I contacted the Home Secretary as soon as there was a rumour that a second hotel in Hanley had been taken on by the Home Office to accommodate asylum seekers, and expressed my anger.
I am on record as opposing the continued and growing use of Stoke-on-Trent city centre as a dispersal location. Indeed, the arguments as to why it is inappropriate to place more asylum seekers in our city have been made strongly by all three Members of Parliament, the Council and other agencies. The Home Office response is to acknowledge that this is not a situation they are happy with, but that they have no choice, given the number of people they have to find temporary accommodation for.
What we must do, is to find lasting solutions to the issue of the abuse of our asylum system by the many people who arrive on these shores illegally, and whose home country is one which is safe. I support the principle of emergency legislation to send all those in this category straight back to those countries without going through the lengthy system of assessment. The average assessment is currently taking over a year, and during that time the asylum seeker has to be found temporary accommodation. The process needs to be faster, and fewer people should be included in the system.
The International Development Minister, Andrew Mitchell, has expressed his disappointment that over a half of Britain's International Aid budget, some £1 billion, is now spent at home on the cost of the Home Office's accommodation programme for asylum seekers and refugees. That cannot be right. We need to invest more of the International Development budget on improving conditions of the poorest in the world so that they do not have to leave their homeland in search of a better life. At the same time, we need to be tough on the abuse of our asylum system by economic migrants.
In the meantime, as the local Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent Central, I will continue to call for the Home Office to understand our concerns about the use of our local hotels and engage constructively in finding alternative solutions.