With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker—[Interruption.]
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. With permission, I would like to make a statement about asylum processing at Manston and the incident in Dover yesterday.
At around 11.20 am on Sunday, police were called to Western Jet Foil. Officers established that two to three incendiary devices had been thrown at the Home Office premises. The suspect was identified, quickly located at a nearby petrol station, and confirmed dead. The explosive ordnance disposal unit attended to ensure there were no further threats. Kent police are not currently treating this as a terrorist incident. Fortunately, there were only two minor injuries, but it is a shocking incident and my thoughts are with all those affected.
I have received regular updates from the police. Although I understand the desire for answers, investigators must have the necessary space to work. I know the whole House will join me in paying tribute to everyone involved in the response, including the emergency services, the military, Border Force, immigration enforcement, and the asylum intake unit.
My priority remains the safety and wellbeing of our teams and contractors, as well as the people in our care. Several hundred migrants were relocated to Manston yesterday to ensure their safety. Western Jet Foil is now fully operational again. I can also inform the House that the Minister for Immigration, my right hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick), visited the Manston site yesterday and that I will visit shortly. My right hon. Friend was reassured by the dedication of staff as they work to make the site safe and secure while suitable onward accommodation is found.
As Members will be aware, we need to meet our statutory duties around detention, and fulfil legal duties to provide accommodation for those who would otherwise be destitute. We also have a duty to the wider public to ensure that anyone who has entered our country illegally undergoes essential security checks and is not, with no fixed abode, immediately free to wander around local communities.
When we face so many arrivals so quickly, it is practically impossible to procure more than 1,000 beds at short notice. Consequently, we have recently expanded the site and are working tirelessly to improve facilities. There are, of course, competing and heavy demands for housing stock, including for Ukrainians and Afghans, and for social housing. We are negotiating with accommodation providers. I continue to look at all available options to overcome the challenges we face with supply. This is an urgent matter, which I will continue to oversee personally.
I turn to our immigration and asylum system more widely. Let me be clear: this is a global migration crisis. We have seen an unprecedented number of attempts to illegally cross the channel in small boats. Some 40,000 people have crossed this year alone—more than double the number of arrivals by the same point last year. Not only is this unnecessary, because many people have come from another safe country, but it is lethally dangerous. We must stop it.
It is vital that we dismantle the international crime gangs behind this phenomenon. Co-operation with the French has stopped more than 29,000 illegal crossings since the start of the year—twice as many as last year— and destroyed over 1,000 boats. Our UK-France joint intelligence cell has dismantled 55 organised crime groups since it was established in 2020. The National Crime Agency is at the forefront of this fight. Indeed, NCA officers recently joined what is believed to be the biggest ever international operation targeting smuggling networks.
This year has seen a surge in the number of Albanian arrivals, many of them, I am afraid to say, abusing our modern slavery laws. We are working to ensure that Albanian cases are processed and that individuals are removed as swiftly as possible—sometimes within days.
The Rwanda partnership will further disrupt the business model of the smuggling gangs and deter migrants from putting their lives at risk. I am committed to making that partnership work. Labour wants to cancel it. Although we will continue to support the vulnerable via safe and legal routes, people coming here illegally from safe countries are not welcome and should not expect to stay. Where it is necessary to change the law, we will not hesitate to do so.
I share the sentiment that has been expressed by Members from across the House who want to see cases in the UK dealt with swiftly. Our asylum transformation programme will help bring down the backlog. It is already having an impact. A pilot in Leeds reduced interview times by over a third and has seen productivity almost double. We are also determined to address the wholly unacceptable situation which has left taxpayers with a bill of £6.8 million a day for hotel accommodation.
Let me set out to the House the situation that I found at the Home Office when I arrived as Home Secretary in September. I was appalled to learn that there were more than 35,000 migrants staying in hotel accommodation around the country, at exorbitant cost to the taxpayer. I instigated an urgent review. [Interruption.]
I pushed officials to identify accommodation options that would be more cost-effective and delivered swiftly while meeting our legal obligation to migrants. I have held regular operational meetings with frontline officials and have been energetically seeking alternative sites, but I have to be honest: this takes time and there are many hurdles.
I foresaw the concerns at Manston in September and deployed additional resource and personnel to deliver a rapid increase in emergency accommodation. To be clear, like the majority of the British people, I am very concerned about hotels, but I have never blocked their usage. Indeed, since I took over, 12,000 people have arrived, 9,500 people have been transferred out of Manston or Western Jet Foil, many of them into hotels, and I have never ignored legal advice. As a former Attorney General, I know the importance of taking legal advice into account. At every point, I have worked hard to find alternative accommodation to relieve the pressure at Manston.
What I have refused to do is to prematurely release thousands of people into local communities without having anywhere for them to stay. That is not just the wrong thing to do—that would be the worst thing to do for the local community in Kent, for the safety of those under our care and for the integrity of our borders. The Government are resolute in our determination to make illegal entry to the UK unviable. It is unnecessary, lethally dangerous, unfair on migrants who play by the rules and unfair on the law-abiding patriotic majority of British people. It is also ruinously expensive and it makes all of us less safe.
As Home Secretary, I have a plan to bring about the change that is so urgently needed to deliver an immigration system that works in the interests of the British people. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Home Secretary for her statement. Yesterday’s petrol bomb attack on the Western Jet Foil Centre was truly appalling. I am sure the whole House will condemn it in the strongest possible terms. I echo the Home Secretary’s tribute to the emergency services and Border Force staff who responded. However, I must ask her: can she tell me whether counter-terror police and counter-extremism units are involved in the investigation? It does not make sense for them not to be, so why are they not?
I turn to the dreadful conditions at Manston. Four thousand people are now on a site designed to accommodation 1,600 people, with some families there for weeks. Conditions there have been described as inhumane, with risks of fire, disorder and infection, there are confirmed diphtheria outbreaks, reports of scabies and MRSA outbreaks, outbreaks of violence and untrained staff. The Home Secretary said nothing about what she was doing to address those immediate public health crises or the issues of untrained staff.
Behind those problems are deeper failures in the Government’s policies on asylum and channel crossings. Decision making has collapsed: the Home Office has taken just 14,000 initial asylum decisions in the past 12 months, compared with 28,000 six years ago. Some 96% of the small boat arrivals last year have still not had a decision and initial decisions alone are taking more than 400 days on this Conservative Government’s watch. Can the Home Secretary confirm that the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 and changes to immigration rules have added further bureaucracy and delays, leading to tens of thousands more people waiting in asylum accommodation and more than £100 million extra on asylum accommodation bills because the Government’s policies are pushing up the use of hotels and the increase in delays?
There has also been a total failure to prevent a huge proliferation of gangs in the channel. Why has the Home Secretary refused our calls for a major new National Crime Agency unit with hundreds of additional specialist officers to work with Europol and others to crack down on the gangs, as well as the urgent work needed with France to get a proper agreement in place?
On the Rwanda plan, can the Home Secretary confirm that she has spent an extra £20 million, on top of the £120 million already spent on a policy that she has herself described as “failing” and that her officials have described as “unenforceable” and having a “high risk of fraud”? Is it not now time to drop that unethical and unworkable scheme and to put the money into tackling the backlogs and the criminal gangs instead?
Let me ask the Home Secretary about her own decisions. There are very serious allegations now being reported that the Home Secretary was warned by officials and other Ministers that she was acting outside the law by failing to provide alternative accommodation. Can she confirm that she turned down contingency plans that she was offered that would have reduced overcrowding, as the reports say? There are also legal obligations, including under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 and the Asylum Support (Amendment) Regulations 2018. Can the Home Secretary confirm that she was advised repeatedly that she was breaking the law by failing to agree to those plans?
One of the meetings on Manston was on 19 October. Can the Home Secretary confirm that she refused those proposals on that date—the same day that she broke sections 2.3 and 1.4 of the ministerial code? Can she tell us whether, in fact, she breached the ministerial code, which provides for Ministers’ abiding by the law, three times in a single day? How is anyone supposed to have confidence in her as a Home Secretary given those serious issues?
The Home Secretary referred in her statement to security checks. Those are very important, but her statement is undermined by her own disregard for security. Her letter today makes it clear that the incident over which she resigned was not a one-off and that, contrary to her previous claims that she reported the breach “rapidly” as soon as she realised, she instead had to be challenged several times by one of her colleagues. She has also not answered the crucial questions about security breaches while she was Attorney General. Can she tell us whether she was involved in a leak to The Daily Telegraph, reported in that paper on 21 January, on information about Attorney General action on a case involving the security service? Has she sent any other Government documents by WhatsApp, Telegram or other social media?
It has been less than a week since the Home Secretary was reappointed and less than a fortnight since she was first forced to resign for breaching the ministerial code, and every day since her reappointment there have been more stories about possible security or ministerial code breaches. How is anybody supposed to have confidence in her, given the serious responsibilities of the Home Secretary to stand up for our national security, for security standards and for public safety?
The Prime Minister promised that this would be a Government of “integrity, professionalism and accountability”. Is the Home Secretary not letting everyone down and failing on all those counts?
I will pick up on some of the right hon. Lady’s points, but I will not comment on any details relating to the case in question or to the individual under consideration. There has been clear work afoot with the National Crime Agency and all partners to try to tackle the problem of illegal migration. I am very encouraged by the relationship that we have built with the French, and I am grateful to the French authorities for their real commitment to, and work on, tackling this problem.
As I made clear in my statement, on no occasion did I block hotels or veto advice to procure extra and emergency accommodation. The data and the facts are that, on my watch, since 6 September, over 30 new hotels were agreed, which will bring into use over 4,500 additional hotel bed spaces. Since the start of October, it has been agreed that over 13 new hotels will provide over 1,800 additional hotel bed spaces. Also since 6 September, 9,000 migrants have left Manston, many of them heading towards hotel accommodation. Those are the facts; I encourage the right hon. Lady to stick to the facts, and not fantasy. [Interruption.]
The right hon. Lady raised other points. My letter to the Home Affairs Committee, sent today, transparently and comprehensively addresses all the matters that she has just raised. I have been clear that I made an error of judgment. I apologised for that error; I took responsibility for it; and I resigned. [Interruption.]
I apologised for the error, I took responsibility, and I resigned for the error, but let us be clear about what is really going on here. The British people deserve to know which party is serious about stopping the invasion on our southern coast, and which party is not. Some 40,000 people have arrived on the south coast this year alone. For many of them, that was facilitated by criminal gangs; some of them are actual members of criminal gangs, so let us stop pretending that they are all refugees in distress. The whole country knows that that is not true. It is only Opposition Members who pretend otherwise.
We need to be straight with the public. The system is broken. [Interruption.] Illegal migration is out of control, and too many people are more interested in playing political parlour games and covering up the truth than solving the problem. I am utterly serious about ending the scourge of illegal migration, and I am determined to do whatever it takes to break the criminal gangs and fix our hopelessly lax asylum system. That is why I am in government, and why there are some people who would prefer to be rid of me. [Interruption.]
Madam Deputy Speaker, will you allow me first to express my condolences to the families of those affected by the incident at Dover, particularly the family of the man who was responsible, who had very severe mental health difficulties? I think our thoughts ought to be with all of them.
May I also thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration for taking the trouble and the time yesterday to come and see the facilities at Manston for himself and to better understand the problems that we have been facing? May I thank the staff at Manston for the incredible dedication they have shown under very difficult circumstances? They are doing a superb job, and I hope everybody understands that.
The asylum-processing facility at Manston was opened in January to take 1,500 people and to process them daily in not more than 48 hours, but mainly in 24 hours. The facility operated absolutely magnificently and very efficiently indeed, until five weeks ago, when I am afraid the Home Secretary took the policy decision not to commission further accommodation. It is that which has led to the crisis at Manston. Will my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary now give the House an assurance, first, that adequate accommodation will be provided to enable the Manston facility to return to its previous work? Will she honour the undertaking given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) and my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove), who have indicated that this would be a temporary facility, handling only 1,500 people per day, and that it would not be a permanent residence? Will she give a further undertaking that under no circumstances will Manston be turned into a permanent refugee camp?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his commitment to safeguarding the people who are at Manston and for representing his local constituents in the area. I was very pleased to meet him a few weeks ago, to hear from him about the situation at Manston. I must gently correct him, however: on no occasion have I blocked the procurement of hotels or alternative accommodation to ease the pressure on Manston. I am afraid that simply is not true. I will repeat it again, but since 6 September, when I was appointed, over 30 new hotels have been agreed to. They would provide over 4,500 additional hotel bed spaces, many of those available to the people in Manston. Also since 6 September, over 9,000 people have left Manston, many of those heading towards hotels, so on no occasion have I blocked the use of hotels.
I gently refer Members of the House who seem to be labouring under that misapprehension to the Home Affairs Committee session last week, when officials and the various frontline professionals who have been working with me on this issue confirmed that we have been working energetically to procure alternative accommodation urgently for several weeks now. There are procedural and resource difficulties and challenges in doing that quickly. I would very much like to get alternative accommodation delivered more quickly, but we are working at pace to deliver contingency accommodation to deal with this acute problem.
I thank the Home Secretary for her statement and join the whole House in condemning the frightening attack at Western Jet Foil and in sending our sympathy to all those who are impacted and, indeed, our thanks to all who responded so professionally.
But responsibility for the disaster and dysfunction at Manston and for the unlawful detention conditions there lies squarely with the Home Secretary herself and her predecessor. She and they knew what was happening, including the numbers arriving, and she was provided with advice that by all accounts she did not act on. She has very carefully said that she did not block hotel use, but did she at any point avoid supporting new procurement? If not, why have we heard that her successor—or predecessor, depending on which way we look at it—had to intervene? Ultimately, what was a functioning facility in the summer is now totally unsafe, and that was on her watch.
Looking to the future, what now? Unfortunately, the Home Secretary offers only the same old failed soundbites, discredited policies and nasty rhetoric. What we need is an expansion of safe legal routes, at a minimum reversing the loss of the routes under the Dublin convention, instead of spending £120 million on a disgraceful Rwanda “dream”. That could have trebled the number of asylum caseworkers working to clear the backlog. Why not fast-track claims from the 1,600 Syrians and Afghans, half of whom have been waiting for more than six months? If we make decisions about their cases quickly—95% or more will get asylum—they can move on and we can free up accommodation.
On the Home Secretary’s letter today, last week she resigned and claimed that she accepted responsibility, but the facts suggest that she tried to dodge it and got caught. Why else did she find time to request that the accidental email recipient delete and forget it, yet notified senior officials and the Prime Minister only after being confronted? Those excuses will not wash.
Ultimately, how can one so-called misjudgment last week be a resignation offence, yet the Home Secretary can stay this week after admitting to six of the same misjudgments? She has said that no documents were top secret, but how many were marked official and sensitive? Did she do similar as Attorney General? How do we know?
The Home Secretary’s return so quickly after an admitted ministerial code breach is a farce. It reflects poorly on her and on the Prime Minister. Both should think again so that someone else can get on with the real work.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the letter that I sent today to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson). I have been up front about the details of my diary on 19 October and co-operative with any review that has taken place. I have apologised; I have taken responsibility; and that is why I resigned.
I hope that the House will see that I am willing to apologise without hesitation for what I have done and any mistakes that I have made, but what I will not do under any circumstances is apologise for things that I have not done. It has been said that I sent a top secret document. That is wrong. It has been said that I sent a document about cyber-security. That is wrong. It has been said that I sent a document about the intelligence agencies that would compromise national security. That is wrong, wrong, wrong. What is also wrong and worrying is that, without compunction, these assertions have been repeated as fact by politicians and journalists. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to clarify the record today.
I put on record my thanks to all the first responders to the horrific incidents that happened at Dover yesterday. Constituents working at the Dover facility have raised concerns about the current safety at the site. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that type of facility has no place in a busy open port such as Dover and will she look at moving it to a more appropriate secure location immediately? Does she also agree that we cannot keep doing more of the same? We cannot keep paying millions of pounds to the French but seeing ever-increasing numbers of illegal arrivals. It is now time for a new approach with the French to stop the boats leaving French beaches—a joint channel security zone to tackle the issue and bring an end to this illegal immigration activity once and for all.
I thank my hon. Friend for her indefatigable campaigning on the issue. I have been grateful for her direct input on it. This is incredibly difficult; I do not want to sugar-coat the problem. There are multifaceted challenges that we have to deal with. When it comes to Manston, I am concerned, as she is, about the conditions there and have been for several weeks, which is why I have taken urgent action to stand up an operational team to increase the emergency accommodation on the site on a temporary and emergency basis. I was not willing to release hundreds of migrants into the local community—I will not do that.
I will do everything I can to find cost-effective and practical alternatives. We need to find many more sites for accommodation and beds. We are looking at all instances, whether that is hotels or land owned by other agencies, such as the Ministry of Defence or other Government Departments, and we are looking at dispersal around the country. We have to look exhaustively, but it is not easy.
I welcome the Home Secretary to her place. I look forward to her attending the Home Affairs Committee on 23 November, as we have not seen a Home Secretary since February. The Committee heard evidence last week that Manston was at breaking point. We were also told by the Home Office’s director general, customer services capability that three hotels were approved a week ago when the right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) was Home Secretary. Can this Home Secretary confirm exactly how many hotels or alternative accommodation options she was personally invited by her officials to approve for use during her first tenure as Home Secretary, and how many hotels or alternative accommodation options she actually did grant approval and permission for during her time? Finally, perhaps the Home Secretary might wish to join the Home Affairs Committee when we visit Manston again, for the second time, this week?
I read with interest the session that the right hon. Lady conducted last week at her Select Committee, and I just want to put on record my immense thanks to the officials. The officials she heard evidence from are brilliant—simply the best in the business—and they work day in, day out to try to get the best service. I note that, from questions 67 to 78 approximately, there was a lot of discussion about my involvement and my grip of the situation, and I encourage all Members to read that section of the transcript, which confirms—on the record, by officials with whom I have been working directly—that there has been active procurement of hotels, and there has been a huge amount of work. [Hon. Members: “How many?”] How many? I will repeat myself again: since 6 September, over 30 new hotels have been agreed, providing over 4,500 additional hotel bed spaces. That has been under my watch. That has been when I have been in charge of the Home Office. I am very grateful to all those officials, and I must put on record my thanks to the now departed Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove), who has been instrumental in assisting in dealing with this problem.
My right hon. and learned Friend mentioned Albanians in her statement, and I hear that two thirds of those at Manston are Albanians. Does she have an absolute figure for that? Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that Germany and Sweden, which work to the same immigration accords as we do, allow zero applicants from Albania? Surely, it stands to reason that as an EU-applicant country, a NATO country, a country in the Council of Europe and one that is patently not a war zone, we should not be accepting claims for refugee status from such a country. What is she going to do about that aspect of this problem?
My hon. Friend again raises a very important feature that has emerged over the last six to nine months about the prominence of Albanian migrants arriving on our shores, and he is right. Albania is not a war-torn country, and it is very difficult to see how claims for asylum really can be legitimate claims for asylum. I would also note that we see a large number of Albanian migrants arriving here and claiming to be victims of modern slavery. Again, I really am circumspect about those claims, because Albania is, of course, a signatory to the European convention against trafficking—the original convention that underlies our modern slavery laws—and if those people are genuinely victims of modern slavery, they should be claiming that protection in Albania.
The Home Secretary will be aware that one of the problems with the asylum system is the unacceptably long time it takes to process claims. The Home Affairs Committee heard evidence from the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, and he told us that currently caseworkers or decision makers are making 1.3 decisions a week. The Leeds pilot, which has been referred to, has put the number of decisions up to 2.7 decisions a week. Does the Home Secretary not understand that that is far too slow, and what is she going to do about it? Is it not the case that if she spent less time playing to the gallery on immigration and more time dealing with the practical problems, this would be to the benefit of the taxpayer, the Home Office staff who work so hard and the asylum seekers themselves?
It is not often that I say this, but I agree with a lot of what the right hon. Lady has just said. She is right; when I arrived at the Home Office in September, I was dismayed to find that, as set out at the Select Committee last week, only 4% of claims waiting in the system have been processed so far, so we have a very slow-moving system. That is unacceptable and it is a big part of the problem, and part of our plan to solve the problem is to speed up asylum processing. We are putting more resources and technology behind it, and we are trying to identify how we can be more efficient. So yes, this is a big feature that is clogging up the system, and we see the pressure playing out at Manston.
Clearly the situation at Manston has become unsustainable because of the record numbers crossing the channel—40,000, and November last year was the month with the highest figures, so we have not seen the end of it. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay) said, there are a record number of Albanians: 12,000, up from just 50 two years ago. Following on from his question, what exactly is the arrangement with the Albanian Government about returns? What arrangements is my right hon. and learned Friend looking at to fast-track Albanians, potentially in sperate processing centres, helped by those Albanian officials we have allowed to come here to assist? How many Albanians have so far been returned in the last 12 months? How many of them have taken voluntary return payments to return, and of those how many have come back to the UK again?
My hon. Friend is right to mention the returns agreement, and we want to maximise the deployment of the terms of that agreement. That is a brilliant starting point for trying to accelerate some of the processing, and ultimately the removals, of Albanian nationals. Albanian nationals are received in the same way as other small-boat arrivals. However, due to the excellent relationship built with my Albanian counterpart, we are able to expedite the removal of Albanians who have no reason to be in the UK. We want to maximise that—we want to push forward with it and do so faster.
I would like to read to the Home Secretary a text message that a colleague of mine received this afternoon from an immigration expert:
“Just had a call with Ukraine that has reduced our team to tears—people are facing losing their lives in Kyiv or watching their children freeze in the countryside purely because of delays in processing their visas.
UK Home Office paper pushing and unnecessary waits are costing people their lives in Ukraine.”
That is about Ukraine, not Albania. Is that what the Home Secretary means when she says this Government are taking asylum seriously?
I dispute the right hon. Gentleman’s version of events, with respect. Since 2015, the UK has offered a place to over 380,000 men, women and children seeking safety, including from Hong Kong, Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine, as well as many family members of refugees.
I strongly support all that the Home Secretary said in her opening statement: she spoke for the nation in saying we need to control this problem, and she spoke for all those caught up in these tragic events. I hope that all men and women of good will get behind her, and that the Home Office fully supports her in making sure we can speed up processing and return all illegal economic migrants to the safe countries they came from.
My right hon. Friend speaks a lot of sense, as always, and he is right; the British people have had enough of an out-of-control borders system. It is incumbent upon this Government to address that, and I know for a fact that this Prime Minister takes the problem extremely seriously, and I know he will leave no stone unturned until it is fixed.
There is nothing patriotic about making children suffer, but that is exactly what is happening as a direct result of this Home Secretary’s failure to get to grips with processing asylum. She talks as if the hotels are somehow a better option. In my constituency there is one with 150 children squeezed alongside another 350 adults, seven or eight to a room—no notice to the local authority that they would be placed there; no cooking facilities; no school places for these primary school-aged children; no clothes for most of them, especially for the winter weather; no play facilities, if they are allowed out at all from these prisons; no safeguarding as far as any of us can see. If the Home Secretary is so confident that that is meeting her duty of care on behalf of the country, will she publish the contract requirements for how children are housed in hotels and the precise details of the services that they should expect and which we should be proud of as a country dealing with those seeking asylum?
We are currently accommodating unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in hotels with a maximum occupancy of 353, and additional available accommodation is coming on stream. I would say to the hon. Lady that it is a fallacy to suggest that we are somehow cutting corners. When I arrived at the Home Office, I was frankly dismayed and appalled to find that we are spending, on average, £150 per person per night—by my standard, that is quite a nice hotel—to accommodate people in hotels. On my review and closer scrutiny of how that decision making was taking place, I identified several four-star hotels around the country that were being procured for the purpose. That, for me, is not an acceptable use of taxpayers’ money.
Unsolicited economic migration to the UK via illegal trafficking must be stopped. We must use our limited resources to support valid asylum cases that have not come from a safe country. What steps is the Home Office taking to return illegal immigrants now to their home countries in cases of countries who will accept them?
We take removals seriously. Actually, part of the plan to solve the problem is about trying to accelerate the turnaround and processing of people arriving illegally. We have recently had some success in removing people back to Albania within quite a short period of time, but we need to go further and faster.
May I gently remind the Home Secretary that it is not illegal to seek asylum? What is illegal is to detain people without a proper basis in law. Will she confirm that she has ignored legal advice that keeping asylum seekers at Manston for more than 24 hours could be illegal detention? Has she been advised that what is happening at Manston may amount to unlawful deprivation of liberty in terms of article 5 of the European convention on human rights, and inhuman and degrading treatment in terms of article 3? Despite her best efforts, we are still bound to comply with the convention by virtue of domestic law. What will she do about all of this? Even if she does not care about the human rights of the people detained at Manston, does she understand that her failure to obey the law may end up costing taxpayers vast amount of money in court fees and damages?
I confirm that I have not ever ignored legal advice. The Law Officers’ convention, which I still take seriously, means that I will not comment on the contents of legal advice that I may have seen. What I will say is this: I am not prepared to release migrants prematurely into the local community in Kent to no fixed abode. That, to me, is an unacceptable option.
In the Secretary of State’s statement, she spoke of the successes of the UK-French joint alliance cell stopping 29,000 illegal immigrants from crossing. What are her thoughts on doubling those resources and finally eliminating these dangerous crossings?
Part of our plan for tackling this issue is about increasing our resources and manpower in order to detect and intercept the organised criminal gangs upstream. That is what part of the work with the French entails, and that is why I have been very encouraged by the discussions I have had with my French counterpart, Minister Darmanin, on how we can work better and more closely together, with our intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies, jointly upstream to try to intercept early on.
Is it still explained to incoming Ministers, as it was to me more than 21 years ago, how easily one’s mobile phone can be compromised by organised criminals and hostile foreign powers? If so, how was her mobile phone and that of the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), compromised in security breaches?
I am committed to delivering the Rwanda plan, which took a huge amount of work and commitment by my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) and the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), and is crucial to our multifaceted approach to the problem. We can look at the Australian experience of tackling a similar problem, and they would say that one very powerful tool was had from the moment at which they could return people or move them out of the territory to Papua New Guinea or Nauru. That had a massive deterrent effect, and that is what we want to deploy.
The conditions at Manston are clearly unsafe and inhumane. We know of the suffering that people have experienced there after 12 years under the Government’s shameful watch. However, we also understand that there is a lack of accommodation across the country. Why will the Home Secretary not open up a “homes for refugees” scheme so that people can be supported properly in our own communities?
While the issue at Manston is indisputably concerning, I do not want us to create alarm unnecessarily. I therefore gently urge the hon. Member not to use inflammatory language. We are aware, for example, of a very small number of cases of diphtheria reported at Manston, but it has very good medical facilities and all protocols have been followed. People are being fed, clothed and sheltered. There are very high numbers—unprecedented numbers—at Manston and we are working at pace to alleviate that pressure and to get people out. We anticipate—hopefully—300 people leaving this evening, and so on throughout the week. We are working urgently to solve the problem.
Given that it seems virtually impossible to stop large numbers of people landing illegally, does the Home Secretary think that it will be possible to enable those who have landed illegally and have a poor case to be removed promptly without a change in the law? If she thinks that the law has to be changed, which law is it?
One of the other plans that we have been working on is to change the law, because unfortunately our laws have too low a threshold—that is why our modern slavery laws are being abused by illegitimate claimants. We also need to take action to accelerate the process and prevent the exploitation of our laws. People are coming here and claiming asylum unfairly and unjustifiably. They are claiming under modern slavery laws and abusing our human rights laws and other protections. Frankly, they are taking advantage of the generosity of the British people.
Manston is supposed to be a short-term holding facility. People are not supposed to be there for more than 48 hours. That means people are being detained illegally in these conditions. Will the Home Secretary tell us how many people have been detained for more than 48 hours as well as how many claims for unlawful detention she is expecting, and at what cost?
We are aware that people have been detained, and we have very high numbers at Manston. That is why we are taking really exhaustive steps to ensure that we can procure alternative sites. We are looking at the dispersal mechanism and at sites in other local authorities around the country. We are looking at hotels—unfortunately, we have no other choice at the moment—and we are looking at other immigration detention or removal centres. So we are looking at a wide range of alternative places at which we can safely accommodate migrants.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement. Importantly, she says that everybody who arrives illegally undergoes essential security checks before they are released. Can she confirm that that applies not just to those who claim asylum, but also to those who land and do not claim asylum and are, in effect, arriving without a visa and are therefore eligible for temporary release from which they may not return?
My right hon. Friend is right. The processing is as follows: people arrive and go first to Western Jet Foil where they get dry clothes and are looked after on their immediate arrival on to the territory. They are then taken to Manston for the biosecurity and security checks of the type he has just talked about.
The Home Secretary says the system is broken. Well, yes, it is broken when we see the number of people taking dangerous trips across the channel rise year on year on year. Yes, it is broken when it takes longer and longer to deal with individual claims, so it is of greater cost to the British taxpayer. Yes, it is broken when we have thousands of people in completely inappropriate accommodation, which is probably breaking the law and they may end up having to seek compensation against the Government, again threatening the taxpayer. Yes, it is broken when a Home Secretary breaches the ministerial code six times and thinks that she has to step aside for only six days. I believe in the rehabilitation of offenders, but do you not have to serve the time first? Or is there one rule for everybody else and a completely different one for her?
I gently refer the hon. Gentleman to the letter I sent today to the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, which is clear about the timeline of my actions and decisions. I apologised, I took responsibility and that is why I resigned. This political witch hunt is all about ignoring the facts of the problem, which is the slow processing of asylum claims. That is why we are taking immediate action to bring the asylum backlog down. We have a pilot that is being rolled out. We are putting more resources and decision makers on to the frontline, and we have a different system to assess claims to try to speed up the time that people are waiting for a decision.
I commend my right hon. and learned Friend very strongly for her statement. Does she agree that we must make a clear legal and enforceable distinction in statute law between genuine refugees and illegal economic migrants, and deal with this problem once and for all?
My hon. Friend is spot on. We have to tell the truth to the British people. These people are not all refugees fleeing war and persecution, having suffered human rights violations. They are coming here often at their own will, and often having paid tens of thousands of pounds to procure a dangerous and lethal journey illegally across the channel, because they know that our laws are not fit for purpose and they can get away with a spurious claim.
We do not routinely detain children or unaccompanied asylum-seeking children at Manston, but a number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children were accommodated, not detained, for a brief period this summer while accommodation was identified. Of course, people were evacuated to Manston yesterday, including children.
If people do not want to go to Manston, they can stay in France. We all know what is really behind these unpleasant personal attacks. This Home Secretary is the only one with the guts, determination and legal knowledge to reform our ridiculous human rights law, and detain these people and send them back. That is the only way we are going to deal with this issue. Those who constantly make these personal attacks on somebody who has made just one mistake and apologised should remember the old motto: understand and judge not. Has she the determination to amend our ridiculous laws?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need to change the law. There are too many people coming here and making spurious human rights claims, protracting the asylum application system. They know they can put in appeal after appeal. They can challenge decisions and spend a lot of time here in full knowledge of the fact that they are not genuine asylum seekers.
The Home Affairs Committee report, “Channel crossings, migration and asylum” showed that it takes on average 550 days to process unaccompanied children. The report also illustrated that some unaccompanied children go missing from their hotels, sometimes temporarily and sometimes permanently. What is the Home Secretary doing to find those children and to protect them from criminal or sexual exploitation?
Well, of course, it is very serious when a child goes missing, particularly in those circumstances. When it happens, we work very closely with local authorities and the police to operate a robust missing persons protocol. We have also changed the national transfer scheme so that all local authorities with children’s services must support young people. We need to identify and ensure proper risk assessments so that we have the proper protections in place to ensure this does not happen.
I declare an interest as a member of the RAMP Project. Returning to the issue of children, we have seen terrible accounts of children sleeping on mats at Manston. Can the Home Secretary reassure the House that no children are being kept at Manston for longer than 48 hours and that proper safeguarding procedures are in place? Will she let us know what work is being done with Kent County Council to make sure that the children who are there are being safeguarded? Will she please urge the Minister for Immigration, my right hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) to come to the Women and Equalities Committee, where we are doing an inquiry into the asylum system? He is not available this Wednesday, but can he make it as soon as possible please?
We take extremely seriously our duty of care towards children and young people who are in the system. As I said, there are delays in the system because of the extortionate amount of cases due to be processed. We are working to prioritise applications from children and young people where possible. We want to increase overall decision making, numbers and capacity, so that children are processed far more quickly than others.
I tell you what the British people need to know. They need to know that it was the Labour Government who oversaw mass migration and, effectively, a de facto open borders policy with record levels of immigration to this country. The Labour party would continue to allow uncontrolled borders. It would cancel the Rwanda scheme. It would not take any action to stop illegal migration and it would make a mockery of our borders.
The Secretary of State will be aware of concerns I have raised recently about the lack of joined-up planning between the Home Office, Serco and local authorities regarding asylum accommodation, and the specific concerns I have raised regarding the use of a hotel in my constituency. Will she meet me and the Staffordshire Leaders Board, who are keen to ensure a joined-up approach to asylum dispersal through improved communication between local authorities, Serco and the Home Office?
Coming into the Home Office in September has shown me how the decision-making process behind choosing hotels goes on. I have heard from several colleagues their concerns about the use of hotels. I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend and her colleagues to hear about concerns in her local area. We need to make them much more evenly distributed. We need to make sure that areas are taking their fair share. Ultimately, we need to ensure that people have a bed and a room to stay in, because that is where the problem originates.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Good evening. I am sure all Members will join me in thanking the staff undertaking the difficult task of keeping everyone safe in these challenging circumstances. Will the Home Secretary give firm assurances today that members of the Prison Officers Association and other staff working at Manston will remain free from personal liability for any illegal decisions by the Government around extending detention?
We are always concerned about the personal responsibility and safety of the staff at Manston. Let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to every single person who has been working on the frontline, particularly over the past few days when the issues have been quite chronic, quite acute and incredibly tough for them. They are doing a brilliant job and we will do everything to ensure that their professional positions are safeguarded.
We need to change the definition of “asylum”. Many people in these centres and hotels are illegal migrants. Many of them are economic migrants who are taking a chance by crossing the English channel. If people come here illegally, why can we not just deport them?
My hon. Friend raises an important point and he is absolutely right. Other European countries take a very different approach to the consideration and processing of asylum claims. The reality is that once someone makes an asylum claim, we are duty-bound to consider it. What is very good about the Rwanda scheme is that it means that the asylum claim will be considered in Rwanda, so we will be able to physically remove people before that long delay takes place.
There have consistently been 1,500 asylum seekers in hotels in my constituency—I think that is the largest number in any constituency—and I welcome them. I congratulate the local agencies, the local voluntary sector and the local churches, gurdwaras and mosques for all the support that they have given to those people because of the experiences that they have gone through. Many of them suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. However, the situation was meant to be resolved by relocation and the fast processing of cases. When they are processed, the bulk of people are, I believe, accepted as genuine asylum seekers. We are now into our second year and beyond and there is a need to review the resources that go into local areas such as mine, particularly to support the local NHS, local schools, the local authority and the local voluntary sector. Will the Home Secretary initiate that review as rapidly as possible? We want to do all we can to assist such people, but we need the local resources to do that.
As I have set out, there are challenges in securing the sufficient accommodation, full stop—whether that means hotels or dispersal accommodation. That is due to the limited private rental market stock. We work with local authorities to ensure that there is sufficient support for people who arrive in those areas, but there is a definite pressure—financial and otherwise—due to people being accommodated for long periods of time around the country.
Now then. Albanian criminals are leaving Albania, which is a safe country, and the same criminals then set up shop in France. They then leave France, which is a safe country, and come across the channel to the UK. When they get into accommodation, the Opposition parties say that the accommodation is not good enough for them. Does the Home Secretary agree that if the accommodation is not good enough for them, they can get on a dinghy and go straight back to France?
As I said, I am very happy to confirm—by reference to the timeline, effectively—that I have been aware of this issue for several weeks. I would love to be able to magic up thousands of beds overnight. Unfortunately, it is not that easy. As a result of my concerns, which I identified several weeks ago, we have put in place a whole operational command to try to increase the capacity of accommodation and ease the pressure on Manston, but it takes time.
As I said, Albania is a signatory to the European convention on action against trafficking in human beings. That is the originating international convention, which underlines our modern slavery laws. There is absolutely no reason in law why an Albanian national cannot claim modern slavery protection in Albania.
I do not think that it was unkind of my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Dame Angela Eagle) to remind the Home Secretary that the system that she has rubbished time and again today is a product of 12 years of Tory Government.
Staff who are employed at Manston are extremely anxious about their responsibilities and roles and how law-breaking decisions affect them. Will the Home Secretary assure the House that staff will remain free from personal liability for any illegal decisions taken by others, including Ministers, about extended detention?
I am very proud of this Government’s track record on helping some of the most vulnerable people come to this country from some of the most dangerous parts of the world. Fifty-five thousand visas have been issued under the Ukraine family scheme and there have been 138,000 Ukrainian sponsorship scheme visas. Fifteen thousand individuals were evacuated from Afghanistan under Operation Pitting and 5,000 people have arrived in the year since, and 20,000 people will be resettled under the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme. That is a record of which I am proud.
The people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke are appalled by the number of illegal economic migrants coming across the English channel. Again, Stoke-on-Trent, which currently has more than 800, is being asked to carry the burden, with an attempt to try to place more in the North Stafford Hotel. Will my right hon. and learned Friend immediately stop that abuse of Stoke-on-Trent and instead put illegal economic migrants in places with open border and free movement supporters, such as in the shadow immigration Minister’s area?
I was grateful for the time that my hon. Friend gave me, with his Stoke colleagues, to explain the exact difficulty in Stoke. I have identified that there is a disproportionate distribution of refugees throughout the country in hotels. We need to make that much more equivalent, much more cost-effective and fair.
In contrast to Labour’s commitment to employ 100 extra specialist National Crime Agency officers to tackle the criminal gangs upstream, the Home Secretary’s predecessor, the right hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel), asked the NCA to draw up plans for a 40% reduction in staff. Will this Home Secretary explain her plans for staffing and how she intends to improve collaboration with the French on that problem?
Working collaboratively with the French is a key component in solving this problem. The simple truth is that we cannot do this alone. That is why I am very pleased that we have a relationship with the French and I am very keen to amplify that. That will involve greater surveillance between the French and British authorities; greater intelligence co-operation and interception upstream between the French and the British authorities; and joint working at all points in the system. That co-operation is vital.
As I am sure the Home Secretary knows, she has my full support in doing whatever she can to stop illegal migration into this country. We have had several conversations about this issue, but does she share my concerns about putting illegal immigrants in places across the UK that do not have the infrastructure or the expertise to look after them? Also, will she commit to ensuring that she talks to Government Members when illegal migrants might come into their constituencies to make sure that we can represent our constituents properly?
During her first disastrous spell in the role, the Home Secretary ignored legal advice from her officials that explicitly set out the unlawfulness of the inhumane treatment of migrants at the Manston centre. That is not inflammatory language; that is fact. As if that were not bad enough, she has now admitted to breaking the ministerial code on six separate occasions. How on earth can she stand at the Dispatch Box with a straight face and try to defend cruelty towards the most desperate of people? Doesn’t she need to take a look in the mirror to see who is a threat to national security and accept that she is totally unfit for the job?
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the letter I sent today, in which I have been very fulsome in the details of the circumstance of 19 October. I have apologised for the error and taken responsibility, and that is why I resigned.
I have not ignored or dismissed any legal advice with which I have been provided. I cannot go into the details of that legal advice because of the Law Officers’ convention. That is part of the decision-making process that all Ministers go through. We have to take into account our legal duties not to leave people destitute; I have to take into account the fact that I do not want to prematurely release hundreds of migrants into the Kent community; I have to take into account value for money; I have to take into account fairness for the British taxpayer.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to her place and thank for her all the courageous efforts that she is making to deal with a very difficult problem. Opposition Members’ answer is “Let them all in.” That is totally, totally unacceptable.
One solution, surely, would be to return these illegal refugees to the countries from whence they came, if indeed that is possible—to Albania, for example. With how many countries is my right hon. Friend negotiating to do so? Has she succeeded in any of those negotiations?
My hon. Friend is right. The Labour party does not have any solutions to the problem, so it would rather spend airtime on a distraction. That is what this is all about.
Yes, we are having some success with returning people more swiftly to Albania. It is early days and I do not want to overplay it, because it is still very difficult legally, but those agreements with safe countries are vital to ensuring that people who come from a safe country—not from persecution, not fleeing war—can be legitimately returned because they are not here for asylum.
The Home Secretary is responsible for national security. If she were made aware of a Government employee—a civil servant—who, despite apologies, had been sacked for sharing Government material several times on their private email or device, would she sanction their re-employment?
As I have made clear, I am very willing to apologise for mistakes that I have made, but what I am not willing to do is apologise for things that I have not done. As I have said, it is not right that there has been a breach of national security. It is not right that there was a document about security matters, intelligence agencies or law enforcement. Those things are simply not true.
In the words of the Home Secretary, “The system is broken.” After 12 years of Tory Government, the asylum system is broken. If she is saying that we have no solutions, she can press on the Prime Minister the need to call a general election and let the electorate decide who they trust more. The recent revelations—
The recent revelations of conditions at Manston processing centre highlight the complete and utter failure of leadership at the Home Office. Will the Home Secretary do the decent thing once again, as she did on 19 October? Will she resign from her position because of the conditions at Manston?
I am very clear about what this Government’s priority is. It is about tackling the scourge of illegal migration, taking a firm line, changing the law where our laws are being abused, working collaboratively with the French, ensuring we are removing people who are not meant to be here and ensuring that the British people can have confidence in their borders.
Many people in my constituency are worried about paying their heating bills, many people in my constituency are concerned about getting GP appointments, and many of my hotels are full up with illegal migrants. Does the Home Secretary appreciate the sense of unfairness that my constituents feel? When will legislation be introduced to resolve the situation?
Yes, I appreciate the seriousness of the issue. It has been my No. 1 priority since September. It is unacceptable that we are spending £6 million a day on hotel accommodation for asylum seekers. It is unacceptable that we have 35,000 asylum seekers in hotels distributed around the country. We need to bring that to an end. We need a comprehensive plan of alternative sites, we need to speed up our processing of asylum, we need to remove people from the UK more quickly, and ultimately we need to change our law. We will introduce legislation later this year to ensure that there is no longer any abuse of our laws.
I refer hon. Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as a member of RAMP, the Refugee, Asylum and Migration Policy project.
I have been listening carefully. I would like to ask the Home Secretary again: how many extra hotel rooms has she personally procured in her position? In her letter of resignation, she wrote:
“Pretending we haven’t made mistakes, carrying on as if everyone can’t see that we have made them, and hoping that things will magically come right is not serious politics.”
Does she agree that she has made yet another mistake, that she should accept responsibility, and that she should resign?
The Prime Minister is six days into his summer pledge to fix this crisis within 100 days, so I hope—and my constituents in Workington hope—that the Home Secretary is getting the support she needs around the Cabinet table. Among those held, what is her assessment of the scale of abuse of our modern slavery laws?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising the point. Let me say two things. First, the Prime Minister is absolutely committed to fixing this problem. I have no doubt whatever about his determination to fix it once and for all. I have huge confidence in him and am grateful for his support operationally on this.
With modern slavery laws, it is not just about people coming here on the boats and claiming modern slavery, which effectively buys them a year because it takes 400 days on average for a modern slavery claim to be processed, so they know that they will be accommodated in the UK free of charge. It is even worse than that: there are serious foreign national offenders in this country who have served sentences of several years for sex offences, drug offences or other serious offences. When they finish their sentence and the UK authorities want to deport them, what do they do? They claim to be a victim of modern slavery.
It is absolutely essential that the pressures on the Manston centre be relieved as soon as possible. It is also essential that we do not simply replicate its conditions in concentrations of hotels. I have a ward in which so many hotels are being commissioned, including two more this weekend, that the ratio is 800% above Home Office guidelines. The local authority is getting virtually no support to manage it, and no capacity at all is being provided to the health service for the very real health issues that need to be dealt with. Will the Home Secretary ensure that Home Office officials meet me immediately to discuss how we can ensure that, when asylum seekers come into these hotels, they are properly managed and dispersed?
I would be very glad for my right hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration to meet the hon. Lady to discuss the issue in detail. My review is looking into the process of identification of hotels around the country. We are seeing a real geographical imbalance in where they are located: there is real pressure in certain places, while other places are not taking people. We need to bring some equivalence to the process, and ultimately we need to bring it to an end. We need to make it more cost-effective, but ultimately we need to be processing people more quickly.
We have heard yet again today that Opposition Members want to prioritise the welfare of illegal immigrants. My priority and, I believe, the priority of Conservative Members is our constituents who are desperate for social housing or who are sofa surfing. Many of them are women and children. Is it not an outrage that we are spending £2.5 billion a year when we will soon be asking those very same people to share the burden of further cuts to public services?
My hon. Friend has raised an important point. The fact is that we are receiving an unprecedented number of people coming into this country, many of whom are coming illegally. They require accommodation. That is putting excess pressure on our current housing stock, whether it is hotels, the private rented market, or beds in other sorts of building. Ultimately, we do not have enough space for these people and we need to find it quickly. It is very difficult. It will be done, but it will take time.
I thank the Home Secretary for her endeavours to deal with a truly difficult and complex situation. May I ask her what steps are in place to ensure that asylum centres are able to provide a basic standard of mental health care for those affected by the disgraceful action that took place at the weekend? Can she ensure that asylum seekers are safe while they are waiting for the determination of their applications, as is the law in this great nation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
As I have said—and I will reiterate it again and again—I am very grateful for the brilliant response from the emergency services, the authorities and everyone at Western Jet Foil and Manston, yesterday and subsequently, in dealing with this incident. We are making sure that they are well supported. We will need more staff because of the increased numbers—I am not going to mislead the hon. Member on that—but we are trying to make arrangements to ensure that they are supported so they are not overburdened.
May I welcome the Home Secretary back to her rightful place on the Front Bench? She has the support of the millions of Britons who are just hoping that one day we may finally get a grip on the small boats crisis. The Home Affairs Committee has been told that between 1% and 2% of the entire male population of Albania—10,000 men—have arrived in the UK in the past year. Why on earth are we accepting asylum claims from Albania when countries such as Germany and Sweden do not?
We have to ensure that our asylum laws are fit for purpose. Some great achievements have been secured by the passage of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 and they are going to be operationalised in due course. However, my hon. Friend is right: we need to change our laws to ensure that people are not abusing our legal framework.
Yesterday, in a horrifying attack, a man threw petrol bombs at Tug Haven immigration centre in Dover. Does the Home Secretary consider that to be an act of terrorism? If not, why not—and will she unequivocally condemn all those who promote hatred towards migrants?
Of course, I am not going to comment on the particular details of this case. It is a very sad case and a very worrying case, and I am very concerned about the safety and security of the sites at Western Jet Foil and Manston. We evacuated the people from Western Jet Foil to Manston, and they are now back at Western Jet Foil. There has been a huge amount of effort by the authorities and I am very grateful to them.
As my hon. Friend will know, one of the promises in the 2019 manifesto was to reduce overall numbers when it came to migration, and also to fix the problem of illegal migration. He and I both campaigned to leave the European Union, and 17 million people voted for control over their borders. That is what this Government will deliver.
The Refugee Council has demanded a taskforce to clear the 120,000 backlog of asylum seekers, most of whom are living in appalling, overcrowded, unsafe and inhumane circumstances, and the cost of those in hotels is, by the Home Secretary’s own admission, about £5.6 million. The council has also called for the Government to convene a summit of refugees and migration experts, local authorities and housing providers to examine options for short and long-term suitable accommodation for people seeking asylum. Will the Home Secretary do that?
As I have said, I am very concerned about how we accommodate people who are waiting for their asylum claims to be processed. We need to bear down on that backlog so they are not waiting for so long and can get a decision, whether that be to remove them, or for them to be here on a legal basis. We need to ensure that the accommodation is cost-effective, lawful and reasonable.
I make no apology for prioritising the welfare of my constituents who sent me here. I do not wake up every day worrying about the welfare of people who have entered our country illegally and shown scant regard for our laws. It is for those reasons that I am so concerned about the Novotel situation. However, does the Home Secretary agree that it is bad—we should not have illegal immigrants in hotels—but ultimately this will not be nipped in the bud unless we get fully behind Rwanda? On the definition of a refugee, we know so many people who get refugee status are not refugees—they are economic migrants and they should be sent back.
I think my hon. Friend is right. We need to call out the misrepresentation of this problem. It is not the case that these are all refugees fleeing persecution, war-torn countries, conflict or human rights violations. Many of the people arriving here in small boats are actively and willingly procuring those journeys. They are often paying tens of thousands of pounds for those journeys. They are coming here knowingly and willingly, and they are coming here for economic reasons.
Can the Home Secretary tell us how many, if any, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children have been accommodated at Manston or Western Jet Foil, and what arrangements she is making to keep them in safety in hotels, properly supervised and safeguarded?
As far as I am aware, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are not routinely detained at Manston, but what I will say is that a number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children were accommodated—not detained—for a brief period in the summer while accommodation was being identified and of course, overnight people have been evacuated to Manston from Western Jet Foil, and that will have included some children.
The issues that we are discussing this afternoon are symptomatic, in the main, of illegal immigration. First, may I commend the Home Secretary for her stated intention to deal resolutely with the small boats crisis, and secondly, may I ask her exactly what primary legislation we might expect—primary legislation is needed—and when we might expect it?
I thank my hon. Friend for his observations. Ultimately, he is right. We need to be straight with people. There is an influx, an unprecedented number of people coming to this country. They are claiming to be modern slaves, they are claiming asylum illegitimately, and they are effectively economic migrants. They are not coming here for humanitarian purposes. We therefore need to change our laws. We need to ensure that there is a limitation on the ability to abuse our asylum laws, and we need to ensure that our modern slavery laws are fit for purpose and cannot be exploited by illegitimate claimants.
The Home Secretary’s letter today outlined six breaches. She used a personal device to send official emails, using a personal Gmail address. When I receive emails through Gmail, I assume that they are personal emails. What assurances can the Home Secretary give the House that none of those emails was forwarded to third parties, and what investigations have been made to establish that those personal Gmail emails were not hacked by any foreign powers?
I have answered this question, but for repetition’s sake, I will say that I set out all the details in the letter of 19 October. None of those emails was forwarded to anyone else. I am here to focus on the task in hand, which is the situation at Manston and how we are going to bear down on our asylum backlog. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman’s constituents would be more interested in that, too.
I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary’s robust approach to this issue, which is a matter of fairness that is hugely important to my constituents. Increasingly, young men are arriving in the UK and later claiming to be unaccompanied children. At that point, the local authority has to treat them as looked-after children, and as they are claiming to be 17, we have to look after them until they are 25 years old. The average cost of a looked-after child is over £100,000 a year, and I think my constituents would be horrified to learn that their council tax is being spent on that when it is intended for public services. Can my right hon. and learned Friend commit to looking at these rules and to making sure that these extortionate costs, which are hammering funds intended to support my constituents with public services, can be changed? Does she agree that it will be impossible for the public to trust that our immigration policies are properly robust and fair as long people can arrive here illegally from a safe country and stay here at the expense of UK taxpayers?
My hon. Friend hits on a really important aspect of the problem, which is people who are coming here and claiming to be children. We have seen this trend over several years. What I would say about Albania is that we are getting many Albanian people coming here and the majority of them are adult single males. They are not, by majority, women, children or elderly people. The claim of being a child is something we are going to clamp down on, and in the new year we will be delivering more robust age assessment procedures so that there will be less abuse of this very problem.
When the Home Secretary said that Indian migrants represented the largest number of visa overstayers in this country, was that based on a Home Office briefing? Would she consider putting some details in the Library so that we can all see the extent of the problem to which she was referring?
I am keen to ensure that we honour our manifesto commitment, which is to bring overall migration figures down and clamp down on the scourge of illegal migration. I am keen to support the Government—I see the Minister of State, Department for International Trade, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands) here—in their negotiations on a historic deal with India. Great friends, great allies, with whom a great partnership can be forged.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that those who campaigned to take foreign criminals off flights, those who obstruct us from implementing our Rwanda scheme and those who continue to encourage the shameful behaviour of so-called charities and activist lawyers have done nothing but contribute to this criminal activity and to a system now bursting at the seams?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. I speak to our heroic Border Force officials on a regular basis and they tell me about their first-hand experience. What they have seen is repeated and vexatious claims. They see people arriving and not making a claim, then they might see a lawyer and suddenly come up with a claim after they have seen their lawyer. They make repeated and late claims as well, because they know that that is how to game the system. There are real concerns about the practice of some lawyers—not all lawyers, but some—and I encourage the authorities to take action.
So is the Home Secretary acknowledging that there are human beings at the Manston centre who are being unlawfully detained for long periods? If so, what assessment has her Department provided to her of the prospect of someone issuing a legal challenge against her Department for this unlawful detention?
The Home Secretary is absolutely right to say that we need to break the business model of the people smugglers and that we need to stop the boats. Does she agree that the Opposition’s suggestion of enhancing safe and legal routes is a mirage, because no matter how much we expand them—unless we expand them to unlimited amounts—there will still be people willing to take the journey? So the only way we can stop this is by making sure that the people who take the illegal route do not get to stay in this country.
We have already several safe and legal routes through which people who are genuine asylum seekers can make the application. As I have said, I am proud of our record of welcoming people who are genuinely fleeing persecution, war, conflict and human rights violations, but we cannot accept a situation where people are bypassing those routes—jumping the queue, effectively—on illegitimate bases and making fabricated claims to be victims.
The Home Secretary blamed her predecessor for the crisis that she has inherited twice. Indeed, the Home Office’s own impact assessment of the Nationality and Borders Bill said that it risked leading more people to taking desperate routes to the UK, as we have seen, so why is she doubling down on the same approach? I have many constituents who have been waiting years for asylum decisions. What is her target for processing claims? When will she clear the backlog? Does she agree that the cost to the taxpayer would be reduced by granting the right to work to those whose claims have not been processed within six months, as is supported on both sides of the House and overwhelmingly by the public?
I have to disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation of what I have just said. I do not criticise my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel). She achieved a huge amount during her time as Home Secretary, including passing the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, which will take a massive step forward in dealing with the problem. That is something that the hon. Gentleman voted against. She also secured the Rwanda agreement, a landmark partnership with our friends in Rwanda, to tackle this problem head-on for the first time. I am very grateful for her work and her contribution.
Of course we have moral obligations to asylum seekers, and it may well be the case that conditions at Manston are unacceptable, but what is totally unacceptable is the fact that every month thousands of young men arrive in this country from a safe third country and that many of them have set off from a safe third country in the form of Albania. There have been 40,000 this year alone, which is half the size of the British Army. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend shares the dismay at the situation felt by those on the Government Benches, unlike those on the Opposition Benches, who seem from their questions today to be concerned only to advocate an open border policy and to take pot shots at a Minister who is uniquely committed—
What a great question from my hon. Friend, and he is absolutely right. What is more, we are identifying, particularly with the young, single men who are coming from Albania, that they are either part of organised criminal gangs and procuring their journey through those nefarious means, or they are coming here and partaking in criminal activity, particularly related to drugs—supply and otherwise. In fact, a few weeks ago I attended a raid with members of the National Crime Agency where they arrested a suspected Albanian people smuggler in Banbury. This is a criminal problem. There are many people coming here with criminal intent and behaving in a criminal way. We need to stop it.
At the recent Conservative party conference, the Home Secretary said that it was her “dream”, indeed her “obsession”, to see pictures of planes taking off for Rwanda on the front page of The Daily Telegraph—it had to be the Telegraph, of course. Does she appreciate how offensive, disturbing and anti-humanitarian that statement is, particularly when we bear in mind the true perspective that there are more than 80 million refugees and internally displaced people in the world, that the UK takes proportionally fewer refugees than many other European countries, and that the Home Office’s own figures from this year show that over 70% of asylum claims are successful, which belies all the propaganda that these are economic migrants?
I will tell the hon. Gentleman what I find offensive and disturbing. It is the sight of thousands of people coming to these shores illegally without a valid asylum claim, taking advantage of our generosity, abusing our laws and being accommodated free of charge. It is unfair, it is unacceptable and it is not right.
So far this year, 12,000 Albanians have entered the United Kingdom through small boat crossings of the channel, and 10,000 of those are adult single males. As commander Dan O’Mahoney told the Home Affairs Committee, the main driver of that activity is the strength of organised Albanian criminal gangs in the north of France and the transfer of that behaviour to the United Kingdom, together with the determination of people to work on the black market. There is no reason for these people to be here. We should follow the route of other European countries and ensure that they are returned immediately to Albania. What discussions has my right hon. and learned Friend had with her Albanian counterpart to address this important issue?
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. He identifies exactly the problem we are dealing with, and it needs a multifaceted approach that includes deploying and operationalising our returns agreement with Albania and ensuring we take robust action against the many people coming here from Albania with illegitimate aims.
The Home Secretary is a security risk. She said more than once in her letter to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, that 19 October was the only time she used her personal email to send Home Office documents to people outside Government. Does that include other, non-secure networks such as messaging services? Does it include any insecure communication inside Government? And does it include the time she spent in other Departments, especially her tenure as Attorney General, which lasted over a year compared with the few chaotic weeks she has been Home Secretary?
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the letter I sent today, which sets out all the details of the actions, the decisions and the rationale behind the events of 19 October. I have apologised for the mistake and taken responsibility, which is why I resigned.
The hon. Gentleman’s party has no solutions for the problem we are dealing with. If Labour was in charge, it would be allowing all the Albanian criminals to come to this country. It would be allowing all the small boats to come to the UK, it would open our borders and totally undermine the trust of the British people in controlling our sovereignty.
Can the Home Secretary tell me how many places in alternative accommodation she approved in September? When was the first of those places signed off? When was the first person able to be housed in that accommodation signed off? If she does not have those figures to hand, will she agree to write to me with them at the earliest opportunity?
I will not bore the Chamber by repeating my answer to a question that I have now been asked on several occasions. The hon. Gentleman will be able to check the record for the specific number of hotels and beds procured during my tenure. I am very glad that we have taken urgent action to deal with this issue.