(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if she will make a statement on migration.
The continued rise of dangerous channel crossings is completely unacceptable. This phenomenon is not only a clear abuse of our immigration laws and deeply unfair on the British people, but puts the lives of those who attempt these journeys in grave danger. This Government are determined to put the people smugglers out of business and to make this route unviable.
This week, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary met her counterpart, Minister Darmanin, to agree a new multi-year strategic and operational plan with France. That will be supported by UK investment of up to €72 million in 2022-23. It includes a 40% uplift, with UK-funded officers patrolling the French coast over the coming months, improved security at ports, cutting-edge surveillance technology, drones, detection dog teams and CCTV, to help detect and prevent those crossings. For the first time, reciprocal teams of embedded officers will be deployed on the ground in control rooms, to increase joint understanding of this issue. This renewed partnership will enable us to build on our joint partnership with France, which so far has seen good progress, with more than 30,000 illegal crossings prevented since the start of the year, hundreds of arrests made and 21 organised crime gangs dismantled.
Beyond our ever closer collaboration with France, we will also work closely with other international partners, including further upstream, to help address issues closer to their source. The UK will be joining near neighbours and other countries, to agree collective action to tackle illegal migration. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is today discussing those issues at the G7 Interior Ministers meeting in Germany.
These are issues of the utmost seriousness, and they have been discussed at prime ministerial level. We are taking action to deter those intent on exploiting the UK’s generosity, by implementing the Nationality and Borders Act 2002, pursuing migration partnerships with safe countries such as Rwanda, cracking down on those here illegally, and expediting returns agreements. There should be no doubt whatsoever about the Government’s determination to grip this problem and deliver the strong and secure borders that the British people desperately want and deserve.
Twenty-seven lives were lost in the channel a year ago, and a criminal gang profited from sending people to their deaths. Will the Minister tell the House whether anyone has been prosecuted or convicted for that awful event? We have long called for a stronger agreement with France to stop these dangerous boat crossings. That is why it is important that there is scrutiny on this issue. Additional beach patrols are welcome, and intelligence sharing is vital—it is unfathomable that it was not happening already.
The level of convictions is pitiful: just four a month, on average. The Minister said that 21 gangs had been dismantled, but on Monday the Home Secretary said that it was 55. Which is it?
Journalists report 100 gang members operating in one small corner of Calais alone. The scale of response to the criminal gangs is tiny compared with the scale of the challenge, and the Government are simply not doing enough. This multimillion-pound criminal industry is putting lives at risk. The Minister referred to a joint intelligence cell. How many national crime agencies are currently involved in that, how many are deployed in Europe, and what will that number increase by? We need to know.
This agreement does not include anything on safe returns or safe family reunion. The number of children safely reuniting with family has plummeted since the end of the Dublin agreement, and charities warn that they are trying to go by boat instead. Asylum returns have plummeted from 1,000 people returned to the EU in 2010 to a tiny handful today. Of the 16,000 referred to the third country unit, just 21 returned. Did Ministers even try to get an agreement on returns and family reunion, and if not, why not? What is the Minister’s timescale for getting a grip on the total collapse in Home Office decisions on asylum, and at what point will they double so that we get a faster pace? The way the Home Office is handling local authorities has been disgraceful, with many of them not being told what is happening.
Finally, what is the £140 million from the Rwanda agreement actually being spent on? Too often, the Home Office talks about things but is not delivering—this is too important.
I am pleased that the right hon. Lady welcomes our agreement with France. She is right to raise the anniversary of the tragic and abhorrent deaths that occurred in the channel one year ago. I am pleased that a concerted effort with partners across Europe has led to arrests and the disruption of gangs, and to the capture and destruction of boats, directly as a result of that. The good work that our intelligence services did with respect to that incident is now being rolled out with respect to other criminal gangs right across Europe.
The agreement that we have reached with France will enable our world-class intelligence services to be directly in the room with their French counterparts, ensuring that the intelligence they are gathering, which is rich—I observed it myself on visiting the clandestine command in Dover—can now be passed on in real time to their French counterparts, ensuring that more crossings are stopped, more arrests are made and more criminal gangs are disrupted. That will make a positive impact in the months to come.
I politely point out to the right hon. Lady that she is becoming like a broken record on immigration. She opposes everything helpful that the Government have done and suggests nothing useful. She voted against the Nationality and Borders Act that created deterrents for people crossing the channel. She voted against measures that would have increased sentences for people smugglers. She would scrap our world-leading migration partnership with Rwanda. She voted against our plans to remove dangerous foreign national offenders. One of the key policy platforms on which her leader, the Leader of the Opposition, stood for the leadership of the Labour party was to close down our immigration removal centres—the very centres where we house people like foreign national offenders, murderers and rapists as we are trying to get them out of the country.
The truth is that Labour is the party of uncontrolled migration and the party of mass migration. We understand the instincts of the British people, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and I will do everything to ensure that their will is implemented and we secure our borders.
The Minister knows well the problems that I have with Serco’s procurement of accommodation in my constituency and I thank him for his engagement in recent days. Given the woeful communication with MPs and local authorities in recent days and weeks, can he confirm that lessons will be learned and that communication will be stepped up?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the productive and constructive conversations that we have had. It is absolutely essential that the Home Office and partners such as Serco treat local authorities and Members of Parliament with respect and engage with them productively. Since my arrival in the Department, I have set in place protocols so that all Members of Parliament and local authorities will be notified in good time before hotel and other accommodation is procured, and so that we move to a better procedure, whereby there is effective and constructive engagement in the days prior to taking the accommodation.
It is worth saying, however, that those are the symptoms of the problem. The core of the issue is the fact that 40,000 people have chosen to cross the channel this year alone and that places immense strain on our system. That is what we need to tackle, that is what Government Members are committed to doing and that is what the Opposition refuse to address.
The £120 million totally wasted on the Rwanda plan could have quadrupled the number of caseworkers and cleared the backlog in asylum cases urgently. Can we have a Department focused on the nuts and bolts of getting the job done, instead of crazy, brutal and counterproductive headline-chasing policies? After all, that is the root of all our problems—that and the lack of safe and legal routes. A number of months ago, I tabled a written question asking for a list of all the safe and legal routes and it would not even have filled half a page. So can we do something about that?
The revelations in ITV’s “The Crossing”, a documentary about 27 channel deaths last November, were utterly heartbreaking and horrifying. Did the Home Secretary discuss with her counterparts how best to ensure that disputes about precisely where a boat is play a distant second fiddle to saving people’s lives?
May I end by saying how disappointed I am? The Minister distanced himself from the Home Secretary’s crass comments on migrants, but today we have heard him talk about murderers and foreign offenders. We are talking about asylum seekers, and he brings up murderers as if they are one and the same thing. It is an absolute disgrace, because he knows the impact that that has on not just asylum seekers but all migrants.
The hon. Lady needs to face the facts. We on the Government Benches will always behave with decency and compassion, because those are our values. But we will not be naive. We are capable of making the distinction between genuine refugees and genuine asylum seekers fleeing persecution and human rights abuses, and Albanian economic migrants coming to this country for all the wrong reasons. We are also perfectly capable of making the distinction between good people who deserve our protection and support, and bad people who are foreign national offenders who need to be removed from the United Kingdom as soon as possible. I am surprised to see her joining in with the Opposition, who want to close down the very detainment centres where we keep those people while we try to get them out of the country.
The hon. Lady says she is disappointed that we are pursuing Rwanda. I think Rwanda is an important part of our efforts to tackle illegal migration because deterrence has to be suffused throughout our entire approach. Everything we do to create further pull factors to the UK ensures more people cross the channel in perilous ways and more pressure is put on our public services. It prevents us from helping the people who genuinely deserve our support, such as those who come from Ukraine, Afghanistan or Syria under our resettlement schemes. I will say again—I have said it before: if the SNP wanted to help with this issue, it would address the fact that proportionately Scotland, in particular SNP local authorities, takes fewer people on those resettlement schemes than any other part of the United Kingdom.
I do not envy my right hon. Friend having to do this urgent question, having done a few myself. I know he will recognise that system-wide reform of asylum is needed. The deal with France is welcome, but it is only a small part of what needs to be done overall. The particular point I want to focus on is the issue of notification and engagement with local authorities, which seems to have disappeared, as he will be aware from the situation in Torbay. Can he reassure me that that will now be restarted? At the very least, it is common courtesy to notify MPs and local authorities—we should not find out via third parties.
Yes, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his good service in this role and others previously. He was highly respected and is missed by his former colleagues at the Home Office.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that we need good engagement with Members of Parliament and, crucially, local authorities. When we are bringing groups of migrants to a local area, often with complex needs, we need to ensure the local authority is involved in that, can prepare for their arrival and provide good services. One issue that has been experienced in recent weeks is that the sheer number of individuals crossing the channel has put immense pressure on the Manston facility. As the Minister responsible, my first duty and priority was and is to ensure that Manston operates legally and decently. That has meant that we have needed to procure a lot of accommodation relatively quickly and that has meant some procedures have been weaker than any of us would have wished. I hope we can move forward from that, stabilise the situation, and get into a pattern of engaging MPs and local authorities in the manner that they deserve.
Today, my International Development Committee launched an inquiry into how and why the Home Office is spending foreign aid to support refugees in this country. Does the Minister have a budget or a blank cheque? Does he have official development assistance specialists in the Home Office to make sure that that money represents value? Does he think it is morally right to be spending money, which should be going to the poorest in the world, to prop up the Treasury? Other countries are spending their own money to fund refugees in their own countries.
First, it is the Home Office’s responsibility to ensure that money is spent wisely and provides taxpayer value. How it is accounted for under overseas development aid or otherwise is a matter for the Treasury, not for me and my officials. But the point at the heart of this is that we need to ensure we stop people crossing the channel illegally. We do not want to be spending billions of pounds addressing this issue. The Opposition, I think, do because they oppose every single measure we take to try to address it. We want to get people out of hotels. We would like to move to a system that is based on resettlement schemes, such as the Ukraine and Syria schemes, whereby we choose people at source, they come to the UK and we are able to prioritise our resources on them, and we do not, frankly, waste hundreds of millions of pounds managing a problem of economic migrants who should not be in the UK.
This weekend, a new migrant hotel was set up in my constituency. I was contacted on Sunday and told that it would be happening—future tense. I subsequently found out that it had actually happened already, on Saturday. As yet—it is now Wednesday—we still have no details on who, how long and what is in place around that facility. On Monday morning, several local people presented themselves as homeless, having been kicked out of the same hotel, which was previously used by the local authority as temporary accommodation. My right hon. Friend must surely agree that this is wrong and untenable, and will cause a huge amount of anger locally. The Government need to stop this—he knows that—but can he, at the very least, ensure that, after this urgent question, he is able to investigate in his Department to ensure that local stakeholders and councils are able to get the information they need urgently to put the support in place that they need at local level?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I believe my officials have already reached out to his council to provide it with further information. As I said earlier, this is not the situation that any of us would want to be in. It is the product of record numbers of people crossing the channel and a failure to plan in the months prior to this sudden surge. What we need to do now is move forwards and ensure, as our first duty, that Manston is operating legally and correctly. We must then ensure that any further accommodation is procured in a sensible way—simple and decent accommodation, not luxurious hotels—and that we have proper communication with local authorities. That is my objective and I am very happy to work with him to achieve it.
Unlike some of those who are criticising the Government today, the Democratic Unionist party has supported most of the measures that the Government have brought forward. We understand that there are genuine asylum seekers who need help. In my own constituency just last weekend I met many from Ukraine who are grateful for what this country has done for them. Almost every year, Ministers come with a new plan to deal with this problem, yet it gets worse all the time. The numbers are increasing, and frustration is increasing too. Does the Minister not agree that one way of stopping people coming via the dangerous route they are using at present, giving revenue to criminal gangs and stopping priorities being dealt with for real asylum seekers, would be to ensure that those who enter this country illegally are not allowed to apply for asylum in the first place?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. We have already taken action through the Nationality and Borders Act 2022. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and I are reviewing our legal framework to ensure it meets the scale of the challenge we are currently facing. If we conclude that further steps are necessary, he can be assured that we will take them urgently. He makes a strong and compelling case that there should not be a route to a life in the UK if you choose to come here illegally.
I strongly support the Minister in what he said by highlighting that most of the Opposition parties—certainly the Labour party and the SNP—have zero credibility coming to this House and questioning him when they vote against and criticise absolutely every legal measure we bring in to tackle this problem, which all our constituents care deeply about. I am sure the Minister would like to know what my constituents are asking me. They want to know why we cannot turn back the small boats and dinghies when they are in the channel. Of course, we all understand we have an obligation to save lives at sea, but surely that does not extend to people who seek to undermine our generous hospitality and our asylum system, which is there for genuine refugees. Please can he change the law to do that?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point and speaks for the British public, millions of whom ask exactly the same question. We are pursuing returns agreements with safe countries and have secured one in the last 12 months with Albania. One thousand Albanians have already been removed under that agreement. Clearly, I would like that number to be significantly higher and we are reviewing what further steps we can take. We would like to secure a returns agreement with France. The agreement we reached this week is a good first step, but the Home Secretary will be meeting other northern European Interior Ministers through the Calais group shortly to discuss what the next steps might be. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is prioritising the issue and the broader relationship with France, as we can see in the positive conversations he has had thus far. If it is possible to take the agreement further, we will certainly try to.
On Monday, as part of Parliament Week, I spoke to a group of 100 asylum seekers and refugees who are learning English at Hammersmith & Fulham College. Some had been in local budget hotel rooms with their families for a year and a half, having had no Home Office interview since they arrived. All are willing and able to work but are prevented from doing so. Does the Minister realise that, along with indefinite detention, this is a failed policy, which is not only cruel and inhumane, but hugely wasteful of public money?
I respectfully disagree about indefinite detention. There is an important role for detaining individuals, particularly foreign national offenders, while they are here in the UK and until we can remove them from our shores. If we had further capacity, we might detain more people, frankly.
As for whether migrants whose asylum claims are being processed should be able to work, there are arguments—and differing opinions—on both sides of the House. On balance, I take the view that it is not wise to enable asylum seekers to work because there are already significant pull factors to the UK as a result of the relative ease of working here, access to public services and the fact that we have relatively high approval rates for asylum seekers. I am not persuaded that it would be wise to add a further pull factor to the mix.
I thank my right hon. Friend for what he is saying and doing on this vital subject. I shall be here all next week, ready to vote for whatever legislative changes are necessary to protect people who need asylum and to defend our country from people who deliberately and wilfully break our laws. So will he please apply the toe of his shoe to the bottoms of the people who need to draft the legislation that we can all support?
I am grateful for that intervention and I will take that back to my officials in the Department. My hon. Friend can be assured that the Home Secretary and I are doing everything we can. If we can make further legislative changes in the spirit of what he said—relating to individuals who come here not for safety from persecution, human rights abuses and war, which asylum was designed to support, but from safe countries looking for a better life—we will do so and secure the borders as a result.
As we heard, on 24 November last year at least 27 people drowned while attempting to cross the channel in a dinghy, including a little girl. Five are missing and only two survived. A documentary called “The Crossing” that was shown on ITV on Monday night presented evidence that the tragedy happened in UK waters, notwithstanding multiple distress calls from the people in the dinghy while the French and UK coastguards passed the buck over many crucial hours. I understand that solicitors acting for the families of some of the deceased and one of the survivors passed evidence to that effect to the British Government in March this year. The normal political response to loss of life on that scale would be the prompt announcement of an independent public inquiry. Will the Minister tell me what it is about the people who drowned that means that no independent public inquiry has been announced into the circumstances of their drowning?
The events of a year ago were very shocking and deeply tragic, and my sympathies go out to the individuals’ families and friends. As a result of that incident, I assure the hon. and learned Member that very significant further steps have been taken by British authorities to enable those crossing the channel in dangerous crafts to be helped ashore in the UK. We are at the point where, I think, 98% of boats that attempt the crossing and pass the median line are helped ashore by Border Force, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution or the Royal Navy. I pay tribute to those British authorities; I have met them and they do that difficult work superbly. We will not be able to secure the passage of everyone who chooses to get in an unsafe dinghy at the behest of people traffickers and cross the channel. The best advice is, “Do not make that dangerous passage. It is illegal and extremely perilous.” That is key: we should not encourage people to make that crossing in the first place. We cannot assure safe passage to everyone.
Stoke-on-Trent, decades ago, voluntarily entered the asylum dispersal scheme, but enough is enough. We have done our bit for this country to protect some of the vulnerable people and illegal economic migrants who come here through safe countries such as France. I am sick to the back teeth of hotels being used in our great city and being dumped on by Serco because we voluntarily entered that scheme. The local authority is against it, as are the police and all three Stoke MPs, and for good reason. Islamic extremists such as Hizb ut-Tahrir are operating around the corner from the hotel. The far right is looking to recruit in our city. There is public anger and outrage about local services being depleted while services elsewhere are reinforced. When will the Minister tell Serco that Stoke-on-Trent has done its bit and to use it no more? If he will not, why not?
We have taken further steps during my short tenure in the Department, and while my right hon. and learned Friend has been Home Secretary, to provide a fairer distribution of migrants across the country. The Home Secretary ensured that there was the mandatory dispersal of children, so that all local authorities can play a part in ensuring that children are in safe accommodation, whether that means in children’s homes or with state or private foster carers. We are also attempting to procure accommodation in a much broader range of local authorities. Historically, the issue centred on cities, including Stoke-on-Trent. We are now seeking to procure accommodation more broadly in smaller cities, towns and, in some cases, rural areas. That means, I am afraid, that as long as numbers are so high, more parts of the country will experience this issue, but it will ensure greater fairness in how we tackle it as a country.
Is it true that the Home Secretary disagreed with the ideas of the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), on extending the seasonal agricultural worker scheme to help to provide important extra, temporary migrant labour for our farming sector?
According to Home Office figures, the 116 asylum seekers who arrived in Warrington last week can expect to spend about 400 days waiting for their cases to be dealt with. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to speed up the process so that those who do not meet the test for asylum can be returned to the safe countries from which they came?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. Productivity in the Home Office fell very sharply during the covid period and has yet to recover in its entirety. That is wrong and we need to change it. We need to ensure that caseworkers review and decide on cases at least at the same speed as they did a couple of years ago. A pilot in Leeds on how to do that has more than doubled the productivity of caseworkers. We want to get that still higher and roll it out across the country. The Home Secretary and I will say more shortly.
As legislation rightly progresses to address the shameful sacking of UK seafarers by P&O, another injustice is arising through the Home Office’s actions. The extension of the offshore wind workers immigration rules concession 2017 means that UK seafarers are being replaced by cheap Filipino crew. That is happening 15 km from the coast of Fife in an offshore wind field operated by the state companies of France and Ireland. The contracts have largely gone abroad and the jobs are now going south. Given that this is an urgent question about migration, why is the Minister allowing that to happen? The UK crew who require that employment and have been working hard are now being replaced by workers providing cheap labour, who, frankly, are being exploited and brought in by unsavoury contractors.
We are not allowing that to happen. The Nationality and Borders Act 2022 led to a short extension in the practice until April 2023, at which point it comes to a close. Measures relating to the valid criticisms of the hon. Gentleman will be put into effect shortly.
We all agree that putting asylum seekers in hotels is not really a great policy, so we need to process their applications as quickly as possible. Is it possible for each hotel to be given a timeframe for the processing of applications? That would give confidence to the local community that the hotel will be returned to its normal activity sooner rather than later. It might also incentivise Home Office staff to improve their productivity.
I will take that suggestion back to the Home Office. Our objective is to ensure that we process claims as quickly as possible; a great deal of work is now going on in the Home Office to achieve that and to bring productivity back to where it should always have been, frankly. We want to bring use of the hotels to a close as quickly as possible. We have already set out some of the steps we will take to achieve that, such as considering larger sites and dispersing individuals in local authority accommodation and the private rented sector elsewhere in the country. The real task, however, is to prevent people from crossing the channel in the first place. We cannot build our way out of the issue; we have to reduce the numbers making the crossings.
York wants to do all it can to support people seeking asylum, but as a result of providing initial accommodation as opposed to contingency accommodation, it is not receiving the funding that it vitally needs. When will the Government provide parity in the funding that local authorities need to support people who are seeking asylum? When will the Government bring forward a homes for refugees scheme so we can ensure that people are settled in our community and are getting the support they need from families?
I will happily speak to the hon. Lady separately about the specific concerns of City of York Council. The hotel accommodation is fully funded by the Home Office, but I appreciate that there are knock-on costs for local authorities. I met London Councils earlier today; if not for this urgent question, I would have been meeting representatives of councils across the country to hear their concerns and see how we can improve the situation.
On addressing the illegal crossings, the Minister said that the new initiative would cost about £72 million. In 2019, when I was on the Select Committee on Home Affairs, we were told that the joint co-ordination centre with France would help to address individuals illegally crossing. Did that system work? How much did it cost? How will the new system work? My constituents in Kent are at the forefront of the illegal crossings. The Government consistently tell us that they will take tough, firm, decisive action, but instead the numbers have increased. How will the new system work better than the previous system?
I do not want to overstate the value of the agreement, but it is an important step forward and might presage further agreements with France in the months and years to come. It contains at least two important steps. First, there will be a 40% increase in French personnel on the beaches of northern France intercepting crafts about to enter the water and making arrests. French officers on the beaches currently intercept about 40% of craft, so increasing personnel by 40% will lead to a significant improvement. Secondly, the joint centre that we will establish with our French counterparts will ensure that the very sophisticated intelligence that the British security services are now drawing up on what is happening in northern France can be delivered to their counterparts in real time.
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Llefarydd. The Home Office is spending millions on the Rwanda scheme, on the new border scheme with France and on hotel bills, but I am told by a council with a hotel in its area that it has yet to receive any money from the Home Office. Serious concerns have been expressed by the Children’s Commissioner for Wales about the welfare of migrant children in hotels. How is the Home Office working with the Welsh Government, Welsh local authorities and Welsh health trusts to ensure that services are fully funded? How is the welfare of migrant children in Wales being monitored?
If it were not for this urgent question, I would have been meeting representatives from Welsh local authorities, including the Welsh Local Government Association. I will reschedule that meeting as soon as possible; one of its aims is to ensure that we have the best possible engagement with local authorities and support them with the broader needs of individuals, including health and education.
Senior police officers in my constituency tell me that the majority of the serious organised crime and the drugs trade in Blackpool is now orchestrated by Albanian gangs. Does the Minister recognise that some of those who cross in small boats and subsequently abscond when they arrive in this country are playing a part in fuelling a crime epidemic in towns such as Blackpool?
The evidence presented to us by security services such as the National Crime Agency shows a significant and concerning link between Albanian migrants coming to the UK and criminality. My hon. Friend and others have raised the issues with me anecdotally. We screen all migrants when they arrive illegally at Dover, and we have counter-terrorism officers and others there to ensure that we catch as many individuals as possible, but I am afraid that there is a serious problem. That is why we need to take the most robust action possible on economic migrants from Albania and remove them as swiftly as possible.
Diolch, Mr Speaker. Will the Minister inform the House whether the British Government have found an airline willing to facilitate their Rwanda policy? Privilege Style has joined Titan Airways and AirTanker in stating that it will not participate in deportation flights. Is it not the reality that commercial operators are turning their back on the Government’s immoral policy?
I do not believe that the Rwanda policy is immoral. I do not think that there is anything ethical about allowing individuals to cross the channel illegally, risking their lives and those of their children. We want to create a system that is suffused with deterrents so that people do not make the crossing in the first place and so that if they want to claim asylum, they do so in the first safe country that they enter. France, of course, is a perfect choice.
When our own citizens, never mind visitors, come to this country, they dutifully form a queue and present their passport at border control. Does the Minister agree that it makes a complete and utter mockery of our border control systems when people arrive illegally, thereby committing a crime, and are then put up in hotels across the country, where they are fed and watered and do not have to pay energy bills? My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter) spoke about cases going on for 400 days; I know of others that have gone on for years and years. When will we implement the Rwanda plan? When will we push back? When will we return people to France directly? Deterrence will be the main thing that stops them crossing in the first place.
I totally agree. Deterrence must be the test to which we hold all aspects of our immigration policy. We will implement the Rwanda plan as soon as it has passed through the courts, and I think it will make a significant impact on deterring people from making this dangerous crossing.
Does my right hon. Friend share my grave concerns about the radio chatter recorded just this week by one of my constituents? It records a high level of co-operation between the French navy and UK Border Force as the French navy escorts migrants through French waters to be picked up on our side of the median line. The new French deal is trying to stop beach launchings. Welcome as that deal is, does it include a requirement for the French navy to stop and pick up migrant dinghies while they are still in French waters?
We do not support the chaperoning of crafts to the median line to be picked up by British vessels and brought to Ramsgate, Dover or other British ports. Ultimately, that is counterproductive: it creates yet another pull factor to the UK. These are exactly the things that closer co-operation with France should enable us to resolve.
EU nations are safe. Does my right hon. Friend agree that eligible asylum seekers should claim asylum in the first safe country where they arrive and put their first foot down on safe soil? When will we be able to spend Home Office funding on fighting crime and supporting our police, rather than on dealing with illegal trafficking into this country?
Peterborough is a caring city that supports more asylum seekers than any other town or city in the east of England. In the past week, two hotels have been stood up to accommodate single men who have crossed the channel in small boats. One in particular, the Great Northern Hotel, is most inappropriate. Will the Minister outline the criteria by which the Home Office will award longer-term contracts for hotel accommodation? Will he listen to me, my local council, the local police, local health support services and local refugee charities about why the Great Northern Hotel in particular is so inappropriate?
I know that, like many other Members on both sides of the House, my hon. Friend has been campaigning vociferously on this issue and is deeply concerned about it. We want to ensure that we can move as quickly as possible—as quickly as is legally possible—to a system whereby we apply sensible, common-sense criteria. That includes ensuring that prominent business hotels such as the Great Northern are not chosen to house asylum seekers, and that instead we choose hotels that provide decent, value-for-money accommodation in appropriate places.
As if the acquisition of the Best Western Buckingham Hotel, costing hotel staff their jobs and putting unacceptable pressure on local services, were not bad enough, Buckinghamshire Council learned at third hand from a London borough just this morning that an asylum seeker who is under investigation for a very serious offence was transferred to the asylum hotel in Buckingham by the Metropolitan Police but was not escorted into the premises, and has since gone missing. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that process is wholly unacceptable, as were the lines of communication which meant that my local council learned the facts from a London borough rather than from the Home Office or the police, and will he give a commitment that everything possible is being done to apprehend that individual and ensure that until the investigation has been completed the individual is in secure accommodation?
On 23 September, when I was crossing the channel—quite legally—I spotted the French warship Athos behaving very strangely. I have here a screenshot of the warship, which I took on a navigational device. It was circling a small open boat full of people.
The warship made no attempt to pick those people up, as it should have. As a yachtsman, I can tell the House that they were in danger and should have been taken off the boat, but the warship was, as my hon. Friend says, escorting that boat to our shores.
I am pleased with the deal that the Home Secretary made, and it is, as my right hon. Friend said, a good first step, but in my view it does not go far enough. Should we not push to get British boots on the ground and on the beaches alongside their French counterparts, in joint operations, to keep people on the shores of France, or on the shores of the continent?
My hon. Friend has made an important point. Of course we would like to have an effective returns agreement with France, and we would like to have British officers supporting their French counterparts in northern France. Those issues remain for discussion with France, but it is an important first step that we now have our officers working with their French counterparts in the control centre so that the very sophisticated intelligence that we are now gathering is being shared in real time and acted upon by the French.
Yesterday the National Crime Agency confirmed that Albanian organised crime gangs are ferrying thousands of young men to enable them to enter the country illegally so that they can set up, take over and run cannabis farms across the country. On arrival they claim asylum, and the Home Office then transports this criminality to communities up and down the country to infiltrate the local crime scene.
Once such community is Kettering, where there is a disgraceful proposal to house potentially up to 150 Albanian single males in a 50-room hotel with no kitchen facilities, slap bang in the middle of the town centre. This is the biggest night-time economy in north Northamptonshire, and it is near a family park. These young men will be milling around getting into all sorts of trouble. I cannot think of a worse location for an asylum hostel. Will the Minister meet me as a matter of urgency so I can explain to him why the proposal should not go ahead? From where I am sitting, at this present time, His Majesty’s Government is neither protecting our shores nor protecting my local community from an increase in imported crime.
Communities such as Ilfracombe, which is on my patch, are dependent on the tourism economy. What steps is the Home Office taking to support local tourism economies which are being damaged every single day? These hotels are not welcoming their normal visitors. What more will be done to expedite the return of tourist hotels to their communities?
We want to ensure that we exit the hotels as quickly as possible, and wherever we can we will do that in a prioritised fashion, so that when hotels are particularly unsuitable and particular harms are being done to local economies—including tourist hotspots—they should be at the top of the list as we exit these hotels and move to a more sustainable future.
My constituents are angry and frustrated about the present situation, and are genuinely concerned about the possibility that a local hotel might suddenly be found to accommodate asylum seekers. However, I also see the other side of the coin in my role as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to the western Balkans. I meet many Albanians who are here legally and are working in our health service and other public services, but who are being targeted by unruly elements in our society, so there are losers on all sides. Neither the Albanians nor my constituents can understand why the Government cannot get to grips with the situation and process the applications in a seemly manner and on time. What additional resources are being put into ensuring that that happens?
We have put further staff into the processing centres, and there will shortly be 1,500 decision makers working through the claims. As I have said in answer to earlier questions, we are determined to ensure that we return to sensible levels of productivity so that we can bust the backlog. However, that is not the sole problem here. Ensuring swift approvals of applications will only create a further pull factor, so we have to take other action as well.
Along with a number of colleagues, I have studied the Australian approach to dealing with illegal immigration. It is often derided by those on the left who say that it was not successful, but it was successful. My colleagues and I met a number of officials to see what was being done. That is why we welcome the Rwanda scheme. Will my right hon. Friend give us some sense of the timescale for the scheme, and also reassure us that he is engaging with Australian officials? The Australians had a huge problem of illegal immigration, but they embraced offshore processing and no longer have a huge problem. It is very clear what works and what does not.
We are determined to bring the Rwanda proposals into force as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the matter is currently being heard by the British courts, but we are optimistic that our case will be successful, and once it is, we will of course bring those proposals into effect as quickly as we can for all the reasons that my hon. Friend has given, to ensure that there is a proper deterrence factor for those making an illegal crossing.
I suspect that that was the last question, Mr Speaker, so may I thank you for the work that we have done together? I know that you too have been very concerned about hotel accommodation in Chorley. My officials are in conversation with your local authority, and hopefully we can improve the position as soon as possible.