Northern/Central EnglandSpeeches

Tom Hunt – 2022 Speech on Using the Novotel Hotel in Ipswich for Asylum Seekers

The speech made by Tom Hunt, the Conservative MP for Ipswich, in Westminster Hall on 8 November 2022.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the use of Novotel Ipswich as asylum accommodation.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Hollobone.

It is difficult for me to stress how big an issue this is in my constituency. It is something I have been aware of for some time. Before it became public, I was made aware of it as the local Member of Parliament, so that is not my complaint—I was aware of it. There is a paper trail that shows me strongly opposing the use of the Novotel for the purposes in question, and I have worked with Ipswich Borough Council on it. There are many issues on which the Labour-run council and I do not see eye to eye, but on this matter we have been on the same side.

In keeping with what many other local authorities have done, the council has, on planning grounds, secured a temporary injunction, and there will be a court hearing later today—it was meant to be yesterday. What the outcome will be I do not know. What I am saying today is less of a legal point and more of a political point on the ins and outs of whether this is the right thing to do, and I will give my views as the as the local Member of Parliament representing my constituents.

The Novotel is a town centre hotel in Ipswich. It is a good quality hotel in an incredibly important location, linking the waterfront to the Saints, which leads up to the town centre. It is an area of the town that has been at the heart of our regeneration efforts. My right hon. Friend the Minister might remember his visit to Ipswich to talk about the town deal. A significant part of the town deal is about regenerating the part of the town where the Novotel sits, and that is one of my concerns. I am already hearing stories about the way in which the building and the upkeep of it has deteriorated since it was acquired by the Home Office for this six-month period.

Paul Bristow (Peterborough) (Con)

My hon. Friend is making an important point. Does he agree that often we are talking not about budget accommodation, but about accommodating those who come over here illegally on small boat crossings in smart hotels in city and town centre locations? What sort of message does he think that sends to those living on modest incomes in the middle of a global cost of living crisis?

Tom Hunt

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. In answer to his question, I think it sends all the wrong messages. The cost to the taxpayer at a national level of putting up many illegal immigrants in hotel accommodation is huge. To say that it grates with a large number of my constituents would be an understatement. The Novotel is a nice hotel. I have been there before and my family have stayed there. I have spent time there. The issue is not in keeping with what we should be doing. My personal view is that if someone has entered this country illegally, they are not welcome and virtually all of them should be deported. But if we are going to have them staying here for a short term, it should be in basic, safe and secure accommodation, not hotels.

In addition to the Novotel with its 200 spaces in the town centre of Ipswich, there is a Best Western hotel in Copdock, which is not technically within the boundaries of Ipswich borough or my constituency, but for all intents and purposes it is within the urban area of Ipswich, so this is already causing concern for my constituents and having an impact on local public services. We are looking not just at the 200 in the Novotel, but the 150 in Copdock, so we are talking about 350 individuals who are overwhelmingly young men and who have all entered this country illegally.

Why is the Novotel the wrong location? Why is the decision to acquire the use of the Novotel for 200 individuals the wrong thing to do? Why has it united virtually everyone in the community against it? It has united the Conservative Member of Parliament, the Labour-run borough council, and the local business improvement district. It has united all sorts of people whom I do not often agree with, but we are all of one view: this is not the right location to be accommodating these individuals.

Something that I also find desperately concerning is the way in which 20 constituents of mine who worked at the hotel have been treated by Fairview Hotels (Ipswich). They were given five and a half days’ notice that their jobs were on the line, and many of them felt pressured into resigning under the vague promise that they might get their jobs back after the six-month period. I have one constituent whose daughter came home and broke down in tears because of the way she had been treated by those who manage the hotel. My responsibility is to her. My responsibility is to those 20 constituents. My responsibility is not to think about the welfare of those who have entered our country illegally, and I make no apology for that.

In terms of the economic impact of using this Novotel, a huge amount of effort is going into promoting Ipswich as a visitor destination. Ipswich is surrounded by beautiful countryside. It is the oldest town in the country—I thought it was older than Colchester anyway, but now that Colchester has city status, Ipswich is definitely the oldest town in the country. It was home to Cardinal Wolsey, and soon we will be celebrating the 550th anniversary of his birth. Only a stone’s throw away from the Novotel is Wolsey’s Gate, which was built by Cardinal Wolsey, and there is a whole operation to try to enhance the area.

What we are talking about is a 200-room, good-quality hotel in the centre of Ipswich that is lost to us and our local economy. It has been described by a business lady who runs a successful shop a stone’s throw away from the hotel as being an economic bomb that has landed on the town, and there is consensus within the business community that that is the case.

There is also the other angle: the nature of the hotel means that it is often used by successful businesses in Ipswich to host clients. If they have clients visiting or there are conferences, the Novotel is more often than not the hotel that is used, so losing those 200 beds is a further negative economic impact.

I also want to talk about community tension, which is an important point and I plan to address it directly. Ipswich is a welcoming town. It is a multicultural town and it has benefitted from that diversity. It is an integrated town. We have a history of welcoming genuine refugees—some of them are Conservative councillors, and some are from Albania—but they came here in a proper way. They came here legally, they were welcomed, and they have thrived in Ipswich. They have been welcomed in Ipswich and have made a positive contribution. The people of Ipswich are welcoming people but, quite frankly, there is a limit. When they see that people who deliberately enter our country illegally from another safe European country are being accommodated at vast expense in a good quality local hotel in an important location, which is costing local jobs and having a spill-over negative impact on the local economy, they are quite rightly furious. It is not surprising—I make no exaggeration in saying this—that at a time of cost of living strain, when many constituents are desperately concerned about getting by, I am hearing more about this than any other local issue in my postbag. I need to make the point that we are a welcoming and compassionate town.

I move on now to the general point. My right hon. Friend the Minister will know that I have been a consistent voice on the issue of illegal immigration since I was elected to this place. I support the Home Secretary fully in her efforts, and I support my right hon. Friend the Minister’s efforts fully. I was behind him in the main Chamber yesterday, supporting him. I was proud to do that, and he knows he has my support.

My view is that the situation would be even worse under Labour—there is no one from the party present. I find it somewhat ironic that the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), visited Ipswich last week and commented on this matter, even though about a year ago, when she was Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, she called an urgent question to oppose the use of Napier barracks for those who have entered our country illegally. All I would say is that I would much prefer the use of disused Army barracks for these individuals, rather than good quality hotels in the centre of Ipswich. I also note that the Labour candidate for Ipswich has made multiple visits to Calais. Quite what he was doing there, I do not know, but that is by the by; I will not get distracted by that.

I will finish simply by saying that I acknowledge the fact that, in tackling illegal immigration, there is no silver bullet. I am encouraged by the Prime Minister’s meeting with President Macron yesterday, and I look forward to hearing what came out of it. I have confidence in the Prime Minister on the issue. I spoke to him, and supported him. He is a great man. But, ultimately, we have to put turbochargers under the Rwanda policy. That needs to be part of it. Sections of the left deride what happened in Australia; they say that Australia’s offshore processing approach was not successful. Everything that I have seen indicates that it was successful. The fact of the matter is that Australia had a big problem with illegal immigration, it started offshore processing, and it now no longer has a big problem. I understand that Australia had two different locations and is not using one of them, and that there might be differences between Australia and ourselves, but ultimately the principle holds. I strongly encourage my right hon. Friend the Minister not just to support the concept in principle but to stress the urgency of delivering it and of doing what is required to deliver it. He has huge support on our Benches to get this done.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Paul Bristow) for coming to support me today. He is also a strong voice on this matter. We do not know what will happen in court later today with the temporary injunction; I hope that it is successful. But if it is not, we must separate it from the bigger issue of how we tackle the crossings. In the short term, we are where we are now. We must look again at the use of Novotel, take on board the view of the local business community and work with and support those 20 employees. They are my constituents, and have been treated very poorly. That is all I have to say on the matter.