The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Monday 14 March.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a Statement on our Government’s response to help those fleeing the conflict in Ukraine.
This Government and this House—indeed, everyone in the UK—continue to be in awe of the bravery of the people of Ukraine. They are victims of savage, indiscriminate, unprovoked aggression. Their courage under fire and determination to resist inspire our total admiration.
The United Kingdom stands with the Ukrainian people. My right honourable friend the Defence Secretary has been in the vanguard of those providing military assistance. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has been co-ordinating diplomatic support and, with my right honourable friends the Chancellor and the Business Secretary, implementing a new and tougher than ever sanctions regime. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Home Office have also been providing humanitarian support on the ground to Ukraine’s neighbours, helping them to cope with the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people—but more can, and must, be done.
To that end, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has already expanded the family route. She has also confirmed that from tomorrow Ukrainians with passports will be able to apply for UK visas entirely online without having to visit a visa application centre. As a result, the number of Ukrainians now arriving in this country is rapidly increasing and numbers will grow even faster from tomorrow.
We also know, however, that the unfailingly compassionate British public want to help further. That is why today we are answering that call with the announcement of a new sponsorship scheme, Homes for Ukraine. I thank my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and officials in the Home Office, in my own department and across government for their work over the past days and weeks to ensure that we can stand up this scheme as quickly as possible. In particular, I thank my noble friend Richard Harrington, now Lord Harrington of Watford, whose experience in ensuring that the Syrian refugee resettlement programme was a success will prove invaluable in ensuring that we do right by the people of Ukraine.
The scheme that Lord Harrington has helped us to design draws on the enormous good will and generosity of the British public, and our proud history of supporting the vulnerable in their hour of greatest need. The scheme will allow Ukrainians with no family ties to the UK to be sponsored by individuals or organisations who can offer them a home. There will be no limit to the number of Ukrainians who can benefit from it.
The scheme will be open to all Ukrainian nationals and residents, and they will be able to live and work in the United Kingdom for up to three years. They will have full and unrestricted access to benefits, healthcare, employment and other support. Sponsors in the UK can be of any nationality, with any immigration status, provided they have at least six months’ leave to remain within the UK.
Sponsors will have to provide accommodation for a minimum of six months. In recognition of their generosity, the Government will provide a monthly payment of £350 to sponsors for each family whom they look after. These payments will be tax-free. They will not affect benefit entitlement or council tax status. Ukrainians arriving in the United Kingdom will have access to the full range of public services—doctors, schools, and full local authority support. Of course, we want to minimise bureaucracy and make the process as straightforward as possible, while doing everything we can to ensure the safety of all involved. Sponsors will therefore be required to undergo necessary vetting checks, and we are also streamlining processes to security-assess the status of Ukrainians who will be arriving in the United Kingdom.
From today, anyone who wishes to record their interest in sponsorship can do so on GOV.UK; the webpage has gone live as I speak. We will then send any individual who registers further information setting out the next steps in this process. We will outline what is required of a sponsor and set out how sponsors can identify a named Ukrainian individual or family who can then take up each sponsorship offer. Because we want the scheme to be up and running as soon as possible, Homes for Ukraine will initially facilitate sponsorship between people with known connections, but we will rapidly expand the scheme in a phased way, with charities, churches and community groups, to ensure that many more prospective sponsors can be matched with Ukrainians who need help. We are of course also working closely with the devolved Administrations to make sure that their kind offers of help are mobilised. I know that all concerned want to play their part in supporting Ukrainians, who have been through so much, to ensure that they feel at home in the United Kingdom, and I am committed to working with everyone of good will to achieve this.
Our country has a long and proud history of supporting the most vulnerable during their darkest hour. We took in refugees fleeing Hitler’s Germany, those fleeing repression in Idi Amin’s Uganda, and those who fled the atrocities of the Balkan wars. More recently, we have offered support to those fleeing persecution in Syria, Afghanistan and Hong Kong. We are doing so again with Homes for Ukraine. We are a proud democracy. All of us in this House wish to see us defend and uphold our values, stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies, and offer a safe haven to people who have been forced to flee war and persecution. The British people have already opened their hearts in so many ways. I am hopeful that many will also be ready to open their homes and help those fleeing persecution to find peace, healing and the prospect of a brighter future. That is why I commend this Statement to the House.”
My Lords, I begin by warmly welcoming the noble Lord to his place; it is good to see him in this Chamber. He was an excellent Member of the other place and he is very welcome here.
Moving on to the Statement, any scheme that will help Ukrainians reach safety is welcome. However, we feel we need more information as to how this will work in practice to give desperate Ukrainian families the help and support they need at this truly terrible time. Since the Statement was made, we have had a letter from the Secretary of State, the right honourable Michael Gove MP, in which I was pleased to see that he says:
“Our aim, through this route, is to offer a safe, warm welcome to as many arrivals as possible, based on the number of sponsors.”
The announcement introduces a new website, which allows UK households to say that they would host refugees, but there is no way to connect these households to refugees in search of homes. It seems that only households that have details of a specific refugee are able to host them, leaving families unable to flee to Britain unless they have somehow found hosts.
In addition to this, there is still no material change to the process, which means that refugees will still need to apply for visas by completing a 50-page—I understand—online form and uploading a number of documents. Yet the letter from the Secretary of State, in follow up, says that
“we want to minimise bureaucracy and make the process as straightforward as possible while ensuring the safety of all involved.”
I also draw attention to concerns raised about how refugees will actually get here if it is agreed—who will cover the costs and how will that be managed? We have concerns that individuals will not be able to properly sponsor a Ukrainian national’s visa until Friday.
I am pleased to see that there is promised financial support for local authorities. This will be an awful lot of work for them, so I thank the Government for that. However, we would appreciate further details on broader resettlement matters such as how healthcare, education, social care and so on will be managed and provided for those who will need them.
If the Minister will indulge me, I have a number of questions. Can the Minister confirm who exactly is eligible to sponsor a Ukrainian as part of the scheme? Do people have to be British nationals, or is someone with indefinite leave to remain also able to do so? Can the Minister confirm whether the £350 a month will be treated as income that could potentially affect recipients’ benefits?
I do not understand why the Government are not playing more of a proactive role in matching sponsors and refugees. Could they not match some of the cases with those who wish to help but perhaps do not know how to navigate social media? Can the Minister confirm who will be responsible for undertaking any safeguarding checks on sponsors? Will this be done by the Government or will it be part of the local authorities’ responsibilities? Will data about arrivals via the route be shared with local councils ahead of time? As much access as possible to data ahead of time will help local councils to provide proper healthcare and education, particularly for the children who are coming.
We also have a worry that there are still 12,000 Afghan refugees living in hotel accommodation, and clearly we do not want to find Ukrainian refugees in the same situation and the situation being exacerbated. So, again, a little more information about that would be helpful.
I have mentioned children. We know that a large number of the people requiring settlement will be, sadly, women and children who have escaped, often leaving their menfolk behind. We will have specific issues around nursery provision, childcare and education. Can the Minister confirm who will be responsible for ensuring that these needs are met? Will it be the Department for Education or local authorities?
I think we are looking for more clarity from the Government about their expectations of local authorities. It is great that there is financial support, but what are the expectations for delivery by local councils? Will there be support for, say, voluntary or faith groups, which will also have an important role to play? My final question is: what provision will be made for unaccompanied children? Will there be a specific scheme for them?
The main thing is that refugees arriving into the UK are treated with dignity, and provided with the accommodation and further support they are going to need to cope with this terrible crisis, until Ukraine is safe once again and they are able to return home and work to rebuild their country. I look forward the Minister’s response, which will be his maiden speech, and I wish him well.
Of course, we welcome in principle an unlimited scheme where UK residents can sponsor Ukrainian refugees, but Homes for Ukraine is limited by other schemes. First, the Government still insist that all Ukrainian refugees must have a visa, while all member states of the European Union are allowing visa-free entry. These refugees are in desperate need now, and a fast response is required. Countries bordering Ukraine are being overwhelmed and they need us to take some of the pressure off them. Why is the Government restricting the flow of refugees into the UK?
The Government cite security concerns for slowing things down, but the Irish Prime Minister was interviewed on the BBC’s “Sunday Morning” programme, where he said that the need for a humanitarian response to Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II
“trumps anything as far as we’re concerned.”
Mr Martin said the view within the EU is that all borders should be open to Ukrainians for as long as Russian bombs and missiles are being targeted at civilian populations inside Ukraine. He went on to say:
“We can all see the humanitarian crisis, we do know that that can be exploited by certain bad actors, but our security personnel will keep an eye on that in a more general way.”
If Ireland can keep an eye on security issues once refugees arrive in Ireland, why can the UK not adopt the same approach? Bearing in mind that there are no passport checks between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland and between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, how does the UK and Ireland having a different approach make any sense? The Minister in the other place talked about putting humanity first; the UK is clearly putting visas first.
Another bottleneck in the process is caused by sponsoring families in the UK having to identify Ukrainian nationals or families by name in order to sponsor them. How are older people without IT skills who are fleeing Ukraine supposed to identify themselves to British sponsors, let alone complete a 50-page online form to get a visa? I know that the Minister is trying to cut that form down, but is it not a fact that the most in need are the least likely to get to the UK quickly?
Another barrier to accessing the heartwarming generosity of British families is that the programme is initially open only to refugees who have known connections to the UK sponsor. The Minister in the other place said that
“we will … expand the scheme in a phased way”.—[
Can the Minister explain what the various phases are and when they will be in operation?
Another potential bottleneck are DBS checks for sponsors. There are already backlogs. What additional resources are the Government providing to ensure that necessary safeguarding checks are done in good time? Some of those volunteering to sponsor will already have been DBS checked. What are the Government doing to match unaccompanied child refugees, in particular, with those who have already been safeguarding checked, rather than expecting these sponsors to identify the most vulnerable?
What consultation has taken place with local authorities on whether the £10,500 per refugee is enough to provide additional school places and child mental health support, which is often assessed by child psychologists working in schools, and the other range of services that refugees are likely need? The Minister in the other place said that the payment to sponsors of £350 a month would not affect benefit entitlement or council tax status, but would a single-person sponsor lose their single-person council tax discount? In short, where is the detailed plan for how this nice idea is going to work in practice? I know that the Minister wants to do his best, but we believe that the constraints within which he is being asked to operate are too restrictive.
I thank the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for their comments. I should point out that this is technically not my maiden speech; I am told that it is my first speech but not my maiden speech. I leave it to noble Lords to work out what that means, because I am not sure.
As many might know, I was offered this job because of my experience from the programme that we did for Syria. At the time, I was the first person to be a Minister in three different government departments at the same time. On my return to this hugely enhanced job—the two are not the same—I am doing my best, in the few days available, to get the team who successfully did the Syrian programme back into action. It is a bit like one of those bands from my childhood that, 10 years later, completely reforms with some different artists and some of the main ones. And if I slip into Commons terminology, I apologise. I realise that I may have just one excuse for doing that tonight, so I will try not to.
I will deal first with the subjects brought up by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. Basically, she requested more information about the scheme. I understand that. The questions raised by both the speakers are perfectly proper. No one is playing politics with this and I know that no one is trying to take advantage. We are learning quickly. I will explain the visa, because both the contributions come down to whether we need visas, why we need visas, why it is taking such a long time and what a bureaucratic performance this is when people are dying, suffering and living in appalling conditions.
When I was offered the job by the Prime Minister, the only criterion that I was given, as alluded to by the noble Lord, was a security one. It is my job to make sure that this is done as quickly and as humanely as possible. I know that no one in this Chamber or in the other place would question the fact that national security comes first, but that does not mean that we are obsessed by it.
The current situation is that people fill out a form. It is unacceptable that it is 50 pages and I have been through every page of it with the Home Secretary. By the way, I do not think that anyone is trying to mislead, but it is slightly misleading to say that it is 50 pages because, on most of them, if you click yes, the page after does not come through. Quite why anyone historically, never mind a refugee, has to do the whole lot I do not know, but there will be a lot less of it by Friday and, shall we say, far more obstacles removed after that.
Nevertheless, a form has to be filled in on a mobile phone, tablet or laptop. This is for Ukrainian passport holders, who will download their passport. This is not in a visa centre, by the way; it can be done everywhere. Then it will be sent electronically to the Home Office, where we have a team that we are gearing up all the time. It is in excess of 100 people now and will be gearing up to be double that by the weekend. Very soon afterwards, the refugees will receive a response. I have to be a bit of a politician and waffly by saying “very soon afterwards”; I have set a target of 24 hours and it may be more if the team is so overwhelmed, but I expect it to come down and down. The only reason for that delay—it really boils down to this—is so that criminal record checks can be done from all the databases that the team has. It is no more complex than that.
The passport holders then get a PDF back, which gives them the right to get on a plane and come here. It is not as cumbersome as it was and they do not have to go to a visa centre. The visa centres are being kept open with enhanced hours for people who do not have documentation—vulnerable children and groups that we can spend a lot more time dealing with. I hope that I have briefly covered the visa point brought up by both speakers tonight. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, summed it up as “fast response required” and I hope that I have gone some way towards that.
This is not being used as a tool to restrict the number of refugees who we are taking in. This is not like the Syrian programme, where the Prime Minister at the time, David Cameron, said, “This is the number of people we are taking in through a humanitarian vulnerability scheme”. By the way, there is nothing wrong with vulnerability schemes—please do not think that I am saying that—but this scheme is open to everyone who is Ukrainian to come in. It is not restricted in number.
I return to the points brought up by the noble Baroness, some of which were duplicated. There is some concern about the matching process: “But what if I don’t know anybody?” I understand that and it is perfectly right, but I will give a bit of background to the matching process. When I was involved in the Syrian scheme, the model for community sponsorship was Canadian. Ironically, with politics being what it was, the day I was due to go to Canada to see it was the day I was reshuffled to the Department for Work and Pensions. Luckily, the Civil Service correctly fought back and officials went and this is very much the scheme used. The community sponsorship scheme for Syrians and others worked in small numbers but this is nothing like that. This is a way of fast-tracking it.
The reason why the scheme worked slowly is that it was a proper, boilerplate exercise. Every single detail was known about the refugee before they took off to come to this country. Everything was preplaced, not just the accommodation but employment and everything else. This is a mass-type operation. No one has come up with a better word than matching, but it does not mean that someone who has been forced to flee Ukraine will think, “I have to look on a list, but is anybody suitable?” We have been speaking extensively to NGOs in the last two or three days which will do that for them. They will have tablets, laptops and all that sort of thing to do it. It is not just one individual having to find another individual.
On the points made about safeguarding and related issues, perhaps I could combine my reply to the two questions. However, if noble Lords feel that the answers are not adequate, I would be happy to follow up by taking questions either here or elsewhere. If any noble Lord or noble Baroness would like to meet with me, I would be happy to talk them through this because we are learning as we go. A lot of the comments I have had from MPs and Members of this House have been useful in our thinking on this—particularly MPs because their constituents speak directly to them about it.
I will make a general point about local authorities, if I may, which leads into safeguarding. They are being paid £10,500 per refugee. I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, how that was calculated. Was it done like this? For the sake of Hansard, let me say that I put my finger in the air, meaning “Was it just a wild guess?” It was done on the basis that we used for the Syrian programme. It is for all the wraparound services except education, which is done on a per capita basis. I do not have the figures to hand—well, I am sure I do in the file I have been given—but, basically, it is an amount per child depending on their age, a bit like with academies generally.
The local authority will be responsible for all the wraparound services, meaning the things that they would normally deal with. They include safeguarding issues. I will come on to DBS checks separately because they were brought up separately but, on other safeguarding issues, the eyes and ears have always been education for children, for example, as the first way of doing it. However, the question of social services, mental health services and primary care was brought up. Through its networks, the Department of Health has been in touch with GPs and other people to make sure that primary care places are available.
Turning to DBS, basically, the question is: do we have to do full DBS checks on people who will be offering sponsorship and people with accommodation? We took the decision that it has to be a two-phase thing. If we must wait for full DBS checks, it may be that we can speed them up. When I left the House of Commons, I decided to become a school governor. It took two months. I hope that it was not because I am on any naughty list, but that is the way the system works. Before allowing people into homes, we will do criminal record checks and get all the things that are easily obtainable online as part of the process before people are approved as sponsors. After that, it will be the local authority’s responsibility to do the full DBS checks. Related to that will be its duty to inspect properties as well. Obviously, this is all very new to us, so we do not really know much. I am sure that the vast majority of people mean well in offering accommodation, but we have to have the back-up system of property inspection and everything else that we would normally have.
It takes care of some of the other questions if I say that the local authorities have been extremely co-operative. I started off over the weekend talking to organisations such as the LGA and other council groups but, today, we had a call with 200 council leaders and chief executives; at least, that is what I was told, but you can only get so many people on Teams. There were a lot of them; it was a call to arms for them. My second cliché is that they have stepped up to the plate—at least, they have told us that they have stepped up to plate. In my department, particularly regarding the Syrian refugee scheme, we were used to dealing with local authorities. They were our main conduit for the resettlement of people. The only difference in this case is that the full burden of providing accommodation will not be on them.
By the way, let me add this because it answers one of the noble Baroness’s points: we have spent a lot of time with faith groups, voluntary groups and others—for example, World Jewish Relief and Church organisations —because they will, we hope, be able to facilitate a big supply of accommodation through their members and their associated people.
On the subject of unaccompanied children, I have a problem. I have been discussing it today with a group of Ukrainian MPs, and I am seeing the Ukrainian ambassador tomorrow on this subject. It is the Ukrainian Government’s position—far be it for me to criticise them; the meeting with the Ukrainian MPs was very emotional—that we need their permission before bringing children here. They do not want children removed far away because of what may happen in the future when they are settled. They want them back with their families. I am working through these things.
I am trying to make sure I have answered everything in the brief time available. Will the single parent discount disappear? I can confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that it will not. This is not being treated as income for benefits, or regarding school and university fees, by HMRC or anyone else. I believe my time is up. I hope I have answered the questions. If not, I am happy to answer them either formally or informally.
My Lords, I hope the House will forgive me; Bishops do not usually go first. I declare my interest as a trustee of Reset. I offer the Minister welcome. I loved working with him with Syrians and we did loads of work together. Please will he pass our thanks to Paul Morrison and the team, who I know have worked almost without sleep over the last four or five days? It is great that that team is being brought back together.
The big thrust from churches and the voluntary sector as a whole is about when the next phase is coming in. We believe that individual sponsors are inadequate because people cannot do this on their own. They will need the support of their neighbours, family, friends and local clubs. Can the Minister comment on when phase two will move through? Noble Lords might like to know that there is a matching system on the website Homes for Ukraine run by Reset tonight.
One of the other things I have to adjust to in this House is that I cannot call him Paul anymore and I have to refer to him as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. I thank him for his comments on Paul Morrison. I hope he will be Lord Morrison one day; he deserves it because he has given up his new career to come back to this. The serious point is: when are we going to get to the next phase? It will be very soon, but I cannot say when because we are launching this phase on Friday. It will certainly be done in communication with the Church. The Archbishop of Canterbury was one of the first people to come forward for the Syrian refugee scheme.
My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on his new position and welcome him to the very difficult job he now has. I declare an interest as we are trying to sponsor a family ourselves and work through this with them. Can he tell me what will happen to those who have had to flee and do not have their documents with them—whatever those documents are—even though they may be known to the people wanting to sponsor them?
What is being done on the transferability of DBS checks? Many of us working in the health service or schools have been DBS checked. Are those going to be automatically transferred? Are the Government going to require every adult in the household to have been checked or will one be adequate as an interim to take things forward?
Have the Government issued a template to local authorities of issues they need to address, such as the ways of managing bereaved children? Many of these children will have left their fathers behind; many will not know what has happened to their fathers even if they have come with their mothers. Managing bereaved children has to be done right and it is not a question of just going “There, there”. They really need to be understood. Is that guidance going to local authorities at a national level as to resources, or is each local authority having to find it out for itself?
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, is very experienced in this field and has asked some very detailed questions. I cannot answer in detail the question about the transferability of DBS checks. I would much rather answer properly in writing. I hope she understands that just fobbing her off with a letter is not normally my way but this is not high level; this is a very detailed conversation. As far as issuing guidance to local authorities is concerned, we will be doing that. It cannot be left to a situation where some are better than others. On dealing with traumatised children, that will be part of the local authority’s duty.
My Lords, I join others in welcoming my noble friend to this House and to his new post. I also commend him on his very well-informed and sympathetic response to the questions he has been asked so far after only a few days in the job. Can I press him on primary care? Many of those coming under Homes for Ukraine will be in poor health. How confident is my noble friend that they will have ready access to GPs and primary care services, many of which are already under some pressure?
My noble friend has not changed since the first time I was in the Commons, as he always makes a good point in such a kind way. The primary care thing is very important. As I explained before, we have been in communication with the doctors’ organisations. It is true that his former constituents and mine are finding it difficult to get appointments with GPs, given Covid and everything else, but on this—this is not a very House of Lords type of expression—we have to muck in. I know the GPs know that, and they will be given the financial resource to enable them to do that.
My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on a delightful non-maiden speech. I have three quick questions. First, will those who come and who want to work be able to do so immediately? Will they be given a national insurance number in order to do that? Secondly, in how many languages have the forms been made available? Thirdly, what will be the long-term position of the devolved Governments in Edinburgh and Cardiff? Will they be in charge of this indefinitely?
The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, has referred again to my non-maiden maiden speech. I just say to him to wait for the maiden speech and think what he wants. The forms are in English only but there will be translation guidelines for all of them. We are not asking for translations for the documents that need to be downloaded—for example, birth certificates and the other things that would be provided in a normal situation. As far as the devolved Administrations are concerned, the first meeting I had was with Nicola Sturgeon, Mark Drakeford’s representative and the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service. As with the Syrian refugees, they have really stepped up to the plate. Although the conduit for this will be their local authorities—like any other local authority in terms of payment—the Scottish and Welsh Governments may well choose to be sponsors themselves. I am pleased with their response and have always found them an absolute pleasure to work with on the refugee front.
My Lords, the Minister will have gathered that this is quite a friendly place. The start he has made in the Chamber has been exceptional, and I look forward to many more exchanges in future.
I want to draw his attention to a letter that the vice-chancellor of the University of Worcester, David Green, has written to our Member of Parliament in Worcester, Robin Walker—who, of course the Minister will know—and to the Further Education Minister, local authority leaders and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester. The vice-chancellor says:
“At the University, we have readied ourselves to be a reception centre for Ukrainian refugees. This is in addition to doing what we can to raise money, send goods and help the Ukrainian people in every way at our disposal. We have accommodation and all necessary supporting facilities other than medical, which we are sure can be arranged in co-operation with NHS colleagues.”
The Bishop and the Dean
“have made plain that there are many who will willingly welcome refugees into their homes.”
I wonder whether he will agree to a meeting, when he has a moment, with the right reverend Prelate Bishop of Worcester, the vice-chancellor and me.
My Lords, I welcome my noble friend to his new role. I cannot think of a better person to get to grips with one of the important jobs we are facing. I want to build on the question from my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham and ask about refugees who come here who will need to access public services. Those who take them in will need help to help them access those services. They will need signposting. The Government have a very good Government Communication Service. Can the noble Lord say a little about what help will be available to those hosts to make sure that they do justice to the role they take on?
I thank my noble friend Lady Wyld—my noble friend both personally and professionally—for her comments. On the authorities that are being involved in this, as I have explained before, it is a wraparound service and it will be done in different ways. For example, we are organising welcome centres, so that when people arrive at the airports and, for example, Victoria Coach Station, there are those who can help with the first stage of the services that she mentioned, so it is not forgotten. I hope it will be part of an integrated process. Obviously, it needs the involvement of all the different organisations. This is not central government saying, “This is what we are doing, and we are controlling it centrally.” We cannot; this is happening on an unprecedented scale. We have a lot to learn and there will be problems. I am not claiming that it is all perfect, but we are getting there. I found that comment extremely helpful and I will bear it in mind for everything we do.
My Lords, I join others in welcoming the noble Lord, Lord Harrington, to his post. He comes with a very high reputation for the way in which he dealt with the Syrian refugee programme. I know that everyone in the House, from all sides, welcomes him to his new responsibilities.
I will ask him two things. The first builds on something that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked about. He may have seen comments by Theresa May over the past few days and by the Local Government Association this morning about the dangers that young people, children and unaccompanied minors could face from people trying to traffic them or exploit them. I declare an interest as a trustee of a charity which works in that field.
Secondly, I want to ask him about sponsorship for programmes not in this country but in countries such as Moldova. Moldova has a population of 2.4 million and in just over two weeks it has already taken 300,000 Ukrainians—the equivalent of 2.4 million in the United Kingdom if they came here. Some 200,000 have gone to Romania and, of course, millions have now gone to Poland. Last week his noble friend Lady Williams was good enough to have a short discussion about the ways in which we can help charities based in the UK but which do not receive match funding; they are not covered by the DEC programme. Will he have a conversation with her about how sponsorship can work, so that people do not have to travel too far away from the region if they want to stay in those neighbouring countries, and can they be enabled to do so?
The noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, characteristically makes very good comments on this issue. On his point about sponsorship overseas, I must confess that I had not thought of that. All our overseas efforts have been put into providing money and resources, and we can be quite proud of what we have done. I know life is not down to money; this is about human misery. Last weekend, when I looked at the numbers, we were, I think, the largest single country in that regard. That does not answer his question, but it does mean that we have resources on the ground to help with that sort of thing. But I will consider the point he makes because it is very valid.
On the fear of the child exploiters, people traffickers and general predators that appear in these situations, as they do in every situation, we are relying a lot here on the local authorities. We are relying on electronic methods initially but on the local authorities and all the services—medical services, schools and so on—to provide the eyes and ears we need. But I am worried about it.
My Lords, like every other Member, I welcome the noble Lord to the House and to the Dispatch Box. My question is not so much about the money that will be paid to families who take in refugees. Rather, do the Government intend to provide for those refugees something in their own language that will set out for them what we in Britain are going to provide, so that they know and can expect the type of help that the Minister has so helpfully outlined?
I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, for his comments. For the Syrian programme we did a one or two-day induction programme before people got on aircraft to come here. We do not have the time and facilities to do that because of the scale. However, when people arrive at the airports and other ports they will be given a welcome pack in Ukrainian which will explain why they are here, how they are here and what services are available to help them. These people will be terrified, tired and exhausted and will need to know those things, and that will be in their own language. I hope to expand on that but that is what this situation is immediately.
My Lords, first, if Ukrainians who are already here are students or have a work visa, their visas will expire at some point. Have the Government thought about their position? One does not want them to fall into illegality and they could be subject to exploitation, as the noble Lord just said. However, they could also be helpful with the integration of the people coming here. Secondly—I realise that neither point may have crossed the Minister’s desk or his mind yet, although clearly he is bringing a lot of imagination to this—I have a question on Syrians who have been recognised as refugees in Ukraine. I have heard—this may or may not be right—that they are being told that they need to make an asylum claim from the very start. That seems illogical and unhelpful. If the Minister cannot comment on it, perhaps he could take it away.
I cannot comment on the second point that the noble Baroness made because I do not know the answer. However, I will give it some thought and drop her a line, or perhaps meet with her if she prefers to do it that way. On the first point about Ukrainians who would normally lose their right to stay here because they are on a work permit that has run out, I assure the noble Baroness that nobody will have to leave this country because of that. That permission will be extended so that they will get the same benefits as all other Ukrainian citizens. I am not sure about the actual detail, but I can assure the noble Baroness that that will be the case.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in welcoming the Minister to his place. The Statement says, “The British people have already opened their hearts” to the Ukrainians. That is something that comes as no surprise to me, as someone who sees the hashtag #RefugeesWelcome fill my Twitter feed very often. However, there are of course also refugees from Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria—which the Minister referred to—and many other places who are in need of a safe haven from war and persecution. I appreciate that we are at the very early stages of an enormous rush situation now, but there are people in the UK who know refugees and asylum seekers from other parts of the world and who would desperately like to sponsor them to come here. Would the Minister agree that it is very hard for the Government to say to them, “No, you can’t do that for this person you know who’s desperately in need of haven” when people are so keen to do that?
No one would disagree with the points the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, makes. However, this is a new community sponsorship scheme for us. We have our work cut out with Ukrainians but that is in no way to disrespect people or to claim that people who are not Ukrainians and who are in a terrible situation do not deserve the support this country gives. My own grandparents were beneficiaries of this country’s attitude towards refugees. Ironically, they fled the Russians as well, in different circumstances.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on his maiden speech. It is maiden because it is his first in the House, otherwise he is illegal and should not be speaking. I congratulate him on the way he dealt with a number of questions. I declare an interest as chair of Christian Aid. We are one of the beneficiaries of the public money that has been raised—£120 million. We are getting some of that because we already have people working in Ukraine as part of our NGOs. My second interest is as president of the YMCA, which is already working, particularly in Germany and in Hungary. By the way, the YMCA is bigger in Europe than in the United Kingdom and Wales. It is already working and trying to work out how to help.
The question that both organisations ask is: why have the Government called those community activities “sponsorships”? Why are they not welcoming people? I speak as someone who caused trouble for Idi Amin by opposing him for expelling Ugandan Asians who were citizens. I got into trouble and that is why I am here. When they were all expelled, the British Government provided aeroplanes to bring them over. There was no question of sponsorship. Then they asked in the communities where they were, “Can you help?”. Why do the Government not get the refugees in first and then we will be able to sponsor them?
I thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Sentamu, for his comments. I know that he spends his life dealing with precisely this kind of thing. On the semantics of the word “sponsorship”, if we had had time to think about it perhaps we would have thought of something else, but I think most people know what it is. People are sponsoring people and are responsible for them. The Government are paying some money towards that—£350 per month—but people are effectively offering because they are kind and decent. However, if we have time to breathe and to change the name, after people much more creative than me have thought of something a bit more user-friendly, I should be delighted to do so.
My Lords, I welcome the Minister to his place and congratulate him on his quick command of everybody’s titles. I cannot imagine where he is getting the information from. However, I should like to press him on his answers about language to the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate. The Minister said that on arrival people will be given information in Ukrainian. He has kindly said that documents will not have to be translated any more but can the Government not work with Ukrainians based here to translate the forms so that people in Ukraine can fill in the form in their own language to make it as easy as possible for them?
I thank the noble Baroness for her comments on people’s names. Indeed, some days I cannot remember my own name but I seem to be good at remembering the names of people in this House. Yes, people should have a form in Ukrainian. It is not, in my opinion, best for them to have it by the side of the form that they fill in but, in the short time available, it is the best I can do. Ideally, I should like the form to be in Ukrainian. Also, although the Russian language is horrific to many Ukrainians, for many or some it is their first language.