Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 12:46 pm on 16th September 2015.

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Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Justice and Home Affairs) 12:46 pm, 16th September 2015

I thank the Home Secretary for her statement, but the Scottish National party remains of the view that the United Kingdom Government are not doing enough in the face of the extraordinary humanitarian crisis sweeping across southern and now central Europe.

It is a matter of regret that at the emergency meeting on Monday, European Interior Ministers did not explicitly endorse Jean-Claude Juncker’s plan to have mandatory quotas for member states to facilitate the resettlement of the 120,000 refugees who are now in Italy, Greece and Hungary. The SNP welcomes reports that Ministers agreed in principle to share the refugees among different countries, but is disappointed that they could not decide how the refugees would be divided up. Meanwhile, the unravelling of frontier-free travel across Europe over the past few days is a symptom of the fact that certain states are bearing the brunt of the influx of refugees. It is therefore imperative that EU Interior Ministers agree on a new system of binding quotas for refugees to be shared across Europe.

It simply will not do for the United Kingdom Government to continue to insist on an opt-out from relocation proposals for the refugees already in Europe. As my right hon. Friend Angus Robertson said in our Opposition day debate last week, the SNP recognises and welcomes the steps that the UK Government have taken, but we do not think that they are doing enough—nor do significant numbers of the British public and leading international charities. In her statement, the Home Secretary said: “The response of the British public has been one of overwhelming generosity”. Why are her Government unable to match that overwhelming generosity?

In the face of the biggest humanitarian crisis to hit Europe since world war two, it is just not right for the UK to refuse to take one single refugee from the European mainland. We should be taking steps to relieve the pressure on southern European countries, which, because of their geography, are the first port of call for the refugees. The refugees are seeking sanctuary with us—with Europeans—and countries such as Greece are ill-equipped to cope with them because of their own economic condition. Richer EU member states, such as the United Kingdom, should assist them to deal with the enormous challenge that they face. Will the Home Secretary please reconsider her refusal to take any refugees from the European mainland?

Finally, I want briefly to welcome the Home Secretary’s statement that the United Kingdom Government will take steps to co-ordinate the humanitarian and practical response at home by making contact with NGOs and setting up a gold command team. Some weeks ago, the Scottish Government set up a taskforce—it has now met twice—which brings together stakeholders from across Scotland in the areas of local government, housing, heath services, language support, transport and social services, as well as charities and faith communities. Will the Home Secretary confirm that what she is doing is something akin to that taskforce, and that it will perform the same function on a continuing, rather than a one-off, basis?