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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall am 12:25 pm ar 7 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery) 12:25, 7 Mai 2024

Again, the point about flow speaks for itself. The current volume of people coming to the United Kingdom, particularly via small boats, is unsustainable. The very best way of tackling the challenge that the hon. Member highlights is to dramatically reduce the numbers of people coming here through those illegal routes. That will help to alleviate the challenges. In the interim, we also need to continue to work constructively with local authorities to try to mitigate the pressures.

One of the things on which I would appreciate some support—the hon. Member and I have had this conversation—is what more other Scottish local authorities can do to play their part to a greater extent in the national effort to provide dispersed accommodation. I pay tribute to Glasgow for the work that it does in this space; it has very much stepped up to the plate and is supportive around the challenges. We also talked about some of the initiatives that we are introducing around, for example, Home Office liaison officer support, which was successful in supporting people with the move-on process in relation to the Afghan response. Having been piloted in other parts of the country, that is now being rolled out in Glasgow as well, and the early indications are encouraging. I want to work with the hon. Gentleman, colleagues across the House and the local authority to understand what works and how they can help as part of the local response when it comes to moving people on from Home Office accommodation, particularly when people are granted asylum, to ensure that they get the proper support and have the best possible chance to have successful lives, with housing, work and school places for any children.

A lot is said about the co-operation with the French, but it is a fact that roughly 50% of embarkations are stopped—prevented—through those partnership efforts. That is not insignificant. If we consider the counterfactual, we would have many more arrivals on UK shores were it not for that co-operation. It clearly plays an important role in helping to tackle this challenge.

More generally, we all recognise that illegal migration is a global challenge demanding global solutions, and the British people expect us to pull every possible lever in dealing with illegal migration. That is why we have taken steps to significantly ramp up our co-operation internationally. In March 2023, the Prime Minister and President Macron announced a three-year funding deal of £475 million to increase the deployment of personnel in northern France, to procure and deploy new technology and to enhance UK-French co-operation through the improved co-ordination and command of a personnel centre in northern France, and improved information sharing between our services.

My hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood asked about that point. She will recognise that I am somewhat limited in what I am able to say, for obvious reasons. We do not want to do anything that helps those criminal gangs to circumvent that work. However, the deal is being implemented at pace. More French personnel than ever before are now deployed in northern France, supported by cutting-edge equipment such as new drones that can be flown over an increased range. In addition, a new French zonal co-ordination centre is being established to co-ordinate French deployments, with UK officers permanently embedded in the new centre.

Our close co-operation, including that new deal, has been crucial in preventing dangerous crossings from being attempted. Last year, the number of crossings fell by 36% compared with 2022. We know that we must go further this year to continue that trend, but tackling the global migration crisis and smashing the evil gangs who drive it are challenges that must be met with a shared response further upstream, as well as at our closest borders.

As such, we recently pledged up to £1 million to tackle illegal migration in Libya, amid record arrivals into Europe from north Africa. This money will support survivors of trafficking and migrants in vulnerable situations, while also helping to prevent journeys to Europe by tackling the root causes of irregular migration, facilitating the voluntary return of migrants to their home countries and providing reintegration assistance for migrants who choose to return to their countries of origin. The funding and support we are providing will mean Libya is better equipped to stop people risking their lives to reach Europe. It also demonstrates our commitment to crack down on people smugglers operating not just in the English channel, but across the whole world.

In addition, the UK is participating in the Rome process, working with the Italian Government on upstream projects on the migration route to address the root causes of migration. In support of that process, the UK is co-funding a project to promote and assist the voluntary return of migrants from Tunisia to their countries of origin. It has also been agreed to deepen UK-Italy co-operation on security and economic development across north Africa.

Again, it is right that we keep a close eye on the costs of our international partnerships and agreements, but I would strongly dispute any suggestion that this work is in any way unproductive or superfluous. On the contrary, it is essential that the United Kingdom plays an active role in the global response to this issue. The more effectively we can intervene at our near borders and, as importantly, upstream in countries such as Libya, the better protected the United Kingdom will be against illegal migration and the gangs that fuel it. I hope that gives a bit of flavour on the work that is going on now.

We have also increased dramatically the number of returns of individuals who have no right to be here, to 26,000 in 2023 compared with 14,623 in 2022. We will sustain that progress.