We have had a wide-ranging debate on a number of issues concerning support and access to various benefits. I shall deal first with new clauses 9 and 20 because they relate to section 55 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 in relation to support for people when they first come into the country.
Section 55 is part of a wider package of measures in the 2002 Act designed to create a more streamlined and cohesive asylum system. It was aimed, primarily, at tackling abuses that we were experiencing, and still are. I have mentioned some instances that intelligence shows us are still happening. We wanted to bring about a change in behaviour on the reasonable assumption that somebody fleeing persecution, or in fear of his life, would want to claim asylum in the safe country in which he had arrived as soon as possible. That would, surely, be as soon as he arrived on the UK mainland and came through a port. Why would somebody go through a port and claim some time later, in country? It was a reasonable assumption. It was also an attempt, through getting people to change their behaviour and claim at port, to break the power of the traffickers. The traffickers, the criminals who are paid to bring people in, say to them, ''Do not claim at the port. Go into the country, claim later and don't tell anyone how you came in. Don't tell anyone about me, or about the help that you had from me. Say nothing.'' In that way, their livelihood, their ability to charge large sums of money to get people into the country illegally, is protected.
We were thinking how to encourage people to claim at the port, and to be open and honest about the routes that they had used to get here and about some of the people who had helped them—people who are making big money. I received a briefing from another part of our security services about the work being done abroad. The extent to which people are put at risk on routes across northern Africa and various other places is horrendous. It is a wonder that the number of people dying and being placed in jeopardy by traffickers is not a national scandal. It is a serious problem, and we have attempted to get claimants to claim early by being open and honest, as it will help us to crack the power of some of the traffickers.
Implementation of that measure included safeguards to protect vulnerable people. For instance, families are exempt from section 55 of the 2002 Act, and support will be provided if it is necessary to avoid a breach of article 3 of the European convention on human rights. I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) that human rights issues were considered from the outset. Some cases are
granted support immediately on that basis—for example, women who are obviously pregnant or who are willing to go through a process to confirm it, and those who are especially vulnerable and who clearly have no other means of support. Such matters are considered at the outset.
New clause 9 would create a right of appeal to the asylum support adjudicator. Under new clause 20, my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow would exclude the vast majority of cases—90 per cent. of them—from consideration under section 55. I cannot accept those new clauses. I would be the first to admit that, subject to the initial court cases, the implementation of section 55 has had a somewhat troubled history, but we have worked hard to rectify that. However, as a result of the changes that we announced in December, together with other measures on the reconsideration process, I hope to be able to assure them that the new clauses are not necessary. Although these are early days, the 72 hours provision and the reconsideration process are working well, and confidence is growing in our ability to manage the system.