Home Secretary, James Cleverly MP, answers MPs’ questions to the Home Office.
Asylum Application Backlog
1. What recent progress he has made on reducing the backlog of asylum applications. (900913)
15. What steps he is taking to reduce the backlog of asylum applications. (900927)
Last year we cleared the equivalent of 90,000 legacy claims and processed a total of more than 112,000 claims—the largest volume in two decades. The total asylum backlog is now at its lowest point since December 2022. The improvement of processes continues, and we will continue to review and improve them to accelerate the decision making from hereon in.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for that update, but there are still four hotels in and around Warrington housing asylum seekers. Will he give us an update on the closing of hotels, and will he also tell us what steps he is taking to speed up the processing of refugees when they are in hotels awaiting the outcome of their claims?
My hon. Friend made an important link between the speed of asylum processing and the need for asylum accommodation in various forms, including hotels. We are moving away from using hotels as that type of accommodation, thus reducing the cost to the public purse, and we will maintain recruitment levels and improve processes so that the speed of processing that we are seeing now can be continued. Although I cannot make commitments about the specific hotels in my hon. Friend’s constituency, he should rest assured that we are seeking to drive down the number of hotels on which we rely.
My constituent arrived in the UK 15 months ago and was interviewed, but has been waiting for more than a year to receive a final response. He is not alone: according to the Refugee Council, 33,085 asylum cases have been lodged in the last six months alone, putting ever more strain on a broken system. The Home Secretary said that the legacy backlog was going down, but what about those more recent cases? What is being done to deal with them?
The improved processes and the increased number of Home Office officials working on this issue mean that not only the legacy cases but the current ones will be dealt with more quickly, which will reduce the need for asylum accommodation of all types. I cannot comment on individual cases because the circumstances are different in each one, but the hon. Lady should rest assured that the lessons we have learned about the increased speed of processing will benefit those who are already in the system. Of course, we are also determined to drive down the number of people who come here in the first place, reducing the pressure on our asylum processing system in doing so.
I call the shadow Minister.
The shambolic incompetence of this Government across every aspect of its disgraceful mismanagement of our country’s asylum system knows no bounds, but today I will highlight a particularly egregious example. We already knew that the number of removals of asylum seekers whose claims had been rejected had collapsed by 50% since Labour left office in 2010, but over the weekend it emerged that the Home Office had lost contact with an astonishing 85% of the 5,000 people who have been identified for removal to Rwanda. Where on earth are those 4,250 asylum seekers who have gone missing?
Will the Home Secretary drop all the smoke and mirrors and acknowledge that the Rwanda plan is just an extortionately expensive and unworkable distraction? When will he adopt Labour’s plan to recruit 1,000 additional immigration enforcement officers to a new returns unit, so that we can have a system that is based on common sense—
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
No, it is not “thank you”. I have to get a lot of people in and this is totally unfair. The question was very, very long, and I was coughing to get the hon. Gentleman to stop, not to continue. That is the signal we need to understand. If the hon. Gentleman does not want a particular Back Bencher to get in, I ask him please to point them out, because this is giving me that problem.
The mask has slipped. The Labour party has said that even if the Rwanda scheme were to be successful, it would not keep it. That shows what Labour Members really think about this. They have no plan, they have no commitment, and they have even said that if something was working they would scrap it. [Interruption.]
7. What steps he is taking to reduce legal migration. (900919)
11. What steps he is taking to reduce net migration. (900923)
23. What steps he is taking to reduce net migration. (900935)
On 4 December, I announced a new package of measures to further reduce legal net migration, including limitations on family dependants being brought in by workers and students, creating a salary threshold and raising the minimum income requirement progressively over the next few years.
My right hon. Friend will know that the net migration figure of over 700,000 is completely unsustainable. Were it to continue, that would represent the creation of 10 new parliamentary constituencies each year. What co-operation does his Department have with the public services that have to meet the demands from the newcomers?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we must be conscious of the impact of the level of net migration on local populations and local authorities. We recognise that the figure is too high and we are taking action to bring it down. We work closely with other Government Departments to deliver on that, but while Opposition Front Benchers criticise the headline figures, they also oppose every single step we take to bring that figure down.
I commend my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my hon. Friend the Minister for Legal Migration and the Border for all their work towards delivering on our manifesto commitment to reduce net migration. My constituents are now looking for the results of all their hard work. Will the Home Secretary outline how his new legal migration package will make the most of our post-Brexit points-based immigration system?
This country has always had a global outlook: the ethnic composition of the Government at the most senior levels is a direct reflection of our global connectivity and those human bridges across the world. We want to ensure this country is able to benefit from the expertise, knowledge and work of the brightest and best from around the whole world in a manner that is controlled, fair, predictable and well enforced.
It is good that the Government want to ensure that the brightest and best can continue to come to the UK to study, but does my right hon. Friend recognise that the changes to the family dependant rules for students risk causing enormous damage to some of our elite business schools, which compete in the global marketplace for experienced, outstanding professionals? What work is he doing with the sector to try to overcome some of those challenges?
My right hon. Friend is right to highlight the fact that we are in a globally competitive environment when it comes to this country’s quality higher education postgraduate offer. I have no doubt that we are still highly competitive. We will continue to work with the university sector on this and ensure that the people we bring to the UK are here to study and add value, and that no institution in our higher education sector mistakes its role—they are educators, not a back-door visa system.
I beg the Home Secretary to spread those more enlightened views to some of his colleagues. Migration should not be a dirty word. I am the son of a migrant. I migrated myself to the United States at one stage. My DNA tells me that I am 34% Irish and 32% Swedish. Can every Member of this Parliament have their DNA published so that we can bring some sense to this discussion about migration?
I am not sure that the Government are able to compel such widespread disclosure—perhaps the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority might have a view on such things. Both sides of my family are of immigrant stock: my mother came to the UK in the 1960s, and my father’s family in 1066. This country has benefited from controlled immigration in a fair system, where people who play by the rules are rewarded and we say no to those who refuse to play by the rules.
I am a legal migrant, too. Bath has a vibrant hospitality industry that caters for local people and tourists from all over the world, but many of our hotels, restaurants, bars and pubs are already struggling to find enough staff or are under threat of reduced working hours and closure. How will the Home Secretary ensure that the proposed new salary thresholds and measures to reduce legal migration do not worsen those staff shortages?
We liaise very closely with other Government Departments to ensure that our system, which is transparent and fair, also supports the British economy. We work particularly closely with the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that those who have talent and ambition but who, for whatever reason, are currently unable to fully engage in the job market are enabled to do so. I myself have a background in the hospitality industry, and we want that industry to continue to thrive. It is not the case that we should automatically rely on overseas labour for that; we can have home-grown talent as well.
The Home Secretary talked about people coming to UK universities to study. Many people also come to our universities to carry out ground-breaking and economically important research, and they are worried about the rise in the minimum income thresholds, because that means they will be unable to bring their families with them. What assessment has he made of the impact of the new changes on our universities’ important research work?
We recognise the contribution of the international pool of talent. Indeed, when I was Foreign Secretary I signed up to a deal with India for talented postgraduates to exchange experience in our respective countries. We will always look to support the genuine draw on talent, but we will also ensure that the higher education system is not used as a back-door means of immigration. The system is about research and education, not a back-door means of getting permanent residence in this country.
8. What recent assessment his Department has made of the adequacy of neighbourhood policing levels. (900920)
Giving the police the resources they need to police local communities and fight crime remains a Government priority. We have delivered on our commitment to recruit 20,000 additional police officers; indeed, we have surpassed that. Decisions about how they are deployed are, of course, a matter for discussion between chief constables, police and crime commissioners, and mayors, who are responsible for their local communities.
The legacy of Government cuts has left police forces across England and Wales with a £3.2 billion cash shortfall, and 6,000 officers have now been taken away from frontline policing duties in order to fill the roles of former police staff. Can the Home Secretary start to acknowledge the effect of Tory cuts? How will he rectify that and get more frontline police back into our neighbourhoods across the United Kingdom?
As I said, decisions on how a police force balances its important back-office roles and frontline policing roles are rightly decisions for the chief constable. We have given additional resource, and we have delivered on our commitment to have more police officers. Of course we are looking at police funding formulas to ensure that they remain well resourced, but there are more than 20,000—in fact, 20,947—additional police officers in England and Wales. That will ensure that there are more police on the frontline.
I call the shadow Minister.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) said, to this day we are feeling the devastating impact of the Tories’ decision to cut 20,000 police officers. Ministers such as the Home Secretary seem to expect credit for desperately trying to reverse it, but the National Police Chiefs’ Council was right that the efforts at reversal have moored 6,000 warranted officers in roles traditionally filled by civilians. Again, we have heard from the Home Secretary that we have never had it so good, but there are still 10,000 fewer neighbourhood police. Why will the Government not match our commitment to get 13,000 more police officers and police community support officers out on the beat?
Unless Labour has a plan for paying for those figures, it is just empty rhetoric. The simple truth is that there are record numbers of officers in police forces across the country, including Essex Police, which I visited this morning—it has never had more police officers than it has currently. It is right that chief constables decide how to deploy those police officers. Again, unless we hear a plan to pay for those additional officers, I will not trust Labour’s figures.
13. What recent progress his Department has made on reducing neighbourhood crime. (900925)
16. What recent progress his Department has made on reducing neighbourhood crime. (900928)
This Government recognise the impact of neighbourhood crime. It is the crime that most affects people’s confidence—the confidence of individuals, businesses and communities. The strategic response to this is evidence-based and targeted, and getting policing right in this area is incredibly important for maintaining community confidence.
I have seen for myself how successful the Government’s safer streets fund was in Barnstaple, and I am delighted that it will be extended into Ilfracombe this year. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that councils have the funding to help support those schemes?
I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting that point. I am proud of the fact that, since 2010, neighbourhood crime is down by 51% because of the kind of interventions that she highlighted. I reassure her that we will continue to look at what works, to fund and support, and to make every effort to drive down neighbourhood crime even further.
Police numbers across Devon and Cornwall are at record levels and deserve our praise. In a recent survey, my constituents in East Devon said that tackling neighbourhood crime is an absolute priority, as ranging from burglaries to thefts from vehicles. Will my right hon. Friend outline what progress this Conservative Government have made on cracking down on neighbourhood crime?
I am very pleased that my hon. Friend’s local community is feeling the positive impact of the decisions we have made. Since coming into Government, we have seen serious violence reduced by 26%, and neighbourhood crime down by 27% since the start of this Parliament. We have seen a 36% reduction in domestic burglary, an 18% reduction in vehicle-related theft and a 61% decrease in robbery. We have reduced homicide by 15%, have taken action on drugs and are committed to—
Order. Secretary of State—I said the same to the Minister—please, you were very slow at the beginning; you will not be slow at the end, I am sure.
On Friday I visited five Co-op stores and every one of them had daily experience of theft, with one losing £35,000-worth of goods over six months and staff experiencing assaults. In light of Labour’s pledge to introduce 13,000 more community police and a law on retail crime, what is the Secretary of State really doing? Clearly his plan is not working.
We have a retail crime action plan. We have ensured that assaults against shop workers is an aggravating factor and we have made it clear to police forces across the country that we expect them to take action on neighbourhood crime like that and to pursue every reasonable line of inquiry. We are determined to drive down retail crime.
T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. (900938)
This year, the Home Office will continue to build on our progress on the public priorities: a 36% fall in small boat crossings last year, 86 arrests of small boat pilots, 246 arrests of people smugglers, the biggest-ever international operation resulting in 136 boat seizures and 45 outboard motors being seized, the illegal migration package announced, more than 2,000 county lines drugs lines smashed and the introduction of the Criminal Justice Bill to give police leaders more powers. We are relentlessly focused on delivering community safety on behalf of the British people.
Now that we have the Home Secretary here to answer for himself, can he tell us whether he is aware that the police are receiving more than 560 reports of spiking every month, and in December the Home Office said that the reason the crime is so prevalent is that it is seen as funny and a joke? How can we have any confidence in the Home Secretary to deliver action on spiking when he thinks it is a joke?
I am the Home Secretary who has actually introduced action on this. In my first week in the job, I visited Holborn police station to see the work of the Metropolitan police in tackling violence against women and girls. I made it clear to the Home Office that my priority was the protection of women and girls. I am taking action on this issue, and I am absolutely determined to continue doing so.
We welcome the proscription of Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Five more lives were tragically lost in the channel this weekend. As criminal gangs profit from those dangerous boat crossings, it shows how vital it is to stop them, but we need the Home Office to have a grip. The Home Secretary gave no answer earlier on the 4,000 people he has lost from the Rwanda list. Can he tell us if he has also lost the 35,000 people he has removed from the asylum backlog? How many of them are still in the country?
I join the right hon. Lady in expressing sadness and condolences for those who lost their lives in the channel. That reinforces the importance of breaking the people-smuggling gangs. The fact is that we are driving down the numbers of people in the backlog: we are processing applications more quickly and ensuring that decisions are made so that those who should not be in this country can be removed either to their own country or a safe third country. That is why the Rwanda Bill is so important, and why we will continue working on these issues.
Returns have dropped 50% since the last Labour Government. The Home Secretary is still not telling us where those missing people are. He appears to have lost thousands of people who may have no right to be in the country, and lost any grip at all. In the ongoing Tory asylum chaos, we have Cabinet Ministers, countless ex-Ministers and the deputy Tory chair all saying that they will oppose the Home Secretary’s policy this week—a policy that we know he and the Prime Minister do not even believe in. If the deputy Tory chair this week votes against the Home Secretary’s policy, will he be sacked, or is the Prime Minister so weak that he has lost control of asylum, lost control of our borders, and lost control of his own party, too?
Conservative Members of Parliament are absolutely united in our desire to get a grip of this issue. I am not the person who has held up a sign saying, “Refugees welcome”; I am not the person whose colleagues oppose each and every rhetorical flourish. Until the Labour party comes up with a credible plan, I will not take its criticism any more seriously than it deserves.
How many times must a demonstration in the same cause be repeated, week in and week out, before the well-funded organisers become liable to pay for at least part of the policing costs?
Of course, we recognise that there is legitimacy to public protests. We also recognise that the unprecedented and unwarranted pressure that this is putting on policing around the country is having an impact on communities. My view is that the organisers have made their point, and repeating it does not strengthen their argument. Unfortunately, we are also seeing some deeply distasteful people weaving themselves in among those protesters, who are protesting on issues that they feel passionately about, but whose good will is being abused by others.
Will the Home Secretary urgently meet his hon. Friend and constituency neighbour the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin) and me to speak about why it is that, although the whole House passed the Public Order Act 2023 with an amendment to ensure safe access zones for women using abortion clinics, this is now subject to a consultation that would gut the legislation? Can he meet us urgently? The consultation is due to end on 22 January, and it would not actually do what all MPs in this House voted for.
If the hon. Lady writes to me on this issue, I will endeavour to find out the details of the point she has made.