With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish to make a statement about illegal migration.
Tackling illegal migration is one of the Government’s central priorities because it is the British public’s priority. People can see that illegal migration is one of the great injustices of our time. It harms communities in the UK, it denies the most vulnerable refugees a chance of resettlement, and it leaves behind a trail of human misery. Indeed, the perilous nature of the small boat crossings was underscored once again last month when six fatalities occurred in a tragic incident off the French coast. My thoughts are with all those affected, and I pay tribute to the first responders in both the UK and France who worked in difficult circumstances to save as many lives as possible.
That reminds us all why we need to do whatever it takes to stop the boats, which is exactly what the Government have been doing throughout the summer. We started by redoubling our efforts to smash the criminal gangs upstream, well before those gangs are in striking distance of the United Kingdom. We have agreed a new partnership with Turkey to target the supply chain of small boats, which establishes the UK as Turkey’s partner of choice in tackling the shared challenge of illegal migration. Two weeks ago I visited my counterparts in Egypt, as the Security Minister visited Iraq, to deepen our law enforcement co-operation with two more strategically important countries in that regard.
In the UK, we have been ratcheting up our activity to break the business model of the gangs. Unscrupulous employers and landlords who offer illegal migrants the ability to live and work in the UK are an integral part of the business model of the evil people-smuggling gangs. We are clamping down on them; we announced over the summer the biggest overhaul of our civil penalty regime in a decade, trebling illegal working fines and initiating a tenfold increase in right to rent fines for repeat offenders.
As we do so, more rogue employers and landlords are getting knocks on the door. Illegal working visits in the first half of this year increased by more than 50% compared with the same period last year. So far in 2023 we have more than trebled the number of right to rent civil penalties issued compared with last year, resulting in a sixfold increase in the number of penalties levied. Following the resumption of the immigration banking measures in April, banks and building societies are now closing the accounts of more than 6,000 illegal migrants.
As we surge our enforcement activity, we are driving up the returns of those with no right to remain in the United Kingdom. Last month we announced the professional enablers taskforce, which will increase enforcement action against lawyers and legal representatives who help migrants to abuse the immigration system. Lawyers found to be coaching migrants on how to remain in the country by fraudulent means will face a sentence of up to life imprisonment.
Since our deal with Albania in December last year, we have returned more than 3,500 immigration offenders, on weekly flights. As we have done so, we have seen a more than 90% reduction in the number of Albanians arriving illegally. So far there have been more than 12,600 returns this year, with returns in the first half of this year 75% higher than in the same period last year. Of course, those changes follow the landmark Illegal Migration Act 2023, which, coupled with our partnership with Rwanda, will deliver the truly decisive changes necessary to take away all the incentives for people to make illegal crossings from the safety of France.
As we adopt a zero-tolerance approach to illegal migration, the Government have extended a generous offer to those most in need of settlement. The latest statistics published over the summer show that, between 2015 and June 2023, 533,000 people were offered a safe and legal route into the United Kingdom. Last month the Home Office resettled the thousandth refugee through the community sponsorship scheme.
While this Government’s focus is on tackling the source of the problem, we have none the less worked to manage the symptoms of illegal migration as best as is practicable. We have made significant improvements at Manston since last year, and it continues to operate as an effective site for security, health and initial asylum checks, despite the pressure of the summer months.
We have worked to ensure that when migrants depart Manston they are now heading to cheaper and more appropriate accommodation, by rolling out room sharing and delivering our large accommodation sites. Those sites are undoubtedly in the national interest, but the Government continue to listen to the concerns of local communities and Members of this House, and throughout the summer further engagement has taken place to ensure that those sites are delivered in the most orderly way possible. We have successfully ended the use of Afghan bridging hotels, with Afghan families now able to move on with the next stage of their lives in settled accommodation, and the hotels are now returning to use by the public.
Reducing the backlog in asylum cases and establishing a more efficient and robust decision-making system is not in and of itself a strategy to stop illegal migration, but it is important for taxpayer value and we have prioritised it. We have transformed the productivity of asylum decision making by streamlining processes, creating focused interviews and instilling true accountability for performance. As of 1 September, we have met our commitment to have 2,500 decision makers, an increase of 174% from the same point last year. As a result, I am pleased to report to the House that we are on track to clear the legacy backlog by the end of the year, and that recently published provisional figures for July show that the overall backlog fell.
Tackling illegal migration is not easy; more people are on the move, and more are mobile, than ever before. Countries around the world are struggling to control it. But our 10-point plan is one of the most comprehensive strategies to tackle this problem in Europe, and that is showing. As of today, arrivals are down by 20% compared with last year, and for the month of August the reduction was more than a third. That is against the reasonable worst-case scenario of 85,000 arrivals that we were presented with when taking office last year.
In contrast, irregular migration into the EU has significantly increased, with Italy alone seeing a doubling in small boat arrivals. In Italy, a 100% increase; in the UK, a 20% decrease. Our plan is working. There is of course much more to do, but it is clear that we are making progress. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement, thin though it is, and I echo his sentiments in sending condolences to the families of those six people who died tragically in the accident in the channel earlier this summer. We simply must stop these dangerous crossings.
I am absolutely bewildered that, after the summer we have had, yesterday the Prime Minister claimed victory in his broken pledge to stop the boats. This Saturday we saw the year’s record number of channel crossings, with more than 870 people making that dangerous journey in a single day, and the total number has now soared to a whopping 21,000 for the year. The only reason the number is not breaking last year’s record is the poor weather in July and August—and a strategy that depends on the weather is probably not a very sustainable strategy at all.
What has that left us with? A Government flailing around, chasing headlines with gimmicks and stunts rather than doing the hard graft of actually stopping the boats, clearing the backlog and getting people out of the hotels. Take their much celebrated small boats week last month, which turned out to be an absolute omnishambles, with taxpayers paying the price. No wonder the Home Secretary did not want to do a single interview, and no wonder she is not in the Chamber today.
Do not take my word for it: that well-known pro-Labour publication the Daily Mail did a day-by-day review. On the Monday, just 39 migrants were brought into the 500-capacity Bibby Stockholm barge. On the Tuesday, the Conservative deputy chairman admitted that his party has “failed” on immigration. On the Wednesday, the Immigration Minister sparked fresh Tory infighting over whether Britain should leave the European convention on human rights. On the Thursday, channel crossings hit their highest daily number for the year. Then, to cap it all, on the Friday, all the asylum seekers were removed from the Bibby Stockholm because of the presence of legionella in the water supply. You could not make it up.
The Bibby Stockholm was supposed to be a symbol of the Conservatives’ cutting asylum costs, but the Minister has not even mentioned those costs today. Instead, it stands alongside the boats and the hotels as a floating symbol of Conservative failure and incompetence that is costing the taxpayer half a million pounds a month. On top of that, new Home Office data in August showed us that the asylum seeker backlog has grown ninefold to an enormous 175,000 under the Conservatives at a cost of £4 billion a year to the taxpayer—incredibly, eight times higher than it was when Labour left office in 2010. That waste is the cost of 13 years of Conservative neglect.
Today, we debate the cost of the spiralling asylum backlog, driven by cutting the costs of asylum decision making in 2013. Yesterday, the Chancellor was promising to spend “whatever it takes” to fix crumbling classrooms caused by the Prime Minister’s cuts to the schools budget as Chancellor. Tomorrow, we will no doubt be back to the economy and the financial costs of low growth and spiralling mortgages. Everywhere we look, we see the costs of Conservative incompetence.
The Minister speaks now of this new deal with Turkey. Well, I am glad that the Government have started to listen to Labour—we have been calling for tough action to disrupt the gangs upstream for well over a year—but this looks pitifully weak. This announcement comes with no new funding or staff, meaning that officers could be taken off existing functions. That stands in contrast to Labour’s fully funded plan to hire hundreds of specialists specifically to work on that challenge. Meanwhile, Turkish nationals have become one of the largest groups crossing the channel this year.
The Minister boasts about returns of failed asylum seekers going up, but they are actually down 70% compared with when Labour left office in 2010. Forty thousand are awaiting removal, and, at the current rate, it will take the Government more than 10 years to achieve their target. Two thousand fewer foreign national offenders are being removed per year compared with when Labour left office in 2010.
The Minister brags about the legacy backlog—a figment of the Prime Minister’s imagination—going down, but he knows full well that the only backlog that matters is that of the 175,000 people, and that number is still going up. We know that the Government are cooking the books in that regard, marking large numbers of asylum seekers as “withdrawn” because they have missed a single appointment or failed to fill in a form correctly. A Conservative Back-Bench MP described that as an amnesty in all but name.
The Minister has decided to make illegal working even more illegal. The problem is that there has been a lack of Government enforcement. Employers who are exploiting and illegally employing migrant workers should face the full force of the law, but in reality, the number of penalties issued to firms has fallen by two thirds since 2016.
There are so many questions that it is difficult to know where to start, but let us start with these: when did the Minister know about legionella on Bibby Stockholm? How much is the barge currently costing? How many people are currently in hotels? Does he actually intend to implement the much-vaunted Illegal Migration Act 2023? The Prime Minister keeps declaring victory, but the reality is that nothing is working and everything the Government do just makes everything worse, so when will they get out of the way so that we on the Labour Benches can take over, implement our plan and retake control of our broken asylum system?
That was a desperately thin response. We can deduce from it that the Labour party has absolutely no plan to tackle this issue. Of course the hon. Gentleman has had a quieter summer than me, but that is because the Labour party is completely uninterested in tackling illegal migration.
The hon. Gentleman talks about small boats week. Well, let us see how it went for the Labour party. On Monday, the Government announced the biggest increase in fines for illegal working and renting for a decade, while Labour MPs called for illegal migrants to have the right to work immediately, which would act as a massive magnet for even more crossings. On Tuesday, we announced our professional enablers taskforce to clamp down on lawyers who abuse the system, while Labour MPs were awfully quiet, weren’t they? They did nothing to distance themselves from the litany of councillors and advisers exposed as being implicated in efforts to stop the removal of criminals and failed asylum seekers. On Wednesday, we announced a partnership with Turkey to smash the gangs, while the shadow Home Secretary claimed that morning that what we really needed was a return to the Dublin convention—something that even the EU described as “prehistoric”.
The truth is that the Labour party has no plan to tackle this issue, and does not even want to tackle it. We on the Conservative Benches are getting on with the job, and we are making progress: while the rest of Europe sees significant increases in migrants, we are seeing significant falls. Our plan is the most comprehensive of any country in Europe and it is starting to work.
I thank the Minister for his statement. Of course, he is more than aware of the various reports over the summer regarding the Wethersfield site in Braintree district in my area. Could he explain how long the Government will be using that site? Is the five-year period that has been publicly reported correct? What planning processes will be used beyond the 12 months permitted under the class Q regulations? Are the Government considering increasing the £3,500 per bed space given to councils if the site remains open for more than a year?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for the co-operation that we have had in respect of that site. I know that she supports the use of large sites, such as disused military bases, for that purpose—it was her policy when she was Home Secretary. We want to use that site for the shortest possible period. We have not put an end date on our use. We have taken advantage of the emergency planning powers that are available in these circumstances; she knows that that has a limited timeframe, after which further action needs to be taken. It is important that we provide the local community with the resources necessary to manage such sites appropriately. That is why we have provided the £3,500 payment. If the site is used for a sustained period, it is correct that we should look again at that and see whether a further payment is appropriate. We have also provided funding for Essex police and for her local NHS services so that the pressure on her constituents, and those of her neighbouring MPs, is as minimal as possible while we deliver this service in their area.
The Minister comes here again with another statement, but the problem is not the boats; it is the backlogs. He comes here fiddling figures with legacy backlogs, but the flow backlog of people coming into the country continues to increase, and the hidden backlog—those granted asylum by the courts but left waiting for his party to complete the paperwork—grows and grows. In reality, we have a backlog of 175,000 people waiting for a decision from his Department—the highest number since records began— and we local MPs get only boilerplate replies that give no reassurance to our constituents left in limbo by his incompetent Department.
We all want to see an end to the small boats and to people risking and losing their lives in the channel, but that requires safe and legal routes, which do not exist. They certainly do not exist for Iraqis, Iranians, Eritreans or Sudanese people. For Afghans, the Afghan relocations and assistance policy and the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme, which they should be able to access, are not fit for purpose, either. Fewer than 50 people have been settled through pathway 3 this year, but just shy of 2,000 have come on small boats in the past two quarters because the system is broken and the Government are not interested in fixing it.
Has the Minister met the Fire Brigades Union regarding his expensive plague ship moored off Dorset? Has he given any thought to how his Illegal Migration Act will actually work? Many in the sector do not understand and have not had any guidance from the Minister on what will happen to the people left in immigration limbo by his Department.
Finally, Scotland has sought an alternative to this broken system, and in the summer we launched our “Citizenship in an independent Scotland” paper. The Government are more interested in pulling up the drawbridge and courting the Daily Mail, so will the Minister devolve immigration to Scotland and let us get on with the job of being a welcoming country and playing a role in the world?
When I last called out the hon. Lady’s humanitarian nimbyism, the statistics were stark—in fact, they have continued to be so. The SNP Government still accommodate only 4.5% of the total asylum population in the UK, while Scotland makes up 8.1% of the overall UK population. In Scottish local authorities where the SNP are the largest party, including in Clackmannanshire, Dundee, East Ayrshire, East Dunbartonshire, Midlothian, North Ayrshire and Falkirk—I could go on—no asylum seekers are being accommodated. In fact, there were only 59 more asylum seekers in SNP-controlled councils in the two months that have passed since we last debated this issue.
The reason I say that is that I do not believe that Members should come to this place and write cheques for which other people have to pay. The costs of SNP Members’ fake humanitarianism are borne by everyone but themselves. If they do not want illegal migrants in their own constituencies, then they should support our effort to stop the boats.
Order. This is a very important statement, but we have the remaining stages of the Energy Bill later, which is not protected time. Many people wish to speak, so I urge colleagues to ask one short question of the Minister on matters for which he has responsibility, as opposed to matters for which he might not, so that he is able to give quick answers. Leading the way will be Sir Edward Leigh.
When the Prime Minister announced that he was imperilling £300 million- worth of levelling-up investment on RAF Scampton, he said he was going to lead by example by accepting migrants into Catterick camp in his constituency. Home Office officials have now informed us that that is not happening, so where is the leadership in that?
It gets worse. I was informed by West Lindsey District Council that, despite being told that the scheme was value for money and will have to be available for three years not two, the value for money is infinitesimal compared with hotels—it will not even save money for a few days on hotels. Will the Minister now drop this ridiculous scheme, which is derisory and will do nothing for deterrence, and sit down with me and West Lindsey District Council to work out a discreet location for illegal migrants in West Lindsey?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his question and our continued co-operation. We believe that this policy is in the national interest. It is right that those coming to this country are accommodated in decent but never luxurious accommodation, so that we do not create a pull factor to the UK. It is through delivering sites such as Scampton—which I appreciate have a serious impact on his constituents—that later this year I hope we will begin to close hotels in earnest and return those facilities to the general public for tourism, business and leisure, which I know is supported by Members across the House.
On behalf of the Home Affairs Committee, may I send our thoughts and prayers to all those affected by the loss of life in the channel last month?
The Home Affairs Committee has long urged the Government to clear the asylum backlog, and I am pleased that the legacy backlog is starting to shrink. However, there are important questions about the quality and quantity of decisions. On quality, it was reported in The Sunday Times last week that interviews have been slashed from seven hours to 45 minutes. Could the Minister explain how the Home Office is evaluating and guaranteeing the quality of those decisions?
On quantity, the Home Office has reportedly doubled the rate of decision making on the legacy backlog since the end of June. What resources and support will be offered to local authorities when they start having to deal with the dramatic increase in the number of positive asylum claim decisions?
On the first of those two important questions, the right hon. Lady is right to say that the work we have done to transform the decision-making process is bearing fruit. There will be an increase in the number of decisions—a very sharp one—in the weeks ahead. That will mean some more people being granted but also some more people being refused who then need to be removed swiftly from the country. In respect of those people being granted, I am working with the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to provide the support and guidance to local authorities that they will need. However, those people who have been granted—particularly young adult males—need to get on with their lives, get a job and contribute to British society, which is what I think they want to do.
We have achieved this transformation through better management, performance targets, working overtime and having shorter, more focused interviews. I do not believe that we need to have a seven-hour interview to identify the salient points and decide a case, and that has been borne out by the good work we have done in recent months. I think Members will see, as data is published in the weeks and months ahead, an absolute transformation in the service.
The Minister is absolutely right to be doing everything to tackle the small boats issue and illegal migration. Over the summer months, nearly 500 asylum seekers have arrived in destinations in Chelmsford, and I am grateful for the time he has spent speaking to me about it. Local people are really worried about extra pressure on local health services, local housing lists and other local services. Will he work with me to ensure that areas that take larger numbers of asylum seekers get financial support, so that this cost is shared fairly across the whole country?
Yes, I would be happy to continue to work with my right hon. Friend, as we have done in recent months. We have provided £3,500 per bed space to local authorities that house dispersal accommodation, which goes to meet the costs to them of looking after these individuals, but she is right to say that the wider costs of housing asylum seekers are very high—there is no escaping that. That is one of the reasons we need to reduce the number of people coming into the country in the first place.
Over the past few years, the Government have allowed the backlog of asylum claims to rise and rise to over 170,000. For all the Minister’s warm words, progress in tackling it has been disgracefully slow. What additional measures will the Minister now implement to get that backlog down and reduce the need for his Department to scrabble around for additional accommodation, which often proves to be unsuitable and impractical, such as the Stradey Park Hotel in my constituency?
I hope I have already described in previous answers the work that we have done. I can assure the hon. Lady that it is bearing fruit and that the backlog of legacy decisions will be cleared by the end of the year, and we will swiftly move thereafter to other decisions. Order and efficiency have been restored to the asylum decision-making process, but just waving more people in and processing their claims faster is not a strategy to stop the boats in and of itself. That is why we need the full deterrent and the comprehensive plan that we have.
One of the issues that is putting pressure on asylum accommodation is the very poor performance in Labour-run Wales, which has taken only 2.9% of the total asylum population, yet Wales accounts for 5.2% of the UK’s population. In some areas of Wales—such as the constituency of the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock)—there are no asylum seekers whatsoever. I would strongly encourage the hon. Lady to speak with the Welsh Government and get them to step up and help us provide more accommodation.
I very much agree with what my right hon. Friend said about the importance of effective processing, but he is right about the underlying importance of having a clear plan to deter people from coming to this country illegally, which leads us to Rwanda and the upcoming Supreme Court judgment anticipated later this year. Does he recognise the very strong sentiment among many of us in the House—and, indeed, among many of my constituents—that if the Supreme Court rules against the Government’s policy on this vital question, we should withdraw from the European convention on human rights?
Parliament’s support for our Rwanda plan was made clear with the passage of the Illegal Migration Act 2023. That is a statutory scheme to underpin the Rwanda partnership, so the will of Parliament to get on and deliver the policy is clear for all to see. I am confident that we will secure the result that we seek in the Supreme Court when it hears the case in October, and that is the Government’s focus right now, but like my right hon. Friend I do not think we should take anything off the table. If we are truly committed to stopping the boats, we will have to consider all options, including with regard to the European convention on human rights.
If the Government’s attention is so strongly focused on crossings in the channel, can the Minister explain to me why one of the four Border Force cutters spent so much time this summer tied up at a pier in Orkney? We have a history of people coming in small boats to Orkney, but the Vikings have been quiet for quite a while now. Is that not a curious use of that scarce resource?
I am happy to look into that issue, and I am delighted to see the right hon. Gentleman’s Damascene conversion to stopping the boats. I can assure him that the UK has a very robust and efficient operation in the channel. We have been commended by international organisations—including when I spoke to the director general of the United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees—for the work that we do to save lives at sea in the channel. I commend the Border Force officers who are part of that. At the end of the day, though, we have to put in place a deterrent if we want to stop people crossing the channel, and that is why we need policies such as Rwanda, which the right hon. Gentleman and his party have vigorously opposed.
I echo the comments of the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), about the tragedies in the channel. It is a miracle that more lives have not been lost.
The Minister has committed to subsidising the French police force to the tune of £480 million, and yet, as at the end of August, the number of successful interceptions on French beaches was 45.2%, which was down from 45.8% in the previous corresponding period. Over the same time, the Belgians have managed to increase the number of successful interceptions by 90%. Will the Minister have a word with his French counterparts to suggest that they have a word with their Belgian counterparts, to see what they are doing differently? Are we paying the wrong country?
First, I would say that the number of small boat arrivals coming to the UK has fallen by 20%. That is a very significant achievement, bearing in mind the context of a 100% increase in Italy and corresponding amounts in other border states of the European Union.
However, my hon. Friend is right to say that, despite elevating relations with France to their highest level for many years and doing a great deal of work, there is clearly more that we need the French to do for us. He is particularly right to focus on Belgium: I visited there recently and met with the Belgian Interior Minister, and the approach that that country has taken has been extremely helpful. It has worked very closely with the National Crime Agency, Border Force and policing in the UK, and has been willing to intercept in the water small boats leaving its shores. That has proven decisive: small boats from Belgian waters are now extremely rare, so that is an approach that we encourage the French to follow.
The Minister will be aware that the cases in my constituency are being processed. From what I have seen, the vast majority are being given leave to remain. The Minister advised me that those people would then be given 28 days’ notice to leave the hotel but, last week, I sent him examples of cases where they have been given five, seven or nine days’ notice. That is creating a homelessness problem in my constituency, because the time is not available to set up the arrangements to house them. The local Christian centre workers have been housing them in their own homes as well, which is wonderful, but we cannot go on like this. I was to meet the Minister next week, but that meeting has been postponed. I would be very happy to meet with his officials, Hillingdon Council and the local Christian centre to talk through how we can resolve this problem, but it is a matter of urgency.
I was not aware that our meeting had been postponed—I will look into that immediately after the statement. In one sense, the issue that the right hon. Gentleman has brought to the House is a sign of progress: it means that the work we have done to clear the backlog and create an efficient service is now bearing fruit, and more decisions are being granted. In fact, in the last week in August, over 2,000 decisions were granted in a single week, which is the highest for several years. That will mean that there will be increased pressure on some local authorities, such as the right hon. Gentleman’s, which houses a very large number of asylum seekers. Particularly with respect to families, local authorities will have duties and responsibilities that will be challenging for them. I am very keen to work with him and other Members across the House who are affected by that.
I greatly commend the Minister for the progress he has made with respect to procedure and to the disreputable lawyers who have been exploiting the system, and for the procedures that he has announced today, but could I say something on the question of the Supreme Court? The Supreme Court is going to make a judgment. Could it possibly be encouraged to go more quickly? It really is important: the perception in the country is that nothing is being done, which is not true. The Government have behaved extremely well in relation to the Act of Parliament that has just been passed.
On the question of the ECHR, it is not necessary to abolish the entire convention in these circumstances regarding the issue of illegal immigration. If the Supreme Court case were to go the wrong way, we can tailor legislation: we can use the “notwithstanding” formula and tailor it to the specific requirements that are needed, which would be limited but extremely effective. Will the Minister please bear that in mind?
I have always taken and valued the advice of my hon. Friend in this regard. We will, of course, consider what action we need to take if there is a negative judgment from the Supreme Court, but that is not our expectation: we are going to vigorously contest that case and expect a positive outcome. The Supreme Court is going to hear the case in the middle of October and I hope that those justices will come forward with their decision expeditiously because—as my hon. Friend has rightly said—the country is waiting for action and the good work we have done thus far is not enough. We have to go further and, at the end of the day, that will only happen by putting a decisive intervention such as the Rwanda policy in place.
All this just confirms that the hostile environment is still alive and well. The Minister talks about reducing the backlog; how are cases within that backlog being prioritised? I have a constituent who was caught up in the tragedy at the Park Inn hotel in Glasgow in 2020—a city, incidentally, that takes more of its share of asylum seekers than any other local authority area in the country. He was the roommate of one of the attackers. He was told that he would have a decision by 25 October 2022, so nearly a year later, what is his place in the backlog queue?
I am happy to look into the case that the hon. Gentleman raises but, as I have said in answer to numerous questions, we are now making very strong progress with the backlog. We are making decisions at a rate that has not been seen for several years and that is escalating rapidly, but the fundamental difference of opinion between him and his party and ourselves is that we do not see clearing the backlog as a strategy for stopping the boats. It is an important thing that we need to do as a country, in order to operate an efficient system in the interests of British taxpayers, but it is not enough. We have to put in place a deterrent that fundamentally breaks the business model of the people smugglers so that people will not want to come here in the first place.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement regarding the Professional Enablers Taskforce, and encourage him to make sure that that taskforce looks at the entirety of lawyers’ interventions in the immigration system. I for one am sick and tired of having people come to my surgeries who have spent years in the immigration system, with application after application that have no chance of ever succeeding, but are making lots of money for the solicitors advising them.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right—I speak as a former solicitor, so I mean no harm to the profession, but the abuse that I have seen in my role over the past nine months is truly shocking and has to end. I am pleased that the Solicitors Regulation Authority has taken swift action against the lawyers and legal representatives who were identified by the Daily Mail over the summer, but that is the tip of the iceberg. There is much more work to be done by the profession and I hope this taskforce will root out that abuse as quickly as possible.
I envy the Minister’s apparently limitless capacity for self-congratulation, but it does not bear much relationship to what people are experiencing on the ground. I went to visit migrants in a hotel in Chesterfield; there were 81 people there, not a single one of whom had had their case heard. The Minister is apparently congratulating himself on the most basic improvements that any competent Home Office should have been making over the past 18 months. How does he explain the fact that, under this Government, more migrants are arriving, yet 70% fewer are being returned than in 2010?
I can tell the House what would happen if the Labour party was in charge of returns. [Interruption.] No, this is an important point to make. The right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), during his campaign to be leader of the Labour party, campaigned to close detention centres. Dozens of Labour MPs have campaigned against immigration removal centres, and numerous Labour MPs have sided with dangerous foreign criminals versus the British public, opposing their removal from this country. The Labour party, including the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr Perkins), opposed our reforms to modern slavery legislation—reforms that were essential in order to remove people from this country expeditiously. While we are getting returns up—as I said in my statement, they have already risen substantially—I worry what would happen under the Labour party, because it has absolutely no strategy to tackle that issue.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the very helpful telephone calls I have had during the summer concerning the Bibby Stockholm barge, which is in Portland port in my constituency—something that the majority of us oppose, as he knows. We do not have any migrants on board due to the legionella problem, and I understand that the Government are facing various legal actions, not least from the Fire Brigades Union. Could he kindly update me and my constituents on the situation concerning that barge, and when and if the migrants will return?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the co-operation that we have had over the summer. I appreciate his position with respect to the barge, although we believe it is important that we move away from expensive hotels to more rudimentary forms of accommodation such as barges. It was very unfortunate that migrants had to be moved off the barge over the summer. We deeply regret that. We did take a very precautionary approach. Tests have subsequently been carried out and the definitive answers to those tests will be received very shortly. Assuming that they show no signs of legionella, or indeed any other bacteria or cause of concern, we will move people back on to the boat as soon as possible and I think we can expect that within weeks.
Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), the European convention on human rights was negotiated some 70 years ago, long before international criminal gangs engaged in trafficking people across Europe and, indeed, more widely. Does not my right hon. Friend agree that now is the time for the Government to make an approach to the Council of Europe with a view to renegotiating the terms of the European convention, because clearly it is not protecting our borders or those of many other countries across Europe?
My right hon. Friend is correct to say that the framework of international treaties, many of which were forged in the years after the second world war, now appear out of date given the challenges that we face today, and that is a sentiment shared by other European countries we have been working closely with. We have sought to put illegal migration and reform of the international framework on the table for all of the international fora that the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary or I are represented at, and we will seek to make the UK a leading force in reform on that issue. Other countries are looking intently at the work we are doing, particularly the Rwanda partnership and, once we are able to establish it, I think it is very likely that other countries will follow suit.
It is nearly a year now since the Home Office first requisitioned two hotels on Bostock Lane in my constituency and, despite numerous commitments from the Dispatch Box, hundreds of migrants are still housed at that location. I appreciate my right hon. Friend’s good intentions and the hard work he has put in, but my constituents really want to know when the sites will be closed and when the hotels will be returned to their originally intended purpose.
Three things have changed decisively over the summer. First, it is increasingly clear that the numbers coming over are lower than last year as a result of the plan that the Government have put in place, particularly the deal we struck with Albania that has been so successful. Secondly, the backlog clearance work that we have done is bearing fruit, as we have already heard today. Thirdly, we have doubled the number of asylum seekers living in each room, whether that be in hotels or in dispersal accommodation, saving the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds. Those three things lead to the ability to exit hotels in the near future and we are working very closely on plans to do so. I know how strongly my hon. Friend feels, so when we are able to do so, her hotels should rightly, because of some of the issues that have been experienced by her community, be top of the list.
My right hon. Friend will be aware of an unwritten deal, but a deal based on trust, that east Kent would not be facing any accommodation because of the pressure that Dover is obviously facing and the pressure we have in Manston as a primary dispersal centre. So he can imagine my displeasure that a hotel in Cliftonville, the Glenwood Hotel—a small facility of just 21 rooms—is being readied to be set up on 20 September. I am unhappy about this because of, as I say, the deal based on trust because of the pressure that east Kent is bearing. I would certainly hope my right hon. Friend will intervene to make sure that this pretty insignificantly sized facility will be withdrawn.
In my last communication with Doncaster Council, there were 6,710 people on the housing waiting list and we have hotels that are full, too. So will my right hon. Friend continue his great work, and make sure that we stop these illegal boats and reduce immigration to a sizeable level?
I strongly support the view of my hon. Friend. He is right to say that illegal migration places immense pressures on public services, housing supply and community cohesion. That is what we on this side of the House understand and that is why we are taking the action that we are to stop the boats.
I have had numerous conversations with my hon. Friend about that hotel. I hope that we will be in a position to exit hotels shortly, as a result of the work we have done to restore order to the asylum decision-making system and the reduced numbers of illegal migrants crossing the channel.
I was pleased to see the reduction by 20% in the year to date and, of course, the work that has been happening with Albania, but residents in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke are concerned about the increased numbers coming from Turkey and India. What assurances from the Prime Minister has my right hon. Friend and the Home Secretary had about a returns agreement being included in any free trade deal that we sign with India?
My hon. Friend is right to point out that there have been significant numbers of illegal migrants from both those countries. I visited Turkey earlier in the summer, and one of my objectives is to create an enhanced arrangement for returns with Turkey, with which we are working very closely in that regard. For India, the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and I have been meeting Indian counterparts regularly to increase the return of illegal migrants there. That is absolutely essential, because the number is very substantial.
I very much agree with the Minister that we must increase deterrence if we are to reduce the numbers of people coming here illegally. A key part of that is increased deportation, so what is the Minister doing to ensure that we increase the number of deportation facilities and increase the speed of those deportations?
We have one of the largest detained estates of any major European country, and we are increasing it. We are investing in two new ones that will come on line next year, and we are looking for further opportunities as well. That is quite right, because under the Illegal Migration Act individuals who come to this country illegally will be detained and then swiftly removed.
I welcome the progress in processing applications. Will my right hon. Friend commit that the extra resources will be maintained and the focus on productivity improved to deal with the legacy events and then other cases, while doing the important work of stopping the flow?
Yes, I was very pleased that we met our pledge to increase the number of decision makers to 2,500 from 1 September. That is coupled with management changes so that there are financial incentives and proper accountability for the civil servants involved. We are seeing now the fruits of that labour, with a much more productive service than we have seen for many years.
The one-year anniversary of the Novotel in Ipswich being taken over by the Home Office is about to be met. My right hon. Friend knows how strongly I feel about this. Anger in Ipswich has not abated. Looking at that hotel—a blaze of light—and knowing that those people, who broke our immigration rules, are getting three meals a day during a cost of living squeeze has caused immense anger. Will my right hon. Friend outline a timescale to get the Novotel back to its proper use, which would be good for the economy. It would also be good for fairness, and a sense of fairness is vitally important.
I hope that I have given my hon. Friend some reassurance that we are now at a point where we can move forward with exiting hotels—we will come back to the House in due course to set out those arrangements—but he is right that this is a fundamental question of fairness. It is not appropriate for people who have broken our laws and come into our country illegally to be accessing luxurious accommodation that is way beyond the means of millions of our fellow citizens.
The Royal Hotel in Kettering and the Rothwell House Hotel in Rothwell are unsuitable as asylum hotel locations, not least because of their heart-of-town-centre sites. The Minister already knows the strength of local feeling about those two hotels. Local people want them back as normal hotels. I believe they are on 12-month contracts. Will he ensure that those contracts are not renewed when they come to an end?
My hon. Friend has made very strong representations on behalf of his community, and he and I met earlier in the year to discuss that further. When we are in a position to close hotels, it will be ones like his—small hotels in market towns that take away very important community assets—that will be top of the list.
Reducing the asylum backlog is important, but we absolutely must not fall into the trap of having a de facto amnesty to try to achieve that. In the past year we approved the claims of 73% of applicants, including many from undisputed safe countries, while France approved just 25%. Why are we approving nearly three times the proportion of claims approved by France, given that this is clearly one of the pull factors that draws people across the channel?
That is a very important question. We have not done an amnesty—that is what the last Labour Government did when they had a backlog of asylum decisions. We have chosen to do good, old-fashioned management reforms to make this service more productive and deliver for the taxpayer. We have also taken on this issue in respect both of countries with high grant rates, such as Afghanistan, and of those with low grant rates, such as Albania, and we have rapidly got through those cases. There are a number of nationalities—Egypt, Turkey, India—where grant rates should be very low indeed because there are very few circumstances in which somebody should be successfully claiming asylum in this country. We want to ensure that our asylum grant rates are no higher than those of comparable European countries.
I welcome the near end to illegal Albanian immigration, the crackdown on immigration lawyer abuses, and UK Visas and Immigration caseworkers helping MPs. However, as more asylum seekers become refugees, has my right hon. Friend considered creating a homes for refugees programme, building on the successful Homes for Ukraine scheme?
It is worth remembering that those individuals granted asylum are predominantly young men of working age, and I would hope that they will integrate into society, get a job and start contributing to the UK—that is certainly our intention. I do understand that there will be some pressures on local authorities, and we are working through those with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. That Department is considering the possibility of a homes for Afghans scheme, but that is in respect of the Afghan relocations and assistance policy and the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme, which cover a different cohort of individuals where that kind of intervention is more appropriate.
Although I am pleased to see the 20% fall in channel arrivals this year, I do not believe we will see a more meaningful fall until we get the Illegal Migration Act 2023 operational. I know that we are waiting for the Supreme Court and I urge it to hurry up, but given that the Government lost only on a very narrow point that was specific to Rwanda, can my right hon. Friend reassure the House that, should they lose in the Supreme Court, the Government have alternatives planned so we can get removals going as soon as possible?
Of course, we consider all eventualities, but my hon. Friend is right to make the point that we won in the High Court and the Court of Appeal on the fundamental question: can a country such as ours enter into a partnership with another whereby asylum claims are heard there? Despite the many individuals who offered contrary opinions, that was deemed to be legal and in compliance with our obligations under the refugee convention. That was a huge step forward. There is a narrow point to resolve and we hope we will be successful in that regard in the Supreme Court in October, but my hon. Friend knows of our determination to tackle this issue one way or another.