The UK has a long and proud tradition of offering protection to vulnerable people who are fleeing war and persecution, and this Government take the welfare of vulnerable children extremely seriously. We support the principle of family unity wholeheartedly.
If the Government are as committed as Ministers have repeatedly said they are to maintaining children’s ability to join family members in the UK, then rather than waiting for the outcome of negotiations, will the Home Office not get on the front foot and make some much-needed changes to domestic legislation? The changes could be made tomorrow and provide certainty for the many hundreds of families who can currently be reunited through the Dublin regulation.
The hon. Lady will be more than aware of the work that we do to provide safe and legal routes for family reunion, and for vulnerable persons and children. She has heard me say that we are fully committed to supporting the most vulnerable children and the principle of family reunion. It is a fact that we are about to negotiate with the European Union. I set out the Government’s position clearly in communications and correspondence with the European Commission at the end of last year, and that is the route we will be pursuing.
The Home Secretary will be aware of the conditions that many refugee children endure in refugee camps all over Europe. She will also be aware that the public do not want us to let these children down. Will she confirm that unless law and practice are changed, we run the risk of breaking up families and leaving children abandoned with no relative to care for them?
The right hon. Lady has touched on a very important point, namely the conditions that children and families endure in refugee camps outside the United Kingdom. That could be in Europe, but also in countries outside Europe. It is important that we reflect on the priorities and standards that we, as a country, provide for those refugees through our work in international development and aid. We should not overlook the fact that there are a great deal of associated issues—reunion, the protection and settlement of refugees, and vulnerable children—that come together internationally, but we are leading the way on this in the UK.
Does the Home Secretary agree that by far the best way of reuniting families is to find vulnerable children in refugee camps in Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere, and that by simply accepting those who turn up at Dover, we risk encouraging the vicious people traffickers who thereby make a lot of money? Does she agree with the Archbishop of Canterbury, no less, who said recently:
“The resettlement of thousands of the world’s most vulnerable refugees over the past four years is something the UK can be proud of”?
I hope that she is proud of that.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. The House should be under no illusions; we have a strong and proud record of helping vulnerable children, and we have protected more than 41,000 children since the start of 2010. He is right; there are a number of points here about the criminality associated with illegal migration. I am afraid that we have seen far too much of that, whether people are being trafficked in small boats, in lorries or through other vehicle movements. That is wrong, and it is something that we are also determined to stamp out.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, given the action that the Government are taking to protect vulnerable children through legal routes, more action needs to be taken to slow down and stop activity on the illegal people trafficking routes, particularly those between Calais and Dover?
My hon. Friend Mrs Elphicke speaks with a great deal of knowledge and insight about this issue. We must absolutely clamp down on the illegal routes that are being exploited, many of which are upstream—outside the United Kingdom —and on the appalling amount of human trafficking. There are many safe and legal routes that are supported by the British Government, and we will continue to support them.
Why do we not simply say unilaterally that we will continue to consider take charge requests on behalf of unaccompanied children from Europe? Why should children’s rights be subject to negotiations at all?
The hon. Gentleman must recognise that any future agreement is a matter for negotiation, and it is not within the gift of the United Kingdom alone. We can work bilaterally, but this is about the reciprocal arrangements that we undertake with our EU counterparts. That is the approach that has been outlined by the Government, and it is the right approach.