Orders of the Day — Asylum Seekers

– in the House of Commons at 9:30 pm on 23 January 1996.

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[Relevant documents: the First Report from the Social Security Committee, on benefits for Asylum Seekers (House of Commons Paper No. 81), and the Report of the Social Security Advisory Committee with the Statement by the Secretary of State for Social Security (Cm. 3062).]

Photo of Mr Chris Smith Mr Chris Smith Shadow Secretary of State 10:04, 23 January 1996

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Social Security (Persons From Abroad) Miscellaneous Amendments Regulations 1996 (S.I., 1996, No. 30), dated 11th January 1996, a copy of which was laid before this House on 11th January, be annulled. I fear that we have a ridiculously short amount of time in which to debate a measure that will affect the life and livelihood of thousands of people. I know that hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to contribute to the debate, so I shall be brief.

I shall be urging my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote strongly against the regulations, primarily because they are simply inhumane. They will ensure that people who are in this country legitimately—many of whom have fled repression and torture—will receive no benefit whatsoever unless they submit their applications for asylum at the port of entry and prior to the first determination. The Government are seeking to introduce powers in the Asylum and Immigration Bill, which is also before the House, to remove child benefit as well. That will leave asylum seekers with no means of sustenance or support. Every time that we have asked how those people, who are legitimately in this country, will survive without any means of support, the Government have provided no answer. The Government are simply driving people—including children and the sick and disabled—into destitution.

We welcome the changes that the Government have made to the transitional arrangements, but that fundamental point about the regulations has not altered. I believe that, in bringing forward the regulations, the Government are forgetting the duties and decencies expected of a Government in a civilised country.

Government Members will say that most of those who seek asylum are bogus claimants; that is the case that the Government have made. That may be true of many claimants, but many more cases are not bogus and the genuine will suffer along with the rest. That is the problem with the Government's proposals. I suspect that the Secretary of State will refer tonight to the 90 per cent. of people, or more, who are refused refugee status.

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

The hon. Lady is wrong, because the figure varies from year to year.

We should also remember that, every year, 25 per cent. of asylum applicants are granted refugee status or exceptional leave to remain because it is found that they have a genuine and legitimate reason to remain in the United Kingdom. For example, a Bosnian Muslim, who does not fear his Government but is nonetheless genuinely afraid to remain in his own country, would be likely to be granted exceptional leave to remain in this country. I believe that his legitimate reason to remain in this country is every bit as strong as that of someone who is granted refugee status.

I am sure that we will hear another great untruth from Conservative Members tonight.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce , South Dorset

The hon. Gentleman has given the example of a Bosnian Muslim who is in genuine fear of his life. Surely that person will not turn up at the port of entry and say that he is on holiday or that he is visiting relatives and does not plan to stay for an extended period. As he is in fear of his life, he will state his problem at the port of entry and he will receive social security benefits because he has made that declaration.

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

I shall leave aside the obvious point that such a person might have been a student in this country or been here on holiday before circumstances in his country changed and forced him to apply for asylum. I shall turn to the issue of port of entry applications in a moment, because it is an important point. I accept that the hon. Gentleman may genuinely believe that people should make their applications at the port of entry, but I believe that he is wrong to do so. I will specifically address his point shortly, but I shall first address the other great untruth that the Government will doubtless tell us tonight—that the measure will somehow save the taxpayer some £200 million.

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) allowed to use the word "untruth"? I thought that it was unparliamentary.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

I did not hear the word.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

Order. The word is not one that parliamentarians usually use. It is occasionally appropriate to a political party, but it is not usually acceptable in the Chamber.

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

I make no imprecation against the honour of Conservative Members, but I do against the honour of their argument, and that is what I am talking about. The Government tell us that the measure will save the taxpayer £200 million. It will not.

In 1994, 33,000 people lodged asylum applications, and among those were nearly 5,000 dependent children. If families are left with no livelihood, they will have to depend on emergency support from social services or on the local authority taking their children into care. It costs £45,000 a year to keep a child in local authority care. If fewer than 5,000 children are taken into care, that would wipe out entirely the supposed savings that the Government claim from the measure.

Photo of Mr Michael Stephen Mr Michael Stephen , Shoreham

Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that, when the people he is talking about present themselves at the port of entry, they are questioned on their reasons for coming here? They have to satisfy the immigration authorities that they have means of support while they are in the country, either because they have money themselves or have friends and relations here. Is he not being alarmist when he suggests that such people and their dependants will become destitute?

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

The hon. Gentleman completely mistakes the whole process of paying income support to someone. People are not entitled to receive income support if they have other means of income and livelihood, and that is the point at issue.

The Government have said that they are discussing with local authorities the level of the burden that the measure would place on them. But the Government have not told us whether they are going to pay the local authorities in full for the cost of taking children into care and making emergency social services payments. If the Government cover the local authorities' costs in full, they will not make any savings. If, however, they do not pay the local authorities in full, they will simply transfer expenditure from the Department of Social Security to the local authorities. That is, perhaps, why Westminster and Wandsworth, those great bastions of socialism, are still pursuing their application for judicial review of the Government's intentions.

Photo of Mr David Shaw Mr David Shaw , Dover

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Social Security Select Committee took a lot of evidence on that issue of cost to local authorities? We heard many alarmist people who had all sorts of allegations about how little the measure would save and how children would be treated. But does the hon. Gentleman accept that no one suggested that local authorities were likely to take the children away from their parents and put the children into care at a cost of £45,000 a year each? Even the most alarmist local authorities—and they were going over the top—only suggested that they would keep the children with their parents and that any additional costs, at current prices, would be for housing the families.

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

Clearly, the hon. Gentleman was not awake during the proceedings of the Social Security Select Committee. If he looks at page xvii of its report, he will read: The Association of London Government indicated a range of costs from £20,000 to £40,000 for looking after a child". That association is a cross-party body, and it tackled the very point that the hon. Gentleman has raised. He speaks of alarmist organisations, but the list of bodies that gave a great deal of very good evidence to the Committee included: the Board of Deputies of British Jews, The British Medical Association, the chief adjudicator for immigration appeals, the Disability Alliance, the family service units, the Immigration Law Practitioners Association, and the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture. I am just saddened that the hon. Gentleman seems not to recognise the validity of what they said.

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

The hon. Gentleman chaired the Committee and wrote the report, so I will give way to him—but this is the last time.

Photo of Mr Robert Hughes Mr Robert Hughes , Harrow West

If everything is so ghastly, and if the Select Committee has it all wrong, why did an equal number of Labour and Conservative Members vote in favour of the report?

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

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the vote in the Committee when it was proposed that it be recommended that the Government withdraw these regulations. The Labour Members voted in favour, the Conservative Members against.

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

Where does the report say that?

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

In the minutes.

There are, however, other arguments against these regulations. First, they fundamentally undermine the concept of appeal. There is a long and noble tradition in this country that an appeal gives a person the right to a further hearing. The first decision is not endorsed, and hence not fully valid, until the appeal has run its course. Yet the Secretary of State tells us in these regulations that an appeal effectively means nothing. Any case after the first determination will be assumed to be bogus. That, I believe, throws every judicial principle on its head and is deeply damaging to our notion of justice.

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

Can the hon. Gentleman explain why successive Labour Governments have applied exactly the principle which he holds to be against natural justice to all British claimants who, on being refused a benefit, appeal against that rejection and are not given the benefit during the period of appeal?

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

The right hon. Gentleman has used that argument before: it is bogus. He is not comparing like with like. It is a fallacy to claim that an appeal against an asylum refusal and an appeal against a benefit decision are precisely the same.

Secondly, there is an assumption—this answers the point made by the hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce)—on the part of the Government that an application made at the port of entry is more likely to be valid than one made afterwards. Common sense should tell the Secretary of State that that is not true. People fleeing from injustice, repression and torture, often after the trauma of a long and difficult journey and fearful of authority in the countries from which they come, have as the last thing on their minds when they first arrive here the idea that they must fill out forms and make their applications for asylum. They will be fearful of figures in authority, and it is very likely that they will be in great difficulty in terms of knowing where to go or who to consult.

I shall give Conservative Members, who seem to think that we are not talking about human beings but about statistics, an example. It was given to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford), who wrote to a Minister at the Home Office about a particular case just a few days ago. My hon. Friend wrote: The above is a Kurdish refugee, who applied for asylum on 24th October 1995. three days after his arrival at Heathrow. He arrived at the weekend, and he speaks no English. He contacted the Kurdish Centre at the beginning of the next week, and they made an application for asylum on his behalf.He has been imprisoned and tortured by the Iraqi regime. He is disabled, having suffered injuries as well as torture. He was arrested and tortured on two separate occasions, and fled because he was warned by his uncle that the Iraqi police were coming to arrest him again. He has had to leave his wife and children in Iraq. He is certain that if he is forced to go back he will be killed. Under the Secretary of State's new proposals, if that applicant were to arrive after 5 February, he would not qualify for benefit payments. That is wrong. That is why we oppose the regulations.

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

The case that the hon. Gentleman just mentioned—if the circumstances are as he says—evokes natural sympathy throughout the House. If someone in those circumstances arrives at a British port and is asked the purpose of his visit, what answer would he give? Surely it would be, "I've come here to seek refuge from persecution." It would not be to invent a story that he was here to visit someone, to substantiate that to the immigration officer and then demonstrate that he had the means to sustain himself while here.

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

But the Secretary of State completely misunderstands the sense of fear and desperation that is often felt by those who come here fleeing from repression. The last thing that they are likely to do, seeing a figure in authority, is immediately to reveal their entire life history. Very often they want to seek help and advice from others in their community. That is precisely what happened in this case. It is clearly a case where there is genuine need and where there is genuine fear of repression, but because of difficulties, which inevitably occur when someone arrives at a port of entry in this country, he made his application three days later. The Secretary of State should take that into account.

If common sense and plain ordinary decency do not move the Secretary of State, perhaps the figures will, because he told us a week or two ago that the approval rate for asylum applications from people who applied at the port of entry was greater than that for people who applied subsequently. The figures show that that is not the case.

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

I shall not give way, because I have given way many times and time is pressing on.

For the first 10 months of 1995, 4.8 per cent. of in-country applicants were approved for asylum. The figure for port applicants approved for asylum was 3.5 per cent. The pattern is exactly the same for each of the previous three years. The percentage who applied after they arrived at the port of entry but were approved for asylum—accepted by the Government as being genuine refugees—was higher than that for people who applied at the port of entry.

So when the Government tell us, as the regulations seek to do, that an application at the port of entry is somehow more genuine than one that is received after someone has arrived at the port of entry, they are wrong, and the figures show that they are wrong.

The Government also need to understand that the Social Security Advisory Committee, the body that they have established to advise them formally on social security matters, gave an unprecedented report rejecting wholesale the Government's proposed regulations. The Committee makes one further and telling point. It says: We fully understand the Secretary of State's view that it is unreasonable to expect the UK taxpayer to support people whose reasons for coming to this country are purely economic. That point I do not think anyone would dispute. But the Committee goes on to say: However, it is clear to us from the evidence we have received that fair and expeditious immigration and asylum procedures are the best means of providing comprehensive and long-term arrangements to deal with these matters. The Secretary of State is effectively making the social security system do the Home Office's job for it. If the Secretary of State really wants to reduce his expenditure, if he wants the taxpayer to spend less money supporting non-genuine claimants, he should not bring in regulations which harm the genuine claimants; he should speed up the assessment procedures. That is what we have been arguing for many months now. In fact, the Home Office is doing precisely the reverse at the moment. It is getting worse at it, rather than better.

Instead, the Secretary of State, no doubt anxious for a cheer at Tory party conference, has brought forward these deeply damaging proposals that will harm the good and the bad alike, that ultimately will not save money for the public purse, that fly in the face of reason and justice and that ought to be rejected by the House tonight.

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Social Security 10:25, 23 January 1996

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) began by saying that this was a ridiculously short debate. I am not aware of any representations from the Opposition for a longer debate or one earlier in the day—for the obvious reason that we all know that they are anxious to prove their credentials with readers of The Guardian and show that they are against these changes, but they do not want people in the country to know that they are against them. That is why they have let the debate go through late at night.

I, by contrast, am happy to have a debate at any time, and chose to make a public statement before the House rather than by written answer as would be normal. The Opposition are strong on hypocrisy today, and we are strong on the causes of hypocrisy, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said.

As I said in my statement in the House, the regulations, together with the changes that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is bringing in the Asylum and Immigration Bill, have three aims. The first is to ensure that the United Kingdom remains a safe haven for those genuinely fleeing persecution. The reason genuine refugees come to the United Kingdom is to share our freedoms, not to obtain our benefits. Their rights to asylum will not be altered in any way, and anyone arriving as a refugee and claiming asylum at the port of entry will continue to have access to benefits while the Home Office determines the claim.

The second objective is to deal more speedily with genuine claimants so that they can get on with their lives. The Home Office has already increased the number of caseworkers sevenfold since 1988, and an extra £37 million is being transferred from my budget to the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor's Department to expand their asylum work further over three years.

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

Of course it has got worse, because the number of claimants has continued to rise inexorably.

That is why we have to act on the attractions of asylum through the benefit system as well as through the procedures in the Asylum and Immigration Bill.

The only other way of acting on the number of claimants is through taking measures to adjust the benefit arrangements and discourage the growing number of unfounded benefit and asylum claims which clog up the system to the disadvantage of genuine claimants. That is our third objective. The benefit reform contained in the regulations is essential to achieve that end.

Photo of Mr Max Madden Mr Max Madden , Bradford West

There can be no doubt that the regulations will ensure that, in February rather than January, large number of asylum seekers will be left destitute and homeless. Leaving that aside, however, may I ask what justification there is, when benefit is being denied, for continuing to prohibit asylum seekers from seeking or obtaining employment for at least six months after they have submitted their asylum claims? If the main purpose of the regulations is to reduce public expenditure, surely it would be best to enable asylum seekers to seek employment immediately after the submission of the claims.

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

Under all Governments, the practice has been not to let asylum seekers work during the first six months. One of the reasons why people come to this country pretending to be asylum seekers when they are, in fact, economic migrants is that they want to work here. Most countries do not allow asylum seekers to work at all; we give them that right after six months.

The rising tide of asylum seekers represents a major problem that no responsible Government could possibly ignore. Last year, the total number of people claiming asylum in the United Kingdom, including dependants, exceeded 57,000. In the previous year, the figure was 42,000. That, in turn, was a tenfold increase over the past 10 years. Yet, in the same period, the increase in the number of asylum seekers on the continent was less than threefold. Britain's share of all the asylum seekers coming to Europe has trebled over the last decade. Moreover, since 1994 the number of claims has fallen by a third on the continent, whereas in 1994 it rose by 45 per cent., and there was a further 35 per cent. increase last year.

Amnesty International agrees with us, saying: The truth of the matter is that, since 1992, immigration controls and asylum procedures—particularly those applied at the border—have been tightened far more in some European countries than in the UK … This … no doubt works to make the UK a more attractive destination to would-be asylum-seekers than some other European countries. France and Belgium, for example, offer no benefits to any asylum seeker after 12 months. Italy offers no benefits to any asylum seeker at all, and as a result only 1,800 people have bothered to claim asylum there. Germany and Holland accommodate asylum seekers in camps, giving benefits mainly in kind rather than cash.

The simple fact is that the growth in the number of claims reflects a huge increase in economic migration, rather than an increase in the number of people fleeing from genuine persecution. The overwhelming majority of claims for asylum turn out, on examination, to be unfounded. Fewer than 7 per cent. of claimants are eventually given refugee status, including those who are successful on appeal. We are, in effect, spending £200 million a year—that sum is rising rapidly—over 90 per cent. of which goes to people who are not political refugees at all.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Is it not misleading to talk of 7 per cent., or 4 per cent., of people eventually being given refugee status? Another 14 or 15 per cent. are given exceptional leave to remain, and those of us who have dealt with refugee cases know that it is almost as hard to obtain exceptional leave to remain as it is to be recognised as a refugee.

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

I shall deal with the question of exceptional leave to remain in a moment. [Interruption.] I shall give my speech in my own way, and without further interruptions.

None the less, under the regulations, those who arrive in this country claiming to be refugees will remain entitled to benefit while the Home Office assesses their claim.

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

I shall make a little progress, if I may, if only to please the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw).

We must recognise, however, that 70 per cent. of claims in this country are made by people who entered the country claiming to be students, tourists, visitors or business people. They had to convince the immigration officers that that was so, and that they had the means to support themselves when in this country. They accepted that they could not be a burden on public funds. Subsequently, they change their story and claim asylum. Under the present system, they are then entitled to receive benefits. In future, those who change their story will not be entitled to benefits. We will hold them to their original assurances, unless there has been an upheaval in the country from which they have come since they left it.

Photo of Mr James Couchman Mr James Couchman , Gillingham

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although people may use all sorts of devious ways to get out of countries where they fear persecution, there is no need for them to lie at the port of entry when they come here? If they throw themselves at the mercy of people at the port of entry and tell the truth, they are much more likely to be believed to be genuine asylum seekers.

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

My hon. Friend makes a good point. The reason that genuine claimants come to this country and flee a country in which they are being persecuted is that they know that we are a haven of freedom. They come here because they trust our authorities, not because they distrust us. If they did distrust them, they would go somewhere else.

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

If the hon. Gentleman will permit, I will make some further progress.

We shall change the rules affecting asylum seekers to put them on the same basis as British citizens who are not entitled to benefits while appealing against rejection of a benefits claim. As I said in my intervention on the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury, successive Governments, including Labour Governments, have treated benefit claimants in this country in that way, and he did not come up with any specific reasons for distinguishing between British claimants appealing against rejection of benefit, and asylum claimants appealing against rejection of their asylum claim and against not being allowed to receive benefits during that period.

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

May I give the Secretary of State two specific areas where a marked difference exists between an asylum seeker being denied benefits and a British national being denied them? I do not want to get into the ethical difference between seeking asylum and claiming benefits, but surely the most salient differences are, first, that an asylum seeker probably does not speak English and, secondly, that he or she will have no family, friends or support to assist while waiting for the application to be processed.

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

That is not the case. The vast majority have contacts over here and, of course, by the time the question of appeal comes up, they have been found not to be genuine refugees. If they choose to pursue that claim, fair enough, but the present system encourages virtually everyone to appeal. If we had such a system internally, virtually everyone would appeal. As it is, only a small minority of British claimants whose application for a benefit is rejected, appeal. A large majority of their appeals are upheld by the tribunals because only those with a good case bother to appeal. The vast majority of asylum claimants appeal and 96 per cent. of those appeals are found to be unfounded. It cannot be right to continue virtually to pay people to make appeals, the large majority of which are bogus.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford , Greenwich

The Secretary of State will recall that, in his speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) highlighted a case, in which I have been involved, of a refugee who suffered torture and horrendous experiences in Iraq. On arrival in the United Kingdom, speaking no English, confused and unaware of the procedures, he did not make an immediate claim for asylum, but he did so three days later when advised by the friends with whom he had come to stay to seek safety from persecution. If the right hon. Gentleman has any humanity, how can he claim that that person is a bogus refugee?

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

The hon. Gentleman obviously did not hear my earlier intervention. He has failed to answer the question why, if all the circumstances he cited are correct, the person concerned—we all sympathise with that person—answered dishonestly the questions put to him by the immigration official.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford , Greenwich

Because he does not speak English.

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

But the Home Office makes available translation and interpretation services in more than 100 languages, including Arabic. There is no question but that the person concerned could have made himself understood. He would have had to do so to convince the immigration officer that he was here as a student, if he said that he was a student; as a visitor, if he said that he was a visitor; as a business man, if he said that he was a business man. He would have had to be able to convince the immigration officer that he had the means to support himself while in this country. Did the hon. Gentleman even ask the person those questions?

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford , Greenwich

Of course I asked those questions when the man came to my surgery with an interpreter. He explained, through an interpreter because he spoke no English, how he arrived in a foreign country in a state of terror, fleeing from persecution, and said that he had come to stay with his relatives and friends. He made an application for asylum later. It is a genuine case, and he should not be penalised by the regulations.

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

It has emerged that the man had friends and relatives to support him, and that he convinced the immigration officer that that was so. That is satisfactory for him—[Interruption.] I am trying to deal with the general point about claims made in-country versus those made at the port.

It is nonsense to suggest that people fail to claim at the port because they do not know the rules. No one needs to know the rules; nor do people need to know English. There are interpretation facilities at the port. All they have to do is tell the truth when asked by the immigration officials at the port to give their reasons for coming to this country. If they say that they are fleeing persecution and they want asylum, they will subsequently be allowed to claim benefit while pursuing that claim.

If, however, they say that they are here to study, to visit relatives, as tourists or on business, they will have to convince the immigration authorities of that. They will be asked to show that they will be able to support themselves, and they will have to convince the immigration officials of that. They will probably be asked where they will stay, and they will have to provide information about that. They will probably be asked to show that they have a return ticket or the means to buy one.

People do not accidentally give the wrong answers to those questions. Of course, most of them answer honestly, and at the time they entered the country they did intend to come for those reasons, perhaps with the thought also of seeking asylum. On the other hand, that might not have been in their minds, but subsequently it was put into their minds. Quite a substantial number do not make the asylum claim until the end of their period of entitlement to stay or until they have overstayed.

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

If that is the case, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us why, year after year after year, a higher proportion of applicants for asylum who apply after they came into the country are awarded refugee status than applicants who applied at the port of entry?

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

That is not invariably the case. The numbers are small—

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

I am answering the previous point.

The numbers accepted as refugees are small indeed, whether the claim is made afterwards or at the port. We are talking about the difference between very small percentages. If my recollection is correct, in 1994—the last full year for which we have figures—the proportion claiming in-country who were eventually given refugee status was smaller than that at the port.

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

I have to say that the Secretary of State is incorrect for the years 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995. He says that we are talking about very small numbers of people. There were 670 last year, 530 the year before that, 1,260 the year before that and 705 the year before that. The Secretary of State's figures are incorrect.

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

The hon. Gentleman is confusing percentages and absolute numbers. The fact is that the majority of people at present do claim in-country, and the majority of people who are eventually accepted claim in-country.

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

I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman, who cannot tell the difference between percentages and numbers.

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Order. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) can see when the Secretary of State is giving way and when he is not.

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Order. Did I hear the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) suggest that an hon. Member was bogus? If so, I hope very much that he will withdraw that comment.

Photo of Mr Bernie Grant Mr Bernie Grant , Tottenham

I said that the Secretary of State's arguments were bogus.

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

The simple fact is that, since we announced the changes, the proportion of people choosing to claim at port rather than in-country has suddenly risen. One of the reasons people previously claimed in-country is that such a claim makes it more difficult subsequently to remove a person, as he will have to be subject to deportation procedures. Those claiming at port are easier to remove, as they are subject only to removal procedures. There was a positive advantage for people to claim in-country, apart from any desire to get benefit.

The change that we have made—even if people have to some extent circumvented it for benefits—will bring about greater honesty and clarity at ports, and will mean that people will not claim an artificial advantage by entering the country before they subsequently make their claim.

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

I have given way to a great number of hon. Members and I shall make some progress, if I may.

A number of critics of the changes that we have made have tried to suggest that the bulk of asylum seekers whose claims are rejected are not really bogus. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) and his party's spokesman in another place, Lord Russell, have said that we are dealing not with bogus claims but with bogus refusals. They have claimed that the Home Office has in some way tightened up the definition of asylum seekers. That is simply and palpably untrue.

The definition used to define a refugee is laid down in international law by the Geneva convention and has not changed. Decisions made by Home Office officials are justiciable and can be taken to a further stage of appeal, and that is to a legal body and not a Home Office body. A case can be taken to a further judicial review if it is felt that the law is not being applied correctly. In 96 per cent. of cases where there is an appeal to a higher authority, the Home Office decision is upheld. There is no evidence that the Home Office is not interpreting the rules properly or correctly.

Photo of Mr David Alton Mr David Alton , Liverpool Mossley Hill

The Secretary of State will accept that Canada is not entirely parallel to the UK for these purposes, but will he reflect that only 4 per cent. of cases in this country are judged to be convention refugees, whereas in Canada 70 per cent. of those who apply are accepted for convention purposes? Does that—and the even more significant comparisons that can be made with other EC countries—not demonstrate that we receive far fewer people as convention refugees because of the way in which we choose to interpret the rules?

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

The hon. Gentleman has chosen an exceptional country for an example, and he will know that the position in most other European countries is rather similar to that in this country—the rates of refusal and rejection are fairly similar.

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury suggested that the bulk of asylum seekers should be considered as refugees. Another body, Asylum Aid, wrote to the Evening Standard to suggest that most refugees have fled imprisonment or the threat of death at a moment's notice, often with only the clothes they stand up in. That is scarcely ever the case. To get to this country, it is usually necessary for people to get a visa in the first place. Hon. Members will know that that is not a speedy or an easy process. It often involves more than one visit to the British entry clearance officer in the country of origin and obtaining information from here before they arrive in this country. To suggest that people are arriving suddenly and unexpectedly, because of a knock on their door in the night, and that they have only the clothes they stand up in is untrue.

In this country, as in most other countries, we face a major problem because of the rising flow of economic migrants using the asylum procedures, which were set up for quite different purposes. We have to cope with that problem—any Government would have to try to cope with it—and there are only two ways to do so.

One way is to speed up the procedures, by using the improvements in the Asylum and Immigration Bill, which is going through the House. The other is to reduce the attraction of benefits. The Opposition have opposed both measures, as they have opposed every attempt by the House to update immigration and asylum procedures. Their approach is fundamentally irresponsible. It does not even meet the needs of genuine asylum seekers, who are the principal sufferers from a system that puts them in the long queue that is created by tens of thousands of bogus asylum seekers.

We have to take action; we have taken action. The measures that we have taken are sensible, well judged and, in the case of appeals, they parallel the treatment that we already give to British citizens. The changes are in the ultimate interests of genuine refugees and of good race relations in this country, and I commend them to the House.

Photo of Ms Liz Lynne Ms Liz Lynne , Rochdale 10:51, 23 January 1996

I am pleased that we have had a chance to debate these regulations. That was due to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton). Without him they would already have been put into practice.

I am glad that the proposed changes were examined in detail by the Social Security Advisory Committee, which took evidence from 225 individuals and organisations, from Shelter to the British Medical Association, Disability Alliance, Maternity Alliance, church groups and local councils—of all political persuasions, I hasten to add.

The SSAC concluded that the Government's proposals should not proceed, and stated: We do not believe that it is acceptable that a solution should be sought by putting at risk of destitution"— "destitution" is the word the committee used— many people who are genuinely seeking refuge in this country, amongst whom may be numbered some of the most vulnerable and defenceless in our society".

Photo of Mr Michael Stephen Mr Michael Stephen , Shoreham

Does the hon. Lady recall that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that, to get into the country in the first place, the persons to whom she refers would have to satisfy the immigration officer that they have the means to support themselves while they are here? No question of destitution can arise.

Photo of Ms Liz Lynne Ms Liz Lynne , Rochdale

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can have heard me. I was quoting the report of the Social Security Advisory Committee, which is hardly an anti-Government body—the chairman and members were appointed by the Secretary of State. Does the hon. Gentleman not realise that? But still the Government will not listen—even though that committee's main function is to advise on social security regulations.

The people who support the regulations falsely claim that anyone who applies in-country is bogus. That claim is based on ignorance of the difficulties and the real trauma that asylum seekers have gone through before they get to this country. Many asylum seekers are ignorant of immigration law and the benefit rules. It is hardly surprising that they turn to friends, relatives and organisations for advice before going to Government officials. Often they were frightened of such officials in their own countries.

Most asylum seekers apply within a few days. Some come in on false passports because they cannot get genuine papers in their countries. A study by the Refugee Council showed that 42 per cent. of those who apply for asylum in this country applied on the same day; 8 per cent. within one day; and 31 per cent. within one week. Those are not people who have come to Britain on visitors' visas, stayed for six months, decided that they like the country and applied for political asylum; they are genuine refugees. I do not doubt that there are some people who do that sort of thing. They have to be dealt with quickly and, if they are bogus, they must be dealt with accordingly and sent back to their countries.

We are talking about genuine asylum seekers. The Home Office granted large numbers of genuine asylum seekers permission to come into the country. Between 1992 and 1994, there were 2,495 cases of refugees who applied for asylum in-country, compared with 1,040 who applied at the port of entry. It is more common for genuine asylum seekers to apply in-country.

If the regulations were in place, those 2,495 people could not have had income support, housing benefit or council tax benefit. They would have been destitute. The regulations will, in time, lead to thousands of asylum seekers sleeping rough without any means of support. Think of the human costs—they will hit families with children, disabled people, torture victims and elderly people.

Photo of Mr Alan Howarth Mr Alan Howarth , Stratford-on-Avon

Does the hon. Lady recall that Ministers spent a lot of time last year explaining how much they deplore discrimination against disabled people? Is she surprised that they now plan to discriminate in the benefit system against disabled people who happen to be asylum seekers? Does she agree that the Government's xenophobia will not be tolerated by the British people, who will not accept the destitution and suffering that this policy will cause?

Photo of Ms Liz Lynne Ms Liz Lynne , Rochdale

I could not agree more. Disabled people will suffer along with the elderly and children. Many of those children will be taken into care because they have to be under the Children Act 1989. What will be the cost? How much more money will the Government give local councils to help them with the bill for taking those children into care? If they are not taken into care, what will happen to them? They will be on the streets. [Interruption.] There are beggars on the streets now, but once the regulations come into force, there will be more of them, and families, disabled people and children will be on the streets.

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

Clearly, Conservative Members are not prepared to listen to the hon. Lady's argument, which is based on fact. Perhaps they will take the word of Oxfam, which is preparing to set aside 47,000 sq ft of its ubiquitous black plastic and emergency food rations to assist refugee organisations and the Churches to provide the most meagre shelter for those people, who, under the regulations, will become absolutely destitute and be put on to our streets. Is it likely that Oxfam, an organisation that is overstretched dealing with major human disasters around the world, would be playing games if there were not a real need for such assistance?

Photo of Ms Liz Lynne Ms Liz Lynne , Rochdale

It is not likely at all, and nor is it likely in respect of all the other organisations that are playing their part, or the Churches that have warned that there will be destitute families. They are not anti-Government organisations or people out to get the Government. They are genuinely concerned about children and families who will become destitute. Ultimately, it will lead to many unjust refusals and a breach of the convention on refugees.

Last year, 95 men and women had their initial refusal overturned. Under these regulations, they will have no right to benefit while waiting to appeal. It takes on average 18.4 months for a case to be fully resolved; the initial decision takes on average 8.7 months. What are those people supposed to do? How are they supposed to live? What are the 3,333 people who have been waiting for five years and the 23,000 who have been waiting since 1993 supposed to do? The Government should be speeding up the appeals procedure if they want to cut the social security bill. Had those people not been entitled to benefit, they, too, would have been out on the streets. Do the Government expect local authorities to pick up the tab?

Perhaps the Secretary of State will tell us when replying to the debate where the appeal papers will be delivered. Will they turn up in a box somewhere underneath the arches? How will the people concerned be found? It will be an administrative nightmare. Even if somebody is granted leave to enter this country and the Home Office appeals against it, he or she will still receive no benefit until the appeal is heard.

We need a fair refugee procedure, which must include appeal and a means to support those people during the appeal procedure. I hope that the Secretary of State will change his mind before it is too late, in the name of humanity.

Photo of Mr Robert Hughes Mr Robert Hughes , Harrow West 11:01, 23 January 1996

The speech by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms Lynne) had all the authenticity and voracity that one would expect from a Focus newsletter, which is not saying much.

The Social Security Select Committee's report on benefits says: The Committee shares the widespread view that the growth in the number of unfounded asylum claims, and their cost to the taxpayer, is a serious problem that the Government is right to tackle. There must be a starting point. Some of the Opposition's comments so far would lead us to believe that they did not understand that. Outside this Chamber and its hothouse atmosphere, however, many people of all parties understand it. The general public also understand it, which is why they will welcome the regulations that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has tabled.

Photo of Mr Robert Hughes Mr Robert Hughes , Harrow West

I shall give way just a couple of times.

Photo of Mrs Maria Fyfe Mrs Maria Fyfe , Glasgow Maryhill

I count myself fortunate.

Is not the hon. Gentleman embarrassed that the Churches must now revert to the role that they fulfilled before the introduction of the welfare state—ensuring that people do not go hungry and have some kind of shelter?

Photo of Mr Robert Hughes Mr Robert Hughes , Harrow West

If that were true, I would. We heard all the evidence presented by the hon. Member for Rochdale. We heard the destitution arguments, but they did not stand up to proper examination. Had my right hon. Friend not made the changes that he announced in his statement of 11 January, the 13,000 people who had been on benefit and whose benefit would have been cut off would have been in a difficult position. I recognise that and assume that it is why my right hon. Friend took that correct step.

But let us be clear: none of those people will be in a position that is different from what they expected, or the position that they declared themselves to be in, because they have declared that they will not be a burden on the state and that they recognise that they will not be eligible for social security benefits. That will continue to be the position.

I have no doubt that, when the regulations are introduced, we shall see some of the typical shroud waving that we have come to expect. We shall see some hard cases paraded, but the question that people have to ask is whether they needed to be hard cases at all, or whether they are being paraded as a gimmick to try to discredit what the Government are doing.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Clearly, the hon. Gentleman is unmoved by what he describes as the destitution argument. Is he interested at all in our obligations under international law? We are obliged to give such people rights of appeal. What sort of right of appeal is it if, for the 18 months or perhaps two years that people have to wait for their appeal, they have no means of support? The Opposition believe that the proposals may be within the letter of our international obligations, but they are clearly outside the spirit of our obligations under international law.

Photo of Mr Robert Hughes Mr Robert Hughes , Harrow West

I believe that to be complete nonsense. There is no justification for the very wide-ranging point that the hon. Lady has made. As my right hon. Friend stated in his opening speech, people need not be in that position.

Photo of Mr Alan Howarth Mr Alan Howarth , Stratford-on-Avon

The fourth paragraph of the summary of conclusions of the Select Committee's report provides an endorsement of the Government's view that they are acting in accordance with their obligations under international law. But will the hon. Gentleman make it absolutely clear to the House that it was the Tory majority on the Select Committee that ensured that its report goes so far to endorse the Government's policy?

The proceedings of the Select Committee record a series of far-reaching amendments, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) but defeated in Divisions. As a member of the Select Committee, I concur completely with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North and I greatly regret that the Select Committee's report fails to acknowledge the Government's betrayal of our liberal and humane tradition. The Government's policy will create fear and destitution; it will break up families and be racially divisive, and I abhor it.

Photo of Mr Robert Hughes Mr Robert Hughes , Harrow West

I say two things in response to that intervention. I do not wish to ruin the career of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), but I have the highest regard for his integrity. He tabled the amendments entirely in line with the policies that he has always espoused. It is perfectly right for him to do that.

The views of the newly arrived Labour Member would carry more credibility if he had bothered to stay until the end of the proceedings and vote against publication of the report.

Photo of Mr Alan Howarth Mr Alan Howarth , Stratford-on-Avon

The hon. Gentleman is well aware that I made it entirely clear during the proceedings that I utterly deplored the tenor and thrust of the report. He well knows that I had to be in the Chamber at the end of the proceedings and could not be available to record my vote.

Photo of Mr Robert Hughes Mr Robert Hughes , Harrow West

I think that the hon. Gentleman has an argument with the Hansard reporters, because the point of order that he told us that he was leaving the Committee to make does not appear in the copy of Hansard for that day—

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Order. It would be appropriate if hon. Members addressed the subject matter in hand.

Photo of Mr Robert Hughes Mr Robert Hughes , Harrow West

I turn to the point that has been raised about presenting oneself honestly at the port of entry. In the sixth paragraph of the Select Committee report we recommend that there should be access to appropriate and independent legal advice for all asylum applicants. That is important. There is a project looking into work at ports of entry and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will consider the work carried out there to find out whether anything can be done to ensure that the advice is correct, appropriate and available.

One of the differences between the Select Committee and the Social Security Advisory Committee is that Members of Parliament have constituencies and see the cases that come before them. That is bound to make a difference to the way in which they view the subject. Of course, we see the cases where someone has come to this under one guise, stayed on under another guise and then sought asylum—not necessarily with a good reason for doing so, but merely to prolong his or her stay in this country. As a bonus, they are doing so at the expense of the taxpayer. It is time that that stopped, and that is one of the reasons why I welcome the new regulations.

Photo of Mr Robert Hughes Mr Robert Hughes , Harrow West

I give way to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence).

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

My hon. Friend would notice another difference between the conclusions of the Social Security Select Committee and the conclusions of the Social Security Advisory Committee. The SSAC, having said that the position presents a serious and very difficult problem for the Government", recognises that under the current system benefits may be paid, sometimes for years, to people without foundation and that it is unreasonable to expect the UK taxpayer to support people whose reasons for coming to this country are purely economic", provides no solution to the problem that confronts the Government.

Photo of Mr Robert Hughes Mr Robert Hughes , Harrow West

That indeed is one of the differences.

In previous debates, we were asked to believe that people who fled from the dreadful tyranny of the old regime in South Africa or of Nazi Germany, having found it necessary to use forged passports and documents and to lie to get into this country, would never have been admitted into this country if the regulations before us had been implemented. That is nonsense, and it is insulting to the people who are spoken of.

It is talking nonsense to say that someone fleeing from Nazi Germany, or one of the leaders of the African National Congress, having gone to all that trouble, having obtained the papers and come to this country, would lie on arrival at the port of entry. Those people would declare themselves honestly, and everyone knows it in their heart.

Photo of Mr Robert Hughes Mr Robert Hughes , Harrow West

I have given way enough, and other hon. Members want to take part.

Photo of Mr Robert Hughes Mr Robert Hughes , Harrow West

I have heard that from the hon. Lady before, and it has not been true. The fact is—[Interruption.]

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Order. The House knows the rules full well. If the hon. Member who has the Floor does not give way, other hon. Members must resume their seats.

Photo of Mr Robert Hughes Mr Robert Hughes , Harrow West

The message will travel back to people who intend to come to this country correctly and appropriately seeking asylum, that to seek asylum in the United Kingdom, it is now necessary to do so at the port of entry. Those people will understand that, and that is what they will do.

The bloodcurdling speech by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) was designed to ride two horses. The Labour party knows that it cannot control its left wing unless it makes bloodcurdling speeches against this measure, but it knows that the bulk of its support, and most people in the country, support the measures that my right hon. Friend proposes.

Once again, it is middle-class left wingers, espousing one policy but believing in another. It is the type of "Harmanising" that we have come to expect from the Labour party.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Chair, Social Security Committee, Chair, Social Security Committee 11:12, 23 January 1996

I shall be brief, as many hon. Members have constituency interests in this subject.

The Secretary of State is no doubt seething with anger tonight. He has every reason to feel that way. He knows that he has been stitched up by his Cabinet colleagues, because the Government have slowly woken up to a fact that the country has known for some time—the Home Office is in a shambles. The Home Office is unable to protect our borders—one of its most important duties. Because of its inability to carry out that function, the Secretary of State has been cornered and forced to introduce those regulations and use the social security system as a means of controlling entry to the country because the Home Office has failed.

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

I thank the hon. Gentleman, and the Social Security Select Committee that he chairs, for joining me in being stitched up and approving of the measures that I have just introduced.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Chair, Social Security Committee, Chair, Social Security Committee

It is a pity, given that the Secretary of State thinks that the Committee gave a great deal of support to him, that he did not bother to comment on, agree with and support one of its recommendations—that those authorities at the point of entry, such as Dover and others in London, should not be obliged to foot the cost of the changes that central Government are introducing tonight. The Select Committee report recommended that local authorities be reimbursed fully for the additional costs associated with the changes that we are debating. I shall willingly give way to the Secretary of State to allow him to confirm that that is Government policy.

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

I announced in my statement that we are discussing with local authorities ways in which we can make a substantial contribution to the unavoidable costs that they will incur as a result of the changes. There will be a meeting with local authorities later this week to discuss the matter. That seems a sensible course of action. The House has made representations that the Government should not cover 100 per cent. of the cost, as there should be some incentive for local authorities to economise in the measures that they introduce. Even Westminster has recognised that it should not be 100 per cent. cost recovery.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Chair, Social Security Committee, Chair, Social Security Committee

As to my first point, the House will note that the Secretary of State has peeled himself away from the recommendations in the Select Committee report.

I repeat that we have crossed a threshold tonight. Even if we disagree with the policy, the Secretary of State has a reputation for running his Department. This is the first time that he has had to come to the Dispatch Box and introduce changes which prove that he has been overwhelmed by his colleagues. The DSS must now bring forward policies because the Home Office cannot manage it.

During the debate, the Secretary of State and his hon Friends have said repeatedly that, if we could control the point of entry more effectively, we would not need the regulations. He knows that the Government cannot deliver on that score: hence we have the regulations.

I refer also to the question of fraud. The Secretary of State did not comment on that. My hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) said that many of the figures on which the Secretary of State based his argument tonight are bogus. He will know that the Select Committee is conducting a major inquiry into benefit fraud, including housing benefit fraud and the way that landlords rip off taxpayers. Thankfully, we have almost reached the point where we have only to announce that we are undertaking a fraud inquiry for the Secretary of State to introduce tightening-up measures.

During our inquiry into housing benefit fraud, some of the most effective anti-fraud officers gave evidence before the Select Committee. They pointed out that the Government are so slipshod in administering the national insurance system that there are about 10 million or 20 million more numbers than people in this country. They said that many of those national insurance numbers are being used by people who profess to be asylum seekers in order to register false claims for benefit.

In our report, we suggest that the Secretary of State should respond to that serious abuse by setting up a task force so that we can determine quickly and with some certainty whether the figures showing an increase in the number of asylum seekers—from which the Secretary of State made such capital tonight—are real or bogus. We must determine whether the figures are based on the gangs that are operating in this country and milking the social security system of vast sums of money. Although the Secretary of State claims that the report lent him much support, it is significant that he was not anxious to comment upon that recommendation.

In conclusion, we have crossed a threshold tonight. For the first time that I can remember in his present stewardship, the Secretary of State has sold out his Department. He has put the requirements of the Home Office before his responsibility for running a social security system which meets need. Although he talks bravely and he sometimes acts effectively against fraud, he has done very little to follow up our recommendation. He should look carefully at the way in which gangs of people are claiming to be asylum seekers and boosting the figures, when they are simply ripping off the social security budget and the taxpayers.

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke , City of London and Westminster South 11:19, 23 January 1996

It is always a pleasure and a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). I always seek to be brief, and on this occasion I shall, perforce, need to be. I do not think that a 90-minute debate does justice to this subject, but that must be laid at the door of the usual channels.

First, I must express my appreciation to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the personal trouble he went to in explaining the Government's policy to me. Secondly, in the light of the concerns that caused the delay in the laying of the regulations, I believe that the Departments involved could have paid a greater compliment to this House if they had agreed the transitional compensation arrangements before this debate, rather than opening negotiations on them three days after the debate has taken place, which is asking quite a lot of the faith of hon. Members whose constituencies are directly affected.

Thirdly, events have moved on since the Social Security Advisory Committee report, but to use language at its most neutral, it was a deeply sceptical document. The comparative lack of preparedness for the difficult questions in December leaves me continuing to be sceptical about how things will turn out on the night. In particular, I remind the House of what happened in 1988, when withdrawal of benefits from 16 to 17-year-olds occurred. That we eventually pulled back the number of rough sleepers which that created was partly due to the special hardship provisions, which do not apply in this case, and partly due to the rough sleepers initiative.

Much has been made of the parallel that benefits are denied to citizens of this country while appeals are being heard on the benefits decisions that went against them. But if they are later successful, their claims are backdated. No such relief will be available to voluntary agencies or friends who help an asylum seeker during his appeal. Of course I understand that only 4 per cent. of appeals succeed, and much is made of the fact that 96 per cent. fail, but are the 4 per cent. to be penalised because others, with whom they have no connection save that of category, are expected to fail? The fact that, even if successful in their appeals, they continue to lose benefit if the Home Office appeals against the appeal determination has a touch of Kafka about it.

My right hon. Friends assure me in essence that my fears are groundless, but if they are not, it is on the streets of my constituency, not on the streets of theirs, that this tragedy will be played out. One of my favourite military quotations comes from a British brigadier in Korea, who I believe died last year. He said of his Korean allies: I'm not going to have them executing people on my doorstep. Mutatis mutandis, those are my views, too.

Thus, given that the preparations have not instilled confidence that everything is going to turn out precisely as the Government intend, I cannot give my vote to the Government tonight. What I can do is to give them the benefit of the doubt and not go into the Lobby against them. The benefit of the doubt is afforded to the Government in part because of the cack-handedness of the Opposition: not just because they have settled for a 90-minute debate, though if I were an asylum seeker I would regard that as casual, nor simply because the present arrangements cause genuine problems for race relations—many of my constituents in all honour believe that they are less well treated than the asylum seekers themselves—but most of all, if the Government do not attach sufficient importance to the 4 per cent. who win their appeals, the Opposition seem to see no problem at all in the significance of the 96 per cent. who do not.

Photo of Mr Keith Bradley Mr Keith Bradley Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport) 11:22, 23 January 1996

This important but all too short debate has raised fundamental issues regarding the rights of genuine asylum seekers coming to this country. The Opposition recognise that there is a problem in dealing with large numbers of asylum applications, but we do not accept that the measures in these regulations are the correct way of dealing with the problem.

In particular, as a first step, we strongly believe that attention must be focused on the administrative procedures for dealing with applications in order to reduce the unacceptably long delays, many of which appear to be due entirely to gross inefficiency on the part of the Home Office, and the Government's general failure to implement fully the provisions of the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993.

As the DSS explanatory memorandum on the regulations confirms, it currently takes an average of 18.4 months fully to resolve an asylum application, including any appeal to the immigration authority—in stark contrast with the 1993 Act's target of a maximum of three months. When the Minister replies, will he tell us what action will be taken to increase the efficiency of those procedures? Increased efficiency in itself would reduce the burden on the social security budget.

The Government highlighted the fact that many so-called "bogus" asylum seekers make an application after entry into the United Kingdom. Again, the DSS explanatory memorandum on the regulations omitted to mention—as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) said, the regulations make no allowance for this—that those who are genuinely fleeing persecution may have legitimate and wholly understandable reasons other than a change of circumstances for applying for asylum only after entering the country rather than on arrival: for example, to seek the help and support of relatives and friends before putting their fate into the hands of officialdom. It should be noted that people who do not speak English are often not interviewed in detail on arrival, when an interpreter is not available, but are asked to return to the airport after a few days, when an interpreter will be available.

It is apparent that the majority of genuine after-entry asylum seekers make their applications within a few days, for precisely the reasons that I have given. In that context, it is important to note that in the past the Home Office granted asylum to many after-entry asylum seekers. The Secretary of State tried to deny the figures tonight, but between 1992 and 1994 a total of 2,495 or 6.6 per cent. of after-entry applications were granted asylum, compared with a total of 1,040 or 4.9 per cent. of port applicants. It is reasonable to conclude that all the 2,495 applicants had genuine reasons for seeking asylum after entry into the United Kingdom. The figures show that the Secretary of State is quite wrong to claim, as he did today and in the response to the Social Security Advisory Committee, that the proportion of those recognised as refugees is lower for in-country applicants. Will the Minister comment on those figures when he winds up?

It is still unclear what the extra cost and burden will be on local authorities, for example, for taking children into care under the Children Act 1989. We know now that they will not receive a 100 per cent. rebate. What percentage will they get, and will the money be ring-fenced?

Representations against the regulations have been received from local authorities throughout the country and from many organisations representing the welfare and rights of genuine asylum seekers. The fears and concerns of organisations ranging from the Church, Amnesty International, Disability Alliance, the Child Poverty Action Group, the Refugee Council, Shelter, the Law Society and many others have not been satisfactorily addressed by the Government. The Government's own Social Security Advisory Committee told them not to proceed. We accept the arguments of those organisations, and will vote against the regulations tonight.

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister (Department of Social Security) (Disabled) 11:27, 23 January 1996

Let me briefly remind the House of some of the salient points behind the regulations. First, no one has given proper weight to the fact that the regulations take place against widespread changes in the world which have made economic migration a factor at the end of the 20th century which it never was before. There is ease of communication and travel. I recall The Economist predicting at the beginning of the decade that the 1990s might be the decade of economic migration and that it would affect Europe considerably. We have heard no mention of that.

Secondly, we are dealing with a more than tenfold increase in the number of asylum applications in this country over a 10-year period. In 1984, there were 2,905 applications for asylum. Last year, there were some 40,000. Some 13,000 dependent people were with those asylum seekers. Not only are there £200 million-worth of social security costs, but each asylum seeker is considered to cost about £6,000 a year in other expenditure.

Thirdly, there is a widespread view among groups as diverse as Amnesty International and the Select Committee on. Social Security that there is a widespread problem. It is naive to believe that the British benefit and immigration systems have played no part in the rise in numbers that we have seen. At the same time as there have been increases in applications to Britain, there have been decreases in applications to those of our European neighbours who have applied some measure of control to asylum applications.

With regard to benefit, we seek to distinguish not only between those who are genuine and those who are not, but between those who, when they apply at the port, palpably with nothing, who should be supported, and those who apply later. More than 60 per cent. of those applying for asylum apply more than two months after they have come into the United Kingdom. That information has been provided in a parliamentary answer. We seek to make that distinction because, having said that they had the means to look after themselves while they were here, they should be held to that.

The British people wish to see—

It being half-past Eleven o'clock, MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15 (Delegated Legislation (negative procedures)).

The House divided: Ayes 264, Noes 279.

Division No. 34][11.30 pm
Abbott, Ms DianeBurden, Richard
Adams, Mrs IreneByers, Stephen
Ainger, NickCaborn, Richard
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Callaghan, Jim
Allen, GrahamCampbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Alton, DavidCampbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)Campbel-Savours, D N
Armstrong, HilaryCanavan, Dennis
Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyCann, Jamie
Ashton, JoeCarlile, Alexander (Montgomery)
Austin-Walker, JohnChidgey, David
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Chisholm, Malcolm
Barnes, HarryClapham, Michael
Battle, JohnClark, Dr David (South Shields)
Beckett, Rt Hon MargaretClarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Beith, Rt Hon A JClarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Bell, StuartClelland, David
Benn, Rt Hon TonyClwyd, Mrs Ann
Bennett, Andrew FCoffey, Ann
Benton, JoeCohen, Harry
Bermingham, GeraldConnarty, Michael
Berry, RogerCook, Frank (Stockton N)
Betts, CliveCook, Robin (Livingston)
Boateng, PaulCorbett, Robin
Bradley, KeithCorbyn, Jeremy
Bray, Dr JeremyCorston, Jean
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)Cousins, Jim
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Cunningham, jim (Covy SE)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr JohnKeen, Alan
Cunningham, RoseannaKennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S)
Dafis, CynogKennedy, Jane (L'pool Br'dg'n)
Dalyell, TamKhabra, Piara S
Darling, AlistairKilfoyle, Peter
Davidson, IanKirkwood, Archy
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Davies, Chris (L'Bord & S'worth)Liddell, Mrs Helen
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Litherland, Robert
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)Livingstone, Ken
Denham, JohnLlwyd, Elfyn
Dewar, DonaldLoyden, Eddie
Dixon, DonLynne, Ms Liz
Dobson, FrankMcAllion, John
Dowd, JimMcAvoy, Thomas
Eagle, Ms AngelaMcCartney, Ian
Eastham, KenMcCartney, Robert
Etherington, BillMcCrea, The Reverend William
Evans, John (St Helens N)McFall, John
Ewing, Mrs MargaretMcKelvey, William
Fatchett, DerekMcLeish, Henry
Faulds, AndrewMaclennan, Robert
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)McMaster, Gordon
Flynn, PaulMcNamara, Kevin
Foster, Rt Hon DerekMacShane, Denis
Foster, Don (Bath)McWilliam, John
Foulkes, GeorgeMadden, Max
Fyfe, MariaMaddock, Diana
Galbraith, SamMahon, Alice
Galloway, GeorgeMandelson, Peter
Gapes, MikeMarek, Dr John
Garrett, JohnMarshall, David (Shettleston)
George, BruceMartin, Michael J (Springburn)
Gerrard, NeilMartlew, Eric
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr JohnMaxton, John
Godman, Dr Norman AMeacher, Michael
Godsiff, RogerMeale, Alan
Golding, Mrs LlinMichael, Alun
Gordon, MildredMichie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Graham, ThomasMichie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)Milburn, Alan
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)Miller, Andrew
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Grocott, BruceMoonie, Dr Lewis
Gunnell, JohnMorgan, Rhodri
Hall, MikeMorley, Elliot
Hanson, DavidMons, Rt Hon Alfred (Wy'nshawe)
Harvey, NickMorris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Hattersley, Rt Hon RoyMorris, R Hon John (Aberavon)
Henderson, DougMucle, George
Heppell, JohnMullin, Chris
Hinchliffe, DavidMurphy, Paul
Hodge, MargaretNicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Hoey, KateOakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Home Robertson, JohnO'Brien, Mike (N W'kshire)
Hood, JimmyO'Brien, William (Normanton)
Hoon, GeoffreyOiner, Bill
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)O'Neill, Martin
Howarth, George (Knowsley North)Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Howells, Dr Kim (Pontypridd)Pearson, Ian
Hoyle, DougPendry, Tom
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Pickthall, Colin
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Pike, Peter L
Hume, JohnPope, Greg
Hutton, JohnPowell, Ray (Ogmore)
Illsley, EricPrentice, Bridget (Lew'm E)
Ingram, AdamPrentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)Prescott, Rt Hon John
Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)Primarolo, Dawn
Jamieson, DavidPurchase, Ken
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)Quin, Ms Joyce
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)Randall, Stuart
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)Raynsford, Nick
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)Reid, Dr John
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)Rendel, David
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldRobertson, George (Hamilton)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)Sutcliffe, Gerry
Roche, Mrs BarbaraTaylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Rogers, AllanTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
Rooker, JeffTimms, Stephen
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)Tipping, Paddy
Rowlands, TedTouhig, Don
Ruddock, JoanTyler, Paul
Salmond, AlexVaz, Keith
Sedgemore, BrianWalker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Sheerman, BarryWallace, James
Sheldon, Rt Hon RobertWalley, Joan
Shore, Rt Hon PeterWardell, Gareth (Gower)
Short, ClareWareing, Robert N
Simpson, AlanWatson, Mike
Skinner, DennisWelsh, Andrew
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)Wicks, Malcolm
Smith, Chris (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)Wigley, Dafydd
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Snape, PeterWilliams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Soley, CliveWilson, Brian
Spearing, NigelWinnick, David
Spellar, JohnWise, Audrey
Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)Worthington, Tony
Steel, Rt Hon Sir DavidWright, Dr Tony
Steinberg, GerryYoung, David (Bolton SE)
Stevenson, George
Stott, RogerTellers for the Ayes:
Strang, Dr. GavinMr. Peter Hain and
Straw, JackMr. Dennis Turner.
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)Churchill, Mr
Aitken, Rt Hon JonathanClappison, James
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Amess, DavidClarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif)
Ancram, Rt Hon MichaelClifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Arbuthnot, JamesCoe, Sebastian
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Congdon, David
Ashby, DavidConway, Derek
Atkins, Rt Hon RobertCoombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Baker, Rt Hon Kenneth (Mole V)Couchman, James
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)Cran, James
Baldry, TonyCurrie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Bates, MichaelDavies, Quentin (Stamford)
Batiste, SpencerDavis, David (Boothferry)
Bellingham, HenryDay, Stephen
Bendall, VivianDeva, Nirj Joseph
Beresford, Sir PaulDevlin, Tim
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnDorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Body, Sir RichardDouglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Bonsor, Sir NicholasDover, Den
Booth, HartleyDuncan, Alan
Boswell, TimDuncan-Smith, Iain
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)Dunn, Bob
Bottomley, Rt Hon VirginiaDurant, Sir Anthony
Bowden, Sir AndrewDykes, Hugh
Bowls, JohnEggar, Rt Hon Tim
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir RhodesElletson, Harold
Brandreth, GylesEmery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Brazier, JulianEvans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Bright, Sir GrahamEvans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Brown, M (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Browning, Mrs AngelaEvans, Roger (Monmouth)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset)Evennett, David
Burt, AlistairFaber, David
Butcher, JohnFabricant, Michael
Butler, PeterField, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Butterfill, JohnFishburn, Dudley
Carlisle, John (Luton North)Forman, Nigel
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln)Forsyth, Rt Hon Michael (Stirling)
Carrington, MatthewForth, Eric
Carttiss, MichaelFowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Cash, WilliamFox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Chapman, Sir SydneyFox, Rt Hon Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Freeman, Rt Hon RogerMcNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
French, DouglasMadel, Sir David
Gale, RogerMaitland, Lady Olga
Gallie, PhilMalone, Gerald
Gardiner, Sir GeorgeMans, Keith
Garnier, EdwardMarlow, Tony
Gill, ChristopherMarshall, John (Hendon S)
Gillan, CherylMarshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Goodlad, Rt Hon AlastairMates, Michael
Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesMawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian
Gorman, Mrs TeresaMayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Gorst, Sir JohnMellor, Rt Hon David
Grant, Sir A (SW Cambs)Merchant, Piers
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Greenway, John (Ryedale)Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)Moate, Sir Roger
Grylls, Sir MichaelMonro, Rt Hon Sir Hector
Gummer, Rt Hon John SelwynMontgomery, Sir Fergus
Hague, Rt Hon WilliamNeedham, Rt Hon Richard
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir ArchibaldNeubert, Sir Michael
Hamilton, Neil (Talton)Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Hampson, Dr KeithNicholls, Patrick
Hanley, Rt Hon JeremyNicholson, David (Taunton)
Hannam, Sir JohnNorris, Steve
Hargreaves, AndrewOnslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley
Harris, DavidOppenheim, Phillip
Hawkins, NickOttaway, Richard
Hawksley, WarrenPage, Richard
Hayes, JerryPaice, James
Heald, OliverPatten, Rt Hon John
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon DavidPattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Hendry, CharlesPawsey, James
Heseltine, Rt Hon MichaelPeacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hicks, RobertPorter, Barry (Wirral S)
Higgins, Rt Hon Sir TerencePorter, David (Waveney)
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tharn)Powell, William (Colby)
Horam, JohnRedwood, Rt Hon John
Hordem, Rt Hon Sir PeterRenton, Rt Hon Tim
Howard, Rt Hon MichaelRichards, Rod
Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)Riddick, Graham
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Hunter, AndrewRobathan, Andrew
Jack, MichaelRoberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Jenkin, BernardRobinson, Mark (Somerton)
Jessel, TobyRoe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Johnson Smith, Sir GeoffreyRowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Jones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr)Sackville, Tom
Jopling, Rt Hon MichaelSainsbury, Rt Hon Sir Timothy
Kellett-Bowman, Dame ElaineScott, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Key, RobertShaw, David (Dover)
King, Rt Hon TomShaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Kirkhope, TimothyShephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Knapman, RogerShepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)Sims, Roger
Knight, Rt Hon Greg (Derby N)Skeet, Sir Trevor
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'stn)Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Knox, Sir DavidSoames, Nicholas
Kynoch, George (Kincardine)Spencer, Sir Derek
Lait, Mrs JacquiSpicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Lamont, Rt Hon NormanSpicer, Sir Michael (S Worcs)
Lang, Rt Hon IanSpink, Dr Robert
Lawrence, Sir IvanSpring, Richard
Legg, BarrySproat, Iain
Leigh, EdwardSquire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Lennox-Boyd, Sir MarkStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Lidington, DavidSteen, Anthony
Lilley, Rt Hon PeterStephen, Michael
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)Stern, Michael
Lord, MichaelStewart, Allan
Luff, PeterSumberg, David
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir NicholasSweeney, Walter
MacKay, AndrewSykes, John
Maclean, Rt Hon DavidTapsell, Sir Peter
McLoughlin, PatrickTaylor, Ian (Esher)
Taylor, John M (Solihull)Ward, John
Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Temple-Morris, PeterWaterson, Nigel
Thomason, RoyWatts, John
Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)Wells, Bowen
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)Whitney, Ray
Thomton, Sir MalcolmWhittingdale, John
Thumham, PeterWiddecombe, Ann
Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Tracey, RichardWilkinson, John
Tredinnick, DavidWilletts, David
Trend, MichaelWilshire, David
Trotter, NevilleWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Twinn, Dr IanWinterton, Nicholas (Macc'fld)
Vaughan, Sir GerardWood, Timothy
Viggers, PeterYeo, Tim
Waldegrave, Rt Hon WilliamYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Walden, George
Walker, Bill (N Tayside)Tellers for the Noes:
Waller, GaryMr. Simon Burns and
Mr. Gary Streeter.

Question accordingly negatived.