House of Commons
Wednesday 16 November 2016
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
This year we have significantly increased our support, providing a further £80 million of humanitarian aid to support more than 9 million people affected across the region. I can assure my hon. Friend that we are working to tackle poverty and the crisis in the region at source, rather than waiting for the consequences to reach us domestically.
There are more than 2.6 million displaced people in the area, 6.4 million people are facing food insecurity, and a public health emergency has been declared in four countries, together with the Central African Republic, in response to a polio outbreak, yet United Nations appeals are only one third funded or less. What more can the UK Government do to bring this crisis to the world’s attention?
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to an appalling situation facing the region, and more must be done to meet the humanitarian needs. The UN needs that help to increase its capacity and develop. As to what more can be done, we encourage Governments across the world in the donor community to step up their contributions, just as we have, because the humanitarian response required must be funded now. With my hon. Friend and with the UK Government, we are challenging everyone to step up and do more.
I welcome the Government’s additional £80 million committed at the UN General Assembly for the humanitarian crisis. This goes some way towards addressing the imbalance between development assistance and humanitarian aid. However, relief agencies are unable to reach up to 2 million people in north-east Nigeria. Can the Secretary of State provide an update on how her Department is leading an effective, strong UN-led response while also ensuring that DFID funding goes to a range of actors, including by channelling more funding bilaterally through non-Government organisations?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising the issue. She is right. In addition to addressing the emergency humanitarian needs, DFID is investing in partnership working—yes, at a bilateral level, but also through the multilateral organisations that we are working with. Long-term resilience, support and capacity building are required. Our humanitarian programme is laying the foundations for these long-term outcomes through, for example, social transfers and access to health services, and importantly, focusing on the right interventions that can both help in the long term and provide the emergency relief required now.
The UK has excellent links through the Anglican Communion to the Churches in Nigeria. Would the Secretary of State welcome the willingness of the Churches to help with the humanitarian situation to address some of the underlying causes, particularly corruption?
My right hon. Friend is right about the power and the support of the Anglican community and Churches in Nigeria in particular. We have to work with grassroots organisations and religious organisations as well. We welcome the support and the focus on capacity building in particular, and the awareness-raising that is required on many of these challenging issues.
Aid without security in northern Nigeria is meaningless. I welcome the deployment of British troops to support the Nigerians in the north-east. Will the Secretary of State review official development assistance rules to make sure that that type of deployment is ODA-eligible for the people of northern Nigeria?
My hon. Friend will be clear about ODA rules from his previous role in the Foreign Office. He highlights the importance of a united and strategic approach, which can be seen in the UK’s work to support the Nigerian Government in their overall undertaking. The cross-Government work that is taking place is the right approach to tackle the severe issues that Nigeria is trying to cope with.
Looking at the immunisation of children in northern Nigeria, it appears that the coverage is very thin. In the past, some of the figures for coverage have been shown to be completely false. Can the Department work with the Government of Nigeria to ensure that there is total transparency, and work more with NGOs to ensure that more children are immunised throughout northern Nigeria?
My hon. Friend is right about the importance of immunising children. I recognise the outstanding work that the agencies undertake in very difficult conditions as they try to reach communities to immunise children. More data and more transparency are needed, and we are driving much of that data transparency requirement through the support that we provide to organisations on the ground delivering those vital immunisations.
Providing education for girls is a priority for this Government and this Department. In the last Parliament, we helped over 5 million girls to get the education that they need and deserve. In this Parliament we continue that work. The girls’ education challenge is the largest programme of its type in the world. Over the course of this Parliament, we will see 11 million children or more supported into education because of the work of the UK.
In Afghanistan, adult women are more than twice as likely as men to be illiterate, with a literacy rate of just 24%, compared with 51% for men. Does the Minister agree that there is much work to be done to close the gap between girls and boys in developing countries, and that it is in Britain’s interests that we continue our world-leading efforts to close that gap?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. We will continue our efforts and continue our commitment. The UK Government are supporting 300,000 girls in Afghanistan to complete a full cycle of education. The drop-out rate for girls in Afghanistan is running at around 50%. We have to do what we can to tackle that—to help countries develop, to help address these imbalances and to secure a better future for those who live there, but for UK interests as well.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. We need to ensure that people get the education they need and can benefit from, so that those economies can grow and those countries that have often suffered so much can develop their way out of poverty with our support. In this Parliament, the Government will be supporting over 11 million children—including, separately, 6.5 million girls—into education, including in sub-Saharan Africa. There is more work that needs to be done, but we are focused on the task at hand, and we shall ensure that we get the maximum value and benefit from the work that UK taxpayers contribute to.
HIV/AIDS continues to be the largest killer of girls in the developing world. If they cannot go to school because they are ill, they cannot fulfil their potential. What more can the Government do to ensure that girls stay healthy?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I met him only a few weeks ago in his capacity as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on HIV and AIDS, and we discussed the contribution the UK makes to the global health fund. I was delighted that, shortly thereafter, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced a significant contribution from the UK. We remain a world leader in combating HIV/AIDS, as well as many other terrible diseases that affect girls and boys, and we are determined to play our part in ensuring these diseases are tackled, and ultimately eliminated, in the best and swiftest way possible.
This morning I was with Monir Mustafa of the White Helmets, who was absolutely clear that Assad’s bombs are targeting schools in Syria and the girls inside them. Has the Minister made representations to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary to come to this House and bring forward a strategy to protect schools, hospitals and civilians?
Whether it is in developing countries or those that are, sadly, impacted by some of the terrible conflicts we see across the globe today, I am proud that the Government are working with their international partners and the global community to fight those who look to do ill, and to protect those who need protecting most. In no small part, that includes those girls and boys who, so often, are the innocent victims of conflict. We are continuing to do what we can to support those who are suffering in Syria. The Department is making a very significant contribution, as is the UK taxpayer, but there is so much more that needs to be done, and I accept the point the hon. Lady makes.
When the Secretary of State appeared before the International Development Committee in September, she said she was working across Government on the implementation of sustainable development goals, but she was unable to give any details. Can she now provide an update on how her Department is leading the way to ensure that that important international framework is being fully implemented through DFID’s development work and here in the UK?
I have, indeed, as I mentioned at my last appearance at the IDC, been working across Government —I am working with the Cabinet Office as well—to ensure that all Government Departments, via their single departmental plans, will be meeting all of the SDGs. There will be an update forthcoming; I cannot give a date, but it will be quite soon, and I am sure it will be of interest to the hon. Lady when we publish it.
The UK is at the forefront of efforts to tackle Daesh and has led the way in supporting the Government of Iraq with humanitarian and stabilisation work as part of the response in Mosul. It is not enough simply to defeat Daesh on the battlefield; we have to ensure that we support the victims of barbarous regimes to get access to humanitarian support as events unfold in Mosul.
In such a complex and sensitive environment, how will DFID use its leadership role to ensure that other aid providers work together and take a united approach, to maximise the effectiveness and value for money that we can achieve from investment in this critical area?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the issue not only of Mosul and stabilisation, but of the humanitarian response. DFID and the British Government are leading the way and working through our membership of the humanitarian country teams. We are working closely with the UN, donors, NGOs and, of course, the Iraqi and Kurdish Governments, to deliver a co-ordinated, targeted and effective response.
Stabilising newly liberated areas and helping people to return to their homes in a safe and secure environment is a central priority of the Government of Iraq. We are working alongside them and the UN coalition. Britain’s support for the stabilisation efforts is helping the UN to clear lethal explosives, repair water supplies, restore power networks and reopen schools. Those stabilisation efforts have already helped more than 700,000 people to return home across Iraq.
There is concern across the House about Daesh’s brutal treatment of minorities, including Yazidis and Christians. What approach will DFID take on that question, and will the Secretary of State speak to the Home Secretary about the potential for a medical evacuation or resettlement programme for Iraqi minorities, similar to that which we have for Syria?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the persecution of minorities by brutal regimes such as Daesh. He is also right to highlight the cross-Government approach that we have taken. I absolutely acknowledge his points. I will reflect on them and work with my colleagues across Government to pick up on them.
Does the Secretary of State agree that women have a key role to play, and that we need to do whatever we can to support them? Women have been doing so much to help protect civil infrastructure in Syria. If the Government do not have a plan, will they kindly consider putting in place a women-specific plan?
The hon. Lady is right to highlight the role of women. Not enough attention is given to the role that they play in peacekeeping and stabilisation. We hear much about the consequences of conflict for women, but they can play a significant role and that will be part of our ongoing dialogue with the Government of Iraq.
As winter creeps in across Iraq, thousands are expected to be exposed to temperatures close to zero as they flee for their life from Mosul. This is the worst time for the UNHCR to experience a funding shortfall in its winter assistance plan. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to guarantee that the UK and others meet their humanitarian obligations and address that shortfall?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise not only the humanitarian issue, but the contributions required. The UK’s efforts are meeting in full our commitments to Iraq. The hon. Gentleman will recall that, at the UN General Assembly, we were the first, in terms of our pledges and commitment, for preparedness before the operation in Mosul. On the question of what more can be done, I and other colleagues in the donor community need to step up. I constantly engage with the donor community, pressing for a greater sense of urgency in getting funds, preparing for winter and, importantly, ensuring that shelter, food and emergency equipment are put in place sooner rather than later.
Third-party Aid Providers
As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, almost all our Department’s work is done in partnership with third-party providers. Our Department provides the policy and the monitoring. In a humanitarian situation, it will be UN agencies delivering on the ground, and in a development situation, NGOs and partner Governments will work alongside us.
How exactly are we going to promote our democratic values in cases where our aid budget is being delivered by a third party, such as a foreign Government, and neither the people nor the Government in the recipient country have a clue that it is UK money going in?
I absolutely agree that we need to make sure that when UK taxpayers are contributing, that is clear to the people receiving the money. That is also why the Secretary of State has focused hard, with all these third-party providers, on securing value for money and ensuring that the UK national interest is served and UK taxpayers get the credit.
Isn’t it great that we have so many excellent NGOs in the UK to help us to deliver our aid programme? Does the Minister agree, however, that there is still too much competition, overlap and duplication between some of our NGOs, and that a measure of streamlining and collaboration would be most welcome?
That is absolutely right. Co-ordination is vital, particularly in an extreme humanitarian situation. It is terrible when people require assistance if we are wasting money duplicating effort. That is why DFID staff and UN staff are working so closely together, and that is why co-ordination is central to our multilateral aid review.
Does the Minister recognise the role of civil society organisations in delivering the sustainable development goals, which the former Prime Minister helped to draft? If so, why do the sustainable development goals not even appear in the recent civil society partnership review?
Africa (Economic Development)
Last month in Kenya, I saw the life-saving impact of UK aid on the ground when it comes to combating drought, hunger and disease. I also saw how innovation can not only result in UK aid reaching more people, but help people to look at the long-term economic opportunities to tackle poverty and bring economic growth.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that working in partnership with Governments, businesses and investors around the world to transform economies and trading relationships, particularly in developing countries, should be a vital part of our UK diplomatic effort and our long-term prosperity strategy, especially as we approach Brexit?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. No country can defeat poverty without economic growth. Jobs, trade and investment are central to that, and the United Kingdom will be at the forefront of championing economic development and helping the poorest in the world to work their way out of poverty.
I am delighted that the hon. Lady raises these important sectors. She is right to do so, because of the youth dividend across Africa and the enormous potential for those sectors. DFID is leading the way when it comes to agri-development and investing through CDC and other organisations. British firms are playing a strategic role here, too. This comes back to the point that no country can defeat poverty without economic growth, and these are the core sectors that are crucial to the delivery of prosperity and jobs across Africa.
My hon. Friend raises a very important and controversial issue. The protection of wildlife in Africa is a priority for the Government, and we have a strategy to address it. Tourism is of course important across Africa. I have visited not just Kenya, but Sierra Leone, another country that needs to get back to investing in tourism, and that is something we can help with in the long run.
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the whole issue of value for money, which we in DFID will champion on behalf of British taxpayers. It is right that money goes to the right countries and the right people, because every pound that is not spent in the right way means that people do not get access to life-saving treatment or poverty reduction. Our mission in the Department is to ensure that we can eradicate poverty, but also to make sure that the money goes exactly where it needs to go.
No country can defeat poverty without sustained economic growth. Later today, the Government will introduce the Commonwealth Development Corporation Bill, which will raise the limit on the level of financial support that the Government can provide to the CDC. By doing so, we will be able to help to create more jobs and to boost economic growth in Africa and south Asia, so that people can lift themselves out of poverty and leave aid dependency behind. I will write to colleagues with further information.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the appalling scenarios we are seeing in Yemen right now. There is a deteriorating situation and a humanitarian crisis, with an increasing number of Yemenis facing food shortages and suffering malnutrition. There has been a recent outbreak of cholera as well. The UK is the fourth largest donor, and has committed to spending £109 million in Yemen, helping more than 1.3 million Yemenis—[Interruption.]
I have recently spent much time with civil society organisations, non-governmental organisations and the great organisations doing life-saving work on the ground. We have recently published the “DFID Research Review” and the “Civil Society Partnership Review”. With regards to the development aid reviews—the multilateral and bilateral aid reviews—I can tell the hon. Gentleman that they will be coming by the end of the month.
We have made it clear that our focus will be very much targeted on health, education and co-existence projects. We ensure that any support going in is carefully vetted, with an independent auditor, and directed to what will provide value for money; and, above all, that it will benefit the Palestinian people.
As I have mentioned, we have published the “Civil Society Partnership Review”, on which I spent time speaking to many of the great organisations involved in the delivery of aid and humanitarian work around the world. We make sure that British aid—UK taxpayers’ money—goes to the right causes via the right organisations, and DFID will continue to pursue that. We are championing taxpayer value, while delivering poverty reduction and humanitarian support and assistance.
My hon. Friend raises an important point about the destruction of cultural and heritage sites around the world. I have been clear that, in funding international organisations, we wish to see reform in the system to make sure that money is spent in the right way. We will continue to deliver value for money. DFID will publish the reviews that reflect on UNESCO towards the end of the month and he will see the approach we are taking.
The Department remains entirely committed to the following principles. First, anything we do must encourage a two-state solution by ensuring that the Palestinian people are served with proper services. Secondly, we must make sure that the money goes in the right way to the right people. That is all about auditing, vetting and making sure that the real beneficiaries are there. Of course we will ensure that the review is done as efficiently as possible to serve the interests of the Palestinian people and the stability of the region.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I am sure that the whole House will join me in expressing our condolences to the families and friends of the seven people who lost their lives and to those who were injured in the tragic tram incident in Croydon last Wednesday. We all thank those involved in the rescue operation.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
Will the Prime Minister join me in welcoming today’s news that the unemployment rate has fallen to an 11-year low? Will she join me in thanking all those businesses that create jobs, such as Jennifer Ashe & Son, whose funeral home on Brownhills High Street in my constituency I was kindly asked to open last weekend?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I am pleased to say that in the last year, employment in her constituency of Aldridge-Brownhills has gone up by 88,000. It is good to hear of companies that are providing new jobs. The employment figures show the strength of the fundamentals of our economy: the employment rate has never been higher and the unemployment rate is lower than it has been in more than a decade. I am sure that Members from all parts of the House will welcome yesterday’s news that Google will create another 3,000 jobs.
I concur with the remarks the Prime Minister made about the disaster in Croydon last week. We send our sympathies to all those who lost loved ones and express our solidarity with the emergency workers who went through such trauma in freeing people from the wreckage.
It appears from press reports that the Chagos islanders who were expelled from their homes over 40 years ago will suffer another injustice today with the denial of their right of return. Yesterday, the Foreign Secretary told European media that Brexit would “probably” mean leaving the customs union. Will the Prime Minister confirm whether that is the case?
I think the right hon. Gentleman was trying to get two issues in there. On the issue of the Chagos islanders, there will be a written ministerial statement to the House later today, so everybody will be able to see the position the Government are taking.
On the whole issue of the customs union and the trading relationships we will have with the European Union and other parts of the world once we have left the European Union, we are preparing carefully for the formal negotiations, but—[Interruption.] We are preparing carefully for the formal negotiations. What we want to ensure is that we have the best possible trading deal with the European Union once we have left.
I asked the Prime Minister, actually, about the Foreign Secretary’s remarks about leaving the customs union. He is only a few places down from her. Mr Speaker, would it be in order for the Foreign Secretary to come forward and tell us what he actually said? I am sure we would all be better informed if he did.
Earlier this week, a leaked memo said that the Government are
“considerably short of having a plan for Brexit…No common strategy has emerged…in part because of the divisions within the Cabinet.”
If this memo is, as the Prime Minister’s press department says, written by ill-informed consultants, will she put the Government’s plan and common strategy for Brexit before Parliament?
I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that, yes, we do have a plan. Our plan is to deliver the best possible deal in trading with and operating within the European Union. Our plan is to deliver control of the movement of people from the European Union into the United Kingdom. Our plan is to go out there across the world and negotiate free trade agreements around the rest of the world. This Government are absolutely united in their determination to deliver on the will of the British people and to deliver Brexit. The right hon. Gentleman’s shadow Cabinet cannot even decide whether it supports Brexit.
Well, the word does not seem to have travelled very far. I have to say, I sympathise with the Italian Government Minister who said this week, about the Prime Minister’s Government:
“Somebody needs to tell us something, and it needs to be something that makes sense.”
Is not the truth that the Government are making a total shambles of Brexit, and nobody understands what their strategy actually is?
Of course those in the European Union whom we will be negotiating with will want us to set out at this stage every detail of our negotiating strategy. If we were to do that, it would be the best possible way of ensuring that we got the worst result for this country. That is why we will not do it.
Talking of worst results, the Foreign Secretary has been very helpful this week, because he informed the world that “Brexit means Brexit”—we did not know that before—and that
“we are going to make a titanic success of it.”
Taking back control, if that is what Brexit is to mean—[Interruption.] The Prime Minister is getting advice from the Foreign Secretary now; can we all hear it? Taking back control clearly requires some extra administration. Deloitte has spoken, saying:
“One Department estimates it needs a 40% increase in staff to cope with its Brexit projects”,
and that overall expectations are of an increased headcount of between 10,000 and 30,000 civil servants. If that estimate is wrong, can the Prime Minister tell the House exactly how many extra civil servants will be required to conduct these negotiations? Her Ministers need to know—they are desperate for an answer from her.
I repeat for the right hon. Gentleman that we are doing the preparations necessary for the point at which we will start the complex formal negotiations with the European Union. I have set up a Department for Exiting the European Union, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is doing an excellent job there in making those preparations.
I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that from the confusion that he has on his Benches in relation to the issue of Brexit, it seems to be yet another example from Labour of how where they talk, we act. They posture, we deliver. We are getting on with the job, he is not up to the job.
Order. There is far too much noise in the Chamber. I say to the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (James Berry), calm yourself, man. You should seek to imitate the calm and repose of your right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who is setting an example for all Members of the House.
I do not wish to promote any further division on their Benches, Mr Speaker.
These are the most complex set of negotiations ever undertaken by this country. The civil service has been cut down to its lowest level since the second world war. The Prime Minister’s main focus surely ought to be coming up with a serious plan. May I ask her to clarify something? If, when the Supreme Court meets at the beginning of December, it decides to uphold the decision of the High Court, will the Lord Chancellor this time defend our independent judiciary against any public attacks?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, there have been two cases in the UK courts on the prerogative power and its use. The Northern Ireland court found in favour of the Government; the High Court found against the Government. We are appealing to the Supreme Court. We have a good argument, and will put the case to the Supreme Court. I believe and this Government believe in the independence of our judiciary, and the judiciary will consider that decision and come to their judgment on the basis of the arguments put before them. But we also believe that our democracy is underpinned by the freedom of our press.
My question was on defending the independence of the judiciary. We should all be doing that. We have an International Development Secretary who is opposed to overseas aid, a Health Secretary who is running down our national health service, a Chancellor with no fiscal strategy, a Lord Chancellor who seems to have difficulty defending the judiciary, a Brexit team with no plan for Brexit and, as has just been shown, a Prime Minister who is not prepared to answer questions on what the actual Brexit strategy is. We need a better answer than she has given us.
I will tell the right hon. Gentleman what we have got. We have an International Development Secretary delivering on this Government’s commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on international development, a Health Secretary delivering on £10 billion of extra funding for the health service and a Chancellor of the Exchequer making sure we have the stable economy that creates the wealth necessary to pay for our public services. And what we certainly have got is a Leader of the Opposition who is incapable of leading.
Before I answer my hon. Friend’s question, may I wish his wife all the very best in the treatment she is going through at the moment? The thoughts of the House are with her.
My hon. Friend is right. We have a manifesto commitment to increase the personal allowance. By increasing it from £6,475 in 2010-11 to £11,000 in 2016-17 and £11,500 next year, we have cut income tax for more than 30 million people and have taken 4 million people out of paying income tax altogether. That is important. It has helped people at the lower end of the income scale.
We join the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in extending our condolences following the tragedy in Croydon and in paying tribute to the emergency services.
The Institute for Government, which has close ties to the civil service, has published a report saying that the UK Government’s approach towards Brexit is “chaotic and dysfunctional”, that Brexit poses an “existential threat” to operations in Whitehall Departments, that the Prime Minister has a “secretive approach” towards Brexit, and that the present situation is “unsustainable”. Does the Prime Minister plan to carry on like this regardless?
The right hon. Gentleman will not be surprised when I tell him what the Government are doing in relation to Brexit. As I said earlier, the most important thing for the Government to do is calmly and carefully to get on with the job of preparing for complex negotiations. One of the most important things we can do is to make sure that we are not giving a running commentary on those negotiations and on our stance, because that would be the best way to get the worst deal for this country.
On the day we hear that “post-truth” has become the international word of the year, we have a running commentary from the Foreign Secretary. He is prepared to tell the media in the Czech Republic that the United Kingdom is likely to leave the EU customs union post-Brexit, but that it still wants to trade freely afterwards. In response, his colleague from the Netherlands said that that option “doesn’t exist” and is “impossible”. Both those things cannot be correct, so will the Prime Minister confirm today, to Parliament and to the country, whether the UK is likely to leave the EU customs union post-Brexit—yes or no?
The right hon. Gentleman does not actually seem to understand that the customs union is not just a binary decision, but let us set that to one side. Let us look at what we need to do: get the best possible deal for access to, trading with and operating within the single European market. He stands up time and again in Prime Minister’s questions and says to me that he wants access to the single European market. I might remind him that it was only a couple of years ago that he wanted to take Scotland out of the single European market by making it independent. [Interruption.]
I thank my hon. Friend for raising an issue that is very important for everybody in the House. Certainly the Government will do all they can to support police and crime commissioners such as Roger Hirst, who is already doing an excellent job in Essex. Since 2009, knife crime figures have fallen overall, but I recognise my hon. Friend’s concerns. That is why the Home Office has been supporting police forces such as Essex in conducting weeks of action against knives under Operation Sceptre. We have legislated to ban dangerous knives, including zombie knives. We are putting tough sentences in place and making sure that offenders are punished. We should send a very clear message that we will not tolerate knife crime in this country.
I am happy to say to the hon. Gentleman that our special relationship with the United States is, I think, very important to both the United States and the United Kingdom. We will continue to build on it, as was clear from the conversation that I had with President-elect Trump shortly after his election, and of course we want to ensure the dignity of our citizens. It is up to the United States what rules it puts in place for entry across its borders, but we will ensure that the special relationship continues, and does so in the interests of both the UK and the US.
Last Tuesday, I attended an infection prevention and control summit that highlighted the great work done by the Department of Health, the NHS and other organisations dramatically to decrease MRSA infection rates, yet also raised the growing threat of E. coli and sepsis. Will my right hon. Friend join me in commending such events and outline the Government’s strategy for combatting superbugs?
I absolutely join my hon. Friend, who raises a very important issue, in commending such events. It true that the DOH, Public Health England and the NHS are doing vital work to decrease infection rates. We have already seen some very good results—a 57% reduction in MRSA bloodstream infections since 2010 and a 47% reduction in C. diff infections—but of course there is more to do, which is why we are setting bold objectives to halve gram-negative blood infections by 2020, and why last week we announced a new national infection lead to champion and oversee this effort. This is an important issue and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising it.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support for free trade. He is absolutely right that as we leave the EU we will be looking for opportunities to develop flexible trading relationships around the world that suit the United Kingdom. Given the strength of our economy, I believe that we can go out there and be a global leader in free trade, and I welcome his support for that.
Last Wednesday, seven people tragically died and 50 were injured in a tram accident in Croydon. I am sure that the whole House will join the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the leader of the SNP in extending our heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families. Three investigations—by British Transport Police, the Office of Rail and Road, and the Rail Accident Investigation Branch—are under way. Will the Prime Minister assure the House and the families that any recommendations to improve safety on trams in Croydon and across the country that are made by those investigations will be rapidly implemented by the Government?
I join my hon. Friend in once again sending our condolences to the families and friends of the seven people who died in this terrible incident, in expressing our sympathies for those injured and affected, and in thanking our emergency services. It is important that we allow these investigations to continue and that they can come up with recommendations in due course; we will, of course, look very seriously at them. We can never be complacent about safety and security regarding such issues, so we need to make sure that if there are lessons to be learned, they are indeed learned.
Employment and Support Allowance/Universal Credit
The Government are committed to protecting the most vulnerable in society, including disabled people and those with health conditions, and people currently receiving employment and support allowance will continue to receive the same level of financial support. We are ensuring that the support is concentrated on those most in need, and that it is available not just through benefits, but as part of a wider package to help those who could get into the workplace reach the point where they can get into the workplace.
This week, the Prime Minister said:
“Change is in the air. And when people demand change, it is the job of politicians to respond”,
so how does she respond to the 70 disability organisations that want these cuts stopped, or indeed to Conservative Members who have supported my cross-party motion calling for these cuts to be halted, which will be debated tomorrow? Surely she must respond accordingly.
As I have said, we are focusing support on those most in need. For those in the support group for ESA, support has gone up, and we are giving extra support to help those in the work-related group who could at some stage get into the workplace to do so. It is important that we do not view this solely as an issue of benefits; it is about the whole package that is available, which includes the personal independence payments that provide for the living costs of disability. Let me gently remind the hon. Gentleman that if he is concerned about the levels of payment in Scotland, he might wish to talk to the Scottish Government about the new powers that they have, whether they intend to use them and how they would fund them.
Following the election of Mr Trump, and given the very welcome progress made in our society by women and those from ethnic minorities, what message of reassurance does the Prime Minister have for fat, middle-aged white men, who may feel that we have been left behind?
I note that the Social Mobility Commission has recorded today that more working- class youngsters are benefiting from higher education than at any point in our history. The Government have invested record amounts in childcare and the early years, and the attainment gap, as the report acknowledges, has actually narrowed. The hon. Lady refers to the education system and the reintroduction of grammar schools, so I refer her to the report commissioned by a Labour council in Knowsley to look at how it could improve educational achievement there. That report said:
“Re-introducing grammar schools is potentially a transformative idea for working class areas”.
Today the BBC World Service announced its biggest expansion since the 1940s, including 11 new services in different languages, bringing the total number of languages covered around the world to 40. Does the Prime Minister agree that this is an excellent example of soft power and a lifeline to many people around the world?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The service that the BBC provides through its World Service and the independent journalism that that brings to millions of people around the world is very important, including by bringing that to people in places where free speech is often limited. It is important to support the BBC World Service, which is why we are investing £289 million over the next four years so that it can provide accurate and independent news to some of the most remote parts of the world.
The hon. Gentleman will know that we have already given guarantees about the research funding available from the EU and those contracts that will be signed. He will know, too, that within the immigration rules for people outside the EU, we are already able to ensure that the brightest and the best can come to the United Kingdom. I remind the hon. Gentleman, however, as I reminded his right hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), that it was not that long ago since he was campaigning to come out of the European Union and come out of free movement.
In a Committee yesterday, I learned that the Iraq Historic Allegations Team had placed serving members and veterans under surveillance in this country. I also learned that, despite everything we have said, we have paid for chasing lawyers to go out and collect evidence in theatre. I know of the Prime Minister’s commitment to this agenda. Does she agree that we need to work harder to close the gap between what we say and how things actually feel for our servicemen and women?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. I recognise the concern that has been expressed by a number of my hon. Friends about the impact of the IHAC on servicemen and women. It important that we ensure that it conducts its inquiries within a reasonable timescale, which it is now set to do, and that it weeds out what could be described as the more frivolous cases. I am sure that my hon. Friend will accept that credible allegations of criminal activity should be investigated properly, but I am conscious of the need to ensure that our servicemen and women, who do such a good job for us around the world and keep us safe and secure, have the support that they need.
Ministerial Meetings (First Minister)
I recently met the First Minister and leaders of the devolved Administrations at the Joint Ministerial Committee. Its next meeting is planned for early in the new year. Of course, the United Kingdom Government engage regularly with the Scottish Government on a range of issues.
There is a question that is, I am sure, vexing not just the First Minister but the whole of Scotland. On 22 June, Ruth Davidson stated that those supporting the leave campaign
“won’t tell us what they will replace the single market with.”
Now that the Prime Minister is part of a Government who are dragging Scotland out of the European Union against its sovereign will, can she answer Ruth Davidson?
It is right that the Prime Minister has latitude to enter into negotiations with the EU. However, the Vote Leave campaign was very clear that the rights of EU citizens would not be affected if this country voted to leave. My parents are Italian. They have never naturalised and have been in this country for 50 years. Can the Prime Minister assure me that she will never instruct me to vote in the Lobby to take away the rights of my parents and those of millions of other EU citizens?
I recognise the personal passion with which my hon. Friend raises this issue. I want, intend and expect to be able to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the United Kingdom, but I also want the rights of UK citizens living in EU member states to be guaranteed. As I have said previously, I hope that this is an issue that we shall be able to discuss with my European colleagues at an early stage.
I commend the hon. Lady for raising an issue that I know is a personal concern for her. It affects the constituents of Members in all parts of the House. We have set ourselves the ambitious target of 4 million dementia friends by 2020; we already have 1.6 million. We have doubled research spending on dementia and invested in the development of a dementia research institute. We are determined to transform end-of-life care, which is why we have created the national end-of-life care programme board, which will help to implement the commitment to high-quality, personalised end-of-life care for all. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising this important issue and assure her that it is something on which the Government are focusing.
At the same time as the Government are rightly restoring hundreds of millions of pounds of funding to the BBC World Service, there are no current plans to restore the very modest £20 million a year it costs to run BBC Monitoring. Former members of the Intelligence and Security Committee such as Lord Menzies Campbell and I are dismayed that the BBC is proposing to cut the monitoring service further, to close Caversham Park and to break the colocation with its American counterparts. Will the Prime Minister agree to meet us and have a discussion before this disaster is visited on an incomparable source of open-source information on which so many Government Departments and intelligence agencies depend?
My right hon. Friend raises an important issue. Of course the staffing and provision for the monitoring service are matters for the BBC, but we are clear about the importance of the service. It provides high-quality reporting for the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and other parts of Government, and of course for the BBC itself. As part of the charter renewal process, we are talking to the BBC about a new agreement in relation to the BBC monitoring role that we believe will result in an improved service for Government, not a reduced one.
I recognise the importance of this issue to the hon. Lady. It is one on which she has campaigned, and she champions the cause of the victims and survivors. Of course, like her, it is the victims and survivors whom we must always keep at the forefront of our minds. That is why it is important that this inquiry is able to continue, and I agree. This point was made this morning by the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), the new Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee. We owe it to the survivors and victims for the inquiry to continue. I have to say that, having seen the work that Professor Alexis Jay did in the Rotherham inquiry, I have absolute confidence in her ability to undertake this inquiry.
During the United States election, President-elect Trump stated that Britain should not be at the back of any trade queue, but should be at the front. Now that he has been elected President, what action will the Prime Minister’s Government be taking to ensure that the already very good trading conditions between the USA and the United Kingdom further improve?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I mentioned earlier the special relationship between the UK and the USA. We now have an opportunity in our trading relationship with the USA, and that is something I will want to discuss with President-elect Trump at a very early stage.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. Social media is overall a good that is used for good intents—it is even used by political parties for campaigning and in other ways—but it can also be abused and ill-used by people who wish to bully others, and there are Members of this House who have suffered significantly as a result of bullying and trolling on social media. The Home Office is well apprised of this issue. Over the years—I did this when I was Home Secretary—it has been talking to the companies about their responsibilities. The issue is best addressed through the terms and conditions of the companies themselves, and I am sure that the Home Secretary has listened very carefully to the hon. Gentleman’s point.
In the teeth of opposition from the Conservative party, the last Labour Government changed the law to make sure that all prisoners were released halfway through their sentence, irrespective of whether they had misbehaved in prison or still posed a threat to the public—[Hon. Members: “Rubbish!”]
That must have contributed to the upsurge in violence in our prisons. Does the Prime Minister agree with the previous Labour Government that prisoners should be released halfway through their sentence, irrespective of how badly they have behaved or the threat they pose to the general public, or does she agree with me that this is an outrage that flies in the face of public opinion and must be reversed?
The important point, as my hon. Friend indicates, is that when decisions are taken about the release of prisoners, proper consideration is given to the impact of that release on the wider community. That is why this issue has been looked at, and I can assure him that it was an issue of concern when I was Home Secretary. But this is not just about the conditions under which prisoners are released; it is actually about how we ensure that we have measures in place to rehabilitate ex-offenders. That is why the work that has been done by previous Justice Secretaries, which is being continued by the current Justice Secretary, is important to ensure that we reduce reoffending by prisoners when they are released.
Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister join me in welcoming the announcement of phase 2 of High Speed 2 from Crewe to Manchester airport and into Manchester Piccadilly, bringing jobs and prosperity to Weaver Vale, to Cheshire and to the north-west region including north Wales, thereby closing the north-south divide?
I know that my hon. Friend has championed the cause of HS2 for a long time, and he is absolutely right. I welcome the Government’s announcement about this. It shows that we are willing to take the big decisions that will help to support our communities and our economy. Crucially, as he says, HS2 will support the economy in the part of the country that he represents.
The hon. Gentleman refers to free movement arrangements being in place since 1973, but the common travel area was actually started 50 years earlier, in 1923, so it existed for some considerable time before we were in the European Union. I repeat what I have said in the House before when asked about this issue: we are working with the Government of the Republic of Ireland and with the Northern Ireland Executive, and we are very clear that we do not want a return to the borders of the past. We recognise the importance of movements of trade and people to those on both sides of that border.
Calais Children and Immigration Act
The Home Secretary updated the House on 24 October on how the Government were supporting the French authorities in the humanitarian operation to clear the camp in Calais. That statement outlined the Government’s absolute commitment to bring eligible children from France to the UK. That included those with close family links under the Dublin regulations and those unaccompanied refugee children who met the wider criteria of the Dubs amendment to the 2016 Act. These children are the very youngest, those assessed as being at a high risk of sexual exploitation, and those likely to be granted refugee status in the UK. On Monday, my Department published further details of the policy, including our intention to prioritise the youngest.
We remain absolutely committed to bringing all eligible children to the UK as soon as possible. More than 300 children have been transferred from France since 10 October. Transfers were resumed over the weekend, and another 19 girls assessed as being at high risk of sexual exploitation were brought to Scotland. It is important to note that all the children previously in the camp in Calais are now in the care of the French authorities. Staff from the UK supported the French operation to move the children from the container area in the camp to specialist centres across France, where they are receiving the care and protection they need.
Home Office staff, interpreters and social workers are currently visiting the centres to carry out the necessary assessments to determine whether it is in the best interests of the child to be transferred to the UK. The Government have continued to seek every opportunity to expedite this process, but as has previously been made clear we must work alongside the French and with their permission. I am grateful for the support of the local authorities that have stepped forward to accommodate the children and look forward to continuing to work closely with those authorities to ensure we do not place an unnecessary burden on them.
The Government are getting on with the job of bringing eligible children over to the UK, working closely with the French authorities to ensure that both Governments are working in the best interests of these children. I hope that the whole House will join me in supporting that.
The chaotic demolition of the Calais camp, which abandoned some children on the street, leaves upwards of 1,000 children in basic and temporary care facilities in France. In the days running up to the demolition, the Home Secretary made statements that pointed to the UK offering a home for up to half of the children in the camp. It is unclear how that will be achieved given the criteria in the guidance document, so I hope that in answering my questions the Government will be able to explain how that will be done.
What progress has the Home Secretary and her Department made with local authorities on agreeing the number of vulnerable children the UK will take from Calais and other European camps? Will the guidance and the criteria apply to other European countries, such as Italy and Greece? When will the criteria for those countries be produced? Why has the Home Office limited one of the criteria to Sudanese and Syrian unaccompanied children? Why are Eritrean children excluded? Can the Minister explain why they have chosen to exclude 16 and 17-year-old children from the eligibility criteria in Calais given the universal recognition that they are still children and still vulnerable? Given the Government’s commitment to tackling modern slavery and exploitation at home and across the globe, will the Minister clarify why the vulnerability of these child victims is not included in the “at risk” criteria? Finally, what guarantees can the Minister give that the children who will eventually be allowed into the UK will not be deported on reaching the age of 18?
This House agreed to the Dubs amendment and our Government must now set out how they are going to honour its letter and spirit.
It was absolutely right that, during the final days of the camp clearance, there was a pause. As the right hon. Gentleman said, there were some chaotic scenes, but they were not as chaotic as some of the scenarios that we had planned for, including violence, possible injury and even death, during that clearance. Now that the children have been transported to the reception centres—or welcome centres as the French call them—around the country, we can now assess them under the criteria of the Dubs amendment. More than 300 children have already been transferred to the UK, and we expect several hundred more to be transferred under both the Dubs amendment and the Dublin regulations.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the numbers. Under the Dublin regulations, there is no limit on numbers—if the children meet the criterion of having family here, they will be brought across. That applies not just to France, but to Italy, where we have Home Office people working, and to Greece, where things are slightly more difficult, but where we hope to make progress.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the Syrians and the Sudanese. It is absolutely important that the children we bring across are those who are more likely to qualify for asylum. He mentioned the Eritreans. I know that there are particular issues with Eritrea—I have been taking an interest in that country, particularly in the open-ended nature of the national service there—but we did update our country guidance in October to reflect the court judgment. The threshold that we have put in place is based on overall grant rates for the year ending June 2016, and the nationalities that have a grant rate of 75% or higher are the Sudanese and the Syrians. Yes, he is absolutely right that when children arrive in the UK they should claim asylum, and they will be processed in the usual way.
The demographics of the children in the camp are that 90% were male and 60% of them were in the age group of 16 and above. We are determined to assess the most vulnerable children, as they are the ones whom the Dubs amendment suggests that we assess. That includes those who are 12 and under; those who are 15 and below whose nationalities are likely to qualify them for refugee status; and those at high risk of sexual exploitation, including particularly the girls who could be trafficked.
The qualifying eligibility criteria for children from Calais are a disgrace. The children have to meet one of the following criteria: they are aged under 12; they have been referred by the French authorities as being at high risk of sexual exploitation; they are aged under 15 and are Syrian or Sudanese; and they are aged under 18 and the sibling of a child in one of the former categories. They must also all meet the following criteria: it must be in the best interests of the child; they must have been in Calais on or before 24 October 2016; and they must have been in Europe before 20 March 2016. The criteria are a disgrace, and are certainly not in the spirit of the Dubs amendment.
On the basis of the criteria, it seems that any child at medium or moderate risk of sexual exploitation is on their own. A child is a child until the age of 18, and it is wrong to restrict children’s right to transfer based on their age. It is not clear what the basis or authority for determining the additional criteria are, or whether there is any appeals procedure.
The arbitrary dates mean that children who came to Europe after 20 March are on their own, whatever their age, and that children who came to Europe after 24 October are on their own. Children are at risk of all kinds of exploitation, including trafficking, forced labour and modern slavery, but this Government do not care. [Interruption.] If Members are not comfortable with what I am saying, that is not my problem. Without a proper asylum process, we risk pushing children into taking dangerous journeys to the UK in order to get a fair hearing for their asylum claim. None of this meets the Dubs amendment, which is that any child who would benefit from asylum in the UK should be granted it—up to 3,000 children. Will the Government now meet the full demands of section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016 as voted for in this House?
The hon. Lady has gone completely over the top. I am proud that the United Kingdom is the second biggest donor in the region. I am proud that the United Kingdom has agreed to take 20,000 people from the region and an additional 3,000 people, including children from the wider area. I am proud of the work that we are doing and I am proud that we are meeting our obligations under the Dublin regulations and the Dubs amendment. If she reads the Dubs amendment, she will understand that the number we bring across should be able to be accommodated by our local authorities.
I have been working very closely with local authorities. I met representatives of the local authorities at their summit on 13 October and I spoke at their conference on 3 November. We are working very closely with them to ensure that the children we bring across can be accommodated, and, as I have said, 118 local authorities are doing that.
I remind the hon. Lady that the children we do not bring across are not in Syria, but in France, which is a civilised country with a developed social system. Those children are being well supported and well looked after in France. The children about whom I am most concerned are those who are still in Syria—they are the ones we are endeavouring to help.
The reason why we do not consider children who arrived in Europe after 20 March is, simply that we do not want to introduce a pull factor that will incentivise parents to pay people traffickers to help their children make that hazardous journey across the Sahara, across the Mediterranean and, in many cases, end in a watery grave. That is why that date has been chosen and why we do not want to do anything to introduce a pull factor that would increase the number of people drowning in the Mediterranean or the Aegean.
Let me tell the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) that I know that this Minister is absolutely committed to safeguarding and protecting unaccompanied refugee children.
I have constituents who have been working as volunteers in the Jungle, and they have contacted me—I have also contacted the Department about them—because they still have some concerns about the children who have been scattered across France. They are still in direct contact with those children by mobile phone. What would be the best way for my constituents to contact the Department to give real-time and up-to-date information about these vulnerable children who they believe have a right to come to the UK?
First, let me pay tribute to the non-governmental organisations that have been working in France. I am talking about not only the French NGOs such as France terre d’asile, but British charities that have been working in the camp, giving the children much-needed help, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which is one of our partner organisations working in France and the wider region. Anyone who is in contact with a child in France should tell them to apply for asylum in France. That child’s claim will be considered and they will be looked after in France. One problem that we faced during the Calais camp situation was that the people traffickers and the organised criminals were advising people not to apply for asylum. That is the wrong advice to give. It is important that they do apply for asylum in France, which is a safe country for them to be in.
The debates that we had in this House on the Dubs amendment were among the most passionate that I have seen since my election 18 months ago. How section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016 is now implemented is important to this House and deserves the greatest scrutiny. Surely the Government will agree to a proper debate in this Chamber on the content of the guidance that they have issued, because restrictions appearing in the guidance were certainly never contemplated during the Dubs debates.
My party shares the uneasiness about the exclusion of any children aged 16 and 17. Of course 16 and 17-year-olds can be, and are often, vulnerable. I ask the Minister is this a hard and fast rule, or will discretion be applied?
Similarly, we are very troubled with the restrictions on nationality. For example, the exclusion of Eritreans is utterly inappropriate given that Home Office decision making in this area has been torn to pieces in the tribunals. Surely, the grant rate will soon be back through the 75% threshold mentioned. Again, will some discretion be applied in this area? We share UNICEF’s concerns that eligibility is restricted to those
“at risk of sexual exploitation.”
I have not yet heard an explanation of why those at risk of trafficking, forced labour and modern slavery are not to be included as well. As the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) said, this guidance relates to children in France. What input did the French Government have in setting these criteria, and when will we see guidance for other countries, especially Greece and Italy?
Finally, in relation to children and the Immigration Act, may I ask when the Secretary of State intends to extend the scope of the scheme for transferring responsibility for relevant children in order to include Scotland, under section 73 of the Immigration Act?
May I suggest that the hon. Gentleman closely reads section 67, the Dubs amendment, as it makes it quite clear that it applies to refugee children? The reason why we are choosing these particular nationalities is that they are more likely to qualify for refugee status. He also talks about vulnerability. That is why we are addressing the issue of younger children. Indeed, we go further to make it clear that we must work with local authorities and, I am pleased to say, the devolved Governments around the country, to ensure that the capacity is there. This is all in the Dubs amendment, which is why we are discharging that amendment within not only the letter of the law, but the spirit as well.
In order to ensure that we are helping the most vulnerable children, can the Minister tell us whether those 300 who are coming over or have come over have undergone a proper age assessment and, if so, whether the results of that will be made available to Members of this House?
The more than 300 children who have arrived since 10 October include 60 girls. Two hundred of those children would qualify under Dublin, of whom half have been reunited with family members here in the UK, and the other 100 would be Dubs children. Of the further children being transferred, a greater proportion will be Dubs children. When the children arrive at the assessment centre in Croydon or elsewhere, they will be assessed for age. There will have been an initial assessment based on appearance and demeanour, but if necessary a further age assessment can be undertaken using a Merton compliant process, a well-established process that social workers are used to using. Two social workers would have to refer a child for that process.
The Minister will know that I have supported him and the Home Secretary in the important work they have done to bring the first few hundred children over from Calais and from France, but not on this. I remember the debates on the Dubs amendment and we did not discuss ruling out 13-year-old or 14-year-old Eritreans on an arbitrary basis. If this was simply priority guidance because we were going to prioritise the youngest children, people would understand, but why is he basing this on strict eligibility rules? I urge him to think again, turn this back into priority guidance, not eligibility guidance, and tell the House how many children he now thinks are going to come from France, because the number sounds considerably lower than the previous numbers that he and I discussed.
We certainly expect many hundreds more children to be brought across from France under the criteria that we have set out. I must repeat that the Dubs amendment specifically refers to refugee children. Many of the children who may currently be in France would not qualify for refugee status, which is why for the older children we have set that criterion. For the other children, the risk of sexual exploitation indicates that they are likely to be the most vulnerable, as are the youngest children. Again, the children that we are bringing across as part of the 20,000 from Syria are the most needy children, in my view.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Will my hon. Friend congratulate Kingston Council on being the first council to call for every council to take 50 Syrian refugees and on already meeting its quota of vulnerable minors? Does not that compassionate attitude on the part of Kingston and other Conservative councils show how ill-judged and wrong the bombastic comments of the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) were?
I congratulate not only Conservative councils throughout the country but, to be fair, councils of all political affiliations that have stepped up to the mark. It is great that they understand their responsibility. There is potential in the legislation to mandate councils to take children. That has not been the case and I do not believe it will be. I am pleased that so many local authorities have entered into the spirit of this great humanitarian need and helped with children up and down the country.
When this matter was last before the House, I asked the Home Secretary about reports that the number of Home Office officials who were dealing with bringing these children to the United Kingdom had been doubled from one to two. She was not able to tell me whether that was correct, so can the Minister say today how many Home Office officials are dealing with bringing these children to the United Kingdom?
We have dozens of Home Office officials on station. On the buses that were taking the children from the camp in Calais to the reception centres there were two Home Office officials, supported by interpreters and social workers. We have stepped up the numbers that we have operating in Italy and Greece. We currently have 70 officials who have been allocated to Greece and 54 are already on station there.
At the Dover and Kent frontline, our communities are looking after 750 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children—a quarter of the total. That is five times more than the whole of Scotland and 12 times more than the whole of Wales, while Wakefield is looking after just 22. Is it not time for either mandatory dispersal or more help for Kent?
The national transfer scheme is working well. We have had 160 transfers. I do understand the pressure that Kent has been facing and I have met the leader of my hon. Friend’s county council to discuss that. In response to concerns from local government, we have increased the rates that we give for the children being looked after, in some cases by as much as 33%. Some councils have been very helpful in opening up their books. We believe now that the funding that we have made available is sufficient to cover their additional costs.
I welcome the Minister’s statement that he wants to increase support for Syrian children in Syria. May I press him on that? What specifically does he intend to urge on his ministerial colleagues in other Departments? Will he be urging aid to be transported into the berm—the no man’s land between Syria and Jordan? Will he be urging the reopening of the border at Jarablus? What more will he be doing to make sure that aid gets to Syrians, who are so desperate?
I was in Jordan last week, where I visited the Azraq refugee camp and met some of the people who had been transported from the berm. The Jordanian Government have concerns about some of the security aspects in the berm, particularly following the recent attack on their police forces. We continue to work with the Jordanians and others in the region to ensure that we can put people into a place of safety and, at the same time, maintain security. We have allocated £2.3 billion to assistance in the area, and I am proud of what we as a Government are doing as the second-biggest humanitarian donor in that region.
Running through the Home Office guidance on the interpretation of section 67 is the legal test of the best interests of the children. Does my hon. Friend agree that in addition to that legal test, there is a wide-ranging assessment of the children, including their age, health needs, emotional needs, whether they have been victims of trafficking or trauma and any other family links? That is a reflection of the compassion and pragmatism that this Government are showing to these vulnerable children.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The priority is to ensure that the best interests of the children are served. We need to demonstrate to the French authorities that, by bringing these children across to the UK, their best interests will be served. A number of criteria, including the ones that she mentioned, are taken into account.
The Minister referred in his statement to the NGO work that was going on, particularly by volunteers, to help to resolve the issue. Have they reported to him any difficulty with the French authorities, as they try to ensure that children at risk are sheltered and helped as they try to make their way to the UK?
I have not received any concerns about the facilities available in the 60 or so welcome centres that have been set up around France. Indeed, the conditions there are unbelievably better than the dreadful conditions that many people had to endure in the camps. I am pleased that in the interim, while these children’s cases are being looked at and while we assess them against the Dubs and the Dublin criteria, they are in a place of safety and are being well looked after.
Yes, indeed. Much of that dreadful trade is fuelled by the fact that the people traffickers seem to have no regard for people’s safety. During the summer, I was in Nigeria talking to the authorities there, and they are very concerned about the way that people are putting their children’s lives at risk by putting them into the hands of people traffickers. If and when the children arrive in Europe, the nightmare continues, particularly when they are pressed into modern slavery, or even worse in the case of some of the girls.
In the run-up to the closure of the so-called Jungle camp at Calais, there were reports of a thousand or more people disappearing from the camp and melting into the countryside. What work is the Minister doing with his counterparts in France to ensure that when the French authorities identify people who melted away from the Calais jungle and who have vulnerable children, they too can be included in this programme?
I certainly received reports of some people leaving the camps as the clearance started. I also received reports of people coming back into the camps as they saw how that clearance was taking place. Indeed, some children who had been elsewhere in France arrived at the camps, hoping that they would be part of the scheme and could be relocated and considered under the Dubs and Dublin regulations. Unfortunately, those late arrivals were not considered in the same way. The advice that we always give to people is to claim asylum in the first safe country that they reach, and if not so, then to claim asylum in France, where they can be adequately processed.
May I commend the Minister for the evidence he gave to the International Development Committee this week? Opposition parties might benefit from reading it, because he was very open and honest about what is happening. Will he confirm that any action taken by the Home Office in France must be approved by the French? Is it right that, until relatively recently, the French did not want Britain to take any children under the Dubs amendment for fear of creating a pull factor?
I have to say that the French have been excellent partners in working through this. Of course, it was very difficult while the children were in the camp, and the clearance of the camp has been the opportunity we were all waiting for to make sure that those children who could be looked after and considered for relocation to the UK could be considered. I am full of admiration for the way that the French have worked with us in partnership, and I hope and feel sure that the children who are not coming to the UK will have a long and successful life in France, should their asylum claims be granted.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right: many of these children have experienced traumatic situations, not only perhaps in their host country, but certainly as part of their journey and their life in the camp. On 1 November, my hon. Friend the Minister for Vulnerable Children and Families and I issued a joint written ministerial statement on the safeguarding strategy for these children. The strategy includes a number of measures, including transfer procedures, safeguarding for family reunion, the information given to these children and revising the statutory guidance under the Dublin III arrangements. We will give regular updates to right hon. and hon. Members on how that is working out.
As a proud city of sanctuary, Sheffield is doing everything it can to house these very vulnerable children, but it is being held up by Home Office incompetence around the central assessment process. Will the Minister ensure that funding is released urgently to all local authorities and that concerns around the central assessment process are addressed?
We certainly have addressed the funding issues. As I pointed out, there have been considerable increases. For example, children under the age of 16 will receive a 20% increase—that is £114 a day. The 16 and 17-year-olds will receive £91 a day. That is in response to the concerns raised by local authorities about the funding we have given. We are working with the Local Government Association, and we are content that the funding is appropriate to the expenditure authorities are being asked to make.
I was pleased to hear the Minister’s comments about the welcome centres in France. It cannot be in the interests of France, the UK or future refugees that the Calais Jungle and the dreadful conditions there get re-established. Does he believe that that can be prevented?
Certainly, the French are absolutely determined that new camps will not spring up. As we saw, the conditions in the Jungle, and previously in Sangatte, are not ones that anybody should be expected to live in. The French do, I believe, have adequate resource to enable people who claim asylum to be looked after properly—particularly the children.
My local authority, Hammersmith and Fulham, which has taken a lead on this, has not received the number of children it either offered to take or was told by the Home Office it would receive, because the Government have dragged their feet. Can the Minister give us some idea of how quickly assessments will take place of the children who are now dispersed across France, so that they can come here, because there are places for them to go to?
It is great to know that there are places available. We must not forget that, despite the fact we have had around 318 children from France, in the year to June 2016, we had 3,472 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children arriving in the UK by other means. A lot of that has meant that local authorities, particularly in the areas where these children arrive—in the south-east, in particular—have had to rise to that challenge. I am pleased that we have made 160 transfers under the national transfer scheme. I know that local authorities that have capacity will use it as they see fit.
The Minister will be aware that, last week, the Public Accounts Committee had a very interesting discussion about the support the Government have been offering as part of the relocation programme and about its effectiveness, and the shadow Minister might benefit from looking at that. Yesterday, a constituent emailed me offering to provide a home—as has the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper)—to relocate a child. What work is the Home Office doing to make sure that such offers are taken up?
Specifically, we have launched the community sponsorship scheme. In fact, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the Archbishop of Canterbury launched it at Lambeth Palace—indeed, two Syrian families currently reside there. The community sponsorship scheme is more about local community groups working together with their local authorities to make sure people can be looked after than about people going into somebody’s spare bedroom. If those people who wish to help could become engaged with, perhaps, a faith group or another group in their area, I am sure that they would be able to put forward a bid under the community sponsorship scheme.
Citizens UK has warned that the new guidelines make it impossible for the Government to fulfil their promise to take half the unaccompanied children from the former camp. Is it correct that that promise will be met in full? If not, what proportion of those children do the Government now expect to take into this country?
Contrary to the bluster from the Opposition Front Bench, my hon. Friend the Minister is working tirelessly on this issue, as indeed did his predecessor. Knowing that we have a severe lack of carers, and particularly foster carers, in our area of Yorkshire, will my hon. Friend explain what the Government are doing to ensure that there is a fair distribution of caring responsibilities for unaccompanied children right across the UK?
Some of the bluster we have heard from the Opposition Front Bench is not reflected in the very practical and constructive way that Labour local authorities have been working up and down the country. One aspect of the safeguarding strategy we launched on 1 November was, indeed, looking at the demand for foster care and its availability. Many local authorities have raised concerns that they do not have sufficient capacity for fostering, and they have had to place children out of area, which has incurred additional costs, particularly if agencies are being used. We do need to improve the capacity for fostering, and I would say to anybody out in the country who fancies a career in fostering that it is a very rewarding career and one we would be very pleased to see more people stepping forward to take up.
Can the Minister explain how he determines which children are at risk of sexual exploitation? What criteria are used? Who does the assessment? How confident is he about its reliability? I should have thought that any of the children we are discussing today would be at risk of sexual exploitation.
There have been a number of interceptions in France of these criminal gangs, and I am pleased to say that the number of interceptions has increased. Indeed, we have also had arrests in the United Kingdom, some of which have come to court. This is something we are very determined to address. These criminal gangs profit from people’s misery, and they must be prevented from doing so.
Amnesty International has found that children as young as 16 have been indefinitely conscripted into the army in Eritrea. I would gently suggest to the Minister that that is not a pull factor in terms of the attractiveness of the United Kingdom, so will he urgently review the arbitrary decision to exclude Eritreans over the age of 12 from these criteria?
I add my thanks to the Minister for his statement and update. I also echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham), who is no longer in her place, and recommend that people read the Minister’s evidence to the International Development Committee yesterday. In working closely with the French to accelerate the process of identifying and bringing eligible children to the UK, will he confirm that the appropriate security checks will continue to be undertaken?
The assessment that takes place when children are processed includes a security assessment. Indeed, in terms of the children and families who we are bringing across from Syria, that is a central part of what we do to ensure that we are kept safe, while addressing the real humanitarian need in the region.
Will the Minister re-explain the rationale about not accepting unaccompanied 16 and 17-year-olds under Dubs? Will he reassure us that that is not a reaction to his Back Benchers making outrageous demands for teeth examinations?