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Unaccompanied Child Refugees

Volume 621: debated on Thursday 9 February 2017

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department to make a statement on the Government’s decision to close the Dubs scheme for child refugees.

The Government take the welfare of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children extremely seriously. That is why we have pledged more than £2.3 billion in aid in response to the Syria conflict—our largest ever humanitarian response to a single crisis.

The United Kingdom has contributed significantly to the hosting, supporting and protection of the most vulnerable children affected by the migration crisis. In the year ending September 2016, we granted asylum or another form of leave to more than 8,000 children. About 50% of the 4,400 individuals who have been resettled through the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme so far are children. Within Europe, in 2016, we transferred more than 900 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to the UK, including more than 750 from France as part of the UK’s support for the Calais camp clearance. As Home Secretary, I am proud that the UK played such a key role in helping the French to close the camp safely and compassionately.

Yesterday the Government announced that, in accordance with section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016, we would transfer the specified number of 350 children who reasonably meet the intention and spirit behind the provision. That number includes more than 200 children who have already been transferred from France under section 67. I must make it absolutely clear that the scheme is not closed. As required by the legislation, we consulted local authorities on their capacity to care for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children before arriving at the number. We are grateful for the way in which local authorities have stepped up to provide places for those arriving, and we will continue to work closely to address capacity needs.

The Government have always been clear that we do not want to incentivise perilous journeys to Europe, particularly by the most vulnerable children. That is why children must have arrived in Europe before 20 March 2016 to be eligible under section 67 of the Immigration Act. The section 67 obligation was accepted on the basis that the measure would not act as a pull factor for children to travel to Europe and that it would be based on local authority capacity. The Government have a clear strategy and we believe this is the right approach.

Here in the UK, we have launched the national transfer scheme and we have also significantly increased funding for local authorities caring for unaccompanied asylum- seeking children by between 20% and 28%. The Government have taken significant steps to improve an already comprehensive approach and we are providing protection to thousands of children in this year. I am proud of this Government’s active approach to helping and sheltering the most vulnerable, and that is a position that will continue.

Last week the Prime Minister said:

“On refugees, this Government have a proud record of the support…and long may it continue.”—[Official Report, 1 February 2017; Vol. 620, c. 1016.]

This week, the Government cancelled the Dubs scheme after it had been running for less than six months. The Home Secretary said that it has not closed, but will she confirm what it said in the statement yesterday: that once those 350 children are here, that is it—it is closed? Where does it say in the Hansard record of our debates on the Dubs amendment that I have here that we will help lone child refugees for only six months? Where does it say that, instead of the 3,000 that Parliament debated, we will help only one tenth of that number? Where does it say that when we get the chance we will somehow turn our backs once again? It does not, because we did not say that at the time.

The Home Secretary knows that what she is doing is shameful. Not only has she closed the Dubs programme, but she has cancelled the fast-track Dublin scheme to help those with family here. The Home Secretary did very good work in the autumn of last year to help those in Calais and to make sure we could take as many children as possible, and I commended her for it. But she also knows that most of those have family here already and were entitled to be here. She has said local councils cannot do more; the truth is that many local councils have said they can do more with more support or more time. It takes time to set up these schemes, and they should not be closed down so quickly.

There are still so many children in need of help. The Home Secretary knows there are thousands in Greece in overcrowded accommodation or homeless, or in Italy still at risk of human trafficking, or teenagers in French centres, which are being closed down now, who have nowhere left to go. The Home Secretary talked about clearing Calais; they are heading back to Calais, and back to Dunkirk: back to the mud, back to the danger, back into the arms of the people traffickers and the smugglers, the exploitation, the abuse, the prostitution rings—back into the modern slavery that this Parliament and this Government have pledged to end.

We know Britain and France can both do better. There are Eritrean teenagers here now in foster homes, after awful trafficking experiences, who are in school with a better future. We can do this; Britain can do better than this. Will the Home Secretary accept that and reinstate the Dubs programme now?

I have listened carefully to the right hon. Lady’s questions and I will try to address them all.

I repeat that the Dubs amendment that is in place is not closed. We have done what we were obliged to do, and we have correctly put a number on it. The right hon. Lady implies that this is a business of accepting the children and that it is all about numbers; I respectfully say to her that these are children who need looking after over a period. When we accept them here, it is not job done; it is about making sure that we work with local authorities and that we have the right safeguarding in place. That is why we engage with local authorities—why we make sure they have sufficient funds, which we have increased, to look after those young people.

I completely reject the right hon. Lady’s attack. The UK has a strong reputation in Europe and internationally for looking after the most vulnerable. That will continue. We have a different approach to where the most vulnerable are. We believe that they are in the region, and that is why we have made a pledge to accept 3,000 children from the region. We are committed to delivering on that. They are the most vulnerable.

I am clear, through working with my French counterparts, that they do not want us to continue to accept children under the Dubs amendment indefinitely. They specify that that acts as a draw, and I agree with them—[Interruption.] It acts as a pull. It encourages the people traffickers. I know that the right hon. Lady does not want that, and I ask her to think very carefully about the approach that she prefers.

I am very much aware of the great shortage of resources in Wycombe, so I commend the Home Secretary for the resilience she is showing under this strident attack. Will she reassure me that the Government will remain committed to bringing refugee children here where that is appropriate and that she will have due regard to the children we already have?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. We are always grateful for the work that local authorities do. We must not underestimate the difficulties involved, particularly in taking children who have been through war zones. We work with them to ensure that they deliver the extra work and care that those children need. He is also right to suggest that we must ensure that the children in the UK are always looked after.

Last year, I visited a number of refugee camps in Europe, including some in Lesbos. I met the Red Cross volunteers who were saving refugees from the sea, and they said to me that the worst thing was the children. The worst thing about this Government’s failure to step up to the totality of the refugee crisis is the children. In a written statement yesterday, the Minister for Immigration said:

“All children not transferred to the UK are in the care of the French authorities.”

They might technically be the responsibility of the French authorities, but many of those children are not being cared for at all. They are sleeping on the streets and in informal encampments, and they are making their way back to Calais, to Dunkirk and to the mud. Will the Home Secretary tell me how the UK plans to find, screen and process the 150 extra Dubs children, and from which countries they will transferred? What conversations has the Home Office had with the French, Italian and Greek Governments regarding taking such a small number of children? How does she live with herself when she is leaving thousands of people—[Interruption.] Members opposite can jeer, but I ask her how she can live with herself when she is leaving thousands of children subject to disease, people trafficking, squalor and hopelessness.

I share one thing with the hon. Lady: it is the children who matter most. We have a disgraceful situation on the borders of Europe, with so many people being trafficked through to Italy and, in the past, to Greece to meet their desire to come to Europe. Too often, they find themselves in the hands of the people traffickers. It is because we care in this way that we have put together our plan to take the refugees from the most vulnerable places. She says she doubts that the children in France are being looked after, but I can tell her that the children who are most vulnerable are the ones in the camps in Jordan and Lebanon. They are the ones who are really vulnerable, and they are the ones we are determined to bring over here, to give them the benefit of safety in the UK.

I would also say to the hon. Lady that I do speak to my European counterparts about the best way to help the refugees who are now coming to Europe in such numbers. The French are very clear that they are processing the children who have come out of the Calais camp, and they want to continue to do that, but one of the things that stops the children operating with the French authorities is the hope of being taken into the Dubs scheme and coming to the UK. The authorities are clear with us that if they are to manage those children and do the best thing for them—which is what I want and, I think, what the hon. Lady wants—making it clear that the scheme is not going to be open indefinitely will provide the best outcome for them.

I do not doubt the sincerity of Opposition Members, but this situation was a classic dilemma when I was chair of the all-party parliamentary group on human trafficking and modern slavery. If we continue to take unaccompanied children into this country, more and more will be taken from Syria and across the dreadful sea routes, with many dying, and we will be feeding and encouraging human trafficking. The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) is sincere, but she is absolutely wrong. I urge the Home Secretary to continue to take people from Syria, but to abandon taking them from Europe, which encourages human trafficking.

My hon. Friend has substantial experience in this area having worked so hard on the issue of human trafficking. I note his point about this being a dilemma. It is not always clear what the right strategy is, but I ask Opposition Members to recognise that we are a taking a different approach. It is honest and compassionate—they do not have a monopoly on that—and we can deliver the best. I urge them to support us in that aim.

I am struggling to understand exactly what the Home Secretary is telling us. She says that the scheme is not closed, but she seems to have specified a number of 350, so that must mean that the scheme is closing once the 350 children get here. Will she clarify that? If that is the case, does she appreciate that that goes completely against the spirit of what was discussed in this House? I understand the “pull” argument, but thousands of children are already in Europe and many of them are unaccompanied and vulnerable.

Lord Alfred Dubs described what was done yesterday as “shabby” and deceitful. It seems that the Government tried to sneak out what they knew would be an unpopular announcement when they were busy avoiding scrutiny of the Brexit deal in this House. Is that the shape of things to come? Is that what comes from cosying up to President Trump?

I expected better from the hon. and learned Lady. Clearly, she did not listen to my point that taking this view is in the interests of the children we are helping. Instead, she is casting aspersions. There has been no attempt to hide anything. If there had been, today might have been the day to put out the written ministerial statement, not yesterday, because here I am to answer the urgent question—I am delighted to do so—and to provide clarity on any misunderstanding.

As for the hon. and learned Lady’s first comment about the number, the scheme is still open because we expect to transfer another 150 children. We have Home Office representatives in Greece and Italy to ensure that we can do that. In accordance with what the regulations set out, we had to put a number on it after consulting local authorities, and that is what we have done.

The Secretary of State says that the scheme is not closed, so I urge her to respect the House: when we voted on the Dubs amendment, we never expected the scheme to close at all. Does she agree that Britain should be leading the way? There should be more resources for local authorities. Will the Government consider reintroducing a Minister for refugees, not just for Syrian refugees, to show the importance that we give to this 21st-century problem?

I know that my hon. Friend cares a lot about this issue, just as I and this Government do. That is why we have made substantial commitments to help children from the region and to help 20,000 Syrians to come over here. I can say that we are transferring 100 people under the Syrian scheme just today. We will continue to step up and show the world that the UK is doing the right thing by helping these families and children.

I disagree with my hon. Friend and some Opposition Members on one thing. At the time of the amendment, it was made perfectly clear that a number needed to be set and that a number would be set. We have stuck to the letter and spirit of the amendment.

The Home Secretary says that she has talked to the French authorities and that they want to stop the Dubs scheme. An average of 50 children every day are going back to Calais and the camps. Does the Home Secretary recognise that the policy clearly is not working? What does she think will happen to those kids now that she has closed the door on them?

I ask the hon. Lady to consider why the children are going back to the camps rather than staying in the centres the French have taken them to in order to process them. Perhaps it is because they think that they will be able to move to the UK. Does that help them? It does not. What will help those children is if they have their claims processed in France, rather than going back to Calais and the mud. I am sure that she would not want that, just as I do not.

Like Lord Dubs, I have Jewish ancestry and I find it distasteful when some commentators compare the situation today with the 1930s and the Kindertransport. In those days, there was no opportunity to go to Germany or other Axis countries and assist those children who faced death in concentration camps. This situation is very different. Will my right hon. Friend condemn those commentators—thankfully, there have been none so far in this House—who compare the situation in the 1930s with today?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. It is not the same. Perhaps the one comparison one might make is the condition, sometimes, of the camps out in the region, some of which are in a terrible situation. We should put all our effort there to make sure that we take the children that we can from that most vulnerable area.

Tens of thousands of refugees stranded in Greece, including hundreds of unaccompanied children, are living in appalling conditions and face immense and avoidable suffering. Yet last year the Government took only five Dublin children from the area and none under Dubs. What will the Home Secretary do proactively to seek out those who could benefit from Dublin transfers?

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we have staff in the region who are looking to see which children might qualify under the Dubs amendment and which children might qualify under the Dublin regulations. We are actively looking to make sure that we do assist the children in Greece and Italy that we can.

While the Dubs amendment is one part of the overall strategy on refugees, does my right hon. Friend agree that the UK’s record on the full strategy has been exemplary and our biggest humanitarian contribution in our history?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The UK has stepped forward financially and with support for refugees. We will take 20,000 by 2020, about half of whom will be children. He, the House and the country can be proud of the UK’s commitment to helping refugees and the most vulnerable.

The Prime Minister never misses an opportunity to tell us that she wants to see Britain as an outward-looking player with a global vision. May I say gently to the Home Secretary that on this issue she has an opportunity to demonstrate that this country’s global vision is about more than just trade deals? Limiting our ambition to less than 1% of the desperate children who need to be helped is not worthy of that vision. Will she look at the way in which she uses the Dublin regulations? They include discretionary clauses that could be used more effectively to identify children with family links already in the UK, to ensure that they are helped.

The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point about the Dublin arrangements. Until we had an accelerated process and really leant in to identify children who qualified under the Dublin arrangements into Calais, it was not really working. The numbers of children being transferred under Dublin previously were small. We managed to transfer nearly 600 under Dublin last year, and I now feel that the Home Office and associated organisations that help us to deliver on Dublin have learnt how to make sure that it operates better in the future. I am confident that those numbers will improve going forward.

A two-tier—in fact, multi-tier—system in response to refugees and asylum seekers is emerging, with incomprehensible contradictions and many vulnerabilities, especially for children. To live up to our well-deserved reputation, which we should be proud of as a nation, among those fleeing war and persecution, who see us as a place of safe haven, and to do our best for a fair share of the thousands who are arriving in Europe—desperate, but with huge potential to offer this country—will the Home Secretary commit to appointing a Minister for refugees and integration?

I thank the hon. Lady for her recommendation. I have a substantial ministerial team and an excellent Minister for Immigration. I do not see the need at the moment for additional Ministers, but of course I will keep that under review.

The UK is helping the most vulnerable children in the region, and I agree that that must be the principal focus of our effort to avoid a pull factor. However, having committed to resettlement from Europe, we should revise our approach only after very careful thought. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that this announcement follows the clear advice of our French friends and allies?

I reassure my hon. Friend that I work closely with my European counterparts, particularly in France, because many young people arrive in the camps in northern France and create an environment that is so difficult for themselves and for the local authorities. Yes, I will always work closely, particularly with the French, to ensure that our plans work with theirs.

Does the Home Secretary agree that the secret to reforming the system in this country is a fair dispersal of refugees and asylum seekers? My city is happy, with some strain, to take hundreds of asylum seekers every year but there have never been any asylum seekers welcomed in the constituencies of the present Prime Minister, the previous Prime Minister or the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer. Will she look at that situation?

I am proud that my constituency of Hastings and Rye does welcome asylum seekers. The hon. Gentleman is of course right that we want more constituencies to welcome asylum seekers. Indeed, under the national transfer scheme, which allows some councils to help other councils where a lot of these children arrive, we are encouraging local authorities to step forward, on a voluntary basis, to spread the support around. The fact is that, at one point, Kent had to look after more than 1,000 children who had arrived unaccompanied. We must do more to spread that out, and I urge right hon. and hon. Members to speak to their local authorities about taking advantage of the scheme.

Those who traffic and abuse young children across Europe really do meet the modern definition of evil people committing evil acts. What are the British security services and police, together with their European counterparts, doing to track down, arrest and prosecute these perpetrators of evil?

My hon. Friend raises such an important point. He is absolutely right that we will always make sure that we combat human trafficking and the misery and abuse that go with it. I work closely with my European counterparts to make sure that we share information. Our National Crime Agency carefully tracks serious organised crime groups, and Europol works with us and other European partners to make sure that we work across Europe to guard against the terrible damage done by these people.

The Home Secretary is a good person, so I am not here to make a personal attack on her, but what signal does she think this sends to the world in the wake of President Trump’s announcement last week, albeit in a different context? There are always those who say that we should look after our own, that charity begins at home—“Britain first”, “America first”, “France first” and so on. Does she want us to be aligned with that sentiment or a different one?

We are not saying that we are closing the door and pulling up the drawbridge. I urge the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Members on both sides of the House not to fall into the trap of suggesting that we are not a country that welcomes refugees. We are stepping up to our obligations and supporting the most vulnerable with money and refugee programmes. I do not recognise the comparison he is making, and I hope that other Members share my position.

Like several other Members of this House, I saw for myself the conditions in Calais. I thank my right hon. Friend for her work to transfer children with family in the UK from France to the UK. As she has said, in Kent we look after more than 1,000 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. Does she agree that, when we welcome vulnerable children to the UK, we must make sure that we can give them a genuine welcome, with councils having the resources and capacity to look after them as well as British children in need of care?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The fact is that we are so fortunate that Kent does step up, because it so often takes the brunt and has to take the largest number of unaccompanied children. We need other councils to engage with the national transfer scheme so that we can spread that responsibility around. My hon. Friend also makes a good point about the need not to feel that it is “job done” when we take the children in. We need to have care, time, money and professional support to look after these refugees, because they are children, they are here, and we will make sure they are looked after.

Regarding the unfortunate remarks made by the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), is it not the case that what he referred to was an act of common humanity at the time, and it is no less now? It is the same, as far as children are concerned.

People will use their own language, but it seems clear to me that the most vulnerable place where there are children we can help is the region itself. We have agreed to take 3,000 of those children by 2020, and we will absolutely be sticking to that. About half of the 20,000 that are coming from Syria by 2020 will be children, and we will continue to move the children we can to take them under the Dublin arrangements.

British charities are working hard on the ground in the Syria region to help young people. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State continue to support their work and to tackle the people-trafficking networks that are exploiting their situation?

My hon. Friend is of course right about British charities. The British Government are the second-largest bilateral donor in the region, and we are proud of that. We work closely to make sure that part of the support that we give goes towards helping children and helping to educate them so that we do not have a generation who grow up without any schooling. We are very focused on making sure that we support the people and the children in the region, as well as fulfilling our obligations under refugee arrangements.

I am genuinely struggling to understand how it could possibly be in the best interests of vulnerable lone children for us not to take more of them in. I just do not understand what kind of perverse global leadership this is. If we have the compassion and humanity—and, indeed, the capacity, which we do—to take in more, why are we not doing so? Will the Secretary of State please take the feeling from the House today and think about changing the decision she has made about these lone refugee children?

I respect the hon. Lady’s views, but they are different from the one we take. That is not because of a lack of compassion, though; it is basically about trying to work out what is best for those children. She has failed to acknowledge the point that several Members have made, and that I have made as well: if we continue to take numbers of children from European countries, particularly France, that will act as a magnet for the traffickers. I wonder whether she has come across traffickers, or children who have been trafficked. It is a terrible crime and such danger is done to lives. It is imperative that we take action here to protect those children and stop that crime. Part of our process, by focusing on the most vulnerable from the region, tries to do exactly that.

We should applaud all councils, individuals and families who have stepped up to the plate to assist these vulnerable children. Will the Secretary of State clarify whether the capacity of councils throughout the country to host these children has met, exceeded or disappointed the Government’s expectations?

My hon. Friend is right that part of the proposal was to make sure that local authorities can support these children. We need to ensure that when the children arrive, it is not a feeling of “job done,” and that they are supported over the few years, however young or old they are, to make sure they have a good life here. We consulted with councils, and they came up with the number 400. I remind the House that that is not the total number that councils take in; we have an average of 3,000 unaccompanied minors arriving in addition to that, which councils generously step forward and support. My hon. Friend is right: we should all thank them very much for the work they do.

I am very surprised that the Home Secretary did not understand the depth of feeling in the House and make a statement to the House on this announcement, rather than publishing it in a written ministerial statement yesterday. I am really struggling to understand how, if we put a cap of 350 on the scheme, that is not closing the scheme. Perhaps the Home Secretary can explain that one more time.

Under the Immigration Act 2016, we were required, by a date that is fast approaching, to name a number after having consulted with local councils. We have now done that. At some point, the scheme will close, but it is not closed yet, because we still need to transfer 150 under the amendment.

My right hon. Friend has already pointed out the disparity that exists in the dispersal of these vulnerable young children. What more can she do to ensure that they are received across the country in a variety of local authorities so that they have the opportunity to have the life that we all want for them?

That is a very good question. We have been working closely with local authorities. People in my Department have made presentations across the country, and more than 400 people have attended them. We are helping local authorities to step up by ensuring that they have sufficient support each year for the young people. I hope that they see this as the right thing to do when we are experiencing so many problems from the region and refugees arriving here. We are working with local authorities on a persuasion basis and urging them to participate. The sign is that more of them are stepping up.

When I spend time with my young niece and nephew, I often wonder what would happen to them if they were in similar circumstances. I would hope and pray that they found a country of compassion, safety and sanctuary, and that is what we want for all young children across the world. However, on that basis, can the Home Secretary tell us what discussions she and her Department have had with Lord Dubs and children’s charities before making this decision?

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that my Department meets regularly with children’s charities and Lord Dubs.

When the former Prime Minister announced that Britain would take 20,000 Syrian refugees, West Oxfordshire district council led the way in laying out the scheme, quite contrary to what the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) said. West Oxfordshire has taken six Syrian refugee families. I know that, because I chaired the Committee that helped to settle them in west Oxfordshire and I have met some of them. Does the Home Secretary agree that, although it is necessary that we take in as many children as we can, it is also important to ensure that councils have the capacity to help these families? We are constrained not by money, but by issues such as the availability of translators.

My hon. Friend makes a helpful point. We want to make sure that the refugees who arrive here—children, families and adults—are looked after in the best tradition of the UK. I am delighted to hear of his personal involvement. I have heard fantastic stories about local churches and local charities stepping up and ensuring that these frightened families are really well looked after. We sometimes see the real best of British values.

We are told that the scheme is not closed; it will just be capped and discontinued. Hearts seem to be closed—that is the message that is going out. The Home Secretary attributes a lot of calculation to those desperate, lonely children who are making their way back to the camps. Is it not the case that what we are being treated to is calculated indifference dressed up as a measured commitment? Will the Government do more in respect of both Dubs and Dublin?

It is disappointing that the hon. Gentleman clearly has not heard a word of what I have been saying about the efforts that the UK is going to, the generosity of local authorities, and the commitment from the international aid budget. Those are all strong pieces of evidence to show that this country and this Government are stepping up to their responsibilities.

Having been to Domiz refugee camp on the Iraq border, I am particularly proud of Britain’s biggest ever response to a humanitarian crisis, which amounts to £2.3 billion. Will the Home Secretary confirm that if communities and councils want to continue with the scheme and also to take more vulnerable young refugees in the future, they will be welcome to do so?

We always welcome initiatives from local councils to ensure that we look after the refugees and children who come over here. I urge any local authorities that think they can do more to get in touch with the national transfer scheme, which will support the councils that are, sometimes, having to accommodate too many children in their area and long for additional support.

French centres are closing, and there are children in Dunkirk—in today’s freezing weather—who have families in this country and were hoping to be considered. Will their needs be assessed if the Dubs scheme is not closed? If not, what does the Home Secretary expect will happen to them?

The French have transferred the young people—indeed, all the people—from the Calais camp to centres, where they were given beds and food, so that their applications for asylum could be considered. The hon. Lady is right that some camps are now beginning to form in northern France. I am in constant touch with my French counterparts, and we are helping them with money, support and advice to ensure that another camp like that does not emerge. The French are committed, and they have a responsibility to allow the people there to apply for asylum in France, which is where that should happen. We will continue to monitor where we can help and act on the Dublin arrangements.

The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) said that there will always be some who say that charity begins at home. He is right, but the important thing is that charity does not stop at home. It never has done in this country and it never will do, which is why I applaud the Home Secretary’s comments that recognise the great work that has been done, that is still being done and that will continue to be done to help children and refugees from Syria in general. I commend the work of Gloucestershire County Council and Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers.

I regret that the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) made some very personal comments about the Home Secretary today. Surely it is time for all Members of this House to realise that, whatever our differences of opinion about the right way forward, everybody—particularly Ministers in the Department responsible—starts from the same position of wanting to do the best thing.

I thank my hon. Friend for those comments. It is disappointing when people do not recognise that the Government and the Opposition both share the ambition of compassion, but have a different strategy for delivering it.

Many in this House have listened to the Home Secretary with total disbelief. We cannot understand, given the intensity of the debate around the Alf Dubs amendment, which was accepted by this House, why she has come forward with what is essentially the closure of the scheme at a number well below what any of us would have expected. Does she not agree that the reality is that many children in desperate need across Europe will be left with no hope?

No, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. We have communicated our plan to the French and to other European countries, and we have discussed with them what is best for these children. Like so many other hon. Members, he fails to listen to my points about how these children are made vulnerable and what is in their best interest. I respectfully ask him to reconsider his very high moral tone. Although he might not agree with it, we are doing what we believe is best for those children.

The hon. Lady is chuntering, but we are doing what we believe is best. I recognise that the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) has a different position, but I ask him to reconsider his language.

The capacity of the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) to chunter from a sedentary position is not in doubt and does not require proof, but she should desist. I very politely say to her that as she is a supporter of West Ham—[Interruption.] Well, I am glad she is an Arsenal supporter, but she still should not chunter. As she represents West Ham, she might find it therapeutic to blow some bubbles.

As part of our commitments under the Dubs amendment, we have consulted local authorities on capacity. It is clear that there is capacity to support the children whom we intend to take from Calais at the same time as meeting our other commitments. I find it unbelievable that councils would be willing to take in only an average of two children each. Did the Home Office ask all local authorities individually how many children they could actually take, or did it suggest numbers to each of them?

No, we did not suggest numbers to the councils. We set out for them what the challenges were and what our payments were—those had been increased by 20% on one scale and 28% on another, so under-16s were to get £41,000 of support a year and over-16s were to get £33,000. We urged councils, we worked with them and we did presentations all around the country, and the councils came back to us with this proposed number. I repeat that accepting the children is one thing; having the capacity—and, indeed, the confidence—to look after them is what we urge local authorities to think about. I would like to give particular thanks to the Scottish authorities that did so much to accept vulnerable young women, in particular, who were moved from Calais. They are now making their life in Scotland, and we are very grateful for that.

Contrary to what the Secretary of State seems to believe, civil society in my constituency—and, I am sure, many other constituencies—is ready to help the Dubs children. In the past few days, I have visited my local council; St Christopher’s Fellowship, which took in about 30 of the Calais children last year; and Hammersmith and Fulham Refugees Welcome, which sources accommodation locally for refugees. They all want to do their bit, so why will the Government not let them?

We are very grateful for the work that Hammersmith has done. I would urge it to also consider taking children who are just as vulnerable from the national transfer scheme. It is not just the children from Calais who need help, but those from the national transfer scheme. I urge the hon. Gentleman to have that conversation with his council as well.

The closure of the Dubs scheme will affect the most vulnerable child refugees who have been persecuted by Daesh, including Yazidis, 90% of whom are ineligible under the Syrian scheme and none of whom have been resettled in the United Kingdom. Many are trapped in countries in the Mediterranean. Given the UK’s role in Iraq over the past decade, is this where our legacy of aiding Iraqi citizens ends?

The UK position on aiding refugees from the region, which I think is what the hon. Gentleman is asking me about, is very strong. It is added to by the fact that we have one of the largest aid donation plans in the world, with our 0.7% commitment and the £2.3 billion that goes into the region. The hon. Gentleman should join me in being proud of the commitment and support, including financial support, that we give to the region to make sure we do look after vulnerable people.

I have seen at first hand the work of my local authority in Torfaen to assist refugees, but what sort of moral and political lead does the Home Secretary think the Government are giving by doing only the bare minimum under the Dubs scheme?

I would in no way identify what the Government and local authorities are doing as the bare minimum. We are taking 3,000 children from the region by 2020. We are taking 20,000 vulnerable citizens by 2020. We are making sure that we give them the financial support that they need. I do not recognise the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation.

As others have pointed out, the Home Secretary says that the Dubs scheme is not closed but the UK needs to send out a strong message against the pull factor. Both those statements cannot be correct. She also says she is still working within the spirit and intention of the Dubs scheme. If that is the case, will she confirm what she is doing to ask councils to take in more children rather than hiding behind the excuse that capacity has already been reached?

There is no hiding here. Another 150 children will be transferred over the next period under the Dubs agreement. We are working closely with local authorities to ensure that they have the support for the children they have said they will take. I would add that approximately 3,000 unaccompanied children a year already arrive. In addition to the Dubs commitment, local authorities work with us through the national transfer scheme to ensure that those children are looked after.

What assessment has been made of the numbers of children in Greece and Italy? The charities that have been working with many of those children believed that they would be eligible under the Dubs amendment? How many of those children will now not be eligible?

I cannot say how many children will or will not be eligible until those assessments have been made, but I can say that, having accepted 200 children under the Dubs amendment, there will be another 150. In addition to that, we will continue to assess the children to see whether they are eligible for the Dublin arrangements.

We talk about numbers, but surely the only measure that matters is whether a child is vulnerable. On the bigger picture, I have been lucky enough to visit seven internally displaced person and refugee camps. There is a disparity between those camps as some have very poor standards, whereas standards are high in others. The Government seem to be doing nothing to help the people in some of the poor camps. I have visited Harran camp, north of Raqqa, which is of a very high standard and provides good education, whereas some of the other camps are exceedingly poor. What are the Home Secretary and the Government doing to help the people living in these camps and to sort out this problem?

We work closely with the organisations that run some of these camps. I absolutely recognise that they are of differing standards. However, the UK is stepping up with a financial commitment of £2.3 billion to make sure that we help to make those camps places where families can exist and children can be taught. I want the hon. Gentleman to be in no doubt that we lean in to make sure that we assist in the vast movement of people that is taking place in the region.

As chair of the all-party group on disability, my understanding was that the most vulnerable children, including those with disabilities, were to be prioritised, so how many children with disabilities have arrived, and what are the arrangements for vulnerable disabled refugee children who are now left behind?

At the time of the clearance of the Calais camp, in particular, we were determined to prioritise the most vulnerable. That was why we immediately moved to remove a lot of girls and young women whom we believed—the evidence showed this—were most vulnerable to being trafficked. We will always ensure that we prioritise those young people who are more likely to be vulnerable. I do not have the information on the numbers of disabled people who have been transferred, but I will endeavour to get it and get back to the hon. Lady.

I know that just one Christian charity in London is housing more than 30 children, which appears to be 10% of the entire national effort. Many faith communities are willing to step up to do what we would like the Government to do themselves. If they want to do more, will the Home Secretary let them?

There is still plenty of need for support from community organisations such as churches. I, too, have met several that are doing their bit to welcome families and look after children. I urge the hon. Gentleman to get in touch through the national transfer scheme, or via my office, and we will work closely to make sure that any communities groups that think they can support families or children are able to do so.

I am glad to hear that another 150 children will be coming to the UK under this scheme before it closes, but is the Secretary of State able to look the 151st child in the eye and say no?

I wonder how the hon. Lady would feel about the children who are in the camps in the region. They are not in France or Italy; they are the ones in the camps where the conditions are much, much worse. How would she feel about looking them in the eye?

Is this not a shameful betrayal of not just the thousands of children being denied a secure future, but the tens of thousands of our constituents who signed petitions and wrote letters in support of the Dubs amendment? No one is suggesting that this country is not welcoming of refugees, but it increasingly appears that the Government are not.

I would urge the hon. Gentleman to correct any misunderstandings that anybody has. The fact is that we have stuck to the agreement in the Dubs amendment. We were obliged to put out a number, having consulted local authorities. Perhaps he would consider putting out a message to his constituents so that they are clear that the Government are stepping up their commitments, are taking 20,000 by 2020, and are looking after these children. We are proud of our response.

Last week I met staff at the tech company Equator, who volunteered to create a digital classroom project for the 150 children at the La Linière camp in Dunkirk. Those children are stuck there. As everybody in this country—organisations, companies and individuals—seems to be willing to do something to help, what kind of signal does it send out when the Government are not meeting their commitments?

The hon. Lady should be clear that the Government are meeting their commitments, and exceeding them, through the aid that we give to the region of £2.3 billion, through our commitment to making sure that we bring over from the region the most vulnerable children—20,000 by 2020—and, most of all, through making sure that the children who arrive here, who are often from vulnerable areas, are looked after and given support. We ensure that local authorities have this ability. We should be proud of our response.

Before we proceed to the business question, I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) on his 82nd birthday and on reaching the mid-point of his parliamentary career.