Asylum Seekers

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th February 1997.

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Photo of Mr Nirj Deva Mr Nirj Deva , Brentford and Isleworth 12:00 am, 20th February 1997

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many people claimed asylum in (a) 1995 and (b) 1996; and if he will make a statement. [15281]

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone

A total of 43,965 applications for asylum were made in 1995 and 27,930 in 1996, representing a 36 per cent. decrease on the previous year. This substantial fall in the numbers claiming asylum clearly demonstrates the success of the measures that we have taken to deter undeserving applications.

Photo of Mr Nirj Deva Mr Nirj Deva , Brentford and Isleworth

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Is she aware that this year marks the 25th anniversary of the resettlement—under a Conservative Government—of the Ugandan Asians who were kicked out of Uganda by Idi Amin? Is she aware of what a great success story they are in this country—unlike the Kenyan Asians, who were not allowed to settle in this country by a Labour Government?

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone

My hon. Friend demonstrates how important it is that we give asylum to genuine asylum seekers. That has always been the policy of Conservative Governments and, indeed, it will remain the policy of Conservative Governments. As my hon. Friend has demonstrated, the Opposition talk much about more care of asylum seekers, but their record does not match their words. I support my hon. Friend's view of the contribution made to the economy by those who settled under the concession that the Conservative Government gave at that time; I welcome very much their contribution to the economy and I thank my hon. Friend for reminding the House of it.

Photo of Neil Gerrard Neil Gerrard , Walthamstow

If the Minister is so anxious to assist genuine asylum seekers, why is it that in 1996, although three quarters of the people granted asylum were in-country applicants, she took benefits away from precisely those people through the Asylum and Immigration Bill?

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone

Our view has always been that those who seek asylum in this country should tell us honestly what they are about at the point of entry from the ports. It does not follow that there is never such a thing as a valid in-country applicant; we have never said that. Some in-country applicants have entered validly and circumstances have then changed in their home country, so there is no particular point to be made on that score. The point that we would make, however, is that far too many loopholes were being exploited by people who entered the country in one guise, turned around and claimed asylum and then, despite having convinced immigration officers and entry clearance officers that they could keep themselves, turned to the state for support. We did not believe that that was reasonable.

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, between 1986 and 1996, there was a tenfold increase in the number of asylum seekers wanting to come to this country, nine out of 10 of whom were bogus, but that the number fell by nearly 50 per cent. when we tightened benefit arrangements? Does she agree that any political party which trumpeted to the world that it was tough on the abuse of benefit and then connived at and tried to support the ripping off of the British taxpayer to the extent of £300 million per year would be hypocritical in the extreme, and was that not Labour party policy?

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone

My hon. and learned Friend sums it up admirably. It is worth reflecting that the reason why there was such a vast increase in asylum applications in this country at that time was that the rest of Europe had already decided to toughen up on its procedures because they were being so abused. It is significant that, whereas applications in this country doubled over that period, they halved in the rest of Europe. That made it clear that we had become the focus for abuse, and it is our duty to the British taxpayer to avoid and combat abuse wherever possible. Labour Members talk about being tough and fair, but they have been unable to tell us a single thing that they would do which would benefit genuine asylum applicants and at the same time deter bogus ones. They have consistently dodged that important question.

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson , Newcastle upon Tyne North

Before the right hon. Lady gets too carried away with self-congratulation in playing her asylum card, will she acknowledge two statistics? First, in 1996 the waiting time for dealing with an application increased from 10 months to 12 months. Secondly, the number of people waiting to have an appeal heard has increased from 3,500 at the beginning of 1995 to more than 20,000 today. Do not those statistics show that the system is still ineffective and unfair? It is ineffective because those who will be granted asylum have to suffer worry and anxiety, while those who will not be granted asylum are allowed to stay here for months and sometimes years before they are removed.

Let me correct the hon. Gentleman's statistics. In 1996, 38,960 decisions were taken:

that figure is not down, but up by 44 per cent. on the number taken in 1995. The number of adjudicator appeals determined in 1996 was 13,790—nearly twice as many as in 1995. That is as a result of the extra money and extra case workers that we have put in. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman does his homework a little better.