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Asylum Application Backlog

Volume 722: debated on Monday 14 November 2022

We are clear about the fact that the asylum system needs to do better and cases need to be processed more quickly. The aim of the asylum transformation programme is to bring the system back into balance and modernise it. Its focus is on increasing productivity by streamlining and digitising processes to speed up decision making and increase efficiency and output.

A hotel in Earl Shilton, in my constituency, has twice been identified as a way of trying to deal with the backlog, but has failed in that regard owing to health and safety concerns about fire in particular. I was therefore surprised when constituents wrote to me saying that they had seen asylum seekers in the hotel. I contacted the borough council, the county council and the police, but none of them knew anything about it, so I checked social media and found that the story had been corroborated and was true. When I contacted the Home Office, it took 72 hours for it to be confirmed that they had been placed there. This is completely unacceptable. What is the Home Secretary doing to ensure that it does not happen in other constituencies, and will she meet me to discuss the situation in Earl Shilton so that communication can be improved?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. We have experienced unprecedented pressure on the system recently, and responding to it has been challenging for our operational partners. We have a statutory duty to provide destitute asylum seekers with accommodation. We do inform local partners of our actions, but despite our ambitions to do that expeditiously, owing to the recent incredible pressure on the system we have sometimes fallen short. I understand that a direct communication has been sent to my hon. Friend, but I can say to him now that we want to improve our engagement to ensure that there is much better understanding and much better support for local communities that are affected.

We now know of at least four sexual assaults on children who have been left in these hotels for months because of the backlog. In a meeting with MPs last week, the Home Secretary’s officials committed themselves to providing details of the safeguarding requirements for private contractors if Ministers gave them permission. If the Home Secretary is so confident that she is doing everything she can to fulfil the duty of care for these vulnerable children, will she give that permission and will she publish those details?

I have been very straight in saying that our asylum system does need improvement. The Immigration Minister and I are working intensively and improving our processes, and the duties to those in our care and how they are discharged, whether those concerned are adults or children, or other vulnerable people. There has been unprecedented pressure on the system, but we are working apace to procure alternative accommodation, and have been doing so for several months. As I have said, we are working intensively, and we hope to secure everyone’s support in that effort.

Clearing the processing backlog is clearly one of the keys to solving the whole asylum problem, and we need to get on with it and make sure that it is done as fast as possible. The other key is, of course, controlling the source of the problem. I was pleased to learn of the measure signed by my right hon. Friend in Paris this morning, which is a modest step towards solving a much greater problem. Does my right hon. Friend agree that rather than populist policies which may grab headlines, the only way to solve this problem will be through painstaking hard work of the kind that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and Mr Macron have instigated?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his support and input on this challenging issue, and I was pleased to visit Manston with him a few weeks ago. He is absolutely right; there is no single solution to this problem, and international co-operation is a vital part of the solution. That is why I am very grateful to French partners for their effective work to date and also for their support for the positive step forward in the new deal that I signed this morning with my opposite number in France, which will greatly deepen our co-operation and further our response to illegal migration in the channel.

In Hounslow there are more than 3,500 asylum seekers waiting for a determination on their applications in, at the last count, 12 interim or contingency hotels. They have been waiting not weeks, not months, but even years. They are existing in accommodation and eating food unfit for animals, and Clearspring Ready Homes and a network of unaccountable subcontractors are skimming off vast profits and ripping off the accommodation providers, the vulnerable asylum seekers and, of course, the taxpayer. As the Home Secretary admits, the Home Office has a challenge here, so why will she not contract with local authorities that have expertise in procuring accommodation and that will ensure the basic standards that the hon. Member for Bosworth (Dr Evans) is concerned about, and ensure safeguarding as well—

Order. That is an important point but I have to get other Members in as well. We cannot have speeches; we must have short questions. I think the Home Secretary has got the drift of this one.

There are many plans afoot to try to improve the processing of asylum claims, and one of those relates to procuring alternative accommodation for those seeking asylum. We need to reduce our reliance on hotels, improve our productivity within the asylum processing system and ensure that people stop making the journey in the first place. There are huge levels of work ongoing, and I would encourage the hon. Lady to support those plans and our work.

The Nationality and Borders Act 2022 establishes a new category of asylum seekers that the Government claim are not permitted to claim asylum in Britain and should therefore be removed, but because the Government have failed to secure a returns agreement with France, and because their Rwanda policy is completely unworkable, 16,000 people in this category have been stuck in limbo waiting an additional six months for a decision, at huge cost to the British taxpayer. Of those 16,000 waiting in limbo, only 21 have been returned since the Act came into force. Do Ministers therefore accept that their own legislation is adding further delays, cost, chaos and confusion to an already broken system while doing next and nothing to remove failed asylum seekers who have no right to be here?

I find it staggering that Labour Members seem to love complaining about the system but when we introduced laws to fix it, what did they do? They opposed them every step of the way. We wanted to make it easier to deport foreign national offenders; Labour voted against it. We wanted to fix our asylum system; Labour voted against it. We secured a ground-breaking agreement with Rwanda; Labour would scrap it. Labour Members are very good at complaining, but they have absolutely no solution at all.