Tuesday 7th May 2024

(2 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Graham Stringer Portrait Graham Stringer (in the Chair)
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Before I call Andrea Jenkyns, I have a note on the clocks. Most of them are either telling the wrong time or not working, so there will be no timing of the length of speeches. I do not think that there will be any pressure on time, because we do not have that many speakers. I am using the annunciator clock.

Andrea Jenkyns Portrait Dame Andrea Jenkyns (Morley and Outwood) (Con)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered the costs associated with illegal immigration.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate, and I thank Members across the House for their support, including the former Home Secretary, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman); the former Immigration Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick); and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who co-sponsored the debate.

For too long, this House has avoided addressing the issue that, according to YouGov’s latest polling, ranks among the electorate as the second most important issue facing our country, surpassed only by the economy. We are facing an immigration and asylum crisis in the UK, and we as parliamentarians need to find a solution, get a grip of the problem, and win back public trust in our ability to represent the interests of the British people and to legislate and govern on their behalf. Too many of my colleagues across the House have been reluctant to discuss the real consequences of illegal immigration for our society, culture and security, for fear of being denounced as racist by a loud liberal minority in influential positions in the mainstream media, academia and powerful non-governmental organisations, whose progressive agenda dominates public discourse, or even by fellow Members of Parliament. Only this week, the civil service unions mounted a legal challenge to try to stop the Government’s Rwanda policy.

All those people and organisations need to wake up to reality: the British public have had enough, and they demand action from our politicians. Illegal immigration represents an existential threat to our society, culture and security, and cracking down on the issue must be a top priority. This matter should transcend political divides. It is a matter of national importance, and as legislators we have a duty to the British people to address it. It affects every corner of our country. Throughout this debate, I will highlight the astronomical costs of illegal immigration for the economy and wider society, and suggest action that we should take to reduce the total number of illegal immigrants arriving on our shores.

The House of Commons Library report for this debate takes issue with the use of the term “illegal immigrant” to refer to those crossing the channel in small boats. It notes:

“A person might enter the country without permission, but they have the legal right to be here while their claim for asylum or admissibility to the asylum system is being considered.”

The report therefore opts to use the phrase “unauthorised migrants” and, when referencing the cost of illegal immigration, includes only those who are subsequently refused asylum and remain in the UK without permission. If we had a fully functioning asylum system and the public had confidence that the decisions being taken were accurate, that distinction would of course be right and proper, but right now this methodology is deeply flawed. Irregular border crossings have skyrocketed in the past decade, with smugglers now preferring to conduct an amphibious assault on our borders rather than shoving people into the backs of lorries to go via the channel tunnel, which was previously the more common route. Those clandestine groups have caught on to the fact that Britain’s asylum system is on its knees. They know that anyone who arrives in Britain and claims asylum is afforded protections and benefits at the taxpayer’s expense.

There are numerous cases of people with pending asylum applications who have lived in Britain for years, many of whom choose to use loopholes in our human rights laws to bolster their applications. That is something that the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), understands all too well. Let us not forget how, as a human rights barrister, he acted for Islamic cleric Abu Qatada in his bid to avoid deportation. He also helped an Iraqi terrorist suspect sue the Government over breaches of the suspect’s human rights.

We have seen people use loopholes such as a sudden desire to convert to Christianity, knowing full well that their applications will be approved, because their conversion shows they would be persecuted back in their claimed countries of origin. Speaking of countries of origin, we simply have no idea where the vast majority of those who arrive without permission and claim asylum are actually from, making it impossible to determine their application.

A Home Office response to a freedom of information request by Migration Watch UK in 2022 revealed that, of the 16,510 small boat migrants to land in Britain from 2018 up to the second quarter of 2021, just 317 arrived with a passport; that is just 1.92%. The total number of arrivals has since risen to nearly 120,000 people since 2018, with no indication that these people have started to make a concerted effort to provide immigration officials with the necessary documentation to confirm their identity. That is the equivalent of a town the size of Watford, comprising a vast majority of adult males, arriving without documentation, who are not forthcoming with their age or country of origin—leaving immigration officials playing a guessing game on who to believe. Home Office figures show that 94% apply for asylum. Yet, according to the Library research briefing on asylum statistics published on 1 March, our annual refusal rate for asylum applications at initial decision has plummeted from 88% down to an astonishing 24% in 2022; three quarters of those refused at initial decision between 2004 and 2021 lodged an appeal, and a third of those appeals were successful.

Some may qualify such a rapid decrease in asylum refusal rates by claiming that there is more conflict in the world today than there was 20 years ago, but that just does not stand up. There were endless conflicts at the time when we were refusing nearly 90% of all asylum applications, from civil wars in Somalia, Sri Lanka, Chad, Yemen and Niger—to name but a few—to the Iraq war and Russia’s invasion of Georgia. The evidence can only lead us to one conclusion: our asylum system is being gamed by people with the help of ever stronger smuggling gangs. They know what to say, and they know what to do to tick the right boxes and be granted permission to stay in Britain. We are faced with a record asylum backlog.

Home Office figures show that 74,172 initial decisions on asylum applications were made last year alone. That is four times the number made in 2022. The Government will argue that this is due to the increase in decision makers; their own figures show an increase in those reviewing applications from 865 in 2022 to 1,281 in March 2023, which is an increase of 48%. But 62,336 of those 74,000 initial decisions were successful—a record annual figure. That raises huge questions over the handling of those applications and how those decisions have been made.

There is absolutely no doubt that some individuals who arrive in Britain through irregular means and claim asylum are genuine people, fleeing war or persecution. We have a moral responsibility to help those individuals and it is right that we support such people—as we did, for example, when the war broke out in Ukraine—but it is also quite evident that our asylum system has broken down to the point where it is unfit for purpose and exploited on an unprecedented scale. It is therefore simply impossible to discount those granted asylum when conducting a review of the true costs of illegal immigration.

To understand the cost of illegal immigration on our society and our finances, we must first understand the scale of the issue in hand—a task that, by its very nature, is problematic. To again cite the House of Commons Library report prepared for this debate,

“The most recent robust estimates of the size of the unauthorised resident population in the UK put it at around 400,000-600,000 in the early 2000s…More recent but less robust estimates have put the population at between 800,000 and 1.2 million in 2017…It is likely none of these estimates accurately captures the situation in 2024.”

I would be pleased to hear from the Minister on that point. That is equivalent to a city with a population 20% larger than Birmingham, or three times the size of Manchester, living in the UK illegally, utilising the many public-funded services that are available to them, regardless of a person’s immigration status—and it could be far more.

Public services available to illegal migrants include state education, NHS services, including A&E treatment and primary care such as GPs and dentistry appointments, compulsory psychiatric treatment, legal aid, and various local authority support. I receive hundreds of emails a month from constituents telling me that they cannot get a GP appointment, are struggling to find a dentist, and cannot get their first choice school place or a decent roof over their heads. Is there any wonder?

The Government’s impact assessment of the Illegal Migration Act 2023 estimated that the total cost of providing public services to a UK national is around £12,000 per person. Even the most basic calculations put the economic burden on the British taxpayer of an illegal migration population of 1.2 million at £14.4 billion. That is just shy of 10% of NHS England’s budget for this year. Imagine that cash injection on frontline services or to help people who are struggling with the cost of living.

There is not just an economic cost; indirect consequences of illegal migration are inevitable, including wage suppression. Those without permission to work legally in Britain must find a way to support themselves and they end up working in the gig economy for unscrupulous business owners, who offer lower wages that are accepted, because illegal workers will take what they can get—for which we cannot blame them.

In addition, the Home Office expects to spend £482 million on immigration enforcements this year alone, and the costs related to the Rwanda scheme continue to pile up to an eyewatering amount. It is important to note that none of the costs mentioned so far takes into account those associated with our broken asylum system, such as the nearly £8 million a day currently used to house asylum applicants. Home Office figures cited by the Financial Times in August last year showed that the annual asylum cost reached £3.96 billion in the year up to 2023—double that of the previous year and six times higher than 2018. Yet, despite that astronomical cost, we continue to increase handouts to France to stop the boats. I would like to hear what the Minister thinks of our agreement with France; to those on the outside it looks like it is not working, and taxpayers’ money is being wasted.

A House of Commons Library report showed that the UK Government gave a combined £232 million to the French authorities for border control in their own country, between 2014 to the end of the 2022-23 financial year. Under the joint leaders’ declaration agreed in March that year, we have committed to give more than double that—£476 million over the next two financial years. I think we should demand a refund from France. The economic costs are endless. It is simply impossible to quantify the true impact of this issue on the public purse. It is clear to me, and a vast majority of the British public, that this is a totally unacceptable state of affairs.

It is not just about the economic cost; there is also a human cost. Seven-year-old Emily Jones from Bolton was stabbed to death by an Albanian national, Eltiona Skana, while riding her scooter in March 2020. I am a parent of a seven-year-old—imagine what that family must be going through. Her killer was a paranoid schizophrenic who arrived in Britain in the back of a lorry in 2014, and was granted asylum, despite twice admitting to lying in her application about being a victim of sexual exploitation.

Lorraine Cox, aged 32, was murdered in Exeter in September 2020 by Azam Mangori, an Iraqi Kurd who was denied asylum in December 2018 but remained living in the country undetected. David Wails, Joe Ritchie-Bennett and James Furlong were murdered in Reading town centre in June 2020 by Libyan national, Khairi Saadallah, just two weeks after he had been released from prison; he executed the men in an act of jihad. He had been granted refugee status, despite participating in the Libyan civil war in 2012. Terence Carney, who was 70, was stabbed to death in the middle of the street by a Moroccan asylum seeker Ahmed Ali Alid in “revenge” for Gaza. I could go on and on. These names should not be forgotten; they must serve as a reminder of the human cost paid for decades of failure by successive Governments and by us as legislators.

I want to talk briefly about the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act 2024, which became law just a few weeks ago. I completely understand the motive and need for such legislation. However, I was one of the 11 Conservative MPs to rebel, including the former Home Secretary, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fareham, and the former Immigration Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Newark, who simply could not support it. Like me, they had great reservations that the Bill would not be legally watertight and would be derailed by political opponents, activist lawyers, trade unionists and civil servants, as we saw last week when they mounted a legal challenge.

In principle, though, I am in favour of an offshore processing scheme such as the Rwanda scheme. We need a genuine, robust deterrent to undermine the organised gangs and the abhorrent people smugglers, who sell the dream to migrants that once they have crossed the channel, they will be in a relative utopia with free welfare, healthcare and housing for the rest of their lives. We need to send a clear message that that is not the case.

Those hoping that the current scheme will act as a deterrent will be disappointed to learn that, just last week, 711 migrants landed in Kent in a single day, which is a record daily number for the year so far. So much for that deterrent.

How do we make a scheme like Rwanda work? I am clear that we must leave the European convention on human rights. I have been spearheading the campaign to do just that via the Conservative Post, and I am pleased to say that nearly 50,000 people have now signed the petition. We need, instead, a British Bill of Rights. We also need to stop those leftie lawyers and unionised civil servants from preventing a democratically elected Government from delivering on their manifesto.

I truly believe that having a viable deterrent is a humane, civilised and responsible thing to do and will actually save lives. We must keep at the forefront of our minds that 72 people are believed to have drowned in the English channel since 2018. Each life lost is a tragedy.

Let us remember that Australia faced exactly the same crisis that we have on our hands, and through an effective deterrent reduced the number of illegal migrants on their shores from tens of thousands to zero. It is time we rolled up our sleeves and did the same.

We must also get tougher on the illegal migrants who have already arrived and live here. As the Home Office’s impact assessment makes clear, of the 5,700 illegal immigrants who have been identified for removal, the Home Office is in contact with just 2,000—just 38%. I would like to know from the Minister why that is the case. It is not just not good enough; it is a dereliction of the Government’s primary duty to keep citizens safe. Such a potential security breach and locating those individuals must be an absolute priority for the Home Office, as should be implementing measures to ensure that it can never happen again. We need to think radically about how to keep oversight of these people while they wait for a decision.

For too long, the UK has been seen as a free lunch: study, work, marry and smuggle your way in and soon you are guaranteed a lifelong, all-you-can-eat buffet for you and your extended family, with free healthcare, free education, free housing, free social care, legal protections and access to one of the largest charitable sectors in the world. It is unfair to continue to ask the British taxpayer to pick up this bill. We must take a no-nonsense approach to demonstrate that the British state is no longer a soft touch. Other measures could also be adopted, with legislation and procedures similar to those used by European countries, where approval rates are far lower than in Britain. We approve far too many asylum requests when we compare our acceptance rate to the 25% to 30% common across most of Europe. Our legal system and the Home Office guidance on asylum applications make it far too easy for those seeking to try their luck.

The damage that the issue of illegal migration is doing on our country is untold. It is impossible to quantify. The British public know. They see it and they feel it. It is substantial, and they want it resolved. The ordinary Brit, certainly in my part of the world, is decent and fair-minded. They believe in the value of work and the desire to get on in life. On the whole, they are tolerant of others and show respect for different cultures. However, they are also instilled with the great British principle of fair play, and illegal immigration on this scale is simply at conflict with that principle.

In conclusion, I suggest a five-point plan that we must immediately action to start getting this crisis under control. First, we need to profoundly strengthen our border security. We need to invest in technology, personnel and infrastructure to enhance surveillance and patrol efforts along our coastline, and we must have the political will to use this technology to enforce a stricter border policy.

Secondly, we need to get tough on our so-called international partners to address the underlying drivers of illegal migration and deter the crossings in the first place, as it puts people’s lives at risk when they try these dangerous crossings. We should be clear: no more money to France unless they play ball and work more effectively in stopping departures from their own shores.

Thirdly, we need to streamline and improve our immigration processes. We need to process asylum claims far more efficiently and effectively, and ensure that applicants do not go AWOL while waiting for a decision. We can use a tagging system for that. We also need to introduce measures to dissuade people from attempting illegal crossings. That means imposing stricter penalties for smugglers, which I am sure people across the House would agree with, and implementing public awareness campaigns to educate potential migrants about the risks, dangers and consequences of irregular migration. It may also mean thinking creatively about how to charge migrants for the public services that they use while they are here—we have to stop everything being from the taxpayer’s purse. Finally, we must also strengthen the Rwanda deterrent by leaving the European convention on human rights, which is the only way to ensure it will work in the way that the British public expect. Alternatively, let us as the Conservative party commit to holding a referendum on leaving the ECHR—let the public decide.

The Government need to move quickly. We have just six months to get tough. The Labour party said only last week that if they got into power, they would consider giving automatic asylum to 50,000 of those people waiting for a decision. That is a way to remove them from the books and make the figures look good. They also want to ditch our Rwanda scheme. I would not expect to go to another country illegally, be put up in a hotel and get free healthcare and all the other benefits at no cost to myself. This needs to stop. We also need to stop that pull factor, as that is why people come here. We need to put an end to the soft-touch Britain and toughen up for the future of our great country. I look forward to hearing views from Members of all parties, which no doubt will differ from mine.

Graham Stringer Portrait Graham Stringer (in the Chair)
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I remind hon. Members who wish to be called in the debate that they should indicate in the normal way by standing.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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As is in order, and rightfully so, I thank the hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Dame Andrea Jenkyns) for raising this issue today. I am very happy to be a co-sponsor of this debate, because we cannot ignore the issue of immigration. I will speak, as the hon. Lady has spoken, about the general issues, as well as giving a Northern Ireland perspective.

The issue of immigration is of great concern to many of our constituents, not least to those of us in Northern Ireland who, as we previously highlighted during both protocol and Windsor framework discussions, are at risk of becoming a haven for those who travel to Dublin and then lose themselves in Northern Ireland. If we are to believe the Irish and the Republic of Ireland Government hype, it is the opposite way round, and we are to blame for the immigration rates. No, we are not; Government officials and Ministers have been clear on that. The proclamation, “Come as many as you are and find refuge” rang from the Irish Government up until at least last week. They can make their own decisions on that issue, but they cannot then blame us, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, for what goes wrong.

Everyone will know that I am not against immigration, per se. Indeed, I want to see a correct immigration system that invites, helps and encourages those who face persecution and human rights abuses. I believe that we have an obligation to do right by those who need help and assistance, but this cannot be unlimited and done by illegal means. I declare an interest, as chair of both the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief and the all-party parliamentary group for the Pakistani minorities. I speak on behalf of those with Christian faith, those with other faiths, and indeed those with no faith.

With persecution of Christians around the world, they need somewhere to go. In my constituency of Strangford, we have thrown the doors open in the past through the Syrian refugee scheme, as an example, to invite some of those Christian families who have been persecuted. Those who stayed have contributed greatly to our society, culture and relationships. Persecuted Christians across the world need somewhere to go, and the freedom of religion and expression to worship their God as they so wish, free from human rights abuses. We have a system in place for that, which the Government have made available. We thank them for that.

I am a faithful missions giver, and the projects that I support long term are those who seek to make improvements in the local communities to make a life. I understand that that cannot be done in war-torn nations and therefore there are some endeavours, such as the Ukraine scheme, that need a different approach. The Government were very positive and helpful, and I fully supported that scheme. Indeed, all of us in Westminster Hall today, and those in the main Chamber from all parties, recognised that we needed to take a different approach, and we did that. I thank the Minister and the Government for their help for the Ukrainians and their families.

In my constituency, we have helped numerous Ukrainians to gain job opportunities at Willowbrook Foods and in Mash Direct, where accommodation was available for them as well. The Minister and I discussed that a few weeks ago, and I gave him the contact names and phone numbers of some of the companies that are keen to address the issue. The Minister was keen for an opportunity to promote those two firms—Willowbrook Foods and Mash Direct—and I was keen on that as well.

I believe that there should be immigration; I am quite clear on that. However, mass immigration is a completely different issue, and this is where Ireland has found herself in difficulty. I absolutely refute that it is a problem of our making, or that we are facilitating. The civil unrest is not due to an unwelcoming people. There are few people more welcoming than the Irish—north and south. The issue lies in not being able to cope with acceptable levels of immigration. I support the Government in their plans to halt illegal immigration while ensuring that we have a fit-for-purpose asylum system.

Those Ukrainians who came brought a work ethic, skill and an ethos, and they have integrated well into our society. I believe we must always make clear the difference between illegal immigration and the necessary immigration that brings knowledge and expertise to our fishing industry and our hospitals, and brings a warmth and culture that only enhances this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

I have pursued the Minister a few times on the issue of fishing visas, and we discussed that at our meeting last week. It affects not just us in Strangford in Northern Ireland but those across the South Down constituency, particularly Ardglass and Kilkeel. We need a visa system. In answer to my question in the Chamber last week, the Minister kindly suggested that there was an onus on the fishing organisations to come up with ideas, so I have suggested that to them. I hope to come back with some ideas very soon and convey them to the Minister, so that we can find a workable system.

It is difficult to find a balance. I am aware that this is not a debate on the Rwanda scheme, although the hon. Member for Morley and Outwood mentioned it in her introduction, and we cannot ignore it because it does give opportunity and take some of the pressure off Government. However, this is a debate about how we can fulfil our moral obligations while ensuring that we do not sink further and further into debt. The fact is that the Republic of Ireland and the Irish people are a testament to the frustration that is felt when Government is not getting the right message across, and when people feel that the health and education of their children is at stake and that is at odds with Government objectives. That is why we have seen that discontent in the Republic of Ireland, and why there has been such uproar about what has happened. Whether or not the figures that the Republic of Ireland has suggested are correct is a question to be addressed.

I recently attended a family event in Newtownards with the Indian diaspora. They come from Odisha state in India. There were over 100 people there, and the wonderful thing was that every one of them has a visa—they are here to work, and they have brought their families with them—and every one of those people is involved in the health sector, so we need them because they contribute to our society. They work in the Ulster Hospital, Belfast City Hospital and the Royal Victoria, and every one of them—man and woman—is working in the health sector. We welcome what they do.

It was a wonderful night. Whether they were from a Hindu, Muslim or Christian background, the vast majority were integral workers within the NHS care system. I had a great night of fellowship with them. It was wonderful and fun. It was good to meet them, engage with them, welcome them personally and enjoy some of their food. I am a diabetic but I could still eat and enjoy the food that they presented, apart from the fact that my mouth was on fire afterwards, but that is by the way. I had fellowship with those men, women and children, and they are clearly part of the fabric of Newtownards and Strangford.

The messaging must be made clear. We need to get a handle on illegal immigration and welcome those who enhance, protect and build our nation through their jobs and opportunities. I am keen to work with the Minister and the Government and put forward ideas about the fishing sector in particular. I am also keen to see how we can build on the food sector; clearly, there is a need to ensure that Willowbrook Foods, Mash Direct and other firms in my constituency have the opportunity to gain expertise from other places and find people through the legal immigration system.

We must ensure that the young men who are coming illegally in droves across the channel from France are treated differently from young families seeking asylum and refuge. We must ensure that the message sent is clear: we will help where we can, as much as we can and in the best way we can. We have done that already, but we want to see that building.

Whether on our soil or foreign soil, we must strike a balance between compassion and obligation. We have an obligation to help persecuted families and those who have suffered severe human rights abuses. We are a welcoming country: we have been in the past, and we can be so in the future. I am pleased to participate in this debate, and I will also be very pleased to hear the responses of the Minister and of the two Opposition spokespeople, the hon. Members for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) and for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens).

Adam Holloway Portrait Adam Holloway (Gravesham) (Con)
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I apologise for my hoarse voice. I did not want to interrupt my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Dame Andrea Jenkyns) by intervening on her, but I want to make the point that, the way that the laws are currently interpreted, virtually the entire populations of many countries would be given asylum if they could only make it to Britain. That is not lost on those making these daily boat crossings.

I think I am the only Member of Parliament to try to get smuggled into this country from Calais, which I did when I made a TV programme some years ago. I lived in the old Sangatte camp. My observation is very much the same as that of my hon. Friend: these were overwhelmingly fit young men seeking a better life. Some of the asylum seekers are fleeing torture, albeit not claiming asylum in the first countries they come to. Many others are economic migrants doing what many of us might try to do if we were in their shoes. This debate is about costs, but I add a point about the costs facing asylum seekers and their families: it is generally the more wealthy people who can pay smugglers for help to get to the United Kingdom. Others face taking out huge loans and becoming bonded. It is not cheap and illegal economic migrants are rarely the poorest or the most needy of the people coming from a given country.

Many costs have been shared in this debate, but some are hidden and I would like to highlight some that indirectly affect people in Gravesham. I mention these costs not begrudgingly—it goes without saying that anyone who comes here should be treated with compassion and dignity—but the debate has been called in the spirit of openness and transparency, and it is very important. So often the harshest critics of the Government’s immigration policy are those who are well insulated from the pressures and costs that immigration places on public services. For example, in Kent, unaccompanied children claiming asylum are looked after by social workers and staff until they can be found homes across the country. Staff are recruited from the same pool of potential recruits.

I understand that children from Albania disappear from local council protection most frequently, and the concern is that this is a result of traffickers and gangs taking them onward to whatever fate awaits them. Obviously, this has reduced, perhaps as a result of the deal the Government struck with the Albanian Government in December 2022—one of the success stories of the Government’s immigration policy. That is obviously good news. However, I am reliably informed that Vietnamese children still go missing, requiring additional protection, searching and police intervention whenever they are missing from their home or transition centre. That undoubtedly brings cost to people relying on the police and social care for support.

We also have to think about housing and healthcare. Immigration has obviously increased our local population, and there is a huge hidden cost felt by people in Gravesham who are searching for a home or medical treatment. The purchasing power of the Home Office is keenly felt by local councils and people. We are also facing a great deal of pressure because of people moving out of London because of higher rents; they move to Kent, where it is a bit cheaper, but that effectively inflates rents and makes it harder for local people. We have both the direct and indirect financial costs, but there is also the cost of the emotional drain on local people as they try to be welcoming while facing the impact on their own lives.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Stringer. I remember that the last time we had a debate similar to this, it was chaired by the great Sir David Amess, whom we all miss in this House. In that particular debate, I was the voice of reason against many Conservative Back Benchers as they gave a description of the immigration system that, frankly, I do not recognise. While I congratulate the hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Dame Andrea Jenkyns) on securing this debate, I am afraid I do not recognise much of what she said at all.

I do not recognise the notion that Immigration Ministers, past and present, are some sort of lily-livered liberals—that has just not been my experience. I certainly did not like the references to Home Office staff being soft touches and the criticisms of them, I am afraid. I am going to defend Home Office staff for the work they do; I have always found them firm and fair. They have a regular weekly telephone call with the constituency office of Glasgow South West, as they do with other Members of Parliament, to discuss cases. Ministers have put in place a system for Members of the House to raise these sorts of cases and to ask which cases should go where, and to raise any concerns we have—I will be mentioning one such case today—directly with Ministers.

I take the view that no human being is illegal, so the discourse of the debate on immigration concerns me on occasion. Last week, I had the great privilege of chairing the annual general meeting of the Showing Racism the Red Card all-party parliamentary group, where a number of children from London, Nottingham and other places described the importance of having antiracism education in our education systems across these islands. I think that Members of this House could learn from some of that education. Perhaps we should have Show Racism the Red Card come into these debates to explain in simple terms the difference between an asylum seeker, a refugee and an economic migrant, because there are occasions in which those who are seeking sanctuary on these islands are referred to as “illegal” or “migrants”, which is a charge that I think is completely and utterly unfair. I do not like the phrase “illegal immigration”. If we close off all the legal and safe routes to arrive in the United Kingdom, we cannot then complain that someone who is genuinely seeking sanctuary has to find another route.

What I find most troubling of all is the fact that the whole discourse of the debate is always focused on the exploited, and not the exploiter. There has to be more of a discussion about how we tackle the gangmasters and the criminal gangs. We spent months discussing the Rwanda policy and the Rwanda Act, but there was nothing in that legislation about tackling gangmasters and criminal gangs. That, I think, is the source of the problem. Indeed, I know that it is the source of the problem, because I have a constituent in Glasgow who was told that he was going to be sent to Canada and thought he was going to arrive there—but he ended up in Glasgow. There are huge, great links between the two great nations of Scotland and Canada, but that case tells us that there are people—gangmasters and criminal gangs—that are at it here. We need to focus on them a lot more in this debate, not on those who are seeking sanctuary to be with their families. Many of those arriving on our shores already have family across these islands.

As the small boats continue, we must question the entire asylum system on both value for money and effectiveness. I want to raise some issues in the debate, some of which I have raised before with the Minister. He could have predicted some of them. One is asylum accommodation.

I have great difficulty with the nonsensical position in which hotels, barges and military sites are used for asylum accommodation. As the Minister knows, I had a meeting with him a couple of weeks ago, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), in which we said that we need to think about these issues a lot more. We also said that we need to think about what happens when the backlog is cleared and thousands of people are given refugee status at the same time, as well as about what that means for local authorities.

We need to encourage local authorities to take more of the people who seek sanctuary in these islands, but the Home Office needs to do more to negotiate with local authorities. The Home Office cannot just tell a local authority to take more on when that authority will reply, “Well, that’s fine. Tell us what money we are getting, because we will need to think through what that means for our health and social care system, our education system, and all of that”.

I am afraid that there is still a legacy backlog; I know that there is. We were told that every person who had submitted a claim before 28 June 2022 had received a decision. I know for a fact that that is not the case and I will raise that point later.

I have another question for the Minister. I do not expect him to have this figure in front of him right now, but perhaps he could send it to us. We know that on occasion taxi companies are transporting asylum seekers all over these islands. Last week, for example, a family based in a Glasgow airport hotel were transported from Glasgow to Bradford. When they arrived for their interview, they were simply told, “You’re being moved to Bradford.” That leads to a taxi cost; they were put in a Glasgow taxi and taken to Bradford. That has to have an effect on the taxpayer, as the hon. Member for Morley and Outwood said.

I would like to know how much the Home Office is paying taxi companies to transport asylum seekers across these islands—from Glasgow to Bradford, from Glasgow to Manchester, or from wherever to wherever—because it is nonsensical. If asylum seekers based in Glasgow are being transported all over the UK, sometimes at a moment’s notice? I would like an answer to that question and I hope that the Minister will commit to writing to all of us who have contributed to this debate today to tell us what that cost actually is.

I want to raise the issue, raised by the hon. Member for Morley and Outwood, of the gimmick that is the Rwanda policy. I have to say that if I were a member of a political party that had contested the local elections last week, I would have objected to the PR stunt that we saw last week of that Home Office video of people being transported into detention just days before the polls opened in some parts of the UK. I hope that Labour colleagues and others are checking the purdah rules regarding that publicity stunt.

I have asked the Minister’s Department why a constituent of mine in Glasgow South West was detained last week, because the Home Office’s own guidance says that those who submitted a claim before 28 June 2022 will be dealt with as a legacy claim. That individual should have had a decision on 31 December 2023 under the Government’s own policy. He did not; he has not had a decision at all, negative or positive. He arrived for his standard interview last Tuesday to be met by eight police officers, who bundled him into a police van. He was then bundled into an immigration van—a Home Office van—and taken to Colnbrook, and he was told that he is being detained. He has family here.

I would like to know from the Minister why those with a legacy claim who have been waiting years on a decision are now being told they are being transported to Rwanda, because that is not the guidance that MPs are getting from the Home Office. When I raised this with one of the Parliamentary Private Secretaries, they sent me the guidance, which said that that should not be the case. I have serious questions about the application of the policy. People are waiting years on decisions— I at least agree with the hon. Member for Morley and Outwood on that front—and it is taking too long. I would like to see more staff employed at the Home Office, if that is what it takes.

I object to the hon. Lady’s description of the civil service, and I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as chair of the Public and Commercial Services Union parliamentary group. The trade unions are absolutely correct and have a duty to their members if they think that a piece of legislation breaks human rights or international law.

Incidentally, I do not share the view that the whole legal profession is somehow left-wing and Marxist; if only that were true, perhaps the legal profession would be in a better place. I completely reject that view on behalf of the legal professional. There are very good lawyers out there and tarring them with the brush that they are somehow Marxist is extraordinary—listening to the debate, anyone would think that when the judge rises, the first two verses of “Bandiera Rossa” are sung in court. I leave that vision with the Opposition Front-Bench spokesperson, the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), who is perhaps thinking about it.

In all seriousness, trade unions have the right to take an issue to court on behalf of their members. And when the Home Office tells them that it will send civil servants to Rwanda to work, they also have the right to have discussions about the consequences of that for lives and jobs.

We need a sensible immigration policy built on dignity that allows genuine cases to come here to share with their families and gives them the right to work after six months. The Government are, in fairness to them, going some way on that, with their shortage occupation list, and I would want to see that built on. We need fairness and sensible policies on immigration.

Dan Jarvis Portrait Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Stringer. I congratulate the hon. Member for the great Yorkshire seat of Morley and Outwood (Dame Andrea Jenkyns) on securing the debate. She mentioned the Leader of the Opposition in her remarks, so I want to gently point out to her that he oversaw the first prosecution of al-Qaeda terrorists as well as the jailing of the airline liquid bomb plotters and of the racist murderers of Stephen Lawrence. Of course, as a lawyer, he has on occasion had to represent people whose views he does not agree with, but I am sure that any fair-minded person would understand that.

I want to briefly acknowledge the contributions made by the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens), as well as by the hon. Member for Gravesham (Adam Holloway), who soldiered on despite what sounded like quite a sore throat—I would expect nothing else from him. It is good to see the Minister in his place. As he knows, my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) would normally speak for the Opposition on these matters, but on this occasion I have been dragged off the subs’ bench.

Today’s debate comes after the costs of the asylum system have skyrocketed, from £500 million a year under the last Labour Government to an eye-watering £5.4 billion a year under this Conservative Government—an almost tenfold increase over the past 14 years. That is before the £576 million being spent on sending 300 asylum seekers to Rwanda—almost £2 million per deportee—is factored in. What is the taxpayer getting in return for those mind-boggling sums of money? The boats are certainly not being stopped: we are seeing record numbers this year, with 8,100 having crossed since 1 January—up 33% on the same period last year. On 1 May alone, we saw a staggering 711 small boat arrivals, as the hon. Member for Morley and Outwood mentioned. That is the highest single-day number this year to date.

The asylum backlog is certainly not being tackled. When Labour left office in 2010, the backlog stood at just 19,000 cases, but today the number stands at over 100,000. The backlog had already doubled before the small boats started coming, in no small part because back in 2013, Ministers decided to downgrade the pay and seniority of asylum decision makers, supposedly to cut costs. The predictable result? Slow decision-making, poor decisions being overturned on appeal, and a higher rate of staff turnover, all of which led to 56,000 people being stuck in hotels and other forms of contingency accommodation as we entered this year. That cost the taxpayer a mind-boggling £8 million a day.

The dangerous channel crossings run by the criminal smuggler gangs must end; I am sure we all agree on that. To stop that pernicious trade, we need to smash those gangs at source. To do that, we on these Benches have proposed a new cross-border police unit and a new security partnership with Europol based on intelligence sharing. That is part of a practical plan paid for by redirecting funds and focus away from the failing Rwanda scheme.

We also need a detailed plan to clear the backlog by surging caseworker recruitment—a plan that will end asylum hotel use and save the taxpayer up to £4 billion each year. That includes a new 1,000 officer-strong returns and enforcement unit to remove those who have no right to be in the UK. Returns of failed asylum seekers have collapsed by 44% under the Conservatives since 2010, and returns of foreign criminals have collapsed by 27% over the same period. Our plan will make sure that applications are processed quickly so that those with no right to be here are quickly returned.

In contrast, the Government strategy has only exacerbated the chaos and increased the cost. Just recently, the Home Office permanent secretary confirmed at a Public Accounts Committee hearing that the Government have defined 40,000 small boat asylum seekers as “inadmissible” to the asylum system, 99% of whom we know will never be sent to Rwanda. In doing so, the Government have created a perma-backlog of people whom they have prevented from being processed and who are therefore stuck in indefinite limbo. The Government claim that they can send those people to Rwanda, but we know that Rwanda can take only a few hundred asylum seekers—around 1% of that 40,000-person perma-backlog. What happens to everybody else? A 99% chance of staying in Britain is pretty good odds for someone prepared to pay thousands of pounds to a smuggler to risk their life at sea or for a human trafficker determined to bring people into the country for modern-day slavery.

The public have a right to know what underpins the extortionately expensive gimmick that is the Government’s asylum plan. Can the Minister share the annual cost to the taxpayer of keeping 40,000 asylum seekers in indefinite limbo in a permanent backlog? The Home Office Minister in the other place confirmed that the British taxpayer will be paying full board and lodgings for five years for those removed voluntarily to Rwanda. How much is that forecast to cost?

The Prime Minister promised to detain everyone who crossed the channel on a small boat—over 30,000 last year. Given that we have only 2,200 detention spaces, what will happen to the remaining 28,000? Staying on the issue of detention spaces, Home Office sources have told The Times that there are only 400 to 700 detention spaces reserved for migrants due for deportation to Rwanda. Can the Minister confirm that that equates to less than 1% of the current asylum backlog in the UK?

If the Minister plans to bail asylum seekers who are to be sent to Rwanda, can he publish his risk assessment on the possibility of asylum seekers absconding en masse to avoid being put on a flight—if one has been commissioned in the first place? That is particularly timely given that a FOI investigation by the Daily Mail found that the Home Office has been unable to locate or contact at least 21,107 asylum seekers in the five years running up to September 2023.

The asylum system is in chaos and costing the taxpayer many more times what it did under the Labour Government of 2010. The Prime Minister has failed to deliver on his pledge to stop the boats and the numbers are going up, not down. The public’s patience is wearing thin, and they see right through the Government’s rhetoric. It is time that the Government faced up to their failing policies and started to show some transparency. The Minister can start that transition today by answering the questions I have put to him.

Tom Pursglove Portrait The Minister for Legal Migration and the Border (Tom Pursglove)
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It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Dame Andrea Jenkyns) on securing a debate on this important issue, which matters enormously to her constituents and mine, as well as to people around the country. She is a passionate campaigner on the issue. I would argue that she is strident in her beliefs and in the way she communicates them, always leaving no doubt about where she stands. I am also grateful to colleagues from across the House for their contributions, some elements of which I agree with and many elements of which I do not. I will have an opportunity to respond to those various points during my closing remarks.

There has been much focus on costs, and I will address those specific questions. First, it is important to set the issue in context. A number of factors and forces have coalesced in recent years to create a situation in which vast numbers of people across the globe are displaced and willing—and often able—to migrate in pursuit of improved prospects. I would argue that those challenges are only likely to become more acute in the years ahead. That is why it is right that the Home Secretary is leading the international conversation about what more we can do to tackle migratory flows in a co-ordinated and joined-up way, as he did in his recent speech in New York.

Candidly, the instinct to want to secure a better life is one that we can all understand and appreciate. But while we are a compassionate and sympathetic country, it is incumbent on Governments to be pragmatic about those challenges. Our resources and capacity are not unlimited. Our generosity, as we have seen reflected many times in recent years in response to various international crises, is enormous. The British people have opened their homes. Contrary to the impression that some have given during this debate, we have seen over 500,000 people granted sanctuary in recent years, which is an effort I am enormously proud of. All of us as constituency MPs are enormously proud of the efforts that our respective constituents have played as part of that national effort.

We cannot, however, accommodate everyone who wishes to come here. Saying that is not harsh or inhumane; it is just a matter of objective fact. Illegal immigration is unfair, unsafe and unsustainable. It is not fair to those people who play by the rules and seek to come here through established safe and legal routes—people who, through the various routes that the Government have available, pay the application fee, meet the requirements and come here. It is not right when people try to circumvent those rules to come to the United Kingdom.

Undoubtedly, it is challenging to the bandwidth of Government to deal with all those competing pressures. We want to provide sanctuary through our resettlement schemes, and we are very proud of that work. We want to continue to have a fair and balanced migration system where people who play by the rules and meet the requirements can come to the UK. However, that is made harder by people coming to this country illegally. Often that makes it harder to be able to help some of the most vulnerable people from around the world.

Andrea Jenkyns Portrait Dame Andrea Jenkyns
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I understand that the Home Office has brought in a lot of new technology to help to identify the illegal migrants who come over. Would the Minister allude to some of that great work? I understand that we are spearheading and quite outward-looking in its use.

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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I will gladly talk about that.

Several speakers today have set out how expensive this is. Not only is illegal migration unfair, not only is it very dangerous, and not only is it criminal exploitation led by evil criminal gangs, but it is incredibly expensive. It is important to remember that the costs are not purely financial. There is also an intangible, but no less significant, impact on our ability to build a strong and cohesive society. As I have explained, there is also the human cost—lives are tragically lost when people make dangerous and unnecessary journeys. I would argue that the Government have a duty to put the evil criminal gangs responsible for this vile trade in people out of business.

Let us not forget the appalling consequences of the incident in the channel just within the last fortnight, in which a young girl lost her life. That is a tragedy of epic proportions and it is impossible for all of us not to be incredibly troubled by what we saw. The fault for that lies squarely with the evil criminal gangs responsible for putting people in small boats, taking their money, having no regard whatsoever for whether they get to the other side safely, and simply treating human beings as cargo. To take a permissive approach on this issue would be an abdication of our moral obligations; it would also be at odds with the wishes of the constituents whose interests we are sent here to advance. It is upon those constituents that the real-world consequences of illegal migration fall, whether through housing and the associated waiting lists, GP appointments, strained public services, and at times challenges with community cohesion.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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The Minister is being typically generous in giving way. He has spent a bit of time in his contribution rightly criticising the human traffickers and criminal gangs, but when are the Government going to produce some legislation to tackle those evil people responsible for human trafficking?

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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I have enormous respect and admiration for the hon. Gentleman, and he always makes his case passionately. However, at every juncture when we as a Government have brought forward measures to deal with the criminal gangs responsible—the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 and its tougher sentences; the Illegal Migration Act 2023, which made the business model more difficult; and the Rwanda legislation, which again tries to make it more difficult for those criminal gangs to operate, with the ultimate aim of putting them out of business—the hon. Gentleman and his party have opposed our efforts and voted against the legislation. We now have at our disposal tougher sentences for those responsible for those heinous crimes, and I am proud that this Government have legislated to do that. It is incumbent upon the courts to make appropriate decisions in individual cases, but we have put in place a suite of measures through that legislation to better bring those individuals to justice and ensure that they feel the full consequences of the law.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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I know that the Minister and the Government have tried to work well with the French authorities to ensure that there is more activity to prevent people from crossing the channel. The Government have made a substantial amount of money available to the French authorities to ensure that they do their bit, but according to the papers and some of the correspondence that I have read, it seems that the French authorities do not have enough personnel on the ground to be effective. Has there been any opportunity to discuss with the French authorities better ways of preventing people from crossing the channel? As the Minister says, what has happened and the lives lost to trafficking are completely outrageous and can never be condoned.

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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The hon. Gentleman often speaks with real authority and takes a close interest in the issues. I will come to the French co-operation, but to answer his question directly, this issue is consistently discussed at official and ministerial level. As he knows, we have consistently deepened our co-operation with the French over time to try to tackle the challenges and make it much more difficult for the evil criminal gangs to operate, with all the catastrophic consequences that flow from that.

As colleagues will be aware, we are taking a multidimensional approach to tackling the issue, and I am pleased to say that we are making strong progress, albeit that there is more still to do. First, we are on track to close 150 hotels, and we aim to go further with that programme. The current situation is unsustainable: we spend £8 million a day accommodating people in the asylum system, and that cannot carry on. To respond to the point that was raised by the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), I would argue that we also need to consider the cost of standing back, doing nothing and saying that the issue is too difficult. That is why I maintain that the cost of the Rwanda policy is the right investment to make, because as the policy is operationalised, it will allow us to dramatically bring down that £8 million a day spend in our asylum system.

Alongside that, we also need to ensure that the domestic accommodation picture is in a more sustainable place. We are bringing on stream cheaper, more affordable, sustainable accommodation through large sites and dispersal accommodation, and we have dramatically reduced the accommodated population. We do need accommodation that is fit for purpose and decent, but it must also be appropriate to the circumstances, and that is precisely what we are delivering through the large sites programme and the dispersal programme. Ultimately, the most important thing is to bring down the flow, which will reduce the requirement for bed spaces in the first place.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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I am grateful again to the Minister, who is being typically generous. He knows, because we have met to discuss it, that there is also the issue of what happens to those who receive refugee status. What discussions is his Department having with local authorities such as Glasgow, which find that when a backlog is cleared they have thousands of people who have received that status and are looking to be housed in the community?

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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Again, the point about flow speaks for itself. The current volume of people coming to the United Kingdom, particularly via small boats, is unsustainable. The very best way of tackling the challenge that the hon. Member highlights is to dramatically reduce the numbers of people coming here through those illegal routes. That will help to alleviate the challenges. In the interim, we also need to continue to work constructively with local authorities to try to mitigate the pressures.

One of the things on which I would appreciate some support—the hon. Member and I have had this conversation—is what more other Scottish local authorities can do to play their part to a greater extent in the national effort to provide dispersed accommodation. I pay tribute to Glasgow for the work that it does in this space; it has very much stepped up to the plate and is supportive around the challenges. We also talked about some of the initiatives that we are introducing around, for example, Home Office liaison officer support, which was successful in supporting people with the move-on process in relation to the Afghan response. Having been piloted in other parts of the country, that is now being rolled out in Glasgow as well, and the early indications are encouraging. I want to work with the hon. Gentleman, colleagues across the House and the local authority to understand what works and how they can help as part of the local response when it comes to moving people on from Home Office accommodation, particularly when people are granted asylum, to ensure that they get the proper support and have the best possible chance to have successful lives, with housing, work and school places for any children.

A lot is said about the co-operation with the French, but it is a fact that roughly 50% of embarkations are stopped—prevented—through those partnership efforts. That is not insignificant. If we consider the counterfactual, we would have many more arrivals on UK shores were it not for that co-operation. It clearly plays an important role in helping to tackle this challenge.

More generally, we all recognise that illegal migration is a global challenge demanding global solutions, and the British people expect us to pull every possible lever in dealing with illegal migration. That is why we have taken steps to significantly ramp up our co-operation internationally. In March 2023, the Prime Minister and President Macron announced a three-year funding deal of £475 million to increase the deployment of personnel in northern France, to procure and deploy new technology and to enhance UK-French co-operation through the improved co-ordination and command of a personnel centre in northern France, and improved information sharing between our services.

My hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood asked about that point. She will recognise that I am somewhat limited in what I am able to say, for obvious reasons. We do not want to do anything that helps those criminal gangs to circumvent that work. However, the deal is being implemented at pace. More French personnel than ever before are now deployed in northern France, supported by cutting-edge equipment such as new drones that can be flown over an increased range. In addition, a new French zonal co-ordination centre is being established to co-ordinate French deployments, with UK officers permanently embedded in the new centre.

Our close co-operation, including that new deal, has been crucial in preventing dangerous crossings from being attempted. Last year, the number of crossings fell by 36% compared with 2022. We know that we must go further this year to continue that trend, but tackling the global migration crisis and smashing the evil gangs who drive it are challenges that must be met with a shared response further upstream, as well as at our closest borders.

As such, we recently pledged up to £1 million to tackle illegal migration in Libya, amid record arrivals into Europe from north Africa. This money will support survivors of trafficking and migrants in vulnerable situations, while also helping to prevent journeys to Europe by tackling the root causes of irregular migration, facilitating the voluntary return of migrants to their home countries and providing reintegration assistance for migrants who choose to return to their countries of origin. The funding and support we are providing will mean Libya is better equipped to stop people risking their lives to reach Europe. It also demonstrates our commitment to crack down on people smugglers operating not just in the English channel, but across the whole world.

In addition, the UK is participating in the Rome process, working with the Italian Government on upstream projects on the migration route to address the root causes of migration. In support of that process, the UK is co-funding a project to promote and assist the voluntary return of migrants from Tunisia to their countries of origin. It has also been agreed to deepen UK-Italy co-operation on security and economic development across north Africa.

Again, it is right that we keep a close eye on the costs of our international partnerships and agreements, but I would strongly dispute any suggestion that this work is in any way unproductive or superfluous. On the contrary, it is essential that the United Kingdom plays an active role in the global response to this issue. The more effectively we can intervene at our near borders and, as importantly, upstream in countries such as Libya, the better protected the United Kingdom will be against illegal migration and the gangs that fuel it. I hope that gives a bit of flavour on the work that is going on now.

We have also increased dramatically the number of returns of individuals who have no right to be here, to 26,000 in 2023 compared with 14,623 in 2022. We will sustain that progress.

Andrea Jenkyns Portrait Dame Andrea Jenkyns
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I have no doubt that the Minister is a passionate advocate and we are on the same page on a lot of this. Has he discussed with his Department coming out of the ECHR?

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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That is not a policy conversation that I have had. What I will say is that when it comes to the Rwanda policy, to which I think the question is relevant and pertinent, the Prime Minister has been consistently clear that we will not allow a foreign court to prevent us from operationalising it. I believe that through the legislation we have put in place and the determination of the Government to see it through, we will fulfil the commitments that we have made under the legislation to operationalise the policy, relocate people to Rwanda and put an end to journeys over the channel and the business model underpinning them.

I also make the point that Albanian arrivals are down by 90% in 2023 compared with 2022. Again, that is evidence proving that deterrents work. That partnership focuses on the point of deterrence, and it is yet more evidence that the general approach we are taking, which is developed further through the Rwanda policy, will deliver, with deterrence at its core to help put these criminal gangs out of business and disrupt their work.

Specifically on asylum grant rates, I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood that the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 changes that she and I voted for are making a difference. I anticipate that colleagues will see grant rates coming down. We are also making decisions much more quickly. Asylum caseworking productivity and the learning that has taken place over the course of the last 12 to 18 months are making a real difference in reaching decisions on individual cases much sooner.

I know that my hon. Friend is also a strong supporter of the changes we have introduced around legal migration. I was pleased that we were able to have the first statistical release on that front last week, which demonstrates the changes and the way in which they are beginning to make a difference. We saw numbers down 24% across key visa routes. We obviously saw a considerable fall in student dependant numbers, having stopped individuals being able to bring student dependants on the route, and we will sustain that progress as well. The objective is to bring inflows down by 300,000 relative to the year prior. Again, that is a credible plan that delivers on the commitment we have made to bring those numbers down to more sustainable levels, and I am grateful for the support shown by my hon. Friend in that regard.

In today’s debate we have touched a little on the Rwanda policy, which is front and centre in allowing us to kick on and make further progress. The changes we have introduced and the progress we have made are not insignificant, but undoubtedly we need to go further in order to achieve our ultimate aim of putting the criminal gangs out of business. I have said that a few times in the course of this debate, but it is what the British people expect and it is the critical challenge that we face. It is not tenable for any party not to have a credible plan about how it would do that. I will not go into the operational specifics of the policy today.

We have consistently seen efforts to thwart the progress of the Rwanda legislation, and I have no doubt that we will see further efforts from certain quarters to make the delivery of the policy as difficult as possible. We have seen incidents in the last week or so of people trying to disrupt perfectly lawful Home Office business to facilitate relocation in the asylum accommodation estate. We cannot have a mob trying to prevent through criminality that lawful Home Office business from taking place. There is always a right to peaceful protest, but it is not acceptable to behave in such a way that is counter to the law and prevents perfectly lawful business from moving forward and taking place in the way that the British people as a whole would reasonably expect.

My hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood raised a point about judicial capacity and being able to get on, process claims and ensure that appeals are dealt with as expeditiously as possible. The Government are working particularly hard to ensure that the justice system can meet increases in demand under the Illegal Migration Act. We have reviewed anticipated workloads introduced by the Act and will increase court staff and secure hearing rooms and judicial capacity to meet those projections. To make effective use of the Act’s provision for first-tier tribunal judges to sit in the upper tribunal of the immigration and asylum chamber when requested to do so by the Senior President of Tribunals, the judiciary has identified and trained about 150 experienced first-tier tribunal judges to sit in the upper tribunal to hear Illegal Migration Act appeals. The additional judges, if deployed, could provide more than 5,000 additional sitting days.

The Lord Chancellor also asked the Judicial Appointments Commission to recruit more judges for the first-tier and upper tribunals of the immigration and asylum chamber. The recruitment is now concluding and new judges will be appointed and trained and will start sitting from this summer. This should increase capacity in both the first-tier and upper tribunals to hear routine cases and, in due course, Illegal Migration Act cases. Again, we are taking a root-and-branch approach, increasing resource and capacity and ensuring that we have the infrastructure to deliver not only on the partnership with Rwanda, but on getting through cases more quickly. That will facilitate greater volumes of removals not just of foreign national offenders, but of individuals who are failed asylum seekers and have no right to be here.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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In my contribution, I raised the concern of asylum seekers effectively being taxied around the UK. Could the Minister say something on that, or could he commit to writing to me and others about the costs?

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will gladly pick up that specific point. The hon. Gentleman raised an individual case that would not be appropriate for me to comment on, in the sense that I would never think it appropriate to casework individual cases on the Floor of the House. If the hon. Gentleman wants to share details with me, I will ensure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Countering Illegal Migration is aware of it.

On the point about accommodation moves, the hon. Member for Glasgow South West will appreciate that we are in the process of scaling back hotels. We are closing hotels around the country. We are on track to fulfil the commitments we have made on that 150 figure, and to go further, but we need to do that in a managed way, which sometimes requires people to be relocated to other parts of the country for the purposes of accommodation. Again, we are trying to move towards a place where, if areas played their part through dispersed accommodation, there would not be a need for hotels. I come back to the point about flow. We need to fundamentally and significantly reduce the flow of people coming into this country, which goes to the very heart of the challenge the hon. Gentleman is talking about. If we had a smaller population of individuals who had come here illegally, we would have a reduced need for accommodation, but in the circumstances, it is very helpful where local authorities work with us to identify dispersed accommodation within communities, which dramatically reduces the reliance on hotels.

Let us just contrast all of that to the policy of the Opposition, who have talked again about increased funding for the National Crime Agency. Well, we have already doubled that. They have talked about an additional team of civil servants. Well, we already have around 5,000 civil servants working on this part of the migration and borders system. The Opposition have no credible plan whatsoever on the issue of flow. They have nothing that disrupts meaningfully the criminal gangs. There is a lot of talk about simply getting on and processing claims more quickly. I would love it if the shadow Minister intervened on me to suggest a third country return route, because without that we would simply be accepting unlimited numbers of people of certain nationalities coming across the channel without a rote of return to the country of origin. That cannot be right. That is not a sustainable position.

That is why the partnership with Rwanda is so important in addressing this challenge. It allows us to relocate individuals to Rwanda with the aim of breaking the business model that is seeing people being brought across and exploited by criminal gangs in the first place. It is just not good enough for the Opposition to say that they are going to do those two very minor things that the Government are already doing, and that suddenly the picture will be dramatically improved overnight. I do not think anybody fair-minded thinks that is a credible answer to this challenge. It is incumbent on any Government or party that aspires to Government to have a multi-faceted approach to this challenge. We do, and it is working; and we will see it through. That stands in very stark contrast to the Opposition party’s approach reflected in the debate today.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood set out, the financial stakes are high, but there are also very genuine issues about security and fairness. Most importantly, this is about saving lives. It is about stopping people risking their lives in the channel and all the catastrophic consequences that we have seen play out on far too many occasions, so it is right, not only financially but morally, to get a better grip of illegal migration.

As I said, we have a plan. It is delivering results. We still have some distance to go. I believe that the steps that we propose to take will deliver the results that we intend them to have, and that matters, because people in communities such as Morley and Outwood want to see change. I think they recognise that we have a plan to get there. Their local MP will no doubt hold us to account for delivery against the promises that we have made. There is nothing humane or decent about standing back, doing very little to stop what we are seeing currently or the risk to life that it presents, and just accepting that it is all too difficult and that things cannot change. That is not the position that this Government have taken. It is not the position that this Government will take, moving forward. We are determined to see this through.

Andrea Jenkyns Portrait Dame Andrea Jenkyns
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I thank you, Mr Stringer, my hon. Friend the Minister, the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), and the few MPs who took part. It is a shame for this important debate that more did not turn up.

I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for his contribution. He gave an important insight into how illegal immigration is affecting his constituents in Northern Ireland and the impact on the fishing and food sector. He highlighted the unhappiness felt by the Northern Irish people and how we must strike a balance between compassion and obligation. I thank him for that.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Adam Holloway) for participating despite losing his voice—I have been there. He described his own experience for the TV programme that he was in, the dangers of traffickers and gangs, and the plight of the Vietnamese children going missing, which is a very important point. He also described the impact of the current situation on rent inflation, which has a knock-on effect on the British public.

I thank the SNP and the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens). Despite our having completely different views, I agree with him on a couple of issues, namely, the need to tackle gangmasters and for a better relationship between local government and central Government.

The shadow Minister is well respected across the House, and I thank him for his contribution. However, I did not hear a fully detailed plan on what Labour would do. It has said that it will look at issues. Nor did he touch on my points about Labour giving asylum to 50,000 people. That is really concerning.

I thank the Minister for being here today and contributing to this debate. Knowing him as a friend, I am confident that he is strident in his role and he understands the impact of the current situation on the British people. I again thank you, Mr Stringer, and fellow MPs for their input into today’s debate, but I urge the Minister that it is time to get a grip. The British taxpayers have had enough. Let us show them how serious we are in tackling this. Let us come out of the ECHR and finally get control of our borders, because we know that in six months’ time, if Labour does get into power, this issue will never be addressed.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the costs associated with illegal immigration.