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Afghan Resettlement Update

Volume 736: debated on Tuesday 18 July 2023

In March, I updated Members of this House on Afghan resettlement and relocation. To date, around 24,600 individuals have been brought to safety in the UK from Afghanistan, including some British nationals and their families, as well as Afghans who loyally served the United Kingdom, and others identified as vulnerable and at risk. I am proud that our generous offer has ensured that all those relocated through safe and legal routes have been able to access the vital health, education and employment support that they need to integrate into our society, including English language training for those who need it. On top of that, we have also ensured that all arrivals have had the immediate right to work, as well as access to the benefits system.

In my last update, I made it clear that this Government do not consider it acceptable that, at the time, around 8,000 Afghans were still living in temporary bridging accommodation, preventing them from putting down roots in communities and building self-sufficient lives in this country. Around half of this number had been living in a hotel for more than one year. It was time to ask our Afghan friends to find their own accommodation, with the support of this Government, and to integrate into British society. The status quo is not fair to taxpayers and, crucially, it is not fair to Afghans.

Since March, we have issued legal notices to quit and individualised communications to households living in hotels and serviced apartments, setting out when their access to taxpayer-funded bridging accommodation will end. Residents have received at least three months’ notice to make arrangements to leave their hotel or serviced apartment and clear guidance on the support that they can access to help them find their own accommodation.

Alongside that, we have significantly stepped up our support for those in bridging accommodation and to local authorities, backed by £285 million of funding, to speed up moves into settled homes. We have ensured that enhanced, multi-disciplinary case working teams have been present in every bridging hotel and serviced apartment, working closely with households to help them navigate the pathway to find their own private rented accommodation. For local authorities, this funding includes more than £7,000 per Afghan individual to enable them to support move-ons. We recognise that local authorities will be best placed to understand the specific needs of individual families and the local housing market. That is why we have ensured that this funding can be used flexibly and pragmatically, in line with local circumstances.

Over the past three months I have met local government leaders and home builders, and personally visited bridging hotels, up and down the country. I have been heartened to see at first hand the many individuals, families and local authorities who have heard this message and stepped up their efforts to make use of central Government’s generous offer and identify suitable non-hotel accommodation. Some councils are very effectively using this funding to offer significant support packages, including deposits, furniture, rental top-ups and rent advances, among many other things. I encourage local authorities to share this best practice throughout their networks.

As I have said before, this is a national effort, and we all need to play our part. That is why I am also urging landlords to make offers of accommodation by either speaking to their local council or making an offer via the online Afghanistan housing portal that we have set up. This online form has been developed so that landlords and private individuals can make offers of accommodation directly, which are then shared with potential tenants. We are interested in properties of all sizes and currently have a particular need for one-bedroom properties and larger properties to help accommodate families across the UK.

Since my last update, we have seen many hundreds of individuals leave their hotels and move into settled housing across the UK. Although progress has been made, there is more to do. I have outlined the generous support package that this Government have put in place—and examples of the commitment and resourcefulness that I have seen from both Afghans and local authorities to rise to this challenge. In return for this generous offer, we expect families to help themselves. As far as possible, we want to empower Afghans to secure their own accommodation and determine where they settle, working with the caseworkers available in every bridging property to do it within the limits of individual affordability. I see no reason why anybody living in a hotel today should not be able to make use of their right to work and access to benefits and the flexible funding available to local authorities to find suitable, settled accommodation and live independently of central Government support.

I wish to make it clear today that the Government remain committed to ending access to costly hotels at the end of the notice periods that we have issued to Afghan individuals and families. For some, this will be at the end of this month. Everyone will be expected to have left bridging accommodation by the time their notice period expires. There will, however, be a small number for whom time-limited contingency accommodation will be provided, including where there is a need to bridge a short gap between the end of notice periods and settled accommodation being ready for them to move into, and in cases of medical need where a family member requires continued attendance at a specific hospital. Everyone else should be finalising their plans for moving on from bridging accommodation. I repeat my call to our Afghan friends and local authorities: they must access the support that the Government have made available before the expiry of their notice period to leave bridging accommodation.

I am writing again to all local authorities, reminding them of the funding streams available to help find settled housing solutions for Afghans who remain in bridging accommodation, as well as the new streams of accommodation becoming available shortly. I implore them to draw on this support and match as many households into settled accommodation as possible. Central Government are doing their part, and local government must do its. This is the right thing to do, both for the taxpayer and for those Afghans who risked their lives on our behalf and deserve the opportunity to live self-sufficiently here in the UK

I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement. None the less, I have to say to him that this statement is not up to the quality that this House expects from a Minister on such an important issue.

The Minister has been sent here to update the House, but in his statement he has given us no precise numbers of Afghans who are currently in bridging accommodation, no numbers of those he expects to stay in the time-limited contingency offer, and no estimates or details. Madam Deputy Speaker, this is really poor. This House deserves better than a statement that is light on delivery on such an important programme. We need to understand the detail of what the Minister is trying to explain. He is a Cabinet Office Minister coming to update the House when Defence Ministers should be here explaining why the Afghan relocations and assistance policy is failing to deliver, when Home Office Ministers should be here explaining why the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme is failing to deliver, and when Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Ministers should be here explaining why we do not have sufficient homes for those who are being moved out of bridging accommodation in the middle of a housing crisis. The Cabinet Office Minister in the Chamber is the bailiff serving the eviction notices. This is not good enough. I fear that he is a human shield for the failures across Government.

The statement today confirms what we already know: the Government are failing to support those people who served alongside our forces in Afghanistan. In a few weeks’ time, it will be two years since Operation Pitting began, but there is still a backlog of 60,000 ARAP applications. Operation Warm Welcome has become operation cold shoulder, with 8,000 Afghans being told that they will be forced out of temporary accommodation by the end of the summer. Can the Minister tell us on what date the notice period expires? What day will Afghans no longer be able to stay in bridging accommodation? We owe a debt of gratitude to all those Afghans who were loyal to Britain and who served British aims in Afghanistan, and failing to find them appropriate accommodation and then kicking them out on to the street is no way to repay that debt.

The reality is that the Government have failed to keep the promises made to our Afghan friends, and that is shameful. Since 1 December last year, just four ARAP eligible principals, along with 31 dependants, have been processed and arrived in the UK out of the thousands who are waiting. That leaves thousands of Afghans fleeing the Taliban stuck in hotels in Pakistan without hope or proper support. Can the Minister clarify the exact number of Afghans who have been rehoused into settled housing in the UK? How many homes are available for Afghans to move into? How many does he expect will be made homeless by the eviction notices that he has served on these Afghans?

I know that the Minister’s personal experience in Afghanistan must weigh heavily upon him as the Government evict so many Afghans from hotels, but we owe the people who are being evicted a debt of gratitude, and we owe it to them to keep the promises that we have made. Ministers must fix the broken ARAP scheme, which along with the ACRS has been plagued by failures. People in fear of their lives have been left in Afghanistan, housing promises have been broken, and processing staff have been cut. From the ballooning backlogs to the breaches of personal data, and even the Ministry of Defence telling applicants that they should get the Taliban to verify their ARAP application documents, the record is shameful.

The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs is being used as a human shield to deflect failures from the Ministry of Defence and across Government. How many ARAP eligible principals remain in Pakistan, and how many hotels are still being used as temporary bridging accommodation for Afghan families? Will he publish constituency data so that all Members can understand whether he is evicting people in their communities? He mentioned the Afghan housing portal. How many landlords have signed up to it, how many have used it to house Afghans, and what promises by the Ministry of Defence have been kept in speeding up and processing ARAP cases?

I do not doubt the Minister’s commitment to the people of Afghanistan, but this is not good enough. The promises that we made as a country were serious and solemn. Those who have fled from Afghanistan deserve our support and gratitude. Eviction notices are not good enough if there is nowhere for them to go, so can the Minister give us his solemn promise that not a single Afghan who is currently in bridging accommodation will be homeless when the date of the eviction notices that he has served upon them expires?

I thank the hon. Member for his remarks. Clearly, I do not think that I am a human shield for the Government. This is a particularly difficult issue. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), who grappled with this extraordinarily difficult and complex problem before me. I have to say to the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) that this is one of the most generous offerings that this country has ever made to resettle nationals from a foreign country in the United Kingdom. Since 2015, under consecutive Conservative Governments, we have welcomed more than half a million people on country-specific and humanitarian safe and legal routes, so I just do not recognise his portrayal of the Government’s attitude towards those who are resettling here.

We have worked with around 350 local authorities across the United Kingdom to meet the demand for housing. As of data published on 25 May, around 10,500 people have been supported into settled accommodation —around 10,000 had moved into homes, with an additional 500 matched but not yet moved. The hon. Member is right that, from the end of April, families started to receive legal notices to move. That was accompanied by £35 million-worth of new funding to enable local authorities to provide the increased support for Afghan households to move from hotels into settled accommodation.

The hon. Member had many questions for me, and I will write to him on the ones that I have missed, but the truth is that this is an incredibly complex issue that the entire nation has a duty to fulfil. We can sling political remarks across the Dispatch Box on this issue, but we need all local authorities and political leaders in this country to pull together to challenge what is a very difficult situation and to try to encourage these Afghans to move, in what is an extremely generous offer from central Government, into private rented accommodation. We all have a duty not to use these individuals as political pawns, but to provide them with a life in the UK that we can be truly proud of. If we all work together, we can achieve that.

I welcome my right hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box. I want to ask one simple question: will no Afghans, to whom we owe a debt of gratitude and honour, be made homeless during the course of this process? I also want to ask, peculiarly, whether he has seen the remarks of our right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) in Afghanistan, in which he referred to Afghanistan as peaceful and stable, and said that we should welcome that. I saw that an Afghan woman who will remain nameless promptly wrote on his Twitter: “Shocked. Afghan women have been thrown to the wolves, and that is referred to as peace.” Does the Minister agree that it is not a very welcome statement to have made given the terrible time that those women have had and the persecutions that have taken place in Afghanistan?

With respect, Madam Deputy Speaker, this statement was made in Afghanistan and it was relevant to this Chamber. It has been impossible to contact my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East, but I hope, respectfully, that I have the right to reference his statement, because it has a bearing on today’s ministerial statement.

If the right hon. Gentleman intends to refer to another Member, he should be courteous and inform them of that, even by email, which I am sure is not impossible. He is a very experienced Member of this House, and he knows that.

As I have said many times from the Dispatch Box, there is no reason why any of these individuals should be homeless at the end of the process given what is on offer. Clearly, we cannot march people into accommodation if they choose to present themselves as homeless in an attempt to secure themselves some sort of other accommodation. It is very difficult to affect that. There is no tangible reason why any Afghan family should present as homeless at the end of this process.

On my right hon. Friend’s remarks on Afghanistan and our right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), I am clear, as are the Government, that the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban was a tragedy of epic human proportions. I fought the Taliban myself. The Taliban murdered my friends. It is clear that the Taliban represent a serious threat to human rights, the treatment of women, and all the things that we fought for. That is the Government’s position. That remains unchanged, and I know that colleagues from across the House will join me in those sentiments.

Let me first clearly associate myself with the words of the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith). I am sure that the former Chair of the Defence Committee, the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Sir Julian Lewis), would never have gone online and made the public statements that were made earlier today. I was dumbfounded by them. I see the former Chair of the Defence Committee present on the Government Benches.

I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement. I know from our time together on the Defence Committee that this subject is close to his heart, and that he has gone the extra mile to ensure that we do well by those who risked so much alongside the UK armed forces—he served in Afghanistan, as did my brother—and Government personnel. I am afraid, though, that while the Minister speaks warm words with good intentions, he has come up rather awkwardly against the fact, which he has studiously avoided, that according to Office for National Statistics figures, as I think was mentioned previously, only 54 people have been able to apply through his Government’s flagship Afghan citizens resettlement scheme. Perhaps he could come back on that.

The scheme was meant to provide safe haven to the many thousands of Afghans who were eligible to come to the UK but had not been able to do so at the time of Operation Pitting. With the unacceptable backlog of Afghans currently in the country, along with the demonstrably obstructive barriers to those still suffering under the Taliban rule from coming here, does the Minister not agree that it is time for a “Homes for Afghans” scheme similar to the “Homes for Ukraine” scheme, which would give central Government and local authorities the impetus to ensure that permanent accommodation is found for all the Afghans whom he seeks to remove from hotels?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his questions. On the issue of ACRS and ARAP, I need to be transparent with him: my responsibility, which this statement is about, is for Afghans in bridging accommodation in the UK and getting them into accommodation. The Ministry of Defence still owns that ARAP pathway and I am sure will have heard his questions. There are many more than 54 recipients of the ACRS in this country and I am more than happy to write to him to outline where they are at the moment. His last point has slipped my mind—

Yes. We are looking at a similar proposal on homes for Afghans as we had for Ukrainians, but they are a fundamentally different cohort. Ukrainians traditionally, and in our experience, tend to want to go back to Ukraine in the future. That is not the case with the Afghan population. We are certainly looking at all options; we have set up an Afghan housing portal where landlords can offer their properties and we can accept offers, but all those options are in play. It is a fundamentally different cohort, but we can get there in the end.

|My right hon. Friend focused on what central Government have done and what local government needs to do, but there was no mention of third sector organisations. What scrutiny has he given to the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, to the community sponsorship scheme and to how the charitable sector might be able to step in and assist? I point in particular to the Southampton & Winchester visitors group, which is very active in my constituency, but it is crucial that the Government are prepared to look at all models to try to find solutions so that Afghan women and children in particular, who certainly would not find Afghanistan peaceful and stable, can find peace, stability and a home here.

My right hon. Friend is right. If we are to be successful in this space, we will have to harness the entire estate—not only Government, local and national, but third sector provision. To be honest with her, the best practice I have seen when I have visited the hotels is where the third sector is deeply embedded with the Home Office liaison teams, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities officials. Each of those teams is now in those hotels every day and, if there are charities out there who are willing to help and get involved, I ask them to contact their local Home Office liaison officers running each of the hotels. There is a lot of goodwill out there for the Afghan community, and we need to harness it. Third sector organisations and charities are a hugely important part of that.

I recently met an 18-year-old constituent who is looking after her 17-year- old brother and her 10-year-old sister. They have been separated from their parents for the past two years because, in the scrum of the evacuation, they made it on to the plane and their parents did not. What can I tell her and her siblings about the efforts the Government will be prepared to make to reunite them with their mum and dad?

The chaos of Operation Pitting means that that situation is all too familiar for different families. We are committed to reuniting families where appropriate. If the right hon. Gentleman writes to me about that specific case, I will look at it. To restart the professional pipeline of ARAP applicants out of Pakistan and back to the United Kingdom, it is incumbent on all of us to get Afghans out of hotels. If we can do that, we can reunite families such as theirs and they can live good, fulfilling lives, integrated into UK society.

In May, I referred to the remarkable programme “Women at War: Afghanistan” by the courageous journalist Alex Crawford. I recommend that any Member of this House who has doubts about the enslavement of women in Afghanistan take a look at it. Referring to the resettlement within Britain, can the Minister give us a rough idea how many of the people concerned are translators and thus have an adequate command of English? I suspect the vast majority do not and, as a third-generation member of an immigrant family myself, I know that the key to successful integration is mastering the English language. Is there anything the Minister can do to point those people in the direction of services that might be available to help them to do that?

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his long-standing advocacy in this space. ESOL—English for speakers of other languages—courses are available to every single person who came forward from Operation Pitting. I will be honest with him, however: the grasp of English is not where I would like it to be. Some of these individuals have been in hotels for two years; those who have really thrown themselves into the process of integration into the United Kingdom have a good grasp of English and are out working, while some, unfortunately, have not matched that effort and consequently cannot speak English at this time. There are clear measures built into the funding package to ensure that learning English and helping this cohort to integrate into society are priorities. I urge Afghan families to take up that offer, because it will make their lives in the United Kingdom and getting a job here so much easier.

I start by thanking the Minister for his recent engagement and reiterating, as one of the co-chairs in the all-party parliamentary group on Afghan women and girls, that he would be welcome to attend one of our meetings and speak directly to the women and girls who join us. Many of the family units in accommodation will be headed by women. That is the reality of the devastating consequences of the conflict in Afghanistan and the brutal Taliban regime. The Minister mentioned in his remarks support for those with medical requirements, but, given that those women will have elder and childcare responsibilities and their ability to exercise their right to work will be limited, can he provide reassurance about what additional support is being given to them by the multidisciplinary teams?

Each individual Afghan—not each family—is entitled to £7,100 additional funding as they move into their receiving local authorities. There is an ongoing programme of support for those individuals. The idea that this cohort can simply be abandoned when we move them out of the hotel is clearly misguided. I have visited most of the hotels now and I have not come across a lot of female-only-led families. I have met one or two, but where we see them, we will do everything we can to support them.

I hardly need remind the Minister, as he fought in Afghanistan, but I will take the liberty of reminding the House that we lost 450 personnel killed in that theatre, and thousands more, unfortunately, sustained life-changing injuries. The right hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) is abroad on a Select Committee trip, but I have communicated with him by text to give him notice that I intended to mention him in the Chamber, so I have observed the courtesies of the House. Last night, following a visit to Afghanistan, he posted an utterly bizarre video lauding the Taliban management of the country—something a fellow member of the Defence Committee described to me barely an hour ago as a “wish you were here” video—in which he made no mention of the fact that the Taliban is still attempting to identify and kill Afghan citizens who helped our armed forces, or of the fact that young girls in Afghanistan do not even have the right to go to school under that Government. I wish to make plain, on behalf of the Committee, that he was speaking for himself, even though he used the title of Chairman of our Committee in a number of associated articles. Not in our name. He is entitled to have whatever bizarre opinions he wants, but does the Minister agree that any Select Committee Chairman who wants to remain a Select Committee Chairman should be careful to make clear that he speaks only for himself and not imply that he speaks for a number of other people who barely agreed with a word that he said?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his moral clarity in this space. Members must be extremely careful to identify when they are speaking for themselves and when they are representing a group of individuals and elected Members of this House. As I said previously, the Government position remains unchanged. The fall of Afghanistan was a tragedy. We fought the Taliban for many years, and 457 British service personnel lost their lives in Afghanistan in pursuit of freedom, peace and women’s rights, none of which are found in Afghanistan today. Whenever we speak about that country, we should bear that sacrifice in mind, because it is an everyday occurrence for families up and down the country.

As Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, I feel that I had better be very careful in how I put this question, but I think that I speak on behalf of the Committee.

In November 2021, the then Minister for Afghan Resettlement, the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), who I see is in her place, told the Home Affairs Committee, in relation to the resettlement scheme for Afghan refugees, that the Government

“want to ensure that any scheme we set up is future-proofed for the people of Afghanistan”.

Since then, the post of Minister for Afghan Resettlement has been scrapped, and its successor post—Minister for Refugees—is currently vacant. About 2,000 Afghan refugees have been stranded in third countries because they were told that there was no suitable accommodation for them here, and between January and March of this year, Afghan nationals constituted the majority of those making dangerous channel crossings in small boats, up from 5% in 2021. Are there plans to fill the post of Minister for Refugees, and will the Minister confirm that, after the enactment of the Illegal Migration Bill, Afghans who come across in small boats, including women and children, face detention and removal to a third country, possibly Rwanda?

I completely refute the characterisation of the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins). Getting those Afghans into communities is incredibly complex and it requires many Government agencies to pull together and deliver. That is exactly what the Prime Minister appointed me to do. We are all well aware of what has happened under previous Governments, but the issue now is that individuals are in hotels, which are not the right place for them to be—the right hon. Lady is well aware of the issues that have come about because of prolonged hotel stays. The offer that those individuals have through the ARAP pathway is still open. There is no requirement to take illegal routes to this country. The ARAP pathway can be applied to from third countries. The Illegal Migration Bill was passed last night, and we had numerous debates on that. I am clear that this is a good offer for Afghans who served with British forces in Afghanistan, and we all need to ensure that that offer is taken up and that we integrate those people properly into our society.

May I thank my right hon. and gallant Friend for coming to Chelmsford and meeting the Afghan families who are still in the Atlantic hotel? Staying in a hotel indefinitely does not give stability or security to any of those families, and the Government are right to give a generous offer to help those families find themselves a home. Nevertheless, my Chelmsford local authority says that the very generous £7,100 per person is not enough to find rental accommodation in Chelmsford, but it is enough to find rental accommodation elsewhere in the country. Can he confirm that that amount of money can be transferred with the family should they want to go and rent elsewhere, and ensure that that process is working for those families in Chelmsford?

First, I believe that I misunderstood the premise of what the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), said. I thought that she was giving my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins) a hard time, but she was not—I apologise for misunderstanding.

When it comes to Chelmsford and various local authorities, I have to be honest: I have seen a wildly differing spread in the application of the policy. The truth is that in some local authorities, it is an extraordinary package that is having huge success. We are seeing up-front payments for six to 12 months, deposits paid, and £4,000 loaded on to credit cards for people to go out and furnish their accommodation. On top of that, the £7,100 per Afghan—not per family—moves with them to that local authority. That is why there is no reason that any Afghan should remain in hotels beyond 31 August. As I said, I have not always seen good application of the policy by local authorities—my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) will be well aware of what I am speaking about. When I took over this brief, I was very clear with the Prime Minister that we needed to resource the policy correctly, and he has resourced it correctly. We now need to be honest, recognise that it is a good offer and get those Afghans out of hotels and properly integrated into the United Kingdom, which was the original promise of Operation Pitting.

Let there be no doubt: the situation of women in Afghanistan is dire. I know that I do not have to tell the Minister that; he knows it. Since the fall of Afghanistan, I and others have been campaigning for one particular group of women: former Afghan judges and prosecutors who were left behind and are living in fear of their lives, hiding from the Taliban. Last summer, I met those at the FCDO, who were very sympathetic to the idea of a humanitarian visa for those women, and on 3 May, I met the Prime Minister, who I think seemed very sympathetic to the idea. On 23 May, I was promised a meeting by junior Minister at the Home Office, but that has not yet happened. Is there anything that the Minister can do—bearing in mind his knowledge of the country and his appreciation of the issues—to assist me in putting pressure on the Home Office to deliver a humanitarian visa for at least some of those women?

Let me take that away. I recognise the hon. and learned Lady’s concerns, and she makes very valid points. My responsibility in this area is clear: to get Afghans out of hotels and embedded and integrated properly into UK society. Once that is done, I want to establish a professional pathway out of Afghanistan to ensure that we fulfil our duties to those we have made promises to. That is a sequential operation—I need to move the families I referred to first—but I hear what she says and will take it away.

What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that those who cannot move because of ongoing and acute medical treatment are not left homeless when the access to hotels ceases? Is that something on which local authorities need to do a lot more?

On local authorities, the truth is that, as I said in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford), there is a disparity in the application of the policy across the country. I have seen it done extremely well. I was in Bristol, near my hon. Friend’s constituency, at the beginning of the week, and I pay tribute to Anne James, who has an extraordinary record of rehousing vulnerable people coming to Bristol from across the world—that has proven to be really successful.

A small number of individuals receive specialist healthcare at hospitals close to where they are currently housed, and there will be contingencies for them, but that is a very small number. For the vast majority, there is no clear reason why they should not move out of hotels. Although we have an extremely generous offer, we also need to be firm—firm for the British taxpayer and for Afghans and their families—and ensure that we do this integration job properly.

I thank the Minister for visiting my constituency last week and meeting Afghans and local officials with me. He will have seen clearly the commitment of the Welsh Government, Cardiff Council and the Vale of Glamorgan Council to working with his officials to find a solution to this. The reality, as he heard clearly in that meeting and as I heard afterwards, is that there have been wildly different experiences across the UK of engagement and delivery on the offer that he has promised. That is why some people will sadly end up needing contingency accommodation, as he set out. I hope that that is a small number of people, and I know that the Minister wants to do his best to get those people out. Is that contingency accommodation in hotels, will there be a time limit on it, will there be a financial limit on it, and will it be in the location where those Afghans are currently housed?

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his engagement in the process. We had a useful—although very short, I am afraid—visit to his constituency to see the challenge there. He is absolutely right: the disparity in provision is obvious where he is. We need to work harder in central Government, as well as at local government level, to ensure that all the benefits of the scheme are playing out for the families we are trying to serve.

I will have more to say in due course about contingency accommodation, but clearly, where individuals are getting specialist help at local hospitals, it will be in that area. We are yet to make a decision on precisely what that contingency accommodation will look like, but as I have said from the very start of the process, I do not want to see anybody going homeless at the end of the process—nobody should be homeless. I cannot march people to private accommodation and give them all the money in the world if they still do not want to live there, but there is no reason why Afghans should present as homeless at the end of this process.

While there are clear concerns about what the Minister has announced today, it is important to recognise that there is a two-tier system, in that many tens of thousands of Afghans are currently stuck in the UK’s asylum system. Many of them have been stuck there for over two years. They, too, want to move on with their lives and are prevented from doing so. On the approach across Government, what representations can the Minister make to his colleagues in the Home Office to try to get those Afghans out of the asylum system, bearing in mind that many of them will have served with UK forces in Afghanistan or otherwise helped our forces?

Applications to the ARAP scheme by those who served alongside British forces and so on can be made from a third country and at any stage. The Home Office is dealing with the asylum system at the moment, and we have heard a lot about that in the last couple of days. My responsibility in this area is very clear, and that is to get Afghans who are already in hotels into their accommodation, but I am sure the Home Office will have heard the hon. Gentleman’s remarks.

We are aware that this is a hugely challenging space, but I hope that with this scheme, the way we have worked with local authorities and the third sector, and the fact that we have built an Afghan taskforce for those who have already settled here and have charities working for the Government, we can set down a really clear blueprint for how we do migration that could see us properly integrate people from these vulnerable situations into British society.

The Minister makes it sound ever so easy, expecting refugees to find their own accommodation with three months’ notice when they have been languishing in hotels for nearly two years and this Government have done nothing. Can the Minister confirm that no Afghan who served alongside British troops in Afghanistan will be made homeless as a result of his decision to evict them from bridging hotels? In Liverpool, we have 227 families likely to be put on the street. I have made requests on the Floor of the House and in writing to the Minister to meet me to talk about what is happening in Liverpool, and I have not had a response.

I am sorry that the hon. Lady has not had a response; I will look into that directly after this session. I am more than happy to meet at her earliest convenience to talk about these issues. I do not think I have ever said that this is easy or will be a simple project to achieve. It is incredibly complex. We have taken around 24,500 Afghans out of Afghanistan since Op Pitting. That is a huge number of people to push into an already overcrowded housing market. They now have the most generous offer this country has ever made in the private rented sector, and they get an extraordinary amount of assistance.

I pay tribute to all the Home Office liaison officers and those working at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities who are on the frontline every day, trying to house Afghan families in United Kingdom society. I am more than happy to meet the hon. Lady to go over those details with her. Where local authorities engage with central Government and my team, we are having huge success, and I encourage her to do the same.

This is a difficult process, so it is inevitable that there will be significant numbers of Afghans who struggle to find accommodation in time. How will they be supported to make homelessness applications or to present as homeless? Will there be somebody physically evicting people from hotels when the time comes, and if so, who, and what will then happen to the Afghans and their belongings?

Central Government will stop paying for these hotels when the eviction notice runs out. There will then be extra homelessness funding for those who wish to present as homeless. There is £7,100 per family to help local authorities look after them and get them out of hotels or homeless accommodation and into the private rented sector.

I come back to this point. I have been to see some local authorities, and the No. 1 thing they have said to me is, “Can we keep the hotels open?” despite how bad that is for the Afghan families and the kids who are not going to school, and the challenges it poses in the community. We have to move these Afghans on. We have to get them into private rented accommodation. There is no reason why we cannot do that, and I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman in the months ahead to achieve that.

The Minister’s officials recently visited my constituency, and they will be aware that there are grave concerns regarding the wellbeing and emotional welfare of the families involved. What additional support are the Government putting in place to help with needs that are not simply accommodation-related? Furthermore, it has been suggested that some of the same hotels will be stood up as contingency accommodation for asylum seekers. Can the Minister respond? Is that the case?

I am not in the Home Office, so I do not know which hotels will be stood up as contingency options for asylum seekers. There is some really good practice going on in Chester, but there are also some extremely difficult situations. The truth is that, while some Afghans have done an extraordinary job of trying to integrate into and relocate to the United Kingdom, I have met some individuals who have properties here but choose to live in hotels and are sending money back to Pakistan and Afghanistan, while getting food and accommodation in this country. That is the reality of the situation. While the number of those cases is small, we need to ensure that we are doing everything we can to get Afghans into sustainable accommodation. I look forward to working with the hon. Lady to achieve that objective.

I think the Minister for his statement. Five days ago, the Government published their 2022 “Human Rights and Democracy” report, in which they refer to pathway 3 and the commitment that was given. It is nearly two years since the fall of Kabul and 18 months since the opening of pathway 3. In that time, few applicants have arrived in the UK. Many Members of this House, including the Minister, fought hard for the establishment of the pathway, which was originally intended to support vulnerable groups, including ethnic and religious minorities. It was promised that 20,000 people would be resettled in the UK under the scheme, yet it appears that the number brought to the UK so far is minimal, and applications have not opened for the original groups. Given the findings of the Hazara inquiry, detailing the escalating atrocity crimes and warning of a possible genocide, why has the scheme been so slow to open and process people?

The ACRS and ARAP processes do not lie with the piece of work we are discussing today, but I am more than happy to take those points away. In context, this has been an extremely generous scheme. I recognise that there is an appetite to relocate everyone who served in the Afghan armed forces, for example. We simply cannot do that—that is half a million people. We have a special duty to those who served alongside us and those in units 333 and 444 who worked with the UK special forces community. We are doing everything we can to fulfil that, but we have to be honest and realistic about what we can do in this space.

All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that the Prime Minister is absolutely determined to fulfil our commitments to these people. That is what he said to me when I was asked to take this over, and that is what he has demonstrated with the amount of money and resource he has directed at this. If we all pull together and work together in local government, national Government and the third sector, there is no reason why we cannot successfully integrate this generation of Afghans into British society today.

Just last week, a constituent of mine who is a British citizen of Afghan descent was told that after waiting years for a resolution to his family’s case due to absurd delays at the Home Office, his five young children and wife would all be prevented from entering the UK. He was told that the documents he held were insufficient, despite having provided DNA evidence to the Home Office. The reason his required documents were not in the form they should have been in is that they were damaged in a devastating bomb blast at Kabul airport—something that my parliamentary staff can attest to because they were on the phone at the time of the bomb blast happening and have dealt with this case from that awful day. My question to the Minister is quite simple: what is my constituent able to do about that situation? How can he work with our Government to rightfully bring his family to this country without delay?

If that individual is eligible under ARAP or ACRS and is approved, the hon. Gentleman should write to me about the case, and I will look into it. The status of these individuals is determined by the Home Office, so that is a question for that Department, but I am more than happy to look into individual cases. As I have said a number of times, this is an extraordinarily complex situation; he alluded to what happened at Kabul airfield two years ago. We are determined to ensure that those we owe a duty to are brought back to this country, and I urge him to write to me about that case today.

I thank the Minister for his statement. The British Red Cross is delivering information sessions to Afghan refugees on life in the UK, digital safety, and protection and women’s healthcare. What steps are Ministers taking to ensure that they, too, provide Afghan refugees with the tools they require for successful assimilation in the UK?

There has been a huge amount of work to make sure that Afghans have absolutely everything at their disposal in order to integrate into the United Kingdom, including funding that is flexible enough to, for example, knock through houses that are built together but not sized for the bigger families that we see in this cohort; English courses and training; replicating the qualifications they had in Afghanistan; and trying to get them into the NHS. There is a wealth of opportunity out there for Afghan families in the United Kingdom today. We must present that alongside a compassionate but firm outlook that hotels are not the place for Afghan families to reside in the long term. That is why we have put so much money and effort into this. We are determined to see through our commitments to this cohort and we will get there in the end.

I thank the Minister for his statement.

Bill Presented

Members of Parliament (Oil and Gas Companies) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Richard Burgon presented a Bill to require the Leader of the House of Commons to move a Motion prohibiting Members of Parliament from receiving any financial or other benefit from oil and gas companies; to require the Leader of the House to publish proposals for divestment of the Parliamentary Contributory Pension Fund from oil and gas companies; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 November, and to be printed (Bill 355).