Before I make a statement on counter-terrorism, Mr Speaker, let me update the House on what we are doing to help address the migration crisis in Europe and, in particular, to help the thousands of refugees who are fleeing Syria.
This issue is clearly the biggest challenge facing countries across Europe today. More than 300,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe so far this year. These people came from different countries under different circumstances. Some are economic migrants in search of a better life in Europe; many are refugees fleeing conflict. It is vital to distinguish between the two.
In recent weeks, we have seen a vast increase in the numbers arriving across the eastern Mediterranean from Turkey. More than 150,000 people have attempted that route since January. The majority of them are Syrian refugees fleeing the terror of Assad and ISIL, which has seen more than 11 million people driven from their homes.
The whole country has been deeply moved by the heart-breaking images that we have seen over the past few days. It is absolutely right that Britain should fulfil its moral responsibility to help the refugees, just as we have done so proudly throughout our history. But in doing so, we must use our head and our heart by pursuing a comprehensive approach that tackles the causes of the problem as well as the consequences. That means helping to stabilise the countries from which the refugees are coming, seeking a solution to the crisis in Syria, pushing for the formation of a new unity Government in Libya, busting the criminal gangs who are profiting from this human tragedy and playing our part in saving lives in the Mediterranean, where our Royal Navy has now rescued over 6,700 people.
Britain is doing, and will continue to do, all those things. We are using our aid budget to alleviate poverty and suffering in the countries from which these people are coming. We are the only major country in the world that has kept the promise to spend 0.7% of our GDP on aid. We are already the second largest bilateral donor of aid to the Syrian conflict, including by providing more than 18 million food rations, giving 1.6 million people access to clean water and providing education to a quarter of a million children. Last week, we announced a further £100 million, taking our total contribution to over £1 billion. That is the UK’s largest ever response to a humanitarian crisis.
Some £60 million of the additional funding will help Syrians who are still in Syria. The rest will go to neighbouring countries—Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon—where Syrian refugees now account for a quarter of the population. More than half of the new funding will support children, with a particular priority placed on those who have been orphaned or separated from their families. No other European country has come close to this level of support. Without Britain’s aid to the camps, the numbers attempting the dangerous journey to Europe would be very much higher.
As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said yesterday, we will now go much further in the spending review, significantly reshaping the way we use our aid budget to serve our national interest. We will invest even more in tackling the causes of the crisis in the middle east and north Africa, and we will hold much larger sums in reserve to respond to acute humanitarian crises as they happen.
Turning to the question of refugees, Britain already works with the UN to deliver resettlement programmes and we will accept thousands more under the existing schemes. We have provided sanctuary to more than 5,000 Syrians in Britain and we have introduced a specific resettlement scheme, alongside those we already had, to help Syrian refugees who are particularly at risk.
However, given the scale of the crisis and the suffering of the Syrian people, it is right that we should do much more. We are proposing that Britain should resettle up to 20,000 Syrian refugees over the rest of this Parliament. In doing so, we will continue to show the world that this is a country of extraordinary compassion, always standing up for our values and helping those in need. Britain will play its part alongside our European partners, but because we are not part of—[Interruption.] This is important. Because we are not part of the EU’s borderless Schengen agreement or its relocation initiative, Britain is able to decide its own approach.
We will continue with our approach of taking refugees from the camps, and from elsewhere in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. This provides refugees with a more direct and safe route to the United Kingdom, rather than risking the hazardous journey to Europe, which has tragically cost so many lives. We will continue to use the established United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees process for identifying and resettling refugees. When they arrive here we will grant them a five-year humanitarian protection visa, and we will significantly expand the criteria we use for our existing Syrian vulnerable persons relocation scheme. As we do so, we will recognise that children have been particularly badly affected by the crisis in Syria. In most cases, the interests of children are best met in the region where they can remain close to surviving family members, but in cases where the advice of the UNHCR is that their needs should be met by resettlement here in the UK, we will ensure that vulnerable children, including orphans, will be a priority.
In recent days, we have seen councils and our devolved Administrations coming forward to express their willingness to do more to take Syrian refugees. This has reflected a wider generosity from families and communities across our country. I commend in particular the Archbishop of Canterbury for the offer made by the Church of England. My right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will now work intensively with local authorities and the devolved Administrations to put in place the necessary arrangements to house and support the refugees we resettle. The Home Secretary will update the House on these plans next week.
Finally on this part of the statement, in full accordance with internationally agreed rules we will ensure that the full cost of supporting thousands of Syrian refugees in the UK will be met through our aid spending for the first year, easing the burden on local communities. This will be a truly national effort and I know the whole House will come together in supporting these refugees in their hour of need.
Turning to our national security, I would like to update the House on action taken this summer to protect our country from a terrorist attack. With the rise of ISIL, we know terrorist threats to our country are growing. In 2014, there were 15 ISIL-related attacks around the world. This year, there have already been 150 such attacks, including the appalling tragedies in Tunisia in which 31 Britons lost their lives. I can tell the House that our police and security services have stopped at least six different attempts to attack the UK in the past 12 months alone.
The threat picture facing Britain in terms of Islamist extremist violence is more acute today than ever before. In stepping up our response to meet this threat, we have developed a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy that seeks to prevent and disrupt plots against this country at every stage. It includes new powers to stop suspects travelling. It includes powers to enable our police and security services to apply for stronger locational constraints on those in the UK who pose a risk. It addresses the root cause of the threat—the poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism—by taking on all forms of extremism, not just violent extremism.
We have pursued Islamist terrorists through the courts and the criminal justice system. Since 2010, more than 800 people have been arrested and 140 successfully prosecuted. Our approach includes acting overseas to tackle the threat at source, with British aircraft delivering nearly 300 air strikes over Iraq. Our airborne intelligence and surveillance assets have assisted our coalition partners with their operations over Syria. As part of this counter-terrorism strategy, as I have said before, if there is a direct threat to the British people and we are able to stop it by taking immediate action, then, as Prime Minister, I will always be prepared to take that action. That is the case whether the threat is emanating from Libya, from Syria or from anywhere else.
In recent weeks it has been reported that two ISIL fighters of British nationality, who had been plotting attacks against the UK and other countries, have been killed in air strikes. Both Junaid Hussain and Reyaad Khan were British nationals based in Syria and were involved in actively recruiting ISIL sympathisers and seeking to orchestrate specific and barbaric attacks against the west, including directing a number of planned terrorist attacks right here in Britain, such as plots to attack high-profile public commemorations, including those taking place this summer.
We should be under no illusion; their intention was the murder of British citizens, so on this occasion we ourselves took action. Today, I can inform the House that in an act of self-defence and after meticulous planning, Reyaad Khan was killed in a precision airstrike carried out on 21 August by an RAF remotely piloted aircraft while he was travelling in a vehicle in the area of Raqqa in Syria. In addition to Reyaad Khan, who was the target of the strike, two ISIL associates were also killed, one of whom, Ruhul Amin, has been identified as a UK national. They were ISIL fighters, and I can confirm that there were no civilian casualties.
We took this action because there was no alternative. In this area, there is no Government we can work with; we have no military on the ground to detain those preparing plots; and there was nothing to suggest that Reyaad Khan would ever leave Syria or desist from his desire to murder us at home, so we had no way of preventing his planned attacks on our country without taking direct action. The US Administration have also confirmed that Junaid Hussain was killed in an American airstrike on 24 August in Raqqa.
With these issues of national security and with current prosecutions ongoing, the House will appreciate that there are limits on the details I can provide. However, let me set out for the House the legal basis for the action we took, the processes we followed and the implications of this action for our wider strategy in countering the threat from ISIL. First, I am clear that the action we took was entirely lawful. The Attorney General was consulted and was clear that there would be a clear legal basis for action in international law. We were exercising the UK’s inherent right to self-defence. There was clear evidence of these individuals planning and directing armed attacks against the UK. These were part of a series of actual and foiled attempts to attack the UK and our allies, and given the prevailing circumstances in Syria, the airstrike was the only feasible means of effectively disrupting the attacks that had been planned and directed. It was therefore necessary and proportionate for the individual self-defence of the United Kingdom. The United Nations charter requires members to inform the President of the Security Council of activity conducted in self-defence, and today the UK permanent representative will write to the President to do just that.
Turning to the process, as I said to the House in September last year:
“I think it is important to reserve the right that if there were a critical British national interest at stake or there were the need to act to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe, you could act immediately and explain to the House of Commons afterwards.”—[Official Report, 26 September 2014; Vol. 585, c. 1265.]
Our intelligence agencies identified the direct threat to the UK from this individual and informed me and other senior Ministers of that threat. At a meeting of the most senior members of the National Security Council, we agreed that should the right opportunity arise, military action should be taken. The Attorney General attended the meeting and confirmed that there was a legal basis for action. On that basis, the Defence Secretary authorised the operation. The strike was conducted according to specific military rules of engagement, which always comply with international law and the principles of proportionality and military necessity. The military assessed the target location and chose the optimum time to minimise the risk of civilian casualties. This was a very sensitive operation to prevent a very real threat to our country, and I have come to the House today to explain in detail what has happened and to answer questions about it.
I want to be clear that the strike was not part of coalition military action against ISIL in Syria; it was a targeted strike to deal with a clear, credible and specific terrorist threat to our country at home. The position with regard to the wider conflict with ISIL in Syria has not changed. As the House knows, I believe there is a strong case for the UK taking part in airstrikes as part of the international coalition to target ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq, and I believe that that case only grows stronger with the growing number of terrorist plots being directed or inspired by ISIL’s core leadership in Raqqa. However, I have been absolutely clear that the Government will return to the House for a separate vote if we propose to join coalition strikes in Syria.
My first duty as Prime Minister is to keep the British people safe. That is what I will always do. There was a terrorist directing murder on our streets and no other means to stop him. The Government do not for one minute take these decisions lightly, but I am not prepared to stand here in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on our streets and have to explain to the House why I did not take the chance to prevent it when I could have done. That is why I believe our approach is right. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement and I shall start by asking about the refugee crisis. When a country decides how to respond to the plight of others from outside, it is a moment when a nation becomes clear about who it is and what it stands for. This is one such defining moment. Is our national priority to keep people out at all costs or to give sanctuary to those fleeing from their homes? Is being British to be narrow, inward looking and fearful of the outside world or is it about being strong, confident and proud to reach out to those seeking refuge on our shores? It must be the latter.
We should not be talking about refugees as being “a burden” on us. Among the Syrian children we take in now will be the future consultants at our hospital bedsides, the entrepreneurs who will build our economy, the professors in our universities and those who will be among the strongest upholders of British values, because that has been the story of refugees to this country—whether it be the Jewish children of the Kindertransport, the Asian families driven out of east Africa 20 years later or the Sierra Leoneans fleeing a brutal civil war. The Prime Minister said last week that it will not help to take more refugees because it will not solve the problem in Syria, but that was a false choice. Helping those Jewish children was not part of our efforts to end the second world war; helping the east African families did not bring down the brutal dictatorships in east Africa, but it was the right thing to do.
I shall not take up any more time rehearsing the criticisms of the Government’s response to date, but I want to ask the Prime Minister about what is going to be done now. He said that this country will now accept 20,000 Syrian refugees over the course of this Parliament. How many will it be this year? The crisis is immediate so does that mean there will be only 4,000 this year? We need more information on that. Will the Prime Minister now urgently convene local authority leaders from around the country to hear from them what they are prepared and able to do to settle the refugees into their areas and how much further they can go? Many local authorities are keen to step forward and play their part—and that is greatly to their credit. They will need additional resources, particularly at a time when they are undergoing unprecedented cuts. The Government have said that they are planning to use the international aid budget for this purpose. Is that compliant with our commitment to 0.7%, and why does the Prime Minister not use the reserves for this purpose?
It is not just a matter of immediate resettlement; there is also integration. Will the Prime Minister establish and publish a proper integration plan? The refugee crisis is not an issue only for local government or the Home Office; it is an issue for the Department for Transport, the Department for Education, the Department of Health, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and for the devolved authorities of Scotland and Wales. What discussions has the Prime Minister had with the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales on this issue, and will he convene Cobra to establish a cross-governmental plan?
Desperate conditions in the refugee camps are what drive many of those who risk their lives trying to bring their families to Europe. We strongly support our aid already provided to the refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, but it remains a concern that the Prime Minister is not co-ordinating his response more broadly with other European countries or with the UN. Will he reconsider his refusal to take any refugees from the southern European countries where most refugees have arrived? Fifty thousand have come to Greece in the course of just one month, and these refugees, too, need help.
It is clear that Europe has been overwhelmed and is without a plan so will the Prime Minister call for an emergency summit of EU leaders? We have a lot to learn from those countries that have already embarked on the process of resettling refugees, so will he join me in thanking Dame Glenis Willmott, MEP, for ensuring that this will be debated in the European Parliament this Wednesday?
Let me turn to the Government’s action on counter-terrorism. No one should be in any doubt about the scale of the threat posed by ISIL. We have witnessed its brutal torture and murder of British citizens abroad, and the sickening attacks that it has inspired and is seeking to organise here at home. The security services and our armed forces do immensely important work to keep us safe—a task that is difficult and dangerous—and we thank them for what they do.
I thank the Prime Minister for briefing the shadow Foreign Secretary and me this morning, when for the first time we learned of the specific operation of 21 August of which he has just informed the House. The Prime Minister has told the House today that in order to protect the safety of our citizens here at home, the Government have authorised the targeting and killing of a man—a British citizen—in Syria, a country where our military force is not authorised. Will he confirm that this is the first occasion in modern times on which that has been done?
The Prime Minister said in his statement that a meeting of senior members of the National Security Council had agreed that should the right opportunity arise, the military should take action, and that the Attorney General, who was at the meeting, had confirmed that there was a “legal basis for action”. The Prime Minister has said that the action was legally justifiable under the doctrine of national self-defence, because the man was planning and directing armed attacks in the United Kingdom, there was no other way of stopping him, and the action was necessary and proportionate. Bearing in mind that the sufficiency of evidence in relation to each of those points is crucial to the justification for that action, why did the Attorney General not authorise the specific action, rather than merely confirming that “there was a legal basis” for it? Was the Attorney General’s advice given or confirmed in writing, and will it be published? The Prime Minister said in his statement that the Defence Secretary had authorised the operation. Why was it not the Prime Minister himself who authorised it?
I want to ask the Prime Minister about the specific target of this attack. Inasmuch as he can disclose it to the House, will he say what it was about this individual and his actions that singled them out from all that had gone before? Did he represent an ongoing threat, or was the threat based on a specific act that he was plotting? Will the Prime Minister tell the House whether this action by our military was an isolated action, or is he saying that the Government are likely to repeat action of this sort in the future? Above all, will he agree with me that there is a need for independent scrutiny of what the Government have done? May I ask him to request that the counter-terrorism reviewer and the Intelligence and Security Committee investigate this action and, in particular, consider the sufficiency of the evidence?
We are already engaged in the use of force against ISIL in Iraq, and it is vital for the United Kingdom to continue to play its part in international efforts to combat ISIL across the region. The Prime Minister said in his statement that if he proposed joining coalition strikes in Syria, he would return to the House for a vote of authorisation. May I reiterate the position as set out by the shadow Defence Secretary and me on 2 July? ISIL brutalises people, it murders people, and it is horrifically oppressive. We will carefully consider any proposals that the Government present in relation to military action in Syria, but we all need to be clear about what difference any action would make to our objective of defeating ISIL, and about the nature of such action, its objectives, and the legal basis. Potential action must command the support of other nations in the region, including Iraq and the coalition that is already taking action in Syria.
I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for her response. I agree with her about the contribution that refugees who have come to Britain have made to our country. I am thinking of Jewish refugees from Europe, and of the Ugandan Asians who have made an immense contribution to our country, and I know that these people will do so as well.
I also agree with the right hon. and learned Lady that, as I said, there is not a number of refugees that we can take that will solve the problem of Syria. This is about meeting our humanitarian responsibilities, and demonstrating that ours is a country—which it is—with a moral conscience and a moral way in the world, which is why it is one of the countries that are not only taking refugees, but meeting their aid targets in a way that other major countries are not.
The right hon. and learned Lady asked about the 20,000 and how many we can take in this year. Obviously we want to get on with this process. It will depend in part on how well UNHCR can do in processing people in the camps to come to the UK. Checks obviously have to be made on the people we will be receiving. We also want to work, as she says, very closely with local authorities so that the capacity to not just receive people, but receive them well, is in place. She asked about the aid budget and whether we were going to stick to the rules. Yes, we are. The aid rules are explicit: we can use the money in the first year receiving refugees. That makes common sense, apart from anything else, so we will use that money.
The right hon. and learned Lady asked for an integration plan. The Home Secretary and Communities and Local Government Secretary will chair a committee to bring together Government, so that we make sure we do everything we can to help people across the country, and they will be looking at that issue of integration. Have we discussed this issue with First Ministers in Wales and Scotland? Yes, there has been contact. The First Minister in Scotland has made a generous offer, wanting to take, I think, 1,000 refugees into Scotland. With this 20,000 figure, that will probably rise, and I welcome what the Scottish National party is saying about that.
The right hon. and learned Lady asked about European co-operation. I have just got off the telephone to Angela Merkel; she was very grateful and welcomed the statement we are making today, but let me make this point, because it is important: Britain has a major role to play in terms of this conflict because we are the second biggest funder of these refugee camps, and we are the biggest donor of aid to many of these countries. We will be taking 20,000 refugees, but we think it makes more sense to take the refugees from the refugee camps, rather than those redistributed within Europe. Obviously countries within the Schengen no-border system have a different set of responses, and we will work with them, and it is important that we show solidarity as we do so. We want to encourage people not to make that dangerous crossing in the first place, and it is worth considering this: 11 million have been pushed out of their home in Syria, and so far only perhaps 3% have made that journey to Europe, so it is important that as we act with head and heart, we help people without encouraging them to make that dangerous and potentially lethal journey.
The right hon. and learned Lady asked about an emergency summit. Britain, France and Germany called for an emergency meeting of Home Affairs and Justice Ministers, which will take place on 14 September. We will be meeting as well in October, and if there is a need for further meetings, we can look at that, but what is needed overall in Europe is a comprehensive plan—not just for the number of refugees, but for dealing with the external border, making sure other countries meet their aid obligations and stopping the criminal gangs.
Let me turn to the right hon. and learned Lady’s questions on counter-terrorism. She asked: is this the first time in modern times that a British asset has been used to conduct a strike in a country where we are not involved in a war? The answer to that is yes. Of course, Britain has used remotely piloted aircraft in Iraq and Afghanistan, but this is a new departure, and that is why I thought it was important to come to the House and explain why I think it is necessary and justified.
The right hon. and learned Lady asked about the legal justification. She is right to say that we believe it was necessary and proportionate, and there was no other way we could have met our objectives, and all this was based on the Attorney General’s advice. We do not publish the Attorney General’s advice, but I am very happy to discuss the content of that advice and describe what it was about, which was largely self-defence. She asked whether the Attorney General should take the responsibility for carrying out these strikes. I do not think that is the right person to carry it out. I think the way we did this is right: with a meeting of senior national security Ministers, it being authorised by that group, and the operational details being left with the Defence Secretary, in line with what the Attorney General said. A proper process was followed.
The right hon. and learned Lady asked what was different about this person and this case. There was a relatively unique set of circumstances—which is not to say that they will not happen again—in that these people were in a part of Syria where there was no Government, no one to work with, and no other way of addressing this threat. The choice we were left with was to either think, “This is too difficult,” throw up our arms and walk away and wait for the chaos and terrorism to hit Britain, or take the action in the national interest and neutralise this threat, and I am sure that was the right thing to do. She asked if we would repeat this. If it is necessary to safeguard the United Kingdom and to act in self-defence, and there are no other ways of doing that, then yes, I would.
The right hon. and learned Lady asked about scrutiny, which is a very good question. I have come here today because I think it is important to be accountable in front of this House, but I am happy to look at what other ways there may be of making sure these sorts of acts are scrutinised in the coming months and years.
Finally, the right hon. and learned Lady talked about whether we should combat ISIL in Syria, as we do in Iraq. The question for the House is whether, if it is right to degrade and defeat ISIL in Iraq, in time it is surely right for us to assist in the efforts already under way to defeat and degrade ISIL in Syria. There are complications and difficulties, and I do not want to come back to the House until we have debated the matter more and people have had the chance to make their views known, but I am in no doubt that ISIL and its operatives are a clear and present danger to the United Kingdom, and the sooner they are defeated and eradicated, the better.
Does the Prime Minister agree that one of the more absurd features of the discussions on the dreadful migration crisis of recent weeks has been the suggestion by some that the problem is either caused, complicated or made worse by Britain’s membership of the European Union? Does he agree that the flows start through Turkey and Libya, after which people come across the continent towards Britain, which is one of the more popular destinations after Sweden and Germany, and that those flows will cease only if we have more co-operation of the type that we have with the French at Calais, not if we open up disputes with the other member states of Europe?
Will the Prime Minister continue to make a leading and positive contribution to the comprehensive plan that he says is required to deal with, among other things, the appalling problems of where people should be encouraged to go and be accommodated outside Europe, how hard-headed decisions can be taken on who has to be settled for the duration of the crisis, and how that will be handled? We should not join Governments in Europe who simply pretend that the problem can be pushed over the border into a neighbouring state for the time being.
My right hon. and learned Friend is certainly right about the need for a comprehensive plan, and obviously our membership of the European Union enables us to take part in the discussions and debates about what that comprehensive plan requires. We have been particularly clear that until we get a return path for returning some migrants to Africa, it will be very difficult to solve the problem.
I also agree with my right hon. and learned Friend that if we were not in the European Union, the problem at Calais would not go away. Actually, we are helped by being good partners with the French and by being able to have our border controls on French soil. I commend the Home Secretary on her excellent work with the Interior Minister in France on strengthening that border, but the problem is not related to our membership of the EU. If we were out of the EU we would still have a problem—possibly a worse problem—of people trying to break into Britain.
May I thank the Prime Minister for his statement but say that I am sorry it was not shared in advance, as is the norm? That is extremely disappointing and frankly unacceptable, especially on matters of national security.
Having raised the humanitarian crisis with the Prime Minister at the first Prime Minister’s questions of this Parliament in June, I am glad that there are finally the beginnings of a change in UK Government thinking. It is frankly appalling that few more than 200 Syrian refugees have been taken up so far through the UK relocation scheme, and it is correct that we should be taking more. It is welcome that more will be given refuge in the UK, but it is a shame that that is being spread through the duration of this Parliament. Will the Prime Minister tell us how many Syrian refugees will be relocated to the UK before the end of the year?
We should take the opportunity to recognise the welcome that was given to refugees in countries such as Germany, Austria and Sweden. Today we learned that the French Government are to allow 24,000 Syrians to settle in France, while Germany is allocating £4.4 billion to support refugees. Why will the Prime Minister not work constructively with EU partners on accepting a share of the refugees who are in Europe at the present time? Will he make sure that he does not use the refugee issue as an excuse to revisit military intervention in Syria? Given the importance of all those issues, will the Prime Minister take part in the full day’s debate on the humanitarian crisis that will be held in the House of Commons this Wednesday? Finally, on counter-terrorism, when will the Prime Minister get round to setting up the Intelligence and Security Committee of this House?
Taking the last question on the ISC first, I think we will be able to do that in the coming days. I am confident of making progress. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his response.
On the issue of how many Syrians Britain has already given asylum to, I think the figure is actually 5,000, and the number under the relocation and resettlement schemes that we already have runs to about 1,000 refugees a year. What we are now doing is adding to that with this new scheme, which will be exclusively for Syrians and will see the resettlement of 20,000 Syrian refugees. As I said, we welcome the fact that the First Minister in Scotland has offered to take 1,000. We think that will now have to be increased with this more generous approach.
The hon. Gentleman talks about working constructively within the EU. That is exactly what we are doing, and that is what lay behind my phone call with Angela Merkel just a few minutes ago. The point I would make is that we do not believe the right answer is for Britain to take people who have already arrived in Europe. We think that it is better to take people out of the refugee camps, so that we do not encourage people to make this perilous crossing. We are not part of the Schengen no-borders agreement, so we do not have to take part in that relocation scheme. We are doing work in the Syrian refugee camps: 10 times more money is given by Britain than by some other major European countries to those refugee camps. I think that entitles us to say that we are taking an approach that is about helping people on the ground, rather than encouraging people to move.
The Government are clearly right to increase yet further Britain’s immense humanitarian support for the Syrian people, and right, too, to use British aid—entirely in accordance with the rules governing its spending—to support refugees in their first year in the United Kingdom, but will the Prime Minister accept that the failures of the international community to protect, and to tackle the causes of the Syrian catastrophe, evoke memories of the failures over the Rwandan genocide, over which the international community was left guilty and shamed?
First, may I thank my right hon. Friend for his remarks about the use of the aid budget, which he did so much as a Minister to promote and develop? He is right to say that we are dealing with the consequences of failure with respect to Syria. It is an incredibly difficult situation, because not only do we have the terrorisation of people by ISIL, but Assad has been the recruiting sergeant for ISIL because of the butchery of his own people. What we must not do is give up on the idea of a transition for Syria; we need to keep working towards that.
In the summer of 1939, my parents took into our home a young Jewish girl, Johanna, who had arrived in Leeds on the Kindertransport. Her sister and others had arrived on the same Kindertransport, and Neville Chamberlain facilitated the arrival of these young children more than this Government are facilitating such things now. It is sad that this Government are doing less than Neville Chamberlain did. The right hon. Gentleman says that he is going to take in 20,000 refugees over five years. The Germans took in 10,000 on one day. What kind of comparison is that? I recognise the financial problems and the assimilation problems, but if we do not do it now, we will live to regret it for the rest of our lives. The message from my constituents, in a huge postbag and at every event I attended in my constituency over the weekend, is: “Let them in! We’ll welcome them. We’ll do what the Germans did. Let’s get on with it!”
I believe that the 20,000 Syrian refugees—many of whom will be children—that we will take directly from the Syrian refugee camps are the modern equivalent of the Kindertransport, and this country should be proud of that. At the same time, let us recognise that when it comes to those Syrian refugee camps, Britain is spending more than France, Germany and Italy. On our aid budget, we all sat around the table and promised 0.7% of GDP, but how many major countries have actually kept their promises? This one has.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement. On those people we will be letting in, can some priority be given to not just Christians, but the Yazidis, who have been so poorly treated in Syria?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. In drawing up the criteria, we will be looking at the people who are the most vulnerable, and there is growing evidence that some people are vulnerable not only within Syria but within the refugee camps themselves, so Yazidis, Christians and others—particularly children or women at risk of abuse—will all be in our scheme.
There is perhaps a sad inevitability about the news that my former constituent Reyaad Khan has been killed, having joined ISIL, but I think that the House will have been surprised to learn that the manner of his death was a drone strike against a British citizen in Syria. There will therefore be many questions that Members will want to ask, and that I as his constituency MP and members of his family will want to ask. In the light of the action that the Prime Minister has outlined to the House today, I would like an assurance that he will be as forthcoming as possible, given the security situation, in explaining the nature of the threat that this 21-year-old man posed to the United Kingdom.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and for the way in which he put it. Of course I will be as forthcoming as I possibly can be. I have been forthcoming in this statement, and I will be in future statements, but I am restricted because of operational sensitivities and for reasons of national security. The police will have informed his former constituent’s family of what has happened. I would simply say that when we are dealing with people who are producing such a tempo of potential terrorist attacks—attacks on police and on members of the armed services, attempted attacks on commemorations in our country—which the head of MI5 describes as having no recent comparator, we have to take action. When we are dealing with people in ISIL-dominated Syria—there is no Government, there are no troops on the ground—there is no other way of dealing with them than the route that we took. I think that, for all those reasons, it was the right route.
I commend the Prime Minister’s emphasis on taking those who are in the Syrian camps. If we are genuinely to help refugees, this cannot simply be about helping the fittest, the fastest and those most able to get to western Europe. We must help those who are left behind in the camps, who are sometimes the most vulnerable. I ask him to go further, however, and to enable the United Kingdom to spearhead international efforts to create safe zones in Syria, so that those who are caught between the barbarity of Assad and the depravity of ISIL do not feel the need to flee their own country in the first place.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his support for taking people from the camps. We have looked at the issue of safe zones, and we will continue to do so, but if we are going to designate safe zones, we have to ensure that they are safe. That would involve a military commitment by Turkey, by America and potentially by Britain, and it would be a very significant commitment. We should focus on what the safe zones are supposed to achieve, which is to try to keep people in their homes and communities or, when they have left, to keep them in refugee camps rather than see them making the dangerous crossing into Europe. The thinking about safe zones is certainly the right sort of thinking.
I recognise and welcome the change in Government policy in recent days and weeks. The Prime Minister might no longer be describing refugees as a “swarm”, but there is still a lot that he could be doing to catch up with public opinion here. We should not be raiding our international development budget to pay for this, we should not be restricting our help to those who are currently in the country, and we should not be resisting efforts to build a common EU position. The people of Britain do not want to see the human misery of hundreds of thousands of people being used as a political football; they want a non-partisan approach. May I therefore suggest that the Prime Minister convene a summit of the leadership of all the parties represented in this House, so that we can construct a policy for the reaction to this crisis that will unite our country rather than divide it?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks. I should like to make two points. First, we are not raiding the Department for International Development budget. It is an acceptable existing use of that budget to pay for refugees in their first year after coming to Britain, and that is good common sense. I will resist, though only partly, the temptation to point out that, according to my Sunday papers, the Liberal Democrats want to cut the aid budget. But there we are; perhaps I will leave that one for the memoirs.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about a common European position. Yes, we should be working towards a comprehensive approach, but we are not in the Schengen no-borders agreement, and I think that being able to maintain our border controls when others in Europe have given theirs up is right for Britain. I also think it is right to take the refugees out of the refugee camps rather than take part in the relocation scheme, which always has the danger of encouraging more people to get into boats, get into dinghies and make the potentially lethal crossing across the Mediterranean.
For every drowned baby we see on television there are many more in the rubble of Syrian cities unseen, and for every refugee we take there are many more who want to come, too. Given that the only long-term solution is to re-establish functioning nation states in the region, will the Prime Minister not accept that aerial bombardment can have only a partial effect and that this needs a much greater and wider international approach to trying to solve the problem at source? What discussions are now unfolding among other Prime Ministers and Presidents to try to do more than just stick Elastoplast on this continuing and growing problem?
My right hon. Friend is entirely right that what is required, whether in Iraq or, more crucially now, in Syria, is functioning Governments that can represent all their people, with armed forces that have the confidence of all their people. That is the long-term answer in both Iraq and Syria, but we are a long way from that in Syria. He asked what conversations are going on. Conversations are going on to try to secure a transition in Syria from the totally unacceptable regime we have today, which is the recruiting sergeant for ISIL, to a regime that can represent all the Syrian people, but he is right.
The offer of 20,000 refugees over five years amounts to just 12 refugees a day, which falls pitifully short of what is needed and of what people in this country deserve and expect. Local authorities such as Brighton and Hove’s would be very willing to accept more, provided the Government fully resource this. Will the Prime Minister therefore guarantee the funds—not from the aid budget—and, crucially, that they will last for more than one year, so that people who want to act to help this crisis can be enabled to do so?
I notice that Brighton is very keen to be generous with other people’s money. The point is that, yes, we will fund this in the first year through the Department for International Development budget and then we will need to look at how we provide the resources that local authorities need. That process will be led by the Home Secretary and the Communities Secretary over the coming weeks.
May I welcome the statement that my right hon. Friend has made this afternoon? Does he agree that it is, in effect, the only way to uphold international law and to show real compassion, by acting in the way that he proposes in the countries that are lodging the greatest number of refugees?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his support. We are endeavouring to have a plan that demonstrates both head and heart. It is right to take refugees and it is right for us to demonstrate our humanitarian concerns—to play our part—but we have to recognise that solving the problem is going to require a lot more than that. Indeed, as I said the other day, there is no number of refugees that you can take to sort out this problem: 11 million people have been pushed out of their homes, and only 3% of them have so far come to Europe. Part of the focus must be on trying to secure the future for those 11 million and not encouraging them to get into boats and dinghies to attempt such a perilous crossing.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement, but does he accept that the generous spirit the British people have demonstrated in the past few days gives him wide scope to do even more than he has proposed today? Will he give us some more indication of the number of refugees he proposes to take—children and those in other categories—in the coming months? He has talked about 20,000 over the course of this Parliament, but how many will come in the short term and in the medium term? Can he tell us about that?
The Home Secretary will be making a full statement next week about this, but it is going to depend on the capacity of the UNHCR to process people, and on the capacity of councils and others to take people on. But I do not see any reason why we cannot get off to a very good start and make sure that we bring people to this country and give them the genuine welcome that this country wants to give them.
Tomorrow the Foreign Affairs Committee will begin taking evidence on the widening of military action in Syria.
On refugees, I entirely understand the Prime Minister’s need to respond to the public mood, but he will know that every refugee brought here means that many times that number cannot be looked after in the region. His response of focusing on those most in need is both sensible and proportionate. Will he press our European Union partners to get on the path of achieving the 0.7% UN development expenditure target so that agencies such as the World Food Programme and the UNHCR have the resources to address the consequences of action in the region?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The 0.7% commitment is not some sort of badge to take out and wear; it is something that is making a real difference. The reason why we have been able to be the second largest bilateral donor to the Syrian refugee camps is that the resources are available—as I have said, I am talking about giving 10 times more than some other major European countries. This morning I met Stephen O’Brien, formerly a Member of this House and now UN Under-Secretary-General with responsibility for humanitarian affairs. The camps are short of money. They need money for food and for proper resources. There is a crying need for other countries to do what Britain has done and meet the promises that we have made.
When I asked the Prime Minister a question in June, he told me he was convinced that our country was doing all it should to help vulnerable child refugees. It took tragic events in August and the signatures of half a million British people to get him to change his mind. May I ask him to change his mind again and take refugees out of his migration target?
The point about the migration target is that the Office for National Statistics has calculated migration figures in the same way for many, many years. It includes refugees as well as other migrants. I think the British public wants to know that the system as a whole—for migration and for those seeking asylum —is under control. I am absolutely clear that we are committed to taking 20,000 Syrian refugees, and we will meet that target.
My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt) was quite right to emphasise the World Food Programme and the fact that many other European countries have simply not subscribed enough. The website for the World Food Programme demonstrates that the United Kingdom has given twice as much as Germany over the past year and 45% more than Germany over the past five years. Perhaps that is something the Prime Minister would like to take up with Angela Merkel.
Everyone in Europe is taking action, and it is important that, collectively, we work together to deliver what is needed. On the issue of providing resources not just to the World Food Programme and to Syrian refugee camps but to the countries from which these people are coming in order to stabilise them, there is no doubt in my mind that Britain is leading the way.
On the issue of talking to the devolved Administrations, may I urge the Prime Minister to include the First Minister of Northern Ireland? There is a strong desire on the part of the people of Northern Ireland to play their fair and proportionate role in taking refugees. That has been very clear from the outpouring of compassion right across the community in all parts of Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister is right to say that refugees should come from the camps and to point out the difference between economic migrants and genuine refugees.
On the issue of possible military intervention in Syria, it is one thing to talk about targeted and clearly defined action against Daesh, but quite another to talk in the wide and indiscriminate terms that we heard on the television at the weekend.
May I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support for taking migrants from the refugee camps? I would like to take him up on his offer, and I will ensure that conversations are had with the First Minister to see what role Northern Ireland can play in this matter.
I strongly support the Prime Minister’s view that our help to Syrian refugees must be given close to the borders of Syria, and that we should not encourage people to undertake hazardous journeys using people traffickers; that is cruel. Will he confirm that on the unrelated topic of economic migrants, more will need to be done to honour the very serious promises that we made to the British people?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. There are a number of people who are fleeing the appalling conflicts for whom we need to find a home, but clearly there are people who have been crossing the Mediterranean—particularly those coming from Libya on the central Mediterranean route—who are economic migrants in search of a better life. Part of the comprehensive approach that Europe needs is to ensure that there is a way of breaking the link between getting on a boat in Libya and getting settlement rights in Europe. Going back through history, whenever countries have had huge problems in this regard, they have needed to break that link to discourage people from making the trip if they are not refugees.
At the Home and Interior Ministers summit next Monday, will Britain now sign up to be part of a Europe-wide response to assist refugees from all parts of the world and ensure that they have somewhere safe to go, so that Britain plays a much greater role than it does at present, including sorting out the misery and desperation of people living in the camps in Calais and other places? They are human beings, too, who need some help and support.
Can the Prime Minister say anything about the welcome remarks made by the Foreign Secretary during his visit to Tehran, when he indicated that the new relationship with Iran meant that there was a possibility of wider political involvement in bringing about some degree of progress in and possibly even a solution to the desperate crisis facing Syria through a summit of all the nations of that region plus, of course, Britain, the USA and Russia?
We do not believe it is right to take part in the European relocation quota because we think that a better answer for Britain, which is such a major investor in the refugee camps, is to take people directly from the camps. In that way we will not encourage more people to make this perilous journey. By taking a long-term view, and looking at the asylum seekers we have taken and the people we have resettled from around the world, I would say Britain is absolutely fulfilling our moral responsibility, and we absolutely play our part.
In terms of the hon. Gentleman’s question about Iran, of course there is an opportunity for greater dialogue with Iran now that this nuclear deal, which I think is a good deal, has been done, but Britain should enter into that in a cautious and sceptical way. We ought to remember that Iran is still a supporter of terrorist organisations like Hamas and Hezbollah, which I know he describes as friends but which I see very much as enemies. We also need to make sure that Iran is playing a positive role in Syria, rather than the role it plays now of propping up the hated Assad regime.
My right hon. Friends the Members for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) and for North Somerset (Dr Fox) have both raised the possibility of safe havens in Syria itself to stem the flow of refugees at source. If this is to work, it would require a United Nations mandate, which would require the support of Russia. Do the Government recognise that remaining fixated on removing Assad puts a bar on any solution of this sort? Will the Government make up their mind that the main threat to our interest is Daesh? If so, we can then proceed to have a genuinely international coalition and agreement against that main threat.
I very much respect my right hon. Friend’s views, but on this occasion I do not agree with him on two grounds. I do not think it is right to look at Syria and say that we have to choose between ISIL or Assad. It would be a great mistake to think that because Assad is perhaps the lesser of two evils we should back him. Assad is one of the chief recruiting sergeants for ISIL because of the butchery of his own people. I do not think there is a workable proposal for safe havens as things stand today, but it has been possible in past times to intervene in that way to try to keep people safe. If you were acting to try to alleviate a humanitarian emergency, you could act in that way, but the problem is that safe havens would require a large military intervention, and a large military intervention that I do not currently believe is the right answer.
Like most Members, over the past few days I have been inundated with messages of sympathy and support for those suffering as a result of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Europe. Let us remember that no parent would place their child on water unless they thought that that was still safer than being on land. Will the Prime Minister join me in praising the work carried out by local and national groups, such as Scotland Supporting Refugees, that have demonstrated leadership where this Government have fallen so woefully short and have provided information to members of the public who want directly to support those affected by this desperate situation?
Let me agree with the hon. Lady in commending the many great voluntary and charitable bodies that will be helping with the national welcome that we will be giving to 20,000 refugees from Syria.
May I commend the Prime Minister for his measured and reasonable response to what has sometimes been an hysterical clamour for something to be done without a specific plan for what that something should be. I can tell him that in Aldershot we have no spare accommodation; I spoke to my local authority this morning and was told that it has no assets, and the private rented market is completely saturated. That is the reality there. My right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) is absolutely right that if we are to deliver a comprehensive solution, which is what the Prime Minister has called for, we need to resolve the problem in Syria. Unless we engage with Russia, which has made it crystal clear that it will not resile from its support for Assad, and get everyone around the table—regional leaders, the Americans and ourselves—we will not be able to do that. I commend the Prime Minister. He has a job to do, and I think that he will do it brilliantly.
I thank my hon. Friend. He is right that resolving the problem in Syria will take engagement with all the parties he mentioned. The argument that I would make to the Russians is that nobody benefits from the immense boost that is being given to Islamist extremist violence by what is happening in Syria. Russia, in time, will feel the pain of that just as we do, so I think that there are some common interests. He is right that, as well as showing heart and welcoming people to our country, we now need to go through all the practicalities of making sure that we can give them that very good welcome.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement—however belated and inadequate it is—and the action being taken against Daesh military terrorist planners. However, is it not a fact that the vast majority of Syrians who have had to flee their homes have been driven out by the actions of the Assad regime and that Assad continues to barrel-bomb civilian populations? What is our Government doing, alongside other Governments, to get a no-fly zone over those areas to protect Syrian civilians?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to draw the House’s attention to the fact that President Assad and his forces are still using chemical weapons against their own people and that barrel bombs have been used on a number of occasions. I came to the House after seeing pictures of dead children who had been gassed by Assad, and I suggested that we take military action. The House did not agree on that occasion, but I hope that when it comes to future discussions we will think very carefully about our national interests and how to keep this country safe, how to defeat terrorism and how to give the people of Syria the chance of a better future.
The Prime Minister is quite right to concentrate on the plight of children, which I think is in the spirit of the Kindertransport. I also think that he is right to concentrate on helping the people in the camps in Syria. Of course, it is not the children who decide to take the dangerous journey from Syria; they are accompanied by their parents. If they are separated or orphaned thousands of miles from home, they are peculiarly vulnerable. Will my right hon. Friend tell us about the discussions he has had with international and European partners to identify those children quickly and see that they are resettled in the region or elsewhere?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the issue of children, who will be one of the priority groups of the 20,000 we will be taking. We have to be very careful in this regard, because many expert groups advise that there is a danger in potentially taking children away from other family members and groups, but I am sure that there are many orphaned children and children at risk whom we could welcome here. We have also looked at Save the Children’s proposal about the 3,000 Syrian children already here in Europe, and we will continue to discuss that. Again, major international organisations such as the UNHCR advise caution on relocating unaccompanied children, so we should be guided by the evidence as we make these very difficult decisions.
In view of the crisis over the past few weeks, should not Germany be warmly congratulated on its act of humanity? In many respects, Germany has acted as the conscience of the European Union, and indeed of Europe as a whole. When the right hon. Gentleman next meets the Hungarian Prime Minister—no doubt he will—will he express our contempt for the remarks made by that creature and tell him that what is required is humanity and that it does not matter a damn whether the people who are trying to save their lives and their children’s lives are Muslim or not, because that is totally irrelevant?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should not take account of someone’s religion. We do not do that in our asylum processes, when we welcome and resettle people in what is—and let us be proud of it—one of the most successful multiracial, multi-ethnic democracies anywhere on earth.
I think we have to show some understanding of the difficulties that the Schengen countries have. Once people have crossed one external frontier into Europe, there is not really another border, unless they come to Calais, perhaps, so there are stresses and strains within the Schengen system. We are working with the Schengen countries as partners. We will not join the Schengen system—we are going to keep our borders—and we will not take part in their relocation system, but we need to show some understanding of the problems they have and perhaps help them with, for example, the external frontier to Europe, which is causing so many difficulties at the moment.
I well remember when the Prime Minister came to this House to ask for authority to take action against President Assad. This Parliament decided to block him in that quest and has allowed President Assad to ethnically cleanse his own country. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that his job in preventing Assad’s genocide is now much more difficult than it was two years ago, when he first proposed those measures?
I am grateful for what my hon. Friend says, but we have to deal with the situation that faces us now. No one is arguing that military action is the only answer to the problem. We need a comprehensive solution, but at the end of the day, I am sure, the removal of ISIL from Syria will be in this nation’s interests.
Several hon. Members
Order. There is naturally huge interest in this subject, and I am keen, as far as possible, to accommodate it, but there is a pressure on time. In appealing for brevity, perhaps I can look to that versatile thespian, Mr Stephen Pound.
I think the whole House is grateful to the Prime Minister for his statement, responding to a unique outpouring of sympathy, tempered with horror, from the nation—well articulated, if I may say so, by the shadow Home Secretary—but he is now talking about 5,000 travel documents being issued to 5 million people in Lebanon and Jordan alone. What criteria will be used to make that dreadful “Sophie’s choice”? Will it be the UNHCR, or will he—as I hope he will—make use of the religious leaders in the camps, particularly among the Assyrian Christian community, to help him in this terrible, difficult task?
In the interests of brevity, let me say that it will be the UNHCR, but we should look at vulnerable groups—that could include Yazidis and Christians—who may, on some occasions, face dangers in the camps.
May I thank you, Mr Speaker, for facilitating the organisation of the vigil we held in Westminster Hall earlier today?
I welcome the statement and I am very pleased that we are doing more, but when welcoming Syrian refugees to our shores, how can we ensure that we do not inadvertently reward those who traffic vulnerable people for financial gain?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. One of the ways to make sure that the criminal gangs do not benefit is to take people out of the camps, rather than take people who have arrived in Europe, because, tragically, many of them are being inveigled into using criminal gangs, which benefit when the trade in people increases.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement and remind him that it was the Ugandan Asians arriving in Leicester that so transformed that city. I agree with him that direct recruitment should be from the camps; however, there will be exceptional cases of people who have arrived in mainland Europe, some of whom I have met in Calais, who have ties with the United Kingdom and who may need to be processed. Will he look at those cases? In particular, will he please stress to the EU the need to support Europol? That is the organisation best placed to deal with the criminal gangs and Daesh, and we should give it more support.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about Europol, and we are putting in investment and working very closely with it. We are also putting National Crime Agency officials into the operations in Sicily and elsewhere to break up the criminal gangs. I would be very cautious, however, about his suggestion about Calais. Anything that suggests that Calais will become a processing centre for people to come to the United Kingdom would simply make the situation there worse. We need to explain to people that coming to Calais and trying to get through the tunnel is not the way to get to the United Kingdom. That is what all the security and the defences are about, and we should keep them up.
Having seen at first hand the work of DFID officials helping refugees from Daesh in their camps, can the Prime Minister confirm that there will be no reduction in that effort now that we are welcoming more to this country with DFID funds? I am sure that that was the implication of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) said. I think the whole House will agree that we should all be proud of what those officials are doing and have been doing over many years.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We will continue to invest in these refugee camps; £1 billion has gone in already and we will keep up that investment. Taking people from the camps is the right answer for Britain and the right answer for those people, and of course we will release some of the capacity of those camps, because at the moment they are under huge amounts of pressure, not just budgetary pressure but people pressure as well.
The Prime Minister has said that Britain will take in 20,000 refugees over the next five years, but he has paradoxically said that we will not accept them as refugees—they will not be given refugee status. He said they would be given status as being under humanitarian protection. As he knows, that is a discretionary leave to remain that does not entitle them to settlement. These are people who desperately need security and stability in their lives. How is he going to reconcile that with the status that he is proposing to give them?
That is a very good question. There are two reasons for taking this approach. One is that by granting people the humanitarian passport, as it were, they do not formally have to go through asylum procedures to prove that they are refugees; we are taking them once they have met the criteria, and then they have the right to stay. Of course, at the end of those five years some may choose to return to Syria, but many will want to stay here and apply for settlement rights, which of course they will be able to do.
The acting Leader of the Opposition rightly referred to the contributions that refugees have made to this country throughout history and the hopes for the children whom we are to welcome, but ultimately Syria will need its best and its brightest. Is it not right that by investing in refugee camps in the region we will help—I hope—Syria to rebuild itself in future as well as look after people in the immediate vicinity?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I repeat the figure of about 11 million people taken out of their homes. All our interests are in those people going back to their homes. That obviously needs a solution to the Syrian crisis, but it is the right answer rather than an even bigger movement of people.
We welcome the Prime Minister’s statement, but when he talks about 11 million people in the camps in Syria and the impossibility of moving them and investing in them, does that not suggest that the policy should be the opposite—to help with the crisis of the people who are on the streets in Europe and fund the camps to protect and keep the people on the border and in the region of Syria?
We are funding the camps in Jordan, in Lebanon and in Turkey. The point I am trying to make about the 11 million is that, given that so far only 3% of the 11 million have moved to Europe, we have to be careful not to create an incentive so that that 3% becomes 10% or 20%, because that would completely overwhelm the capacity of even the most generous state, such as Germany, to receive people. That is why investing in the refugee camps and not just helping those in the camps outside Syria but working with UN agencies about how to help people inside Syria, which I was discussing with Stephen O’Brien this morning, is so important in trying not only to stop the scale of the movement but to save lives at the same time.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on both parts of his statement and the agencies on the intelligence-led operation of 21 August. Does he agree that the mark of a truly altruistic and compassionate society is measured not in the tens of thousands of fit and able young men it accommodates, but in the number of people who are truly vulnerable—women and children, the elderly and the sick?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why we are working with the UNHCR on the categories of people we will be taking from the camps.
May I remind the Prime Minister that many of us in the Chamber are quite closely linked through our ancestry to migrants and refugees? In my case, my Huguenot Protestant ancestors were hounded out of France by the Catholics. Most of us in the Chamber will come from that sort of background. Should we not build on the generosity of spirit that has been shown by the British people? I do not think that the Prime Minister has yet gone far enough. I hope that he will go further. All of us must realise that none of us has clean hands and many of us are so responsible for the instability in the middle east that caused this problem in the first place.
Where I agree with the hon. Gentleman is that the British public are very generous and want to see us resettle refugees. They do not see any conflict—neither do I—between resettling refugees and playing our humanitarian part while having a well- managed and well-controlled immigration system. They want both things and we must deliver both things.
The facts of the matter are that those refugees who have made it into the EU are already safe and we cannot make them any safer. Not all those coming in are genuine refugees. We are already taking hundreds of thousands of migrants into the UK every year and we are struggling to cope with them. I have not heard anybody ask that they should be distributed around the rest of the EU through a quota system. May I therefore urge the Prime Minister to have regard to the silent majority in this country and base his decisions on common sense and being practical, not on the affliction of so many other politicians, which is some kind of emotional craving to be seen as compassionate, irrespective of the practicalities of the situation?
I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. He makes an important point about those who have already made it to Europe being, to some degree or other, far safer and less at risk than those still stuck in Syria or in very precarious positions in refugee camps or on the borders. It is right that we consider that in our response.
It is ironic that it has taken a photograph of one little boy washed up on a beach to focus world attention. This has been going on for months if not years: thousands of people have already drowned, but that one little boy has certainly focused attention. Our response, while welcome, is insufficient. One person in my constituency rang up today as I was driving up in the car and said, “I’ve got places for 20 families.” My local authority, which is a poor local authority, has already offered places for 20 families. That little boy came from Kobane, which was liberated by Syrian and Iraqi Kurds, not by us, and that little boy’s father has gone back to Kobane. We owe such people something more. It is this country’s individuals who have shown the way, and I would hope that the Government will follow.
The right hon. Lady is right to draw attention to the connection between what happens in Kobane, with the liberation of that town by Kurdish forces, and the opportunity for people to return. There is a connection between what happens on the ground in Syria militarily and this refugee crisis.
The second point I would make is that Britain’s generosity on this issue did not start five minutes, five days or five weeks ago. Our generosity started with our decision to pursue 0.7% of GDP for aid, even at a time of austerity, and our decision to be the second largest bilateral aid donor to those Syrian refugee camps—beaten only by the United States of America. We give more than Germany, more than France and many times more than most other major European countries. This money is a measure of our compassion and sympathy, because it has saved many, many lives.
For clarification, is my right hon. Friend saying that in the event of the destruction of Daesh the flow of refugees from Syria is unlikely to recede unless we also see the end of Assad’s regime?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is difficult to get precise figures, but a number of people have left Syria because of Assad’s brutality and a number of people have left because of ISIL’s brutality. That is why the movement of refugees has been so great and why it is wrong to say that we need to choose between two evils. We need to get rid of both of them.
Does the Prime Minister agree that our priority in relation to Syria should be to work with other Arab countries and Iran, Russia, France and Germany to find a coherent response to the fighting in the region, and that we should not repeat the mistakes of the Iraq war—a war opposed by the Liberal Democrats—by following the US Government into bombing and then occupying an Arab country?
We should work with other countries in accordance with international law, but that should not stop us getting on and doing the necessary things that we have done, including the counter-terrorism action that I referred to earlier.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on taking a proportionate, measured approach in the national interest. It is a shame that Her Majesty’s Opposition did not take a similar approach when Syria was debated on a substantive motion two years ago, when their behaviour was duplicitous, and that is being charitable. May I take him back to the tragedy within this humanitarian disaster that is the systematic persecution of Christians over many years? Notwithstanding his earlier answers, in designing the mechanics of the refugee settlement regime, will he take into account the systematic persecution of Christians that has existed for many years?
We will certainly look at that. As I have said, we should look at vulnerable groups. That can include Yazidis, Christians and others who are vulnerable not just in Syria right now but, potentially, in the situations in which they find themselves outside Syria.
There can be no starker contrast than that between the overwhelming majority of young people in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), who utterly condemn the activities of Daesh, and the actions of Reyaad Khan and the two individuals from my constituency who regrettably associated with him and also travelled to fight in Syria. Clearly, the Prime Minister and his Ministers have difficult decisions to take when there is a threat to this country. Will he meet me and my hon. Friend to discuss the circumstances and the nature of what happened and, most importantly, to discuss what we can do better together to tackle the extremists who are trying to recruit individuals from our shores in order to prevent further young people from getting involved with this barbarous organisation?
It is certainly a matter of huge regret when young people from our constituencies get involved in extremism and violence, and when they travel to Syria or Iraq and take part in these dreadful events. I will consult the Defence Secretary to see whether he can host a meeting with MPs who have particular concerns to raise.
My constituents will warmly welcome what the Prime Minister has said today. They do care that we are generous and I know that they will do their bit if they can. He spoke about causes. There is no question but that the exodus from Syria is down to the chaos that reigns in that country. There has been a lot of talk of moral obligations in my postbag over the past few weeks. Does this country have a moral obligation to join the military coalition that is operating in Syria?
I think that we have an obligation to act in a way that will reduce the pressure on these people and that will further our national interests and make us more safe. We therefore have to debate and discuss in this House not only how many refugees we should take and what we are doing in terms of humanitarian aid, but what we can do to help degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL. There is no doubt that the ISIL fanatics are dedicated to doing us harm. Therefore, what we are doing in Iraq is right, it is right that we support the action that others are taking in Syria, and we need a debate about whether we should do more to help with that.
In January the Prime Minister committed us to taking 500 refugees from Syria under the vulnerable persons relocation programme. Why are only 217 people here, despite 150,000 people going from Turkey to western Europe, as he described?
Of course, in total we have given refuge to about 5,000 Syrians. We have also had a resettlement programme for many years that resettles about 1,000 people a year, including Syrians. In addition to that, there is the specific vulnerable persons programme, which we will be massively expanding.
Some time ago, my great-grandparents made a long journey over land and sea and became refugees in England, so I understand as much as anybody the importance of Britain giving refugees a home. Once we have welcomed those who need to come here, we must ensure that they have the tools to lead a decent life, integrated in our communities. Is the Prime Minister satisfied that the investment we are making for the long-term future of these refugees will be sufficient?
My hon. and learned Friend makes an important point. Giving someone asylum and refugee status is not an act that is just completed with a piece of paper; it has to be completed with a warm welcome. We have to say to these people, “You will be welcome in our communities. Your children will be welcome at our schools. You will be welcome to use our hospitals.” These people will be able to take jobs in Britain. They will have all those rights. It is very important we make sure that the welcome is warm and well organised, which is why I think the scale we are looking at is about right.
The Prime Minister must be aware that there has been a sharp rise in crimes against Muslims and in anti-Muslim sentiment in the UK and Europe. Will he, as Prime Minister of this country, assure me that religion will not be a criterion to grant humanitarian relief? Will he resist the temptation to use the term “Islamic terrorism”? It is not Islamic. It is just pure terrorism.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that we should not take people on the basis of their faith, but on the basis of whether they are being persecuted. I describe it as “extremist Islamist terrorism” because I think simply to say that what we are facing from ISIL and others is terrorism is not a proper description of what we are facing. The religion of Islam is a religion of peace. The overwhelming majority of Muslims want to condemn—and do daily condemn—these fanatics, but the fact is that the fanatics themselves self-identify as Muslims. That is why it is so important that British Muslim communities—as they do—stand up and condemn them and say, “You are not acting in the name of our great religion. You are perverting it.” But simply pretending the problem does not exist by just calling it terrorism will not work.
The Prime Minister defended the recent action against ISIL on the basis of specific intelligence and specific targeting. When it comes to the debate we are going to have on bombing Syria, may I commend that approach? I think many of us want to be reassured that we have a specific intelligence-based approach, not just a generalised one of bombing our enemies’ enemy.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is a difficult balance to explain the information we have without endangering national security or operations that may be under way. All I would say is that we will always try to provide the best and most up-to-date intelligence information in a format that people can find reliable, but, as Prime Ministers have found before, this is very, very difficult water to go through.
Our country has a long and honourable tradition of providing asylum and we warmly welcome those who will come to our shores—to Birmingham as they did to Berlin. Leadership is key at this time of the greatest refugee crisis since the war, and so, too, is the tone that that leadership sets. Will the Prime Minister therefore assure the House that there will be no more talk of swarms of marauding migrants, when there are hundreds of thousands of people fleeing for their lives?
I think what matters is the action we take to demonstrate the humanity and moral conscience of Britain. That is what we are doing today.
ISIL does not recognise the boundaries of Syria and any Russian intervention would be to support the Assad regime alone. On that basis, will my right hon. Friend assure the House that we will carry on supporting the countries that surround Syria, such as Lebanon and Jordan, which are taking in the refugees?
I can certainly give that assurance. The scale of movement of people into Lebanon, for instance, now accounts for about a quarter of its population. We give a lot of money to that country to help with refugees and we should continue to do so. It is better for people to stay and be looked after there, and in time to return to Syria, than to take the perilous journey to Europe.
The city of Liverpool has a very proud tradition of welcoming those fleeing from oppression and we stand ready to welcome refugees from Syria. From the hundreds of pieces of correspondence I have received in recent weeks from my constituents, I know that they, like me, will be bitterly disappointed by the lack of ambition from the Prime Minister today. How quickly, after the statement from the Home Secretary next week, can we expect the British programme to start?
The British programme can get under way straightaway. We need to talk to UNHCR to make sure it can process the people out of the camps, but I think that 20,000 Syrian refugees is a generous and correct approach for Britain to take.
For what it is worth, I think the military event in August was both lawful and right. The refugee and terrorism crisis the Prime Minister has described suggests we need not just a diplomatic and an aid solution but a defence solution. Will he please urge the strategic defence and security review to look carefully at increasing our defence budget over the next year or so, because we are surely going to need it?
My right hon. and learned Friend makes an important point about the defence budget. That is why we have recommitted to 2% throughout this decade, meaning a real-terms increase in our defence budget, and I believe that an important part of that must be making sure we have these counter-terrorism capabilities, such as the one we used in August.
The Prime Minister rightly said that he did not want people making these dangerous crossings of the Mediterranean. The Swedish academic Professor Hans Rosling has identified an EU aviation directive that is forcing such crossings to happen, at four times the cost of flying, helping criminal gangs to grow and creating the risk of drowning, as we saw with that young boy last week. Will the Prime Minister consider the possibility at the EU level of suspending that directive for a while on the routes people are using so that they do not have to risk their lives making these crossings?
I will certainly look at that suggestion and the academic the hon. Gentleman quotes.
Given that at least part of the humanitarian crisis derives from regional instability caused by the Iraq war, I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement, because we bear a particular responsibility for it. Does he agree that the US, which contributes only half as much as the UK in Syrian aid as a proportion of GDP, and which has accepted scarcely any asylum seekers at all, should now also respond and do more, and will he ask the US Administration to do so?
I obviously look forward to discussing this matter with President Obama, but let us be fair, the US is the largest aid donor to Syria, and I am sure we will go on encouraging it and others to do more, just as we have kept our promise about the 0.7%.
I welcome what the Prime Minister has said today, but he will know that when Turkey invaded Cyprus, we took 50,000 Cypriots; that during Idi Amin’s reign in Uganda, we took 30,000 Asian Ugandans; and that we took more than 20,000 Vietnamese boat people in a short space of time. Why has he limited his help for Syrians to 4,000 a year?
We have said 20,000 refugees, which I think is the right response for Britain. We want to make sure we have the capacity to give these people a home and a welcome. Obviously, every year Britain takes asylum seekers from right around the world—I think last year we had some 25,000 applications. We have a large number of people from Eritrea and other countries trying to make their way to Britain and claim asylum. Our record on asylum claims over a 10 to 20-year period shows that we are a generous country which operates the system properly, and I think that 20,000 Syrian refugees is about right.
The children of Syria are the victims of dictators, terrorists and traffickers. They are certainly not the victims of UK immigration policy, and therefore I commend and support my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s statement today. What discussions have been had with countries such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states on providing greater aid, taking refugees and supporting refugee camps around Syria?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We have had those discussions and will continue to do so. The Arab world has provided some generous funding for refugee camps, but I am sure we will have further conversations with them.
The British people are indeed, as the Prime Minister said, a generous people, and they will find his proposal for taking 4,000 Syrian refugees a year derisory, but above all, long after this refugee crisis is no longer on the front pages, there will be a need for a sustainable, Europe-wide strategy. It cannot be right for Greece and Italy to be left alone to deal with incoming migrants from across the Mediterranean. It cannot be right that we refuse to take our quota. Syrian refugees are not the only issue; migrants from the horn of Africa and north Africa are drowning in the Mediterranean every day. The Prime Minister needs to look to a more sustainable strategy that is more genuinely about working closely with our European neighbours, because hundreds of thousands of lives depend on it.
I do not agree with the hon. Lady. I think 20,000 Syrian refugees is the right response for Britain. While I agree that we need a co-ordinated European response, I do not believe it should be Britain giving up our borders and joining the Schengen no-borders arrangement. That lies behind what the hon. Lady and others are suggesting—[Interruption.] If that is not the case, the Labour party needs to be clear about it. I think we can have a comprehensive approach that helps the Schengen countries with their external borders, but maintains our borders and recognises that we benefit from having them.
My right hon. Friend’s decision to spread the 20,000 refugees over the lifetime of this Parliament seems to me a sensible one, but it does not come without risks—namely, the opportunity for those who wish our country ill to infiltrate the camps to see if they, too, can get themselves to the UK under this programme. Will the Prime Minister assure the House and the country that robust but sensitive vetting and security procedures, where appropriate, will be in place from day one until the end?
I can certainly give that assurance. It is important to select people who are genuinely vulnerable and need to be saved. We will be careful not to accept people who might support extremist or terrorist views.
Constraints mean that I will have to park questions about the deployment of lethal force against a UK citizen in order to address the refugee crisis. The Prime Minister talked about supporting these refugees in their hour of need, but how does that rhetoric chime with admitting only 20,000 over the course of five years, with overtones of disqualification for those who have already made perilous journeys and perhaps lost loved ones? Will the Prime Minister go further than merely have his Ministers having disparate conversations with First Ministers and will he, along with the Irish Government, convene a special meeting of the British-Irish Council properly to co-ordinate the response for refugees across all the Administrations of these islands, taking account of their different service models, and to offer good partnership to international agencies and domestic charities that want to help?
I will look carefully at what the hon. Gentleman says. Obviously, what the Republic of Ireland does is a matter for the Republic of Ireland, if it wants to opt in to the relocation system. I am pretty confident that 20,000 refugees coming into Britain is, and will be seen to be by other European countries, a generous and compassionate offer that will help to take the pressure off other European countries.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s willingness to use the aid budget for exactly what it was intended to achieve—helping people in crisis right now. Will he ensure that as the aid budget, thanks to our strong economy, continues to grow, he retains the flexibility to use it for similar crises in the future?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The aid budget is there to help the most vulnerable, the weak and the poorest in our world, and that should include the first-year costs of people to whom our country is giving refuge and asylum. Yes, we will go on making sure—this will be part of the spending review—that the aid budget addresses some of the causes of instability and insecurity in our world, because that is a way of stopping some of these problems before they happen.
In a few weeks’ time, it will be the first anniversary of the murder of my constituent, Alan Henning, by ISIL. Alan gave his life to get vital aid through to Syrian children, but as we saw last week, Syrian children are still in desperate need of refuge and support. It is in respect of the scale and lack of immediacy of the Government’s response today that my constituents in Eccles and Worsley will be disappointed. They want to see a more immediate response and a more generous offer to Syrian refugees. Will the Prime Minister think again?
This response is immediate, and it is generous. We will start straightaway, working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, taking people into our country—as we have up to now—and giving them a warm welcome.
I welcome the increase in the number of refugees, but may I raise the issue of timing? Given that only 216 vulnerable Syrian refugees have been relocated via the vulnerable persons relocation scheme, can the Prime Minister assure me that the expanded programme will happen more quickly, so that it will not be desperately too late for those thousands of refugees over the course of this Parliament?
I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance.
In the 1990s, families in Darlington welcomed Bosnian refugees into their homes, and it is a credit to them that they are willing to welcome refugees again. Our voluntary sector is already collecting toys and clothes. Those people know what to do, and the local authority is on board. What they do not know—they are trying to plan, and the success of the scheme will be greatly assisted by an ability to plan properly—is when this is going to happen. They have no idea when it will happen. The Prime Minister said “straightaway”, but we need more than “straightaway”. We need to know whether the Prime Minister is talking about days or weeks. What does he mean?
As I have said, the Home Secretary will make a statement next week, setting out more detail about how the scheme will work and how we will work with local councils to deliver it.
The Prime Minister is absolutely right to focus on long-term solutions to this problem, but does he agree that we must face the reality that, in order to solve it, we shall need to consider more concerted military action across Iraq and Syria, working with our allies, and that we shall not be able to avoid having that debate and arriving at a resolution?
My hon. Friend is right. In order to solve the problem, we need to see an end to ISIL in Iraq and Syria. This is a terrorist state: it is a state that terrorises its people, that throws gay people off buildings, that terrorises women. No wonder people are fleeing from it. It is unthinkable, in my view, that we will ever see a solution to the problems in Syria and Iraq while ISIL still exists. The role that we are playing at the moment is that of helping those who are taking direct military action, while providing military action in Iraq, but of course we must discuss and debate in the House whether we are to go further.
In recent days, a number of people have been in touch with me asking how they personally can extend accommodation, support and friendship to refugees who are fleeing the conflict in Syria. What consideration have the Government given to how they will harness the tremendous generosity of individuals, churches and community groups, so that we can take advantage of that massive generosity in respect of which the Government have been so tardy?
I think that, apart from the last bit, the hon. Lady has made a very good point. We will ensure—for instance, through the devolved Administrations—that the scheme that we come up with with local councils enables voluntary groups and others who want to volunteer to try to harness their enthusiasm.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. What more can be done to encourage Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar to play a greater role? Will my right hon. Friend join me in praising the Kurdistan Regional Government, who are currently supporting 1.8 million Syrian refugees and other displaced people who are currently in northern Iraq, in various refugee camps?
I certainly join my hon. Friend in praising the KRG for the work that they are doing, not only looking after people but combating ISIL. We will go on talking to Saudi Arabia and other countries about the support that we can all give, together, to those in refugee camps.
At present, even an 18-year-old Syrian girl isolated in Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey would not normally be eligible, under family reunion rules, to join her refugee parents in the United Kingdom, which would potentially push her towards people smugglers. Will the Prime Minister undertake to look again, urgently, at the scope of the family reunion rules, and also at ways of overcoming the difficulties—highlighted by organisations such as the Red Cross—that many people face in attempting to make applications at British embassies in the region?
I will ask the Home Secretary to look specifically at the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised, and to write to him.
I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister refer again to the huge contribution of Britain, not just over the last few weeks but over several years, in helping to ease the burden of the Syrian refugees. Can he elaborate on whether discussions are going on with our European counterparts on how, jointly, we can tackle and stop these murderous people-traffickers at source?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight that issue. We are working with European partners, particularly through the operation centre in Sicily, where we are bringing to bear our expertise in combating the people traffickers. European action, of which we are part, is under way.
Does the Prime Minister agree that there are great advantages to both local communities and refugees if they are located evenly and proportionately throughout the kingdom? Does he know that in the fine city of Newport, we successfully host 459 asylum seekers and Cardiff has more than 900, but the constituency of the Chancellor has only two, the Home Secretary has only five and the Prime Minister has none? How many of the 20,000 will be located to his constituency?
That will be for the discussions chaired by the Home Secretary and the Communities Secretary. We want to make sure that the whole country can come together to welcome these people.
There has been a lot of debate this afternoon about the numbers, and rightly so because, to maintain the good will we have all spoken about in our communities, that number has to be right. I am interested in the how and the when. How can we feed in ideas from our constituents? For example, in South Cambridgeshire we have an empty, fully functioning barracks in Bassingbourn, and many of my constituents think it could be a good idea to use it. How do we feed this in?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent suggestion. The point of the committee chaired by the Home Secretary and the Communities Secretary will be to take into account what local authorities can do and what voluntary bodies and charities can do, but also to listen to the suggestions of hon. Members.
During the summer I visited the British Red Cross office in Glasgow. A constituent who is a Syrian refugee, has a brother in Athens with kidney failure. He needed to go to Athens and the Home Office granted asylum after representations from me. That serves to highlight the fact that in this crisis there will be issues of family reunion and instances when a relative will have to go to another part of Europe for reasons of organ donation. May I ask the Prime Minister to look at such issues very sensitively?
One of the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues raised the issue of family reunion, which we obviously look at in this context. The rules we have are there for a good reason, but I know that the Minister for Immigration has taken careful note of what the hon. Gentleman has said.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the remarks of former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, who has pointed out that the UN camps have hardly any Christians in them because the Islamists have driven them out? Will my right hon. Friend take special steps to address the issue of Christians who are not in the UN camps?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, which is why I pointed out earlier that we will take people who are vulnerable and that could include Yazidis or Christians, who, because of their religious beliefs, have not only been persecuted in Syria but have sometimes found life difficult in the camps as well.
This afternoon the Prime Minister has unhelpfully conflated membership and signing up to the Schengen agreement with taking a proactive part in a proper co-ordinated pan-European response. Why does he continue to unhelpfully muddy these waters, and will he now give a clear explanation as to why, beyond the opinions of his rabid Eurosceptic Back Benchers, he is not engaging properly with our partners in Europe?
We are engaging. Our decision to take 20,000 people and our immense funding of the refugee camps will take the pressure off other European countries. I am not conflating those two things. Those who are part of Schengen have taken away all their internal border controls across Europe and they maintain their external border, so obviously the Schengen countries have to come together to work out what they are going to do about this migration crisis. We can be part of that—we help to fund Frontex and to secure the external border, and we are helping to break up the criminal gangs —but we have not decided to take our borders down, as they have, so we are not in the same position. I am not conflating the two; this is a really important point.
I warmly welcome the Prime Minister’s statement, and may I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the operators and those who endure what we ask them to in order to execute these strikes? Does the Prime Minister agree that we now have to win the argument about dealing with ISIS? We have seen the tragic events over the past few months, and we must now use that momentum to push ahead, win this debate and deal with the core cause of this: ISIS and President Assad.
I commend my hon. Friend for what he has written and said about this, and I thank him for what he says now.
I believe that we will benefit if ISIL is degraded in Iraq and Syria. We are taking an active part in Iraq and helping in Syria; the question is, should we go further? I feel that one of the problems of the last debate was that many colleagues on both sides of the House said to me, “I simply felt I couldn’t vote for this action against Assad and chemical weapons because of what happened over Iraq.” I totally understand that, but we have now got to get over that and recognise that it is in our interests as a country for ISIL to be degraded and ultimately destroyed. We are playing a proud part, but I would like us to do more. Let us separate this from the issue of the Iraq war and act in our national interest now, with partners, to get rid of this dreadful terrorist organisation.
Over the past 10 years Hull has taken many refugees under the Home Office’s Gateway programme, and they have been successfully resettled. At the Freedom festival over the weekend, nearly 1,200 people signed the petition established by Sue Hubbard to get more support for Syrian refugees. A few months ago Hull offered to help by taking in more Syrians, but the Home Office dragged its feet and nothing happened. What assurance can the Prime Minister give me that the Government will now take up Hull’s very good offer?
I can certainly give the hon. Lady that assurance. The Gateway programme, which she talks about, and other schemes effectively resettle about 1,000 people in Britain every year. In addition there are successful asylum applications—I think there were 11,000 last year—and we will now be taking 20,000 Syrian refugees. I think that is a generous, compassionate country in action, and we look forward to working with Hull City Council on that basis.
There is widespread support for the Prime Minister’s generous decision to take 20,000 refugees, but last year alone we took 183,000 economic migrants from the European Union. I wonder whether that is proportionate, or whether we could not be more generous to refugees if we were less obsessed with the free movement of people.
The ability to move in Europe and take a job is something that many of our own citizens enjoy by going to live in another country. What we should be addressing is the additional pull factor of our welfare system, which can give people some €12,000 or €13,000 in their first year after coming to Britain. That would ensure that free movement works, which is important, but is not artificially inflated by our own welfare system.
The Prime Minister has mentioned the five-year protection visa. Will he give assurances that people who have that visa will be allowed to work and travel, and that there will be an automatic assumption of the extension of proper resettlement rights to them if they so wish?
The basic answer to all those questions is yes.
The International Chamber of Shipping, the UK Chamber of Shipping and their respective members are doing their best to assist with the rescue of refugees and migrants at sea. However, there is a pressing need for the UK and the other EU countries to work with those in Africa and the middle east to deal directly with people smugglers. My right hon. Friend outlined in his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker) the work that is being done in that regard, but may I urge him to leave no stone unturned in eliminating that wicked and cruel practice?
I certainly take on board what my hon. Friend says. At the heart of the situation is the problem of people smugglers and criminal gangs, and we must crack them.
The Prime Minister stated that today’s decision to accept 20,000 refugees in the UK over five years was made with both the head and the heart. My head says that is only six refugees per constituency per year, or a total of 30 per constituency over five years. In the past month I have had literally dozens of offers from constituents in Dundee West, and I am sure I echo Members throughout the Chamber who have had the same experience. Why do we need to wait five years? We have a crisis on our hands. Can we not get on with it now, and act urgently and compassionately?
We are getting on with it now, and in the letter that the First Minister of Scotland wrote to me, she said that Scotland would be willing to take 1,000 refugees. She will have to reassess that, because now that we are taking 20,000 as a country I will be able to write back and say that Scotland will be able to do more.
By announcing that their borders are open to all the migrants who can get to them, Germany and Sweden have inadvertently increased the demand for migration across a continent and increased the human misery. Will the Prime Minister assure the House that the UK will not make that mistake and that we will not do the wrong thing, even if it is for the right reasons?
As I have said, we must act with head and heart, and that is why we think it is right to take people from the refugee camps.
Several hon. Members
Order. I keep spotting people who I did not think were here at the start of the statement, but they are all people of the very highest integrity, so I will leave people to self-regulate, if I can put it that way. If they were here at the start, they are welcome to take part, and if they were not, they are not.
When the Prime Minister started speaking, I felt really proud that Britain was going to take 20,000, but then we were told that it would be over five years and I have to say that my heart sank. The local council in my constituency of Bridgend has said that, despite £50 million in cuts over five years, it will take in 10 families. Many of these families cannot wait five years for us to offer them a home. Their need is now. Why cannot we move the 20,000, start taking people now and have a regular statement from the Prime Minister telling us how many have come so that we can get a sense of movement and take our 20,000, certainly before five years is up?
We are getting on with it.
I say very gently to the House that the Prime Minister is giving very succinct replies and I think it is not unreasonable that we should have succinct questions to which he can respond.
What steps are being taken to warn President Putin about the implications of his plans further to support the Assad regime, which will only lead to the expansion of Islamic terrorism? It is bad news for the middle east, for the UK and for Russia.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need to continue discussions with the Russians. As I have said, in the long run the growth of Islamist extremist violence is bad for Russia, just as it is bad for the United Kingdom.
It is worrying that the Prime Minister is using a crisis situation to announce a major reshaping of aid policy, which many people would say should meet humanitarian need rather than a narrow definition of national interest. In confirming that the use of aid will meet current OECD guidelines, will he also tell us what thought he has already given to providing support outside of the aid budget and beyond the first 12 months of resettlement?
Obviously, we will start with the use of the aid budget, which covers the first year, and then the committee, to be chaired by the Home Secretary and the Communities Secretary, will look at what more needs to be done to make sure that these people can be properly looked after.
May I warmly thank the Prime Minister for his decision and will he join me in thanking, alongside the Kurdish Regional Government, the people of Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and other countries that have taken in millions, supported by the UK and other countries, over the past four years?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to praise those countries. They have borne a huge burden in terms of the people they have taken in and looked after. We must go on supporting them and the work they do.
What criteria has the Prime Minister used to arrive at a figure of just six refugees per constituency per year? In the light of the compassionate acts of constituents, will he review that figure?
I believe that 20,000 Syrian refugees is a generous and correct figure for Britain. What we should do now is get on with it and move as rapidly as we can to process those people. It takes time because we have to work with the UNHCR to go through those in the camps and find suitable people to come here. It also takes time to work with local councils. I do not want to make a pledge that we then cannot deliver properly on the ground, and I believe that this 20,000 pledge can be delivered properly.
As my right hon. Friend knows, Plymouth is a dispersal centre for asylum seekers. When he knows what the figures are, will he let Plymouth MPs and Plymouth City Council know how many people they will have to help? Will he also make sure that there will be health screening so that we can sort out whether or not people have TB, which is an important issue in my patch?
I am sure that all those issues will be looked at by the Home Secretary’s committee.
In the 1840s and 1850s, the Yorkshire solicitor Thomas Constable was estimated to have saved the lives of 500 refugees fleeing the appalling humanitarian disaster of An Gorta Mór. Now that the Prime Minister has properly recognised the present situation as a refugee crisis, will he give us an assurance that he and all his Ministers in the Government will give the necessary leadership to ensure that we keep the nation together in our actions to deal with it, and that they will not allow anyone to use it to divide us for political gain?
Yes, I can certainly give that assurance. The whole country will recognise, as should political leaders, that this is a good approach that we can all work with.
I welcome my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s statement, and I am sure that the whole House welcomes the £1 billion of British taxpayers’ money that is being committed to humanitarian aid in and around Syria. Does he agree that the French and the Germans need to match that commitment, and more? Does he also agree that Germany’s open-door policy gives a green light to the human traffickers who are directly responsible for so much human tragedy in the Mediterranean?
Every country must take its own approach, and justify it to its Parliament and its people. I do think that the money we spend in Syrian refugee camps is hugely important, because it not only saves lives but gives people the chance of security and safety without having to make a perilous journey.
The mark of a civilised society is the way in which it deals with a humanitarian crisis. All of us have had full postbags over the past few weeks as people have reflected on the human misery and suffering that have taken place, and people in my constituency will reflect on the paucity of the response from the United Kingdom. When we see Germany taking in 10,000 refugees a day, talking about taking 20,000 people over five years is inexcusable. This Government should be ashamed of themselves. We have talked about the capacity to take people in. What is this country’s capacity to take real action to deal with this humanitarian crisis?
As I said, I think taking 20,000 people is the right response for the United Kingdom, and I think we should come together and work out how best our local councils and local voluntary groups can give those people a warm welcome.
The Prime Minister said that the thinking on safe havens was the “right sort of thinking”. On 28 November 2011, I asked the then Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether we could have safe havens in Syria for the protection of civilians. He replied that there was no “imminent plan” for such safe havens. Why did we not push harder for safe havens at that time? Which countries objected to them? And what is the timeline for the present plan for safe havens that would allow people to be protected on their doorstep from Assad and from Daesh?
Let me be clear about what I was saying; I do not want to mislead anybody. I said that the thinking about safe havens was the “right sort of thinking”, because it is addressed at trying to help people in the region, rather than encouraging them to travel. The problem with safe havens up to now—it is still a problem—is that if we are going to declare somewhere a safe haven, it must be safe. Our experience in Bosnia and elsewhere is very relevant here. To make the haven safe, we would have to commit a lot of troops and, potentially, air support to take out Syrian air defences. A whole series of steps would have to be taken, and we are a long way away from that. The only point I was trying to make was to show some sympathy with those people who are pursuing the idea of safe havens, because they are at least trying to help people in the region, rather than encouraging this trade in people.
The Prime Minister has set out the action that he intends to take in and around Syria, and also here at home. He has been very clear about not becoming involved in the EU quota system. Given that, and given the very real pressures faced by the countries on the frontline—particularly Greece and Italy—is there any assistance that the United Kingdom can give those countries with the processing of the applications and with the refugees?
Yes, we can and we do. We help them with their capacity in terms of fingerprinting and sorting people. Part of the problem with the Schengen system is that people who come to Greece and Italy then transit onwards, rather than doing what they ought to do, which is to provide their details so that they can make their asylum applications in the first country they arrive in. We are helping with that, as it is part of the problem that Schengen is coping with at the moment.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments on the generosity of the British people through the aid budget. It is extremely welcome that, as the second biggest donor, we are finally getting recognised for the efforts that we have made alongside the Turks, the Lebanese, the Jordanians and the Iraqis. May I urge him to work with our regional NATO partners in the area to enable them to do more, not only financially but militarily? They are capable, and they have the necessary troops and weapons to do more.
I certainly look carefully at what my hon. Friend says. I think that today we are talking about the humanitarian response; the issues he raises are perhaps for later.
It is worth reminding the House that we are not talking about migrants; we are talking about refugees and, for that matter, human beings. Why did it take the tragic and gut-wrenching image of poor, wee Alan Kurdi to shame the Prime Minister into finally taking the action that he has announced today? It is very limited action and my constituents demand more.
I will tell the hon. Gentleman the action that this country and this Government have taken: meeting the 0.7% of GDP for our aid budget when no other major country in the world has done it. That has saved countless lives and this country can be proud of it. Before we listen to all these lectures about acting too late, we should recall that it was this Government who put the money into the refugee camps and sorted out the 0.7% of GDP, and it is this Government who are now saying we should take 20,000 Syrian refugees.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s move today, and the generous spirit shown by my constituents and others around the country. I wonder whether he has considered the other part of our humanitarian recent history from this House, which is the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and its measures against transport and trafficking. Does he think links can be made here?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point; that is a key part of our work against these criminal gangs, and an increasing number of countries are looking at the legislation passed here to see whether they can imitate it.
It is exactly a month since I wrote to the right hon. Gentleman’s Minister to ask why the vulnerable persons relocation scheme was failing for refugees from Syria and why it had not been extended to Iraq, but I have had no reply. I hope the Prime Minister’s statement today will begin to answer the first part, but what about the second? Given his conflation of the military threat from Daesh in Iraq and in Syria, what difference is there between refugees fleeing from Daesh in Syria and in Iraq?
The difference is that, of course, in Iraq there is at least a Government who govern part of that country, and there are safe spaces to go in that country, whereas in Syria people are caught between the horrors of ISIL and the terrors of Assad.
What assurances can my right hon. Friend give the British people that Islamic State terrorists posing as refugees will not be inadvertently permitted into our country? What assessment has been made of that risk?
Obviously, we will take great care over this issue and make sure there is proper security screening of people who are coming.
Would the Prime Minister concede that perhaps the Government have been a little slow out of the traps in responding to this crisis, perhaps because Ministers are a bit befuddled by an artificial debate that conflates economic migrants with refugees, and indeed that conflates economic migrants with the European Union debate that Conservative Members are having? Would he also care to comment on the editorial policy of newspapers that deliberately include provocative articles by deliberately provocative writers saying it is absolutely fine to send gunboats to stop refugees, and change their position straightaway when there are pictures of dead little boys washed up on the beach?
The Government were right to reach 0.7% and right to be the leading aid donor in Europe to the Syrian refugee camps, and are now right to take 20,000 Syrian refugees.
I welcome the compassion and safe harbour afforded by this Government to Syrian refugees. I also welcome the Prime Minister’s statement on the isolated military action taken by this Government. Does he agree that while the UK remains at risk from dissident terrorists, our constituents would not forgive us if we failed in our ultimate duty to keep them safe, no matter how difficult the circumstances?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; keeping the country safe is the first duty of Government.
The Prime Minister has made repeated reference to how much effort this country has put into dealing with the refugee crisis over the past months, but back in June my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) tabled an early-day motion on Operation Mare Nostrum. That operation was estimated to have saved the lives of half a million refugees in the Mediterranean area, but the Government cancelled it, saying that it was a pull factor. Does the Prime Minister regret cancelling it? Is it time to reinstate it?
Twenty-eight member states made that decision about Mare Nostrum, but what we then did in response to the growing number of people who were still coming across the Mediterranean was deploy the flagship of the Royal Navy. Again, this was Britain acting rapidly and saving 6,700 lives.
May I commend the Prime Minister on his proportionate, humane and timely response to this crisis, which has escalated at a rapid pace? Before I came to this place, I defended the Home Secretary in asylum and immigration cases in court, and I saw at first hand how considerable progress was made in dealing with the asylum backlog. We inherited more than 100,000 asylum cases from the previous Labour Administration. What measures and resources have been put in place in the Home Office to deal with the additional burden, so that robust and legitimate decision-making is ensured?
I look forward to the House gaining the benefit of my hon. Friend’s wisdom from pursuing all those cases. It means that when she speaks in these debates, she has real knowledge of what these cases are like. It is very important that the Syrian refugees are given humanitarian passports, so that they do not have to go through the lengthy asylum process, which is why we are taking that approach.
In a reply to me last month, the Minister for Immigration said that the vulnerable persons relocation scheme was designed to focus on need, rather than meeting a quota. Is the Prime Minister now imposing a quota of 20,000 on that scheme? What will he say to the 20,001st person who has a provable and legitimate need?
The first thing to do is to get on and deliver the 20,000.
Does the Prime Minister agree that the downside of the Opposition’s suggestion of taking refugees from mainland Europe is that it gives a green light to people smugglers and encourages exploitation? We have a good record in this country, thanks to this Government, of tackling modern slavery and human trafficking, and it would be wrong at this stage to turn our back on the genuine progress that we have made.
I thank my hon. Friend for what he has said. As we are not part of Schengen, we had a choice over how to design our programme. We have taken the decision that it is better to take people from the camps. That is a good and humane decision, it will help others to be able to use those camps, and it will not encourage people to make that perilous journey.
The Prime Minister’s statement completely fails to realise either the scale or the urgency of the humanitarian crisis that faces us. It also fails to recognise the huge well of generosity in our country at the moment. People in every one of our constituencies are desperate to help. If the Prime Minister wants a moment for his big society, this is it. Will he come back to this House tomorrow with a statement that recognises not only the scale of the catastrophe that faces the Syrian people, but the huge desire in our constituencies to help them? Let us do more to help these people and have a statement of which to be proud.
I think people will respond very positively to the idea of giving a warm and thorough welcome to 20,000 people coming to our country. We should now get into the business of implementing the scheme rapidly. We need to get local councils and local groups on side, and make sure that everyone works together. Let us find a warm and really good welcome for these 20,000 people.
As the Prime Minister has pointed out, the vast majority of refugees are in camps near Syria, and I welcome his long-term commitment to substantial aid for these people. Will he advise us on whether a share of that aid can be used to help refugees develop the skills that will be needed to rebuild Syria in due course, as everything possible needs to be done to bring about a durable peace when, eventually, military conflict ends?
Absolutely, that can happen. We can use aid money for building capacity in those countries. Once people are able to return to their homes, it can be used to do just that.
Most fair-minded people in this country will not regard the Prime Minister’s proposal as a proper response to the situation. Taking in and giving sanctuary to 4,000 people a year over the next five years when we are in the midst of the largest global refugee crisis since the second world war is woefully inadequate. We should be ashamed that we are not doing more. Furthermore, the distinction between people in the refugee camps and those already in Europe is quite spurious. There have been references to the little boy who was washed up on the shores of Turkey. What if that little boy had not drowned, and his parents had applied to this country for refuge and sanctuary? Would we have said that our doors were closed to them?
First, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. I think that 20,000 is the right response; it is a good response that everyone can now get behind and work with. Those people who have made it already to Europe are in many cases in a far better and much safer situation than the people still stuck in Syria or stuck in the refugee camps, which is why it is those people whom our effort will be directed towards.
I commend the Prime Minister for giving children, especially orphans, priority in today’s statement. We have had heart-rending pictures and stories of children, and I have been contacted by many of my constituents, all reiterating that we must be humanitarian, as children are our future. Will the Prime Minister please reiterate his assurances that we will do our very best for those orphans and children?
We certainly will. We will be looking specifically for orphans and vulnerable children among the people we take from the camps. They will require a particular amount of care and attention, as they are coming miles away to a strange country, as regards ensuring that they have all the care and love they need as they grow up.
I have also been inundated with offers of support from constituents in Oldham and Saddleworth. How will the Prime Minister speed up the asylum process? It can take many months, if not years, and many refugees have specific skills that are in short supply in the country; I have a family of engineers from Syria who want to work and have been in the country for a few years.
Will the Prime Minister also confirm whether he will publish the Attorney General’s guidance on the legal basis for the killing of a UK citizen, so that this House can scrutinise the decision making?
On the second issue, we do not publish the advice of the Attorney General. No Government have done that. What we did with Libya was describe the legal case, and I am happy to do that, and to describe the legal advice, which is based on self-defence, as I set out in my statement.
On the asylum system, of course we want to speed it up; we have sped it up, and that is why we have dealt with so much of the backlog and have introduced measures such as the suspension of appeals, so that people can continue to appeal once they have been returned to the country they have come from. We will continue to do that, but let me stress that these 20,000 Syrians will not have to go through some lengthy asylum process. They will be helped from those camps to a life in Britain. Let us say today that we will give them a warm, friendly and joyous welcome.
I thank the Prime Minister, the party leaders who questioned him and the 102 Back Benchers who have also done so.