– in the House of Lords at 3:10 pm on 16th January 2023.
To ask His Majesty’s Government, further to the statement by the Prime Minister on Illegal Immigration on
My Lords, all local authority areas in England, Scotland and Wales became asylum dispersal areas in April 2022, ensuring that pressures are equitably shared across the United Kingdom. All local authorities and strategic migration partnerships have submitted plans indicating intent to participate. Where local authorities are not delivering on plans, accommodation providers will be instructed to procure outside the plans and recommendations. We remain hopeful, however, that, through co-operation, co-production and co-design, alignment can be reached.
I thank the Minister for his Answer. However, some local authorities take more than their fair share of asylum seekers. My question is simply: can they expect some kind of financial reward for that? Some take more than others.
Certainly, when a refugee is assigned to a local authority area, there is a payment to the local authority in relation to that person to defray the costs of the accommodation for that individual.
My Lords, the Question was about local authorities that do not take their fair share. Will my noble friend the Minister enlighten the House on whether he or his department are aware of any local authorities that have refused to take their fair share of asylum seekers?
Since April 2022, when the policy was changed, the department has not noticed that any particular authorities have been backward in coming forward in relation to assisting the department in this regard.
In view of the recent report on PoliticsHome of an asylum-seeking family left in mould-ridden accommodation, and the claim of a local charity that the standard of Home Office asylum-seeker accommodation is often “squalid and unsanitary”, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that all such accommodation meets basic standards of decency?
I thank the noble Baroness for her question. Obviously, asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute can obtain support, including accommodation, under Section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. There is a requirement under Section 96 of that Act that such accommodation should be adequate to the needs of the supported person and their dependants. The courts held in the case of AMA v the Secretary of State last year that a hotel room met the threshold of adequacy, despite the nature of the accommodation being far from ideal. Clearly, it is important that all accommodation provided is adequate and meets the needs of those within it. The department is responsive to complaints of inadequate accommodation; it is a priority for the department to ensure that accommodation is appropriately delivered to those who need it.
My Lords, perhaps I might raise a point that I have raised before with my noble friend. Have serious discussions been entered into with our French friends and neighbours to try to ensure that adequate, sanitary—not luxurious—accommodation is built to a considerable extent on the other side of the channel, and that British officials can process applications there?
Clearly, the arrangements made for asylum seekers within the French Republic are a matter for the French Government. I understand that arrangements are made in accordance with their obligations under the refugee convention. There is no express intention by the French Government to ask us to assist with their discharge of those duties.
My Lords, the Minister said in response to an earlier question that accommodation should be adequate and of a reasonable quality for asylum seekers. Yet we know, from report after report, that that is not the case. Asylum seekers are being housed in very low-quality housing. Three was a report in Inside Housing only last week that described a mother from Nigeria in one-room accommodation with no lock on the door. These are vulnerable people. Asylum accommodation was privatised in 2012. Will the Government change that, so that public sector providers can provide adequate and good accommodation?
Clearly, the coalition policy to allow private providers of accommodation to perform that service is working well, and the Government have no intention of revising that policy.
My Lords, at the end of last year, the Prime Minister pledged more staff to clear the asylum backlog, when it emerged that the Home Office had failed to process 98% of channel crossing cases in the last 12 months. Can the Minister confirm whether recruitment has begun?
Clearly, there was such a commitment. I do not wish to reveal any great secrets, but it is a very high priority for the department and I anticipate that good news will be making its way to this House shortly.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for outlining that distribution is now across all local authority areas. However, for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, it is not just a question of accommodation; there are other support services that they need. So could he confirm whether unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are covered in this national distribution plan?
Clearly, different provisions apply in relation to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, and particular care is taken. Obviously, once a child is allocated to a local authority, the obligations of looking after the child become those of the authority. Clearly, these children are provided with everything that an unaccompanied child would need.
My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister may come to regret his statement that all is working well with accommodation for asylum seekers and refugees. Too many of the stories, even around Afghan and Ukrainian refugees, give us shame: there are people on the streets, and people in totally inadequate accommodation, with their children not able to access school and now requiring mental health treatment. Much of this is because of the poor quality of the accommodation that is available to them. I do not know what the word is—perhaps “compassion”. A little more compassion, and being more in touch with reality, would mean that, at the end of the day, we at least gave human conditions to the humans who want to come and live here.
I disagree with the noble Baroness that there is any want of compassion. Clearly, the asylum system in this country is struggling with very large numbers of people who have come here. We presently have 107,700 people in asylum support, and 50,800 of them are currently awaiting dispersal and are housed in initial and contingency accommodation. That includes some 373 hotels, and some of them are of a very high standard. I simply do not accept the characterisation that the noble Baroness suggested.
My Lords, the Minister says that he is not aware of any local authority that has failed in its duty to provide accommodation. Will he produce a league table with all the local authorities, so that this House and everyone outside it can understand what the real position is, rather than what the Minister claims?
I will consider that proposition, take it back to the department and write to the noble Lord.
My Lords, do the Government recognise the connection between this issue and the points raised by the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham? There is a shortage of private rental accommodation, and that goes back to the shortage of housing. The two need to be thought about together, and steps taken that many noble Lords are suggesting.
The noble Baroness is of course correct.
My Lords, the Minister’s response to my noble friend’s question did not actually mention mould. He mentioned adequacy and quoted the law. However, does he accept—and will he say from the Dispatch Box—that it would never be acceptable for any asylum seeker to be housed in any accommodation in which there was black mould growing, particularly in the light of what we learned recently about the death of a young child in such accommodation?
Clearly, the adequacy of accommodation is clearly a matter of fact and assessment for each accommodation—so that is the answer I give to that question.