Asylum Seekers

Oral Answers to Questions — Social Security – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23 January 1996.

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Photo of Mr John Marshall Mr John Marshall , Hendon South 12:00, 23 January 1996

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what recent representations he has received about the payment of social security benefits to asylum seekers. [8797]

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Social Security

I have received a number of items of correspondence about asylum seekers from a variety of sources.

Photo of Mr John Marshall Mr John Marshall , Hendon South

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that 70 per cent. of asylum seekers who are on benefit misrepresented their assets and means when they came to this country, and that 90 per cent. of claims for asylum are shown to be bogus? Do not those facts and the rapid increase in the number of asylum seekers underline the need for action and the sheer irresponsibility of those who oppose any action?

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Social Security

My hon. Friend is right: 70 per cent. of those who claim to be asylum seekers did not, originally, when they entered the country and were asked by immigration officials their reasons for doing so, say that they were seeking asylum—they said that they were visitors, tourists or business men. They had to demonstrate and convince the immigration officers that what they said was true. They had to demonstrate that they had the means to support themselves when here and the means to return home subsequently. They usually showed that they had someone to stay with here. In those circumstances, it seems perfectly reasonable that they should not receive benefit if they subsequently change their story and declare themselves to be asylum seekers. That is the rule that we are introducing under the new regulations.

Photo of Mr Chris Smith Mr Chris Smith Shadow Secretary of State

Is the Secretary of State aware that both the Archbishop of Canterbury and Cardinal Hume have recently written jointly to the Prime Minister to express their concern about the Government's proposals? What has his response been—simply to plough ahead? Will he now answer the question that he has consistently refused to answer: when all benefit is withdrawn, how are people to live? How are they to feed their children? Will they starve? Has humanity completely disappeared?

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Social Security

The hon. Gentleman was not here when the statement was made—he was seeking asylum in Singapore, I believe—and consequently he perhaps did not hear the reasons for what we have done and the justification for the changes. As I have just explained, I believe that justification to be sound. The only people who will be required to live on their own resources after making a claim for asylum will be those who have demonstrated to the immigration authorities that they have the resources on which to live. My response, on receiving the letters from the noble prelates to whom the hon. Gentleman referred, was to offer to see them before I made my statement.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Davyhulme

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the widespread resentment about the fact that foreign nationals from outside the European economic area can qualify for British social security almost as soon as they arrive in this country? Is my right hon. Friend further aware that Canada has a five-year residence requirement before any foreigner can qualify for Canadian social security? Is it not time that we introduced similar rules in this country?

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Social Security

My hon. Friend is right. Until recently, our rules were considerably laxer than those of most other countries, both as regards people from within the European economic area and those outside it. We have tightened up—rightly—in both cases. We have introduced an habitual residence test, which will, I hope, stop—and has largely stopped—benefit tourism in Europe, and we are tightening up on claims by asylum seekers.

We are also determined to remain a safe haven for people who genuinely seek asylum and are fleeing persecution from abroad. They come here for our freedom, not our benefits.