Foreign Affairs - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 6:24 pm ar 5 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Moore of Etchingham Lord Moore of Etchingham Non-affiliated 6:24, 5 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, as has been said today, foreign affairs and what happens here are becoming more closely linked. So I hope I will not need to apologise to your Lordships for making a partially domestic plea in this debate. Ten days ago, I was in Kyiv. The mood there is anxious, but the determination is great and there is frustration, which many noble Lords share, that not nearly enough weapons from us, EU countries and above all the United States are reaching Ukraine. The American elections could well prolong this agony until November and even beyond. That is a frighteningly long time. I am afraid there is evidence, particularly in Germany, that some Europeans are taking this delay not as a spur to action but as a cue to hedge their bets.

However, what I also found in Kyiv was that Britain’s reputation still stands high in Ukraine, an impression reinforced by what was reported by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury—I am sorry I did not run into him in the streets of Kyiv. We were the first major country to support Ukraine during the Russian invasion of 2022, and our support remains solid. Ukrainian morale is bolstered by the knowledge that not only our Government but so many British people are active supporters. We lead the world in our charitable and voluntary backing for Ukraine.

Such popular backing is not merely a pleasant extra. In this grim war, morale matters particularly greatly, as does practical and humanitarian help, which goes beyond the supply of weapons. So, as a matter of policy, not just decency, our Government should actively assist the voluntary efforts that so many of our citizens are making. I am sorry to say that this official backing is not, in practice, very warm, although I should say to the Foreign Secretary that I am not referring to his department in this respect.

We fly the Ukrainian flag over our public buildings, but what goes on inside those buildings can be maddeningly obstructive. I will give two examples from campaigns in which I am involved. The first is the supply of vehicles to Ukraine, chiefly 4x4s repurposed as field ambulances. With Mission Ukraine UK, I helped to deliver one such vehicle to the front last summer, and I saw how they can save lives. In these ambulances, the wounded are pulled out of the line and taken to the nearest stabilisation point. Without such transport, many more die. More than half of those vehicles that originate outside Ukraine come from Britain, usually delivered by British volunteers. British number plates are a frequent sight near the front. I have here on my phone—obviously I cannot show all your Lordships—a new picture of a British-plated pickup beside the ravaged town of Avdiivka.

I am delighted to report that, now, after months of prevarication, the Mayor of London has at last backed the proposal of the umbrella group ULEZ for Ukraine. From 18 March, all vehicles destined for scrappage under his controversial ULEZ scheme can, if the owners wish, be handed over to the charity British-Ukrainian Aid. The ULEZ scheme attracts 100 vehicles a day, so it seems a reasonable guess that 3,000 vehicles from it could ultimately end up in Ukraine. Such numbers would represent a breakthrough in a war where the average lifespan of a field ambulance is four to six weeks. As I say, this has been hard work, but there is real progress.

The other task—less far advanced—is boats for Ukraine. Their purpose is to cross the great Dnipro river, and they are at present the only means by which troops and supplies can reach the potential bridgeheads that have been gained and held by Ukrainian forces on the eastern bank in recent months. These little RIBs and dinghies, which the narrow channels require, have been making this almost unprotected passage, reinforcing their comrades and bringing back the wounded—it is one of the bravest things that is happening in this war.

British organisations have been assisting for six months, but, as with the 4x4s, the task requires scale. Before Christmas, some volunteers at Mission Ukraine UK had a brilliantly economical idea. In Dover, they observed, there is a big pound of small boats seized from illegal immigrants as they arrive. “Why not turn this waste to good?” they thought. They know a bit of British history: the small boats should become little ships for Ukraine. This is a resonant scheme and, perhaps as a result, it is being stolidly resisted by the bureaucracy. On 31 January, the Home Office refused a direct request for help. One of its lines is that the boats are not seaworthy, to which comes the simple reply: “We know that. It is our job to make them fit for their task. Please just hand them over and we can do the rest”.

Hundreds of boats and engines are wanted by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence. Unless the Border Force has secretly destroyed these boats, such numbers are currently idling beneath the white cliffs of Dover. I hope your Lordships will wish to urge the Government that the little ships be released for a last and better voyage.