Rwanda Plan Cost and Asylum System

– in the House of Commons at 4:49 pm on 9 January 2024.

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Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department 4:49, 9 January 2024

I beg to move,

That an Humble Address be presented to His Majesty, that he will be graciously pleased to give direction to the Home Secretary that, no later than 16 January 2024, there be laid before this House:

(a) a list of all payments, either already made or scheduled, to the Government of Rwanda under the Economic Transformation and Integration Fund, including the cost of the fourth- and fifth-year payments due to the Government of Rwanda under the fund;

(b) any document provided by his Department to HM Treasury relating to the per person cost of relocating individuals to Rwanda under the Agreement for the Provision of an Asylum Partnership Agreement to Strengthen Shared International Commitments on the Protection of Refugees and Migrants (CP 994);

(c) an unredacted copy of the confidential memorandum of understanding referred to in response to question 20 at the Public Accounts Committee meeting on 11 December 2023;

(d) any paper setting out the cost per person of relocating individuals to Rwanda and the Government’s assumptions about the number of asylum seekers to be sent to Rwanda per year shared with or provided by HM Treasury between March and July 2022; and

(e) his Department’s internal breakdown of the 35,119 non-substantive asylum decisions made between 1 January and 28 December 2023 showing the number of such decisions that were classified as withdrawn asylum applications and the number further sub-classified as either:

(i) non-substantiated withdrawals

(ii) other withdrawals.

I move the Humble Address to get some basic facts out of Government Ministers. Facts that, so far, they have been desperate to hide: facts about the Rwanda scheme; facts about the asylum backlog; and just basic facts about policies that the Government claim are their flagships but, in fact, are failing. Taxpayers have a right to know how much of their money this Government have promised the Rwandan Government in exchange, frankly, for a series of press releases. More Home Secretaries than asylum seekers have been sent to Rwanda so far, and some pretty expensive trips they have turned out to be, with an average cost of around £100 million a trip so far.

The public also has a right to know what has really happened to the asylum backlog, which still stands at nearly 100,000 cases. A total of 35,000 cases have been removed from the figures in the past year with no answers on why or where those people are. Are they still in the UK, or has the Home Office lost them? There are basic facts we need to know, in particular the facts about the Rwanda policy that we need in advance of the debates in Parliament next week. It matters that we know those facts, because we now know that the Prime Minister himself had huge doubts about the costs and efficacy of the scheme when he was Chancellor. However, he is still going ahead with it and he still will not tell us what those costs and those doubts were.

We know now from papers leaked to the BBC that the then Chancellor, now Prime Minister said that the “deterrent won’t work”. He was so sceptical about the scheme that he tried to cancel it in the leadership election and had to be persuaded against doing so, and he pushed for smaller volumes and lower costs, yet he will not tell us what the final agreement on costs and numbers was between the Home Office and the Treasury. Is it true that he watered down the scheme, just as the former Home Secretary, Suella Braverman claims he watered down so many of her proposals?

We still need to know the facts, because the Prime Minister is still going ahead with a scheme that he does not believe in, does not think will work and knows is extortionately expensive, because he is too weak not to. We can see on his face that he does not support it and does not believe in it. He is just desperately hoping, in the words of the former Immigration Minister, Robert Jenrick, for

“one or two symbolic flights off before the next election”,

even if everyone ends up being sent back again, even if the whole thing collapses after that and even if the cost is a total fortune, because the Prime Minister is not planning to tell anyone before the election what the total costs are. In the end, the only deterrence that the Prime Minister believes in is deterring his Back Benchers from getting rid of him. It is weak, weak, weak, and the taxpayer is paying the price.

It is a totally farcical situation: a Prime Minister who does not think it is a deterrent, a Home Secretary who thinks it is “batshit”, a former Home Secretary who says it will not work, a former Immigration Minister who says it does not do the job and everyone who thinks that what we have is an incredibly expensive sham with the taxpayer being conned. If Ministers disagree with everything that I just said describing their plans, what is there to hide? Tell us the facts, and show us where all of that is wrong.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice)

We do know a few facts here, and one of the facts we know is that the scheme has been in the making for 18 months. In that 18 months, the money that has been spent on it would have employed 6,000 caseworkers in the Home Office. Might that not have been a better way of proceeding?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

The right hon. Member is right. There are many ways in which the hundreds of millions of pounds spent could alternatively have been invested. It is probably roughly equivalent to about a third of the budget of the National Crime Agency, for example, to take action on criminal gangs.

The right hon. Member is right, and we do know some figures on the costs of the Rwanda scheme. We know that Ministers wrote a cheque for £120 million in April 2022, and then there was another £20 million in summer 2022. They then did not want to tell us anything more at all. It was only thanks to the Rwandan Government and the information that they provided to the International Monetary Fund that the Home Office has been forced to give us a bit more information. Against Ministers’ will, we know that they have written another cheque for £100 million during 2023, and they promised another £50 million in spring this year, in just a few months’ time.

We have £290 million of cheques to Rwanda for no asylum seekers to be sent, £290 million to send more Home Secretaries than asylum seekers, nearly £100 million per Home Secretary trip, and there is more. The permanent secretary has admitted that there is a further payment planned for 2025 and another one for 2026, all independent of whether any asylum seekers are ever sent. I asked the Home Secretary in December whether in fact those payments were also £50 million each; he said that he was happy to confirm that. The following morning, it was put to him in media interviews that the Government were now spending £400 million on Rwanda, and he did not deny it. So we can only conclude that the sums are indeed nearer £400 million. Independent of what happens with this law, the plans and the flights, £400 million of cheques are being written to Rwanda when that could have been invested in tackling criminal gangs and could have been invested in making a difference. If it is not £400 million, again, Ministers should tell us what the actual figures are.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

We already have, and have had for a long time, processing in other countries within the UK asylum system. For example, the Homes for Ukraine scheme, which I think both he and I support, means processing cases in other countries. It is also what happened for the Hong Kong scheme.

We know that the cost is now £400 million, and we can conclude that it is possibly considerably more. According to the treaty, there are additional per-person costs—if anyone is actually sent—to cover asylum processing, to cover accommodation costs for five years, and to cover three meals a day for five years. That is in the treaty, but the Government will not tell us how much all that adds up to. We know from the impact assessment for the Illegal Migration Act 2023 that the Home Office was prepared to say that the average cost of sending someone to a theoretical third country would be £169,000—a remarkable level of precision for a figure picked out of thin air. However, it will not have chosen a figure for that assessment that was higher than the Rwanda costs, because it will not assume that it would have to pay for three meals a day for five years everywhere. That suggests that the actual figure per person is higher. Maybe nearer £200,000 per person? Again, if that is wrong, Ministers should tell us.

Otherwise, it suggests that if the Home Office manages to sort out its legal wrangles and get flights off the ground, another whopping bill is coming. Suppose the Home Office manages to send 100 people to Rwanda this year, which is what the Court of Appeal said was Rwanda’s capacity. Well, that means another £20 million cheque. If that is wrong, again, tell us the additional per-person costs.

Ministers say that they cannot possibly tell us any of these things because it is somehow commercially confidential. What a load of total nonsense. This is not a contract with a company with shareholders and intellectual property rights and competitors who will not bid if they think all their cost details will be scrutinised by other companies; this is an agreement with a sovereign state. If the Kigali Government choose to contract out housing to a private provider, that might have some commercial considerations, but that is a matter for them, not for us. Ministers claim that it will somehow make it harder to agree deals. Again, they are making up these arguments because they are embarrassed and do not want to reveal the figures.

In other areas, the Government have told us the facts. In March 2023, the Prime Minister announced £476 million over three years for the agreement with France. It was set out in detail, with £124 million in 2023-24, £168 million in 2024-25 and £184 million in 2025-26. We know what the future spending will be on that agreement with France, so why not tell us the future spending agreed with Rwanda? The work with France, which we support, covers coastal patrols, drones and technology. It needs to be properly scrutinised to ensure that we are getting value for money, but we support working with the French police along the coast to prevent dangerous boat crossings and to protect our border security. We want to go further, working with other countries to tackle the criminal gangs, but why publish those details in full and set them out several years in advance for France and not for Rwanda? The Government cannot claim that it is because they might be trying to negotiate agreements with other countries compared to Rwanda and not with France. They might have to negotiate future agreements with Belgium, the Dutch police and other Governments, given that the borders inspectorate has pointed out that many of the smuggler routes pass through there, but that is not preventing the Government being public about the facts on the France scheme. It is time that the Government gave us the facts that Parliament would normally be entitled to, and that the public and, crucially, the taxpayer should be entitled to. How much of taxpayers’ money have they promised to Rwanda for a scheme that is failing?

The motion sets out some of the facts that we want: payments made or scheduled, including the fourth and fifth year figures; the per person costs; the memorandum of understanding that sets out the money agreement; and the agreement between the Home Office and the Treasury while the Prime Minister was Chancellor on costs and numbers, so that everyone has the chance to see what doubts the Prime Minister had, rather than their being hidden away from the taxpayer. We are holding this Opposition Day debate to give the Government the chance to give us the proper figures, which cross-party Select Committees such as the Public Accounts Committee, the Home Affairs Committee and the Liaison Committee have been asking for.

The Government also claim that none of that matters because the costs will be outweighed by the savings on asylum hotels, but I must break it to them that all this money for Rwanda is in addition to asylum hotels. It has been reported this week that the Prime Minister told the Home Office to keep open some asylum hotels. We know their plans for bases and barges have been unravelling. One hundred people were quietly moved out of Wethersfield in the Home Secretary’s constituency and moved into hotels. Plans to put people into Catterick, in the Prime Minister’s constituency, have now been dropped. It is costing more to keep people on the Bibby Stockholm than it is in hotels. It is total chaos and a total mess, which is why there are 20% more people in asylum hotels than there were a year ago when the Prime Minister promised to end them. Rwanda does not change any of that. In fact, their migration legislation, supposedly to enable Rwanda, is likely to make the backlog and the costs worse.

Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Shadow Minister (Education)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the lack of clarity over the Rwanda plan and its cost is happening at a time when the Tories have weakened our border security and broken the asylum system? For six years we have had criminal smuggler gangs continuing to take over the channel, while Home Office asylum decision making has collapsed. It is incredibly important that we get control of our borders and our systems at the Home Office, and it is vital that that transparency comes to Parliament.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend is completely right. Over the last five years, the Conservatives have let criminal gangs take hold along our borders, along the channel. That is undermining our border security. We should be strengthening our border security and fixing the asylum chaos that has built up over the last few years. That includes going after the criminal gangs and stronger border security measures.

The Court of Appeal says that the Rwanda scheme capacity will be only about 100 people. Rwanda’s asylum system is used to deciding only about 100 cases a year, and the Immigration Minister has admitted that the likely number of people is only in the hundreds. The current backlog is over 100,000 people, and last year over 90,000 people applied for asylum in the UK. We have a policy that will likely cover less than 1% of those arriving in the UK, at a cost of hundreds of millions of pounds that the Government will not come clean about. That raises another important question.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

Before I get to that important question, I will give way briefly to both hon. Members in turn.

Photo of James Daly James Daly Conservative, Bury North

Will Labour’s policy, or proposed policy, for addressing border security be to allow offshore processing claims in Turkey?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

In theory, someone who was in Turkey and applied for the Homes for Ukraine scheme would be processed while in Turkey. However, it is not clear what the Government are proposing, or what the hon. Member is proposing, because nothing has been proposed by the Government. Labour’s proposal is to go after the criminal gangs through a new cross-border unit, with stronger security powers, and a new security agreement with other European countries, and to stop the boats before they reach the French coast by going after the supply chain of the criminal gangs. Under the Conservatives there has been a 30% drop in the number of people smuggling convictions, which shows that they are not taking action on the smuggler gangs but instead have let them take hold, and we will tackle that.

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Labour, Bolton South East

My right hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Are not the problems with the Rwanda scheme compounded by the fact that it means we have to take people from Rwanda as well? What benefit do we get?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

That is an interesting point. It is true that the Rwanda treaty that has been agreed states that first the United Kingdom will need to take some refugees from Rwanda, but it does not specify who will pay for those refugees. We know that people who are transferred to Rwanda will be paid for by the UK taxpayer, and also that people can be returned if, for example, they commit serious crimes in Rwanda, which will mean that, effectively, foreign national offenders are being returned. There is a question mark over that as well. We assume from the lack of information that the UK taxpayer will also pay those costs, but again, if the position is different it would be helpful to know about it. The Minister has the opportunity to respond by giving us details of all the costs.

This raises another important question to which we have not yet received answers. Under the suspended provisions of the Illegal Migration Act 2023, which the Prime Minister often boasts about as if they were law but which, in fact, have never been enacted, everyone who arrived in the country after July 2023 should be detained and removed to a third country. The Home Office has suggested that that provision will be enacted once the flights to Rwanda start, but more than 33,000 cases—probably involving more than 40,000 people—are already on the list. Are Ministers really saying that all those 40,000 people will be sent to Rwanda this year, even if the Government manage to get the flights off the ground? Given the rate at which they are talking of sending people to Rwanda, it will take more than 100 years to clear the backlog—and presumably all those people will be in hotel accommodation in the meantime, paid for by the UK taxpayer.

Will the Minister tell us what the actual plan is? Are the Government planning to implement the Illegal Migration Act if the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill is passed and to push up the backlog for perhaps a century, or are they in fact planning an amnesty in respect of the Act for tens of thousands of people? They have not admitted such a plan to their Back Benchers, and they certainly do not admit it in the social media graphics they send out.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Independent, Islington North

Does my right hon. Friend agree that instead of spending this vast amount of money on a failed Rwanda scheme, Britain and the other European Governments ought to be thinking about the numbers of people, many from Afghanistan, who are leading a marginal existence, in desperate poverty and freezing to death, on the streets of Calais and other cities around Europe? They are the victims of human rights violations and war all around the world. Should we not be thinking about them and helping them rather than pouring money into the Rwandan Government, which has achieved absolutely nothing?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

My right hon. Friend has made an important point about, in particular, the issues relating to Afghanistan, where we know there has been huge persecution by the Taliban. We also know that there are people who helped our armed forces and, effectively, worked for the UK Government in Afghanistan, and as a result have been targeted by the Taliban. The Afghan resettlement scheme set up by the Home Office has had all kinds of problems. It is important that there are proper reforms to the resettlement schemes to make sure that they are effective, and that they prevent people being exploited by people traffickers and people smugglers. That is why it is so important to take action to stop these dangerous boat crossings, which are putting lives at risk and undermining our border security, and on which the criminal gangs have made profits of probably £0.5 billion over the last few years as a result of being able to take hold along the channel.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

The right hon. Lady mentioned 34,000 cases so far since the printing of the Illegal Migration Bill. Of those cases, if people are found to have no credible case for asylum to stay in the United Kingdom, and if they come from countries to which it is virtually practically impossible to return them, what would she do with them?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

As the hon. Member will know, we should be returning people who do not have a foundation in persecution or conflict, who do not have a well-founded asylum claim. They should be being returned to their own country. But he will also know that there has been a 50% drop in the returns of failed asylum seekers since 2010—a huge drop. We should be working with a new returns and enforcement unit, with proper staffing in place, to reverse that drop. He will also be aware, because it was in evidence given to the Home Affairs Committee, where he has worked immensely hard over many years, and because he takes these issues very seriously, that only 5% of those who arrived from Albania—including on small boats—over the past few years have been returned to Albania. Although we support the Albania agreement, it is in fact being used predominantly to return historic cases, and has not been used for the kinds of cases he is talking about, in which decisions should be fast-tracked and people should be being returned quickly.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving way again, but she has answered a question that I did not ask. I was referring not to Albanians but to people from countries that she knows it is practically impossible to return them to. The Iranian Government will not let them off the plane. Eritreans would put them in jail and say they would be appealed on human rights. What would her party, in government, do with those people who had come here illegally from such countries, with no basis on which they could stay and no way of negotiating returns agreements with countries like Iran?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Member will know that people from countries such as Eritrea and Iran are very often granted asylum, and will not be sent to Rwanda under his Government’s policy because Rwanda will only be able to take a hundred or a couple of hundred people a year, at a cost of hundreds of millions of pounds. That is the core dishonesty and the failure at the heart of the Government’s programme—they are promising people that they will make huge changes to the existing system, but they are not at all. Instead, if anything, all they will do is stack people up in asylum hotels for even longer than the taxpayer is funding them, for a bill, currently, of £8 million a day—up from £6 million a day.

The Prime Minister declared the asylum backlog cleared—that is what he said—which is taking the country for fools. There are 99,000 cases in the backlog. That is probably over 120,000 people, and all the Home Office have tried to do is clear the cases before July 2022—cases that are already more than 18 months old. Those cases should not be in the system by now anyway. Any properly functioning system would have cleared cases that were more than 18 months old, but that is the scale of Tory chaos. Why are they just trying to catch up with themselves, clearing those very old cases? Of course, the backlog since July 2022 has doubled. Even their weak, limited target to clear the so-called “legacy backlog” has failed, with 4,500 cases not cleared and 35,000 cases simply withdrawn. We want the facts about that. What has happened to those 35,000 cases?

We know from the evidence to the Select Committee in November that as of November, the Home Office had no idea where 17,000 of those claimants were. How many of the 35,000 does the Home Office know to have left the country? How many of them does it know to be deceased or to be duplicate cases? And how many are probably still here? They might be working illegally, they might have restarted their asylum application and gone back to the beginning of the system, or they might be destitute on the streets. Whatever has happened to them, they are still here and the Home Office does not have a clue. Can the Minister give us a breakdown of the 35,000 cases? Is enforcement action taken if those people should not be here? It not, this all looks like more smoke and mirrors from a dodgy salesman Prime Minister.

We support some of the Government’s measures relating to France, and we support the agreement with Albania. We want to see more proper international co-operation like that, and we should be on steroids in tackling the criminal gangs.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will give way one more time. I need to finish so that others can speak.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. She will recall that at the end of the last Labour Government, there were returns at the rate of one every eight minutes. Does that not demonstrate that, where there is a will, we can tackle those who should not be in the country and welcome those who should?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend is right, which is why Labour will set up a new returns unit with 1,000 staff to do returns and enforcement—to actually get returns agreements in place, to go through individual cases and to reverse the 50% drop in returns since 2010.

Instead of the Rwanda scheme, as part of our five-point plan to strengthen border security and to fix the Tories’ asylum chaos we would use the money to fund proper action to go after the criminal gangs. We would have new cross-border police with stronger powers, similar to counter-terror powers. We would have new security agreements with Europol and other countries to stop the boats reaching the French coast in the first place. We would properly clear the backlog, ending hotel use; we would have a major returns and enforcement unit, alongside reform to resettlement routes, so that the UK continues to do our bit to help those fleeing conflict and persecution and so that we prevent people from being exploited by criminal gangs; and we would have proper international co-operation and proper plans to deal with the problems at source by providing in-region support to refugees, which is something this Government have repeatedly cut back.

We believe in strong border security and a properly controlled and managed asylum system, so that the UK does its bit to help those fleeing persecution and conflict, as we have always done, and so that those with no right to be here are swiftly returned. Under the Tories, we have none of those things. We just have chaos. We just have a con.

Five broken promises from a failing Prime Minister. He promised to clear the backlog—it is still 100,000. He promised to stop the boats—last year saw the second-highest number of crossings on record. He promised to end hotel use—it went up, not down. He promised to return everyone—returns are down 50%. He promised to pass a new law and, to be fair, he did pass a new law—he just did not implement it.

That is the problem with this Prime Minister: shiny graphics but shoddy gimmicks; wide-eyed promises but never delivery. The Tories all know it, which is why they should all be calling for the same facts as us, because those facts will expose what is really going on in this Government—the con on everyone. They should stop letting their Front Benchers play smoke and mirrors. They should be asking for the figures. The House should get those figures, as they are the figures we need. That is what this Humble Address should deliver.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery) 5:18, 9 January 2024

The Opposition may not believe this, but I am grateful to them for giving us the opportunity to debate this important issue that undoubtedly matters to people across the country. I am grateful because this debate provides me with the opportunity to highlight the fact that this Government have a credible plan to tackle illegal migration.

Some things never change. When I moved to the Department for Work and Pensions in October 2022, the Labour party had no credible plan on illegal migration. And when I returned to the Home Office 14 months later, guess what? There is still no credible plan. Some things never change, and it is the same old Labour ignoring the British people’s priorities and trying to glide to power under the radar without saying anything credible about these issues. By contrast, we have a credible plan, we are working through that plan and it is delivering results.

We should not see one aspect—one plank—of that plan in isolation; it needs to be seen in a joined-up way. Small boat arrivals to the UK were down by a third last year. Opposition Members may not want to hear that, but it reflects the fact that the plan and the earlier steps that were taken are working. It also bucked the trend across Europe, where illegal migration had risen. Our European partners are following our lead, with Italy, Germany, Austria and others all exploring models similar to ours.

The Government met their target of eliminating the legacy asylum backlog and there is improved efficiency across the system. We will take forward that learning as we set about dealing with the outstanding cases. The use of hotels to accommodate asylum seekers is costing the taxpayer more than £8 million each day and one thing is for sure: if we were to take the do-nothing approach about the flow of cases into the system, which is precisely what the shadow Home Secretary’s policy would result in, all we would see is ballooning costs. That would be unfair and unsustainable, which is why we have taken concrete steps to return hotels to their rightful uses, with 50 due to be handed back to the community this month.

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I hope the Minister has had an opportunity to visit some of these hotels. This is about not just the costs, which are increasing, but the situation and dire conditions for people waiting for their claims to be assessed. We are talking about families living in rooms with no access to food and no space for their children to learn—it is not a nice environment for people who just want their claims to be assessed. Will the Minister please get to grips with that?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

It is absolutely right that the Government prioritise closing hotels. That is a policy we have set and are delivering against. [Interruption.] Labour Members keep saying it is going up, but what we are seeing is hotels being closed. That is happening week on week, and we will continue to sustain that process.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

I will gladly give way to the shadow Home Secretary, as perhaps she will have a credible policy to put to the House.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

Will the Minister confirm that the latest figures show that the number of people in asylum hotels is 20% higher than it was last December, when the Prime Minister promised to end asylum hotel use, and that the costs have gone up from £6 million a day when the Prime Minister complained about this last December to more than £8 million a day, as the Minister just said today?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

The fact is that we are closing asylum hotels and it is absolutely the right strategy to pursue. I regularly hear colleagues across this House complain about hotels being open in their constituencies. I want to get on and close those hotels, as do my colleagues, and that is precisely what we will do. It is not sustainable just to continue with the status quo, in the way that the right hon. Lady advocates, in respect of the flow of people into the system. We must not forget that all those individuals making perilous crossings of the channel, facilitated by evil criminal gangs, are coming from a fundamentally safe country. That is why, through our multifaceted approach to this issue, we will get to grips with it, because we are attacking illegal migration at every stage, through work both at home and abroad.

Photo of Paul Bristow Paul Bristow Conservative, Peterborough

The Minister may be aware that the Great Northern Hotel, once the flagship hotel for Peterborough, was being used as asylum accommodation, but a Peterborough-based campaign means that it has been stood down and now plans to be part—or could be part—of the £70 million regeneration package in the station quarter. Is he surprised to learn that Labour councillors in Peterborough oppose that and want the Great Northern Hotel to remain migrant hostel asylum accommodation?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

Very few things surprise me about those in the Labour party. The things they say and do do not always match the rhetoric of their Front Benchers. Their policies—or lack of—on this matter speak for themselves. My hon. Friend was an ardent advocate for getting that hotel closed, and I am grateful for the representations he made. The Government will continue with the mission we are on, which is to get this issue under control, close the hotels and make sure that our borders and migration system is sustainable for the future.

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

This is called a plan, but actually it is a strategy. The strategy is to dissuade and deter people from getting in boats and crossing the channel at huge risk. The plan may cost, but the implications are far bigger than just sending people to Rwanda.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

My right hon. Friend recognises that the plan is one part of the overarching strategy we are taking forward to address the issue. Let us not forget that if we had taken the advice of Members on the Opposition Benches, who have voted against so many of the measures we have put in place to try to address the issue, we would not have seen crossings down by a third, Albanian arrivals dropping by 90% or hotels being closed. It is fortunate that we did not take their advice—I dread to think what the situation would be had we done so.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

The Minister says he has a plan, but this is the third plan set out during the last two years: the Illegal Migration Act 2023 has not worked, we were told the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 would stop the boats, and now we have the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill. We are told that the Bill has been watered down because the Rwandans themselves want to comply with the international law and conventions that the Tories wanted to breach. How is Rwanda dictating our immigration policy consistent with the Government’s claim to be taking back control of our borders?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

It is rather ironic to hear from Opposition Members on this subject. I well remember the shadow Home Secretary being one of the leading lights of the effort to try to keep us in the European Union, and I know where her instincts lie on these issues. She was very happy to continue with the free movement of people and willing to have that open-door border approach. The hon. Gentleman cited rhetoric from the referendum campaign, but he too has voted against every single measure that we have tried to take forward to make progress on this. [Interruption.] The good news for him is that there is an opportunity to put all that right and to be in the Lobby next week when we consider the Bill, to make sure we can get on and operationalise the plan. The Opposition keep saying it is waste of money but they could get behind the Bill in the Lobby and help to operationalise it.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Employment Rights and Protections)

The Minister says that hotels are closing, but in my constituency people are moving from hotels to houses in multiple occupation. How is that dealing with the issue rather than just moving it around?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

The policy platform that the hon. Gentleman is standing on would do absolutely nothing to reduce the flow of people coming illegally to this country, all of whom are leaving safe countries in order to make perilous journeys across the channel, with all the risk to human life that that presents.

Photo of Katherine Fletcher Katherine Fletcher Conservative, South Ribble

Let us look at the issue over a 20-year time span. Under the Blair Government, people were trying to come here illegally under lorries; we did a load of work, we put in X-ray scanners and we stopped that criminal trade. They are now trying to come by boat, so we are putting the work in and trying to stop that. Does the Minister agree that Labour did not solve the original problem and has no plans to solve the current one?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

I agree with my hon. Friend on both fronts. It is important to recognise that this is one of biggest issues of our time. The British people want it dealt with once and for all, and so do this Government. Our position is clear. That is why we have put in place one of the most comprehensive plans for tackling illegal migration anywhere in the world, and it is why this endeavour is, and will remain, a priority for myself, my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister, and the Home Office more generally.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

The Minister keeps citing the British people. Are not most people in this country looking at what has happened on this vital question since 2010—over all the years for which this Government have been in power—and seeing that the situation has only got worse and that no policy has really worked? Is the Minister not ashamed of that fact?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

It is worth the hon. Gentleman reflecting on the fact that the small boats phenomenon was not an issue in 2010. He is yet another Labour Member who has voted repeatedly against the various efforts we have sought to make that have started to deliver the progress that I believe the British people want to see. The instincts of my constituents, and no doubt of his constituents, lend themselves to getting on and getting to grips with the issue. That is a fact, and the record speaks to that fact. We will continue not to take the advice of those who would do very little, if anything, to address this issue, and we will get on with delivering on this plan.

The plan recognises that illegal migration is a highly complex challenge, requiring innovative solutions. In the Rwanda partnership, we have just such a solution. We are sending the crystal clear message to those thinking about crossing the channel to get to the UK that they will not be able to stay. Let us not forget that, as I have said repeatedly, all those people are leaving what are fundamentally safe countries to make those crossings, which have been organised by criminal fraternities.

Of course it is true that the creation and implementation of a novel approach such as this comes with an expected cost. To date, £240 million has been paid to Rwanda, and those figures have been provided to Parliament. The funding arrangement is boosting the economy of Rwanda, which will benefit both host communities and those relocated there, and will go to areas such as agriculture, jobs and infrastructure. We have also provided an up-front credit to pay for start-up costs in advance of flights.

Although we do not agree with all of the Supreme Court’s conclusions, we respect the Court. Last month, the Home Secretary signed a new internationally legally binding treaty to address the Supreme Court’s conclusions. Crucially, the treaty removes the risk of refoulement and provides for an excellent standard of care for all those relocated. Both countries’ adherence to their obligations will be robustly monitored. The High Court and the Court of Appeal have already confirmed that the principle of the partnership—to remove those with no right to be here to a safe third country—is lawful and compliant with the refugee convention.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

I thank the Minister for finally giving way to me. He skipped over the costs of the Rwanda scheme. Yes, we know about the £240 million and the £50 million next year, but only because, as my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper said, it was leaked—it emerged from the Rwandan Government. That is being investigated. Can he not just share with the House the total cost of the scheme? There is no reason not to do so. It is a flagship scheme of the Government. The Minister, from what he has said, is clearly proud of it, so why can he not share with us the total cost committed in the treaty?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

It is slightly uncharacteristic of the hon. Lady to be mean-spirited. It is fair to say that we are having a good debate, and both Front Benchers have taken many interventions. The Government have provided those costings to Parliament, and we will continue to report the costs in the annual report and accounts in a way that is perfectly normal, perfectly reasonable and perfectly respectable.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

I will give way to the shadow Home Secretary just one last time, as I have been very generous. I am also conscious that there are many Members who wish to speak.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

The Minister has been generous. Given that he has published the future costs of the agreement with France, why is he still refusing to publish years 4 and 5 of the Rwanda agreement? We know how much will be paid in ‘24, ‘25 and ‘26 for France. Why not tell us the same figures for Rwanda? The taxpayer is entitled to know.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

That information will be provided in the usual manner—through the annual report and accounts. The right hon. Lady will recognise that, within that, there are elements such as the number and circumstances of individuals who will be relocated, and we will publish those costs. That transparency will come as part of the annual report and accounts, as she would expect.

We have touched in this debate on commercial sensitivity and the ongoing relationships with our partners. The courts acknowledge that Rwanda entered the partnership in good faith, and the mechanisms that we have introduced through the treaty will provide cast-iron guarantees to ensure the welfare of all those relocated. The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, which is the toughest immigration legislation ever introduced in Parliament, will enable Parliament to confirm that Rwanda is safe. There will be very limited, specific circumstances under which someone can claim that Rwanda is unsafe for them in their exceptional circumstances. If a foreign court chooses to interfere, we will do whatever it takes to get flights off the ground. We will debate all of that again next week.

Rwanda is a beacon of Africa, a country full of potential and promise that stands ready to welcome people into its communities. Rwanda cares deeply about providing humanitarian protection. It is incorrect and, frankly, offensive to reduce Rwanda’s interest in this policy to a financial incentive. Claims like that are often made by people who have never been and who choose to ignore the brilliant work that Rwanda does with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to provide sanctuary to many people in the spirit of partnership. That should be celebrated and welcomed, not traduced.

To be clear, the Government of Rwanda did not ask for money to sign the treaty, nor did we offer any. That said, doing nothing is not a free option. It is right that there is additional funding to reflect the future costs. The total cost of the partnership will depend on the number of people relocated, the timing of when it occurs and the outcomes of individual cases. Rwanda has the capacity to deliver on this uncapped partnership, and we have been working with it to build its capacity over the past year. As I say, it already hosts 135,000 refugees and asylum seekers working with the UNHCR and other partners.

We must stop the boats and save lives. The moral imperative could not be clearer. Ensuring that those who arrive in the UK through unnecessary, illegal and dangerous means cannot stay here should prove a deterrent to others who may try to do the same thing. We need to stop criminal gangs profiting from this through decisive action. We know deterrents work. We have seen that clearly demonstrated through the returns agreement with Albania. That strong deterrent has seen us return 5,000 Albanians in 2023 alone and Albanian arrivals fall by 90%.

We want every people smuggler to know that the UK is off limits and that we will not tolerate any further loss of life. Nor will we accept the strain that high levels of illegal migration place on our communities and public services. To the criminal gangs profiting from misery, we say, “Your despicable business model will no longer be viable.” We remain firmly committed to getting flights to Rwanda off the ground as soon as possible. We want the British people to know that we are putting them and their interests first. We will not be deterred. We accept and embrace the challenge. Unlike Labour, we have a credible plan, are working through it and are making progress. By sticking the course, we can and will stop the boats.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Deputy Speaker

Some 14 hon. Members seek to take part in the debate. We have to go into the wind-ups at about 6.40 pm. By my miserable maths, that means I need to put an immediate time limit of five minutes on speeches after the SNP spokesman. I may have to bring that down—we will see how we go.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 5:37, 9 January 2024

I would like to put on the record yet again that the SNP wholeheartedly opposes the principle of the Rwanda plan, of offshoring people as if they were some kind of tiresome trash that the UK does not want to deal with—a plan that amounts simply to state-sponsored people trafficking. It is not just about the money, as Labour set out in its motion today, as egregious and obscene a waste of money as this is; it is about how we treat our fellow human beings. These are people who have experienced torture, have seen their families murdered and are running from horrors that we are fortunate never to have known. They deserve much better than being yeeted to Rwanda, a country that the Supreme Court has found is both unsafe and without the administrative capacity to take on the sensitive role the UK Government are putting on it.

According to the latest UNHCR data, the majority of those who flee—69%—stay in neighbouring countries. Low and middle-income countries host 75% of the world’s refugees and other people in need of international protection. Those who do make it to our shores more often than not already have ties to the UK—of family, language or the long legacy of war and empire. UK Ministers often make the wild assertion that the 110 million displaced people around the world are somehow all making their way to Dover and that the Rwanda plan is some kind of deterrent. That is not an assertion based in reality.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I would like to make some progress because, as Mr Deputy Speaker said, we are quite short of time.

To take Afghanistan as example, 6 million Afghans have been classed by UNHCR as refugees, of whom 91% have stayed in neighbouring countries, with 3.5 million in Iran and just over 2 million in Pakistan. There are 239,600 in Germany, 71,200 in France and just 12,200 in the UK—a mere 0.2% of the total.

Photo of Luke Evans Luke Evans Conservative, Bosworth

Given that there are 100 million people displaced, if Scotland was an independent country, how many people would it take in?

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I have just made the point that, of those 110 million people, a very tiny proportion actually come here. I also point out to the hon. Member that putting a specific numbered cap on things has not worked either. I remember the Government saying they were going to get net migration down to the tens of thousands, and that has not worked out. So numbers are not worth speaking about in this debate in the way he thinks they are. That is a spurious argument and he should learn to look much harder at the issue, rather than putting a very basic interpretation on it.

The hon. Gentleman ought to know that Afghans have consistently made up a very high proportion of the people coming across the channel in small boats. As I have pointed out repeatedly in this place to various Ministers at various times, that is a sign of the failure of the supposed safe and legal routes they have set up. For every Afghan who has arrived on a resettlement scheme, around 90 have arrived by small boat. Just imagine if the UK Government schemes were not so riddled with incompetence. No Afghan would need to risk setting foot on a dinghy, and no one would need to sell everything they own, be exploited, beg, borrow and steal, and be bonded in debt to people smugglers if the Government had schemes that worked.

It bears repeating that the only way for people to claim asylum is to get themselves to the UK. They cannot claim in an embassy overseas, and airlines and ferries will not board them if they do not have the requisite visa to get here. Small boats are very much a last resort, not an easy option, and their use has increased as the routes via lorries and other means have become more difficult.

Ministers talk about the expense of the asylum system, but that has come about largely as a result of their own incompetent administration. They have downgraded roles in asylum casework and created a work culture so toxic that employees do not stay, with a lack of expertise and unmanageable caseloads. The issues with the backlog are entirely of their own making, and they deserve no brownie points at all for attempting to fix what they broke. We know that the Home Office’s new asylum backlog stands just shy of 100,000 people who still require to have their cases processed. I see those folk at my surgeries every week, and they certainly do not perceive much of an improvement from the Home Office, despite the Minister’s spin.

Ministers appear to have massaged the figures to make the legacy backlog reduce from 92,000 to just under 5,000, but a cynic might wonder why around a third of those backlog cases are not actually decisions made, but withdrawals. Free Movement has said:

“The heavy use of withdrawals to reduce the number of pending applications does make it look as though the backlog clearance was an exercise in number management more than anything else.”

Ministers cannot tell us where those 30,000 people are within the system, and it is also worth noting that the first-tier immigration tribunal has seen a 20% increase in outstanding appeals, which now stand at 31,000.

I also note the further cost to other parts of the immigration system due to the political focus on dealing with the backlog. For example, I have heard increasing instances of international student visas not being processed in time for the start of term, with people having to defer their studies because they have missed so much of their course that they cannot turn up and study as they had planned to.

For those who recall my mention in the previous debate of a Sudanese constituent whose wife has been shot in the leg while waiting a year and a half for a family reunion application, I wrote to the Home Secretary on the subject and finally received a letter from a civil servant saying there are

“considerable delays in family reunion decision making at this time” and that

“applications are being considered outside of the 60 working day service standard”.

In fact, 60 working days would have been quite good for that woman, because had her application been processed in time at the time, she would have been out of Sudan before the current conflict broke out. Now she waits in a very unsafe situation for a Minister to make progress on this matter. How long must she and others wait?

The former Immigration Minister, Robert Jenrick, even admitted on TV in August that processing asylum claims quickly

“just encourages more people to come”.

Of course he has never presented evidence to back up that assertion. If delays of several years are a feature, not a bug, Home Office Ministers are on shaky ground when they girn about the cost of keeping asylum seekers in hotels. They have set the system up to work in this way.

Quite aside from the eye-watering £8 million a day—over £3 billion a year—that it costs to house asylum seekers in inadequate hotel accommodation, there is a human cost to keeping people in limbo. The asylum seekers I listen to want to be able to work, contribute and rebuild their lives. They are skilled and talented people with a lot to give to their communities, and they are grateful for the opportunity, but as long as they are kept out of the labour market and prevented from working, they lose their skills and confidence, and their mental health deteriorates. I have seen far too many people at my advice surgeries who cannot understand a system that treats them with such disdain.

A recent Scottish Government paper draws on analysis from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, which suggests that granting people who are seeking asylum in Scotland the right to work would add £30 million per year on average to the Scottish economy if it were granted immediately on arrival, or £16 million per year if it were granted after a six-month waiting period—tax revenues increase and support costs are reduced. Only a Government so wedded to a toxic ideology would refuse to accept such a logical position.

It is stranger still that that persists because, as we in this place know, all policies come through the Treasury. The Prime Minister himself apparently voiced concerns regarding the cost of the Rwanda policy during his time as Chancellor. It was reported that he wished

“to pursue smaller volumes initially, 500 instead of 1,500” in the first year of the scheme, and

“3,000 instead of 5,000 in years two and three”.

The papers, seen by the BBC, also suggested that he was

“reluctant to fund so-called ‘Greek-style reception centres’, sites where migrants could be housed, rather than being put up in hotels which were said to be costing £3.5m a day at that point, the documents suggest. They say, the ‘Chancellor is refusing to fund any non-detained accommodation, eg Greek-style reception centres, because hotels are cheaper’.”

We can see that clearly from the example of the Bibby Stockholm, which, at over £22 million, is more expensive per night than putting people in hotels. Neither the Minister for Legal Migration and the Border, Tom Pursglove, nor the director general for migration and borders at the Home Office could vouch for the value for money of the vessel or provide comparative figures when they came to the Home Affairs Committee in December. The private companies that provide such accommodation—Mears, Serco, Clearsprings, Corporate Travel Management and the rest—are raking it in. Misery is lucrative.

Home Office Ministers often talk up the nebulous concept of deterrence, but oddly enough, they provide little evidence to back it up. We know from those papers seen by the BBC that the then Chancellor did not believe that the deterrent would work, but now that he is Prime Minister, he will chuck any amount of money into the same vague concept. The Minister for Countering Illegal Migration, Michael Tomlinson, said that the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill was the toughest Bill ever—well, since the last one, and the one before that, neither of which have worked, and some of which has not been implemented.

Free Movement has published a useful graph indicating that the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 and Illegal Migration Act 2023 have not had any deterrent effect on the figures. There is no evidence to suggest that the new Rwanda legislation will be any different. No wonder the Home Secretary is reported to have called it “batshit”. It will not even work; we know that because the Home Office has earmarked at least £700 million to manage small boats until 2030, which it would not do if it expected the boats to stop coming—it is ludicrous.

As well as being illegal and immoral, the Rwanda scheme is eye-wateringly expensive. The UK Government’s own figures suggest that removing each individual to Rwanda would cost £63,000 more than keeping them in the UK. If the Government were to send every asylum seeker who arrived last year, it would cost £7.7 billion. Do Conservative Members truly believe that that is a price worth paying, particularly when people are struggling to feed themselves during a cost of living crisis?

Given the absurd costs, the Home Office has been understandably reticent to provide more details of the scheme. Permanent secretary Sir Matthew Rycroft initially provided details of the £140 million paid—£120 million through an economic transformation and integration fund, and a separate £20 million to cover initial set-up—but told the Home Affairs Committee that he could not provide details of further payments as that was “commercially sensitive” information and would only be released in the annual report and accounts each year. He was then forced into disclosing further costs in a letter to the Public Accounts Committee, in which he outlined that a further £100 million was paid to Rwanda in April last year, with another payment of £50 million due this year.

During the debate on the Rwanda Bill, the Home Secretary confirmed that the deal with Rwanda also included further payments of £50 million in 2025 and £50 million in 2026, bringing the total cost of the scheme to nearly £400 million without a single asylum seeker having been sent there. That is a cost of about £130 million per Home Secretary who has been to Rwanda.

A Freedom of Information Act request revealed that as of last month, the UK Government have spent £2.1 million defending the scheme in the courts. With new legal challenges to the Bill and the treaty, more costs to the taxpayer are surely yet to come. All the time, while this cruel posturing continues, the number of people waiting for asylum decisions grows, safe and legal routes have not emerged and have been closed down, and Home Office staff are left without the resources they need. All in all, it is an expensive distraction from the dull and boring work of governing well.

As it is Labour’s debate, I want to focus briefly on its plans. As Hywel Williams highlighted in his question, the shadow Home Secretary did not rule out offshoring people should Labour be in government, so I ask the Labour party whether it is the cost of offshoring that it objects to, or the principle. I was particularly interested in the papers released by the National Archives over Christmas, including the paper presented by Jonathan Powell to the Blair Government entitled “Asylum: The Nuclear Option”, which suggested interning people on Mull or the Falkland Islands and deporting people to Turkey and Kenya. When officials from the Home Office warned that those measures would fall foul of the UK’s international obligations to refugees, the Prime Minister’s handwritten note read

“Just return them. This is precisely the point. We must not allow the ECHR to stop us dealing with it.”

Twenty years on, that is chillingly reminiscent of the current Conservative Government.

Back in 2003-4, Labour was also trying to find a way of offshoring people to Tanzania, and it has been reported that it has recently been consulting with the architects of that plan. If Labour still plans to offshore people, I ask how many, on what terms, and at what cost? How can it possibly be cost-effective to send people halfway around the world, only to bring them back if their case is successful? When Full Fact asked Lord Blunkett about those historic plans, he said that he had

“looked at a system for processing appeals for failed asylum seekers in other safe countries but rejected it as impractical”,

so is Labour for or against offshoring, and is that in principle, or on the basis of cost? Will it categorically rule out offshoring, or is it prepared to sell out the world’s most vulnerable just to get Labour over the threshold of No. 10?

It does not need to be this way—everything that has happened has been a political choice. This is about our duties and obligations in the world; about the European convention on human rights, which protects all of our rights; and about the refugee convention, which treats others as we would expect to be treated if a catastrophe happened on our own doorstep. Scotland wants none of these cruel, inhumane plans. The Scottish Government have published papers setting out our direction of travel on this issue, which I commend to all those who are listening. The Scotland we seek would take her duties to the world seriously: the spirit of Kenmure Street tells us that these are our neighbours and our friends, and we must do our part to see that they are safe.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham 5:51, 9 January 2024

It is unfortunate that Back Benchers will have under a third of this already truncated debate on what is a very important subject, but I start by praising the Opposition for starting the new year as consistently as they ended the last one: consistently undermining and attacking the Government’s policies to tackle illegal migration and questioning the cost and cost-effectiveness of such measures, while consistently voting against those measures to tackle illegal migration—no fewer than 86 times—and consistently failing to come up with any serious, practical alternative measures to clamp down on illegal migration themselves. When they do produce flimsy and ill-thought-through measures, as they did before Christmas, they are completely opaque about the cost, or any aspect of any effectiveness at all.

Today, the Opposition have excelled themselves with another Opposition day debate that is light on substance, light on comprehensiveness, completely light on viable alternatives, and light on throwing any light on anything at all that they would do. Time and time again, they have been challenged to come up with their own plans, and have failed. As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, I have been pretty consistent myself—both on and off the Home Affairs Select Committee—in challenging Ministers and officials on the workings and, often, shortcomings of migration policies for more clarity and evidence. That includes the withdrawals figures, on which we challenged the permanent secretary just before Christmas. That is the only part of the motion with which I agree; clearly, the Opposition got the idea from the Home Affairs Committee, and have just cut and pasted it into the motion today.

Having visited Tirana, Paris, Brussels, Calais, Belgian beaches, asylum seeker accommodation, detention centres, Border Force operations and so on with the Home Affairs Committee, I know that illegal migration is a complex and challenging issue that the PM has quite rightly identified as a priority for the British people. However, the Rwanda scheme is just one element of that bigger solution. No one is claiming that the scheme is ideal—as the Supreme Court has judged, it has flaws in its design to overcome, which the Government are now addressing—but essentially, it is there to deal with one major problem, and an unfairness that undermines the generosity of the British public in rightly providing and funding a safe haven for asylum seekers who are genuinely fleeing conflict, persecution and danger.

There is a question here, and until you can answer it, you lack credibility when attacking the Government’s attempts to do so. It is the question I raised earlier with the shadow Home Secretary, to which she did not have an answer: “What do you do with migrants from certain countries who have entered the UK illegally, who do not have credible claims to remain in the UK, yet where it is virtually impossible to return those people to their country of origin?”

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

On that point, my hon. Friend will know, as I do from my experience with foreign national offenders, how difficult it is for countries of origin to accept people back. Very often, they just will not acknowledge their existence, because it is not in their interests to take back people who they may think are a detriment to them. He mentioned Eritrea and Vietnam, and there are a lot of other countries. This is difficult stuff, and he is right to press the loyal Opposition to come up with something more than the soundbites we have heard.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

I completely agree with my right hon. and learned Friend, because once those people make it into British territorial waters, they are in effect guaranteed to be living in the UK at the UK taxpayers’ expense for the foreseeable future, and that is what the Rwanda scheme aims to address. It is a deterrent to stop people making that dangerous journey in the first place, and it will become a lottery whether they end up in a hotel in Kent or on a plane to Rwanda. As I have said time and again, when the Home Affairs Committee went to Calais in January, we were told by all the officials dealing with the schemes over there, that when the Government initially announced the Rwanda scheme, there was a surge of people at Calais seeking to regularise their migration status in France, because they did not want to risk being put on a plane to Rwanda, so we know that it has a deterrent effect.

Photo of James Daly James Daly Conservative, Bury North

As a fellow member of the Home Affairs Committee, would my hon. Friend agree that the same official said it was crucial that the United Kingdom Government have a strong deterrent policy as part of other policies to protect our borders?

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

That is exactly right. Other countries have shown an interest in the scheme, as did the officials when we spoke to them in France, and other countries want a part of the action that Rwanda may be getting once this scheme actually starts. It can unlock a whole host of opportunities, and I hope that we can ultimately have a series of European countries, particularly in north Europe, working together as a multifaceted network on a Rwanda-type scheme.

People smugglers thrive on any attempts to suggest that schemes such as this will not take off, so the Opposition are doing us a disservice. They are only playing into the hands of the people smugglers by trying to undermine the Rwanda scheme without coming up with any alternative that would seriously damage the trade of the people smugglers in the first place. So it is right that we should give the Rwanda scheme space to get off the ground—literally—and it is also right that we should scrutinise the effectiveness of the scheme.

The scheme needs to be put in the context of the alternatives. What is the cost of accommodating asylum seekers who have entered the UK illegally in hotels or other rented accommodation while awaiting their decisions? On the basis of £6 million or £8 million a day for hotels alone, every additional £100 million estimated to be spent on the Rwanda scheme would accommodate people in hotels for just 17 days. Let us put it in that context. What is the cost of multi-agency control and operation centres, and of Border Force and others patrolling the English channel and picking up the boats? Where is a reference in this motion to more transparency about how the £480 million subsidy we now give to the French police force is being spent? Despite the fact of that record subsidy, interception rates by the French authorities actually fell last year, and there is evidence that some of our money is being used in operations on the Franco-Italian border, rather than on the channel. Those are the comparisons that need to be made.

Labour—Yvette Cooper—came up with the five-point plan in March last year, but it turned out that most of those five points were already being undertaken by the Government anyway. Before Christmas, there was a story that Labour is considering detailed plans for a so-called offshoring scheme, and that the last Labour GovernmentDavid Blunkett and others—apparently discussed a scheme for offshoring to Tanzania, something that has been described by the current Labour leader as a “gimmick”, so why the change of heart? What is different in the principles of what they are apparently looking at now from those of the Rwanda plan for offshoring migrants? Is this a change of heart on the policy, and if so, why are they still objecting to the Rwanda scheme? Is it that they just do not like Rwanda, or that they just do not like the cost of it, in which case, what is the cost of their own scheme? If they are going to criticise what the Government are doing because of a lack of transparency, their potential schemes, which have been denied and then not denied, are completely and utterly opaque.

This is a sham, a shambles, a Labour gimmick and a con. It is a feeble attempt to show that the Opposition are somehow tackling illegal migration by talking about it, attacking the Government and voting against every attempt to bring forward practical measures, while having no credible working plans of their own. They need to be called out for it, and I shall be voting against this motion.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee 5:59, 9 January 2024

I will focus my remarks on the cost of the Rwanda plan, whether it is going to be effective and whether it is value for money. Nearly 18 months ago the Select Committee on Home Affairs stated in our report on channel crossings:

“The Home Office must provide more detailed costings for its Migration and Economic Development Partnership with Rwanda, including estimates of the likely cost within the current financial year of relocations and probable costs of relocations during the full five years of the programme.”

We made those recommendations all those months ago in part because we learned that the then Home Secretary had been required to issue a ministerial direction to the Home Office permanent secretary to implement the Rwanda scheme as he felt there was insufficient evidence of deterrent to enable him to guarantee the policy’s value for money, which, as the accounting officer, he is responsible for, and to date he has not changed his view.

That issue and the use of public money for this controversial plan have been a source of contention for many from the get-go, which is why we believed transparency about the costs involved was vital for proper scrutiny and public trust in this policy, yet here we are with what limited information we do have about the scheme’s costs having dribbled out slowly and most recently accidentally via the International Monetary Fund’s board papers. That is despite questions about the costs being repeatedly put by myself and other Committees including the Public Accounts Committee over the last 18 months.

The most recent substantive update on costs came in a late-night letter from the permanent secretary to myself and the Chair of the PAC my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Dame Meg Hillier) following that inadvertent disclosure via IMF papers, and we learned that following the £140 million paid to Rwanda in ’22-’23 there has been an additional £100 million in April ’23 and a further £50 million would be paid in ’24-’25, but the deal with Rwanda is for five years and we are yet to discover what the Government have pledged to pay for the final two years of the scheme.

The justification, which I have heard again today, is about commercial sensitivity, yet apparently it is not so commercially sensitive that the costs cannot be disclosed retrospectively via the annual accounts. Clearly there is something here that does not add up and I know that the Chair of the PAC shares my view on this: that in other instances it has been possible to have regular updates on spending proposals and policies like this.

Question marks hang over not just the fixed cost of the scheme but the per-person costs of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda. We know the Government have pledged to pay Rwanda a certain amount for each asylum seeker sent there to have their claim processed, but again we do not know how much, although it is of interest that the Home Office estimate in the economic impact assessment of the Illegal Migration Act 2023 the cost of relocating a single individual asylum seeker to a third country at £169,000, which represents, we are told,

“additional costs incurred relative to processing an individual through…the current migration system.”

We understand that the cost of processing asylum claims here in the UK through the current migration system is around £12,000. As the Home Affairs Committee pointed out almost 18 months ago:

“Migration, including irregular migration across the English Channel, is an issue on which no magical single solution is possible and on which detailed, evidence-driven, properly costed and fully tested policy initiatives are by far most likely to achieve sustainable incremental change.”

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

I am going to carry on.

With a singular yet untested Rwanda scheme swallowing up so much Government time and resource it is vital that the Home Secretary is up front about the costs involved. This is about public money being paid to Rwanda by the UK on an issue of great concern to the British people; it is not private funds being exchanged between two companies, and as the Institute for Government points out,

“good scrutiny really can contribute to good government.”

Transparency is key to unlocking good public policy. It is therefore absolutely right that Parliament asks and gets detailed responses to questions concerning the cost of the Government’s Rwanda plan and administration of the asylum system. This is about Parliament being able to do its fundamental job of scrutiny, holding the Executive to account.

I do not have time to ask all the other questions I would like to raise which relate to the treaty that has been signed, the new appeals system, the right to legal advice for all asylum seekers sent to Rwanda, and whether additional moneys will be paid by the British Government for all of those, but I hope the Minister will come clean in his wind-up as to the exact costs of the scheme.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Deputy Speaker

Order. To accommodate all Members as best I can, after Sir Robert Buckland, the time limit will drop to four minutes.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee 6:04, 9 January 2024

It is a pleasure to follow the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, Dame Diana Johnson, who addressed the motion tabled in the name of her Front Benchers and came to the meat of the issues in a succinct way. The arguments that she has put before the House are legitimate and merit close scrutiny by both her Committee and the Public Accounts Committee, and were the subject of a letter that she jointly sent with the Chair of that Committee, Dame Meg Hillier, on 8 December. Putting my Select Committee Chair hat on, I associate myself with those remarks in the spirit of cross-party co-operation.

However, Opposition Front Benchers have stumbled into what is, frankly, a debate between the Select Committees and the Government. They have missed a trick on this motion. We are now used to Humble Addresses, as they became a fad and a fashion much beloved of the now Leader of the Opposition when he was shadow Brexit Secretary back in 2017-18. Those of us who were Members of that Parliament may not want to be reminded of those times. I certainly remember being on the Front Bench as Solicitor General during the great debate on contempt of Parliament that we well remember—I bear the scars on my back.

I could simply fold my arms and say that Humble Addresses are very 2019, and perhaps we have moved on, but I will not because a number of past Humble Address motions have related to disclosure not to the full House but direct to Select Committees. Here is the point that we might have reached some compromise on. Select Committees are more than capable, through the good offices of their Chairs and Clerks, to hold sensitive information in a confidential way, yet still provide the scrutiny and accountability that, clearly, Parliament is here for. It has been done in the past, and on this occasion my hon. and hon. and learned Friends on the Front Bench should actively consider whether commercially sensitive information can be shared in a sensible way with the appropriate Select Committees.

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

The right hon. and learned Gentleman makes an interesting point. Both the Home Affairs Committee and the Public Accounts Committee have asked for information that we would hold confidentially, just to reassure ourselves about the value for money of these schemes. Sadly, we have been refused that information by the Home Office.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

I know that a letter was sent to the permanent secretary. I could not find a reply—the Committee may not have had one—and I suggest that civil servants in the Home Office need to respond with expedition to the Committee to furnish them with information. That is how we could have proceeded. The Opposition Front Benchers have missed a trick by not couching their resolution in more specific terms, with the consent that I am sure would have been forthcoming from the respective Chairs of the Select Committees. But that is not the motion that we have before us.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, The Cotswolds

As deputy Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, let me inform my right hon. and learned Friend and the House that the Committee has some of the most sensitive information available in a private reading room capacity, so there is no reason at all why we should not hold that information.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

I am hugely grateful to my hon. Friend, a parliamentarian of great experience. He is absolutely right to make that point. I urge consideration of that course upon my hon. and learned Friend Michael Tomlinson at the Dispatch Box, to consider whether that could be a way forward.

When Labour has a policy, it should be outlined in the form of an Opposition day motion. When it does not have much of a policy, it relies upon process arguments and Humble Address motions. That is what we see today. My hon. Friend Tim Loughton put it extremely powerfully in his remarks a moment ago that Labour is a party still in search of a coherent and cogent approach to this most serious of issues. It is all very well coming up with ideas that are already being deployed by the Government, or saying, “We’ll do it the same but a bit better,” but that is not up to the level of the events that face us. With climate change and conflict, mass migration of peoples out of harm’s way, or indeed for economic reasons, is a challenge not just for the United Kingdom but for the entire western world. These challenges face Governments of all stripes and colours.

I am glad to say that it is this Government who, through their arrangements and agreement with Albania, have achieved singular success in the past year in reducing those unacceptable numbers of small boats coming across the channel. It is this Government who are painstakingly working their way through bilateral agreements with key countries to speed up the process of returns to ensure that we can clear our prisons of foreign national offenders, rather than having to hold them in immigration facilities after the expiration of their sentence.

This Government are seeking, in an honest and realistic way, to answer the question of, “What on earth do you do with individuals who have had their applications determined, who have failed in their applications, but whose country of origin refuses even to recognise they exist?” I am afraid that is the big question—the $64,000 question, although perhaps I should adjust that for inflation—that needs to be addressed and faced up to. I know my hon. Friend the Minister is grappling with that problem, as have his predecessors.

There is nothing wrong in law or in principle with seeking to work with third countries to process asylum claims. I will reserve my remarks for next week’s two-day debate on the Floor of the House, when I will ask that question, but it is interesting that the Rwanda scheme is different from other schemes, such as the Australian scheme, in that we are not using UK law to determine these applications, but are outsourcing the whole thing to Rwanda. That sometimes is not fully understood, and I have to say that that has been a bit of a glass jaw, and it was quite broken by the Supreme Court in its judgment in November. Having said that, we are in a position now where the Government are seeking to try and deal with a position, and the Opposition are saying that even if Rwanda works, they will not do it. I do not think that sort of extreme approach is what the British people want to see, and it is not what this policy debate needs. We need an acceptance that what was being looked at by the previous Labour Government on third-country solutions is the right approach. Only by taking that particular line will we manage to crack this most difficult of problems.

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Employment Rights and Protections) 6:12, 9 January 2024

The unworkability and cost of the Rwanda scheme are representative of this Government’s dysfunctional approach to asylum applications as a whole. Faced with an election this year, and having failed to stop the boats—indeed, the failure was such that 2023 had the second-highest number of boat crossings ever—the grand plan is now to embark on a £400 million gamble on the promise to stop the boats. That is £400 million of taxpayers’ money being effectively lumped on one number at the roulette table with nothing other than blind faith being relied upon that the scheme will deal with the problem. What started as distraction tactics as part of Operation Save Big Dog has become central Government policy as part of Operation Save Ourselves.

I am probably overstating it by saying that blind faith is being shown in the plan. The Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, the previous Home Secretary and the previous Immigration Minister all seem to have privately had doubts about it in office, and nothing I have heard from those on the Government Benches has persuaded me that this is being driven by anything other than desperation. Indeed, the Prime Minister was challenged on “Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg” about his time as Chancellor, when he supposedly examined the scheme. In effect, he said of the deterrent effect that it would supposedly have, “We have not tried this before, so we might as well give it a go.” His precise words were:

“This hasn’t been tried before in our country. It’s fair to say it is novel. I’ve been very clear that this is a novel scheme.”

I am all for innovation, but £400 million being spent on something on the basis we have not tried it before ought to be ringing alarm bells, particularly when nothing else that this Government have tried has stopped the boats either. It seems that the Government’s approach now is, in effect, third time lucky.

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Employment Rights and Protections)

No, I have not got time, sorry.

It is £400 million at least, and there may be other costs that we do not know about, and that is why our motion is so important. I thought that taking back control meant an end to handing over millions of pounds to foreign powers without anything coming back in return. The Government’s impact assessment for the Bill states that it is

“uncertain what level of deterrence impact it will have”,

and given that deterrence is its whole point, there could not be a clearer case of the headline-first approach that this Government take on so many things, which is why, from housing to health to education to the economy, we are in such a mess.

In the most optimistic scenario, about 1% of those who cross the channel can expect to be sent to Rwanda—that is if all the numerous hurdles that we have talked about are overcome. Will anyone say, “I won’t take a chance on that 1% risk”? Of course not; it is just a giant smokescreen to cover up the Government’s many failings.

Those who work day to day in housing asylum seekers do not appear to have much confidence in the likelihood of there being any deterrent effect, either. We can go online and see that Serco, which is responsible for housing asylum seekers in private housing, is still advertising to landlords that it can guarantee rents for up to five years for doing so. It would hardly be doing that if it thought the Rwanda scheme would be a success or any other Government policies in the area were likely to have any effect.

I see nothing in the Rwanda agreement that will deliver on the claims being made about it. Never before has so much been given by so many for so little in return. When we have record taxation levels, public services on their knees and record Government debt, it is right that we challenge and question whether all that expenditure does what it says on the tin. It seems that the Prime Minister agrees with Labour’s approach. I will end with some words from his appearance on “Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg”. When asked about the examination of the scheme, he said:

“You should always ask probing questions. You should always approach things from a position of scepticism to ensure that you get value for money for taxpayers.”

That is exactly what Labour’s motion seeks. The fact that the Government are set to oppose it says everything we need to know about why there is so little confidence that the scheme will deliver.

Putting Rwanda rhetoric ahead of reality is a really poor way to run the country. With that approach, it is no wonder that the Government are running scared of the people’s verdict.

Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Conservative, Poole 6:16, 9 January 2024

When I first came to the House, under a Labour Government, I was on an immigration Bill Committee. The key difficulty then was people coming on aircraft and ferries and, for road hauliers, people coming in lorries. That was eventually dealt with in places such as Dover by putting in machinery to look at heat from bodies, and that stopped that trade.

This is a profitable trade where inventive people—criminals—look at how they can get people in. They have decided that rubber boats are one way of doing so, and our maritime tradition and the treaties to which we have signed up over hundreds of years mean it is difficult to deal with people once they have set off to sea. The Government have a plan and a strategy to deal with that. The Opposition would have more authority in the debate had they not opposed the plan and strategy but instead shuffled the papers around, asked all these questions and bemoaned all the costs rather than setting out what they would do.

Of course, the Humble Address wants paperwork and more paperwork. Governments have internal debates and then come to a fixed position. The Treasury, the Education Department and the Home Office will have different views. We would expect Ministers to argue privately and then come to a fixed position, but if people keep asking for papers to try to find out what those differences are, that will drive those debates underground, into private meetings and on to WhatsApp, which would not mean good government. The fact that the current Prime Minister argued a slightly different point when he was in charge of the money proves that he was doing a good job as Chancellor—he was kicking the tyres and ensuring that things had been thought through. We can see the Opposition’s motion as a substitute for having a policy. It just says that we are rubbish and that they would do things better, but they do not specify what they would do better.

The Government have a policy, and the $64,000 question is, as my hon. Friend Tim Loughton said, about those people who come to the UK and cannot be returned to their countries. The ideal thing is to have country-to-country agreements, which are proven to be working—I am glad we have more of them—and are a strand of dealing with the issue. However, where we have an Iran, an Eritrea or another country where someone’s life might be threatened were they returned, we need somewhere else for them to go. Rwanda has made it part of its agenda, because it is financially to its benefit, to do deals with countries such as Britain to help to deal with the problem. Everybody can be a winner if we get there in the end.

There is no point in people in this debate saying it will not be a deterrent when it has not actually been tried and when every time we have tried to implement it there has been a range of people to deal with, not least some of the courts. The Government are legislating to deal with the concerns of our Supreme Court. We have a treaty that is based on international law and we will see whether it works. I hope that when it is proved to work, some of those who are criticising will stand up in this Chamber and say, “Actually, you were right.”

Photo of Tahir Ali Tahir Ali Labour, Birmingham, Hall Green 6:20, 9 January 2024

The Government’s approach to asylum seekers can at best be described as a farce. The asylum application backlog persists and is growing. Thousands of people have simply disappeared into the underground economy, with the Home Office admitting that it has lost track of nearly 17,000 people. The continued use of hotel accommodation is costing the British taxpayer untold millions, while the disgraced Rwanda plan limps ahead—a plan that even the Prime Minister admitted is costly and unworkable. It is no surprise, then, that the Government continue to refuse to disclose the full costs of the scheme. When the Prime Minister came into office he promised professionalism, integrity and accountability at every level. One thing is sure: he has failed at every level on all three.

We know that the Government have already paid £240 million to Rwanda. Further money, in the hundreds of millions, will be paid. It will cost £100 million more to operate, with additional costs of nearly £170,000 per person relocated to Rwanda. Given that it costs £12,000 to process asylum claims in the UK, the cost-benefit of the Rwanda scheme seems non-existent—and that is before one even begins to consider the moral and ethical cost of deporting people to Rwanda.

The UK Supreme Court found that sending asylum seekers to Rwanda would be unlawful, given “substantial grounds” to believe that those transferred there could be sent back to countries where they could face persecution and inhumane treatment. We would do well to remember that according to the 1951 refugee convention, any person seeking asylum has the right to apply for asylum in the UK and remain here until the authorities have assessed their claim. Furthermore, it is also recognised that persons fleeing persecution may use irregular means to escape and claim asylum.

The Rwanda scheme, along with the Government’s continued criminalisation of asylum seekers crossing the channel, amounts to a complete repudiation of international law and the universal obligations under which we in the UK are bound to assist those seeking safety and security. I have no doubt that the British public will see the Government’s effort regarding the Rwanda plan for what it is: a flagrant, cynical and cruel attempt to force through costly and unworkable legislation, contrary to the findings of the Supreme Court, in a desperate bid to salvage an already ruined reputation.

The asylum system in the UK is in crisis. It is precisely due to the continued incompetence of the Government and their Ministers that the crisis has come about and it will persist until a Labour Government are elected to sort out the mess.

Photo of James Daly James Daly Conservative, Bury North 6:23, 9 January 2024

Listening to the debate, I think there may be a complete misunderstanding about the fundamental point of the legislation. It is a deterrent. I could pluck any figure out of the air and if the deterrent effect, together with other measures, is to hopefully reduce to zero the number of channel crossings, that will be money well spent. It is a deterrent.

I agreed with absolutely every word said by my hon. Friend Tim Loughton, a fellow member of the Home Affairs Committee. I do not know how many Members present have actually been to the beaches in Calais, engaged with people and asked for their views on whether this is a deterrent or not. There has been talk about Select Committees, but I, along with my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham and one of the best politicians I know, the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee—I hope Dame Diana Johnson does not mind me being nice to her in the Chamber—have actually been there. French officials who are working on the frontline support this policy.

What evidence could be cited to suggest that there is a deterrent effect? Well, as my hon. Friend said, when the policy was announced there was a rush to get over here before it was actually in place. This may come as a shock to Opposition Members, but when we were speaking to people on the beaches, who were almost universally single males in their 20s, the vast majority of those I, at least, spoke to—I stand to be corrected—said that they were coming here for purely economic reasons. They saw the streets of the United Kingdom as streets paved with gold. The only piece of evidence that can be advanced by the members of the Select Committee who have actually been to Calais shows that this policy will have a deterrent effect and that it will work. There is not a shred of evidence from the Opposition that it will not work.

My right hon. Friend the Chair of the Select Committee—I will call her my right hon. Friend—is an extremely good politician. As a member of the Committee, I know that the questions asked about costings are extremely fair, and I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister will answer them this evening, just as he has answered many of them when he has appeared before the Committee, but I do wonder sometimes when we talk about the principle behind the Bill. I asked the shadow Home Secretary whether the Labour party was considering the use of offshore processing. There was no answer, and we know that that is because Labour is considering it. The Leader of the Opposition has said that he will consider any plan that works. Rwanda will work, so on the basis of that logic, he will have to accept Rwanda.

I wonder what Opposition Members make of the fact that the Austrian and German Governments are considering processing asylum seekers abroad. Denmark, that bastion of right-wing extremism, passed a law in 2001 allowing refugees to be moved to asylum centres in third countries for processing. The EU, which is exactly the organisation on which the Labour party bases itself, indirectly supports offshore asylum processing as part of broader efforts to stop refugees coming across the Mediterranean and—I cannot believe I am saying this—the bloc has spent not millions but billions of dollars to prevent refugees from reaching Greece and funded the Libyan coastguard to push migrant boats back to north Africa from Europe. Perhaps we could ask the French to do it, but I will leave that question hanging in the air for my hon. and learned Friend the Minister.

To top it all, there is even a UN programme, the emergency transit programme, under which more than 3,000 people who were heading for Europe were moved from Libyan detention centres to Niger—a scheme similar to the Rwanda scheme for asylum seekers. Every international body supports what we are doing. They are all spending money, and they all believe that this will have a deterrent effect. The Opposition have no policy. This debate is a complete gimmick. The Government’s policy is the only policy in town, it is being followed by other countries, and it will work.

Photo of Andrew Western Andrew Western Opposition Whip (Commons) 6:28, 9 January 2024

I am not sure whether James Daly has read the motion, but it is about the cost of the scheme, and it restricts itself entirely to that. Essentially, it comes down to one issue: transparency. Do we believe that our constituents deserve to know how much of their money the Government plan to spend on their shambolic Rwanda scheme, and do we believe that they deserve to see the full details of the asylum backlog clearance programme so that they can understand how it is possible for the Home Office to have lost track of thousands of asylum seekers?

Photo of Andrew Western Andrew Western Opposition Whip (Commons)

No, I will not. I apologise, but time does not allow me to do so.

Ministers need to be held to account for an expensive shambles that has sent more Home Secretaries than asylum seekers to Rwanda. Meanwhile, our borders remain in a state of chaos and desperate people suffer enormously at the hands of people smugglers, but here we have a Government ducking transparency yet again when it comes to the cost of the scheme.

What we do know is that £240 million has been sent to Rwanda already, with £50 million more scheduled for this spring. We know too that the Home Office has admitted that at least two further payments are planned for the next two years, but it will not confirm how much these payments will be. Why not?

We also know that Ministers have promised extra payments for every individual asylum seeker sent, but again they have refused to say how much—why on earth not? Presumably they have told their Rwandan counterparts how much they are paying them, so if the Minister is still refusing to disclose those costs in this place, perhaps he can answer why he thinks the Rwandan Government should know more about how British taxpayers’ money is spent than British taxpayers themselves.

Photo of Andrew Western Andrew Western Opposition Whip (Commons)

The hon. Gentleman is aware of the time constraints, so I apologise, but I will not.

The Prime Minister and this Government are taking the British public for fools—not just over the Rwanda scheme, but over asylum backlogs too. It is categorically false to claim that these backlogs have been cleared. The current overall backlog is almost 100,000 asylum cases. Even so, the so-called “legacy backlog” remains at 4,500 cases. Amidst this chaos, Home Office officials have admitted that as many as 17,000 asylum seekers are now missing from their system and they have no clue where they are.

But perhaps the worst thing is that this complete dysfunction no longer shocks anybody. Who could be surprised that asylum policy is in chaos, with a Conservative party that has given us eight Home Secretaries in eight years and three failed pieces of legislation on channel crossings in three years, and spent vast sums of money on a Rwanda scheme that has been declared unlawful by the highest court in the land?

Convictions of people smugglers are 30% lower under this Government than under the last Labour Government, and returns of failed asylum seekers are 50% lower now than they were under Labour. Ultimately, if the Government had confidence in their record on asylum or the strength of their Rwanda scheme, they would have nothing to hide, and if they had nothing to hide, they would release the figures requested by supporting the motion today.

Photo of Katherine Fletcher Katherine Fletcher Conservative, South Ribble 6:32, 9 January 2024

We are having an interesting and important debate, set in the global context of increasingly large numbers of people on the move. Climate change is driving them forward. The entrepreneurial among them are looking for economic opportunity, as my hon. Friend James Daly mentioned, but I think it is worth dwelling on what our Rwanda scheme seeks to stop.

What is actually happening to some of the most vulnerable people in the world? They have criminal gangsters coming up to them, in countries in Asia, the far east and Africa, getting hold of them, maybe even coercing them slightly, and saying, “You know what? Sell granny’s farm, because the streets of the UK are absolutely paved with gold. You give us five, eight, 10 grand, sell granny’s farm to mortgage it, and you’ll be able to make a fortune and look after her.” Only when they are on a beach in Calais, with a gangster pointing a gun at them, telling them to get in an overcrowded and dangerous boat, do they understand what we are trying to stop. They are being sold a pup by criminals.

Today’s debate is not about point scoring and policy, although you would not believe it from listening to some of the stuff the Opposition say. We are taking action to tackle it. We are saying that if someone comes to this country illegally, they cannot stay here illegally, because otherwise we would be opening the window to a demand model for gangsters who were strapping kids under lorries under Tony Blair and are now strapping young men, teenagers, women and children to dangerous boats across the channel.

So we are working with France, and with Albania. The Home Office is taking a lot of steps to tackle what happens further upstream, including where the boats are bought from. We have got a treaty with another country, we are sorting out accommodation, and we are sorting out the backlogs. We are getting involved, putting more staff in.

What do the Opposition offer us? They offer us a highly moralising case. If this has not been clear from my remarks, there is a moral case to take every action we can possibly take to stop people getting done by criminals. So what do Labour Members do? They vote against it—is it 76 times, 73 times, 83 times? Goodness knows.

Photo of Katherine Fletcher Katherine Fletcher Conservative, South Ribble

I defer to my hon. Friend’s knowledge.

Government Members are putting practical ideas in place, and what is the Labour party doing? Changing its mind. It has no plan and no ideas. Its soundbites are so brittle that its Members cannot take interventions from Conservative Members.

We have a worked-through plan that is trying something different to make sure we handle this in a global context. Everybody is facing this problem and, with channel crossings already down by a third, a nascent deterrent effect is occurring. We are working with the social media firms to make sure these—rude word—gangsters cannot sell absolute nonsense on TikTok and Facebook to kids who just dream of a better life. That is the action we are taking, and what are Labour Members doing? They are tabling process motions and asking for details but, crucially, they will not tell us their plan, because they do not have one.

Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 6:35, 9 January 2024

I thank the shadow Home Secretary for securing this debate. This emotive issue affects every one of us, which is why we need to be open, honest and up front with the people of the UK about how we protect our borders and tackle migration.

I thank the Welsh Refugee Council for working tirelessly with refugees and asylum seekers, in spite of the horrific abuse it faces from the far right. The Welsh Refugee Council is a standout example of Wales putting into practice its ethos of being a nation of sanctuary, and it deserves our praise.

I also thank the sanctuary in Newport run by The Gap, and particularly Mark and Sarah for their diligence, passion and advocacy. Their innovative ideas and compassion in working with refugees and asylum seekers are a credit to them.

We are in a financial mess, and the Government need to come clean about the likely cost of the Rwanda scheme to the British taxpayer. It is at least £400 million, and that is without a single asylum seeker being sent to Rwanda. All this is happening when the cost of living crisis in Newport West and across the United Kingdom continues to hit the poorest hardest, yet Tory Ministers seemingly have no concern, no issue and no shame about wasting taxpayers’ money on a scheme that simply will not work. Is it any surprise that our unelected Conservative Prime Minister thought the scheme was not worth the money? For the first time, I agree with him.

This unelected Prime Minister is taking us for fools on the asylum backlog. His claim to have cleared it is completely false. As we have already heard, the current overall backlog is almost 100,000 asylum cases, which is why record numbers of people are still in asylum hotels, costing the taxpayer £8 million a day, 12 months after the Prime Minister promised to end it.

The Tories have not even cleared the so-called legacy backlog, with 4,500 cases still unresolved and tens of thousands of cases having simply been withdrawn by the Home Office. I have some experience of the backlog in my constituency, and it is a very real problem. I have real people in Newport West waiting for Home Office decisions, such as the Ethiopian student who has been waiting for a decision on the interview he had in 2021—he has still not heard. A husband, wife and four children who applied for citizenship in December 2021 are still waiting, too. Those cases are just the tip of the iceberg, and let us remember that those are real people doing their best in very difficult circumstances.

On the opposite side of the coin, we have officials admitting that as many as 17,000 people are missing. They do not know where they are, and they may well be in the underground economy. What a disgraceful state of affairs. Can the Minister tell us how many asylum backlog cases were cleared simply by removing people from the list? Does he know where those individuals are?

The motion before the House calls for the Home Office to publish the full cost of the Rwanda scheme, as it did for the France co-operation programme, for which funding has been announced up until 2026.

Over the last six years, the Tories have let the criminal smuggler gangs take over the channel, and they have allowed Home Office asylum decision making to collapse. We have record asylum backlogs and huge delays, and the taxpayer is having to fund asylum hotels. This is the Tories’ asylum chaos, and they are failing to fix it.

Labour’s plan would strengthen our border security and smash the criminal gang networks and supply chains, with new powers and a new cross-border police unit. We will clear the backlog with new fast-track systems and end hotel use, saving the taxpayer over £2 billion, and we will improve enforcement with a new returns and enforcement unit to reverse the collapse in returns for those who have no right to be here. That is how we in the United Kingdom can do our bit to help genuine asylum seekers who are fleeing persecution and conflict, while returning those with no right to be here, but we have none of that under the Tories, just more chaos. The sooner we get rid of them, the better.

Photo of Sarah Edwards Sarah Edwards Labour, Tamworth 6:39, 9 January 2024

I wish to start by emphasising that many asylum seekers are fleeing abhorrent conditions that many of us in this Chamber could only imagine, and it is important that we do not lose sight of those stories. However, we must end the current chaotic approach adopted by the Government. The unworkable, unaffordable Rwanda plan claims to deal with 100 people, but we need a proper plan to deal with the 100,000 people’s cases stuck in the backlog of the system.

In my constituency, local residents are concerned about the use of the Holiday Inn to host asylum seekers; the enormous backlog of cases means that many are still there. My constituents are concerned not only because these hotels cost the taxpayer £8 million per day, but because this hotel plays a fundamental role in the local community and economy. Some of these people have been living in the hotel for years—they have been there so long that they have the right to work and are contributing to a charity in the local community. Some have even been baptised in the local church but have been moved to other locations and once again find themselves uprooted in this chaos. For those who have tried to settle in the community but whose applications have still not been processed, this is a terrible failing.

Tamworth is a beautiful town that many people come to visit. We are proud of our local heritage and landmark tourism sites, be it the Drayton Manor theme park, the SnowDome or Tamworth castle, and the Holiday Inn should be used for holidays. This £8 million per day would go a huge way in helping Tamworth to redevelop its town centre and bolster its tourism economy, and it could be far better spent in revitalising local communities across the country. My constituents want to know that those seeking refuge and who are eligible have their claims dealt with swiftly and fairly, but they also want their hotel back. Can the Government explain why it is taking so long to recruit the staff needed to process applications, whom they cut years ago? That has landed the Government in this mess in the first place.

I call on my colleagues to adopt Labour’s plan to strengthen our border security, clear the backlog once and for all, and finally bring an end to hotel use. That includes recruiting the Home Office caseworkers to clear the backlog and 1,000 staff for the returns unit so that those who do not have a right to stay here can be quickly removed. Crucially, the plan will crack down on the criminal smuggler gangs, through the cross-border police unit and deeper security co-operation with Europe.

The Rwanda plan has seen £240 million of taxpayers’ money paid to Rwanda so far, yet not one asylum seeker has been sent to the country. The current overall backlog is almost 100,000 asylum cases, resulting in record numbers of people still in the asylum hotels, such as the one in Tamworth, 12 months after the Prime Minister promised to end them. I know that my constituents are concerned about the use of the Holiday Inn to host asylum seekers, which they feel is a waste of money, so when can we have our hotel back?

We still do not have a clear idea of just how much taxpayers’ money is going to be funnelled into this broken project. We have weakened border security, a broken asylum system, criminal gangs taking advantage and risking lives, and record levels of boat crossings. Transparency is fundamental to any good democracy. With this level of taxpayers’ money being funnelled into a scheme under which we are yet to see 100 asylum seekers sent to Rwanda, the Home Office must publish the full costs of the Rwanda scheme, as well as the full details of the asylum backlog clearance programme, so that we know how many people the Home Office has lost track of and what decisions are being taken.

I call on my colleagues to adopt Labour’s plan to strengthen our border security, clear the backlog once and for all and finally bring an end to the use of Tamworth’s Holiday Inn as an asylum hotel. Labour’s plan includes recruiting the additional caseworkers who could deal with this—

Photo of Michael Shanks Michael Shanks Shadow Minister (Scotland) 6:43, 9 January 2024

The last debate we had in this place on this Rwanda plan was such a bizarre moment, as we watched Conservative Members, from one side of the party to the other, lobbying one another, with threats to vote against the Bill all quietly dispensed with when the moment finally came. Today, we seemed to have a bit of consensus on the Government Benches—consensus to withhold transparency from the taxpayers as to how much the Government’s plan is going to cost. I am surprised that we do not agree about that, because surely we can all agree that the public have an interest in knowing how taxpayers’ money is being spent.

I have not yet heard any explanation from Government Members about why not withholding this information is so difficult. Perhaps it is because the economic note attached to the Bill has an intriguing section under “Costs and benefit summary” that states:

“There are no monetised costs or benefits.”

The assessment is not even convinced the plan will work, saying

“dependent on the deterrent effect achieved, there could be fewer individuals undertaking hazardous and unnecessary journeys”.

As I said last time we debated the issue, we are united in wanting to bring these dangerous crossings to an end, but it is clear the Government themselves do not have confidence that the plan will work, which is why nobody was surprised by recent news reports that the Prime Minister was not convinced by it either.

Instead of facing up to the Government’s failures on immigration, we are presented with this hugely costly distraction. The Chairs of the Home Affairs Committee and the Public Accounts Committee have had to drag out of witnesses the fact that even more money will be spent on the plan in years to come. In December, the permanent secretary at the Home Office told the Public Accounts Committee that he could not confirm any future funding had been agreed for Rwanda, and I heard the Minister say in his opening remarks that the Government of Rwanda asked for no money and no money was offered. That means either the funding for future years was already agreed in advance, or we are not sending any further money to Rwanda. In either case, it would be easiest for the Government to simply confirm one way or another what funding is being sent.

These are, of course, only the costs we know about. Aside from the financial cost, there is a broader cost to this absurd plan: a moral cost. The Home Office’s own statistics show that at least six out of 10 of those who made the dangerous channel crossing to the UK last year would be recognised as refugees, and would therefore be given asylum in this country, meaning the plan will not tackle that particular problem, and it does not deal with the criminal gangs who are exploiting these vulnerable people in the first place.

There is also a cost to Britain’s standing in the world and a diminishing of the sense that we follow the rule of law. Now we simply pass laws saying that one thing is true, even if it is not. No doubt, a flurry of amendments are being drafted as we speak ahead of next week’s debate. The agreement we have seen on the Government Benches today will disappear by Tuesday, when we will see the Bill back before us and it may not even pass.

As unpalatable as I find the legislation, I cannot understand why there is no transparency for those Government Members who support it. If they believe in this policy, if it is a rock-solid proposal that presents good value for money and if the costs are already written down somewhere, as we know they are, why not just tell us what they are? The least this Government should do today, with no effort whatsoever, is release the financial costs to the public, so that we know how much of our taxpayers’ money is being spent.

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration) 6:47, 9 January 2024

I pay tribute to all colleagues who have taken the time to speak today, particularly the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend Dame Diana Johnson, and my hon. Friends the Members for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), for Birmingham, Hall Green (Tahir Ali), for Stretford and Urmston (Andrew Western), for Newport West (Ruth Jones), for Tamworth (Sarah Edwards) and for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Michael Shanks), who made excellent contributions to the debate.

It is crystal clear that the money being wasted on this fantasy—this fixation—in which Members on the Government Benches choose to indulge would be far better spent on proper investment in a cross-border police unit and a security partnership with Europol to go after the criminal gangs upstream, smash those gangs and stop the boats getting in the water in the first place. That is what the Labour party has spent the last year urging the Prime Minister to do and that is what we will do in Government, to help end this Tory small boats chaos. Yet the Prime Minister has instead chosen to bury his head in the sand and double down on failure.

The Rwanda farce is so riddled with absurdity that it is difficult to know where to start. Perhaps the most absurd aspect is that the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary agree with the Labour position on this whole sorry mess—they are Rwanda sceptics and non-believers. Last week, it emerged that when he was Chancellor and during his leadership bid, the Prime Minister privately indicated that he had profound concern over the value for money and the workability of this hare-brained Rwanda scheme. “The deterrent won’t work”, he wrote. How extraordinary then that he is now staking his entire premiership on a scheme that he does not even believe in. How humiliating it must be for him to know that his Back Benchers are pushing him around. They are calling the shots. When all is said and done, what has the Tories’ farcical Rwanda fixation delivered? They have sent three Home Secretaries to Rwanda, but not a single asylum seeker. There has been plenty of pie in the sky, but not a single plane in the sky.

I mentioned earlier the strong contributions from those on the Benches behind me. I was however struggling a bit to understand the logic of the Minister’s point about the information being requested around the costs of the Rwanda plan being somehow commercially sensitive. The Government were all too happy to reveal that they are forking out £500 million on paying the French police to puncture dinghies on the beaches of Calais. The permanent secretary told the Public Affairs Committee that the Rwanda- related costs would be revealed in the accounts in July. Why not just reveal them now? What are they afraid of? Well, they are clearly terrified of admitting that they are blowing £400 million of taxpayer money on this failing scheme. They should ‘fess up and reveal what the real costs are both in terms of what it will cost to fly each individual asylum seeker halfway around the world and what it will cost in terms of processing and related support. We know that it is at least £169,000 per asylum seeker, but can they confirm whether it is even higher—£200,000 or more, as was said earlier? What have they got to hide? Well, perhaps we know what they have to hide—that this Rwanda plan is unaffordable and unworkable. Even if flights take off, they will be about 1% of the 30,000 channel crosses at a maximum. That will not even scratch the surface of the people smugglers’ business model.

Meanwhile, we see that: more than 100,000 asylum cases are unresolved, despite the deceitful nonsense the Prime Minister puts out on social media; nearly 400 hotels are being used for asylum seekers—a number that has gone up not down under this Prime Minister; and 56,000 asylum seekers are languishing in those hotels, costing the taxpayer a staggering £8 million per day.

We need transparency on this. We need transparency around the issue of withdrawn claims. Astonishingly, they make up one third of the recently processed asylum claims that the Prime Minister has been boasting about clearing, yet they have not even been processed properly. As an exercise in the politics of smoke and mirrors, this is surely without parallel. Did the Prime Minister and Home Secretary seriously think that nobody would notice? Did they seriously think that they could pull the wool over the eyes of the British public? What an insult to the intelligence of the electorate. They should come clean to the British public, with a full breakdown of the 35,000 withdrawn claims: who are they; where are they; and are they simply reapplying, or are they drifting away into the underground economy never to be heard of again? Last summer, Craig Mackinlay described that trend as an amnesty by the back door. Is he right? The Minister must come clean on these points.

We need a serious plan. We need the end of these headline-grabbing antics. We need common sense, hard graft and international co-operation, as has been set out in Labour’s five-point plan for the past year. [Laughter.] Conservative Members do not like it, but the fact is that their plan is not working. They need to come clean over these costs. They need to clear this backlog. I urge Members from all parts of the House to support our Humble Address today so that we can begin the long road back to recovery.

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration) 6:53, 9 January 2024

Oh, how much I enjoyed the smile on the shadow Minister’s face as he wound up. I am delighted to have the opportunity to wind up this debate. My only disappointment, perhaps even slight sadness, is that this motion is more about process than it is about substance. On the substance, what we have not heard from those on the Opposition Benches is the cost of not acting. There is the financial cost: the illegal migration costs to the British taxpayer, amounting to billions of pounds a year, including £8 million a day for emergency housing, pressures on public services and more. There is also the human cost, the moral case for our Rwanda policy—I will turn to the speech of my hon. Friend Katherine Fletcher in a few moments—and the compassionate case for our Rwanda policy. How many more lives must be lost in the channel before Opposition parties join us in our mission to end those dangerous journeys?

The Rwanda policy is one part of an intensive and focused strategy for tackling illegal migration. As my hon. Friend Tom Pursglove pointed out, the plan is delivering. Small boat crossings are down by 36%—a reduction that has been achieved even as numbers rise elsewhere in Europe. We know that there is more to do, and the Rwanda policy will give us a powerful tool to complete this mission.

I will turn to some of the Back-Bench contributions, but I will start with the SNP Front-Bench spokesman, Alison Thewliss. I did not disagree with everything she said.

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration)

The hon. Lady threatens to resign, even as I say that. I knew she would be disappointed because I agreed with her on this point: she rightly challenged Labour on what its plan was. She is right to ask those questions, which have been repeated across the House.

My hon. Friend Tim Loughton was absolutely right to set out that this is a complex and challenging issue. There is no lack of robust scrutiny from him, not least during the course of Home Affairs Committee sittings. He rightly pointed out the lack of credibility from Labour—that there is no plan or alternative put forward. I look forward to further scrutiny from him, and he rightly said that the motion is a Labour gimmick and con.

Dame Diana Johnson addressed the substance of the motion and was credited for that by my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Robert Buckland. What she did not set out was what Labour’s plan was in the alternative. My right hon. and learned Friend reminded us that this was a process debate, not a debate of substance. He rightly said that when one does not have much of a policy, one relies on process debates and Humble Addresses—how right he was. This is a global issue, and Labour’s one policy is that even if Rwanda works, it would scrap it. My hon. Friend and neighbour Sir Robert Syms set out his experience, and I treat it very seriously not only because he is my neighbour, but because he is an MP with a port in his constituency. He put it well when he said that the motion is a substitute for having a policy, and how right he was.

I do not have time to delve into each and every one of the interventions by my hon. Friend James Daly. He rightly commented that the debate is a gimmick, but he also set out quite seriously the deterrent effect that is part of our Rwanda scheme. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble set out the fact that some of the most vulnerable people we are talking about are being coerced by criminal gangs. She was right to state both that and the moral case for our policy.

The Government have a plan—this Rwanda plan—for deterring those dangerous journeys, but what again is the Opposition’s plan? They do not have one. Their only reported plan is one that would increase the number of asylum seekers to this country, by allowing them to make claims from other countries. We do not accept that proposition. It would mean taking people from safe countries where they can already seek refuge from persecution, and there is no way that we could accommodate each and every one of those claims. What is the Opposition’s plan?

As we have heard during the course of this debate, Labour has voted against our measures 86 times, but we will not be deterred. We will do right by the decent, law-abiding people of this country, who want and expect secure borders and an effective immigration system. When people with no right to be here know that they will not be able to stay, they will stop coming.

We know the deterrent effect because we have seen it with Albania. A year ago the Prime Minister secured the deal with Albania. Planes took off and more than 5,000 people have been returned to Albania. The deterrent effect has worked and arrivals are down by more than 90%. It has worked with Albania; it will work with Rwanda. Illegal migration costs lives. It costs billions of pounds a year. We need to end it, we will end it and we will stop the boats.

Question put.

Division number 35 Opposition day: cost of the Government's Rwanda plan and administration of the asylum system

Aye: 227 MPs

No: 303 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

Tellers

No: A-Z by last name

Tellers

The House divided: Ayes 228, Noes 304.

Question accordingly negatived.