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Asylum Seekers: Hotels

Volume 743: debated on Monday 15 January 2024

We are making significant progress on closing hotels, with 50 due to be closed by the end of January and more in the coming months. We are also working to move asylum seekers into alternative, cheaper accommodation and have successfully cleared the legacy backlog by deciding more than 112,000 cases, while maintaining the integrity of the system.

Last year, after the police, the fire service and I raised concerns, the Home Office closed the OYO hotel in Earl Shilton. However, Leicestershire still has asylum hotels open, including just over the constituency border in Appleby Magna, for example, and my constituents are concerned. Will the Minister set out a timeline for when the hotels may close or, more likely, will he set out how the least suitable hotels will be closed first so that, as the backlog is dealt with, the closing of hotels falls in line, too?

As I set out, we are making good progress. I hear calls from colleagues from throughout the House for closures in their constituencies. We need to stick the course on delivering that, taking into account a number of factors including the ease of exit, the speed of exit, the fact that notice periods come into play and, crucially, value for money, which the taxpayer would rightly expect.

In welcoming my hon. Friend to his new position, may I urge him finally to make good on his predecessor’s promise to close the temporary accommodation centres in my constituency and restore the two hotels back to their intended purpose? Will he also work with his colleagues in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to ensure that the “local links” rule relating to social housing is amended to prevent Erewash from being disproportionately burdened by new applications once residents are awarded asylum?

I hear my hon. Friend’s calls for the specific hotels in her constituency to be closed. She can be reassured that we will continue to work closely on this issue with colleagues from across Government to get it right and make sure that we can exit hotels as quickly as possible.

I thank my hon. Friend for his earlier answers. As he knows, I received official notification today that Newton Park hotel, which was a four-star hotel in my constituency before it was taken over entirely for use by asylum seekers, is to have the contract ended at the end of February. That is an enormous relief to those in those in the small village there and to those in other villages that the important V3 bus route goes through. I thank him for keeping to the word of his predecessor that the hotel use for asylum seekers would end in the second tranche of closures.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the representations she made on this issue. The situation in her constituency demonstrates that the Government’s plan is working and we are seeing hotel exits happen. That is a direct consequence of getting on and making decisions, bringing forward alternative accommodation and also, crucially, reducing in-flow into the system in the first place.

I welcome the progress that has been made on tackling illegal small boat crossings, which has meant it has been possible to end the use of the North Stafford hotel in Stoke-on-Trent. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is only through the most unequivocable legislation on Rwanda that we can deliver proper deterrence that will mean that numbers will come down further?

The point that my hon. Friend makes gets to the nub of the issue. One of the most important factors in sustaining the progress we have made is reducing the number of in-flows into the UK, particularly via small boat crossings of the channel. That is why my message to the House is clear: if Members want to see hotels close and the progress sustained, they need to be in the Lobby to support the Bill this week.

My constituents and I were delighted at the end of last year to see the end of the Ibis hotel in Bramley being used to house illegal immigrants and its return to normal service. Will the Minister reassure me that any forthcoming immigration legislation passed in this House will make sure that this situation will never happen again, by banning the use of hotels outright and making sure that illegal immigrants are sent to Rwanda for processing?

As I have said, the key principle behind the Bill is to help us to bring to an end the egregious crossings of the channel organised by evil criminal gangs. It will help us to ensure that there is greater control of our borders and that there are not these in-flows into the system, which have undoubtedly had the consequence of our needing to respond to that challenge through the opening of hotels. That is precisely what we are trying to put a stop to.

Last week, The Times reported that there are 10,000 hotel beds going unused, at a cost of £1.5 million a day—that is in addition to the 3,500 buffer of empty beds held as a contingency in case of Manston being overwhelmed. Are those figures actually correct?

The right hon. Lady will recognise that it is of course important for there to be a buffer, to make sure that operationally we have the bed spaces required in a contingency situation to be able to respond to any surges and particular challenges. That is a difficult area but one that we are looking at carefully. Within the hotel estate, we are of course maximising the use of bed spaces wherever possible, which again helps us to get on and close the hotels, in a way that I think she would like to see.

The downside of the volume of asylum applications being granted is the pressure that that is putting on the local authority homeless sections. Will the Minister have another look at the time given to asylum seekers from the date on which their application is accepted to the date on which they have to move out of Home Office accommodation? Will he consider the issue of 28 days versus 56 days, which is the recognised limit under the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017? Otherwise, all we are going to do is transfer people from Home Office-funded hotels to local authority-funded ones, with all the extra pressure of financial problems that that creates for local authorities.

On the dates, we are working with local authorities to give them as early visibility as possible about the anticipated number of people with decisions that have been granted that they should expect to see. That helps to forward-plan and we are mindful of those points. As things stand, there is no intention to change that 28-day period. Clearly, planning and working with local authorities is critical, but in many cases people have more than 28 days within which to vacate.

Oldham has a proud history of supporting the persecuted. As of March last year, our town is home to 910 asylum seekers, 145 of whom are in hotel accommodation, but there the housing crisis meets the homelessness crisis: 1,000 people in temporary accommodation, including 500 children. Is it not time that the Government reviewed the dispersal policy, to ensure that every part of England plays its fair share? I gently point out that Braintree is home to just two asylum seekers, as opposed to Oldham’s 910.

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that I and my officials are carefully considering what more can be done to ensure that there is equitability in the approach to dispersal. That is critical, and we need to work carefully through some of the pressures and challenges that these issues present, but I gently say to those on the Opposition Benches that a key part of the response is to get the flows into the system down, and they do not have a credible plan for doing that.

There are currently 56,000 asylum seekers in hotels. The Prime Minister promised to close those hotels some time last year, but since then the figures have gone up by 10,000. Can the Minister confirm that that figure is correct?

I am clear in my mind that the figure that the hon. Gentleman has cited, and that the shadow Home Secretary used last week, does not represent the picture as it stands today. They will recognise that there is periodic reporting on statistical releases, but the figures they cite are not representative of the position on the ground today.