The Government undertook a comprehensive consultation with local authorities in order to assess their capacity to accept unaccompanied children. This consultation included 10 regional events in each part of England, and events in Scotland and Wales, which were attended by representatives of more than 400 local authorities.
When the Calais camp was cleared last year, 550 of the 750 children who came to the UK did so under an accelerated process based on the family reunion criteria of the Dublin regulation, which has since been discontinued. How will the Minister ensure that refugees in Greece, France, and Italy, including unaccompanied children with family members in the UK, can be reunited with their families?
The Dublin process works well and is well established. Indeed, a member of the Home Office staff is embedded in Athens, helping the process to work. Although we had a fast-track system during the Calais clearances, it is important that, first, we identify that the children are who they say they are and, secondly, that they can be properly cared for by the family they are placed with.
The Prime Minister did much to lead the campaign against human trafficking, and we are undoubtedly the best country in Europe at countering human traffickers, but I am still concerned about one area in which the traffickers operate: children who are given to local authorities and then re-trafficked. Will the Minister assure us that the Government are following up on children who have been placed in care to ensure that they are still in care?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s long campaign on this issue. He is right that it is a concern that children placed with local authorities may abscond due to traffickers wanting their pay day—for want of a better phrase. It is absolutely right that local authorities understand their responsibility to care for those children and to ensure that their safety is maintained.
The Minister will have seen the Home Affairs Committee report, which is out today, that sets out the evidence we heard from charities and the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner about the increased risk of child trafficking if the Dubs scheme closes, from councils about their extra capacity, and from the Local Government Association that thousands more places could be available if the right funding is in place. New clause 14 to the Children and Social Work Bill, which is before the House tomorrow, has cross-party support, so will the Minister agree to seek further evidence from the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner and from local councils on their capacity, rather than rushing to close the Dubs scheme?
I certainly look forward to appearing before the right hon. Lady’s Committee to give the Government’s side of the story. I do not recognise the figures that I saw, and I suspect that some of the methodology behind them will not bear too much scrutiny. If spaces are available with local authorities, it is important that they are made available for the national transfer scheme. Kent County Council, for example, has 400 surplus children over its normal capacity—Croydon is another—which makes things difficult.
I pay tribute to local authorities such as Cambridgeshire that not only take in children under the national transfer scheme but make families welcome under our scheme for the 20,000 children and their families coming from the camps around Syria and the 3,000 children and their families from the wider middle east and north Africa area.
On Holocaust Memorial Day, Michael Brown movingly described his experiences as a child refugee fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939 and advocated the need for Britain to be open to children from Europe fleeing atrocities today. Numerous local authorities, such as Ealing, Hammersmith, and even Hastings—the Home Secretary’s backyard—are willing to take more, so why are the Government pulling the plug on the world’s most vulnerable by closing the Dubs scheme?
If any parallels are to be drawn between Nazi Germany and the situation nowadays, they would be in the situation in Syria, not in our European neighbours and partners. I point out for the record that of the 750 children we took from Calais under both Dubs and Dublin fewer than 10 were actually from Syria. We should concentrate on the children and their families most in need, and they are the ones in the refugee camps in the region.