With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement about the progress of the Government’s plan to stop the boats. This is a complex and enduring problem, which we must tackle on multiple fronts. It is a moral imperative. That is why the Prime Minister, unlike the Leader of the Opposition, made stopping the boats one of his five pledges to the British people.
While Labour has no plan, we are getting on with our plan to stop the boats, and although there is a long way to go, there are several outcomes to note. First, the small boats operational command was established in December to oversee operations in the channel, with a new senior director, Duncan Capps, a former general, appointed to lead it. We have doubled the funding for Project Invigor—which brings together the National Crime Agency, Home Office intelligence and policing—over the next two financial years to help disrupt the people-smuggling gangs upstream.
Secondly, freeing up immigration enforcement officers meant that there were over 50% more illegal working raids between January and March this year than in the same period in 2022. Since the introduction of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 in June last year, Immigration Enforcement has doubled the number of arrests, charges and convictions in comparison with the figures in the same period in the preceding year. We have established the UK’s first cross-Government ministerial taskforce on immigration enforcement, so that only those who are here lawfully can work, receive benefits or access public services. Meanwhile, data sharing with the financial sector recommenced in April, as we crack down on illegal migrants accessing banking services.
Thirdly, the asylum initial decision backlog is down by 17,000 and we are on track to abolish all legacy cases by the end of this year, having doubled the number of asylum decision makers over the last two years. We continue to improve the system and aim to boost the productivity of the caseworkers by simplifying the process with shorter interviews and the removal of unnecessary steps.
Fourthly, the current accommodation system is unsustainable and hugely unfair to taxpayers. We recently set out to the House our plans for a fairer, more cost-effective asylum accommodation system, starting with the former Ministry of Defence sites at Wethersfield and Scampton. We will see an accommodation barge arrive in Portland within the next fortnight and we have secured another two to accommodate another 1,000 individuals. We are also making more efficient use of hotels by asking people to share rooms where appropriate.
Fifthly, on the international front, we have signed the biggest ever small boats bilateral deal with France and strengthened co-operation with a range of other European partners including Belgium, Italy and the EU. In 2023 so far, more small boat migrants have been intercepted by France than have reached the UK’s shores. French interceptions this year are more than double what they were two years ago. Additional drones, aircraft and other surveillance technologies will be deployed to support French law enforcement. French forces have increased the proportion of small boat launches that are prevented and have arrested more than 200 people smugglers so far this year. As part of the new deal, France will establish a new 24/7 zonal co-ordination centre in Lille, with permanently embedded British officers. My right hon. Friend the Immigration Minister was in France last week to see at first hand the impact of UK funding and to discuss a joint plan to intensify our engagement on the channel as we move into the summer.
Sixthly, the Government continue to prioritise the return of individuals with no right to remain in the United Kingdom. We established through the Nationality and Borders Act a disqualification from modern slavery protection for individuals who meet specific criteria, including foreign national offenders with custodial sentences of 12 months or more and individuals convicted of terrorism offences. Between January and March this year, over 4,000 people with no right to be in the UK were removed or departed voluntarily—an increase of more than 50% compared with the same period last year.
We recently signed the UK-Georgia readmissions agreement and have made significant progress on our returns relationship with Pakistan. We are also continuing to progress our returns relationship with India following the implementation of our migration and mobility partnership. Since the Prime Minister signed a joint communiqué with Prime Minister Rama in December, nearly 1,800 Albanian nationals without the right to be in the UK have been returned to Albania. We are not complacent. We will continue to monitor this as we enter the summer, but the number of Albanians arriving by small boats so far this year is almost 90% less than in the same period last year. Last month, we delivered a groundbreaking new arrangement whereby Albanian prisoners will be sent home to serve the remainder of their jail sentences.
Seventhly, we continue to prepare to deliver the Government’s migration and economic development partnership with Rwanda. This partnership is an innovative international solution to an international problem. The Home Office has always maintained that this policy is lawful, and the UK High Court upheld this in December 2022. Legal proceedings are ongoing, but we are committed to delivering this policy and getting flights going as soon as legally practicable. I visited Kigali in March and saw that Rwanda is more than ready to help people thrive in a new country.
These efforts demonstrate our commitment to doing all we can within the existing legislative framework, but we have also been clear that, to stop the boats, we must go further, and that the framework needs to change. That is why, lastly, we are reforming our laws. This is what the public want, and all politicians should get behind our Bill. Our Illegal Migration Bill will make it clear to anyone coming here illegally that they will not be able to build a life in this country. Instead, they will be liable to be detained and will be swiftly removed either to their home country or to a safe third country like Rwanda. This is the deterrent factor we need to break the people smugglers’ business model.
We will introduce new safe and legal routes for those at risk of war and persecution to come to seek refuge and protection in the UK, within an annual quota to be set by Parliament and informed by consultation with local communities. The British people are generous and welcoming, but they rightly expect immigration to be controlled. Coming here illegally from other safe countries is unnecessary, unsafe and unfair. It must stop. We have a long way still to go and we are not complacent but, unlike the Opposition, we have a plan. We are delivering that plan, and we will not rest until we stop the boats.
Before I finish, I put on record my apology to the Opposition for the late delivery of this statement.
I commend this statement to the House.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for your response. I thank the Home Secretary for her apology.
The Prime Minister flew to Dover today to congratulate himself and to tell us that his plan is working, even though the asylum backlog he promised to clear is at a record high, decisions are down, caseworker numbers have dropped, hotel use is up, returns are still down, only 1% of last year’s small boat cases have been processed, and seven and a half thousand people arrived on dangerous small boats in the last few months alone. The massive gap between the Tories’ rhetoric and reality shows that the Home Secretary still has no grip on the system. This Conservative chaos is letting everyone down.
The Prime Minister claimed today that he is stopping the boats, but the 7,600 people who have arrived in the last few months alone is three times more than two years ago and eight times more than before the pandemic. We all hope that the limited reduction in the winter months, compared with last year, will be sustained when the weather improves, but criminal gangs have already made an estimated £13 million in the last few months alone from putting lives at risk and undermining our border security as a result of the Conservative failure to go after the gangs and maintain that border security. The Home Secretary boasts about an increase in enforcement, but that is compared with the covid period. Compared with before the pandemic, enforcement visits are down 22% and arrests are down 17%. This is not an achievement.
The Home Secretary also says she has cut the backlog, but the backlog is at a record high of 170,000. It has gone up, not down, since December. There has been an 18% drop in asylum decisions in the last quarter, and it is no good claiming they are only clearing a so-called legacy backlog of cases from before June 2022. What about the growing backlog of 60,000 people and more who have arrived in the last 12 months? They are still in the asylum system, still in hotels and still in limbo. A backlog is a backlog, no matter how much the Government try to spin it away. The only legacy we are talking about is the legacy of Tory failure to tackle the problem. All the Home Secretary has managed to do is take a few decisions on cases that are more than a year old. That is not an achievement—that is her job.
The Prime Minister and Home Secretary promised to end hotel use, but it has gone up, to 47,000 people, which is higher than the 40,000 she told us about in December. The Prime Minister also said in December that he already got locations for accommodating 10,000 more people, but now the Home Secretary says it is only 3,000, from the end of this year. What she has not admitted is that this is not instead of hotels—it is additional, because of their failure and the consequence of their new immigration Bill, the bigger backlog Bill, which is just going to make the backlog worse. Today’s press release reveals the truth. It says that these accommodation changes
“could reduce the need to source an additional 90 hotels.”
Why are the Government in such a mess that they need to be thinking about sourcing an additional 90 hotels? Why have they so totally lost any grip that the backlog and costs are getting worse and worse?
Enforced returns are lower than they were pre-pandemic, and only 23 of the 24,000 people the Government have tried to return to safe countries they have travelled through have actually been returned. Even in the case of Albania, with which there is a return agreement in place, we find that 12,000 people arrived on small boats last year but fewer than 1% of those cases have been decided and barely a few hundred people have been returned. As for Rwanda, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) has said, the Government have sent more Home Secretaries there than asylum seekers, and no one expects the numbers to be high. The taxpayer is already footing the bill for Conservative failure, and now we hear reports that the new legislation will cost £6 billion. Is that true—yes or no?
The Home Office has already had to claim £2.4 billion extra from the Treasury reserve, so how much more will it claim this year? The Times reports that illegal immigration will have to fall below 10,000 a year for it even to be possible to implement the new legislation, because the Home Office says that Ministers’ plans are “based on demented assumptions”. So will the Home Secretary tell us whether the demented assumptions are hers or the Prime Minister’s?
Time and again, the Government have voted against Labour proposals to help stop dangerous crossings. They have voted against action to go after criminal gangs; against the cross-border police unit, against fast-track decisions for safe countries; and against new return agreements and legal routes with Europe. People want to see strong border security and a properly controlled and managed asylum system, so that our country does our bit, alongside others, to help those fleeing persecution and conflict. Under the Tories, we have neither of those, because the gangs have been allowed to let rip across the borders and the asylum system is in chaos. All we get is rhetoric, while the reality gets worse; we get demented assumptions, unworkable plans and empty spin. Instead of all the press conferences, we need a proper plan. The asylum system is broken, the Tories broke it and there is still no plan today to sort it out.
I thank the right hon. Lady again for her extensive words. The theatrics get even more colourful every time we meet. I say “words” because, as ever, that is all we get from the Opposition; we get no serious alternatives and no credible plan, just empty rhetoric and endless noise.
Last December, the Prime Minister and I set out a plan to stop the boats. Since then, we have been working flat out to deliver that programme. What has the right hon. Lady been up to? It is hard to say. The question is: will Labour ever bring forward a plan of its own, a plan with details, a plan that delivers? I am sorry to say that the answer is that Labour does not have a plan and does not care that it does not have one. It is this Conservative Government and this Conservative Prime Minister who are dealing with the priorities of the British people.
So what is Labour actually doing? Labour Members are good at carping from the sidelines, but when it comes down to it, how do they actually act? They have voted against every single measure that we have put forward to stop the boats. They would scrap our world-leading plan with Rwanda, and they continue to oppose our laws to detain and remove. Contrast their opposition to our common-sense proposals with their urgent activism when it suits them. Let me tell you, Mr Speaker, more than 100 Opposition Members—over half the parliamentary Labour party—signed a letter campaigning for dangerous foreign criminals to be spared deportation. Those criminals included murderers and rapists who went on to commit further terrible crimes here in Britain. Indeed, 14 of the current shadow Cabinet campaigned to stop those vile criminals from being deported, including the shadow Foreign Secretary, the shadow Attorney General, the shadow Health Secretary and even the Leader of the Opposition. I will spare the rest. I am still waiting for an apology, Mr Speaker, but I fear that it will never come.
I know that the right hon. Lady did not sign that letter. Perhaps the Leader of the Opposition should take that into account before he decides to remove her from the Front Bench. Labour Members continue to oppose our Illegal Migration Bill, saying that it will not work. Frankly, that is totally unsurprising, because, unlike the British people, Labour wants more migration, not less; it wants open borders, not control.
I am a democrat. The British people have spoken clearly and repeatedly. They welcome genuine refugees and do not want people to come here illegally. The Opposition parties and the right hon. Lady are supremely indifferent to this problem. They are happy with the status quo that lines the pockets of the gangsters, is lethally dangerous and grossly unfair on taxpayers, and puts intolerable pressure on our local communities. We on the Conservative Benches are committed to stopping the boats. We have a plan to do so and we are delivering that plan.
The Home Secretary will know that I am a big supporter of her hard work to sort out this crisis, but sharing rooms, using barges and drones and relying on the French is not the answer. I think that anyone with any common sense in this place knows what the answer is, and that is to get the flights off to Rwanda as quickly as possible. Can she please advise me and the great people of Ashfield when these flights will go ahead?
I have huge confidence in our world-leading plan with Rwanda. As my hon. Friend will know, that plan was endorsed by the High Court in a legal challenge at the end of last year. We have had a Court of Appeal hearing, and we now await its judgment. As soon as we complete the full legal process, we will ensure that the flights take off as soon as possible.
The Home Secretary comes here with selective statistics that she has put together to suit the press release that she wants to put out, but the reality is that the total asylum backlog has increased by more than 40,000 people since this time last year. There are fewer decision makers in the Home Office now than there were in January. It is all distraction and sleight of hand. There is no evidence that the plans so far have had any impact or that the heavy-handed deterrence, which is based, as her own officials say, on demented assumptions, works. Policies such as the hostile environment, which were started by Labour, have been turbocharged by successive Tory Home Secretaries. The Nationality and Borders Act 2022, the Rwanda plan, deals with Albania and the Illegal Migration Bill are not working because the central fact remains that people are coming here in small boats because they are desperate and they have no other choice.
The latest Office for National Statistics figures for May show that just 54 Afghans were resettled under pathway 1 of the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme since August 2021. There have been 40 under pathway 2 and only 14 under pathway 3. At the same time, 8,429 Afghans arrived in the UK on small boats. They are coming because they cannot get here to safety any other way.
I do agree slightly with what the Home Secretary said in her statement about the accommodation system being unsustainable and unfair. It is also absolutely brutal for asylum seekers, such as those in my constituency, who are being left to wait indefinitely. Yet the Home Secretary proposes to throw yet more money, reportedly £6 billion, at private providers and prison ships instead of tackling the real problem: the outstanding backlog she has created. She gives no thought to the trauma and stress that has caused incidents such as that at the Park Inn in my constituency and led to reported suicides of those stuck waiting under her incompetence.
At Napier Barracks, sharing spaces caused the spread of infectious disease and had a significant impact on mental health, so what safeguarding consultation has the Home Secretary done on the proposal to make total strangers share hotel rooms? How will she ensure that people from rival factions do not get put in a room together, which could be incredibly dangerous? Will she fast-track Afghans, Syrians, Eritreans, Sudanese and Iranians, who have a very high grant rate, and let them work and contribute, as they dearly want to do? Finally, will she accept that all she has done so far is make life significantly worse for some of the most vulnerable and brutalised people in the world?
I refute the characterisation the hon. Lady puts forward. I am proud of this Government’s track record of welcoming hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people from across the globe over several years, through schemes that have offered them sanctuary. It is a track record of which we can be incredibly proud. The SNP’s criticism is frankly astonishing, talking piously about wanting to provide more sanctuary despite doing virtually nothing to help. As we have said before, there are almost as many contingency hotels in Kensington as there are in the whole of Scotland. The truth is that the SNP is all talk and no action; until it gets real, I really must question its seriousness on this subject.
I welcome the statement from the Home Secretary. This is progress, and I hope it will accelerate at pace. However, I ask her to investigate a recent incident, a boat crossing where it was alleged that the French border force co-operated with the British Border Force, but in so doing escorted a boat from French territorial waters to the British Border Force. I assume this is not the kind of co-operation she was alluding to earlier.
I will look into the incident to which my hon. Friend refers, but on the whole we are seeing improvement and very positive collaboration with our colleagues in France. For example, for the first time we now have embedded Border Force officials working side by side with their French counterparts, and the French are preventing more crossings than previously. There is a long way to go, but there is some improvement.
May I ask about those who are seeking sanctuary, as the Home Secretary said? Uganda has just passed the most virulently and appallingly homophobic legislation, which outlaws not only homosexual sex, but promoting homosexuality or using one’s premises to be used for homosexuality. Some 34 countries in Africa have made homosexuality illegal. If somebody comes to the UK by whatever means, lands on these shores and seeks asylum because they are Ugandan and because of their sexuality, will she grant them sanctuary?
Every application for asylum is determined on its own merits, in conjunction with consideration of human rights laws, international conventions and our domestic laws. Depending on the circumstances of the case, all applications for asylum are considered.
If we reduced the waiting time from, say, a year to three months when making a decision on an illegal migrant, would that not cut the accommodation and other public service costs by three quarters and relieve a lot of the pressure? What is a reasonable time to come to a conclusion on whether someone is illegal and should not stay, or is welcome here and can get a job?
That is why I am encouraged by the progress we are making on our initial decision backlog, cases preceding last summer where people have been waiting for many months and in some cases years for a decision on their asylum application. It is essential that we bear down on that backlog, shorten the time that people are waiting for a decision and fundamentally reduce the cost to the taxpayer.
If the Home Secretary’s approach were cruel but effective, it would at least be effective. If it were generous and well-meaning, but was accidentally leading to too many people coming here, it would at least have the merit of being generous. But her entire approach has been both cruel and hopelessly, woefully ineffective. When she comes here to make a statement and the reality is that the backlog is actually increasing, why should anyone watching have any confidence that she has a grip on this situation?
As I said, we have set out the progress that we have made on all aspects of the plan. I say gently to the hon. Gentleman that he should consult his constituents, because the vast majority of the British people support the Government’s plan to stop the boats. They back the Government in tackling illegal migration, and they want to see a response. I only wish that he would get behind them, too.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the processing of asylum claims is fundamental to bearing down on the backlog and reducing the number of people accommodated in hotels, which costs us £6 million a day right now. That is why I am very pleased that we have increased the number of caseworkers making those decisions and improved and made the process more efficient and speedier, so that we can make progress in bearing down on the asylum backlog, ensure that we save money for the taxpayer, and, ultimately, fix the challenge of illegal migration.
May I take the Home Secretary back to the point about Afghan asylum seekers made by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss)? As my hon. Friend said, the latest ONS figures show that only 108 people have been resettled under pathways 1, 2 and 3 since the fall of Kabul nearly two years ago. At the same time, 8,429 Afghans arrived in the UK by small boats in the year ending March 2023, as compared with 2,466 in the previous year. Can the Home Secretary not see that the absence of functioning safe and legal routes means that many eligible Afghans to whom the United Kingdom owes a debt of honour, including war veterans, feel that they have no choice but to use small boats to get here? Can she not acknowledge that Home Office intransigence on the Afghan schemes is pushing vulnerable Afghans—some of them veterans, as I say—to come here by small boats?
I disagree. I am very proud that a high number of Afghans have been resettled in and welcomed to the United Kingdom between 2015 and 2022. Almost 50,000 people have been resettled or relocated; more than 21,000 of them went through the Afghan schemes—the ACRS and ARAP—and more than 28,000 went through established resettlement schemes relating to other countries. I think that that is a good track record. There is a high number of people coming from those countries where there are troubles. The simple truth is this: there is never a good reason to pay a people-smuggling gang to embark on a lethal journey and take an illegal crossing over the channel to get to the UK.
I welcome this real progress on gripping the problem of illegal small-boat crossings, but does the Home Secretary share my alarm that 70 Labour MPs signed a letter to stop the deportation of foreign criminals, some of whom went on to commit serious further offences?
My right hon. Friend makes a powerful point. That says it all about Labour party policy: quick to campaign against common-sense measures to deport dangerous foreign criminals; slow to support our measures to stop the boats. I am still waiting for the apology, and I will keep her updated on my progress on that front.
The Home Secretary will be aware of what happened last week in Whitechapel in my constituency and in Westminster. It was all over the press: asylum seekers were dumped by Clearsprings, the agency that her Government have appointed. She is spending £7 million a day, yet these people were left in the streets because the accommodation was not suitable. The local authority and I have sought information so that we can work with the Home Office and the agency to ensure that the process is done properly so that the far right does not target our community, as has happened in the past. The Home Secretary has failed to get a grip. The examples we have experienced—people sleeping rough in the streets because she is paying companies that are not providing the accommodation —are scandalous. She should be ashamed of that company’s record. She should take the contract off it and give it to agencies that can accommodate people in our communities, otherwise, she will be responsible for creating unrest in local communities up and down the country.
As I announced, we are making progress on delivering alternative and more appropriate accommodation for asylum seekers. Those under our care are made appropriate offers of accommodation, and it is right, fair and reasonable that we maximise the accommodation within legal limits so that we get value for money for the taxpayer and offer asylum seekers a safe form of accommodation.
I thank the Home Secretary for her statement. We saw the consequences of illegal immigration last week when 40 asylum seekers refused to share rooms in a hotel in Pimlico, in my constituency. I thank local Councillors Jim Glen, Ed Pitt Ford and Jacqui Wilkinson, who worked with me to liaise with the Home Office and the council to ensure that the matter was resolved quickly. Will the Home Secretary confirm whether Westminster City Council was informed that the hotel was to be used, as the leader of the council has claimed it was not? Will she also meet me to discuss that incident and whether central London hotels are suitable to house asylum seekers in this way, as they tend to be much smaller and more expensive for the British taxpayer?
I thank my hon. Friend for all her work for her local constituents in handling this challenging matter. I am cognisant of the fact that there is a very high number of asylum seekers in her constituency. The individuals in question were properly notified of the changes to their accommodation and were offered appropriate accommodation at all times. Our contractors work closely with the local authorities that are supporting asylum seekers all over the country. I will be pleased to meet my hon. Friend, and if I cannot the Immigration Minister will; we will definitely liaise with her more closely.
The Prime Minister has today made a migration statement to the media off the back of half-baked statistics—not even based on the usual full quarter—and the Home Secretary is too busy on manoeuvres for the Tory party leadership to do her job properly. Originally, both the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister promised that they would clear the backlog by the end of this year, but that definition has now somehow cunningly shifted to clearing the legacy backlog. Is that change anything to do with the fact that less than 20% of cases have been cleared so far this year?
With respect, the hon. Gentleman really needs to pay more attention. When the Prime Minister set out our plan, he made the goal clear: to reduce the initial decision backlog, which stood at about 90,000 at the time of his statement and has come down by a considerable amount as of today. We are making steady progress. If we continue on this trajectory and with the measures we are putting in place, we are on track to eliminate the backlog, and I look forward to updating the hon. Gentleman when we do so.
A number of my constituents found the demonstration outside the Pimlico hotel quite peculiar; I think if these were genuine refugees, they would be very grateful that the British taxpayer was paying for them to be put up in a hotel at all, not demanding en-suite singles.
The situation with the Novotel in Ipswich continues to have a negative impact on the town’s economy. Ipswich Town football club has just been promoted, which is good news and the hospitality sector is excited about the promotion, but it means that the requirement for hotel accommodation has increased and the need to get the Novotel back into use as a proper hotel to support the town is more vital than ever. Will the Home Secretary get close to giving us a timeline, outlining when hotels such as the Novotel will be put back to their proper use?
Our goal is to significantly reduce the use of hotels for asylum seekers. That is why we have announced several sites around the country where we are rolling out bespoke accommodation that is much more appropriate for asylum seekers, much fairer to the taxpayer, and better all round. I cannot give my hon. Friend the timeline that he wants, but I am very encouraged by the sites and the barges that we are going to be rolling out to accommodate asylum seekers in the near future.
It is not just that the Government have broken the immigration system: in so doing, they have destroyed trust within local authorities and communities through their heavy-handed and chaotic approach to placing asylum seekers around the country, and now they are haemorrhaging taxpayers’ money. The Liberal Democrats have said time and again that the Home Secretary should scrap the unworkable, expensive and immoral Rwanda scheme and spend that money instead on recruiting people into the Home Office to process claims and reduce the backlog. Why on earth is she refusing to take that pragmatic, sensible approach?
I am very disappointed by the tone that the hon. Lady adopts when talking about Rwanda. I have been to Rwanda and met our partners there. I am very grateful for, and encouraged and impressed by, the co-operation that our partners in Rwanda are extending to the United Kingdom in helping us with the very challenging problem of illegal migration. I am afraid that the hon. Lady’s views are based on outdated and frankly ignorant assumptions about Rwanda, and I really encourage her to review them.
I welcome the statement from the Home Secretary and the fall in the number of people arriving illegally, but I would like to question her further on her statement on the use of RAF Scampton, which she described as fairer and more cost-effective. Who is it fairer to? Is it fairer to the asylum seekers themselves, left in a remote rural location? Is it fairer to the many veterans in my constituency who are very concerned about the heritage, or is it fairer to the wider Lincolnshire population who may now miss out on a £300 million investment in the Scampton site?
I put on record my gratitude to everybody in the local community of RAF Scampton. I understand that it is a challenging situation for those communities and, indeed, the local MPs who are doing a very good job of standing up for their constituents. The challenge we face is that we have 40,000 people in hotels all over the country, costing the taxpayer £6 million a day—that needs to stop. We therefore need to identify and deliver alternative accommodation, and we are looking at a wide variety of sites and locations all over the country. Asylum seekers will be housed on these new sites. They will receive all appropriate support. As we bear down on our asylum backlog, they will eventually move on and, when we pass our Illegal Migration Bill, if they do not have a right to be here, they will be removed to a safe country.
What I can confirm is that the taxpayer is currently paying £3 billion a year to service this problem—£6 million a day—and therefore I know that our Bill, combined with our partnership with Rwanda that will help us to stop the boats, will save the taxpayer huge amounts of money once we stop illegal migration.
I support the Home Secretary in what is a very difficult task ahead of her, but I disagree with her comments on Rwanda. There are legitimate concerns about that country, and people in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo claim that Rwanda is funding a terrorist organisation, the March 23 movement, which is destabilising north-east Congo and resulting in the deaths of many Congolese citizens. I would very much like the Home Secretary to recognise that and explain to the House what she is doing, in conjunction with the Foreign Office, to ensure that this unacceptable behaviour by Rwanda towards Congo is stopped.
Having visited Rwanda very recently and having met some of the migrants who have been resettled successfully in Rwanda from countries in the region, I have confidence in our scheme with Rwanda for the resettlement of asylum seekers and other migrants. Rwanda has a strong track record of supporting resettlement. Most importantly, our partnership with Rwanda has been exhaustively tested in the High Court and found to be lawful and compliant with international law. We are now awaiting the judgment in the Court of Appeal and we will review its decision when it emerges.
The hostile environment is the United Kingdom Government’s attempt to make the UK’s immigration system as cruel, inhumane and draconian as possible, placing refugees and asylum seekers in what are essentially floating internment camps. Given the situation in Manston and Napier led to overcrowding, appalling conditions and the worst spread of diphtheria in decades, can the Home Secretary reassure the House that those conditions will not be repeated on these barges or at the recently identified MOD sites?
The new sites that are being rolled out will obviously meet all the requisite standards for accommodation for asylum seekers. The asylum seekers will be provided with the necessary support—health and otherwise—so that they are appropriately supported. That is our legal duty, and we will comply with it.
We are still accepting the majority of asylum claims from a number of safe countries, in stark contrast with many other European nations, which reject a far higher proportion of claims from those same countries. While we all want to reduce the asylum case backlog, does the Home Secretary agree that that must be done properly and that we cannot merely accept claims in a cynical attempt to drive down that backlog quickly?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Unlike the Opposition, we will not grant an amnesty to people in our system. It is important that all cases are considered on their individual merits, but that we take a robust approach to applications that makes it clear that, if someone comes here illegally, they will be detained, removed and not entitled to a life in the UK.
This morning, I met with the Law Society and it tells me that France receives three times the number of illegal migrants into their country compared with the UK. It also tells me that France is three times faster in processing the applications. Can the Home Secretary tell me why the Government are failing so badly compared with France? Does she think there are lessons to be learned from France?
I am grateful to my French counterpart in the French Government for their very good co-operation on this challenge. It is clear that we have a common challenge. The illegal migration problem that many European countries are facing is similar to the one we are facing. Almost all my European counterparts are grappling with this issue, because we are facing a global migration crisis. That is why it requires a collaborative approach, and that is why I am pleased that the Prime Minister has been working hard to achieve consensus among European allies.
In this month of all months—Pride month—I want to follow-up on the answer that the Home Secretary gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Sir Chris Bryant). We know that Uganda has introduced a law that brings in the death penalty for what it terms “aggravated homosexuality”—goodness knows how that would go down in Soho. Is she saying that, if a Ugandan was on a boat and came here on a boat, she would deport them to Rwanda when, in 2021, during the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, it was detaining LGBT people and claiming they did not represent Rwandan values? Has she even read her own Home Office equality impact assessment that details the illegal treatment? Will she rule out today deporting any Ugandans to Rwanda from the UK?
I ask the hon. Member whether she has even read the High Court judgment that looks extensively at our agreement with Rwanda. It looks in detail at our arrangements with Rwanda and concludes emphatically that our agreement is lawful and that, when it comes, for example, to article 3—the kind of claims she is talking about—there is no issue with the treatment of asylum seekers if they were to be in Rwanda. So I encourage her to do her homework before she makes gross misassumptions about Rwanda.
The Home Secretary keeps talking about achieving value for money for the taxpayer. Has she made a calculation of what the net gain to the Treasury would be if asylum seekers were granted the right to work? They would then be able to pay for their own accommodation and pay taxes into the system, instead of taking money out.
I disagree with the hon. Member’s ingenious proposal because the reality is that the right to work would act as a magnet. It would act as a pull factor in this very complex issue that we are trying to stop. We want to disincentivise people from coming here, not incentivise them with the right to work.
Local residents and I are very concerned about the Home Secretary’s proposals to house 200 asylum seekers in the Stradey Park hotel in my constituency. Will she agree to meet me to hear about our concerns and to explain what she is doing to increase the pace of clearing the backlog of 160,000 undetermined asylum claims, so that those from safe countries can be returned and there will be no need for her to consider using the Stradey Park hotel?
I want to raise the use of divisive language by the Home Secretary throughout this statement on immigration, and a few weeks ago when she described multiculturalism as a “recipe for communal disaster”. As a product of multiculturalism myself and representing Luton North, a town proudly multicultural, let me tell her that she is wrong. There are thousands like me from multicultural families. Does she really want to deny our right to exist? Is not the truth that the use of such vile rhetoric is just a cynical ploy to turn people against each other, rather than on those truly responsible for the backlog, the boats and the needless deaths—this Conservative Government?
I prefer to focus on the problem and the solutions to the problem. The problem we have here—one on which the British public overwhelmingly support the Government’s plans—is to stop the boats. The Leader of the Opposition does not even really want to talk about it, but this Prime Minister and this Government have delivered a plan, and are delivering on our plan to stop the boats and to deliver for the British people.
The Home Secretary has said today that she wants to use the armed forces estate and barracks. Does she understand what condition they are in? Does she understand what the additional costs are going to be to repair them to make them habitable? How much will that add to the already £6 billion that she is spending on this new Bill? How will that affect our hospitals, our schools and our children’s education?
The answer is yes. I have been working flat out with the Prime Minister on identifying alternative sites and rolling out alternative accommodation on those sites. We are very much aware of the particular nature and characteristics of the different sites, and of the needs that their occupants will have. Those needs will be met, and people will be housed in a humane, appropriate and cost-effective way.
The Home Secretary claimed in her statement that
“the asylum initial decision backlog is down by 17,000”,
but the Home Office’s own statistics say there are now 173,000 initial decision cases, up from 161,000 in December. So will the Home Secretary admit the colossal scale and epic costs of her failures, running into hundreds of millions of pounds to the British taxpayer, and will she withdraw that incorrect claim?
As I said to the hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi), the hon. Gentleman really needs to listen more carefully to what the Prime Minister promised in his statement. We are on track to deliver on reducing the backlog of initial decisions and the legacy backlog. Those are decisions that have been waiting in the system up until July or June last year. Those are the backlogs that we are working on, and we are making good progress on eliminating it.
The Home Secretary’s statement on the boats mentions the need to acquire two further prison boats, but the Prime Minister is refusing to say where those will be located. Have there been any relevant discussions with local authorities, and does the Home Secretary plan to recruit more staff to fix the broken immigration system and its 172,000 backlog?
Our new sites will be rolled out following and in conjunction with close consultation with the relevant authorities—local authorities, health authorities and education authorities—so that the occupants receive the appropriate care. We have doubled the number of caseworkers in our asylum case working team, which is why we are making progress on bearing down on our backlog.
Children who have been brought into this country from desperate situations will bring with them not simply the trauma of events, but also the real physical ailments that are part and parcel of fleeing from persecution—the Secretary of State has referred to that. Will she outline how their needs can possibly be met by the proposed housing arrangement, and will she allow for the fact that exceptional family circumstances deserve to be part of that key family consideration?
Asylum seekers, whether they are accommodated in the UK or relocated to a safe country such as Rwanda, will always receive the appropriate level of support to which they are entitled. Where we have legal duties, we abide by them; and where we have a duty of care to asylum seekers, we meet it.
Ordinarily, points of order are taken only after all statements and urgent questions are finished. However, I will take a point of order from the shadow Home Secretary if it relates specifically to the statement that has just been delivered.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. This is specific to a sentence in the Home Secretary’s statement and her answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle). It is a factual issue. She said that
“the asylum initial decision backlog is down by 17,000”
whereas Home Office official statistics say that the asylum initial backlog is now over 170,000, up from 160,000 in December. The facts are that the asylum initial decision backlog is up by over 10,000, not down by 17,000. I know that there was a lot of nonsense in what the Home Secretary said, and sometimes it is hard to know where to start, but this is about the facts given to Parliament. Will she now withdraw the incorrect statement that she has made, because her facts are wrong?
Let us remember that this is not a continuation of a debate; it is a point of order to the Chair, and it is not a matter for the Chair. The way in which facts are presented here in the Chamber is entirely—[Interruption.] Who is shouting at me? The way in which facts are presented in the Chamber is entirely a matter for the Minister, or any other Member who is presenting the facts. If the Home Secretary wishes to say anything further to the point of order—[Interruption.] She does not. [Interruption.] No, that is enough. This is not a matter for the Chair and we cannot continue the debate. It is a matter of debate and interpretation of statistics. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) for drawing her concerns to the attention of the House, the Chair and, indeed, the Home Secretary.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I think this is a matter for the Chair. Will you confirm that the ministerial code states that a Minister must always present the facts as they believe them to be true? However, sometimes, inadvertently, Ministers make mistakes, and there is a proper process for correcting the record. It may be that the Home Secretary, when she gets back to her office, will realise that the Home Office statistics are not quite as she has presented them to the House. If so, there are means of correcting the record, and you can confirm that to her.
That is a point of order for the Chair, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for it. There are indeed means of correction, and I think all Ministers in the House are well aware of that. Indeed, it is open to any Member to correct the record if they consider that a mistake has been made.
I take a point of order from the hon. Gentleman and he wants to argue with me! It is not a matter of argument; anyone can correct the record. However, what he said is absolutely correct: when a Minister is delivering complicated statistics provided by a Department, and it transpires that there is a mistake—I have no idea whether on this occasion there is such a discrepancy—there is a procedure for correcting that.