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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall am 12:17 pm ar 7 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Dan Jarvis Dan Jarvis Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Security) 12:17, 7 Mai 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Stringer. I congratulate Dame Andrea Jenkyns on securing the debate. She mentioned the Leader of the Opposition in her remarks, so I want to gently point out to her that he oversaw the first prosecution of al-Qaeda terrorists as well as the jailing of the airline liquid bomb plotters and of the racist murderers of Stephen Lawrence. Of course, as a lawyer, he has on occasion had to represent people whose views he does not agree with, but I am sure that any fair-minded person would understand that.

I want to briefly acknowledge the contributions made by the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens), as well as by Adam Holloway, who soldiered on despite what sounded like quite a sore throat—I would expect nothing else from him. It is good to see the Minister in his place. As he knows, my hon. Friend Stephen Kinnock would normally speak for the Opposition on these matters, but on this occasion I have been dragged off the subs’ bench.

Today’s debate comes after the costs of the asylum system have skyrocketed, from £500 million a year under the last Labour Government to an eye-watering £5.4 billion a year under this Conservative Government—an almost tenfold increase over the past 14 years. That is before the £576 million being spent on sending 300 asylum seekers to Rwanda—almost £2 million per deportee—is factored in. What is the taxpayer getting in return for those mind-boggling sums of money? The boats are certainly not being stopped: we are seeing record numbers this year, with 8,100 having crossed since 1 January—up 33% on the same period last year. On 1 May alone, we saw a staggering 711 small boat arrivals, as the hon. Member for Morley and Outwood mentioned. That is the highest single-day number this year to date.

The asylum backlog is certainly not being tackled. When Labour left office in 2010, the backlog stood at just 19,000 cases, but today the number stands at over 100,000. The backlog had already doubled before the small boats started coming, in no small part because back in 2013, Ministers decided to downgrade the pay and seniority of asylum decision makers, supposedly to cut costs. The predictable result? Slow decision-making, poor decisions being overturned on appeal, and a higher rate of staff turnover, all of which led to 56,000 people being stuck in hotels and other forms of contingency accommodation as we entered this year. That cost the taxpayer a mind-boggling £8 million a day.

The dangerous channel crossings run by the criminal smuggler gangs must end; I am sure we all agree on that. To stop that pernicious trade, we need to smash those gangs at source. To do that, we on these Benches have proposed a new cross-border police unit and a new security partnership with Europol based on intelligence sharing. That is part of a practical plan paid for by redirecting funds and focus away from the failing Rwanda scheme.

We also need a detailed plan to clear the backlog by surging caseworker recruitment—a plan that will end asylum hotel use and save the taxpayer up to £4 billion each year. That includes a new 1,000 officer-strong returns and enforcement unit to remove those who have no right to be in the UK. Returns of failed asylum seekers have collapsed by 44% under the Conservatives since 2010, and returns of foreign criminals have collapsed by 27% over the same period. Our plan will make sure that applications are processed quickly so that those with no right to be here are quickly returned.

In contrast, the Government strategy has only exacerbated the chaos and increased the cost. Just recently, the Home Office permanent secretary confirmed at a Public Accounts Committee hearing that the Government have defined 40,000 small boat asylum seekers as “inadmissible” to the asylum system, 99% of whom we know will never be sent to Rwanda. In doing so, the Government have created a perma-backlog of people whom they have prevented from being processed and who are therefore stuck in indefinite limbo. The Government claim that they can send those people to Rwanda, but we know that Rwanda can take only a few hundred asylum seekers—around 1% of that 40,000-person perma-backlog. What happens to everybody else? A 99% chance of staying in Britain is pretty good odds for someone prepared to pay thousands of pounds to a smuggler to risk their life at sea or for a human trafficker determined to bring people into the country for modern-day slavery.

The public have a right to know what underpins the extortionately expensive gimmick that is the Government’s asylum plan. Can the Minister share the annual cost to the taxpayer of keeping 40,000 asylum seekers in indefinite limbo in a permanent backlog? The Home Office Minister in the other place confirmed that the British taxpayer will be paying full board and lodgings for five years for those removed voluntarily to Rwanda. How much is that forecast to cost?

The Prime Minister promised to detain everyone who crossed the channel on a small boat—over 30,000 last year. Given that we have only 2,200 detention spaces, what will happen to the remaining 28,000? Staying on the issue of detention spaces, Home Office sources have told The Times that there are only 400 to 700 detention spaces reserved for migrants due for deportation to Rwanda. Can the Minister confirm that that equates to less than 1% of the current asylum backlog in the UK?

If the Minister plans to bail asylum seekers who are to be sent to Rwanda, can he publish his risk assessment on the possibility of asylum seekers absconding en masse to avoid being put on a flight—if one has been commissioned in the first place? That is particularly timely given that a FOI investigation by the Daily Mail found that the Home Office has been unable to locate or contact at least 21,107 asylum seekers in the five years running up to September 2023.

The asylum system is in chaos and costing the taxpayer many more times what it did under the Labour Government of 2010. The Prime Minister has failed to deliver on his pledge to stop the boats and the numbers are going up, not down. The public’s patience is wearing thin, and they see right through the Government’s rhetoric. It is time that the Government faced up to their failing policies and started to show some transparency. The Minister can start that transition today by answering the questions I have put to him.