Refugees from Ukraine

– in the House of Commons at 12:51 pm on 16th March 2022.

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Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 12:51 pm, 16th March 2022

I beg to move,

That this House
once more condemns President Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and the war crimes being perpetrated by the Russian state there;
reiterates the House’s solidarity with Ukrainians in their resistance to Russia’s invasion of their sovereign state;
recognises that Europe is now seeing the largest movement of refugees since the second world war, for whom the UK shares responsibility;
warmly welcomes the significant and widespread offers of support for those fleeing the invasion from people and organisations across the UK;
supports expansion of the family visa scheme and Homes for Ukraine scheme;
and calls on the Government to go further and faster in its response, including waiving requirements for Ukrainians to apply for visas in advance of their arrival in the UK so as to facilitate speedy access to international protection here, working with international partners to ensure vulnerable people can be resettled here and providing full and sustained funding and safeguarding to support people to rebuild their lives.

It is a pleasure to move the motion, which is in my name and the name of my hon. Friends. President Putin’s atrocities in Ukraine continue to shock and appal: there have been maternity wards and nurseries bombed; apartment blocks and underground shelters destroyed; civilians targeted; journalists killed; and vacuum bombs deployed. On the other hand, the courage and bravery of the Ukrainians—from President Zelensky to the young volunteers putting their life on the line for their people—never ceases to amaze.

We Scottish National party Members have supported, and continue to support, the work that the Government have done to assist Ukraine with its self-defence. We have supported—with constructive criticism—work on sanctions, and we look forward very much to the day when Putin faces the consequences of his outrageous aggression at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. However, today’s debate focuses our attention on the victims of the invasion who have fled Putin’s atrocities and are seeking sanctuary elsewhere. We are witnessing the largest movement of refugees in Europe since the second world war, and we share responsibility for sheltering them with our European allies.

Across the nations of the UK, people have opened their heart and are volunteering to open their home to these refugees. Over 120,000 people have already signed up for the Homes for Ukraine scheme. That is extraordinary, but not a surprise; public opinion is massively behind our meeting our responsibilities and welcoming those who are fleeing Putin’s atrocities. Regrettably, we have been, and remain, disappointed and frustrated by the response from the Home Office, which we continue to regard as slow, piecemeal and too limited. While the public have opened their hearts and their homes, the Home Office has failed to open the door fast enough and wide enough to those fleeing Ukraine.

We hear talk of a humanitarian response, but in reality the Home Office is offering a managed migration response to the biggest refugee challenge this continent has faced for 80 years. The Home Office talks about unlimited numbers, but there are limits, not least because of the bureaucracy, which will make access impossible for many. It made something like nine changes to its family scheme in the scheme’s first 10 days. That does not seem like a Department that has been planning its response for months, in the light of intelligence that invasion was almost certain. Regret, frustration and anger has been evident right across the House, and in pretty much all corners of the media and beyond.

Of course, it is only right to acknowledge that there has been progress in recent days. We welcome the extensions to the family visa scheme; the announcement of the sponsorship scheme, though all sorts of questions around funding and safeguarding arise; and the work with the Welsh and Scottish Governments to enable them to act as super-sponsors. We hope that the move to online visa applications will help some.

This debate offers us a chance to probe further on the details of the schemes, and to suggest improvements. Most fundamentally, we urge the Government to think again about why they alone in Europe must ask those fleeing bombs and brutality to jump through the hoops and bureaucracy of gaining a visa before they can secure sanctuary here. None of our European neighbours requires Ukrainians to do that—neither those in the Schengen area nor our common travel area neighbours in Ireland. We Scottish National party Members support following their example, not only because we believe that that approach has huge public support, but because that is the right thing to do, and because we have been asked to do it by our Ukrainian friends.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Independent, Islington North

I fully support the hon. Gentleman’s motion and the way in which he is speaking to it. Obviously, I totally condemn the Russian actions in Ukraine; huge numbers of people are now forced to flee. Does he recognise, though, that many people from other parts of the world—Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Eritrea and elsewhere—are also seeking asylum or a place of safety, and should absolutely be treated the same as anybody else seeking refuge in this country? There should not be a rule that applies only to Ukraine, and not to people coming from other war-torn countries—wars that, in some cases, we are associated with, through our supply of arms to Saudi Arabia.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question. What we have seen in Ukraine, and the response to it, raises all kinds of questions about the Government’s approach to refugees more generally, and about the fact that this country can be, and wants to be, much more welcoming. It certainly poses questions about the Nationality and Borders Bill, which we will debate next week, and which I shall come to shortly.

As we have heard in numerous Question Times and debates, the requirement to seek a visa is causing distress, upset and fury among those caught up in these processes. I have no doubt that we will hear that again today, from Members from across the House.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

My hon. Friend is making a very good and useful speech. One of the people facing frustrations is my constituent Valentyna, who has been a British citizen for 17 years. She wants to bring her family to safety in Glasgow, but she feels as though her family are going round in circles in Poland and not getting anywhere with regard to visas, and they have nowhere to stay. Does my hon. Friend agree that this delay is causing much distress to people in Poland, Ukraine and Scotland?

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Every Member of this House will almost certainly have constituents who have faced similar battles. Newspapers report people speaking of “A humiliating process”; of being

“tied up by Home Office red tape”; and of the

“trauma of UK visa processing”.

Moving the process online will hopefully make things easier for some, as I say, but “online” is not necessarily “straightforward” or “fast”. The Government are still telling the women and children who are fleeing bombs and brutality to use a smartphone to: complete a complicated online form in English; upload documents that prove that they were resident in Ukraine before the invasion, and that prove a family relationship; and wait for a decision. Meanwhile, the sparse and subcontracted visa application centres are not set up to cope with the many who still need their services. Hours are too limited and the centres are spread too far apart. There is talk of surging staff, and many staff are no doubt working hard, but they have been handed an impossible task.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

That is a very good question, and one that we touched on in the Home Affairs Committee this morning, but it would be useful to hear again from the Minister, from the Dispatch Box, about the work being taken forward.

Staff in visa centres face an impossible task. Worse still, there are persistent reports of some subcontractors charging fees for appointments outside business hours, or for uploading documents. The Government knew that was a problem; the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration recently reported that subcontractors’

“sole focus is income generation. The human aspect is not at all valued”.

The pantomime about processes in France was also an absolute farce. At the rate we are going, it will be months until we play our part properly.

We are three weeks on from Putin’s first escalation of the conflict in Ukraine, and around a fortnight on from the launch of the family scheme, and as I understand it, 5,500 visas have been granted, but that is in the region of 0.18% of the number of people who have fled Ukraine—and the UK’s population is 15% of that of the EU.

Photo of Claire Hanna Claire Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party, Belfast South

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving voice to our many constituents who want a compassionate and expansive humanitarian response. Certainly, in Northern Ireland, many people see that just a few miles south, the Republic of Ireland is offering a broad-based welcome. People in Northern Ireland are dismayed that they are unable to give practical support. They see efforts to achieve the society that we want being thwarted again by the UK Government’s policy. The hon. Gentleman mentions processing issues; does he agree that those issues highlight the culture of “no” that exists in the Home Office? That culture has prevented people around the world who are fleeing conflicts from making a new life here—from being able to work, and from receiving the sanctuary that most of our constituents want them to receive.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I think that a lot of this is tied up with Home Office culture. She is right to raise the Irish example, which I will come to in a moment.

At this rate of progress, it will be many months before we get even close to the 100,000 that the Prime Minister first spoke about, never mind the subsequent 200,000 that he has referred to. This is an acute crisis that is happening now, and we need to be meeting our responsibilities now, not a few months down the line. On the Irish example, Ireland has taken almost 7,000 already. I am not saying that because this is some sort of competition to see who can take in the most Ukrainians. I am pointing it out because it illustrates precisely the impact that visa restrictions are having. The United Kingdom is 13 times bigger than Ireland and has a Ukrainian diaspora that is larger by a similar magnitude, but three weeks in, we have granted refuge to and welcomed a smaller number. The difference is that we require visas and the Irish do not.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee

Just to be clear, is the hon. Gentleman saying that there should not be any checks at all? Does he not share the concern that some people in this country might on the face of it look very welcoming but would actually do harm to people coming over here? Would he just consider that he might be the first to object if that eventuality were to occur?

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Nobody on these Benches is suggesting that no checks should be required. I will come to that later in my speech. The Irish carry out checks on people coming in, although I do not have the details of how they arrange the accommodation thereafter. Nobody is suggesting that this should be a check-free or security-free process.

Iryna Terlecky of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain told the Home Affairs Committee that

“it is quite an indictment of the system and how it is working that everybody needs an immigration lawyer, and this is just for family members coming over”.

That is why we believe that the requirement for a visa should be waived. We simply do not have the infrastructure to process them fast enough. The Ukrainian ambassador, whom we recently welcomed into this Chamber with a well-deserved standing ovation, said to the Home Affairs Committee on lifting visa requirements:

“We will be happy if all the barriers are dropped for some period of time when we can get the maximum of people. Then we will deal with that, and my embassy is here to help: to organise for those people”.

These calls are supported by the Governments of Scotland and Wales, as well as by numerous organisations here including the Refugee Council, the Scottish Refugee Council, the Immigration Law Practitioners Association, the Red Cross and many more. They also have public support, with one recent poll showing 60% in favour of, and just 15% opposed to scrapping the visa requirements.

As my hon. Friend Anne McLaughlin pointed out during Monday night’s petition debate on a similar subject, not requiring an advance visa for someone travelling here is far from a novel idea. Many thousands of people arrive in the UK each and every day without having obtained a visa in advance. Around 90 countries operate this system, from Brazil to Botswana and Malaysia to Mexico, as well as the whole European Union. Many people will have biometric passports and many will not, but the border functions smoothly enough. That does not mean there are no security checks. We run checks on advance passenger information provided by the companies bringing people in on ferries, trains and planes, and there are checks at the border. Biometrics can still be taken, by using apps for those who can, by reusing biometrics for people who have been here before, or by doing the biometrics at the border on or after arrival. And as the ambassador said, we will have the assistance of the Ukrainian Government in doing the checks.

Salisbury has been invoked in this Chamber, but while that illustrates what Putin is capable of, it has nothing to do with visas. Neither in that outrageous attack nor in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko was there any requirement for the murderers to use anything other than a Russian passport with a false identity and to seek a visa for the UK directly. The security concerns that we have heard about are hard to pin down. In the reports of the Home Secretary’s embarrassing representations to Ireland, reference was made to briefings about gangs. Here, Minsters have spoken about “false documents”. Other briefings have blamed No. 10 for blocking Home Office proposals to simply waive visa requirements. If that is so, the Home Office was clearly not overly concerned about the security challenges that have repeatedly been referenced. None of these concerns can be ignored, but in the grand scheme of things the Home Office has done nothing to persuade me or my colleagues—or, I suspect, Members right across the House—that security justifies keeping those fleeing persecution at arm’s length, potentially for months on end.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs)

As usual, my hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Is he aware of the views of Lord Peter Ricketts, the former national security adviser, who has said that because the majority of refugees coming to this country are women and children, we should take

“a much more humane and open approach…and should not be requiring visas” and that we should do the security checks after they get here? Is my hon. Friend anxious, as I am, to hear from those on the Government Front Bench why they think Lord Peter Ricketts is wrong?

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I agree with my hon. and learned Friend. I know that she made a similar point in Monday night’s debate, and that she is still waiting for a response to those concerns. We expect to hear that response today.

At the end of the day, we are not the ones asking the Government to do anything wild or outlandish. It is the Government who are asking us to go along with a policy that is totally out of kilter with that of our neighbours and with public opinion and that does not meet the urgent humanitarian challenge that we face today. I very much fear that we will regret it if we do not waive these visa requirements, and we should encourage the Government today to take action on that.

As the motion states, we welcome the further extension to the family scheme and the launch of the sponsorship scheme. I know that hon. Members will have a million questions to ask about them, some of which we were helpfully able to put directly to the Minister this morning. I will briefly touch on just a couple. As I argued this morning, I see no reason why many thousands of Ukrainians who are here on time-limited visas should be excluded from bringing relatives in on the family scheme, whether they are students, workers or visitors. There will be particular issues for seasonal agricultural workers in accessing even the sponsorship scheme, given the accommodation that they are generally provided with. I welcome the fact that Lord Harrington told the Committee this morning that he would give that matter his consideration, because we could be talking about 10% to 20% of the Ukrainian diaspora here being in that very situation and still struggling to be joined by any family at all. It is important that we resolve that.

We must also resolve the issues around people’s leave to remain here as early as possible, preferably matching it to the leave to remain that people coming in are being offered, rather than giving them just a few months until the end of the year. There are other questions about the nature of the leave to remain that people are being offered and about what happens at the end of the three years. There are questions about the safeguarding and protection of vulnerable people entering on the sponsored route. What happens if a sponsorship breaks down? What happens at the end of the six months? Colleagues will speak in much more detail about these points, but we offer our questions and criticisms constructively, because we all want to see these schemes work.

As I have said, our fundamental disagreements with the Government are over their stance that visas should still be required at all. Our other fundamental disagreement is about the Nationality and Borders Bill, which will come back to this House next week when we will debate the Lords amendments to it. That legislation is predicated on a totally misguided belief that refugees must always seek asylum in the first safe country, and that those who do not must be criminalised, offshored and stripped of their rights to family life and public funds. This last month illustrates as never before in the starkest terms the importance and relevance of the refugee convention, 70 years on, and also how the anti-refugee Bill is simply not fit for purpose. We will be constructive critics wherever we can, but on those two fundamental points we are absolutely clear: scrap visas for Ukrainians, and scrap the anti-refugee Bill.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office) 1:08 pm, 16th March 2022

I welcome this debate and the opportunity it provides for a constructive and pragmatic discussion in the House this afternoon. Russia’s attack on Ukraine is both monstrous and unjustified. We are united across this House in horror at the unfolding situation, and the entire country stands with the brave people of Ukraine. They are an inspiration to us all. This Government recognise that Europe is now seeing the largest movement of refugees since the second world war. We recognise the urgency of what is a rapidly evolving situation, and in response we have doubled down on our resolve to help those Ukrainians who want to come to the UK to escape the conflict in their homeland.

We are taking comprehensive action, including opening two new visa routes and adapting existing processes, making it easier and safer to bring Ukrainians swiftly and securely to the United Kingdom. We are creating safe and legal routes for Ukrainian nationals coming to the UK. Earlier this month, we announced our bespoke Ukraine family scheme, which significantly expanded the ability of British nationals and Ukrainian nationals settled in the UK to enable family members to join them in this country. The scheme went live on 4 March and, as of 4 pm on 15 March, has already seen 39,000 applications started and 20,000 being submitted, resulting in 5,500 visas being issued at this point.

As well as immediate family members, we have extended eligibility for this scheme to adult parents, grandparents, children over 18, siblings, aunts and uncles, nephews, nieces, cousins and in-laws, as well as all their immediate family members.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

The Minister has set out the number of applications that have been made, completed and processed. Can he tell me the timescale for the completion of all those that have not yet been processed?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I would expect to see a real surge in the numbers of applications being granted. That is something we all very much want to see. I think that is likely to happen within the space of the next week or so. We are working tirelessly on this, and I place on record my thanks, gratitude and appreciation for Home Office staff and the case working teams who are working day and night to do this work with the urgency that it rightly warrants, and that we as Members of this House and our constituents across the country expect.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

A couple of weeks ago I, again through the Home Office and others, helped a family to arrive in Northwich in my constituency—Hannah, her daughter Viktoria and her six-year-old daughter Annastasia. They would say to Ministers, as they certainly said to me, that the process for visas is far too cumbersome. They are 50-page forms. I know the Minister will have heard this from Members right across the House, but we certainly need to move forward on that.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the work he has been doing as a constituency MP in aiding his constituents to come across to the United Kingdom. I hope I can give him a little bit of reassurance by saying that we are working tirelessly to simplify those processes. I know Liz Saville Roberts asked specifically about translation; on the translation of those web forms, I can tell her that work is going on at pace to provide translation of the appropriate guidance to help people to complete those forms in both Russian and Ukrainian. I hope that answers her point.

Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Trade)

Given that the United Nations is reporting that some 3 million people have fled Ukraine over the past number of weeks, half of them children, is 5,500 really something to crow about? Why can the Government not get a move on with this, allow people to get to safety, do the security checks when they are here and speed up the process so that more people are brought to a safe place out of the horrendous crisis they face?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

The hon. Gentleman speaks with great passion about these matters. I have set out some detail about the work that is going on to speed up those processes, and I will come on to greater detail about that in my remarks. One point that it is important to place firmly on the record is that, in relation to children, particularly unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, there are sensitivities involved. It is obviously very important that all the right safeguarding checks and processes are in place.

I also recognise that there are issues here where we need the agreement of the Ukrainian Government, to ensure that we are working in lockstep with them to get this right. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will recognise why that is crucial.

Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Trade)

I am grateful to the Minister for taking a further intervention on this point. He talks correctly about safeguarding. Nobody is suggesting there should not be safeguarding for children; it is absolutely critical that children are safe—but children must be safe. Cannot the children be safe first, and then we do the safeguarding? Can we not speed up the process so that the checks are done when children are in a safe place—as opposed to an unsafe place, which many are in at the moment?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

To illustrate the point I was making for the hon. Gentleman’s benefit, I repeat that it is important that we have agreement with Ukraine on how those matters are approached. It would not be right, for example, for us to remove unaccompanied children from Poland without that agreement in place. Of course, as he would rightly expect, and because it is something that we as Ministers are very mindful of, we will continue to work constructively with the Ukrainian and Polish authorities to ensure that we get it right and that we do our bit on this.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

On that point, surely if there is an unaccompanied child in Poland, say, we would want that child looked after safely in Poland so that it can reunite with its parents when they are free to escape Ukraine. What are the Government doing to support bordering countries with humanitarian aid for that purpose?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that particular perspective on this issue, and I will happily have a further discussion with him outside the Chamber about the constructive work we are doing with the Polish authorities in particular. It is important, where possible, that we help to provide appropriate humanitarian assistance in the region. Of course, as he rightly says, wherever possible we want to see families reunited as quickly as possible, and there is an argument that having those children cared for closer to home makes it easier to facilitate that, but we will keep that under constant review to ensure that we are doing everything we can as a country to support those unaccompanied children and see that they are properly cared for. That is something people in our country would rightly expect.

Returning to the Ukraine family scheme, we have ensured that the scheme is easily accessible and fee free, and that it will not include any salary or language requirements. People who successfully apply to the scheme will have three years’ leave to remain and can work and access public services during that time. We will ensure that there will be avenues for people to stay if they are unable to return. We will never seek to return those to whom we give shelter if the situation in Ukraine remains as dangerous as it is today.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Attorney General)

One thing drawn to my attention by my constituent Gareth Roberts, who is presently travelling with his wife Nataliia and her daughter and granddaughter, Angelina and Albina, is whether the Government will consider onward travel funding for Ukrainian refugees arriving in the United Kingdom, as has been provided by other nations in the EU.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I will gladly take that point away and raise it with the noble Lord Harrington, who, as the right hon. Lady will recognise, has assumed his new role in the past few days. I am sure he will be looking at the package of support we are providing in the round and will want to make a judgment on whether that would be an appropriate form of support that we could offer. I am keen to do that and, if she would like to write with further details, I will gladly ensure that that letter reaches him.

On biometrics, we are ensuring that the process of applying to the scheme is as straightforward as possible. To further support the Ukrainian people, holders of valid Ukrainian passports who are outside the UK and making applications under the Ukraine family scheme will no longer be required to provide their biometric information at a visa application centre before they travel. Instead, they will be able to make the application entirely online.

The Ukraine family scheme applications will continue to be assessed as a priority. Once applications have been processed, individuals will receive a permission letter enabling them to travel to the UK and will not be required to collect a vignette in their passport. Applicants who hold identity cards and do not have a valid passport will still need to attend a visa application centre in person and provide their biometric information.

As the House is aware, the Home Secretary has also announced plans for a new sponsored route for Ukrainians with no ties to the UK to come here, and the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities will set out further details as soon as he is able. The scheme is the latest in a package of humanitarian support to help the Ukrainian people and has been brought forward following extensive discussion with the Ukrainian leaders and other countries in the region. This uncapped route allows individuals and organisations, including businesses, charities and NGOs, to welcome Ukrainians to the UK. As our Homes for Ukraine webpage sets out, if someone has a residential spare room or separate self-contained accommodation that is unoccupied, please come forward.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Independent, Islington North

I am pleased to hear that we are going to make these efforts to ensure that any Ukrainian who wants to come here to live safely can get here. Will there also be a package of support for local authorities to provide the necessary back-up services? Clearly educational and mental health support will be needed, as well as all kinds of community support, and local authorities are best placed to deliver that.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the spirit in which he comes at this issue. I can provide him with reassurance that there will be £10,500 of support for local authorities per individual refugee supported, to provide exactly the sorts of services that he has identified as being so important—school places and support for health provision and mental health provision—recognising the huge trauma that many of these individuals will have been through in recent days and weeks. We want to help ensure we do as much as we can in communities, properly supporting people to address those needs and challenges.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee

I apologise to the Minister, because this is specific. He mentioned individuals who have a spare room and the Homes for Ukraine scheme. In my constituency, a GP is looking to sponsor a lady and her 12-year-old child. In such a situation, does that require two rooms, or will one room suffice? I know that is specific, but if the Minister knows the answer, I would love to hear it and take it back to the GP.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point in some detail. It is probably best for me to take that point away as a pragmatic illustration of the sorts of challenges that we will have to address in the coming weeks in delivering this scheme. That is exactly the sort of issue we want to ensure is picked up as part of the announcements that I have alluded to and that I expect to be made in relatively short order. A proper answer to that will then hopefully help to unlock opportunities to provide support and sanctuary for someone in his community. I am very grateful to his constituents for their keen engagement in these matters.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

The Minister is being very generous in giving way. We have many questions that are often best asked directly to him, so I thank him for that. In a circumstance where someone in Glasgow perhaps knows someone in Ukraine and wants to host them, how do they go about that process to make sure that they can say to the system that exists, “I have a room. I know a person”? How does that person then get to Glasgow to take up that room and that offer of generous support?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

From Friday, individuals will be able to come forward and where they have that existing relationship or an individual they particularly want to support, they will be able to provide that information to aid with the matching process. There are huge advantages to using those existing relationships and synergies, and that system will go live on Friday. I hope that answers the question and provides the reassurance that the hon. Lady is looking for. I thank the constituent she has in mind for the work they are willing to do and the support they are keen to provide to those individuals, which I know will be of huge value and will be massively appreciated by all concerned.

The accommodation must be available for at least six months, be fit for people to live in and be suitable for the number of people to be accommodated. The response of the British public has been overwhelming. More than 100,000 people have expressed interest in sponsoring, and that number is going up all the time. We are engaging with local authorities on the development of the scheme to ensure that those expressing an interest in sponsoring an individual or family understand the process and our expectations.

We will ensure that those who want to sponsor an individual or family can volunteer and be matched quickly with Ukrainians in need, working closely with local authorities across the country. We know that charities, faith groups, universities and other organisations have already reached out to those leaving Ukraine. We will be working closely with them to ensure that people who want to help are matched to Ukrainians in need. We will also work closely with international partners to ensure that displaced Ukrainians forced to flee their homes are supported to apply.

Phase 1 of the scheme will open on Friday 18 March for visa applications from Ukrainians who have named people willing to sponsor them. People or organisations wanting to be sponsors who do not personally know anyone fleeing Ukraine can now record their interest. They will then be kept updated as the scheme develops. We believe that for those eligible, our offer is comparable in generosity to that proposed under the EU’s temporary protection directive.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I just have a quick practical question about the matching process. How will that be done for this scheme?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

There has been a little commentary around this matter, including at the Home Affairs Committee session this morning. It is fair to say that one important strand of work in getting this right is working intensively with NGOs to develop the system in the most appropriate and streamlined way. We have touched on the safeguarding issues in the course of this debate, and we will want to get those right as this is rolled out, but it is fair to say that further, imminent announcements will provide more detail on the specific point the hon. Gentleman raises. I think he will welcome the work going on with NGOs, which have real expertise and experience with these issues, to develop this scheme so that it is the very best it can be from the very start.

We hear the offers from the devolved Administrations. Our colleagues at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities will be working with them to ensure that individuals and organisations that want to sponsor an individual or family can volunteer to do so. Local authorities will play a crucial role in the delivery of the Homes for Ukraine scheme and in support for Ukrainian beneficiaries, including on integration, English language support, health, education, employment and housing.

Alongside the generous offer of accommodation that sponsors will be making, we are providing a substantial level of funding to local authorities to enable them to provide wider support to families to rebuild their lives and fully integrate into our communities. For those arriving via the Homes for Ukraine scheme, we will provide a substantial level of funding, at a rate of £10,500 a person, to local authorities, as I touched on earlier. There will be an additional top-up for child education to enable them to provide much wider support for families to rebuild their lives and fully integrate into our communities. Further details will be shared shortly.

As stated by the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, we will not be issuing blanket visa waivers in response to this crisis. The visa process is vital, not only to keeping British citizens safe, but to ensuring that we are helping those in genuine need. We are already seeing people presenting false documents, claiming to be Ukrainians. Because of that, security and biometrics checks remain a fundamental part of our visa process, and that is consistent with our approach to the evacuation of Afghanistan.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

What I do not understand is why this is any different for the many thousands of peoples who come into this country every single day without a visa. People will try to present false documents for those nationalities, too, but we have border guards for that very purpose. What is the specific risk? It seems incredibly difficult to pin down.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I know that the hon. Gentleman feels passionately about this particular point. In response, I cannot say too much on the Floor of the House, for obvious reasons, but people would rightly expect the Government to act in accordance with the security advice we receive at any given point in time and to do so responsibly. I also make the point, touching again on a point that we have been discussing this afternoon, that there is a safeguarding issue in relation to travel to this country. We will obviously want to know who vulnerable children and adults are travelling with and ensure that they are kept safe, because that is an absolute imperative. That is the position of this Government.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs)

On the security issue, the Minister will have heard my intervention earlier, citing the views of Lord Peter Ricketts, a former National Security Adviser, that visa-free access could be safely afforded and that the biometric and security checks could be done largely once women and children Ukrainian refugees arrive here. Why is Lord Ricketts wrong? I tried to get an answer on that from the Minister’s colleague, Kevin Foster, on Monday without success. I need one today, please.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I never like to disappoint the hon. and learned Lady in my answers, but clearly, we have to act in accordance with the latest up-to-date advice that we receive, which is precisely what we are doing. Of course we have been looking at, and will continue to look at, how those processes can be expedited as far as possible. We have been consistently clear about the position in relation to visa waivers and the checks. That is the position as it stands at this point.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

Is the Minister saying that the UK is receiving different security advice from all those European countries and our near neighbours Ireland, or is he saying that they are putting their people at risk?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

Again, I make the point that we have to act in accordance with the advice that we receive. I am simply not in a position to pass meaningful comment on the advice that other Governments may or may not be receiving. Of course there are marked differences between the United Kingdom and many of our European friends, in the sense that we are not part of Schengen and they are. That is a considerable difference that is materially relevant when we discuss these matters.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee

Perhaps I can pass on some advice that I received from a constituent who is Ukrainian. She made it clear to me that if her former partner, who domestically abused her, ended up in this country because we did not do any checks, she would hold me personally accountable. Does the Minister not think that she also deserves respect? We absolutely have to look after people. We cannot just talk about domestic abuse in this place and then ignore it when there is a greater cause—that is wrong.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

It is fair to say that Ministers in government have at the forefront of their minds, as my hon. Friend does, all our safeguarding responsibilities, of which the British people would rightly expect us to be conscious and mindful, and to act in accordance with them.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I have been very generous, but I will give way to the hon. Gentleman one last time.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I apologise to the Minister, because in a sense I am making a point to Huw Merriman rather than to the Minister. We do checks on thousands of people who come in every day from countries that do not require a visa—from the whole European Union and all the countries that I listed earlier. We do criminal record checks on the advance passenger information that we get; we do not need a visa to do those checks. We are not saying, “Let in any old person from Ukraine.” We should do the check at the border with the advance passenger information; we do not need a visa process to do that.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. The fact is that I would like to think that we all recognise the lengths to which the Kremlin regime is willing to go, as we saw vividly in relation to Salisbury. We are incredibly mindful of that. We are simply not willing to take chances with the UK’s national security and we are acting in accordance with the advice.

I suspect that if that sort of issue were to be repeated in this country—it is unthinkable—the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues would understandably ask us why we had allowed that to happen needlessly. We simply cannot take that chance. I add that nothing that we are doing is inconsistent with the approach that Canada and the United States—our Five Eyes colleagues—are taking. They are adopting similar arrangements on biometrics and security checks.

We believe that we are offering a substantial package that will enable the British public and the Ukrainian diaspora to play their part in supporting displaced Ukrainians into the United Kingdom. We keep our support under constant review and our new routes will continue to respond, develop and keep pace with the rapidly shifting situation on the ground. I certainly welcome hearing further contributions from right hon. and hon. Members during the debate and I will of course reflect on the suggestions and ideas that are put forward.

I am hugely proud of the big-hearted and generous reaction that we have seen from the British people in response to the crisis. In response, as a Government, we have developed a comprehensive package to mobilise those offers in reality. This is a whole United Kingdom effort with Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England coming together in solidarity to show our support for the Ukrainian people. We are not just talking about it; our actions will match our words. Together, I know that we will deliver.

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration) 1:34 pm, 16th March 2022

There are turning points in history when the constant struggle between freedom and tyranny comes down to one fight in one place. In 1940, that fight took place in the skies above Britain. Today, 82 years later, it is taking place in the forests, fields and war-torn towns and cities of Ukraine. Today we pay tribute to President Zelensky, who has stood strong and resolute in these dark times in the face of Vladimir Putin’s senseless war of choice.

Volodymyr Zelensky is without doubt the leader of the free world, and the bravery, dignity and defiance of the Ukrainian people will never be forgotten. They have not yet won this war, but let us make no mistake: they will eventually triumph over the forces of darkness that have invaded their country. When they do, the United Kingdom and every other democracy across the world will be forever in debt to the heroes of the Ukrainian resistance.

The courage and fortitude of the Ukrainian people stands in stark contrast to the mean-spirited and inept way in which the Home Secretary has responded to the crisis. We should not be surprised by that, however, as the utter shambles of the last few weeks is simply part of a pattern of behaviour. From the Windrush scandal to the small boats crisis, and from the Nationality and Borders Bill to the response to Putin’s barbaric assault on Ukraine, we are witnessing a Government Department whose approach is defined by a toxic combination of incompetence and indifference.

We have had to endure the embarrassing spectacle of the Home Secretary contradicting her own Department’s announcement on the number of visas granted, and then compounding the confusion by claiming that an application centre for Ukrainians had been opened in Calais when that was patently not the case. While I commend the Immigration Minister for deleting the tweet in which he suggested that Ukrainians fleeing the horrors of war should apply for fruit picker visas, I nevertheless repeat my request that he apologise for that tweet, as it is clear that such an apology would go a long way to reassuring the public that the Government have grasped the horrific reality of the situation.

A Government who fail to plan are a Government who plan to fail. Vladimir Putin has been showing the world for years that he is a war-mongering gangster who will stop at nothing in his relentless campaign to crush democracy and the rule of law. From the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko to the invasion of Georgia, and from butchery in Syria to the illegal annexation of Crimea and the state-sponsored hit on the Skripals, Mr Putin’s track record of murder and mayhem since he came to power is not exactly a state secret.

Putin has been massing his troops on the Ukrainian border since October last year. That is five months that the Home Secretary could have used to put plans in place for every possible scenario, so that if an exodus were to be triggered by an invasion, we would have had a well-organised and effective response ready to roll out. Instead, we have seen the Government scrambling, making policy on the hoof and constantly being on the back foot.

As a consequence of that basic failure to plan and prepare, we have witnessed the Government having to perform U-turns on an almost-daily basis. First, the Home Secretary said that the family reunion scheme would be open only to dependants, thus preventing Ukrainians in this country from bringing in their elderly parents, grandparents or extended family. We on the Opposition Benches protested, and the Home Office grudgingly extended it to parents and adult children. We protested again, and the Government finally relented, so thankfully all extended family members are now included in the scope of the family reunion route.

Then the Home Secretary was insisting on Ukrainians with passports and family in the UK having to wait for days in visa application centres rather than applying online and doing the biometric checks here in the UK. Again we protested and again the Home Secretary was forced to U-turn. It took weeks of pressure to force the Government to set up a scheme for Ukrainians who do not have family connections in the UK.

While I am on the subject of the Homes for Ukraine scheme, the fact that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has been given responsibility for it speaks volumes, because it is a clear signal that the Prime Minister has completely lost confidence in the Home Secretary.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

Would the hon. Gentleman not find it odd if the Department responsible for housing were not responsible for trying to provide housing for vulnerable people?

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

The vast majority of the issues that need to be resolved around bringing Ukrainians into this country are clearly to do with immigration. The fact that this brief has been shifted is a clear indication that the Prime Minister has lost confidence in the Home Secretary.

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

The right hon. Lady is absolutely right. Operation Warm Welcome, the scheme for Afghans, has completely stalled and thousands of Afghans are stuck in hotels. That was completely on the watch of this Home Secretary, so I will take no lectures on that from the Government Members.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

I say to the shadow Minister that the SNP has moved the motion sensibly, criticising the Government in a constructive way. The shadow Minister’s remarks are in danger of turning into a more party political attack. May I suggest that that is not what the House wants at the moment?

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

I remind the hon. Gentleman that what is going on in Ukraine is a fight for democracy. In this House we act on the basis of democracy; it is the Opposition’s duty to hold the Government to account and to scrutinise them. If I were saying these things in Russia right now, I would be carted out and sent to the gulag, so I will take no lectures from him on the purpose of this debate and on our purpose, as Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition, in a democracy. This House has lost confidence in the Home Secretary and, frankly, the entire country has too.

I turn now to the day-to-day misery and chaos that Ukrainians seeking sanctuary in our country are experiencing. We are still hearing stories from Ukrainians who have made it to Poland, Hungary and other bordering countries that they are having to wait for days on end to be granted a UK visa. Given that we know that it takes only 10 minutes for a biometric test to be completed and only a matter of minutes to print a visa, why on earth are people having to wait for so long? As one Ukrainian refugee on the Polish border said, “It was hell”. Another called it “a humiliating process”.

This incompetence is leaving a stain on our international reputation. Have these poor people not dealt with enough stress already? We have also heard that the visa centre in northern France was originally supposed to be in Calais, then Lille, and that now it will be in Arras, another 30 miles from Lille. If the Home Office cannot even decide where the visa centre will be, how on earth will the people on the ground know where to go?

Let us not forget that the Home Secretary cited security concerns as the explanation for her refusal to set up a visa centre in Calais, while we have a Prime Minister who repeatedly overruled the advice of our security services in awarding a peerage to the son of a KGB agent. That tells us all we need to know about the priorities of this Government.

I turn to the Homes for Ukraine scheme that was announced on Monday. As I mentioned earlier in my remarks, Labour managed to shame the Government into introducing a sponsorship scheme to allow those without family to come to our country. It is a matter of profound regret that the Government have not heeded our calls for a simple emergency visa scheme that would have avoided the huge amount of bureaucracy, uncertainty and red tape that they have chosen to introduce. Nevertheless, this scheme is better than nothing.

However, on Monday the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities stood at the Dispatch Box and bellowed at the top of his voice about being fed up with people saying that the British people are not generous. His histrionics were yet another example of the deeply disingenuous behaviour of Conservative Ministers who come to this Chamber and deliberately misrepresent the Opposition’s criticisms of their dismal performance. Nobody is criticising the public for lack of generosity; our criticisms are levelled directly at this Government who have utterly failed the Ukrainians who are fleeing the horrors of war. If Ministers were to spend half as much time actually getting on with their jobs as they do desperately deploying smoke and mirrors to conceal their failings, then we might all be in a better place.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Is the visa application not still a fundamental flaw in the Homes for Ukraine scheme? The considerable bureaucracy of a 50-page form will still be required. That really needs to be dealt with, and soon.

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The bureaucracy of a 50-page form could so easily be cut through if the Government were to heed our calls for an emergency visa scheme. The bureaucracy being imposed on these poor people who are feeling the horrors of war should shame us all.

Arguably, the most serious design fault in the Homes for Ukraine scheme is that people who wish to support Ukrainians must track them down themselves. My hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities rightly described this as a “DIY asylum scheme” that risks leaving refugees without refuge. Are the Government seriously suggesting that Ukrainians fleeing the horrors of war should advertise themselves on social media or that Brits who are happy to offer their spare rooms should be searching on Instagram for Ukrainian families to sponsor? Will the Minister commit today to the Government’s implementing a pairing system to help sponsors find Ukrainian refugees who wish to come here?

We can only speculate on why the Home Secretary has chosen to burden those fleeing the horrors of war with the confusion and chaos that we have seen. Is she simply incompetent or is she being driven by the hostile-environment ideology that has propelled her to the upper echelons of the Conservative party? Only the Home Secretary can answer that question, but whatever her motivations the shambolic consequences are plain to see.

I began my speech by saying that there are moments in history when the great struggle between freedom and tyranny comes down to one fight, and I say today, without an iota of doubt, that freedom will win the day. Until that victory comes, we must do all we can to offer safe sanctuary to those Ukrainians who have made the perilous journey from their war-torn homeland.

As we have all seen, the Ukrainians are a passionately patriotic people and they will be utterly focused on returning home to rebuild their lives and their country as soon as the enemy has been defeated and expelled. In the meantime, they need to be treated with dignity and respect, but instead the Home Secretary’s response has been mean spirited, short sighted and shambolic.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I agree with much of what the shadow Minister has said, but can he be clear that Labour’s position is not to waive visa requirements altogether? How can he be so certain that the emergency visa he describes will resolve waiting times and bureaucracy? Why does he not join the SNP in calling for waiving visa requirements altogether?

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

The hon. Gentleman is right that we are not suggesting that security checks be waived. We are making it clear that those security checks should take place in the United Kingdom when people have got here. The emergency visa has a rapid application process. On that basis, people would come into the UK and the biometric checks would take place here.

Photo of Alexander Stafford Alexander Stafford Conservative, Rother Valley

The hon. Gentleman is saying that Labour would have the checks in the UK. What would happen if somebody failed the checks when they were already in the UK? Would they be deported? How would they be dealt with if they failed those checks?

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

That is a matter for Border Force. They would take the action that they take with any individual who enters this country and does not pass the security checks. It would be exactly the same as any other person who fails security checks; it is very simple and not rocket science.

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

Traumatised people, whose lives have been turned upside down, are being pushed from pillar to post and having the door to our country slammed in their faces by this Home Secretary. This is a profoundly unserious Government who are led by profoundly unserious people; what a contrast with the bravery of the Ukrainians and the warmth and generosity of the British people. The British people have stepped up and now it is time for the Government to catch up.

The Minister, hon. Members and right hon. Members from across this House are today calling on the Government to put people before paperwork. The British people are urging the Government to get a grip so that we can once again be confident in our proud record as a nation of sanctuary.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough 1:49 pm, 16th March 2022

It is traditional to thank the previous speaker for their remarks, but regrettably I can find little on which I agree with the shadow Minister, Stephen Kinnock, and I fear his tone was wrong.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

The point I wanted to make to the shadow Minister is that the reason the Government Benches are not as highly populated as many people, including in the media, might expect for a debate on refugees from Ukraine is that over 150 colleagues are currently in Committee Room 14 listening to and engaging with four female MPs from Ukraine. I have to say that all four of them have paid considerable tribute to the enormous support that this country and our Government have given their country, which is wonderful to hear, and I sometimes wonder whether we are living in a slightly different parallel world down here compared with up there.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

I thank my hon. Friend for a very important intervention. I would not criticise the Opposition for not having Members on their Benches because, for various reasons, a number of things relating to Ukraine are going on today.

I have a great deal of respect for the shadow Minister, but I just think he got it wrong on this occasion, and I absolutely think that the deputy leader of the Labour party, Angela Rayner, got it wrong at Prime Minister’s questions. She lost the House, and she was making party political points. In contrast, the SNP parliamentary leader made a very constructive point, and the way SNP Members have introduced this debate is wholly constructive. They disagree with the Government on the level of support and the way refugees are handled, but they have done it constructively, and I could fully support most of the motion they have tabled. I have to say that I have said that before I hear what the Back-Bench SNP Members say, but I do think they have chosen this subject and put down a motion that is reasonable and constructive, even if I do not agree with absolutely all of it.

I want to congratulate the Prime Minister on his leadership across Europe on the Ukrainian crisis Europe. I think people recognise that he has put in a lot of energy and has galvanised support for sanctions. Our military support to Ukraine has been huge, and our humanitarian support to the countries bordering Ukraine is probably the most in Europe. I think that is important testimony to how well this Government have done.

I think there is a very important point about looking after refugees, mainly women and children, who are fleeing Ukraine and getting out of Ukraine to the bordering countries, and who will want to be looked after there until the Russians can be defeated in Ukraine and they can then go back to their loved ones in Ukraine. I think we should do everything we can to help those countries, and I congratulate all the countries bordering Ukraine on the support they have given people who have either come from a warzone, with all the trauma they are facing there, or are fleeing in advance of the war coming towards them. I think we should give great credit to our European neighbours for that, and the fact that we are giving massive humanitarian aid is very important.

I want to deal in particular with the issue of human trafficking. I chaired the all-party group on human trafficking for a number of years, and these evil gangs—“evil gangs” does not do justice to how awful these people are—have moved into the areas to which refugees are coming in those countries. What human traffickers, and by the way these are not the same as smugglers, do is take young women and children and offer them, they say, a safe route to this country or that country, perhaps even to the United Kingdom, but what they actually do is put them into modern-day slavery, prostitution or forced labour. This is happening at the moment in the countries surrounding Ukraine, as the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend Mrs May, brought up in the debate yesterday.

My particular concern is about Moldova, which is a small country bordering Ukraine, but not in the EU. That very small country has taken in 100,000 refugees, but Moldova was already known for human trafficking. It is an area rife with those telling people that they can get them jobs and prosperity elsewhere, because it is a poor country. There was always a problem with human trafficking gangs there, and they are now operating to a greater degree. It is not an area where we would naturally have a lot of Home Office or Foreign Office support, because it is not in the EU and it is not a country we would deal with at high level.

I would like the Minister to consider putting extra resources into those countries to fight the human traffickers. We have led the fight against human trafficking in Europe, and we need to have people on the ground at the border to stop the trafficking gangs getting hold of these people and forcing them into a most evil situation.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

It is fair to say that my hon. Friend has been a tireless advocate on these issues for many years, and he speaks with great authority about them. I hope I can provide him with some reassurance in saying that I absolutely take away the point he raises. It is fair to say that our law enforcement agencies are looking at this very closely and identifying what more we can do to work in this area. I should add that there is a very strong link through Europol, which is ensuring that we are working with our neighbours to clamp down on this in a co-ordinated way.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

I am very grateful for the Minister’s intervention, and we have of course worked tirelessly with Europol, but I do think that the sophistication of these evil gangs cannot be overestimated and urgent action is required in that area, particularly in Moldova, but also in other countries such as Poland.

Photo of Alexander Stafford Alexander Stafford Conservative, Rother Valley

My hon. Friend is making an incredibly point about human trafficking. Does he agree that the UK should spend some of the money in our foreign development budget on tackling human trafficking, because it is a huge issue that we know is going to get worse with this crisis? We must protect those women and girls—the children especially—as it is a ginormous issue coming down the line.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. The problem is, or has been, that when we use that sort of aid, it does not count towards this mythical zero point whatever it is per cent., but we should still do it because it is the right thing to do. We and the whole House are after protecting women and children, and we do not want to lose these people at the very point when they have fled from a most awful situation. I do hope that that is one thing the Government could look at.

I want to say something briefly about Homes for Ukraine. A number of my constituents have been very keen to help in Wellingborough—for instance, I know that the Methodist church has a number of people who want to take refugees from Ukraine—which is absolutely great, and I really appreciate what my constituents are offering. It is important, and I am glad to hear what the Minister has said, that we have wraparound support for everyone who comes here. We cannot just bring someone over, pop them in a house, and that is it, and the local authorities need to be on board. North Northamptonshire Council has been very keen on this, and Councillor Helen Harrison has played the leading role when dealing with Afghans who have come here, so I am really pleased that councils are going to be offered £10,500 per person.

Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe)

This is one of my concerns in that just getting accommodation by signing up to the website is not going to solve this, both because people will need all sorts of support to integrate and because they will be traumatised. Would it not be better for local councils to create lists of people with accommodation? The idea that this can be handled from here across the UK is not going to work; it should be as localised as possible.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

The hon. Lady raises a very interesting point. I have a lot of time for what she has to say, which has merit. One problem with getting Afghan refugees settled was the extra time that it took to go from the Home Office down to the local authority. North Northamptonshire Council has the ability to deal with this, and to do so quickly—and I am not a fan of centralised systems that are based on a computer that is liable to break down—so that is certainly worth looking at.

On the wraparound support that local authorities will provide, I think the Minister said there might be some extra help with education. In winding up, will he expand on that?

In summary, what my constituents have said about getting refugees over here is that, first, we should be looking after them as they come across the border. We are doing that with money. They also think that the Government have now got it right with the schemes—a little slow, I think they would say, but they are getting there. It is right that there are checks and that we do not just let any people in. On the human trafficking front, the easier we make it for traffickers to bring people in, the more people will come in and be forced into prostitution or forced labour. The Government are getting it right, and I congratulate them on what they are doing. I just wonder whether they could look at one or two points on how education will be dealt with, and whether we can speed up the process and get vulnerable women and children to local authorities quickly, rather than having to go through a more bureaucratic system.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons)

As the House knows, we have an important statement at 3.30 pm. It would be expedient and good management if we finished this debate at 3.29 pm. There is not too much pressure. If everybody makes a speech of between seven and eight minutes, which is quite a long time, we will achieve that, and it would be courteous to the House if that were to happen.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee 2:02 pm, 16th March 2022

It is a pleasure to follow Mr Bone. I do not know why he is surprised about the reasonableness of the Scottish National party Members—I believe we are the epitome of reasonableness. One could not pay a higher tribute to my hon. Friend Stuart C. McDonald, who stands on the shoulders of those who are reasonable in the House. Perhaps the hon. Member for Wellingborough should have listened to my speech before coming to that conclusion, but we shall leave him to determine that.

I think the one thing that unites the whole of the UK just now is that we all stand by Ukraine. We all want to do everything possible to assist the efforts to find safe places for the millions of refugees who are now fleeing Russian aggression. We stand in awe of their passionate defence of their country in the face of what must be terrifying situations and we want to do everything possible to ensure that those who attempt to flee will be met with all the hospitality this nation can summon.

Like every Member, my mailbox has been flooded with constituents willing to offer accommodation as part of the scheme set up by the Government; and if not accommodation, they want to help with resources, materials and cash donations. As every Member also finds, my whole constituency seems to be engaged in making collections for Ukraine. I pay particular tribute to the Polish community in my constituency—the largest Polish community in Scotland, owing to the world war two fighter pilots it hosted and who settled in the city of Perth. The effort has been simply magnificent: 10,000 people per hour signing up to the accommodation scheme, with 89,000 people signing up on the first day, leading the portal to crash. If Putin counted on the people of these islands being indifferent to a conflict at the other end of Europe, he will have been very quickly disabused of that notion. I am sure he will have observed the sheer compassion our constituents have demonstrated for the victims of his aggression.

What our constituents want—it is quite a simple request, really—is for the Government to match their passion to do something about the current situation. They want the Government to be fully engaged and to act to match the energy we are seeing across the whole of the UK. Our constituents have helped to ensure that there has at least been some sort of movement by the Government, by applying pressure and writing to their Members of Parliament. I hope that effort continues over the next critical weeks. They should not have to shame the Government into action. We should expect the Government to lead that effort without any cajoling from our constituents.

Perhaps I am being a little unfair. I actually want to congratulate the Government on their efforts so far. We are impressed by some of the measures we have seen brought forward, which seem to be making a practical difference. The Minister rolled off the impact that the measures are having on the Russian economy and the oligarchs. They are being felt across the whole of Russia. They are not enough, however. The Minister— I think I heard him correctly, but he can correct me if I have got it wrong—said that there are currently 5,500 refugees in the UK. I think that was the figure he gave, but the number of refugees is about to reach the 3 million mark, so 5,500 seems to me—I do not know about you, Madam Deputy Speaker—a very small figure to be proud of, particularly when 1.8 million have gone to Poland, 263,000 to Hungary, 230,000 to Slovakia, 453,000 to Romania, and 337,000 to Moldova, doubling its population. Fair enough, those nations border Ukraine, but Germany has taken in 147,000 and Ireland, which has a tenth of the population of the UK, has taken in some 6,646. The Minister tells us there are no problems or issues with Home Office procedures and there is no difficulty with bureaucracy, but why are we still at 5,500 people? I look to him to tell us that there will be a rush or a surge of people who are going to get here. We are waiting to see that surge happen, and we have to see it in the next day or two to be convinced that the Government are doing everything possible to act as if this is some sort of emergency.

We hear all the stuff about security concerns and the latest security advice. I am sure that to the Minister it sounds very convincing and I am pretty sure that is the sort of advice he is getting, but the questions that have been put to him are legitimate. Surely all our European allies and friends are getting the same advice, so are the Government unique in acting responsibly while the rest of the European nations are acting irresponsibly on the advice they are receiving from their security services? How on earth are they able to do more and get the numbers in that, for instance, Germany has, while the UK can get only 5,500? The suspicion remains—I hope it will be quelled—that the smokescreen of security advice is just another UK effort to slow, to deter, to frustrate and to do everything possible to make sure that people do not attempt to come to the UK. The Minister has to convince us in his summing up that that is not the case and that the Government will be doing everything they can.

I know this is difficult for the Conservatives. I get it. I know what it is like for some Conservatives. I have been observing them for the past 20 years and I shadowed home affairs for five years. I know their profound ideological beliefs when it comes to issues around immigration and people coming to the UK. I acknowledge the fact that they are deeply conflicted just now. I almost feel sorry for them, because they are obviously seeing all the images that we are seeing and I believe that they really want to do something for the refugees they observe in such difficulty. They want to make sure they are doing everything possible, but that conflicts with their inherent obsession of seeing the UK’s doors remain all but closed. I know they want to offer refuge to people in crisis, but that is weighed down by practically everything that informs them about immigration, refugees and anybody seeking to come to our shores. For years, they have fomented a deep, deep antipathy to everything to do with immigration and entry to the UK. Wanting to do the right thing, they cannot help being pulled back and constrained by their very essence and political nature.

We can almost see that tension play out before our eyes in real time. There is the usual do-nothing, indifferent initial approach. Then there are inflammatory comments from the Minister about letting people pick fruit. That is the bad side, but then there is talk of 100,000 or 200,000 refugee places being available. Then there are another couple of weeks of the Government doing nothing, to see whether they have got away with it. Then there are U-turns and offers of accommodation schemes, but they are always counterbalanced by failing to meet Europe in offering visa-free access. It is a wee bit like watching the very point at which Dr Jekyll is fighting Mr Hyde for control of the body.

Part of me thinks that we should be grateful that the Government are even doing any schemes whatever, given their inherent disposition. Let us remember that this is a Government whose major political programme of the past few years has been delivering a Brexit that had immigration, taking control and stopping people coming to the UK as its cold, beating heart. This is a Government who designed the hostile environment with the most careful attention to detail—a Government who sent hate vans to the streets of London that showed handcuffs and told illegal immigrants:

“Go home or face arrest”.

Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe)

My hon. Friend is giving praise for the fact there has been movement. I am sure that all of us who have repeatedly been in this Chamber for statements and urgent questions to try to get movement and get people here feel the same, but the problem is that it has been so slow that my constituent who is trying to get her mother from Mariupol missed the window of opportunity to get her here. She has had no contact with her mother for almost a week. There will be people trapped in eastern Ukraine who have no chance of getting here because they did not set off, because they did not have somewhere to go. That slowness will have had a direct impact on people’s outcomes and on people who die in eastern Ukraine.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that case. We have heard all week about such cases, in which the inaction and initial slowness to respond have led to real and profound difficulties for our constituents. She is absolutely right to highlight that case.

Given their background, maybe it is too much to expect a Government who can dream up all the horrors from hate vans to hostile environments to be a friend to refugees all of a sudden. I know that they want to do the right thing, but everything they know—everything that informs the deep-seated ideology that runs through the whole party of government—is getting in the way.

It will be up to the British people to resolve the tension and the balance, and to fortify the Dr Jekyll part of the Government’s split personality. It is as if every time the Government reach for the apple of righteousness, they feel the creaking branch below, breaking their fall as they descend back into their pit of bedevilment around immigration. The people of these islands will have to keep the Government focused on doing the right thing and not let them give in to the temptations of their dark side.

Let me give the Minister an example of where he can start. The failure to get the Dnipro orphans out of Poland and home is now simply a disgrace, and it must be fixed right now. The orphans are still in Poland waiting for the UK to resolve its almost idiotic bureaucracy and get them to Scotland, where accommodation and support await them.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

I see the Minister getting to his feet. I hope he will tell me that it is now resolved and that they will be on that flight on Friday. He is smiling, so I am waiting in anticipation—I am actually quite excited. I am sure he is not going to let us down.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am grateful for the opportunity to intervene briefly from the Dispatch Box. We were approached earlier this week. For a child who is Ukrainian to be removed from Poland unaccompanied requires the consent of the Polish and Ukrainian authorities. That has not been given. However, we have indicated that if it were, we would facilitate their travel.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

I am happy to accept that challenge; I heard the Deputy Prime Minister raise it at Prime Minister’s questions, too. All the necessary safeguarding has been done and put in place.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

It has been done and put in place. Here is my challenge to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Kevin Foster: if everything comes through to him this afternoon—I believe it has already been sent—will he be satisfied? Will he allow those children to get on that plane to the accommodation waiting for them, the support in place, and those ready to look after them?

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

As I pointed out, these Ukrainian children are in Poland. For them to be moved unaccompanied requires the consent of the Ukrainian Government and the Polish authorities. If that is given, we would look to facilitate it; it has not.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

Right. We will make sure that, once again, the information is given to the Minister. I hear him say that there is going to be movement—

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

We will make sure that it is given. I think that the Minister is reasonably genuine about wanting to resolve it and get it fixed. Let us remember that these are children who have left without passports and have no information to support them. If that is what is required, that is what will be given, and we will make sure that they get on the plane.

I pay tribute to the Dnipro Kids appeal. A bunch of Hibs fans went to Dnipro 17 years ago for a UEFA cup tie against the team there—I cannot remember its name, but I am sure it has one of these fancy names like the Dynamos or whatever—and have kept the association and relationship for all that time. They have worked selflessly to make sure that orphans in Ukraine, even at times of peace, are looked after. Here they are, sitting in Poland, wanting to get these kids home. [Interruption.] I hear the Minister. Let us now work together, and we will get that fixed. A plane is going from Heathrow to Poland on Thursday with medical supplies, resources and facilities. That plane should be taking these children right back to Heathrow, where there is a train waiting for them to get to Scotland, where they will meet up with all their colleagues at the Hibernian football club on Easter Road and the children will be placed in accommodation across Scotland.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

I am sure that the Minister will tell me the same thing, but we are working together and we will ensure that we get the information through. I see him holding a letter; if he wants to intervene again, I give way.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will very briefly state that the letter from the Ukrainian ambassador to the UK Government makes it clear that no Ukrainian child can be placed in the care of foreigners without the consent of Ukraine. I am interested to hear the hon. Gentleman’s points, and I note the comments that were made in this House earlier, but the point is that the Ukrainian Government need to consent to their children—their citizens—being moved from Poland. That consent has not been given. This is not a Home Office issue.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

That consent will be communicated to the Minister.

I do not know why I have been blessed by this organisation within my constituencySteve Carr, who has organised Dnipro Kids, is a Perth resident—but my constituent Gavin Price, who just so happens to be the boss of Elgin City football club and who owns the Schiehallion hotel and the Fountain bar in Aberfeldy, has a database of 20 businesses in highland Perthshire that could offer sponsorship and places of employment to about 100 refugees. Some 40 homes in that wonderful part of Scotland, highland Perthshire—not a place high in density of population—are prepared to play their part and accommodate those refugees if they can be offered those positions and can get across to Scotland.

Gavin has applied to the usual schemes and has not heard a thing. I raised his case in the House two weeks ago and have not even been given the courtesy of a reply to tell me exactly what is going to happen. The initiative would not only find accommodation places for refugees, but help tourism businesses in a fragile rural area that can no longer get their staff because of Brexit—they just cannot get people to work in those places. They are finding employment opportunities for refugees, who could work under the scheme for three years. These are people that those businesses need and require, which would help them out during the crisis created thanks to this Government and their crazy Brexit policy. Maybe the resistance to the idea is something to do with that—I really hope not.

These are community organisations in constituencies getting together and solving a problem on behalf of this Government. They are not asking the Government to do any work or do anything in particular; all they are asking is that the Government say, “Yes, you can come in.” We understand that even the flights are going to be paid for, so that is not even an issue for the Government. Communities around the country are organising, like Gavin and others in Aberfeldy and highland Perthshire—please let them.

I want the Government to get over their Brexit demons—their anti-immigration, “stop people coming through” demons. I want them to do the right thing and match the efforts of our constituents. The parable of Jekyll and Hyde is that they were both finished off by not being able to keep their split personality in balance. It is up to the Government to get us back into balance and do the right thing by these refugees.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons)

We are not doing very well on the seven to eight minutes, so let us try a little bit harder—for around seven minutes. I call Huw Merriman.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee 2:19 pm, 16th March 2022

You say “seven minutes”, Madam Deputy Speaker. Pete Wishart has just spoken for 17 minutes. Members have talked of graciousness and reasonableness; perhaps they should also consider the time afforded to everyone else.

What is most important is that we provide a warm welcome, as a country that really wants to help and to stand up for refugees. Our country has a proud record in that regard. Here are two separate schemes that are uncapped, and will allow people to come here for three years and gain access to benefits, education, welfare support and training. This must surely be fair; given that there has been some criticism on the basis that we do not offer the same terms to other refugees, it cannot be that bad.

Let me say to all Members that they should not stand up and denigrate this system, trying to suggest that these desperate people are not welcome here, and then ask why so few are coming. If I were one of those people and had listened to the speech from the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire, I would not want to come here either. The simple fact is that we are a generous country, this is a scheme that will work, and we should be judged by our results.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee

The hon. Gentleman yells a number at me. Let me give some more numbers. Between 2015 and 2020, the UK resettled 24,700 refugees—and resettling refugees is what this is all about. The next best country in Europe was Sweden, which resettled 20,900. We should be judged on what we actually do rather than the rhetoric from others about what they think we will do, because it is markedly different.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee

I will not, because I am respectful to the Chair. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could learn from that.

What it is right for us to do is condemn the actions of President Putin, who has caused what will be the largest refugee crisis in Europe. We must do everything we can to ensure that he is brought down, so that those Ukrainians can go back to the country that they love, which is their own country.

Let me now, again in a spirit of positivity, hail and thank the Home Office officials who signed off a visa to allow a constituent of mine to bring her pregnant sister and her disabled mother to this country. I visited the pop-up casework centre in Parliament, which has done fantastic work, and I went through the whole case. The visas had indeed been processed. Those people are working really hard, but they cannot be expected to work better if they are constantly denigrated and knocked. That does their morale no good at all. Perhaps a thank you to them would not go amiss. It is possible to scrutinise policy without using insults.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee

I will not give way, for the reason that I have already mentioned. I want to stick to the time that you specified, Madam Deputy Speaker.

It is right that we scrutinise the programme, and I want to ask a few questions about how it will ultimately work. I firmly believe that the process must work for the numbers to be maximised—and we want to take as many people as we can.

First, I want to ask about the system of sponsorship. I note that we are focusing more on individuals than on organisations. Will there have to be an existing contact in the system, or will a contact made over the last week be sufficient to identify the necessary link? May I also ask about safeguarding? Who will check sponsor suitability? We must ensure that the homes are safe and welcoming, and also that they meet the accommodation needs of the people who are coming here. As we have heard, they will have great needs and there will be great challenges.

I agree with what was said by, I think, Dr Whitford. Surely it is better for a list to be made locally, because local authorities are better placed to do this, than for us to ask people to go into a system and be matched—an arrangement that strikes me as less structured and organised, and therefore perhaps less safe, than a localised system. I was somewhat surprised that individuals rather than organisations were to be first in this movement, but obviously I will be convinced if a better reason for that can be given.

What will be the role of local authorities in assessing the suitability of sponsors? When will they receive guidance about that role? Will they be fully funded? The allocation of £10,500 per person sounds generous, but we could be talking about three years of people in great need—great “wraparound” need—and local authorities will be expected to fund that. I know that education will be an addition, but I fear that if local authorities are not fully funded, they will face challenges that will have an impact on local community support.

Finally, may I ask when the Ukrainian refugees will be allowed to arrive? That is relevant to my previous point, because if local authorities are not ready because they do not have the guidance, there may well be a delay in the arrival of the refugees, which of course we do not want.

I have made those points in six minutes, Madam Deputy Speaker. I think it important that we scrutinise the policy, and I hope I have done so with some of my questions about how it will work in practice. But in this context, rhetoric is important. We must ensure that we make this work, and show that we support it and are positive about it, because that will give confidence to all the desperate people whom we want to come over here in large numbers so we can help them. I fear that if we send the wrong message from this place they will not come, and that would be a disaster.

Ukrainian refugees are welcome in Bexhill and Battle. We will do everything we can to host them, to support them, to make them feel that this is their home, and to show them the solidarity and love that they need and deserve.

Photo of Marion Fellows Marion Fellows SNP Whip, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Disabilities) 2:26 pm, 16th March 2022

I truly wish that it were a pleasure to follow Huw Merriman. May I ask him to look at Hansard? I have already congratulated the staff in the Home Office hub, and in fact I took them on a tour last night because I thought they needed a break.

I think we all stand with Ukraine, and the one thing that we all want is for more Ukrainian people who are fleeing from the terrible atrocities and war in their country to be able to come here. The Home Office system is designed to keep people out; it cannot suddenly swing round and let lots of people in. It could if it chose to waive visas, but I do not think that that is going to happen.

I am sure that the Immigration Minister will welcome yet another update from me on the case that we have been working on together. My constituent is still in Warsaw, waiting for his visa to be printed and waiting to be told to go and collect it. His sister-in-law has now arrived there from Lviv. Because she applied later than him—he began his application on 12 February—he thinks that she will probably arrive here before him; or rather not before him, because he is a UK national, but before his wife and her daughters.

I am now going to speak for a few moments in my capacity as the Westminster Scottish National party spokesperson on disabilities. I have written to the Foreign Secretary asking for her help. The European Disability Forum has estimated that 2.7 million disabled people currently live in Ukraine, and they are disproportionately impacted by war and emergencies. They find it hard to gain access to medication, accessible transport and infrastructure, care, equipment and mobility aids, which creates barriers for them.

The regional governor in Kyiv, Oleksiy Kuleba, has raised concerns about the evacuation of people from hospitals, particularly those who have additional needs or require essential access to medication. I know that the admission of children with cancer to this country has been expedited, but there are many more folk who need help. As I have said before, in Westminster Hall, it is vital for the UK to take cognisance of article 11 of the United Nations convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. Mr Bone talked about aid for foreign countries; we need to target aid more specifically at those with disabilities, and I hope that the Minister will say something about that today.

More generally, the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales wrote a joint letter to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to agree that their countries will take part in the UK-wide scheme and to ask that folk be moved further and faster. They want to be super-sponsors, but I do not believe they have yet had an answer to their letter. I urge Ministers to provide a response.

I am conscious of time, so I will not speak for too much longer. The Refugee Council has said that the UK is not as welcoming to Ukrainian refugees as the EU countries are—the UK has to waive the visa requirement. The British Red Cross agrees that the quickest way of fixing the problems in the system would be to remove the requirement for a visa, which has been done elsewhere. According to the Disasters Emergency Committee, the most recent arrivals to countries surrounding Ukraine have few family ties, have nowhere to go and are deeply traumatised.

The number of lone children crossing the border is rising. I do not think anyone in this House disagrees with the need to safeguard children but, as a simple woman from Wishaw, I would say the best way to safeguard children is to get them here, and to get them here as quickly as possible.

I know that the Scottish Minister with responsibility for refugees, Neil Gray MSP, has been talking to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Kevin Foster. The people who stayed in Ukraine, in the hope of remaining in their own area, are now left with no alternative but to flee with very little.

I spoke at length in Westminster Hall about the bureaucracy and difficulty of applying for a visa. How can anyone fleeing for their life be expected to apply online for entry into the UK? I strongly appeal to both Ministers to get something done that actually improves the UK’s figures. The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle said that Sweden has taken fewer folk than the UK, but Sweden is a country of 10 million people and, at the last count, the UK has more than 60 million people. [Interruption.] I am sorry if I have that wrong, but I will not get into a battle on this. I am just asking the Ministers, please review your systems. I know Home Office staff are working hard, and I appreciate how hard they are working, but they are working against a system that is designed to keep people out. Do something about that. Waiving visas is easiest, so think about it.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons)

Order. I know the hon. Lady did not mean to address the Ministers directly, so we will just pretend that she did it correctly.

An unusual thing has happened: two Members who had indicated that they wanted to speak are not here and are not going to speak. We can therefore go back to around eight to nine minutes. I am sorry to the hon. Lady and Huw Merriman, both of whom were very brief, but such brevity is now not absolutely required.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs) 2:33 pm, 16th March 2022

It is tempting to construct my whole speech around correcting inaccuracies in the speech of Huw Merriman but, because I do not have the time, I will not do so. My hon. Friend Anne McLaughlin will put him right on the per capita, or per head, share of refugees taken by countries across Europe. Per capita is what matters.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman has had his turn. Looking at the per capita share across Europe, the United Kingdom falls in the middle of the table rather than at the top, as he would like to suggest.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The record will be checked, but I related the figures on resettled refugees and listed the numbers. It is on BBC Reality Check, and nothing is incorrect. If there is, BBC Reality Check is incorrect.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons)

There is clearly a disagreement here, which is why we are having a debate. Debates are about disagreement. This has been a polite debate so far, so let us keep it that way.

This is obviously not a point of order for the Chair, but the hon. Gentleman has put his point of view on the record. The hon. and learned Lady has done so, too, and I have a feeling she will do so again. If there is a disagreement, I hope she might take an intervention because it is not a matter for the Chair.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs)

If the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle had taken interventions during his speech, we could have clarified it then. The key words are “per capita,” which mean “per head.” As I said, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East will set out those figures in her speech.

The single biggest thing the UK Government could do to ensure the efficient evacuation and resettlement of Ukrainian refugees would be to permit visa-free access to the United Kingdom, in the same way that our near neighbours such as Ireland and, indeed, all the member states of the European Union are doing. It seems to me that there are two reasons for the refusal to do this, and neither is tenable. The first is alleged concerns about security, and the second is dogma, by which I mean this Government are thrawnly clinging to their anti-refugee and anti-asylum seeker policies despite all the evidence that they are untenable because of the new order in Europe ushered in by Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

We debated these matters in Westminster Hall on Monday afternoon, and I put it to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Kevin Foster, that the Government’s security concerns are unfounded according to such a distinguished expert as Lord Peter Ricketts. Sadly, the Minister failed to address my point and instead resorted to a cheap and unfounded attack on the record of City of Edinburgh Council, and indeed my constituents, in rehousing people fleeing other war zones, particularly Syria and Afghanistan.

Fortunately, today’s debate will give the Minister the opportunity to set the record straight and, if he is able, to explain why his Government are pleading security risks against free access, despite expert evidence that such risks as might exist are small and can be managed safely without visas.

I pray in aid Lord Peter Ricketts, who is of course a former National Security Adviser. He spoke about these matters in the other place last week, and he was interviewed by Mark D’Arcy for “Today in Parliament.” He said:

“Security is always a matter of risk management—there is never zero risk.”

However, as these refugees are mainly women and children, they do not, in his opinion, pose a security risk. The UK Government therefore should not require visas, and they should do the security checks once the women and children are here. We have heard other speakers, and particularly my hon. Friend Stuart C. McDonald, explain how that could be done.

Lord Peter Ricketts thinks we can do it, the European Union can do it and Ireland can do it, why cannot the United Kingdom? The Minister did not answer that question in Westminster Hall on Monday. He tried to deflect attention from his failure to answer that crucial question by attacking the record of local authorities in Scotland, including City of Edinburgh Council, which covers my constituency of Edinburgh South West. As so often with him, his attacks were unfounded in fact.

Let me take this opportunity to put the Minister right. The people of Scotland and our capital city of Edinburgh stand ready to welcome refugees from Ukraine, as we have always done. We have already heard about the generous offer from the Scottish Government. Since 2015, City of Edinburgh Council has resettled 585 Syrian refugees, the majority by the council but two households by Refugee Sponsorship Edinburgh, including a number of my constituents with whom I worked to get that sponsorship scheme off the ground. Those refugees have been supported by local partners such as the Welcoming Association in my constituency.

Since the fiasco of the UK’s withdrawal from Afghanistan last August, City of Edinburgh Council has accepted more than 200 Afghan refugees. City of Edinburgh Council has produced a plan to increase the number of refugees it takes each year. In fact, looking again at per capita, which means per head—

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs)

Not at this moment.

On the resettlement of refugees, Scotland has taken more per head of population for 14 of the last 16 quarters since 2017. On average, Scotland has taken 5.4% above its population share, which is more than Wales and Northern Ireland have. Meanwhile, England has taken 12.8% below its population share, for which the Home Office has full responsibility. On section 95 asylum support, we know that Glasgow City Council has located in Scotland a percentage higher than Scotland’s per population share and higher than that of any council in the UK. As the Minister was reminded in Monday’s debate, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has said that it would be willing to take more asylum seekers if the British Government give it the support it needs to do so. Rather than trying to score petty and ill-informed points against the people of Edinburgh, my constituents, their council and the people of Scotland, the Minister should be getting the Home Secretary to ensure that asylum support is properly funded.

We could do with a little more humility from the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Torbay after his Twitter gaff on fruit picking, but unfortunately his attitude continues to exemplify a callous and hubristic approach in his Department. Just yesterday, in The Times, the chief executive of the Red Cross argued that the Government must make the

Nationality and Borders Bill more humane”

They could do that when it comes back to this House next week; they would have a chance to change course. The other place has removed some of the most egregious parts of the Bill, including the criminalisation of asylum seekers and plans for offshore processing. The Lords have also lifted the ban on asylum seekers working, which is a huge victory for campaigners from the Scottish charity the Maryhill Integration Network, which my colleagues and I have been proud to support. At the very least, the Government should preserve those changes to the Bill when it comes back to the House on Tuesday, because it would surely be horrifying if, in the midst of the current crisis, this House was to pass legislation that would criminalise Ukrainians who arrive at our borders seeking asylum outside the limited schemes announced so far. Let us hear from the Minister that there will be a change of tack on that Bill. Let us hear from him why Lord Peter Ricketts, the former national security adviser, is wrong about security and why the British Government, alone of our neighbours in Europe, cannot manage security without visas. Let us also hear a fact-based acknowledgement of the contribution made by my constituents, the City of Edinburgh Council, local authorities in Scotland and the Scottish Government to welcoming refugees, which, as I have explained, based on the data, is the most generous in the UK.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Attorney General) 2:42 pm, 16th March 2022

It was interesting to hear Huw Merriman talking about a warm welcome. Of course, a warm welcome entails more than just our mouthing the words; by its very nature, it needs actions, in relation to shelter and safety, in order for people to feel welcomed. Plaid Cymru has long called for a compassionate and generous response to everyone—every human being fleeing persecution and wars. We firmly reject the notion that our support is given only to a certain few. Believing in our common humanity, we believe that everybody deserves shelter, safety and the opportunity for a flourishing life.

The public outpouring of support for the Homes for Ukraine schemes is unprecedented, yet it is also frustrating to see that the support offered so far for refugees from Ukraine falls short of that ambition. As many have said thoroughly, this is especially pronounced when we make the comparison with how other countries have responded. I do not want to go into all the detail, and many other countries have been listed already, but I just wish to refer to Ireland. That nation has a population of 5 million. Obviously, it is a country that we in Wales compare ourselves with; its capital city is my nearest one. Crucially, it is a sea-girt nation in almost every respect. How many people are received is not a matter of geography—Ireland, with its population of 5 million, has received more than 6,600 refugees—but a matter of attitude. It is unfortunate to see attitude at work here. None the less, I welcome the fact that the Government are now listening and finally providing some pathways for refugees from Ukraine to enter the UK.

Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Trade)

The right hon. Lady has made an important point about the action that has been taken by Ireland, which has not only taken the numbers it has with the population it has—the UK Government should reflect on that—but supplied every one of those Ukrainian refugees with a personal identification number to access services. That means that when they land in Ireland, they have support. People are fleeing their houses, and they have left their possessions and sometimes they have left their loved ones behind. They are tired and hungry, and they need support. What a difference in attitude we see here; what a missed opportunity for a Government who want to portray themselves as a world power to gain soft power, as Ireland has done. Is this not a lesson for this Government? Should they not look at what is happening elsewhere and institute some of that compassion themselves?

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Attorney General)

I agree entirely on that. In the spirit of wishing to see this work and to support our constituents in their heartfelt desire to help people, primarily those fleeing Ukraine, I say that we need the detail. Our local authorities are crying out for the detail. It is the detail and the actions that we need to see. We compare ourselves with Ireland, and we would like to see this Government follow suit. It is approaching a month since the invasion of Ukraine—it did not happen last week—and we have been asking for this over and over again.

Wales has shown in the recent past that we can offer a welcome embrace to refugees, as was the case with families fleeing Afghanistan. I wish to highlight a particular example, that of Urdd Gobaith Cymru, which is Wales’s largest youth organisation. It provided sanctuary and support for more than 100 Afghan refugees—I believe the exact figure was 103—throughout their first five months in Cardiff. That welcome included an offer of food and bridging accommodation; access to social spaces; a schedule of daily sports and activities; a programme of varied workshops; careers advice; nursery recreational sessions; and visits to national sporting events. This is recognised as being a leading example of how to help refugees integrate into Welsh communities and one of the best practices of resettlement in the UK. It was possible only with the full engagement of councils, the Welsh Government, the Urdd and other charities. In a response to a question from my friend Delyth Jewell, Aelod Senedd, yesterday, the First Minister Mark Drakeford confirmed that the Welsh Government will be considering a similar scheme for Ukrainian refugees. It is vital that the UK Government recognise the lessons of that success for refugees from Ukraine.

Plaid Cymru councils also have a particularly good track record on resettlement, including of families from Syria and from Afghanistan. Plaid Cymru-led local authorities in general have an above average resettlement rate compared to that for the UK as a whole, with Ceredigion having the highest resettlement rate in Wales, at 10 people per 10,000 of population, and Carmarthenshire having resettled the highest number of people in Wales, at 172. That is exceptional, especially given the rural nature of those local authorities.

How are we looking for Ukrainian national support networks to operate beyond the south-east and beyond London? If we are resettling people throughout the UK, it is essential that they have that national support and that it is extended beyond the south-east.

Plaid Cymru councils will, of course, play their part in the new sponsorship pathway. My council, Cyngor Gwynedd, wrote to the Prime Minister yesterday to express its willingness and that of the people in Gwynedd to provide sanctuary for refugees as soon as possible and urged for the sponsorship pathway to replicate the arrangements that exist in Ireland. As we have heard, refugees in Ireland are welcomed on arrival to comfortable processing centres where they have access to basic essentials and children have access to a safe play area.

I seek a further response about something I mentioned in an earlier question, which is onward travel. Will people be able to afford to get to where they need to get to? We have a number of suitable places in Wales to act as welcome centres, including the Urdd sites, community centres, church and chapel properties, and university and college accommodation. Those sites would ensure that people are given an opportunity to rest and to be paired with appropriate support, and to ensure they are not left isolated once arriving in Wales. Do the UK Government intend to work with us in Wales to implement that approach? We were talking earlier about the super-sponsor scheme in Scotland, and I would really like to hear from the Government and the Minister how they can work to make sure that this operates effectively. In this case, what extra resources are going to be made available not just for local authorities—we know about the £10,500—but for non-governmental organisations and charities, and for the super-sponsorship scheme? What actual money will be available to make this as effective as possible?

Sadly, the sponsorship scheme leaves a list of unanswered questions. My own council, Gwynedd, asked me to ask when it will have a regional contact from the Home Office, as it previously had under the Afghan and Syria schemes. It needs that to be able to move ahead. What role will it have? What will be the funding and safeguarding arrangements? How will the scheme work with housing, welfare and other support services?

Despite these many gaps, very many people in Wales have already registered for the sponsorship scheme because they want to help; it has touched their hearts. While it is fantastic to see such public good will and generosity of spirit, we cannot ignore the fact that visa sponsorship will inevitably lock out the most vulnerable refugees who fall through the cracks. To ensure that we are helping as many people as possible, we should be cutting the bureaucracy and delay by waiving visa requirements, as EU countries did weeks ago. If the UK Government still insist on maintaining visa restrictions, then they should at least allow Wales to be given super-sponsor status so that we will be able to take in large numbers directly and manage them ourselves. Again, I ask for an update on how this will operate. In general, the delayed and inconsistent UK response to Ukrainian refugees is not in keeping with Wales’s stated ambition to be a nation of sanctuary.

With the number of displaced people set to increase due to climate change, we need a modern, compassionate system that is fit for purpose not just for this present awful emergency but for the future. The creation of bespoke schemes is the wrong approach, as it creates arbitrary distinctions between those people who are deserving of our help and those people who are, in effect, undeserving of it. That is exactly why we have the refugee convention, which does away with such distinctions. This Government are hellbent on ripping up that convention through the Nationality and Borders Bill, which the UN has described as not respecting obligations under international human rights and refugee law. The convention acknowledges the reality that people who have fled dangerous situations cannot be expected to wait for help. We must reimagine our whole approach, create a new, compassionate refugee and asylum system, and support all those who need our help—people from Ukraine and from the rest of the world, be that Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, or wherever they may be in future.

Photo of Richard Thomson Richard Thomson Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Financial Secretary), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland) 2:52 pm, 16th March 2022

Allow me, at the outset of my remarks, to salute the courage of the people of Ukraine, who are being brutalised by a kleptocratic murderer who seeks to deny them the rights that all free people wish for—the rights simply to be able to live in peace with their neighbours in prosperity and to be able to choose the manner in which they are governed and who they are governed by. We should be clear that the only person responsible for the situation that we are discussing right now—the only person responsible for the tide of humanity and misery that we are seeing exit Ukraine—is Vladimir Putin himself.

But while we are not responsible, that does not mean that we are without responsibilities. I commend the UK Government for the military aid and the long-term approach taken to military training. We are seeing the effectiveness of that in defending the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. I commend the humanitarian response that there has been from all quarters. A small example from my own constituency is the work of Mark Allan, a part-time firefighter who, together with the Scottish Emergency Rescue Association, has been working with my constituency office to get the necessary paperwork from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency in order to be able to take fire engines to Ukraine to assist with the humanitarian effort.

What concerns me is what we are doing, or more often not doing, with regard to sanctuary. The Home Office is clearly a Department that, for some time, has not had its troubles to seek, whether in terms of its organisational capacity, its institutional culture or aspects of its political leadership. I do not say that to be critical of the thousands of dedicated people within that organisation who are working night and day to achieve the best outcomes that they possibly can in the most unprecedented and distressing of circumstances, but equally that should not hinder us from saying that more needs to be done when that is true, because let us be quite clear about this: we are seeing the biggest enforced mass movement of people, unparalleled in scale, since world war two.

I have been working, as I am sure we all have, with constituents who have their own stories to tell—who are either fleeing with family members who are Ukrainian nationals or trying to bring over a sister, a brother, a cousin or somebody else who is dear and special to them. The thread that runs through this is that they have all reported the same traumatic story not just of conflict, death and injury, but of the obstacles and time delays of the visa application system that they have encountered. While I welcome the changes and flexibilities that came into place yesterday that allow Ukrainian nationals to do their biometrics in the UK, that has not changed the essential nature of the unnecessary suffering for many refugees trying to flee the most desperate and dangerous of circumstances to seek safety in the UK.

To give an example, one of my constituents, whose case became known in the press, is Kenneth Stewart, who tried to leave with his family before the attacks from the Russian state began, when the advice from the UK Government was to leave on commercial flights, but was unable to leave with his wife, who is a Ukrainian national. They have two young children, the youngest of whom was born only two weeks previously. They fled initially to Poland to seek sanctuary there, and arrived in the UK only last week, as soon as they were permitted to enter as a family. Along the way, quite apart from the dangers that they encountered as the attacks were under way, they had to wait in a 40-hour queue at the Polish border in sub-zero temperatures—and this, remember, with a two-week child in the back. That is absolutely unimaginable for all of us. While I am glad that they are here and they are safe, and that their circumstances are moving on, we should understand that we are still potentially placing many others in similar situations as they seek to come to safety.

Another constituent, Lyudmyla Wilson, has faced numerous obstacles in trying to bring her daughter and grandchildren safely through the visa process. She has had difficulty accessing information through the helplines, and that has only added to the anxiety and fears for her daughter’s and grandchildren’s safety. She was advised to wait for the results of her biometrics, which she did on Saturday. My office is still following up on that, but unfortunately, as far as I am aware, in the time since I took to my feet, she is still waiting for a decision that we are told is in progress. I could go on.

Last week, in response to my right hon. Friend Ian Blackford, the Prime Minister boasted:

“We have done more to resettle vulnerable people than any other European country since 2015.”—[Official Report, 9 March 2022; Vol. 710, c. 318.]

Let us examine and unpack that claim a little bit. In the past two weeks, some 2.8 million Ukrainian refugees have already fled the horrors of war, and, as we have heard, that number is rising rapidly. Of the upwards of 260,000 who have made their way to countries that do not directly border Ukraine, only a fraction have so far been able to come to the UK. While the UK has issued about 4,000 family visas, many thousands more are currently stuck in the application process, and many, many thousands beyond that, I am certain, have not even entered the process yet.

I am sorry to say that the contrast at this point, whatever the good intentions, could not be clearer. Across Europe, our neighbours are stepping up to meet this challenge, waiving bureaucratic requirements and placing refuge and sanctuary first with bureaucracy coming second, where it ought to be. EU guidelines approved on 3 March on the temporary protection directive demonstrate how a high level of security and assurance can be maintained while removing the bureaucratic barriers for those in need. The directive offers temporary protection in the EU, giving individuals fleeing war residence permits and access to education and the labour market. In the midst of a conflict, it is neither reasonable nor morally acceptable to expect individuals to have to overcome those hurdles. We can bring them to safety now at no detriment to our own safety while allowing them then to complete the processes that we would wish them to.

It is not just the SNP that is saying this. The Refugee Council has said the UK has not been as welcoming for Ukrainian refugees as our EU counterparts, saying that the response to date “falls short” and

“will inevitably be restricted to those who are known to people in the UK”.

The British Red Cross, which I would hope we could take as an unimpeachable authority on this, has said that the quickest way of fixing problems in the system would be to remove the requirements for a visa, as has been done in other countries.

I firmly believe that the UK Government must go further and faster to help refugees by supporting the Scottish and Welsh Government super sponsors bid.

In a joint letter from the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales to the UK Minister for Housing, they have agreed to take part in the UK-wide scheme, which is absolutely right, but they call for the scheme to go further and faster with less bureaucracy, and propose becoming super sponsors to speed up the process. The newly appointed Scottish refugee Minister, Neil Gray, who is well known to this House from the time that he served as the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts, has said:

“By acting as ‘super sponsor’ rather than waiting for the UK government’s matching process, we can provide safety and sanctuary to people immediately and welcome significant numbers of refugees from Ukraine to Scotland”,

including by providing support mechanisms for refugees such as temporary accommodation and wraparound support while longer-term arrangements are put in place.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I am acutely aware of your strictures on time, so I will draw my remarks to a close by saying that I am sure that people across these islands are ready to open their doors and their hearts to these refugees, and it is time to waive visa requirements and put people, rather than processes, first.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control) 3:00 pm, 16th March 2022

I want to acknowledge two things at the outset. First, the UK is not doing nothing and what the UK has done so far will have made a massive difference for some to whom we have given protection. Some may end up as MPs in this place one day, talking about how they came to the UK as refugees in 2022. There is no doubt that we will have saved and shaped lives, and have enabled some simply to have a life. This Government are not doing nothing and it would be wrong to claim otherwise, which is why nobody has claimed that today.

I also want to acknowledge that none of this is the fault of anyone other than Vladimir Putin and his regime, as my hon. Friend Richard Thomson said. It is not the fault of a European Government, of the people of these islands or of the Russian people, and it certainly is not the fault of the Ukrainian people, but our lack of culpability is irrelevant to our duty, both legal and moral.

As an immigration spokesperson and someone who has a very significant immigration case load in my constituency, and as someone who sat on the Nationality and Borders Bill Committee, scrutinising every line along with my hon. Friend Stuart C. McDonald, I am always concerned when this UK Tory Government is required to fulfil that legal and moral duty, because I do not think they think there is a legal duty, and judging by the way they continually invite pats on the head and talk of how generous they are, I do not think they believe they have a moral duty either. They would not bring forward a Bill such as the Nationality and Borders Bill—which, ironically, returns from the Lords next week—if they had any desire, or believed they had any duty, to protect people fleeing war, violence and terror. The Nationality and Borders Bill, widely known as the anti-refugee Bill, is clearly trying to send a signal that benevolent Britain is no more: “Do not come here, because you will not be welcome.”

As I said, the Government are not doing nothing to help Ukrainian refugees, but they must understand that our duty, not just as Opposition MPs but as Members of this Parliament, of whatever party, is to speak up when we think the Government have got it wrong and to say where we believe the Government need to go on this issue. Otherwise we might as well just go home, take the salary and do nothing for it. I will list some of my concerns, many of which have been raised by colleagues but which I want to reinforce.

The response to refugees has been chaotic. I do not believe the Government have got it right yet, but they have had to be dragged, kicking and screaming even to get to the stage they have currently reached. Those of us who regularly have contact with the Home Office know that its modus operandi is to change the rules regularly and blindside people. Immigration lawyers can hardly keep up, MPs and caseworkers cannot keep up, refugees cannot keep up; that is the Home Office MO, and it is deliberate. It is adopted to deny people their rights, and the chaotic way in which the current situation was handled is that MO in microcosm. Anybody would think the Home Office did not want people to come here! From 24 February to 14 March it updated the guidance 11 separate times.

I want to say something about the children we were talking about earlier, and which my right hon. Friend Ian Blackford raised in Prime Minister’s questions, and the chaotic way in which that has been dealt with. We are failing in our duty to those children, and—[Interruption.] If the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Tom Pursglove will let me finish, I want to say this. His colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Kevin Foster, who is no longer in his place, said that the Ukrainian Government have to give permission. That is right—we agree with that—and there is a Ukrainian Government Minister at the child processing centre right now who can give permission, yet the Westminster leader of the SNP must arrange it, because somehow it is not the Home Office Ministers’ job. Well, it is their job. [Interruption.] The Minister is shaking his head; so surely after this debate he will get that sorted so that those children will be brought to safety.

That aside, progress is being made, but why does it have to be so chaotic? Why do we have to make it so hard for people, and why are we still not offering anything comparable to what EU countries are offering? I know the Government do not like it when we compare what is happening here with EU countries, but we are not doing that because they are European; we are doing it because they have comparable economies and population size and we do not compare favourably, no matter what others think. I will come on to that shortly.

Nevertheless, we are slowly getting there, and one method is the Homes for Ukraine scheme. That cannot replace our legal duty, but I am delighted that so many people—120,000—have registered so far, opening their hearts and their homes to others. However, safeguarding remains a concern, and I know that it is a shared concern. Most of those using that scheme will be traumatised women and children and those men who are too vulnerable to be able to stay and fight, and we must ensure that they have the knowledge and means to reach out if it goes wrong; we must ensure they have the confidence to tell somebody if the placement is not working. They need to know who they can go to, and they also need to know they can approach them for any reason. They might just not feel comfortable, for instance. Perhaps a woman on her own with children is staying with a male who makes them feel a little uncomfortable and they might not be able to put their finger on why—perhaps it is just an inability to communicate with their hosts. I am sure most of those offering to share their homes do so from a place of compassion and would agree that we need to be careful in our vetting and follow-on, so that we do not end up inadvertently helping to traffic people into the sex trade who are then terrorised by their captors into not reporting it. That is what often happens now, and we must be very clear that they will be protected if they report such things. I know the Government have said that they will take that on board.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

The hon. Lady is making a crucial point about the way traffickers will bring people into this country, but they also coach people in this country, and they will threaten people so they do not report that. That is why vetting, checking and wraparound support from local councils is so important. The hon. Lady has touched on an extremely important point that we all must be aware of.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

The hon. Gentleman has done so much in this respect for victims of trafficking.

I want to repeat that Positive Action in Housing based in Glasgow has a rooms-for-refugees scheme; it is not a paid scheme, but none the less over 20 years there have been 4,000 successful placements. It has great experience in this field and the Government could usefully speak to it and other organisations about their experiences.

I raised the issue of visas and asked a number of pertinent questions on Monday, but the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Torbay chose to ignore them, so I tried to intervene, and he refused to engage at all. He continued with the pretence that what we on the Opposition Benches, and many on the Government Benches, are asking for is unusual. Yet thousands of people enter the UK every day without visas: anyone from Australia can come here without a visa; anyone from Mexico can come without a visa; and anyone from Costa Rica can come without a visa. Thousands every week, too, from Canada, from Japan, from Namibia, from South Korea, and from the US, arrive here without a visa.

The Government say that to allow Ukrainians to do so in their moment of need would somehow pose a threat to our safety. As if having a visa is in itself a safeguard: as my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East mentioned, the two Russian military intelligence officers who entered the UK and made their way to Salisbury to carry out a revenge attack on a former MI6 spy, which resulted in the death of local woman Dawn Sturgess, applied for and got their visas before they arrived. A visa is no safeguard.

In Monday’s debate, my hon. and learned Friend Joanna Cherry raised the fact, as she has again today, that Lord Ricketts, who I am willing to bet has much more experience than any of us in this House—

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

The Minister does not know what I am going to say—he should wait till I say it. Lord Ricketts has said he is not concerned that we are going to bring in security threats. On Monday, my hon. and learned Friend asked questions and I repeated her question. She tried to intervene when the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Torbay was speaking, but he refused to give way. I tried to intervene. If the Minister present can tell us why Lord Ricketts is wrong, why all the people who come from the aforementioned countries can come here without a visa and pose no threat, and why Ukrainians are so much more of a danger to us, I will perhaps reach a conclusion different from the one I have reached today.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I think the hon. Lady will recognise the unique threat that the Russian state presents. We are currently seeing terrible atrocities in Ukraine, which shows the Russian state’s barbarity and the lengths to which it is willing to go. The hon. Lady has cited various comparisons; what does she make of the counter-argument that we are taking a stance similar to that of the United States and Canada—another Five Eyes country—which take a view akin to ours?

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

We are far more comparable to European countries, and particularly to Ireland. I ask the question that I asked earlier: is the Minister saying that all the European countries, including Ireland, are simply not cognisant of any security threat, or that they do not care and are putting their people in danger? I do not think they are; I think they know what they are doing. Many of the things that the Government said in this place they could not do they have subsequently done, through some of the 11 changes to the guidance that I mentioned. For example, the Government could not allow family members who did not fit the narrow criteria, but now they can. I do not want to be in a situation, in six, four or two weeks’ time, in which we say, “Okay, we’ll waive the need for a visa.” The Government could do that now. Just do it: put Ukraine on the list of countries whose people do not require a visa to come here—a list much lengthier than the one I read out—as other European countries have done, and people will get here. Let me tell Members what will happen. Those who are fighting—

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

No. I am not giving way to somebody who has not even been interested enough to sit through the debate—as long as the hon. Gentleman is somebody who was not interested enough. [Interruption.] Yes, he is. I thought I had better check.

Let us think how much more the minds of those brave Ukrainian men and women who are currently fighting for their lives and their country will be put at rest, so that they can focus on saving Ukraine, if we make it easier for their family members to come here and live in peace.

The Government love to talk about how generous, marvellous and munificent they are, but their claims just do not stack up. At Prime Minister’s questions, the Deputy Prime Minister referred to this “big-hearted” Government. They really do need to be patted on the back, don’t they? It is about the rights of refugees and our moral duty. We have heard the comparisons for the numbers of Ukrainian refugees we are taking in and also that it is not a competition. We have been slow on the uptake and our numbers are low. As others have mentioned, the Prime Minister said at last week’s Prime Minister’s questions that the UK had

“done more to resettle vulnerable people than any other European country since 2015.”—[Official Report, 9 March 2022; Vol. 710, c. 318.]

That is not true.

Let us look at the numbers per head of population, because that is the only way to make a fair comparison. For every 100,000 people, Sweden takes in 1,619; Germany takes in 1,274; Austria takes in 1,134; and Switzerland takes in 955. For every 100,000 people, we take in 121. That makes the UK 17th—sometimes 18th—in the rankings in Europe. But no European country can top the list, because in terms of displaced people globally, more than 80% of the world’s refugees are in developing countries, which are the countries with the least money. The Government really do need to stop saying things that can be proven not to be the case.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

Do you know what? I think I won’t—I’ll just carry on. [Laughter.] Thanks for that.

I want to come to my final concern. Having served on the Nationality and Borders Bill Committee, I am well aware of this Government’s attitude to refugees. I am well aware that, as I said, they are being dragged kicking and screaming. Look at the warm words we heard for the Afghans who were fleeing; eight months later, most of them are still in those hotel rooms. Let us imagine the Ukrainians who come now being stuck in hotel rooms. We may think, “Fine, we know it’s not going to happen, because they’ve said it’s not going to happen,” but why is it happening to the Afghans? What about the people who are hiding in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iran who we promised to help? There are 102 people in touch with my office and I have nothing to tell them. And what of all the other countries?

In the 1940s, my grandmother, Sadie Purdie, lived with my granda, Stuart, and, at the time, three children, in a flat in Greenock. They had one bedroom, one kitchen living room and one dovecot. There were five of them squeezed in, along with three pet rabbits. Her brother, his wife and their five children were sleeping in an unheated wartime Nissan hut, along with many other homeless families, and life was unbearable, so my granny insisted that they move in with her. So there were four adults, eight children and three rabbits in a two-room flat with a dovecot and an outside toilet. It is unimaginable, is it not? But do you know why she did that, Madam Deputy Speaker? It was because she needed to—because they needed her. The way she saw it, they could simply budge up. Why can we not do that? As we have heard, Wales and Scotland want to become super sponsors. Let us budge up and create room. We are a wealthy country and people need our help wherever they are coming from—and they need it soon, before something worse happens to them.

Let me finish by saying to the people who are opening their homes that it is wonderful that they are doing that but I want them to read up on the Nationality and Borders Bill. When they invite someone into their home, they will be emotionally invested in that person, whose trauma they will witness close-up. I want them to imagine that person, or someone just like them, arriving here after the Nationality and Borders Bill is enacted—if this Government get their way—and what being subjected to that law means. It means being offshored. It means being jailed. It means never being reunited with their husbands who are currently fighting for their country. I say to those people: rise up, protest and tell this Government, “Not in our name.”

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 3:17 pm, 16th March 2022

I fully appreciate the fact that we are in very dark times. War in Europe is something we should never have expected to see again. However, it is my natural disposition to accentuate the positive. I am naturally somebody who is going to say that I am proud of the things this great country has done and of the constituent contributions from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Let me start at the end, unusually. Anne McLaughlin said that the Government “are not doing nothing”. I think that is called damning with faint praise. Like it or not, SNP Members are part of the United Kingdom and this is a collective effort on our part. We have focused on refugees in this debate, but the United Kingdom has provided a total of £400 million in emergency aid for Ukraine so far. It is about not just what we are doing to help people to come to this country but helping people in the country they are in now.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I will give way in a few minutes. Just give me a chance to build up.

We have also supplied lethal weapons; Ukraine is at war. We are providing the weaponry that it needs to sustain its position. We have introduced financial sanctions to ensure that we are putting a squeeze on Russia, as it is important that there is a military and a financial aspect to this war. I am very proud that we have 1,000 troops on standby in neighbouring countries, helping those people who are fleeing.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

If the hon. Lady will bear with me, I need to courteously give way to my hon. Friend on the left.

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

I thank the Minister very much for giving way. May I add some other good news to his portfolio of good news? This country led the way yesterday in the Council of Europe unanimously to expel Russia, and it did so at the Committee of Ministers meeting this morning, and the Russian flag has now been pulled down.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

That is fantastic news. I particularly thank my hon. Friend for his contribution to that effort.

Madam Deputy Speaker, you normally have the peroration at the end of the speech, so I am sorry for starting with it, but this is the final point of my opening remarks. Tens of thousands of people have already signed up to our Homes for Ukraine scheme. I am delighted to say that 7,000 of them have come from Scotland—these are not official figures, but the ones that I managed to squeeze out of the Department earlier.

The hon. Member for Glasgow North East also said that the Government needed a pat on the head when they feel that they are being generous. This is not the generosity of the Government—this is not our money. This is the generosity of the British people. This is the generosity of Scottish households. Seven thousand of them have come forward to open up their homes, and we should welcome and embrace that idea.

The hon. Lady also said, as did several other Scottish contributors, that the Government needed to be dragged kicking and screaming to this, and that it is against our better judgment, which is kind of weird when we have introduced an uncapped scheme. We are not putting any limits on the number of people who are coming here despite what Members might think from what they have heard from the SNP Benches so far.

I will now get back to my actual speech. I start by saying a huge thank you to everyone who has gathered and contributed to the debate today. The contributions, which I will come on to, possibly in detail—time allowing—later, show the strength of feeling that exists in this House and the importance that we all place on getting this right and doing the right thing by Ukrainian refugees.

As we meet today, thousands of Ukrainians are at the border of their country, trying to escape the horrors of war. They are overwhelmingly women, children, and the elderly—mothers, daughters, wives, and grandmothers. They are people left with no choice but to leave the country that they love. They are exhausted, distraught and desperate. Some have queued in traffic jams for 20 miles—Richard Thomson referred to a case of someone who queued for 40 miles. Others have boarded trains that are packed to the rafters. Many have watched in horror as their homes and cities have been destroyed by Putin’s bloody invasion. This unprovoked invasion is bringing about a humanitarian crisis on a scale that we have not seen in Europe since the end of world war two, with the United Nations estimating that some 4 million people could end up fleeing their country.

Members across this House are determined that we, as a country, should open our arms to these people, and this determination has been on full display today. The scenes of devastation and human misery inflicted by President Putin’s barbarous assault on what he calls “Russia’s cousins” in Ukraine have unleashed a tidal wave of solidarity and generosity across the country. British people always step forward and step up in these moments, and since the first tanks rolled into Ukraine, they have come forward in droves with offers of help: community centres have been flooded with critical supplies; the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain has received millions in donations; and charities such as the Red Cross have been overwhelmed with people giving whatever they can. The outpouring of public support has been nothing short of remarkable.

While this Government, and this whole House, have risen to the occasion with our offer of support to Ukrainians fleeing war, our lethal aid and our stranglehold on economic sanctions on Russia have clearly shown that we will keep upping the ante to ensure that Putin fails. As Members have argued today, it has been abundantly clear in recent days that we can and must do more. It is exactly right, therefore, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities set out on Monday the new and uncapped sponsorship scheme, Homes for Ukraine. It is a scheme to allow Ukrainians with no family ties to the UK to be sponsored by individuals or organisations that can offer them a home. It is a scheme that draws not only on the exceptional good will and generosity of the British people, but one that gives them the opportunity to help make a difference.

As Members across the House have recognised today, the answer to that call has been truly emphatic. It sparked a Glastonbury-style rush to register to help, which did, temporarily, crash the website. Since Monday, more than 130,000 have stepped forward to offer an empty room or an empty home.

I appreciate that people are gathering for the statement, but I just want to briefly touch on the comments of some Members. My hon. Friends the Members for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) and for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) talked about support for local councils. Obviously we will provide £10,500 per person, plus additional funding for education. Clearly, there are roundtable discussions ongoing with local councils and local resilience forums to ensure that they are well prepared for the arrival of these people. They will be responsible for going out and checking that the accommodation is of an appropriate standard and helping with those vital safeguarding concerns.

Pete Wishart and Joanna Cherry would clearly like to see visas scrapped, but, in the meantime, they will be delighted to know that the Government have stepped up efforts to provide extra support to ensure that we can handle 13,000 appointments per week, which will dramatically surge the number of people that we are processing, as the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Tom Pursglove, mentioned.

Liz Saville Roberts asked us to work with the devolved Assemblies. Now, I mentioned the figure for Scotland, but I also understand that the number of applications from Wales for the Homes for Ukraine scheme is 9,000 so far, so we need to ensure that the system works and that those people can serve the purpose for which they have signed up. We will be working closely with charities to ensure that the support is provided right across the country.

Finally, one Member also raised concerns about those people who are coming with disabilities. As the disability champion for our Department, this is clearly something that I am particularly concerned about. We will work with local councils to ensure that the provision that is necessary—the support that needs to be provided for those people with disabilities—is available when they come to this country.

I wish to conclude, in this dark time, on a very optimistic note. At a time when the British public were needed to come forward and to open their hearts and their homes, they have done so emphatically—more than 130,000 homes have been offered so far. These are exciting times in terms of the contribution that we can make as a country to support the people of Ukraine at their time of greatest need. Slava Ukraini.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
once more condemns President Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and the war crimes being perpetrated by the Russian state there;
reiterates the House’s solidarity with Ukrainians in their resistance to Russia’s invasion of their sovereign state;
recognises that Europe is now seeing the largest movement of refugees since the second world war, for whom the UK shares responsibility;
warmly welcomes the significant and widespread offers of support for those fleeing the invasion from people and organisations across the UK;
supports expansion of the family visa scheme and Homes for Ukraine scheme;
and calls on the Government to go further and faster in its response, including waiving requirements for Ukrainians to apply for visas in advance of their arrival in the UK so as to facilitate speedy access to international protection here, working with international partners to ensure vulnerable people can be resettled here and providing full and sustained funding and safeguarding to support people to rebuild their lives.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. This will take one minute and 30 seconds. It is important that the public realise that sometimes, when the House is not packed, it is not because it is not interested in what is happening. Today, there are Ukrainian MPs in the Palace, and hundreds of MPs have gone to see them. The last debate was very important and well attended, and those speaking in it made their constructive points in a very sensible way. We should, though, make the public aware that there were other things going on in the House at the same time.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons)

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I am happy to give him a direct answer. First, I agree with him entirely. It was noted earlier this afternoon that although we were having an extremely important and topical debate about Ukrainian refugees, the Benches were sparsely occupied. It is important to note—the hon. Gentleman put this very well—that in another room at that very moment, there were four Ukrainian Members of Parliament, who are most welcome here. Many colleagues, rather than being in the Chamber, had gone to that meeting, which I gather was extremely fruitful.

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Labour, Walsall South

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker