House of Commons
Monday 22 November 2021
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
I have a short statement to make about the new pass reader voting system. New, upgraded pass readers have been installed in the Division Lobbies and will be in use from today’s sitting. Colleagues will notice that the pass reader screens will change from purple to white when a Division is in progress. Hon. Members should tap their pass to record their name only when the screen indicates that a Division is in progress. If any Member has not yet registered their pass to work with the new pass readers, they should contact the Public Bill Office as soon as possible. I remind the House that the new system will be effective tonight.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Asylum Seekers: Hotel Accommodation
The Department has long-term plans and proposals to change the way we accommodate asylum seekers.
Residents of Tatton are concerned about the ongoing nature of supposedly temporary accommodation for immigrants who arrive in the local area. Some hotels are becoming full-time immigration centres and those residing there are in limbo in our town centres. What is the timescale for processing these individuals and for reverting the accommodation back into hotels?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right in her comments. Through changes linked to the new plan for immigration we will end the use of hotel accommodation for asylum seekers, which was a result of the pandemic—we had to take decisive action to ensure that those seeking asylum in the UK were protected under covid measures. It was a short-term solution and the new plan for immigration includes long-term changes in the offing for asylum accommodation.
One big reason why we need to use hotels is that the asylum processing system has basically imploded. The share of applications that received an initial decision within six months fell from 87% in 2014 to just 20% in 2019. What is the Home Secretary’s explanation for that?
There are a number of factors in terms of why there has been slowing down in the processing of asylum claims. In particular, because of the covid pandemic last year, decisions were not made and we had to change our accommodation policies in the light of Public Health England guidance, which is well documented and well known. That has put pressures on the wider system. Of course, the hon. Gentleman will be well aware of the proposals in the new plan for immigration on not only processing, fast-track removals and the changes we are making in legislation, but the digitalisation of the system. We will move from paper-based decision making to digitalisation and that work is already in train.
Asylum seekers are given somewhere to live while their application is being processed, along with £39.63 per person to pay for food, clothing and toiletries. It says on the Government website:
“If you’ve been refused asylum”
you will still be given somewhere to live and still be given
“£39.63 per person…for food, clothing and toiletries”.
Why on earth is the state still providing accommodation and money for people who have been refused asylum? Surely that is when Government support should be turned off.
We agree that hotel use should end, but we should go back to the community dispersal of asylum seekers throughout the country. We need to ditch this ludicrous and dangerous idea that hotels are some sort of luxury for asylum seekers, because for very many of them the opposite is the case. The Home Secretary knows that the increased use of hotels has seen increased deaths in the asylum accommodation system. Why is the Home Office still placing large numbers of asylum seekers in unsuitable hotels in inappropriate locations, without so much as notifying the relevant local authority, never mind seeking its agreement or ensuring that appropriate levels of support are in place?
The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is, of course, because local authorities around the country, and particularly in Scotland, have not played their part in helping with dispersal accommodation. The hon. Gentleman should be ashamed of himself for coming to the House and making that point when the Scottish Government have done absolutely nothing to lift a finger in supporting the policy of dispersal accommodation. [Interruption.] In response to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), the answer in relation to Birmingham is because the rest of the United Kingdom is not playing its part.
That is one of the most outrageous answers that this incredible Home Secretary has ever given. Every single local authority in Scotland is anxious to play its part in resettling refugees. When it comes to dispersal accommodation, Glasgow has stepped up to the plate while other local authorities are withdrawing from the scheme, and they are doing so, quite rightly, because the Home Office refuses to put in place the support that is required to encourage them to do that. Instead of community dispersal, the Home Office is planning to press ahead with large-scale warehousing of asylum seekers in Napier-style accommodation centres. That is worse even than hotels. Will she confirm that the Home Office will, at the very least, seek local authority permission for building these centres in the middle of people’s local authorities and will not seek to bypass local democracy, as it did with Napier barracks?
We on the Conservative side of the House will take no lectures on bypassing democracy or local councils. For the record, 31 local authorities out of 32 in Scotland have refused to participate in the dispersal scheme. I say to the hon. Gentleman and to all Members of the House that, when it comes to changes to asylum accommodation, the whole of the United Kingdom needs to step up and play its part. That is how we will address the long-term issues with accommodation more widely. [Interruption.] I can hear the hon. Gentleman say, “You need to play your part.” On the funding side of matters, it is absolutely correct to say that the Home Office, working with the former Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, has been doing everything possible to provide local authorities with financial support and assistance, but certain councils around the country still say no.
International Workers with STEM Qualifications
Attracting international talent is a key component of our global, points-based immigration system, delivered as we promised the British public at the 2019 election. This system is designed to attract global talent, sponsored by employers, bringing the best scientists, engineers, academics, and other people with skills to our country.
Last week, I met the chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, to discuss the challenges facing Britain as we seek to become a leading science superpower. He spoke of the need for cross-departmental support, including from the Home Office, to ensure that Britain is competing in the marketplace of global excellence. Can my right hon. Friend update the House on what conversations her Department has had with UK Research and Innovation with respect to the global talent visa route, and how well she expects it to work?
This is an important area in developing global talent and making sure that we, as a country, are attractive and can become the science superpower that we aspire to be. The chief scientific officer has indeed been leading this work with the Home Office and with the Treasury. In response to my right hon. Friend’s question, I can say that there is a great deal of work taking place, that these routes are open and that he will hear a lot more about the applications and the numbers that are coming through, but I can assure the House that the Home Office and this Government are absolutely dedicated to making sure that we get the brightest and the best over to our country through this new route.
Preventing Violence Against Women and Girls
Our strategy is a whole-system approach, with different local agencies—for example, the police, healthcare and social care—working together to ensure more effective interventions. To that end, we have put in place guidance, training and online resources for the police and healthcare and educational professionals, and we will shortly be refreshing our national statement of expectations to support local areas in commissioning services.
The unacceptable and continued prevalence of misogyny and violence against women and girls highlights the need for multi-agency partnerships, but the funding is woeful, yet the challenge is great. Will the Minister ensure that the police, who are ever focused on crime detection rather than crime prevention because of the lack of resources, have the resources at hand to build the multi-agency partnerships that are vital to change the culture?
I reject what the hon. Lady says about funding and resources. In her area, the police are receiving their fair share of the 20,000 additional police officers we have pledged to hire. She will already see 114 additional officers in her area, and the police are receiving up to £171.7 million of funding—an increase of £5.5 million—so I suggest that she talks to her local police and crime commissioners and ensures that they are prioritising that funding in the right way.
Domestic violence is one of the ugliest and saddest outcomes of some of the measures that the Government were forced to introduce to handle the covid pandemic, but may I draw the Minister’s attention to the excellent work of the domestic abuse charity Atal y Fro in my constituency, which has encouraged GPs to follow the IRIS—identification and referral to improve safety—programme, enabling them better to identify some of the more prevalent symptoms among victims of domestic violence?
I thank my right hon. Friend for drawing the attention of the House to that excellent programme, which highlights the important role that frontline GPs have in identifying and getting help to victims. I have been informed that he ran the London marathon to raise funds for a charity in his area. I congratulate him on all the hard work that he is doing; I am sure that those services will benefit enormously.
I have a point about the funding. The Randox contract that was granted without any tender is five times the amount that we spend on domestic violence refuges for the entire country—just FYI.
In September, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services published a report making clear the current failings, and pushing for the implementation of its urgent recommendations to improve our national response to violence against women and girls. On 22 September, 18 October and 8 November, I asked the Minister if and when the Government would implement the recommendations in full. I am at risk of sounding like a broken record, as I ask again now: will the Minister today commit to keeping to the very detailed action plan commanded by the inspectorate within the timescale that it states? I do not want to hear again, or in a few weeks’ time, that the Department is still looking closely at the recommendations. Will she commit to them today?
No, that is not relevant. This is a very important subject, and victims and support services deserve to know that this Government are on their side.
Let me turn to the report referenced by the hon. Lady. This is not a broken record. These are the facts: we are responding and taking action, which is why the Home Secretary is leading on a ministerial group across Government, bringing together the whole of Government to bear down on the recommendations outlined in the report—[Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Lady would like to listen to the Minister. We have also appointed Maggie Blyth to lead the work across the entire police force and criminal justice system that will focus on addressing violence against women and girls, which is a priority for this Government.
The UK Government are addressing the challenge of illegal migration for the first time in decades through comprehensive reform to break the entire business model of people smuggling. For the first time, whether someone enters the UK legally or illegally will have an impact on how their asylum claim is processed and on their status in the UK if that claim is successful.
At the referendum, us Brexiteers told the people that we would take back control. It is clear that, in this aspect, we have lost control. If we tell the most desperate economic migrants in the world, “We will provide a free border taxi service across the channel, we will never deport you and we will put you up in a hotel for as long as you like”, is it any wonder that more and more come? This is now a national emergency. Will the Home Secretary introduce an emergency powers Act to override the Human Rights Act, if necessary, and put people in secure accommodation now? Otherwise, we will not solve the problem.
My right hon. Friend will be well versed in the work that we are doing through the Nationality and Borders Bill, which speaks to the points that he has been making about asylum, processing, deportation and fast-track removals, and which, importantly, will ensure that we break the business model of traffickers who are smuggling people into the United Kingdom. I have always said—
My apologies, Mr Speaker.
As I was saying, the new plan for immigration and the Nationality and Borders Bill are pivotal to the comprehensive reform of the entire system. There is no single solution, which is why the Bill is so important. I know that all hon. Members on the Government Benches will back the Bill, in stark contrast with those on the Opposition Benches.
Online fraud can cause very serious harm to victims, both financial and emotional. We are determined to protect the public from these crimes and to go after those that commit them. The draft Online Safety Bill will be one important tool to enhance our abilities in that.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that update. Ofcom allows those who receive spam text messages to forward them to a service, 7726, to report the receipt of those messages. How will the law enforcement agencies use the data acquired to locate and to punish the perpetrators of those crimes?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting the 7726 service, because referrals to that help to build up the intelligence on SMS fraudsters or scam texters and can help to lead to take-downs. It is really important that law enforcement works both with regulators and directly with individual telecoms companies to protect victims and go after the criminals responsible.
Modern Slavery Offences
Modern slavery is a truly awful crime. Statistics for England and Wales show that police-recorded modern slavery offences increased by 2% in the year to June 2021, and live investigations also increased from 188 in December 2016 to 3,869 in October 2021. We are committed to tackling modern slavery and we have invested £15 million to strengthen the police response over the past five years.
Prosecution and conviction rates of perpetrators of modern slavery are surprisingly low. Evidence from Justice and Care’s victim navigator programme shows that with appropriate support more victims would have the confidence to help investigations, resulting in more prosecutions. Will the Minister please consider giving all confirmed victims at least 12 months’ support in the country so that they can feel empowered to engage with the justice process?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question; she has highlighted an important issue. The whole point of our modern slavery strategy is to be able to track down and prosecute those horrendous criminals who heartlessly traffic human beings into this country. The entire force of the Government’s policy making is devoted to that end.
Many people who are victims of modern-day slavery are those who have been illegally trafficked into this country across the channel. What are the Government doing to break up the criminal gangs dangerously smuggling people across the channel and bring an end to these illegal crossings?
I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting that. There are a range of measures in the Nationality and Borders Bill. I very much hope that Opposition Members will support those measures so that we can break down these criminal gangs. We are also working very closely with the police and we have invested additional funds in our courts system to catch up from the backlog of the pandemic.
I have heard what the Minister has said, and we can all agree that perpetrators of modern slavery are committing heinous crimes and must be brought to justice. With that in mind, I wonder whether Government Ministers have read the independent anti-slavery commissioner’s recent article entitled “Rushed borders bill will fail victims of modern slavery”. Will the Government urgently act to address the failings in the Nationality and Borders Bill before it effectively tears up the Modern Slavery Act 2015, letting down victims and letting perpetrators get away with their crimes?
I can assure the hon. Lady that I meet the independent anti-slavery commissioner and she plays a very important role in informing the Government’s policy. I can also assure her that the Nationality and Borders Bill is going to strengthen the Government’s response and support for the victims of modern slavery. We have a world-leading system to support and protect victims of modern slavery that we have backed with significant Government resources and investment. The legislation that we are passing will enable us to respond more compassionately to those victims.
While the Minister is absolutely right to say that we lead Europe on modern-day slavery, the question asked by the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) goes very much to the heart of the matter: if we want more prosecutions, we need more victims to come forward. The way to do that is that if they are coming into this country irregularly they need a year of leave to remain here so that we can get at these—please excuse this if it is not parliamentary—evil bastards. Will the Minister reply to the hon. Lady’s question: can we have that year?
I can reassure my hon. Friend and all Members in the House that those victims who are working closely with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service are looked at on a case-by-case basis. Where they are assisting the police and the criminal justice system with their inquiries, they are permitted to stay in this country, and our legislation that we are bringing forward will clarify that further. [Interruption.] I have met victims of modern slavery, thank you, I say to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), who is speaking from a sedentary position.
I hope I have answered my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone). I am happy to speak to him in more detail. I make it clear to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley that I have met victims of modern slavery. I have heard their stories, which are shocking, and we are putting all our efforts into preventing these crimes and dealing with the people who perpetrate them.
Tackling Violent and Sexual Offences
Crimes of violence against women and girls are abhorrent and have no place in our society. Maggie Blyth has been appointed as the new policing lead for tackling violence against women and girls. We have launched a £5 million safety of women at night fund, and we will be launching a national communications campaign focused on targeting perpetrators, educating young people and ensuring victims can access support.
The sexual abuse and grooming of our young women and men is a heinous crime, and it is outrageous that victims should come into contact with their perpetrators after those perpetrators are released from prison. Successive Home Secretaries, including the present Home Secretary directly, have promised me that action would be taken where appropriate to deport those perpetrators. Can we know what progress has been made? If there has been no progress, will the Home Secretary agree to meet me?
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has indicated that she would be very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman. We all recognise the need to tackle these absolutely disgusting crimes, and I am sure that the whole House would support what he is asking for.
Drugs, speeding and ineffective response times were top issues at the crime forum I held in Breightmet and Tonge with the Haulgh, but it was violence against women that gave me pause during that event. What is being done to tackle violence against women in Bolton?
I thank my hon. Friend for how he is focusing on this issue. We have a national programme to support women and girls’ safety and, as part of that, Greater Manchester has been awarded £1.5 million from the Home Office’s domestic abuse perpetrator programme fund. The fund works with perpetrators to get them to change their behaviour. It is very difficult but important work, and it is taking place specifically in Bolton. One of the partners is Talk, Listen, Change, which has been accredited by the organisation, Respect, as delivering very high-quality interventions.
Police-recorded incidents of antisocial behaviour show a fall from 2.1 million in 2013-14 to 1.8 million in the year to June 2021. The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 provides flexible tools and powers for local agencies to tackle antisocial behaviour.
Following Conservative cuts to the policing budget, the police stations in Penge and Sydenham have both closed. Meanwhile, reports of antisocial behaviour locally have been rising, and recently we have seen a sharp increase in thefts from cars. Will the Minister back Labour’s plan to roll out neighbourhood police hubs to help tackle crime and antisocial behaviour and provide a visible police presence, or will she continue to let down our communities?
The hon. Lady will know that our beating crime plan has set out that neighbourhood hubs are an integral part of the response. Policing in London is the responsibility of the Mayor of London. The Metropolitan Police Service is one of the best-funded forces in the whole country, receiving more than £3 billion in 2021-22, an increase of up to £132.4 million. It already has an additional 2,070 officers on the beat.
Last Thursday evening, I was at the Smallthorne Community Centre with the Smallthorne Village Residents Association, local Staffordshire police officers and police community support officers. One of the biggest issues that came up was the antisocial behaviour of a tiny minority of feral youths. Will the Minister tell me: what are we going to do about those youngsters and their parents, to get them out cleaning the streets and looking after the community so that they can pay back my local community for the lives they are ruining?
My hon. Friend strongly represents the views of his constituents. None of us likes to see that type of low-level disruptive crime, which has a devastating impact on communities. I thank him for championing his police force. Our neighbourhood crime plan is an integral part of tackling such crimes.
Antisocial behaviour is blighting communities: it has gone up by a woeful 70% across the country in the last year. Since the Conservatives took power, twice as many people say that they never see a police officer on the street. The Leader of the House said:
“I have often found…that a quiet word from a police community support officer can nip…antisocial behaviour in the bud.”—[Official Report, 13 May 2021; Vol. 695, c. 273.]
We totally agree. Will the Minister restore some of the 50% of PCSOs whose posts the Government have cut?
Before the Minister says that she is recruiting 20,000 officers, let me point out that we know that only 400 of the first tranche of 6,000 are in neighbourhood roles. Will she give victims of antisocial behaviour the same rights as other crime victims—if the Government ever get round to publishing the victims Bill—or do they still think that what she describes as “low-level” antisocial behaviour is not worth tackling?
The hon. Lady has taken my words out of context. Neighbourhood crime encompasses a vast spectrum of crimes that have a considerable impact on local communities, as I made clear at the Dispatch Box earlier. Those are a range of crimes that are at the centre of the Government’s response in our beating crime plan. We have made it clear that increasing the number of police officers on the beat is a priority. We are already more than halfway through our plan to deliver an additional 20,000 police officers on the street. The neighbourhood crime plan is part of our plan. It is for local forces to determine the operational priorities in their areas.
Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme
Through the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme, the UK will relocate up to 20,000 at-risk people in the coming years. We are working urgently across Government and with partners such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to design the scheme. We continue to support the thousands of people successfully evacuated from Afghanistan under Operation Pitting, and we will continue to support those who come under the scheme when it opens.
It is now almost exactly three months since Operation Pitting came to an end. My constituent continues to update me on the situation facing her brother, who is in hiding in Afghanistan with his wife, mother and three small children. Since the evacuation ended, they have lost an uncle and a cousin, both murdered by the Taliban, and they have received numerous threatening messages. They live in daily fear for their lives, yet the Government will not issue papers to give them the best chance of safe passage to the UK via a third country. Does the Minister have any regret that we are three months on and the scheme has not yet opened? When will she give some hope to people in such desperate circumstances as my constituent’s family?
The hon. Lady has articulated the real dangers that many are facing in Afghanistan; I think we can all agree on that. The reality is, however, that the ever-changing security situation in Afghanistan means that we still have no UK consular presence or Army presence there. That is something that we and other countries around the world that are trying to help Afghan people are having to grapple with. We are working at pace and we want to set the scheme up as an example of a safe and legal route under the Government’s new plan for immigration.
Since mid-August, Germany, a country that has not had the military and overall engagement of the UK in Afghanistan, has flown more than 6,000 Afghans to Germany and provided them with protected status under its humanitarian admission programme. Can the Minister tell me what conversations she has had with counterparts in the European countries running such schemes to help to enable the quicker opening of the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme? There is a real risk that the people whom the scheme is intended to help will die before it becomes operational.
I know the hon. Gentleman well, and I know that he will not have overlooked the 15,000 people whom we evacuated during the emergency conditions of Operation Pitting. Of course, there are still agreements carrying on with third-party countries for evacuating people—where it is safe to do so, where checks have been conducted and so on—each and every week. Not only do we have the ACRS in the process of being built, but we are meeting our commitment to those who have worked with the UK Government and the UK Army under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy, so work is ongoing to protect people. We are working with international partners; indeed, I met the German delegation during the Conservative party conference to discuss with them the work the Germans are doing. However, we are very much in the hands of our international partners when it comes to opening up safe and legal routes through Afghanistan to us.
I am sure you agree with me, Mr Speaker, that special constables are among the most remarkable citizens in the land. We are bringing forward legislation to enable them to become members of the Police Federation, so that they can access the same support and protection as regular officers. We will also be introducing the police covenant in legislation shortly to ensure further support and protection for the police workforce, including special constables.
I thank the Minister for his answer. Special constables are often on shift during the busiest periods, as they tend to volunteer at weekends and in the evenings, and as a result are exposed to quite high levels of trauma. I give credit to the Stroud special constables, and ask what my right hon. Friend is doing specifically and actively to support their training for and meet the mental health needs of their unique roles?
I am grateful for the fact that the welfare of this special—in every sense of the word—group of people is at the forefront of my hon. Friend’s mind. She will be pleased to know that the Government continue to fund the national police wellbeing service, which provides support and particularly post-traumatic incident services to all police officers, including special constables. As I said in the earlier part of my answer, there is more that can be done, and by making sure that all special constables are full members of the Police Federation, they will be able to access the significant support that that organisation can provide.
The beating crime plan laid out the Government’s commitments to working with local agencies to drive down antisocial behaviour, and we are committed to ensuring that victims of antisocial behaviour get the response they deserve. The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 introduced specific measures designed to give victims and communities a say in the way that complaints of antisocial behaviour are dealt with, and this includes the community trigger—an important safety net that gives victims of persistent antisocial behaviour the ability to demand a formal case review.
Does the Minister agree with me that if her Department was fit for purpose, local councillors in my constituency from her party as well as from mine would not be forced to find the funding for neighbourhood policing after 11 o’clock at night, because Government cuts have left the hard-working officers I have met so overstretched in the fight against crime and antisocial behaviour?
I am sure the hon. Member will agree that local councillors of all parties want to tackle the scourge of antisocial behaviour that affects their residents. Local areas have the powers and the funding from the Home Office. The Mayor of West Yorkshire, a Labour Mayor, is receiving up to £510.8 million of funding, which is an increase of £25.8 million on the police settlement of last year, and she has also been able to recruit an extra 619 officers to tackle these priorities.
County Lines Drugs Gangs
The Prime Minister issued an instruction that we should roll up county lines, and that is exactly what we have been doing for the last two years. Since 2019, we have invested over £65 million, including over £40 million committed this year. This has already resulted in the closure of more than 1,500 lines, over 7,400 arrests and the safeguarding of more than 4,000 vulnerable adults and children.
I thank the Minister for his answer. I was very pleased, recently, that a county lines dealer who had been flooding towns across Cornwall, including Truro, with drugs was jailed for five and a half years. There is a lot more to do in Cornwall, because we are seeing an increase in the impact of county lines drugs activity and all the crimes that go with it. Can the Minister confirm that the Government are aware of the issues in Cornwall and assure me that they are committed to working with our brilliant police and crime commissioner, Alison Hernandez, and the six Cornish MPs to address the continued problems, in particular how the Government can support the wider roll-out of Project ADDER?
I am focused on the impact of drugs across the whole country, and particularly in areas such as Devon and Cornwall, where I know the chief constable, and Alison Hernandez, the police and crime commissioner, have been doing an enormous amount of work. This problem is so prevalent across the United Kingdom that every part has to work together, and I am pleased that Devon and Cornwall Police have been working closely, particularly with the Metropolitan Police and Merseyside Police, which are the two key exporting forces for drugs into my hon. Friend’s area. She might be interested to know that recently the British Transport Police, which plays a critical part in gripping the network that distributes the drugs, conducted a fixed-point pilot at Basingstoke Station. It intercepted drugs that were heading towards her constituency, and I hope she will soon feel the effects of that.
May I echo the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory)? There have been very successful disruptions to county lines in my Wiltshire constituency, and I pay tribute to Philip Wilkinson, the police and crime commissioner, and to Wiltshire Police. It is great that they can work in partnership with all the Conservative PCCs across our region, and with the Government. The challenge now is to move one level down, below the cities to the market towns and rural areas, which is where the problem with drugs really manifests itself in my area. Will the Minister continue the efforts on county lines, and ensure real support for local efforts at disruption, not just at regional level?
My hon. Friend is exactly right, and as my constituency neighbour he feels the same impact on our rural towns and villages as I do. He is right: as I said earlier, this is such a comprehensive problem that market towns and villages must work with large urban areas, and we have to grip the transport network in between. Particularly key is that we aim to take out those who perpetrate this “business” while sitting in the comfort of their homes in a city. The great development in our effort against county lines has been the ability of the police in Liverpool, west midlands and London—the three big exporting areas—to find those guys and take them out.
Refugees: UK Resettlement Scheme
We have been welcoming refugees through the UK resettlement scheme since its launch in March 2021. That commitment will ensure that we continue to offer safe and legal routes to the UK for vulnerable refugees in need of protection, with our focus firmly on helping people from regions of conflict and instability directly.
I am proud that Liberal Democrat-run Richmond Council, and many of my constituents, stated early during the Afghan crisis that refugees are welcome in our borough, and that they would work hard to support and rehouse those evacuated. Over the past few weeks some £6,500 has been spent on family homes for evacuees from Afghanistan, but as yet no families have been resettled in those homes. Not only is that a waste of taxpayers’ money, but presumably there are many families in unsuitable hotel accommodation. What is the Minister doing to ensure that families who have been evacuated will be resettled quickly where accommodation is available?
The comments by Richmond Council certainly contrasted with the approach that the Lib-Dem leader of Torbay Council took when first asked to take part in the Afghan resettlement scheme, but it made a welcome U-turn and we will play our part. Work is being done across the Government to support those who arrived as part of the emergency evacuation back in August, and those who will arrive under the resettlement scheme, to ensure they can be housed quickly.
Removal of Illegal Migrants
Our new plan for immigration makes it easier to remove illegal migrants who have no right to be here. The one-stop process that we are introducing through the Nationality and Borders Bill will be fundamental to delivering on that in future. The Home Secretary has also been setting up a mix of formal and informal returns agreements with other countries, in order to tackle the drivers of illegal migration. Examples of that work include our new formal arrangements with India and Albania.
Does the Minister agree that when millions of people voted to leave the European Union, they did so to take back control of our borders—no ifs, no buts—and on our own terms, not only if the French agree? Does he also agree that, in a spirit of taking back control, we need to intensify our movements towards offshore processing, which we know was successful in Australia where, when it was introduced, the numbers fell of a cliff straightaway?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is a passionate advocate for his constituents on this issue. I, too, was on the frontline of that campaign in 2016, and I am very sympathetic to the point that he makes. There is no one single solution to this problem. The measures that we are introducing through the Nationality and Borders Bill are comprehensive, but we also need that co-operation with our French partners, and to tackle this issue upstream.
Our Nationality and Borders Bill sets out comprehensive measures to deter illegal crossings, tackle the criminal gangs responsible and protect lives. We are using all available options to bring crossing numbers down. The Home Secretary and the French Interior Minister agreed to accelerate the delivery of their joint determination to prevent all crossings and make this deadly route unviable.
Given that we have given tens of millions of pounds to the French, including in night-vision equipment, automatic number plate recognition technology and access to drones, is it not completely disgraceful for large groups of French police to be pictured on the beaches in France waving large boats of migrants across the channel, as we have seen in recent days? If we are giving the French this money, please can we insist that they use it to stop this illegal flow?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and neighbour for his question. The Home Secretary had a constructive conversation last week with the French Interior Minister. He has repeatedly said that the determination is to stop 100% of these crossings. We entirely support that endeavour, and we must work towards that end. Clearly, the policing response on French beaches is integral to that, but it is also welcome that, for example, there has been a greater effort to disband some of the camps that we have seen around beaches.
The kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer was devastating. I am launching an independent inquiry into exactly what happened, and I am pleased to confirm to the House that the right hon. Dame Elish Angiolini QC has agreed to be the chair of that inquiry. Dame Elish is an exceptionally distinguished lawyer, academic and public servant. Her extensive experience includes a review of deaths in police custody, as well as a review for the Scottish Government of the handling of complaints and alleged misconduct against police officers.
The inquiry will be made up of two parts. Part 1 will examine how this monster was able to serve as a police officer for so long and seek to establish a definitive account of his conduct. The independent police inspectorate is already looking at vetting and counter-corruption capability, which will enable the inquiry to examine vetting and re-vetting procedures in detail, including his transfers between forces. Part 1 will also seek to understand the extent to which his behaviour rang alarm bells with his colleagues. The chair will report to me as soon as is practical. The Home Office will then publish the report, and I will set out the terms of reference for part 2, which will consider the broader implications for policing arising from part 1.
The inquiry will begin as a non-statutory inquiry, because I want to give Sarah’s family closure as quickly as possible. As Members know, statutory inquiries can be long-running, with limited flexibility; sometimes, recommendations are not made for a number of years. However, I will not rule out converting this inquiry to a statutory footing should Dame Elish feel that she is unable to fulfil the terms of reference on a non-statutory basis.
Sarah Everard’s life was ended too early by an evil man whose job it was to protect her. We owe it to her, and to her loved ones and her family, to prevent something like this ever happening again.
I thank the Home Secretary for her reply, and I very much welcome what she has said at length.
Eighty per cent. of the working-age population living in the Lake district already works in hospitality and tourism. The Home Secretary will see that there is therefore no reservoir of domestic labour available to fill the gap left by her restrictive new visa rules. Will she recognise that we have a special case in the Lake district? We are the biggest visitor destination in the country outside of London, with one of the smallest populations. Will she meet me, and tourism industry chiefs in the lakes and the dales, so that we can come up with a youth mobility visa with European countries to solve the problem and get our economy working again?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I would like to praise his hospitality sector. He represents a very beautiful part of the country. Of course, we want hospitality and tourism to thrive across the United Kingdom. I would be delighted, together with my colleagues, to meet him and his hospitality sector. Youth mobility is not just an EU matter; it is now a global matter. There is a great deal of work taking place on youth mobility schemes, including work that we are doing with countries outside the EU.
My hon. Friend is right to highlight her farmers’ excellent Cornish produce; I have sampled much of it, through her. First and foremost, through our reforms to the immigration system, there are routes in place already to provide support to the agriculture sector. I have been working with colleagues in DEFRA on that. She will be very familiar with the seasonal agricultural worker pilot scheme; as she will recall, we have increased the number of people who, through that scheme, can work in key agricultural sectors. Finally, she will be aware that a great deal of work is taking place in DEFRA to ensure more investment in people in the domestic labour market, so we are investing in skills.
I welcome the appointment of the chair of the inquiry set up following the terrible Sarah Everard case, but I say to the Home Secretary: put it on a statutory footing now. The Daniel Morgan inquiry was on a non-statutory basis, and it still took eight years, so time is not an argument for not doing that.
The year before the Home Secretary was appointed, 297 people risked their life crossing the English channel in small boats. This year, 25,700 have made that perilous journey. The Home Secretary has blamed the French Government for this, and the European Union. Over the weekend, there were even reports that she is yet again trying to shift blame to officials in her Department. A simple question: why will she not show some leadership and accept the responsibility that lies with her for this dangerous situation?
First and foremost, on the public inquiry that I have announced on the murder of Sarah Everard, I restate for the record and for the right hon. Gentleman that I will work with Dame Elish. I have also been very clear to Sarah Everard’s parents, who do not want this to drag on. We owe it to Sarah’s family in particular to make sure that the inquiry works for them, and that they are protected throughout the process. I have had conversations and dialogue with them about that.
On channel crossings, leadership absolutely is on the side of this Government. That is why we are bringing forward the new plan for immigration. The right hon. Gentleman will be well aware that crossings do not happen automatically; they happen through migrant movements, and through people smugglers not just in France but further upstream, right back into Africa. A great deal of work is taking place across the whole of Government. Yes, we are trying to stop the crossings and break up the gangs—
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Government deal with the French authorities is failing. The Government have closed down safe routes, such as the Dubs scheme, and they have cut the aid budget, which was addressing the reasons why people flee their homes. They do not even have successor agreements in place to the Dublin III regulation. Last week, while chatting to journalists in Washington, the Home Secretary yet again vowed to make the channel crossing route unviable, but nothing happens, and ever more people continue to risk their life. Will the Home Secretary admit that the fact that the Cabinet Office has been brought in to try to sort this out is a sign that she has lost the trust of not only the country, but her colleagues?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. That is why the legislation has been put together in conjunction with the Ministry of Justice, which has an important role in working with specialist immigration law firms and changing our laws. He will know the details of the Nationality and Borders Bill and the comprehensive work that is taking place.
I am certainly happy to look into the matter and meet the hon. Member about the case to which she refers. We have put additional resources into the Windrush compensation scheme team to ensure that we can get the decisions that people deserve.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He clearly understands the importance and significance of proscribing Hamas in all its forms. When the motion comes to the House for debate this week, I hope that all Members of this House will support it, because clearly inciting and supporting terrorist activity is simply wrong.
The hon. Lady will know that I cannot answer that question on the Floor of the House, but I am very happy to take the name of her constituent afterwards. I have to emphasise, however, that if people remain in Afghanistan, as I have set out on the Floor of the House and in my “Dear colleague” letter, we simply cannot casework them at the moment in the way that parliamentarians would expect, because of the security situation in Afghanistan.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There should be no room for confusion in people’s minds: drugs are bad in all their forms, and this Government will do everything we can to restrict supply and deal with demand.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight the importance of the police force’s response to the domestic abuse of all victims. I will be very happy to meet her.
My hon. Friend is right, and he will know that through the Uplift programme we are pushing hard to increase the diversity of UK policing so that the police force looks like the population whom it seeks to protect and represent. We have instituted a review of vetting across policing and, indeed, wider work on police integrity generally, but we are also talking to police leaders about the signal that they send internally within the force to create a culture that inspires trust and a sense of integrity in the British people. I should add that it is important that the police fulfil the basic expectations of every single subject in this land, and in doing so inspire the trust that my hon. Friend seeks.
I entirely understand the concern of the hon. Gentleman and, indeed, the House about the situation in Afghanistan, but the reality is as it is on the ground. We wish it were otherwise, but it is not, so we are working apace—but carefully—to ensure that when the scheme is launched it works well for the people who are eligible for it and works well over the years in which it will operate. There is, I am afraid, no quick answer to this; we must act carefully, and we must reflect the reality on the ground in Afghanistan.
A few moments ago the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), quoted the number of people who had crossed the channel in small boats, and used that number to attack my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the best way to deal with people crossing to these shores illegally is to support the Nationality and Borders Bill, and will she join me in condemning the Opposition parties who vote against every single measure?
My hon. Friend is, of course, absolutely right. It is particularly staggering that in Committee the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous), condemned the record of the previous Labour Government, who used to argue that people should not be making crossings of this sort, and that they should claim asylum in the first safe country that they reach. That is exactly what should happen.
There are many reasons why domestic abuse victims may not be able to report abuse and violence straight away, including the fact that that abuse and violence is continuing, but when they do, too often an unfair six-month time limit on prosecuting common assault domestic abuse means that they are denied justice and the perpetrators are let off. I tabled an amendment to lift the limit, and it is being debated this afternoon in the House of Lords. Will the Home Secretary now accept that amendment, and give justice to thousands of domestic abuse victims who are currently being denied it?
We have always been clear about support for domestic abuse victims. The right hon. Lady will recognise that in the landmark Domestic Abuse Act 2021, the work done in both Houses during its passage, and our response to everyone who has been a victim of domestic abuse. From a policing perspective, I should say that resources are there, and that we are doing everything possible to join up the system with the criminal justice system and the Crown Prosecution Service to ensure that all the necessary support exists for those victims.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s announcement of the new chair of the Sarah Everard inquiry, but, as has been mentioned, even non-statutory inquiries can be very long. Can the Home Secretary assure us that the necessary steps on vetting and the treatment of and sanctions in relation to sexual misconduct allegations will be taken in the interim?
Absolutely, and that is why we are pressing ahead with the inquiry on this particular basis. Let me say to all colleagues throughout the House that throughout all the discussions, and in view of the obvious sensitivities surrounding the murder of Sarah Everard, much thought and consideration has been given to the timeframe, but we are looking at the most pressing issues to see what lessons can be learnt and applied to policing as soon as possible.
A number of Government Departments have withdrawn from the Stonewall diversity champion scheme over concerns about the misrepresentation of equalities law and the resultant failure to respect the rights of all protected characteristics. What are the plans of the Home Office in respect of its membership of that scheme?
It is fair to say that, through the Nationality and Borders Bill, we are putting in place a comprehensive package of measures to deal with this issue. Central to that work is the issue of offshore processing, and we reserve the position to do exactly that.
The Home Secretary will be acutely aware that Colin Pitchfork, the double child rapist and murderer, is now back behind bars. The fact that he was released in the first place shows that something is profoundly wrong at the heart of the system. What conversations is she having with the Justice Secretary to ensure that this never happens again?
This is a very important case, and many conversations are taking place across Government, particularly with the Justice Secretary, the Ministry of Justice and the Parole Board. I cannot add any more than that. Obviously there are some things out in the public domain, but a lot of discussions are taking place right now. This should never happen.
Channel Crossings in Small Boats
The number of people coming into our country illegally on small boats is unacceptable. It is the result of a global migration crisis. Just last week, I met my counterparts in the US, who are grappling with similar diplomatic, legal, legislative and operational issues. It is fair to say that in all my dialogues with counterparts and Interior Ministers, including the Polish Interior Minister this morning, similar feedback is taking place across the board.
We would be in a much worse position if it were not for the work already untaken by the Government. We have ensured that the National Crime Agency has the resourcing it needs to tackle and go after the people-smuggling gangs, resulting in 94 ongoing investigations, 46 arrests and eight convictions this year. We have also: reached two new deals with France, putting more police officers on French beaches and introducing new groundbreaking technology to better detect migrants; set up a joint intelligence cell with France to target migrant interceptions on French beaches; introduced new and tougher criminal offences for those attempting to enter the UK illegally; laid statutory instruments to stop asylum claims being made at sea; and agreed returns deals with India and Albania—and had discussions just last week with Pakistan—to take back more foreign national offenders and failed asylum seekers, with more returns deals imminent.
All these measures form part of the new plan for immigration, which I launched in this House in February this year. The remaining components of that plan are currently making their way through Parliament in the Nationality and Borders Bill, and I look forward to working with all colleagues to ensure that it receives Royal Assent as soon as possible. The Bill introduces a range of measures, including but not limited to: a one-stop appeals process; the ability for asylum claims to be heard offshore in a third country; the ability to declare those who arrive in the UK having passed through safe countries where they could have claimed asylum inadmissible to our asylum system, meaning no recourse to public funds and limited family reunion rights; visa penalties for countries refusing to take back their nationals; quicker returns of foreign national offenders; and a new age verification to prevent adult asylum seekers from posing as children.
If any hon. or right hon. Members have concrete proposals that are not already featured in the new plan for immigration, I would be happy to meet to discuss them. My door is always open, particularly to those from the Opposition Benches because of course they attack the new plan for immigration. They have not supported it and they voted against it, not because they are genuinely frustrated at the number of illegal migrants entering our country, as those on this side of the House and the British public are, but because they will always stand up for unlimited migration and free movement. They have always said that and always will do. That is why they have voted against the new plan to tackle crossings, with the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) opposing the development of operational solutions to turn back the boats. He even refuses to say if his ambition is to reduce the number of illegal migrants coming here. Can he do so today?
Those on the Government Benches will continue to confront this difficult and complex issue, no matter how controversial or complex others may deem it to be. We will find legislative and operational solutions, and we will treat this with the same grit and determination with which we have treated all the other challenges our country has faced, including leaving the European Union and delivering a points-based immigration system. Let me restate, as I did in February and have done repeatedly, that this will take time. The only solution to this problem is wholesale reform of our asylum system, which the new plan delivers.
Some 25,700 people have risked their lives in these most dangerous shipping lanes this year alone. As the Home Secretary knows, the Government have already spent more than £200 million of taxpayers’ money on deals with the French authorities that are not working. The situation is getting worse. Will the Government commit to transparency on how the money is spent?
On 9 August, I asked the Home Office to facilitate a visit for me to Calais so that I could scrutinise what the money was being spent on. I eventually had a response last month from the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove), referring me to the Foreign Office. I still have no substantive response. What do Ministers have to hide? I am conscious that I am being challenged about our position on the Nationality and Borders Bill, so let me make it absolutely clear: a Bill that breaches the refugee convention, that reduces protections for victims of modern slavery and that will not help the situation in the channel is not worthy of the Opposition’s support.
The Home Secretary has repeatedly made pledges that the route across the channel will be made unviable, but, as usual with this Government, it is all empty rhetoric and broken promises. The Home Secretary has blamed everyone but herself, and now we know that the Minister for the Cabinet Office, the right hon. Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Steve Barclay) has been brought in to look at this. Can we have some clarity from the Government? Who is actually in charge of immigration policy? Is it the Home Secretary or the Cabinet Office? Is not the fact that another Cabinet Minister has had to be brought in evidence that the Home Secretary has lost control of this dangerous situation?
Of course, this would be the time of the week where we hear complete and utter nonsense coming from the Opposition Benches—for a change, I should add. Let me start with a number of facts. The right hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) asks about the Cabinet Office’s involvement; that is because—to restate something I have said again and again—this is a whole-of-Government effort. There is no single solution to fixing a global migration crisis. He speaks about a visit to Calais; from my last record, the United Kingdom is not responsible for visits to Calais, but I will happily take him to some of our processing sites around the country.
However, let us be very clear. The right hon. Gentleman has stated yet again that his party will not support the new plan for immigration or the Nationality and Borders Bill, which is the long-term solution to breaking the model, to reforming the asylum system, to deterring illegal migration and to addressing the underlying pull factors of the UK’s asylum system. It will introduce a one-stop appeals process, which clearly he and his party are against; it will ensure that asylum claims can be heard offshore in a third country and it will ensure that those individuals who come to our country not as genuine asylum seekers, but as economic migrants, can claim asylum in first safe countries. That is on top of a raft of operational and diplomatic work that is taking place—not just in France, by the way, but in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Greece and Italy. We still speak to our European counterparts, and it is important that the Labour party acknowledges that Interior Ministers collectively have recognised a global migration problem.
I have said from the outset that this problem will take time to fix and that there is no silver bullet. The only solution is wholesale reform of our asylum system. Labour has consistently voted against the plan to do that. Instead of making practical suggestions, the Opposition are totally divorced from reality. They do not have a viable plan. The right hon. Gentleman constantly says that I should deepen my co-operation with France, while also criticising the Government for giving money to France to patrol its beaches. He has suggested the problem is down to reduced aid—failing to note that France is not a recipient of UK aid.
All the while the Nationality and Borders Bill is in Committee in the Commons, yet the Labour party continues to defend the rights of foreign national offenders, including murderers, rapists and those involved in the drugs trade—criminals, Mr Speaker. Labour has objected to provisions designed to prevent late submissions of evidence used to block removals of the very people we are trying to remove from our country, as well as to the one-stop-shop appeals process; it has opposed measures to tighten up immigration bail and to stop illegal migrants absconding. I come back to my opening remarks: we have a long-term plan to address these issues, while the Labour party will do everything possible to stop that plan from coming together.
This is why we are bringing in new legislation. These individuals are putting their lives at risk and putting their lives in the hands of people smugglers. I come back to the work we are doing with the National Crime Agency, which has the resources and is going after the gangs, resulting in 94 ongoing investigations, 46 arrests and convictions—the last conviction was made last week, of an Albanian people smuggler.
Nobody wants to see people risking their lives in crossing the channel, but it is time for the Government to swap sensationalist rhetoric and barbaric Bills for evidence-based policy. The fact is that a significant majority of these people are likely refugees—Home Office officials have previously acknowledged that and so should the Home Secretary. Regardless of whether they are or not, these people should be treated decently and fairly, not criminalised, offshored or warehoused. The Home Secretary’s Bill is picking on asylum seekers instead of people smugglers—it is desperate stuff. There is no silver bullet, but we need co-operation with our neighbours to tackle smugglers and a two-way transfer agreement that allows for families to be reunited here, as well as for removals, where appropriate and lawful. In other words, we need to fix the problems that Brexit has caused. The Brexiteers have made their bed and they should lie in it. The Government cannot legislate their way out of this. We know already that inadmissibility rules have made things worse, not better. We know that offshoring will cost a fortune, will not work, and will destroy lives and any credibility that the UK has left—[Interruption.]
I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, as that gives me the chance to repeat that we know already that offshoring will cost a fortune, will not work, and will destroy lives and any credibility that the UK has left. So it is time for the Government to ditch the criminalisation and the other cloud cuckoo policies that the Home Secretary’s own civil servants are criticising, and start working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the independent inspector of borders, with their real-world, evidence-based and lawful recommendations.
I am going to restate that the Nationality and Borders Bill, which is going through Parliament, will make life harder for the criminal gangs behind these crossings—all Members should be supporting that. It means that people smugglers could face a life behind bars, and the hon. Gentleman should be supporting that. We will strengthen Border Force’s powers to stop and redirect vessels and to search shipping containers to ensure that migrants are not being smuggled. Importantly, this will break the deadly business models of these smugglers. In addition, we want to make sure that the UK is less attractive to illegal migrants. He claims that all the people coming to the UK are genuine asylum seekers, but they are not, and the evidence shows that. Even the authorities in France say that 70% of people crossing the channel and entering France, and northern France in particular, are single men and they are economic migrants.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. The people responsible for this situation are the people traffickers, who sell false hope to the vulnerable. The only way we can address this is by working with our partners, allies and friends. Will my right hon. Friend join the campaign to ensure that this item is No. 1 at the next United Nations General Assembly?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I am grateful to her because she has made one of the most intelligent contributions on this whole issue about people smugglers and working with counterparts in the world. I appreciate that Opposition Members completely reject relationship-building and speaking on a multilateral level, including with the United States; I noticed in particular the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle) heckling earlier on. This is a very important point, because people smuggling and modern-day slavery is an international trade, and the Government have a proud history of and record on legislating, standing up and speaking out against it.
The Home Secretary will understand that heightened rhetoric is not a substitute for practical, sensible measures that help in reality.
May I ask the right hon. Lady specifically about intelligence and joint surveillance work? Will she confirm that we were told in the Home Affairs Committee last week that drones, including UK funded drones, are not currently operating along the French coast as a result of a court case in France back in July, which we are hoping will be resolved by legislation in France over the next few months? We need France’s co-operation to do that. Will she further confirm that even UK drones in UK airspace are not operating more than five days a week? Why is that? Obviously, the criminal gangs do not stop at weekends.
On France’s legislation, I have had discussions with my counterpart on that issue in the last week. Legislation is passing through the French Parliament because France has different surveillance laws. We have always been clear about that.
The right hon. Lady asked about technology. I have made a range of propositions to the French Interior Minister about surveillance and technology and the use of various other types of technology equipment—sensors on the beach and ANPR in particular. From my conversation and bilateral discussions with the Interior Minister last Monday, I tell the House now that he has accepted the use of all those.
Would the excellent Home Secretary agree that the sensible and humane way to deal with this problem is for the French to agree a returns policy? In that way, we could give immigrants turning up on our shore a hot cup of tea and ensure that they had warm clothing, and they could be put back on the first ferry to Calais. That would make the cross-channel route unviable. It would be good for France, it would be good for the United Kingdom, and it would be devastating for the criminal people trafficking gangs.
My hon. Friend has made a very important point about returns agreements, in particular with France. France assumes the presidency of the European Council next month, and this is an ongoing discussion that we are having with them. I am actively pursuing the issue, but I want to be very clear and realistic: it is only one aspect of the wider situation of dealing with illegal migration.
People are not just coming from France; they are coming from the Sahel, from Africa and from Libya through the Mediterranean route—this is a much wider issue than France. But obviously, returns agreements are crucial, absolutely pivotal, and they are one part of our wider plan.
The increasing anti-refugee, anti-migration rhetoric of the Home Secretary has left many of my hard-working constituents extremely fearful for their futures, particularly given the continued hostile environment created by the Home Office and her last-minute amendment to the Nationality and Borders Bill that would allow the Home Office to strip ordinary British nationals of their citizenship without warning. Stripping citizenship from ordinary people robs them of one of their most fundamental human rights and defies international law. When will the Home Secretary stop this hostile environment? When will she stop persecuting my law abiding constituents?
Like the Home Secretary and many other Members of this House, I am the descendant of immigrants who came to this country legally. I am campaigning for more immigrants to be brought here legally who are at risk in Afghanistan.
What I cannot understand is how people who come here illegally—particularly those who, having done that, commit very serious crimes—cannot then be deported because they apparently have absolute rights conferred by various conventions. Most rights are capable of being overridden in extreme circumstances. If we are signed up to such conventions, is it not about time we reviewed them?
My right hon. Friend makes some important points. First, as a country we always stand by our international obligations when it comes to people who are fleeing persecution and in need of refuge. That is what the Nationality and Borders Bill does and why we are creating safe and legal routes. My right hon. Friend will be familiar with much of our work that has taken place thus far with, for example, British nationals overseas—people from Hong Kong—and the work that is taking place on Afghanistan.
The removal of people with no legal right to be in the United Kingdom and all rights exhausted is at the heart of the new plan for immigration and the Nationality and Borders Bill, because too many last-minute claims come through immigration courts and tribunals and prevent the Government from removing people who have no legal right to be here. They include foreign national offenders, including rapists and murderers—people who have committed awful and abhorrent crimes on the streets of the United Kingdom. I have to say it is quite telling that there is a great deal of lobbying from the Labour party to actually stand by many of these foreign national offenders and keep them in our country.
Plaid Cymru rejects the cynical framing of this issue as a crisis of numbers; the true crisis is a lack of humanity from a succession of Westminster Governments who scapegoat legitimate asylum seekers and refugees. In Wales, we take a different approach, with our stated ambition to be a nation of sanctuary for all people who seek support and flee persecution. Sadly, asylum remains a reserved matter. What consideration has the Home Secretary given to the lack of compatibility of her approach to channel crossings with that of Wales, with our nation of sanctuary and asylum seekers plan?
It is important to restate, for the right hon. Lady’s benefit and that of all colleagues, that, as she will know, through the new plan for immigration and the work we are doing with the Nationality and Borders Bill, we are crystal clear about giving refuge to people who are fleeing persecution through safe and legal routes. That is in line with the refugee convention. I spend a great deal of time speaking to the UNHCR, the International Organisation for Migration and other international agencies that will work with us on this issue. I have to say that the right hon. Lady offered a slight mischaracterisation of the Nationality and Borders Bill.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the robustness of her language and her clear desire to stop irregular crossings. Poland has very much welcomed international assistance; I recommend that she makes a broad and generous offer to her French counterparts and asks how many British police, Border Force staff and, perhaps, troops we can put on site—on the beaches in France—to assist in their efforts and arrest more evil people smugglers.
The Home Secretary spoke earlier about the importance of viable plans; does she still consider the use of wave machines in the channel to turn back small boats to be a viable plan? Does she still consider the sending of desperate asylum seekers to a third country, such as Albania, to be a viable plan? When will she stop using desperate asylum seekers as pawns in this Government’s culture wars?
I categorically reject that notion and the right hon. Lady’s points. She mentioned wave machines; I have never ever suggested or recommended them. I say that for clarity and on the record for the House. As for the other matters, the right hon. Lady has heard me say this afternoon—I refer her to my earlier comments—that her party objects to changing our asylum system, fixing a broken system and, actually, improving the processing of asylum claims, which would, by the way, be of benefit to the individuals who have come to our country illegally. We want to make sure that we have a differentiated approach so that those people who are in genuine need get the support they need and those who have no legal grounds to be here are removed.
Is there a danger that we raise expectations with the Nationality and Borders Bill unless there is an iron will on the part of Ministers to use the powers once they get them? And can my right hon. Friend not just tell the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) to make his own way to Calais?
The Home Affairs Committee was told recently that the total number of asylum seekers returned so far this year to the European Union was five and of course the Dublin regulation, which did permit the return of asylum seekers in certain circumstances to other EU member states, is no longer available to the Government. Could the Home Secretary tell the House how negotiations are going on trying to replace the Dublin regulation?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question because it is important to recognise that Dublin was not effective and did not work, and the people who have been removed to other EU countries were removed because they were inadmissible to the asylum system, in the light of the changes in the statutory instruments that I brought in earlier this year.
The Nationality and Borders Bill will indeed be a significant piece of legislation to prevent illegal English channel migration crossings from taking place and it is shameful that the Labour party is voting against it. But it will be many months before that legislation is on the statute books, so what measures can be taken now, particularly in terms of security screening those who are attempting to enter the United Kingdom?
Let me reassure my hon. Friend that screening takes place, as does interviewing and questioning of everyone who enters our country illegally. So let me be very clear about that. Any notion that that that is not taking place is completely wrong. He is right about the Bill. It is passing through the Commons right now, but, believe you me, Mr Speaker, we will do everything possible to look at how we can accelerate the passing of that legislation if we need to, particularly as the Labour party has made its opposition to it so publicly known.
A few moments ago, the Home Secretary said that she wanted to welcome people who were genuinely fleeing persecution, but how can she know unless we go through due process with people who apply and claim asylum in this country? I am certain that she will also know that, per capita, the United Kingdom takes fewer asylum seekers each year than 23 members of the European Union. She will also know that we are not seeing a rise in the number of people seeking asylum in this country. We are seeing a greater number of people coming via the most dangerous routes. She will also know that, in order to stop people from taking utterly dangerous routes that we do not want them to take, she will need to provide safe routes because, without doing so, she plays into the hands of the people smugglers and she damages those people she says she wants to support.
I know that this is a statement of the obvious, but many EU countries, including France, are safe countries, which is why not only the British Government, but other Governments around the world, including across the EU, pursue the principle of first safe country. I am sure that, if the hon. Gentleman engaged with other colleagues across EU member states, they would all recognise the extent of illegal migration and the impact that that is having on their own countries as well. With regard to safe and legal routes, we are very clear—we have stated this in Committee and I have stated it many times—that we are working with UNHCR and the IOM because it is through that partnership, at a multilateral level, that we will form these safe and legal routes. They will be crucial partners to identify the very people—as we saw with the Syrian resettlement scheme—who are fleeing persecution and need refuge.
The Home Secretary should be aware of the very great anger of my constituents at the scenes that they see in the channel today and at the fact that these migrants are being inappropriately accommodated in a central Blackpool hotel. We hear much about France, but we know that these migrants are being held in both Belgium and Germany in a holding pattern only to be taken to France in the final 24 hours when the weather is conducive to a crossing. What steps is she taking to negotiate with both the Belgian and the German Governments to have a more combative approach to disrupting this pattern of delivering them to France?
My hon. Friend has raised some important points. He asked about the discussions taking place with France, Belgium and Germany. There are plenty of discussions. In the past two weeks, I have had discussions with all three of those countries in terms of the work that needs to happen. I should also emphasise for the benefit of the House that it is the EU Commission that leads on illegal migration and that member states themselves are not supposed to engage on a bilateral level, and they are all breaking out of that cycle right now because of their own frustration with the Commission’s inability to grip this issue.
My hon. Friend asked about the issue of accommodation, about which his constituents are absolutely right to be angry. As I said in Home Office questions, we want to end the use of hotels. As part of the new plan for immigration, the Home Office and others across Government are looking to deliver reception centres.
Finally, my hon. Friend mentioned holding groups in Germany, Belgium and France. France, in particular, is clearing the camps. It is literally seeing the type of patterns that it has seen over the last decade, with migrant camps now reforming. Those camps are being cleared on a regular basis, and one of the largest camps was cleared last week.
One of my constituents, who has worked for maritime search and rescue, and has been saving lives at sea for more than a decade, is extremely concerned about the inherent risks of pushbacks at sea, as they can be highly dangerous manoeuvres and lead to loss of life. He is concerned, as am I, that the Government are proposing pushbacks in one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, so on his behalf I ask the Home Secretary: what legal advice have the Government taken on pushbacks; and if a migrant were to die during a pushback, who would be legally accountable for the death?
It is important to say that all operational work—with Border Force and the maritime tactics team—is based on Government legal advice. Extensive legal advice has been taken on the issue. Specific training has taken place on operationalising tactics, alongside all the investment and the resources that have been put in place. The hon. Lady will be well aware, through her constituent, that there is an operational gold command that has responsibility for exercising the operations, and all the authorisations and powers within the legal framework to deliver those tactics.
Now then, seeing thousands and thousands of illegal immigrants coming across the channel is not the points-based immigration system that I thought we were going to adopt when we got to this place, so will my right hon. Friend please confirm that the best way to control illegal immigration is through offshore processing, and getting the Labour party over there to grow a backbone and back the borders Bill?
It is self-evident. I do not want to enter the confused politics of the Labour party when it comes to migration, ending free movement and all of that, because Labour has resolutely voted against everything that we have done on immigration since the general election. The Nationality and Borders Bill is an end-to-end approach. There is no silver bullet. If there was, clearly we would not be seeing thousands of migrants entering our country illegally; not only that—solutions would have been found by now. Wholescale reform is vital, which is why we have the Bill. I am the first Home Secretary in 20 years to look at end-to-end reform of the system. I have worked on that reform for 18 months and introduced it in February this year. I urge all colleagues, certainly on the Government Benches, to back the Bill and focus on its delivery.
In response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), the Home Secretary was clearly not a fan of the Dublin regulation, so will she explain what negotiations are taking place to replace it? Will she also explain what we would do with individuals if we moved them to Albania or any other third country, and they failed the asylum system?
First, I apologise to the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), because he did ask specifically about negotiations. There are a range of negotiations taking place, but he specifically asked about Dublin in relation to the EU. As he has heard me say already, that is an EU competency issue right now. We are having active discussions—this would not keep the Commission happy—with France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Germany, Italy, Greece, as of today Poland, and other countries. This is really important. They are having discussions with us because of their own frustration with the lack of progress in tackling wider long-term and long-scale issues around illegal migration, as well as returns and readmissions. All Governments are very much concentrating on these topics right now.
The right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) asked about third country offshoring. We will look at all options right now; it is right and proper that we do so. Not only that—we will look at resettlement routes for people who have entered our country legally and have no legal rights to be here. If they cannot be returned to their own country, it is right that we look at how we can resettle them elsewhere in the long term.
The Nationality and Borders Bill will make a significant difference in helping to address the challenges that we are facing, but does the Home Secretary agree that it is wholly unacceptable for the French authorities to turn a blind eye to small boats crossing, and does she accept that in doing so they are placing some of the most vulnerable people at risk?
My right hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of vulnerability and our work with France. Just last week, I had dialogue and discussions bilaterally with my French counterpart, the French Interior Minister. There is wholesale recognition in the French system and across the French Government that a widescale crisis is taking place. The numbers that they are seeing in northern France are unprecedented. I know that the Labour party thinks that this is moving responsibility elsewhere, but we have to recognise that the root cause is the upstream routes where people are coming from and the fact that Schengen open borders mean that there are no border controls across the EU member states. A lot of work is taking place with our Government. We are being very strong activists and leaning into border protections not just domestically through our own legislative policies, but in some of the EU countries that have not been doing enough themselves.
Facts matter, not sensational, xenophobic rhetoric peddled by this Government. Last month, the Home Secretary made the inaccurate claim that 70% of people who arrive in the UK by small boats are effectively economic migrants—[Interruption.] Well, no, because research from the Refugee Council this month confirms that that statement is inaccurate and instead shows that two thirds of people arriving here on small boats are deemed to be genuine refugees. Will she therefore withdraw her remarks?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is the UK Government who are addressing the challenge of illegal immigration for the first time in decades, tackling the people smugglers, tackling illegal arrivals and removing those who should not be in our country, with a Bill that will protect those in genuine and immediate need, and that Opposition Members have perversely and repeatedly voted against?
My hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head, because at the heart of the Bill is the simple principle that our immigration system should protect those in genuine need—people fleeing persecution and those in immediate need—and not act as a magnet for those living in safe places such as France and Belgium.
Putting your life and the lives of your loved ones on the line, in the hands of people smugglers, is an act of total and utter desperation—a last resort for many people fleeing war and persecution when no alternative is available to them. Does the Home Secretary agree that expanding the range of safe and legal routes into the UK is essential if we are to address the situation unfolding in the English channel?
I refer the hon. Gentleman to my earlier comments. Safe and legal routes cannot be delivered on their own. We will be working with international partners such as the UNHCR and the IOM, in the same way that we have done with the Syrian resettlement scheme, to ensure that we support those who are fleeing persecution. I hope that is a policy that he will support.
The Human Rights Act 1998 has handed power to unelected judges and it is clear that the creeping power of the courts is directly interfering in our ability to get a grip of our asylum and immigration policies. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if we are finally going to stop bogus asylum seekers routinely coming to the UK, it is time to scrap the Human Rights Act altogether?
My hon. Friend makes an important point about asylum claims, courts and tribunals, the prevarication, the delays and the frustration. That is why we have the Nationality and Borders Bill. That is why we will introduce, as part of one of the measures, a one-stop appeals process because, as we know, claimants go back again and again, care of UK taxpayers. We want to break that cycle; we want to stop that. We will, through that Bill, reform immigration courts and tribunals to deal with cases in a much more effective way.
Can I just gently remind the Home Secretary that it is her party that has been in power since 2010? Is it therefore a matter of incompetence on behalf of her Government that only five people have been removed in the past 12 months?
The answer to that is no. Actually, it is a fact that we are developing returns agreements, including with India and Albania, and last week we were in discussions with Pakistan. Those are some of the countries that top the list in terms of failed asylum seekers and foreign national offenders. We are removing these people. The five people she refers to were removed because of a statutory instrument that the Opposition clearly did not support, which relates to inadmissibility with the type of claims that come at sea. That has come through diligent work not only with our colleagues in the Home Office, but with our counterparts across EU member states.
The Nationality and Borders Bill contains many similarities to what was used successfully by the Australians in its Operation Sovereign Borders policy in 2013. Can my right hon. Friend dismiss the comments in The Times last week that said:
“Ministers have not given details of how the offshore centres will work. But Britain cannot detain the migrants at the centres…as that would breach international law”?
As a sovereign country in control of our law making, nothing could be further from the truth.
The figures this year have tripled to 25,000 people making crossings. On the current trajectory, that is projected to increase to 78,000 next year. Last week, the Home Secretary said that she had come to an agreement with French authorities to say that there would be a 100% reduction in crossings, yet the French authorities said they knew nothing about it. When she says that she is having negotiations that will effectively reduce the number of crossings, who exactly has she been talking to?
International people smugglers know that they only need to get the boats into British waters before their clients can claim asylum in the UK. Does the Home Secretary agree that we must therefore change legislation to allow for the option of offshore processing and return? What message does she think it sends when the Labour party calls for action in this place, but then whips its Members to vote against every part of the Bill that would make it happen?
My hon. Friend has seen the Labour party in action in the Bill Committee, where it is opposing the solutions that this Government are putting forward and our strong legislation to break the people smuggling gangs and ensure that we can find safe and legal routes for people fleeing persecution. It is also important to add on this point that when it comes to processing asylum claims, we must have a differentiated approach. Through this Bill, we want to end some of the pull factors for the economic migrants who have been masquerading as asylum seekers and elbowing to one side women and children—the very people to whom we should be giving asylum.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary when he says that the people coming across looking for refugee status or asylum status here will have their human rights downgraded if the Bill that the Home Secretary is pushing forward goes ahead. These are people whose human rights have already been abused in their place of origin. The Home Secretary has spoken in response to earlier questions about looking at safe routes. When those people obtain safe routes through the national agencies, will she allow them to settle here?
The point about safe and legal routes is that they become the pathway to resettlement. The hon. Gentleman will be familiar with the Syrian resettlement regime, which a predecessor of mine and former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), led when she was Home Secretary. It worked with the multilateral system and third-party agencies, which is the right and proper thing to do. They have the expertise in identifying people. Once they have identified people and we have identified the right resettlement pathways and where those people can resettle in the United Kingdom, we can then bring them to the UK. That is the right approach, because we have to look at how asylum seekers are being housed, and the pressures on housing and on local authorities, which we debated about an hour and a half ago, have to be taken into consideration. The resettlement routes must deliver for the individuals fleeing persecution, while showing that the United Kingdom and its Government are generous and welcoming and that resettlement does what it says on the tin.
People across the country are rightly angry about the current situation and want action, so I welcome the steps that my right hon. Friend is taking and the legislation that is being brought forward. If we need new specific powers, she should bring them forward now to the House so that we can act with the speed that our constituents want, as we did with covid.
The Nationality and Borders Bill is going through the House right now. As I have always said, we look at all options, and those options are in the Bill. Obviously, if other legislative measures are required, the Government will look at them and bring them forward.
Does the Home Secretary agree that the narrative on immigration needs to change? As we have heard, 70% of asylum seekers are fleeing from persecution, greater numbers have been risking their lives to cross the channel in flimsy boats, and there has been net negative immigration with more people leaving the country than arriving. Does she agree that proportionately, the UK supports lower numbers than Germany, Spain, Greece and France?
In the interests of time, I refer the hon. Lady to the new plan for immigration. On page 6, she will see that:
“The UK accepted more refugees through planned resettlement schemes than any other country in Europe in the period 2015-2019”.
That answers her question about the number of people who are coming here.
We have seen thousands of people coming into the country. Many areas, such as Stoke-on-Trent, which has already taken far more than its fair share, are continuing to see increased pressure. Will my right hon. Friend look at measures to reduce the numbers coming into the country and ensure that there is a much fairer share across the country?
I thank my hon. Friend and all hon. Members from Stoke-on-Trent in particular who have been very clear and engaged with me and the Department on the whole issue of asylum accommodation. They have demonstrated, with their local council leader, who has been outstanding, the principles of fairness and value in how we engage with local authorities.
My hon. Friend knows my message on this issue: we need other local authorities across the United Kingdom to step up, we really do. I restate that the long-term plan—it will not happen overnight—is to move people out of the current accommodation that they are in. They are in that accommodation for various reasons linked to the pandemic and Public Health England guidance. The Government, across Government and with military support, will be building reception centres.
At the beginning, the Home Secretary said that she would like to hear some concrete alternative proposals from the Opposition, so I will give her one. In written evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Donate4Refugees suggested that the most effective way to deter channel crossings would be to:
“Allow people to claim asylum at our frontier controls in France”
and complete the initial stage of their application there. If it was accepted, the Home Office could
“transfer them to the UK on regular transport”
“the ‘normal’ UK process of dispersal accommodation and asylum support”.
Has she given any consideration to that idea?
It is fair to say that that proposal of using juxtaposed controls to effectively process asylum seekers is not something that the British Government or the French Government would entertain. That is why we have wide-scale end-to-end reform in the new plan for immigration.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that unlike Opposition Members who would have completely open borders, Government Members will, with determination, sort out the problem of illegal immigration? Given that there are so many persecuted people in Calais, does she agree that perhaps we should ask the United Nations to investigate what is happening in that country?
That is a telling comment. Of course, it would not be the United Nations in France; it is actually the role of the European Commission. Speaking to my counterparts across EU member states, they are somewhat exasperated right now about the lack of leadership on the issue, which is why member states are engaging with us directly. We are looking at a whole-of-route approach. I should say that we are also working with the National Crime Agency and with other countries upstream to look at how we can find some long-term solutions.
I think we should all remember why we have the 1951 UN refugee convention. It was established after the second world war as a result of millions of Jewish people being unable to seek refuge legally outside Germany and perishing as a consequence. The UNHCR, in spite of what the Home Secretary has said, has stated that it believes the Nationality and Borders Bill
“undermines established international refugee protection rules and practices.”
I am quoting from its website. I would like to ask the Home Secretary: what proportion of those crossing the channel do so because they have existing family members here?