Asylum Seekers (Benefits)

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 10th May 2004.

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Photo of David Kidney David Kidney Labour, Stafford 2:30 pm, 10th May 2004

If he will exempt from the arrangements for withdrawal of benefits from failed asylum seekers those whom his Department fails to remove from the UK within a reasonable time.

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Minister of State (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Nationality)

The Government do not believe that failed asylum seekers should be provided with benefits or support from the state. Failed asylum seekers have had every opportunity to make their case and, importantly, have exhausted the legal process, but have been found to have no right to remain in the UK. Providing support to those who are not removed within a certain time would act as a perverse incentive for failed asylum seekers deliberately to frustrate removal. However, those failed asylum seekers who are destitute and unable to leave the UK immediately for reasons entirely beyond their control can seek the provision of accommodation under section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.

Photo of David Kidney David Kidney Labour, Stafford

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, and it is a pleasure to see him in the position that he now has.

When the Select Committee reported on the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill, it said that the priority should be the removal of failed asylum seekers. Will my hon. Friend confirm that there is no official encouragement for the view that taking away benefits is a good enough job done and that removals are still the priority? If he does not like the incentive that I have suggested, is there one that he thinks is better?

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Minister of State (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Nationality)

I thank my hon. Friend twofold—first, for his welcome, and secondly, for his question. He is right to place an emphasis on removal. After all, as I said in reply to the substantive question, those who have failed in their claim for asylum and who have had the opportunity to make their case have been found to have no right to remain in the United Kingdom. The Government's approach to support is part of a package of measures that are designed to improve our ability to be able to remove those failed asylum seekers. We have had conspicuous success in that regard, with removals now running at about twice the level that they were in 1997 and increasing.

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Parliamentary Private Secretaries To Leader of the Opposition

I, too, welcome the hon. Gentleman to his position. I have known his predecessors well.

As the Minister knows, I paid a visit to the Yarlswood detention centre last week and saw a number of detainees and immigration officials. I was staggered by the number of pieces of paper and claims from detainees about the wrongful advice that they had received from those who had allegedly been advising them, whether in relation to benefits, their status or anything else. Does he share our concern about that, and will he say how he intends to tackle the issue now that he has the opportunity?

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Minister of State (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Nationality)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution. In the short time that I have been in the job, I have already had constructive discussions with him about matters relating to his temporary constituents, as I trust they will be, at Yarlswood. I know that he has recently visited there.

The hon. Gentleman is right to identify the damage that is done not only to the system, but to individuals' expectations by inappropriate, improper and often misleading advice. Indeed, I am struck by the number of reports that I have heard from removal centres of not only legal advisers but others raising false hopes in the minds of the people detained. He will know that, with the help of the Legal Services Commission, we have been able to make significant improvements to the quality of the service that has been provided. He will also know that there are provisions in the Bill that is currently before the other place in relation to legal aid, which is an important part of the process. If those provisions are enacted, they will improve the quality of that advice.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Hall Green

I agree with my hon. Friend Mr. Kidney that we need the rapid removal of failed asylum seekers. Is not the real sense of grievance and outrage directed at the judges who persistently seem to favour those who seek to thwart our entitlement rules at the expense of the very people in this country who have to pay for it all?

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Minister of State (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Nationality)

My hon. Friend makes a point in relation to criticism of our judiciary to which I do not think he would expect me, as an Executive Minister, to respond from the Dispatch Box. My responsibility as a Minister is to ensure that we are properly equipped to make our arguments before the courts, to explain the law as passed by Parliament and to ensure that it is enforced. For so long as I have these responsibilities, I will seek to discharge them.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

May I crave your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, and welcome the Minister to his position? I hope that it is not too harmful to him to say that, the instant that he was appointed, I was approached by Lord Brooke, the previous Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to tell me how intelligent, straightforward and energetic the Minister is. He will need all those attributes in his new task.

To return to the question, the confusion of the policy is unsurprising given how the Government create policy. One category of asylum seekers are those from eastern Europe, who are now covered by a new set of regulations that were laid before Parliament only days before they came into force on 1 May. The relevant Committee of the House of Lords said:

"The need for these regulations has been known for some time: the decision of the Government to open United Kingdom borders to workers from all Accession States from 1 May was announced in December 2002. In view of this, the House may wish to invite the Government to explain why the regulations were not laid sooner."

What is the Minister's answer?

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Minister of State (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Nationality)

I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome, which he coupled with remarks by Lord Brooke. That delighted me even more. Lord Brooke is someone with great erudition, humanity and humour. Indeed, he may have been exercising his humour when he phoned the right hon. Gentleman. If Lord Brooke's regard for me is high, it is surpassed only by my regard for him. However, with the pleasantries over, let us go to battle.

First, the right hon. Gentleman consistently conflates the two issues of immigration and asylum. I am never sure whether he does that deliberately or accidentally, but the more he does it, the more I am persuaded that he does it deliberately. If that is the case, it is dangerous for social cohesion in this country.

Secondly, there is no second category of asylum seekers. The right hon. Gentleman well knows that people were seeking asylum in this country at the point of accession and we are obliged to continue to process those applications in relation to the convention and our laws if they do not wish to withdraw them. They will be treated in exactly the same way as all other asylum applications.

Thirdly, the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the timing of the regulations in relation to the workers registration scheme. As he knows, the most important thing about turning up for a play is to be there when it starts. In this case, the play did not start until 1 May and the regulations were fully in place.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

It is unsurprising that the Minister has learned the habits of the Home Office quickly and did not answer the question. The late delivery reflects the complete shambles of the Government's immigration and asylum policy. It is such a disaster that their own Social Security Advisory Committee said of the regulations:

"We recommend that the proposals in their current form should not be proceeded with."

How does the Minister explain this disaster?

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Minister of State (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Nationality)

If the right hon. Gentleman writes his supplementary questions before he hears the answer, he has the problem that they bear no relationship to the answer. I answered every part of the question that he asked me. If he checks the record tomorrow, he will see that that is the case.

On the package of regulations, of course the Social Security Advisory Committee had the opportunity to consider the benefits regulations and to have an opinion on them. The House had the final opinion, however. If it is the right hon. Gentleman's view that the regulations are as set out in the Social Security Advisory Committee's report, he knows exactly what he should do about it.

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson Labour, Hampstead and Highgate

Is it not the case that the speed of removal of a failed asylum seeker is not exclusively the responsibility of the Home Office, but relates also to the fact that the receiving country's officials are extremely slow to undertake their paperwork? In both instances, the failed asylum seeker has no responsibility whatever. Surely it is wrong to penalise not only the asylum seekers but, most markedly, their children by removing support and possibly shelter.

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Minister of State (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Nationality)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to explain that we do not remove support in those circumstances. She is right to point out that our ability to remove asylum seekers, especially to their countries of origin, is often a function of our ability to get those countries to redocument them to enable them to travel. That is why the Prime Minister is today discussing that very issue with the Premier of China.

Photo of Mark Oaten Mark Oaten Shadow Secretary of State for Home Affairs, Home Affairs

I also welcome the Minister to his new post. If he has a chance, will he look again at the Government's plans to remove benefits from the children of asylum seekers, planned under the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill? Given last week's U-turn on the right to appeal, is it not also right to have a U-turn on this draconian measure? Given that the right to appeal has gone, the removal of this measure may enable him to get cross-party support for the Bill.

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Minister of State (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Nationality)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome. I have read the record of the debates on this issue, which was recently debated in the other place, and I know that he understands the Government's position. If an asylum application has failed, people should return to their home if they are free to do so. It would be a dereliction of our duty to those people whose asylum applications succeed and move on to refugee status, and to our ability to provide that level of refuge in future, if we did not have rules about the cut-off point.

Let us take as an example those people whom David Davis chose to question me on, whose countries are now members of the European Union and have reached the threshold in relation to human rights that allows them to join the European Union. What does Mr. Oaten want the Government to do about them? He wants us to remove them. If the impediment to the removal of those people is their own behaviour, why should the taxpayers of this country support them?