Contrary to what the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr Holloway) has just said, we are facing a refugee crisis in Europe, not a crisis involving economic migrants. I will particularly address the plight of women and child refugees. The First Minister of Scotland has said that we should be in no doubt that what we are witnessing is a humanitarian crisis on a scale not seen in Europe since the second world war. Most of the people travelling through Turkey, Greece and the Balkans to try to get to western Europe are doing so because they are desperate.

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The images of their suffering will continue to haunt our consciences, and the reputation of this union of nations, for many generations to come if we do not do more collectively to help them.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about public opinion. In so far as I can judge public opinion in my constituency of Edinburgh South West, the vast majority of emails that I have received—many hundreds have come in batches and waves since September—have been asking this Parliament to encourage the Government to do more for the refugees in Europe, as opposed to doing nothing or less.

I recognise that the UK Government are making a substantial contribution to humanitarian initiatives on the ground in some of the countries that refugees are coming from, and I recognise the significant financial contributions that have been made to aid. I also recognise the United Kingdom’s commitment to take 20,000 vulnerable refugees over the next five years, but I regret to say that I do not believe those initiatives are enough. We, as a union of nations, are required to do more, and we are required to encourage the European Union to have a better co-ordinated response. We also need greater international effort through the United Nations.

I often hear what the hon. Gentleman said about the moral argument—that if we encourage people to come, we are simply throwing them into the arms of people smugglers and encouraging them to take their life in their hands. If one looks at the situation in the round, these refugees have not been met with a particularly welcoming attitude in Europe—certainly our union of nations has not been welcoming to them—yet they are continuing to come, so I feel that that moral argument falls down somewhat.

The majority of these people are refugees, not economic migrants. They are, of course, seeking a better life, but their main reason for doing that and leaving their countries is that those countries have been destroyed or deeply compromised by conflict. It is particularly inappropriate for the United Kingdom to wash its hands of taking any of the people who are now in Europe given that we have joined in with those conflicts. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that, and there were respectable arguments on both sides, as a Parliament we took the view that we would join those conflicts and interfere in other countries’ civil wars by dropping bombs, which is all the more reason for not washing our hands of responsibility for some of the refugees who are coming to Europe.

I strongly believe that the United Kingdom should take a fair and proportionate share of the refugees who are now in Europe. How we go about doing that, and how we address the situation, is complex, but it is fundamentally morally wrong—I use the word “morally” advisedly on Ash Wednesday—for us to say that we will do nothing for these people who are so desperate. I recognise that we are helping them in their own countries and on the ground, but people are coming to Europe in droves. We see their suffering on the news every night, and it is wrong for a relatively wealthy union of nations such as ours to do nothing about it.

Mr Holloway: I see where the hon. and learned Lady is coming from, and I appreciate the great good will that she shows to all these people, but in law they are not refugees. Someone is a refugee until they find refuge in a

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safe country, and at that point, although apparently they can later be designated as a refugee, they are an economic migrant.

My other point is that just because someone comes from, say, Afghanistan, it does not necessarily mean that they are fleeing violence. I met a guy from Afghanistan the other day in the “jungle” camp in Calais who comes from a part of the country where there is no fighting. We need to wise up.

Joanna Cherry: As the hon. Gentleman probably knows, I am a lawyer, but in this situation the niceties of whether these people are refugees in law matters not. We did not bother ourselves unduly in the United Kingdom about the legal position of the Jewish children when we took them in on the Kindertransport, or about the legal position of the Ugandan refugees. Even the former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, was persuaded to take some of the Vietnamese boat people. So this is not a debate about legalities; it is a debate about the correct humanitarian response, the responsibility of the world’s relatively wealthy nations to take responsibility for people who are suffering greatly and our particular responsibility to do that when we have chosen to become involved in the conflicts that are creating refugees. I hasten to add that I make no comment about the rights or wrongs of that, but we are involved now, so we have to recognise the implications of our involvement.

Mr Holloway: I am sure that the hon. and learned Lady’s constituents would like to know what percentage of the populations of Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya she thinks should come to live in this country if they want to do so.

Joanna Cherry: The position of the Scottish Government has been clear. We will take a fair share of a proportionate number coming to the United Kingdom. Indeed, some Syrian asylum seekers and vulnerable refugees have already been resettled in my constituency of Edinburgh South West.

Mr Holloway: How many?

Joanna Cherry: I am not at liberty to reveal the precise figure. It is not a large number, because the United Kingdom Government do not permit us to take a large number, and it is a reserved matter, so our hands are tied. Our First Minister has made it clear that we are willing to take a fair and proportionate share. How that is done has to be decided at a higher level even than the UK, which is why European Union co-operation is so important.

I want to say something about the plight of women and child refugees, because earlier this month, about a week or so ago, UNICEF reported that for the first time since the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe started, there are more women and children on the move than adult males, and that children and women now make up nearly 60% of the refugees and migrants crossing the border from Greece to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Children now account for 36%—that is more than a third—of those risking the treacherous sea crossing between Turkey and Greece. The figure of 330 having drowned in the past five months has often been mentioned on the Floor of the House. UNICEF

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has emphasised that children should be prioritised at every stop of the way. Particularly when they get to Europe, they need to be informed of their right to claim asylum and their right to family reunification.

It is important not to forget the terrible conditions from which many women and children are fleeing. It has been well documented that women in Iraq and Syria are the targets of brutal oppression and sexual attacks perpetrated by Daesh. Rape is considered useful by Daesh as it traumatises individuals and undermines their sense of autonomy, control and safety. Rape is always an issue in war, but it is a particular issue in these wars. The former UN assistant commissioner for the protection of refugees said last year that

“Syria is increasingly marked by rape and sexual violence employed as a weapon of war…destroying identity, dignity and the social fabrics of families and communities”.

Female and child survivors of such sexual crimes are often shunned by their own communities, which is all the more reason why they come to Europe seeking refuge. When those people come, it is essential that they are treated with dignity and respect and that their particular vulnerabilities are recognised.

Save the Children has called on the UK to take 3,000 of the unaccompanied child refugees in Europe, and there is a moral imperative for us to consider that carefully—I am aware that the Government are considering it at present. I appeal for recognition of the reality of the desperateness of the situation and of the vulnerability of so many of these refugees, particularly female and child refugees. There should be recognition of the reality of sexual violence perpetrated as a weapon of war, which many women and children are fleeing, and of our moral obligation as a wealthy first-world nation to take our fair share of the burden.

Jonathan Lord: I am grateful to the hon. and learned Lady for giving way. She is making an eloquent speech, but there is something that I do not quite understand. The thesis of my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr Holloway) is that while hundreds of thousands have already come to Europe, if we offer a home to millions there will be an almost inexhaustible supply of further people who will then want to come, and that is surely unsustainable. I do not understand how she is really addressing my hon. Friend’s main thesis.

Joanna Cherry: I do not accept the main thesis of the hon. Member for Gravesham, which is why—

Jonathan Lord: In what way?

Joanna Cherry: I am coming at this from a different angle. These are not straightforward matters, but my point is that we cannot wash our hands of these people. It is not right for the United Kingdom to say that we will take nobody from Europe. We need to get together with our European partners and talk about how to address the complex issues that arise as a result of this massive refugee crisis—or massive migration, depending on the language that people wish to use. It is really tragic that the United Kingdom is abdicating its responsibility to lead at such talks and discussions when we look back at the United Kingdom’s proud history of taking in refugees at other times when countries washed their hands of them—I am thinking of the Kindertransport in particular.

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I would be foolish to deny that there is a potential issue in considering how many people may come and the sustainability of that process, but at the moment there is space for the people who are here. There are some estimates that there are 20,000 unaccompanied children in Europe at the moment. Is it really this country’s position that we will not take any of them? We seem to be moving in the right direction on that issue, but it should not stop at unaccompanied children. Sure, there are strong young men who manage to make it as far as Calais, but there are also very vulnerable people. The point of my speech today is an appeal for a humanitarian response to the crisis rather than a purely utilitarian response.

3.1 pm

Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con): Thank you, Mr Rosindell, for calling me to speak. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today.

This debate should focus on immigration and not necessarily on refugee status, because we are talking about people who wish to make a home in our country and not necessarily those who are fleeing persecution. I will therefore confine my remarks more to immigration than to refugees. I say to the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) that I would not base my views simply on what turns up in my postbag. Many surveys carried out regularly by reputable companies have shown that migration and population control is an important concern of the British public.

Joanna Cherry: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs Main: No, I will not. The hon. and learned Lady had 10 minutes, and there are many people wishing to speak.

We should be talking about immigration, which includes some people with refugee status but also a large number of people who come to this country either because of their membership of the EU or because they are coming here as economic migrants. My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr Holloway) made a powerful and well informed set of comments, based on having been in the camps, not just on people writing to him in his postbag.

If this issue was not such a concern to the British public, I do not believe that even now our Prime Minister would be trying to thrash out some deal that allays the fears of the British public about our loss of control over immigration into this country as a result of our membership of the EU.

It is telling that Mr Manuel Barroso said last night in an interview that what we are trying to achieve is a form of control on immigration through benefits packages, and that his view is that that will make no difference whatsoever. I share that view, because I do not believe that people necessarily come here because they have been lured by benefits. I believe that many people come here because they wish to work. They wish to take advantage of the opportunities that this country offers and of a better economic future for themselves and their family, and there is better healthcare here, and indeed better package as a whole. Whether we can afford for a large number of people to come into this country—a number that the British public would like to see reduced—is a different debate, but I do not believe that the benefits package that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister

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might achieve by 18 February, however well secured, will make a jot of difference to immigration. Indeed, when my right hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration responds to this debate, I would like to hear whether he thinks such a package will make a jot of difference.

It is interesting that England—not the UK—is the second most crowded country in the European Union, if we exclude the island state of Malta, and the ninth most crowded country in the world when the city and island states are excluded. That contributes to the British public’s perception of whether, and how much, immigration into the UK is a good or bad thing.

I speak as someone with a highly desirable constituency that is surrounded by green-belt land, although it does have areas of multiple deprivation. I can assure the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West that how many houses are built to accommodate newly formed households is a source of concern, and we should look it straight in the face. These are not separate issues, they are all interlinked.

Government household projections show that in England—not Scotland, obviously—we will need to build enough housing to accommodate the additional 273,000 households a year between 2012 and 2037, which is a total of five million homes. That is a vast number of houses and it means sacrifices to things such as the green belt, which many of us have to consider as constituency MPs. It also means that there are huge pressures on jobs in certain areas, and it is no good whingeing about jobs not being available to British workers. I seem to remember Her Majesty’s Opposition saying, “British jobs for British workers”, and the reason they say such things is that they know the British public are concerned about these things.

Currently, there are 2.1—

Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs Main: I will give way briefly to the hon. Lady, because I do not wish to take too long.

Pat Glass: Does the hon. Lady agree that one of the great strengths of this country has been its ability to absorb and to integrate hundreds of thousands of people over the centuries? They have included who have come here to work, my family being one of them. Those people came here to work, paid their taxes, raised their children, fought for this country and died for this country.

Mrs Main: I completely agree with the hon. Lady, but it should be up to this country to decide the numbers. I do not disagree at all with what she has said; she is absolutely right. However, the British public tell me that they wish to be in control of those numbers. They also say that to many opinion pollsters, and I believe it is why the Prime Minister is currently negotiating. If they wish to make those numbers even greater, that is the decision of the British public; it should not be a decision imposed by an unelected bureaucrat in Brussels.

In total, 41.5% of the 5 million workers here who were not born in the UK were born in the EU, and most were originally from outside the EU, so some people do cross the EU and come through that route. There are currently 2.1 million EU-born workers in Britain. That accounts for a large number of people who are working and paying their taxes in this country.

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British workers say that they are worried about their jobs. It is estimated that only 982,000 of the jobs that have been created recently have been for British workers. We are creating jobs and making opportunities, and that is why immigration is a big pull to our country—we are not the basket case that some EU economies are. They have not got the jobs to offer. I do not blame people for looking for jobs, but the British public expect us to discuss this issue robustly.

What number of people can we accommodate in housing? Where are we going to plan the additional housing that is needed to support and house those workers? House prices are rising because of supply and demand. In areas such as mine, which are near enough to London to commute to it, it is not a surprise that house prices are exorbitantly high, with an average house price of nearly £500,000. It is because of the pressures on getting on the housing ladder.

We are really being unfair to the British public if we do not look at the two sides of the same coin. Overall we are a prosperous country—although some areas of the country are struggling, there are no two ways about it—that offers opportunities to people in less fortunate situations. However, if those people are attracted to our country to take up the jobs that are being created as a result of our prosperity and the Government’s long-term economic plan, we have to accept that they will need housing, services and all that comes with it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham is absolutely right to have secured this debate, but we are tinkering around the edges of the issue if we are looking at red cards and a benefits-based policy. I do not suspect at all that migrants are drawn to this country because they wish to claim a few pounds in benefits. I believe that they want to come for the opportunities that I have described, and it is up to us—as it is to countries such as Australia—to decide at what pace that immigration takes place, how we can accommodate it and the numbers involved in that immigration. We can do that only when we regain control of our borders, which of course we can do only when we leave the European Union and all the constraints that it brings with it.

3.9 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): It is a pleasure to speak on this matter. I congratulate the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr Holloway) on bringing this important issue to the House. It is important to debate these issues and to get everyone’s point of view on the best way forward. I suppose we would all agree—well, maybe not entirely agree—that we should get the balance of the debate right. We should take the level of refugees and migrants to a number that is achievable and sustainable, but at the same time, as elected representatives we cannot fail to be moved by the distressing images of the people on the boats who have drowned. Someone would need a heart of stone not to be moved by that, and I think everyone in Westminster Hall today would be of that opinion. At the end of the day, we also need to be compassionate and able to integrate the refugees and migrants who wish to come here for the right reasons.

I want to put some stats on the record. The European Commission’s chief spokesperson admitted that the majority of people moving across Europe are in fact

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economic migrants, and we need to ensure that we use similar approaches to the English lessons offered in Northern Ireland. I mentioned that in the debate at 9.30 am, which was on a slightly different issue. The Minister who responded to that debate is here again. There will be another debate at 4.30 pm, and through those three debates we will touch on many of the same issues.

When it comes to integrating refugees in Northern Ireland, through the Assembly we have initiated language lessons. The money is coming directly from Westminster. That is an effective way of integrating refugees and migrants into society by enabling them to speak and understand the language and be part of it. Their cultures and ethos can be integrated, but how do we do that? We have got to work at the system, but we also have to put a limit on the numbers that are coming. We have to be careful about that.

We need a system where only those in genuine need can avail themselves of services and where we can discourage those not in as desperate need from making the perilous and often fatal journey to Europe—when we see the images, it is difficult not to have a tear in our eye. Of course, it is not just about protecting those coming in. The public are concerned about levels of immigration and have been for many years, so it is no wonder that the subject has been such a hotbed of debate. This debate has shown some of that. We need to ensure that we have a responsible immigration policy at home, especially given that we are outside Schengen. We technically control our external borders with the EU, although it may not always seem like that to many of us in this country.

Without doubt, one of the most defining issues of 2015 was the migrant crisis. It is hard to find a member of the public who will not say it is near impossible to avoid the issue. Whether it is the negative consequences we have seen in Cologne or the success stories of relocated refugees settling into their new society, it is a major issue that will take some time to resolve. I attended a meeting today that was chaired by the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell). The discussion was a Syrian delegation debrief on the humanitarian situation. Several Syrians were there, as were some learned people from Jordan and Lebanon.

We cannot ignore the fact that of the 4.2 million who have been displaced from Syria, 600,000 are Christians. Nor can we ignore the impact it is having on them. In the next week or two, I will have the opportunity to visit Lebanon and Jordan and perhaps see at first-hand how those two countries are dealing with the refugee crisis, because they are feeling it directly. One thing that the Jordanians are seeing is that many of the Syrians coming into their country want to find employment, and why not? That, however, has a knock-on effect on the Jordanians, who are then unable to get employment for themselves. There are many implications for those countries, and we have to look at that.

Syrian nationals were only the fourth-largest group of asylum applicants in the year ending September 2015. We need to be careful about the migrant crisis, as it is clear that the plight of Syrian refugees is being capitalised on by some illegal immigrants set on purely economic migration. The figures from the European Commission are clear. Around 60% of the migrants arriving in the bloc are now economic migrants, according to the European

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Commission’s chief spokesman. That leaves 40% who are genuine refugees and migrants, and we have to look at how we can help them in whatever way we can.

One thing that came out of that meeting earlier today—the Syria delegation had a chance to debrief us and tell us about the situation—was that they said that the solution for the Syrian crisis is in Syria, and I do not think anyone in the Chamber would disagree with that. If we want to address the issue of refugees and migrants coming, we have to address the issue in Syria. Perhaps peace in Syria will happen, but there is a question over what the demarcation lines will be. The Russians and the Syrian army together have, over the past few weeks, taken more land and are restoring some semblance of peace in Syria, whatever that might be, but those are things that we have to look at.

Regardless of the approach we take, we need to ensure that refugees are processed correctly. We need to give genuine refugees the dignity they deserve and to root out potential criminal elements or security threats. Those are some of the things that we need to look at. Sweden has been mentioned by other Members, and there have been social instruction classes there, particularly around how to treat women. Those classes have been fairly successful in helping to educate refugees and migrants from the middle east on how to behave appropriately in western society.

The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) mentioned the Kindertransport in the second world war. I can proudly say that my constituency as it was then—the boundaries have changed—brought many of the Kindertransport children into our area during the second world war. That was long before I was born, but in Millisle and Newtownards they integrated well, and many of them are still there. Sometimes when there is crisis we have to reach out. We cannot ignore that, and it is important that we do not. We could learn from that innovative approach. Without doubt, it would go some way to improving integration and ensuring that we do not have another Cologne.

My contribution is about getting the balance right with the different opinions in the Chamber. There will of course always be debate on the numbers of immigrants, migrants or refugees we should take and the quality of them, how we control that, how we adapt as a society to accommodate them and whether it should be down to the new arrival to adapt to their host society. There is an integration period and an accommodation period that has to be given, and it needs both sides to look at that. It is a debate that will continue for the foreseeable future and it needs to be discussed in a respectful and rational manner.

We all know of the crisis developing in Aleppo as the Russians and the Syrian army tighten their hold on that part of the country. Many have moved out to the Turkish border. Turkey has said, “No more refugees”, and that is understandable. It has some 1 million-plus refugees on its borders, as do Jordan and Lebanon, so the squeeze is on. Over the next few months, we will be looking at an even greater push from those who want to get out and get away. If we can solve the issue in Syria, many of them will wish to return to their country and move back to the place that they love.

In conclusion, the debate has always been there, but given the threats from Daesh, which stated that it intends to use the migrant crisis to “flood Europe with

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jihadis”, we can surely all agree that there needs to be a screening process and security checks for new arrivals. That is of paramount importance for our national security as well as for the safety of our citizens at this time of great uncertainty and unease.

Andrew Rosindell (in the Chair): We have only 10 minutes left for the remaining debate before the wind-up speeches begin, so I ask the remaining two speakers to keep their remarks to a reasonable length.

3.18 pm

Dr Daniel Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr Holloway) for securing this debate. As always, it is a pleasure to speak after the thoughtful and well-considered comments of the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon).

In this debate, we have touched on the European Union. One thing I said before I became an MP was that I would not talk about the EU in debates unless it was absolutely necessary, but it is necessary in the context of this debate. As we often find with debates on the EU, polarised viewpoints have been put across today, but the point is that whether or not we are in the European Union, the world as a whole—Britain, the EU and the world—is facing a forced migration crisis, the like of which has not been seen for a generation.

Of course a legitimate discussion can be had about whether membership of the European Union is beneficial in tackling the crisis and the humanitarian challenges that it throws up; but it would be simplistic and wrong to say that not being a member of the EU would make the crisis go away for Britain. We need to be clear about that, because sometimes in these discussions it appears that some of my colleagues think that it would be a magic wand to make the problem go away. The problem is not fundamentally about membership of the European Union; it is about a number of push factors that are due to the humanitarian situation in a number of countries in Africa and the middle east. That is clear from the evidence.

The countries where the majority of migrants come from—particularly when we look at Italy and Greece, the two countries on the frontier of the EU that receive the greatest number of migrants—are Eritrea, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Greece. Those are the main sources of migrants going into the countries in question. Many of the countries that the migrants come from have serious humanitarian issues or are in war-torn areas. As the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) pointed out, because of terrible domestic circumstances in those countries a large number of people legitimately and rightly come to claim asylum. We have a proud tradition in this country and in the European Union generally of granting asylum to people in genuine need.

Jonathan Lord: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the horrific humanitarian crisis. I am pleased to say that in Woking we have, under the Prime Minister’s scheme, taken families from the Syrian camps. My hon. Friend talked about push factors; but surely there are also important pull factors at large. If the German Chancellor says she will take 1 million people and the

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EU also says it will allow people to stay in Europe, is not that a potential pull factor for economic migrants as well as genuine refugees?

Dr Poulter: My hon. Friend makes a good point about what the Government are rightly doing in Woking, in Suffolk and elsewhere, in accepting 20,000 refugees during the lifetime of the Parliament, and in their commitment to deal with the tragic circumstances of child refugees. We should be proud of that. It is a good thing that the Government and those local authorities are doing.

On the point that my hon. Friend raised—also an important one—it would clearly be a pull factor to accept migrants into the European Union unconditionally. It is not my understanding that other EU countries—or indeed Britain—are accepting migration unconditionally. However, there is acceptance that we have an international duty to respond to humanitarian crisis. That is why we are accepting 20,000 refugees. We have a proud tradition of doing that, which we have heard about, going back to the second world war, Uganda, the Vietnamese boat people and the Kosovan and other conflicts. We should be proud because this country has always been a home for people in genuine need fleeing persecution. We should never shirk that, and the Government’s current response to the crisis is the right one.

However, we should also make the distinction that others have made during the debate, that, while we have a humanitarian responsibility to people seeking asylum from persecution, we clearly cannot have an open door to mass migration. The country’s infrastructure would not accept that. At the same time, when people have settled in the UK migration has almost always been hugely beneficial to our country. We are very proud of the multicultural NHS that we have, where 40% of the workforce are from outside the UK. In my part of the country, migrant workers come across for the summer period to work in the agriculture sector. Agriculture needs those workers to support the picking of crops, and do other essential work. It would be wrong to lump all migration together as a bad thing, because it has so often been beneficial to the British economy, and if people want to come here and work it can be a very good thing. The NHS would not function today if it were not for migrant workers who have come from Australia, New Zealand and all over the world, as well as the EU, to support it.

I want finally to highlight some possible solutions. Whatever the rights and wrongs, and the terrible record of the Gaddafi Government in Libya, agreement was reached in 2010 with the Libyan regime to work to reduce the flow of migration through that country and across the Mediterranean. Clearly, there is war and a terrible situation in the country. A process is going on at the moment in Algiers to bring the two sides together and I hope a resolution to the conflict can be found. That would be to the benefit of the people of Libya, and it might also make it possible as part of the reconstruction to reinstate an agreement and look at the migrant flow through Libya, as has happened in the past—when it worked to reduce migration.

There are issues involved that we cannot deal with just as Britain. At the EU-wide level, benefits are gained from working together and from supporting Italy and

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Greece and other frontier states in tackling the problem. That is something that the British Government support, and put money towards, rightly. Both unilaterally and with our European partners we must continue to take in genuine asylum seekers and refugees, and do our best to mitigate the push factors by providing support in the form of humanitarian aid in Syria and elsewhere. We should be proud of the Government and what we are doing on the issue, and of our past and present humanitarian record.

3.26 pm

Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP): It is pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I think I have only three minutes, so I shall be short and sharp.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr Holloway) on securing the debate. He is straight talking and forthright and, although I fundamentally disagree with him on a number of points, I thank him for giving us the further chance to discuss what is undoubtedly the defining issue of this Parliament.

I want to speak briefly about the argument, which is often put, that we should seek to support refugees near the conflict zone, rather than protecting them within Europe. Who would disagree with that, on paper? I do not think anyone would; but the plain fact is that it is almost impossible for all refugees from countries racked by several years of conflict to be supported in that way. Those countries have neither the resources nor the capacity to cope. It is a challenge, indeed, but it is not unsustainable for Europe to offer protection to more refugees. What is unsustainable is to take the approach of not offering shelter for further refugees.

For millions of Syrians in neighbouring countries there have been years of living in tents with no prospect of education or work. For many, life as a refugee in neighbouring countries is grave. Lebanon, a country the size of Devon and Cornwall with a population of under 5 million, already hosts 2 million refugees. Amnesty International’s report “I Want a Safe Place” notes that Syrian refugee women face the risk of serious human rights violations and abuse in Lebanon, including gender-based violence and exploitation. Jordan, a country of 6 million people, has taken in 1 million since the Syrian war in 2011, but has now blocked access because, it says, international donors have provided only one third of the funding needed to support those already there. Syrian refugees in Jordan also face huge challenges. More than half are children and although legally they can attend school, they rarely do, because most work 12 hours a day in jobs such as scrap metal collection or construction. More than one in four Syrian refugee women in Jordan, as elsewhere, head households alone, struggling for money while suffering isolation and a fear of sexual violence.

We should bear in mind that, although Turkey ratified the refugee convention, it did so with a geographic limitation. It recognises only refugees originating from Europe, so Syrians receive only a restricted form of temporary protection, with limited rights. Its record on respecting refugees is far from unblemished. Asylum seekers’ access to adequate housing, health services and work is limited and bureaucratic problems prevent refugee children from getting access to secondary education.

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On Monday, the Secretary of State for International Development said:

“If we can give Syrians hope for a better future where they are, they are less likely to feel that they have no choice other than to make perilous journeys to Europe.”—[Official Report, 8 February 2016; Vol. 605, c. 1320.]

Again, implicit in that is a recognition that many have felt and continue to feel that they have no choice but to make that journey. The question remains the one that I asked on Monday: what happens with the million that are already in Europe and the other million that will come before the measures announced on Monday are put in place? The only possible answer is the sharing of responsibility throughout the EU, as proposed by the Commission. It is time for this Government and Governments on the continent to step up to that challenge.

3.30 pm

Stephen Gethins (North East Fife) (SNP): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I congratulate the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr Holloway), a colleague on the Foreign Affairs Committee, on securing this debate. He will be surprised to hear that I agree with him on the need to differentiate between refugees and immigrants. I was very pleased that he made that distinction in his comments, but that is the only common ground that we have. However, I congratulate him on securing the debate and on speaking about the subject so forthrightly. It is an issue that we sincerely need to discuss, and we have had a good debate with some good contributions.

I want to briefly touch on immigration since other hon. Members have touched on it today. I hope the hon. Member for Gravesham will forgive me for doing so, given the comments that have already been made. Immigration is a good thing for the United Kingdom. It has been a good thing for a long time past. Huge contributions have been made by immigrants and refugees to all of our communities the length and breadth of the country. Similarly, within the European context, freedom of movement is a good thing. It is good for our economy and it is good socially. I am somebody who has benefited. There is a great myth that somehow it is only the United Kingdom that bears the brunt of freedom of movement, whereas the reality is that UK citizens benefit from freedom of movement as much as EU citizens benefit.

The hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) was keen to highlight the English challenges, which I am sure there are. She made a sensible case for devolution of immigration because it is something that the Scottish Government have looked for. It would benefit the Scottish economy, so we want more immigration. I know that the agriculture sector in my own constituency benefits, as it does in the constituency of the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter), who also highlighted that the NHS benefits hugely from immigration. We in Scotland are keen to see more. The hon. Member for St Albans made her case on behalf of her constituents and I respect that, but there is a case to be made for devolving immigration. In fact, in countries such as Australia, different states already take responsibility for immigration.

On refugees, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) made an impassioned case. The hon. Member for Gravesham talked about how many we should take. We should certainly

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take a lot more than the 0.25% we currently take. The EU is looking to relocate 160,000 refugees, and that goes to the heart of the points he makes. I hope the Minister will give a thorough explanation about why the UK Government are not opting into the project. The United Kingdom has taken 400—0.25%—of those 160,000 refugees. That is a disgrace. Ireland, our neighbours to the west, have an opt-out, as has the UK, and Ireland has decided not to use it. Perhaps the Minister can tell us why the Irish have decided not to use their opt-out, but the UK has. I am sure he will cover that.

Furthermore, I hope the Minister will touch on why the Government are not taking up offers of support from the Scottish Government. They have offered to help the UK Government and to take more than our fair share. Some 40% of the refugees who arrive are going to Scotland—the first batch went to Scotland. The Scottish Government have put their money where their mouth is. We are not just talking about this; we are doing it and we are taking action. Will the Minister touch upon the Scottish Government’s offers of help?

On the issue of refugees, we are talking about people fleeing conflict and failed states such as Libya. The United Kingdom had a hand in its becoming a failed state. We spent £320 million bombing Libya and then £25 million on reconstructing it. I believe we have a responsibility in such areas.

We also have the dreadful civil war in Syria. I was fortunate enough to spend time in a refugee camp on the Turkish border. I met one person who did not want to go back to their country. The only reason he did not want to go back was because he could receive the medical treatment for his wounds from the conflict only in Sweden, where the last remaining members of his family lived. We need to remember who is holding the front line on this—countries such as Macedonia, Croatia, Italy and Greece—and we have an obligation to show a little bit of European solidarity. I hope the Minister addresses that point.

As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) ably pointed out, immigration has a huge impact, but it is a positive one. I noted his remarks about the Kindertransport children in his own constituency. We also have to remind ourselves of the challenges that refugees face. There are 2.5 million refugees in Turkey, and one in four people in Lebanon are refugees. The challenges are huge. That was something that my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) mentioned. I hope the Minister addresses those issues.

3.36 pm

Keir Starmer (Holborn and St Pancras) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I, too, thank the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr Holloway) for securing this debate. It is really important to discuss these issues, even if there are deep divides between us on the right way forward. The challenge of migration into the EU is clearly a huge one. Last year it was the biggest challenge in a generation. All the forecasts are that migration into the EU is likely to be greater this year than last year, so there is no doubt as to the nature and scale of the challenge.

Syria has been discussed this afternoon. When we look at the size of the challenge, it is worth reminding ourselves of the figures in relation to those fleeing Syria:

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13.5 million of the population of 22 million are in dire need and 6.6 million are displaced, of whom 4.3 million have fled abroad. That is a huge issue that will be even bigger this year. Last year, nearly 1 million of those fleeing from Syria claimed asylum somewhere in the EU.

It is important to reflect on the causes of migration into the EU, which are predominantly persecution; gross human rights abuses; extreme poverty; and climate change. We can find all those causes reflected in any refugee camp in Europe. I was in Calais, which the hon. Member for Gravesham mentioned, and Dunkirk at the beginning of January. In Dunkirk there are many families. One of the men spoke to me and explained that he had fled from Kurdistan as a result of ISIS taking over his town, and he ended up in Dunkirk. There are lots of different reasons why people are on the move in the numbers that they are.

The first imperative in dealing with the challenge is joint international work upstream to try to reduce the conflicts that cause so many people to leave in the first place. I concur with the comments about how the vast majority of people from Syria would very much prefer to be back in Syria at the first opportunity. We must have upstream work to de-escalate conflict, and we must work with our international partners wherever we can to reduce the likelihood of people having to flee their home country.

There is also the question of people smuggling. Our Government and various Departments are working jointly with partners in Europe and beyond to deal with people smuggling, not only in Europe but upstream. My staff in the Crown Prosecution Service were involved in that when I was the Director of Public Prosecutions. Again, that is work that needs to be done upstream.

As for our contribution to rescuing those who are desperate and at risk of losing their lives, I thought it was a wrong turn when we withdrew some support for the rescue operations. I am glad that we are now fully engaged in those exercises on the Mediterranean again. Assuming that all that work is carried out, we then have to consider how to process individuals quickly when they get to Europe.

I have been pressing for some time on the issue of family reunification. There are rules, such as the Dublin III agreement, on family reunification and the rights of some of the people who are currently in Europe to reunite with family here. In some of the camps, such as Calais and Dunkirk, it is absolutely clear on the ground that those rules are not working in practice. We could do more about the refugee crisis than we are currently doing. Of course it is welcome that we are relocating 20,000 people from the camps outside Syria, but, along with others, I am concerned about the number of unaccompanied children in Europe. It is not only about the number, but the fact that more than 1,000 have disappeared. They are particularly vulnerable, so I urge the Government to do more for unaccompanied children.

We must also address the question of how we support people if and when they arrive in this country. This is the second of three Westminster Hall debates on refugees and migration. We had a debate this morning on the support for asylum seekers when they arrive in this country and how the contracts to provide accommodation are not working as they should.

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The central point of this debate was made by the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter): in the light of the scale of the challenge and the reality of the steps that need to be taken, leaving the EU will not help. We need to be playing our part upstream to reduce conflict, playing our part in rescuing those who are desperately in need, and co-ordinating the response to the challenge in Europe. I do not think that there are many Members of this House, or many members of the public, who genuinely think that we should simply step away from Europe, or who think we should recognise the huge numbers of people fleeing into Europe and the desperate conditions from which they are coming and simply say, “It’s not our problem. We will somehow exit from Europe and play no part.”

Pat Glass: Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that, if we exit Europe, unless we become a city state like Singapore—a tax haven on the edge of Europe—and have absolutely no trade agreements with Europe, we will still be subject to all the surcharges on everything we make and export? Unless we do that, we will have to abide by the rules and regulations that apply for all EU member states, along with those states that trade with them, such as Norway and Switzerland. That includes the rules on the free movement of people. Whether we leave or not, it is not going to make any difference to the free movement of people across Europe.

Keir Starmer: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. I agree. I have tried to make a similar point about criminal justice measures. A number of EU criminal justice measures are critical in the UK and used 24/7. Almost all those involved in criminal activity above a certain level operate across borders, and we rely heavily on EU criminal justice measures to combat that activity. By that I mean that we locate our own staff in Europe and are co-ordinating with our partners all the time. Without those measures, we would be at much greater risk in relation to criminal justice.

If we come out of the EU, I accept that there is no rule to prevent us from trying to renegotiate the economic and criminal justice measures, but it would be a very difficult renegotiation that would, in all likelihood, take us back to precisely the same measures. Take, for example, the European arrest warrant. It is extremely unlikely that our European partners would negotiate with us an approach to such warrants that was different from the existing arrest warrant. We would therefore step outside Europe and have to renegotiate the same provisions as we have now, but we would lose all influence. I saw that when I was Director of Public Prosecutions: the moment the Prime Minister suggested that there was going to be an EU referendum, our voice around the table on what future measures should be crafted to deal with crime was reduced in both volume and influence.

There is also a point of principle, touched on by the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), as to whether we really want to retreat from the world stage or play our part. We see our role in the world as one in which we will involve ourselves in, for example, the conflict in Syria. The argument that the Prime Minister made to the House before the vote on Syria was premised on our responsibility as a nation state to play our part in combating Daesh. That is the sort of nation that we are: we want to play our part in combating Daesh. I voted against the motion before the House,

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but not because I disagreed with the principle that we should play our part internationally to resolve the crisis in Syria. So, too, with humanitarian aid—

3.45 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

[Mr Deputy Speaker in the Chair]

3.57 pm

On resuming

Keir Starmer: I was about to conclude my remarks, so the Division was timely.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): There we are. Great speech.

3.58 pm

The Minister for Immigration (James Brokenshire): It is a rare privilege to see you in Westminster Hall, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, and previously that of Mr Rosindell. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr Holloway) on securing this wide-ranging debate, which has touched on a number of issues relating to migration into the EU. I thank other hon. Members for their contributions.

It is important to set out the context of the debate, as others have. We are experiencing movements of people into the EU on a scale that has not been seen for generations. Some have sought to liken it to past events, but the situation we are dealing with is very different, given the number of nationalities involved, the nature of the situation and the mix of refugees with those who come to the EU seeking a better way of life, so looking for parallels with past events is challenging.

We can be clear that European member states face an unprecedented number of refugees and migrants, primarily from the middle east and Africa. More than 950,000 refugees and migrants reached the EU last year on the Mediterranean routes. About 800,000 arrived in Greece, the majority of whom were Syrian. Some 150,000 arrived in Italy after making the dangerous sea crossing from Libya. More than 3,500 people drowned, and many more have died or suffered at the hands of smugglers and traffickers en route.

Some Members called today for the Government to provide a humanitarian response. Some, such as the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), even suggested that we were washing our hands of the problem. I would rather characterise it as the Government and the country rolling up our sleeves. We can be proud of the steps that this Government have taken, which reflect our moral approach to such issues. We have considered the problems at hand, dealt with them at source and brought countries together to solve the problems that lie behind the migration crisis into the EU.

It is notable that this debate comes hot on the heels of last week’s London conference, where nations came together to pledge £10 billion. Important though it is, however, this is not just about money; it is about direct assistance for hundreds of thousands of people. Indeed, the conference’s outcomes included the commitments to create 1.1 million jobs for Syrian refugees and host country citizens in the region by 2018, and to ensure that none of the more than 1 million affected children will become part of a lost generation, with assurances

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about quality education and equal access for girls and boys. The UK has contributed an additional £1.2 billion, raising the money that we have committed to £2.3 billion. We are not “washing our hands”; we are responding appropriately to a huge crisis.

People have asked about our contribution within the EU. The UK has just increased its aid to migrant children in Europe and the Balkans to £46 million, divided among the most affected countries and including specific support of £2.7 million for UNICEF. We have also announced in recent weeks a new £10 million fund to support the needs of vulnerable refugee and migrant children in the EU.

Securing the EU’s external borders is a key part of addressing the crisis. Although the UK does not participate in Schengen border arrangements, a well managed external EU border is in our national interest. The Government fully support the European Commission’s hotspots proposal, which is aimed at addressing the continuing failure of some member states quickly to fingerprint and process arrivals and to provide protection to those who need it and return those who do not. It is unfortunate that implementation has been regrettably slow, and we will continue to press the Commission and all member states to act with urgency in establishing processing centres. We will also provide resource and expertise as and when required to ensure that people are processed when they arrive in the Greek islands or elsewhere, and that those in need of support and those not can be identified.

Mrs Main: I support my right hon. Friend in that aim. Frontex has shown that more than 1.8 million people have entered Europe illegally, yet only several hundred thousand have been sent back, so there is an obvious need for the additional support that our country has given.

James Brokenshire: We will provide assistance to the European Asylum Support Office and to Frontex to help with the establishment of processing centres right on the frontline, to help deal with the problem and co-ordinate things on the ground. That is a core priority. We also continue to support Frontex in its mission to rescue people from the sea. I pay tribute to the Border Force officers, Royal Marines and military medics currently on the VOS Grace, which has rescued several thousand people over recent months and will continue its operations, transferring to off the coast of Libya at the end of this month.

The link between organised crime and migration is clear and unprecedented, and has contributed directly to ongoing suffering and loss of life. For that reason, the UK is playing a leading role in tackling people smuggling and is increasing joint intelligence work to target the cruel gangs that exploit human beings for their own gain. The work of the organised immigration crime taskforce is progressing, bringing together 100 officers from the National Crime Agency, the Border Force, immigration enforcement and the Crown Prosecution Service to pursue and disrupt the organised crime gangs operating across Europe and Africa. We are also harnessing intelligence through Europol, which is proving helpful and fruitful.

I have been challenged about our response in Europe, and I have already identified not only the support that we are providing in the Syrian region but the direct support that we are providing in Europe. Since the crisis began the Government have been clear about our view on relocation: it is the wrong response. It does absolutely

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nothing to address the underlying causes of the crisis, and it does nothing more than move the problem around Europe. The reality is that it has not even been good at doing that. Commitments have been made over recent months to relocate 160,000 people, but only 497 people have been relocated to date. Instead, we believe that it is most effective to provide support to countries facing particular pressures, and our focus will remain on helping the most vulnerable who remain in the region as part of a comprehensive strategy to end the crisis.

Stuart C. McDonald: If the Government will not take part in relocation, what should happen to the million people who arrived last year and the million who will arrive this year? Where should they go? Who should take on that responsibility?

James Brokenshire: We have clear rules in Europe that those in need of humanitarian protection should claim it at the first opportunity. We have provided aid assistance and expert support within Europe, and we stand ready to commit more to the hotspots initiative, ensuring that those in need of protection can be better identified. In the past fortnight, we announced the £10 million fund that I mentioned earlier, part of which is intended to harness the Dublin regulation by supporting effective identification of children who need to be reunited with their family. Where family reunion under the regulation is achievable, we will help to match things up by having better systems in place. That is about direct assistance.

Stephen Gethins: Further to the point made by my hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), is the Minister suggesting that Malta, for example, should deal with the refugees that arrive there on its own without the UK lending a supporting hand?

James Brokenshire: As I have indicated, the UK is more than lending a hand by dealing with some of the significant factors that push people to cross the sea and with the organised immigration crime that is facilitating that. We are also providing expert support to the European Asylum Support Office, Frontex and Europol. The UK is demonstrating, through a broad range of measures, its commitment to solidarity with European partners in dealing with the crisis at hand.

On returns, which some Members have referred to in the debate, the unprecedented numbers of migrants and refugees arriving in Europe mean that it is more important than ever that each and every EU member states fulfils its responsibilities to process all those arriving, provide refuge to those who need it and return those who do not. As part of those efforts, all member states must have legislation and processes in place to identify and weed out abuse of their asylum system.

Julian Knight (Solihull) (Con): Will the Minister praise the work of local councils in stepping up to the plate when it comes to the migrant crisis? For example, Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council has dealt with a large number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and has become a beacon of best practice in the west midlands.

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James Brokenshire: I commend a number of councils on the support that they have provided in welcoming refugees under the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, and I commend my hon. Friend for highlighting his own council. I pay tribute to councils in Scotland that are providing such support, as well as to the charities and other organisations standing behind them. On the work on unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, I recognise the pressures in counties such as Kent, and measures in the Immigration Bill, which is currently in the other place, are intended to assist with that.

The Government’s consistent focus has been on finding a comprehensive and sustainable solution to the refugee crisis. The Prime Minister has continued to emphasise the need for the EU to deal with the root causes of the crisis, not just to respond to the consequences. In Syria that means working with the international community to bring about an end to the brutal conflict there and to defeat Daesh. The UK has been at the forefront of the response to the crisis in Syria and the region. In Libya that means helping to form a Government of national accord who can regain control of Libya’s borders and tackle the smuggling gangs. In Turkey it means working towards comprehensive border management, ensuring a humanitarian response to those reaching that country and disrupting the organised criminal networks that look to profit from the plight of others. The UK is also playing a leading role in Africa.

The migration crisis continues to evolve. The Government maintain a leading role in seeking to join together international partners in the EU and elsewhere. We can be proud of our response, but we remain vigilant. We need to carry on providing support in many different ways, but the UK can look with pride at the steps that have been taken already. We will continue to do our bit.

4.11 pm

Mr Holloway: In summary, we have got to do what is right, what works, what is sustainable and what is moral, not just what makes us feel better about things. A good example of what I am talking about could be the case mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), of someone from Kurdistan in Dunkirk whose town had been taken by ISIS. The rest of Kurdistan is relatively peaceful and, after 18 months, the peshmerga had taken back places such as Sinjar, so there is no reason for someone to move from Kurdistan to Calais to seek safety. There is plenty of safety in other bits of Kurdistan and within the region. The driver in that case is, I think, economic; it is not about security.

When we think about the refugees, we should be helping the many, not the relatively privileged few who have the money to make long journeys. We should be helping people in the region, and helping them properly, as the Prime Minister and the Minister for Immigration have done. We have to send out a firm message to the hundreds of millions of people within only a few days’ drive of the Mediterranean: if they come to Europe, they will not stay in Europe. Until we do so, the crisis will go on and on.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered migration into the EU.

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Mobile Infrastructure Project

[Mrs Anne Main in the Chair]

4.13 pm

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the mobile infrastructure project.

It is a pleasure and an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main.

The purpose of the debate is to express the concerns of four distinct communities in my constituency, in Ebbesbourne Wake, the Woodford valley, Broad Chalke and Bowerchalke, with what is in essence the failure of the mobile infrastructure project. We hoped that the project would improve the poor or in many cases non-existent mobile phone coverage in those areas, but none of the proposed masts at those sites have been seen through to completion. I will set out the challenges of the project and the lessons to be learned from it. I will also make constructive suggestions about how we can move forward. It is heartening to see a number of colleagues in the Chamber with experience, I suspect, of similar disappointments with the project.

The mobile infrastructure project, on which I am sure the Minister will give us authoritative detail later, was first announced in 2011. The Government envisaged working in partnership with a private firm, Arqiva, and providing it with capital funding to build new mobile phone masts. The masts were to be operated by four large operators, which would fund the operating costs for 20 years. The aim was to improve the coverage and quality of mobile network services for the 5% to 10% of consumers and businesses living and working in areas with poor or non-existent coverage, and to ensure that 99% of the population had mobile service.

In a series of debates on broadband infrastructure and mobile telephony everyone has been impressed with the progress made by the Government generally in increasing the percentage of people who can access new services. For those who cannot, the situation is extraordinarily frustrating. My understanding is that 600 potential sites were identified at the beginning of the project, and the contract with Arqiva commenced in May 2013. By December 2015, a couple of months ago, the project had cost £9.1 million and only 15 masts were live. The Secretary of State announced that the project will not be extended past its deadline of March 2016, so it is anticipated that by the time the project ends only about 50 masts will have been built, which is perhaps a sixth of the number of masts envisaged five years ago.

The project faced significant challenges from the beginning. First, the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport was told that Arqiva had to wait almost a year to receive accurate data on “not spot” zones aligned with operators’ network maps. Arqiva said that it had not anticipated that delay when the project was scoped.

Secondly, perhaps the most typically vexing experience has been of the delays in planning permission and the difficulty of obtaining it for a number of sites. The Minister contacted me about sites in my constituency, acknowledging uncertainty over where they might be, and I engaged with the parishes concerned in an effort to find agreeable sites quickly. In such rural areas with

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the poorest mobile coverage, however, two factors are significant. The proposed sites are often in areas of outstanding natural beauty or national parks—we have both in my constituency—which can provoke numerous representations, because if a mast is not in the right place, it is there for a long time, causing significant environmental challenges. We must, however, recognise the need to overcome that obstacle, because better mobile coverage is absolutely necessary. Getting right the planning permission, with an economically viable power connection, has been a significant barrier.

James Cartlidge (South Suffolk) (Con): We had three proposed masts in my constituency, one of which will be going ahead and will be transformational, proving the possible impact. Does my hon. Friend agree that the lesson we might have to learn if the scheme returns—I hope there will be some kind of renewed funding—has to be on the basis of communities coming forward to an extent and being proactive and willing to accept masts, so that we know there is a good chance of getting planning permission? Instead, the other way around, we have been saying, “Here’s a load of money”, and people get excited, but nothing actually gets delivered.

John Glen: I am extremely grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention. That is where we need to get to by the end of the debate: a real sense of what can be achieved, with a call-out to those communities that are most keen to secure a mast location under the MIP or a successor project, if there is one, so that we can make things happen. Raised expectations that are dashed after two or three years is a most frustrating phenomenon for constituency MPs to deal with.

Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

John Glen: I will happily give way to my parliamentary neighbour.

Dr Murrison: I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing this important subject. Does he agree that it is not so much that the project is at fault, but that perhaps it was a bit over-ambitious in the timeframes in which masts can be brought forward, noting difficulties with planning permission, which as he will fully know can be protracted, and issues around the powering up of masts? Perhaps he may want to encourage the Minister to extend the programme.

John Glen: As ever, my hon. Friend and neighbour alights on the right points. I would like to talk about the short timeframe, because Wiltshire Council tells me that Arqiva contacted it on numerous occasions but the project was dropped at the first sign of local difficulty in obtaining a planning consent because the short timeframe to deliver on a completed mast made it too difficult. The other issue Arqiva said it experienced was that initially the coverage was intended to be for 2G voice and data services, but there was a subsequent extension to future-proof the project with capacity for 4G. I suspect that change of scope mid-way through the project did not help the smooth delivery of masts.

Matt Warman (Boston and Skegness) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that if we are going to go for new masts, it is right to use the latest technology that provides the data and broadband that people want access to as well as voice services?

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John Glen: I absolutely agree. It is critical that we have additional capacity for spectrum frequencies delivered in a cost-effective way. There is no point in taking a quick option that is now out of date and it is imperative that we take that lesson on board.

I want to be constructive in how I address the Minister in the debate, because whatever has happened, the Government’s aims were absolutely correct. It is extremely disappointing that the project did not meet its original aims. It has underspent and I understand that that money has been returned to the Treasury, so there is scope for representations to be made to the Treasury in the coming weeks to look to repurpose that money for further projects. I want to put on record my support for the legally binding deal the Government secured with mobile phone operators to guarantee mobile coverage for 90% of the UK land mass by 2017, tackling partial “not spots”. However, that is of little comfort to those who have no hope because they are in “not spots” where there is no prospect of achieving mobile coverage. We need to intervene quickly.

If we are to be successful, we need to overcome the planning permission issue. Given the need to gain planning permission for such a large number of sites, was the project’s three-year timeframe realistic? Wiltshire Council found the timeframe that Arqiva had to deal with the technical feasibility, stakeholder engagement and planning processes too short.

Questions should be asked about the tender process for the contract. Arqiva made much of its ability to engage with stakeholders and obtain planning permission quickly—I saw that in an article on its website last year—but it would be useful to understand what the Department believed Arqiva was capable of doing in terms of the project’s aims and what its assessment was of why technical and planning difficulties were not overcome.

When there are future projects to tackle “not spots” and improve capacity, the Minister should consider working with the Department for Communities and Local Government to create fast-tracked and more streamlined infrastructure planning consent routes specifically for that purpose. I am a strong advocate of this Government’s and the previous Government’s commitment to localism and working constructively with local councils, but I would observe the feedback I received from Councillor John Thomson, the deputy leader of Wiltshire Council. He told me:

“we feel the lack of early and timely engagement with the right stakeholders such as AONBs and the right landowners from the very beginning of the project has significantly contributed to the failure across all nine potential sites. Wiltshire Council have asked Arqiva for an explanation as to why individual sites did not get taken forward, but to date have not had any report from them”.

The project has been deeply disappointing and frustrating for so many of our constituents. Future projects must work with stakeholders, who are often committed to the aims of the project and want the work to be completed, but it seems that when anxiety was expressed in the early stages, projects were pushed aside and not completed as they should have been.

In conclusion, I would like to focus on the challenge. I know that the Minister has worked extremely hard to find solutions, but we are all very aware that we need to have timely, appropriate and technically achievable goals

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that we can take back to our constituents and say, “This will be delivered in a reliable timeframe”, because many people are cynical about the initiative.

I am anxious that the Minister should update us on what the Government are doing to tackle poor mobile phone coverage in the light of the experience in Salisbury and south Wiltshire and the failure of the project, notwithstanding the positive initiatives in other respects. We need to give business the infrastructure it needs and meet its need for connectivity. Some of these communities have poor landline connections, broadband is intermittent and they are not on the phase 2 for the roll-out of superfast broadband in Wiltshire.

Michael Tomlinson (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for securing this important debate. These issues affect not just Wiltshire residents, but Dorset residents. Doubtless the Minister will be positive and bullish, as is his custom, but I would invite him to recognise that while the 90% target is good, for the 10% who are left, including those Dorset residents who do not have coverage, it becomes more and more frustrating for them as more people get coverage.

John Glen: My hon. Friend makes the exact point that we all wish to make. There is real urgency around the project. We know that the money has gone back to the Treasury, but I urge the Minister to focus on how we can re-establish the scheme and ensure that individual applications can be expedited quickly in the second half of the year, when so much work has already been done, so that we can go back to our constituents and say, “There is hope.” There will be an opportunity and if applications are in and certain criteria are met, we can go back to our local authorities with an assurance and deliver on a promise, which, while I do not want to be melodramatic, has been cruelly taken away. That is a significant inconvenience to businesses, individuals and families who find themselves unable to speak to other family members—they cannot ring their children—and feel totally cut off just five or six miles from the city of Salisbury. It is not good enough, and the Government need to address that.

4.28 pm

The Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy (Mr Edward Vaizey): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I still fondly recall my visit to your constituency to see the wonderful heritage and that brilliant museum that you have there—what a lucky MP you are!

I feel in a relatively philosophical mood as I gaze at 12 colleagues who are a sort of jury, ready to give a verdict on the programme. I must admit that I am guilty as charged. I do not think the programme has been a success, and I do not think that Ministers often say that about their programmes. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson) predicted that I would be bullish about the programme in my usual bombastic—he did not say that word, but perhaps he meant it—fashion, but I will not be bullish about it.

I think that when Ministers defend their programmes, they should have credibility. I am happy to defend the superfast broadband roll-out, which I think has been an

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unequivocal success despite the occasional criticism I receive. I am also happy to defend our record on libraries, despite the brickbats that I get from library campaigners, but I am fully prepared to stand up in the Chamber and admit that the mobile infrastructure project has not been as successful as we had envisaged. We set aside £150 million. We talked about 600 sites. Our heart was in the right place. We wanted to eliminate “not spots”, precisely because of the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen) raised: mobile phones are essential to many people in their daily lives. We wanted to eliminate the “not spots” that exist as best we could. I am grateful to him for securing this important debate.

Dr Murrison: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Vaizey: I am in the middle of my mea culpa, but I might as well give way and make this as tortuous as possible.

Dr Murrison: I am rather concerned, because the Minister seems to be beating himself up. The truth of the matter is that if his Department is guilty of anything, it is perhaps not having anticipated how long it takes to get infrastructure projects of this sort off the ground. All he needs to do is say that the project essentially is a good one but we need to allow it a little more time, so that projects of the sort to which my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen) alluded have a chance.

Mr Vaizey: I hear what my hon. Friend says, and I will address that point in a minute.

I want to start with some of the obstacles that we encountered. First, there was the issue of coverage. I said earlier that I was in a philosophical mood. What we had to try to establish, to quote Shakespeare, was, “What is a not spot?” Trying to establish where a “not spot” is—that is, exactly where we will get no mobile coverage—can be difficult when dealing with radio frequencies. For the benefit of hon. Members who have not taken a close interest in the programme, a “not spot” is where no mobile operator can get a signal. A partial “not spot” is where there may be a signal from one mobile operator but not from another.

We therefore had to narrow down what a “not spot” is. That proved a useful exercise, because it allowed us to work with Ofcom and the mobile operators for the first time to establish a much more robust system of identifying where we were not getting mobile signals. Of course, the programme was announced at around the same time as the 4G auction, so we ran smack bang into the middle of the 4G roll-out programme, which was clearly going to change coverage criteria and therefore add another factor.

The next issue was planning. My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury makes a good point—we had not anticipated just how difficult some of the planning issues are, particularly when we were dragging four operators with us, metaphorically kicking and screaming. Although we were paying for the mast, we were asking them to meet the operating costs going forward, which include the land rental as well as the transmission costs for what is, by definition, an uneconomic area.

As an example, I will take my hon. Friend through the saga of North Hill farm in his constituency. A planning application was approved at the end of October 2015,

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but the council—I am sure he knows some of its councillors—then decided that even though planning approval had been given, the colour of the mast had to be subsequently approved. Apparently, if a range of colours had been given, that would not have caused a delay, but the council wanted specific approval of the mast’s specific colour. That was compounded by the fact that the council and the area of outstanding natural beauty partnership did not respond to Arqiva’s request for guidance on what colour mast they wanted, to enable the council to make an application to discharge the planning condition—in other words, the colour of the mast.

James Cartlidge: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Vaizey: I just want to finish the saga. Arqiva submitted a discharge of condition application in November. That was received by Wiltshire Council, which discharged the condition on 30 November. That was a full month after the deadline we had set for all planning applications to be determined, thus taking it out of the MIP programme.

Planning issues have proved difficult. We have had communities campaigning against masts and putting concrete blocks in front of the base stations to prevent any further work.

James Cartlidge: It is good to hear the Minister nailing his colours to the mast, as it were. We have had similar issues in South Suffolk. It seems to me that all of the problems point to this: masts can go up and we can have new projects, but we have to learn lessons, and the communities that want the masts will have to be far more engaged and willing to come forward and accept them, rather than just be passive in the process.

Mr Vaizey: I agree with my hon. Friend.

Let me say what we have done since the MIP programme. My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury talked about light at the end of the tunnel and giving people hope, and we have made some important changes. For a start, we are bringing in changes to allow mobile operators to erect taller masts, which will enable the signal to go further and have a significant impact in rural areas. We are going to change the electronic communications code, which governs access to masts and has a significant effect on the cost of maintaining infrastructure. We want to bring that forward through a digital economy Bill.

Subsequent to the MIP programme, we negotiated a change in the licences for mobile operators so that they now have to meet 90% geographic coverage, not just the 98% premises coverage. That will make a difference. The merger of O2 and Three, which we are waiting to see the result of, may make a significant difference. We have made Government property available for mobile masts, and all hon. Members might consider engaging with their councils on any property that would accommodate a mast. Those are all significant changes.

Of course, the emergency services programme that is just getting under way with EE should see the erection of 300 masts across the country, which will have a significant effect on “not spots”. As the 4G roll-out continues, we expect the area of “not spots” to fall to as low as 2% of the entire country, and the area of partial “not spots” to fall to as low as 12%—half what it is at the moment.

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I hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury says about a possible way forward, and I will certainly keep my mind open. We would have to overcome the scepticism of the mobile operators. One difficulty of the programme is that the companies do not want to participate in it—I do not say that pejoratively—because they are landed with the operating costs of the masts. We, the Government, pay the installation costs, but the companies are landed with the operating costs for masts that are, by definition, uneconomic.

I am sympathetic to the proposal about communities coming forward with sites where the council is willing to give planning permission. I remind my hon. Friend that planning permission for a mast still exists on the site I mentioned, should he be able to tempt a mobile operator to erect a mast on it.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Vaizey: I now have at least three hon. Friends who wish to intervene. I will start with my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole.

Michael Tomlinson: I am grateful. The Minister mentioned a 2% target for “not spots”. Can he give a date for when he envisages that being achieved?

Mr Vaizey: End of 2017. Next?

Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater and West Somerset) (Con): The Minister will be aware that permission has been given for a very large mast in Exmoor, which my constituency covers. Unfortunately, the licence for the site is running out because it has taken so long to get, so we cannot build a mast. Is there any way that extensions could be given where masts have been given approval but cannot be built because of that problem?

Mr Vaizey: I am not sure which licence my hon. Friend is referring to, but as he and I talk almost every day about broadband issues, I am happy to follow up on that specific point about licences. I have to put on the record what a vociferous constituency MP he is on behalf of his constituents’ broadband and mobile coverage.

I thought I had a third hon. Friend wishing to intervene, but they seem to have disappeared. I am not sure how long I have, Mrs Main.

Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): Until 4.43 pm, unless you feel you have finished.

Mr Vaizey: I was working to 4.37 pm.

Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): There is no need to continue, if you feel you have finished.

Mr Vaizey: All I will say in the time remaining is that we have erected 16 of the masts and are hoping to get 60 up and running. Arqiva has a chief executive in the saddle, Simon Beresford-Wylie, who is very much focused on the project and has pushed through a lot of the applications.

A lot of my hon. Friends have suggested that the scheme could be extended. We took the tough decision, given the problems we have had with it, to impose a deadline. We had regular meetings about the scheme and how we could make it work more effectively and so

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on, and it was finally decided, partly in the light of the changes I outlined earlier—the taller masts, the electronic communications code, the emergency services programme, which is significant, and the changes to mobile licences—that it was right to concentrate minds and bring in a deadline. However, the Government’s mind remains open to any suggestions from my hon. Friends who are quite rightly advocating better mobile phone coverage on behalf of their communities.

There is a juxtaposition: there is, of course, a social priority for good mobile phone coverage, but it remains the case that the mobile phone operators are private companies. They are therefore investing their own money in building networks, as well as paying the Government significant sums for the spectrum allocated to them that they won in an auction.

Just as we have done with the superfast broadband programme, it is right that the Government intervene as and when we can. Given the significant difficulties we have come across with the mobile infrastructure project, the way forward is changing the licences, changing planning regulations to allow taller masts and give better coverage, and implementing the emergency services programme, which comes in behind. I should add that the emergency services programme will benefit from the MIP, because a lot of the groundwork on identifying “not spots” and identifying some of the very significant logistical errors in erecting masts will go a long way towards informing the emergency services programme.

I am sorry that I sound a bit Eeyore-ish in responding to this debate, but hon. Members can tell that I have been living with this programme for the past three or four years, and I thought it was time I came to the House and gave a frank view from the Government Benches on how the programme has worked.

James Cartlidge: The Minister says, absolutely fairly, that the last scheme was stopped. Perhaps, to interpret what my hon. Friends are suggesting—this is certainly what I feel—we could have an improved and amended scheme in the months ahead. Therefore, if there is a village that does not have access to the emergency services programme and has no credible other technology to provide a mobile signal—for instance, if it is in a dip and needs a mast—will there still be the potential for a scheme whereby willing communities can come forward within the next 12 months?

Mr Vaizey: At the moment, no. To meet my hon. Friends halfway, I suggest that if we had a series of proposals whereby a community was genuinely willing to have a mast and the council was onside, it would be incumbent on the Government to consider those proposals. To refer back to my earlier remarks, we need to look at the particular sites that concern my hon. Friends, then see whether they fit within the emergency services programme and consider the potential way forward. I suggest that if my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury convenes a group of colleagues who wish to come and see me with definitive statements of masts that they would like to see progressed, I will happily hold that meeting after the February recess.

John Glen: I am extremely grateful to the Minister for his constructive remarks and see them as a green light to carry on the campaign.

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Mr Vaizey: Quite right, too.

John Glen: Notwithstanding the reticence of the operators to engage in the project, there is a real imperative for the Government to force them to deal with this issue. I hope that the Minister recognises the widespread interest in the matter across the House and across our constituencies, where many people feel let down. However, I am grateful for what he has said and for the hope that he has given so many people who have contacted me in recent months.

Mr Vaizey: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks, and I am grateful for the additional six minutes, which I think took the debate forward significantly.

4.42 pm

Question put and agreed to.

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Refugees: UK Government Policy

4.43 pm

Richard Arkless (Dumfries and Galloway) (SNP): I beg to move,

That this House has considered UK Government policy on refugees.

It is a huge privilege to serve under your chairladyship, Mrs Main.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Chairladyship!

Richard Arkless: It is perhaps a little bit more politically correct.

Make no mistake—this country faces its biggest humanitarian crisis of our lifetime. The civil war in Syria has cost the lives of almost a quarter of a million people since it began. The UN estimates that over half of Syria’s pre-wartime population of 23 million is now in need of emergency assistance. Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt have so far received over 3 million people, with the figure set to increase by another 1 million this year. Some 1.2 million refugees have managed to navigate their way to Europe, with the estimate, again, of up to 1 million to come this year.

The total estimated figure for displaced persons as a result of the Syrian war now amounts to just under 4 million people. Syrians are now officially the most displaced population in the world, with the majority of those displaced being children. The war has not only sparked the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time, but has exposed a region, already destabilised, to becoming one where chaos reigns freely on the ground. In my view, that is the core reason why so many have left their homes and their lives in search of a more secure immediate future. It is not just Syrians—Afghanis, Iraqis, Libyans and others are all fleeing this destabilised region and we must recognise that the UK has played its fair share in the actions that have resulted in that destabilisation.

People’s lives and their human dignity are on the line. The perils of a journey across the Mediterranean pale into complete insignificance for them, compared with the terror that they leave behind. Only last week, more than 50 people drowned in the Aegean sea. The numbers continue to grow as the weeks and months go by and they will not slow down if we stay on our current course.

Such people are certainly not making an easy trip to claim benefits from our welfare system. Do we honestly believe that people fleeing for their lives have logged on to the Department for Work and Pensions website, analysed our benefits system and said to themselves, “Do you know what? The UK will do for me.”? To suggest so is to misunderstand completely the situation that these people find themselves in.

The benefit-chasing myth—so easy to peddle and excite UK Independence party voters with—should be dismantled here and now. These are human beings fleeing terror and likely death. They want to work in an environment where their families are safe and can be provided with a good life—that is it. These are values that we all share as human beings and I say that we should approach this problem, first and foremost, in our capacity as human beings.

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I voted against UK airstrikes in Syria because I believed that the risk of exacerbating the problem was too great even to quantify, and a few months on there is little sign that our involvement has in any way stopped the war or the flow of refugees. However, because our pals were doing it, we thought that it was the right thing to jump in with them.

Bob Stewart: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. The reason why airstrikes on Syria are required is to stop these murdering people from carrying out further murderous crimes and to keep them bottled up. That is why I support airstrikes and I hope that in the end, that is what will happen: they will stay there and be bottled up until we can find a political solution. That is why airstrikes are necessary.

Richard Arkless: Of course, I disagree with that assertion. There was a very prolonged debate on the Floor of the House when both sides had the opportunity to put their points of view across. I sincerely hope that the hon. Gentleman’s assertion is proved correct—history will be our judge—but my view is firmly on the other side of that argument. I hope he can respect that difference of opinion.

Mr Andrew Smith (Oxford East) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. Like him, I voted against the airstrikes for similar reasons. It is right for us to address the refugee crisis as human beings, and does he agree that a credible proposal to establish, through concerted international action, safe areas within Syria in which people could seek refuge would be worthy of international support?

Richard Arkless: Yes, of course; I agree completely with the right hon. Gentleman’s comments. Although we must find a solution to the war, that focus should never alleviate our responsibility as human beings to do something more about the displacement and creation of refugees. I have started by summarising the current state of the problem facing us in the hope that Members present will take an open-minded approach, as human beings, to why the UK response to this crisis is inadequate and falls short of the moral and necessary minimum.

Let me be clear that nobody here doubts the efforts made by the UK in the large camps that litter the middle east. I welcome the UK’s leading role in that. I accept that the UK is a major donor to that effort, and I support those initiatives and commend the Government for their efforts in that regard. However, I make this plea to the Minister: when he sums up, will he please not waste time waxing lyrical about our efforts in the camps? We all accept that—the point of difference is what extra we can do, and I hope his comments will be restricted to that point.

Tulip Siddiq (Hampstead and Kilburn) (Lab): I am proud to say that two local authorities in my constituency, Camden and Brent, have pledged to take in 50 families between them, despite staggering cuts in their local government budget and the fact that these families will cost between £29,000 and £40,000 per family per year. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government should work with these local authorities to help them to

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fulfil their pledges and with other local authorities to see how many families they can take in? Collective effort will put pressure on the Government to do something about the refugees.

Richard Arkless: I agree completely with the hon. Lady. Later in my speech, I will touch on some of the alternatives that the Government could use to encourage other people do more. We have all but turned a blind eye to the crisis facing our European partners and the Government seems to have joined the race to become the least attractive place for someone to seek refuge in the hope that refugees will aim to settle elsewhere. If that is the foundation of this Government’s response, it is truly pathetic. The focus does not seem to be on how much we can help, but on how little we can get away with.

Heidi Allen (South Cambridgeshire) (Con): I am the first to say that we need to be doing more in Europe and many hon. Members will know that I was in Lesbos with colleagues the weekend before last. The hon. Gentleman’s statement is shameful and wrong.

Richard Arkless: Every Member is entitled to their opinion and I stand by my statement. It is unfortunate that the hon. Lady and I disagree about it.

The Prime Minister and the Government have massively underestimated the scale of the problem. The UK’s response to the crisis has been a commitment to resettle 20,000 refugees in this five-year Parliament. It is a welcome contribution, but falls way short of what could be described objectively as a fair share. Oxfam tells us that a fair share would be 23,000 in 2016 alone and my simple calculation is that we seem to be taking in around 20% of what others are telling us our fair share is. Twenty thousand may sound a lot, but colleagues in the Chamber should recognise that it equates to six refugees per parliamentary constituency per year between now and 2020. If that is the extent of our humanity, I am deeply embarrassed.

The number could easily be larger, and the refugees could be accommodated through charitable initiatives and adequate partnerships between charities and local authorities. The Government could even ask people whether they can help. They may be surprised to learn that not everyone hovers between Tory and UKIP. Only this week, the Prime Minister used the incredible argument that if we left the European Union, we could end up with camps like that in Calais in the south of England. The implication was clear: it is fine if they are in France, but we do not want them here. I find that attitude inhumane.

Helen Whately (Faversham and Mid Kent) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is making the important point that the numbers need not be large if they are spread out across the country. Will he make it clear whether his view is that it should be imposed on local authorities to take a certain number of refugees? I say that having spoken to local councils who have told me that it is important that they can choose how many to take.

Richard Arkless: The responsibility is with the Government and this place to decide what our moral contribution is. There should then be discussions with

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local authorities to see what capacity they have and to come to some sort of agreement. The responsibility rests with this place and its elected Members to decide what our moral obligation is.

Striking the right balance between helping people in the region and those who have fled is crucial and the Prime Minister should encourage further debate in Europe on how those currently displaced within the EU could be spread proportionately. Would it not be refreshing if the UK was the voice of humanity in the EU?

It is estimated that 26,000 unaccompanied children came to Europe in 2015. Last month, we were told by Europol that 10,000 of those little kids are missing. A third of the total number of refugees entering Europe are children. Article 26 of the universal declaration of human rights and the European convention on human rights remind us that we have a moral duty to ensure that these children receive an education. That is non-negotiable, yet the ever-likely scenario is that these unaccompanied minors are more likely to fall into the hands of trafficking rings than to attend a lesson that could inspire their future.

We fully back Save the Children’s call to the Government to give sanctuary to 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees. If we do not do that, what will we say to them: “Oops, sorry, we are one of the richest countries in the world, but we can take only a few hundred of you”? Will that clear our conscience and alleviate our moral obligations as elected Members? I think not. The UK must act now to take more than a fair share of these kids. They are children, for goodness sake. I cannot imagine that this place will ignore that call. Surely it will not.

There are strong economic indicators and arguments for welcoming refugees into the UK, supported recently by 120 leading economists in a letter to the Prime Minister. Even the Home Office has admitted in its own reports that migrants have offered a net contribution, which runs into billions. Time and again, migrants prove that they put in more than they take out, which prompts the question: what are the UK Government afraid of? Call me a cynic, but I think it is UKIP.

Mrs Anne Main(in the Chair): I am looking at how many Back Benchers want to speak. I will call the Front Benchers at 5.23, so I hope hon. Members will do the maths and make way for their colleagues to speak. Otherwise, I will have to impose a limit.

4.56 pm

Helen Whately (Faversham and Mid Kent) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Richard Arkless) on securing the debate. I did not agree with all of what he said, but he made some important points about our moral obligation and how we should raise our sights as high as we can when considering what we can do about the humanitarian crisis that is upon us. I had my airtime on this topic a couple of weeks ago, so I will be brief.

My perspective is that one cannot help but feel compassion when one sees the pictures of refugees, wherever they are in Europe, including Calais. That includes the pictures of Alan Kurdi on the beach last year and of the 70,000 or so refugees massed on the Turkish border right now. One feels that compassion,

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but we must approach the situation with our heads as well as our hearts and make sure we do the right thing as well as being humane. I visited a refugee camp in Turkey last year, having visited the camp in Calais, which was so much worse than what I saw in the camp in Turkey. I have spoken to several local councils to hear how they are getting on with the resettlement of refugees under the Government’s programme and how well the new arrivals who have already come to the UK are getting on.

Bob Stewart: My hon. Friend refers to “refugees”. My wife, who is a delegate to the International Committee of the Red Cross, reminds me that refugees are people who are fleeing from a country in fear of their life, and that economic migrants are people who are trying to find a better life. Not all migrants are refugees, and the vast majority of those at Calais are probably economic migrants.

Helen Whately: My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I completely agree. Some of the people I spoke to in Calais are refugees, some are economic migrants and sometimes it is difficult to determine.

Bob Stewart: It is difficult to tell.

Helen Whately: Indeed. What they need to do is to apply for asylum and go through the process, when it will hopefully become clear what their right to remain is.

I want to share a few reflections this afternoon. First, although we want to bring refugees here and give them a chance of a new life—it can be life-changing—there is no point in doing so unless we genuinely give refugees a chance of a good life and a good experience here. It would be terrible to bring thousands of people here and for them to be put in an area that does not want them, in poor-quality housing, or for there to be resentment in the community surrounding them because it believes they are competing for housing and jobs, or just that there are too many people from another culture being imposed on the area.

It is critical that refugees who have come all the way across continents to come to the UK have a good experience, because if they do not, it may well be better for them to stay in the region, closer to extended family and closer to being able to get home afterwards. To ensure that refugees here have a good experience and are in good housing, that their children can go to school and that they can get jobs and are welcomed by communities, it is critical to continue the current scheme of local authorities stepping forward and saying that they believe that they can take two families, five families, 10 families or 50 families. They are the ones saying, “This is what we believe as a community we can do, and this is what our community will welcome.”

Tulip Siddiq: I agree with many of the hon. Lady’s points. My constituent, Alix Wilton Regan, has just come back from volunteering in Calais, and she said that the majority of people she met there were midwives, nurses, doctors and so on. Those are skills that we could use in our country; there is a shortage of such professionals in the UK at the moment. Does the hon. Lady agree that it would be mutually beneficial if we could bring such people over? It would not just benefit them, it would benefit us as well.

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Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): Order. I ask that interventions be brief, especially as the hon. Lady is not down on the list to speak. I am mindful that other colleagues wish to speak.

Helen Whately: I am surprised by that account, because of what I saw when I was there. I think that it is widely accepted that the vast majority of people in the Calais area are men rather than women. Of course, that is not to say that there will not be both men and women from those professions. It is tempting to have an asylum policy whereby we welcome people who have particular skills that we need as a country, but I do not think that would necessarily be right. I think it is better to prioritise people by their need, rather than our need. Also, I would be worried about taking people from Calais, because I think that that would create a pull factor for people to come across Europe to Calais. It is so much better to take people from the region, rather than tempting them to come here.

As I said, I have been to Turkey. The conditions in the refugee camp that I saw were pretty good. I know that many people are not choosing to be in the refugee camps, because they want to work, but for most people it is at least a safe environment. I know that it is not for all people, and particularly for some from minority religions, but for many people in the region it is safe.

Heidi Allen: By and large, I agree with my hon. Friend that this pull factor is a dreadful thing, but could there be an exception to the rule for children who genuinely have not a soul left in the world? There is no pull or push factor for them. They are abandoned. Surely we have a duty to take them.

Helen Whately: I would defer to my right hon. Friend the Minister for a more detailed reply on that point. One’s compassion for children means that of course it feels awful to imagine children abandoned. I think that we have to be very careful, though, not to encourage a situation in which we might see families and even parents letting—no, encouraging their children to try to head into Europe, because of the chance that they might have a new life. That would be really dangerous, and I imagine that there is a risk that it could happen were we to take children. There is a risk of that pull factor, although we are absolutely right to be looking at what we can do for those children, particularly those who are in Europe in awful conditions. How can we help? I do not think that it is remotely an easy answer.

On the point about children, I want to give the Kent perspective, as I represent a Kent constituency. We have more than 1,600 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and care leavers in Kent at the moment. We have appealed to other areas of the country to help Kent look after those young people, as Kent foster homes and the Kent fostering system are kind of full. Only about 90 have been taken by other local authorities, so in welcoming other children and child refugees, we need first to ensure that we are doing a good job by those who are already in the UK. We need to ensure that we look after those we have, not just try to help others. Let us do a good job for those who are here now.

As I said, when I went to Turkey, the conditions in the camp were relatively good—not lovely, but pretty good. Often, the grass looks greener in Europe to refugees, and we think, “Wouldn’t it be better if we could have

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more refugees here and help them get here?” But the grass is not necessarily greener in the UK—it would not be if we were to take huge numbers—and we know that the British pound goes much further in the region than it does here. Therefore, we are right to press on with the strategy of taking a limited number of refugees—those we can particularly help because of their health needs and what they have been through. However, all of us as MPs can press the local authorities in our areas to work together and say, “Let’s see whether we can take more”. Maybe—let us hope—we can take more than 20,000 and do it faster, but we should do it from the bottom up, and we can all play a part in it.

Several hon. Members rose

Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): Order. I ask that hon. Members divide the time among themselves—it is roughly five minutes each—as opposed to me imposing a time limit.

5.5 pm

Liz Saville Roberts (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): Diolch yn fawr, Mrs Main. I will do my best to keep to the time limit. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Richard Arkless) for securing the debate.

It is safe to say that the geopolitics of human suffering that is bringing tide upon tide of desperate refugees to Europe is the greatest ethical and moral challenge of our time. Plaid Cymru has constantly and consistently called on the UK Government to recognise the enormity of the crisis and to respond appropriately. We have also joined charities such as Oxfam and the Welsh Refugee Council in urging that the nations of the United Kingdom take our fair share of refugees. However, the number of people reaching Wales remains small. It is a distressing fact that more people lost their lives in the Mediterranean last year than found refuge in Wales.

Wales has a proud history of offering sanctuary to refugees, but we need to do more, and doing more means that there is a complex jigsaw of authorities, responsibilities and budgets to negotiate, against a background of austerity. The UK Government, the Welsh Government, Welsh local authorities and Welsh charities need to pull together to ensure that refugees are welcomed in Wales, that they have the means to settle and thrive and that their host communities are sufficiently resourced. There are concerns that the funding allocated to individuals for health services may not be sufficient in specific cases. I have spoken to my own local authority, Cyngor Gwynedd, about that.

Both the Home Office and a given local authority might feel that individuals with certain health conditions—perhaps disabled people—should warrant humanitarian priority. I ask the Minister to consider special categories of health needs and to ensure that local authorities can afford to provide proper care. Councils and communities should not be placed in a situation of picking and choosing who to accept from the camps not on the grounds of need but on the grounds of affordability. It is to be feared that the result of that, as matters stand, will be leaving sick and disabled people in the camps, which must be the least suitable place imaginable.

With specific reference to Wales, I would also like to address concerns about asylum accommodation. The recent exposure of systematic failings by Clearsprings in Cardiff warrants an urgent inquiry. It is clear, following

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yesterday’s evidence session of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, that Clearpsrings was aware of the practice of using red wristbands and decided not to challenge that practice. I propose that that indicates an unjustifiable level of insensitivity to refugees’ experience that calls for an inquiry.

I would like to take this opportunity also to raise the plight of ethnic groups suffering at the hands of Daesh in countries beyond the boundaries of Syria. The media news cycle is fickle. What pulls at our heartstrings one week is next week’s recycling fodder. Two years ago, the fate of the Yazidi community was headline news when Daesh besieged thousands of Yazidis on Mount Sinjar in Iraq between August and December 2014. Daesh’s cynical demand of “Convert or die” amounted to nothing less than a veil to conceal genocide. Members of the Yazidi diaspora talk about 35 mass graves containing 6,000 dead. The Yazidis are a community of 500,000 people who have suffered extreme religious persecution. They have been displaced from their homelands in Sinjar, the Nineveh plain and Syria, where they have lived for 3,000 years. The Yazidis, as I am sure many people are aware, are not a Muslim people, and they have been treated with particular harshness because of that.

Yazidi women have been, and remain, the victims of systematic sexual violence at the hands of Daesh fighters. They are especially vulnerable to enslavement and forced sexual abuse because of their ethnicity and religion. This week, I had the honour of meeting a young Yazidi woman, Nadia Murad, and learning something about her experiences. I was horrified to learn that some 3,400 Yazidi women and girls—children among them—are still held captive by Daesh.

My request is that the degree of our concern is not dictated by the latest media story, and that the quality of people’s suffering is not defined by the immediate horror of today’s news bulletin. Along with many hon. Members, I urge the Government to take our fair share of refugees from Syria and beyond, and to ensure that we provide proper care for them here in the UK. I beg the Government to remember the other ethnic groups caught up in the maelstrom, in the name of religion, in the middle east.

5.10 pm

Natalie McGarry (Glasgow East) (Ind): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Richard Arkless) on securing an important debate. It is an absolute pleasure to follow the hon. Lady—I am not going to insult her by trying to pronounce the name of her constituency in Welsh—who made a powerful speech about Yazidi women.

The refugee crisis facing Europe is one of the defining challenges of our time. Millions are fleeing the catastrophic conflict, and are asking and pleading for our help and humanity. So far, the UK’s response has been shamefully inadequate. While other nations in Europe have stepped up and offered refuge to tens or hundreds of thousands, the UK has committed to taking just 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020. That pales in comparison with the numbers taken by other countries in Europe. Although I do not want to put an arbitrary number on how many refugees we should accept and by when, I would very much like to see the UK Government step up their efforts to support those affected by the Syrian conflict and others by providing shelter and refuge.

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As an MP for Glasgow, I am proud and heartened that Scotland has led the way in welcoming refugees from Syria—a nation all but destroyed by civil war. A third of those who have come to the UK thus far have been settled in Scotland, which is down to the work of the Scottish Government, councils, housing associations and other organisations that have put a concerted effort into making that the case. These people are not simply coming to our shores in search of a better life. They are desperately seeking any kind of normal violence-free existence—the kind of life we all take for granted.

The plight of child refugees fleeing conflict zones is especially touching, and is an area in which the UK Government could and should make tangible progress. The Government have recently announced their intention to identify and help more vulnerable unaccompanied children who have already reached Europe from Syria and beyond, but that simply is not enough. Save the Children estimates that in Calais and Dunkirk alone, 2,000 unaccompanied children are living in refugee camps in horrific conditions that we would never wish our own children to be anywhere near. Many of those children already have families living in the UK, but the reunification process can take as long as 11 months to complete. Save the Children estimates that there are more than 20,000 unaccompanied children without shelter and stability across Europe, and they are vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation.

Any truly humanitarian response from this Government would treat helping those young people as an urgent priority and ensure safe refuge. Sadly, the Government’s record has been to put many refugee children back into harm’s way rather than to rescue them. This week the Home Office admitted that, over the past nine years, 2,748 young people who sought asylum in the UK as unaccompanied children were deported to conflict-torn countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria—the place we are taking refugees from. I hope the Minister can justify that situation.

It is deeply disappointing that, instead of stepping up and offering leadership in tackling this humanitarian crisis, the Prime Minister has chosen to denigrate refugees seeking asylum and to treat them as political pawns. In referring to vulnerable people desperately seeking our assistance as a “swarm” or a “bunch of migrants”, he betrays a callousness in his approach rivalled only by the UK Independence party.

Language matters. Sometimes in the debate about refugees, humanity is lost. Refugees are ordinary people like you, Mrs Main, and like me. They are people with lives, not merely pictures on a screen. They have lost their homes, their dignity and their way of life. They are scarred by conflict and are fleeing in very real danger of their lives. In October, I met people like us in Camp Newroz in Rojava in northern Syria. Many of them were Yazidis who have suffered the most catastrophic and horrendous circumstances and continue to do so. Their homes in Sinjar have been completely destroyed—their way of life obliterated. They cannot see a safe future in returning to Sinjar. It speaks of the scale of horror and destruction if it is safer in the sea than it is on land. Does our humanity allow us to turn our back on those people?

It is deeply concerning that, instead of leading efforts in Europe to find a humane and sustainable solution to the crisis, the Prime Minister has dragged refugees into

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an EU referendum campaign. A constructive vision of how co-operation across Europe can provide answers to major contemporary challenges such as the refugee crisis would be a far better argument for staying in the EU than his petty scaremongering that a vote to leave would see refugee camps at Dover.

The simple fact is that the refugee crisis is not going away, and the UK Government must step up their plans to support desperate people fleeing warfare and disaster. That means reviewing their refugee policy here in the UK and engaging far more actively at EU level to find a Europe-wide solution to this global humanitarian crisis. The Government still have an opportunity to act, expand their support and improve their international engagement, but they must first admit that they need to do more. I look forward to hearing from the Minister.

5.16 pm

Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP): It is a pleasure to serve under your stewardship, Mrs Main, and to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East (Natalie McGarry). I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Richard Arkless) on securing the debate.

I start on a positive note by paying tribute to the Minister for his work in resettling 1,000 vulnerable Syrian refugees. These things never operate completely perfectly but, on the whole, the resettlement scheme appears to have got off to a positive start and I thank him for his contribution to making that happen. More broadly, we should recognise that, compared with many countries, the position of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK is positive. However, the role of the Opposition is to point out what the Government could do better, and there is a lot that the Government could do better in their treatment of asylum seekers and refugees. I could probably speak all day on this subject so please do not treat this short shopping list as a comprehensive one. In the time I have, I will try to make three or four short points.

This morning we had an excellent debate on asylum accommodation and the COMPASS housing contracts. We heard about the red doors in Middlesbrough and the red wrist bands in Cardiff. More broadly, we heard of myriad complaints about poor accommodation standards and services in various parts of the UK. Many hon. Members argued that, before the Government consider renewing the contracts, there must be a thorough independent review of the operation.

This afternoon, we had a robust debate on migration into Europe and our approach to the refugee crisis. In my short speech I made the case for UK participation in the relocation of refugees around the EU. More than 1 million people fled to Europe by sea last year—about 800,000 to Greece and 150,000 to Italy. Some 84% of those people were from refugee-producing countries. Almost half were from Syria, 21% were from Afghanistan and 9% were from Iraq. On any view, hundreds of thousands of refugees are among those arrivals. Many more—probably a greater number—will be coming this year and the year after.

No two countries can possibly cope with the task of receiving, registering, checking, supporting and processing claims for the refugee status of thousands of people every day, and no two countries can reasonably be

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expected to absorb the hundreds of thousands of refugees that are among their number. Nor, indeed, can they take on the task of removing all those who require to be removed. Yet, in essence, the approach of this Government appears to be that Greece and Italy should have to serve as home for all several million refugees.

Heidi Allen: It is not only the UK. Every European nation is relying heavily on Greece to take the workload, and the international community needs to come together.

Stuart C. McDonald: I agree that the failure has not only been of the UK’s participation in the relocation scheme. Even countries that, on paper, have agreed to take part in the relocation scheme are not doing so. Germany and Sweden have tried to take well more than their share and have run into difficulties. Ultimately, 1 million people among two, three or four countries is an almost impossible task; 1 million people shared around a union of 500 million is a tough challenge, but it is surmountable. I honestly think that when we look at the maths, the only reasonable approach is to share responsibility for those who have made that journey.

Two other causes for concern will suffice before I run out of time. I continue to object to the fact that destitution appears once more to be becoming a tool of choice for immigration control. My party shares the concern of the British Red Cross that certain provisions in the Immigration Bill, which is currently making its way through the House of Lords, and particularly the end to section 95 support for families with children who have exhausted their appeal rights, will force those families into destitution and put them at significant risk of harm. It will also increase the risk that such families abscond, and it will pass significant costs on to local authorities. We also recall that a similar project by the Labour Government had precisely those results and made immigration control harder, not easier. Again, when the Government look at the evidence, I ask even at this late stage for them to reconsider their approach.

My final key point is on immigration detention. The current system is in need of urgent reform because it detains too many people, because it detains people who should never be detained, because it detains people for far too long, and because it is costly and inefficient. Our estate is one of the largest in Europe, with places for almost 3,400 people. This country detained more than 30,000 different people in 2013, which is significantly more than any of our European colleagues. Some 4,300 people were detained in Germany, which, incidentally, received more than four times as many asylum applications. We are locking up vulnerable people, including victims of trafficking, torture and sexual violence, with absolutely no need.

We welcome Stephen Shaw’s very thorough report and the Government’s fairly positive response, and we will be pushing for the report’s implementation as soon as possible. On another day we could discuss the use of fast-track detention, the right to work, the problems with decision making, the policies on unaccompanied children, the inclusion of refugees in the net migration target and the Secretary of State’s rather alarming speech on redefining the concept of what it means to be a refugee, but I finish by paying tribute to the Minister’s work and ask him to persuade some of his colleagues to up their game, too.

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Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): Order. Before I call the Front Benchers, I remind Members that this debate will finish at 5.43 pm. It is customary to allow a minute or two for the proposer of the debate to sum up at the end. I will be calling Anne McLaughlin as the Scottish National party spokesperson, although she is sitting on the Back Bench—I am just explaining for other Members who are watching.

5.22 pm

Anne McLaughlin (Glasgow North East) (SNP): I did not realise that I was supposed to sit on the Front Bench. I will do so next time.

I am delighted to sum up for the SNP in this debate. There have been a number of interesting contributions, and it is important that those of us who are fighting for better and more support for refugees continue to say so. I said that in the debate this morning, and I am sure the Government are getting sick of the sight of us, but many refugees listen to or read these debates. Opposition Members cannot change much of the Government’s policies at the moment, and although we find that incredibly frustrating, we should not underestimate how much of a difference it makes to people seeking asylum to hear words of support from those of us who will, at some stage, be in a position to make changes.

That said, there are countries that help nobody and I acknowledge, as others have, that the UK at least helps some people—it does not help enough, but at least it does something. A number of crucial points have been made about the UK’s policy on refugees, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Richard Arkless) on securing this debate and on a fantastic speech. He said that half of Syria’s pre-wartime population is now in need of support from the rest of the world, which is frightening. He also said that the UK has played its part in causing some of the refugee crisis in some of the region, which we cannot deny.

The hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) gave an excellent example of some of the people we are helping, such as the Yazidi women who in many cases are victims of brutal rape and who cannot be protected in their own country. They are just some of the people about whom we are talking. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East (Natalie McGarry) talked about the importance of language, and I completely agree. Some Government Members need to change the language that they are using. My hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) talked about his concern, which I share, about policies coming through now that will lead to further destitution and, disturbingly, further destitution for families.

The most powerful argument comes from the fundamental disagreement between Members of this House. Some of us believe that refugees make a positive contribution to these islands, and others believe that they do not. They may say they believe that refugees make a positive contribution, but they are paying lip service because their actions speak far louder than their words. If Government Members truly believe that refugees make a positive contribution to the wellbeing of the UK, their policies and rhetoric would be very different: as my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway said, they would not have an ethos that asks not how

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much we can help, but how much we can get away with. I know that the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Heidi Allen), for whom I and a number of SNP Members have a lot of respect on a number of issues, is unhappy, but the way that we treat asylum seekers in this country can often be described only as horrendous and shameful. Actions speak louder than words.

We are trying to have a debate about refugees, and we all know the definition of a refugee, and still the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) felt the need to state that the majority of people in the Calais camps are economic migrants. Apart from the fact that I do not know how on earth he knows that—I am quite sure he does not—what, as they say in Glasgow, has that to do with the price of fish? We are talking about refugees, and I will not be deflected from that.

Like many Members, I was surprised when I looked back over the historical contribution that refugees have made to the United Kingdom. I was not surprised that they had made a significant contribution; I was just surprised by how significant that contribution was. When I looked at the list of British institutions and facets of everyday life shaped by refugees, I started to recognise how the nations of these islands have been shaped by people fleeing conflicts. Marks and Spencer, Burton, Hampton Court Palace and the Mini Cooper—refugees are often as British as fish and chips, which apparently also have a refugee connection, believe it or not.

Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP): I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend about the contribution of refugees to UK society. Does she agree that the thousands of Ugandan Asian refugees who arrived in 1972, and who were initially the subject of much anxiety, made a huge contribution to British life and are a perfect example of why we must do more for refugees?

Anne McLaughlin: Absolutely. We need to get away from the idea that refugees take and do not give anything. They are not a burden; they are part of the fabric of our society. The much lauded Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that the contribution made by a large number of new arrivals would cause a significant reduction in the national debt as a percentage of GDP. The hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately) rightly said that we need to approach this with head and heart, and it is logical that educated, self-funded migrants, as many refugees are, will make a great contribution to the UK. Should we not have an asylum policy that says “We will support you to escape persecution, now let’s see what you can do to help us improve the economy and build our country”? We should be doing that, rather than leaving people languishing in limbo for years, losing their professional skills and the entrepreneurial impetus that they could have been using to benefit their host country.

Heidi Allen: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Anne McLaughlin: I do not have time. I am being told to wind up.

In the history of the UK there are some astounding stories of people fleeing tyranny, arriving here and contributing in all sorts of ways. Refugees are not a long-term burden on society. We are lucky to have them and their contribution, and our policies ought to reflect that.