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It is reasonable to expect the initial process of confirming identities, performing security checks and registering and fingerprinting refugees to take place as close as possible to where people land in the European Union. Some people refer to that as the hotspot approach, but I find that phrase demeaning and dehumanising. It makes it sound like the hotspot of a problem, rather than a place of opportunity, where we can show the kindness that these people can expect. I prefer to refer to such places as first reception facilities.

That approach, whether it is called the hotspot approach or first reception facilities, is one that we can support, just as the Government support it, but if it is not done properly, it might as well not be done at all. For much of the past six months, the conditions in and around the official registration centre on Lesbos have been an affront to human decency. The fact that that is happening on this continent is something of which every last one of us should be utterly ashamed. It is happening not because the various agencies and volunteers do not care, but because they do not have the capacity or resources to cope with the task.

As soon as refugees have been through the necessary registration process, the aim should be to help them get to their end destination as quickly as possible by safe, legal and dignified means. We should remember that these are human beings we are talking about. That needs to be done with full co-operation between the countries of Europe, both in agreeing which countries the refugees will settle in and in helping them to get there. This is another area where we cannot support the Government’s refusal to be part of any of the options that have been put forward.

So anxious are the Government to persuade their wavering supporters that UK sovereignty over UK borders is sacrosanct that they will not even compromise on it if it prevents us from honouring our legal and moral obligations to some of the most vulnerable and desperate citizens on the planet. I find it astonishing that the same people who, less than two weeks ago, were condemning us for not showing solidarity with our allies when it came to committing acts of war in Syria should now be so resistant to showing solidarity in supporting and protecting the innocent victims of war.

The Government are asking us to agree with their decision not to take part in the EU scheme. We believe that it was a bad decision, taken for the wrong reasons. Tonight’s vote will not force the Government to change their mind, but we believe that the principle at stake is important enough that we should put on the record our belief that the UK Government are failing to live up to their moral obligations. For that reason, we will oppose the motion tonight.

7.5 pm

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I support the Government’s decision to exercise the opt-out. I am pleased that the Government and the official Opposition agree that the United Kingdom should not be part of the Schengen system and that they both wanted to exercise the opt-out.

As an island nation with a neighbour in the Republic of Ireland and with the three countries on our principal island entirely surrounded by water with no land frontier, it clearly makes sense for the United Kingdom to have

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her own border arrangements. Indeed, it is fundamental to a sovereign people and a sovereign Parliament that one of the decisions that we should be able to make for ourselves is who we invite in and on what terms we invite them in to become citizens of our country. It is a great privilege to be a citizen of our country. It brings all sorts of benefits, as well as responsibilities. Surely that is a decision that this Parliament should wish to make, with the Government offering guidance and leadership, to show that we are in control on this fundamental point.

As the Minister indicated in response to interventions, even though we have opted out of this proposal for allocating refugees and other recent arrivals in the European Union under a quota system, what the Schengen countries do at their common external frontier still matters to the United Kingdom. While we remain under the current European Union treaties, we have to accept the freedom of movement rules. That means that if any other country or part of the European Union accepts people in, they may well be eligible, in due course, to move to the United Kingdom. We are therefore interested directly in how those countries conduct themselves and what they wish to do by way of inviting people into the general European Union area.

We are also interested in the policy of the Schengen countries, which we have opted out of, because the British Government have none the less agreed to spend money and offer resource to police the common external frontier of the Schengen area. In particular, we have committed resources to tackling some part of the desperate problems that the EU migration policy has caused in the Mediterranean, where all too many people commit themselves to hazardous and expensive journeys and then need to be rescued by the Royal Navy and other naval contingents.

Sir William Cash: Does my right hon. Friend have any idea of the extent of our share of the costs to which he has just referred? Perhaps he might ask the Minister to consider that. As I understand it, it could be as much as £150 million, but, because the cost of providing for Schengen relocations will, by its nature, be ever-increasing, presumably that amount will go up.

John Redwood: That is an important issue and the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee is right to raise it.

I have some sympathy for what the SNP has said. It is a disgrace that our rich and relatively successful continent is facing this huge crisis, with many refugees and economic migrants arriving, and the system is unable to cope with them. We have to ask why that is. Given that we do not wish to see people undertaking such hazardous journeys and that we do not feel that the way in which European Union policy is impacting on those people is decent, we need to influence our partners in the European Union to do something better.

Again, I find myself in complete agreement with the Government. They are right that the correct thing to do for refugees is to work with the United Nations and our other partners to make sure that there is a safe place of refuge near to the place they fled from, and be there to talk to them and to consider who would like to come to

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countries in Europe and elsewhere and decide on what basis we will admit people from those camps. That is surely the humane way to approach the issue, and it obviates the need for people to undertake extremely hazardous, and often very expensive, journeys. Only the richest and fittest among those groups can undertake such journeys, only then to discover that the hazards are too great and that they may lose their lives or need rescuing from the Mediterranean. Surely the money that we are spending on picking people out of the Mediterranean could be better spent on an orderly system closer to the place from which people are fleeing, and on helping them to get legal transport to come to the country of their choice once they have been offered that facility.

Such a system would also mean that we could make clearer and better distinctions between economic migrants and genuine refugees. There are, of course, a lot of genuine refugees from a country such as Syria, but different considerations should apply in the way that we respond to a lot of economic migrants who come along at the same time from a range of countries in the middle east and Africa.

Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP): Does the right hon. Gentleman have anything further to add about the unaccompanied children who are arriving in Europe and who appear to be extremely vulnerable and in need of assistance?

John Redwood: Of course our hearts—mine as well as the hon. Lady’s—go out to those children, and such things should not be happening. It is only happening because adults have allowed it to, or made it happen, because children do not normally have their own money or wherewithal to do such things. Somewhere in the process adults have persuaded or set up those children to make those journeys, and placed them in the hands of people traffickers who may be very destructive towards their interests and their lives. The remit of the United Kingdom is quite large, but we cannot get into the homes and minds of all the parents, aunts and uncles who commit those children to such hazardous journeys, or into the minds of other adults who should be offering care if a child’s parents have been tragically taken from them by violence in the country in which they were living.

Surely the European Union, with all its powerful and rich countries, could do a better job in coming up with an orderly and sensible way of handing help and assistance to genuine refugees who are being forced out of war-torn areas or countries by civil wars and violence. We must also send a clear message to economic migrants that there is an orderly system, and that they are not welcome if they turn up as illegal migrants. People should go through a proper process in the country from which they are coming, or in a place adjacent to that country if they have already started their journey. That would be a better way of doing things.

When Angela Merkel—perhaps for the best of reasons, both because Germany would like a bigger workforce and because she felt very sorry for these people—suggested that many more migrants should turn up, I fear that that compounded the problem. Far from being a caring solution, it meant that many thousands more people committed themselves to hazardous journeys, only to

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find when they arrived that other countries in the European Union did not have the same view as Angela Merkel, that the policy was not clear, and that certain borders were shut in a rather unpleasant way with razor wire and high fences, because the numbers were simply too great and people could not be handled.

I support the motion and urge the Government to do far more to try to persuade our partners that EU policy is letting down refugees and economic migrants, as well as the member states and inhabitants of the European Union. This issue is of vital interest to us because we want the EU to have a more caring policy, and because decisions taken in any other EU country can have a direct impact on our own migration policy, owing to our current status as a member of that body and as part of the freedom of movement provisions. Many people watching these awful tragedies unfold on television, or when reading newspapers or even listening to some of our debates in this place, will conclude that as an island nation we can—and should—control our own borders. We could do a rather more humane job than the European Union is currently doing, and perhaps for Britain, that is the best answer.

7.14 pm

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): I will not speak for long, Madam Deputy Speaker, but it is important to say something in this debate. I support my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) and his emphasis on behaving in a humane way towards migrants, as well as his point about the rather small numbers of people currently being allowed into our country. Like him, I believe that we should consider taking more of those desperate people into this country from areas where they risk death on a daily basis.

I support the Government’s position, and it is right that this country should have its own controls, but I think that that should go further and that other EU countries should also be able to control their own borders—that is what has caused the enormous row that the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) mentioned. I believe that a fundamental component of democracy is that a country should control its own borders and who comes in. That is sometimes difficult to do, but it is fundamental. Borders matter, and trying to eliminate them in pursuit of the creation of some kind of super-state—that is effectively what has been happening in the European Union—is a mistake and will eventually come to a sticky end. It is noticeable that tensions are rising strongly at the moment.

As I said in an earlier intervention, refugees may not want to go to the country to which they have been allocated. If they are allocated to countries that do not really want them, they may not be made welcome, cared for, or well treated when they get there, and that is another serious problem. A way of helping refugees to go to places to which they want to go, and where they will have some kind of welcome and be looked after, would be much more sensible than a forced allocation policy. The UK can do that and we should not opt in to the arrangement, but other countries in the European Union should be in the same position as us.

I do not accept free movement; I think it has been a mistake. If we want to recruit people from other countries who have the skills we need, that is fine. That could be done on a temporary or permanent basis, but it should

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be a choice and not that of some supranational body that says, “You must accept people because those are the rules of the club and you ought to accept those rules.” I do not accept those rules, and neither do many people in Britain.

There is a conflict here. We must ensure that we behave in a humane way to other people. We all admire and wish to adopt such humanitarian actions, but large, substantial and unregulated movements of people can militate against the humane feelings that we all have. There comes a point when people think, “We can’t cope”, and destabilising massive population movements are not conducive to humane behaviour.

In the 19th century there were vast open spaces in the United States, South America, Australasia and elsewhere, and countries recruited people because they needed them and it was not a problem. We recruited people from Ireland in particular, as well as from elsewhere. We have also been very humane with certain immigrations. When I was younger in the 1960s, the Ugandan Asians were being seriously threatened and we accepted them into our country. Indeed, one or two Members of the House are descended from that population, and those people have made a massive contribution to our society. We have behaved well in the past, but when movements of people become so large and seemingly unstoppable, our humanity starts to break down—not individually in the Chamber, but as a society—and people start saying, “We can’t cope. There is a desperate housing crisis and unemployment and so on”.

Peter Grant: The hon. Gentleman clearly has a point, but would it destabilise the United Kingdom to take a share of the 4 million people who have fled Syria? How can it stabilise anyone for all 4 million to be left in two or three countries in the Mediterranean?

Kelvin Hopkins: I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. I have said, and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras on the Labour Front Bench has said, that we should accept more people from Syria. There is absolutely no question about that. We should play a bigger part in helping refugees to escape their terrible situation. The number the Government have decided to accept is far too low. That said, we are not going to have an open border policy in which very, very large numbers of people come here, because that would be politically destabilising. It would not be good.

Germany’s population was falling. It is a very successful industrial country with a low birth rate, which means it needs workers. Our population is increasing rapidly. We are going to overtake Germany and become the country with the largest population in the whole of the European Union. We are therefore in a very different situation from Germany. If we had a serous labour shortage, and lots of space and vacant housing, we would want to recruit more people.

Sir William Cash: Has the hon. Gentleman also heard that our own population is growing exponentially and that we will get up to about 70 million really quite soon? Such an increase is way beyond the space and capacity of the United Kingdom and its expenditure.

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Kelvin Hopkins: I do not want to get into specific numbers, but our population is increasing substantially. The German population was falling. The population of a number of other European countries is falling too, and they will no doubt want to recruit sufficient young and energetic people to make sure their economies carry on working well.

Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP): Médecins sans Frontières estimates that over 466,000 people have arrived on the beaches of Lesbos. The population of Lesbos is about 86,000. Do we not have a responsibility to help them, as they cannot possibly deal with that number of new people arriving in their area?

Kelvin Hopkins: As I said, I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras that we should take more. We should be doing more to help the refugees who need help, but I do not think that compulsory allocation to countries across the European Union or a free flow of migrants across the continent is sensible. In the end, I think it would militate against a humane and managed way of looking after people.

On this occasion, the Government are right. I understand that the Scottish nationalists do not agree and will vote against the measure, but the Labour Front Bench and the Government are together on this and I support them. In the longer term, we have to look to the restoration of sensible border controls within the European Union between member states, and not just the breaking down and the elimination of borders and having an indefensible common external border.

7.23 pm

Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): I am actually going to support the Government today, too. There seem to be amazing levels of support, which is always quite dangerous, but it is refreshing that the Scottish National party is here in force to ensure that these matters are properly debated and scrutiny is carried out effectively.

The reason I support the Government is partly because the European Union has made an absolute hash of it. I phrase myself slightly more bluntly than the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) who, in glorious understatement, said that the scheme of the European Union was not working as anticipated. Well, I thought that was on a par with the late Emperor of Japan, who at the end of the war said:

“The war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage.”

When we think that, according to the Daily Express, 184 people out of 160,000 have been relocated, it is a failure even by the terms of the European Union. It introduced a plan that was hotly opposed by elected Governments. It imposed it by qualified majority voting. We, fortunately, had an opt-out, which we used. But what underlies this policy is, to my mind, also so wrong.

Here I disagree with the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant), who made a very powerful speech about the duty we have to mankind in general. I very much accept that. The duty to refugees is fundamental. It is tremendously important and is something the United Kingdom has done for centuries. The question then is how to do it well, how to do it effectively, and how to

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preserve life so that we actually save people. It seems to me that what the European Union has done has made the situation worse for the refugees themselves. Of over 900,000 who have come by boat to the shores of the European Union in 2015, 3,671 have either died or gone missing. The terrible events in the Mediterranean in 2014 led the Holy Father to say:

“We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast graveyard.”

The reason this happened is the pious but failed hopes of the European Union’s refugee policy: the idea that as soon as people get into the boundaries of the European Union they will get citizenship, but if they cannot get here there is nothing that will be done for them. That seems to me to encourage people to take these crazy risks that have led to the tragedies. The EU’s policy is itself creating dangers for refugees.

The refugees who come are not the halt and the lame, but the fittest and the most able to take the risks involved in trying to cross the sea to come to the European Union. We have seen that 70% of the refugees who have come to the European Union are in fact men, primarily young men. A system has been set up that creates incentives and leads people to take foolish risks to come here in the first place. The people who are most at risk—the children, the elderly and the frail—are left behind, because if they apply from their risky country, the forces of the EU will not let them in.

Her Majesty’s Government have got this right, but the numbers are hopeless. The 20,000 over five years is absolutely a step in the right direction, but of course we should do more. We should think of how many we take from the European Union under the free movement of people. In the year to March 2015, we took 183,000 economic migrants from the European Union; 183,000 people who were safe in their own country and not at risk of persecution. They were not in fear of their lives. They wanted to come here for the most noble and honourable reason—to improve the condition of themselves and their families. They moved halfway across a continent to do it and that is something I admire hugely. That is a very Conservative thing to do—to wish to better oneself and to take that risk. That is what entrepreneurs do. However, they are economic migrants, not refugees. And because we take so many people from the European Union under the guise of the free movement of people, when it comes to taking those who are genuinely at risk of their life we take 4,000 a year. We take 4,000 a year from the camps in Syria who may die if they do not escape, and we take 183,000 because we believe in the principle of European citizenship and that anyone who wants to come here from the EU should be free to waltz in, wherever they have waltzed from.

This is not only undesirable in domestic political terms: it is undesirable in moral terms. We are not helping those who are most in need; we are helping those who do not in fact need our help and support. We are helping those who are safe, rather than being generous to those who are at risk. This seems to me a fundamental failing of the European Union, because—instead of giving aid to refugees—it encourages people to take unwarranted risks, and gives benefits to those who are already safe.

Why do I stick to this number of 183,000 and what is the context? The context is that there is a limit to the numbers any country will take in any one year, not because free movement is a bad thing in itself but because the societies to which people move cannot cope

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with the influx above a certain level. There is not the infrastructure, there are not the schools or hospitals, and the society lacks the capacity to absorb large numbers at one point. Their arrival needs to be staggered over a much longer period. If we have so many coming from safe countries, inevitably we have to be mean with the numbers we can control because they do not benefit from the European treaties and free movement with the EU.

The EU’s whole approach is wrong, and we, in our renegotiation, are unutterably feeble; all we are doing is muddling about with a few benefits, which is not why people come anyway. As I said earlier, they come for that noble, inspirational reason: they want to improve their lives and those of their families. They do not come because they are benefits cheats, yet we grub around on that, rather than thinking about the real problem—the scale of immigration from the EU. As the hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) pointed out, free-for-all immigration does not work for our democracy. Our people—our voters, our electors—do not want it, they reject it, and yet the Government do not even ask to get this back under domestic control. Instead, they do not opt in to one part of things with many parts, but it will not have any great effect.

I will support the Government tonight, but what was the best reason we heard for why the 800,000 Mrs Merkel is welcoming in will not come here? Apparently, our ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to Germany has reported to Ministers that we do not need to worry about them coming here because the Germans are slow at processing citizenship applications. Well, isn’t that lucky? They are slow. I always thought German bureaucracy was efficient, but clearly not; when it comes to processing citizenship applications, they might take 10 years. So we will not get 800,000 today or tomorrow. But we will get them the election after next. That, I am afraid, is where the Government are failing and letting down the British people. They have opted out of one thing, but they have left the big, the real, the major problem at the centre—

Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP) rose

Mr Rees-Mogg: Of course I will give way.

Mike Weir: I am finding it difficult to follow the hon. Gentleman’s argument. Why, once these 800,000 people have been settled in Germany for 10 years, are they all suddenly going to come to the UK, with their new German citizenship papers?

Mr Rees-Mogg: The amount of immigration to this country from the EU shows that we are a great magnet. Everyone seems to want to come to the UK, including to the glories of Scotland. It is extraordinary the draw we are. In a way, I am proud of this. I love the fact that people all around the world think the best place to live is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It should give us a glow of pride about the success of our nation under this glorious Conservative Government, who are bringing us peace and prosperity.

Alison Thewliss: Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that part of the benefit of being in the EU and having those open borders is that British citizens can go and live in Europe and that as many of them go and live there as come here?

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Mr Rees-Mogg: No, I do not accept that. The reason the British go and live abroad and are welcomed abroad is that most of the British who go abroad are quite well off and mainly retired, and therefore they take a lot of income into poorer European countries that happen to have a little more sunshine. I quite understand. It is the Florida effect. People want to go to the southern European countries, but they take wealth with them, which would be welcomed even if we were not members of the EU, because poor countries always want to attract rich migrants. Rich countries cannot take an unlimited number of poor migrants, which is why we should focus on the most needy —the real refugees, the ones in Syria and the camps—and cut back on the 183,000 economic migrants coming from the EU. When the Government do that, they will deserve much more support than the support they will get today.

7.34 pm

Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): It is perhaps a consequence of the route by which this matter has come to the House today that much of the debate has focused on the constitutional and jurisprudence aspects of the EU, when it should have been about how we respond to what others have already described as one of the most remarkable and unprecedented humanitarian crises to hit Europe since the end of the second world war.

I have been struck by the number of hon. Members who have referred to the timing of this debate. I share the concern of those who have pointed out that the matter has been brought before the House when the decision has de facto already been made, but surely there is a more human aspect to the timing: winter is coming. Those who have made the journey to Europe—we heard about the remarkable numbers in Lesbos alone, let alone in Greece more widely—will now suffer real hardship as a consequence. It is also apparent that people will keep coming this winter. We will not see a diminution in the numbers making that journey. Surely, that is why there is so much to regret in the Government’s position. If SNP Members divide the House tonight, the Liberal Democrats will be with them. I suspect it will not take us long to get through the Lobby, but, like them, I think it is the right thing to do, notwithstanding my reservations about the arrangements being debated.

This year alone, 950,000 people have arrived in Europe, having risked their lives to get here. They do not come because they are the able ones; they come because they are desperate, and surely, as a consequence, we should have a humanitarian response. Mrs Merkel’s action in Germany was not the cause of their coming; it was a response to it. It is worth considering the consequences of the lack of concerted European action to the challenge. Ranked by asylum applications per head, Hungary has gone from ninth to second, behind Germany, while the UK has gone from seventh to 17th.

The Minister did not spend much time on the Government’s reasoning, but we know from comment elsewhere that they have spoken of the pull factor that would come from opting in. This has been considered by a Lords Select Committee that described itself as not convinced by the Government’s reasoning. It is worth considering the reasons the Committee came to that conclusion. It wrote:

“we heard arguments that the Government’s concern that the proposal could act as a ‘pull factor’, which would encourage further migration to the EU, was not supported by evidence.

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The migrants affected by the present proposal are those belonging to nationalities for which international protection is on average granted in at least 75% of cases—at present, those from Syria, Eritrea and Iraq. The situation in each of these countries is dire: it is clear that the vast majority of those leaving these countries are fleeing civil war or the imminent threat of persecution. This is underlined, for instance, by the presence of millions of Syrian refugees in camps in Jordan and Lebanon. The Government’s argument that the relocation of 40,000 migrants who have reached Greece or Italy will somehow encourage more to leave their countries of origin is therefore unconvincing.”

That is—to borrow the expression of the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg)—a somewhat masterful understatement.

What are the elements that could produce safe routes and a humanitarian approach? We need to extend the family reunion rules. We need to allow more people who have family in the United Kingdom to come here safely. The current rules mean that a Syrian father granted asylum in the United Kingdom would be allowed to bring his wife and younger children, yet if he had a 19-year-old daughter, for example, she would not ordinarily be able to come here. Her parents would be forced to choose between leaving her behind and paying smugglers to bring her to the United Kingdom. In either scenario, she would be at grave risk.

The priority for my hon. Friends and me is to bring in 3,000 unaccompanied refugee minors who have reached Europe, and there has been an ongoing dialogue on that between my party and party leader, and the Prime Minister. If there is an opportunity at the end of this debate, we would like to hear from the Minister what progress has been made on that.

We must also extend the resettlement scheme as a matter of urgency. Twenty thousand refugees over five years is a drop in the ocean. We can and should do more to take those vulnerable Syrian refugees, who now face a bitterly cold winter in camps in Syria’s neighbouring countries and other parts of Europe. Come the Division, the Liberal Democrats will be with the Scottish nationalists this evening.

7.41 pm

James Brokenshire: We have certainly heard a number of important points, which in some ways have strayed more widely than the measures in the motion before the House and which may also arise in the debate to follow.

We will continue to work with European partners to develop and implement a sustainable and comprehensive solution that allows people to live fulfilling lives in their home countries or in countries of first asylum. Intra-EU relocation should not, in our judgment, be the response. The Government have been clear that the UK will not take part in it and have urged the EU to concentrate on actions that address root causes, control illegal migration and tackle abuse, not just actions that respond to the consequences of large-scale spontaneous migration. We have also been clear that, despite weaknesses in the Dublin arrangements, which we agree need reform, their underlying principles remain sound, with member states taking full responsibility for the effective functioning of their own border and asylum systems.

In our discussions with the EU we have been measured and constructive, while promoting and defending UK interests. Our approach reflects the need for a concerted

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humanitarian response for those who need our protection. On the issue of solidarity, let me underline the front-line and other support that this country has given through the European Asylum Support Office, Europol, our search and rescue operations, our support for the common security and defence plan and our approach to resettlement, as well as the aid assistance that has been provided. Underpinning all that work is the idea that measures should not undermine the principle that asylum should be sought in the first possible safe country. Therefore, I urge the House to support the Government’s motion.

Question put.

The House divided:

Ayes 274, Noes 52.

Division No. 148]


7.43 pm


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Allan, Lucy

Allen, Heidi

Amess, Sir David

Andrew, Stuart

Ansell, Caroline

Argar, Edward

Atkins, Victoria

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Mr Steve

Barclay, Stephen

Barwell, Gavin

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Berry, James

Bingham, Andrew

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, rh James

Bruce, Fiona

Buckland, Robert

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Sir Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burt, rh Alistair

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Cartlidge, James

Cash, Sir William

Caulfield, Maria

Chalk, Alex

Chishti, Rehman

Churchill, Jo

Clark, rh Greg

Cleverly, James

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Costa, Alberto

Crouch, Tracey

Davies, Byron

Davies, Chris

Davies, David T. C.

Davies, Glyn

Davies, Dr James

Davies, Mims

Davis, rh Mr David

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Donelan, Michelle

Double, Steve

Dowden, Oliver

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Drummond, Mrs Flick

Dunne, Mr Philip

Elliott, Tom

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Elphicke, Charlie

Evans, Graham

Evans, Mr Nigel

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, rh Michael

Fernandes, Suella

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Frazer, Lucy

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fuller, Richard

Fysh, Marcus

Gale, Sir Roger

Garnier, rh Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Ghani, Nusrat

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, Chris

Green, rh Damian

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Halfon, rh Robert

Hall, Luke

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, rh Matthew

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, rh Mr John

Heald, Sir Oliver

Heappey, James

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Heaton-Jones, Peter

Henderson, Gordon

Herbert, rh Nick

Hermon, Lady

Hinds, Damian

Hoare, Simon

Hollinrake, Kevin

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Howlett, Ben

Huddleston, Nigel

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

Javid, rh Sajid

Jayawardena, Mr Ranil

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Jenkyns, Andrea

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kennedy, Seema

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Sir Greg

Knight, Julian

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lancaster, Mark

Latham, Pauline

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Dr Phillip

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Sir Edward

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, rh Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Lumley, Karen

Mackinlay, Craig

Mackintosh, David

Main, Mrs Anne

Mak, Mr Alan

Malthouse, Kit

Mann, Scott

Mathias, Dr Tania

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McPartland, Stephen

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Johnny

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, rh Mrs Maria

Milling, Amanda

Mills, Nigel

Milton, rh Anne

Mordaunt, Penny

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Morton, Wendy

Mowat, David

Murray, Mrs Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Nuttall, Mr David

Offord, Dr Matthew

Opperman, Guy

Parish, Neil

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, rh Mike

Penrose, John

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Philp, Chris

Pincher, Christopher

Pow, Rebecca

Prentis, Victoria

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pursglove, Tom

Quin, Jeremy

Quince, Will

Raab, Mr Dominic

Redwood, rh John

Rees-Mogg, Mr Jacob

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Robinson, Gavin

Robinson, Mary

Rosindell, Andrew

Rutley, David

Scully, Paul

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simpson, rh Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Royston

Soames, rh Sir Nicholas

Solloway, Amanda

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mark

Stephenson, Andrew

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Graham

Sturdy, Julian

Sunak, Rishi

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Thomas, Derek

Throup, Maggie

Timpson, Edward

Tolhurst, Kelly

Tomlinson, Justin

Tomlinson, Michael

Tracey, Craig

Tredinnick, David

Trevelyan, Mrs Anne-Marie

Tugendhat, Tom

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, rh Mr Andrew

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Warburton, David

Warman, Matt

Wharton, James

Whately, Helen

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Craig

Williamson, rh Gavin

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wood, Mike

Wragg, William

Wright, rh Jeremy

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr David Evennett


Margot James


Arkless, Richard

Bardell, Hannah

Black, Mhairi

Blackford, Ian

Blackman, Kirsty

Boswell, Philip

Brock, Deidre

Brown, Alan

Cameron, Dr Lisa

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Cowan, Ronnie

Crawley, Angela

Day, Martyn

Donaldson, Stuart Blair

Durkan, Mark

Edwards, Jonathan

Ferrier, Margaret

Gethins, Stephen

Gibson, Patricia

Grady, Patrick

Grant, Peter

Gray, Neil

Hendry, Drew

Hosie, Stewart

Kerevan, George

Kerr, Calum

Lucas, Caroline

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

Mc Nally, John

McCaig, Callum

McDonald, Stuart C.

McGarry, Natalie

McLaughlin, Anne

Monaghan, Carol

Monaghan, Dr Paul

Mullin, Roger

Newlands, Gavin

Nicolson, John

O'Hara, Brendan

Oswald, Kirsten

Paterson, Steven

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robertson, rh Angus

Saville Roberts, Liz

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Thewliss, Alison

Thomson, Michelle

Weir, Mike

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitford, Dr Philippa

Williams, Mr Mark

Wilson, Corri

Tellers for the Noes:

Marion Fellows


Owen Thompson

Question accordingly agreed to.

14 Dec 2015 : Column 1353

14 Dec 2015 : Column 1354


That this House takes note of European Union Documents No. 9355/15 and Addendum and No. 11132/15, international protection for the benefit of Italy and Greece, No. 11843/15 and Addendum, establishing a crisis relocation mechanism, and No. 11844/15 and Addendum, international protection for the benefit of Italy, Greece and Hungary; and agrees with the Government’s decision not to opt in to proposals establishing provisional measures for the relocation of individuals in need of international protection or to the proposal establishing a crisis relocation mechanism.

14 Dec 2015 : Column 1355

European Agenda on Migration

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): I inform the House that Mr Speaker has not selected the amendment in the name of Douglas Carswell.

7.55 pm

The Minister for Immigration (James Brokenshire): I beg to move,

That this House takes note of European Union Documents No. 8961/15, a European Agenda on Migration, No. 9345/15, EU Action Plan against migrant smuggling, unnumbered Document, a Council Decision on a European Union military operation in the Southern Central Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR Med), unnumbered Document, a Council Decision to launch EUNAVFOR Med, and a Draft Action Plan on Stepping up EU-Turkey cooperation on support of refugees and migration management in view of the situation in Syria and Iraq; and supports the Government’s aim of working with the EU and Member States and other international partners to develop a coherent and sustainable approach to addressing current migratory pressures, focused on shorter and longer term actions to break the business model of people smugglers and traffickers, to break the link between rescue at sea and permanent settlement in the EU, and to address the root causes of migrants’ journeys.

Today’s debate offers an important opportunity to look at the range of measures proposed to address the migration situation. The first of the documents listed on the motion, the “European Agenda on Migration”, was published on 15 May and sought to provide a blueprint from which to address the worsening situation by outlining an overview of the various measures available to the EU. It is fair to say that subsequent documents listed for the most part provide the detail of that blueprint.

The Government support many aspects of the European agenda. We agree that there should be more effective joint action on returns and against people smugglers. We favour stronger co-operation with third countries, as well as more effective management of the external border. Indeed, we have continued to press our European partners on those points, both before and since the publication of the Commissioner’s communication.

We have also welcomed the proposals against migrant smuggling. Its focus on strengthening co-operation to tackle the gangs profiting from the crisis through people smuggling, including enhanced approaches with international partners, is sensible, and we support the strategic priorities outlines.

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): Does the Minister agree with me that it does not sit well with Mrs Merkel that she should be criticising the Hungarians who have done their level best to implement the Schengen arrangements, as they are required to do, by seeking to secure their border, which is the European border? Has the Minister or the Home Secretary had an opportunity to speak to Chancellor Merkel to say that she should be supporting the Hungarians, not attacking them?

James Brokenshire: As my hon. Friend will know, we are not part of Schengen, so the operations to deal with internal Schengen arrangements are for those who are party to them. As was discussed in the previous debate, what happens at the external Schengen border is important, which is why we have sought to support Frontex in a number of its activities, given the potential impact on us in the UK.

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Looking at the approach off the coast of the European border, it is interesting to note how the subsequent Council decision on an EU military operation in the southern central Mediterranean has in many respects been a positive step in the joint efforts to break the business model of the people smugglers. That has had the UK’s full support. On 7 October, the operation moved into phase 2, the high seas phase, and was renamed Operation Sophia, in which the UK is playing an important role.

The purpose of Operation Sophia is to tackle the human smugglers and traffickers, disrupting their business model, which trades so carelessly in the lives of others. We must not forget, however, that Operation Sophia is only one part of the Government’s support for sea operations in the region. Since May, the UK has saved over 9,000 lives in the Mediterranean.

The last document listed, the proposed Turkey-EU action plan, has been broadly welcomed by political leaders across the EU and was the subject of an EU-Turkey summit on 29 November. The Government share the view that a plan of this kind is needed in order to ease the refugee burden on Turkey, while preventing further uncontrolled migration to the EU. Turkey is a key relationship partner for the EU and is a country with which the UK has had close co-operation for some time. It also has a pivotal role in the migration crisis, given that so many of the migratory flows through Greece and the western Balkans come through Turkey.

Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend concede that there could be an element of disingenuousness in the embracing of Turkey in this context, given that so many of the problems that we have seen recently have come through Turkey?

James Brokenshire: It is important to look at the action plan to provide an overarching response to the challenges we face. Clearly, that involves Turkey as an active partner, which means working within Turkey and alongside it further afield. It is important to recognise and support Turkey’s efforts in hosting well over 2 million Syrian refugees. It is important to continue to retain that focus, which is why we are providing financial support as part of an overarching package to assist with the efforts taking place in Turkey.

However, I stress the importance of the Prime Minister’s announcement that, as part of the United Kingdom’s responsibilities, we would resettle 20,000 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees over the next five years. We remain on track to resettle 1,000 before Christmas, building on our previous scheme. However, it is neither feasible nor desirable for us to try to meet the needs of all those who require protection within the European Union, nor is it the right solution for the majority. That is why the Government have placed so much emphasis on supporting protection in refugees’ regions of origin, and we have committed a further £100 million to fund refugee camps on Syria’s border.

As well as focusing on humanitarian assistance, the Government have consistently focused on finding a comprehensive and sustainable solution to the refugee crisis. The Prime Minister has continued to emphasise the need of the EU to deal with the root causes of the crisis, rather than merely responding to its consequences.

In Syria, that means working with the international community to end the brutal conflict there, and to defeat Daesh. The recent development of a Syrian

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opposition negotiating committee following talks in Riyadh last week is a positive addition to the peace plan that was produced in Vienna last month. It could be an important step towards a solution in Syria, and therefore part of the long-term solution to the migration crisis. In Libya, that means helping to form a Government of national accord which can regain control of the country’s borders and tackle the smuggling gangs. A strong, unified response to Libya, like the one that was demonstrated only yesterday in Rome, is imperative to securing the political agreement that will allow that country to move towards improved security. And, as I have said, in Turkey that means working towards comprehensive border management, ensuring that a humanitarian response is given to those who reach the country while also disrupting the organised criminal networks that seek to profit from the flight of others.

The situation relating to the migration crisis is constantly changing. The Government maintain a watch on all developments, so that we can reshape and refresh our engagement and share our expertise and resources in a targeted way to protect the UK’s national interest, assist our European partners, and ensure that our efforts have the greatest impact on the support that we offer. We remain committed to effective practical co-operation with our European partners in pursuit of this agenda, and that is what the motion underpins.

8.2 pm

Keir Starmer (Holborn and St Pancras) (Lab): The motion covers a number of important documents, including the “European Agenda on Migration” and, of course, the “EU Action Plan against migrant smuggling”. The scope of the documents is broad, and their ambition is commendable. The “European Agenda on Migration”, for example, aims to set out an agenda for a fair, robust and realistic migration policy, and the action plan includes wider steps on issues such as people smuggling, recovering criminal assets, data gathering and the sharing of information, and the use of military assets.

We support those aims, and the motion’s call for

“a coherent and sustainable approach to addressing…migratory pressures”.

We also praise and support the efforts of our Royal Navy and other armed forces, who have rescued more than 5,577 migrants from the Mediterranean so far. It would be appreciated if the Minister could update us on the figure. The key question, however, is the extent to which the Government are helping to deliver that approach, and whether the European Union as a whole is achieving it. It is clear from the concerns that have been highlighted by the European Scrutiny Committee, and from the painful reality on the ground that we have seen in many parts of the EU, that a

“coherent and sustainable approach”

has not yet been adopted. These documents attempt to identify an approach that will ensure that Europe remains a safe haven for those who are fleeing atrocities and persecution, while also securing its borders and creating the conditions for economic prosperity.

If there is to be a coherent and sustainable solution to the migrant crisis, we must crack down on those who seek to take advantage of people in their time of need. Ruthless criminal networks organise the journeys of large numbers of migrants who are desperate to reach the European Union. They make substantial gains while

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putting migrants’ lives at risk, often squeezing hundreds on to unseaworthy boats, including small inflatable ones. Scores of migrants drown at sea, suffocate in containers, or perish in deserts. Smugglers treat migrants as goods, just like the drugs and firearms which they often traffic along the same routes. That is why we support the current operations which are aimed at preventing the smuggling of people into the European Union, and agree that undertaking such operations provides an opportunity to have an immediate impact on the crisis.

However, as the motion acknowledges, action must also be taken to address the root causes of migration. Many of those root causes lie deep in global issues that the international community has been trying to address for many years. Civil war, persecution, poverty and climate change all feed into migration, which is why the United Kingdom must be involved in reinvigorated diplomatic efforts to bring peace and stability to countries such as Syria, from which most of the refugees originate. There is also an important role for targeted aid and assisting the development of the countries in question.

Against that background, there are a number of issues that I would like the Minister to clarify. It is important for there to be ongoing parliamentary scrutiny of UK involvement in anti-trafficking operations. Will the Minister commit himself to informing the House before any further developments are agreed, and, in particular, to informing us of any decision to move from phase 2 to phase 3 of Operation Sophia?

There are some contradictions relating to the current state of operations. The initial EU plan stated that phase 3 involved the disposing of vehicles and vessels used for trafficking, but the Government have said that 40 migrant boats have already been disposed of as part of phase 2. Can the Minister explain that, and can he tell us whether the phases have now changed?

As well as ensuring that the vessels used for trafficking are disrupted and disposed of, we must ensure that the people smugglers who take advantage of vulnerable people are brought to justice. Can the Minister provide details of what the UK is doing on that front, along with any details relating to the investigation and prosecution of those who have already been apprehended?

8.7 pm

Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): The question of the “European Agenda on Migration” and the action plan appear in a motion which we had to urge the Government to split from the previous one. Although there are some differences between them, in practice there are also some important similarities, as the Minister said at the beginning of his speech. However, a number of issues relating to this motion are of grave concern. I remind the Minister that, in his explanatory memorandum on the communications—this was some time ago, but I do not want to go through all that again—he said that the Commission had failed to

“present the correct set of policies to address the problems that Europe is currently facing in the Mediterranean and from mother migratory pressures”.

I am sure that he will understand my asking this question, which is pretty obvious: what are the correct policies, if this is the wrong one?

The Commission considers that the asylum system in the European Union, and the operation of the Dublin rules, are regarded as being “fundamentally unfair”.

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Let me ask another question. Is the Dublin system broken —and, given the behaviour of the German Chancellor, it appears to me that it is—or can it be repaired? If so, do the Government want it to be repaired? What changes do they want to be made when the Dublin rules are reviewed next year?

The Government have already made it clear that they favour a policy of resettlement—and I thoroughly support them in that respect—rather than relocation. Those words tend to be used rather freely, but resettlement is quite different from relocation. Relocation applies to individuals who are already in the European Union, who have applied for asylum in a front-line member state, and who are presumed, on the basis of their nationality, to be very likely to qualify for international protection. Resettlement, on the other hand, applies to those outside the EU who are admitted from their country of origin or from camps neighbouring conflict areas. Member states have collectively agreed to resettle 22,504 individuals from outside the EU in 2015 on the basis that they are in need of international protection. I have to say that, although that is the assertion, regrettably serious questions have to be raised about the nature of some of the people who claim to be in need of international protection. Many no doubt justify receiving protection, but I then move on to the United Nations convention—the 1951 Geneva convention—and the breadth of the definition that is applied, and my concern is that what we really need is a re-evaluation of the definitions of what is a refugee, what is a migrant and what is an asylum seeker.

I have to say that at the meeting I referred to in the previous debate which took place in Rome only last Friday, at which all the Chairmen of the relevant Select Committees were present, there was in fact an endorsement of my proposal, which I have been putting to various international and EU meetings over the past four months, for a review of these definitions. These definitions have been expanded even from 1951 and now cover so many different areas and types of people that it is extremely difficult to imagine whether any reasonable basis for a refusal to relocate them can be pursued.

We have already heard about the very few—about 100, I think—who have been relocated. The reason for that is part of the problem, which I will come on to in a moment: the charter of fundamental rights, which is applied in this instance and also for the purposes of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European convention on human rights. I know that people feel very strongly about this on both sides of the equation, and we have agreed that we would repeal the Human Rights Act, but in my judgment the depth of the analysis of the charter needs to be greatly improved. People who are claiming asylum can fall back on these international conventions in a way that creates a blockage of the legal system and the jurisdiction and jurisprudence of the human rights legislation, whether in respect of the charter or the European convention on human rights. There is therefore an increasing statistical and legal problem which is that more and more people are claiming asylum and, effectively, being granted it. I am not saying there are not many cases where that is justified, but I am saying that I think the definitions are so wide that this is becoming a very difficult problem and is not in fact going to lead to any serious policy of returns or deportations.

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The Government have underlined the importance of breaking the economic model that encourages criminals to put people in harm’s way at sea, and that has to be highly commended. There are certainly advantages to the effectiveness of Operation Sophia, which has been well supported by the United Kingdom. The trouble is that with many traffickers and smugglers the problems exceed the capacity to deal with them. How effective does the Minister believe Operation Sophia has been because of the absence of an internationally recognised Government in Libya?

I now turn to the question of the extent to which we have entered into a sensible arrangement with Turkey. Turkey and the EU have signed a deal to give Turkey fast-track visa privileges in return for £3 billion-worth of aid and, I believe, the prospect of continuing financial support. There is also the prospect of a revitalised EU membership in return for a commitment to a migration action plan. I am profoundly cynical about this arrangement. I think it is based on giving money, almost in the nature of a bribe to Turkey. From what I have been hearing—and certainly from a meeting I attended very recently—the authorities in Turkey have been by no means diligent in enforcing the arrangements that are supposed to have been in place. The fact that so many people are making their way through the continent of Europe northwards towards Germany, causing an enormous amount of disruption, owes a great deal to the inefficiency with which I believe Turkey has been behaving recently.

In addition to that, without getting into the foreign policy and defence implications, Turkey has been at loggerheads with Russia, and that is a severe complication in relation to concerted action in Syria. Turkey is also profoundly committed to dealing, as it sees it, with the Kurds. That is probably more important to Turkey than anything else in this context, and that is also an obstacle to a coherent policy. I am therefore profoundly cynical about exactly how the Turkey deal will operate.

In terms of these fast-track visa privileges and its desire to come into the EU, we have to bear in mind that there are 78 million people in Turkey already, and I am told that that is increasing at something like the rate of about 1 million every 18 months. As the population expands, Turkish engagement with the EU and people coming over here will increase exponentially.

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): I hope my hon. Friend will acknowledge that the discussions about possible future visa liberalisation involve the Schengen countries; they do not involve those EU member states that are not part of Schengen.

Sir William Cash: Unfortunately, the Minister was not here when I spent a little time talking about the Schengen aspect of this in a previous debate. I believe that the current proposals, which increase the range of the border issue to external borders and include Schengen, will burst. This is not going to work. There is not the money to pay for it. The failure rate of Frontex is evident. I believe that the arrangement will not work in future, and the fact that we are not a member of Schengen will not alter the pressures of the kind we have witnessed recently that come as a result of people entering the Schengen area and, having acquired a passport and EU citizenship, making their way through the whole of the EU.

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I accept that Schengen is not, for the moment at any rate, part of the UK’s bailiwick, but the pressures that are now beginning to grow are increasing the necessity for us to leave the EU, because, from what I have been hearing from other member states, Schengen is becoming a potent force towards a greater degree of emphasis on political union. It is a most remarkable state of affairs. The Minister for Europe was not here earlier, and I see him puzzling over what I am saying, but I say emphatically that the Schengen agreement is not only under review but already being broken by a series of countries. However, there is an enormous desire to make it work even more effectively. As it does so, the pressures for political union within the Schengen area will tend to increase.

Before I turn to the 1951 UN convention and the EU charter of fundamental rights, I want an answer to the question that I put to the Minister for Immigration earlier about how much, if at all, the United Kingdom is liable to contribute to the EU border force. Is it true that we will contribute £150 million?

James Brokenshire indicated dissent.

Sir William Cash: It is not true, apparently, but I will be glad to hear the Minister say it.

James Brokenshire: Time did not allow me to respond to my hon. Friend’s question in the last debate, but we do not contribute to the core funding of Frontex. The agency is funded through a specific mechanism. He will know that we are not part of the Schengen arrangements, to which Frontex relates. We provide operational support through vessels, expertise and briefing.

Sir William Cash: I heard much the same back in the days of the Maastricht treaty, when we were told that we were not going to have creeping federalism. I sincerely believe that what the Minister has just said is what he believes will happen, and I trust him to say exactly what is going on—I will take his word for it—but the pressures are there. That is all I am saying.

James Brokenshire: My hon. Friend will no doubt take a great interest in the announcements that we are expecting to be made tomorrow about the EU border force. We will look closely at the proposals, but we will not take part in them because we are not part of the Schengen arrangements. To ensure that our national interests are protected, we will scrutinise them carefully.

Sir William Cash: I am extremely grateful to the Minister for those remarks.

The UN convention on refugees was incorporated into EU law by virtue of the charter of fundamental rights, so when the European Court of Justice implements EU policies, it interprets key passages such as the right of migrants to claim asylum if they reach EU territory, under article 18 of the charter, and the non-refoulement prohibition on removal to an unsafe state, under article 33 of the UN convention. There is therefore interaction between the 1951 UN convention and the charter of fundamental rights.

As the Minister will know only too well, the European Scrutiny Committee looked at the problem of the charter of fundamental rights in the last Parliament and came to the conclusion that we should override it. I do not want to go back into that debate too much, but I remind him that the previous Labour Government were completely

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against the incorporation of the charter into the Lisbon treaty. Furthermore, the noble Lord Goldsmith, who was the then Prime Minister Tony Blair’s envoy, sought and achieved a protocol that, on the face of it, excluded the charter of fundamental rights from UK legislation. We argued about that in the European Scrutiny Committee at the time, and I and other members of the Committee warned that it would not stick. Sure enough, as usual—I say “as usual” with regret—our prediction was right, and the European Court of Justice is now applying the charter of fundamental rights within the scope of European law. That is part of the problem, because as I have said, the charter incorporates the UN convention on refugees and all the definitions that go with it. As I said, I believe that those definitions must be reviewed, but they cannot be reviewed if they are part of the charter, which is applied by the European Court of Justice.

For practical purposes, the whole issue is caught up in the acquis communautaire. That is causing an enormous problem of interpretation and a logjam in the ability to deal with migration policy. I freely admit that a lot of this is a bit complicated, but unfortunately many people over the years have failed to understand that European Council and Council of Ministers meetings are not just about people sitting around and deciding to tweak education policy or transport policy, as Cabinet meetings might be in relation to domestic legislation. Decisions at those meetings lock the United Kingdom into legal obligations that can be removed only by the unanimity of all member states. That is the problem—it is a legal and political system, and it affects the issue of whether people are refugees or migrants.

I have no less sympathy for genuine refugees than anybody else. I have devoted a great deal of my time in the House to international development issues such as sanitation and water and people who are in refugee situations, but the current problem is not the same thing. It is not about having policies that we can rearrange and adjust; it is about the fact that we are being driven into a deeper acquis. That needs to be said in this debate, because the charter of fundamental rights means that the human rights dimension of the current problem, including the definition of refugees and asylum seekers, is locked into the acquis. In my opinion, that is one reason why so few of them are being dealt with appropriately.

As the Minister and I, and all of us, know only too well, the UK is not part of Schengen, but we are part of the Dublin regulation, which means that EU states and other UN convention signatories are obliged to allow for asylum claims as of right if a migrant reaches EU territory. However, the UN convention is not specific about how that obligation needs to be disposed. Arguably, to claim asylum under the convention, a refugee needs to arrive directly from the state from which they are fleeing. In practice, that can mean that an applicant has not been processed elsewhere en route. We are now dealing with 900,000 people, and the scale of the situation is as much of a problem as anything else.

Under the convention and the charter of fundamental rights, frontier states are not—I repeat not—allowed to block the entry of those with a genuine right to claim asylum. The question of setting up a border fence—as I said earlier, there is more barbed wire in Europe than at any time since the cold war—is extremely uncertain in law. The non-refoulement prohibition in the UN convention on the removal of an asylum seeker to an unsafe state

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can also be interpreted in different ways, including so as not to exclude removal to a safe third state or safe recent transit state. I want to get this on the record, because it is important that the Government look at it all carefully when they get the opportunity to do so. As I said, the charter of fundamental rights is subject to the European Court of Justice, whereas the United Nations convention is only a convention. We are dealing with a complicated legal situation, which I believe is generating even more problems from the European Union.

Although I accept entirely that this motion is merely one that “takes note”, many of the things that I have said have not been incorporated in the motion. I say with great respect to the Minister and to the Minister for Europe that some of these issues are difficult and intractable, but they none the less relate to the Schengen area and have a continuing and ongoing effect on the UK. I say that because as long as we remain part of this European Union—the Minister will accept that I do not think we should any more—we do not alter the fact that we are affected by these things. This migrant issue, with all the tragedies it involves for those who are drowning in the Mediterranean and with the great deal of problems that come from fake passports, jihadists and so on, makes the situation even worse. I simply say to the Minister that he should not think I am asking him to reply to all these points this evening, as I am sure he will not have the chance to do so. Will he, however, please take note of the fact that there are other arguments than those contained in the motion?

8.30 pm

Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP): As has been mentioned, there is a fair amount of overlap between this motion and the previous item, so I will not repeat some of the comments I made in the prior debate. Unlike the previous motion, we will not be forcing this one to a vote, although one or two parts of it give us significant concern. I shall discuss those in a few moments’ time.

Yet again, I am disappointed, because we are talking about a refugee crisis, yet everything in the papers talks about migrants and migration. This is not a crisis of migrants or migration; it is a crisis of refugees fleeing for the lives. If we could get that into the mindset of not only our Government, but Governments across Europe, we might start to address this emergency in the correct terms. The terminology is important. We fully support the fact that we need to have co-ordinated and firm action against the criminals who are exploiting the vulnerable and desperate through people smuggling and people trafficking, but, as the Immigration Law Practitioners Association is keen to point out, people smuggling and people trafficking are not the same thing. They are very different in the eyes of the law, although it is sometimes difficult to tell them apart in practice in individual circumstances. This means that they need to be addressed in different ways.

We should also remember that the House of Lords EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee has recommended to the European Commission that when setting the legislation and directives that deal with people smuggling and people trafficking, we should make a distinction when it is clear that the smuggling has been carried out for humanitarian motives. Some may question whether that

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could ever be the case, but if it is clear that the act was done not for criminal purposes or for financial gain, but possibly through a misguided belief that it was a humanitarian act, would it be appropriate to classify such smugglers as international criminals? I certainly would not think so and the House of Lords Sub-Committee did not think so either. I would therefore be interested to know what the Government’s attitude to that is.

The motion also refers to action to tackle the “root causes” of migration, and I would be interested to hear what the Minister thinks are the root causes of 800,000 refugees arriving in Greece over the past year or so. What are the root causes of 4 million people being in the refugee camps in and around the Mediterranean coast? Unless the Government can prove to us that there were 4 million people last year and the year before, and every year for the past 10 years, the unescapable conclusion will be that the root cause of this crisis is war, violence and persecution in Syria and in other countries in that region.

Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP): In the previous debate, the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) said that the risks families take when trying to leave a situation such as my hon. Friend has just described were “foolish”. Does my hon. Friend agree that the hon. Gentleman does not understand the situation and his comment speaks to the mindset that my hon. Friend was discussing?

Peter Grant: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those comments and I fully agree with them. I had wanted to say more in response to what the hon. Member for North East Somerset said, but as he is not here I will not respond to him just now. There may be people taking risks that could be described as foolish, but they are not foolish risks—they are desperate risks. These people are not stupid. Some of them are very highly educated, highly skilled workers in their homeland, and the reason they are risking their lives and, even more remarkably, those of their nearest and dearest, including their own children, is because they have taken a calculated risk that leaving them behind in Syria puts their lives at even greater risk.

Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP): Does my hon. Friend agree that part of the problem is that there is no means of safe passage across land once borders have been closed, which means that there is no option for many people but to go by sea?

Peter Grant: Absolutely. One thing that drives people into the unseaworthy boats of the criminals is that they have no other way of getting out. If the only way they can get out is by risking their lives with the smugglers, that is what they will do. Sadly, all too often the evidence is washed up on the beaches of Europe and north Africa.

Does the Minister accept that the root cause of this emergency is not the benefit system or the wonderful economic growth that is happening in Britain, but the desperate, desperate tragedy that is unfolding in Syria and some of its neighbouring countries? That is the situation that must be addressed once and for all if we want this emergency to be resolved, even in the longer term.

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The hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) mentioned the £3 billion of aid that is going to Turkey. We want to know what transparency and accountability is attached to that money. How do we know that it will be used for the correct purposes? I am not as enthusiastic a friend of the Turkish Government as some of those on the Government Benches. I cannot forget what the Turkish military are doing to the Kurdish people right now, and until they stop, there must be a limit to how willing we are to accept them as fully fledged respecters of human rights and of the rule of international law.

In the letter received by the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee on 11 December, the Minister addressed this question of how the UK will respond to specific calls for assistance under the EU civil protection mechanism. In his final comment he said that he believed that there was more that other member states could do to support all this work and the various funding strands among the UK’s contribution. It made me remember a story that used to be popular a few years ago in certain management circles about the four workers called Anybody, Somebody, Nobody and Everybody. There were various versions of the story, but the nub of it was that there was always a vital job that had to be done. Everybody agreed that Somebody had to do it, and Anybody could have done it, but Nobody actually did. I just wondered whether what the Minister was saying was that they all agree that everybody else should do a lot more, but they cannot agree on who that is. Perhaps the Minister, either here in the Chamber or in the Scrutiny Committee, will clarify and amplify his comments. Which specific member states should be doing more? What more is it realistic for them to do? What are they doing already? We cannot judge whether other member states should do more unless we have an indication of what they are already doing.

One part of the Government’s motion gives me a great deal of concern. It talks about the need

“to break the link between rescue at sea and permanent settlement in the EU.”

I did not realise that there was an automatic permanent link of that kind. If somebody is rescued from the sea, they are almost by definition a refugee. They are claiming asylum. We have to assess whether they are entitled to asylum. If they are here solely as an asylum seeker, they do not have an automatic right to live here forever. In theory, they can be asked to go home when it is safe to do so. I just wonder whether we are seeing yet another acceptance by the Government that the emergency situation in Syria will continue for years and years. People have come here because they want a safe haven for a few years before they go home. Are we accepting that it will be years, possibly decades, before Syria is fit to take them back? I will look for clarification from the Minister on that—not necessarily this evening, but hopefully in the near future. I hope that we do not have to wait as long as the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee has had to wait for some of his answers.

At one point, we considered pushing this matter to a vote simply because of that comment about the link between rescue at sea and permanent settlement. We decided against it, but I do wish to put on the record our deep, deep disquiet about the wording of that part of the motion, because it is inaccurate and it continues to create an impression that a significant number of these 4 million desperate citizens are trying to come

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here because they are attracted to living in the United Kingdom. They are not; they are trying to get out of Syria because they do not want to die. I just wish that the terminology that has been used and the language of this debate would recognise that this is a crisis that has fundamentally been caused by war, violence and civil unrest. It has not been caused by an economic miracle happening in the United Kingdom or in Germany.

8.39 pm

Mr Douglas Carswell (Clacton) (UKIP): In noting these documents and discussing this text, we are being invited, in effect, to give our approval to a deal struck between the European Union and Turkey—a deal negotiated and signed without our input, involvement or ability to vote it down. We should not approve it. I tabled my own unselected alternative motion.

A few days ago, the EU announced what is, in effect, a four-part deal with Turkey. I see perfectly well what might be in it for Turkey, from whose point of view it is a very good deal. However, it is not in our national interest. First, the deal will give 75 million Turks visa-free, unrestricted access to the Schengen area from next October. We may not be part of Schengen, but that does affect us. There will be no mechanism to log people coming into the Schengen area and none to log people out. The deal can only add to the porousness of the EU’s frontiers, which can only contribute to the increase in numbers of those camped outside Calais seeking entry into the UK.

Secondly, the talks between the EU and Turkey mean that Turkish accession to the EU is back on the table. I would not wish joining the EU on anyone, certainly not a friend such as Turkey.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I have some concern about Turkey’s abuse of religious minorities—Christians, and the Kurds in particular. We are now considering supporting its joining the EU. Why should we do that given that its human rights abuses are so terrible?

Mr Carswell: The hon. Gentleman makes an incredibly powerful point. We are sometimes made to deal with Turkey as an equal, yet it does not have the belief in equality within Turkey that we in the west—Europe and north America—hold so dear. That is a valid and powerful point.

Thirdly, as part of the deal between the EU and Turkey that we are being asked, in effect, to approve, the EU will give Turkey €3 billion a year, of which a hefty contribution will come from British taxpayers. But it is the fourth aspect of the deal outlined in these papers, under the euphemism of “migration management”, that I find most objectionable. Each year some 400,000 migrants from Turkey will be allowed to settle within Schengen. Of course, we are not in Schengen, but again the issue will affect us. Those 400,000 will be assigned to Schengen member states by quota. Once those 400,000 migrants per year have a right of abode in the EU, they will acquire with it the right to live anywhere within the EU.

Do we seriously imagine that those allocated to a high-unemployment, sclerotic Portugal or Italy will remain in those countries? No—within a short time those assigned to Portugal will have every right to come and live in Peckham and those assigned to live in Italy will have

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every right to move to Ipswich. This is a deal being signed up on our behalf and in our name with profound implications for us, and we have no say over it. We can expect many more thousands of migrants to find their way into this country as a direct consequence of this deal and many voters out there will deeply resent the fact that they have simply not been asked.

The Government motion talks about our need to work with our international partners. Indeed we must, but I ask Ministers to be a little more circumspect when we select those international partners. It is difficult to assess the spread of Sunni radicalism in Syria and the middle east as a push factor without also examining and bringing into the equation the effect of Saudi Arabia and its promotion of radical Wahhabism. The EU has imposed sanctions on Iran; it is a pity that the documents do not consider action against those in Saudi Arabia who also export radicalism. I cannot support the motion in front of us. I regret that even if the House objected and even if we rallied heroically through the Division Lobby to defeat the motion and voted down this tepid motion and its Minister, nothing would change. It would not matter a jot. We have signed away the right to reject a duff deal with Turkey made in our name, the consequences of which will be with us for yours to come. And here, in an empty Chamber, on a Monday evening, there is nothing we can do about it. This is how we are governed.

8.45 pm

Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP): I want to mention briefly three aspects of the European agenda on migration, the first document mentioned in the Government’s motion. The first of those three aspects is safe legal routes. That European agenda document acknowledges that

“vulnerable people cannot be left to resort to the criminal network of smugglers and traffickers. There must be safe and legal ways for them to reach the EU”.

Similarly, the House of Lords European Union Committee said that one effective way to address the root causes of irregular migration is to create safe and legal routes for refugees to enter the EU. The UNHCR endorsed an EU target of around 20,000 resettlements across Europe each year by 2020—a modest and wholly achievable proposal if there is political will. We welcome the Government’s resettlement programme, overdue as it may have been.

Sir William Cash: There has been an accumulation of documents over a long period. Had the proposal from the European Scrutiny Committee been taken up earlier, we would have been debating those documents when the numbers were at the level that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. We are now talking not about 20,000 or 40,000, but about 400,000, 500,000 or 600,000 migrants.

Stuart C. McDonald: I am speaking first about plans for resettlement. I shall come on to relocation later. Resettlement through the UNHCR is not the only method of providing safe legal routes. We have urged and continue to urge the Government to listen to the expert organisations calling for broader family reunion rules, and to consider the case for humanitarian visas so that fewer people are compelled to risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean.

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The second aspect of the agenda document that I want to mention, and probably the most important, concerns hotspots, which both the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have talked up in recent months. Everyone knows that Greece’s asylum system was already chaotic before the crisis began, and Italy’s is probably not much better, so expecting those systems to cope with the crisis would be unreasonable. That is where the so-called hotspot approach is supposed to help. The theory is that the full weight of EU asylum institutions will

“work on the ground with frontline Member States to swiftly identify, register and fingerprint incoming migrants...Those claiming asylum will be immediately channelled into an asylum procedure where European Asylum Support Office (EASO) support teams will help to process asylum cases as quickly as possible.”

In addition, €60 million was to be invested in emergency funding to support the reception of migrants and the provision of healthcare to migrants in member states under pressure.

I have not had the benefit of visiting any hotspots, but I have read and listened with concern to recent reports from those who have visited. Those include reports from the International Rescue Committee, which said that

“the way hotspots are currently being rolled out is causing chaos, increasing tensions and violence, and leaving more people without basic shelter.”

In October an update from the Commission explained some of the reasons why that might be the case. At that stage, only six member states had responded to its calls by providing just 81 out of 374 experts requested, and just six member states had responded to calls by providing 48 border officials out of the requested 775 border guards, screeners, de-briefers and interpreters that were thought necessary.

Lots of serious questions remain about how hotspots are to function and their basis in law, so I would be interested to know whether the Minister can comment on the legal basis for hotspots; whether people in those hotspots have access to legal advice; whether the way a person is dealt with in a hotspot area will depend on their nationality; the proportion of those in hotspots who are recorded as having claimed asylum; the number who have been removed directly from hotspots; and, more generally, when data on outcomes from hotspots will be published, and the UK contribution to all this.

Thirdly, on relocation, I was disappointed not to be able to attend the earlier debate that focused more intensively on that. The Government’s motion talks of

“working with the EU and Member States and other international partners”

to address current migratory pressures, but the difficult starting point for the Government is that they wash their hands of relocation plans, despite those being pivotal to the agenda on migration, and instead leave responsibility for that to everyone else.

The House of Lords described the Government’s reasons for opting out of relocation as unconvincing. I would say that that is being pretty kind to the Government. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) said, the idea that whether or not the UK takes part in relocation schemes affects the number of people attempting dangerous crossings is utterly unsupported by evidence. It has been several months since the UK first said that it was going to shirk its responsibilities in this regard, and still more and more people make the crossing. They are doing that because they are fleeing

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desperate circumstances, not on the off-chance that they will be incredibly lucky in a lottery of a relocation scheme and end up in the United Kingdom. A European relocation scheme should be a response to an emergency situation—a humanitarian crisis. As the Lords EU Committee said, failing to opt in means that we are failing to live up to our duty of solidarity and burden-sharing between member states.

A crisis on this scale requires collective action. Dealing with more than 900,000 people arriving in desperate circumstances is an impossible task for two or three countries to take on. In a Union of 500 million people their arrival poses a huge challenge—there is no doubt about that—but it is surmountable given that they represent less than 0.2% of the population. As the European agenda document states:

“No Member State can effectively address migration alone. It is clear that we need a new, more European approach.”

That is the approach that the Government should take rather than their head-in-the-sand approach to what is going on in Europe just now.

8.51 pm

James Brokenshire: With the leave of the House, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will respond briefly to some of the points that have been raised during the debate.

Organised immigration crime is an important issue. It is worth underlining that in recent months we have developed a 90-member-strong organised immigration taskforce which has had a strong focus on the crime networks operating in some source countries and at transit points, including the Mediterranean, as well as the UK border and in France. We have disrupted more than 600 organised crime groups this year, and our taskforce will be expanded to a 100-strong team. Access to and sharing of data is vital to joint efforts to combat the criminal gangs. In the Government’s view, it is essential that enhanced data sharing, including with Europol, forms part of the EU’s response.

The Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), asked about the Government’s priorities for action by the EU. I have written to the Committee on this previously, but to underline the position, we have highlighted four points: first, how EU money is spent on tackling problems at source in transit countries; secondly, an increased focus on fighting organised crime, with better joining up between member states; thirdly, dealing with economic migration regarding those who enter the EU without effective controls staying without consequence, where the issue of claims of refugee status not made out needs to be addressed more firmly; and fourthly, a stronger coherence between upstream development work and the return of economic migrants.

My hon. Friend highlighted the issue of Dublin. We strongly support the Dublin regulations. We believe that an applicant’s asylum claim made in the EU should be dealt with by the member state most responsible for their presence in the EU. We are aware, however, that the Commission is reviewing the Dublin regulations with a view to bringing forward a new measure next spring. We are co-operating with that review, but we believe that the long-standing principles at the heart of the Dublin system are the right ones, and that it would be a major error to replace them with completely different, untried and untested measures.

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In respect of the operations in the Mediterranean and Operation Sophia, we are in phase 2, which is the high seas operation. The House will no doubt be updated, through reports of EU Council of Ministers meetings, should there be further progress, which we look to. This is very much focused on the situation in Libya. We welcome the support from a broad range of Libyans from across the political spectrum in recognising the urgency of creating a long-awaited Government of national accord, and urge all political actors to sign on 16 December. The Rome ministerial meeting of 13 December demonstrated unified international support for the UN-led effort to establish a Government of national accord in Libya. We continue to support that and to see it as a priority for moving forward.

The EU-Turkey action plan covers most of our priority areas, including controlling the flow of migrants to the EU from Turkey. It is about improving education, health and labour rights for Syrian refugees in Turkey to address the potential push factors for further migration. It is important to stress that Turkey is accepting the return of some failed asylum seekers and tackling smuggling networks. The agreed action plan incentivises Turkey to do more on border management. It does not guarantee visa liberalisation in relation to Turkey, and the UK does not have to offer a reciprocal visa concession. It is important to underline and stress that.

Jim Shannon: In an earlier intervention, I mentioned the human rights abuses taking place in Turkey. Has the Minister had any discussions with his ministerial colleagues about that matter? It is clear to me and many other Members that those human rights abuses have not stopped; indeed, they are continuing.

James Brokenshire: I underline to the hon. Gentleman that, although we support Turkey’s EU accession process and are working on it closely with Turkey, EU member states and the European institutions, the accession process recognises that Turkey needs to do more to meet EU standards through continuing reform, particularly in the area of fundamental rights and the rule of law. Active and credible accession negotiations remain the best way for Turkey to make further progress.

We have touched on the hotspots issue. The UK stands ready to support, through the European Asylum Support Office and others, and to ensure that the appropriate support mechanisms are in place.

Our position on the migration crisis is practical, pragmatic and focused on the need for a concerted humanitarian response for those who need our protection; ensuring the sustainability of EU asylum systems; pursuing effective co-operation with EU partners; combating illegal migration and those who profit from it; and protecting our security. That is where the Government’s focus remains, and I urge the House to support our motion.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House takes note of European Union Documents No. 8961/15, a European Agenda on Migration, No. 9345/15, EU Action Plan against migrant smuggling, unnumbered Document, a Council Decision on a European Union military operation in the Southern Central Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR Med), unnumbered Document, a Council Decision to launch EUNAVFOR Med, and a Draft Action Plan on Stepping up EU-Turkey cooperation

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on support of refugees and migration management in view of the situation in Syria and Iraq; and supports the Government’s aim of working with the EU and Member States and other international partners to develop a coherent and sustainable approach to addressing current migratory pressures, focused on shorter and longer term actions to break the business model of people smugglers and traffickers, to break the link between rescue at sea and permanent settlement in the EU, and to address the root causes of migrants’ journeys.

Business without Debate

business of the House


That at the sitting on Wednesday 16 December the Speaker shall put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motion in the name of Secretary Iain Duncan Smith relating to the Welfare Cap not later than ninety minutes after their commencement; such Questions shall include the Questions on any Amendments selected by the Speaker which may then be moved; proceedings may continue, though opposed, after the moment of interruption; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.—(Dr Thérèse Coffey.)

delegated legislation

Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel): With the leave of the House, we shall take motions 6 and 7 together.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

financial services and markets

That the draft Payment Accounts Regulations 2015, which were laid before this House on 17 November, be approved.

disclosure of information

That the draft Disclosure of Exporter Information Regulations 2015, which were laid before this House on 17 November, be approved.—(Charlie Elphicke.)

Question agreed to.

Backbench business


That Kevin Foster be a member of the Backbench Business Committee.—(Jackie Doyle-Price, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.)

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Student Nursing (Finance)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Jackie Doyle-Price.)

8.57 pm

Wes Streeting (Ilford North) (Lab): I am grateful for this opportunity to lead my first Adjournment debate on the serious issue of finance for student nurses and midwives.

I have a long-standing interest in the issues. I spent much of my career outside this place working for a number of charities to widen access to higher education and to tackle broader educational disadvantage. As deputy leader and cabinet member for health and wellbeing in the London borough of Redbridge, I became acutely aware of the challenges facing frontline staff and managers in both of the NHS trusts that serve my constituents in Ilford North. I am also a proud supporter of Unison and draw Members’ attention my declaration of interests. I am grateful to Unison, the National Union of Students, of which I am a former president, and many other organisations for their assistance in drawing together the evidence for this evening’s debate.

With just a few lines in the autumn statement, the Chancellor announced the biggest shake-up in the funding of nursing, midwifery and allied health subjects since the Health Services and Public Health Act 1968. By scrapping student bursaries and charging them tuition fees, the Chancellor is passing on the full cost of training to these essential frontline staff for the first time. The scale and potential consequences of his decisions merit further parliamentary scrutiny and public debate, and I hope that tonight will provide the first of many opportunities for that debate to take place.

Nursing and midwifery students currently pay no tuition fees for their studies and receive a non-means-tested grant of up to £1,000 and a means-tested bursary of up to £3,191 to help with the costs of living while they study and train. That is significant because students on both courses are required to work throughout their degrees in clinical practice, where they are subject to the full 24-hour care cycle. They work evenings, nights and weekends. Many will spend 60% of their degree doing that, with nurses required to work at least 2,300 hours across their degree. Even with the current levels of financial support in place, many struggle to make ends meet. Their courses are longer, their holidays are shorter and their placements are demanding. Those who do paid work outside their course can end up working more than 60 hours a week as a result, and they should not be expected to do so.

There has been a public outcry at the planned loss of the NHS bursary, but the Government’s plans go even further. Nursing and midwifery students will not only lose their grant and bursaries for maintenance; they will be expected to take out loans to pay for their tuition fees for the first time. These changes will burden students with eye-watering debts of at least £51,600, which they will begin to pay back as soon as they graduate, because nurses currently earn a starting salary just above the repayment threshold, which, shamefully, is now to be frozen at £21,000. As a result, nurses will on average take a pay cut of £900 a year to meet their debt repayments. That is no way for Ministers to treat the people who form the backbone of the NHS.

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Given that the Government see fit to charge students for the cost of their tuition, will the Minister confirm whether he intends to pay student midwives and nurses for the hours they have to put into staffing our hospitals? If a private sector company tried to get workers to work long shifts and to pay for the privilege of working those long shifts while training, they would rightly be condemned. We should be no less outraged by what Ministers propose for nurses and midwives.

The impact of the changes will be felt beyond nurses and midwives; physiotherapists, occupational therapists, dieticians, chiropodists, podiatrists, radiographers, paramedics, prosthetists and other allied health professionals stand to lose out. We are not talking about the highest-paid people in this land; this assault on the living standards of key public sector workers is rightly causing outrage among NHS staff and members of the public who cherish the work they do on our behalf.

Given the scale and significance of the reforms, it is outrageous that the Government chose to sneak them out in the autumn statement. The Chancellor’s statement made an oblique reference to replacing

“direct funding with loans for new students”.—[Official Report, 25 November 2015; Vol. 602, c. 1363.]

The policy decision on page 126 of the Blue Book merely says:

“Students studying nursing, midwifery and allied health subjects from September 2017 will be moved on to the standard student support system, with the details subject to consultation.”

As the Government have placed so little information in the public domain so far and higher education institutions and potential applicants are already turning their minds to the 2017 admissions round, I hope that the Minister can shed some light on the details this evening. Will he confirm that the Government will consult on the principle of the policy changes, not merely on their implementation? What is the full timetable for the decision from consultation through to implementation?

What analysis have the Government conducted of students in receipt of NHS bursaries for tuition and maintenance costs? Will they publish an equality impact assessment for the proposals? What research have the Government conducted into the financial hardship facing existing nursery and midwifery students and students of allied health subjects?

Why do the Government think it is fair that students from the most deprived backgrounds should have their grants taken away while some of the wealthiest people in our society receive tax cuts? How much of this debt do the Government expect to write off because those indebted by these reforms are unable to repay them in full?

Which Department will meet the cost of servicing the RAB—resource accounting and budgeting—charge for the student loan debt: the Department of Health or the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills? What are the Barnett consequentials for health education budgets in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, where different arrangements are in place?

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing this issue before the House. I understand that 56,000 students on the mainland, including Scotland and Wales, may be in debt as a result of this change. In Northern Ireland, the Health Minister has committed himself to continuing the bursary. We are doing that in Northern Ireland; perhaps the rest of the United Kingdom should do the same.

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Wes Streeting: I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Gentleman. He rightly points out that this change will open up a postcode lottery across the United Kingdom, as its different parts choose to treat nurses and trainee nurses and midwives in different ways.

In the junior doctors dispute—the Government have belatedly seen sense and decided to reflect on their position—we faced the prospect of junior doctors in my constituency flocking to other parts of the United Kingdom because the situation there was more generous. With great respect to all the people represented in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, I want to keep in my constituency the talented trainee doctors, nurses, midwives and other health professions living in my constituency so that they can serve my constituents when they work at King George and Whipps Cross hospitals. These are very serious issues.

Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP): The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent speech and excellent points on the significance of nursing to the whole country. He might like to know that the students I have met in Scotland send a message of solidarity to their colleagues in England. They do not want to see bursaries cut, because nurses are under enough pressure as it is. I congratulate him on securing this debate.

Wes Streeting: I am very grateful for that intervention and I wholeheartedly concur with the hon. Lady.

Government Members may wear the NHS badge on their lapel, but they are quick to attack the conditions of NHS staff when it comes to taking difficult decisions. [Interruption.] They ask how I would fund it. When we were in government, even when we made changes to higher education student finance, we did not do this. We will take no lessons from the Conservative party on spending plans. It attacked Labour’s spending plans at the 2010 general election because we wanted to halve the deficit and it was promising to eliminate it. Then what did it do? It halved the deficit. When it comes to their record on spending plans, the Government are in no position to hector other parties.

Angela Rayner (Ashton-under-Lyne) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that what is so devastating about these plans is that people from my constituency and from my background—I am a former Unison activist who looked after NHS staff—will not be able to go into the nursing profession? We are crying out for nurses and for people to fill the positions. The NHS has been burdened by the use of agency staff because the staff are not available. This policy will put people from my constituency off going into those positions.

Wes Streeting: My hon. Friend speaks with great experience. The Government should heed the points she makes.

I will turn to the other questions I have for the Minister. How will clinical placements be funded under the student loans system? The Government talk about the number of places they can expand, but it is not like expanding a history undergraduate course because occupational placements need to be arranged. The Government should explain how they intend to fund them.

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Given the number of mature applicants for nursing, midwifery and allied health subjects, what assessment have the Government made of the likely impact of the reforms on applications from mature students? Are the Government at all concerned that applications from mature students may fall, given the detrimental impact that the coalition Government’s student finance reforms had on mature and part-time student numbers? Given that many people choose healthcare as a second degree and may not be willing to take on more than £100,000 of debt, how will the Government ensure that this route is not closed to such students? Have the Government conducted any evaluation at all that might give us a clue as to the extent of the risk that these reforms pose to recruitment?

The Government suggested in the spending review that half of all applicants to nursing courses are turned away. Do they have any evidence of what stage they are turned away at? If it is really the case that people are flocking to these professions, will the Minister explain why my local NHS trust has been so reliant on temporary and agency staff, including nurses who have been flown over from Portugal, to address the recruitment and retention challenges facing the NHS?

Additional allowances are currently available for students with different circumstances. Will the Minister inform the House whether any changes will be made to additional allowances, such as the extra weeks allowance or the dependants allowance? If so, what are those planned changes and what assessment have the Government made of their potential impact?

Given the press speculation over the weekend that the Government plan to increase the overall cap on university tuition fees, what assurance can the Minister give the House that students studying nursing, midwifery and allied health subjects will not see their tuition fees and debts hiked up even further than is being suggested? Given that the Government seem content to shift the goalposts for existing students and graduates, does the Minister really expect current or future students to believe that the terms and conditions they sign up to will not be changed and applied retrospectively further down the line? At the very least, I hope the Minister will confirm this evening that the NHS will continue to fund the tuition fees for existing students for the remainder of their studies.

When the coalition Government chose to increase tuition fees in 2010, the move was subject to a debate and a vote in this House. Given the media speculation that Cabinet Office Ministers are busy trying to find ways to avoid proper debate and scrutiny of a possible increase in the overall cap on tuition fees, will the Minister give the House an assurance that we will have a full debate and a vote should the Government choose to extend tuition fees to nursing, midwifery and allied health subject courses? Many students have already written to Ministers in the Department of Health and are awaiting a reply. Will the Minister commit to meeting student representatives to discuss their concerns?

It is not hard to understand why the Government’s shift in policy is generating so much concern and anxiety. In recent days I have heard representations from, among others, Unison, the Royal College of Nursing, the National Union of Students, the University of Hertfordshire,

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the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. I have been contacted by student nurses and midwives in my constituency, and received messages of support for this debate from those in the constituencies of other right hon. and hon. Members.

Before I conclude, I would like to share with the House some of the stories that I have heard, and I will finish by making a few points about nursing and midwifery students. These are exceptional people and their dedication to others is truly remarkable. They work long hours, often in difficult situations, and they take a direct role in caring for patients when they are at their most vulnerable. Nursing students have told me how immensely challenging their work can be. They hold the hands of patients in their final moments, and comfort them as they pass. They are the face of reassurance to patients, and a bedrock of support for families.

Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech, and I wanted to share my thoughts as someone whose son’s life, and whose own life, was saved by a student midwife. Does he agree that making those people not just work for free but even pay to save the lives of people like me and my son, is simply despicable?

Wes Streeting: I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend, and I am grateful to her for sharing her difficult personal experiences.

Nurses care for us in some of our darkest and most painful moments, and the weight of their responsibility carries with it a heavy physical and emotional load. The same is true for our nation’s midwives. One spoke of the difficulties that she faced when a baby was stillborn and she had to comfort the mother, while also taking hand and foot prints so that the parents would have memories of the baby they lost. She will never forget the shift when she spent 12 and a half hours with a mother who miscarried twins. She had five hours of rest, and then came back to do another 12 and a half hours with the same woman. She has supported the delivery of 10 babies, and she feels immense pride in being part of the wondrous moment of childbirth.

As the saying goes “Save one life and you’re a hero; save 100 lives and you’re a nurse.” These people are seeking to qualify into these difficult professions and form the NHS of tomorrow. They deserve our respect, admiration and support, as well as the right incentives to continue or even commence study in the first place. Ministers should listen to the students who are protesting, and to the nearly 150,000 people who have signed the petition to keep the NHS bursary. The Government owe it to patients and students to think their proposals through properly, and I ask them to pause this process. It would be a tragedy if the next Florence Nightingale or Edith Cavell were discouraged from the profession because of these changes. I look forward to the Minister’s response, and I hope that in the coming days, weeks and months, he will listen carefully to the voices of those who form the backbone of our national health service.

9.13 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Ben Gummer): It is a privilege to respond to this debate, and the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting)

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made a powerful speech. I know that he has experience and expertise in student finance. He was on the front line when we had discussions in this place some years ago, albeit outside the Chamber, and he brings passion and knowledge to this debate. He may feel that I am rehearsing points that he has heard previously, but before I address some of the specific and detailed questions that he rightly raised, I hope he will not mind if I run through some of the issues and reasons why the Government feel that this measure is the right thing to do at this time.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that nursing remains one of the few subjects not within the purview of the current student finance system. To our mind, the current system is not delivering as it should for either students or patients. Simply put, nursing is one of the most oversubscribed subjects in the whole academic range, and the fifth most popular subject that UCAS offers. Last year, there were 57,000 applicants for the 20,000 nursing places available.

I do not wish to go down the route of discussing NHS finance, because it will lead us to a place that is not easy for the hon. Gentleman’s argument and not particularly realistic. There is no way that any Government of any stripe would be able to offer a place to every single person with the necessary qualifications who wished under the current funding system to apply for a nursing place. The question for us is this: how do we change the system to give more people the opportunity to study nursing, and do so in a way that we are able better to supply the nurses and the nursing positions required in the NHS?

The hon. Gentleman asked a very important and pertinent question, which is why in his hospital, which I know from having gone there and from discussing this with him in other debates in this place, he should be seeing a shortage of filled nursing places. It is a function of parts of London that there are problems in recruiting—I was in Hull last week where they have a similar problem, albeit for different reasons—and yet there is an oversubscription for places. He could have added that we almost have a record number of nurses in training at the moment. So how does that add up?

Under the Government, we have seen a significant expansion in the number of nurses in the workplace. The response to the tragic events at Mid Staffs, the subsequent Francis report and the results of the Morecambe Bay inquiry led us to the conclusion that had eluded previous Governments: we needed safe staffing levels on wards that were not, in some parts of the country and in some hospitals, safely staffed. That required a significant increase in nursing numbers, which could be provided in the short term only by agency nurses. That is why we have not only increased the number of nurses in training—clearly, they take a while to come through—but have been required to take action on the cost of agencies taking advantage of the situation. That does not change the fact that it is simply not possible, within the current funding set-up, to satisfy either the demand for or the supply of nursing places.

There are other reasons. Even if we did not need to do something to get a better match between the number of nursing places and what the NHS requires and students want, I would want to push this reform. It is for that reason that I directly disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s assessment of student finance reform. I disagreed with

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him when we had this discussion in 2011, albeit not in this Chamber. If I may gently put it, I think those on the Conservative side of the House were proved right by those reforms. The simple fact is that we now have more applications from disadvantaged students to higher education than ever before in the history of higher education. We have seen a significant expansion in the number of students full stop going into higher education. Eighteen-year-olds from the most disadvantaged areas were 72% more likely to apply to higher education in 2015 than they were in 2006. It has happened in precisely the opposite way to what he and his friends on the Labour Benches, when they were making the argument in 2011, expected to happen.

Wes Streeting: The Minister should look more carefully at what happened to mature student applications following the reforms—they plummeted—and think about the profile of the people applying to be nurses and midwives. Does he accept that the majority of loan debt will never be paid back, including by graduates who will earn far more than nurses?

Ben Gummer: I will turn to mature students, but I hope the hon. Gentleman will concede my central point. The significant majority of students going into nursing are doing so at an undergraduate point at 18 or 19 years of age. For that cohort across the rest of the higher education sector, we have seen the most spectacular expansion in opportunity than at any time since higher education was opened up more broadly to people after the second world war. That is something that Members on both sides of the House should celebrate. I know that those on the sensible wing of the Labour party also embrace the reforms and see why they were a good thing.

I disagree with many in the Opposition, but to be direct with the hon. Gentleman, I want to bring those advantages to student nursing. I want to expand the number of places available to people from all backgrounds to give them the opportunity to enter nursing, and I want to secure the advantages that come from bringing people from non-traditional and disadvantaged backgrounds into nursing, in the same way as we achieved in the rest of the higher education sector. I believe passionately in that. Even if the NHS and the students themselves—the 37,000 who applied but did not get a place last year—did not require this change, I would still be making it, because it is the right thing to do for those who otherwise would not have an opportunity. Under the new student financing arrangements, they will have that opportunity.

Peter Kyle (Hove) (Lab): I wish to press the Minister on my hon. Friend’s point about mature students. In higher education, the number of mature students attending has now fallen by half. This is directly related to the current funding regime. The social mobility commissioner has cited education as the key vehicle by which mature people can achieve social mobility. How will the Minister prevent the number of mature nursing students falling as it has done in higher education?

Ben Gummer: I will turn to that point with pleasure, if the hon. Gentleman will give me a few minutes, because I have several things to say about mature students. I accept that this area of the proposals requires close attention, which is why I want to ensure that they are as robust as possible and that the consultation, to which the hon. Member for Ilford North referred, is as good as possible.

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I want to answer the questions from the hon. Member for Ilford North about the consultation. We will consult on the full gamut of the reforms, but we will not consult on the principle, because that has been decided, as was outlined by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. It is unfair to say he sneaked it out, given that it was made evident in his speech and was reacted to by the Opposition, as I know because I heard them. As for the timetable, the consultation will begin in January. We have not determined precisely when it will conclude, but it will be a full consultation. In significant part, it will look at how to ensure that mature students are supported, and I can confirm one element of it: we will allow mature students to apply for a second loan. Of course, that will account for only a small number of the cohort, but we will look at the impact of the changes on mature students, because they make up about a third of the cohort going into nursing.

Mr George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab): I am a little confused by the Minister’s argument, which appears to be that by removing an existing advantage, he will create an advantage for more people to enter the nursing profession. Most people listening will find that slightly illogical, but he is not normally an illogical person. Would it not be sensible to do as my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) suggested and have a proper impact assessment followed by a vote in Parliament, so that we can decide the right way forward, on the basis of that impact assessment?

Ben Gummer: The right hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, and I can tell him that an economic impact assessment and an equality impact assessment will be published with the consultation. I hope that that will begin to inform the debate. He might imagine that my proposition does not align with what he thinks the effect will be. I just ask him to look at what happened in 2011 when we did the same for the vast majority of other students, when Opposition Members put exactly the same arguments and warnings, and since when the precise opposite has happened.

Mr Howarth: The Minister is being generous in giving way twice, but we are not talking about what happened then; we are talking about a particular group that at the time was excluded from the provisions. He has not yet explained why he has now decided to include them in those provisions, other than by saying he is taking away an advantage that already exists.

Ben Gummer: It is simply because I wish to see the same advantages that accrue to those already on the new finance system accruing to those who are not. I want to see an expansion in the number of places and I want to see the effects of the changes made by the Office for Fair Access to university admissions in the rest of the sector applied to nursing, so that we see not only an expansion in the numbers of nurses being trained, but a broadening of the backgrounds of those going into nursing, exactly as has happened in all other areas of higher education.

I want to explain, I hope quickly, how this change forms part of a wider reform we are making in student access to nursing. The hon. Member for Ilford North framed his entire speech, understandably so, around the

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university route into nursing, but he omitted to reflect on the fact that the Government have stated that we will introduce an apprenticeship route into nursing to degree level—level 6. That will provide an alternative route into nursing, whereby nurses will be able to earn while they learn from healthcare assistant level all the way to a full nursing qualification at degree level. It will be possible for them to do so as mature students, which means it might take a bit longer, but they will be able to earn all the way from an existing job to gaining a nursing qualification—an innovation that should be welcomed on both sides of the House and which will mark a real expansion of opportunity for the current NHS.

Jess Phillips rose—

Ben Gummer: Before I give way to the hon. Lady, I should also explain that there are many people working as healthcare assistants at the moment who do not have the opportunity to progress to a nursing position unless they leave the workforce to do so. That puts many of them in an impossible position, because they have families to support and other duties and responsibilities. For the first time, we have been able to give that group of people an opportunity to progress, through the apprenticeship route, to a full nursing position. That will expand the whole area of career progression to include one of the larger cohorts in the NHS workforce, in a way that no Government have previously been able to do.

Jess Phillips: I wonder whether the Minister can clarify whether people will be paid for doing that apprenticeship and, if so, at what rates they would be paid. He rightly referred to getting mature students with families into work, so will he also say whether that cohort will fall foul of the rule that people must be doing 16 hours of work, and not be in training, to receive the Government’s 30 hours of free childcare? It was made clear in the Childcare Public Bill Committee that those nurses currently studying would not be able to access the 30 hours’ free childcare because that would not be considered work. When they saved my life, it looked like work.

Ben Gummer: The hon. Lady speaks with authority from her own personal experience—I have noticed that recently she has spoken her mind without holding back. We are in detailed discussions with the Nursing and Midwifery Council about precisely how the apprenticeship route will work. The council is the independent regulator and has to certify that the qualification matches the existing degree/university route. The qualification has to have complete equality of both esteem and rigour. Of course we envisage the apprentices earning a salary. We envisage opening the route to existing healthcare assistants to give them the opportunity to progress to a nursing grade while continuing at a similar salary point as an apprentice. However, because the hon. Lady’s question about maternity care pertains to student nurses rather than apprentices, I will ensure that I write to her in detail.

The hon. Lady clearly sees why this is an idea with strength, so I hope that in asking her question she realises that there will be two routes into nursing: the university route and the apprenticeship route. I think this is potentially one of the most exciting innovations in the workforce of the NHS for several decades, because

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it opens up nursing to a whole range of existing workers who have not had an opportunity before, and provides a wholly different route into nursing, but with the same rigour and robustness that the existing university degree route provides.

Peter Kyle rose

Ben Gummer: I shall give way once more, but I do not want to detain the House much longer.

Peter Kyle: I thank the Minister for giving way a second time. It is clear that he really cares about getting mature students into these nursing training programmes. If the numbers fall as we go forward, will he come back to us and report on it, and will he pause any further reforms until that decline is halted?

Ben Gummer: I expect to be held account for this significant reform right the way through the changes that are envisaged. I hope to be able to return to provide good news about progress, as has happened in other student areas. That is why we want to be very deliberative about the way in which we form this consultation, because it is important to get it right.

I have taken note of the careful questioning of the hon. Member for Ilford North, who clearly understands the full gamut of the issues that need to be addressed in this consultation. Let me answer some of the questions he raised, and I shall write to him about any that I do not answer.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the funding of clinical placements. We have already started discussions with Universities UK about that, and it will form part of the wider consultations. The Barnett consequentials will be a matter for Her Majesty’s Treasury, as is the case for everything else connected to Barnett consequentials. I know that BIS officials are discussing the issue in the normal way.

The hon. Gentleman asked about research into financial hardship, and I know that that will form part of the consultation. The Government will be open to any further research beyond the economic impact assessment.

I was asked whether I would be happy to meet students. Of course I would. I have already met Unison and the Royal College of Nursing to discuss the changes I wish to make. I should not pretend to answer for them, but I have had productive discussions with both, especially about the apprenticeship route. I know that we will disagree with both Unison and the RCN about bursaries, but I think there is an understanding, particularly on the part of Unison, of how we are trying to open up different routes to nursing for different parts of the workforce. If we get it right, the apprenticeship model will be a strong one.

The hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) made an important point in her intervention about agency nurses, so let me answer that as I am passing. As I alluded to earlier, part of the reason we are looking

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at that issue is to ensure that we provide a more sustainable workforce throughput, so that we do not need to rely on agencies and bank staff for the peaks in NHS demand. That is why we need to do something about numbers, and I hope that, as a result of the Chancellor’s announcement, we will increase the number by 10,000 over the course of this Parliament—a very significant increase in the establishment of student nurses. In fact, it will be the largest increase in student nurses under any Government since 1948.

I hope I have answered the majority of the questions put by the hon. Member for Ilford North—

Wes Streeting rose

Ben Gummer: Clearly I have not. I will allow him an opportunity to intervene once more, but I do not want to detain the House much longer.

Wes Streeting: I particularly welcome what the Minister said about treading carefully and thoughtfully around the consultation. The one issue he has not addressed, however, is whether extending the tuition fees regime to nursing, midwifery and other allied health subject students will be subject to a full and thoughtful debate followed by a vote in this House and the other place.

Ben Gummer: I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a definitive answer to that question yet. Let us wait and see the outcome of the consultation, so that the House can be best informed. I imagine that there will be ample opportunities in Backbench Business Committee debates and indeed Opposition day debates, and I know that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will want to bring these issues up for further debate. I will reflect the hon. Gentleman’s concerns to the Secretary of State and to the Leader of the House, and I am sure they will receive them with interest.

I genuinely thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing forward this debate, which has provided an opportunity for the Government to explain our plans and the rationale behind them. There will be points on which we will disagree, but I hope the hon. Gentleman will see the force of our arguments about wanting to expand the nursing workforce, to provide different routes into nursing and to provide the sort of opportunities to 18 and 19-year-old undergraduate nurses that have been extended to other parts of the higher education sphere. These are big proposals. They could mean a remarkable and rapid transformation of the NHS workforce, and a significant expansion in the number of nursing students. We need to get it right, and I hope that, through a constructive discussion across the House, drawing on the kind of expertise we have heard from Members in this short Adjournment debate, we will indeed get it right.

Question put and agreed to.

9.35 pm

House adjourned.