Asylum Seekers

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18 January 1996.

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Photo of Mr John Marshall Mr John Marshall , Hendon South 12:00, 18 January 1996

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the latest estimate of the numbers seeking asylum in 1995. [7849]

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone

Our latest estimate of the number of asylum applications in 1995 is 43,963.

Photo of Mr John Marshall Mr John Marshall , Hendon South

Does my hon. Friend agree that if the rate of increase demonstrated by those figures were to continue, in a five-year Parliament no fewer than 300,000 people would apply for asylum in this country? Does that not demonstrate the need for the Asylum and Immigration Bill and show that it is incumbent on those who oppose the Bill to say whether they find that figure acceptable?

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Opposition have continually condemned the Bill but have not put forward a single viable alternative. In effect, they are saying that we should allow the number of applications to continue to rise, that we should not distinguish between applications, whether genuine or bogus, and that we should just ignore and run away from the problem. That is the Opposition's position. That means that they do not take seriously the worries and anxieties of the British people. They do not take seriously the plight of the genuine asylum seeker who is suffering in a clogged-up system.

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson , Newcastle upon Tyne North

Why will the hon. Lady not listen to Church and community leaders in Britain who on many occasions have pointed out to her the damage that they believe the Asylum and Immigration Bill will cause to race and community relations? Why will she not listen to her hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Wardle), a previous Home Office Minister, who has made it clear to her that the only proper, fair and effective way to cut the lists of people waiting is to have a more efficient system and to apply the resources necessary to achieve that?

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone

The biggest danger to race relations is the sort of alarmism stirred by the Opposition, who quite deliberately seek to exploit fear on the issue. We have now put in £37 million over three years for extra asylum caseworkers, we have decided 26,000 claims in the past 12 months—a 27 per cent. increase on the previous 12 months and double that in 1993—and the number of asylum staff has increased from 100 in 1988 to 700 now. That is the reality of putting in more resources. But unless we control the flow of bogus claims, more and more resources will be required, and that is not a sensible use of public funds. I cannot work out why, when the Leader of the Opposition talks about not wanting to tax in order to spend more, the Opposition want the Government to go on spending and spending on unfounded and undeserving cases.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson , Eastbourne

Can my hon. Friend confirm that some 70 per cent. of asylum seekers enter Britain as students, tourists or business men? Does that not give the lie to some of the comments of Opposition Members? Does it not also suggest that most asylum seekers do not come to Britain in genuine fear of persecution but that, once here, they decide that it is quite a nice place to stay?

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone

It is clear from the small percentage of asylum seekers who are found to be in genuine need of a place of asylum—only 4 per cent. of claims and another 4 per cent. on appeal—that the vast majority of cases have no foundation. My hon. Friend is right to identify the number of people who use asylum simply to stave off removal when they have exhausted every last avenue. That is not what asylum is about, or what the Geneva convention is about. Britain has a long and honourable tradition of being a place of safety for genuine applicants. I want to help genuine applicants and that means relieving the system of the bogus ones.