(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if she will make a statement on the publication of the impact assessment on the Illegal Migration Bill.
The Illegal Migration Bill is critical to stopping the boats. Its intent is clear: if someone comes to the UK illegally, they should be detained and swiftly returned to their home country if safe, or relocated to a safe third country such as Rwanda. The impact assessment published yesterday makes clear that inaction is simply not an option. The volumes and costs associated with illegal migration have risen exponentially, driven by small boat arrivals. Unless we act decisively to stop the boats, the cost to the taxpayer and the damage to society will continue to grow.
The asylum system currently costs £3.6 billion a year and £6 million a day in hotel accommodation, but that is not the true cost of doing nothing. As this impact assessment shows, the cost of accommodating illegal migrants has increased dramatically since 2020. If these trends continued, the Home Office would be spending over £11 billion a year, or £32 million a day, on asylum support by the end of 2026. In such a scenario, the Bill would only need to deliver a 2% deterrence in arrivals to enable cost savings.
The figure of £11 billion is an extraordinary amount of money—nearly 10 times the amount of money the taxpayer spent on the asylum system as recently as 2021—and anyone opposing this Bill needs to explain how they would pay those costs. Given the Labour party’s opposition to this Bill, it represents another £11 billion black hole in its fiscal plans.
The impact assessment suggests that passing this Bill could directly save the UK taxpayer over £100,000 for every illegal migrant deterred from making a small boat crossing. It also finds that the Bill could lead to a much wider set of benefits—including reducing pressures on local authorities, public services and the housing market—that could not be monetised, meaning that the savings will in fact be much greater.
The British public are clear that they want to stop the boats. That is why we must keep using every tool at our disposal to do just that and to secure our borders, and why this Bill must become law.
I was going to ask if the Immigration Minister had seriously signed off this garbage of an impact assessment, which no self-respecting Minister could possibly think was serious, but actually the nonsense he has just said is even worse and even less coherent. This is not an impact assessment. According to the Government’s own guidance, it is supposed to include the
“costs, benefits and risks...and a consideration of a range of options.”
However, we have something that does not even include some of the most basic options to assess, such as speeding up the asylum system and making savings that way. Instead, it says that this impact assessment
“does not attempt to estimate any costs of implementing the Bill…or estimate the volumes of individuals that will be impacted by the Bill.”
Really, what is the point of it, given that the document itself admits that people “may not be deterred” by any of this, and it cannot answer the most basic questions? I have never seen anything more clueless and chaotic.
The impact assessment does provide evidence of the scale of Conservative failure. The cost for one person in the asylum system for just one night has gone up fivefold in four years. That is just the cost of Tory mismanagement. It has gone up faster than mortgages or energy bills, and it has even gone up faster than the price of cheese. It is all Tory Home Office mismanagement. It shows the shocking fact that people are now staying in the asylum system for four years, and there is no alternative to try to speed up the system or to look at that.
The Government do say that it will cost £169,000 per person to pay another country to take asylum decisions for us. So far, the Government have sent more Home Secretaries than asylum seekers to Rwanda, but how many people are they actually budgeting for? The Prime Minister says he wants to send everyone, so can the Minister tell us where the billions of pounds it would cost to send everyone to Rwanda this year will come from, and if not, can he tell us how many he is really budgeting for and what in fact is going to happen to everyone else instead?
The impact assessment says it costs £7,000 per person to keep someone in detention for 40 days. That is more than double the current average cost of keeping people elsewhere in the asylum system, so where are the hundreds of millions of pounds for the detention plan going to come from, and where are these detention facilities going to come from? The Minister has not attempted to cost speeding up the system and he has not attempted to cost what we really think will happen, which is that tens of thousands more people will be in indefinite detention or indefinite asylum accommodation. The Treasury bailed out the Home Office by £2.4 billion last year. How much is it going to be this year?
The Government have crashed the economy, and now they have crashed the asylum system too. We have an impact assessment that shows the Home Office does not have a clue and the Treasury does not have a grip, and the Prime Minister who claims to be Mr Fix-It is instead Mr Muck-It-Up. The country deserves better than this.
The right hon. Lady misses the point entirely. The impact assessment bears out the cost of the current broken system and makes it clear that there is no option but to completely overhaul our asylum system and make it fit for the decades ahead. The reality, as those of us on the Government Benches see it, is straightforward: if people continue to cross in small boats, the cost to the taxpayer in one form or another will continue to increase and that is a completely unacceptable outcome—but it is the one that can be expected with Labour’s recklessly naive approach to border security.
When the right hon. Lady said that this document was “garbage” and “clueless”, I thought she was referring to her own five-point plan to tackle illegal migration, because we cannot grant our way out of the problem, we cannot simply arrest our way out of this and do nothing to dismember and dismantle the business model of the gangs. We cannot provide a safe and legal route to every single person eligible for refugee status or every economic migrant who views this country as a better place, and we certainly cannot reheat the tired old policies like the Dublin convention that she looks back on through her rose-tinted spectacles. Even members of the European Union have moved on from that, but not the Labour party. She cannot even bring herself to call these unnecessary and dangerous journeys what they are under British law: illegal.
The truth is that Labour’s do-nothing approach to stopping the boats is the fastest route to more crossings, greater taxpayer spending and more pressure on our communities. Left unchecked, the cost will spiral to £11 billion by 2026. That is the cost of a Labour Home Secretary; that is the cost of Cooper. Only the Conservative party will truly tackle the root cause of the problem, not just the symptoms. We are determined to secure our borders and stop the boats, and the British public can rely on us to do so.
The Opposition seem to think that the Rwanda scheme is purely about displacing people who have entered illegally from Kent to Rwanda. In fact, it is about deterring them from coming in the first place and instead encouraging them to use the safe and legal routes that are now in the Illegal Migration Bill, because it will become a lottery whether someone ends up on a plane to Rwanda or in a hotel in Kent. Given that the French authorities admitted to the Select Committee on Home Affairs that when the Rwanda scheme was first announced there was a surge in migrants approaching the French authorities about regularising their position in France rather than hazarding the channel crossing, what discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the French and Germans, who have expressed interest in a Rwanda-type scheme, about having a joint multinational scheme to get this thing up and running?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is a view expressed by some, mainly on the left, that the UK is somehow an outlier in pursuing a policy like Rwanda. I can tell him, having spoken to our European counterparts and Home Affairs and Interior Ministers in north Africa and beyond, that leaders across the world are looking to the UK not as an outlier but as a leader in this field. They are looking to the Rwanda policy as one of the most innovative and comprehensive approaches to a problem that everyone is facing. In an age of mass migration, with millions of people on the move, it is right that the UK leads. We will invest in border security, and that is the difference between us and the Labour party. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) does not want to invest in border security; we do. We will pursue the Rwanda policy, we will secure our borders, and other countries will follow our lead.
The Tory Illegal Migration Bill has almost completed its journey through Parliament and only yesterday did the Home Office deign to publish this ludicrous economic impact assessment, which is as revealing in what it omits as what it includes. There is nothing about the backlog they have created; it is all about the boats.
We know the cost of this cruel Tory ideology is £169,000 per soul deported, costing more than if people were allowed to stay. We know the figures for asylum processing claims, which are estimated to take four years, but we do not know the set-up costs for the wildly expanding detention estate or those left in immigration limbo or the staffing in the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice to deal with this.
The Government say that this will save money, because victims of modern slavery will no longer be entitled to support. How despicable. This is an egregious waste of public money in a cost of living crisis, and it fails to recognise the value of human potential. We have just celebrated the Refugee Festival in Scotland—an incredible experience that celebrates the contribution of those who come to our shores for sanctuary. It is increasingly evident that the only way that Scotland can uphold our humanitarian values is by regaining our independence. As Winnie Ewing would have it, stop the world, Scotland wants to get on.
I am delighted that the hon. Lady celebrated Refugee Week. I do not know if any refugees came to it, because the SNP does not house refugees in Scotland. The point is that we are proud of our record as a country. Since 2015, under a Conservative Government we have welcomed into the United Kingdom more than half a million people seeking genuine sanctuary from war and persecution—individuals coming from Hong Kong, Ukraine, Syria and Afghanistan. SNP Members continuously pose as humanitarians, but we all know the truth is that at every single opportunity, they fail to live up to their fine words. If they cared about this issue, they would welcome asylum seekers into their own part of the UK, but they do not.
I agree with my right hon. Friend. Border security is the first priority of any Government. We understand that, and that is why we are investing in it and ensuring that we can stop the boats. I am only surprised that the Opposition care so little about our national security.
Two weeks ago, when the Home Secretary gave evidence at the Home Affairs Committee, I asked her when the impact assessment for the Illegal Migration Bill would be published. While I welcome the fact that it has been published today, or last night, it is after the Bill has completed all its stages in the House of Commons and is three quarters of the way through the House of Lords. That is wholly unsatisfactory for Parliament to undertake its role of scrutinising Government legislation. At that Select Committee sitting, the Home Secretary also said:
However, I would also say that to my mind it is pretty obvious what the economic impact of the Bill will be. We will stop spending £3 billion a year on our asylum cost. It is a Bill that will lead to the cessation of 45,000 people in hotels and £6 million a day. To my mind, those are savings that we cannot ignore.”
The Home Secretary told the Home Affairs Committee that those savings would happen. Can the Minister help me by pointing to where those savings are in the impact assessment? I am struggling to find those figures in the document that the Government have produced.
The document makes it abundantly clear that, were costs to continue to rise on the current trajectory—we are in an age of mass migration and the numbers of individuals looking to cross, for example from north Africa to Europe, are extremely high so there is reason to believe that numbers will remain high for a sustained period—by 2026, which is just a few years away, the system would be costing an additional £11 billion. We cannot countenance such waste of taxpayers’ money. As we have seen in other parts of the world such as Australia, where systems of this kind have been implemented, by delivering this system and ensuring a genuine deterrent effect, we will ensure that we save the taxpayer that money. But, more important than merely saving money, we will save the British public the stress and the strain on public services, housing, integration and community cohesion that tens of thousands of illegal migrants bring to our country. That is a prize worth fighting for, and that is why we are delivering this Bill.
May I just say to my right hon. Friend that in the past week we have seen arrests and convictions in Essex? One example was over the tragedy that befell the Vietnamese a few years ago, but another was a new gang that has been identified that is trafficking people to work in modern slavery locally, in Grays. Although the British public want us to stop the boats, the British public are also generous in spirit, and what they really want is to make sure that this country is not being taken advantage of. The responsibility to tackle that lies with the machinery of Departments, our criminal justice system and our law enforcement agencies. If they can all get a grip, will that not be a better solution than sending people to Rwanda?
Our policy with respect to Rwanda is not the totality of our approach; we are also, as my hon. Friend has just noted, investing significantly in law enforcement at home and abroad. We have increased the number of illegal working raids by 50% just this year alone. We have signed two landmark deals with France and a memorandum of understanding with Italy. We have signed a returns agreement with Georgia. I have recently travelled to Belgium and met my counterparts there, where we spoke about that horrific incident with the Vietnamese individuals who died in the back of an HGV. We agreed to further deepen our collaboration and law enforcement co-operation. She has my assurance that we are working around the clock and tackling this issue from each and every dimension, and that is why I believe that the UK has the most comprehensive plan to tackle illegal migration of any country in the western world.
The Minister is proposing, according to the document, to spend eye-wateringly large sums—£169,000 per person—to process claims in Rwanda. He wants to spend that money to treat people with great cruelty. How can that possibly be justified?
I usually have the utmost respect for the right hon. Gentleman, but he is wrong in each respect of that question. First, the figure that he quoted is a gross figure, not a net figure. Secondly, that figure does not relate to the Rwandan partnership, but is an indicative figure based on the Syrian resettlement scheme. We chose not to publish the commercially sensitive nature of our relationship with Rwanda for good reason, because countries and partners working together in good faith should not publish details that we said we would not. His last point, that individuals will be treated with great cruelty in Rwanda, is categorically untrue. I wonder whether he has been to Rwanda—I certainly have. It is a country that is safe and where we have a good working relationship. The High Court exhaustively analysed Rwanda’s safety and the treatment that it would propose to give to those coming from the United Kingdom, and the High Court concluded that the scheme was appropriate and in accordance with our legal obligations. We will shortly hear from the Court of Appeal, but I very much hope it will uphold the High Court’s judgment.
What is nonsense is to deny that it makes economic sense to offshore. Nobody is going to spend thousands of pounds to a people smuggler just to be detained and sent back to Rwanda. In terms of deterrence, will the Minister accept that if someone is fleeing chaos in Syria or Iraq, they will not be deterred to come if they are going to be put up in a cosy, warm, former airman’s bedroom in RAF Scampton, rather than a hotel in bracing, cold Skegness? Is not the solution to get the Bill through and pass it into law and for the House of Lords to stop its silly games?
I completely agree with my right hon. Friend, although not necessarily his comments about Skegness. The point is that we have to look at each and every one of the pull factors to the United Kingdom. The approach that we are now taking to accommodating asylum seekers is not an outlier within Europe. I have spoken to my counterparts in almost every European country in recent weeks, and they are all considering options such as barges and sites such as former military bases. Many are considering tents. Many are bailing people to no fixed abode with vouchers and essentially leaving them to sleep on the streets. We have to ensure that the UK is not perceived to be a soft touch, and I will never allow that to happen.
Who would have thought that a policy designed for shallow political purposes would turn out to be an expensive embarrassment? It is not about what is in this assessment; it is about what is not. Where is the estimate of the savings if the Government chose competence over posturing and efficiently cleared the 160,000 backlog of asylum seekers? Where is the impact assessment for the effect of these proposals on the victims of modern slavery? Has the Minister made any assessment at all of the likelihood that people will still come to our shores by small boats but simply not claim asylum, slipping underneath the radar and ending up in slavery and criminality? Where is the comprehensive assessment of this ridiculous policy?
On the hon. Member’s penultimate point, we have gone to great lengths to ensure that individuals do not arrive on our shores without our knowledge. That happens in only a tiny number of cases because of the good work of our small boats operational command. We meet individuals and ensure that they are properly security checked before they flow into the system. That is the right thing to do.
The costs to the UK taxpayer of the current levels of asylum seekers are extremely high. Then, as the impact assessment says, there are non-monetised costs such as the effect on the housing shortage and public services, and the challenge to community cohesion and integration. It is for all those reasons and others that we must get a grip on this challenge. I do believe that border security is worth investing in. The hon. Member may not, but I do, and I think that the British public do as well. They want us to secure our borders and they are willing to see us invest in that.
May I again caution my right hon. Friend against the Gerald Ratner approach to Government policy? Will he answer this direct question: how long did it take on average to process an asylum seeker’s claim five years ago, how long does it take today, and why?
The last time my hon. Friend asked me a question, he said that we would not be able to produce a barge to house asylum seekers. Actually, days later we signed the agreement to do that, and that will be coming forward, so he knows that when we say things, we mean them and we will deliver.
With respect to the time it takes to process asylum claims, it is too long. However, that is the product not just of management within Government and the Home Office, but the sheer number of people crossing every year. I have spoken to my opposite numbers in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy, and every one of those countries is struggling with backlogs of cases as much as we are—more so in some cases—because the asylum systems across Europe are being placed under intolerable pressure by the number of people making these dangerous and unnecessary journeys. That is why we have to instil deterrence, and the Rwanda policy gives us the ability to reduce the numbers and restore sustainability to the system.
Instead of effective measures to tackle the people smugglers and speed up the processing of asylum claims to reduce the backlog, the Bill means that the Minister’s Department will need to requisition more and more accommodation, as it is doing with the Stradey Park Hotel in my constituency. In spite of promises of job opportunities from Clearsprings, his Home Office contractor, all 100 staff have had the devastating news today that they face redundancy. What will the Department do to help those staff and those who are in similar circumstances because of the Bill?
The best thing that the hon. Member could do is support the Bill when it returns from the House of Lords to enable us to get the flights off to Rwanda so that we imbue the system with the deterrence that it requires. The impact assessment that we laid yesterday makes it clear that if we do nothing, the costs to the system will spiral by £11 billion a year. She, like other Labour Members of Parliament, writes to me day in, day out complaining that the way in which we accommodate asylum seekers is too rudimentary. They say it is not specialist enough, that we should be spending more money on asylum support, not less, and that a hotel is not good enough and needs to be more luxurious. We have the Labour leader of Westminster City Council saying that individuals being housed in a hotel in Pimlico were being poorly looked after and that they should have their own single ensuite bedrooms. How out of touch with the British public can they get?
Local residents in the Kettering constituency are appalled that two local hotels—the Rothwell House Hotel in Rothwell and the Royal Hotel in Kettering—are being used as asylum seeker accommodation. I am convinced that the answer is to get the Illegal Migration Bill through and to stop people crossing the channel in small boats. Is it not the case that we are spending £3.6 billion a year and that that will rise to £11 billion in just three years? Is it not the case that doing nothing is simply not an option?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He and his constituents see every day the harm that doing nothing could cause, with the loss of more than one valued hotel in his constituency. We want to stop this once and for all, and the dividing line is between those who want to deal with the symptoms of the problem by tweaking the system and managing failure and those of us who want to transform the system, stop the boats, secure our borders and ensure that we have a sustainable system for an age of mass migration.
We can tell that we are in the dying days of the Government ahead of a general election, because they always resort to dog-whistle rhetoric. Nobody on either side of the House wants open borders. We want a secure border around the United Kingdom, but what we do not want is more unworkable propositions from the Government. They have brought forward Bill after Bill after Bill, and none of it has worked. The impact assessment shows that this Bill will not work either. There is no attempt to estimate the total costs or benefits of the proposals. It uses the word “uncertain” 24 times in 40 pages and does not cover the costs that we need to know. Will the Minister tell us how much this will cost and where the money will come from?
The difference here is that if we do nothing, we will see the British taxpayer spend billions of pounds. [Interruption.] That is not on us; that is on the Labour party. We are not doing nothing; we are taking forward the Rwanda partnership, which is one of the most innovative and novel approaches to tackling this issue of any country in the world.
May I extend my most sincere thanks to the Minister for his words today in response to the urgent question? I have been very loud about exactly this matter in the Chamber since I was first elected, and this is without question what the British people voted for back in 2019. Does he agree that the Labour and the Lib Dem response of simply saying, “Oh, speed up the asylum system,” equates to saying, “Just let them all in”?
I could not agree more strongly with my hon. Friend. There is a naivety to the Labour party’s position. If Labour Members think that they can solve the problem just by granting people asylum quicker, doing a few more arrests and trying to reinvent the Dublin convention, which even European leaders have moved on from, they do not know what we are dealing with. Just the other day, the shadow Immigration Minister, the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), supported a proposal to loan Ukraine the small boats that we have seized to help its citizens deal with the recent floods. Does he have any idea what these boats are like? They are the most unseaworthy craft that I have ever seen, produced by the most evil and ruthless people smugglers and human traffickers. That suggests that Labour Members do not understand the problem. If we are to beat the people smugglers, we need to take robust measures, and that is what we are doing.
The Minister is claiming that, without the Bill, the cost of the current system will rise to £11 billion—by the way, that figure is not in the impact assessment. Will he confirm that his calculation is based on the idea that per-person accommodation costs will keep rising at the same pace as they have over the last few years as a result of his Department’s failure to get a grip both on the asylum system backlog and, as I have said before, on the rip-off merchants who are scamming the Home Office for billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on dodgy contracts?
I will always hold the providers to account for the quality of the service they provide for the taxpayer. I take that very seriously, as I have said to the hon. Lady in the past, but I am afraid that, like the shadow Home Secretary, she is missing the point. The more illegal migrants who come to the country, the greater the cost to the taxpayer. If we want to tackle the problem, we need to break the business model of the people smugglers. Tinkering around at the edges and trying to manage the system better, which seems to be the Labour party’s approach, will never work.
Residents in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke are rightly outraged to see hotels used, people losing their jobs, levelling-up projects undermined and the hospitality and retail sectors destroyed. This is the right scheme because, like the successful Australian scheme, it will act as a deterrent to people coming to this country, therefore bringing down the need for hotels and the burden on the Home Office.
Sadly, the only plan we hear from the shadow Home Secretary is to process people quicker. That is amnesty in another name. We are currently accepting 70% of them, and the right hon. Lady will not even commit to getting down to France’s level of 18%. Is the truth not that the shadow Home Secretary may belittle the scheme but she does not say whether she would scrap it if she were Home Secretary? Ultimately, Labour is getting ready for another embarrassing flip-flopping U-turn.
I do not know whether the shadow Home Secretary would scrap the scheme—I have heard all sorts of conflicting reports in that regard—but my hon. Friend is absolutely right that this a world-leading partnership. Time and again, I speak to Interior Ministers throughout Europe who look to it as an innovative approach. I would not be surprised if other countries follow us once we have operationalised it.
For the Minister’s information, Motherwell and Wishaw has been welcoming refugees for more than 100 years—Lithuanians, Vietnamese, Congolese and Syrians. Please do not make that mistake again.
The economic assessment says:
“By setting an annual cap this should reduce the inflow of people entering the UK and therefore reduce the cost associated with processing asylum claims”,
with secondary benefits—[Interruption.] I am sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker, I do not feel well.
Will my right hon. Friend apologise for the delay in producing this impact assessment? Will he also explain to the House why the four countries of Scandinavia have been able to reduce the number of asylum applications from 239,000 in 2015 to 28,000 last year? Why have they been able to do that when we cannot? Why is our asylum process still taking longer than it ought to? The rate at which asylum applications are being dealt with is currently at its slowest ever.
First, I am sorry that the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) is feeling unwell, and I hope she recovers quickly.
With respect to my hon. Friend’s question, I can report good news: we are making good progress on the pledge we made at the end of last year to eliminate the legacy asylum backlog. The number of caseworkers is rising rapidly and we are on course to achieve our ambition to double them. Productivity is increasing. We will see those results flow through very rapidly. That is the right thing to do, although it is not the totality of the response to this challenge, because the reason we have a backlog in cases is the sheer number of people crossing. We published the impact assessment yesterday. I hope my hon. Friend will read it and it will inform any further discussions we have in this House following their lordships’ deliberations.
The impact assessment illustrates the cost of the Government’s decisions. Nobody else is to blame. The Government have had 13 and a half years, but we are in this mess. On 25 May, when I asked the Minister about dealing with asylum claims, he told me that increasing the pace of dealing with asylum claims would likely increase the number of people coming across on small boats. He also said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck):
“the faster the process, the more pull factor”.—[Official Report, 25 May 2023; Vol. 733, c. 439.]
Where are those statements borne out in the impact assessment?
The point I made then and have made again today is that the Labour Party’s policy is merely focused on the symptoms of the problem. It is saying that, if we can grant the decisions faster, everything will be fine. That will not resolve the problem; in fact, it is dangerously naive. We are dealing with the most evil people smugglers and human traffickers, and highly determined economic migrants. That is why we need a much broader approach. At the heart of it has to be deterrence. The Rwanda policy is part of that. That is why we have brought forward the Illegal Migration Bill. The sooner we get it on the statute book, the sooner we can implement it.
My right hon. Friend is clearly right that this is a multifaceted approach. We need to break the business model of the evil people smugglers, but also speed up the process of dealing with those people who have genuine asylum cases, and then remove those who do not. Will he join me in sending this signal: if someone enters this country illegally, we will remove them to Rwanda where their case will be considered and, if they have a case, they can return.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We want to build a system whereby the UK is a generous and welcoming country to those in genuine need of sanctuary. That is why we have pursued the resettlement schemes that we have in recent years, and we want to do more in future. The Illegal Migration Bill envisages that through its clause on safe and legal routes. For those who come here in breach of our laws, breaking into our country in an irregular manner, we will pursue the most robust approach. They will be returned home if it is safe to do so, or to a safe third country such as Rwanda. That is a sensible and robust approach that will help us to create a sustainable migration system.
The Minister was correct when he said that the system was broken—broken by this Government, which is why we are paying £6 million a day to house people fleeing conflict and persecution. Liverpool, as a city of sanctuary, has extended its support to people fleeing persecution, not illegal migrants, to the sum of 2,800. Will the Minister agree that it is unacceptable for the Government to expect us to rehouse 237 people from Afghan hotels with five months’ notice? Will he agree to meet me and other Liverpool MPs to discuss this matter and solve it urgently?
I am happy to discuss that with the hon. Lady, or she can speak to the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer), who is leading on the resettlement of Afghans. I respectfully disagree with her. Those individuals who came across in Operation Pitting under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy, to whom we owe a debt of gratitude, have in some cases been in hotels for approaching two years. That is not right for them or for the country. We need to help them now into sustainable forms of accommodation. That is why we have established a generous new scheme. We are working with local authorities, with dedicated triaging teams going into the hotels and helping those individuals into vacant service family accommodation, the private rental sector and social housing. I strongly encourage her to work with her local authority to do the same in Liverpool.
The Immigration Minister is right that the current level of illegal migration is unsustainable, due to not only the billions of taxpayers’ money being spent but the pressure on public services and housing and, therefore, on our environment. Will he assure me that, in addition to the Illegal Migration Bill, we will always uphold the decisions of this Parliament and the British courts above those of the European Court of Human Rights?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s support for the action that we are taking. This Conservative Government brought forward the Illegal Migration Bill, a robust measure that is probably the most significant change to our immigration legislative framework since the second world war. We believe that it is in accordance with our international law obligations. We are determined to tackle this challenge, and we will do whatever it takes to do that.
I hope the Minister is prepared to correct some of his earlier claims, because Glasgow remains the local authority with the most dispersed asylum seekers per head of population; it has more than any other local authority in the country. If he does not believe me, he would be very welcome to come and meet some of the asylum seekers and refugees at the Maryhill Integration Network, people who trained as accountants, nurses and teachers. They do not want to cost the taxpayer money; they want to become taxpayers. But his failed immigration processing means they are not having their claims processed in time. Will he come and hear some of their genuine stories about why they had to flee their home countries in the first place, and the contribution that they could and want to make now?
First, I agree that Glasgow is taking in a large number of asylum seekers. It is just a pity that nowhere else in Scotland is. That is the approach the SNP Government have established. Only last week, we approached the SNP Government to suggest that the vessel that has been housing Ukrainians in Leith be used to house asylum seekers. The SNP Government said that they did not think that that was a good idea—Ukrainians were welcome, but asylum seekers were not welcome. That is emblematic of an approach that is rhetorical and never backed up by reality. I would be happy to speak to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, but the truth is that the SNP is letting them down.
Much of the media reporting this morning focused on the £169,000 cost of transporting an individual and processing them in Rwanda, but what are the alternative costs of ongoing open illegal migration, leading to problems with accommodation, access to public services, lack of infrastructure, increasing house prices and social integration? Could the Minister tell us more about the costs of those, please?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Not only is maintaining a system without taking robust further steps like the Rwanda policy likely to be extremely expensive—that is detailed in the impact assessment—but there are non-monetised costs as well, which are hard to calculate with certainty, such as the impact on scant social housing and housing more broadly, the cost to public services and the fact that many of these individuals come to the UK speaking poor English. Many require great support by the British state to help them to integrate and build successful lives in this country. That is a very challenging situation. We have to be honest with ourselves about that. We need to take action to stop the boats, so we can ensure that the finite resources we have as a country are not directed at young men who are in a place of safety such as France, but can go to the people who really need it most in and around conflict zones: families and those people we would want to resettle in the United Kingdom.
The Prime Minister claims he is ready to take tough financial decisions, such as not giving our NHS heroes a pay rise, leaving them struggling to pay ever-increasing mortgages and the cost of living caused by those on the Government Benches voting measures through and crashing our economy just a few months ago. The Rwanda scheme is set to cost even more billions than the already crashed asylum system, delivered by those on the Government Benches over there. So how can the Minister truly sit there and justify spending £169,000 to send one single asylum seeker to Rwanda? I accept that the Government are working with local authorities on housing in the private sector—deregulated housing in the private sector that cannot be given to any of our people. That is what he is doing. You cannot justify what is going on here. You’ve crashed it and you go on to—
The hon. Lady is wrong on a number of counts. First, the impact assessment does not say that it costs £169,000 to send somebody to Rwanda. The figure is an indicative one based on the Syrian resettlement scheme, as I said in answer to a previous question. The partnership with Rwanda is rightly commercially sensitive, so she is wrong to draw the inference that she does. With respect to accommodating asylum seekers, we want to ensure we bring those costs down and we want the best possible relationships with local government to do just that. But the truth is that the driver of those costs is the sheer number of people crossing the channel every year. Unless we take decisive action, I am afraid that will continue to rise. That is why she should support us when the Bill returns to the Commons.
Clearly, the best way to reduce the costs of illegal migration is to increase deterrence, in particular with the Rwanda plan. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he is doing everything possible to ensure that once the Court of Appeal has made its decision we can get on with the flights to Rwanda immediately?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Deterrence has to be at the heart of our approach, whether domestically in terms of making it harder to live and work illegally in the United Kingdom, or internationally with the work we are doing upstream. The Rwanda policy is a critical part of that. The Home Secretary, the Prime Minister and I meet every week to ensure we are ready to operationalise the policy as soon as we have the ability to do so. We will await the judgment of the court. Of course, we hope it will uphold the very strong judgment we received from the High Court earlier in the year.
The Government’s failing asylum seeker policy also impacts on local areas in the UK where large numbers of asylum seekers are accommodated. The Government promised not to increase the number of asylum seekers in the north-east, but the Minister told me in a letter this week that that would not stop a large barge being sited on the Tees. Is Teesside getting hundreds or thousands more asylum seekers, yes or no?
I am surprised by the hon. Gentleman’s approach because he voted against every measure we brought forward to tackle this challenge. As a result, more people will come to the United Kingdom illegally on small boats. I suspect he cannot even bring himself to call these individuals illegal migrants. We are taking the tough steps we need to tackle this issue. We are also looking at new ways to accommodate people. Barges and vessels are options being pursued by the Irish, the Belgians, the Dutch and the SNP in Scotland.
The Minister spoke earlier about investing in border security, but it was only in April that Border Force were on strike over pay and conditions. He also spoke earlier about humanitarian approaches to migration, yet I still have constituents in Ilford South whose families are in Afghanistan fleeing the Taliban and facing every day being murdered by the Taliban. The Government have failed to bring those people safely to this country. We then turn to the impact assessment on the Bill, which exposes what it is: an absolute dog’s breakfast. It is designed for one thing only: to try to win an election. It is nothing to do with serious migration policy. It is not properly costed. It is total nonsense. Mark my words, Madam Deputy Speaker, I doubt a single flight will go to Rwanda. It will be an incoming Labour Government who will, yet again, have to clean up this Government’s incompetent mess.
Let’s see about that, shall we? I think we have the right policy. It is one we are pursuing. As soon as we have the ability to do so through the courts, we will get those flights off to Rwanda. On the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that the UK is cruel or inhumane, I could not disagree with him more strongly. The facts bear that out. The fact that we brought more than 500,000 people to this country, including from places such as Afghanistan, on humanitarian visas shows that we are one of the world’s leading countries in that regard. One of the challenges we have, to be frank with him, about helping some people we would like to help from Afghanistan, or those who fled to neighbouring countries such as Pakistan to come to the UK, is the fact that so many people have come across on small boats from a place of safety such as France that they are putting intolerable pressure on our system. The sooner we stop the small boats, the more we can do for people who really deserve our help.
The impact assessment confirms that the Government’s Rwanda scheme, which I have criticised previously in this House for its senseless cruelty, will also come at huge expense to the British taxpayer. Does the Minister accept that there is both a more humane and financially prudent alternative to the Government’s plans, and that should begin by allowing asylum seekers to seek paid work, which the Lift the Ban coalition estimates would lead to the Government receiving more than £366 million in tax and national insurance alone?
I do not support allowing asylum seekers to work in this country. The approach that we are taking under the Illegal Migration Bill means that individuals who come here will be processed swiftly—in days and weeks, not months and years—and then either returned home or sent to a safe third country such as Rwanda, so that issue will not be relevant. Let me also point out that the hon. Gentleman recently opposed the proposal for a number of asylum seekers to stay in his constituency, despite having said that it was a place of sanctuary.
I recognise that the Minister and the Government have a big illegal migration issue to sort out, but the economic impact assessment does not paint an accurate picture. Without foreign staff our NHS would collapse, and without the support of grandparents to help with children our workforce would collapse. The assessment does not do justice to the fact that we as a nation are infinitely richer thanks to those who choose to come here to work and raise their families, and who make the choice to be the best of British alongside those of us who were born here.
The difference is that the people to whom the hon. Gentleman has referred come here legally. We welcome people who come here legally—as visitors on tourist visas, as workers on work visas, as NHS workers on NHS and social care visas—but it is very different if people break into our country, flagrantly breaching our laws. No other country in the world would tolerate that, and neither should we.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Immigration Minister told me earlier:
“I do not know if any refugees came to it”
“because the SNP does not house refugees in Scotland.”
That statement seems to me to be as insulting as it is inaccurate, and I would like some clarification of it.
Let me say first that it is up to the Home Office, not the Scottish Government, to decide where people are dispersed. Glasgow supports about 5,000 asylum seekers, Scotland took well over its population share of Ukrainians, and every single local authority in Scotland took people as part of the Syrian resettlement scheme. The Minister also mentioned the luxury cruise ship in Leith that was contracted by the Scottish Government to house Ukrainians. The Ukrainians on that ship were afforded comprehensive wraparound support. I would be interested to hear from the Minister whether he would offer refugees the same comprehensive wraparound support on that basis, because if he would not, I would understand why the Scottish Government would be nervous about it.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Perhaps it would be helpful if I sent the hon. Lady a copy of the letter that I wrote to the Scottish Government recently, which debunks many of the points that they had raised with regard to the vessel in Leith. If there is still time, the hon. Lady could ask them to change their mind, because if they are willing to accommodate Ukrainians, surely, given how strongly they feel about asylum seekers, they would want to do the same in this instance.
Order. Let me speak.
I am not entirely sure that anyone is asking me to do anything. It seems to me that we are slightly prolonging the exchanges on the urgent question, and I have to say that it is not for the Chair to adjudicate on two different points of view. I hope that if the hon. Lady wants to come back to this, there will not simply be a further exchange of views on what has already been said. A point of order should be directed at me, to ask me to do something, but the hon. Lady clearly wanted to put some points on the record. She has done that, the Minister has responded, and I think the House will now want to move on. I urge the hon. Lady, if she has something further to add, to ensure that it is relevant to the Chair. Otherwise, she might consider that she has put her points on the record.
Further to the point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Thank you for what you have said, and I will be brief. The Minister implied, at the Dispatch Box, that Scotland does not take refugees. This is clearly a point of accuracy, because that comment was inaccurate, and I ask, Madam Deputy Speaker, whether the Minister could withdraw it.
Again, that is not a matter for the Chair. The hon. Lady has made her point. If the Minister felt that he had said anything inaccurate, or had inadvertently misled the House, he would be expected to correct the record at the first opportunity. I think we will leave it at that, because this has been quite a long extension of the previous exchanges.