With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on the United Kingdom’s approach to the global migration challenge.
The United Kingdom has a long and proud history of offering sanctuary to refugees. In recent years alone, we have welcomed more than 185,000 people through safe and legal routes, including from Syria, Hong Kong, Afghanistan and, more recently, Ukraine. In addition, we have welcomed more than 40,000 people in recent years through our refugee family reunion routes. This Government have done more than any other in recent history to support those fleeing persecution, conflict or instability.
But we cannot focus our support on those who need it most or effectively control our borders without tackling illegal migration, which is facilitated by people smugglers—serious organised criminals who profit from human misery, who do not care about people drowning in the channel or suffocating in the back of containers. We must break their lethal and evil business model by removing the demand for their repugnant activities. This type of illegal migration puts unsustainable pressures on our public services and local communities. Every day, the broken asylum system costs the taxpayer almost £5 million in hotel accommodation alone. The cost of the asylum system is the highest in over two decades at over £1.5 billion.
As the Prime Minister said last week:
“We cannot sustain a parallel illegal system. Our compassion may be infinite, but our capacity to help people is not.”
That is why the new plan for immigration and its legislative vehicle—the Nationality and Borders Bill—are so vital. Once again, I urge hon. Members and Members in the other place to follow this elected House in backing the Bill.
At the heart of this Government’s approach is a simple principle: fairness. Access to the UK’s asylum system should be based on need, not on the ability to pay people smugglers. More than 80 million people around the world are displaced. Others are on the move because they want a better life. There is a global migration crisis that demands innovative and international solutions, and this Government are taking firm action.
When we published the new plan for immigration back in March last year, we set out three very clear objectives: to increase the fairness and efficacy of our system so that we can better protect and support those in genuine need of asylum; to deter illegal and dangerous routes of entry to the UK, thereby breaking the business model of criminal smuggling networks and protecting the lives of those they endanger; and to remove more easily from the UK those with no right to be here.
The Ministry of Defence has taken command of small boat operations in the channel. Every small boat incident will be investigated to determine who piloted the boat and could therefore be liable for prosecution. These reforms are a truly cross-government effort, including the Home Office, the Ministry of Defence, the Crown Prosecution Service, Border Force and the Ministry of Justice.
A nationwide dispersal system will be introduced so that asylum pressures are more equally spread across local authorities. Currently, 53% of local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales do not accommodate asylum seekers under the dispersal system. It is simply unfair that a national burden should be felt disproportionately by certain areas of the country.
For the first time, the Government are building asylum reception centres to end the practice of housing asylum seekers in expensive hotels. A new reception centre in Linton-on-Ouse in North Yorkshire will open shortly. Far from being outlandish, as some in the Opposition have commented, asylum reception centres are already operational in safe EU countries such as Greece and they are funded by the EU.
Just last week, I signed a new world-leading migration and economic development partnership with Rwanda. Under this partnership, those who travel to the UK by illegal and dangerous routes, including by small boats across the channel, may be relocated to Rwanda, where they will have their asylum claims considered. Those in need of protection will be given up to five years of support, including education and employment training and help with integration, accommodation and healthcare, so that they can thrive there. The UK is supporting this investment in Rwanda over five years, boosting the Rwandan economy and increasing opportunities for people living there, further cementing the trading and diplomatic relationship between our countries.
This is a bespoke international agreement reached last week with Rwanda; I came to Parliament as soon as was reasonably practicable following the conclusion of that agreement. The agreement is compatible with all our domestic and international legal obligations. Rwanda is a state party to the 1951 United Nations refugee convention and the seven core United Nations human rights conventions, and has a strong system for refugee resettlement. The United Nations has used Rwanda for several years to relocate refugees, and of course it was the European Union that first funded that.
This agreement deals a major blow to the people smugglers and their evil trade in human cargo. Everyone who is considered for relocation will be screened and interviewed—that will include an age assessment—and will have access to legal services. In relation to accounting officer advice, contrary to reports in the newspapers, the permanent secretary did not oppose this agreement; nor did he assert that it is poor value for money. Rather, he stated in his role as accounting officer that the policy is regular, proper and feasible, but that there is not currently sufficient evidence to demonstrate value for money.
It is the job of Ministers to take decisions—more often than not, tough decisions—in the interests of our country. Existing approaches have failed, and there is no single solution to these problems—something that I think Opposition Members may have encountered in the past as well. Change is needed, because people are dying attempting to come to the UK by illegal and dangerous routes. This partnership is the type of international co-operation needed to make the global immigration system fairer, keep people safe and give them opportunities to flourish. This will help to break the people smugglers’ business model and prevent loss of life, while ensuring protection for those who are genuinely vulnerable.
This Government are delivering the first comprehensive overhaul of the asylum system and of this type of illegal migration in decades. At the heart of this approach is fairness. Access to the UK’s asylum system must be based on need, not on the ability to pay people smugglers. The demands on the current system, the cost to British taxpayers and the scandalous abuses are increasing. The British public have rightly had enough. Our new plan for immigration will improve support for those directly fleeing oppression, persecution and tyranny through safe and legal routes. It will deter illegal and dangerous routes of entry to the UK, make it easier to remove those with no right to be in the UK and provide a common-sense approach to controlling immigration, both legal and illegal. I commend this statement to the House.
We have seen, over the past week, this unworkable, shameful and desperate attempt to distract from the Prime Minister’s lawbreaking. The Home Secretary should not go along with it, because she is undermining not just respect for the rule of law, but her office, by providing cover for him. The policies that she has announced today are unworkable, unethical and extortionate in their cost to the British taxpayer.
There was no information from the Home Secretary about the costs today. Will she admit that the £120 million that she has announced does not pay for a single person to be transferred? She has not actually got an agreement on the price for each person; in fact, £120 million is the eye-watering price that the Home Office is paying just for a press release. What is the rest of the cost? What is this year’s budget? How many people will it cover? The Home Office has briefed that it might be £30,000 per person to cover up to three months’ accommodation, but that is already three times more than the ordinary cost of dealing with an asylum case in the UK.
The Home Secretary said in her statement that she would provide five years of costs. In Australia, offshoring costs £1.7 million per person, which is over 100 times more than the ordinary asylum cost here. Where will all the money come from to fund the plan? She says that she will save money on hotels, but the only reason why we are paying a fortune in hotel costs is that Home Office decision making has totally collapsed. On the Home Secretary’s watch, the Home Office is taking only 14,000 initial asylum decisions a year, half as many as it was taking five years ago. It is taking fewer decisions than Belgium, the Netherlands and Austria, never mind France and Germany. The costs to the UK taxpayer have soared by hundreds of millions of pounds because the Home Secretary is not capable of taking basic asylum decisions—and because she is not capable of taking those decisions, she is trying to pay Rwanda to take them instead. Whether or not people are refugees, whether or not they are victims of modern slavery, whether or not they have family members in the UK and whether or not they have come from Afghanistan, Syria or even Ukraine, the Home Secretary is asking Rwanda to do the job that she is not capable of doing.
The Home Secretary says that this policy will deter boats and traffickers, but the permanent secretary says otherwise: he says that there is no evidence of a deterrent effect, and that there has been a total failure to crack down on the criminal gangs that are at the heart of this problem. The number of prosecutions for human trafficking and non-sexual exploitation has fallen from 59 in 2015 to just two in 2020. The criminals will not be deterred because someone whom they exploited was sent to Rwanda. They do not give money-back guarantees under which they lose money if their victims end up somewhere else instead. They will just spin more lies. The Home Secretary is totally failing to crack down on criminal gangs. Why does she not get on with her basic job, crack down on human traffickers, do the serious work with France and Belgium to prevent the boats from setting out in the first place—which she did not even mention in her statement—and make decisions fast?
The Home Secretary is using this policy to distract people from years of failure. She promised three years ago to halve the number of crossings, but it has increased tenfold, and this will make trafficking worse. The top police chief and anti-slavery commissioner has said that the Home Secretary’s legislation will make it harder to prosecute traffickers. When Israel tried paying Rwanda to take refugees and asylum seekers a few years ago, independent reports showed that that increased people-smuggling and increased the action of the criminal gangs. This is the damage that the Home Secretary is doing. She is making things easier for the criminal gangs and harder for those who need support, at a time when people across our country have come forward to help those who are fleeing Ukraine—to help desperate refugees. Instead of working properly with other countries, the Home Secretary is doing the opposite. All she is doing is making things easier for the criminal gangs.
Will the Home Secretary tell us the facts? Will she tell us about the real costs of this policy, and the real damage that it will do in respect of human trafficking and people- smuggling? Will she come clean to the public, and come clean to the House?
That response to my statement was, if I may say so, wholly predictable. It is important to say to everyone in the House that we cannot put a price on saving human lives, and I think everyone will respect that completely.
The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) was a Minister in the Blair Government when the powers that give this Government the legal basis for this policy were introduced. When she occupied a seat in the Blair Government, I do not remember her exploding in synthetic rage when all those policies were implemented, after Acts were passed in 1999, 2002 and 2004 to bring about similar partnerships —the same partnerships, by the way, that were used to establish the Dublin regulations to return inadmissible asylum seekers to EU member states. The right hon. Lady has gone on record multiple times attacking the Government for abandoning those regulations, and at the same time calling for a replacement. Now she is attacking the Government for using the very powers that only a few weeks ago she said we could still be using if we had not left the EU.
What we have heard today from the right hon. Lady and the Opposition demonstrates their absolute inability to understand this issue—the differentiation between legal and illegal migration. They should be honest about their policies. They stand for open borders and uncontrolled immigration. I will, if I may, go even further: the right hon. Lady described the policy as unworkable and extortionate. If it is unworkable, it cannot be extortionate. We will make payments based on delivery. That is the point of our scheme. Nowhere in her response to the statement did the right hon. Lady put forward an alternative that would actually seek to deal with people-trafficking and deaths in the channel. Importantly, the Labour party is being exposed today as having no policy, and no idea how to stop people-smuggling.
With respect to my right hon. Friend, from what I have heard and seen so far of the removal to Rwanda policy, I do not support it on the grounds of legality, practicality or efficacy. I want to ask her about one specific issue. I understand that only young men, and not families, will be removed. The Home Secretary is shaking her head, so I have obviously misunderstood the policy in that sense. If it is the case that families will not be broken up—the Home Secretary is nodding—where is her evidence that this will not simply lead to an increase in the trafficking of women and children?
I am happy to meet my right hon. Friend to discuss this further, and to give her further information —[Interruption.] Calm down and listen. First and foremost, the policy is legal and a memorandum of understanding has been published that states very clearly—[Interruption.] Members are not even listening, so there is no point. The MOU states clearly in terms of the legal—[Interruption.] If Members are interested in listening to the responses, please do. The MOU that has been published spells out in full detail the legalities and the nature of the agreement. I think my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) would respect the fact that I am not going to speak about the eligibility criteria on the Floor of the House. [Hon. Members: “Why not?”] Because, as my right hon. Friend will know very well, those types of criteria are used by the smuggling gangs to exploit various loopholes in our laws to do with, for example, legal action to prevent removals. Opposition Members write to me frequently asking me not to remove some of the failed asylum seekers and foreign national offenders who have no legal basis for remaining in our country. I will be happy to meet my right hon. Friend to discuss this further.
This is a cruel and catastrophic policy. It will not hurt smugglers, but it will further seriously harm people who have fled persecution. It will do untold damage to the international system of refugee protection, and to what little remains of the UK’s reputation for upholding international law. This is worse than temporary offshoring; it is offloading responsibility altogether. As the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has said, people fleeing persecution should not be “traded like commodities”, and in words of the Refugee Council, this is nothing short of cash for deportations. We know that 85% of refugees are in the developing or least developed countries, yet here is the wealthy UK offering them cash to take some more. So much for global Britain.
The only thing that is transparent about this policy is its dodgy timing and grubby political motivation. In the interests of proper transparency, will the Home Secretary finally publish a detailed estimate of how many billions this policy will cost? She was chuntering that she had the deal sorted out, so she should now announce it to Members of the House. And for what are we paying this money? Can she say what percentage of asylum seekers coming to the UK will be subjected to this abysmal treatment? Reports from Rwanda suggest capacity for probably around1%, but certainly less than 5%. Is that correct? We are told people will be screened before transfer, but how can a pathetic screening interview possibly pick out trafficking survivors, torture victims or LGBT people? Quite simply, it cannot, so is she happy to see those people subjected to this treatment?
Why are women and children within the scope of this policy? Will people going through the screening process be able to access legal advice? Why are we not allowed to see the criteria for deciding who will be sent? Where is the transparency in that? How will she monitor their treatment? Her Government have completely failed to stop abuses in UK detention centres, never mind in centres that are 5,000 miles away. In short, this disastrous policy has nothing to do with the global migration crisis and everything to do with distracting from the Prime Minister’s political crises. It is absolutely sickening, for all that.
Just for the record, I think the hon. Gentleman’s latter comment was absolutely unacceptable. It does a great disservice not just to this Government and the officials who have worked for over nine months on this partnership, but also to our counterparts in Rwanda who have been working with us, to my international counterparts who are working collectively to tackle the issues of illegal migration, and to some counterparts in the EU as well.
To answer some specific points, I think it is shameful that the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) is playing party political games on that point, just like the Labour party. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman lets me answer the question, I will.
The other point is that Rwanda has successfully resettled more than 130,000 refugees. I think the hon. Gentleman’s comments are a slur on the successful efforts of our partners in Rwanda. Rwanda is a safe and secure country with respect for the rule of law. I think hon. Members should listen to the undercurrent of their tone towards Rwanda, which has done a great deal to provide safety, refuge, security and a new life to many refugees from around the world.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the approach we will take. Everyone considered for relocation will be screened and interviewed, they will have access to legal advice, and decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis. Nobody will be removed if it would be unsafe or inappropriate for them.
The hon. Gentleman is not the first hon. Member to mention legal obligations and the legalities. Rwanda is beholden to the same legal obligations on human rights as the United Kingdom and I make the point again that I think there is something really quite unpleasant about the undercurrent of the tone towards Rwanda.
The latest figures suggest that, in December, more than 7,000 people in Birmingham were claiming asylum support amounting to tens of millions of pounds. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this partnership with Rwanda will reduce the reliance on hotels and reduce the number of small boat crossings?
There are a number of things—[Interruption.] If the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) were less hysterical and actually listened, she might learn something about the new plan for immigration.
It is important to reflect on a number of points. The answer to my hon. Friend’s question is yes, because we do not want people to be in hotel accommodation. It is a cheap point for Opposition Members to make, but we had to use hotel accommodation to protect people during the pandemic, and Public Health England guidance spoke to that.
On decision making—[Interruption.] If the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury chooses to listen, the new plan for immigration is about speeding up asylum decisions and processing through legislation and the digitalisation of the system. I have to add that, because every single Opposition Member voted against this policy, they clearly want open borders. They just want to have uncontrolled migration, and they have done nothing to come up with an alternative plan on this issue.
The announcement made last week, when Parliament was not sitting, has caused a great deal of confusion about what this policy actually entails. Unfortunately, the Home Secretary turned her head away from the microphone when she responded to the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), so I wonder whether she will answer the question of who will actually be eligible to be sent to Rwanda. Will it be single young men, or will it be women and children? What percentage of asylum seekers does she think will be sent to Rwanda?
On eligibility, as I have already said, everyone considered for relocation will be screened and interviewed and have the right access to legal advice and services, and decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis. That is absolutely right and proper, but the fundamental principle in relation to this policy and the new plan for immigration, in which I am sure the right hon. Lady is well versed, is that it will apply to people who are inadmissible to our asylum system and to people who have come to our country illegally: through illegal and dangerous routes.
The asylum reception centre to which my right hon. Friend referred will be at Linton-on-Ouse in my constituency. I am not a nimby in any shape or form but, nevertheless, the RAF base on which it will be situated is at the centre of that small rural village. Local people are understandably concerned that this is not an appropriate place to put such a reception centre. Will she meet me to discuss that decision and to see what can be done?
The Home Secretary asserts that Labour Members do not understand the issue, but she will be aware that a former permanent secretary at the Home Office, Sir David Normington, said last week about her Rwanda policy:
“It’s inhumane, it’s morally reprehensible, it’s probably unlawful and it may well be unworkable”.
How does she come to know better than a former Home Office permanent secretary?
First, I am surprised that the right hon. Lady is using Sir David’s name in vain, given that a former Labour Home Secretary infamously and discourteously described the Home Office leadership and management as “not fit for purpose” during Sir David’s tenure. Things have moved on in terms of the asylum system. Her party and other Opposition Members continuously vote against the new plan for immigration, but they have no plan to deal with these important and difficult issues. It will bring in the reform that our country needs, while making sure that we preserve the efficacy of safe and legal routes for people fleeing persecution to come to our country and get the support they need.
My right hon. Friend deserves great personal credit for seeking to tackle the dreadful crisis that exists in the channel, but does she accept that many of us have grave concerns that the policy she has announced simply will not work? On the cost, can she confirm that she will not be using expensive military aircraft to make the 9,000-mile round trip? Also on cost, will she ensure that before the House of Commons votes on this matter tomorrow we know the cost per asylum seeker of those she is sending to Rwanda?
My right hon. Friend knows Rwanda incredibly well. We have had many discussions about it and I am very happy to meet him to have further discussions. We will not be using military planes for any removals. He will, like many Members of this House, be pretty familiar with the approach we take to removing failed asylum seekers and foreign national offenders to return them to their country of origin or to third countries. There is a whole process around this, which involves a lot of operational work and detail. I am happy to talk to him privately about that because the ways in which we can do this are complicated. He makes further points that I am happy to discuss with him as well.
I am incredibly proud of this country and this Government’s track record in providing a safe welcome to more than 185,000 asylum seekers and refugees since 2015, but I hope that my right hon. Friend will be ramping up the welcome for Ukrainian refugees—I know she will be working flat out at it. What I find abhorrent and inexplicable is the way in which many Opposition Members, and even those in the top echelons in the Church of England and in other faiths, seem to have completely forgotten the images of children lying drowned on our beaches. How can they not seek to try to remedy that appalling situation? These people are not refugees and asylum seekers—they are coming from France.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her comments and observations. She will be well aware of the work that our noble Friend Lord Harrington is currently doing in the other place on the Ukrainian scheme in terms of resettling people and bringing people over for the Homes for Ukraine scheme.
The left in particular like to preach compassion, but there is little compassion when they do not have the backbone to make difficult decisions when it comes to the protection of human life. For months and months, they have talked about saving lives and lost lives, and now that there is the prospect of action to save lives and to go after the evil people smugglers, they wring their hands and choose to play party political games.
Members throughout this House are desperately concerned about the children who are often on these boats, so can we have a straight answer from the Home Secretary? Does she intend one of the criteria that prevents somebody from being sent to Rwanda to be their being under 18? Crucially, where will the processing and the decision making as to whether or not somebody is under 18 take place? Please, Home Secretary, be straight and honest with us about what you intend to do with these children. We all deserve better.
I have already spoken about the processing and the eligibility—[Interruption.] Yes, I have. I absolutely have. Operational decisions are for the officials and practitioners on the ground who undertake them. That is part of our process that the hon. Lady should respect.
The shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), was slightly wrong when she talked about human trafficking. This is not human trafficking; this is people smuggling. This is about evil gangs being paid money to take people across the channel. They do not care about the lives of these individuals. The only way we are going to stop the people smuggling is if we reduce the demand for it, and the Home Secretary’s Rwanda policy is absolutely right. Does she agree that her policy is morally the right thing to do?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there is a distinction and a significant difference between people trafficking and smuggling. It is the people-smuggling gangs that we are trying to stop. We are trying to break up their business model and end their evil trade, and it is absolutely right that we do so. When it comes to cases of human trafficking, it is a well-known fact that it is down to the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) with the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and the work of this Government, that we have stood up the legalities and the proper processes to give those people who have been trafficked the legal protection and the safety and security that they need in our country.
Will the Home Secretary tell the House how many people she expects to send to Rwanda in the first 12 months of the scheme? She will be aware that Rwandan Government Ministers are on the record as saying that they expect their capacity to be in the hundreds, with a few thousand over the five-year period. Given that 28,000 people crossed the channel last year, does the Home Secretary really think the scheme is going to have the deterrent effect that she claims for it?
The Home Secretary is quite properly focused on saving lives, so may I ask her a practical question? The World Bank has said that Rwanda has one of the highest incidences of malaria in the world. Our own Government website warns travellers about hepatitis A and B, tetanus, typhoid, cholera and tuberculosis, not to mention rabies and dengue fever, which cannot be vaccinated against. What are the Government going to do, both from an ethical and moral point of view and to protect the British taxpayer against compensation claims, to protect the asylum seekers who go to Rwanda?
My right hon. Friend makes some important points. The partnership we have undertaken with the Rwandan Government is based not only on direct support, technical expertise, education and training but, as I said in my statement, on providing care in terms of individuals’ health and resettlement needs.
The proposal to treat refugees differently based on how they arrived in the UK undermines a key principle of refugee protection. Such an approach weakens the very foundation of the 1951 refugee convention and contradicts the steps agreed to by the UK upon signing up to the global compact on refugees. What legal assurances did the Government seek about the protection of people in Rwanda, which has an authoritarian regime with one person in power for 30 years?
I have already been very clear that Rwanda is a safe country. People arriving in the United Kingdom are coming here illegally from safe countries, which is where they should claim asylum in the first place. Rwanda is not just a safe country, as I have said, but one that has resettled over 100,000 refugees. I appreciate that the hon. Lady just mentioned countries in both the EU and UN, both of which have deemed it safe to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, and Rwanda is beholden to the same legal obligations on human rights as the United Kingdom. The hon. Lady’s tone towards Rwanda is deeply offensive in the light of our partnership relationship.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I pay tribute to her work with the Home Office as the Member of Parliament for Dover, which has been at the forefront of receiving people coming to the UK, and to her county council, which has been under significant pressure for many years. The dispersal policy, which was first proposed by the leader of Kent County Council, has taken time to be pushed forward, but it will not only have a significant impact on the people and taxpayers of Kent, but see the principle of fairness applied to people who rightly come to our country through legal routes as opposed to those with no legal basis to be in the UK.
This afternoon the Home Secretary has described Rwanda as a safe and secure country, saying that to suggest otherwise is a slur. However, on at least two occasions only last year, the United Kingdom called for an investigation at the United Nations into torture, deaths in custody, extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances in Rwanda. Was that a slur by the UK, or was it a well-founded request? What was the outcome of the request? What legal assurances has she obtained from Rwanda regarding the treatment of any asylum seekers sent there?
Under this agreement, as I have said, Rwanda will process claims in accordance with the UN refugee convention and national and international human rights laws. Importantly, it will ensure that individuals are resettled in the right way. Over 130,000 refugees have been resettled in Rwanda, and it is not just a safe country, but one where both the UNHCR and the EU have resettled individuals. Finally, with all partnerships—[Interruption.] If hon. Members would like to listen, I will answer the question. We have thorough discussions in all partnerships, and in these negotiations, including those on human rights, we have worked closely with the Rwandan Government on the need to protect vulnerable people seeking safety and a new life.
The Home Secretary is right to deal with the issue of criminal people trafficking and to recognise the frustration of many at the length of time it takes to remove people who are here unlawfully from this country. The caveat many of us would enter, however, is whether this scheme will achieve either of those objectives. Can she tell me how she can assume that a set of criteria to determine claims, as clearly must be drawn up, is likely to be free from legal challenge, if the criteria are not published and transparently available? Would it not be much better to invest the significant amounts of money we are talking about in speeding up the work of our current immigration system, in recruiting more immigration tribunal judges and in more investigative resource for the Home Office, so that we can achieve the objectives without the financial and potential legal risks that the current scheme involves?
We are doing both. My hon. Friend will know that the legislation for the new plan for immigration does exactly that by introducing the one-stop shop for immigration courts and tribunals, stopping the merry-go-round of various legal practices being used to prevent the removal of individuals with no legal right to be in the United Kingdom and the constant right of appeal in the immigration courts, which slows down the processing of cases. That is the purpose of the new plan for immigration. There are clauses in the Nationality and Borders Bill that, I repeat for the benefit of the House, the entire Opposition voted against, because they do not want to see the issue of illegal migration and reform of the asylum system addressed at all. Those are many of the challenges we are confronted with every single day.
I alluded to that in my statement earlier. This is exactly what is required to break up the evil people-smuggling gangs. We are bringing in that deterrent effect, but I have been clear that there is no single solution. Frankly, those on the Opposition Benches can scream hysterically as much as they want, but they do not have a plan. They have supported for decades uncontrolled migration through whatever route. There is a degree of dishonesty now with the British public, at a time when we could come together to support the proposals, now that we have proposals in the Nationality and Borders Bill and a safe third country, which many called for in debates as the Bill went through this House and the other place. Now they just wring their hands and, typically, just oppose any option or solution that could make a difference.
We can see from the level of questions coming from the Opposition, especially the Labour party, that they are completely out of touch with the British public. In the interests of safety, can the Home Secretary please confirm that if anybody does not want to go to Rwanda, they can claim asylum in France?
The Home Secretary has been pressed several times on the question of who will and who will not be liable to be included in this scheme, and specifically whether it will include women and children. She has refused to say, despite having been asked by the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee and the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). If the Home Secretary knows how many people she believes will be included in the scheme over the coming months, surely she knows what the criteria will be. If so, is it not her duty to inform this House of them?
I have made the point several times about those who are inadmissible to the asylum system, which is those who come to our country through illegal routes. We have made abundantly clear time and again that we are bringing in these reforms to stop that illegal trade in people smuggling, by creating safe and legal routes for women, children and families so that they do not have to be put in the hands of the evil people smugglers. As I have said, we will consider everyone for relocation through the process I have outlined on a case-by-case basis, and no one will be sent to the third country if it is unsafe or inappropriate for them.
Asylum is sought by some of the world’s most desperate people fleeing some of the most horrendous sorts of crimes, but sadly this process is abused by so many people traffickers exploiting the vulnerability of those people. What reassurance can my right hon. Friend give that she will continue to develop safe and legal routes for some of those people who have been left in refugee camps around the world for so many years?
My right hon. Friend makes the most important point about safe and legal routes. As I announced in my statement, we have resettled over 180,000 people through safe and legal routes—more than any Government in recent years. Those routes include Syria, Afghanistan, Hong Kong and now Ukraine. We will continue to do exactly that. I have said in the House on a number of occasions that safe and legal routes should be bespoke because every single crisis is unique. It is right that we work with the right international partners to make sure that we provide safety and security for those fleeing persecution and oppression.
I cannot comment on the schemes of other countries when they are not comparable to what the British Government are doing. This is a different scheme. It is a migration and economic development partnership. It is not comparable to those of other countries that the hon. Gentleman refers to.
I know the Home Secretary has worked tirelessly with our European partners to try to stop vile people smugglers, but it is evident that more measures are urgently needed. Does she agree that a fair and just immigration and asylum policy should not rely on someone’s ability to pay, nor on whether they are young enough or fit enough to attempt to jump the queue by making the journey, and that to oppose any measure to stop these people smugglers is immoral?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We see the scale of not just the global migration challenge but the level of criminality that has been associated with migration and illegal migration for decades. This is not a new phenomenon, as I have repeatedly said in the House many, many times. It is right that we absolutely go after the individuals who are responsible for this trade in people smuggling and stop these routes being viable. We cannot do this on our own. We have to work internationally with our partners in the EU, but other international partners as well, who want to step up and be part of the solution, and also to demonstrate to other countries around the world how we can resettle refugees in a good, proper way.
The permanent secretary at the Home Office concluded that he could not tell whether this was value for money, but on every number and every question of cost, the Home Secretary has failed to answer. Can she answer the point made by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May)? If this deters certain people from crossing, surely the people traffickers and smugglers will just load the dinghies up with women and children and make sure that they get their money somehow; it does not break the business model.
I am sorry, but I want to dispute that point. It is our moral responsibility and duty not to just wring our hands and let the people-smugglers carry on trading in human misery. We have a responsibility to find solutions. It is disappointing, as I have repeatedly said, that the Opposition just sit on the sidelines carping and playing political games. The message to the British people is obviously that they just want uncontrolled immigration, they do not have a solution to this problem, and they are not prepared to work with the Government to stop this awful and evil trade of people smuggling.
It is an important point. Of course, there is a lot of work that takes place with immigration enforcement and our operational teams. I should just add that for those who go through the asylum process, as claims are processed in the United Kingdom, issues such as absconding will have an impact on how their asylum claim is viewed and treated.
I suspect that there are more asylum seekers housed in my constituency than in those of many who have been hectoring the Secretary of State this afternoon. I have heard their stories, and I know of the misery caused by people trafficking and of the desperation of those who hand over huge amounts of money and risk their lives to get into the United Kingdom. I therefore support the Secretary of State’s aim to wreck this evil trade. However, if after a lengthy procedure only a very small percentage of those processed will have left the country, will not the people smugglers still be able to argue, “It’s worth your while handing money over to us and risking your lives”?
The right hon. Gentleman has made a number of points, and made them incredibly well, about the human misery. The way in which people’s lives are put at risk is absolutely shocking and tragic. We want to stop that and break it, and we have to do so upstream. It is not good enough to wait for it to come to the shores of the United Kingdom or the coastline of France, because that is simply too late. That is why a whole array of work has been redoubled, working with intelligence and security partners upstream, and with different Governments, so that we can target, intercept and prosecute the gangs—not just in our country, but in other countries further upstream.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement and the new plan for immigration. Does she agree that there is nothing moral at all about a system that perpetuates evil people-smuggling and puts a disproportionate burden on constituencies such as mine with regards to temporarily housing migrants?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I come back to two points about the issue of criminal gangs and people smuggling. This is not a new phenomenon; it is well established. We have to work not only with our international partners to break the model and have the right level of prosecutions domestically, but with our counterparts on intelligence, intelligence sharing and prosecutions outside the United Kingdom. Much of that is in the new plan for immigration and the Nationality and Borders Bill, which Members on the Government side of the House support but Opposition Members do not. My hon. Friend is also absolutely right to say that it is unfair that a handful of local authorities across the United Kingdom—in England and Wales—have stood up to provide housing accommodation and meet the needs of asylum seekers. That is a shameful reflection on many other local authorities, but that will now be remedied through the dispersal policy.
I cannot accept that the Secretary of State believes that this policy is about protecting people, when we all know that it is utterly harmful. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York were right to speak out against the Government’s unworkable plan to send asylum seekers and refugees to Rwanda. The Government’s language criminalises vulnerable and traumatised people. The Archbishop of York was right to say that
“there is, in law, no such thing as an illegal asylum seeker. It is the people who exploit them that we need to crack down on”.
This policy will also cost the UK taxpayer billions of pounds, as has happened in Australia—is that not correct?
Following the previous question, does my right hon. Friend agree that the un-godly thing to do would be to do nothing and have a mass drowning of children in the channel this winter? Given that there is no end of people who want to cross the channel—however many we let in legally—is it not morally incumbent on those who oppose the policy to explain to the House how they will break the business model that once someone gets here, they are put in a hotel and never sent back?
Is it not a moral requirement for the Home Secretary to explain why she will deport people who have arrived in this country, fleeing from desperate wars, famine and problems, prepared to risk all to cross a dangerous sea? Do they not deserve a sense of humanity from the Home Secretary, and not to be deported to incarceration in Rwanda?
Again, I refer to the tone in which the right hon. Gentleman refers to our partners in Rwanda, which frankly I think is quite questionable. I remind him and all Members of the House that France, alongside many other EU member states, is a safe country, and those travelling to the United Kingdom by making illegal and dangerous crossings that put their lives at risk, which is what we are trying to stop, could and should claim asylum in those countries first of all.
I welcome much of what has been said today, but given that three quarters of child asylum seekers who come to the UK are boys aged 16 or 17, what assurance can my right hon. Friend give me that the age assessment process will be fully completed before they become eligible for removal from the United Kingdom?
I thank my hon. Friend for his very sensible question. The House will be very well aware of the new age assessment work that will come forward under the Nationality and Borders Bill. This is an important piece of work that will help to ensure greater efficacy in the asylum system and support local authorities in determining the age of young people claiming asylum. For too long we have had some of the most egregious abuses, whereby young men have masqueraded as children and posed a safeguarding threat in our schools and social services. This is important and serious work that is taking place right now, and that will provide everyone with assurance about the age of those youngsters coming to our country and claiming asylum.
The Home Secretary has been repeatedly asked this afternoon about the costs of this totally wrong policy. She said that she knew the costs involved in chartering aircraft from examples of our existing removals scheme, so can she tell us today what the cost will be of chartering one return flight to Rwanda and what the cost will be per person deported? Will she admit that this policy will cost far in excess of the £120 million that she said was just for development costs?
First of all, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely wrong. As for the costs of removing individuals, for the record, it is worth reflecting upon the number of Opposition Members who frequently write to me to stop the removal of individuals with no legal basis to be in the country when we are chartering planes to remove failed asylum seekers and foreign national offenders. Those costs are marginal compared with the long-term cost of housing people with no legal basis to be in this country and the wider cost to society, through our public services, healthcare, and housing and wider accommodation.
May I commend my right hon. Friend on the proposals she has announced today, which offer the real prospect of breaking the business model of the people smugglers? Is it not the case that if anyone should be coming in for criticism, whether from this side of the Thames or the other, it should be those who are plying that disgusting trade and not those who are seeking to disrupt it?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and this should be a moment of reflection for all colleagues, when it comes to those who thwart the removal of those with no legal basis to be in the country, on the cost to the public purse and hard-pressed British taxpayers of not removing those individuals from the country in the first place.
Global Britain used to be a byword for bad trade deals; now it is an excuse to outsource our asylum system to Rwanda. Of course, we all stand, do we not, with the people of Ukraine in their fight to repel one dictator, but the Home Secretary is yoking the UK’s reputation to another. The Welsh and Scottish Governments have long asked for talks on a solution and on the establishment of safe routes for refugees. Did she engage with those two Governments, or does she only talk with dictators?
If I may say so, I think the right hon. Lady will be very well aware of the engagement that has taken place in Government on our safe and legal route for Ukrainian nationals coming over to the United Kingdom, and those discussions have taken place across the devolved Administrations. I should also say for the record that the number of people who have come to our country through safe and legal routes stands at over 180,000 right now. Global Britain is doing more than its fair share in the world, and we are leading the world when it comes to safe and legal routes. Finally, I conclude by saying that, when it comes to safe and legal routes, it is those from the right hon. Lady’s party and every party on the Opposition Benches who have voted against the Nationality and Borders Bill, which actually puts safe and legal routes into statute.
My right hon. Friend has highlighted the opening of a reception centre at the former RAF base at Linton-on-Ouse, located between Harrogate and York. Can she give us a bit more information about that—for example, when might it open, what is its capacity and how many local jobs will be created?
I can confirm that the centre will be opening in the next six weeks. Work has been undertaken for several months on the development of the site, including capacity at the site and all the various measures required for the housing and accommodation for asylum seekers.
Between 2015 and 2020, the number of asylum applications decided early stayed constant at about 30,000, but the proportion decided within the Secretary of State’s six-month target plummeted from 80% to 17%, despite doubling the number of caseworkers. Is it not the truth that her asylum processing system is broken—sending refugees to Rwanda will not fix that—and that she is using those fleeing from the worst atrocities of war as a shield for her incompetence?
The asylum system is completely broken. That is the only fact that the hon. Lady is correct on. I am changing the asylum system, as per the Nationality and Borders Bill, which the hon. Lady has voted against and every Opposition Member has voted against. This includes turning around asylum decision making in a faster way with digitalisation of the process, and also making sure that the immigration courts and tribunals hear more cases in a faster time, which is a point I made to a colleague in the House earlier. It is important that all these aspects of the reformed asylum system come together—
Ever since this policy was announced over the bank holiday weekend, we have heard some very strong rhetoric from the Opposition parties, leaning into some very lazy tropes about Africa and dripping with European exceptionalism. Can I ask my right hon. Friend whether she agrees with me in condemning that kind of language when talking about Rwanda, and can I advise her to keep on this course, because when I was talking to my constituents over the weekend, the one phrase everyone was using was “not before time”?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments, and I refer to some of the undercurrents of the tone that has been used—not just in this House today, but more broadly—about our partnership with Rwanda. I could go so far as to say that some of this is quite xenophobic and, quite frankly, I think it is deeply egregious. Rwanda is one of the fastest growing countries in Africa, and we have an incredible partnership with it. Rwanda will be the host of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting later this year, and it is leading the way on the international stage on many international issues. I actually think this is pretty distasteful, and it says a great deal about Opposition Members’ understanding of global Britain and internationalism.
Recently my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) joined many others throughout this statement in asking for evidence that this policy could possibly work in some way or another. In each case the right hon. Lady has declined to provide that evidence, so will she put in the Library of the House of Commons all the internal Government advice she has received on the legality, workability and cost of the scheme? That way, at least we will be able to assess what the evidence-base is.
I refer to the comments I made earlier on the legal and legislative basis, which was all put in place under the previous Labour Government. Indeed, this scheme and proposal were also looked at under the previous Labour Government, and had it been operational back then we might not be having this debate today as more people would be claiming asylum in safe countries in the EU and the people-smuggling gangs would have been broken up.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and believe that the policy will work. Will my right hon. Friend explain what the successful implementation of her policy will look like on the ground, and in particular what impact she believes it will have on the number of vulnerable people willing to put their lives in the hands of ruthless people traffickers to gain illegal entry to our country?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. One answer will be in the policy working and the removal of people to Rwanda. It will also be in overcoming many of the obstacles and hurdles, some of which colleagues have touched on this afternoon, including the legal and other barriers we face in removing those with no legal basis to be in the United Kingdom. The other point to make is that the long-term impact has to be to start disrupting the business model of the people smugglers by breaking up the evil people-smuggling gangs and going after them with more prosecutions, making sure the pilots of those small boats are prosecuted in the way I explained earlier in my statement. That not only takes a whole-of-Government approach, but also means we have to work with our international partners across Europe and further afield.
My constituents want none of this despicable plan. As the chair of the all-party group on immigration detention I went to Napier barracks. It is not fit for purpose: it is cold, bleak and lacking in dignity and privacy. Vulnerable people struggle to get medical, social and legal support but at least we could visit. Can the Home Secretary tell me how facilities in Rwanda will be scrutinised, particularly given that Human Rights Watch says of Rwanda:
“Arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture in official and unofficial detention facilities is commonplace”?
I would be delighted to tell the hon. Lady how accommodation facilities in Kigali in Rwanda will be scrutinised. That is part of the monitoring work the Home Office and technical officials have established and is part of the memorandum of understanding—as if she has read the details in the MOU. Secondly, the hon. Lady’s characterisation of Napier is grossly wrong.
My hon. Friend is a voice of common sense on this, primarily because we want that deterrent effect—there is no doubt about that—and in addition we want to go after the individuals who have been profiteering for decades and decades from the human misery of people smuggling.
It seems to me that some actively celebrate the porosity of the French border. That weakness has seen 28,000 irregular crossings, a huge number of appalling deaths and a trade that is bigger than the drugs trade. Contrast that with my right hon. Friend’s new policy, which will normalise proper immigration rules, taking people to safe countries for proper processing in the right way. Can she understand my confusion that people are not celebrating this new policy?
I thank my hon. Friend for his support and his comments. As I said earlier, I think the Opposition should just be honest about their position. They clearly stand for open borders; they do not believe in controlled immigration. We have a points-based immigration system that provides legal routes for people to come to the United Kingdom. They do not want the differentiation between legal and illegal routes, but I will tell you who does, Madam Deputy Speaker—the British people.
As I said earlier, there is a difference between trafficking cases and those who have been smuggled through the people smuggling routes. When it comes to cases of trafficking, we have all the legal bases to provide support and to go after the traffickers for the abuses that they have committed. The hon. Lady will be very familiar with all of that. Not only that, I say again that every case is determined case by case. That means the right kind of legal support, both in this country and in Rwanda.
People smuggling does not start at Calais; it can go through five different countries before people get to Calais. Then we have the abhorrence of people drowning in the Channel. I understand the concerns of the House about sending people to Rwanda, but we have one champion in the House who sadly is not in his place at this moment in time. When he was the shadow Secretary of State for International Development and became the Secretary of State for International Development, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) had a lot to do with Rwanda and he has the utmost respect from their Government. Will my right hon. Friend utilise his talents and use him in some ambassadorial way to allay the fears of Members of this House?
My hon. Friend makes some very important points, particularly about the country of Rwanda. Those of us in this House who know Rwanda well—I put that in the context of some of the ignorance that has been shown today—and know about the incredible work of the Rwandan Government through difficult times more recently, know how they have become almost Africa’s voice on the international stage.
May I challenge this lazy and probably sexist assumption that all young men are economic migrants? Does the Home Secretary not understand that in conflict situations—especially civil wars, whether in Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Ethiopia or Sudan—one side will come to a town or village and either press gang all the young men to fight for them or kill them and then the other side will come and do exactly the same? These young men are not economic migrants but people trying to flee a war they want nothing to do with.
That is exactly why we are proposing safe and legal routes, as we have done with Syria and Afghanistan. These are bespoke routes that help those fleeing persecution. There is an important point that the hon. Gentleman has made in there, which is also why our case-by-case approach and assessment when it comes to those seeking asylum is absolutely applied in the right kind of way. The new plan for immigration and the Nationality and Borders Bill are trying to do exactly that by bringing efficacy to our asylum system to make sure that we can help those in genuine need.
The EU uses Rwanda for refugee settlement. The United Nations uses Rwanda for refugee settlement. Even the Labour Government legislated to use safe third countries to process asylum claims. Given this, does my right hon. Friend agree that exactly the same approach lies behind this partnership with Rwanda?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It goes without saying that it seems to be fine, depending on your political persuasion, to say it is fine for the EU, it is fine for the UN, but it is not fine for the British Government. That is simply not acceptable. This has worked in the past. I come back to the fundamental principle that doing nothing is not an option while people are drowning not just in the channel but in the Mediterranean. People are taking dangerous journeys, often through Libya, making difficult and dangerous crossings across the Mediterranean and then across the channel. That is what we want to stop and we have a moral duty to do everything we possibly can to break up that model.
We know that two-thirds of migrants arriving by dangerous routes have a legitimate claim for asylum. On the remainder, can the Home Secretary please tell us what new agreement she has struck with the top five countries of origin for economic migrants in respect of returning migrants, improving visa application processes and tackling people smuggling at source?
Well, of course, tackling people smugglers at source is exactly what our country and Government are leading on right now. We are leading on that work with our intelligence and security partners, and through law enforcement co-operation. We are doing that through our EU near-neighbours such as France, Belgium and the Netherlands, but also countries further upstream, including Italy and Greece. It is right that we do that. This is difficult, difficult work and we are supporting them. My final comments very much come back to the hon. Lady’s question, but also to points made by others. Speeding up processes is exactly what the Nationality and Borders Bill is about: making sure we can speed up asylum claims and stop the merry-go-round of going to the courts and tribunal again and again and again, and ensuring we can bring efficacy to the asylum system.
I very much welcome measures that will offer a proper deterrent to those who are seeking to come to this country illegally. I also particularly welcome action to ensure that people are dispersed more fairly right across the country. Does my right hon. Friend agree that for far too long areas like Stoke-on-Trent have taken far more than their fair share and that it is about time other parts of the country did their part?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I pay tribute to Stoke Council and to all parliamentary colleagues from Stoke-on-Trent who have made representations over a long period of time many, many times with great strength and feeling. The dispersal policy is important. I have touched on it already. It is a complete and utter shame that the nationalists have been howling about this policy, while at the same time only one local authority has actually supported the dispersal policy. In the principle of fairness and a sense of fairness across the country, and to British taxpayers, we must make sure that every local authority participates in the scheme.
Can I try to get a clear answer to the question that others have asked? The Home Office factsheet on this proposal explains:
“Every person who comes to the UK illegally, or by dangerous or unnecessary methods…will be considered for relocation to Rwanda.”
The Home Secretary seemed to confirm that in her earlier comments. Will she confirm now that women and children who come to the UK through irregular routes fleeing conflict and repression will be eligible for transfer to Rwanda, and not just the adult men, as her Department briefed the media?
May I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on this fantastic policy which people overwhelmingly supported when they voted for Brexit in 2016 and when they overwhelmingly voted for the Conservative party in Stoke-on-Trent for the first time across the board? Does she agree with me that it is about time that other local authorities did their bit, particularly in Scotland, and that the north Islington wokerati are more than welcome to come to Stoke-on-Trent and explain why they oppose it? Perhaps they should send the hon. Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) to explain why.
I think it is fair to say that my hon. Friend has made a very powerful and compelling case for the dispersal policy, but equally for why doing nothing is no longer an issue when it comes to reform of the asylum system and to dealing with how we remove individuals with no legal basis to be in the UK, particularly those who have travelled to the United Kingdom illegally through dangerous crossings from safe European countries.
I agree with the right hon. Member that our asylum system is broken and that the £5 million cost is too much. This includes the people who are staying in hotels in my constituency on South Lambeth Road—the many people I am trying to help with their asylum claims. So many people in Vauxhall have contacted me because they are worried about this policy. The FCDO website states that Rwanda is not a safe place and that it is frowned on for people to be LGBT. There are many LGBT people who claim asylum. Can the Home Secretary guarantee that those people will still be safe and not sent to a country where they could be at harm?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the crucial point is that the partnership with Rwanda is for people attempting to come to the UK illegally? Has she been struck, as I have, that despite the complaints, the carping and sometimes the caterwauling from Opposition Members, when it comes to proposing an alternative—a thought-through, responsible plan—their silence is deafening?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I will repeat what I said earlier: this is the same party opposite that writes letters to me frequently to stop us removing people with no legal basis to be in the UK, including many foreign national offenders—rapists, murderers, paedophiles, you name it—along with asylum seekers. That speaks volumes —it really does—when it comes to protecting our country and protecting British citizens.
Like me, the Home Secretary is the daughter of east African Indian immigrants whose family sought sanctuary and a better life in this country, so does she not feel, as I do, a personal moral responsibility to extend the generosity that was shown by the British Government to our communities in the ’60s and ’70s by providing further safe and legal routes to the UK for refugees, rather than shipping them off to Rwanda?
When it comes to safe and legal routes, I hope that the hon. Lady will vote with the Government on the Nationality and Borders Bill, because that is exactly what this Government are proposing. As I said, 180,000 people have been brought to the United Kingdom under safe and legal routes and this Government are committed to doing much, much more.