House of Commons
Monday 7 September 2015
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
I have agreed that questions to the Secretary of State for Wales should be postponed from this Wednesday until the following week, Wednesday 16 September, to allow the House to mark the occasion on which Her Majesty the Queen will become our longest-serving monarch. Prime Minister’s questions will take place, as usual, afterwards at 12 noon. The Table Office will announce consequential changes to the questions rota shortly.
In addition, before we proceed to oral questions may I remind Members that there is a change in the alphabetical groupings in the Division Lobbies? Members with surnames beginning with G should give their name at the new A to G desk—[Interruption]—and will need to do so for the next two weeks at least. The appreciation of the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) is not always sought, but it is acknowledged.
Oral Answers to Questions
Work and Pensions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Long-term Deteriorating Health Conditions
1. What information his Department holds on the number of people in the work-related activity group who have long-term deteriorating health conditions. (901146)
There is no common medical definition as to what constitutes a long-term deteriorating health condition so no data on this are held within Government. The Department will be publishing data on the number of claimants on employment and support allowance with progressive conditions on Thursday.
The answer is, according to the Work and Pensions Committee, about 8,000.
Ministers seem to have discovered remarkable healing powers over the summer break. They believe cutting benefits will help people in the work-related group who have been assessed and deemed as being unable to work to suddenly find work. It will give them an incentive, we are told. These are people who have deteriorating conditions such as Parkinson’s and MS which medical experts have said mean they will never be able to work. Which medical condition would the Minister deem might be cured by cutting benefits by £30 a week?
On the contrary, this Government believe in supporting people who are able to work to get back closer to the labour market, and the Government spend about £350 million a year on employment support for those with conditions, in particular disability. I think all Members will be pleased to know that the Budget has also provided new funding from April 2017 for additional support for claimants with limited capability for work, but importantly the principle here is that those who can work and are able to work are supported by this Government in getting closer to the labour market, and we are supporting them through our jobcentres and the initiatives we have across government.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and, as he mentions alternative therapies, I should add that this Government place great emphasis on supporting benefit claimants with a range of conditions and that support can come in the form of treatment such as talking therapies as well as valuable support for those with mental health conditions. It is important to continue to provide support for those who need help, and that is the objective of this Government.
I wrote to the Secretary of State over the summer following the news that his Department has been publishing fake quotes which it attributed to benefit claimants who had been sanctioned. As I am yet to receive a response, perhaps the Secretary of State or his team could answer one of my questions today. Has this practice of fabricating people and quotes been used by his Department in other instances? If so, can he provide details of when, and, if not, will he apologise to the British public for misleading them and commit to ensuring the practice is never undertaken again?
The answer to the hon. Lady’s question is very clear: that issue has been addressed and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made some very clear statements. I bring the hon. Lady back to the overall question, which is about people with deteriorating health conditions. This Government are committed to supporting the vulnerable and have put in place a great deal of support to help those with deteriorating health conditions manage their conditions and, where they can, get back into work.
Deteriorating health is one of the main reasons why people are unable to work, but we now know that about 90 people every month over the past three years have died within a short time after having been assessed as fit for work and losing their social security benefits. Does the Minister accept that the assessment process for determining whether someone is fit for work is simply not fit for purpose?
Let me be clear that the Department recently published fully quality-assured age-standardised mortality statistics, in line with Office for National Statistics requirements and to national statistics standard. It is wrong to state that people have died while claiming an out-of-work benefit and, for the record, it is impossible and completely wrong to draw any causality from the statistics. Any attempt to extrapolate anything beyond those figures is wrong, and two national newspapers that tried to do that have just published an apology for their incorrect reporting of the statistics.
I do think Ministers need to take their head out of the sand, because it is clear that they are abdicating responsibility for very sick people. It has also emerged over the summer that almost half the people appealing against sanction decisions—more than 285,000 people—have been successful. I suspect that a large proportion of those people have serious health problems. Will the Minister finally listen to the cross-party calls for a full-scale review of the sanctions regime and commit to that review this afternoon?
We have already had a review. Specifically with regard to the statistics, the trend is that the number of people dying, as a proportion of the population, is going down. I bring the House back to my point that any attempt to extrapolate anything beyond the figures is completely wrong.
On Second Reading of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, the Secretary of State said that if someone is in the work-related activity group, they should be
“capable of doing some work very soon.”—[Official Report, 20 July 2015; Vol. 598, c. 1260.]
But in July 2014, the Select Committee on Work and Pensions said that 80,000 people had been placed in the WRAG with a prognosis that a change in their condition was unlikely in the long term. Does the Minister agree that those people should not be in the WRAG?
Of course, all claimants in the WRAG are assessed, and that assessment determines that they should be in that group. Importantly, people in that group who need more support to prepare for work receive employment and support allowance. I emphasise that that support helps them to prepare to go back to work, whether in the short or medium term. Importantly, claimants are asked to participate in activities that are both appropriate and reasonable for each individual claimant.
But 80,000 people who are not expected to get better have been placed in the WRAG, including 8,000 with degenerative conditions, which by definition mean they will become less well. Cutting £30 a week from such people’s benefit will not make them better or help them work; surely it will just make them poorer.
I reiterate what has been said previously: no one will lose out in financial support. [Interruption.] This is for those who are already on the benefit. Importantly, those in the WRAG will be given support to prepare for a return to work in the short or medium term. It is wrong to assume that their condition will automatically deteriorate. Everyone who participates in that group will have the appropriate support, and the expectation on them is both appropriate and reasonable for the individual claimant, with their circumstances taken into account.
Under this Government, unemployment has fallen by more than 650,000 and the unemployment rate has been cut from 8% to 5.6% of the labour force.
Last month’s figures showed that the number of people in Kingswood claiming jobseeker’s allowance had fallen by 23% since July 2014. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that shows that the Government’s welfare reforms are helping people back into work, and that the Conservatives are now the true workers’ party thanks to our long-term economic plan?
My hon. Friend is, of course, right. People should remember what we inherited, which was a collapsing economy and huge levels of unemployment. Under this Government, some 1,000 more people are in work each day and employment is up by more than 350,000 to more than 31 million. Really importantly, 14.5 million women are in work, which is a record high that the last Labour Government never, ever achieved.
May I thank the Secretary of State for all his work in reducing unemployment in my constituency? South East Cornwall is a beautiful area, attracting many tourists, especially during the summer. What action have the Government taken to assist those coming out of seasonal work, to help stop them becoming unemployed again?
My hon. Friend does a huge amount of work in her constituency to help people in those kinds of jobs and represents them very well here. Jobcentres in her area are tasked with and focused on helping people who do periodic work, which is the nature of a lot of the employment there, and they are trained to do that. As universal credit arrives next year, my hon. Friend will find that a huge number of her constituents will benefit, because instead of losing their way by having to come off jobseeker’s allowance and on to tax credits, they will stay on universal credit and with the jobcentre. That will help those who have work that is not always permanent.
Does my right hon. Friend welcome the fact that the number of people in Morecambe and Lunesdale claiming jobseeker’s allowance for 12 months or more fell by more than 30% over the past 12 months? Is not it a key part of any long-term economic plan to help the long-term unemployed back into the dignity of work?
My hon. Friend has been assiduous in his work with the jobcentre and those who have been unemployed. Across the country, long-term unemployment is down by more than a fifth, falling to about 165,000 over the past year, and the number of people unemployed for more than 24 months is falling. The latest figures are down by a fifth, which is a remarkable position, given what we took over from the last Government.
As the hon. Lady should know, we offer support and help to those who attend jobcentres. If they do not speak English correctly, we send them on and support them through language courses. That process helps them obtain jobs and improve their circumstances.
Obviously, this is a matter for my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, but what I will say is that we have been in constant discussions and negotiations with politicians in Northern Ireland about implementing welfare reform. Even though there was agreement, they have now decided not to agree. I simply say to all involved that they now need to start thinking about how they can address the issue; otherwise, they will not benefit the people they serve who will lose out because they will lose money.
My constituent, Mr Colin Fraser, has degenerative Parkinson’s disease. He came to see me at my constituency surgery just over a week ago in a very shaken and devastated state after having had the mobility component of his personal independent payment reviewed. According to the Department’s own guidelines—[Interruption.] This is an important issue. The guidelines state that cases involving claimants with severe neurological conditions such as motor neurone disease, dementia and Parkinson’s should be “paper based” and not subject to interview. My constituent was subjected to very intimidating behaviour and I would like the Secretary of State to look very carefully at his case and, in a wider context, how people are dealt with in such situations.
We do conduct reviews and I would be very happy to review that particular case, if the hon. Lady wants to take it up with me. The Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), has already met Parkinson’s UK to discuss how we can improve and modify the system so that it helps people much better. We are always looking for ways to improve it, and I and my hon. Friend would be very happy to speak to the hon. Lady about this particular case.
I know that the Secretary of State and his team are absolutely committed to helping 1 million people with disabilities back into work. Last week, I met representatives of an access-to-work contractor, Pluss, which is very active in Gloucester. It told me some remarkable stories of people being helped into jobs. Does my right hon. Friend agree that specialist providers have a real role to play in helping his Department to achieve this important goal?
Yes. That is one of the objectives of this Government. We have made huge strides in getting more people with disabilities back into work—I think the figure is now over 220,000, which I believe is the highest figure since records began, in proportionate terms—but the most important point is that we are looking to get that up to the level of normal, non-disabled people who are back in work. Those with disabilities have every right and every reason to expect exactly the same support into work that everybody else gets.
Unemployment went up last month. The Government’s commission on employment and skills pointed out earlier this year that although we currently have German levels of adult unemployment, we have eurozone levels of youth unemployment, which went up in July and in August. Does the Secretary of State accept that much more needs to be done to give young people the chance of a decent start?
Of course we are focused on youth unemployment, but it has actually been falling from what we inherited. It has fallen by more than 200,000 since we took over, and the claimant count has fallen every month in the past three and a half years. The right hon. Gentleman talked about the figures going up, and in a sense I am not surprised, because they cover the period leading up to the last election. Given what the Opposition were saying, and looking at the polls that some businesses carried out, it is no surprise to me that they might have held back. If he looks at the vacancies, he will see that there are 735,000 vacancies in the jobcentres every week, which is more than he managed.
Ministers in this Department have met and continue to meet the Chancellor and Treasury Ministers to discuss this and other matters. My Department works closely with the Treasury, as well as with the Financial Conduct Authority, to ensure that the requirement for individuals to take independent financial advice works as intended.
Has the Minister read the report from the Strategic Society Centre which points out a link between guaranteed retirement income and wellbeing? I am deeply concerned that we are not offering adequate protection to pensioners, given the choices that they face, and I ask the Government to look again at the question of promoting guaranteed income in retirement and to accept their responsibility to protect pensioners.
I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman when he says that we are not taking our responsibility seriously. He will be aware that Pension Wise offers free impartial guidance that can be given by telephone, online or in face-to-face meetings, and that the Money Advice Service provides a free directory with more than 2,250 firms registered on it. That equates to more than 6,000 individuals who can give advice. In Scotland, there are 162 firms that can give such advice to people, so there are plenty of people out there, but if the hon. Gentleman knows of individual cases, I would be happy to hear from him.
Is the Minister aware that certain savers who have old, with-profits policies are being forced to pay for financial advice and to get a sign-off, sometimes on an insistent client basis? It can often cost them a lot of money to access their money under the new freedoms. Would the Minister be prepared to look at this matter again, in order to strike the right balance between providing the right advice and not pricing people out of the market?
My Department is keen to ensure that the consumer does not miss out, and we are working closely with the Financial Conduct Authority to ensure that the rules and regulations are fit and proper. If my hon. Friend would like to bring any particular cases to my attention, I would be happy to look at them.
Will the Minister tell us when the Government are going to publish the information on the take-up of the Pension Wise service, and what action they are taking to combat the scammers, who have scammed £4.7 million out of people in the first month of the new scheme?
If the hon. Lady has any specific information on that, I would be happy to receive it from her. We will be publishing the figures on the take-up of the Pension Wise service in due course, but I do not have them at the moment. It is a relatively new operation, and we need to give it some time. In relation to dealing with scams, we are working with the Financial Conduct Authority and we are seeking to stem these scams and any others that there might be.
This Government are committed to working to eliminate child poverty and improve the life chances of children. Our approach is to focus on the root causes of poverty and not just on the symptoms, which will deliver the best improvement in children’s life chances. Our consultation on child poverty measurement in 2013 received more than 250 responses, capturing views across the spectrum from local authorities, charities, academics and members of the public.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer, but children growing up in households where the parents are on the national minimum wage will see their household income cut next year by up to a maximum of £1,426. He punched the air when the announcement was made in the House in the Budget in July. Was he being incompetent or just callous when he did that? What is he going to do to deal with this cut in household incomes?
I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman did not notice that at the time of the Budget my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced one of the biggest rises in the living wage. I make no apology for punching the air, because that was a huge announcement. This is the whole point: as we get people back to work, they should be earning more in work—rather than being paid for by taxpayers, they should be paid for by their businesses.
We are not scrapping all the child poverty targets; what we have said is that we are going to look at all the life chances measures. We want to know what they are doing and how well they are performing. Alongside that, we are still publishing income measures; HBAI statistics—households below average income—will still be published. The hon. Lady is therefore wrong in what she says. What we are doing is focusing on what we can actually do to help families get out of poverty, rather than rotating them around a 60% median income line, as the last Labour Government did. That did not make any sense and cost a huge amount of money.
Does the Secretary of State agree that an important indicator of a child’s prospects in this country is whether they live in a workless household, and that it is right for the Government to take account of that when assessing child poverty?
Absolutely; that is exactly right. This is about the measures we take that keep people out of poverty in a sustained way. I have talked already about the rise in the national living wage, but we are also doubling free childcare to 30 hours a week; raising educational standards; and expanding successfully the troubled families programme to a further 400,000 families. In addition, the early years pupil premium is hugely important in helping the most troubled families.
We inherited a situation where nearly one in five households in Britain had nobody in work at all. It is far more likely for someone who is out of work to be in poverty and for their children to be in poverty. We have pretty nearly halved that level and have the lowest number of workless households since records began.
Until a few weeks ago, the Secretary of State told us that he was committed to the targets in the Child Poverty Act 2010, but now he has brought forward legislation that not only scraps those targets, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) pointed out, will leave Ministers with no child poverty targets at all. He has just denied that from the Dispatch Box, but the fact is that the Welfare Reform and Work Bill removes all the child poverty targets. Why are the Government, in reality, despite his fine words, throwing in the towel on child poverty?
We are not; we are committed to eradicating child poverty and we will have to report every year on our achievement in line with the figures that I gave the right hon. Gentleman earlier. I simply say to him that his Government failed to meet their targets—they spent £75 billion on tax credits in their last six years and still failed—and it is under this Government, in the past five years, that child poverty has actually fallen by some 300,000, rather than under them.
The truth is that child poverty is now going to rise even faster than already predicted because of the huge cuts in tax credits next April, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) referred. With most children in poverty now living in working households, not workless households, should the Secretary of State’s children’s life chances reports not include data on children in low-income working households, as well as on those in workless households?
I believe that our reports will cover a much wider range of issues that affect child poverty. I have always felt that issues to do with family stability, drug and alcohol addiction and education are critical to a child achieving a decent outcome. If the right hon. Gentleman has anything further to add, I am always willing to take his submissions, and the Select Committee has also said that it will do the same. My point is that an arbitrary target simply for an income line, which is what his Government did, leads to a huge distortion in the benefits system, and the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) has said exactly the same.
New State Pension
We have begun a new media campaign for the new state pension. It will use the full range of communication tools, including press, radio and digital means. Material has been updated to be clearer, to engage people and to help them better understand what the changes mean for them.
The basic state pension would have been £560 a year higher by the end of the last Parliament if it had been uprated by earnings alone. Does my hon. Friend agree that maintaining the triple lock gives pensioners the greater certainty about their security that they definitely deserve?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I am grateful to him for making that point in this House. It is important to remember, notwithstanding the tough economic climate, that we on the Conservative Benches have looked after the pensioners. We have given them security and the protection that they need, and I can assure the House that they will continue to have that protection with the triple lock.
Does the Minister understand that a great number of women who were born in the 1950s feel that the Government did not adequately inform them not only about the changes to the state pension age affecting their retirement, but about the speeding up of that process? Will he look again at that basic unfairness for a group of women who have paid in but who are getting nothing out?
May I gently remind the hon. Gentleman that the original increase in ages was started under a Labour Government? We have relaunched the campaign to ensure that the target group of people—those who are within 10 years of retirement from April 2016—take an active role in trying to find out how they will benefit under the new state pension.
The Minister will be aware that the Association of British Insurers published figures this summer about the new pension freedoms which show that people with big pots are buying income drawdown and that people with small pots are cashing out. He knows that women live longer than men and that they have smaller pots than men, so what is he doing to ensure that women’s income in retirement is properly protected?
Let me be absolutely clear: this Government will not dictate what anybody should do with their pension pots. What we have put in place is the means by which people—both men and women—can seek advice. As I mentioned earlier, there is the Money Advice Service, which has on its books more than 2,250 firms across the country that can give advice. It is for people to take that advice and then to decide. We will not dictate how people should deal with their money.
Universal credit is now available in more than half of jobcentres across Great Britain and will be available in all jobcentres early next year. The national roll-out is on track and our “test and learn” approach is now working very well. Nearly 175,000 people have made a claim for universal credit so far. The number is growing exponentially as we roll out the scheme across the country. Our evidence shows that universal credit claimants find work quicker, stay in work longer and earn more than the jobseeker’s allowance claimants.
It would be helpful if the hon. Lady listened to the answer that she was given rather than go with a Labour Whip’s handout. The Front-Bench team obviously worked very hard to ensure that she got her question in. Universal credit is going to be a remarkable success; it is rolling out to more than half of jobcentres and people will benefit enormously.
In contrast to the views expressed by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Kate Hollern), in my constituency of Boston and Skegness I am told that the roll-out of universal credit is progressing well in its limited form, thanks in part to all the agencies involved. Will the Secretary of State assure me that we will continue to provide the important computer support needed for this online programme so that we can ensure that it goes as far and as fast as possible?
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. In all the areas in which we have rolled out universal credit—in more than half of jobcentres—it is dramatically improving people’s lives. Unlike when the previous Government rolled out tax credit and hundreds of thousands of people lost their money, this scheme is ensuring that people who deserve the money and are ready for it are paid it.
The number of people receiving universal credit remains derisorily small. Four years ago, the Secretary of State told us that the transition to universal credit would be complete by 2017. We told him he would not manage it. We were right; he was wrong. He still has not given us a revised date for the completion of universal credit roll-out. Has he given up entirely on ever having one?
I am on the verge of giving up speaking to the right hon. Gentleman, because he misuses all the facts. As I have told him again and again and again, he is more than welcome to visit the sites where it has been rolled out. He has had an open invitation to come to see the digital site and I recommend that he does so. Universal credit is already working; no one has lost any money; it will be online; and it will go out fully and start next year. This is a successful programme and if the right hon. Gentleman wants to compare notes about tax credit roll-outs, I would be more than happy to do that.
As I have already said, universal credit is now available in more than half the jobcentres. The full development starts rolling out next year. People will benefit enormously not just from the technicalities but from the fact that an adviser will now stay with a claimant all the way through the claim. I know that my hon. Friend was not looking for a job, but perhaps the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle) will need to be looking for one in a few years’ time.
Work Capability Assessments
We are committed to continuously improving the work capability assessment process for all people. That is why since Labour introduced it in 2008 we have conducted a Department-led review, an evidence-based review and five independent reviews.
Contrary to the Minister’s earlier remarks, figures finally released by the Department over the summer showed that 2,380 people died after being declared fit for work—more than four times the death rate of the general population. In a harrowing case, a constituent of mine reported to me that she frequently considered committing suicide, both before and after being found fit for work. Does the Minister not feel that it is therefore high time to review the work capability assessment and that thousands of people are being wrongly defined as fit for work?
Once again let me say that any attempt to extrapolate anything from those figures is simply wrong. It is impossible to draw any causality from those statistics. Organisations have commented on this and Full Fact, which is widely known, has said that similar comments to those made by the hon. Lady, which have been widely reported, are simply wrong. We should not infer from the data that there is any causality, and the trends are down.
I am sure that most people in the House will remember the Secretary of State’s Easterhouse epiphany. When will he reply to my invitation to visit my constituency to meet the people of Easterhouse again to listen to them about the effects of his punishing policies on their lives?
Support for Young People Seeking Work
Tackling youth unemployment is a priority for this Government. We are determined that young people should not slip into a life on benefits. The Department for Work and Pensions provides a broad range of additional support for young people over and above the standard Jobcentre Plus offer, and that support is tailored to their needs.
I thank the Minister for that answer. There have been nearly 4,000 new apprenticeship starts since 2010 in my constituency, where the economy is strong and growing. Does she agree that this Government’s efforts to increase both the number and the quality of apprenticeships is critical to improving Britain’s competitiveness in the world and to getting Britain back to work with more jobs and improving pay?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Interestingly, notwithstanding the Government’s well-known track record on apprenticeships and the number of people across the country who have benefited from our apprenticeship scheme, the subject was discussed at the G20 last week, and other countries are now looking at our scheme to see the positive benefits it has had on our young people.
The Minister might be aware of the Change100 scheme run by Leonard Cheshire Disability, which delivers paid work experience placements for young disabled graduates at major employers. Does she agree that such initiatives have an important role to play in helping to ensure that we reduce the disability employment gap?
I am fully aware of the excellent work that Leonard Cheshire Disability, along with many other organisations, does to help young disabled people take up employment. The Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), has discussed with many organisations, including the Shaw Trust and Whizz-Kidz, how they plan to do more in that area. It is right that we should all do more to support young disabled people to secure employment.
I have been approached by several young people in my constituency who have learning and reading difficulties, and they tell me that they find the process of applying for benefit, and the form-filling involved in seeking jobs, very complex. What specific actions is the Department taking to assist young people in these challenges?
My hon. Friend is right. For a start, all young people are screened at the beginning of their claim process to identify any barriers and the kind of support they need. Importantly, we provide options other than online and paper-based ones, such as telephone support or face-to-face interviews. If he would like me to look at any specific cases, I will be happy to discuss them with him.
Does the Minister agree that what all our young people deserve is high-quality training and high-quality apprenticeships? Is she aware that young people suffering from autism face a particular struggle in getting into the labour market and staying there, even though they might be very talented indeed? What is she doing to help them?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very valid point, and he is right that this is about supporting individuals. The Government have a raft of measures, schemes and initiatives to support young people. For those who face certain challenges, such as autism, we are working with employers to help them provide those young people with opportunities for sustained employment. We have many programmes, such as Access to Work, which specifically support individuals who face challenges in the workplace. We are developing our relationships with employers so that more and more of them are coming on board to support young people in having fulfilling careers.
Last week I visited the Newport and District Group Training Association in my constituency, which provides higher national diplomas and higher national certificates, which bridge the gap between school and the workplace. I was told that what they want more than anything is a UK Government who are committed to those qualifications and to funding them. Is that a guarantee the Minister can give?
This Government are absolutely committed to supporting young people. Bridging the gap between school and the world of work can be challenging. Our policies and measures across Government—not just in the Department for Work and Pensions, but in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Education—fully support that transition. Importantly, the DWP is about to roll out a Jobcentre Plus programme in schools, and we are also doing much more with employers to support the transition into the world of work.
Mental Health and Employment
Across Government we are investing over £40 million in a range of voluntary pilots to explore the most promising and evidence-based approaches to improving the employment prospects of people with mental health conditions. The Access to Work mental health support service also offers support to individuals with a mental health condition who are absent from work or finding work difficult.
Sutton Mental Health Foundation does excellent work in this field. Does my hon. Friend agree that, as well as helping unemployed people into work, it is important to help employed people who develop mental health conditions to remain in work, wherever possible? What are the Government doing to help businesses in this situation, in particular small and medium-sized enterprises, which do not have large HR departments?
As one who has employed someone with a mental health condition, I know the importance of keeping people in work. People with mental health conditions account for 20% of long-term absentees, so in December 2014 we launched the Fit for Work scheme, which helps to tackle sickness absence by providing an occupational health assessment and health and work advice to employees and, crucially, employers. That is particularly important to the smaller businesses that provide 47% of private sector jobs. Also, through the Access to Work scheme, our dedicated team of advisers have helped record numbers of people—more than 1,600 last year.
A joint report from the Methodists, Baptists and United Reformed Churches points out that 100 people with mental health problems are sanctioned every day. Every one of those sanctions reduces the confidence of a person with mental health issues and their hope that they can ever get back into work. Will the Minister look at what is happening with those sanctions? They are destroying confidence, not helping at all.
Over the past year, sanctions fell by 40%. Jobseekers are only asked to meet reasonable requirements, taking into account their circumstances and capability, including mental health conditions, disability and caring responsibilities. Sanctions are not imposed if a jobseeker has good reason for failing to meet those requirements. Also, jobseekers can always ask for decisions to be reconsidered by an independent panel.
15. What estimate he has made of the number of people who have been in full-time employment in the last 12 months. (901161)
Full-time employment has risen by more than 350,000 over the last year, accounting for 99% of the rise in total employment. The number of people in full-time work is at a record high, and is up over 1.5 million since 2010.
I am sure the whole House welcomes this Government’s success in creating more full-time jobs. I hope it will also welcome the fact that wages are now rising by 2.8%, on average, which shows that not only are more people in work, but they are being rewarded better than ever.
My hon. Friend is right: nearly 2 million more people take home a pay packet that is increasing, up 2.8% on the year, and for the last nine consecutive months, the increase in pay has outstripped inflation. Even better, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has announced a huge rise in take-home pay through the national living wage, and we should all welcome that.
This month, we are rolling out our Fit for Work programme to all employers across England and Wales, and to GPs. Employers will now be able to refer thousands of workers facing long-term sickness to specialist support, providing occupational health advice and helping them to avoid long absence. The Fit for Work service is the first line of defence when anyone falls sick, and alongside GPs it will help employers to avoid people falling on to sickness benefits and losing their link with the world of work.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the work of social enterprises, such as GO4 Enterprises in Colchester, which do brilliant work in helping young people, ex-offenders and those with mental health difficulties to get back into lasting work?
Absolutely. I recognise the huge and vital contribution made by firms such as GO4 Enterprises, delivering huge change in Essex. My Department is instrumental in growing social investment via the £30 million innovation fund I set up, and we will continue to chase and improve those targets.
T4. How can the Secretary of State claim, as he did this afternoon, that no one has lost out from the roll-out of universal credit, when the taxpayer has lost out to the tune of £140 million because of the botched roll-out of the IT systems? (901189)
Actually, that has not happened. Taxpayers have not lost money. What we have done is to go on rolling out a system, and unlike what happened when tax credits were rolled out under the last Labour Government and hundreds of thousands of people lost money, nobody is losing money as universal credit rolls out.
T2. Despite being diagnosed with neuromyelitis optica mid-way through her degree course, my constituent Amy Green successfully completed her course and now hopes to set up her own business. What support is available for people with disabilities who want to start their own business? (901187)
As someone who ran my own business for 10 years, I wish my hon. Friend’s constituent the very best of luck. The Government have helped over 28,000 people through the new enterprise allowance, and through the Access to Work scheme specific training and specialist support can be provided to people with disabilities.
We publish statistics the whole time on child poverty. We will also be publishing statistics on the effects of different aspects of what we do. There has never been across-the-board comprehensive publication of data by Government on all those things, but I am happy to engage with the hon. Lady if she wants to take the matter further.
T3. My constituent, Mrs C, recently bereaved, failed to apply for the bereavement allowance in time because she was not aware that it existed. She now has severe financial problems. Will the Minister and his officials be willing to meet me to discuss this case and any way that we could help her? (901188)
T7. Will the Secretary of State support Oxfam’s calls for the Welfare Reform and Work Bill to include a requirement for his Government to publish a poverty strategy that would properly address the issue of low pay and tax credit cuts? Please note: the answer is not the Chancellor’s entirely bogus living wage. (901192)
We are focused constantly on trying to get incomes up, and we are looking to do that through the raising of the national living wage announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. For this Government, the No. 1 thing we need to do to make sure that people get out of poverty is to get them back to work. There are some of the best employment figures in Scotland thanks to this Government.
T5. Given that the Chancellor has said that the welfare costs of new Syrian refugees will be paid for out of the international aid budget, does the Secretary of State agree that there is a good case to be made for that budget also to be used to pay for the costs of existing asylum seekers already in the United Kingdom? (901190)
I thank my hon. Friend for that really helpful question. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has made it clear that in this particular circumstance, the needs of these particular migrants, in many cases in desperate trouble, will be met by the money in the aid budget. We have no plans to change that. My hon. Friend cannot tempt me to say more, but following is a statement in which he might like to catch the Speaker’s eye.
T8. The planned reduction in support of £30 a week for those in the employment and support allowance work-related activity group is causing considerable anxiety. If I heard the Minister for Employment correctly, she said that no existing claimants will lose financial support. Does that mean that existing claimants reassessed after April 2017 will not be designated as new claimants and subject to that £30 reduction? (901193)
T9. I note what the Minister has said about the excellent progress in reducing youth unemployment numbers, which is really welcome. What has the Department done specifically to focus on reducing the numbers of young people who are not in education, employment or training, given the very specific challenges that those people face? (901194)
My hon. Friend is correct. This Government have had a very strong track record in supporting young people in getting back into work. As I said earlier, this area was discussed at the recent G20. We have now joined an international commitment to do even more because we are ambitious for our young people. We have agreed to have a target for doing more by reducing the number of NEETs by 15% by 2025. We are committed to that. She will be interested to know that our international counterparts are also interested in what the United Kingdom has done and achieved.
I did not quite hear the hon. Gentleman’s question, but I think he was alluding to ESA. Ten days ago, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave a speech that basically outlined that we will continue to support those on ESA with the right interventions to help them get back to work.
As the Minister will be aware, the previous Government agreed to lift the Pension Protection Fund cap imposed on long-serving employees’ pensions when a pension fund collapses. Will he tell the House when he will bring forward the appropriate legislation to make that happen?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. He will appreciate that I am not prepared to make an announcement about that at the moment. When I do make an announcement, he will be the first to know.
Physical exercise and sport have been shown to have a very positive effect not only on physical wellbeing, but on mental wellbeing. What is the Department doing to encourage employers to encourage employees to take part in such activities, perhaps with flexible working hours to allow them to do so during the working day?
The hon. Gentleman raises a really important point, which is about getting ahead of the curve by making sure that people do not fall sick. I have announced today the Fit for Work programme, part of which is very much about trying to encourage employers to look at the health of their employees well ahead of that happening. If he wants to write to me about this, I will be very happy to discuss it with him, and we may be able to do more.
I welcome all that the Government have done to increase youth employment, including the remarkable achievement of Eastleigh College, working alongside local employers and stakeholders. Will the Minister investigate having a separate disability living allowance application for those with mental disabilities, such as severe autism, as highlighted by my constituent Cheryl Derrick on behalf of her son?
This Government oblige jobseekers to search online without giving them the skills or resources to do so. Despite my many questions, the Minister has refused to tell me how many claimants have been sanctioned because they cannot get online. Will the Minister tell me or promise to find out?
Nobody should be sanctioned because they cannot get online. If the hon. Lady has any examples of that, we would be very happy to take them up. There are online opportunities in libraries and jobcentres, and everything else. If she wants to write to us about it, I would be very happy to deal with it.
I think the whole House will join me in wishing Wales the very best of luck in qualifying for their first final since 1958. They are nearly there. As somebody who is very passionate about sport, I regularly meet the Minister for sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch). We are putting a lot of pressure on both the Premier League and the Football Association. Disabled people should have the right to enjoy sport in the same way as everyone else.
The hon. Gentleman is right that a huge amount of work is being done and there is still even more that can be done, but the No. 1 priority for Northern Ireland right now is for people to sit down, behave rationally and sort this out so that we can get the money to Northern Ireland and support the sort of people he talks about, rather than posturing and playing games.
The Government’s own data show that people in the work-related activity group are twice as likely to die than those in the general population. How can the Secretary of State justify £30-a-week cuts for people in that category?
The hon. Lady put out a series of blogs on the mortality stats last week that were fundamentally wrong. Her use of figures is therefore quite often incorrect. I simply say to her—[Interruption.] She has had an offer to meet the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), time and again, but she just wants to sit in the bitter corner screaming abuse.
There are rules, regulations and guidance on who should be sanctioned. The sanctions regime, which was in place under the Labour Government, is there to ensure that when taxpayers pay their money to support unemployed people, those people look for work, take that work and stay in work. I think that is only fair.
Syria: Refugees and Counter-terrorism
Before I make a statement on counter-terrorism, Mr Speaker, let me update the House on what we are doing to help address the migration crisis in Europe and, in particular, to help the thousands of refugees who are fleeing Syria.
This issue is clearly the biggest challenge facing countries across Europe today. More than 300,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe so far this year. These people came from different countries under different circumstances. Some are economic migrants in search of a better life in Europe; many are refugees fleeing conflict. It is vital to distinguish between the two.
In recent weeks, we have seen a vast increase in the numbers arriving across the eastern Mediterranean from Turkey. More than 150,000 people have attempted that route since January. The majority of them are Syrian refugees fleeing the terror of Assad and ISIL, which has seen more than 11 million people driven from their homes.
The whole country has been deeply moved by the heart-breaking images that we have seen over the past few days. It is absolutely right that Britain should fulfil its moral responsibility to help the refugees, just as we have done so proudly throughout our history. But in doing so, we must use our head and our heart by pursuing a comprehensive approach that tackles the causes of the problem as well as the consequences. That means helping to stabilise the countries from which the refugees are coming, seeking a solution to the crisis in Syria, pushing for the formation of a new unity Government in Libya, busting the criminal gangs who are profiting from this human tragedy and playing our part in saving lives in the Mediterranean, where our Royal Navy has now rescued over 6,700 people.
Britain is doing, and will continue to do, all those things. We are using our aid budget to alleviate poverty and suffering in the countries from which these people are coming. We are the only major country in the world that has kept the promise to spend 0.7% of our GDP on aid. We are already the second largest bilateral donor of aid to the Syrian conflict, including by providing more than 18 million food rations, giving 1.6 million people access to clean water and providing education to a quarter of a million children. Last week, we announced a further £100 million, taking our total contribution to over £1 billion. That is the UK’s largest ever response to a humanitarian crisis.
Some £60 million of the additional funding will help Syrians who are still in Syria. The rest will go to neighbouring countries—Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon—where Syrian refugees now account for a quarter of the population. More than half of the new funding will support children, with a particular priority placed on those who have been orphaned or separated from their families. No other European country has come close to this level of support. Without Britain’s aid to the camps, the numbers attempting the dangerous journey to Europe would be very much higher.
As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said yesterday, we will now go much further in the spending review, significantly reshaping the way we use our aid budget to serve our national interest. We will invest even more in tackling the causes of the crisis in the middle east and north Africa, and we will hold much larger sums in reserve to respond to acute humanitarian crises as they happen.
Turning to the question of refugees, Britain already works with the UN to deliver resettlement programmes and we will accept thousands more under the existing schemes. We have provided sanctuary to more than 5,000 Syrians in Britain and we have introduced a specific resettlement scheme, alongside those we already had, to help Syrian refugees who are particularly at risk.
However, given the scale of the crisis and the suffering of the Syrian people, it is right that we should do much more. We are proposing that Britain should resettle up to 20,000 Syrian refugees over the rest of this Parliament. In doing so, we will continue to show the world that this is a country of extraordinary compassion, always standing up for our values and helping those in need. Britain will play its part alongside our European partners, but because we are not part of—[Interruption.] This is important. Because we are not part of the EU’s borderless Schengen agreement or its relocation initiative, Britain is able to decide its own approach.
We will continue with our approach of taking refugees from the camps, and from elsewhere in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. This provides refugees with a more direct and safe route to the United Kingdom, rather than risking the hazardous journey to Europe, which has tragically cost so many lives. We will continue to use the established United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees process for identifying and resettling refugees. When they arrive here we will grant them a five-year humanitarian protection visa, and we will significantly expand the criteria we use for our existing Syrian vulnerable persons relocation scheme. As we do so, we will recognise that children have been particularly badly affected by the crisis in Syria. In most cases, the interests of children are best met in the region where they can remain close to surviving family members, but in cases where the advice of the UNHCR is that their needs should be met by resettlement here in the UK, we will ensure that vulnerable children, including orphans, will be a priority.
In recent days, we have seen councils and our devolved Administrations coming forward to express their willingness to do more to take Syrian refugees. This has reflected a wider generosity from families and communities across our country. I commend in particular the Archbishop of Canterbury for the offer made by the Church of England. My right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will now work intensively with local authorities and the devolved Administrations to put in place the necessary arrangements to house and support the refugees we resettle. The Home Secretary will update the House on these plans next week.
Finally on this part of the statement, in full accordance with internationally agreed rules we will ensure that the full cost of supporting thousands of Syrian refugees in the UK will be met through our aid spending for the first year, easing the burden on local communities. This will be a truly national effort and I know the whole House will come together in supporting these refugees in their hour of need.
Turning to our national security, I would like to update the House on action taken this summer to protect our country from a terrorist attack. With the rise of ISIL, we know terrorist threats to our country are growing. In 2014, there were 15 ISIL-related attacks around the world. This year, there have already been 150 such attacks, including the appalling tragedies in Tunisia in which 31 Britons lost their lives. I can tell the House that our police and security services have stopped at least six different attempts to attack the UK in the past 12 months alone.
The threat picture facing Britain in terms of Islamist extremist violence is more acute today than ever before. In stepping up our response to meet this threat, we have developed a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy that seeks to prevent and disrupt plots against this country at every stage. It includes new powers to stop suspects travelling. It includes powers to enable our police and security services to apply for stronger locational constraints on those in the UK who pose a risk. It addresses the root cause of the threat—the poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism—by taking on all forms of extremism, not just violent extremism.
We have pursued Islamist terrorists through the courts and the criminal justice system. Since 2010, more than 800 people have been arrested and 140 successfully prosecuted. Our approach includes acting overseas to tackle the threat at source, with British aircraft delivering nearly 300 air strikes over Iraq. Our airborne intelligence and surveillance assets have assisted our coalition partners with their operations over Syria. As part of this counter-terrorism strategy, as I have said before, if there is a direct threat to the British people and we are able to stop it by taking immediate action, then, as Prime Minister, I will always be prepared to take that action. That is the case whether the threat is emanating from Libya, from Syria or from anywhere else.
In recent weeks it has been reported that two ISIL fighters of British nationality, who had been plotting attacks against the UK and other countries, have been killed in air strikes. Both Junaid Hussain and Reyaad Khan were British nationals based in Syria and were involved in actively recruiting ISIL sympathisers and seeking to orchestrate specific and barbaric attacks against the west, including directing a number of planned terrorist attacks right here in Britain, such as plots to attack high-profile public commemorations, including those taking place this summer.
We should be under no illusion; their intention was the murder of British citizens, so on this occasion we ourselves took action. Today, I can inform the House that in an act of self-defence and after meticulous planning, Reyaad Khan was killed in a precision airstrike carried out on 21 August by an RAF remotely piloted aircraft while he was travelling in a vehicle in the area of Raqqa in Syria. In addition to Reyaad Khan, who was the target of the strike, two ISIL associates were also killed, one of whom, Ruhul Amin, has been identified as a UK national. They were ISIL fighters, and I can confirm that there were no civilian casualties.
We took this action because there was no alternative. In this area, there is no Government we can work with; we have no military on the ground to detain those preparing plots; and there was nothing to suggest that Reyaad Khan would ever leave Syria or desist from his desire to murder us at home, so we had no way of preventing his planned attacks on our country without taking direct action. The US Administration have also confirmed that Junaid Hussain was killed in an American airstrike on 24 August in Raqqa.
With these issues of national security and with current prosecutions ongoing, the House will appreciate that there are limits on the details I can provide. However, let me set out for the House the legal basis for the action we took, the processes we followed and the implications of this action for our wider strategy in countering the threat from ISIL. First, I am clear that the action we took was entirely lawful. The Attorney General was consulted and was clear that there would be a clear legal basis for action in international law. We were exercising the UK’s inherent right to self-defence. There was clear evidence of these individuals planning and directing armed attacks against the UK. These were part of a series of actual and foiled attempts to attack the UK and our allies, and given the prevailing circumstances in Syria, the airstrike was the only feasible means of effectively disrupting the attacks that had been planned and directed. It was therefore necessary and proportionate for the individual self-defence of the United Kingdom. The United Nations charter requires members to inform the President of the Security Council of activity conducted in self-defence, and today the UK permanent representative will write to the President to do just that.
Turning to the process, as I said to the House in September last year:
“I think it is important to reserve the right that if there were a critical British national interest at stake or there were the need to act to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe, you could act immediately and explain to the House of Commons afterwards.”—[Official Report, 26 September 2014; Vol. 585, c. 1265.]
Our intelligence agencies identified the direct threat to the UK from this individual and informed me and other senior Ministers of that threat. At a meeting of the most senior members of the National Security Council, we agreed that should the right opportunity arise, military action should be taken. The Attorney General attended the meeting and confirmed that there was a legal basis for action. On that basis, the Defence Secretary authorised the operation. The strike was conducted according to specific military rules of engagement, which always comply with international law and the principles of proportionality and military necessity. The military assessed the target location and chose the optimum time to minimise the risk of civilian casualties. This was a very sensitive operation to prevent a very real threat to our country, and I have come to the House today to explain in detail what has happened and to answer questions about it.
I want to be clear that the strike was not part of coalition military action against ISIL in Syria; it was a targeted strike to deal with a clear, credible and specific terrorist threat to our country at home. The position with regard to the wider conflict with ISIL in Syria has not changed. As the House knows, I believe there is a strong case for the UK taking part in airstrikes as part of the international coalition to target ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq, and I believe that that case only grows stronger with the growing number of terrorist plots being directed or inspired by ISIL’s core leadership in Raqqa. However, I have been absolutely clear that the Government will return to the House for a separate vote if we propose to join coalition strikes in Syria.
My first duty as Prime Minister is to keep the British people safe. That is what I will always do. There was a terrorist directing murder on our streets and no other means to stop him. The Government do not for one minute take these decisions lightly, but I am not prepared to stand here in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on our streets and have to explain to the House why I did not take the chance to prevent it when I could have done. That is why I believe our approach is right. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement and I shall start by asking about the refugee crisis. When a country decides how to respond to the plight of others from outside, it is a moment when a nation becomes clear about who it is and what it stands for. This is one such defining moment. Is our national priority to keep people out at all costs or to give sanctuary to those fleeing from their homes? Is being British to be narrow, inward looking and fearful of the outside world or is it about being strong, confident and proud to reach out to those seeking refuge on our shores? It must be the latter.
We should not be talking about refugees as being “a burden” on us. Among the Syrian children we take in now will be the future consultants at our hospital bedsides, the entrepreneurs who will build our economy, the professors in our universities and those who will be among the strongest upholders of British values, because that has been the story of refugees to this country—whether it be the Jewish children of the Kindertransport, the Asian families driven out of east Africa 20 years later or the Sierra Leoneans fleeing a brutal civil war. The Prime Minister said last week that it will not help to take more refugees because it will not solve the problem in Syria, but that was a false choice. Helping those Jewish children was not part of our efforts to end the second world war; helping the east African families did not bring down the brutal dictatorships in east Africa, but it was the right thing to do.
I shall not take up any more time rehearsing the criticisms of the Government’s response to date, but I want to ask the Prime Minister about what is going to be done now. He said that this country will now accept 20,000 Syrian refugees over the course of this Parliament. How many will it be this year? The crisis is immediate so does that mean there will be only 4,000 this year? We need more information on that. Will the Prime Minister now urgently convene local authority leaders from around the country to hear from them what they are prepared and able to do to settle the refugees into their areas and how much further they can go? Many local authorities are keen to step forward and play their part—and that is greatly to their credit. They will need additional resources, particularly at a time when they are undergoing unprecedented cuts. The Government have said that they are planning to use the international aid budget for this purpose. Is that compliant with our commitment to 0.7%, and why does the Prime Minister not use the reserves for this purpose?
It is not just a matter of immediate resettlement; there is also integration. Will the Prime Minister establish and publish a proper integration plan? The refugee crisis is not an issue only for local government or the Home Office; it is an issue for the Department for Transport, the Department for Education, the Department of Health, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and for the devolved authorities of Scotland and Wales. What discussions has the Prime Minister had with the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales on this issue, and will he convene Cobra to establish a cross-governmental plan?
Desperate conditions in the refugee camps are what drive many of those who risk their lives trying to bring their families to Europe. We strongly support our aid already provided to the refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, but it remains a concern that the Prime Minister is not co-ordinating his response more broadly with other European countries or with the UN. Will he reconsider his refusal to take any refugees from the southern European countries where most refugees have arrived? Fifty thousand have come to Greece in the course of just one month, and these refugees, too, need help.
It is clear that Europe has been overwhelmed and is without a plan so will the Prime Minister call for an emergency summit of EU leaders? We have a lot to learn from those countries that have already embarked on the process of resettling refugees, so will he join me in thanking Dame Glenis Willmott, MEP, for ensuring that this will be debated in the European Parliament this Wednesday?
Let me turn to the Government’s action on counter-terrorism. No one should be in any doubt about the scale of the threat posed by ISIL. We have witnessed its brutal torture and murder of British citizens abroad, and the sickening attacks that it has inspired and is seeking to organise here at home. The security services and our armed forces do immensely important work to keep us safe—a task that is difficult and dangerous—and we thank them for what they do.
I thank the Prime Minister for briefing the shadow Foreign Secretary and me this morning, when for the first time we learned of the specific operation of 21 August of which he has just informed the House. The Prime Minister has told the House today that in order to protect the safety of our citizens here at home, the Government have authorised the targeting and killing of a man—a British citizen—in Syria, a country where our military force is not authorised. Will he confirm that this is the first occasion in modern times on which that has been done?
The Prime Minister said in his statement that a meeting of senior members of the National Security Council had agreed that should the right opportunity arise, the military should take action, and that the Attorney General, who was at the meeting, had confirmed that there was a “legal basis for action”. The Prime Minister has said that the action was legally justifiable under the doctrine of national self-defence, because the man was planning and directing armed attacks in the United Kingdom, there was no other way of stopping him, and the action was necessary and proportionate. Bearing in mind that the sufficiency of evidence in relation to each of those points is crucial to the justification for that action, why did the Attorney General not authorise the specific action, rather than merely confirming that “there was a legal basis” for it? Was the Attorney General’s advice given or confirmed in writing, and will it be published? The Prime Minister said in his statement that the Defence Secretary had authorised the operation. Why was it not the Prime Minister himself who authorised it?
I want to ask the Prime Minister about the specific target of this attack. Inasmuch as he can disclose it to the House, will he say what it was about this individual and his actions that singled them out from all that had gone before? Did he represent an ongoing threat, or was the threat based on a specific act that he was plotting? Will the Prime Minister tell the House whether this action by our military was an isolated action, or is he saying that the Government are likely to repeat action of this sort in the future? Above all, will he agree with me that there is a need for independent scrutiny of what the Government have done? May I ask him to request that the counter-terrorism reviewer and the Intelligence and Security Committee investigate this action and, in particular, consider the sufficiency of the evidence?
We are already engaged in the use of force against ISIL in Iraq, and it is vital for the United Kingdom to continue to play its part in international efforts to combat ISIL across the region. The Prime Minister said in his statement that if he proposed joining coalition strikes in Syria, he would return to the House for a vote of authorisation. May I reiterate the position as set out by the shadow Defence Secretary and me on 2 July? ISIL brutalises people, it murders people, and it is horrifically oppressive. We will carefully consider any proposals that the Government present in relation to military action in Syria, but we all need to be clear about what difference any action would make to our objective of defeating ISIL, and about the nature of such action, its objectives, and the legal basis. Potential action must command the support of other nations in the region, including Iraq and the coalition that is already taking action in Syria.
I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for her response. I agree with her about the contribution that refugees who have come to Britain have made to our country. I am thinking of Jewish refugees from Europe, and of the Ugandan Asians who have made an immense contribution to our country, and I know that these people will do so as well.
I also agree with the right hon. and learned Lady that, as I said, there is not a number of refugees that we can take that will solve the problem of Syria. This is about meeting our humanitarian responsibilities, and demonstrating that ours is a country—which it is—with a moral conscience and a moral way in the world, which is why it is one of the countries that are not only taking refugees, but meeting their aid targets in a way that other major countries are not.
The right hon. and learned Lady asked about the 20,000 and how many we can take in this year. Obviously we want to get on with this process. It will depend in part on how well UNHCR can do in processing people in the camps to come to the UK. Checks obviously have to be made on the people we will be receiving. We also want to work, as she says, very closely with local authorities so that the capacity to not just receive people, but receive them well, is in place. She asked about the aid budget and whether we were going to stick to the rules. Yes, we are. The aid rules are explicit: we can use the money in the first year receiving refugees. That makes common sense, apart from anything else, so we will use that money.
The right hon. and learned Lady asked for an integration plan. The Home Secretary and Communities and Local Government Secretary will chair a committee to bring together Government, so that we make sure we do everything we can to help people across the country, and they will be looking at that issue of integration. Have we discussed this issue with First Ministers in Wales and Scotland? Yes, there has been contact. The First Minister in Scotland has made a generous offer, wanting to take, I think, 1,000 refugees into Scotland. With this 20,000 figure, that will probably rise, and I welcome what the Scottish National party is saying about that.
The right hon. and learned Lady asked about European co-operation. I have just got off the telephone to Angela Merkel; she was very grateful and welcomed the statement we are making today, but let me make this point, because it is important: Britain has a major role to play in terms of this conflict because we are the second biggest funder of these refugee camps, and we are the biggest donor of aid to many of these countries. We will be taking 20,000 refugees, but we think it makes more sense to take the refugees from the refugee camps, rather than those redistributed within Europe. Obviously countries within the Schengen no-border system have a different set of responses, and we will work with them, and it is important that we show solidarity as we do so. We want to encourage people not to make that dangerous crossing in the first place, and it is worth considering this: 11 million have been pushed out of their home in Syria, and so far only perhaps 3% have made that journey to Europe, so it is important that as we act with head and heart, we help people without encouraging them to make that dangerous and potentially lethal journey.
The right hon. and learned Lady asked about an emergency summit. Britain, France and Germany called for an emergency meeting of Home Affairs and Justice Ministers, which will take place on 14 September. We will be meeting as well in October, and if there is a need for further meetings, we can look at that, but what is needed overall in Europe is a comprehensive plan—not just for the number of refugees, but for dealing with the external border, making sure other countries meet their aid obligations and stopping the criminal gangs.
Let me turn to the right hon. and learned Lady’s questions on counter-terrorism. She asked: is this the first time in modern times that a British asset has been used to conduct a strike in a country where we are not involved in a war? The answer to that is yes. Of course, Britain has used remotely piloted aircraft in Iraq and Afghanistan, but this is a new departure, and that is why I thought it was important to come to the House and explain why I think it is necessary and justified.
The right hon. and learned Lady asked about the legal justification. She is right to say that we believe it was necessary and proportionate, and there was no other way we could have met our objectives, and all this was based on the Attorney General’s advice. We do not publish the Attorney General’s advice, but I am very happy to discuss the content of that advice and describe what it was about, which was largely self-defence. She asked whether the Attorney General should take the responsibility for carrying out these strikes. I do not think that is the right person to carry it out. I think the way we did this is right: with a meeting of senior national security Ministers, it being authorised by that group, and the operational details being left with the Defence Secretary, in line with what the Attorney General said. A proper process was followed.
The right hon. and learned Lady asked what was different about this person and this case. There was a relatively unique set of circumstances—which is not to say that they will not happen again—in that these people were in a part of Syria where there was no Government, no one to work with, and no other way of addressing this threat. The choice we were left with was to either think, “This is too difficult,” throw up our arms and walk away and wait for the chaos and terrorism to hit Britain, or take the action in the national interest and neutralise this threat, and I am sure that was the right thing to do. She asked if we would repeat this. If it is necessary to safeguard the United Kingdom and to act in self-defence, and there are no other ways of doing that, then yes, I would.
The right hon. and learned Lady asked about scrutiny, which is a very good question. I have come here today because I think it is important to be accountable in front of this House, but I am happy to look at what other ways there may be of making sure these sorts of acts are scrutinised in the coming months and years.
Finally, the right hon. and learned Lady talked about whether we should combat ISIL in Syria, as we do in Iraq. The question for the House is whether, if it is right to degrade and defeat ISIL in Iraq, in time it is surely right for us to assist in the efforts already under way to defeat and degrade ISIL in Syria. There are complications and difficulties, and I do not want to come back to the House until we have debated the matter more and people have had the chance to make their views known, but I am in no doubt that ISIL and its operatives are a clear and present danger to the United Kingdom, and the sooner they are defeated and eradicated, the better.
Does the Prime Minister agree that one of the more absurd features of the discussions on the dreadful migration crisis of recent weeks has been the suggestion by some that the problem is either caused, complicated or made worse by Britain’s membership of the European Union? Does he agree that the flows start through Turkey and Libya, after which people come across the continent towards Britain, which is one of the more popular destinations after Sweden and Germany, and that those flows will cease only if we have more co-operation of the type that we have with the French at Calais, not if we open up disputes with the other member states of Europe?
Will the Prime Minister continue to make a leading and positive contribution to the comprehensive plan that he says is required to deal with, among other things, the appalling problems of where people should be encouraged to go and be accommodated outside Europe, how hard-headed decisions can be taken on who has to be settled for the duration of the crisis, and how that will be handled? We should not join Governments in Europe who simply pretend that the problem can be pushed over the border into a neighbouring state for the time being.
My right hon. and learned Friend is certainly right about the need for a comprehensive plan, and obviously our membership of the European Union enables us to take part in the discussions and debates about what that comprehensive plan requires. We have been particularly clear that until we get a return path for returning some migrants to Africa, it will be very difficult to solve the problem.
I also agree with my right hon. and learned Friend that if we were not in the European Union, the problem at Calais would not go away. Actually, we are helped by being good partners with the French and by being able to have our border controls on French soil. I commend the Home Secretary on her excellent work with the Interior Minister in France on strengthening that border, but the problem is not related to our membership of the EU. If we were out of the EU we would still have a problem—possibly a worse problem—of people trying to break into Britain.
May I thank the Prime Minister for his statement but say that I am sorry it was not shared in advance, as is the norm? That is extremely disappointing and frankly unacceptable, especially on matters of national security.
Having raised the humanitarian crisis with the Prime Minister at the first Prime Minister’s questions of this Parliament in June, I am glad that there are finally the beginnings of a change in UK Government thinking. It is frankly appalling that few more than 200 Syrian refugees have been taken up so far through the UK relocation scheme, and it is correct that we should be taking more. It is welcome that more will be given refuge in the UK, but it is a shame that that is being spread through the duration of this Parliament. Will the Prime Minister tell us how many Syrian refugees will be relocated to the UK before the end of the year?
We should take the opportunity to recognise the welcome that was given to refugees in countries such as Germany, Austria and Sweden. Today we learned that the French Government are to allow 24,000 Syrians to settle in France, while Germany is allocating £4.4 billion to support refugees. Why will the Prime Minister not work constructively with EU partners on accepting a share of the refugees who are in Europe at the present time? Will he make sure that he does not use the refugee issue as an excuse to revisit military intervention in Syria? Given the importance of all those issues, will the Prime Minister take part in the full day’s debate on the humanitarian crisis that will be held in the House of Commons this Wednesday? Finally, on counter-terrorism, when will the Prime Minister get round to setting up the Intelligence and Security Committee of this House?
Taking the last question on the ISC first, I think we will be able to do that in the coming days. I am confident of making progress. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his response.
On the issue of how many Syrians Britain has already given asylum to, I think the figure is actually 5,000, and the number under the relocation and resettlement schemes that we already have runs to about 1,000 refugees a year. What we are now doing is adding to that with this new scheme, which will be exclusively for Syrians and will see the resettlement of 20,000 Syrian refugees. As I said, we welcome the fact that the First Minister in Scotland has offered to take 1,000. We think that will now have to be increased with this more generous approach.
The hon. Gentleman talks about working constructively within the EU. That is exactly what we are doing, and that is what lay behind my phone call with Angela Merkel just a few minutes ago. The point I would make is that we do not believe the right answer is for Britain to take people who have already arrived in Europe. We think that it is better to take people out of the refugee camps, so that we do not encourage people to make this perilous crossing. We are not part of the Schengen no-borders agreement, so we do not have to take part in that relocation scheme. We are doing work in the Syrian refugee camps: 10 times more money is given by Britain than by some other major European countries to those refugee camps. I think that entitles us to say that we are taking an approach that is about helping people on the ground, rather than encouraging people to move.
The Government are clearly right to increase yet further Britain’s immense humanitarian support for the Syrian people, and right, too, to use British aid—entirely in accordance with the rules governing its spending—to support refugees in their first year in the United Kingdom, but will the Prime Minister accept that the failures of the international community to protect, and to tackle the causes of the Syrian catastrophe, evoke memories of the failures over the Rwandan genocide, over which the international community was left guilty and shamed?
First, may I thank my right hon. Friend for his remarks about the use of the aid budget, which he did so much as a Minister to promote and develop? He is right to say that we are dealing with the consequences of failure with respect to Syria. It is an incredibly difficult situation, because not only do we have the terrorisation of people by ISIL, but Assad has been the recruiting sergeant for ISIL because of the butchery of his own people. What we must not do is give up on the idea of a transition for Syria; we need to keep working towards that.
In the summer of 1939, my parents took into our home a young Jewish girl, Johanna, who had arrived in Leeds on the Kindertransport. Her sister and others had arrived on the same Kindertransport, and Neville Chamberlain facilitated the arrival of these young children more than this Government are facilitating such things now. It is sad that this Government are doing less than Neville Chamberlain did. The right hon. Gentleman says that he is going to take in 20,000 refugees over five years. The Germans took in 10,000 on one day. What kind of comparison is that? I recognise the financial problems and the assimilation problems, but if we do not do it now, we will live to regret it for the rest of our lives. The message from my constituents, in a huge postbag and at every event I attended in my constituency over the weekend, is: “Let them in! We’ll welcome them. We’ll do what the Germans did. Let’s get on with it!”
I believe that the 20,000 Syrian refugees—many of whom will be children—that we will take directly from the Syrian refugee camps are the modern equivalent of the Kindertransport, and this country should be proud of that. At the same time, let us recognise that when it comes to those Syrian refugee camps, Britain is spending more than France, Germany and Italy. On our aid budget, we all sat around the table and promised 0.7% of GDP, but how many major countries have actually kept their promises? This one has.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. In drawing up the criteria, we will be looking at the people who are the most vulnerable, and there is growing evidence that some people are vulnerable not only within Syria but within the refugee camps themselves, so Yazidis, Christians and others—particularly children or women at risk of abuse—will all be in our scheme.
There is perhaps a sad inevitability about the news that my former constituent Reyaad Khan has been killed, having joined ISIL, but I think that the House will have been surprised to learn that the manner of his death was a drone strike against a British citizen in Syria. There will therefore be many questions that Members will want to ask, and that I as his constituency MP and members of his family will want to ask. In the light of the action that the Prime Minister has outlined to the House today, I would like an assurance that he will be as forthcoming as possible, given the security situation, in explaining the nature of the threat that this 21-year-old man posed to the United Kingdom.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and for the way in which he put it. Of course I will be as forthcoming as I possibly can be. I have been forthcoming in this statement, and I will be in future statements, but I am restricted because of operational sensitivities and for reasons of national security. The police will have informed his former constituent’s family of what has happened. I would simply say that when we are dealing with people who are producing such a tempo of potential terrorist attacks—attacks on police and on members of the armed services, attempted attacks on commemorations in our country—which the head of MI5 describes as having no recent comparator, we have to take action. When we are dealing with people in ISIL-dominated Syria—there is no Government, there are no troops on the ground—there is no other way of dealing with them than the route that we took. I think that, for all those reasons, it was the right route.
I commend the Prime Minister’s emphasis on taking those who are in the Syrian camps. If we are genuinely to help refugees, this cannot simply be about helping the fittest, the fastest and those most able to get to western Europe. We must help those who are left behind in the camps, who are sometimes the most vulnerable. I ask him to go further, however, and to enable the United Kingdom to spearhead international efforts to create safe zones in Syria, so that those who are caught between the barbarity of Assad and the depravity of ISIL do not feel the need to flee their own country in the first place.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his support for taking people from the camps. We have looked at the issue of safe zones, and we will continue to do so, but if we are going to designate safe zones, we have to ensure that they are safe. That would involve a military commitment by Turkey, by America and potentially by Britain, and it would be a very significant commitment. We should focus on what the safe zones are supposed to achieve, which is to try to keep people in their homes and communities or, when they have left, to keep them in refugee camps rather than see them making the dangerous crossing into Europe. The thinking about safe zones is certainly the right sort of thinking.
I recognise and welcome the change in Government policy in recent days and weeks. The Prime Minister might no longer be describing refugees as a “swarm”, but there is still a lot that he could be doing to catch up with public opinion here. We should not be raiding our international development budget to pay for this, we should not be restricting our help to those who are currently in the country, and we should not be resisting efforts to build a common EU position. The people of Britain do not want to see the human misery of hundreds of thousands of people being used as a political football; they want a non-partisan approach. May I therefore suggest that the Prime Minister convene a summit of the leadership of all the parties represented in this House, so that we can construct a policy for the reaction to this crisis that will unite our country rather than divide it?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks. I should like to make two points. First, we are not raiding the Department for International Development budget. It is an acceptable existing use of that budget to pay for refugees in their first year after coming to Britain, and that is good common sense. I will resist, though only partly, the temptation to point out that, according to my Sunday papers, the Liberal Democrats want to cut the aid budget. But there we are; perhaps I will leave that one for the memoirs.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about a common European position. Yes, we should be working towards a comprehensive approach, but we are not in the Schengen no-borders agreement, and I think that being able to maintain our border controls when others in Europe have given theirs up is right for Britain. I also think it is right to take the refugees out of the refugee camps rather than take part in the relocation scheme, which always has the danger of encouraging more people to get into boats, get into dinghies and make the potentially lethal crossing across the Mediterranean.
For every drowned baby we see on television there are many more in the rubble of Syrian cities unseen, and for every refugee we take there are many more who want to come, too. Given that the only long-term solution is to re-establish functioning nation states in the region, will the Prime Minister not accept that aerial bombardment can have only a partial effect and that this needs a much greater and wider international approach to trying to solve the problem at source? What discussions are now unfolding among other Prime Ministers and Presidents to try to do more than just stick Elastoplast on this continuing and growing problem?
My right hon. Friend is entirely right that what is required, whether in Iraq or, more crucially now, in Syria, is functioning Governments that can represent all their people, with armed forces that have the confidence of all their people. That is the long-term answer in both Iraq and Syria, but we are a long way from that in Syria. He asked what conversations are going on. Conversations are going on to try to secure a transition in Syria from the totally unacceptable regime we have today, which is the recruiting sergeant for ISIL, to a regime that can represent all the Syrian people, but he is right.
The offer of 20,000 refugees over five years amounts to just 12 refugees a day, which falls pitifully short of what is needed and of what people in this country deserve and expect. Local authorities such as Brighton and Hove’s would be very willing to accept more, provided the Government fully resource this. Will the Prime Minister therefore guarantee the funds—not from the aid budget—and, crucially, that they will last for more than one year, so that people who want to act to help this crisis can be enabled to do so?
I notice that Brighton is very keen to be generous with other people’s money. The point is that, yes, we will fund this in the first year through the Department for International Development budget and then we will need to look at how we provide the resources that local authorities need. That process will be led by the Home Secretary and the Communities Secretary over the coming weeks.
May I welcome the statement that my right hon. Friend has made this afternoon? Does he agree that it is, in effect, the only way to uphold international law and to show real compassion, by acting in the way that he proposes in the countries that are lodging the greatest number of refugees?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his support. We are endeavouring to have a plan that demonstrates both head and heart. It is right to take refugees and it is right for us to demonstrate our humanitarian concerns—to play our part—but we have to recognise that solving the problem is going to require a lot more than that. Indeed, as I said the other day, there is no number of refugees that you can take to sort out this problem: 11 million people have been pushed out of their homes, and only 3% of them have so far come to Europe. Part of the focus must be on trying to secure the future for those 11 million and not encouraging them to get into boats and dinghies to attempt such a perilous crossing.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement, but does he accept that the generous spirit the British people have demonstrated in the past few days gives him wide scope to do even more than he has proposed today? Will he give us some more indication of the number of refugees he proposes to take—children and those in other categories—in the coming months? He has talked about 20,000 over the course of this Parliament, but how many will come in the short term and in the medium term? Can he tell us about that?
The Home Secretary will be making a full statement next week about this, but it is going to depend on the capacity of the UNHCR to process people, and on the capacity of councils and others to take people on. But I do not see any reason why we cannot get off to a very good start and make sure that we bring people to this country and give them the genuine welcome that this country wants to give them.
Tomorrow the Foreign Affairs Committee will begin taking evidence on the widening of military action in Syria.
On refugees, I entirely understand the Prime Minister’s need to respond to the public mood, but he will know that every refugee brought here means that many times that number cannot be looked after in the region. His response of focusing on those most in need is both sensible and proportionate. Will he press our European Union partners to get on the path of achieving the 0.7% UN development expenditure target so that agencies such as the World Food Programme and the UNHCR have the resources to address the consequences of action in the region?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The 0.7% commitment is not some sort of badge to take out and wear; it is something that is making a real difference. The reason why we have been able to be the second largest bilateral donor to the Syrian refugee camps is that the resources are available—as I have said, I am talking about giving 10 times more than some other major European countries. This morning I met Stephen O’Brien, formerly a Member of this House and now UN Under-Secretary-General with responsibility for humanitarian affairs. The camps are short of money. They need money for food and for proper resources. There is a crying need for other countries to do what Britain has done and meet the promises that we have made.
When I asked the Prime Minister a question in June, he told me he was convinced that our country was doing all it should to help vulnerable child refugees. It took tragic events in August and the signatures of half a million British people to get him to change his mind. May I ask him to change his mind again and take refugees out of his migration target?
The point about the migration target is that the Office for National Statistics has calculated migration figures in the same way for many, many years. It includes refugees as well as other migrants. I think the British public wants to know that the system as a whole—for migration and for those seeking asylum —is under control. I am absolutely clear that we are committed to taking 20,000 Syrian refugees, and we will meet that target.
My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt) was quite right to emphasise the World Food Programme and the fact that many other European countries have simply not subscribed enough. The website for the World Food Programme demonstrates that the United Kingdom has given twice as much as Germany over the past year and 45% more than Germany over the past five years. Perhaps that is something the Prime Minister would like to take up with Angela Merkel.
Everyone in Europe is taking action, and it is important that, collectively, we work together to deliver what is needed. On the issue of providing resources not just to the World Food Programme and to Syrian refugee camps but to the countries from which these people are coming in order to stabilise them, there is no doubt in my mind that Britain is leading the way.
On the issue of talking to the devolved Administrations, may I urge the Prime Minister to include the First Minister of Northern Ireland? There is a strong desire on the part of the people of Northern Ireland to play their fair and proportionate role in taking refugees. That has been very clear from the outpouring of compassion right across the community in all parts of Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister is right to say that refugees should come from the camps and to point out the difference between economic migrants and genuine refugees.
On the issue of possible military intervention in Syria, it is one thing to talk about targeted and clearly defined action against Daesh, but quite another to talk in the wide and indiscriminate terms that we heard on the television at the weekend.
May I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support for taking migrants from the refugee camps? I would like to take him up on his offer, and I will ensure that conversations are had with the First Minister to see what role Northern Ireland can play in this matter.
I strongly support the Prime Minister’s view that our help to Syrian refugees must be given close to the borders of Syria, and that we should not encourage people to undertake hazardous journeys using people traffickers; that is cruel. Will he confirm that on the unrelated topic of economic migrants, more will need to be done to honour the very serious promises that we made to the British people?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. There are a number of people who are fleeing the appalling conflicts for whom we need to find a home, but clearly there are people who have been crossing the Mediterranean—particularly those coming from Libya on the central Mediterranean route—who are economic migrants in search of a better life. Part of the comprehensive approach that Europe needs is to ensure that there is a way of breaking the link between getting on a boat in Libya and getting settlement rights in Europe. Going back through history, whenever countries have had huge problems in this regard, they have needed to break that link to discourage people from making the trip if they are not refugees.
At the Home and Interior Ministers summit next Monday, will Britain now sign up to be part of a Europe-wide response to assist refugees from all parts of the world and ensure that they have somewhere safe to go, so that Britain plays a much greater role than it does at present, including sorting out the misery and desperation of people living in the camps in Calais and other places? They are human beings, too, who need some help and support.
Can the Prime Minister say anything about the welcome remarks made by the Foreign Secretary during his visit to Tehran, when he indicated that the new relationship with Iran meant that there was a possibility of wider political involvement in bringing about some degree of progress in and possibly even a solution to the desperate crisis facing Syria through a summit of all the nations of that region plus, of course, Britain, the USA and Russia?
We do not believe it is right to take part in the European relocation quota because we think that a better answer for Britain, which is such a major investor in the refugee camps, is to take people directly from the camps. In that way we will not encourage more people to make this perilous journey. By taking a long-term view, and looking at the asylum seekers we have taken and the people we have resettled from around the world, I would say Britain is absolutely fulfilling our moral responsibility, and we absolutely play our part.
In terms of the hon. Gentleman’s question about Iran, of course there is an opportunity for greater dialogue with Iran now that this nuclear deal, which I think is a good deal, has been done, but Britain should enter into that in a cautious and sceptical way. We ought to remember that Iran is still a supporter of terrorist organisations like Hamas and Hezbollah, which I know he describes as friends but which I see very much as enemies. We also need to make sure that Iran is playing a positive role in Syria, rather than the role it plays now of propping up the hated Assad regime.
My right hon. Friends the Members for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) and for North Somerset (Dr Fox) have both raised the possibility of safe havens in Syria itself to stem the flow of refugees at source. If this is to work, it would require a United Nations mandate, which would require the support of Russia. Do the Government recognise that remaining fixated on removing Assad puts a bar on any solution of this sort? Will the Government make up their mind that the main threat to our interest is Daesh? If so, we can then proceed to have a genuinely international coalition and agreement against that main threat.
I very much respect my right hon. Friend’s views, but on this occasion I do not agree with him on two grounds. I do not think it is right to look at Syria and say that we have to choose between ISIL or Assad. It would be a great mistake to think that because Assad is perhaps the lesser of two evils we should back him. Assad is one of the chief recruiting sergeants for ISIL because of the butchery of his own people. I do not think there is a workable proposal for safe havens as things stand today, but it has been possible in past times to intervene in that way to try to keep people safe. If you were acting to try to alleviate a humanitarian emergency, you could act in that way, but the problem is that safe havens would require a large military intervention, and a large military intervention that I do not currently believe is the right answer.
Like most Members, over the past few days I have been inundated with messages of sympathy and support for those suffering as a result of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Europe. Let us remember that no parent would place their child on water unless they thought that that was still safer than being on land. Will the Prime Minister join me in praising the work carried out by local and national groups, such as Scotland Supporting Refugees, that have demonstrated leadership where this Government have fallen so woefully short and have provided information to members of the public who want directly to support those affected by this desperate situation?
May I commend the Prime Minister for his measured and reasonable response to what has sometimes been an hysterical clamour for something to be done without a specific plan for what that something should be. I can tell him that in Aldershot we have no spare accommodation; I spoke to my local authority this morning and was told that it has no assets, and the private rented market is completely saturated. That is the reality there. My right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) is absolutely right that if we are to deliver a comprehensive solution, which is what the Prime Minister has called for, we need to resolve the problem in Syria. Unless we engage with Russia, which has made it crystal clear that it will not resile from its support for Assad, and get everyone around the table—regional leaders, the Americans and ourselves—we will not be able to do that. I commend the Prime Minister. He has a job to do, and I think that he will do it brilliantly.
I thank my hon. Friend. He is right that resolving the problem in Syria will take engagement with all the parties he mentioned. The argument that I would make to the Russians is that nobody benefits from the immense boost that is being given to Islamist extremist violence by what is happening in Syria. Russia, in time, will feel the pain of that just as we do, so I think that there are some common interests. He is right that, as well as showing heart and welcoming people to our country, we now need to go through all the practicalities of making sure that we can give them that very good welcome.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement—however belated and inadequate it is—and the action being taken against Daesh military terrorist planners. However, is it not a fact that the vast majority of Syrians who have had to flee their homes have been driven out by the actions of the Assad regime and that Assad continues to barrel-bomb civilian populations? What is our Government doing, alongside other Governments, to get a no-fly zone over those areas to protect Syrian civilians?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to draw the House’s attention to the fact that President Assad and his forces are still using chemical weapons against their own people and that barrel bombs have been used on a number of occasions. I came to the House after seeing pictures of dead children who had been gassed by Assad, and I suggested that we take military action. The House did not agree on that occasion, but I hope that when it comes to future discussions we will think very carefully about our national interests and how to keep this country safe, how to defeat terrorism and how to give the people of Syria the chance of a better future.
The Prime Minister is quite right to concentrate on the plight of children, which I think is in the spirit of the Kindertransport. I also think that he is right to concentrate on helping the people in the camps in Syria. Of course, it is not the children who decide to take the dangerous journey from Syria; they are accompanied by their parents. If they are separated or orphaned thousands of miles from home, they are peculiarly vulnerable. Will my right hon. Friend tell us about the discussions he has had with international and European partners to identify those children quickly and see that they are resettled in the region or elsewhere?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the issue of children, who will be one of the priority groups of the 20,000 we will be taking. We have to be very careful in this regard, because many expert groups advise that there is a danger in potentially taking children away from other family members and groups, but I am sure that there are many orphaned children and children at risk whom we could welcome here. We have also looked at Save the Children’s proposal about the 3,000 Syrian children already here in Europe, and we will continue to discuss that. Again, major international organisations such as the UNHCR advise caution on relocating unaccompanied children, so we should be guided by the evidence as we make these very difficult decisions.
In view of the crisis over the past few weeks, should not Germany be warmly congratulated on its act of humanity? In many respects, Germany has acted as the conscience of the European Union, and indeed of Europe as a whole. When the right hon. Gentleman next meets the Hungarian Prime Minister—no doubt he will—will he express our contempt for the remarks made by that creature and tell him that what is required is humanity and that it does not matter a damn whether the people who are trying to save their lives and their children’s lives are Muslim or not, because that is totally irrelevant?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should not take account of someone’s religion. We do not do that in our asylum processes, when we welcome and resettle people in what is—and let us be proud of it—one of the most successful multiracial, multi-ethnic democracies anywhere on earth.
I think we have to show some understanding of the difficulties that the Schengen countries have. Once people have crossed one external frontier into Europe, there is not really another border, unless they come to Calais, perhaps, so there are stresses and strains within the Schengen system. We are working with the Schengen countries as partners. We will not join the Schengen system—we are going to keep our borders—and we will not take part in their relocation system, but we need to show some understanding of the problems they have and perhaps help them with, for example, the external frontier to Europe, which is causing so many difficulties at the moment.
I well remember when the Prime Minister came to this House to ask for authority to take action against President Assad. This Parliament decided to block him in that quest and has allowed President Assad to ethnically cleanse his own country. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that his job in preventing Assad’s genocide is now much more difficult than it was two years ago, when he first proposed those measures?
I am grateful for what my hon. Friend says, but we have to deal with the situation that faces us now. No one is arguing that military action is the only answer to the problem. We need a comprehensive solution, but at the end of the day, I am sure, the removal of ISIL from Syria will be in this nation’s interests.
I think the whole House is grateful to the Prime Minister for his statement, responding to a unique outpouring of sympathy, tempered with horror, from the nation—well articulated, if I may say so, by the shadow Home Secretary—but he is now talking about 5,000 travel documents being issued to 5 million people in Lebanon and Jordan alone. What criteria will be used to make that dreadful “Sophie’s choice”? Will it be the UNHCR, or will he—as I hope he will—make use of the religious leaders in the camps, particularly among the Assyrian Christian community, to help him in this terrible, difficult task?
May I thank you, Mr Speaker, for facilitating the organisation of the vigil we held in Westminster Hall earlier today?
I welcome the statement and I am very pleased that we are doing more, but when welcoming Syrian refugees to our shores, how can we ensure that we do not inadvertently reward those who traffic vulnerable people for financial gain?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. One of the ways to make sure that the criminal gangs do not benefit is to take people out of the camps, rather than take people who have arrived in Europe, because, tragically, many of them are being inveigled into using criminal gangs, which benefit when the trade in people increases.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement and remind him that it was the Ugandan Asians arriving in Leicester that so transformed that city. I agree with him that direct recruitment should be from the camps; however, there will be exceptional cases of people who have arrived in mainland Europe, some of whom I have met in Calais, who have ties with the United Kingdom and who may need to be processed. Will he look at those cases? In particular, will he please stress to the EU the need to support Europol? That is the organisation best placed to deal with the criminal gangs and Daesh, and we should give it more support.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about Europol, and we are putting in investment and working very closely with it. We are also putting National Crime Agency officials into the operations in Sicily and elsewhere to break up the criminal gangs. I would be very cautious, however, about his suggestion about Calais. Anything that suggests that Calais will become a processing centre for people to come to the United Kingdom would simply make the situation there worse. We need to explain to people that coming to Calais and trying to get through the tunnel is not the way to get to the United Kingdom. That is what all the security and the defences are about, and we should keep them up.
Having seen at first hand the work of DFID officials helping refugees from Daesh in their camps, can the Prime Minister confirm that there will be no reduction in that effort now that we are welcoming more to this country with DFID funds? I am sure that that was the implication of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) said. I think the whole House will agree that we should all be proud of what those officials are doing and have been doing over many years.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We will continue to invest in these refugee camps; £1 billion has gone in already and we will keep up that investment. Taking people from the camps is the right answer for Britain and the right answer for those people, and of course we will release some of the capacity of those camps, because at the moment they are under huge amounts of pressure, not just budgetary pressure but people pressure as well.