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First, I congratulate Greg Mulholland on securing this debate. He is continuing his long interest in this case and the wider issues that it raises. He sought, as is his right as a Member of this House, to put his concerns on the record, and he has done that in a forceful but measured way. I want to try to respond to some of the specific points put to me, but he will be aware that it is not the policy of the Government to discuss individual cases, especially when they are the subject of ongoing legal proceedings, as they are in this case.
The wider context is that the Government are delivering the biggest shake-up of the immigration system in a generation, and are transforming the asylum system. The Government proudly maintain the United Kingdom's tradition of providing protection to individuals who are found to be at risk of persecution or ill-treatment if they return to their home countries. To honour those obligations, the UK Border Agency has established an entirely new process for managing asylum applicants. Case ownership has improved the asylum process by giving responsibility for concluding consideration of applications to one person. That has created a strong incentive for cases to be concluded by giving case owners clear targets to work towards. Trained caseworkers in UKBA carefully consider all asylum and human rights claims on their individual merits, in accordance with our obligations under the 1951 UN refugee convention and the European convention on human rights.
All applications are considered against the background of the latest available country information and after full consideration of all the evidence provided. By the end of last year, as a result of those new processes, 60 per cent. of new applicants were granted permission to remain or removed within six months. By comparison, in 1997 it took an average of 22 months just to take an initial decision on asylum applications. We are succeeding in our goal of handling applications faster. That helps those who need our protection to integrate quickly into our communities, and it means that those who do not need that protection know quickly that they should leave. Asylum intake has remained broadly at the same level for the past four years, and it is less than a third of the level at which it peaked in 2002.
Last year, around 30 per cent. of the applications for asylum that were considered resulted in some kind of protection being granted in the first instance. Each of the applicants who were refused had a right of appeal to independent courts. The Asylum and Immigration Tribunal hears and decides such appeals, and it is for judges in the tribunal to decide the remit of the appeal hearing. The hon. Gentleman raised concerns about the use of immigration detention in the case that he described. Again, I must stress that there are ongoing legal proceedings on that matter, and I do not want to prejudice those in any way. However, I can talk about the wider issue.
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