Rwanda Treaty - Private Notice Question

– in the House of Lords at 1:50 pm on 8 December 2023.

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Lord Collins of Highbury:

Asked by Lord Collins of Highbury

To ask His Majesty’s Government what additional costs they expect to be incurred as a result of this week’s signing of a treaty to facilitate the removal of migrants to Rwanda.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, the Government of Rwanda did not ask for money to sign the treaty, nor did we offer any. Costs and payment will depend on the numbers of people relocated, timing of when it occurs and outcomes of individual cases. Spending on the migration and economic development partnership will be disclosed in the annual Home Office accounts.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, yesterday, my noble friend Lord Liddle asked what is the present capacity of Rwanda to take asylum seekers. The Minister said that the Government do know that number but that he did not. Please will he tell us today what the Government know? In April 2022, when the economic transformation and integration fund was established, it was clearly part of the refugee scheme. The announce-ment then also said that the United Kingdom is funding the processing costs for each person relocated, saying that we anticipated the amount would be comparable to processing costs incurred in the United Kingdom. So what are the anticipated costs now, in the light of the provisions of the treaty, which changes fundamentally the original scheme? Why, for three financial years, under three Home Secretaries, have the Government been committing money to a scheme that has not seen a single asylum seeker sent to Rwanda, and which will see the United Kingdom accepting people in return? This Parliament deserves very clear answers from the Minister.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right: I was unable to answer that question yesterday, for which I apologise. To answer the noble Lord, Liddle, the Court of Appeal said there was evidence of only 100 places in the initial accommodation. Its assessment was based on evidence up to the summer of 2022. Since then, additional capacity has been added, but the exact number is immaterial because the scheme is uncapped, as I did say yesterday. Capacity will continue to be added as required. When claims are settled, people will move out of the accommodation. Finally, when the scheme works, and deters people from making illegal and dangerous channel crossings, we will need fewer places.

Yesterday, as noble Lords will be aware, the Permanent Secretary sent a letter to the Home Affairs Select Committee to disclose a further payment made to the Government of Rwanda through the migration and economic development partnership. This disclosed that a further £100 million had been paid in April as part of the ETIF. The letter also set out that, in the year 2024-25, we anticipate another payment of £50 million, in April 2024, again as part of the ETIF, as agreed with the Government of Rwanda when the migration and economic development partnership was signed. This brings the total spend so far to £240 million. The split is as follows: the initial investment of £120 million into the ETIF, a further £100 million into the ETIF, which was disclosed yesterday, and a separate payment of £20 million to the Government of Rwanda in advance of flights to support initial set-up costs of the asylum processing arrangements under the MEDP.

Photo of Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Labour

My Lords, the International Agreements Committee will be scrutinising the new treaty. Will the Minister make sure that it has all the information it needs when it does that, including whether the treaty allows for any clawback of either unspent or unused money?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, the Government have already committed to appropriate scrutiny of the treaty. I will take back the noble Baroness’s points about clawback as I do not know the answer.

Photo of Lord Bailey of Paddington Lord Bailey of Paddington Conservative

My Lords, there has been a great deal of focus on the cost of the partnership. Can the Minister please tell me how much money has been spent on housing asylum seekers in hotels and what the overall cost to the taxpayer is of the immigration system?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My noble friend makes a good point. Those focusing solely on the costs of the partnership are somewhat missing the point. The simple fact of the matter is that the daily cost of hotels for migrants is now £8 million. The cost of the UK’s asylum system has roughly doubled in the past year and now stands at nearly £4 billion. So the payments so far made to Rwanda represent about 30 days’ hotel costs. The criminal smuggling gangs are continuing to turn a profit using small boats. We have to bring an end to this. When this plan succeeds, as I think it will, I think British taxpayers will acknowledge that it represents good value for money.

Photo of The Bishop of Chelmsford The Bishop of Chelmsford Bishop

My Lords, will the monitoring committee, as outlined in the economic development partnership and now the treaty, review how funds have been allocated by the Rwandan authorities towards meeting the needs of refugees?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The treaty enhances the role of the independent monitoring committee. It will ensure that obligations under the treaty are adhered to in practice and will be able to take steps to prevent errors at an early stage. It will have the power to set its own priority areas for monitoring and will have unfettered access for the purposes of completing assessments and reports that will monitor the entire relocation process from the beginning, including screening, to relocation and settlement in Rwanda. It will be responsible for developing a system to enable relocated individuals and legal representatives to lodge confidential complaints direct to the committee and it will undertake real-time monitoring of the partnership for at least the first three months. There is plenty of scope in there for it to get involved in everything.

Photo of Baroness Taylor of Bolton Baroness Taylor of Bolton Labour

Will the Minister acknowledge and confirm that Home Office officials insisted on a letter of direction on this matter because they did not consider that this would be value for money? Can the Minister also tell the House why the Government are not devoting resources of this size to tackling the criminal gangs that are so cruel in bringing people in in such a dangerous way?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

On the noble Baroness’s second point, the Government are devoting considerable resources to tackling the criminal gangs, as has been well established from the Dispatch Box in many previous debates. As regards the letter that was sent yesterday, I am sure the noble Baroness will recall that the Permanent Secretary appeared before HASC and the Public Accounts Committee on 29 November and 4 December. They asked about payments that the UK had made and he explained at that point that payments in the 2023-24 financial year would be announced in our annual report and accounts next summer, for reasons of balancing the public interest. Since then, Ministers have agreed that Sir Matthew can now disclose the payments for this financial year. That is what happened.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, we all completely condemn these terrible criminals, but how many have been apprehended?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, I do not know the answer to that. Part of the reason that I do not know the answer is that so much of this activity takes place on foreign shores.

Photo of Viscount Waverley Viscount Waverley Crossbench

My Lords, beyond costs and criminal gangs, may I ask for clarity following my question yesterday and the Minister’s response? Have the Government fulfilled all extradition requests by the Government of Rwanda on matters relating to genocide and war crimes—and if not, why not? Or is there a reticence by HMG to do so, and if so, why?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will have to write to the noble Viscount about extradition requests. I do not know the answer.

Photo of Lord Watson of Invergowrie Lord Watson of Invergowrie Labour

My Lords, the Minister said the funding of this ill-considered and, I think we will find, ill-fated scheme is coming from the Economic Transformation and Integration Fund. It is not clear who or what will be economically transformed or who or what will be integrated. Can he say how much of that funding will be taken from the overseas development aid fund?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The money is actually going to the ETIF, which is responsible for the economic growth and development of Rwanda. Investment so far has been focused on areas such as education, healthcare, agriculture, infrastructure and job creation. I am pleased to be able to reassure the noble Lord that none of it came from ODA.

Photo of Baroness Henig Baroness Henig Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, can I just ask about the deterrent aspect of this issue? By my calculations, more than 30,000 refugees are coming per year and so far we have heard today that something like 100 will be going back. Now, my maths is not wonderful, but that to me is less than 1%. Why does the Minister believe that will be a deterrent for anybody fleeing war or imprisonment? Following on from that, does the Minister not agree that in terms of value for money—I know that he is very much in favour of value for money—it would be a far more effective use of that money to help the poorest through the coming winter?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

In answer to the noble Baroness’s first question, I say that the deterrent effect is already working; arrivals this year are down by around 30%, as my right honourable friend the Home Secretary noted the other day. As regards value for money, the point of this is to stop the boats. As I said in answer to my noble friend, hotel accommodation is costing the taxpayer £8 million a day. How is that value for money?

Photo of Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top Labour

My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister will reflect on what he has just said. The Prime Minister said that the reduction in the numbers crossing by boat was mainly because of the deal with Albania, not the other countries that we are now dealing with. Will he return to my noble friend’s question about numbers? The Rwandan Government have said that the total they can cope with is 200. Put that against the 30,000 to 40,000 who are coming in boats: it is a very small percentage, and will not therefore reduce the amount of money spent here to address the issue. It really is disingenuous to try to tell us and others that it will be all right, and we will not have that expense here because people will go to Rwanda, and we have covered that. It simply is not going to happen that way.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, in answer to the first part of the question, of course the Albanian returns agreement is a factor in this. No one is denying that or trying to claim otherwise. I think the number of Albanians we have sent back to Albania is 5,000 so far this year—I cannot remember the precise detail. As I keep saying from the Dispatch Box, and will have to keep repeating as it is the true answer, the numbers in this scheme are uncapped.

Photo of Lord Hacking Lord Hacking Labour

My Lords, if I can just come back again on the issue of money, I have a figure in front of me of £240 million and then £60 million, and that is the Rwanda policy. The Minister rightly draws attention to the daily cost of those kept in various facilities, including hotels—I think he said it was £8 million per day—but the execution of the Rwanda policy will not remove that. There will still be indigenous costs of looking after the migrants who remain here. One has to be worried that so much money is being spent in the direction of the Rwanda policy; there is so much need for money to be used elsewhere—in the National Health Service, in schools and so forth. Therefore, it must be a great worry to all of us that so much money is going in the direction of the Rwanda policy.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

What is a great worry to the Government is that the costs of the migration system, as I mentioned earlier in answer to my noble friend, have doubled to £4 billion this year. As the noble Lord has just rightly referenced, we are spending £8 million a day on hotels. That is clearly unsustainable and I do not think it represents value for money.

Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Shadow Chief Whip (Lords), Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Taylor asked the Minister a simple question: have Ministers been required to issue letters of direction to instruct civil servants to proceed with this, because of the issues with this scheme? The answer is either that, yes, they have, or no, they have not. Which is it?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The answer is that I do not know. I will have to write to the noble Lord.

Photo of Lord Davies of Brixton Lord Davies of Brixton Labour

My Lords, for those who are a bit slow with their arithmetic, £8 million a day is £3 billion a year, added to the cost of the policy itself. Is it not clear that it would be better to spend that money on clearing the backlog and dealing promptly with arrivals? That would be a real deterrent. This leads to the suspicion, which the Minister can confirm or deny as he wishes, that the Government do not want these cases assessed because so many of them would be accepted.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

That is an interesting conclusion to draw. The simple fact is that we are also clearing the backlog; as noble Lords know, the commitment is to clear it by the end of this year. If we stopped spending the £8 million a day on hotel costs, what would the noble Lord suggest we do with those who are seeking asylum?

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

My Lords, how many British Government officials will be sent to Rwanda to process these people, and what is the cost of that? And if the asylum seekers are granted asylum, are they paid a fare to come back or are they told to get back on their own?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, the point of the scheme is that if they are granted asylum then they stay in Rwanda. As for the precise costs of the officials who will be based in Rwanda, I do not have those figures yet, but as soon as I do I will make sure the House is aware of them.

House adjourned at 2.06 pm.