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Ukraine: Refugees

Volume 820: debated on Wednesday 6 April 2022

Motion to Take Note

Moved by

That the Grand Committee takes note of Her Majesty’s Government’s plans to support refugees from Ukraine.

My Lords, I declare my interests as per the register. I am pleased to welcome my noble friend Lord Harrington of Watford, who brings with him valuable experience from another place and is taking on important responsibilities at a grave moment. I look forward to his maiden speech and to his work on behalf of refugees, at a time when one in 10 people worldwide is displaced by conflict, persecution or disaster.

This debate is very close to my heart: 30 years ago today, Sarajevo, the capital of the country in which I was born and brought up, was attacked by the Yugoslav and later the Bosnian Serb army. It was besieged for 1,425 days, and 11,541 civilians were killed, of whom 1,601 were children. On an average day, 329 mortar shells fell on the city, which was cut off from electricity, food and water—and from the rest of the world. Almost 100,000 people died across Bosnia-Herzegovina during three and a half years of war. Crimes against humanity and genocide were committed, and over 1 million Bosnians became refugees. I was one of them. I hoped never to see similar scenes in another European country—yet, as we speak, Mariupol is enduring its 42nd day of bombardment and a quarter of the Ukrainian population is displaced, inside Ukraine or as refugees.

No one wants to become a refugee or to leave their home; it is a journey of fear, uncertainty, peril and loss. This country welcomed me and has given me extraordinary opportunities. It is a privilege to stand here today; it is something that I love and am deeply proud of. But I would much rather I were not here, had never been a refugee and had never been forced to leave my country of birth. I would much rather I were teaching English in Bosnia after a life of peace, as I had imagined and hoped, than speaking here, after an experience of war. I know that Ukrainians fleeing today will wish nothing more than to be able to live in safety and stability in Ukraine and for the international community to find ways to stop the aggression that has been unleashed upon them.

In the light of that experience, and of mine, I urge the Government to intensify their efforts in six areas in particular. First, on visas routes for Ukrainians coming to Britain, we should continue to expand our visa schemes so that they are as broad and generous as is possible and safe. All Ukrainians in the United Kingdom should be able to use the family visa route to bring their relatives to this country. All Ukrainians in the United Kingdom should have the same leave to remain, and non-Ukrainians who were permanent residents in Ukraine, and were displaced by the conflict, should also be entitled to refugee status in the United Kingdom.

I welcome my noble friend’s commitment to simplifying and speeding up visa processing. Security checks are absolutely necessary but must be as fast and as easy as possible. Research by the University of Birmingham has shown that the longer women in particular are without access to housing and resources, the more vulnerable they are to sexual and gender-based violence. Speeding up the process is a matter of basic safety.

This leads me to my second point, on trafficking and safeguarding. Some 90% of Ukrainian refugees are women and children. Like all displaced persons, they are at increased risk of trafficking, abuse and exploitation. The best way to combat this is to make sure that safe and secure official routes are open, bureaucratic hurdles are reduced and information on how to access those routes is readily available. We should also look to liaise with our European partners and strengthen our joint efforts to combat trafficking, including by urgently making sure that citizens and agencies are aware of risk signs, not at some point in the future but now. Although the vast majority of Homes for Ukraine hosts are generous and genuine, we need to be vigilant. There are always people who seek to exploit suffering for their own ends. Safeguarding checks on hosts need to be thorough. Perhaps my noble friend could look at accelerating enhanced DBS checks. Councils will need additional funding for checks upfront—they need to happen before refugees arrive.

Refugees will be vulnerable, even once here in the United Kingdom. Unaccompanied minors are a particular concern. I welcome the fact that the Department for Education has done work on this and is offering guidance to councils and schools. Safeguarding should not stop once a refugee has arrived. There should be follow-up checks over the coming months. I look to my noble friend to make sure that the safeguarding and anti-trafficking aspects of our response are not forgotten.

Thirdly, we need to make sure that there is comprehensive and ongoing support for refugees in the UK. A refugee is not only in need of physical safety. Many will be traumatised and vulnerable. We need to ensure that psychosocial support is available, both during the first six months and beyond, as refugees establish new lives here in the United Kingdom. I know from my own experience how difficult it is. I remember coming to Britain and how happy and relieved I was, but at the same time how hard it was to get used to peace. The initial euphoria of safety suddenly became a burden: a feeling of guilt that I was safe, but my friends and family were not. When I think about it today, I wonder how my host family coped, and from where they found their understanding, generosity and patience. It is not an easy undertaking. I hope that my noble friend the Minister can offer a commitment on providing support for refugees in processing their ongoing trauma. Specialist mental health support must be available for children in particular, as well as for survivors and witnesses of sexual violence and other atrocities. Schools, health services and local councils are all likely to need additional resources and assistance for arrivals under both visa schemes. We should not overlook the need to support those coming via the family visa route, either.

We all hope that this war will be over swiftly, but it may not. Just as important as speeding up the process now is making sure that our response can be sustained. What will happen in six months’ time, or a year’s? What support will be in place for refugees then, if needed? How are we going to help them find long-term accommodation? Support services will need funding beyond this year. My noble friend’s other responsibility is Afghan refugees, 8,000 of whom are reportedly still living in hotels. It is almost impossible to build a new life like that. I hope that he can tell us what is being done to provide long-term support for Afghans as well as Ukrainians arriving in the United Kingdom.

Fourthly, we should maintain our support for Ukrainian refugees in Europe. Most of them will want to remain close to Ukraine, where their husbands, sons, fathers and brothers are defending their homes and towns. We should continue to offer additional funding to UN agencies, NGOs and directly to Ukraine’s neighbours, who are supporting the great majority of Ukrainian refugees. We should push for third-country nationals displaced by the conflict to receive the same protection as Ukrainians in Europe. The funding we offer must be additional, not reallocated from elsewhere.

Fifthly, we should learn from these crises and apply the lessons to refugees elsewhere. There were 84 million displaced people worldwide before the invasion of Ukraine, more than 26 million of them refugees. It is natural that we play a bigger role in helping refugees from our neighbourhood than from countries further away, but all refugees have a right to protection and around the world too few are able to access the safety which is theirs by right. There are still refugees stuck on the Poland-Belarus border, exploited by Lukashenko, for sure, but also abandoned by democracies.

In the last year, two major crises have led to new refugee schemes in this country—the two schemes for which my noble friend the Minister is responsible—for refugees from Ukraine and Afghanistan. We have also had the BNO visa for British nationals from Hong Kong. I hope that, once Ukrainian refugees are receiving the support they need, my noble friend will reflect on the lessons of these three schemes. We cannot continue to lurch from crisis response to crisis response, improvising schemes which, for all their strengths, have real flaws—the Afghans still in hostels, the Ukrainians going to unprepared hosts and the endless visa process. We need to be better prepared.

I hope we will take the lessons learned from our response to Ukraine and apply them elsewhere. Human Rights Watch and others are calling for an Afghan family reunion scheme, based on the Ukraine family scheme, to allow those who supported our work in Afghanistan to be reunited with their families. Will my noble friend consider that?

If we could put the unity and determination currently on display in the West behind a long-term commitment to resettling serious numbers of refugees in liberal democracies around the world every year, that would be a remarkable achievement and a staunch rebuke of Vladimir Putin’s policies of division and his unconcern for human life.

Sixthly, we should remember that the best thing we can do for refugees in the long term is to prevent so many citizens from having to flee their countries in the first place. Donations are a stop-gap, not an answer. I struggle to think of a conflict in the last decade that we have really succeeded in ending. Fighting goes on in Syria, in Yemen, in Ethiopia, in the Central African Republic, in the Sahel. A fragile UN-brokered ceasefire is holding, just, in Libya, but the situation is still unstable. Our role in Afghanistan has ended in defeat and, of course, war has continued in Ukraine since 2014.

We have to work on solving conflicts rather than providing support around the edges. We must get better at tackling the root causes, not just responding when it is already too late. We should seek to strengthen international institutions where we can and urge our friends and partners to play their part. If those do not work, let us be honest about it. We need to improve our capacity to maintain the rules of war and to prevent war crimes such as sexual violence in conflict—crimes which are both drivers and results of displacement.

The horrific reports emerging from Ukraine are a reminder of how far we have to go and how impunity is still the norm. I hope that the opportunities for accountability in Ukraine may be greater than in most conflicts. Ukrainian prosecutors are active and I welcome the International Criminal Court investigation, the UN Human Rights Council commission of inquiry and the OSCE mission of experts. It is crucial that sexual violence in conflict gets due attention as part of these efforts. We can and should support this, offering expertise from our Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative and our team of experts.

I was pleased to see signs at Heathrow recently offering details for those arriving from Ukraine on how to report war crimes to the police. We need to ensure that such notices are widespread, particularly when it comes to sexual violence in conflict, which is almost always underreported. Investigations and accountability take expertise and dedicated resources. Survivors must be supported to give evidence. I firmly believe that establishing a permanent independent international body to investigate sexual violence in conflict in post-conflict situations would be the most effective way to ensure that this terrible crime receives the attention and knowledge it demands, that allegations can be investigated as soon as they arise and that impunity can be broken down, not just in Ukraine but elsewhere.

I will make one final point. We do not know how long this war is going to continue, nor do we know precisely how it will end. I believe, though, that one day there will be peace and that Vladimir Putin will not have won. Ukraine will outlive Putin and will remain a democracy and a free country. Many Ukrainian refugees will want to return to the homes, friends and family members they left behind. Just as they need our support now, they will need our support then. The cities of Ukraine will need to be restored and the economy rebooted. Schools and hospitals will need to be rebuilt. As we discuss how best to help refugees today, let us also remember to look forward to peace and rebuilding. That is the timescale over which we must sustain support for Ukrainian refugees and the goal towards which our efforts should point.

My Lords, I have in general given strong support to the Government’s response to Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression against its neighbour, Ukraine, but when it comes to our handling of the massive outflow of refugees, often fleeing for their lives, which I would characterise so far as being somewhere between inadequate and abject, I can only express my great gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, for securing this debate and say how moved I was by the personal experience that she brought to her introduction to the debate—she put forward several points that I will endorse strongly in my remarks. I hope that this debate may perhaps mark a turning point in what has so far been a sorry story, which I hope will improve.

In being so critical, I do not wish to load blame on the noble Lord, Lord Harrington, whose maiden speech later this afternoon we await with interest. Since his belated ministerial appointment, he seems to have struck all the right notes but, alas, there is still a big gap between rhetoric and reality. Not so long ago we were being told by the Government about the benefits of taking back control of our borders from the EU. Well, our control over immigrants from Ukraine, still and always a third country for the EU, was as real when we were in the EU as it is now, but the EU has risen most creditably to the challenge posed by the exodus from Ukraine with its temporary waiver of visas and with wholehearted and massive relief schemes. What have we done? We have issued 50-page forms to be filled in and admitted a mere trickle of refugees. Is this bureaucratic cat’s cradle necessary? Is it even effective? After all, Ireland, as part of the EU, has waived any visa requirement on Ukrainians and since we are in a common travel area with Ireland this would seem to be a rather obvious loophole. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that.

Then there was the issue that has come up several times in Statements on this subject: security. For a considerable time, the Government led us to believe—perhaps they believed it themselves—that our visa requirements were protecting our national security against spies, infiltrators and so on. Then last week the Minister, in what I thought was an extremely frank and helpful clarification, said that it was nothing to do with that at all and that it was about protecting Ukrainian refugees from being preyed on by human traffickers.

That is a worthy objective, but I spoke to Professor Phillimore of the University of Birmingham earlier this week. She leads an important research project dealing with the problems associated with protecting migrants from being preyed on by people traffickers, and she told me categorically that the visa system provides no—I repeat: no—additional protection against those risks. What is needed, she said, is to cut the time the migrants wait in limbo, a point clearly made by the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, because they are extremely vulnerable then. Alas, we are keeping them in limbo for a lot longer than we should. Secondly, she said that we need to strengthen checks on people in this country who are offering them a destination, another point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Helic. Both those points are key and the visa system has nothing to do with them.

Clamping down on traffickers is an objective we share with members of the EU, which are admitting hundreds of thousands while we are admitting hundreds. The best defence against trafficking and modern slavery that we have in these circumstances is the closest possible co-operation with Europol and the law enforcement agencies of the EU member states. Can the Minister tell us whether that co-operation is a living daily reality, or just something we talk about?

It is a frequently repeated truth that the Ukraine crisis has fundamentally changed huge areas of policy across Europe. That is certainly true of the European Union: look at Germany’s commitments on defence spending and arms exports, at the EU’s overall response in cutting its dependence on energy supplies, and at the sanctions packages. But it seems a bit less true here, particularly when it comes to immigrants. The Home Office has yet to shed its “hostile environment” label. What will it take for it to do so?

My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, for securing this extremely important debate. I want to do something slightly different from the direction she gave us and ask a simple question. We know we have had Ukrainian refugees and that they have been victims of harassment and persecution. What else do we need to know and why? In other words, we have had many refugees throughout our history—Ugandans, Afghans and others—and if you add them up you build up quite a total. Ukrainian refugees will, in due course, become an undistinguishable part of that. Is that what we want? I suggest that we want to identify Ukrainian refugees as a distinct historical group with distinct historical experiences, which need to be remembered and will always be remembered, thanks to the efforts of people like us and others. Their identity should not be lost.

My first point is that, wherever there is a war or a crisis, there are refugees. This one is no exception. The question to ask is: what kind of refugees are they? What do they bring with them? What have they suffered for which they have paid this price? Why have they evoked this degree of mindless hatred? How can we stretch out a supporting arm?

I want to do two things very quickly. The first may sound rather philosophical, but that is what I am. It is to identify the constitutive characteristics of the Ukrainian refugees. What makes them distinctive from that of other refugees? Secondly, what has been the point of the British Government’s response to this crisis and how satisfactory has it been?

It is striking that this is the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War. The population of Ukraine is 44 million. Some 4 million have left and 6.5 million are displaced within Ukraine, so 10.5 million people out of 44 million—a quarter of the population—have been turned into refugees. No wonder it has been called a level 3 emergency. That is the first thing to bear in mind: the number of refugees represents an incredibly large percentage of the population from which they emanate.

Secondly—this might sound trivial, but it is the basis of something more important—almost all of them are white and Christian. That should not mean anything at this stage in our history, but it is meaningful because it shapes their understanding of who they are. We seem to forget that what is happening in Ukraine is an explosion of an identity crisis. A group of people are saying, “Look, we are western; we have strong sympathies with the West and that is where we belong”, while another powerful group says, “No, you don’t know what you are. You are one of us; you are Russian”. They say, “Yes, we are Russian—we do not deny that. But that is not our whole identity. Our identity is mixed, in so far as we are Russian and western. Our overtures to NATO have grown partly out of our fear that our western identity will not be appreciated”. At a fundamental level, this is a quarrel arising from a collective identity crisis. I suspect that, if we are not careful, similar crises with similar origins will continue to appear in that part of the world, where there are long, deep-rooted, ambiguously connected sources of identity.

The third, rather interesting feature of the Ukrainian refugees is that there is an enormous sensitivity to animals which I have not seen in any past group of refugees. The Economist points out rather nicely that those carrying enough of a burden decided physically to carry their animals, and even those who had to leave them behind grieved for hours at the very thought of having to leave them to the mercy of mindless Russians. In fact, the pet travel specialist PBS Pet Travel says that 1.2 million pets have crossed the border along with human beings. I did not see this during the Ugandan or any other refugee crisis; if somebody did, I would like to be corrected. Even the British Government, in spite of being hard-hearted, had to make some provision for these animals. They have provided emergency licences for the pets and committed to cover their vaccination costs.

The fourth feature is the acute disparity we have noticed between the response of the British Government and that of the British people. For reasons that are very difficult to understand, some deep springs within British consciousness—which, despite being an historian, I have not been able to fathom—have been tapped, such that the overflow of sympathy, kindness and generosity has been unprecedented. The point is simply that the British people have responded with enormous enthusiasm and generosity. The Government responded— not on their own but only because the British people took the initiative—with the sponsorship scheme. However, having created it, they seem to have made a mess of it. Connecting with the sponsors and matching them with Ukrainians has not been easy at all, with the result that a large number of sponsoring hosts have felt deeply frustrated that their efforts, constantly knocking on the door of the Home Office to find out when their protégés were arriving, have not been listened to.

One simple fact will tell the story. As of 31 March, 65,000 visa applications were made. From that, 29,200 visas were actually issued. But if you look at the family sponsorship visas, you can see that 28,300 applications were made, while the number of visas actually given was 2,700. In other words, the system has been extremely bureaucratic and cumbersome. We need to introduce a much simpler and faster emergency visa system. We could lift normal visa conditions other than the biometrics and security checks, which could be done en route. Matching people to refugees could also be done quickly and refugees would not have to advertise on social media that they are available.

The simple story is that in desperate times you have desperate demands and desperate demands require desperate responses—and desperate responses may require visa requirements to be radically reconsidered, for the time being at least, so that more people can be brought in. It is also about trusting people when they say that they have visas or they do not have visas. Our climate of not trusting people has gone so far that when a man says, “My visa or my document is coming”, or, “My wife is coming in a few days’ time and she’ll bring it”, we believe that he is a liar and not to be trusted.

My last point is about a different category of people: third-country nationals in Ukraine who have been deported, harassed, persecuted and treated discriminatorily. It is important that they should be treated in exactly the same way as others, as long as they have gone through the same level of suffering.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, for securing this debate and for her powerful opening. I wish the Minister well with his maiden speech. He has had a few dry runs, so expectations are high.

Can the Minister confirm that, as of Sunday, only 1.6% of the 32,000 who have applied to come to the UK from Ukraine had actually arrived? The Government have apparently assumed that refugees are not wanting to move too far away from Ukraine, but it looks increasingly likely that other factors may be the cause. The Telegraph reports cases of permission to travel letters being sent by the Home Office but not being received by the intended recipients. A government spokesperson said that they were aware of a “technical issue”. What is that issue, how many families are affected and has it been resolved?

On Twitter this morning it was alleged that only one member of each family was being granted a visa, meaning that the family, wanting to stay together, was unable to travel to the UK. This was responded to by someone else who said that only two out of three visas for his family had been issued. Is this conspiracy or cock-up? Is this a deliberate move by the Home Office to keep refugees out of the UK or are applications from the same family not being cross-referenced and dealt with together? It appears that, whether by accident or design, the actions of the Home Office are preventing even those granted visas from travelling to the UK. The Home Office estimated on 18 March, when the refugee schemes opened, that it would be able to process 10,000 visas in that first week, but it actually achieved less than one-tenth of that. Can the Minster confirm that he has set a target of 15,000 a week and say when he expects to achieve it?

In the Telegraph today, it is alleged that the Foreign Office is refusing to provide staff to help to process visa applications, saying that it is the Home Office’s problem. It has also been suggested that, despite being offered bonuses to work overtime and rest days, processing is likely to be impacted by staff taking time off over the Easter holidays. Are these factors going to impact on the Minister’s ambitions and are, as has been suggested, things going to get worse before they get better? Can he also confirm that he has set a target of 48 hours to process an application for a mother and child, but that it is currently taking on average a week, and that phase two, whereby organisations and businesses can offer accommodation to Ukrainian refugees, has been delayed until after Easter?

The Minister is quoted as saying:

“We did not have, and we’ve never had, a proper system of administering the mass flow of people from abroad.”

This House passed amendments to the Nationality and Borders Bill to ensure that the Government set up and maintain the necessary systems, processes and support to local authorities to be able to cope with the sort of influx of refugees that we are currently seeing from Ukraine. If the Minister is correct, this would appear to be desperately needed. These delays are causing distress and costs that people cannot afford. Families here in the UK are desperate to offer a home to Ukrainian refugees, and Ukrainian refugees are stuck abroad with no money and nowhere to live.

According to the Telegraph, British families are paying thousands of pounds to keep refugees in hotels in places such as Warsaw, which they can ill afford, when they have spare rooms that the refugees could move into today. Sponsoring families are being left out of pocket and emotionally drained. Families who were linked up two weeks ago under the Homes for Ukraine scheme are still waiting for their visa applications to be processed and are not being given any information about progress.

Delays are being blamed on decades-old technology, with security checks being undertaken on a limited number of specialist terminals in secure parts of designated Home Office buildings, identity documents being processed through a second system and decisions being taken on a third, where data from the other two systems is entered manually. Can the Minister confirm that?

If these delays are inevitable, as the Minister apparently thinks they are, why do the Government not process refugees here in the UK, rather than before they travel? Why is it that almost every other European country is able to provide visa-free entry, but the UK is not? The Home Office is blaming No. 10 for insisting on a separate bespoke system for Ukrainian refugees. Others are blaming MI5 for insisting on security checks, while others say that the security services have no security concerns. Others are quoted as saying that the Home Office is insisting on putting security checks above everything else. On the one hand, we are hearing that Priti Patel was in favour of a much more open scheme to allow Ukrainian refugees to come to the UK, but her plans were vetoed by Steve Barclay, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, but on the other hand we are hearing that MI5 had strong views on the need for checks, so not doing so was never really considered by the Home Office. Can the Minister please explain where the truth lies?

Another reported excuse is that the Home Office wants to avoid “Windrush on steroids”, where thousands of people would be left without the necessary documentation to claim welfare, education, jobs and healthcare. But refugees with permission to travel letters are being told that when they present themselves at the UK border they will be given an entry stamp in their passport and that they can then use the stamp in their passport to access jobs and services. I ask again: why can they not be processed on arrival?

When the refugees arrive, local authorities are asking for a clear framework for housing checks, guidance on safeguarding beyond the initial DBS check and a clear steer on what to do when placements break down and require rematching. They are having serious issues with data quality, including access, duplication and missing information. Families are arriving under the family visa route with nowhere to live and children are getting visas under the Homes for Ukraine scheme and arriving without an accompanying adult. Some councils are being told that the £10,500 is only for the first year and it is only available under the Homes for Ukraine scheme in any event, although those coming via the family route also need access to council services. Third-party support services, such as translation services, ESOL and healthcare, particularly mental health care, are receiving no additional funding. Can the Minister explain what additional support will be made available for those services?

Finally, can the Minister confirm that work on other visas, such as work, study and Afghan visas, has been stopped, as all staff are diverted to deal with the Ukrainian crisis? What will the implications be on other visa applications?

We are here to hold the Government to account. We need clear answers, if the Minister can provide them, or does he, like us, see a good deal of willingness surrounded by a great deal of confusion, inefficiency and ineffectiveness?

My Lords, I start by congratulating the Minister on his appointment. I was going to say “commiserating”, because I think that he has probably one of the toughest jobs in government at the moment, but I know that he is very hands-on—I am afraid that he will have to be in this job. I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, for this debate and in particular for her opening speech—I was moved by what she said. I agree with everybody else in condemning the appalling acts of the Russian state against the people of Ukraine.

More than 6.5 million people now displaced since February, a death toll that is continuing to climb by the hour, the graphic images of the dead left on street corners and the harrowing reports that rape is being used as a weapon of war bring shame, disgust and anger to us all. Over the weekend, the Prime Minister committed to sending specialist police and military investigators to help the International Criminal Court’s investigations, in the hope that those responsible for these heinous, evil acts may be held to account at The Hague. I very much welcome that recent action, as I am sure does everybody else, and the leadership that the Government have shown in providing solidarity, strength and support to the people of Ukraine. However, as we stand witness to perhaps the greatest humanitarian crisis of recent times, it is only right that we do all that we can to support those who are fleeing their homes to find safety, security and solace in the United Kingdom.

As I mentioned in my preamble, women and children who are now arriving in this country have seen things that no human should. How can an adult, let alone a child, forget the images of a burned body flung on the roadside? As we learned over the weekend, those fleeing may have been subjected to brutal acts, and the trauma and post-traumatic stress that they will be suffering are incomprehensible. With this in mind, would the Minister advise the Committee on what arrangements are being made to provide Ukrainian refugees with targeted, specialist mental health provision? I ask this in cautioning that mental health services across the country are already stretched because of the pandemic. The mental health support that the incoming Ukrainians will need cannot be left to the lottery of local provision.

Ukrainians have an incredibly strong work ethic. The Government’s relaxation of the rules to allow Ukrainian refugees to work is most welcome. I place on record my admiration of the companies, both large and small, which have demonstrated the best of British values in securing paid opportunities for those looking to make this country their home, if only for a short time.

However, we know that, for every good deed, there are individuals who, unfortunately, will seek to make a mockery of the system and exploit goodness. Could the Minister therefore provide reassurance that the Government will move heaven and earth to ensure that those fleeing war zones are not forced into modern slavery? Would he encourage local authorities to see what they can do to not only provide work placements but use their local knowledge and experience as an additional mechanism to ensure the legitimacy of the work being offered?

President Zelensky recently thanked our Prime Minister for the “historic leadership” that Her Majesty’s Government have shown when it comes to this nation’s support for Ukraine. I look down the list of all that the Government have done thus far and it is to be commended, as is the effort that we have seen in communities up and down the country, where the generosity and kindness of individuals serve as the greatest welcome that could possibly be made.

However, we must now ensure that when it comes to the processing, arrival and support of Ukrainian refugees, the apparatus of the state at national and local level kicks into play with the same speed, determination and force that we have been able to show on issues such as sanctions. The Government have issued more than 29,000 visas to Ukrainians in less than a month and I am reassured that they are doing their utmost to speed this up. To conclude on this point, will the Minister provide an update on what action the Government have taken in recent weeks to increase visa-processing capacity here at home and in Poland, Hungary, Moldova and other major centres?

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, for introducing this debate and for her thorough and moving speech. I have watched this from afar and one of the few rays of sunshine has been the appointment of the Minister to his present role. I am only sorry that his maiden speech is at the end of the debate rather than earlier on, because I am sure that we are going to be pleased to hear whatever he says. We welcome him knowing his record and how hard he is currently working and will be working.

The point we are at at the moment takes me back to almost the beginning of my political life, which was Hungary in 1956, when I recall that our community welcomed Hungarian refugees who had come to Britain and were settled. Unlike today, those refugees had no option to go back. They were in Britain and integrated and, of course, they were far fewer in number. When I look at the situation that we are in today, I reflect that we let down former Yugoslavia. What happened there was butchery at the same level as is happening today, a butchery that we thought we would never see in Europe again. I think that we have risen to the challenge this time.

I am astonished at the Russians and their sheer stupidity. The way in which they have acted shows a massive failure of intelligence, humanity and understanding of the international community. We used to have a saying that British military intelligence was a contradiction in terms, but Russian military intelligence does not appear to exist at all. They have got themselves into something that will last certainly for the rest of my life and probably the life of many people in this Room. We are never going to be able to go back.

At a time like this, I am constantly reminded—I will say it, although it is not popular—of the sheer stupidity of leaving the European Union. When we look at the gatherings of European statesmen—we saw one with Boris Johnson when he went to the European Council—we are well outside the room. Whatever we say about NATO—I notice that we are suddenly on about the G7—this is a problem that requires a European dimension to virtually every part. Our act of self-harm is coming home to roost now.

That is because not only do we have the problems with the refugees and getting the refugees in—I am not going to repeat them—but we have to look to the future. There will be a future when we have to rebuild Ukraine and when some of those 4 million people will want to go back home. They will be doing so to a land that has been devastated. In part—I am not saying that we should not have done it—it will have been devastated by British weaponry used by Ukrainian troops in the fighting. None the less, we will have paid a lot of money to give weapons to Ukraine to win. We have an equal obligation to look to rebuilding Ukraine and to a generous running budget for some years from this country towards doing just that. There will be a European effort that we must also contribute to. We must make it part of our job to make Ukraine worth living in again.

When—as it inevitably will—refugee fatigue starts setting in, we are going to have to resist it. It is already setting in around the Afghan refugees. We have a huge job on our hands, as does the Minister, not just in getting people here but in settling them in and then moving forward. I wish him the best of luck and godspeed from this side of the House, and the other side, because this is one area in which the whole House is totally united behind the Minister’s efforts. We wish him well.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Helic on securing this most important of debates and I welcome the opportunity to continue to bring to my noble friend the Minister’s attention the case of two young Ukrainian nationals whose ongoing plight has been brought to my attention. I have been in touch with my noble friend and his senior officials on a number of occasions during the past week and have described to them the ongoing battle with this country’s ridiculous and completely unnecessary bureaucratic nightmare which these two young people are experiencing. I am certain that they are not alone in their experience. However, I put on record my thanks to my noble friend’s officials for their courtesy and assistance over the past few days and I congratulate my noble friend in advance of his maiden speech and welcome him to his new appointment —I know that he is extremely hard-working.

I applaud the Government for their laudable Homes for Ukraine scheme and those in this country who have offered to take into the safety of their homes Ukrainian refugees displaced by this appalling, unnecessary and horrific war. I must crave your Lordships’ indulgence while I describe the situation affecting these two young people. It is important and a photographic copy, I suppose, of what is happening to many people over there.

They are a 25 year-old woman and her 15 year-old sister, Olia and Tonya Voropay. Mrs Rachel Hickson, who lives at Cockshutt in Shropshire, contacted me some three weeks ago. She and her mother have long-standing close ties with Ukraine, especially as they know these two sisters. Mrs Hickson applied to take them into her home under the Government’s much-publicised Homes for Ukraine scheme. She was advised by the Home Office that both sisters could apply for visas and the scheme on the same form. They did so. However, the elder sister Olia received her permission to travel letter but the 15 year-old Tonya did not. The sisters’ mother died 10 years ago and they are all but estranged from their father. To all intents and purposes, Olia, aged 25, is the guardian of her younger sibling.

When Olia questioned the completely inhuman and irrational situation, which I believe representatives of the Home Office, or their agents in Ukraine, told her about, she was told by them that her younger sibling must reapply in writing as an individual, that this process would take at least three weeks and that they could advise no timescale at all. I was further advised by the Home Office officials over here that it was probably because the younger sister is a minor—but she is accompanied by her guardian, her elder sister. What on earth is going on? Every country in Europe is accepting these displaced people, yet we appear to be placing every barrier in their way. It is a total disgrace. What is wrong with us here? We raise their hopes and then dash them. These people are vulnerable and under huge stress. They deserve our support.

Tonya is in possession of a notarised document, signed by her father, giving her permission to leave and travel. I have sent copies of this document, both in Ukrainian and translated into English, to my noble friend’s private secretary, and I have included copies of both Tonya’s Ukrainian passport and her application form for a visa. Meanwhile, the two young women are stuck in Ukraine, with the war raging around them, while our bureaucratic machine grinds endlessly on. They are frightened and desperately worried, yet they have a family—friends of theirs—waiting to welcome them to the safety of Shropshire and a new life. Would my noble friend please give me an undertaking that this shameful situation will be rectified and the two young women provided with their documents with permission to travel without further delay?

My Lords, like others, I applaud the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, for securing this important debate and I welcome the Minister to his post. He has apologised publicly—it has been in the media—and admitted that the system is not good enough. Many of us fear that, in his well-intentioned work, he might get so worn down that he finds himself mentally unable to function with the burden of what he is carrying on his shoulders. I do not believe that that has happened, but I put that as a warning to those who should perhaps be supporting him, because I worry that he may not be getting enough support.

The noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, recounted a story that is repeated in many pieces of correspondence that I have received, including one about a mother and her daughter who have, it seems, probably been tempted into what could be modern slavery in Ireland—contact with them has been lost. A lot of other young people are deeply traumatised. I will quote from the rector of the great academic council from the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, who at the beginning of March wrote to Colin Riordon, who is the vice-chancellor of Cardiff University and who supplied me with this letter, to which he replied on 2 March:

“Almost 10,000 Ukrainian students, teachers, and about 500 foreign students are hiding in the basements of dormitories and educational buildings. There are no safe places left in Ukraine.”

Since that letter was written, the situation has deteriorated greatly.

We must be aware that the people in Ukraine are sacrificing themselves to protect freedom and democracy in all of Europe and possibly across the world. When we offer them sanctuary, we must follow that through. The visa process is causing enormous distress to people who are already traumatised. Our official processes must not worsen the health of those already vulnerable and traumatised by what they have experienced. Our border control and authorities should undertake their responsibilities properly by acting to counter all discrimination and mitigate health risks, not worsen them. People will need healthcare services—they need them now—as they have undergone mental and physical traumas. Children have witnessed rape, violence, parents killed in front of them and overwhelming terror the like of which we cannot imagine from the safe haven of these islands where we sit.

Health workers coming from Ukraine should be allowed to continue working in our country with automatic recognition for their qualifications and help to integrate, because nearly all of them have adequate English already and the hurdles that they will be asked to go over will be enormous. Those in training should be allowed to access our training schools—I will ask the Minister about that later, because there is a problem.

We have an ethical obligation of non-abandonment of the seriously ill people and their families. Before the war started, Ukraine was estimated to have approximately 7% of the analgesics required to deal with its normal surgical and palliative care requirements. It had much less than the rest of Europe. That is now estimated to have fallen to 1% or lower than is required, simply to provide pain relief to people who need it in that country. That is an appalling statistic to have to live with.

I have previously declared that we have applied to welcome a family. On 9 March, the family we want to sponsor had managed to get to Sofia in Bulgaria, so I wrote to the ambassador there and gave all the details of the family, including their CVs—as much as I could obtain. Today, I received a reply. It referred me to some telephone numbers, which I tried; none was able to provide any help at all.

We applied on 18 March, as soon as the process opened. It took my husband eight hours to work through the forms, including communicating with them to get all the details required. The document list was inadequate. It did not state at the beginning of the process what would be needed as we worked through it. At one point, we had to upload a PDF of passports to an external agency—I do not know who the agency was, but we had to convert the JPEG files into PDF files. As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said, there was no linking of individual family members, so we know that three of the four applications are being processed but we have no idea what has happened to the fourth—the son—although we had an automatic email response.

There must be a way that families can be kept together, as has been highlighted. Wales wants to become a super-sponsor, with Scotland. Arrival hubs have been set up at ports of entry across Wales. They are not being openly disclosed in the public domain for obvious security reasons for those arriving. It has been estimated that Wales is expecting and able to take 1,000 people easily. Some 10,000 people in Wales signed up for the Homes for Ukraine scheme to act as potential sponsors. There have been 1,300 applicants to date for Wales; 143 have got visas. We have hotel rooms waiting to receive them, covered by the Welsh Government, that are not being used. Accommodation is available and processes have been put in place with local government. We have interacted with Cardiff Council, which I must commend for being extremely helpful and arranging to inspect property, conduct crime checks, et cetera. A helpline has been launched.

The universities are trying their best to link with other universities; Cardiff University has volunteered 50 projects to host Ukrainian academics for periods of three months or more, and the Council for At-Risk Academics is working with the university to try to provide support and arrange for twinning of UK universities with ones in Ukraine. It is currently not possible to accommodate all the students on courses because the Government have refused to waive the requirement to provide evidence of English-language competency or prior learning, but the courses would be willing to take them. There are a series of scholarships; Cardiff Metropolitan University—with which I previously had a role—has pledged £400,000 for two years to support scholarships and fellowships.

There is a concern that there may be a brain drain from Ukraine to the United Kingdom, but many of these people want to return, to rebuild their country once they can do so. We should support them. As well as providing a visa scheme and talking about three-year visas, what plans are being put in place now to let people know that we want to support them to come here, that we will do it fast and that we will support them to return when they are ready and want to do so but will not push them back?

There is a problem with medical and dental courses, and I ask the Minister to work with me to discuss with medical schools across the UK ways in which to accept and transfer medical and dental students into courses. We have an acute shortage of healthcare workers in this country, and we should help people who are a year or two years away from graduating to achieve the careers that they have worked so hard to achieve so far.

I understand from the Local Government Association that there is a concern that some people are already becoming homeless. How much Ministry of Defence accommodation is empty, how much of it has been assessed as habitable, and is it being repurposed deliberately to house Ukrainians in groups so they can stay together in their own community with people who speak their own language while other housing is being arranged for them? I understand from somebody in the MoD, who does not wish to be named, that there is such accommodation.

My last question relates to security. I understand that the Government, in the open session yesterday for which we are all most grateful but which some of us could not attend because of the health Bill, spoke about the security issues. How are they getting security information from the police files in Ukraine and from criminal records there to do the security checks that they say they need to do? Will the Government disclose to us the algorithm of the processes, as there are accounts of people getting emails to say that they have a visa, but the required documentation is not attached to that email and, therefore, they cannot activate entry into this country?

My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, for bringing forward this debate and sharing her personal experience. I also join others, rather belatedly, in welcoming my noble friend the Minister to the House. I very much look forward to hearing his official maiden speech. What is a loss to the Green Benches is most definitely a real gain for us. I have known him for some years, including through campaigning for him in Watford. He was a joy to work alongside and, I know, left big shoes to fill. He has a reputation for getting things done, and he does this through the most admirable work ethic and his generous warmth. I know that he will become, and is already becoming, a popular figure on all sides of this House. My noble friend really is a most welcome addition to our Benches and will be a most effective Minister.

None of us can have escaped the feelings of revulsion, horror and outrage—and, ultimately, of rank desperation —at the scenes we have witnessed in Ukraine over past weeks. To witness the dissemination of a European nation by a cold-blooded invader invokes the very worst images from the bowels of history. The scenes in Bucha remind us of one of the massacres in Srebrenica, and the destruction of Mariupol conjures images of Europe’s shattered cities after World War II. The cruel rhetoric of Vladimir Putin apes the likes of Hitler, Milošević and Ceausescu. But in this darkness is also light: the bravery of the Ukrainian people, their fortitude, spirit and courage, also reminds us of the very best of human endeavour.

I am proud of the role that the United Kingdom has played in Ukraine. From training more than 20,000 of the country’s armed forces since Russia’s first incursion into the country in 2014, to the Government’s decision to provide Ukrainian armed forces with the deadly weaponry they need to defend their homeland, to the recent refugee resettlement scheme, we have truly stepped up as a people. However, we must keep asking ourselves what more we can do.

I must express a note of grave concern for what Russia’s invasion of Ukraine means for wider eastern Europe. For three decades, Russian troops have occupied 20% of Georgia, de facto annexing the provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and forcing hundreds of thousands from their homes. More than 30 years since it was invaded, they still have not been able to return home. I urge the Government to continue providing support by whatever possible means, military or financial, to bolster Georgia’s precarious position as the only true democracy in the south Caucasus.

The Russian armed forces continue to occupy an eastern province of Moldova, which they use as a glorified military garrison, while suppressing its local Romanian-speaking population. The challenge in Moldova is even more acute: every day, tens of thousands of internally displaced people from Ukraine continue to pour across its borders, en route to sanctuary in more affluent states further west. For Europe’s poorest country, a nation of 2.6 million people, to have welcomed more than 400,000 refugees is an impressive feat. But the country is at breaking point. I urge the Minister to build on the excellent work that he and his colleagues have already done and continue extending UK financial support to Moldova, Slovakia, Poland and all other frontier nations taking in Ukrainian refugees.

I also pay the fullest tribute to Poland, our country’s greatest European ally, for the leadership it has shown in both the resettlement of refugees and the pursuit of sanctions on Russia. The conclusion of the new trilateral security pact between the UK, Poland and Ukraine offers huge opportunities for our country to continue furthering peace and security in Europe—something every Member of this House welcomes.

In conclusion, I have a further request of the Minister, who I know to be a man of decency and impressive organisational zeal. As a result of the excellent Homes for Ukraine scheme, many refugees have already arrived in the UK. Their immediate needs are taken care of—they are warm, safe and welcome—but we must redouble our efforts to ensure that bureaucratic hurdles are eliminated, including ensuring that they are given the right to work and to contribute freely to society in the UK. I trust the Minister will say more about this in his response.

At a time of conflict, the United Kingdom has always been a sanctuary for the hungry, the poor, the broken and the battered. We will always rise to the challenge and will do so again now.

My Lords, I am delighted to follow my noble friend Lady Pidding and I strongly endorse what she said, particularly about the precarious position of Moldova. We must not forget that.

I join with everyone in eagerly anticipating the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Harrington. He comes here—and I have been in this building for almost 52 years now—with more good will than I have ever known for any Minister. All he has to do is deliver the goods: a very easy task. But seriously, we look to him and will hang on his every word today.

Our prime thanks are to my noble friend Lady Helic, not only for securing the debate but for the way in which she introduced it. As she spoke, I thought—I was much involved in all the debates on Bosnia in the other place—how remarkable it is that a Bosnian refugee is now a Member of the British Parliament, a participating Member, a valued Member. But, as she made plain in her moving words, she will always have a regret that she could not realise her potential and have her career in her native land.

As she was speaking, I thought of another, whom I know my noble friend Lord Wigley—he is my noble friend—will remember, because he sat for a Welsh seat. Stefan Terlezki was the only Ukrainian ever to sit in the British Parliament. He was driven into slavery by the Russians, and managed to get out. He built a career in our free country and was elected to our Parliament to represent a seat in Cardiff, the capital city of Wales.

It is very important to remember as we see these ghastly pictures in our newspapers and on our television screens day after day, night after night, that although Ukrainians are fighting with incredible bravery, and we all pray for and will them to win, this could be a long haul. My noble friend Lady Helic reminded us in her speech of Yemen, Syria and Libya, where conflicts have been going on for years and destruction has followed destruction. We have got to be in this in the long haul for Ukraine, because if Ukraine is subjugated, if it ceases to be an independent country, we will all have lost and the tyrant who reigns in Moscow will just be tempted to further acts of aggression. So our commitment must be total.

However, this debate is rightly concentrating on the position of the refugees. We have heard some fine speeches and some moving references, particularly from my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, to people who are suffering not because they are not welcome here, not because there are not arms to embrace them when they come here, but because of the ineptitude of British bureaucracy. This is what my noble friend must get right. We are all on his side. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked a series of questions and at the end of this debate we want to have the answer to at least some of them—and very shortly, the answer to all of them. How many visas have actually been applied for? How many have been issued? How many people have been settled in British homes? How many are waiting, like the two sisters so movingly talked about by my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury? How many sisters and brothers are waiting, whose lives hang upon this? What we would say to the Minister—and I think I can speak for everyone in the Moses Room—is please, get it right. We are all on your side. Every one of us wants the Minister to succeed. We are willing him to succeed. We want to help him to succeed, but we must not have petty bureaucracy standing in the way of humanity. That is the fundamental point.

There was a reference earlier to Hungary in 1956. That was what brought me into politics. There we saw a proud people being subjugated in the most aggressive and bestial way. I was a young man, but it brought back to me the memories of the newsreels at the end of the war and of seeing the newsreels from Belsen. I have said in the House before that my mother tried to shield me from the screen and my father, who served throughout the war, said “No: he must see this so that he can perhaps play a tiny part in ensuring that it doesn’t happen again”. Well, it has; it is happening again now, and it is absolutely essential that we get this one right.

Ten days ago, I handed my noble friend a letter that my son gave me. My son works for an independent consultancy, but with Universities UK. The letter was signed by eight rectors or vice-rectors of medical schools in Ukraine and it builds on the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff. They were asking that, where British universities were willing and able to welcome academics and others—students—please could their entry into this country be expedited. I still await a reply. My noble friend promised me that I would have a reply this week; it may even be in this debate, which would be marvellous.

These are people of high professional ability, or aspiring to it, if they are still students, whom British universities wish to help so they can continue their studies, develop their careers—and go back. The thing that comes over time and again as we listen is that they do not want refuge in this country, full stop. They want to go back and rebuild their own country. As the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, said, we must help them to do that.

I will not reopen the Brexit debate, but I very much sympathise with what my noble friend Lord Balfe said. We certainly have to work with our European friends and allies— although we are no longer fellow members, we are still friends and allies—in the rebuilding of a part of Europe that, as we have been recently reminded, is or was the breadbasket of Europe. The failure of the harvest this year will have repercussions all over Europe— indeed, all over the world.

I conclude by once again thanking my noble friend Lady Helic for introducing the debate as she did and welcoming my noble friend the Minister, with his myriad responsibilities, and, as I said, willing him to succeed.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and I thank the usual channels for allowing me to speak in the gap. I add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, for bringing this important debate to Grand Committee and I look forward to the maiden speech of the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Harrington. In advance, I pay tribute to the work that he has done on settling refugees during his time in the other place. It gives me confidence that, in time, he will be able to make the Homes for Ukraine scheme less of a challenge, because the process is currently not user-friendly—certainly not at the Ukrainian end. As we have heard from numerous noble Lords today, the need is urgent. Is the application form for the Homes for Ukraine scheme now available in Ukrainian and Russian?

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

Can the Minister say whether the application form for the Homes for Ukraine scheme is now available in Ukrainian and Russian, or are families still expected to use Google Translate or add additional layers of complexity and confusion by asking a sponsor to fill in the form? The Minister will know from conversations last week that the guidance page on the government website is in English, Ukrainian and Russian, but the application form itself is available only in English still. Why is that? If we can manage the guidance page in three languages, why cannot we manage the application form itself?

From the figures that the Minister gave to the House last week, I hope that he will agree that it is quite shocking that, even after refugees have jumped through various hoops, the Home Office has approved only one in 10 applications. People are stuck in limbo when they should not be. I know of more than 20 people who have jumped through the hoops and now have reference numbers, sponsors and job offers, but are waiting for an official letter of permission to travel, without which they cannot enter the UK. Last Thursday, the Minister was unable to say how many letters of permission to travel had been issued. Maybe he could update the Grand Committee this afternoon.

I now know of one letter of permission to travel from the group of people whom I mentioned earlier, which was issued to a four year-old girl. However, the mother did not receive a letter. For goodness’ sake, is it really beyond the means of the Home Office to link an application of a child of four years to its parents and deal with the two together? Like many others, they should already be here.

The Government are putting out a lot of campaign press releases, which seem to suggest that there are no problems. That blatantly is not the case. I suggest that the Government would do better to put out press releases that tell it as it is, then maybe the Minister would not be put under pressure from noble Lords who seek to help Ukrainians with whom they are in contact and who need our help so urgently. I hope today that the Minister will be able to put that right and tell us that people have now begun to arrive in England on the Homes for Ukraine scheme. I hope that the figures that the Minister will give us refer to the Homes for Ukraine scheme and not the Ukraine family scheme, which seems to have fewer problems—but maybe that is not so.

I mention the figures for England, as the guidance page on the government website tells us that Ukrainians can choose the Scottish Government as a sponsor and that the Welsh Government will also act as a sponsor. We have already heard details of that from the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. Maybe the unused Nightingale centres will finally come in handy if we in England can waive visas also.

In conclusion, the Government continue to put paperwork before people, which is such a sad case. When Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France, Germany and a host of other countries can waive visas and welcome people as refugees first, filling in the paperwork afterwards, why cannot our Government in Westminster do the same?

My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan. Her frustration in the examples that she used are shared by many of us.

I, too, praise the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, for getting this debate. I join others in saying that she is a phenomenal example to all of us, in being proud of and not forgetting her heritage and in what she has achieved in this country despite the sadness around that. As a former schoolteacher, I think that she would be a fantastic example to many of our schoolchildren in the way she has dealt with the hardship and difficulty that she faced and, in doing so, has moved on in life. Many of us were moved by what she said and it would be incredible for children to hear that sort of thing—particularly when so many people are criss-crossing over countries and seeing terrible things on their television screens. I do not know whether others have had this, but when children and grandchildren are looking at the news, I can only wonder what they are thinking. Talking to them in the way the noble Baroness talked to us is hard but helpful. It was an inspiration to us all and I thank her for it.

I, too, welcome the Minister. As he will know, having been a Member of the other place as I was, it is unusual to congratulate someone on their maiden speech before they have made it, but it will no doubt be wonderful and superb. The reason I know this is that I reread his maiden speech of 26 May 2010 as Member of Parliament for Watford—the noble Baroness, Lady Pidding, helped put him there. I say to all noble Lords that it is worth reading; it shows the Minister’s deep care and commitment when he was a Member of Parliament, particularly in the way he spoke about young children. I mention this because, as many noble Lords have said, we are all looking to the Minister’s character. It was demonstrated in that maiden speech and no doubt will be in this; it will give us an example of the character and personality of the man, which will make the difference. We very much look forward to that.

I say to a number of noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Pidding, that Her Majesty’s Opposition stand full square behind the Government on the action being taken against the illegal invasion of Ukraine by Russia. We support the Government on the military aid that has gone there and the sanctions, as all Members of your Lordships’ House do, as far as I am aware, and wish the Government well. There is not a sliver of paper between any of us on that.

Notwithstanding that, there are serious questions to be asked and answered on the refugee scheme and our various programmes to try to help the people of Ukraine. The Minister will expect us to ask such questions. To put it in perspective, as others have mentioned, 4.2 million refugees have fled Ukraine and 6.5 million people have been displaced internally. It is an astronomical figure. Poland, which the noble Baroness, Lady Pidding, mentioned in her excellent contribution, is one of our closest allies in Europe and 2.5 million displaced refugees have been hosted there. I do not wish it on anyone; can you imagine if 2.5 million people just crossed the border into the UK, driven by war? I know that the British people would welcome them in those circumstances, but it is phenomenal. There are biblical proportions of people being moved around the continent.

What is so refreshing, reassuring and inspiring is the desire of the British people to do their bit and play their part. That is why there is frustration. It is not a normal political criticism of the Government; it is in the sense that we must do our bit, look at what is happening and ensure that we get as many people in need to this country as we can. In that sense, it would be helpful to hear the most up-to-date figures from the Minister. Like many noble Lords, I am sure, I find that if you look at the newspapers and different research papers there are numerous different figures available to us all. Can we have an official outline of the figures?

In the figures I saw, on the Ukraine family scheme 24,400 had been awarded but only hundreds of people have arrived. Can the Minister update us on the figures under the Ukraine family scheme as it is currently constituted? Under Homes for Ukraine, introduced on 14 March, 4,700 visas have been issued but there is a backlog of 27,500, with only 500 having arrived in this country. As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, pointed out, that is just 1.6%. Is that figure right? If it is wrong, what is the correct one? We all need to know.

We have heard tales from numerous noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, about red tape, inefficiency, security checks, demands from MI5 and people being unable to get visas and find out what is happening. The noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, pointed to a particular example, but unfortunately there are many. I have one, which I will draw the Minister’s attention to, of people who have visas and have signed the various documents. They have been told their visas are at the Sheffield office, but they cannot move to get there; the system does not join up. We have heard these tales from the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, and from individuals who have contacted me: they have all the reference points and every single piece of documentation has been filled in and completed, but nothing has happened to enable them to move to their sponsor. Of course, there is a need for checks, but the bureaucracy is inefficient and excessive, and we need something to be done about it.

I understand the Minister has set a personal target of 15,000 visas a week being issued and those people presumably then arriving in the UK. When does he expect that target to be reached? Is it true, as reported in the Sun today—this example was given but I cannot remember by whom, maybe the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay—that the 24/7 helpline has only 15 staff? This may be why there have been problems getting through. They are working on thousands of calls. If there are only 15 people, working as a rotating system, as they will, it is no wonder people cannot get through. When I looked at this, people were being told to go to the helpline to find out what is happening but, if there are insufficient people working there, nobody will answer the phone. This is another question for the Minister.

This Committee is powerful for the Minister, because we are trying to give him the power to sort this out and do something about it. Is it true, as reported in the Times today, that the Foreign Secretary has clashed with the Home Secretary on clearing the visa backlog? It is either true or it is not. The Foreign Office has said, “Back off, Priti; it’s your problem”. This is not a criticism of the Government, but of what is going on. Is it true or is it not? If it is, can it be sorted out? Is that the reason the Cabinet Secretary has written to all departments telling them to co-operate? All power to the Minister, but nobody should have to tell government departments to co-operate with each other, at a time of national emergency, on refugees fleeing persecution and war. It should just happen.

I just say to the Minister that, if he needs some help sorting out the Foreign Secretary, we will help him. That is not a political statement; the serious point I am trying to make is that this needs to be sorted out. If more staff are needed, the Foreign Secretary should provide them to the Home Secretary to help sort out this problem. That is what your Lordships would expect.

As well as planning for the refugee crisis, on which we have heard from noble Lords, are we supporting and helping local government and local organisations? We have heard reports from the Local Government Association of 144 Ukrainian households presenting as homeless to 57 different councils. I have no idea how those households have arrived in this country, but there is clearly a need to do something about that.

Again, this question has been asked: is the £10,500 grant for one year or for longer? Why does it apply only to the Homes for Ukraine scheme, when those arriving under the family visa scheme will also be a cost to the local area? Is that something the Minister could look at?

I also had the privilege last Saturday of visiting in my own area the brilliant Nottingham branch of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain. It is working well with Nottingham City Council and Nottinghamshire County Council, but it needs help and support. It is becoming a focal point for Ukrainians in the area who are looking for help and advice. There were a number of children there receiving classes and help. Soon the association will not have enough room for them. Can anything be done to support local councils to ensure that they can offer counselling, education classes and additional support?

We have a courageous, determined Minister who over the past couple of days has clearly shown that he is prepared to speak out, even when it differs from what others in government may say. That is exactly what this situation needs. It does not need someone who says, “Yes, don’t worry” and is worried about upsetting people. It needs someone with the determination and character of the Minister to sort it out. There is a bureaucratic mess and quagmire here that needs to be dealt with, and the Minister is the person to sort it out. The British people want better from their Government, and they are desperate to stand up and offer support to thousands upon thousands of Ukrainian refugees. The people want their Government to step up to the plate, and that is what this Committee is saying to the Minister. Good luck with it.

My Lords, the past two hours, for once in my life, have left me more or less speechless. I promise noble Lords that that does not mean I am going to sit down. My maiden speech has been much-trailed. I should have thought that I had spoken so many times that noble Lords would have had enough of me by now, anyway, before I had actually made my maiden speech. However, this is officially it. I must say that it is hard for me to be jovial, which I hope Members of the House of Lords and the other place who know me realise is my normal disposition. I have found it hard to be jovial in this role. Having said that, I will do my best to be so, at least for the next few minutes, before I return to the more serious business of today.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, with whom I have had many dealings of a constructive nature in the other place, was complimentary about me. It is touching the way in which Members of this House have treated me with courtesy, respect and, I am afraid, hope. The burden is very much on my shoulders. In the Commons, maiden speeches are a formula—a nice one—whereby one is kind about one’s predecessor, who in my case was Claire Ward. As the noble Lord will know, being kind was not difficult because she was a nice person who did a lot, having, as the youngest of the “Blair babes”, as they were called, been elected in 1997. She had a good career and remains a kind person. That bit is easy. Then, one talks about the place one is fortunate enough to represent. As I first worked there in 1979, that was not difficult to do. Then, one talks nicely about the plans for one’s constituency. Again, that is not difficult. Everyone is nice about the speech and the speaker who follows from the other side is complimentary, whatever one has said. Even if it was said poorly, people are nice about it. I thought, “That’s it. I’ve cracked this. Speaking in the House of Commons is quite easy.”

Unfortunately, the next time I spoke the former colleague of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, Ed Balls—a fine man in many ways, who I was looking at while I was speaking—started shouting at me and booing. I had been a Chelsea season ticket holder for many years, but lest anyone should feel that I am linked with Abramovich, it started in 1983 when he was a mere baby oligarch, doing whatever he did in Russia. I thought that the noise was bad at Chelsea—until I went to the House of Commons. Of course, that is not the case in this House, where there is not quite the same noise. However, I do find it disconcerting in this Chamber, where people are courteous and the Lord Speaker sits there in a civilised manner, when people start shouting about their right to speak. As the Minister on the Front Bench, you think they are shouting at you. In the Commons, they would be, whereas in the Lords they are actually just shouting in order to be able to speak.

My path here has been an absolute privilege. We are talking about refugees mainly. The family of one my grandparents were refugees, ironically from Russia. The other grandparents’ ancestors have been here since 1667, thanks to Oliver Cromwell, so perhaps I should not use that as an example. However, I am here today because of the Russians and the Cossacks and their virulent anti-Semitism. One of my grandparent’s ancestors’ families came from Odessa. I am afraid that I cannot compare my experiences in any way to that of my noble friend Lady Helic, whom I first met many years ago on a trip to Israel, where she showed me that she knew far more about the subject than I did, and she has continued to do that today.

The father of my actual and noble friend Lord Finkelstein—Danny Finkelstein—who was brought up in the same way I was, which is to believe that this country is the finest country in the world, used to say, “As long as the Queen is safe in Buckingham Palace, we are safe in Hendon.” There is a lot of truth in that and in what this country has given us all. I was brought up to believe it.

My path has been a privileged one, although not necessarily financially privileged. My father was a market stallholder and I worked there from the age of 10. He got annoyed when I told people that because it implied that I was accusing him of child exploitation. In fact, of course, it was not that. I begged him to be allowed to go on Saturdays, which I did. I was fortunate enough to be the first member of my family to, as they put it, even get one O-level. I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship to Oxford and I have been lucky in life. I started two businesses with friends, I ran a children’s charity for three years and I have had quite a lot of different experiences, good and bad—but most people have when you get to speak to them and I know that most members of this House have. In the end, it has been a privileged life.

My first experience with refugees, other than family stories, was when David Cameron, the former Prime Minister, called me quite late on a Saturday evening. His Private Secretary had called and asked, “How late can the Prime Minister call you?” It was strange settling at 10 pm. I said, “As late as you like. Why so late?” and he said, “He’s at Balmoral with the Queen. By convention we’re not allowed to call anyone until she goes to bed and we’re not sure what time she goes to bed.” It was to offer me the Syrian refugee job. That was a cross-government job.

I did not know a thing about it on the Saturday night, apart from what I had read in the newspapers, and it was a very quick education. I have experience of the countries around Syria and of parts of Syria itself, but I can never feel the same as my noble friend Lady Helic feels. Of course I cannot. When you read about something or see it, it is not the same as experiencing it. Without going into great detail because of time constraints—I know noble Lords want me to get on with what I am here for—it meant that the other jobs, the businesses, the charities, the politics and all that were nothing. I was quite upset on the day that David Cameron resigned—I will not get into the Brexit debate, which some noble Lords have mentioned—and in the afternoon he called me on my mobile. He said, “This is my last thing. I am in Witney”—his constituency in Oxfordshire—“We have six Syrian families that you’ve settled here and I just want you to know that it was all worth while.” I was crying, which among a roomful of civil servants is not a good thing to do.

To finish the maiden speech bit of the maiden speech, I must thank all Members of this House and the Doorkeepers. It is amazing how many Doorkeepers come from Watford. This is a secret. During my introduction, the gentleman who helped me on with the robe said, “You spoke to my school.” In 2010, I spoke at his school. He was in the sixth form and was there on that day, which was very moving. All the staff have been wonderful and I have received support from everyone.

Unfortunately, the fact that everyone is so nice makes it worse, not better, because it is impossible to get angry with anyone who comes up to me or follows me about, whether I am having a cup of tea or speaking in a debate. Instead, I say, “Well, what can I say? I took the job on.” It is not politics for me, although, to give Boris Johnson credit, he offered me the job unconditionally because he thought that I could do it properly. I do not think that anyone could say that it was a political appointment in the conventional sense, but he has put a lot of trust in me and I do not want to let him down. I know that he believes in what all of us here believe in. People may have their views and different politics, but, on this, I am convinced of what he said to me: this is an uncapped scheme. He meant it.

I have heard a lot of conversation from people—it has been mentioned in several speeches today—about the Home Office’s talk of the hostile environment. Honestly, I have not seen it. I have also not seen the feuding mentioned in the newspapers of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker—he seems very knowledgeable about the Sun these days; the House of Lords has probably done that to him. I am sure that he was a Guardian man at one stage—

I withdraw that comment; it has obviously offended him. But, in all seriousness, I have not seen the reported feuding between departments. Perhaps it happens when I am not there, but I see meetings with Priti Patel and Michael Gove every day and I have heard raised voices—because we are all trying to do the same thing—but not at each other. But then I read in the newspaper that these wars take place. I could not possibly know what happens behind the scenes, but I have not experienced that myself.

I will pick out the main points brought out in the moving story of my noble friend Lady Helic—I wish that I could answer everything like this—and I would be happy to follow up with her personally, either through correspondence or informally afterwards, to talk about them. Her worries about trafficking are the most serious worry. She and other noble Lords have mentioned the security checks and it is true that, as I said in the Chamber when someone mentioned them to me, I at first assumed that this meant spy security and I thought, “These people are mainly women and children. They are not being given jobs at GCHQ but are living in people’s spare bedrooms and flats.” But it is not that.

It all comes down to a decision that has been taken—many people have different views—on whether we need to identify people before they come here. Regarding identification of people leaving countries that are at war and where traffickers and other people are, how much of a duty do we have to make sure that we know who people are before they get here? The current system basically asks, “Do you have a Ukrainian passport? Are you on any form of watchlist or anything like that? If you have children with you, can we be sure—not perfectly sure—that they are yours and that this is not a front for trafficking? Does your sponsor have a criminal record or anything to do with that?” That is really it. I say that not glibly or simply but, in the end, that is what we are checking and it has taken far too long to do it.

I wish that I could stand here and say to noble Lords not that they are all talking rubbish—that is not right—but that I reject the criticism. It is not at all like the Brexit arguments, for example, where people have different views. I hear these things all day from people and they are not making it up. The newspapers obviously pick out things to be sensationalist and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, quotes the Telegraph a lot—I do not think that that would be his reading matter in normal circumstances. I hope that he is not too offended by that comment; it was meant as a compliment. In this case, he raised very serious points. The papers have done a good job.

I will quickly refer to what my noble friend Lady Helic said. On safeguarding, do we do advanced DBS checks and should we do them before everyone comes? That would hold things up more. Alternatively, do we do what we do now, which is basically a police national computer thing and then advanced checks when they get there, if there are children in the house? These are all decisions that we really need to take.

On the noble Baroness’s point about unaccompanied minors, I have had a lot of problems on this. For perfectly understandable reasons, the Ukrainian Government are really averse to us taking unaccompanied minors. Their policy is to keep children in the areas around Ukraine; they do not want them resettled. On the much-publicised case of the children from the Dnipro orphanage, I shall actually take umbrage with the papers, since it was widely reported that it was the Home Office that held it up. It was not—it was a question of us getting permission from the Ukrainian Government, who did not want these children moved. We might have to look at that again, but their policy is very clear at the moment.

Noble Lords made a point about ongoing support, particularly on extra money for local authorities for trauma support. The noble Baroness brought up mental health, but I am sure that she also meant the physical side. Yes, in theory, the £10,500 per year is to include that but, in the end, if there are trauma cases, we will have to provide extra money to do it, and we have the facility to do that.

On the noble Baroness’s points about the Afghan hotels—and I know I am supposed to keep to the 20-minute limit—I want to confirm that there are far too many people in hotels. However, they do get the full benefits, the right to DWP stuff, including work coaches, and all those other things. I may be able to refer to that later.

To do some justice to the other speakers, I will briefly mention the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, about the gap between my rhetoric—and I do not think he meant it in a bad way at all—and reality. That is absolutely true: I say what I want and hope for but, as yet, it has not been delivered. I cannot really say more than that, other than that every waking hour that we are doing this, we are trying to deliver on it.

I have dealt with the spy point. I can confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who asked whether we spend time with the EU states on trying to have a common policy, that we do. The Home Secretary is meeting internationally with the G7 group but also with the European Union. In my opinion, we really need a much more comprehensive policy for everyone. Of course, it is not just about refugees; it is about what we do on the ground. All the briefings say that this country has a proud record and, on the humanitarian aid side, we are doing pretty well. That is not complacency at all; we are one of the main donors. People think that it is the British Government spending money directly, but it is not; it is coming via organisations such as the UNHCR, the IOM and all the other ones. We need to do this with other countries, jointly, and refugee programmes need to be done with international co-ordination.

I have referred to this before, but we are not actually sure how many of the refugees want to come to the UK. Ukrainian estimates from the four MPs that I met the week before last were that only a minority would. It is our job to make sure that, on the ground over there, everybody knows about it. An SMS message is going live, I think today, to everybody crossing the border, certainly into Poland, and we have leaflets in different languages. My target is that every single refugee is told about what we have to offer, but that should be in co-ordination with offering what all the other countries offer. We have a very good system, with benefits and housing and all that sort of thing, but I would not like to think that anybody did not know about it. I have been advised not to do this at the border, because people are traumatised; they have just come across the border—they literally do not know what they are doing—so it should be done again when they get to various centres. We help to fund the IOM moving large numbers of people in buses away from the border area.

So, first, people should know about it; and secondly, are they being given enough help with the forms? We keep talking about visas, but really it is just a form of identification. Had I been doing this job a month ago, which I was not, I am sure that the criticism would have been that people had to travel for four hours or more to these visa centres and then queue up. Now, fewer than 10% do that, so there has been some improvement.

I said of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, that wherever I turn in the House of Lords, she is there, but she is there for a good reason. She bribed me very nicely with a cup of tea the other day, so I cannot criticise her too much—I do not criticise her at all. The various questions she has asked about the system are what today’s debate is for. I am so aware of all these points, and I hope she knows that.

I made a quick note for the noble Baroness, because she has asked most of the questions before. I am going to meet her regarding her point about qualifications, because I am not quite sure of the answer. She talked about Wales as a super-sponsor. I see the super-sponsor as a model for part of our next phase for organisations. It could be those such as the Welsh Government, but it could also easily be World Jewish Relief, the Council of Churches or other groups. That is the next phase. Similarly, groups in Poland and other places will be able to offer groups to come out.

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, I think—he asked most of the questions—asked whether the next phase, which is blocks of refugees and blocks of sponsorship, has been postponed. It has not, and I hope it will be launched in a couple of weeks. It sounds like a deliberate excuse, but it is not: it is only three weeks—18 March, I think—since the first scheme was launched, so I do not think it is a big delay.

I am reliably informed that I have run out of time. I will just tell your Lordships the latest figures that I have. I am sorry that my maiden speech probably ate into my ministerial speech too much; perhaps it should not. Visa applications, which are roughly a 50:50 split between the family scheme and the other one, are at 65,000, of which 28,000 are issued. I certainly would not want the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, to think I am wriggling out of the issue. To separate them—I am rounding up and rounding down here—24,000 have been approved through the family scheme and just under 5,000 through the sponsorship scheme.

It is not enough, but each day it is going up significantly. I have publicly set the target of 15,000 per week and decisions within 48 hours. We will be quite near the 15,000 per week. As soon as I leave the Committee, I intend to drill down more into our ability to deliver on the 48-hour target, but I have stated that publicly and I am prepared to live or die by it. If I cannot do the job, I will have to say so and somebody else can, but I am optimistic.

I know everyone feels the intensity of this situation—a day to me is like a week and a week is like a month— but it has actually been a short period. I will be judged properly by this House, the other place, the newspapers and the general public but, more to the point, by people such as the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, and the people who are stuck in places where they are living not very comfortably. I do not want to be part of a country that welcomed in my family as refugees and gave us all what we have, only to say that I have failed them.

My Lords, I will not take up much time. I just want to thank you all for your kindness towards me, which you have extended on many occasions, including today. You represent the country that I fell in love with years ago and had the privilege to find refuge in. It is an enormous privilege, which you cannot feel, because you were born and brought up in this country, so somehow it comes by default. It was given to me and is a privilege that I hope I will never betray. I am sure that every person who comes into this country, when they are afforded the welcome that I was, will feel the same.

I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for raising the issue of visas and a system that may have slowed down slightly. What is absolutely necessary is to have a fast and safe route for people who are escaping the terrible circumstances in which they have found themselves, due to the aggression of Russia against their country, Ukraine. I agree with the noble Lord and was pleased to see the unity of Europe—something that I regret we did not have 30 years ago. I am pleased to see that, together, we are giving dignity and the right to defend themselves to the people of Ukraine. That was not afforded to the country of my birth, because of the arms embargo that was imposed as soon as it declared its independence.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, for his philosophical questions. I agree with him that third-country nationals have to be afforded the same rights. They are in the same danger, so have to be given the same rights and safety that is given to our Ukrainian friends.

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, forensically examined the successes and failures of the last few weeks. I agree with his point about the shortage of staff that may occur during the Easter holidays. I am sure that my noble friend has already taken that into account and that preparations have been made. If we can, we should be doubling the number of people who are dealing with this crisis, rather than revisiting this after Easter.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Udny-Lister for raising the issue of sexual violence and trafficking. I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister has already dispatched police and military investigators to the borders, and that interviews will be held. I just caution that, as important as forensic experts are doctors and trauma experts, because the mostly women and girls who have gone through this experience will be deeply traumatised and will find it very difficult to report what has happened to them. At the same time, they will have to go through yet another trauma in explaining in minute detail what the forensic experts will need to find out from them. I am grateful for that issue being raised.

I thank my noble friend Lord Balfe and agree with him that what is happening in Ukraine has been a massive failure of humanity. I also agree that there is a European dimension to this; we are part of this and have to work with our European allies. I hugely support the right we have given our Ukrainian friends to defend their homes. It is very important and it is the best way to defend Ukraine. Right now, they are not only defending their country but defending us. They are defending the Balkans and every part of the world where people want to live in freedom and democracy. The example of a bullying country that has decided to invade its neighbour because it does not like their democratic choices cannot be allowed to stand. I am fully supportive of that and am proud that our Government have taken a forward-leaning policy on this issue.

I also note my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury’s moving response to two Ukrainian young women, Olia and Tonya. I hope that Tonya’s status is soon resolved so that she, together with her sister, can come to Britain and fulfil their dreams, secure in Shropshire. I am sure those circumstances will be very welcoming.

I was very moved to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, about how much has been done in Wales on education and welcoming, and how many people have come forward. I think she mentioned that 10,000 people in Wales have opened their homes to 1,300 applicants. It is important that young people, particularly students, are not just sitting glued to their radios and social media noting what is happening in Ukraine, but that their energy is turned into something positive and that their frustration is turned into ambition, so that they learn to use what we can offer them—not only safety but the exchange of knowledge. That will be extremely important for their mental health and for getting over the trauma they have experienced.

My noble friend Lady Pidding rightly raised the issue of Georgia and the occupied territories. There are no breakaway republics in Georgia. South Ossetia and Abkhazia are Russian-occupied territories, and the same applies to Moldova and Transnistria. I hope that at today’s NATO summit we will offer further help and support to Georgia in particular but also to Moldova, so that their resilience can be enhanced and they can respond if, in some crazy scenario, they find themselves in the same position as Ukraine.

I thank my noble friend Lord Cormack for his kind words about me and my part of the world. It is essential that we get this right, and particularly that this war does not last for ever, because, as he rightly pointed out, Ukraine is the breadbasket of Europe and the rest of the world, and there are many people who cannot afford to have yet another meal taken away from them. Whether we are talking about Yemen, Syria or Afghanistan, we have to bear that in mind.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, for her contribution. I completely agree that an application from a four-year-old being approved and the application from their mother not being approved shows that there is a problem that we need to fix. However, I have high hopes for the Minister and I know that he will do his absolute best.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for his kind words. I occasionally go to a south London school and speak. Some 80% of the children are refugees or migrants, or of refugee or migrant families. I learn much more from them than they learn from me, but I always tell them that they are in a country where they will succeed if they work hard, and that they should not give up. They are fantastic. I would be very pleased to go to any school and speak to anyone if that will be of any help.

I finish by thanking my noble friend and welcoming him to the House. His speech was disarming and it is very difficult to criticise him, at least on this occasion, but we will have our moment in the Chamber and we will be watching every single application, approved and not approved. As he said, we met a long time ago on a visit to Israel. I have been an admirer of his work and what he did for Syrian and Afghan refugees, and now Ukrainian refugees. I hope and pray that this is his last job, that we will never again need a Minister for Refugees, and that the world will come back to its senses. I doubt that it will, so this may be a longer affair than he was preparing for, but I wish him all the best. We could not have a better colleague or a better Minister to take charge of this and fix this problem.

Motion agreed.