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Asylum Seekers: Accommodation Centres

– in the House of Lords at 3:17 pm on 1st November 2001.

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Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Party Chair, Liberal Democrats 3:17 pm, 1st November 2001

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What consideration they have given to the legal implications of their decision to deny financial support to asylum seekers who do not take up places in reception centres.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Asylum and Immigration), Home Office, Minister (Home Office) (Asylum & Immigration)

My Lords, we have considered, and are continuing to consider, the legal implications of denying financial support to asylum seekers who decline to take up a place in one of the trial accommodation centres. Further details of the precise proposals will be set out in the White Paper that was announced in the Statement on 29th October.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Party Chair, Liberal Democrats

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. He has often dealt in a very open and robust way with the questions put to him. Having flattered the Minister, may I ask him this? Before he incurs any expenditure in relation to the setting up of reception centres, will he look at the experiment carried out during the admission of 28,000 Ugandan Asians to this country as refugees when it was found that reception centres did not work? The refugees moved quickly into the community where they received better support and, more importantly, were able to work and settle permanently. Is it not cheaper to allow asylum seekers to receive support in the community, together with the appropriate social security support, rather than incur expenditure beyond what they would normally receive?

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Asylum and Immigration), Home Office, Minister (Home Office) (Asylum & Immigration)

My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord's flattery. Given that the Question was tabled only 26 hours ago, I think that we have done quite well so far. There is no comparison whatever with the entry of the Ugandan Asians or the Vietnamese boat people--in regard to which I have paid tribute to the previous administration. Those cases involved a defined number of people over a specific period of time and one could plan. There is no planning in relation to the asylum seekers who are currently entering this country--roughly some 6,000 a month. We do not know how many are entering the country each week or where they come from. We cannot plan. To compare what happened in those years with what is happening now is to compare chalk and cheese.

As we made clear in the Statement, we are not expecting everyone to go to the accommodation centres; we are trialling the centres. We shall have only 3,000 places, using the centres, it is hoped, twice a year. That accounts for only 6,000. The present flow of asylum seekers into the country is about 6,000 a month. So for 90 per cent of asylum seekers, the normal system--better managed, I accept, as was stated earlier in the week, in terms of ending the voucher system and the move to smart cards, and in terms of the management of the dispersal system--will continue for a period of time. That is inevitable. We are seeking to run a fairer, faster system, end to end--so that people who succeed can be integrated faster. But those who fail will be removed faster.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, in view of the fact that about 60 per cent of asylum applications arise from people who have apparently already been in the United Kingdom for an unknown length of time, as the Minister told us when we discussed the Statement on Monday, are the Government considering a scheme to ensure that foreign nationals entering the United Kingdom are registered on arrival?

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Asylum and Immigration), Home Office, Minister (Home Office) (Asylum & Immigration)

My Lords, I do not think that that matter is connected with what we are discussing. Many people who apply for asylum in country have arrived clandestinely. They did not enter the country via a port of entry with a passport and did not present themselves to an immigration officer. Those who have done so and who are not citizens of the European Union will have had their passports checked against the warnings index. Their passports will be "swiped" through the relevant machine and if they are not listed on the warnings index--the vast majority of passports are not--and they have a visa or the necessary documents, they will be allowed to enter the country. As I say, that matter is not connected with what we are discussing. We do not keep a record of all people entering the country. People may think that a passport that is "swiped" is recorded, but that is not the case. The point of "swiping" a passport is to check it against the warnings index--that is done in an instant--to determine whether someone is a banned person or is on the warnings index. To record people entering the country would involve much extra work. There are no embarkation controls.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Liberal Democrat

My Lords, will the Minister clarify the improvements that have been made to the dispersal system? As he is well aware, under the dispersal system asylum seekers were often sent to estates that were already overburdened with social problems and many local authorities complained of lack of consultation and liaison with central government. Are those problems being addressed? How exactly is the dispersal system being improved?

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Asylum and Immigration), Home Office, Minister (Home Office) (Asylum & Immigration)

My Lords, these issues are detailed in the papers that were placed in the Library on Monday afternoon when the Statement was made. The review of the dispersal system and the review of the voucher system have both been extensive. We have set out the recommendations that were made. I refer to two aspects of the dispersal system that could be improved; namely, dispersal according to language and the issue of having much greater consultation with the authorities in areas to which people are dispersed. Some loopholes exist but the system has been incredibly successful when one considers that in 18 months, from a standing start, 30,000 people have been dispersed. There have been problems and there have been tragedies but, by and large, it has been a successful operation. I referred to two aspects of the dispersal system that could be improved; the others are listed in the papers that were published on Monday. Those matters do not require much legislation or even a White Paper. We are implementing the recommendations both in respect of vouchers--in so far as we can in advance of legislation being introduced--and dispersal.

Photo of Lord Corbett of Castle Vale Lord Corbett of Castle Vale Labour

My Lords, may I invite my noble friend to look again at the recommendation of the Home Affairs Select Committee in another place made earlier this year; namely, that people should be able to make applications for asylum in countries of their choice from the first safe country in which they arrive?

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Asylum and Immigration), Home Office, Minister (Home Office) (Asylum & Immigration)

My Lords, we are discussing that matter with our partners in Europe, bearing in mind that most safe countries are members of the European Union. As we indicated on Monday, we are also considering a system of managed migration whereby people are able to make applications outside this country if their prime purpose is to work in this country. The details of the proposals will be set out in the White Paper to be published shortly.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, we have reached the 25th minute and there is another important Question to be discussed.