the way the UK competes with our adversaries and those who challenge us all around the world. It is not just what the Government do through the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, our embassies and other Departments. It is important that Parliament shows its resolve. As any colleague in the House who has had the pleasure of travelling to do the Government’s business overseas will know, we are routinely beaten up by Ministers in foreign countries for things that are said on these Benches. Therefore, the resolve of the House to give resolute support to the Government of the day on our foreign policy is enormously important. We do that through not just the employment of our military, with whom it has been my great pleasure to work during the past four years, but the way we pull all the levers of government to achieve effect, through both hard and soft power, all around the world. Therefore, at the back end of this Parliament, these are important measures before us today and it is right that they are being put through with cross-party consensus.

My personal circumstances mean that I cannot be here later today, Mr Speaker, so I hope you will indulge me if I say one or two quick thank yous as I draw my parliamentary account to a close. As I segue from the strategic and the international, I wish, first, to thank all of those ministerial colleagues with whom I have had the pleasure of serving over the past four years, as we have gone through an incredible period of challenge to our nation. I have served alongside many who have made me a better person, through all their expertise and all that they have been able to teach me, but none more so than my right hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace). I have worked alongside him in some of the darkest moments our nation has faced in generations, during the pandemic, the Kabul airlift and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and that will stick with me as one of the proudest times of my life. It was a great honour to serve alongside you, Secretary of State.

I also wish to thank my partner, family and friends, particularly my children, Charlie and Tilly, for all their love and support over the past nine years. I thank my staff, both in my constituency office and here in Westminster. I thank those in the Wells Conservative Association for their support and kindness. I thank my constituents for sending me here; whether or not they voted for me, representing them has been a huge privilege.

As you know well, Mr Speaker, our public discourse is changing for the worse and there is a toxicity to it now that means it requires real bravery to come to sit on these Benches. You have been a great protector of this House and of those who have the courage to sit on these green Benches, to speak up for their opinions and their constituencies, and to try to make a positive difference for those they represent and our country at large. Thank you for your leadership and guidance during this very difficult Parliament. Thank you for all your support—and for the occasional bollocking when I have gone for too long at the Dispatch Box.

I thank all colleagues, on both sides of the House. When we have disagreed, it has always been with courtesy and respect. Not enough people beyond this place see that that is the way the affairs of this House are mostly conducted. Most of all, I wish all good fortune and success to all those who will arrive here in July—in particular, my successor in the new seat of Wells and Mendip Hills—having been returned to represent their communities and to make a difference on behalf of this country, in what will be incredibly challenging times. It has been a great pleasure and a real honour to serve here.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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It is a sad day. I call the Scottish National party spokesperson.