With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will make a statement on illegal migration.
The Government have made it our top priority to stop the boats, because these crossings are not only illegal, dangerous and unnecessary, but deeply unfair. They are unfair on those who are genuinely in need of resettlement, as our finite capacity is taken up by people—overwhelmingly young men—coming to the UK directly from a place of safety in France, but most of all they are unfair on the law-abiding British public who face the real-world consequences of illegal migration through housing waiting lists, strained public services and, at times, serious community cohesion challenges, and it is the interests of the British public that we have a duty to advance.
We have developed what is among the most comprehensive and robust plans to tackle illegal migration in Europe, and over the last year the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and I have focused on delivering it. The plan starts with taking the fight to the people-smuggling gangs upstream, long before they are even in striking distance of the United Kingdom. We have already doubled the funds for the organised immigration crime work of the National Crime Agency, and at a meeting of the European Political Community earlier this month the Prime Minister announced new, tailored initiatives with Belgium, Bulgaria and Serbia, which come in addition to the enhanced strategic partnerships that we have already agreed this year with Italy and Turkey. Our two agreements with the French Government have elevated our co-operation to unprecedented levels. This is degrading the organised immigration crime groups, and in the last few weeks new physical barriers have been installed to make it considerably harder for the flimsy dinghies to be launched.
As we are increasing disruption abroad, so we are restoring deterrence at home. We are breaking the link between arriving here illegally and a life in the UK. The number of removals of those with no right to be in the UK has increased by more than 75% in comparison with last year’s figure. Since we struck our enhanced returns agreement with Albania in December, we have returned more than 4,100 Albanian immigration offenders, and, as I saw for myself in Tirana last month, some of those individuals are being returned home in as little as 48 hours.
In August we announced the biggest shake-up in a decade of the penalties imposed on rogue employers and landlords who encourage illegal migration by hiring or renting to illegal migrants, and as we proceed with that, more unscrupulous businesses are getting the knock on the door. We have increased the number of enforcement raids by more than two thirds since this point last year. The surge has led to a doubling in the number of fines imposed on employers, and has tripled the number issued to landlords. However, for those who are complicit in the business model of the people smugglers, severe financial penalties are not enough, which is why we have dramatically increased the number of company directors who have been disqualified for allowing illegal working.
Our concerted efforts at home and abroad are making progress. For the first time since the phenomenon of small boat arrivals began four years ago, they are down by more than a fifth in comparison with those in the equivalent period in 2022, and in recent months we have seen still further falls—and let me dispel the myth peddled by some of our increasingly desperate opponents that that is because of the weather. The weather conditions this year were more favourable to small boat crossings than those in 2022, but we have still seen a marked decrease. By contrast, in the year to June 2023 detections of irregular border crossings at the external borders of Europe increased by a third, and irregular arrivals in Italy from across the Mediterranean have almost doubled. However, we must and will go further to stop the boats altogether. We remain confident of the legality of our Rwanda partnership and its ability to break the business model of the people smuggling gangs once and for all, and we look forward to the judgment of the Supreme Court. As the success of our Albania returns agreement has shown, with swift removals driving a 90% reduction in the number of illegal migrants seeking to enter the UK, deterrence works.
The real-world impacts of illegal migration on our communities have been raised many times in the Chamber. One of the most damaging manifestations of this problem has been the use of hotels to meet our statutory obligation to house those who arrive illegally and would otherwise be destitute. Ever since the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and I assumed office a year ago, we have made it clear that that is completely unacceptable and must end as soon as practicable. Those hotels should be assets for their local communities, serving businesses and tourists and hosting the life events that we treasure, such as weddings and birthdays, rather than housing illegal migrants at an unsustainable cost to the taxpayer.
We therefore took immediate action a year ago to reduce our reliance on hotels. We significantly increased the amount of dispersed accommodation, and we have increased funding for local councils. We reformed the management of the existing estate: by optimising double rooms and increasing the number of people sharing rooms we have created thousands of additional beds, and in doing so have avoided the need for a further 72 hotels. We have mobilised the large disused military sites that are more appropriate, and have worked closely with local authorities to ensure that they have less impact on communities. We are in the process of a re-embarkation on the barge in Portland, and, as of
Nearly a year on, as a result of the progress we have made to stop the boats, I can inform the House that today the Home Office wrote to local authorities and Members of Parliament to inform them that we will now be exiting the first asylum hotels—hotels in all four nations of the United Kingdom. The first 50 exits will begin in the coming days and will be complete by the end of January, with more tranches to follow shortly. But we will not stop there: we will continue to deliver on our strategy to stop the boats, and we will be able to exit more hotels. As we exit those hotels, we are putting in place dedicated resources to facilitate the orderly and effective management of the process and limit the impact on local communities.
We made a clear commitment to the British public to stop the boats, not because it would be easy but because it was, and remains, the right thing to do. We are making solid progress, and our commitment to this task is as strong as ever. We will continue to act in the interests of the law-abiding majority, who expect and deserve secure borders, and I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement.
At the time of the last election, the asylum backlog had already spiralled under Conservative mismanagement, but the number of small boats crossing the channel was close to zero, as was the number of emergency hotels being used. If we fast-forward four years, we see before us a picture of Tory boats chaos. For the third year running, more than 25,000 people have crossed the channel in small boats, while the number of hotels being used is about 400, at an eye-watering cost to the taxpayer of £8 million a day—higher than the cost last year. And what is the Government’s response? A Rwanda plan, but they have sent more Home Secretaries than asylum seekers to Rwanda; an Illegal Migration Act that is counterproductive and has not even been brought into full force yet; and a new barge that was meant to bring down hotel costs, but has only added to them. Also, the military bases promised by the Prime Minister last December are still not ready. All of this has left the Prime Minister with an asylum strategy this summer that was less akin to the Australian asylum model that he is so desperate to replicate and more in tune with the Australian cricket team during this summer’s Ashes: cross your fingers and pray for rain. Surely the Prime Minister knows that this was the wettest summer since 1912, and surely he recognises the impact that this had on small boat crossings.
The Government also like to claim to be bringing the backlog down, but it stands at 176,000. They like to talk about a legacy backlog, but this is just nonsense. It is a figment of the Prime Minister’s imagination. He is taking last year’s workload but ignoring this year’s workload. The backlog is the backlog is the backlog. You can slice the cake however you want and spin it however you want, but the cake is still the same size: 176,000 in the last quarterly figures—up, not down. As for those who are being processed and rejected—slowly, it must be said, at half the productivity of seven years ago—are they actually being returned? Removals are down 70% since Labour left office, with a 40,000 removals backlog.
On the issue of hotel use, today’s announcement illustrates better than any other the utter lack of ambition the Prime Minister has for our country. It beggars belief that the Minister has the brass neck to come here today to announce not that the Government have cut the number of hotels being used but that they simply plan to do so, and by a paltry 12%. Is that really it? Is it really their ambition that there will still be 350 asylum hotels in use at the end of the winter, despite promises last year that they would end hotel use this year?
Further questions for the Minister. Is it really true that the hotels he is considering closing will be in marginal constituencies? Does he really think that the public might not see through that ruse? Will he publish a list of the hotels he plans to close over the next six months? And why does the Minister not come back to update this Chamber when he has actually achieved something—not when he plans to achieve something or done a small part of what has been promised, but when the Prime Minister has actually achieved what he said he was going to achieve? At the moment, he sounds like an arsonist who has burned our house down and is expecting us to thank him for throwing a bucket of water on it.
Better still, why will this Government not get out of the way so that we on these Benches can show the leadership shown by our leader and our shadow Home Secretary on their trip to Europol recently, where they set out Labour’s plans to stop the Tory boats chaos by smashing the gangs, clearing the asylum backlog by surging the number of caseworkers, ending hotel use and fixing the asylum system, which successive Conservative Prime Ministers have utterly broken after 13 years of neglect and incompetence?
So it is all down to the weather again. Every time I come to this Chamber, it is about the weather. The hon. Gentleman is becoming the Michael Fish of British politics: he always gets the forecasts wrong. The truth is that he cannot bear to admit that our plan is actually starting to work. Returns are up, raids are up, productivity is up 10 times and, above all, small boat arrivals are down. We are closing hotels; he wants to open our borders. The Government will never elevate the interests of illegal migrants over those of the hard-working taxpayers of this country. That is what we hold in our minds every day in this job, and that is the difference between the Labour party and this Government.
We used to think that the Labour party had no plan, but now we know that it does not even want to stop the boats. In the summer, the Leader of the Opposition said that, even if the Rwanda plan was working, he would still scrap it. How telling was that? Even if we were securing our borders, he would scrap it and wave people into our country. He also said on his fabled trip to Europe that he would strike a new deal with the EU, which would bring thousands of people into the country. The new towns that he announced at the Labour party conference would be filled with illegal migrants. We will never do that. The Labour party’s strategy is to force the British public to grudgingly accept mass migration. We disagree. We believe that the British public believe in secure borders and that they want a robust and fair immigration and asylum system. Our plan is working. Don’t let Labour ruin it.
Any day when an Immigration Minister can come to this House and give us good news is a day for celebration. My right hon. Friend and his team are to be commended for the hard work that has gone into the successes he has outlined today, and I hope that Ashford will benefit from one of the forthcoming tranches of hotels being closed. Can he also say whether the extra resources that have clearly gone into clearing the long-term backlog are still available, so that we will be able to cope with the constant flow that one gets of asylum seekers and not see any future backlogs building up?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his good advice and wise counsel. He had to clear up the mess left by the last Labour Government, so he knows how challenging these situations can be. We have put in place more resource. We met our target of 2,500 additional caseworkers to manage the asylum system. When I stood at this Dispatch Box in my first week in this role, the Home Office was making around 400 decisions a week. We are now making 4,500 a week, and I commend the civil servants at the Home Office who have driven that extraordinary improvement in management, grip and productivity. But we on this side of the House do not believe that we can grant our way out of this challenge; we have to stop the boats in the first place. That is why true deterrence is so critical, and it is why our Rwanda partnership, which Labour has tried to frustrate at every opportunity, is so important to securing our borders.
The Minister will know that Mears has recently signed a contract with a hotel in Glasgow South West, so perhaps he can update us on the status of that contract. He has mentioned the backlog. Not everyone in a hotel in asylum accommodation is illegal; some will be successful in being granted refugee status. Can he tell us what discussions he is having with local authorities—I am thinking of Glasgow City Council in particular—on supporting and providing financial support for those successful refugees who will have to leave their hotel or asylum accommodation following a decision? Will he meet me and my Glasgow colleagues to discuss this issue?
Can the Minister tell us the estimated total operational and associated costs of this new system that he is creating, including barges, military sites, detention facilities and removal centres, alongside the proposed Rwanda deportations? Finally, an investigation by “The News Agents” has found that people traffickers say they are having an easier time sending small boats across the channel because of Brexit, which removed biometric system sharing and pan-European co-operation. What steps is he taking to create a returns agreement with the European Union, binding closer alignment with the EU and system sharing?
Far be it from me to cast doubt on the journalism of “The News Agents”, but I disagree with the premise of the hon. Gentleman’s question. In this role, I have come to the view that leaving the European Union was more important than ever because the migration crisis being faced by Europe today, which is likely to grow every year in the years and decades to come, will be very significant and challenging. The ability to control our own borders and make our own decisions is critical for the future of this country.
With respect to the situation in Glasgow, I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman there. Glasgow has had a high preponderance of asylum seekers, as he will know, but that was the choice of the Scottish Government. To my eyes, they did not want to house asylum seekers in other parts of Scotland. That is now changing, but it does mean that there will be a particular challenge in his community and I would be happy to meet him to discuss that.
I commend my right hon. Friend and the Home Secretary for the real progress that is now evident. It may not be sufficient for many at the moment, but the real issue is, as I believe the French are now beginning to understand—I would like confirmation on that, if it is true—that the Human Rights Act, in our case, and the European convention on human rights and the refugee convention are not only a European problem but a global problem. Does my right hon. Friend believe that the French are going to make real changes on this? Is he in discussions with them? As I have said for many years now, unless we sort this out, the tangible benefits will not be as evident as they could be.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support over the last year, in particular with our landmark Illegal Migration Act 2023. He is right to say—this is a point I made in a speech at Policy Exchange earlier this year and the Home Secretary made in a speech in Washington more recently—that the international framework, whether it be the European convention on human rights or the refugee convention, although undoubtedly well intentioned at the time, is now in need of serious reform. Today we find ourselves in a world in which hundreds of millions of people are on the move and eligible for refugee status. The situation is incomparable to the one we experienced in the immediate aftermath of the second world war.
The signatories and authors of those documents would be appalled to see some of the abuses we see in our present system, which frustrates our ability to support those who are truly in need and fleeing war and persecution. Across Government, the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and I are raising this with all our partners and allies at every opportunity.
At the Public Accounts Committee in July, Home Office officials told me that the Government were paying for 5,000 empty hotel beds as a buffer in case of an upsurge in people travelling across the channel. Could the Minister update the House on how many empty hotel beds the Government are currently paying for?
I would hope the right hon. Lady welcomes today’s news that, as a result of the good progress we have made on reducing small boat crossings, we are now in a position to begin closing those hotels. It is true that the Home Office kept a proportion of hotels precisely to ensure that we did not find ourselves in the position we saw last autumn, when I took on this position and we had problems at the Manston facility in Kent. As a result of the significantly fewer numbers crossing the channel this year, those beds have not been necessary, which is one of the many contributory factors behind our ability to start closing the hotels.
The Minister and the Home Secretary are to be commended for their crusade against devilish people smugglers, dodgy lawyers and deluded interest groups, but will he acknowledge that the bar needs to be raised for asylum applications? Far more applicants are granted asylum in this country than the European average. The standard of proof needs to be improved.
Does the Minister also accept that, while these improved numbers are to be welcomed, the asylum system needs fundamental change so that it is only for people in genuine fear of persecution, and so that economic migrants who just want a better life cannot come here using asylum as justification?
I strongly agree with my right hon. Friend. The Home Secretary and I are driven by two ambitions that must come together. One is efficiency in the system, and the other is rigour and integrity. We have to ensure that, as we process claims faster than ever before, we are rigorous in interrogating the evidence and weeding out those individuals who have absolutely no right to be here in the United Kingdom. We want to ensure that the UK is a place of refuge for those in genuine peril, but not a home for economic migrants. It has to be said that a very large proportion of the people coming to the UK are, in one form or another, economic migrants. At the very least they are asylum shoppers, because almost all of them come from a place of evident safety in France.
The Minister has heard me say before that the use of hotels serves nobody. It does not serve the taxpayer, it does not serve local communities and it certainly does not serve those people seeking refuge in this country, so the fact the hotels are to be stopped is good news. Can he give me some indication of where the hotel in Knowsley fits into his timetable? Does he agree that people need to tone down their rhetoric and stop peddling false narratives about what is going on with refugees? Frankly, all that does is worsen community relations.
I am grateful for the work that the right hon. Gentleman and I have done on this issue, particularly on the very serious events that took place at the hotel he mentions. I contacted his office earlier today to notify him that the hotel will be included in the first tranche of hotel closures. The incident he experienced highlights why this is not an appropriate form of accommodation, as it took from his community a very valued asset that people used for weddings, birthdays and special life events. It was also a source of serious community tension, which is why we now have to exit the hotels as swiftly as we can. It is also a lesson to us that we have to be very alive to the challenges both of high levels of illegal migration and of high levels of legal migration that make it difficult for us to successfully integrate people into our communities.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his robust and confident statement, and for the significant progress he has been able to report to the House today. Can he also confirm that the hotel on the A12 near Langham in my Harwich and North Essex constituency is one of those that will no longer be used for asylum seekers?
The Liberal Democrats submitted a freedom of information request to the Home Office to ask about the cost of the Bibby Stockholm. We asked about the cost to taxpayers of buying the barge, as well as the estimated cost of running it over the next 12 months. The cost is estimated at £20 million a year, which is well over £300,000 a week. Why has the Home Office refused to put this information in the public domain? And why has it declared that to do so would not be in the public interest?
The hon. Gentleman is essentially a humanitarian nimby. He comes to the House to say that we should be a welcoming nation and invite more people here, but he does not want to face up to the consequences of where those people should be housed. Behind his question is a view that I think is quite offensive to the British public, which is that it is okay to house British oil and gas workers on this barge, but not illegal migrants. I very much doubt his constituents would agree with him.
I assure Members that the sun often shines on our blessed corner of Kent. Indeed, we have had a heatwave on one or two occasions this year, so let us not have any more of this weather nonsense.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his update. We need to put on record the immense effort that he and everyone on the Government side have made to secure this 20% reduction. It is the first sustained reduction in small boat crossings, and that is welcome. It shows that it can be done, and that this Conservative Government are doing what they said they would do. Will he join me in thanking those in my constituency who work at Border Force and the small boats command centre and are working hard to secure our border and keep us safe, as well as the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and coastguard, who do a very difficult job, day in, day out? I thank them for all their work.
I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to all those who work at our facilities in Dover and on the south coast. This is very challenging and difficult work. At times, they have had to cope with immensely difficult experiences, and they have saved hundreds, indeed thousands, of lives in the process.
The point that should be reinforced to my hon. Friend’s constituents is that, although today marks significant progress—certainly very significant progress compared with what we see in other European countries—it is clearly not enough. Her constituents want us to stop the boats entirely, which is what we are setting out to do. Today is not a day for triumphalism. It is a milestone, and tomorrow we get back to work and get back to stopping the boats.
It is important, as we develop policy, to try to identify issues that might come up further down the line. As the Minister knows, in my constituency, large numbers of asylum seekers are being processed—I congratulate him on that. Most are gaining status—understandably, because most of them have come from war zones—and they will be seeking employment. On identifying possible issues down the line, has the Minister seen the report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in The Independent, which is based on the Home Office’s findings on the treatment of migrant workers? It identified wage theft, forced unpaid overtime, racist abuse, illegal charging of fees for jobs, and insanitary living and working conditions. Will he review the mechanisms for the monitoring of and enforcement against abuse of migrant workers?
That is of concern to me and the Home Secretary. We are aware of abuse in some of our communities, and we work closely with immigration enforcement and other agencies to try to bear down on it, because it is not right for individuals to be exploited in the way that the right hon. Gentleman describes. Also, there is a strong correlation between unscrupulous employers who act in that way and other serious failings, such as not paying tax, poor health and safety standards and poor product standards. That is why we need to weed out such behaviour.
My right hon. Friend knows from the Adjournment debate we had and our correspondence over the summer the extent to which illegal migration is an issue in my constituency. Some colleagues talk about “a” migrant hotel, but we have multiple such hotels. I welcome the Minister’s announcement today that one of those hotels will be taken back. Sir Humphrey used to say that
“Gratitude is merely a lively expectation of favours to come.”
In that spirit, may I ask my right hon. Friend when we can have the rest of our hotels back?
As we make more progress on stopping the boats, so we will make more progress on closing the hotels. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his work. His constituents have experienced the reality of illegal migration, not just in hotels that should be used for tourist purposes being taken away from them, but through a serious murder in the community, which should give us all pause for thought and urge us to redouble our efforts to stop people coming to the UK in that manner.
Unlike many Conservative Members, I am glad that the United Kingdom remains a signatory to the European convention on human rights. That means that refugees and asylum seekers who come to the UK have exactly the same rights as each of us in this House. That includes the right not to be subject to inhumane or degrading treatment. Many of my constituents are concerned about the conditions in which refugees and asylum seekers have been kept in the past. They were worried about the Legionella on the barge, and they saw the conditions in Manston and Napier—the overcrowding, and the worst spread of diphtheria in decades. What can the Minister do to reassure my constituents that the human rights of refugees and asylum seekers will be respected while they are in his Government’s care?
We take seriously our obligations to treat anyone in our care with dignity and compassion, and when we or our providers fall below that standard, it is right that we take action against those involved. The situation is challenging to manage; the hon. and learned Lady knows that from her city of Edinburgh, which houses comparatively few asylum seekers and has no migrant hotels, and whose council explicitly turned down the opportunity to house asylum seekers on the very vessel that it used for Ukrainian refugees. If she wants to support further asylum seekers coming to her community, she has to find accommodation for them.
Order. Enough. We have had that question, and we are now moving on to the next one.
My constituents have welcomed Ukrainians into their homes and Hong Kong Chinese into their communities, and our excellent domestic abuse services mean that we often give women from all over the country a fresh place to restart their life. However, that means that there is huge pressure on local schools and housing, and the more than 400 asylum seekers who have arrived in Chelmsford since early summer risk bringing those services to breaking point. Although I welcome today’s announcements, I am concerned that Chelmsford is not on the list. Will the Minister, who is doing an excellent job, work closely with those in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to look at housing for those who are granted asylum, so that the need is shared fairly across the country and does not just create extra pressure on areas that are already hotspots?
The two hotels; my right hon. Friend corrects me. I would obviously like them to be closed at the earliest opportunity, but today we are setting out the beginning of a phased closure, with the first 50 hotels being notified. I hope that more will follow in the weeks and months ahead. I am fully aware of the situation in Chelmsford that she described, and I would like it to be resolved.
I take my right hon. Friend’s broader point about the importance of the Home Office working closely with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend for Kensington (Felicity Buchan), is sitting beside me. She and I and the Secretary of State are working closely together to ensure that local authorities can plan for any new individuals who might live in their area.
Further to that response, the Minister talks about the planning between the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Home Office, but I wonder what experience he has of the London private rental market. In my constituency, refugees who have been granted asylum are being kicked out of their hotels by the Home Office contractor within a week.
The Minister shakes his head, but I am happy to share with him the letter that shows that. No assistance has been provided for those people. They are being told to go back to the council, but the council does not have time to follow up with them, so they end up at our local homeless night shelter, which will ultimately cost us all more than an orderly system. The Minister is shaking his head, but what does his data show about the number of refugees granted asylum while staying in migrant hotels who have been rehoused? Will he look at a more orderly system, and work with those of us on the ground to ensure that today’s announcement will not just be a way of passing on the cost to another Department?
First the hon. Lady wanted us to clear the backlog; now she does not want us to do that because of the consequences of clearing it. Perhaps it would be better if she just supported us in trying to stop illegal migrants coming to the country in the first place. On her specific points, it is not correct that the Home Office gives seven days’ notice; it gives 28. [Interruption.] I am happy to look at what she is waving in my face, but I assure her that the policy is 28 days’ notice. The key point is that everybody who is granted asylum has access to the benefits system and can get a job. Given that the overwhelming majority are young men, that is exactly what they should do now: get on and contribute to British society, and integrate into our country.
I am pleased that the Minister has kept to his commitment that the North Stafford Hotel in Stoke-on-Trent will be one of the first to close. That is happening only because of the Government’s work to tackle illegal migration and stop the boats. Does my right hon. Friend agree that areas such as Stoke-on-Trent, which have done more than their fair share of contributing, should not continue to see more asylum seekers, and have more refugees settled? We need to ensure that there is a fair share across the country.
I am delighted that the hotel to which my hon. Friend refers is in the first tranche. He and I visited it with his colleagues from Stoke, and it was clearly a classic case of why we should not use such hotels. It was a highly valued and prominent business and community hotel—a landmark in Stoke-on-Trent that is familiar to anyone who passes through the station. I am pleased to announce that it will return to its proper use very soon.
I think that the Minister recognises the acute pressures that local authorities could face when asylum seekers who are rapidly granted status move out of hotels, then risk becoming homeless. He said that he will meet my hon. Friend Chris Stephens to discuss the situation in Glasgow. Will he extend that invitation to the leader of the city council and other stakeholders, to ensure that Glasgow and other local authorities are properly supported and so can continue to extend a welcome to refugees?
It will be an interesting conversation with the leader of Glasgow City Council, because as I recall the council does not want to take any more of our refugees. It put out a statement saying it would not use a barge, even though Glasgow had itself used a barge for Ukrainian refugees. I do not know why a Ukrainian is different from an Afghan or a Syrian; perhaps the hon. Gentleman should explain those double standards.
Having stood at that Dispatch Box myself discussing this sort of subject, I imagine my right hon. Friend is much happier to come to the House with today’s statement than with some of the things we sometimes end up having to discuss. I must have missed all those Opposition demands to remove more people and take a tougher stance.
I welcome the message regarding the Esplanade in Paignton and my right hon. Friend’s confirmation this morning. It is appreciated. Can he assure me that we will pursue measures such as Greek-style accommodation centres and ensure an adequate supply of dispersed accommodation, fairly distributed across the United Kingdom—including the 31 of 32 areas of Scotland that used to refuse it—so that we do not have to resort to hotels again in the future?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we need a fair and equitable system. That is why he contributed to the creation of the national dispersal model, which we continue to pursue. We have now created the first large sites: we have stood up our site at Wethersfield in Essex and we are proceeding to stand up the site in Lincolnshire, as well as the barge in Portland. Why are we doing that? It is because we do not want the UK to be considered a soft touch. It is not right that someone who might have been sleeping in a camp in France comes across in a small boat and finds himself in a Holiday Inn in Oxford. That makes the UK a laughing stock. We had to change that, which is why we have put in place those larger sites. They are more appropriate, they save the taxpayer money, and they send a signal about the strength of the UK’s resolve to tackling this issue.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the work he has done to bring down the number of boat crossings and to speed up people being sent back. I also thank him personally for coming to Stoke-on-Trent to see the challenges we have. My hon. Friend and neighbour Jack Brereton mentioned the hotel that is the gateway to our city and symbolic of what we aspire to: levelling up. I am grateful that it is to be one of the 50.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s kind words and for the leadership she has shown in arguing on behalf of her constituents for that migrant hotel to close. Her argument was grounded in levelling up, to which she is very committed. I know from working with Stoke-on-Trent City Council on many different things in the recent past how important that gateway to the city is, and how much investment has been secured to improve it, so that leisure and business travellers arrive in that great city and see it at its best. Closing that hotel will, I hope, play a small part in turning that tide.
I want to push back against this dangerous “community cohesion” narrative that has been used by the Minister and others today and previously. The UK has taken fewer asylum seekers per head than most other European countries. Indeed, the UK has been shaped and reshaped by successive waves of immigration over the centuries. I speak as one who has two hotels in my constituency, so I am not a nimby on this. Most of the asylum seekers I have spoken to want to contribute to society, they want to work and they want to integrate. Does the Minister recognise the dangerous, slippery-slope implications of some of the rhetoric he is using?
The hon. Gentleman is not correct in his presentation that the UK is less generous than other European countries. Statistics are hard to compare, because we are a destination country. Many of those who come here and claim asylum stay here, while in countries elsewhere in Europe people claim in multiple locations while they are transiting through them. The most important statistic is that since 2015, the UK has issued 530,000 humanitarian visas—more than at any time in our modern history. That is a very large number of people to absorb into our communities, to support properly and to integrate, and it is one of the reasons why local authorities are under great pressure at the moment. We have to be realistic about that. It is why we have said we will put a cap on safe and legal routes, and why soon we will consult local authorities, including the hon. Gentleman’s, to determine the true capacity, so that the statements we make in this House match the reality on the ground.
The strain on public services caused by illegal migration is often felt the most by smaller towns, so may I ask my right hon. Friend to make such areas the focus of his efforts to close migrant hotels in the future?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is undoubtedly true that communities with fewer hotels have fewer public services. It is harder for people to get around because public transport is weaker. It is therefore more impactful when the Home Office takes hotels in such places, and we should consider that as we proceed to exit hotels.
I welcome the Minister’s statement and his determination to deliver solutions. It is clear from what he says that solutions are coming. I welcome the news this morning of the intention to cut the costly hotel bills, but will the Minister clarify whether that is because we are sending unsuccessful applicants somewhere else, and if so, where they are going? It cannot be a case of cutting hotel bills while increasing council costs by the same amount. Will the Minister also confirm that local women and children will be prioritised in housing over any young, healthy, single illegal migrant male?
I share my hon. Friend’s sentiment and conviction. Of course we should be a decent, generous and compassionate country to those coming here from places of peril, but we also have to prioritise the interests of British taxpayers. We should not be elevating the interests of illegal migrants over those of the communities we are sent here to serve. Those who are granted asylum have access to the benefits system and they can work. We should all encourage them to do so and to integrate into British society.
I thank my right hon. Friend and the Prime Minister for listening to my Stroud constituents’ concerns about illegal migration and speeding up processing, and for taking seriously my calls to close a migrant hotel in my patch. I caution Labour Front Benchers against playing political games over which hotels are closing, because not only do they have no plan themselves, but they do not know what many of our constituents have been through, because Members of Parliament, local police and local residents have worked hard to keep incidents out of the newspapers, so that they do not escalate. Will my right hon. Friend please clarify when we will receive more information about the closures, and confirm that, in the event of a closure in my patch, there will be close working with Gloucestershire County Council, which has been very solid on this?
I thank my hon. Friend for her good work representing her constituents on this issue in her characteristically sensible and calm manner. I am pleased that we have come to a good outcome in her case. The Home Office will write today or in the coming days to all the local authorities and MPs with hotels in the first 50. In the weeks ahead, we will consider further tranches as we make further progress on stopping the boats. We will put in place the processes and personnel required to support local authorities as we decant individuals from those locations.
Skegness is a tourist economy, and hoteliers have told me that the use of hotels in Skegness for illegal migrants has led to bookings being cancelled; it has been associated with serious crime. We have also seen marches hijacked by the far right, even though they know that that is not representative of local people’s legitimate fears. I therefore hugely welcome today’s announcement that two hotels in Skegness will no longer be required for Government use. That is immense progress, but does my right hon. Friend the Minister agree with me that the local council and Government as a whole should work as quickly as possible to get those hotels returned to their proper use, rather than left to rot by unscrupulous owners?
I am pleased that some of the hotels in my hon. Friend’s constituency will now be closed. He has seen just how challenging illegal migration can be, not least in the protests in his town and the strain that it has put on community cohesion. That is why we must stop the boats and reduce the number of people coming over in that manner. We will work with hoteliers as far as we can to help them to reopen their hotels successfully. The hotels are on different notice periods and that is one reason the announcement that we are making today is staggered. The majority are on three-month notice periods, which gives those hoteliers and their communities the time to prepare, take bookings, hire staff and come back to life.
I thank the Minister for the real progress that has been made in cutting the small boat crossings, and also, last month, for closing the Royal Hotel Kettering as an asylum hotel. When does the Minister expect to close the Rothwell House Hotel in Rothwell as an asylum accommodation centre?
I am pleased that we were able to close the first hotel in my hon. Friend’s constituency the other day. I know that it was one he felt very strongly about indeed. As we make further progress with stopping the boats, we will be able to close more hotels, and he has made a strong case for the second one in his constituency.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the progress that he is making. I am not sure what consideration he has given to this, but he has cited agreements on returns to a number of countries and also agreements with France. He may have been aware that France is announcing proposals to cancel visas, remove the right of leave to remain and force people to leave France. That potentially runs the risk of many more people choosing to take the dangerous route across the channel and come to our country. Will he take action to make sure that anyone who is in that position from France is immediately removed from this country?
The comments that my hon. Friend has seen reported with respect to France are indicative of the much stronger postures being adopted by most European countries on this issue. In fact, Labour is now at odds with the common view of most of Europe today. Most European countries sense the extreme importance of this situation and are taking more robust action. That is generally to the benefit of the UK, as we are a destination country after people have passed through many others. We want to continue to work productively with France. In recent months, we have seen good work by the French, particularly the Gendarmerie and the préfet in northern France, who have been extremely helpful to us, by for example, as I said in my opening remarks, putting up barriers on canals and estuaries, which has made it more difficult for small boats to leave. We want to keep that good work going.
In welcoming today’s statement, I also ask my right hon. Friend to deliver on the commitment that he made to me at the Dispatch Box on
I did make a promise a year ago when I took on this role that we would close hotels, and I am pleased to be able to deliver on that today. We will be writing today or tomorrow to all those MPs and councils that are part of the first tranche. I am happy to stay in touch with my hon. Friend if she is not part of that tranche and to say to her that we will do everything we can to make sure that her hotels are exited very soon.
I welcome the Minister’s statement today and the robust action that the Government are taking. Will he put on record that this country is still open to legal migration routes and that it is just the illegal migration routes that we are tackling? On the issue of the whole of Government approach, we are, of course, tackling the pull factors, but the push factors out of places such as north Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, which he recently visited, include climate change, conflict, famine and poor governance. What more can we do across Government to stop those push factors?
We want the UK to be a strategic partner of choice for all countries—whether in Europe or further upstream, such as in north Africa—that share our determination to tackle this issue. That is why I have travelled to a number of those countries, including Turkey, Tunisia and Algeria, to build relationships with them so that we can partner on organised immigration, crime and border security. I also work closely with the Foreign Secretary and the Development Minister to ensure that a large proportion of our foreign aid budget goes to refugee-producing countries. It is much better that the UK uses its resources upstream to support vulnerable people than always reaching to migration as the first response.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the engagement and time he has given to discuss the hotels in my constituency. Can he confirm that the Holiday Inn in Garforth and the Mercure Hotel in Wetherby, which are currently empty, will not be used for asylum seekers down the line? May I also take this opportunity to ask on behalf of my hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake that the military base at Linton-on-Ouse, which was deemed to be thoroughly inappropriate at the time it was put forward, will not come forward in any future plans as we reduce the need for accommodation?
We do not have a plan to make use of the site at Linton-on-Ouse that was previously considered. With respect to my right hon. Friend’s constituency, we will be writing to Members of Parliament and councils today, and if he is not fortunate enough to be in that first tranche, I assure him that there will be further tranches to come. We want to exit the hotels in their entirety; that does require us to keep making good progress with stopping the boats.
I, too, welcome everything that I have heard my right hon. Friend say today. On Saturday, we witnessed the most appalling scenes of lawbreaking on the streets of our capital. Can the Minister reassure me that anyone found to have broken our laws and incited racial hatred and violence in this country who is here as an asylum seeker, or on a visa, including students, will have that status revoked and be removed?
I have been very clear that people who spread hate and division in our country have no right to be here. Having a visa is a privilege, not an entitlement, and any foreign national who conducts themselves in that manner falls below the standards that we expect in our country, and will find that their visa is revoked and that they are expelled. We have already begun that process in a small number of cases, and I have written to all chief constables across England and Wales, inviting them to bring to our attention at the Home Office any examples that we should consider.
I was in northern France last week and saw very large numbers of people, visible in public spaces, waiting to put their lives at risk to make the journey across the channel to the UK. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the work being done with the French authorities has been a very important part of reducing the numbers crossing the channel? Will he commit to doing further work to develop what is happening, particularly in the area around Dunkirk, to prevent people moving away from the beaches, seeking to evade detection by the authorities in the channel, and using the network of canals to put asylum seekers in small boats across the channel?
I wish to put on record the Government’s thanks to the French authorities for the work they have done over the course of this year. Of course, there is more to be done. We are always encouraging our French friends to go further, but they have put in place a number of significant steps, including the infrastructure that my hon. Friend describes, which is making it hard for so-called taxi boats to go through the canals and estuaries and out into the English channel. We are also working with Belgium, which is another important partner through which a number of migrants, engines and boats pass. The Prime Minister announced recently in Granada a new partnership with the Government of Belgium to deepen our ties in that regard.
I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, particularly the news that, although there is a long way to go to completely stop the boats, there has been a significant reduction. Likewise, I welcome the news on the first 50 hotels and was grateful to receive confirmation from his officials this morning that the Best Western in Buckingham would close on
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the work he has done on this issue. I have seen at first hand how hard he has worked over the last 12 months to make sure we make progress. On the upstream work, one thing we need to get a grip of is the industry of producing the crafts that are carrying these people across the channel. What work is he doing with our law enforcement and intelligence agencies to try to smash that industry, which is clearly an important part of the broader picture of stopping the boats once and for all?
My hon. Friend, who was a superb Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Home Office until recently, knows that we have worked very hard on smashing the people-smuggling gangs not just on the goal line of the beaches of northern France but further up the pitch in places such as Turkey and north Africa. That involves a lot of work by the National Crime Agency, Border Force and the security services in partnership with allies in those areas. We have signed important agreements on that over the summer, including with Turkey.
The Minister deserves great credit for all the work he has done on this issue. I am really pleased that the Novotel in Ipswich will be put back to its proper use. At the heart of this issue is fairness, and when some of my constituents who are struggling to pay their energy bills and put food on the table see men—and they are all men—living in a four-star hotel, going to the buffet every day and not paying a penny, it strikes at the heart of that fairness. Does the Minister agree that those constituents who used to work in the hotel and were pressured to resign should be offered their jobs back, ideally on better terms than before? That is also connected to the fairness point.
I feel very strongly that we are sent to this place to represent the interests of our constituents, and we should not elevate the interests of illegal migrants over those of the communities we are elected to serve. That is the approach that my hon. Friend has taken in fighting tenaciously to get that hotel closed to asylum seekers and returned to the community uses that his constituents value. We want to see more such hotels closed across the country.
I am grateful to the Minister for announcing that 50 hotels will close. Will he consider putting a list in the Library so that we are able to see the names—I have hotels bordering my constituency but not actually in it—and will he do that for further tranches too? The Government propose putting caps on the number of illegal migrants we are willing to take. When will that be brought forward for a vote, and when will the consultation finish, so that we can manage the demand?
We will not publish the list under long-standing Home Office practice, as we are advised by the police that it is preferable not to name the hotels because we have seen protests and community tensions in the recent past.
We legislated for the cap in the Illegal Migration Act 2023, and we will shortly publish the consultation, which will ask every local authority how much capacity it has to house individuals who come to the UK through safe and legal routes. We will move away from an era in which we in Westminster posture and virtue signal while our local communities and councils have to pick up the bill. As a result of that consultation, we will bring forward our proposal to Parliament and have a vote on it, if colleagues so wish.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his announcements and the progress in this area. We urgently need to move people out of hotels and to instead provide stable, cost-effective accommodation that meets the needs of asylum seekers and the communities we serve. We all need to do our bit. We have received proposals from Home Office officials for asylum accommodation locally that would not work. The officials have been very helpful, but will the Minister agree to meet me and Runnymede Borough Council leader Tom Gracey to discuss alternative proposals to do our bit?
I would be pleased to do so. One innovation that we have started this week is to write to all local authorities with an open offer: if they can bring forward better proposals for asylum accommodation than the Home Office’s providers, we would be happy to work directly with them. If my hon. Friend’s local council has ideas that would be more suitable, better value for money and more in line with the wishes of the local community, we will take them very seriously.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend and thank him for hearing the many thousands of voices across Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke who signed my petition to end Serco’s abuse of Stoke-on-Trent and get one of the two hotels closed. That is in stark contrast to Stoke-on-Trent Labour, which allowed us to become a dumping ground after it signed up to the asylum voluntary dispersal scheme. Labour is now led by a Leader of the Opposition who wants us to surrender our borders to Brussels and move them to the Mediterranean—[Interruption.] The shadow Immigration Minister also let the mask slip at Labour party conference by basically claiming that anyone who wants to control our borders is xenophobic. I note the moan from that Dispatch Box at the news that Stoke-on-Trent will have one of its hotels shut. Can the Minister tell me when the other hotel in Stoke-on-Trent will face closure? I hope it is as soon as possible, because Stoke-on-Trent has done its fair share already.
No one in this place has fought harder to end the use of asylum hotels than my hon. Friend and his colleagues in Stoke-on-Trent. That is why it is so important that we have delivered on our promise to do so. We are stopping the boats and making progress, but there is still a long way to go. We want to stop the boats in their entirety, and as we do so more hotels in his constituency and elsewhere will close. The public can see what is happening: we are closing hotels, but the Opposition want to open our borders.