Suella Braverman was questioned by the Lords home affairs committee about plans announced by the prime minister last week, to use “alternative sites” including disused holiday parks, former student halls and surplus military accommodation, to reduce the use of hotels.
The cost of hotel rooms has rocketed to £5.5m a day for asylum seekers awaiting decisions on their claims, because of a lack of proper accomodation and record waiting times caused by a record Home Office backlog.
Committee chair Baroness Hamwee asked whether alternative sites included “cruise ships which are no longer in use because basically they are about to be scrapped”.
The home secretary told peers the government wanted to “end the use of hotels as quickly as possible because it’s an unacceptable cost to the taxpayer”.
She said the government was still in discussions with potential providers, adding: “We need to bring forward thousands of places … everything is still on the table and nothing is excluded.”
Ms Braverman was speaking after the Home Office released emails under Freedom of Information laws showing that migrants were illegally detained because of overcrowding at the Manston processing facility.
The BBC reported that communications from early November showed that around 450 people were moved into immigration detention centres as “overflow”, but officials warned their detention was “no longer legal,” adding: “We need to move them to hotels ASAP.”
Asked about the letters, Ms Braverman did not deny breaking the law, which is being changed by the government to allow migrants to be detained for four days at Manston, instead of the previous 24 hours.
It is dramatically downgrading the legal standards governing healthcare provision, mental health support, communications and other conditions.
Ms Braverman said Manston had become overcrowded because a large numbers of small boats arriving across the Channel outstripped the “outflow” to hotels and other accommodation.
She said she had instructed staff to “work intensively to procure hotel spaces as quickly as possible, and also to increase capacity at Manston”, adding: “The alternative would have been to release people to no fixed abode into the local community and I was not willing to do that.”
The home secretary hailed Monday’s High Court judgment that the government’s plans to forcibly deport asylum seekers to Rwanda rather than processing their claims in Britain was lawful, but said the scheme was “on hold” pending possible appeals against the judgment.
Despite its ruling on the overall policy, the court quashed all eight challenges by asylum seekers selected for deportation because Home Office decision-making was unlawful in their individual cases.
The airline used for an attempted flight to Kigali that was aborted because of legal challenges has pulled out of its agreement with the Home Office, and the home secretary suggested a replacement had not been found.
She told the Lords Justice and Home Affairs Committee: “We have a lot of ongoing discussions with several airlines.”
Ms Braverman also confirmed that the government’s initial £120m payment to Rwanda when it signed the deal in April was not for asylum processing, but the country’s “economic development”.
“The UK has invested an initial £120m into the economic development and growth of Rwanda,” the home secretary said.
“Funding will also be provided to support the delivery of operations, accommodation and integration. We’ve made a £20m up-front payment to support initial set-up costs.”
The Home Office refused a Freedom of Information request by The Independent requesting the agreed cost for each asylum seeker sent to the country, who will be funded by the UK for three years.