So far this year, we have reduced the number of these dangerous, illegal and completely unnecessary crossings by more than a third compared with last year, despite increases of nearly a third in Europe. Nevertheless, the number of illegal arrivals remains unacceptably high. We remain focused on delivering our comprehensive plan to stop the boats by breaking the business model of the people smugglers, and we will shortly be piloting emergency legislation through this House to ensure that flights to Rwanda take off as a matter of urgency.
Figures on Thursday revealed that immigration to the UK is skyrocketing. Is it not time to realise that those well-intentioned international treaties and conventions agreed 70 years ago are no longer fit for purpose? We simply cannot accommodate all those who would qualify for asylum under existing rules. The world is facing troubled times and more mass migration. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that he will do all he can to raise the bar for those migrating or seeking asylum here and look at other solutions to stop people leaving their homelands, so that those countries can make better futures for themselves without the loss of so many of their young? Much of Europe is in a dire state because of mass immigration. We cannot let the United Kingdom go the same way.
My hon. Friend makes a strong point. While some of those coming here to claim asylum have genuine grounds for asylum, many are economic migrants making spurious claims to game the system. For some nationalities, our grant rates are out of sync with European countries, and that is why we have undertaken extensive work to lower them. For example, the grant rate for Albanians reduced from 53% in June last year to 19% in June this year, and it has fallen further since, as that remains unacceptably high. Last month, we added India and Georgia to the list of safe states to speed up the process of returning people who have travelled from those countries to the United Kingdom illegally. Clearly there is more work to be done, and we do not want to create any additional pull factor to the United Kingdom.
In relation to the Rwanda policy, the Home Secretary was quoted as saying:
“My frustration is that we have allowed the narrative to be created that this was the be-all and end-all” of Government policy. Does the Minister agree with the Home Secretary? If he does, what is the Government’s policy on combating the boats and resisting illegal migration, and what is our policy?
When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I set out our comprehensive plan this time last year, it had many facets, one of which—an extremely important component of which—was our Rwanda plan, but that was not its only element, and we have worked intensively over the last 12 months on each and every other facet of that plan. Opposition Members jeer, but is that plan working? Yes, it is. We can see that from the fact that we are almost the only country in Europe where the number of illegal entrants is falling. It has fallen by more than a third, compared to a 30% increase in the rest of Europe and almost a 100% increase in Italy.
None of that negates the importance of interjecting a further critical deterrent. That is the crucial element of the Rwanda scheme. The difference between those of us on the Government Benches and the Opposition is that, frankly, they do not want to stop the boats, and they do not have the stomach to do a policy like Rwanda.
Since the previous Home Secretary was removed from her post, I think it is fair to say that the Immigration Minister has become a law unto himself. First, he briefed the media that he has been instructing the Prime Minister to tear up all our legal obligations to fix the unfixable Rwanda policy. Then he set himself on a collision course with his new Home Secretary by appearing to bet the house on the Rwanda flights taking off. To add insult to injury, he went behind his new boss’s back to present his laundry list to the Prime Minister, including a cap on social care visas and abolishing the shortage occupation list. Does the Immigration Minister have any respect whatsoever for the authority of the new Home Secretary? Given that he is said to be on resignation watch, will he confirm that he will resign if his proposals are rejected?
Once again, we heard absolutely nothing from the Opposition about what they would actually do. The sad truth is that they have complete disdain for the British public. They do not appreciate that the public that we are sent here to represent demand that we reduce the levels of both legal and illegal migration. The Home Secretary and I will do absolutely everything in our power to achieve that. We are working closely with the Prime Minister, and we will set out further plans in due course. But the public watching the debate should be very clear: if they share our determination to tackle small boats or to reduce the numbers arriving in this country legally, they have only the Conservative Party to support.
Last week, a woman and a man died while attempting to cross the channel in a small boat; others in their group were hospitalised for hypothermia. Despite the clear risks, over 400 people in nine boats were detected crossing the channel in the past seven days. They clearly felt there was no other choice. The lack of safe and legal routes is putting people at risk. Will the Immigration Minister consider a humanitarian visa, as the Red Cross has recommended?
All of us across the House abhor the deaths of individuals in the channel, and we are working closely with the French authorities to investigate the circumstances of those individuals’ deaths. But those individuals, like anyone seeking to cross the channel, are coming from a place of evident safety. They are departing from France. They are in absolutely no danger. They are in a country with a fully functioning asylum system of its own. There is no excuse for those people breaking into our country, putting themselves in the hands of people smugglers. We should be united in trying to deter that.
On the hon. Lady’s second question about safe and legal routes to the UK, she knows that we have issued more than half a million humanitarian visas since 2015—more than at any time in the history of this country. If she wants to do more, after the debate she should go straight back to the SNP Government and ask them to pull their weight and provide more safe spaces for asylum seekers and refugees back in Scotland.
The Minister is deflecting quite a lot. [Interruption.] Government Members would do well to listen because their systems are not working; they are failing people every single day. In the first nine months of 2023, a mere 279 Afghans arrived in the UK by safe and legal routes. For each one, 17 Afghans came across on small boats. Today, The Independent has laid out the story of a mother of four—an Afghan special forces soldier who served in a unit set up by Britain, trained and paid for by the British armed services—whose application under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy was denied, along with many others from commando force 333 and Afghan territorial force 444. Why is the Minister failing so many Afghans?
We do not encourage anyone, whatever their circumstances, to come across illegally in a small boat. That is a criminal offence and it should not be encouraged. We have supported nearly 25,000 people to come from Afghanistan since the end of the war, which compares extremely favourably to other European countries. We have issued more than half a million humanitarian visas, which is a record we should all be proud of. The Scottish National party always wants to make the UK out to be a small country, but that is not correct. The United Kingdom is a big-hearted country, and one of the world leading countries for resettlement—
Order. We have been here 20 minutes and have covered only two questions. We have a huge amount of business to get through, so can we please go faster? I would like brief questions and brief answers.