With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement updating the House on the Government’s humanitarian response to the terrible, unjust war that Putin is waging in Ukraine. We are united across the House in horror at what is happening, and the whole country stands with the heroic people of Ukraine. I have come straight from a meeting with our dear friend and colleague the Ukrainian ambassador to London, and I have just heard at first hand about some of the pressures and tensions inside the country.
Putin must fail in his assault on Ukraine. Working closely with the Ukrainian Government and allies in the neighbouring region, the United Kingdom is standing shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine, sending military support and defensive military aid and training thousands of Ukrainian troops, as well as introducing one of the toughest sanctions regimes in the world. We are supporting NATO partners, pressing for more economic reform and energy independence in Ukraine, banning Aeroflot, and calling for an end to Russian involvement in the SWIFT banking system.
We will continue to think robustly and creatively about what more we can all do. As I said in the House yesterday, the Government will table amendments to the visa penalty measures in the Nationality and Borders Bill, so that we can slow down and, effectively, stop the processing of Russian visas or those of any state that poses a threat to our national security or the interests of our allies across the world. The Government of Ukraine have requested that the Russian Government be suspended from Interpol. The UK wholeheartedly endorses that position, and we are rallying other international partners to call for and support it as well.
Yesterday I announced the first phase of a bespoke humanitarian support package for the people of Ukraine, having listened carefully to the requests from the Ukrainian Government. We have already made significant and unprecedented changes to the immigration system. We have helped hundreds of British nationals and their family members resident in Ukraine to leave the country, with Home Office staff working around the clock to assist them. The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) raised a specific case yesterday, and I am pleased to confirm that the person concerned has been able to travel to the UK.
Family members of British nationals resident in Ukraine who need a UK visa can apply through the temporary location in Lviv, or through visa application centres in Poland, Moldova, Romania and Hungary. We have created additional capacity in all locations apace, in anticipation of the invasion of Ukraine. That includes a new pop-up visa application centre in Rzeszow, Poland, whose total capacity is currently well over 3,000 appointments per week. Our contingency plans have been enacted and are expected to increase total capacity further to 6,000 appointments a week, starting this week. By contrast, demand across these locations is usually approximately 890 biometric appointments per week. There remains availability of appointments and walk-ins across all locations. Should more capacity be required, we will of course deliver it. Our rapid deployment teams are already in the region; the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office sent them in a few weeks ago to support this whole effort.
I have also removed the usual language requirements and salary thresholds for people to come to the UK and be with their families. When family members of British nationals do not meet the usual eligibility criteria but do pass all security checks, we will give them permission to enter the UK outside the usual rules for 12 months. This means that British nationals, and any person settled in the UK, can bring over immediate Ukrainian family members. Through that policy alone, an additional 100,000 Ukrainians could be eligible to come to the UK and gain access to work and public services. There is no limit on the numbers eligible under this route. Anyone in Ukraine intending to apply under the family migration route should call the dedicated 24-hour Home Office line for assistance before applying. Ukrainian nationals already in the UK have been given the option to switch, free of charge, to a points-based immigration route or a family visa route. Visas for Ukrainian temporary workers in some sectors are being extended, so they can now stay until at least 31 December this year.
As I said yesterday, I have heard some Members call for visa waivers. Russian troops are seeking to infiltrate and merge with Ukrainian forces. Extremists are on the ground in the region, too. [Interruption.] I will continue, and perhaps I will take questions from Opposition Members later. However, I want to emphasise the seriousness of the security situation on the ground. That is not something that can be discounted lightly. I am sure that if the Opposition want a security briefing from our colleagues, we will happily provide one, but I am very sceptical about how they treat and respect security advice.
As I was saying. extremists are on the ground in the region, too. Given that, and also Putin’s willingness to do violence on British soil—and in keeping with our approach, which we have retained consistently throughout all emergency evacuations, including that of Afghanistan—we cannot suspend any security or biometric checks on the people whom we welcome to our country. We have a collective duty to keep the British people safe, and this approach is based on the strongest security advice. These measures have been designed to enable swift implementation—that is the point: swift implementation—without the need for legislation or changes to immigration rules. The Ukrainian people need help immediately, and we are putting it in place now.
I can also set out phase 2 of our bespoke humanitarian support package for the people of Ukraine, as outlined by the Prime Minister earlier today. First, we are establishing an expansive Ukrainian family scheme so that British nationals and people settled in the UK can bring a wider group of family members to the UK. We are extending eligibility to parents, grandparents, adult offspring, siblings, and their immediate family members. Again, the scheme will be free. Those joining family members in the UK will be granted leave for an initial period of 12 months. They will be able to work and have access to public funds.
Secondly, we will establish a humanitarian sponsorship pathway, which will open up a route to the UK for Ukrainians who may not have family ties with the UK, but who are able to match with individuals, charities, businesses and community groups. Those who come under this scheme will also be granted leave for an initial period of 12 months, and will be able to work and have access to public services. The Home Office will work closely with all our international partners on the ground to ensure that displaced Ukrainians in need of a home are supported. My colleague the Secretary of State for Levelling Up will work with the devolved Administrations to ensure that those who want to sponsor an individual or family can volunteer and be matched quickly with Ukrainians in need. There will be no numerical limits on this scheme, and we will welcome as many Ukrainians as wish to come and have match sponsors.
Making a success of the new humanitarian sponsorship pathway will require a national effort from the entire country, and our country will rise to that challenge. This is a generous, expansive and unprecedented package. It will mean that the British public and the Ukrainian diaspora can support displaced Ukrainians in the UK until they are able to return to a free and sovereign Ukraine. We are striking a blow for democracy and freedom against tyranny. Above all, we are doing right by the courageous people of Ukraine. We will help British nationals and their families to get out of Ukraine safely. We will support our displaced Ukrainian friends, and we will respond robustly to Russian threats here in the UK. We will not back down. We will do what is right. I commend this statement to the House.
People’s homes in Kharkiv have been shelled, children have been killed and Russian tanks are now rolling in on Kyiv. The Ukrainian people are showing immense courage and resolve in the face of a despot and of unparalleled aggression. We need to do our bit to support them, alongside the sanctions and the equipment assistance, and that means being prepared to do our bit to provide sanctuary. Families are being split up, often with fathers and older children staying to fight while mothers, grandparents and younger children are leaving to find safety and sanctuary. Many of those families want to stay close to home, but for those who want to travel to the UK to seek shelter with family or friends and get the support they need at this dreadful time, we must be ready to help. We must be ready to do our bit, alongside other countries, as we have done in generations past, and to give sanctuary to those fleeing war in Europe.
We have been calling repeatedly on the Government to do more to help, and there will be considerable relief that they have now changed their position and accepted that we must do more. In particular, I am glad that the Government appear to have completely changed their policy in response to our calls to help elderly parents and wider family members. I am glad that they have listened not just to those in this House but to people across the country and, most importantly, to Ukrainians and their families. I have many questions about how this will actually work and how many people in practice it will help. I am concerned about the way in which the Home Office has handled this, but that is an issue for another day.
Starting with the family issues, we are glad to know that Valentyna Klimova in Paris can now join her daughter, having initially been refused. However, she has had to pay around £700 to apply for visas, having been initially turned down. Can the Home Secretary confirm that that money will be refunded to her and that nobody will have to pay if they are seeking sanctuary from Ukraine? The statement also says that elderly parents, siblings and adult children will now be included in the family visa. Does that include stepchildren? I have been contacted by someone who is desperate to get his stepdaughter and granddaughter into the country. What about a young mum with her children who has left the rest of her family in Ukraine? Can she come and stay with her uncle and aunt? Are uncles and aunts included? Does the sponsoring family member have to be British or have indefinite leave to remain? What about Ukrainians who are here on work visas or study visas, or those who come here as lorry drivers or on visitor visas? Surely the Home Secretary is not going to turn their families away.
When people are fleeing Russian authoritarianism and war, I assume that the Home Secretary will not apply a test based on which bureaucratic box UK residents tick. Can she make a simple commitment now that family members from Ukraine who are fleeing persecution are all welcome here in the UK, and that no matter what visa their family member here in the UK has, we will give them sanctuary?
What about people who have been given the chance to stay with friends? We know that most people want to stay near Ukraine, but what about someone who has left all their family but used to work or study here in Britain? Can they get sanctuary here? Is there a route for them? If the only route is the community route, I am concerned that that will take a long time. Have the Government considered an emergency humanitarian or protection visa that could still include all the significant security and biometric checks the Home Secretary has talked about but that could be done swiftly and go broader than family members?
Can the Home Secretary also tell us about the community sponsorship scheme? This is very welcome and important, but the existing scheme takes a long time. It requires people to meet a whole series of tests in order to be able to sponsor a refugee, and it requires considerable fundraising. I know that many people will want to be involved in it, but I know many who have been deterred in the past by how complex it is. So far, it has helped only around 500 people to resettle over a period of five years. That is around 100 a year. How many people is she expecting to be able to be helped, and what actions will she take to speed up that system and ensure that it gets proper support?
I can see that the scheme is not a resettlement scheme, and it does not appear to have active Government support. Why are there no proposals for a resettlement scheme as part of this statement? Has the Home Secretary looked at that? What plans are there to go further and provide a resettlement scheme in addition to community sponsorship? Finally, I want to ask the Home Secretary about the figures of 100,000 or 200,000 that she has raised. I have not been able to find anybody who can make sense of them or explain the source of those figures, so perhaps she could explain to us how many people in practice she thinks will come and how those figures have been calculated.
It is important that the Government have accepted that we need to do more. We have a huge responsibility to work alongside other European countries to provide sanctuary to those who are fleeing war in Europe, but we must ensure that that actually happens in practice and that bureaucratic hurdles, delays and obstacles do not get in the way of people across the country showing their support for those who have fled the appalling fighting in Ukraine. We have all made pledges to stand by Ukraine, and we must do that by providing sanctuary now.
First, it is important to recognise that the British Government are the first Government to outline practical measures on how to bring people to the United Kingdom—[Interruption.] It is actually true, in terms of the specific schemes that we have outlined today. [Interruption.] Either Labour Members are interested and want to listen to how—[Interruption.] Perhaps they would rather make cheap political points from the Opposition Benches, but this is a moment when everyone should be coming together in our national interest to provide help and support.
If I may, I shall respond to some of the points that the shadow Home Secretary has made. She asked about stepchildren. This is a Ukrainian family scheme, and I have already outlined some of the categories of family members who will be eligible to come over to the United Kingdom. The scheme will be free. She also mentioned the lady who had paid fees. All fees for schemes will not be put in place, and if a refund needs to be provided, it will be provided.
While I have the floor, in might be worth my outlining some practical measures for all colleagues while responding to the right hon. Lady’s questions. Yesterday in the House I said that MPs should not get themselves directly involved in caseworking. As of tomorrow, the Home Office will be providing a team based in Portcullis House, where MPs can directly refer cases—in addition to the helpline—to ensure that applications are fulfilled. This can involve any resident, particularly in Members’ own constituencies, where they have Ukrainian nationals or British nationals who are interested in sponsorship or bringing family members over. Within hours we will be able to triage those cases and bring them through our systems to help get people over.
The right hon. Lady made some wider points that I would like to address, and they relate to numbers. We have a very generous offer in terms of the numbers of people that we would like to bring over. As I said earlier and now repeat to the House, we are not setting caps or limits on these numbers. At this stage, we should be very honest and level with everyone that we do not know the number of people who will seek to come to the United Kingdom. Frankly, we are basing this on our conversations with ambassadors representing the region in London. I came to the House straight from a meeting with the Ukrainian ambassador, who is very grateful for the routes and the support we are providing, but the Government do not know the numbers. The Polish, Hungarian and Czech Governments are asking for assistance in country. They want aid and resources right now, and they are saying that they do not know how many people will want to come to the United Kingdom. None the less, that should not deter us from the work we are doing right now.
The other fact to note—the right hon. Lady mentioned this in her remarks, too—is that we are being told clearly that people want to stay in the region. It is a fact that what is happening in Ukraine right now, with the amazing and heroic resistance being shown, is that people are fighting for the freedom of their country, and family members and loved ones want to stay in the region.
The work of our Government is twofold, to provide humanitarian assistance and support in the region—there is a big need for humanitarian support and aid, and the Government are doing that—while creating routes. My final response to the right hon. Lady is about the sponsorship route, which will be led by the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and his Department. There will be further announcements on how it will be stood up, because it is a national effort involving charities, businesses and communities, particularly the diaspora community, who are willing to make this scheme happen. It is right that we work with partners.
Linked to that, the right hon. Lady asked about resettlement. This is a phased approach. We are looking at every single avenue, and our record in government shows that 97,000 British nationals overseas and 18,000 people from Afghanistan have come over. We have created resettlement pathways, so this Government have that capability and we are absolutely ready to stand them up, but we can do that by working with our partners in country and in the region.
The women and children fleeing Ukraine are seeking refuge from a war in a member state of the Council of Europe, of which we are also a member, so we have a clear duty towards them. I am listening to my right hon. Friend with great interest, and I will study with care her proposals for a humanitarian sponsorship pathway.
In east Kent we have a team of people who are ready, willing and able to take cars and coaches to the Polish border to bring people home to Britain. We have, as my right hon. Friend knows, a processing centre at Manston barracks that is capable of dealing with these people. Can we please do as we did in 1956 and 1968, cut through the red tape and get these people home so that their menfolk, who are fighting and dying on the streets of Kyiv, can at least know that their women and children are safe?
My right hon. Friend summarises the situation very clearly and correctly. That is exactly what we are doing, and creating pathways and routes means working with countries in the region. Dialogue with the Polish, Czech and Hungarian Governments is happening right now. We are working with them, through the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the rapid deployment teams that are and have been in country, on how we can get people out of the region who want to come to the UK through sponsorship or the other routes we have outlined. Those mechanisms are in place.
It is important to recognise that this comes back to the situation on the ground, not just in Ukraine but in the countries that are receiving refugees right now. It is very difficult, as they have capacity and constraint issues, too. The British Government are working through the FCDO, the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office. All our teams are surging capacity to assist those Governments at this very difficult time.
To be fair, that is certainly better than what was said yesterday. Yet again, at a time of humanitarian crisis, the Home Office is having to be dragged towards a generous and comprehensive response, instead of a shambolic and miserly mess. For days, the Home Secretary has lagged behind the demands from the public, from Parliament and even from within her own party.
For Ukrainians who are already here, instead of a piecemeal visa extension, can we have a comprehensive extension of all visas for at least a year? The Home Secretary referred to switching to a points-based system, but not everyone will qualify. What are they supposed to do?
On Ukrainians who are seeking safety here, yesterday I raised the case of my constituent who fled to Romania with his Ukrainian family. His wife and child will be fine, but his 59-year-old mother-in-law and his six-year-old niece were not helped by yesterday’s announcement, and it is still not clear whether they are helped by today’s announcement. Will they be helped? Theirs is a very typical case that Members on both sides of the House will have to deal with.
The simple and just response is to waive visa requirements for Ukrainians and to offer comprehensive protection. That is the only way to stop splitting up families, and the only way to help Ukrainians, as a whole, avoid the red tape about which we have already heard today. If our European allies can do it, so can we.
The Home Secretary’s letter to MPs this morning said that those who do not fit the family criteria can apply ordinarily under the points-based immigration system. That is just about as helpful as the infamous suggestion that they use the agricultural workers scheme.
The humanitarian sponsorship pathway announced today could be a welcome addition, but we need to see the details and we need to be clear that this is not the Government palming off their responsibilities to communities that will take a long time to organise. The unexplained security concerns that the Home Secretary mentioned cannot justify our taking a different response from our neighbours. Indeed, we share an open land border with Ireland, which has just made the very move that we are suggesting. None of this adds up. Will the Department stop this public relations exercise of picking numbers out of a hat to justify its miserly response? Whether it is 100,000 or 200,000, these are complete and utter works of fiction designed to get the Home Office out of a hole.
Finally, the Home Secretary mentioned her awful anti-refugee Bill. How can she justify legislation that would criminalise Ukrainians who arrive here seeking asylum outside the scheme she announced today?
I have to say that I find the hon. Gentleman’s comments quite offensive. They are insulting in every single way. [Interruption.] For the first time, the SNP should stop playing politics. At every single stage, and on immigration issues in particular, I recognise and appreciate that we have a fundamentally different point of view.
Get on with your job.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. You effectively asked the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil) to be quiet. He contacted me with a case at the weekend—I think it was on Sunday—and he had a response within minutes. That response came from me, as I picked up the case personally, so I do not need to be told to get on with my job, thank you very much.
The SNP, rather than making these really quite offensive points—
They are offensive and not reasonable. I am very sorry that the SNP does not want to listen to a word I have to say, but there has to be recognition that we have been working across Government for weeks with countries in the region and with the Ukrainian Government to provide the schemes and assistance for which they have asked. This is not a case of just saying there is carte blanche to do x, y and z. We are developing the schemes in conjunction with them.
We have known about the crisis on the ground for a considerable period of time, and we have also known about the need for surge capacity in the region. That work has been taking place. As I have already said, helping people should be our priority, not speaking about systems and processes. We are circumventing that to make sure we have the facilities in place to triage cases for those who want to come here, while also providing support to those who want to stay in the region.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s response to the calls for generosity from many of us, which is what I expected. This is a much more generous system, but, quite properly, she has taken time to make it work practically. However, I want to raise a practical issue. As she said, the numbers are not clear. Some have forecast a total of 4 million will come out of Ukraine, and it may be 5 million or 6 million, so our share of that burden would probably be about half a million people. A significant number of them—perhaps a majority—will be women and children, not whole-family units, so the burdens on housing, education and social support will be bigger than anything we have seen before. Has she had discussions yet, or will she have discussions, with our European colleagues to ensure that that burden is shared across the whole continent? That is the only way in which we can look after these people properly.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am frequently in touch with Commissioner Johansson on these issues. I appreciate that everyone said yesterday that the EU has moved quickly, but actually it has made an announcement and it is still discussing how, in practical terms, it can establish temporary protection measures and activate its schemes. We must all step up. In fact, colleagues in the Department are already speaking to the devolved Administrations with informal talks having happened in recent weeks. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities will play a pivotal role.
I thank the Home Secretary for making this statement after the confusion following yesterday’s attempt to inform the House of her plans. I want to ask about the humanitarian sponsorship pathway, which I think she said was to be led by the Secretary of State for Levelling Up. What role will the Home Office play in that? What resources will it be putting into the pathway? When does she expect that the first Ukrainians will arrive under the pathway? I know she said that she cannot estimate numbers, but what is her best guess of how many will be eligible under the scheme?
I will be very frank: we do not know at this stage. The Secretary of State for Levelling Up will make statements and share with the House in due course details of the community scheme specifically. That is under development, so I cannot tell the right hon. Lady the potential numbers that will come through the route.
In terms of the Home Office role, this is a whole-of-Government effort. We will continue to support people in coming over, giving them the status that they need and securing their paperwork as well as all the essential pieces in which we always play a role, but this is an effort in joining up across Government. To be candid, we are learning lessons off the back of previous schemes including the Syrian resettlement scheme and the Afghanistan scheme, where there is still so much work to do. That goes to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) about accommodation and infrastructure in our own country. We must be honest about how we can support the people we do bring over.
I heartily congratulate my right hon. Friend on a compassionate and balanced response, reflecting the warm welcome that we want to give families reuniting and respecting that so many families will want to be supported in the region so that they can go back to Ukraine as soon as possible. I was informed that a hotel in my constituency is being prepared for Ukrainians coming to the United Kingdom. I am delighted about that, and I know that many constituents will want to support them. Will my right hon. Friend therefore update the House on what our communities can do to support those who will, I hope, be arriving soon?
My right hon. Friend is right. I spoke to the Ukrainian ambassador prior to coming to the House, and we see on our screens how difficult things are in Ukraine and in the region. The best thing that the British people can do is give a warm welcome to people from Ukraine who are coming here. As colleagues have referenced, it will inevitably be women and children because of the Ukrainian Government’s conscription policy with men staying behind and fighting. There will be a lot to do—we will want to get children into schools and ensure that they can continue their education. I reflect from my conversations with Governments in the region, my Ukrainian counterpart and the ambassador that these people want to be able to go back to rebuild their country, so the human capital point will be so important. We cannot underestimate the impact that skills, education and the ability to feel safe and secure will have on people, and that is where we can really make a difference.
There are two mothers and three children who have now reached Poland, having fled the violence in Ukraine. One mother and her child—they are my constituents—have pre-settled status and British citizenship respectively, so they can return. Her sister, along with her two children—they are all Ukrainian nationals—fled with them and are refugees with nowhere to go, but they have a family in Leeds who will give them shelter. Under the policy that the Home Secretary has announced, can that mother and those two children come to the UK?
In a letter that I and more than 40 colleagues from the one nation caucus wrote to the Prime Minister yesterday, we asked for a flexible and pragmatic approach to the problem, because this is not just another migration crisis but a crisis of war. In that context, I very much welcome the humanitarian sponsorship pathway that the Home Secretary announced. I appreciate that it is in the early stages, but can she give any more details about the responsibilities that the sponsors, whether individual or corporate, will incur? What will they have to do to be sponsors? If the Government get that right, the pathway will tap into an enormous well spring of generosity in the British public, which is exactly what is needed in this terrible crisis.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I pay tribute to him and thank him for his work and support in the area. He will understand the remit well from his previous roles in Government. I am afraid that I cannot share those details on sponsorship—I do not have them because of the cross-Government nature of the work. However, he made an important point about the generosity of the British people. We should be mindful of how we have been overwhelmed with so many offers of support from businesses, the community and the diaspora community. In my experience of setting up the British national overseas scheme for people fleeing Hong Kong, the community came together well, and we are taking some of the key component learnings from that to apply to this scheme.
I think we need to stand united—end of. The Government have said, quite rightly, that they want to sanction Duma members and members of the Russian Federation Council, but they have not been able to do so yet. Alisher Usmanov has already been sanctioned by the EU although not yet by the UK, but I suspect that he will be on a UK list pretty soon, and Everton should certainly be cutting ties with him. I think Roman Abramovich is terrified of being sanctioned, which is why he is going to sell his home tomorrow, and another flat as well. My anxiety is that we are taking too long about these things, and I have a suggestion that might help. I fear that the Government are frightened of lawyers’ letters from all these oligarchs’ friends. One way to circumvent that is if Ministers read into the record, in a proceeding in Parliament, all the sanction criteria, because then they would be protected.
The hon. Member makes a valid point, as ever—I worked with him on such issues in the past on the Foreign Affairs Committee. It is taking time. As he and hon. Members will be aware, there are lots of legal reasons for that. I do not want to cut across the work that the FCDO is doing on that right now. A lot of detailed work is taking place on sanctions, and much of it is coming to the House pretty soon.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Conservative Members are particularly pleased with her announcement about the humanitarian sponsorship pathway. I have listened carefully to her assurances that she will work closely with colleagues at the Department for Levelling Up to ensure that the scheme avoids the pitfalls of the past, which is important, bearing in mind the rapidity of what is happening. Half a million people have been displaced from Ukraine in a week, and the numbers will rise into the millions. It is therefore vital that she and my Government step up to the plate, as Governments have done in the past, and show that this country is capable of not just action against aggressors but the compassion that has made it a great place to live.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend—he is a great friend on this and many other issues. Sadly, in the current age we have seen too many crises and too many people displaced around the world, and as ever, every scenario and circumstance needs a unique and bespoke response, and that is what we are doing. The BNO and the Afghanistan responses were very different, and this is a fitting response that—I wish to emphasise this to all colleagues—has been developed with our partners in the region and with the Government of Ukraine.
May I associate myself with the measured and well made comments from my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald)? He is one of the most well respected, well informed and reasonable Members of the House, and all he was trying to say was that systems and process are essential to getting this right. In that spirit, may I ask the Home Secretary about a constituent’s parents? They have been granted visas to travel to the United Kingdom but their documents were at the visa application centre in Kyiv, which is obviously now closed. Over the weekend they fled the fighting in Donbas. They are making their way overland to a third country—I do not want to say exactly where for reasons of their safety—and they are hoping to fly to the United Kingdom. What steps is the Home Secretary taking with Border Force officials to ensure that visa holders, such as my constituent’s parents, who arrive in the UK without the correct physical documentation—that is through no fault of their own, because that physical documentation existed but they could not get to it—receive a warm welcome and are given the access to this country to which they are entitled?
There are a number of measures, and it is not just about Border Force—this is a conversation I had with the Ukrainian ambassador today—because of people without documents that can be verified, and all sorts of issues. We are trying to use both systems, out of country but in country as well. We have an operation in Lviv, in particular, trying to verify the data of those who are trying to leave, and match it against our systems. Quite a lot of work is taking place on this, but the hon. and learned Lady should provide me with details of the case she mentioned, and we will absolutely take it on board and pick it up.
These welcome efforts will put huge extra strain on the Home Secretary’s Department. May I urge her to bear in mind the situation of those other refugees who fled from Afghanistan to Pakistan, and who have been granted entry visas to this country but are stuck there because they entered Pakistan undocumented in an emergency? The Pakistani authorities could well grab them and send them back to a terrible fate in Kabul. Will she reach out to the Ministry of Defence to set in place safe extraction measures for those people who we have agreed can come here, but who cannot show themselves in Pakistan because our so-called ally is too close to the Taliban?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that important point. The Afghanistan resettlement and the plight of Afghan refugees absolutely has not ended. As Members of the House will know, we welcomed more than 20,000 Afghan refugees, and the Minister for Afghan Resettlement, who is sitting on the Bench beside me now, is in constant contact with the MOD, and particularly with our Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office partners in Pakistan. There absolutely are challenges, and we cannot just move from one international crisis to another. We must continue to work on this issue, and that is a whole-Government effort. We are using the FCDO and the MOD to deal specifically with those cases.
My constituent’s mother went to the visa centre in Kyiv on 16 February 2021 to deliver her biometric fingerprints. She received confirmation that her application had been received eight days later. The family had not heard anything by August, so they contacted the Home Office. The reply they received stated that it was currently receiving a high volume of applications as a result of the significant increase in uptake, and that customers may experience a longer wait than usual for its decision. If there was an increase in demand as far back as August, what was done to address that? How many such cases are there? What will be done with the information in the visa centre in Kyiv, and what will be done to assist my constituent’s mother?
I cannot answer on the specifics of that case, but if the hon. Gentleman emails the details to me this afternoon I will pick that up. As I have outlined, across our centres we are united in our databases and the information that we have. I will pick up that case this afternoon and look at it further.
May I strongly commend my right hon. Friend for her tremendous work in this field? She has enormous problems to deal with, and I am sure the House will be united in supporting her, the Prime Minister and the Government in this national emergency. Will she do everything possible to ensure that the Nationality and Borders Bill—currently in the House of Lords—which she has indicated needs to be amended, will be enacted as soon as possible? Will she urge the House of Lords to take the measures necessary to get that legislation on to the statute book as soon as possible?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and for his absolute support on this, and he is absolutely right. Operationalising legislation is not straightforward but we are already working on plans to do that. That is why there is a big effort to ask our colleagues in the Lords to send the legislation back here so that we can get it done.
Over the weekend the Prime Minister evoked the parable of the good Samaritan when he visited a Ukrainian church in London. In that parable, the good Samaritan is generous and compassionate when he stops to help a complete stranger. He does not stop to check their family connections, whether a suitable sponsorship scheme has been set up, or their papers. Although today’s statement is a welcome step forward, will the Home Secretary go still further and establish urgently a scheme that is open to all those fleeing war and persecution right now at the hands of Putin’s forces?
This statement is specifically about Ukraine, and the measures I have announced today will build on the wider work that is taking place in Government. We are operationalising the schemes, and there will be further announcements about the wider work, the sponsorship scheme, and things of that nature that will be brought forward. All our work on humanitarian aid relief, resettlement and support of refugees is based on our work directly with the Ukrainian Government and countries in the region.
I warmly welcome the changes that the Home Secretary has set out, and I say gently to SNP Members that it is important to keep biometric checks in place. I still remember what happened in Salisbury. The Putin regime will not hesitate to send agents here to kill British citizens, and it is the Home Secretary’s job to ensure we keep people safe. I commend the work that our intelligence agencies have done to give us advance notice of what was going to happen. I urge the Home Secretary to continue looking at that intelligence, so that we keep our offer flexible and commensurate with the threat faced by our Ukrainian brothers and sisters.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I thank him for his comments and understanding on this. Our intelligence and security agencies have been there right from the outset. That is not just recent information, but information that has been in place for many months, dating back to early last year. Security checks are significant, and such issues are debated often in this House, including with regard to the evacuation from Kabul last year. We know what Putin’s regime is capable of, and not just in Ukraine but on the streets of the United Kingdom. Our country has suffered at the hands of Putin and his regime, and we must do everything we possibly can to protect our country and its citizens.
I note the very strong emphasis on community sponsorship in the Home Secretary’s statement. I am a supporter of community sponsorship, which provides a fantastic welcome for refugees who come through that route, but it requires a huge amount of work by community groups, and many hurdles to be jumped over at the Home Office. Can the Home Secretary confirm that she really thinks that it is an appropriate and fit-for-purpose route for the scale and immediacy of the challenge that we face? Would it not be better for the Home Office to be doing that work, to allow communities simply to do the job of very quickly welcoming people who arrive here and who can already be supported in situ?
I come back to my earlier remarks about working with the diaspora community. This is something that has been asked for specifically, working with the ambassador as well. This will not be Home Office led. The Home Office has a role to play, but this is a whole-of-Government effort, which is why the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities will lead on the community engagement piece, and work with communities on this.
Linked with community sponsorship, we still have to work through the elements of infrastructure, housing, education and the key access to public services. It is a whole-of-Government effort, not just with the Home Office, but there will be further announcements on this to come.
I commend my right hon. Friend on what I think is the right approach. I listened with surprise to the Opposition saying that there should be no process. It does not help the refugees themselves if we have a completely chaotic situation.
Can my right hon. Friend tell the House what work she is doing with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees? The number of people coming out of Ukraine means that this will have to be a global response, not simply a European one.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Again, having a united response on this is really important; I do not just mean in this House but internationally. That is why I am not underplaying the emphasis on working with our partners and friends in the region, the Ukrainian Government and UN agencies.
My right hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) spoke about transport and things of that nature. We will have to work with our partners—the UNHCR, and other UN aid agencies, third parties and countries—in terms of how to bring people to the UK, and potentially to create humanitarian corridors to still try to help people to get out of Ukraine. There is a lot of work taking place, not just in the UK with the British Government but working with partners and agencies. We cannot under-emphasise that work at the time of this crisis, or the number of people who are on the move right now.
I have made my point on security checks. We have been the target, basically, of Putin’s Russia. On the EU’s approach, the EU is still discussing how it intends to operationalise its mechanism. I am in touch with the commissioner. As soon as I know more from the commissioner, obviously we will work with them. We are not working in isolation: I want to make that quite clear to all colleagues. We are working with everyone. Of course, that also means sharing information and helping each other out. As I have said, this is an evolving situation.
I welcome the offer that the Home Secretary has announced to the Ukrainian people at this moment of desperate need, and her reassurance that there will be no limit on the numbers of Ukrainian people who can enter the United Kingdom under one of the qualifying schemes.
A constituent of mine emailed me today about his mother and father-in-law—Ukrainian nationals who have escaped the country and are now in a European country. They have applied for a visitor visa and have been told that they face a 15-day delay. Could I meet the Home Secretary, or one of her officials, to see what we can do to accelerate their safe passage to the United Kingdom?
Of course. I say to all Members of the House who have cases coming to them that, as I have said, we will have staff in Portcullis House from tomorrow. We will write to all Members this afternoon with basic information about where to go with their cases. Of course, I am more than happy to pick up cases directly from colleagues, as I have been doing.
Receiving refugees here is the first step; how we treat them once they get here is just as important. I appreciate that the Home Secretary has said that that becomes a responsibility for the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Will she ensure that in that role he is now having urgent discussions with local authorities, which will be key to providing accommodation, education for children, social services support and mental health support? It is crucial that local authorities get the resources to do that. Indeed, it might be good if the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities could come to the House and make a statement on those matters.
I absolutely understand and hear the points that the hon. Gentleman is making, with his experience across the board in local government. It is important to say that this is a whole-of-Government effort. We are one Government, and we are taking an integrated approach. He is right that we have to provide the services and infrastructure. Not all of that can materialise overnight.
We are absolutely working with local councils. Talks have been taking place informally with the devolved Administrations. This is absolutely ongoing, but as I have said, getting started is sometimes the hardest thing. It may be imperfect at the outset, but we know what kind of support we need to provide. It is the Government’s objective and priority to ensure that we do the best that we can, working across the country with local authorities and across the whole of Government.
Following on from the question of the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), can my right hon. Friend say a little more? I accept that it is not her direct responsibility, but he asked about the cross-Government effort to ensure that refugees coming into this country are given a proper welcome. They may well be traumatised and have lost their principal family member. They may never see them again. They may require medical attention. They may be old. They may be young. Can we have a cross-Government effort to ensure that they are properly welcomed to this country?
I give my hon. Friend that reassurance. This is a whole-of-Government effort. As I think I mentioned, we learn from previous efforts. Syria and Afghanistan were harrowing conflicts. People arrived in our country. I still speak to those who were involved in developing the Syrian scheme, the sponsorship scheme and the resettlement scheme. People came over who were traumatised and really sick. It was the same for Afghanistan, last year alone; I met many of those individuals and families as well. The situations are highly traumatic and deeply distressing. We are well aware of what needs to be provided, but it will be a national effort across all aspects of society.
The Secretary of State alluded to the sponsorship pathway. Will she have discussions with the devolved institutions, so that there is a seamless approach in all parts of the United Kingdom? I assume that that would ensure that she would have discussions with at least one Sinn Féin Minister. Given that party’s influence in terms of the Russian sphere of influence in the past, hopefully she will use her best endeavours to ensure that no political attitudes get in the way of a humanitarian approach across the UK.
The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point. At a time such as this, there should be no room for political issues or political points. That is really quite important. The world is in crisis. Look at how the west has been threatened. Look at what is going on in Ukraine in terms of freedom and democracy being completely undermined. We have to stand united and together. Only by working together across the devolved Administrations, across the entire United Kingdom and, as I have emphasised, with our friends and partners in the region do we stand up to a tyrant such as Putin, and stand with the people of Ukraine.
Everybody wants to be humanitarian, and the Home Secretary is under pressure to have a visa-free scheme like the rest of Europe, but may I congratulate her on her proportionate response? We have to remember that, unlike the rest of Europe, we have uniquely liberal labour laws and we speak English, so we are the country of choice for mass immigration. I therefore urge her to listen to not only all the humanitarian voices but the voices of people in, for instance, Lincolnshire, where we feel we have really done our bit in terms of migration from eastern Europe. We are under extreme pressure in terms of housing and jobs. [Interruption.] I know that this is difficult to say, but we have to be honest about it. May I therefore be a correcting voice, and congratulate her on her humanitarian but proportionate response, and on not throwing away the immigration rulebook?
My right hon. Friend makes some important points about the balanced and pragmatic approach that we are taking. First and foremost, as I have said to the House throughout this session, we have worked directly with our partners in the region and the Ukrainian Government. We have to understand their needs as well. We want to do the right thing by the people of Ukraine; there is no question about that.
I spoke about the significance of security checks and the fact that we are giving people who want to come to the United Kingdom the chance to live their lives freely, with access to public funds and work. Of course, people will need documentation and we have a system in place for that. We feel we are taking the right approach, working with our partners. As ever, though, we are in challenging and difficult times, and things could evolve. I have already pointed to the sponsorship group under development. It is right that we secure our frameworks for how we bring people over.
I have a constituent living here with his Ukrainian spouse of 22 years who wants to offer his home as a sanctuary to three family members fleeing the war in Ukraine and now heading to a third country. They are a niece and her young daughter, and a cousin’s young daughter. However, the Government’s Ukrainian family scheme does not include nieces and cousins. Most of us, I think, would say that our families include our nieces and our cousins. What can I tell my constituent about offering sanctuary and his home to his family members? Will the Secretary of State reconsider including other family members in the family scheme and the time limit of 12 months when other countries have allowed up to three years?
I think most of my constituents would like us to be generous with the sanctuary that we offer to those fleeing besieged homes. The measures my right hon. Friend announced will allow people to turn their generosity into practical and direct action. Will she continue to work with organisations, such as the United Nations and the Red Cross, to look at how else we can best support those in need?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I want to come back to a point I made earlier on. The situation is very difficult in-region and in Ukraine. Inevitably, UN agencies will be asked to do more and there will be more convening. It will not just be about money, but practical aid and support. We will continue to work with agency partners in the United Kingdom, because we have to integrate and join up how we help the people of Ukraine.
As the Home Secretary knows, and I am glad she has already mentioned it, I have a constituent, Derek MacLeod, a businessman on the Isle of Lewis, who has 20 family members and in-laws—normal people who are now refugees—on the Poland-Ukraine border. The accommodation is there and we want them in the Hebrides, but so far red tape in London is stopping them from coming to Scotland. There is a simple question from Mr MacLeod: can the 20 come to the Isle of Lewis? As Mr MacLeod says, time is lives, and he and his wife are very concerned.
I am very grateful to the Home Secretary for coming to the House at the earliest opportunity to update us. As we know, women and children are fleeing through west Ukraine to get to safe countries, but they are obviously vulnerable to air attack by Russian aircraft. Has there been any discussion on creating a no-fly safe zone in western Ukraine for refugees? Did the Home Secretary discuss that when she spoke to the Ukrainian ambassador?
We discuss all issues, some of which I cannot share on the Floor of the House because they are very sensitive in light of the attacks. I know my hon. Friend will respect that. Discussions are taking place constantly, but he is right to highlight just how dangerous, volatile and precarious the situation is. All of us are mindful of that as we work with our counterparts and our colleagues. I am speaking to many of my counterparts nearly every other day, plus ambassadors every single day. The situation is changing and we are hearing different reports. We are working in real time—real time—to provide all the support in the region and in-country in specific ways that can make a difference to people.
Someone very dear to me who helped to raise me and who came to this country from Ukraine after the second world war would not have been eligible under any of the Home Secretary’s schemes. Today’s announcement, while welcome, is heavily caveated and still falls far short of what is needed. I want the Prime Minister to honour the words he spoke to me last week in this Chamber and put in place meaningful support for all those fleeing Ukraine. When will the Home Office start waiving visas and not just waving flags?
I refer the hon. Lady to what I have said already in the House about the practical routes we are putting in place. [Interruption.] She can shake her head. I am sorry that she wants to be political, but we are putting in some very powerful routes that we will support. We do not know how many people will come over, but those routes have been developed in conjunction not just with our colleagues in the Ukrainian Government and other counterparts, but from the actual needs of people from what we are hearing in the region. She has heard me say very clearly that there are no caps on numbers.
We are creating schemes for people to come over, but that takes time. Not only that, but it also takes time to work with our colleagues in the region and work to meet their specific needs. I would like to think that the hon. Lady would respect that. It is not about the British Government just saying that we are starting up the scheme without actually working with people in-country or in the region on how it can be operationalised and how to ensure that it meets the needs of the people of Ukraine.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her statement and for highlighting the vital work being done behind the scenes to ensure that the scheme meets the needs of those fleeing the atrocities in Ukraine, and that it works with its neighbouring countries as well as recognises our own security needs. We would all like to do more to help the displaced people of Ukraine. Will she detail what practical things my constituents can do to help?
My hon. Friend highlights brilliantly the generosity of the British people in her own constituency. We are all grateful for that. It is important, as I have said a few times now in the discussions we have had in the House thus far, that we provide people with a warm welcome, and also work with local authorities, local councils, NHS trusts, schools, education and county councils. I think she met me recently to discuss issues relating to local government, policing and crime. It is about getting local organisations to come together and integrate the welcome that can be given and the services that can be provided.
Millions of people across the country are desperate to help Ukrainians fleeing Putin’s monstrous and indiscriminate invasion by donating money and items desperately needed by Ukrainian refugees at thousands of sites across the country, including my constituency office. However, many of them are asking why Ireland and the EU can welcome all Ukrainians, yet their own Government refuse to do likewise. Ukrainian men, women and children are dying defending democracy and freedom, and they are dying for our freedom just as much as Ukraine’s. What does the Home Secretary say to those Ukrainians she has deemed not worthy of refuge in this country?
I am not even going to address the points the hon. Gentleman has made. I have spoken very clearly about the schemes. We are very clear. It is not just about our generosity. There are no limits. We are welcoming Ukrainian people to our country. The other point to make is that many Ukrainians want to stay in-region and we have to take a balanced approach. The Government are working in conjunction with the Ukrainian Government and the Ukrainian ambassador in London. We are understanding the specific needs—[Interruption.] He clearly does not want to listen to my comments, because he is just talking over me. I am addressing his points. I am afraid it is obvious that the SNP has its own particular view and stance, which they are welcome to, but we are a Government working with our partners in-region and aid agencies to understand the situation on the ground and in the region.
I very much welcome the announcement today. Community sponsorship is absolutely the right approach to support refugees coming into this country. Of course, it does not come for free and volunteering is not free. I hope there might be some public funds available to support community groups, but perhaps even more helpfully, might my right hon. Friend work with the Charity Commission and charitable foundations to establish a philanthropic fund, so that people can make direct contributions themselves to support their neighbours who are supporting refugees?
The Scottish National party’s position is that the refugees are welcome and that we should do everything in our power to offer sanctuary to people who need it. On that basis, and further to the question from the hon. Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson), I note that the conflict has regional implications and that some of us are already starting to hear from constituents and business owners who have contracts in Belarus and elsewhere who want to flee Putin’s aggression. What routes are already open to them and will the kind of announcement that the Home Secretary has made today be extended to other countries in the region?
The routes are published on gov.uk, so the hon. Gentleman can see them, and I have outlined them this afternoon. In its response, the whole United Kingdom stands shoulder to shoulder with the people of Ukraine. As I have said several times in the House, that means an effort across the whole country to provide support and accommodation, and discussions are under way with the devolved Administrations.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her work today to create new routes of entry for Ukrainians in the most invidious of positions and on her prior work for the BNO—British national overseas—citizens from Hong Kong and for Afghan nationals. It is a brilliant reflection of the British people’s compassion. I have a constituent whose mother in Kyiv is elderly and infirm. The application centre in Lviv is critical and a lifeline to her to be able to come here. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that that application centre will remain open and that it will be as accessible as possible for those with disabilities?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. To give some context on Lviv, the take-up in recent weeks has been very low, but with that said, we are doing everything we can. I would like to pay tribute to our ambassador, Melinda Simmons, and the team in Lviv, who are doing outstanding work. It is because of her and her team that we are able to keep these operations up and running—I want to put all this into that particular context. We are relying on very brave people from our home team in-country to help Ukrainian people, and I come back to my point about cases: please send us details and we will work with them to ensure that we can provide the support that is necessary.
The Home Secretary is right to talk about the unity that we have seen in response to the appalling events in Ukraine. We need that unity in our response to the refugee crisis, and we need our response to reflect the mood of the public, who have seen the deeply moving images of women and children fleeing their country. Last night at a rally in Sheffield, one Ukrainian who is here on a temporary work visa pleaded for the right to bring his sister to the country. Will the Home Secretary confirm that the family reunion scheme that she has announced today will extend to him and others on temporary visas? In relation to others, will she seriously consider the resettlement scheme that has been proposed by the Refugee Council?
We do not rule anything out. I restate to the House that we have been developing this response in conjunction with partners, and the situation is evolving. Again, the hon. Member has a specific case: I ask him please to send it to me and we absolutely will take a look at it.
After successfully getting Russia suspended from the Council of Europe, I wish my right hon. Friend the best of luck with Interpol. Given the uncertainty over the future direction of this crisis, talking with the Ukrainian authorities and those of the neighbouring countries will be absolutely essential. If she needs any help in doing that, I am very willing to participate and to help her out.
I thank my hon. Friend for his practical support. I would like to take him up on that offer, particularly regarding his work on the Council of Europe, which I congratulate him on as well. He speaks about the power of being united by showing what can be achieved collectively. That applies to trying to suspend Russia from Interpol systems for very good reasons. We know extensively of Russia’s history of abusing red notices. We absolutely support Ukraine in that effort—it is so important to say that. I have spoken to my counterpart in the UAE, because it has a key figure in Interpol. We are working with other key nations as well. I absolutely would like to take my hon. Friend up on his offer, because we have to keep the dialogue going in-region, so that we know about the support that is needed, hear about the situation on the ground and can act in real time.
I hope that today’s statement will offer much needed certainty to constituents of mine who are desperately worried about the safety of their family members, but I would be grateful if the Home Secretary could clarify two particular examples that have been shared with my office. First, will adult siblings and their dependent children be able to join their UK family under the Ukrainian family scheme? Secondly, will unaccompanied grandchildren be able to do the same?
As my right hon. Friend said, the Government are operating on the assumption that the vast bulk of Ukrainians who come to the UK will want to go home as swiftly as they can. Given that assumption, which seems entirely right to me, does that not mean that the Government can be more generous in their immigration approach than they would otherwise be, both in terms of immediate family members—I very much welcome her redefinition of that—and in the simplicity and flexibility of the humanitarian sponsorship pathway? May I also ask her about the not wholly improbably scenario that men who have fought in the Ukrainian conflict as part of the Ukrainian forces will wish to come back to the UK to be reunited with their families here? I would be grateful if she could confirm that her Department is prepared for that eventuality.
My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. We do not know what tomorrow will bring and we have to be clear about that—we really do not know. We have seen the day-to-day changes and everything else that has taken place in Ukraine and it is going to be harrowing for us all to see it every day, and even harder for the families, mothers, wives and sisters who have left their loved ones behind. I want to be very clear that we are not ruling anything out in terms of not just flexibility, but the approach that we need to take. We just do not know what the outcomes will or could be. That is why we are having daily discussions with representatives in the region and with the Ukrainian Government.
My constituent’s sister and children have fled Ukraine to Poland, where they have been welcomed on a 14-day green card. When she called the number provided by the Home Secretary, she was directed to the citizens advice bureau. Why is the Home Secretary continuing the piecemeal approach of picking up casework from the Floor of the House instead of having a comprehensive, compassionate approach, like other EU nations that are much flexible? And why is she directing my constituent to the citizens advice bureau?
I was not aware of that, and I recognise the tone of the hon. Lady’s comment. I will pick that up, absolutely—[Interruption.] Yes, I need to find out what has happened. Had she notified me of this before, I could have looked into it. However, she is raising it now and I will look into it. As for the point on Europe, I have commented that it is still working through what it is going to do.
My constituent writes in the past few hours:
“My only brother with his two small children and wife are hiding in the shelter under their home not knowing what the next hour will bring, gradually running out of food and basic supplies”.
For those of us with small children, that is unimaginable. The Ukrainian family scheme is really good news for that family, and I thank the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister for listening to their Back Benchers on that. The UK is big-hearted and generous, as always. Will the Home Secretary say a bit more about the humanitarian sponsorship pathway? A church in the Chandler’s Ford bit of my constituency has been in touch during her statement to say that it wants to help. How can it even express an interest at this stage to get the ball rolling?
First, if my hon. Friend sends me the details of the church, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities will pick that up through the sponsorship group. We are working in fast time on all this and things are moving very quickly. As he said, he has been contacted during this statement. We want to take up every single sort of offer and a lot of co-ordination is taking place in Government.
Today, we are rightly focusing on the terrible situation in Ukraine, but I stress the importance of not forgetting the Afghans who are still trying to flee Afghanistan and those who are caught in the asylum system in the UK. On Ukraine, I am aware of Afghan refugees who have already fled one war who currently have asylum in Ukraine, and there are other non-Ukrainian nationals who need to flee Ukraine. Will the Home Secretary clarify whether the various routes that she has outlined are open to people who want to flee Ukraine but who are not Ukrainian?
Obviously, the situation is developing, but I have outlined specific family and sponsorship routes, and also the community sponsorship route, and there will be information coming on that. I cannot today talk about other categories of people who are not Ukrainian coming to the UK. Clearly, a lot of work is under way right now. As I have said, we have to look at everything, and we are currently doing so.
Quality of life for asylum seekers when they arrive here in the UK has to be paramount. Our broken asylum system sees tens of thousands of asylum seekers bogged down in the system, with families stuck in hotel rooms for over 18 months. In the light of this, does my right hon. Friend agree with me that we need to fix this system quickly to ensure that all asylum seekers, whether from the Ukraine or others, have the quality of life they deserve as they are being processed here in the UK?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. May I take the opportunity to thank him for all his work, because he was a great support to me while he was the Home Office Whip, and he fully understands the work the Government have been doing. There is a very important point here, which I have touched on already: we need the capacity in the infrastructure. We are a big-hearted nation, and with that we of course need the provision and the accommodation. This is where it is in effect a nationwide effort, with local authorities across the country, the NHS and education coming together to provide the services that people need.
I am assuming from the Secretary of State’s statement that a constituent’s elderly mother, who previously visited on a tourist visa, now expired, would be considered for the Ukrainian family scheme. Could the Secretary of State also clarify whether individuals who have in the past had a successful visa application and are well known to the Home Office will have their applications fast-tracked as a result of applying for the Ukraine family scheme?
We will have to look at the individuals coming forward, because not everybody who has previously had a visa may want to come, but the family scheme will capture a considerable number of family members. Obviously, those who have been here before will be eligible to come within the family route, and we will make sure that that works.
As might be expected of a former Immigration Minister, I pay tribute to all the hard-working Home Office staff, particular those in region. Community sponsorship works—it really does—and we have long been recognised as global leader in it. Can I be reassured that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will make sure that this scheme works at pace, however, because that is one of the biggest lessons we have had to learn? We need this to work quickly because people are being bombed as they try to flee Ukraine. We often hear the language of burden sharing when we talk about refugees, but it is not a burden. We should regard it as a privilege to be in a position to help.
I echo the last words that my right hon. Friend used, because it is an absolute privilege—it is a dreadful phrase actually—for us not just to stand up in the world but give support to other human beings. She is absolutely right about community sponsorship, which we looked at for other schemes last year—Afghanistan and all the rest of it—and it works but needs to be stood up fast. Standing up schemes fast also means that they sometimes fall over if they are not set up properly, and we intend to ensure that we have the basics in place. As I have said, we need the accommodation, the facilities, and the wraparound support and care that are so important. We are building on lessons from previous schemes, but we are also working across Government to look at how we can bring it in fast.
The contrast between the desperate scenes of ordinary Ukrainians fighting for their lives or fleeing for their lives and the Home Secretary’s condescending and complacent “we are already doing so much we should be praised” statement is deeply troubling, especially given the long delays and numerous failings of the Afghan citizens settlement scheme and the asylum system more generally. Can she tell me whether a constituent of mine who is British and his Ukrainian partner can expect to be able to welcome her brother and sister, niece and nephew, and grandfather or grandmother, regardless of her immigration status?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her statement. It is clear that this is not a business-as-usual immigration exercise or mass economic migration; this is women, children and elderly people fleeing for their lives, and not knowing if they will see their fathers, sons, brothers or husbands ever again. I welcome the compassionate set of measures that my right hon. Friend has announced today. Does she agree that as well as providing safe haven for refugees fleeing the conflict, it is equally important that we throw every single economic and diplomatic sanction at the Russian regime and send the very clear message to Putin that he must withdraw his troops and peace must be restored in Ukraine?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is not a moment for making flippant remarks or anything of that nature, which has obviously taken place in the House in some quarters today. This is a collective effort. Putin must fail. There is no equivocation here, and no ambiguity whatsoever. My hon. Friend speaks with great passion, and she is absolutely right about the implications and consequences. None of us can fail to be moved not just by watching what we see on our screens, but by some of the conversations—I have had some very harrowing conversations with my counterparts—that will concentrate people’s minds as well as some of the wider implications we are seeing. We need Putin to fail. We have to be united. We have to apply every single economic, diplomatic and military measure, in a consistent and united way.
I thank the Secretary of State for her tireless efforts in these difficult days. Many missionaries from Northern Ireland and from across the United Kingdom are serving in Ukraine and helping those in need. Likewise, the local response of gathering practical aid in my constituency is humbling and commendable. Can the Secretary of State tell us what is being done to work with the extensive church networks in Ukraine to deliver and distribute much-needed aid to those who are in need?
The hon. Member makes a very important point. In fact, that was part of the conversation I had today with the ambassador. Aid in country is needed—it is absolutely needed—and getting aid into the country is a challenge. We should just be honest and level about this. It is not straightforward: with all the restrictions and the situation on the ground, it is very difficult. I just want to thank the missionaries and commend their work and that of all third parties. They are risking their lives to save other people’s lives. A lot of work is taking place in this area, and the FCDO is leading on that humanitarian work. However, I want to emphasise that this is a very difficult area, and it is getting harder right now to get aid to people. This is exactly why the United Nations, the Red Cross and other agencies are really pulling together and coming together to help people in country.
The Home Secretary is right when she says that we do not know what is going to happen tomorrow or over the coming days, but one does not have to be an expert fortune teller to know that all of us across the House will be inundated by worried and concerned constituents trying to do the best for their friends and families. She has referenced, very helpfully, a new Member support service in Portcullis House and elsewhere. I know it is a small point in the general scheme of things, but can she flesh out a little bit more information about it? Will it be adequately resourced and will it be available to Members 24/7, because this is a crisis that does not sleep and does not rest?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. To emphasise his point, this is a crisis that does not sleep and does not rest: this is 24/7. We are standing up an operation tomorrow in Portcullis House, and we will obviously be working with all colleagues. I again urge them to bring any representation and cases to us directly. We will resource it accordingly, because we do expect the numbers to go up. We will be very frank and honest about that. In the same way, we will operationalise in region where we can, which will also mean bringing more people into the region. We are already working through our contingency planning, and we already have the FCDO teams out there through the rapid taskforce team. If that means we have to bring in more Border Force staff to go in and other people from UK Visas and Immigration, we stand ready and we are absolutely ready to do that.
Colleagues on both sides of the House were a little perturbed yesterday when the Home Secretary said:
“I urge colleagues not to attempt casework themselves”.—[Official Report, 28 February 2022; Vol. 709, c. 701.]
I am glad she has rowed back on that today in her statement. This session has shown the vital role that Members can play in bringing cases to the attention of Ministers where they need action. I welcome what she has said about that. I have listened carefully to her, and she said that she wanted to do things in a united and international way. I do not think she ruled out taking the approach of a temporary protection mechanism to allow access to public services. At the end of the day, do we really want to be a country that until recently was granting passports and privileges to Putin’s friends but that will not waive visas for Putin’s Ukrainian victims in their hour of need?
If I may, I will clarify a couple of things to the hon. Gentleman. First, in terms of what I said about casework yesterday, Members raise casework on the Floor of the House, and that is absolutely fine—I have not said, “Don’t do that”—but it is also the case that Members should bring cases directly in fast time. In fact, colleagues have emailed me since the weekend. I have been picking them up myself. Obviously it is much more efficient just to come to me directly. We are all 24/7; that is the nature of all our work. I have always said we will happily pick those cases up, rather than having Members waiting to bring them to the Floor of the House. That is the point I make.
I rule nothing out, but the point about visas is that having documentation of individuals is important, particularly when they come here to access public services, to gain employment and all those kinds of things, and the biometric checks are also important, and that is the point I have been making. We need to do those checks and to keep them in place. We will work with all colleagues. I am in touch with the commissioner in the EU. We have to learn from each other, because this is a real-time crisis, and things will probably get a lot worse, so we have to have the agility and flexibility to respond.
My constituent Tania, who is a dual British and Ukrainian national, is very concerned about her mother and sister in Kyiv, who she told me this morning are trying to get a train to safety. Can I welcome the confirmation that my right hon. Friend has given today that, God willing they make it, this family can be reunited in King’s Lynn?
My constituent’s wife is a Ukrainian national who was granted a spousal visa last week, but in order to travel to the UK, she needs that visa added to her passport. The couple were in Poland when the invasion occurred, and neither the British embassy nor the third-party TLScontact can help. Can the Home Secretary therefore make urgent arrangements to allow the bureaucracy to take place in Warsaw, rather than their travelling back into the path of danger in Lviv, as the UK visas advice line asked them to do?
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. In fast-moving circumstances, she is making absolutely the right calls, not least in the creation of the humanitarian support pathway. Further to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) earlier, history teaches us that infiltration is a well-known Russian tactic that is likely to be happening now. That is why we categorically must not drop the security and biometric tests.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Infiltration is one aspect, but there is much wider security and intelligence information that points to why we need these checks. We know—I have said it already in this House—what Putin is capable of in terms of threats to our own homeland security. We saw that with Salisbury. People have died in our country, and it is right that we ensure we check those who come to the United Kingdom.
A considerable number of the 650,000 refugees from Ukraine will try to make it to the UK. I welcome the support that the Government have announced and the compassionate words that the Home Secretary has used today, but I worry that under the current provisions of the Nationality and Borders Bill, those Ukrainians would be criminalised, because they would be passing through another country to get here. I sincerely hope that the Government will look at the provisions of the Bill again and look at supporting the Lords amendment to remove clause 11.
My question is this: I have a constituent with adult stepchildren and grandchildren in Ukraine who we hope to bring over, so can the Home Secretary confirm that the scheme she has announced today will include stepchildren and grandchildren?
I warmly welcome the Home Secretary’s open and generous statement today, and I look forward to receiving details of how we in Sevenoaks can support it. Over the past week, I have been supporting my constituents Joanna and Sergei, who are both British citizens and are desperate to bring their family over to the UK. Sergei’s sisters and parents are stuck in Ukraine, and I am extremely grateful that on the basis of the statement today, they will be able to come over here. Can the Home Secretary give some indication of how long she expects this process to take? She does not need me to tell her that every day is vital.
No, and my hon. Friend is right to say that. I have said it already during the statement, but the situation is deteriorating—that is just a fact. We have been able to turn cases around in hours, but I do not want to give any false hope or expectation, because we have to look at everything from a case-by-case perspective, which we will do. If she follows up with me afterwards, we will pick this case up.
The Home Secretary talks about vital security checks, but she needs to remember that we are predominantly talking about women and children, considering that adult Ukrainian males cannot leave the country anyway. As was pointed out, many people have already got visas in the past. My constituent’s mother-in-law has managed to flee to Poland, but she has been told she has to travel three hours to an assessment centre that is much closer to the area of conflict. That is causing the family so much concern that they are looking to fly her to Ireland, where she can land without a visa. What happens if someone lands in Ireland? How do they then qualify to come over here? One other point is that my constituent’s mother-in-law previously overstayed on a visa here, because Crimea was annexed and she could not get home at that time. Can the Home Secretary confirm that such things will not be a red flag or a barrier to re-entry?
My constituent Tatsiana, a legal UK resident, and her one-year-old baby, a British citizen, have been stranded for a week without any support from this Government. To be completely clear, this case has been followed through by email, and today my office has been told by the authorities that they do not believe their situation to be urgent. Does the Home Secretary agree, or will she intervene and urgently help Tatsiana and baby Maria to get home to East Dunbartonshire?
When it comes to resettlement housing, perfection can sometimes be the enemy of the good. The Ministry of Defence leases 7,230 homes from Annington Homes, and they are unoccupied. We know that there are unoccupied local authority homes and other public estate, as well as short-term holiday lets and other accommodation. Indeed, people want to open their own homes. Will the Home Secretary ensure that she is maximising the use of all the estate across the country, so that people are not languishing for months in hotels, but are placed in communities where they can start to rebuild their lives?
The hon. Lady has just made the case that I constantly make across Departments when it comes to accommodation. We do not want people in hotels. There is estate and Government land. There are also private sector options, so we can unite and work together on this.
Can the Home Secretary confirm what initial discussions have taken place with the Scottish Government and how the humanitarian sponsorship pathway will work in Scotland, so that local authorities and community and church groups, such as those in my constituency that are keen to help Ukrainians with no family ties in the UK, can do so apace?
It is an important point. Discussions have taken place; the Immigration Minister started discussions last week with Neil Gray. Those discussions must take place on a near-daily basis. Particularly for the sponsorship route that I have just spoken about, there will obviously be further statements and updates to the House and there is a lot of work taking place in Government on it.
I first thank the Secretary of State and her ministerial team for all that they are doing on the matter, particularly the Immigration Minister.
It is important to tell this story. A lady from my constituency who lives in Killyleagh contacted me on Sunday and I met her yesterday morning. She has two children and a husband living in Ukraine. She has lived in my constituency for two years and works there. Her husband has been called up to fight in the army, which we understand, meaning that her 15-year-old boy and seven-year-old girl have to be looked after by elderly relatives who perhaps, with respect, cannot do so. She wants to get them home as soon as possible. Her option is to go there next week, on 7 March, to bring them home—the Immigration Minister has the information. I make a plea to the Home Secretary to ensure that she has the assistance that she needs so that she can get home to Northern Ireland with her children as soon as possible.
Many others in my constituency who have elderly relatives have also contacted me, and I understand that the Home Secretary is working on that as well. I also gave the Immigration Minister some information about Willowbrook Foods, which is offering jobs to Ukrainians. It already has a Ukrainian workforce and it is there, willing and able. People are generous—they are so great, we just cannot get over it.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words and comments. He is absolutely right that we will hear many more cases of elderly relatives and grandparents—that is a fact—which is why we have created the family route. I have also been clear that we will give those who come here access to public benefits and the chance to work. We have an established diaspora community in the United Kingdom that works in key industries and key locations, and we will build on that. The Government, and not just the Home Office, have had many offers from employers who absolutely want to help.
I thank the Home Secretary for so thoroughly answering a large number of questions. I have let this item of business run on for much longer than usual because it is so important and I recognise the strength of feeling in the House about it.