Asylum Seekers Accommodation and Safeguarding

– in the House of Commons at on 7 November 2022.

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Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet 3:36, 7 November 2022

(Urgent Question): To ask the Minister for Immigration if he will make a statement about what steps he is taking to reduce overcrowding at the Manston asylum processing facility and about the safeguarding of minors, both at Manston and in hotels.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

We have set out on multiple occasions that the global migration crisis is placing unprecedented strain on our asylum system. Despite what they may have been told by many, migrants who travel through safe countries should not put their lives at risk by making the dangerous and illegal journey to the United Kingdom. We are steadfast in our determination to tackle those gaming the system and will use every tool at our disposal to deter illegal migration and disrupt the business model of people smugglers.

So far this year, our French colleagues have prevented over 29,000 crossings and destroyed over 1,000 boats. Furthermore, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be speaking with President Macron this week about how, together, we can achieve our shared ambition to prevent further crossings.

Some 40,000 people have crossed the channel on small boats so far this year, and the Government continue to have a statutory responsibility to provide safe and secure accommodation for asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute. To meet that responsibility, we have had to keep people for longer than we would have liked at our processing facility at Manston, but we have been sourcing more bed spaces with local authorities and in contingency accommodation such as hotels.

I can tell the House that, as of 8 o’clock this morning, the population at the Manston facility was back below 1,600. That is a significant reduction from this point last week, with over 2,300 people having been placed in onward accommodation. I thank my Border Force officers, members of the armed forces, our contractors and Home Office staff, who have worked tirelessly to help achieve that reduction.

Before the high number of arrivals in September, Manston had proven to be a streamlined and efficient asylum processing centre, where biographic and biometric details are taken and assessed against our databases, asylum claims registered and the vulnerable assessed. We are determined to ensure that Manston is back to that position as soon as possible, and I am encouraged by the progress now being made. We must not be complacent. We remain absolutely focused on addressing these complex issues so that we can deliver a fair and effective asylum system that works in the interests of the British people.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

First, may I thank my right hon. Friend for the endeavours that he has made since his appointment to reduce the numbers of people overcrowding the Manston facility? I believe that this problem was wholly avoidable. He has worked tireless, with the staff at Manston—I thank them too—who have done a superb job under very difficult circumstances.

We are now nearly back to where we need to be, with the Manston processing centre operating efficiently. Will my right hon. Friend confirm his understanding, shared with the Home Secretary and with me last Thursday when she visited the site, that Manston is a processing centre, not an accommodation centre? Does he therefore agree that the temporary facilities that were erected while he and I were both present there a week ago on Sunday will be demolished, and can he confirm that additional accommodation will be provided so that the spike in November that is anticipated—which will happen, as it happened last year—will be catered for so that we will not have a repetition of the clogging-up of the facilities at Manston?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

First, may I praise my right hon. Friend, who is an exemplary Member of Parliament? It has been my privilege to work alongside him over the past 10 days. He has consistently raised concerns expressed by his constituents, and also our joint desire that Manston should operate as a humane and decent facility that provides compassionate care to those who arrive at the United Kingdom’s borders. The population is now back at an acceptable level, which is a considerable achievement. It is essential that it remains so, and he is right to say that the challenge is far from over. Last year, for various reasons, November proved to be the largest month of the year for arrivals in the UK, so we have to be aware of that and plan appropriately. We are doing just that, and we are ensuring that there is now further accommodation so that we can build up a sufficient buffer, so that those arriving at Manston stay there for the legal period of 24 hours or thereabouts, and are then swiftly moved to better and more appropriate accommodation elsewhere in the country.

I support my right hon. Friend’s view that Manston should always be a processing centre, not a permanent home for migrants arriving in the UK. I have taken note of his comment that he would like the temporary facilities there to be dismantled. I do not think that is possible right now, because the prudent thing is to ensure that we maintain the level of infrastructure that we have in case there is a significant increase in the number of migrants arriving in the weeks ahead, but it is certainly not my intention, or the Home Secretary’s intention, that Manston is turned into a permanent site for housing immigrants.

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

I welcome the Minister to his place. The Home Secretary has stated that after 12 years of Conservative government the asylum system is “broken”. We agree, and it is the Conservative party that has broken it. The Government are processing just half the number of asylum claims that they were processing in 2015, and as a result the British taxpayer is footing a £7 million hotel bill every single day. Their failure to replace the Dublin agreement on returning failed asylum seekers, their failure to crack down on the criminal gangs, and their failure to get agreement with France have also increased the backlog.

This catalogue of chaos has led to the overcrowding in Manston, for which Sir Roger Gale has directly blamed the Home Secretary. The previous Home Secretary revealed today that on 20 October he received legal advice that Manston was

“being used, or in danger of being used, as a detention centre”, and he took emergency measures to work within the law. However, the current Home Secretary met officials on 19 October, just before she was forced to resign for breaching the ministerial code. Can the Minister please confirm that the Home Secretary refused to take those same emergency measures, and can he explain why she ignored the advice that she was repeatedly given over a period of several weeks? The Home Secretary told the House just a week ago that she did not ignore legal advice. Can the Minister tell the House now whether he believes that statement to be correct? The key question on Manston is whether legal advice was followed or not. Given the Minister’s unlawful approval of a Tory donor’s housing project in his previous brief, is he really best placed to make that judgment?

We know that 222 children have gone missing from asylum accommodation. What are the Government doing to find those missing children, to prevent more children from going missing, and to meet their legal obligations to vulnerable children?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

For a few moments I thought that the hon. Gentleman was going to approach this in an intelligent and constructive manner, but sadly that was the triumph of optimism over experience. In fact, the Labour party is trying to politicise this, and we can of course say the same. The Labour party has no plan to tackle illegal immigration. It does not want to tackle illegal immigration. The Labour party left a system in ruins in 2010, as my right hon. Friend Damian Green would attest, as he had to help to pick up the pieces. We believe in a system of secure borders and a fair and robust asylum system in which all members of the public can have confidence.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the Home Secretary’s conduct. Let me tell him that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has consistently approved hotel accommodation. More than 30 hotels have been brought on line in the time for which my right hon. and learned Friend has been in office, which has ensured that thousands of asylum seekers have been able to move on from the Manston site and into better and more sustainable accommodation. And look at her record over the course of the last week! The population at Manston has fallen from 4,000 to 1,600 in a matter of seven days. That is a very considerable achievement on the part of the Home Secretary and her officials in the Home Office, and I am proud of it.

Photo of Craig Mackinlay Craig Mackinlay Conservative, South Thanet

The Minister will be well aware that previous student accommodation at Canterbury Christchurch University—86 rooms—has been taken up by a company called Clearsprings, one of many outsourced companies around the country that have been trying to find accommodation. He may also be aware that Thanet District Council had been in correspondence with the Home Office in August, saying how unsuitable the site would be because of its close proximity to both primary and secondary schools that were a few hundred yards away, and because it was in a residential area.

Is it not the case that outsourced companies such as Clearsprings and Serco are simply running roughshod over planning consents, local authorities and local consultation? I am very concerned about this example. The Home Office must get involved when these large sites are selected, rather than big outsourced companies just doing as they please.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

My hon. Friend and I were in contact about this issue over the weekend, and I know how strongly he feels. My first duty has been to ensure that Manston can operate in a legal and decent manner, and we are well on the way to achieving that. The second task is ensuring that the Home Office and its contractors procure accommodation—whether it be hotels, spot bookings or other forms of accommodation—in a sensible manner, taking into account many of the factors that my hon. Friend has just described, such as safeguarding, the impact on the local community and the likelihood of disorder, whether there is already significant pressure on that community, and whether it is a tourist hotspot. Those criteria need to be followed carefully.

My third priority, beyond that, is our exit from this hotel strategy altogether. It is not sustainable for the country to be spending billions of pounds a year on hotels. We now need to move rapidly to a point at which individuals are processed swiftly so that the backlog in cases falls and we disperse people fairly around the UK to local authority and private rented sector accommodation where appropriate. We also need to look into whether other, larger sites that provide decent but not luxurious accommodation might be available, so that we do not create a further pull factor for people to come to the UK.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I, too, congratulate Sir Roger Gale on securing this urgent question and on his persistent scrutiny of these issues. Surely we have now reached the point where the Home Office can no longer be left responsible for the safety of those children. Hundreds are missing and thousands more are stuck in hotels outside the child protection system. Children are reportedly pressurised to claim to be adults and are increasingly misidentified as adults. There have been harrowing accounts of assault and rape; there is general evidence of fear and depression; and adults are not even being properly disclosure checked. Can we have a cross-Government taskforce, headed by the Prime Minister, to get children into local authority care instead of into more hotels?

Progress in moving people out of Manston is welcome, but it massively begs the question why that was not possible last month. To help the Minister to free up accommodation, will he prioritise the outstanding claims of the 15,000 or so Syrians and Afghans, who should be comparatively easy to identify as refugees and to award their status? Will he suspend the pointless process that saw staff identify just 83 inadmissible claims out of 16,000 cases? For goodness’ sake, instead of wasting their time on that, they should be looking at asylum claims and the backlog.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

The hon. Gentleman is wrong to suggest that the UK Government pressurise any individual to falsely identify as a child. It is the people smugglers who do that; we are doing everything we can to clamp down on it. I have been to Western Jet Foil at Dover to meet the Border Force staff who try to make those assessments. At times, up to 20% of the adult males who arrive at Western Jet Foil claim to be under 18, when clearly the number is substantially less than that. We have already changed the law, which I think the SNP voted against, to change the way in which those tests are administered, and if we need to make further legal changes, we will.

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that it is wrong that many children, in particular unaccompanied children, are in hotel accommodation. I want to change that. The way to do that is to encourage more local authorities throughout the United Kingdom to accept those individuals and to help them into private or state foster parenting arrangements. We have put in place a significant financial package of about £52,000 a year per foster carer per child to ensure that can happen, plus a £6,000 up-front payment to the local authority to help to accommodate that. The financing is available, so I want to ensure that more local authorities step up. If he can encourage those run by his SNP colleagues in Scotland to do so, I would be happy to support him.

Photo of James Daly James Daly Conservative, Bury North

The question for my right hon. Friend is not how many hotels we can book, but how we can stop the increasing number of migrants coming across the channel this year. We have seen more than 10,000 adult males from Albania aged 18 to 40—that is between 1% and 2% of the population—coming to the United Kingdom. We will not have enough hotels in the country if they continue at that rate. What is his view on the agreement that was entered into on 18 November 2002 between the German and Albanian Governments, which allowed Germany to deport Albanians who did not arrive in the country with a valid residence permit? That would allow us to take quick action to take people out of the country who should not be here.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

My hon. Friend raises an extremely important point. We want our asylum system to be available to those who truly need it—those who are fleeing persecution, war and human rights abuses around the world. We should not be a harbour for those who are essentially economic migrants coming from safe countries such as Albania. We need to change that. We have now negotiated a return agreement with Albania and 1,000 Albanians have already been returned home under that. I now want to see—I know my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary shares my view—a fast track whereby Albanians who do not meet our asylum criteria have their cases processed quickly and are swiftly returned home. It cannot be right that we are seeing thousands of Albanians making this crossing and essentially taking advantage of the welcome and hospitality afforded to them here in the UK.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

I congratulate Sir Roger Gale on securing this urgent question. Tomorrow, the Home Affairs Committee will visit Manston on its second visit, as we first visited in June. Alongside looking at the overcrowding, the safety issues and the lack of basic facilities, there is a concern about the legality of the Home Secretary’s actions in authorising individuals to be detained at Manston for more than 24 hours. Weekend media reports suggested that she was repeatedly provided with the advice that detaining individuals at Manston for more than 24 hours was illegal. The Sunday Times reported that she had received papers on 4 October stating that the Home Office had no power to detain people solely for welfare reasons or for arranging onward accommodation. Can the Minister explain to the House the legal basis for detaining individuals at Manston for longer than 24 hours?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady, who chairs the Select Committee, for that question. The law is clear that we should not detain individuals at sites such as Manston for longer than 24 hours, and that is exactly the position that we want to return to as fast as we can.

There are competing legal duties on Ministers. Another legal duty that we need to pay heed to is our duty not to leave individuals destitute. It would be wrong for the Home Office to allow individuals who had only recently arrived in the United Kingdom—the vast majority of those at Manston had been saved at sea by Border Force, the Royal National Lifeboat Institute and the Royal Navy—and who had been brought to the site in a condition of some destitution, to be released on to the rural lanes of Kent without great care. That is why the Home Secretary has balanced her duties and taken the required steps to procure more hotel accommodation as swiftly as we can. Dame Diana Johnson can see the work that we have already done.

In answer to the first part of the right hon. Lady’s question, the conditions at Manston were poor because there were too many people there, but a wide range of facilities are provided: individuals are clothed, they are fed three times a day, and there is an excellent medical facility. I have seen those things with my own eyes, and I hope that she sees them as well. We need to keep a sense of proportion about the state of Manston.

Photo of Lee Anderson Lee Anderson Conservative, Ashfield

Now then. When I hear talk of sourcing housing and getting extra hotel spaces for illegal immigrants, it leaves a bitter taste in my throat. Five thousand people in Ashfield want to secure council housing but cannot get it, yet we are debating this nonsense once again. When are we going to stop blaming the French, the European convention on human rights and the lefty lawyers? The blame lies in this place right now. When are we going to grow a backbone and do the right thing by sending them straight back the same day?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

My hon. Friend is right that in sourcing accommodation for migrants, we should be guided both by our common desire for decency, because those are our values, and by hard-headed common sense. It is not right that migrants are put up in three or four-star hotels at exorbitant cost to the United Kingdom taxpayer, or that migrants who come here illegally are given preference of any sort over British citizens. That is the kind of approach that we will take going forward.

We will now work closely with our allies in France to ensure that more crossings are stopped in northern France. The Prime Minister will speak with President Macron this week while they are in Egypt, and we hope to take forward that partnership productively and constructively in the months ahead.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

The second half of this urgent question was explicitly about the safeguarding of accompanied minors in the hotels. That matters because there are thousands of children—verified children—in those hotels. Last week, we learned that two of them—one a child under the age of 13—were sexually assaulted in a hotel in Walthamstow, and more cases of sexual assaults on children in these hotels have since come to light. We are all clear that those who committed those crimes must be held responsible. We all have duties to those children, just as we have to any other child under state protection.

When I asked the Home Secretary about this, she made a cheap jibe about hotels. The Minister did not even mention those children in his response. He has not yet given us a straight answer. Surely all of us in the House will be concerned about the sexual assault of children of any background. Will the Minister publish the details of all these cases, including how many incidents of violence or sexual assault against children in these hotels have occurred in the past year, what action has been taken, and crucially, what safeguarding the private companies that run these hotels must undertake? If he will not publish those details, that tells us what he thinks about those children and the responsibility that we all have to them.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

It is a pity the hon. Lady takes that approach because I take my responsibilities to children, whether accompanied or otherwise, very seriously. We have put in place a wide range of support mechanisms. I mentioned earlier the work we are doing for unaccompanied children. The hotels, most of which are in Kent, have extremely sophisticated support. It is costing the taxpayer up to £500 a night for that accommodation, which gives her a sense of the degree of the support we are making available. The best thing she could do is to support her local authority and encourage others to take more unaccompanied children and families into good-quality local authority accommodation, or to find them foster care in the community. That is the task because we need to disperse these individuals as fast as we can across the country. She may shake her head, but I am afraid that suggests she does not understand that the way to resolve this issue is to help the children out of hotels and into the community as fast as we can.

Photo of Simon Fell Simon Fell Conservative, Barrow and Furness

I am looking forward to my second visit to Manston tomorrow with the Home Affairs Committee. I am glad that the Minister has managed to get the numbers down at Manston. That is really important, but it strikes me that all we are doing is moving a problem from Manston into our communities. To solve this issue, we need to get through the backlogs, allow our communities to rest, and stop creating an environment where the far right can take root in constituencies such as mine and those of colleagues around the House. With that in mind, what measures is my right hon. Friend taking to surge Home Office processing capacity, so we can actually deal with the problem at the heart of this issue?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

It is essential that we accelerate decision making now within the Home Office. Over the summer, we piloted an approach that would very substantially increase decision making. That has been done in our Leeds office and we now intend to roll it out across the country as quickly as we can. That would take us from an average of around 1.5 decisions per caseworker per week to as many as four per week. We also want, in slightly longer time, to review all the red tape and bureaucracy that surround the process, so we can ensure our system is more streamlined, and to look at why, in the UK, we have a much higher approval rate for asylum than many comparable countries, such as France and Germany. That, at the heart of the issue, is why so many people choose to come here. They shop around for asylum and choose the UK when they are, in fact, economic migrants.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

The House welcomes the fact that the numbers at Manston have gone down, but the Minister will be aware that the concerns, notably of the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, David Neal, were about not just the numbers but the conditions. When he came to give evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, he told us that he thought there was a risk of fire, disorder and infection. Is the Minister confident that those risks no longer exist? On unaccompanied children, how many are there in Manston? What effort is being made to safeguard them? For instance, are they having to sleep next to males they do not know? When it comes to unaccompanied children in hotels, can he tell the House specifically how they are being safeguarded?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

There should be no unaccompanied children at Manston. Unaccompanied children are taken directly from Western Jet Foil. In some cases when they immediately arrive at Manston, they are taken to specialist hotels, where they are looked after with a range of support provided for them. As I said in answer to a previous question, that in itself is not a desirable outcome. We want to ensure that those young people are quickly taken to better accommodation, particularly foster carers. That relies on us being able to find more. There is a national shortage of foster carers, which is why we put in place a financial package to try to stimulate the market and encourage more people and councils to step up and provide that service.

The right hon. Lady makes an important point about conditions at the site. Conditions were poor when I last visited, but the primary reason for that was the sheer number of individuals there. The staff I met were providing a very good quality of care in difficult circumstances. The food was acceptable, and the health and medical facility was good. The clothing and other support that was provided was something I thought was acceptable and is certainly far in excess of that which would be provided in other European countries.

We have to remember that the individuals who arrive at Manston have literally been hooked out of the sea. We saved their lives just hours previously and many of them have come from significantly worse accommodation such as, for example, the camp at Dunkirk. I am not saying the UK should compare itself with that—we want to be better—but I think the right hon. Lady will find that the facility at Manston is now in a significantly better state and I would be interested in hearing her reflections when she returns.

Photo of Maggie Throup Maggie Throup Conservative, Erewash

As my right hon. Friend is aware, his Department is housing 400 asylum seekers in two hotels in my constituency, sited 50 metres apart on a busy motorway junction. With no basic amenities nearby or extra resources for local services such as healthcare and policing, their location is wholly unsuitable and I fear could lead to significant safeguarding issues. Ahead of our meeting tomorrow, which I thank him for, will he put together a timetable for their closure and in the meantime ensure that Erewash gets extra support to manage the situation on the ground?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

My hon. Friend was swift to raise this matter with me as soon as it was brought to her attention. She has raised the issues she has mentioned on the Floor of the House today with me and my officials, and I look forward to meeting her tomorrow to take that forward. As I said in answer to an earlier question, the hotels are not a sustainable answer. We want to ensure that we exit the hotels as quickly as possible and to do that we will need to disperse individuals to other forms of accommodation. We may need to take some larger sites to provide decent but basic accommodation. Of course, we will need to get through the backlog, so that we can get more people out of the system either by returning them to their home country, or granting them asylum so they can begin to make a contribution to the UK.

Photo of Christine Jardine Christine Jardine Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Women and Equalities), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

We welcome the Minister’s assurances that decisions will be made more quickly, particularly since 89,000 people in the system have been waiting more than six months for a decision, but can he assure us that these will not just be box-ticking exercises, that not speed but efficiency will be the determining factor and that people will get a fair decision? We all want to see an end to this problem and everything the Government have done so far has just made it worse.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

The hon. Member has my assurance that the standards of decision making will be upheld, but we believe we can do it in a far more productive manner than has been done in the past, and if we can make more decisions every week than we do today, we will get through the backlog as quickly as we can.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

Will the Government legislate urgently to deal with the obvious loopholes in the law that are exploited by people smugglers and economic migrants? And I share the concerns of my colleagues about the use of hotels in my area.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and I are reviewing whether further changes to the law are required. One area we are particularly interested in is the modern slavery framework. That is important and well-meant legislation, but unfortunately it is being abused by a very large number of migrants today, and if we need to make changes to it so that we can ensure that it is not exploited, we will do so.

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

Like many other Members, I have hotels in my constituency where a number of families are living in really bad conditions. The Minister outlined that he wants to look at moving people away from those hotels. One of the key problems is the fact that asylum claims are not being processed enough. Has there been any additional recruitment within the Home Office to look at the backlog of cases?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

Yes, there has. We have now recruited 1,000 caseworkers and we have a plan to recruit a further 500. Those individuals will be trained by the very best decision makers, such as those who have been through the pilot, which I mentioned earlier, in Leeds. Together, this new workforce hopefully will be able to power through the backlog and ensure that decisions are made swiftly.

Photo of Selaine Saxby Selaine Saxby Conservative, North Devon

Can my right hon. Friend assure me that steps are being taken to rapidly address the speed at which asylum claims are being processed before we run out of hotels? The economies of remote coastal towns such as Ilfracombe and Newquay rely on their tourists. Can he assure me that those hotels will welcome visitors in next spring’s vital tourism season?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

I certainly hope that is the case. As I said, my first priority was to ensure that Manston was operating in a legally compliant and decent manner. The second priority is to ensure that, where we are using hotels, we are doing so judiciously and that officials or our contractors are applying the criteria that I and other Ministers have set down, one of which is to ensure that we avoid tourist hotspots such as that which my hon. Friend represents. Thirdly, it is essential that we exit the hotels altogether and move forward with a more sustainable strategy that ensures best value for money for the taxpayer and a fair and robust asylum system.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Independent, Islington North

Will the Minister confirm that to seek asylum is a perfectly legal thing within international law and, therefore, UK law and that loose use of the words “illegal asylum seekers” is dangerous for the individuals concerned?

Has the Minister’s attention been drawn to the Council of Europe report on pushbacks across Europe of people seeking a place of safety in a number of countries, including this one? They have been pushed back and left in places of enormous danger. Will he confirm that Britain will not be involved in sea-bound pushbacks towards France that leave people in enormous danger? Instead, will he recognise the humanitarian needs of, frankly, deeply desperate people to whom we should be holding out the hand of friendship, not condemnation?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

The UK is not involved in pushbacks at sea; we uphold our international obligations in that respect. It is a right for an individual to claim asylum. We want a system whereby those who are fleeing genuine persecution, war or human rights abuses can find refuge in the United Kingdom. The issue that we are grappling with is the sheer quantity of individuals who are choosing to come here, leaving other safe countries such as France. That places an intolerable strain on our system and means that those individuals to whom we want to offer support find themselves in difficult circumstances.

A fair and robust system would not encourage people to come across the channel illegally in small boats. It would be predominantly based on resettlement schemes such as the ones that we have engineered in recent years for people from Syria, Ukraine and Afghanistan. That is the system that I want to build in the years ahead.

Photo of Andy Carter Andy Carter Conservative, Warrington South

On Thursday, I was notified by the Home Office that the Fir Grove Hotel in Grappenhall would become an asylum centre the following day. There was no discussion with the borough council and no notification to local residents. It is in the middle of a residential area, fewer than 200 yards from a primary school. I am sure that my right hon. Friend would agree that it is simply not acceptable for the Home Office to steamroll ahead with such a decision without the necessary consultation with local residents. I would be grateful if he would meet me to discuss that situation and how we can review and reverse that decision.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

I would be very happy to meet my hon. Friend so we can discuss the issue and he can represent the views of his constituents. I can inform the House that I have agreed with my officials at the Home Office that, as a matter of course, all Members of Parliament should be informed of new facilities being opened in their constituency ahead of time. All local authorities should be informed and proper engagement undertaken with them so that we can better understand the specific issues and provide the support that might be needed. It is not right that MPs and councils find out on social media or third hand and I intend to bring that to an end.

Photo of Sarah Owen Sarah Owen Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Some are heralding the horrors at Manston as the death of compassionate conservatism. The rest of us knew it never existed, or at least not for a very long time. Since the last Prime Minister took office just weeks ago, we have seen the Home Secretary describe people fleeing war as invading our country. Lethal levels of overcrowding at the Manston camp, traumatised people dumped at Victoria station with nowhere to sleep and child refugees sexually assaulted—is that the compassion that the Prime Minister speaks of? If not, how will those shameful examples be rectified?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

The hon. Lady should pay closer attention to what is actually happening. I have visited Manston and met members of staff who are supporting those individuals at Western Jet Foil. I spent Saturday night at our immigration removal centre in west London, and in every one of those situations Border Force, Home Office, military and other personnel are providing decent, compassionate care to individuals who are coming to this country. But humanity and decency does not mean naivety, and that is where we take a different approach from the hon. Lady. Some 30% of those who have crossed the channel this year alone have come from Albania, which is a demonstrably safe country. We have to draw a distinction, or else we simply will not be able to help people who do deserve our care and support.

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I was concerned to learn from media reports last week that not once but twice, asylum seekers from the Manston centre were dropped off at Victoria coach station in my constituency. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we must deal with asylum seekers responsibly, firmly and compassionately, and can he assure me that we will not see a repeat of what we saw last week?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

I thank my hon. Friend, who raised this issue with me immediately when it came to her attention, just as I did with officials when I learned of it. We have in recent times occasionally used a procedure whereby asylum seekers are asked whether they have a home of a friend or relative where they could stay, and if that is the case, they are bailed to that address. On balance that is the right approach, because it ensures that the taxpayer does not have to pay for them to stay in hotels, but we must get it right. In this case it appears that a small number of individuals were left at Victoria station due to a miscommunication. They were later taken to hotels, in Norfolk I believe, and are being cared for appropriately.

Photo of Bell Ribeiro-Addy Bell Ribeiro-Addy Labour, Streatham

My constituency hosts some of the hotels that are currently housing refugees and asylum seekers, and I have dealt with a number of cases specifically regarding the conditions there. Earlier, the Minister described such hotels as “luxurious”, and I have to ask whether he has ever been to one and seen what I have seen, which is whole families living in cramped conditions, given food so bad that it makes them sick, and having to deal with infestations of bedbugs and other things that are making them ill. These hotels are dire. They are not secure or safe, and they are certainly not suitable for vulnerable children. Will the Minister admit that the Home Office has received a number of complaints about that, and agree to review and assess conditions in those hotels?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

If the hon. Lady has specific allegations, I suggest she brings those to me and I will happily look into them. I have visited hotels, and in general I have been reassured that they meet the right standard of decency. As I said earlier, it is not appropriate that we are putting up asylum seekers in luxurious hotels, and numerous examples in the press of accommodation that is not appropriate have been brought to my attention since I took this role. We have to respect the taxpayer and ensure that we put up asylum seekers in sensible accommodation. Decency is important and will be a watchword for us, but deterrence must also be suffused through our approach. We do not want to create a further pull factor for individuals to make that perilous crossing across the channel, and we must make the UK significantly less attractive to illegal immigration than our EU neighbours.

Photo of Richard Drax Richard Drax Conservative, South Dorset

Much has been made of the safeguarding of illegal migrants, which I think all Members of the House would agree with, but we are not talking about the safeguarding of our citizens. Thousands of people are coming here and we do not know their backgrounds. My right hon. Friend is being forced to put them into hotels because there is nowhere else for them to go. What guarantee can he give to all our citizens who live near those hotels that they will be safe, particularly when we hear what is going on in those hotels?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and for that reason I went with my hon. Friend Mrs Elphicke to meet her constituents on Friday morning. They have been at the sharp end of illegal migration, and it is important that we think not just of the migrants but of our own citizens who are facing pressures from this situation. I reassure my hon. Friend that on arrival we screen individuals coming into the UK. Counter-terrorism police are present at all our facilities in Dover and Manston, and they take action against those about whom they might have suspicions. When we choose hotels or accommodation, it is important that we do so judiciously, so that we do not place people in situations that might have safeguarding or other risks. Again, that is another reason why we need to move away from the hotel model altogether.

Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

My recent written parliamentary question revealed that 220 children have gone missing from Home Office-procured accommodation. We hear reports from across the country of the difficulty in securing school places for children in Home Office accommodation. Now we hear reports of the most grave matter—sexual assaults against children living in Home Office accommodation, at least one of whom I believe to be in Home Office accommodation in my constituency. I have previously raised safeguarding concerns about that accommodation and received a response from the Home Office that can be described only as dismissive and disinterested. When will the Minister accept that the Home Office is failing in the duty of the British state to vulnerable children on these shores, and when will he take steps to address this terrible situation?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

If the hon. Lady has specific and, what sound like, serious allegations, I would be very happy to look into them for her. As I said in answer to the question of Stella Creasy, the key thing is for each and every one of us who cares about this issue to go back to our local authorities and to encourage them to take more children into their care, otherwise those children will remain in hotels for far too long.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Conservative, Ashford

My right hon. Friend will know of my deep unease about the use of a hotel in Ashford, which has been opened recently, as part of the dispersal from Manston, so I was pleased to hear him say that he wants to exit from hotel use altogether. That would be a welcome step forward. In the transition period before he can achieve that, will he ensure that the Home Office takes more account in the future than it has in the past of the relative level of pressure on public services, such as health and education, in different parts of the country of coping with extra demand from asylum seekers? In particular, the pressure has been greater in Kent than in other parts of the country, and I hope that the Home Office system can recognise that, so that we get a proper and fair dispersal around the country.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

My right hon. Friend makes a number of important points. Part of our plan to exit the hotels is to ensure a fair dispersal around the country. That means every local authority in all parts of the United Kingdom stepping up and playing its part. If we do that then no area should be disproportionately affected. My right hon. Friend represents an area that has borne the greatest burden, and it is absolutely right that we work together to find ways to alleviate the pressure on Kent wherever we can. He and I are meeting Kent local authority leaders later in the week to hear their concerns. If there are ways in which we can support them, I will certainly do everything I can to achieve that.

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Labour, South Shields

Can the Minister explain what discussions have been held with the Children’s Commissioner regarding this Government’s staggering levels of child neglect? Can he also say why the commissioner has not been encouraged to use her statutory powers to visit Manston and the hotels concerned to speak directly with the children there?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

It is up to the Children’s Commissioner to determine her own schedule. As far as I am aware, she has not requested to visit Manston. I have no objection to her doing so, but that is entirely a matter for her.

I object to the suggestion that the UK Government are being inhumane towards children. These are children who are coming across the channel against our best wishes. They are coming either with their families who are choosing to put them through this uniquely perilous journey, or, in some cases, unaccompanied. We are doing everything we can to support them when they arrive here. Of course it is a difficult challenge—how could it be easy for the Government to help hundreds of unaccompanied children who arrive by sea and who then require foster care and support? It was always going to be a difficult challenge. We see that in our own constituencies when we hear of the shortage of foster care, or concerns about local authority accommodation for young people. This is a national issue that is exacerbated by the sheer quantity of young people who are coming across in this way.

Photo of Paul Maynard Paul Maynard Conservative, Blackpool North and Cleveleys

The Home Office is accommodating 400 asylum seekers in the Metropole Hotel in the centre of Blackpool in my constituency. It lies in Claremont, the fourth most deprived ward in the country—an area with a host of social problems and a difficult history of child sexual exploitation. Those problems were pointed out by me and the council when the hotel was first commissioned by the Home Office. Those issues have not changed, and dispersal from the hotel has been slow. I welcome the fact that the Minister is going to exit the strategy of using hotels, but will he make sure that the Metropole is the first hotel that he exits?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

Having worked with my hon. Friend on a range of issues, I know how deeply and thoughtfully he addresses the issues in Blackpool. I appreciate that Blackpool is one of the areas that has borne a disproportionate burden from this issue for a long time, so if there is a way to ensure that individuals are dispersed from Blackpool more swiftly than from other parts of the country, I am happy to look into that. As I said, my objective is that we exit the hotels and get people into more sustainable accommodation. That requires, in part, other local authorities to step up and play a greater role in accommodating people rather than relying time and again on our largest cities, Kent and a small number of other local authorities, such as Blackpool.

Photo of Marsha de Cordova Marsha de Cordova Labour, Battersea

The unsafe conditions and overcrowding at Manston have been totally unacceptable, but the serious allegations of assault on our children are beyond unacceptable. We also learned last week that people seeking asylum were dropped off in Victoria, London. We know that the Home Secretary is out of her depth and failing on this, but will the Minister say how many children were left unaccompanied last week? More importantly, given the scale of the crisis, is it not time that we had an independent investigation that can look into this serious issue and robustly report back on the ongoing challenges that face the Home Office?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

As far as I am aware, the small group of individuals who were left at Victoria station were all adults. There were no children, but I will happily stand corrected and write to the hon. Lady if I am mistaken. Unaccompanied children are coming to the country and we are doing everything that we can to support them. Again, I take issue with what has been said, because the accommodation, medical care and support that we are providing to these individuals is decent, humane and far surpasses that provided by comparable European countries. We have to ensure that deterrence is suffused through our system or we will only encourage more people to make the perilous journey across to the UK and continue to make the UK a magnet for illegal immigration. That is not what we Government Members would want to see.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

This whole situation is a farce. There were recent reports that illegal migrants were being put up in a luxury rural hotel—a former stately home near Grantham—that normally charges £400 a night. Surely the easier and quicker that we make this whole process, the more people will come, especially since it is a complete pushover, with a large number of young Albanian men claiming modern slavery, which is ridiculous. Will the Minister confirm that the solution is to repeal the Human Rights Act, get out of the European refugee convention and repeal the Modern Slavery Act 2015, so that people can be detained when they arrive for being involved in an illegal activity and then deported?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

I, too, was disturbed to see images of the Stoke Rochford Hall Hotel, which is a luxurious setting and not the kind of hotel in which we want to see individuals being accommodated. We want to see decent but commonsensical treatment that does not create a further pull factor to the UK. The Home Secretary and I will review whether further changes are required. We start from the basic principle that treaties that the UK Government have entered into must work in the best interests of the British people.

Photo of Stephen Flynn Stephen Flynn Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

Contrary to some of the dangerous, disgusting, dog-whistle, right-wing rhetoric emanating from some members of the Conservative party, asylum seekers are people and we should judge ourselves on how we treat our fellow man. In that regard, the Minister will be aware that many people in hotels in Aberdeen have been in that situation for well in excess of a year, waiting for their asylum applications to be processed. When can we expect that particular issue to be resolved?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

As I said in answer to an earlier question, we are working hard now to accelerate decision making so that individuals can either be granted asylum or be removed from the country. I would say, however, that there is a marked trend in the data showing that some Scottish local authorities are taking a disproportionately low number of asylum seekers in every respect, so the first useful thing that the hon. Gentleman could do would be to go back to the local authorities that are controlled by the Scottish National party in Scotland and ask them to step up.

Photo of Miriam Cates Miriam Cates Conservative, Penistone and Stocksbridge

The town of Stocksbridge in my constituency is awaiting final confirmation of £24 million of Government funding through our town deal. That £24 million will be a transformational sum for Stocksbridge, but it equates to just four days of taxpayer expenditure on hotel accommodation for people who have arrived illegally in the UK. Does my right hon. Friend agree that as well as being a complex security and humanitarian issue both for the public and for genuine asylum seekers, the small boats crisis also represents a serious financial issue in these difficult economic times? Can he expand on his previous answer about how the Government will move away from the expensive hotel model?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

My hon. Friend and I have spent many happy hours in Stocksbridge and I want to see the Government investing even more in her community. She is right to say that it is an unconscionable waste of taxpayers’ money to be spending over £2 billion per year on hotel accommodation. That money could be put to better use, whether helping her constituents or fulfilling our broader mission as a country to support those in distress who truly need it at home or abroad. The approach that the Home Secretary and I are going to take is to speed up decision making so that we can get people out of hotels because their application has been decided, to disperse people more fairly and evenly across the country, to see whether better value sites are available to us, and of course to do everything we can to dissuade people from making the journey in the first place.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West

I was not quite clear what the Minister meant in his response earlier to the Chair of the Select Committee, my right hon. Friend Dame Diana Johnson. Is it his position that the Government acted legally in detaining migrants at Manston for more than 24 hours?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

The Government’s objective is to ensure that nobody stays at Manston for more than 24 hours, but we have to balance up competing legal duties. We also have to be cognisant of the fact that not everything is within our control when we deal with this situation. It was clearly not within the control of the Home Office that thousands of individuals chose to get into small boats and cross the channel in a very short series of days, and it was certainly not within our control that an individual chose to attack the Western Jet Foil on Saturday, ensuring that 700 to 800 people were brought swiftly to the Manston site as a result. These are the difficult choices that we have to balance. There are no simple choices or solutions in the Home Office, but we have to act in the public interest.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

Our former Labour colleague Chris Mullin is one of the most thoughtful left-wingers I know. Would the Minister take a moment or two to have a look at his article in the press today and commend it to people on both sides of the House, given that even he feels it necessary to conclude that

“uncontrolled migration risks bringing down our fragile social systems. It is also driving politics across Europe into the hands of the extremist Right”?

Surely we have to recognise when the asylum system is being abused. If Chris Mullin can recognise it, so should people on both sides of this House.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

I read the former Member’s article in The Daily Telegraph, and he made a number of important points. Above all, he made the point that public concern about the level of migration to this country—in particular, illegal immigration—is very high and has continued to be high in recent years. If we are to be democrats, we have to listen to that and take action accordingly. We on this side of the House believe in secure borders and controlled migration, and we are concerned about the straining of community tensions and the fabric of communities if we do not take action accordingly. The wise words from Chris Mullin are ones that the Home Secretary and I will certainly heed.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

I wish to raise the situation in Harmondsworth detention centre in my constituency after the events at the weekend. I am grateful to the Minister for the call that we had over the weekend. My understanding from what he told me yesterday is that Harmondsworth has now been decanted. My fear is that once the renovations have taken place it will soon be filled again, because in this country we detain too many people who have engaged in no criminal activity. We detain too many for too long—unjustly, I believe, and often brutally. May I suggest that, as well as sorting out the processing situation, one way of tackling this issue would be to ensure that we have an enforceable limit on how long people are trapped in the process of assessment and on how long people can be detained in our detention centres?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for those suggestions; I will bear them in mind. I respectfully disagree about whether those individuals who are destined to be removed from the UK, particularly foreign national offenders, should be in institutions such as the immigration removal centre in his constituency. I appreciate that that that is not all of them.

May I take the opportunity that the right hon. Gentleman’s question gives me to thank his constituents, the immigration enforcement officers, the prison officers and all those who responded heroically to the disturbance over the weekend? I am pleased to say that it has now been brought under control, that all the inmates at the site have been decanted to other IRCs, and that the contractor will be making the necessary improvements to the site as quickly as possible so that it can get back up and running and we can ensure that the situation does not happen again.

Photo of Scott Benton Scott Benton Conservative, Blackpool South

My constituents are becoming sick and tired of this ridiculous narrative of economic migrants somehow being mistreated at Manston. The fact of the matter is that after a short time at the processing centre, these economic migrants will receive free food and free accommodation in hotels—something that my constituents, who are paying for all this, can only dream of. How does the Minister think my constituents who cannot get an NHS dentist, a GP appointment or a council house feel about the fact that we are spending £2 billion a year on hotel bills because we cannot be bothered to solve this issue?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

It is important that we recognise what the United Kingdom is actually doing. The vast majority of those who arrive at Manston have literally had their life saved by the UK. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution, Border Force and the Royal Navy have ensured that as many as 95% of those individuals are saved at sea, brought to land, given clothes, food and medical support and then processed at Manston until they can be accommodated elsewhere. We should be clear about how we are meeting our obligations as a country—in fact, we are going far beyond our neighbours. My hon. Friend is right, though, that those standards of decency and humanity must be matched by hard-headed common sense. We should not be accommodating individuals for long periods in expensive hotels.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

In an exchange last week relating to the situation at Manston, the Home Secretary told the House:

“I have never ignored legal advice.”—[Official Report, 31 October 2022; Vol. 721, c. 639.]

Has the Minister been briefed, seen any information in his Department or been told by any colleagues any information that would show that that was not a correct statement to this House?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

I have no reason to believe that the Home Secretary has misled the House. The Home Secretary was advised that we needed to procure more hotels, and we have procured more hotels—dozens of further hotels, so that thousands of migrants were able to leave Manston over the course of this week alone. That is exactly the right approach.

Photo of Angela Richardson Angela Richardson Conservative, Guildford

This issue is important to my Guildford constituents and important to me. Does my right hon. Friend agree that by controlling illegal immigration we can ensure that we have the capacity and the facilities to offer safe and legal routes for vulnerable people across the world, as we have done for people in Ukraine, Hong Kong, Syria and Afghanistan?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The work that has been done over the past year by this Government, supported by local authorities and tens of thousands of our fellow citizens, to help people from Ukraine, Afghanistan, Hong Kong and elsewhere to find safety and, in some cases, a new life in the UK is something of which we should all be proud. Our system should be based on safe resettlement schemes, rather than individuals crossing the channel illegally in small boats.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the Minister for his answers to the questions, which are difficult and complex. Tensions are rising as the temperatures are dropping in the United Kingdom, and the Government are intending to pay out large amounts of money for heating, but I am concerned that ill feeling towards migrants is growing as people mistake legal asylum-seeking for illegal immigration. Will the Minister outline how his Department intends to ensure that those who have no right to be in this country are treated with respect and care, but will not be allowed to overstay beyond that which is fair, equitable and enshrined in law?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the UK wants to be a big-hearted country that welcomes those in need to our shores, but we must ensure that those who come here illegally for economic migration or other purposes are removed as swiftly as possible, because it brings the whole system into disrepute and makes it impossible for us to treat people who deserve our care in the way that we would want to see. At the moment, the system is frankly overwhelmed by the sheer number of individuals coming here, a very large proportion of whom should not come here, because they are economic migrants.

Photo of Robin Walker Robin Walker The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

One of the locations hosting migrants in my constituency is the Fownes Hotel, and notwithstanding the fact that I expressed concerns about its suitability, I was particularly concerned to hear from my council about a number of children being taken into care from that location. My right hon. Friend mentioned an incentive package for councils. I was told that such practice is putting an additional burden on an already overburdened children’s care system. Will he discuss with officials how to ensure that even when the children were not supposed to be at a particular location, support flows through to councils? The impression I have been left with by Worcestershire is that it is trying to do the right thing, but either was not aware of or was not receiving that support.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

I will certainly ensure that local authorities are better communicated with about the location of children to their area and the support that the Government are making available. I am holding a teleconference later this week with all local authority chief executives and leaders to listen to their views and to advise them of our steps. On the back of that, if we need to make changes to our processes, I will certainly try my best to do so.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central

Inhumane centres and overcrowded, let alone unsafe hotels are no place to put these very vulnerable families. In light of the success of the Homes for Ukraine scheme, why will the Home Office Minister not undertake to have a homes for refugees and asylum seekers scheme, so that people can be settled in communities, supported and kept safe?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

There is already a community sponsorship scheme available for community groups that want to bring refugees to the United Kingdom and care for them appropriately. I would like to see more community groups take part in that, and if there are ways in which we can simplify it and ensure its success, I would be happy to do so. The hon. Lady mentions the Homes for Ukraine scheme, which I personally feel passionately about. That is now facing some challenges, because a number of individuals are coming up to the end of their six-month process, and we need to encourage more families to come forward and take them in. I am working with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to establish a rematching service, so that we can ensure that those families are properly looked after.

Photo of Stephen Metcalfe Stephen Metcalfe Conservative, South Basildon and East Thurrock

I appreciate the challenge that my right hon. Friend and the Department are facing, but we can solve the problem of accommodation by stopping illegal entry into this country in the first place. Therefore, will he please, on behalf of my very frustrated constituents, leave no stone unturned in finding a solution to this problem and stopping illegal entry?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

My hon. Friend is right that we have been debating the symptoms of the problem today, rather than the cause, which is the sheer quantity of individuals crossing the channel illegally. We will tackle that on multiple fronts, whether through the National Crime Agency and our security and policing resources ensuring that we bear down on the criminal gangs, by gathering the best possible intelligence on the continent diplomatically with France, Albania and other partner countries, or ensuring that how we treat people in this country, while decent and appropriate, does not produce a further draw to the UK. Ensuring that deterrence suffuses our approach is extremely important.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady Scottish National Party, Glasgow North

It is worth reiterating that seeking asylum is not illegal, but if the Government really want to save a little bit of money, why do they not extend the right to work to people who are seeking asylum? If they did so, those people would become more self-sufficient, and could find and pay for their own accommodation. They could ease the massive labour shortages facing the country and they could pay tax to the Exchequer.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

I have listened carefully to the arguments on both sides of that issue. I appreciate that colleagues will respectfully disagree with me, but it is extremely important that we do not create further pull factors to the UK, which is arguably a more attractive destination for illegal migration than our European neighbours. There is a wide range of reasons for that, but I do not want to create any further pull factors that will only make this situation worse.

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean The Minister of State, Home Department

My Redditch constituents are generous and compassionate, and have opened their hearts and homes to refugees from countries around the world. However, they find it deeply illogical, infuriating and completely unfair to see these small boats arriving on our southern shores. Every sovereign nation should have the right to control its borders, but we are seeing that it is possible for an Albanian male, under our modern slavery legislation, to become a confirmed victim of modern slavery. That is not what this world-leading and compassionate legislative framework was set up to achieve. It has rescued many vulnerable people from awful situations, so when will the Minister introduce a review of that legislation to make sure that it is fit for purpose and can do what it is intended to do, rather than being a fast-track route for Albanian males?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

My hon. Friend has spoken on this on a number of occasions, and she draws on her own experience at the Home Office and elsewhere. She is right that modern slavery laws, while important and well meant, are now being abused, particularly by males who are here for economic migration purposes. We have seen many cases in which young males from countries such as Albania, as she says, have their asylum claims processed. Those claims are rejected, quite rightly, so then they immediately make a claim under modern slavery laws. That is wrong, and we intend to review it, as she says, and make any changes that we need to make.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Solicitor General

What the Minister said to my hon. Friend the Chair of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, and what the Home Secretary told the House last week balanced breaking the law by leaving asylum seekers in Manston for weeks against breaking the law by abandoning them on the streets without means, and then—Victoria station aside—they decided to commit the first piece of law breaking. Will the Minister publish the advice that led him to that unusual legal opinion?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

It is not the convention for the Government to publish legal advice, but I have made it clear today and in other public appearances that it is absolutely essential that Manston, like other sites, operates within the law. In this case, that means ensuring that individuals are treated decently and humanely there and stay for 24 hours unless there are exceptional reasons to the contrary. In this case, it was right that the Home Secretary balanced that among wider concerns to leave individuals destitute. It was also the case that this is a site that took at short notice large numbers of migrants who crossed the channel illegally, which put huge pressure on our facilities there. We also had to deal with the aftermath of what is now being treated as a terrorist incident, which led to 700 individuals being evacuated to the site. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we have made huge progress over the course of the week. We are now at the right level of capacity and we are working to ensure that individuals do not stay there any longer than 24 hours.

Photo of Jack Brereton Jack Brereton Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent South

It is extremely disappointing that we continue to see the Home Office pursuing hotels in Stoke-on-Trent, particularly given the concerns that we have raised about the risks associated with doing so and the fact that more than 800 refugees have already been resettled in Stoke-on-Trent. Will my right hon. Friend look at measures to ensure that other parts of the country that have done little to nothing to help to provide accommodation are told to do so?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the burden of migrants in hotel and other accommodation has historically been borne by our cities, and that Stoke has disproportionately borne a significant quantity of migrants. We have now tried to disperse individuals more broadly, and some of the issues that we have heard about today are a result of migrants being placed in hotels in locations where that would not previously have happened, so it is a new issue for those local authorities to cope with. We need to ensure that we provide the right support to those local authorities. We now have a dispersal strategy to encourage individuals to be placed more fairly across the country, which we hope should in time provide a fairer settlement for places such as Stoke-on-Trent.

Photo of Ronnie Cowan Ronnie Cowan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Infrastructure)

If the dispersal strategy is to be successful, local authorities must be engaged in a conversation before they are told what is happening in their own local authority. That way, we can ensure that the correct support, services and funding are in place. Otherwise, does the Minister not just risk fuelling the increasing intolerance and bigotry?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

The hon. Gentleman is right. My first priority was to ensure that the Manston site was operating legally and appropriately, which meant that the Home Office had to procure accommodation at pace. We are now moving into the next phase, which will involve ensuring that we have better communication and engagement with local authorities, so that we can hear their concerns; that we provide them with the support that they might need; and that we choose locations together that meet sensible criteria in terms of safeguarding, community cohesion and the availability of public services. It is also extremely important that we work closely with local authorities on issues such as child protection and the appropriate dispersal of children and families across the country.

Photo of Marco Longhi Marco Longhi Conservative, Dudley North

We have heard about international law and how we cannot break it, and about the European convention on human rights, but in 2005 and ever since, we chose to ignore the ECHR and an EU diktat requiring us to give people in prison the vote. In other words, we ignored international law because we respected our people’s wishes. Why can Italy and other EU nations do the same today, and we do not, when it comes to foreign criminal gangs and people smugglers arising from illegal immigration? Why do we not protect our borders and our people?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

We will do everything in our power to protect our borders. I have already set out that we will do that on a number of fronts, including through law enforcement and robustly tackling the criminal gangs on the continent. We will also do it through better diplomatic relations with our nearest allies, such as France; my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is having one of those conversations this week with President Macron. We will work with countries such as Albania that are demonstrably safe and where economic migrants in particular should be returned swiftly. If further legal changes are required, we will consider making them, because treaties to which the UK is a signatory should work in the best interests of the British people.

Photo of Brendan Clarke-Smith Brendan Clarke-Smith Conservative, Bassetlaw

Many people will have tuned into their TVs yesterday to see people living in tents and eating food that many would find vomit-inducing—not in Australia, but elsewhere in mainland Europe. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is therefore insulting to hear the Opposition say that the accommodation and hospitality offered by this country is not good enough? Many of my constituents would be grateful to be afforded such luxury.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

We should treat individuals coming to the UK with decency; those are our values. My hon. Friend is right to say that the standard to which we look after those arriving on our shores, in almost every case, easily surpasses that of other countries. We only have to compare the standards of Manston, which I have seen in the last week, with those of the camp in Dunkirk to see the difference. We should be proud of the way we support individuals coming to the UK—that is the British way—but we should do so in a common-sensical way that looks after the best interests and value for money of the British taxpayer.

Photo of Tom Hunt Tom Hunt Conservative, Ipswich

It was not too long ago that the Opposition brought forward a motion to oppose the use of Napier barracks for illegal immigrants, but I would much rather have that than the use of the Novotel in the centre of Ipswich, where 20 constituents’ jobs have been lost as a result. Ultimately, however, does the Minister agree that the Rwanda policy is the right policy that will create one of the most powerful deterrent effects? Can he give me some clarity about when that is likely to be implemented and how the new Bill of Rights could help to bring it to fruition?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

As I have said in answer to many questions this afternoon, deterrence has to be suffused through our entire approach so that we do not make the UK a draw for illegal migration. The Rwanda policy is one element of that, and it would produce a significant deterrent effect. It is currently subject to legal action—we expect to hear more on that shortly—but as soon as we are able to proceed with it, my hon. Friend can be assured that we will do so.

Photo of Danny Kruger Danny Kruger Conservative, Devizes

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in order to stop the flow of people across the channel, we need to do two things? First, we need proper legitimate routes for people to claim asylum before they arrive in the UK, and we should also prioritise those who come here with community sponsors who can help them, as Rachael Maskell has suggested, which we have already done for 100,000 Ukrainians. Secondly, we need to ensure that if people break into this country, they are not able to live here or to work, but will be detained and deported, and if we need to change our laws or, indeed, the terms of our membership of the ECHR, we should do that.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the good work he did at the Department for Levelling Up in helping to establish the Homes for Ukraine scheme. That scheme established the principles that he has set out, which I think would be a better way forward for our asylum system, whereby asylum to this country would be predominantly through resettlement schemes like those for Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine. Individuals came here through safe and legal routes, enabling the UK to prioritise those truly endangered, and ensure that those who come here illegally—for example, in small boats—find it more difficult to find safe harbour here and are returned to their home country.

Photo of Simon Baynes Simon Baynes Conservative, Clwyd South

During my brief tenure this summer as the Minister for tackling illegal migration, I visited Manston. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the staff working at Manston deserve our praise for the excellent care and attention they give in their work, particularly as it often takes place in very challenging circumstances?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

I thank my hon. Friend for his important short service commission this summer. We are very grateful for the work he did. He is right to say that the staff at Manston have behaved heroically. I was hugely impressed by the Border Force officers I met, the contractors, the cooks, the armed forces personnel and my Home Office officials. They have moved heaven and earth over the course of the past week to ensure that that site is returned to a safe and legal method of operation. They have always treated people with great care and courtesy, and we should all be proud of that.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I thank the Minister for responding to the urgent question and answering questions for one hour and 20 minutes.