Thursday 2nd May 2024

(1 month, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
11:34
Asked by
Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford
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To ask His Majesty’s Government how many asylum seekers whose applications are pending are currently missing from their registered address.

Lord Gascoigne Portrait Lord Gascoigne (Con)
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My Lords, the department does not routinely publish this data, given that the figures are subject to frequent change. In addition, the Home Office, through a variety of means, including face-to-face and digital reporting, has robust procedures in place to prevent absconding and re-establish contact.

Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
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My Lords, the Irish Justice Minister claims that 80% of asylum seekers arriving recently in Ireland have crossed the Northern Irish border through the common travel area. What steps are the Government taking to monitor these movements from GB to Northern Ireland and then from Northern Ireland to Ireland? Is there an agreement between the Governments, as the Irish claim, for them to be returned to the safe country known as the United Kingdom?

Lord Gascoigne Portrait Lord Gascoigne (Con)
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As the PM said, the comments from Irish politicians show that illegal migration is a global challenge, and that is why multiple countries are talking about third-country partnerships, as this House passed only the other day. We believe that they will follow where the UK has led. The Prime Minister said yesterday that we cannot go about cherry-picking any of our international agreements. The Secretary of State is seeking urgent clarification that there will be no disruption or police checkpoints at or near the border. I can confirm that the UK has no legal obligation to accept returns of illegal migrants from Ireland. It is no surprise that our robust approach to illegal migration is already providing a deterrent.

Lord Swire Portrait Lord Swire (Con)
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My Lords, what is no surprise, or should certainly come as no surprise, is that the Home Office has absolutely no idea where these people are. Worse than that, the Home Office has absolutely no idea where the alleged hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people who are not in this country officially are either. Are we not at the point now that we need to seriously look once again at the issue of ID cards?

Lord Gascoigne Portrait Lord Gascoigne (Con)
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Much as I am loath to do this, I have to disagree with my noble friend’s broad point. In the scheme that he referred to, an initial cohort of suitable cases, around 2,000 people, were identified for removal and placed on immigration bail with strict reporting conditions. For those outside the group, there is still a wide range of tools, some of which I discussed earlier, to maintain contact with them. This includes face-to-face and digital reporting, and it is worth making the point that many individuals are residing in Home Office accommodation. But it is also worth making the point that compliance for this cohort has remained high, and therefore we are confident of the whereabouts once the decision to detain is made.

Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
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My Lords, Home Office sources have told the Times that only 400 to 700 detention spaces are reserved for migrants who are due for deportation to Rwanda. Can the Minister confirm that this equates to less than 1% of the current asylum backlog in the UK? The Prime Minister promised to detain everyone who has crossed the channel on a small boat, a record 30,000 last year. Given that we have only 2,200 detention spaces, what will happen to the remaining 28,000?

Lord Gascoigne Portrait Lord Gascoigne (Con)
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The point to make is that we were well prepared for this moment when it comes to Rwanda. I appreciate the time limits, but we have already done a number of things. We have trained dedicated caseworkers and increased the number of detention spaces to 2,200. We are doing a whole variety of things around ensuring that the legal proceedings are done speedily. We have looked at the flights; the Prime Minister has already said that this will be done over the next 10 to 12 weeks, and we also have an airport on standby ready to deliver what we said we would.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, as the noble Baroness asked, what is happening to the other 28,000? If we think there are 30,000 who came irregularly last year and His Majesty’s Government have found 2,200 places, where will everybody else reside?

Lord Gascoigne Portrait Lord Gascoigne (Con)
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I do not think it would be appropriate for me to go through the different groups and numbers in detail. Turning to the original Question, I can say that those with a genuine claim would want to be at their registered address and not abscond, simply because that would be in their interests in pursuing their claim. There are many checks for the minority who game the system, and we have a significant uplift in our capability to tackle this. We have procedures in place to work alongside the police and other agencies to track them.

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
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My Lords, the Home Office is lawfully able to accommodate those who are under the age of 18. Can my noble friend the Minister outline whether that power has been used? If it has, do we know exactly where those under-18s are or have any of them gone missing?

Lord Gascoigne Portrait Lord Gascoigne (Con)
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I am grateful to my noble friend, who has asked a number of similar questions in this area. This is important. In fact, my first Question at the Dispatch Box was about unaccompanied asylum seekers, and the duty of care to children is obviously something that the department and the whole Government take incredibly seriously. I understand that there are a number of dedicated hubs for children asylum seekers, and I am pleased to say that we have closed all seven hotels that we used to accommodate unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. I do not know the specific statistics for how many have gone missing, but I will take that back to the department and write to my noble friend.

Lord Bishop of Lincoln Portrait The Lord Bishop of Lincoln
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My Lords, the Minister talked about hotels. The population of seaside towns, such as Skegness, have been very welcoming of asylum seekers staying in hotels. In effect, hotels are a way of monitoring the presence of asylum seekers over time. The frustration of people in Skegness and other coastal towns is that the slow progress in processing asylum seekers is having an impact on the tourist industry, the local economy and jobs in these towns. Is the Minister aware of that?

Lord Gascoigne Portrait Lord Gascoigne (Con)
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I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate. I have to say to the people of Skegness that I remember many a fine time in that part of the world when I was a young lad. Sadly, I have not been there recently. The right reverend Prelate is absolutely right that many communities up and down the land have been very hospitable, understanding and supportive. Helping those who need it goes to the vein of what this country is. The general point is that immigration, both legal and illegal, needs to be controlled. I am pleased to say that we have made great strides in clearing the backlog and that 100,000 cases have been processed, as we promised. I am happy to look at any outstanding issues in this area and pick them up with the right reverend Prelate outside the Chamber. He is very right, and we pay tribute to the people of the country for helping all people in need.

Lord Morrow Portrait Lord Morrow (DUP)
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My Lords, can the Minister help the House with this? The Dublin Administration speak of 80% of asylum seekers crossing from Northern Ireland, but does he have any idea what the figure is? Some tell us that it is 80% of 20 people, which is not a vast number. Furthermore, it is very clear that the Dublin Administration insisted that borders must be open at all times. Why are they changing their mind now?

Lord Gascoigne Portrait Lord Gascoigne (Con)
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I am afraid I do not know what number that is 80% of, and nor do I think it appropriate to talk about it, but this Government are absolutely committed to the Good Friday agreement. We will do all we can to ensure that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. This is an incredibly sensitive issue and I know that some of the noble Lord’s colleagues raised this in a debate in the Chamber yesterday evening. As I said earlier, the Secretary of State is seeking urgent clarification with his Irish counterpart.

Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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My Lords, I froze on Skegness beach as a child, but I return to the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. Under the Illegal Migration Act, anyone who comes here undocumented is not processed. Perhaps the Minister, who is a decent guy, will tell us the figure for those who are unprocessed and permanently resident here because they cannot be transported in such numbers to Rwanda.

Lord Gascoigne Portrait Lord Gascoigne (Con)
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As a point of clarity, at no stage did I say that I was sunbathing on the beaches of Skegness—or Skeggy, as we used to call it. Braver people would. On the noble Lord’s point, it is worth returning to what we have said about tackling illegal migration. We have been in contact with a number of individuals who will be sent to Rwanda through the passage of that Act, but it is not appropriate for me to go into further detail on that. There are reporting restrictions in place for those individuals.