(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary for a statement on the Calais Jungle in the light of its imminent demolition and the urgent need to provide safety for children who have a family link in the United Kingdom or in whose best interests it is to be here.
Today I met my counterpart, Bernard Cazeneuve, and we agreed that we have a moral duty to safeguard the welfare of unaccompanied refugee children. We both take our humanitarian responsibilities seriously. The UK Government have made clear their commitment to resettle vulnerable children under the Immigration Act 2016 and ensure that those with links to the UK are brought here using the Dublin regulation.
The primary responsibility for unaccompanied children in France, including those in the Calais camp, lies with the French authorities. The UK Government have no jurisdiction to operate on French territory and the UK can contribute only in ways agreed with the French authorities and in compliance with French and EU law. The UK has made significant progress in speeding up the Dublin process. We have established a permanent official-level contact group, and we have seconded UK experts to the French Government.
Part of the role is to assist co-ordinating efforts on the ground to identify children. Since the beginning of 2016 more than 80 unaccompanied children have been accepted for transfer to the UK from France under the Dublin regulation, nearly all of whom have now arrived in the UK.
Within those very real constraints, we continue to work with the French Government and partner organisations to speed up mechanisms to identify, assess and transfer unaccompanied refugee children to the UK where that is in their best interests. While the decision on the dismantling of the Calais camp and the timing of the operation is a matter for the French Government, I have made it crystal clear to the French Interior Minister on numerous occasions, including at our meeting today, that our priority must be to ensure the safety and security of children during any camp clearance.
We have made good progress today, but there is much more work to do. To that end, I emphasised to Mr Cazeneuve that we should transfer from the camp as many minors as possible eligible under the Dublin regulation before clearance commences, with the remainder coming over within the next few days of the operation. I also outlined my views that those children eligible under the Dubs amendment to the Immigration Act 2016 must be looked after in safe facilities where their best interests are properly considered. The UK Government stand ready to help to fund such facilities and provide the resourcing to aid the decision making. I made it clear today in my meeting with Mr Cazeneuve that we should particularly prioritise those under the age of 12, because they are the most vulnerable. The UK remains committed to upholding our humanitarian responsibilities on protecting minors and those most vulnerable.
With the Calais Jungle earmarked for demolition next week, what is being done to provide safety and refuge for children for whom we have a legal and moral duty of care? On the last count conducted by Citizens UK/Safe Passage UK, 178 children were eligible for sanctuary in the UK under the Dublin criteria and 212 under the Dubs best interests amendment. The Red Cross has told me today that
“the Home Office’s energy in the last few weeks has been significant and recognises the scale of the challenge.”
However, that energy is not shared by the French authorities, which do not provide appointments, interpreters or resources to make transfers in the “days” that the Home Office wants rather than the “weeks” or the “months”.
Last month, the Home Secretary told the Home Affairs Select Committee that she would get over to the UK as soon as possible all the children for whom we have a legal obligation, and she has confirmed today that she wants as many of them as possible over here before demolition. Last week, she said that
“compassion does not stop at the border”,
and she has been reported as saying today that the first 100 child refugees are coming to the UK “within weeks”.
Can the Home Secretary provide the assurance today that all children eligible for transfer to the UK will be in a place of safety before the demolition starts? The French accommodation centres are inadequate for children. When it comes to transportation, only 12 got on the bus to the centres on Thursday, and the next bus is not until tomorrow. The French Red Cross, however, has pledged to provide accommodation in one place for all children awaiting reunion with UK families. Will the Home Secretary ensure in her discussions with her French counterparts over the coming days that that happens before the demolition starts? Will the Government, with France, create a designated children’s centre sufficient for all children with relocation claims, whether under the Dubs amendment or Dublin arrangements, rather than risk dispersal and exploitation?
The Red Cross’s report—aptly named “No place for children”, as many who have visited the Calais jungle would testify—highlighted this weekend the humanitarian and bureaucratic nightmare. The “bureaucratic” aspect is particularly frustrating. No clear process has yet been established by the Home Office or France to identify, assess and relocate UK lone children whose best interests under the Dubs amendment are to be in the UK.
Will the Government use funds, whether they be from the Department for International Development or wherever, to establish an appropriately mandated organisation with the authority from France and the UK to identify all minors eligible for transfer and to assist in the progress of their cases, whether it be through investigating claims through family links under the Dublin arrangements or the Dubs best interests criteria? Finally, does the Home Secretary acknowledge that until we have those answers, that plan for the safety of those vulnerable Calais children will risk the Prime Minister’s words last week on the importance of standing up for the weak being just that—words?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for raising this matter, giving me the opportunity to set out what the Government are doing. I particularly appreciate his comments about the urgency of this matter, and I share his view on that, as does everybody in this House. I attended a meeting with my French counterpart for nearly two hours today. He had eight or nine people with him, as did I. It is fair to say that the bureaucratic element will now be dealt with with the sort of urgency that we want to see.
On ensuring that there is access to a children’s centre when the clearances take place, I certainly share my hon. Friend’s view that it is essential to ensure that those children are kept safe during any clearances, and I have made that point to the French Minister.
The children that can be dealt with under the Dublin arrangements are not, by any means, all the children we want to take, but it is part 1 of where we want to help. We have been pressing for a list. I appreciate that Citizens UK and other non-governmental organisations have a list, but for the Dublin arrangements to work, the children have to come through the host country. We believe that the French will give that to us this week. My hon. Friend should be in no doubt that we will move with all urgency—a matter of days or a week at the most—in order to deliver on that commitment when we get it.
In January this year, I visited the Calais Jungle refugee camp, and I remind Members that words cannot convey the horror of the conditions there. People are sleeping under canvas in sub-zero temperatures; there is squalor, a lack of sanitation, violence, and threats of sexual assault. Nobody should have to be in those conditions for a minute longer than necessary, and that is particularly true for children.
Will the Home Secretary reassure us that these children, who either have a legal right to come to the UK or whose “best interests” in the words of the Dubs amendment, would be served by that, will not be scattered to all parts of France? Will these children be in one place in a designated children’s centre?
I put it to the Home Secretary that, with her misconceived proposal to make companies keep lists of foreign workers, she has already revealed that she is out of touch with this country’s better instincts. For those children in those desperate conditions, will she step up and do what people all over the country want us to do, which is to fulfil our moral responsibilities? We need fewer words and more action.
I can reassure the hon. Lady that the only list I am interested in is the list from the French Government that will enable us to get the children who belong here safely back to this country. I am absolutely committed to ensuring that the safety of children is put first. I share her views about the horror for the children living there. It is because we are so committed to protecting those children that we are making them a priority in our arrangements with the French, and in our assistance, which the French have asked for, in clearing their camps. Be in no doubt that the French are committed to ensuring that they clear those camps. They have asked us for assistance, and we will be giving it to them in the form of taking children who have the right to be here, as I set out to my hon. Friend Mr Burrowes, and in the form of money, process and staff. No stone will be unturned in this Government’s assistance of the French in ensuring that we help those children come to this country when they should.
I am delighted that the Home Secretary is taking this problem so seriously, and that she is working well with her counterpart Bernard Cazeneuve in trying to ensure that those children are safe, and that the problem of the Calais refugee camp is solved. However, I am worried about the criminal gangs that are operating in the area and exploiting vulnerable people. I understand that, last year, the UK and French authorities co-operated very well, and that some 28 criminal gangs were disrupted. Will the Home Secretary tell us what success she and the French authorities have had this year in bringing those criminal gangs and their actions to a full stop?
My right hon. Friend rightly draws attention to the real villains of the camp, namely the criminal gangs who prey on the most vulnerable. It is their violent intentions towards the people who are in the camps that could be most damaging and disruptive for everybody, not just for the children but for all people in the camps. I am in close conversations with our French counterparts to ensure that they do what they can to disrupt any crime, in order that we have the safe dismantling of the camps.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s acceptance that there is a moral duty to help those children, but of course it is also a legal duty, which exists not just because of the Dublin convention, but also because of the Dubs amendment passed by the House. It is clear that there is widespread concern on both sides of the House about the current lack of transparency from the Government in relation to those legal duties. Given the lack of meaningful action to date in bringing those unaccompanied minors to the UK, does the Home Secretary agree that it would be a good idea for the Government to commit to publishing a regular update on numbers and progress? Will she commit to publishing a fortnightly update?
Will the Home Secretary tell us how many children the United Kingdom is prepared to take in during the next week? We would like to hear numbers. We hear that there are up to 400 unaccompanied children in the camp—[Interruption.] I am being heckled, with an hon. Member asking how many Scotland will take. Scotland has already taken more than a proportionate share of refugees who have come to this country, and we stand ready to take as many as we can, but unfortunately we have to wait for the UK Government to act. That is what the urgent question from Mr Burrowes is about.
I want to raise one final issue. I visited the camp in Calais at Easter with some of my Scottish National party colleagues and members of the Scottish Refugee Council. We heard that the last time the southern part of the camp was demolished, it was demolished with no warning. People came out of their tents in the middle of the night and what few belongings they had were crushed. Will the Home Secretary undertake to speak to the French Government to ensure that that sort of inhumanity does not occur again in relation not only to children, but to adults?
I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her question. She asked about the numbers under the Dubs amendment, which was agreed in May, and I can tell her that we have taken more than 50 in process. They are largely from Greece, because that was the area deemed to have the highest differential in terms of the children’s vulnerability compared with the UK. We are now focused much more on trying to get these children from the Calais camps, and for the past three weeks the French have been working with us on identifying them.
The hon. and learned Lady asked for details about numbers and plans for bringing children to the UK. I would say to her and to the House in all honesty and humility that we have to be careful about how much information we share publicly about those numbers and plans, because it is not always in the best interests of the children for the criminal gangs involved in trafficking them to have information about what the plans are, how many children will be taken—[Interruption.] Saying “Come on.” does a disservice to the Government and to our intentions to look after those children. Simply adopting a high moral tone as if total disclosure were the answer is wrong, and I ask right hon. and hon. Members to work with us on this. I am happy to be completely frank and talk about the issue, but we do not think that public disclosure of this is in the best interest of the more vulnerable children.
Why do genuine refugees need to come from France to the UK to be looked after properly? Why cannot France process people’s asylum applications? What is so terrible about refugees living in France? Why do they have to come to the UK? Can the Home Secretary explain why these people are so desperate to get out of a safe country—France—into the United Kingdom, because I suspect that if we tried to palm off our refugees on another EU country the Opposition would be apoplectic.
I am always grateful for a question from my hon. Friend, and on this matter we have a legal obligation under the Dublin arrangements whereby children who have demonstrated that they have family over here are entitled to come here, but that process goes through the host French Government, so they have to apply for that right in France. As for additional children whom we wish to take, that battle has been fought in the Dubs amendment, and we intend to act on it.
I welcome the personal commitment by the Home Secretary to help, under the Dubs amendment and the Dublin agreement, children suffering in Calais. That is helpful. However, I must press her on the scale and timetable, as there are over 1,000 unaccompanied children and teenagers there. How many does she think Britain will end up taking and, in particular, how fast will that be? She said that all the Dublin children would be here within a few days of the camp closing. Is that all of the 178 whom Citizens UK has identified as being eligible, or is it just those who have managed to wrestle their way through the French bureaucracy, because that bureaucratic system is failing, and it is simply not acceptable for them to wait for weeks to fill in forms and wait in queues?
I admire the right hon. Lady’s tenacity in highlighting this issue. I am always pleased to speak to her about it, because I share her views about how important it is. On the numbers and bureaucracy, part of the purpose of meeting Bernard Cazeneuve was indeed to make that bridge much closer so that our officials can deliver with the urgency that she expects and which I hope to achieve. We have asked the French Government to confirm the number being given by Citizens UK and they tell us that they will do that within the next few days. Once they have done so, there will be no hesitation in acting on that as soon as possible.
There can be no doubting the Home Secretary’s compassion or her determination to do something about this appalling problem for up to 400 children who have a perfect right to come here. I congratulate the Government on doing more this year than last year, as the numbers have gone up significantly. None the less, this is a major crisis, and the camp will be cleared within days. It appears that there has been huge bureaucratic confusion in France, and dockets have been lost. Apparently, there are only four French officials in the camp, which is poor. It is time for the British Government to set up a taskforce, with British officials working with French officials, which should go to the camp, sort out these people, find out who they are, and bring them back.
We have certainly noticed a significant uplift in the effort, people, time and professional commitment that the French are willing to put in. Because they are moving closer to clearing the camps, they are now very keen to work with us and help us to identify the children whom we can legally take over, and my hon. Friend should be in no doubt that we are working closely with them to ensure that we can do that with all possible speed.
The Home Secretary has estimated that there are between 600 and 900 unaccompanied children in the camp, and has said that if the United Kingdom were to take 300, that would be “a really good result”. May I just suggest that for the 600 who are left alone and cold in Calais, it will not be “a really good result”? The children who have come here so far have done so mainly as a result of Citizens UK’s safe passage programme, in the absence of any system to implement Dublin in Calais. Will the Home Secretary promise the House that she will step up the efforts? Will she give a number that is credible and also massively ambitious, given the changing circumstances? Will she ensure that, through bloody-minded determination, compassion and urgency, the Government act in line with this country’s values, and give those children sanctuary and refuge?
I share the hon. Gentleman’s views about the values of this country and the need to look after those children, but I hesitate to give a number, although I am often pressed to do so by various organisations and, indeed, by our French counterparts.
I think that the right way to deal with this is to identify the regulations under which we, as a Government and as a country, have said that the children should come here, and that means Dublin and Dubs. On Dublin, we are making good, fast progress. We expect to receive a list this week, and we will move with all due haste after that. As for Dubs, we hope to ensure that children are held safely—that is exactly what I have been discussing with the French today—so that we can assist with the process. We have not reached a final deal, or arrangement, with the French to process the children and establish the swiftest way for us to assist, but I hope that we shall do so within the next few days.
I am genuinely pleased to hear the Home Secretary speak with such a sense of urgency, and to read the reports in the newspapers. It seems that the Home Secretary had a very positive meeting with her counterpart, Mr Cazeneuve. However, I want to question her specifically on two priorities.
First, we understand that an offer has been made for the French Red Cross to provide a building with safeguarding and processing space for the children. Please may I encourage the Home Secretary to investigate that urgently, and see how swiftly it might be done? Secondly, I understand that the French police and France terre d’asile are carrying out a census today to establish the number of unaccompanied children, some of whom will be fleeing from that authority. I have seen the French police myself when I have been there, and they are not welcoming to children. When will the Home Secretary receive the list, and what will she do to identify the children who are actively avoiding that process?
I will investigate the issue of the French Red Cross and get back to my hon. Friend. As for the census, her question highlights the challenges that exist in camps such as this. What we need is information, but the people who are seeking that information are often not viewed as friends of those whom they want to help. We, too, have been told that they are carrying out the census now. We have people in the camp as well—we have people advising them—and we will do our best to ensure that the census is as complete as possible so that we can use it as constructively as possible. The French have the same interest as us, which is to ensure that the children who are entitled to come to the United Kingdom are brought to the United Kingdom. Now that they are clearing the camps, that is their intention, so I expect them to give us the list as soon as they have it.
Let me first congratulate my hon. Friend Ms Abbott on her appointment as shadow Home Secretary. We entered the House together, and I am delighted that she has done so well. I am sure that Home Office questions will be box office: not quite Trump versus Clinton, but certainly pretty fiery.
I welcome what the Home Secretary has announced today. She is right to make a start in getting this matter resolved, and I do not doubt her commitment. Does she agree, however, that the ultimate responsibility rests with the French, who have been warned for years about the deteriorating situation in Calais? Does she also agree that the European Union can deal with the crisis by processing and registering unaccompanied minors when they arrive in the EU—in Italy and Greece—so that there is no pull factor in Calais and other EU countries can take their responsibilities, as they should have done in the past?
The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that this is a French issue and a French responsibility: these people are in France. That is one of the reasons why it is sometimes hard for us to engage in the way that Members would like us to. The fact is that all European countries are now becoming much more aware of the need to have not so much clearer border controls as clearer assessments of who is coming in and their personal details. We will be moving towards that position throughout Europe, not just in the EU.
Past experience shows that even if the present so-called jungle is cleared, it will not be long before another one springs up, unless we do something to tackle the underlying reasons for so many people wanting to come to the United Kingdom. Will the Home Secretary tell us what is being done, with the French authorities, to tackle the underlying reasons for so many people not being satisfied with staying in France?
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point: if the camp is cleared, how do we know that a new one will not form immediately? That is what happened when the Sangatte camp was cleared. It was supposed to be the final clearance, but it was not, and a new camp formed. I am in conversation with my French counterparts to ensure that they take action to prevent that happening again, and I am sure that I will be able to fill my hon. Friend in when I have more information.
With typical generosity, the British public and local authorities want to do something to help. The Home Secretary has made a personal commitment today to doing the right thing, and she is to be applauded for that, but what will happen if France does not meet its commitment to her over the next few days? Does she have a plan B?
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that by the end of my two-hour meeting with Bernard Cazeneuve, we had arrived at a point at which we expect to reach an agreement. We have not reached one yet, but on the key subject of how the UK can contribute to the clearing of the camp, particularly in a way that supports the children, we have arrived at a point where we think we can reach agreement; I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will bear with me for a few more days, because I am confident that we will do so.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s remarks today. The people of Salisbury and south Wiltshire are certainly committed to seeing this through, and to seeing the right thing done. Does she agree that it is important for us to anticipate the widest possible range of needs in this cohort, especially in terms of educational and medical services, which are seen as particularly significant in Salisbury?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We talk about bringing over these children, who have a legal right to be here, and the communities receiving them want to help them, but these children often have particular needs, such as health needs, as a result of what they have been through, and it is essential to have an appropriate support package in place. That is one of the reasons why we want to be able to assess the children properly, so that the support packages can be well and truly in place when they come to the UK.
The Home Secretary will be aware that there is a great deal of concern in the House today about the numbers. The voluntary sector has identified for her Department 387 children as being eligible to come here under Dublin III and the Dubs amendment, for example, but there is a wait of more than three months before many can even lodge an asylum claim in France; I do not think Philip Davies is aware of that fact. This country is spending three times as much on building a wall to block those children from coming here as on trying to prevent them from being trafficked. Given the Secretary of State’s welcome commitment to getting things moving, will she reverse that ratio and put more money into the administration needed to process the papers, so that we can get those children out of that hellhole today?
I understand and share the hon. Lady’s genuine passion and commitment to this subject. However, it is not a lack of finances for dealing with the paperwork that has been slowing things up; this is a question of ensuring that the French engage with us, so that we can commit to getting the numbers through that we want. For instance, we have already referred to the 200 agreed under the Dublin agreement, and to the additional number under the Dubs amendment, but the French have begun to work with us on this only in the past three weeks. They are now focused on wanting us to take children from the camps, because they now want to clear the camps. I can confidently tell the hon. Lady that there will be a remarkable increase in our ability to take those children over and to process their claims, not because of money, but because of the political will to get it done.
May I welcome the dismantling of the Calais Jungle, if indeed it does happen this time? May I also welcome the concern and compassion shown by the Home Secretary for the plight of these children? Does she agree that Kent, which is on the frontline, has about a quarter of the total number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in this country? Will she act to ensure that there is a fairer distribution of children, so that every local authority and every nation in this country does its bit to care for these children left in this appalling situation? Will she publish on a regular basis the numbers taken by each nation and each local authority in this country?
My hon. Friend is right: we should all thank Kent for the enormous amount of work that it does to look after unaccompanied children. It bears the highest numbers and the highest responsibility, and does so with graciousness and generosity, and we are all very grateful to it. On ensuring that other counties and nations benefit from these children, we will put in place a national transfer scheme, so that we can indeed spread the responsibility.
There is legislation in place, and I would be careful about waiving legislation when there is already an obligation, as is the case with the Dublin agreement. There is, in a way, more discretion with the Dubs amendment, as the evidence is not quite as tangible, in terms of family links; it has to be proved that the children are more vulnerable staying where they are than in coming to the UK. There is enough latitude there to enable us to increase the numbers sufficiently, so that we can do the right thing by all these children.
I agree with Keith Vaz, and note that if this situation were going on in Dover, the UK authorities would promptly register any claims for asylum, and direct those vulnerable children to the authorities of the countries in which they had family ties. Sadly, the French have not done that, which means that our legal powers and responsibilities are simply not being engaged. What practical steps has my right hon. Friend’s counterpart guaranteed to put in place to speed up the process, as that is the only means by which the UK can speed up our response?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: this is happening in France. We are talking about French legislation and French authority territory, and we can engage with the French authorities only as they allow us to do so. I can reassure him that, given that the French have decided to clear these camps, they are approaching our offers of help with a lot more enthusiasm and certainty of purpose. That means that we can deliver on what we all want to do, which is look after those children.
I welcome what the Home Secretary has said today. Rightly, the focus is on the appalling situation in Calais, but can she update the House on any progress on the Dubs amendment for children not in Calais? She mentioned the figure of 50, which sounds quite low. Can she update us on the work of her Department and the rest of Government, and also work with local government across the country, so that we can fulfil that goal of 3,000 unaccompanied children coming here?
We have focused on Greece and Italy, in terms of taking children according to the Dubs amendment. Our information told us that that was where the children were most vulnerable, and it was all about bringing the most vulnerable children to the UK. Of course, those children were always supposed to be refugees. The plan was always to ensure that they were Syrian refugees who needed to be transferred to the UK. We have been focusing on Greece and Italy, and we will continue to do so, but for a while, we will also make sure that, under that agreement, we take children from the Calais Jungle as well, and that work is ongoing.
I visited the Calais Jungle 10 days ago, and I welcome the commitment that the Home Secretary has made today to giving safe passage to these vulnerable children. People in the camp are genuinely frightened that it will be demolished with women and children still living in it. Does she share my concern about the fact that I met families who had made an asylum claim in France five months ago, but were still living in the camp because they have been told by the French authorities that there was nowhere else for them to go?
My hon. Friend brings disappointing news on that front. My experience of working with my French opposite number and his officials is that they are just as committed as we are to assisting in this matter. Their intention and aim is to dismantle the camp in the most humanitarian way possible. Clearly, it will be a challenge for them to do so, which is why we are offering financial and security support to ensure that it is done as effectively and as gently as possible.
I am a little concerned, because during this question and answer session there have been mixed messages. We heard initially that no stone would be left unturned in the process, but then there was hiding behind public disclosure restrictions, an unwillingness to commit to numbers and talk about waiting for the Government’s friends. The stark reality is that 80 unaccompanied children have been brought to the UK to date, and we are talking about nearly 400 being still in that camp, with a week to go to demolition. The Government must commit to numbers, confirm that they have the capability to bring in, in a short time, five times the number already brought in, and prove that they are working to identify those people and speak to their relatives in the UK.
I can only reassure the hon. Gentleman that the Government are doing that. We are working with the French. We are trying to identify the children who have a legal right to be here because of their family here. There is no lack of enthusiasm on our part to try to do that. There is no attempt to “hide behind” anything, as the hon. Gentleman put it. We are committed to doing what is in the best interests of the children with all speed and haste. We must be aware that there are people who wish those children evil, and we need to make sure that we protect them from the people who want to traffic them.
My constituents do not understand why, if charities and non-governmental organisations can identify 387 unaccompanied children as having a legal right to be in the United Kingdom, the French authorities are unable to do that. Is the House to understand that, as the Home Secretary is trying to tell us, by the end of this week, the French Government will have confirmed to her the definitive number and individual names of those whom they believe are entitled to come to this country?
The answer to the first part of my hon. Friend’s question is that the children are not confirmed as qualifying under the Dublin agreement unless that is actually dealt with by the French Government, so the charities provide the numbers and the lists to the French Government, because the children are in France; then the French Government have to confirm it to us. They have confirmed that they expect to do that within the next few days. As my hon. Friend Heidi Allen noted, they are doing a census, and during the next few days we expect considerably more information to come from them, which we can work with.
The hon. Lady should know—or rather, I should like to inform her—that we are doing some of that already. My officials have been over in France every other day for the past two or three weeks, and French officials come over here a lot, so that we can work together to make sure that we can deliver the outcomes that we want. As we approach the final clearances, which may be in the next week, the week after that—the French have not set a date—or the next few weeks, we expect to be very much involved in working with them in the camps to make sure that we look after the most vulnerable. I cannot give the hon. Lady more information at present. As I said earlier, we have not arrived at a final agreement with the French—there are elements that have to be further discussed and agreed—but we will arrive at one, and I hope that at that point she will be able to see us working much more closely together in the interests of everybody there.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement and the sense of urgency that she brings to this important issue. These are deeply traumatised children. Can she update the House on not only what mental health provision will be available for them when they come to this country, but what is being done to identify families who will have the specialist skills to help and support those children coming here under the Dubs amendment?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point: once we have them over here, how will we best look after children who have been traumatised, and families who are feeling vulnerable? We are working closely with the local authorities to ensure that they can provide the necessary support, and we can assist them.
It is really good to hear that the Home Secretary has decided to put her foot on the accelerator, but earlier this month, newspaper reports suggested that the French had issued, under Dublin III, a number of take-charge requests relating to children in the camp that had been lost or not responded to by UK authorities. Can she assure the House that there are no take-charge requests from France that will not be acted on within the next week?
I can assure the right hon. Lady that if we have all the information from the French, which we expect to get over the next week or so before they clear the camp, we will move very quickly—within a few days—and remove those children where we can. There will be no hesitation. Part of my conversation with my French counterpart was about ensuring that he and I, as the two Ministers responsible, have a direct line to ensure that there is no bureaucracy slowing down any of the action that needs to be taken.
Will the Home Secretary join me in thanking my constituents Esther and Tim O’Connor, who have visited the camp and done everything they can in a voluntary capacity to help ease the situation, particularly for children? Has she had any discussions with her French counterpart on the Le Touquet agreement, and does she expect any changes to that agreement in the coming months?
I join the hon. Gentleman in thanking any of his constituents, particularly Mr and Mrs O’Connor, who have been so helpful in supporting vulnerable people in the camp. With regard to the Le Touquet agreement, it is well known that in the French political engagement, there is a certain discussion about it. I believe that it serves us as well as it serves France, and I confidently expect it to stay in place.
I echo the deep concerns about the condition of children in the camps. More generally, will the Home Secretary acknowledge that the Government’s approach is leading to a toxic, two-tier system focused on distinguished between “good” refugees and “bad” economic migrants, even if they are fleeing equally desperate situations? Can she say whether an adult who fled Afghanistan, faced mistreatment in Iran, travelled through Turkey, where he had no chance to work, and is now trapped in Calais, desperately trying to meet his brother in the UK, would be defined as a migrant or a refugee?
I respectfully say to the hon. Lady that we have legislation and regulations in place to help the people we can help, and they are also there to prevent people thinking that they can come here when they cannot. We must have clear signs about who this country will willingly and enthusiastically protect and look after, because we have strong, proud British values, and about who we cannot. We should not do ourselves damage or in any way downgrade our values by saying that we should do more.
My constituents have looked on with utter dismay this year at the glacial speed of transferring children with relatives in this country. What reassurances can the Home Secretary give my constituents that that will be sped up sufficiently, and that the medical needs that will inevitably have arisen among the nearly 1,000 children unaccompanied and alone in Calais will be dealt with?
I ask the hon. Lady to reassure her constituents that during the next eight to 10 days, we expect to see a great number of the children who qualify under the Dublin agreement come to the UK. Now that the French have made this very clear decision, there is accelerated co-operation between our countries. I hope that she and her constituents will see a marked difference over the next 10 to 14 days.
The last time there was a clearance in Calais, 129 children went missing. Demolition is due to start again, perhaps within the next few days, so the Home Secretary will understand the intense desire in this House to know that there will be a change and progress. Will she return to the House, perhaps on Thursday or next Monday, to tell us what is happening? She will not say how many children are affected, but will she tell us as much as she can about what is happening, because the level of concern about the issue in the House is unprecedented?
I agree with the hon. Lady that the level of concern is very high, and for good reason, because we all want to ensure that those children are looked after. I can say, after careful conversations with our French counterparts, that they have learned lessons from previous clearances, but there is a very sensitive balancing act between trying to get the right information out to the children in the camp and ensuring that their best interests are looked after. Our French counterparts are sensitive to ensuring that those children are looked after—and they are led, as we are, by the humanitarian need to look after them.
The hon. Lady has an advantage over me; I have not seen that particular announcement. [Interruption.] It has been my great pleasure to be here for the past hour; naturally, she has seen it before I have. I look forward to having a good look at it, and if she would like me to, I will certainly write to her about it.
Would it not have been a good idea for the Home Secretary to make that announcement in the House, rather than a press officer doing it from her Department? However, we are talking about some of the most vulnerable children, by any objective measure, in the world: children who will have been traumatised in a way that no child should be traumatised, and children who will have seen things that no child should have seen. Will she turn on its head the budget in her Department, so that instead of spending money on a wall, she spends it on making sure that those children are protected, so that their future is as bright as that of any other children?
The hon. Gentleman, I am sure, will have heard my comment earlier that this is not about the budget; it is about having the absolute determination and focus to make sure that we address the need to take those children out, where there is a legal right to do so. I hope that I have reassured him and the rest of the House that we will be doing that as the French move towards their clearances.
I recognise the genuine efforts that the Secretary of State has made to deal with this very difficult issue—an issue that has captured the hearts of many people across the United Kingdom. However, does she not recognise that as long as the criminal gangs who bring these people to our shores are free to operate, the problems we are dealing with today will re-emerge tomorrow? What action is she taking to ensure stiffer prison sentences, the seizing of assets, and co-operation with other Governments to cut down the international network that these gangs have, and to cut off the routes by which they bring people to the United Kingdom?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the people really profiting from this are the criminal gangs who deal in this terrible crime of trafficking children and people. We are working internationally, and primarily across the EU, to ensure that we stop these gangs and, where we can, disrupt them, so they stop this heinous crime.
I also welcome the Home Secretary’s sense of urgency, but while the Government were dallying about this, hundreds of local authorities around the country were already ready and willing to register, transport and accommodate these children. Could I ask her officials to work in particular with Hammersmith and Fulham Council? It is a personal initiative of the leader—Stephen Cowan—and Lord Dubs, who is a Hammersmith resident, to do everything necessary to help the children of the jungle.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that comment, and he is right: it is great that so many councils have stepped forward and said that they are willing to take children. I will urge my officials to work particularly with Hammersmith, which I know has generously stepped forward with assistance, and we look forward to taking that up.
The Home Secretary made the very welcome statement that the UK had a duty to protect and look after those children with a legal right to be in the UK. She talked about having the determination and focus to deliver that. Will she match those commitments with a commitment to deploying the necessary resources to ensure that the job is done properly, and that no child, as a result of failure on the part of the UK to do its job, goes missing in that camp in Calais?
I can reassure the hon. Lady that the UK Government will not lack resource commitment to remove the children who are eligible to come here under the Dublin agreement or who qualify under Dubs. On the children being cleared from the camp, I once more say that this camp is in France. We will do what we can, and we will lean into the French. We have offered them assistance with money and security. Our priority—and, to be fair, theirs—is to make sure that those children are protected. We will give them all the support we can.
The hon. Gentleman raises an absolutely critical point. This camp will be cleared by the French, but what will be done to make sure that another one does not grow up, given that although the clearance of Sangatte in 2002 was supposed to be the end, we now have the jungle in Calais? The French are taking that point very seriously: they have plans to ensure that another camp does not grow up. He will forgive me for not entirely disclosing those plans, but careful consideration is being given to them, and I would be happy to speak to him about that.