Before I start, I know that the whole House will want to join me in expressing our sympathies to the families of those who lost their children in Solihull.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on illegal migration. I hope that the whole House will agree that there is a complex moral dimension to illegal migration. The balancing of our duty to support people in dire need with the responsibility to have genuine control over our borders understandably provokes strong feelings. So it is my view that the basis for any solution should be not just what works but what is right.
The simplest moral framing for this issue, and one that I believe Members on both sides of the House believe in, is fairness. It is unfair that people come here illegally. It is unfair on those with a genuine case for asylum when our capacity to help is taken up by people coming through—and from—countries that are perfectly safe. It is unfair on those who migrate here legally when others come here by cheating the system. Above all, it is unfair on the British people who play by the rules when others come here illegally and benefit from breaking those rules. So people are right to be angry, because they see what I see, which is that this simply is not fair.
It is not cruel or unkind to want to break the stranglehold of criminal gangs who trade in human misery and who exploit our system and laws. Enough is enough. As currently constructed, the global asylum framework has become obsolete. Today, there are 100 million people displaced globally. Hostile states are using migration as a weapon on the very borders of Europe. As the world becomes more unstable, and the effects of climate change make more places uninhabitable, the numbers displaced will only grow.
We have a proud history of providing sanctuary to those most in need. Britain helped craft the 1951 refugee convention to protect those fleeing persecution. My right hon. Friend Mrs May passed the world’s first Modern Slavery Act in 2015. In the last year, we have opened our hearts and our homes to people from Hong Kong, Afghanistan and Ukraine. Thousands of families will be setting extra places around the Christmas table this year. No one—no one—can doubt our generosity of spirit.
But today, far too many of the beneficiaries of that generosity are not those directly fleeing war zones or at risk of persecution, but people crossing the channel in small boats. Many originate from fundamentally safe countries. All travel through safe countries. Their journeys are not ad hoc, but co-ordinated by ruthless, organised criminals. And every single journey risks the lives of women, children and—we should be honest—mostly men at sea.
This is not what previous generations intended when they drafted our humanitarian laws, nor is it the purpose of the numerous international treaties to which the UK is a signatory. Unless we act now and decisively, this will only get worse. Already in just seven weeks since I became Prime Minister, we have delivered the largest ever small boats deal with France, with significantly more boots on the ground patrolling their beaches. For the first time, UK and French officers are embedded in respective operations in Dover and northern France. We have re-established the Calais group of northern European nations to disrupt traffickers all along the migration route. Last week, the group set a long-term ambition for a UK-EU-wide agreement on migration. Of course, that is not a panacea and we need to go much further. Over the last month, the Home Secretary and I have studied every aspect of this issue in detail, and we can now set out five new steps today.
First, our policing of the channel has been too fragmented, with different people doing different things being pulled in different directions. So we will establish a new, permanent, unified small boats operational command. This will bring together our military, our civilian capabilities and the National Crime Agency. It will co-ordinate our intelligence, interception, processing and enforcement, and use all available technology, including drones for reconnaissance and surveillance, to pick people up and identify and then prosecute more gang-led boat pilots. We are adding more than 700 new staff and also doubling the funding given to the NCA for tackling organised immigration crime in Europe.
Secondly, those extra resources will free up immigration officers to go back to enforcement, which will, in turn, allow us to increase raids on illegal working by 50%. And it is frankly absurd that today illegal migrants can get bank accounts which help them live and work here. So we will re-start data sharing to stop that.
Thirdly, it is unfair and appalling that we are spending £5.5 million every day on using hotels to house asylum seekers. We must end this. We will shortly bring forward a range of alternative sites, such as disused holiday parks, former student halls and surplus military sites. We have already identified locations that could accommodate 10,000 people, and are in active discussions to secure these and more. [Interruption.]
Order. Someone has flashed a camera. It is quite serious to take photographs in the Chamber. If the Member knew they had taken a photograph, I would expect them to leave the Chamber. It is totally unacceptable to disrupt the Prime Minister when he is speaking.
I hope the photograph is deleted. Go out and have a chat with the Serjeant at Arms, because it did not look that way to me.
These sites will accommodate 10,000 people, and we are in active discussions to secure them and many more. Our aim is to add thousands of places through this type of accommodation in the coming months, at half the cost of hotels. At the same time, as we consulted on over the summer, the cheapest and fairest way to solve this problem is for all local authorities to take their fair share of asylum seekers in the private rental sector, and we will work to achieve this as quickly as possible.
Fourthly, we need to process claims in days or weeks, not months or years, so we will double the number of asylum caseworkers. We are radically re-engineering the end-to-end process, with shorter guidance, fewer interviews and less paperwork, and we are introducing specialist caseworkers by nationality. We will also remove the gold-plating in our modern slavery system, including by reducing the cooling-off period from 45 days to 30 days, the legal minimum set out in the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings. As a result of all these changes, we will triple the productivity of our caseworkers and we expect to abolish the backlog of initial asylum decisions by the end of next year.
Fifthly, and most significantly, a third of all those arriving in small boats this year, almost 13,000 people, are Albanian, yet Albania is a safe, prosperous European country. It is deemed safe for returns by Germany, France, Italy and Sweden. It is an EU accession country, a NATO ally and a member of the same convention against trafficking as the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister of Albania has himself said there is no reason why we cannot return Albanian asylum seekers immediately. Last year, Germany, France, Belgium and Sweden all rejected almost 100% of Albanian asylum claims, yet our rejection rate is just 45%. That must not continue, so today I can announce a new agreement with Albania and a new approach.
First, we will embed Border Force officers in Tirana airport for the first time ever, helping to disrupt organised crime and stop people coming here illegally. Secondly, we will issue new guidance for our caseworkers to make it crystal clear that Albania is a safe country. Thirdly, one of the reasons why we struggle to remove people is that they unfairly exploit our modern slavery system, so we will significantly raise the threshold someone must meet to be considered a modern slave. For the first time, we will require a caseworker to have objective evidence of modern slavery, rather than just a suspicion. Fourthly, we have sought and received formal assurances from Albania confirming that it will protect genuine victims and people at risk of re-trafficking, allowing us to detain and return people to Albania with confidence and in line with ECAT. As a result of these changes, the vast majority of claims from Albania can simply be declared clearly unfounded, and those individuals can be swiftly returned. Lastly, we will change how we process Albanian illegal migrants with a new dedicated unit, staffed by 400 new specialists, expediting cases within weeks. Over the coming months, thousands of Albanians will be returned home, and we will keep going with weekly flights until all the Albanians in our backlog have been removed.
In addition to all these new steps, let the House be in no doubt that, when legal proceedings conclude on our migration and economic development partnership, we will restart the first flights to Rwanda, so that those who are here illegally and cannot be returned to their home country can build a new life there.
However, even with the huge progress that we will make with the changes I have announced today, there remains a fundamental question: how do we solve this problem once and for all? It is not just our asylum system that needs fundamental reform; our laws need reform too. We must be able to control our borders to ensure that the only people who come here come through safe and legal routes. However well intended, our legal frameworks are being manipulated by people who exploit our courts to frustrate their removal for months or years on end.
I said, “Enough is enough”, and I meant it. That means that I am prepared to do what must be done, so early next year we will introduce new legislation to make it unambiguously clear that, if you enter the UK illegally, you should not be able to remain here. Instead, you will be detained and swiftly returned either to your home country or to a safe country where your asylum claim will be considered. You will no longer be able to frustrate removal attempts with late or spurious claims or appeals, and once removed, you should have no right to re-entry, settlement or citizenship.
Furthermore, if our reforms on Albania are challenged in the courts, we will also put them on a statutory footing to ensure that the UK’s treatment of Albanian arrivals is no different from that of Germany or France. The only way to come to the UK for asylum will be through safe and legal routes and, as we get a grip on illegal migration, we will create more of those routes. We will work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to identify those who are most in need so that the UK remains a safe haven for the most vulnerable. We will also introduce an annual quota on numbers, set by Parliament in consultation with local authorities to determine our capacity, and amendable in the face of humanitarian emergencies.
That is the fair way to address this global challenge. Tackling this problem will not be quick; it will not be easy; but it is the right thing to do. We cannot persist with a system that was designed for a different era. We have to stop the boats, and this Government will do what must be done. We will be tough but fair, and where we lead, others will follow. I commend this statement to the House.
I call the Leader of the Opposition.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of his statement. I also echo his comments about the tragic loss of life in Solihull, which is unimaginably unbearable for the families, the friends, and the whole community.
Channel crossings are a serious problem requiring serious solutions. We need leadership at home and abroad, we need a Home Office that functions effectively, and we need to defeat the criminal gangs operating on the coast. Time and again, however, this Government have not provided serious solutions. The Prime Minister sat around the Cabinet table the whole time. Where there should have been solutions, we have had unworkable gimmicks.
As I listened to the Prime Minister’s statement, I thought, “All of that has been said before, almost word for word.” It was said the last time we had measures—the last time we had legislation. There have been plenty of newspaper headlines about wave machines, prison ships and fantasy islands, but there has been no effective action. It is all designed to mask failure, to distract from a broken asylum system that cannot process claims, cannot return those with no right to be here, and cannot protect our borders.
Over 40,000 people have crossed the channel this year—that is a record—but only 2% have had their asylum claim processed. What happens to the other 98%? They are placed in hotels, costing around £7 million a day. That is bad for refugees who want to rebuild their lives and bad for taxpayers. And 2022 is not just a one-off bad year; it has been bad under the Tories for years. Last year, the percentage of channel crossing asylum claims processed was just 4%. Let those figures sink in, because that is the root of the problem. Something has to be done to clear the backlog.
I welcome the commitment to fast-track clearly unfounded claims. That is what we have been calling for, and Britain is two years behind so many of our neighbours and allies, who have been fast-tracking for years. Can the Prime Minister confirm—I want to have an answer on this—that he will clear the backlog by the end of next year? That is 150,000 cases in the backlog—[Interruption.] I know he has said it, but there are 150,000 cases, including the 100,000 that have been there for over six months. We need clarity about that.
I also welcome more staff for processing. It is appalling that the Government let the backlog get this big. Nearly 100,000 cases have been waiting more than six months for a decision. That is the root cause. But processing is only part of the answer. Criminal gangs are sending these people to risk their lives, and they thrive because of a total failure of any co-ordinated response or effective deterrent to their criminal activity. For months, we have been calling for action to tackle this root cause: a specialist cell in the National Crime Agency to catch, prosecute and disband criminal gangs. We need to be working internationally to end this cross-border crime. Again, new staff are welcome, but can the Prime Minister guarantee that that will result in prosecutions of those who put lives and national security at risk?
Money is being wasted on the unworkable, unethical plan to deport people to Rwanda: £140 million has been wasted already, with not a single deportation. The most senior civil servant in the Home Office is the only one in Government to tell the truth: it does not even work as a deterrent. The Prime Minister has promised more legislation, but the last time the Government legislated to tackle the broken asylum system, they made it worse. Since the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 came into force, crossings and delays have increased, and 18,000 cases have been put through the new process, adding a further six months, with only 21 returns. That is slow track, not fast track. How can the Prime Minister have any credibility to say that new legislation is going to be the answer? The unworkable gimmicks go on, and so do the crossings. We need to bring this to an end, and that means a proper plan to crack down on the gangs, quick processing, return agreements: serious solutions to a serious problem. That is what Labour will offer.
That speaks for itself, quite frankly. We are not going to take any lectures from the Labour party on tackling immigration. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has consistently tried to block steps to strengthen Britain’s approach to illegal migration throughout his career. Since he was elected, he has failed on 36 occasions to vote for stronger laws and we heard that again today. He talks about processing and about the hotels, but the only way to stop that problem is to stop the boats. We are the only party that has a plan to tackle these issues, with a new small boats operational command in the channel, deals with Albania and France, cheaper accommodation, tougher immigration enforcement, and new legislation making it clear in law for the first time that, if you come here illegally, you cannot stay. Labour now has a choice: will it show that it is on the side of the British people and back our plans to stop illegal migration? The right hon. Gentleman may want to stand in our way. He may want to block laws. We are going to block the boats.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his reference to my passing of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. Does he agree that, in dealing with asylum claims, the onus must be on the Home Office to improve its processing; that, contrary to what is said by some commentators and, sadly, some Members of this House, people smuggling and human trafficking are distinct and separate crimes and should not be treated or spoken of as one; that modern slavery is a real and current threat, with too many people brought to this country into slavery; and that we must do nothing to diminish our world-leading protections for the victims of this terrible, horrific crime?
I know the whole House will want to join me in paying tribute to my right hon. Friend for her global leadership on that issue. She is absolutely right that it is incumbent on us to ensure our processing is swift and effective. I know she will want to join me in ensuring that our world-leading modern slavery regime actually helps the people who are most in need and most vulnerable. They are the people who need our support and that is what our reforms today will deliver.
I call the leader of the SNP.
I wish to begin by passing on my thoughts and those of my colleagues to the families and friends of those impacted by the terrible tragedy in Solihull.
I am going to start by saying something that I think many on the Benches behind the Prime Minister wish they could say. Nobody is illegal. Indeed, there is no such thing as an illegal asylum seeker. But what we all agree on is that the UK’s system is broken and we cannot escape from the fact of who has broken it. To address some of the problems that are faced, I welcome some of what the Prime Minister said. I have personally visited hotel accommodation and seen the damaging impact that those long stays have had on people within it, so I hope we can all agree on the positive words about speeding up the process.
However, I have grave concerns about the proposed legislation, about the proposals on accommodation and about the one-size-fits-all approach to asylum seekers emanating from Albania. In that regard, I ask the Prime Minister a simple question: has he consulted with the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees in respect of these proposals? If not, why not?
Ultimately, the solutions lie not in any of the above proposals but in ensuring that safe and legal routes exist. The Prime Minister made extensive reference to safe and legal routes, so let him rise to his feet and outline one single safe and legal route—perhaps for a family member of an asylum seeker in Afghanistan. The Home Secretary of course could not do so last week.
It would be remiss of all of us in the Chamber not to reflect on the independent Migration Advisory Committee’s report from this morning, which detailed how important migration is to our public sector, our private sector and indeed our economy. How on earth does the Government’s hostile approach to migration assist with that proposal?
I am happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that the Development Secretary met the UN High Commissioner for Refugees last weekend. A point of difference between us and the Opposition parties is that we believe that we should not need the permission of someone outside to control our own borders.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about Albania and our approach. I gently point out to him that what we are doing is in line with what almost every other European country already does with regard to Albanian migrants.
Lastly, the hon. Gentleman made the frankly absurd claim that we do not have safe and legal routes into the UK. In the last few years, we have made offers of over 450,000 places to welcome people from Afghanistan, Syria, Hong Kong and, most recently, Ukraine. That is because this is a compassionate, tolerant country, and it always will be.
I call the Father of the House.
The questions in front of the House and the country are: how can people be safe, how can their status be determined, will the action work, is it necessary, and is it right? I think most people listening, whether they normally support the SNP, Labour or the Conservatives, will say, “Yes, it is necessary, it will work, and it should go ahead.”
I thank my hon. Friend for his support. As he knows, this problem is complicated—it is not easy, and it will not be solved overnight—but I believe the plan that we have outlined today represents the most serious step forward in getting a grip of it. The task for us now is to deliver on it. With his support and everyone else’s, I am confident that we can.
I call the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee.
In our report on small boat crossings published in July, the Home Affairs Committee made it clear that the No. 1 priority for Government should be to clear the asylum backlog, so we are pleased that that is now starting to be addressed. However, the backlog of 150,000 has been building since 2013, so the more recent small boat crossings have not broken the asylum system.
We noted how important it was to have sufficiently well trained, motivated and supported decision makers to make good-quality first decisions, but despite promises to increase decision-making numbers, targets have been missed, and the staff attrition rate in 2021 was a staggering 46%. In addition, the technology that staff use is creakingly antiquated and was reported by the chief inspector of borders and immigration as hampering productivity.
Will the Prime Minister ensure that he has sufficient staff to carry out what he is seeking to do? With productivity currently at 1.3 decisions per decision maker per week, with a Home Office pilot to increase that figure to 2.7, can he explain exactly how he is going to triple productivity?
I thank the Chair of the Select Committee for her excellent questions; they are the right questions to focus on. We have redesigned the entire process for caseworking on an end-to-end basis, which will take productivity from 1.2, as she says it is today, up to 4. We will do that in a relatively short period; that is how we will cut the initial asylum backlog by the end of the next year. That process is being rolled out as we speak.
The right hon. Lady talked about the reason for the backlog. It is worth bearing in mind that the number of small boat crossings has quadrupled in just the last two years. That is the scale of the challenge that we are facing, and that is leading to significant strain on the system. She also asked about numbers. We have already, in the last year, doubled the number of caseworkers to 1,200, and it will be doubling again in the next nine to 12 months.
Lastly, I will just say that a big part of the reason why our processing is slower than we would like is that, time and again, people exploit our system to make late or spurious claims. That is why our new legislation will tackle that problem, and I hope it has the support of the Labour party.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and for the initiatives that he has taken with Monsieur Macron and the Prime Minister of Albania. Those are two small but significant steps forward. I also appreciate the fact that he is clearly going to take personal charge of the backlog and ensure that the lamentable performance of the Home Office to date is rectified. However, does he agree that the only way that this problem will be solved is on a pan-European basis and not domestically, and that if we are going to deal with it, we have to deal with Schengen and with countries beyond Schengen, and reach agreements? Will he use all his efforts to seek to secure that?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his excellent question and for his very constructive engagement with me and Ministers on resolving this issue. I know he speaks up very well for his local area on these matters. He is absolutely right, which why it is so crucial that, in the last few weeks, not only have we restarted meetings of the Calais group of European nations, which the Home Secretary deserves enormous credit for, but she has put that group on a permanent basis. We are making sure that we now go further, working with Frontex, the European border agency, towards a European returns agreement for the first time ever. That is the path forward. The best way to solve this problem is upstream, working with our allies in northern Europe, and the plans and progress that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made are going to deliver exactly that.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and community in Solihull who have lost their young sons.
Some 97,000 people have been waiting for a decision on their asylum claim for six months or more. That is 97,000 people trapped for months in Home Office limbo, banned from working, while the NHS, social care, agriculture and hospitality are all desperately short of staff. Last month it was revealed that even the Home Office’s own analysis shows that the right to work does not act as a pull factor for asylum seekers, so will the Prime Minister end this absurd ban on work, to save taxpayers money and help to grow our economy?
The simple answer is no. We will not do that, nor will we grant blanket amnesties, as happened in the past, to get the backlog down. We will go through it methodically and properly. The best way to reduce the pressure on the backlog is to stop people coming here in the first place, and if the right hon. Gentleman is interested in doing that, he should support our new legislation.
I warmly welcome today’s announcements. They are exactly what is needed—I cannot think of anything more articulate to say than that—but will my right hon. Friend reiterate the importance of the Rwanda flights as part of the measures to address illegal immigration? That is such an important measure.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; the Rwanda policy is an important part of our approach to tackling this problem, because it must be the case that if someone comes here illegally we can return them either to their own safe country or to an alternative such as Rwanda where their claim can be processed. That is the system we want to move to and that is what we will deliver.
As I set out to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, we have redesigned the end-to-end process for asylum processing, which will triple the productivity of our caseworkers and cut through the backlog. I say the same thing to the hon. Gentleman that I have said to others: the best way to solve this problem is to stop people coming here illegally, and the best way to do that is to back our new legislation.
I strongly support these measures from the Prime Minister, particularly on the disproportionate numbers of Albanian economic migrants who are queue-jumping those genuinely fleeing danger. I heard not a single practical solution from those on the Opposition Benches—just collective amnesia about what they voted against.
The Prime Minister knows that I favour safe and legal routes as a counterbalance to tougher and swifter measures. Will he therefore, in those safe and legal routes that we need to develop, have a Dubs 2 scheme specifically aimed at unaccompanied children in peril and a proper family reunion scheme for those with close links to people legally here in the United Kingdom, so that we can control and welcome those genuinely in need of safety here?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As our actions over the past couple of years have shown, this is an incredibly compassionate and generous country, which has offered and always will offer sanctuary and refuge to those who really need it. We need to do that through safe and legal routes, and we want to have that conversation with him and with others such as the Red Cross and UNHCR about how to design those routes, but we can only have that conversation and implement those routes once we have proper control of our borders. That is what we must deliver first.
The Prime Minister said in his statement that we will remove, “the gold-plating in our modern slavery system.” That modern slavery system is something of which we, across the Labour Benches, can be incredibly proud. It protected victims of modern slavery and also, crucially, allowed us to secure prosecutions against the abusers.
It is currently taking the Home Office 531 days on average to arrive at a conclusive grounds decision for victims. Around 90% of those decisions are positive, confirming that people were indeed victims of modern slavery. This will affect British and foreign children as well as adults, and some of those locked in county lines gangs as well as in sexual exploitation. Why is the Prime Minister tearing up the modern slavery system in this way?
That is simply not right. We are very proud of our modern slavery system and we want to make sure that it protects those genuine victims of modern slavery. It is absolutely right that they get their cases considered properly. The reason why that is not happening at the moment is that the system is being deluged with far more claims than it was ever designed to cope with. When the impact assessment on the Modern Slavery Bill was done, it anticipated 3,500 claims a year. What we are now facing is 12,500 in just the first three quarters of this year. It is right that we focus our attention on those who most need our help, and, in doing so, we can get those people the help they need as quickly as possible.
I live in a place called the real world. In the real world, people know that the vast majority of those travelling here on small boats are not genuine refugees. Even last week, at the Home Affairs Committee, the Albanian ambassador admitted that everybody coming from Albania is economic migrants. They are coming here on small boats because they cannot come through a legal route by getting visas. The public get it. Even the Albanian ambassador gets it. We all get it. I ask the Prime Minister: when will the Opposition get it and realise that the vast majority coming over are not genuine asylum seekers?
My hon. Friend is a fantastic champion on this issue. He is right: we on the Conservative Benches are on the side of the British people. It is as simple as that. The Opposition today have put forward no plans, no action. We will soon see, Mr Speaker. When we bring forward legislation to stop the boats, they have a choice: do they want to back our legislation and be on the side of the British people?
I thank the Prime Minister for the important suite of proposals that he has outlined this afternoon and say that we will constructively engage with his Ministers on any legislation that is introduced. He has rightfully highlighted Syria, Afghanistan, Hong Kong, Ukraine, and the pressures that there have been in the Home Office over the past number of years, with staff moved continually from one place to another, and to passports and back again. That is in large part responsible for the backlog, so he is right to double the number of caseworkers. Will the new Albanian team of 400 form part of that doubling—is that additional staff, or staff moved from elsewhere?
That is part of the doubling, and that unit will be specifically trained to process the Albanian migrants in line with our new system and our new policy guidance, which will shortly be issued by the Home Office. In doing that, we are confident that we can start processing Albanian claims in a matter of weeks rather than months, and, with our new agreement, we can swiftly send them back to Albania. That is what the Albanian Prime Minister thinks should happen. That is what European countries do, and that is what we will do in our country, too.
I strongly welcome the seriousness with which the Prime Minister addresses this issue, particularly his focus on stopping the Albanian gangs.
With respect to the dispersal centres, when the Home Office attempted to introduce a dispersal centre in my constituency, it ignored the local authority’s concerns about healthcare, public services and children’s services. It then also ignored the existing level of Albanian organised crime in Hull and did not even consult the local police chief before it moved on the matter. Needless to say, it did not consult any of the local MPs either. If we continue in this mode, the Home Office will face judicial review after judicial review and the policy will not work. Can we please see a radical improvement in decision making in the Home Office in this process?
First, I thank my right hon. Friend for his engagement with us and his specific suggestions on tackling the issue of Albanian migrants—I hope he is pleased by what he has heard today, which reflected much of what he suggested. On the issue of accommodation, I agree with him. As all Members know, this is a tricky issue for us to manage, but we will manage it with sensitivity and care, and with strong engagement with colleagues and local authorities. I make that commitment to him, and I will make sure that that is followed up.
As I said earlier, on the Conservative Benches we believe in sovereignty. When it comes to controlling our borders, we will of course act in line with our legal obligations, but we will do what must be done to fix the unfairness and make sure we stop illegal migration.
I commend my right hon. Friend for his practical approach to a problem that needs practical solutions. In urging him to press on with the work to improve the efficiency of the system, including the tribunal appellate system, I urge the Government to work with the tribunal procedure committee to reactivate the detained fast-track procedure, which has been suspended for seven years now. I think it could be a reasonable part of the solution to this problem.
My right hon. and learned Friend obviously has expertise on this issue. He is absolutely right about that process and the help that it can provide. He will be pleased to know that the Immigration Minister and the Attorney General met the authorities recently. We will look forward to taking forward his suggestions.
In 17 years as a Member of this House, I have never known backlogs, in every avenue of Home Office processing, to be so great and so slow. The Prime Minister asked for suggestions. If he really wants to reprocess the Home Office’s procedures, he could take out the ridiculous rule that people have to renew their indefinite leave to remain every 30 months, putting the same people back through the system to come out with the same outcome. He could, in one fell swoop, reduce the backlog. Will he do it?
I just gently point out to the hon. Lady that the backlog now, difficult though it is, is half as big as it was under the last Labour Government. Unlike then, we will not resort to giving people blanket amnesties, because that is not the right approach.
I warmly welcome this statement. Tackling the backlog is absolutely key to getting the heat out of the issue and dealing with it fairly and firmly. The same approach on Albania is welcome, too. Does my right hon. Friend agree that although Albania is the issue of the moment, this issue will move around the globe, and going upstream to tackle the criminal gangs, who have imported their dangerous business model from the Aegean to the channel, is absolutely crucial? Will he share his thoughts on that?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why we are doubling the funding for Operation Invigor at the National Crime Agency, which will mean that it can disrupt twice as many organised crime gangs upstream—that is a European effort, and it has proven to be very successful in the past. It will get double the amount of resources to help to disrupt the gangs upstream in the first place.
I have a very, very simple question for the Prime Minister: does he agree that any proposed Bill or policy that breaches the UN refugee convention or the European convention on human rights should be rejected out of hand?
Our legislation will ensure that if someone comes to this country illegally, they will not have the right to stay here. It is a simple proposition; it is a fair proposition; and it is one that is supported by the vast majority of people across our country.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. This is a huge step in the right direction. I am particularly encouraged by what he says about Albania and tighter guidance for those processing decisions. Will he extend that process of tightening guidance to other countries from which people arrive and too often simply get through the system? I am thinking particularly of countries such as Vietnam, which is a fast-growing, prosperous country, making the case for claiming asylum considerably weaker than in the past. Will he also strengthen guidance for such countries?
Yes is the simple answer. Section 94 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 already gives the Home Secretary the ability to designate safe countries. Many are already there, and we will continue to add to them as appropriate.
The Prime Minister talks about the views of the British public. I am pretty sure that the British public also think that children should not be punished for the decisions of their parents. It may be an inconvenient truth on this planet, but one in five of those coming in small boats are under 18, as verified by the Home Office, not people on Twitter.
For six weeks, I have been asking the Government for the details of the safeguarding provision. During that time we have had multiple reports of children—who are with their families in those hotels for months on end—being sexually assaulted and abused. Nothing that the Prime Minister announced today will change that situation and how we treat those children, or apply the same rules to those children as we do to other children in temporary accommodation with their families. Will he now at least do the decent thing and make the safeguarding contract public so that we can see what provision the Government have made to look after those children, and will he make a commitment that families will be housed separately from single people?
The Government take their obligations towards children extremely seriously. Of course it is right that they are treated differently, and that is why the Immigration Minister has met the hon. Lady and we continue to make sure that safeguarding is followed throughout our processing system.
My right hon. Friend is right to identify that illegal immigration and the associated people smuggling are global problems that need global solutions. May I press him to use his good offices to urge the United Nations to make this a topic for the next General Assembly and to introduce an annual Heads of Government conference that focuses on the issue?
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for the work she did in bringing about the Modern Slavery Act: she deserves praise and credit for that. She is right: as I mentioned, the global picture on migration has completely changed since most of these treaties were signed. It is right that countries such as ours update their approach to the modern problem that we face, and her idea is a terrific one.
“Instead of seeking to restrict the right to asylum the government should ensure timely and fair decisions, with access to legal advice, so that those who need protection are allowed to stay and those with unfounded claims are returned with dignity. At the same time there must be more safe routes such as family reunion visas”?
That is an issue that many hon. Members across the House have raised for several years.
I agree with all of that, and that is what the reforms I have announced today will deliver. The best way to do that is to ensure that the pressure on our system is not unsustainably high, and that is why we need to stop the flow of new illegal migrants coming here, which is why legislation is important, as well as our Albania deal. I want to see the same thing as the hon. Lady—swift and effective processing of those who come here through safe and legal routes and the return of those who should not do so.
First, does my right hon. Friend accept that the legislation that he has announced is overdue? Secondly, it needs expressly to differentiate economic and illegal migrants from genuine refugees. The only way that can be done in law is through bypassing the notwithstanding formula in the European convention on human rights to ensure that we can achieve the objectives that he has set out. That needs to be done as soon as possible.
I am confident that our legislation will deliver the asylum system that we want to see, and I can tell my hon. Friend that it will come very early in the new year. We want to crack on and solve the problem, and I look forward to having his support.
When my mother fled war and famine in Biafra in the 1960s with her three small children, the cargo plane on which we travelled—the only form of transport available—landed first in Lisbon, as Portugal was the only country that recognised Biafra at the time. Does the Prime Minister think that we should have been obliged to remain in that relatively safe country, or does he agree with my mother that it was better to travel on to Newcastle, where my grandmother lived?
This country has and always will have a proud tradition of welcoming people here. We need to ensure that we can do that, but we cannot do that if our system is under unsustainable pressure from people who should not be here. By having proper control of our borders and ensuring we create a deterrent effect for those coming here illegally, we will be in a position where people do not have to travel through other countries to get here. We can work with the UN, the Red Cross and others to provide sanctuary for them wherever they are. In the long run, that is the fairest and most sustainable solution to this problem.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on targeted and practical measures. Does he agree that what he proposes is entirely consistent with our international obligations and, in particular, entirely consistent with our obligations under the European convention on human rights and the European Human Rights Act? Is it not better to concentrate on practical measures, rather than upending our domestic human rights legislation, which frankly would be a wasteful red herring?
I thank my hon. Friend for his support. He makes a good point. As I said earlier, the vast majority of European countries already reject almost 100% of claims from asylum seekers from Albania, for example. They are all signatories to the same conventions and treaties as us, so there is no reason why we should not be able to move to exactly the same rejection rate.
I express my heartfelt sympathies to the people of Solihull following this week’s terrible disaster.
We all know what today’s announcement is: a sop to the right-wing press. It continues the Prime Minister’s obsession with scapegoating asylum seekers. Fast-tracking applications and weakening modern slavery protections directly undermine Wales’s nation of sanctuary policy, which includes an explicit commitment to prevent people seeking sanctuary from becoming victims of modern slavery. What discussions has he had with the Welsh Government to guarantee that fast-tracking will not frustrate our ambition to be a proper nation of sanctuary?
We were the first country in the world, thanks to the leadership of my right hon. Friend Mrs May, to pass the Modern Slavery Act 2015, with a dedicated regime that does not exist in that form in basically any other European country. We require our businesses to enforce their supply chains and we have life sentences for people who traffic modern slaves. I am very proud of our record. That record will continue, but we need to ensure our system is not abused and exploited. That is what we will fix with our reforms.
I warmly welcome the package of measures announced today, because this is the key issue on the doorstep in my constituency. It is something voters care about very deeply. The package being put together is very strong and, as my right hon. Friend says, it complements the Rwanda agreement. Can he just confirm, however, that if it is, like the Rwanda agreement, ultimately frustrated by the European convention on human rights, we will rule nothing out, including derogation, to ensure we can deliver this vital package?
Having been on those doorsteps in Middlesbrough South with my right hon. Friend, I know he speaks the truth and he is right to highlight this issue for his constituents. We will legislate to put our Albania proposals on a statutory footing. I am highly confident that those should be delivered. As I said, they are already in practice in all other European countries, so there is no reason why they should not happen here, too.
The Prime Minister said we will restart data sharing to stop migrants getting bank accounts. Who are we going to be restarting data sharing with and why did we stop?
The hon. Member will remember, I am sure, that after the Windrush situation data sharing was stopped in a range of different places and has not restarted. We will be restarting data sharing with the banks, so that when someone tries to open a new bank account, and on a quarterly basis for existing bank accounts, the banks will have to check against the database of illegal migrants that we hold to ensure people cannot disappear into the black economy having arrived here illegally and then participate in a normal way. That is not right and not fair, and I am glad he will be supporting the proposals.
I am very pleased to hear about the new approach to Albanians, which is both obvious and very sensible. My question to the Prime Minister is on how we bridge the gap. We approve 76% of all asylum applications, but the EU average is just 14%. We are all ECHR signatories. They are not held out as international pariahs or as breaking any abstract of international law. The Prime Minister may be surprised to hear that I have no issue with the ambit of the ECHR as long as we have an outcome of about 14%, too. What has been going wrong with our approvals and refusals process?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. A big part of that difference is how we are treating Albania. That will be changed as a result of our new guidance and deal. More broadly, one of the changes that we have made today is to increase the threshold that someone has to meet to be considered a modern slave. It was based on simply a suspicion that someone may be; we are changing that to make sure that there is objective evidence that they are. That change will help us to close down some of those grant rates, but there is more work to do and that is what our legislation will deliver.
The white list of countries designated safe is not new, and Albania has been on that list since 2014, so there is nothing new about this announcement. I welcome the clearing of the backlog. The Prime Minister just said that he knew that workers would be employed within the next nine to 12 months, and the whole backlog would be cleared from the current 100,000—it was 3,000 when Labour was in power—in the same 12 months. So without the immigration workers there, how will this circle be squared and how will be the backlog be cleared?
I urge the hon. Lady to go and check her figures. It was certainly a lot higher than that under the last Labour Government. As my hon. Friend Craig Mackinlay said, we are currently rejecting only 45% of Albanian asylum seekers, compared to all European countries, which reject more like 98% to 100%. The changes we have made today will ensure that our rate increases up to the levels that we see elsewhere. That is as a result of the new deal that we have negotiated with Albania, which will give more comfort to our caseworkers. Combined with the new guidance that will be issued, that will mean that we should, as we want to, return the vast majority of Albanian migrants when they come here. They should not be here; Albania is a safe and prosperous country and they should go back there.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and for the new approach on Albania. As much as I welcome the jobs, will my right hon. Friend confirm that this will be a temporary, not permanent, new small boats operational command centre in Dover and east Kent? In relation to safe countries and immediate returns, will my right hon. Friend update the House on whether a date has been set for the summit with President Macron next year?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for all the work that she does on this issue in her constituency. She is right. We want to get through the challenges that we face to have a system in which people do not come here illegally. Once we have that, of course we should be able to draw down people after we have got the backlog cleared. She is also right to highlight the importance of working with the French. That is why our new deal is so important, but there is work to build on. We are keen to have that summit as early as practically possible, but it is important that it delivers tangible outcomes, and that is what the Home Secretary and I are set about doing.
Yesterday I led a delegation of the Joint Committee on Human Rights to the Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. One of the issues we discussed was the importance of all Council of Europe states addressing migration issues in accordance with human rights and international law. International refugee law does not require asylum seekers to make their claim in the first safe country and it protects asylum seekers arriving via irregular or unofficial routes, provided they make their presence known to the authorities. Can the Prime Minister give me an undertaking that his new laws will comply with the United Kingdom’s international law and human rights obligations, and if not, can he tell us from which treaties he intends to derogate? Or is it simply his intention to flout international law and, if that is the case, what kind of example does he think that sets to other countries, particularly on Europe’s eastern border?
The hon. and learned Lady will know that the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 and the Dublin agreement all consider the proposition that it is possible to return people who have come here who should not be here. It allows the possibility of designating safe countries, and of removals, so that principle is well established in international law. We want a system whereby, if people come here illegally, they will not be able to stay. That is a simple, common-sense, fair principle that the vast majority of the country is right behind.
It is rare in this House, Mr Speaker, to agree with every single sentiment, impulse and word—unless it is a speech of my own, of course—but I did today, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. His set of measures is apposite and appropriate, and it will be appreciated across the country. Will he, as most of my constituents would, when people travel across safe countries, as they frequently do before they claim asylum, automatically assume that their claim is spurious or at least doubtful?
That is what our new legislation will deliver. It will make it unambiguously clear: if you come here illegally, you will have no right to stay and will be removed either back to your own safe country or to a safe alternative. That is the right system to have. It is the fair system to have. It means that we can concentrate our generosity and compassion on those around the world who most need it, which I know is the type of system that my right hon. Friend wants to see.
We should not forget why we are here with the statement: it is because the Government have lost control of the asylum and immigration system and shown a degree of incompetence that takes some beating. Three years on, they have also failed to meet their manifesto commitment to take back control of the border with a new system that would give real control. Will the Prime Minister firm up his statement and confirm that he is confident that the whole backlog of initial asylum decisions will be removed by the end of next year? Will he tell us why he did not say anything about how long he expects it will take to remove from the country those asylum seekers who have failed in their applications?
Yes, our plan is to clear the initial asylum backlog by the end of next year. It is about 117,000 on currently published statistics. The hon. Member talked about the Government and where we are, but he forgets to mention that if we look at what is currently happening across Europe, we see that the number of asylum claims in France and Germany is up by 50%, and that is because the global migratory patterns have completely and utterly changed. That is why the current system is obsolete and why we need to take steps to adapt to the new regime and ensure that we have proper control of our borders. That is what our reforms will deliver.
I strongly support the measures announced by the Prime Minister and, in particular, his framing of the issue as a matter of fairness, because tough but fair border controls and asylum policy is exactly where the British people are. Does he agree that in communities across the country, including my constituency, the visible measure of success will be when some of the hotels currently housing asylum seekers can be returned to their normal use? Will he make that a priority?
I thank my right hon. Friend both for absolutely championing the issue for his constituents and for the advice that he has provided to the Home Secretary and me, given his experience, on how best to tackle the problems that we face. I very much value and appreciate that support. He is absolutely right: what people want to see is our hotels going back to their normal use in their communities and flights departing that remove people who should not be here. The Home Secretary, the Immigration Minister and I will work tirelessly to deliver that for him and for the country.
The Prime Minister talks about fairness, yet what he set out is the very opposite of a fair and efficient system. The best way to stop desperate people from dying in small boats and to stop the criminal gangs is for the Government to promote more safe and legal routes. Why are they so incapable of doing that effectively? Why can he find 500 new staff for his Albanian scheme but only eight people to process the 11,000 asylum applications from Afghanistan? That means that, contrary to what the Foreign Secretary suggested in the Chamber barely an hour ago, there have been zero Afghans resettled from Afghanistan under the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme pathway 3 since January.
We have in fact safely settled more than 23,000 people from Afghanistan in this country. The hon. Member talks about safe and legal routes and actually, in the last year, we issued more humanitarian visas than in any other year since the second world war. That is the strength and depth of our compassion, and that is what we will always do, but we cannot have that compassion and generosity exploited by people who break the rules. There is nothing fair about that, and it does nothing to help the people we really need to target. That is what we will do.
I commend the Prime Minister on the approach that he has outlined today. Are there plans to examine the processes used by other states who are signatories to the European convention on human rights that enable them to be so much more robust in dealing with these issues within the law? Will he commit to working with those countries to develop safe and legal routes so that together we can ensure that that robust approach applies in the United Kingdom just as it does in those other countries?
My hon. Friend asks an excellent question and the answer is yes: that is what we have done over the past few weeks and what we will continue to do, and our Albania deal builds on exactly that learning. But where we can learn from other countries about how to do this faster and better, with a higher rejection rate, that is exactly what we want to achieve. With his support, I know we can do it.
I am a bit worried: while the Prime Minister might be okay with his cheerleaders in here, I think he is out of touch, because the British public—[Interruption.] The public do know who has been in charge for the past 12 years. So as a matter of accountability, which of the decisions made while the Prime Minister was sat around the Cabinet table would he point as the reason why the backlog is now 14 times bigger than when Labour left office?
Difficult though the backlog is, it is half the size that it was when Labour was in office; the hon. Lady needs to get her numbers right. She talks about the British people: what the British people want is an asylum system that says, “When you come here illegally, you cannot stay here, because that is not right and it is not fair.” If she wants to be on the side of the British people, she should back our new legislation.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the measures he has outlined today, and I particularly thank him for his personal determination to find practical solutions to a very real problem. In my constituency the Home Office has, with Clearsprings, its contractor, identified a disused building for dispersal accommodation. While I greatly welcome the move from hotels to more permanent accommodation, will my right hon. Friend make sure the Home Office listens to the concerns and worries of the local authority, police and public health, and make sure we are deciding on locations that are appropriate and suitable?
I am really happy to hear from my hon. Friend, who has rightly long championed this issue. I know she has spoken to the Minister for Immigration about her concerns in her local area. I thank her for her constructive attitude in working with us, but she is absolutely right, and we will sit down and listen to her and her local authority about what is appropriate and deliver sensible solutions.
Because the existing system has failed so miserably, we have asylum seekers in hotels throughout the United Kingdom. I shall once again be meeting with asylum seekers in my constituency prior to Christmas. Decanting them to disused holiday parks, former student halls and surplus military sites does not solve the problem. When can I tell them that they will be allowed to sit down with an official from the Home Office so that they can start their legal process of immigration?
The hon. Gentleman is right: what will solve the problem is stopping people coming here illegally in the first place. That is how we will solve the hotel problem. That is what our new legislation will deliver, and I hope he will support it.
I warmly welcome the Prime Minister’s action plan to tackle the problem of small boat crossings and thank him for being true to his word in prioritising this issue. The big issue in Kettering is that the Royal Hotel, which is slap bang in the middle of town, has been designated as an asylum hotel; it is one of the most inappropriate settings imaginable. Will the Prime Minister reassure my constituents in Kettering that the plan he has announced today will be the quickest way to end the use of such hotel accommodation?
I thank my hon. Friend, and he is absolutely right to stand up for his constituents, but he is also absolutely right to highlight that our approach is the best way to relieve the pressure on local services, including the use of hotels, so that we can return them back to their everyday use. We will do that fastest by providing alternative sites, which we are working on, and also by stopping the flow of small boats, and that is what our plan will deliver.
We have many thousands of asylum seekers across Teesside, and I am personally very proud of how welcoming our communities can be. However, my team in Stockton is working with many asylum seekers who have been waiting for years and years for their asylum applications to be processed, and they have waited in despair and fear. All they want is a decision. How many of them can expect one in the next few months?
The Home Secretary and I want to see exactly the same thing. That is why with our new plan we will cut the initial asylum backlog by the end of next year. People should get swift processing, but in order to deliver that sustainably we need to reduce the pressure on the system, and that means stopping the flow of new illegal migrants coming here.
It is absolutely right that there is alignment with our main European counterparts in how we deal with asylum claims from safe countries, so I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the agreement with Albania. Given the automatic return principle that will apply to arrivals from Albania, there will be an incentive to try to conceal their true country of origin on arrival. We already know that that is a problem with the channel crossings, with people disposing of their ID documents mid-crossing, often at the direction of people smugglers. In anticipation of this issue, can he reassure the House that there will be a sufficiently robust evidential threshold that will prevent people from falsifying their claim?
I thank my hon. Friend for that excellent suggestion. I also give her the reassurance that for the first time we will have British officials stationed in Albania, particularly at Tirana airport, and Albanian officials here in the UK to deal with the problem that she identifies. I am confident that that joint working will help us deliver the solution we want.
The Prime Minister’s statement today could not be more out of touch with the people who come to my surgeries week in, week out—and I have the highest immigration case load in Scotland. Can he tell me why Mr H has been waiting a year past August for his family reunion? He is from Afghanistan. Mr A has been waiting to see his family as well. These men come to my surgeries in tears because they cannot get reunited with their families. The truth is that the Prime Minister’s safe and legal routes just are not working. For those who do not even have the misfortune to be from Afghanistan—if they are from other countries—there is no legal route, and that is why so many people are coming here in boats. That is the truth of the situation. Will he accept it is unreasonable to make people wait for as long as he is in absolute misery, for a decision that just is not coming?
I do not want people to wait, and that is why we need to stop the flow of illegal migrants coming here, because they put unsustainable pressure on the system. That means we cannot process for her constituents and others as quickly as we would like. However, with the new plan we have put in place, we will be able to, and once we pass new legislation to stop the flow of small boats, we will have far less pressure on the system and be able to get people the decisions they need.
I warmly welcome the Prime Minister’s statement, which will answer many of the concerns expressed to me by constituents in Barry and across the Vale of Glamorgan. My right hon. Friend is taking a comprehensive, detailed approach with practical steps to resolve this problem. In spite of the calls from Opposition Members, does my right hon. Friend recognise that this is a dynamic environment that will constantly evolve and change? Will he remain open-minded to extending the regulations, and tightening the regulations where necessary, to respond to the ingenuity and innovation shown by some of these people traffickers?
My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. We need to remain dynamic and nimble with the new challenges we face. I have said this will not be an easy problem to fix or one we can do overnight, but I am confident that if we apply ourselves in the way I have set out, we will be able to stop the flow of illegal migrants over time, and I welcome his support in doing that.
Under the Development Assistance Committee OECD rules, the first year of resettlement costs for asylum seekers is actually covered by international agreements on aid. The Chancellor has provided extra funding to deal with some of the pressures we are seeing as a result of the 150,000 Ukrainians who are here, and we remain one of the largest spenders on international development anywhere in the world, and that is something of which we can all be proud.
I very much welcome what the Prime Minister has announced today. As he knows, Stoke-on-Trent has taken more than our fair share of asylum seekers and refugees. That has put significant pressure on services, council services, schools, hospitals and the police. Will my right hon. Friend look at what more can be done to put in place the money and the financial support to support those services?
May I thank my hon. Friend and pay tribute to his local community and the local council in Stoke for what they do? They go above and beyond to provide support. He is right that they deserve our support, too, and I know that the Minister for Immigration has recently met the council, where engagement will continue.
Back in the summer, checks on the land border between Albania and Kosovo were relaxed, so there was no need for citizens of either state to register at the border when crossing. According to INSTAT, the Albanian Institute of Statistics, more than 2.5 million people entered Kosovo from Albania in 2021. When I was travelling between London and Pristina about 20 years ago, I was stopped and questioned by British border staff. Will the Government be embedding UK Border Force staff at Pristina airport, given that the national and cultural border between Albania and Kosovo is porous?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his suggestion; I am sure that is something the Home Secretary will discuss with her counterparts. As for his broader point, he is right. For the first time, we have UK officials in Albania working closely with the Albanian authorities to disrupt the flow of illegal migrants at source, and I will take his suggestion on board.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his work on this issue. Let me also take this opportunity to thank the Pickwell Foundation, the volunteers and the GPs who are currently looking after people seeking asylum who have been badly placed in a hotel in Ilfracombe. On Monday, a single mum and her eight-month-old daughter will make a 10-hour round trip to Cardiff for a biometrics and interview appointment. Given his plans to streamline the asylum system, can my right hon. Friend confirm that, as matters improve, that will no longer take place?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s local community in Ilfracombe for the support they are providing; they deserve credit and praise for that. As for her question, we want a processing system that is humane but also swift and effective for people, and that is what our reforms will deliver.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. This is clearly a complex and difficult issue, and he is trying to find a way forward. He has outlined the further steps that can be taken to halt the illegal crossings that are causing people to lose their lives in dreadful winter weather, which include working alongside the French Government and port authorities to prevent the trips from happening, but will he also use private companies with expertise, skills and high ethical standards? I furnished the Home Secretary with the contact details of one such company that is keen and able to assist.
The hon. Gentleman is right that this is a complex issue. We are happy to look at all the different ways in which we can make a difference. I look forward to taking his suggestion on board, and the Home Secretary will have heard what he has said.
I was present at the meeting of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Council of Europe, which was alluded to by Joanna Cherry. The legal point that she made is entirely right, and the Government must address it because it is very serious. It is possible, under current legislation, to arrest someone who lands on our shores and to detain them, but very few have been arrested under the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 because there are not legal routes that these people can take.
I am not in favour of the Opposition’s argument in favour of more open legal routes because, with 100 million displaced people in the world, it is a policy that leads nowhere, but we have to address this point. The problem is that every time we pass new legislation, it is trumped by human rights lawyers who, correctly under the law, appeal to the Refugee convention, the European convention on human rights and the Human Rights Act. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that if this new legislation does not work, we will consider a derogation from the Refugee convention?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his excellent question. What our legislation will deliver is a system whereby someone who comes here illegally will not have the right to stay, and we will be able to remove them to their own country or a safe third country. That is the system of migration that I think he and his constituents want to see, and it the system that this Government will deliver.
I thank the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the senior Home Office officials who have followed up my references to the unacceptable process of allocating a hotel in Earl Shilton. I am grateful for the changes that we have seen. In his statement, the Prime Minister said it was unfair and appalling that we were spending £5.5 million a day on this system. It is unfair to those who are housed there, it is unfair to the communities who see people spending this money, and it is unfair to the taxpayer. The Prime Minister said that he had identified 10,000 spaces. Can he say when those will become available and when people will be moved out of the hotels?
This is something that my right hon. Friend the Immigration Minister is working on at pace. We are keen to move as quickly as we can and to secure value for taxpayers’ money through these commercial negotiations. We think most of these sites can be brought on at around half the cost of hotels, which represents a significant saving. We are keen to deliver it as quickly as possible.
Living in limbo in a hotel with an uncertain future is extremely stressful, so I welcome the Prime Minister’s plans to process claims as quickly as possible, but processing is only the first step. He talks about 117,000 claims. Does the system have the capacity to ensure that people who make a successful claim are moved into permanent accommodation, and that those who make unsuccessful claims are removed quickly?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We want not only to process people swiftly, but to have the ability either to integrate them in the community, where required—we have done that brilliantly through other schemes—or to remove them if they should no longer be here. That is why one strand of this work is about strengthening and tightening our returns agreements with other countries, which should be a key part of our diplomacy. We must have the ability to return people to safe countries, which is something we will work on next year.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s comprehensive statement, including his willingness to reform assessment processes, but may I ask him about accountability? We see many Government processes to improve and achieve a policy outcome, but the public do not see those outcomes achieved. They are worried that officials and agencies are not held properly to account for achieving those objectives. What are his thoughts on achieving the policy outcomes he has outlined today?
I am confident because, in the Home Secretary and the Immigration Minister, we have a crack team. I know they will work tirelessly with their team to drive through the reforms announced today. My hon. Friend Richard Fuller is right to hold us to account for that. Transparent metrics on processing, for example, are already published quarterly. People want to see flights returning people to Albania and elsewhere, and people coming out of hotels. That is what we want to deliver next year.
The independent chief inspector of the UK Border Agency found in July 2006 that there was a backlog of between 400,000 and 450,000 cases. On that basis, this announcement is very welcome. I thank the Prime Minister for taking hold of this issue. When will we see an actual reduction in the number of people in hotels across the country? What capacity will we have to maintain those who claim asylum, and who have a valid claim, in facilities other than hotels across the UK?
The Immigration Minister, the Home Secretary and I are keen to deliver alternative sites as quickly as we can commercially negotiate and get them up and running. I want to see what my hon. Friend Jane Hunt wants to see, which is people moving out of hotels and less pressure on local communities. That is the type of accommodation we want to deliver.
I thank the Prime Minister and the Government for their great progress on this immigration action plan, particularly their progress with both the UNHCR and Albania. He will know that delivery is key. In Gloucester, we do not want the situation to be as it was in May 2010, when not only did my Labour predecessor refuse to hand over any casework files, but we subsequently found more than 4,000 asylum cases, some of which had been waiting for resolution for more than 10 years.
My hon. Friend, as ever, makes a powerful point. I agree that we need to deliver now, and we have a plan in place. That is what we will focus on next year for his constituents and for the country. I am confident that we can do it.
Our legislation will deliver a system whereby a person who comes here illegally will have no right to stay and will be removed to their own country or a safe third-country alternative. I think that is a system the British people want to see, and it is the system our legislation will deliver.
A person who enters this country illegally should have no right to stay here and should be swiftly deported—it really is as simple as that. I commend the Prime Minister for his bold statement in looking to legislate to that end. Does he agree that starting flights to Rwanda as soon as possible is absolutely integral to delivering this plan?
My hon. Friend put it clearly, succinctly and very well, and I completely agree with him. We are keen to restart those flights as soon as we can—we await the next stage of our legal proceedings—but he should be in no doubt but that we remain determined to make that policy work.
I thank the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary for their renewed focus on this really key point, which matters a lot not just to my constituents in Dudley North, but across the country. I will again address the point my right hon. Friend Sir Edward Leigh made and perhaps be a bit more specific with the question. If the Prime Minister’s future legislation is indeed scuppered by an intervention by the judiciary or human rights activists’ lawyers, will he have the political will to still force it through and implement what he intends to do?
First, I thank my hon. Friend for all his engagement with me and the Home Secretary on this issue. I know how important it is to his constituents, and I hope he is pleased by the steps we are taking today, but he is right that we need to go further. That is why our legislation will make it unequivocally clear that those who come here illegally have no right to stay, and his communities should be confident that that is what this Government will deliver.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his personal attention to this matter. I welcome his ambition for a fair and effective system rooted in an understanding that the world has changed since the 1950s, but the devil is in the detail. On a practical point, dozens of hotels have short-term—three-month—contracts with the Home Office to deliver emergency accommodation for asylum seekers right across the UK. My concern and my residents’ concern is: will he reassure us, please, that these contracts will not simply be renewed quietly and simply rolled over, but will be subject to the same level of scrutiny that is promised on new contracts, including consultation with the MP, the council and local public services?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I will make sure that the Home Office looks at these things not with the automaticity that he suggested might happen, but reviews them afresh and makes sure that they are still fit for purpose.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for his significant engagement in recent weeks on this and other issues. For the benefit of my constituents across Workington, can he set out his expected timescales for, first, removal of the threat of unsuitable accommodation in Workington being used, and, secondly, flights leaving the ground to Rwanda?
What I can tell my hon. Friend’s constituents and community is that we want to deliver on this as soon as practically possible. Our new deal with Albania will take effect in a matter of weeks, so we will be able to swiftly return people—those who are already here and any new arrivals—back to Albania. He knows that we are keen to press on with finding new sites as soon as we can commercially negotiate them to take people out of hotels. Of course, with regard to Rwanda, we are waiting for the latest court judgment, but he should be in no doubt but that we want to deliver on that policy.
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for making this a top priority, and I look forward to backing the legislation in the new year. Turning to the legislation we already have, there are significant powers of detention in the Nationality and Borders Act 2022. Will he look again at how we can implement those, at the very least for those who are accused of committing heinous crimes, particularly against children?
My hon. Friend is right. We do have new powers, particularly on the enforcement side. We are very keen to use them to strengthen the deterrent impact, but as he knows, we need to go further, and that is what our new legislation will do.
I very warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement today, and he is absolutely right. People living in Runnymede and Weybridge want to see fairness in the system, which this announcement will deliver. I particularly welcome the new returns agreement with Albania. Does he agree that what will cut the Gordian knot is having multiple returns agreements with multiple countries, so that when people’s applications are processed and found wanting, they can be returned swiftly?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As a matter of priority, we are looking at those countries with which we already have returns agreements, but where we are not sufficiently able to send people back. We will renew our diplomatic efforts to make that a priority, but also use visa penalties, where appropriate, to get the outcomes that we need.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement and the personal attention he has devoted to this issue. My constituents continue to be concerned about the use of the Novotel in Ipswich, which is on a 12-month contract; I thought it was six, the Home Office told me it was six, but it turned out to be 12—but that is by the bye. I welcome the move towards cheaper and more basic accommodation, but can the Prime Minister indicate when my constituents will get a timescale for when the Novotel can be back in proper use?
I share the frustration of my hon. Friend and his constituents that their local hotel, like so many others, is currently being used to house illegal migrants. That is wrong and we want to stop it as quickly as we can. The Immigration Minister is working on finding alternative sites as fast as possible, but we also want to stop the flow of new illegal migrants so that there is not unsustainable pressure on our local services. That is what my hon. Friend and his community want, and that is what we will deliver.
Earlier this year my local paper, the Leigh Journal, wrote about the human misery inflicted on the constituency of Leigh by a Balkan organised crime group that was engaging in people trafficking, but we have heard from some in the Opposition today that there is “no such thing as an illegal asylum seeker”. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is sadly not the case and that we have to face reality if we are to deal with this issue?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent and very clear point. At issue today is illegal migration, which has significantly increased in the past couple of years and is putting unsustainable pressure on our local communities and public services. It must end, and our reforms are a significant step forward in delivering that outcome.
I thank my hon. Friend for his support of our approach. The new small boat operational command will bring together our civilian capabilities, our military and the NCA in a more unified way than before and supplement that with new technology—aerial or land-based surveillance, drones and radar—and in doing all that will be able to maintain an exceptionally high interception rate and increase the level of prosecutions we currently see. I know that is something he will want to see happen.
The people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke will warmly welcome the Prime Minister’s statement, albeit cautiously because they want to see delivery on the ground, but the mask has slipped on the Labour party. Labour Members have been absent throughout the majority of this statement in their north Islington coffee bars, drinking chai lattes and scoffing down quinoa. Over 19,000 people have now signed a petition titled “End Serco’s Abuse of Stoke-on-Trent” because Serco is too busy taking up our hotels. In fact, the Prime Minister’s own constituents have signed the petition in this cause. Will he agree with my constituents and his, and end Serco’s use of hotels in Stoke-on-Trent?
I thank my hon. Friend and his local community for the way they have approached this problem and the support they give to people who need refuge. He is right that we cannot exploit that generosity and compassion, so we must relieve the pressure on hotels, and that is what our plan will deliver. Ultimately what we all want to see and what the people of Stoke-on-Trent want to see is an end to the boats coming, and that is what this Government will deliver.