Asylum Applicants

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 Harry Cohen Harry Cohen , Leyton 12:00 am, 20th February 1997

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will review his policy on the detention of asylum applicants. [15290]

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Detention is used very sparingly, and only when there are good grounds for believing that a person will not comply with the terms of temporary admission. We have no plans to review our policy on detention: its carefully targeted use is vital if we are to uphold our immigration laws.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen , Leyton

Did the Government's use of prolonged detention not cost taxpayers £20 million last year? Did it not flout the opinion of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, who believes that detention should be used only in exceptional circumstances and for a maximum of 48 hours? As more than 20 per cent. of asylum seekers were detained for longer than 48 hours, does that not make a mockery of the Government's claim that detention is used as a last resort? Instead of the Government taking unlimited judicial powers, should there not be a maximum time limit on detention and judicial safeguards?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

No. At any time, only about 1 per cent. of those with asylum applications outstanding are held in detention. Detention is used sparingly, and for those who would otherwise abscond. If we did not use detention in that way, it would make a mockery of our immigration controls.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin , Colchester North

May I assure my right hon. and learned Friend that the vast majority of people in this country think that he and the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe), have behaved entirely reasonably on this matter? May I condemn the campaign of personal vilification of them that has been conducted without restraint?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but my right hon. Friend and I have broad shoulders. We take considerable comfort from the fact that the changes that we have made to our asylum and immigration laws, which were bitterly opposed by the Labour party, have led to a halving of the number of applications for asylum in this country, and to substantial savings for the British taxpayer.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

What steps has the Home Secretary taken to review the cases of the people on hunger strike at Her Majesty's prison in Rochester, who are seeking asylum in this country? What policy will he pursue to deal with the problem of people who go on hunger strike to draw attention to their just grievances against him and his Department?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

All such cases are of course kept under review, but I do not think that it would be at all right for us to give special preference to certain cases because those involved happen to go on hunger strike. We try to deal with every case as quickly and justly as possible.