My Lords, the Home Office is working to improve asylum decision-making processes. The work will simplify, streamline and digitise processes, ensuring that asylum claimants are treated quickly and fairly and that claims which do not qualify are rapidly identified and prepared for return.
I thank my noble friend for that reply; clearly, she agrees that it is only fair that applications for asylum be considered as speedily as possible and that those who fail to meet our conditions are removed from the country, also as quickly as possible. But in this context, will she confirm that the Government still adhere to the important criteria set down in the United Nations refugee convention of 1951 in determining our cases?
I can certainly confirm that. Clearly, it is in everybody’s interests, including somebody who is coming here to claim asylum, that we process cases quickly and expedite them through the system.
My Lords, the Minister will know the importance for those in need of asylum of safe and legal routes to the UK directly, rather than undertaking hazardous journeys on land and sea. The UK’s vulnerable persons resettlement scheme was one such route and has been something of a success story. However, with the scheme still paused, I believe, due to Covid, what discussions have the Government had with local authorities, and perhaps with voluntary sector groups, about their capacity in the light of Covid to restart it and—dare I say it?—extend it?
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate, absolutely rightly, points to the work that local authorities are doing and we are most grateful to them; 80 local authorities have pledged more than 330 places to support our national transfer scheme. But he is also right to point out that in parallel with requests for more local authorities to support the NTS, we have launched a consultation on a more sustainable long-term model for the NTS.
My Lords, given that my noble friend has committed to the importance of resettlement as the best means of avoiding dangerous routes and people trafficking of asylum seekers, will she commit once again to investigate the expansion, post Covid, of person-to-person interviews in refugee camps, especially in Jordan and Lebanon, as opposed to virtual interviews?
In an ideal world, we would have been doing face-to-face interviews, but for the simpler cases, if you like, virtual interviews have been more efficient. That is not right in every case, but clearly, we should make the most of our digital capabilities where it is appropriate.
The noble and learned Baroness will know that a victim of modern slavery is not necessarily a refugee or someone who needs asylum; many of them are UK nationals. What is important is that victims of modern slavery receive the right support and help to get them out of the situation in which they have become embroiled.
My Lords, outside the EU, last year we granted family reunion visas to almost 7,500 people, and have granted 29,000 since 2015, so there is a family reunion route through resettlement and we have no intention of stopping that.
My Lords, if the asylum system is not institutionally homophobic and transphobic, what explanation can the Minister offer as to why the latest Home Office figures show that, yet again, the grant rate for applicants for asylum identifying as LGBT+ was significantly lower, as a percentage, compared with those granted asylum from the general cohort?
What I can tell the noble Lord is that, as he will know, caseworkers have gone through an awful lot of training with the help of UKLGIG and Stonewall to ensure that people who apply on the grounds of homophobia in their country of origin have their cases treated fairly. I hope that that is reflected—although the noble Lord disagrees with me—in the outcome of those cases.
I was very pleased to meet my honourable friend Kevin Foster MP and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham last week to establish how people, whether they are fleeing a country because of persecution or conflict, can apply for jobs. Many of these people do not want to come here to claim benefits; they want to work. We have been discussing that with the right reverend Prelate, and those discussions will be ongoing.
The UK requires asylum seekers who wish to work and contribute to our economy to wait up to 12 months, pending their application being processed. The application process surely needs to be speeded up. The Government have said that over the past approximately 18 months, they have increased the number of decision-makers from about 350 to more than 630. By how much has the average time taken to consider asylum cases been shortened since the beginning of 2019, and what is now the target figure for the average time taken to determine asylum cases?
The noble Lord will appreciate that the past nine months have been unprecedented in terms of being able efficiently to deliver certain things, including the outcome of asylum cases. I do not have the exact figure to hand—I can get it for him—but I would imagine that that process has slowed, given the Covid-19 restrictions we have all been living under.
I think the noble Baroness will know that, in discussion with the ONS and others, we have set that rate as the one we think appropriate.
I declare my interest as a vice-chairman of the Human Trafficking Foundation. Further to the answer given to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, can my noble friend confirm that victims of modern slavery who are not from the UK could be treated in the same way as those who are seeking asylum?
Victims who are not from the UK will have the support and help they need to get out of the situation into which they have been forced or in which they find themselves, which is a slightly different issue from seeking asylum. In other words, you are either a victim of trafficking and slavery, in which case you need one set of support, or you are seeking asylum from a dangerous country.
What discussions are taking place with the Government of France about the new arrangements for asylum co-operation? If the present Dublin agreement fails and we fail to reach an agreement, what will happen regarding asylum seekers settling in this country and the future prospects of settlement?
Clearly, France is geographically very close to us. We are in constant dialogue with France. We do not seek to replicate Dublin, of course, but in our reaching out to the EU with legal texts to see what happens after the transition period, we remain hopeful that those discussions will be fruitful.