I support Amendment 20 and will address the asylum angle. Ms Patel is quite right that the asylum system is broken, but the repairs that are required need not—must not—mean recourse to water cannons or wave machines, disused oil rigs or ferries, Ascension Island or Papua New Guinea, all of which would mean further breaches of international law, this time the refugee convention.
The problem is not the one that Ms Patel addressed yesterday. The realm is not at risk from the summer surge in small boat arrivals. Although as a proportion more are coming that way, overall numbers of asylum applications are sharply down—by 40% compared to one year ago. No doubt that is partly related to Covid-19, but it shows how absurd is talk of invasion. The real problem is how to make the system more efficient and more humane. Ms Patel does not need to think outside the box. The tools are in her hands now. Making it more efficient means putting more resources into tackling the backlog and reducing the queue and providing better guidance to those who have to take the decisions.
The Home Office used to aim to process all straightforward asylum cases within six months. Today, the queue is over 100,000 people, 54,000 of whom are awaiting an initial decision, and 38,756 of the people waiting—72%—have been waiting for more than six months, an increase of 57% compared with this time last year. That too will no doubt be partly virus-related, but the remedy is in the hands of the Home Office.
As for better guidance for those who must decide on asylum applications, it is remarkable that over 40% of initial refusals are overturned on appeal. That rather suggests that instructions to the decision-takers need rapid and comprehensive review. There must be lessons to be learned from losing so many cases on appeal.
Cutting the queue through greater efficiency would be the main thing to do, and so would release from detention within 28 days, as proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in her amendment. But let us not pretend that we treat asylum seekers humanely even when they are not in detention. They are not allowed to work, and anyone paying an asylum seeker commits a criminal offence, which in my view makes it inhumane to expect asylum seekers to live on £5.66 a day. When, because of the virus, universal credit payments went up by £20 per week, the Refugee Council and others pressed the Government to do the same for asylum seekers. The Government agreed to increase the payment. They increased it from £37.75 to £39.60 per week—an increase of 20p per day.
It cannot be very easy to live off £5.66 per day. In an unfamiliar country, where one may not know the language, the temptation to take a paying job in the black economy must be huge. It is not the asylum seeker’s fault that the queue for a decision, in which he is stuck, is so long. It is the system that is unfair to them. It is as inhumane as it is inefficient, and because it is inefficient, it is inhumane. The amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the other amendments in this group, all of which I support, would make it marginally less inhumane.