Illegal Immigration: Costs — [Graham Stringer in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall am 12:05 pm ar 7 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration) 12:05, 7 Mai 2024

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Stringer. I remember that the last time we had a debate similar to this, it was chaired by the great Sir David Amess, whom we all miss in this House. In that particular debate, I was the voice of reason against many Conservative Back Benchers as they gave a description of the immigration system that, frankly, I do not recognise. While I congratulate Dame Andrea Jenkyns on securing this debate, I am afraid I do not recognise much of what she said at all.

I do not recognise the notion that Immigration Ministers, past and present, are some sort of lily-livered liberals—that has just not been my experience. I certainly did not like the references to Home Office staff being soft touches and the criticisms of them, I am afraid. I am going to defend Home Office staff for the work they do; I have always found them firm and fair. They have a regular weekly telephone call with the constituency office of Glasgow South West, as they do with other Members of Parliament, to discuss cases. Ministers have put in place a system for Members of the House to raise these sorts of cases and to ask which cases should go where, and to raise any concerns we have—I will be mentioning one such case today—directly with Ministers.

I take the view that no human being is illegal, so the discourse of the debate on immigration concerns me on occasion. Last week, I had the great privilege of chairing the annual general meeting of the Showing Racism the Red Card all-party parliamentary group, where a number of children from London, Nottingham and other places described the importance of having antiracism education in our education systems across these islands. I think that Members of this House could learn from some of that education. Perhaps we should have Show Racism the Red Card come into these debates to explain in simple terms the difference between an asylum seeker, a refugee and an economic migrant, because there are occasions in which those who are seeking sanctuary on these islands are referred to as “illegal” or “migrants”, which is a charge that I think is completely and utterly unfair. I do not like the phrase “illegal immigration”. If we close off all the legal and safe routes to arrive in the United Kingdom, we cannot then complain that someone who is genuinely seeking sanctuary has to find another route.

What I find most troubling of all is the fact that the whole discourse of the debate is always focused on the exploited, and not the exploiter. There has to be more of a discussion about how we tackle the gangmasters and the criminal gangs. We spent months discussing the Rwanda policy and the Rwanda Act, but there was nothing in that legislation about tackling gangmasters and criminal gangs. That, I think, is the source of the problem. Indeed, I know that it is the source of the problem, because I have a constituent in Glasgow who was told that he was going to be sent to Canada and thought he was going to arrive there—but he ended up in Glasgow. There are huge, great links between the two great nations of Scotland and Canada, but that case tells us that there are people—gangmasters and criminal gangs—that are at it here. We need to focus on them a lot more in this debate, not on those who are seeking sanctuary to be with their families. Many of those arriving on our shores already have family across these islands.

As the small boats continue, we must question the entire asylum system on both value for money and effectiveness. I want to raise some issues in the debate, some of which I have raised before with the Minister. He could have predicted some of them. One is asylum accommodation.

I have great difficulty with the nonsensical position in which hotels, barges and military sites are used for asylum accommodation. As the Minister knows, I had a meeting with him a couple of weeks ago, along with my hon. Friend Patrick Grady, in which we said that we need to think about these issues a lot more. We also said that we need to think about what happens when the backlog is cleared and thousands of people are given refugee status at the same time, as well as about what that means for local authorities.

We need to encourage local authorities to take more of the people who seek sanctuary in these islands, but the Home Office needs to do more to negotiate with local authorities. The Home Office cannot just tell a local authority to take more on when that authority will reply, “Well, that’s fine. Tell us what money we are getting, because we will need to think through what that means for our health and social care system, our education system, and all of that”.

I am afraid that there is still a legacy backlog; I know that there is. We were told that every person who had submitted a claim before 28 June 2022 had received a decision. I know for a fact that that is not the case and I will raise that point later.

I have another question for the Minister. I do not expect him to have this figure in front of him right now, but perhaps he could send it to us. We know that on occasion taxi companies are transporting asylum seekers all over these islands. Last week, for example, a family based in a Glasgow airport hotel were transported from Glasgow to Bradford. When they arrived for their interview, they were simply told, “You’re being moved to Bradford.” That leads to a taxi cost; they were put in a Glasgow taxi and taken to Bradford. That has to have an effect on the taxpayer, as the hon. Member for Morley and Outwood said.

I would like to know how much the Home Office is paying taxi companies to transport asylum seekers across these islands—from Glasgow to Bradford, from Glasgow to Manchester, or from wherever to wherever—because it is nonsensical. If asylum seekers based in Glasgow are being transported all over the UK, sometimes at a moment’s notice? I would like an answer to that question and I hope that the Minister will commit to writing to all of us who have contributed to this debate today to tell us what that cost actually is.

I want to raise the issue, raised by the hon. Member for Morley and Outwood, of the gimmick that is the Rwanda policy. I have to say that if I were a member of a political party that had contested the local elections last week, I would have objected to the PR stunt that we saw last week of that Home Office video of people being transported into detention just days before the polls opened in some parts of the UK. I hope that Labour colleagues and others are checking the purdah rules regarding that publicity stunt.

I have asked the Minister’s Department why a constituent of mine in Glasgow South West was detained last week, because the Home Office’s own guidance says that those who submitted a claim before 28 June 2022 will be dealt with as a legacy claim. That individual should have had a decision on 31 December 2023 under the Government’s own policy. He did not; he has not had a decision at all, negative or positive. He arrived for his standard interview last Tuesday to be met by eight police officers, who bundled him into a police van. He was then bundled into an immigration van—a Home Office van—and taken to Colnbrook, and he was told that he is being detained. He has family here.

I would like to know from the Minister why those with a legacy claim who have been waiting years on a decision are now being told they are being transported to Rwanda, because that is not the guidance that MPs are getting from the Home Office. When I raised this with one of the Parliamentary Private Secretaries, they sent me the guidance, which said that that should not be the case. I have serious questions about the application of the policy. People are waiting years on decisions— I at least agree with the hon. Member for Morley and Outwood on that front—and it is taking too long. I would like to see more staff employed at the Home Office, if that is what it takes.

I object to the hon. Lady’s description of the civil service, and I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as chair of the Public and Commercial Services Union parliamentary group. The trade unions are absolutely correct and have a duty to their members if they think that a piece of legislation breaks human rights or international law.

Incidentally, I do not share the view that the whole legal profession is somehow left-wing and Marxist; if only that were true, perhaps the legal profession would be in a better place. I completely reject that view on behalf of the legal professional. There are very good lawyers out there and tarring them with the brush that they are somehow Marxist is extraordinary—listening to the debate, anyone would think that when the judge rises, the first two verses of “Bandiera Rossa” are sung in court. I leave that vision with the Opposition Front-Bench spokesperson, Dan Jarvis, who is perhaps thinking about it.

In all seriousness, trade unions have the right to take an issue to court on behalf of their members. And when the Home Office tells them that it will send civil servants to Rwanda to work, they also have the right to have discussions about the consequences of that for lives and jobs.

We need a sensible immigration policy built on dignity that allows genuine cases to come here to share with their families and gives them the right to work after six months. The Government are, in fairness to them, going some way on that, with their shortage occupation list, and I would want to see that built on. We need fairness and sensible policies on immigration.