The Government passed the Nationality and Borders Bill into law, which will make it harder to tackle people smuggling, and do nothing to either prevent dangerous crossings by small boats in the English Channel or reduce the growing asylum waiting lists which are costing taxpayers £4m per day in hotel Bills.
Labour would reduce the waiting lists by investing a fraction of the money being spent on hotel bills into processing. We’d get replace the Returns Agreements lost by Boris Johnson in his botched Brexit negotiations and make get the safe and legal routes (including for Ukrainians and Afghans) working.
The Government’s threat to send migrants to Rwanda plan has not yet led to a decrease in numbers of refugees crossing the English Channel. Labour views the plan as unworkable, un-British and potentially extortionate to the tax-payer.
Stephen Kinnock: Last week, the Home Secretary told the House that our asylum system is “broken”. Yesterday, her Minister, who is sitting before us today, again stated clearly that our asylum system is “broken”. We on the Labour Benches completely agree, but what Conservative Members seem to continually miss is the fact that the Conservative party has been in power for 12 years. The problem is that they never stand up and take responsibility; they always try to blame others—the civil service, the courts and even the media. It was revealed this week that the Home Secretary banned the Financial Times, The Guardian and the Mirror from the press delegation accompanying her to Rwanda. That was a truly Orwellian move—cancel culture at its worst.
The truth is that, with every decision this Government make and every ill-conceived scheme they put in place, they make fixing our broken asylum system ever harder. The first of these failures is on the asylum waiting lists. Under this Home Secretary, the Home Office is processing 50% fewer cases than five years ago—the result: 37,000 asylum seekers languishing in expensive hotels, costing the taxpayer an eye-watering £4.7 million per day. Labour would invest to save by increasing the number of caseworkers and decision makers so that processing times and hotel bills are radically reduced. [Interruption.]
Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Come on, let us have a bit of reasonable behaviour. I appreciate that it is late, but it is simply rude to shout to such an extent that we cannot hear the hon. Gentleman. It is not reasonable. There is nothing wrong with a bit of banter, but it should not be at such a level that I cannot hear him.
Stephen Kinnock: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
It is in this context that we are supporting Lords amendment 7F today, which would give the 60,000 asylum seekers on waiting lists the right to work, to be reviewed after two years, thereby reducing the burden on the British taxpayer and boosting the Exchequer.
Secondly, during his negotiations with the EU, the Prime Minister completely failed to replace the Dublin III regulation, which means that we can no longer return refugees to the country in the EU where they would have first sought asylum. Numbers have increased because this Conservative Government lost control of our borders by losing our long-held power to send people back.
Jonathan Gullis: The hon. Gentleman says Dublin III is about not returning people back to Europe. Does he not agree that those people—illegal economic migrants—leaving France should just be claiming asylum in France?
Stephen Kinnock: Well, of course, but they are not doing that. The reality is that if we had a returns agreement in place, which this Prime Minister completely failed to negotiate, that would be the deterrent effect that we all want to see. The deterrent effect of a returns agreement would be so much stronger than the threat of being offloaded to Rwanda, because it would mean that every small boat refugee would be returned rather than just a tiny percentage, which is the most we can hope for from the Rwanda deal.
Tim Loughton: Will the hon. Gentleman tell us how many of those asylum seekers who came from France were returned to France in the period before we fully left Brexit?
Stephen Kinnock: I can tell the hon. Gentleman that it will be a hell of a lot more than what will be returned under the Rwanda scheme. He knows that it is forecast that 23,000 people will seek to make that dangerous journey. The Rwanda scheme will not even scratch the surface. That is the reality. The only way to deal with this problem is through a proper removal agreement.
Only the Labour party can reset the UK’s relationship with France and the EU, and from there strike a robust removal agreement that would truly act as a deterrent against the criminal people smugglers by breaking their business model. A Labour Government would also engage with Europol and the French authorities to create effective co-operation in the pursuit and prosecution of the criminal gangs who are running the people smuggling and human trafficking, rather than the constant war of words with our European partners and allies, which is all we ever get from this headline-chasing Government. Cheap headlines are all they care about, as everybody on the Labour Benches knows.
Thirdly, absolutely none of the Government’s safe and legal routes seems to work. The Afghan citizens resettlement scheme is not even off the ground. The Syria route has been ditched. The Dubs scheme for unaccompanied children has also been cancelled. The Ukraine scheme today had a queue three hours long in Portcullis House of MPs’ staffers fighting for Ukrainians on behalf of their constituents, because the visas simply are not getting processed. Somehow, the Home Secretary has managed to turn an inspiring tale of British generosity into a bureaucratic nightmare. Labour would make safe and legal routes work, which in turn would strike another blow against the people smugglers.
Mr Bone: I have a lot of time for the shadow Minister, but he is on a really sticky wicket here. Can he just answer these two questions? Is it the Labour party’s policy that we should not take any migrants to Rwanda? Secondly, is he not then scared that by not doing that it will encourage the evil people smugglers in their work?
Stephen Kinnock: The hon. Gentleman will know that the Home Secretary’s top civil servant has said that the Rwanda scheme will not work as a deterrent and it delivers no value for money whatever for the British taxpayer. What matters is what works, and that scheme will not work.
Jacob Young: The hon. Gentleman explained to me last week that he did not support the Rwanda scheme and he has just reiterated that. I am curious to learn. What is Labour’s plan to deal with illegal immigration in the channel?
Stephen Kinnock: The hon. Gentleman has clearly not been paying attention. I set out Labour’s plan last week. I have just told him about the returns agreement and giving more resources to caseworkers and decision makers. If he would care to listen to the rest of my speech, he may not need to make another meaningless intervention.
Fourthly, in respect of the Government failures that I touched on earlier, the Bill is emblematic of the Home Secretary’s tendency to make the challenges of our asylum seeker system even harder to overcome. She claims that the Rwanda offloading plan will solve the challenges that our immigration system faces, but her Minister for Refugees dismissed the plan as impossible just a week before the announcement, saying:
“If it’s happening in the Home Office, on the same corridor that I’m in, they haven’t told me about it…I’m having difficulty enough getting them from Ukraine to our country. There’s no possibility of sending them to Rwanda.”
Up and down the country, the British people are counting the cost of this Government—£4 billion of failed or overrunning defence contracts under this Prime Minister since 2019 alone; £16 billion of covid fraud; and a £7-a-year increase on energy bills without any meaningful support whatsoever—and now British taxpayers are told that they have to foot the bill for this pie-in-the-sky Rwanda plan, which will cost at least three times the amount we currently spend on asylum seekers, and possibly even 10 times more.
Kim Leadbeater: Does my hon. Friend agree that the proposal to ship asylum seekers to Rwanda is not only extremely expensive but almost certainly ineffective? It is also inhumane. The evidence from Australia shows that offshore detention often has a massive impact on the mental health of people who are already vulnerable, and can lead to self-harm and suicide if no adequate support services are available. How can we, as a fair-minded and generous nation, stoop to this?
Stephen Kinnock: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As we know, the Australia scheme ended up costing approximately £1 million per person. The Israel scheme on which the Rwanda scheme is based failed completely, with just about every single person who was sent to Rwanda leaving the country within days and many of them trying to come back to the place from which they were sent. It is an absolute farce.
Tom Pursglove: It would be useful, for the benefit of the House and of the country more generally, if the hon. Gentleman could confirm whether an incoming Labour Government—in the eventuality that there were to be one—would cancel the Rwanda plan?
Stephen Kinnock: What I would contend—[Interruption.] I am going to tell him. What I would contend is that with the Rwanda plan the wheels are going to fall off the bus very soon, so we will not need to answer that question. It will completely fail. Rather than chasing headlines, the Minister should be doing the nitty-gritty work of negotiating a returns agreement, giving resources to caseworkers and sorting out safe and legal routes. It is about not the razzle-dazzle of Daily Mail headlines but getting the job done.
At Home Office oral questions yesterday, the Minister could not answer a single question that I asked him about the cost of the Rwanda plan. I asked him: how many refugees does he expect to send to Rwanda each year? The Prime Minister says “tens of thousands”; is that correct? What will the cost be per single refugee going to Rwanda? What will the £120 million sweetener being paid by the UK to Rwanda actually be spent on? How many asylum seekers can Rwanda’s detention centres house at any given time? Finally, given that the top civil servant at the Home Office refused to sign off on the Rwanda plan, citing concerns over value for money, when will the Minister publish a full forecast of the costs?
Mr Richard Holden: The hon. Gentleman has outlined his opposition to the Government’s proposal, but will he confirm, in answer to the Minister’s question, whether an incoming Labour Government would cancel the plan or go ahead with it?
Stephen Kinnock: We have made it absolutely clear that the plan is going to fail, as the Home Office’s top civil servant said, so the question will not arise. We will not need to deal with it; the wheels will fall off the bus. We certainly would not be spending £120 million on a press release.
The Rwanda offloading plan is not only a grotesquely expensive gimmick that is unlikely to deter people smugglers in the long-term, but deeply un-British. Dumping this challenge on a developing country 4,000 miles away, with a questionable record on human rights, raises serious concerns about whether this legislation complies with the UN refugee convention. That is why we will back Lords amendment 5D.
Another deeply un-British part of the Bill was the idea that the rubber dinghies could be pushed back out to sea. Yesterday, we witnessed the Home Secretary’s latest screeching U-turn—this time reversing a particularly unhinged part of the legislation. The Home Secretary’s pushback policy was almost completely unworkable, as she was told by the Border Force, by the French, by the Ministry of Defence and even by her own lawyers. As we learned from court documents published yesterday, she had actually agreed that pushbacks could not be applied to asylum seekers in the channel, but she tried to keep that secret so that she could keep up the bravado and tough talking. We hope that she will correct the record.
I have already pointed out—
Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I want to let the House calm down for a moment. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, who is an experienced and efficient Member of this House, will know that he should not be making a general speech at this stage; this is not Second Reading. This debate is very narrow: we are discussing only the amendments that have just come back from the Lords, not general issues. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will now stick to the narrow matter before us—and so will everybody else.
Stephen Kinnock: Thank you for your wise counsel, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I have already pointed to the work and refugee convention amendments, but we also need to address differential treatment. Lords amendments 6D, 6E and 6F provide that a person can be a tier 1 refugee if they have travelled briefly through countries on their way to the UK, as somebody from Kabul or Kyiv would have to, or if they have delayed presenting themselves to the authorities for a good reason. They would also require compliance with the refugee convention and state that family unity must be taken into account. The Government should get behind the amendments. What in them can there possibly be to disagree with?
The channel crossings have been taken out of the Home Secretary’s hands and handed to the Ministry of Defence and the Royal Navy. The Ukrainian refugee scheme has been handed over to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. This Sunday, the former director general of borders and immigration called for a new immigration Department to remove responsibility from the Home Office. With her Department now effectively in special measures, will the Home Secretary not just for once do the right thing and accept the amendments today, so that we can begin to repair some of the damage done by this deeply counterproductive legislation?