Clause 17

UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:00 pm on 13th March 2007.

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Support for failed asylum-seekers

Amendment proposed: No. 6, in clause 17, page 9,line 27, leave out ‘can bring’ and insert ‘has brought’.—[Mr. Blunt.]

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

With this we may discuss amendment No. 87, in clause 17, page 9, line 36, leave out paragraph (b).

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 5:15 pm, 13th March 2007

We have no objection to the clause in principle. The aim is to clear up the problem of failed asylum seekers becoming destitute while awaiting their appeal hearings, which is clearly a sensible course of action. My amendment would allow those who have been given permission to appeal out of time to be treated as an asylum seeker, by leaving out paragraph (b). It seeks to add fairness and some degree of justice to the system, because the clause seeks to exclude from the definition of asylum seekers, and therefore from support, those who have permission to appeal out of time.

I am sure that the Minister will treat the amendment as a probing amendment, because I am puzzled as to how it can be the case that the Government can give someone permission to appeal out of time and yet say that, while they are appealing, they are not seeking asylum. On the surface, that seems contradictory; if there is some legal point that lies underneath the surface, I would welcome clarification from the Minister. However, as it stands the clause appears to be slightly contradictory. The state has recognised that the process on the particular individual’s decision is not completely over, although they are clearly, at this stage, on the last knockings of the appeal process. However, as long as they are recognised as being in the appeal process, it seems, on the surface, to be straightforwardly unfair that they should not be recognised as an asylum seeker. As I say, I wait with bated breath for clarification from the Minister as to why that should be, but as it stands the clause seems to be straightforwardly self-contradictory and unfair.

Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank the hon. Gentleman for tabling his probing amendment. It would perhaps be useful if I were to explain the situation to the Committee for the purposes of clarity and scrutiny.

The hon. Gentleman knows that the clause seeks to maintain the status quo, whereby we can make available asylum support for those individuals who have had an initial decision refused and are awaiting their appeal. Previously, that was always the case, but it has been called into question in the courts and it is currently stayed in the House of Lords while we are seeking to legislate in order to clarify the position.

If we cannot continue to pay asylum support during that period, we would have to consider making available support under section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, which is accommodation and a voucher method of payment. It has never been our intention that we should move towards that situation while someone is still in the process of an asylum application. That support is aimed at those who have exhausted all means of appeal in the asylum process, but are not able to be removed at that point in time. Clearly, we would not wish for those individuals to be destitute and therefore there is the provision of support under section 4 of the 1999 Act. That support should not apply to people who are between the point of initial application and appeal.

The reason that the amendment is worded as it is, and also with reference to Government amendment No. 109—a technical amendment—is related to the fact that we do not only provide support under  section 95 of the 1999 Act. It is also in relation to those who would be covered by schedule 3 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, which does not only cover asylum applicants.

Our problem, and the reason for the wording, is that those who are refused at the initial decision have a grace period within which to apply for appeal. That grace period is 10 working days, and if they put their appeal in within that period there is not an issue. We wish to ensure that that applies also to those covered by schedule 3. If it does not, there will be a gap in the system for some who do not put in their appeal. Even if they make an appeal immediately it will take some days to process, so there will still be a gap during which they have no means of support. One can imagine the cost to the system of people having to go through a process of applying for section 4 support for a week before going back on section 95 support. It would be expensive and chaotic and certainly would not provide people with the support that they need on a timely basis.

We need to ensure not only that people apply within the 10 days and that we apply the same 10-day period to schedule 3, under which there is no grace period, but that those awaiting appeal can still be defined as asylum seekers for the purpose of support and that both those receiving section 95 support and those covered by schedule 3 have the grace period of10 working days within which to make their applications. If we were to extend that to out-of-time applications beyond the 10 working days, there could be an indefinite period in which we would be paying asylum support while somebody considered whether to make an application.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I am grateful to the Minister not just for giving way but for her explanation of what is, she will agree, a tortuous process. I am still concerned whether those who receive support under one provision or another, or successively under more than one, might fall down any cracks. They may feel that they are legitimately in the system, even if they are not pushing it as she has just described, but find themselves unable to receive support under any of the relevant provisions. If there are people in that situation, are there likely to be many?

Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Our clear view is that the clause will cover the situation and that we will not have the problem to which the hon. Gentleman refers. In fact, the clause is about ensuring that such cracks do not exist and that people have appropriate and adequate support.

Government amendment No. 109 would mean that at the end of the process, if an appeal is upheld and it is found that a person should be given refugee status, that person will have a 28-day period in which their asylum support will continue to be paid while they move from the National Asylum Support Service to the usual system and seek accommodation and support by other means. Those whose appeals are not granted will have 21 days in which they will still receive asylum support before they either should make arrangements to leave the country voluntarily or, in some cases, qualify for section 4 support. The clause simply maintains the status quo; it does not seek to achieve anything else. It covers exactly the point that the hon. Gentleman made,  and ensures that there are no cracks through which people can fall. It covers the situation for asylum seekers across the board between the initial application, appeal and immediately following appeal.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I am happy with the Minister’s explanation, which I think I understand. If it turns out that the clause is defective and there are cracks in the system I will receive letters on the subject, and the Minister will receive even more than I do. We will all know about it quite quickly.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Opposition Whip (Commons)

On behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: No. 109, in clause 17, page 9, line 37, at end insert—

‘(3A) For the purposes of the provisions mentioned in subsection (1)(a) and (b), a person’s status as an asylum-seeker by virtue of subsection (2)(b) continues for a prescribed period after the appeal ceases to be pending.

(3B) In subsection (3A) “prescribed” means prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State; and the regulations—

(a) may contain incidental or transitional provision,

(b) may make different provision for different classes of case,

(c) shall be made by statutory instrument, and

(d) shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.’.—[Joan Ryan.]

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 15—Asylum seekers—

‘(1) This section applies for the purposes of—

(a) Part VI (and section 4) of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (c. 33) (support and accommodation for asylum-seekers),

(b) Part 2 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (c. 41) (accommodation centres), and

(c) Schedule 3 to that Act (withholding and withdrawal of support).

(2) In section 94(1) of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (c. 33) (Interpretation of Part IV) and paragraph 17(1) of Schedule 3 to the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (c. 41) (Withholding and withdrawal of support), for the definition of “asylum-seeker” substitute—

“asylum-seeker” means a person—

(a) who is at least 18 years old;

(b) who has made a claim for asylum at a place designated by the Secretary of State;

(c) whose claim has been recorded by the Secretary of State;

(d) who remains in the United Kingdom following the making of a claim for asylum; and

(e) who is subject to immigration control but does not currently have leave to enter or remain.”.

(3) The following provisions are hereby repealed—

(a) sections 4(2), (3) and (4) and 94(3), (4), (5), (6), (8) and (9) of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (c. 33);

(b) paragraphs 6, 7A and 17(2) and (3) of Schedule 3 to the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (c. 41); and

(c) section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004 (c. 19).

(4) Omit paragraph 4(1)(e) of the National Health Service (Charges to Overseas Visitors) (Amendments) Regulations 2004, No. 614.’.

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

My proposal deals with the issue of failed asylum seekers, which the Minister touched on earlier. It is important to understand that at present when someone has gone through all the stages, section 95 support ceases, the National Asylum Support Service sends them a letter, they are given notice to quit and then they are effectively left destitute.

I would have no problem if the IND were able to cope with the number of asylum seekers and made provision for them to be removed from this country once their claims had been dealt with. However, the written evidence from the Still Human Still Here group shows that there are about 285,000 failed asylum seekers still in this country who do not receive any support from the Government, and if the present rate continues—we remove one asylum seeker every26 minutes—it will take 14 years to remove them.

We all know of people whose asylum claim has failed, and many of them are hugely tragic cases. There are people in my constituency from Somalia, the Congo, Iraq, Iran and Zimbabwe whose asylum claim has not been successful, for various reasons. Support is withdrawn and the Government use destitution to try to deal with them.

Photo of Stewart Jackson Stewart Jackson Conservative, Peterborough

I have some sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman is saying; I, too, encounter such cases in my constituency. If I am being cynical, I sometimes think that the decision to remove people goes in political cycles. A year or so ago, a huge number of Iraqi asylum seekers, some of whom had not even exhausted the appeals procedure, were removed to the St. Ives holding centre in Cambridgeshire and invited to choose their in-flight meal for the journey back to Baghdad without recourse to the system. However, some people have exhausted a very comprehensive legal system. Surely, the hon. Gentleman realises that if they refuse to leave, having exhausted the system at great cost to the Exchequer and to the taxpayer, they are in fact undermining the validity of the system for more deserving cases?

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport 5:30 pm, 13th March 2007

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point about the extent to which people might have been involved in the system but, with respect, that is part of the problem. As such people have been here for so long, rather than ensure a speedy removal, the Government resort to the quite inhuman tactic of trying to get people removed by forcing them into destitution.

If such people were arrested by an immigration officer and steps were taken to remove them speedily, the argument might have some validity. In my surgery, I have told people bluntly that they have exhausted the system and have no right to remain in the country. That might well be upsetting and worrying for those people, but unfortunately I am only one Member of Parliament and cannot change the law for particular cases, so I have told them that they should be removed.  That would be fine if they were speedily removed from the system when a decision is taken.

Generally, this country has high international standards in how we treat people, and a reputation for and record of sympathy to asylum seekers. I object because the tactic—it must be nothing other than that—of using destitution as a means to try and force people back—

Photo of Chris Mole Chris Mole Labour, Ipswich

I am following with some interest the points that the hon. Gentleman is making, but given that a fair and due process has been pursued, does he not accept that there is ultimately an onus on the individuals to remove themselves as much as on the state to discharge the functions that he describes?

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

I accept some of what the hon. Gentleman says, and people in my surgery have actually said that they must do that. Equally, two wrongs do not make a right and the state has certain duties and responsibilities in how we treat people. Resorting to forcing people underground and having them sleep rough on the streets, rely on charities, forage through bins or whatever to survive is not an acceptable way to proceed in this day and age.

There are 283,500 asylum seekers whose cases have all been lost with no right of appeal. Given that fact and the IND’s current rate of removal, we need to be doing something on that issue. I cannot believe that the proposed approach would be possible, but it might be acceptable if the Government were to start sorting those cases out right away. What is not acceptable at the moment is using destitution as a technique. In our fair, just and civilised society we should not be practising it.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East

I want to make a few quick points. I accept the argument that if people have exhausted all avenues of appeal, there is perhaps a pull factor if life is made too comfortable for them here. There have to be some measures that encourage them to return voluntarily. The other day, I met the International Organisation for Migration, which seems to be doing some good work in providing people with resettlement packages in their home countries. I return to the point that I made when we debated the previous clause, about people who have exhausted all avenues of appeal but who come from countries such as Somalia, to which it is difficult for them to return at the moment. We are doing neither forced repatriations there nor voluntary ones, which are also difficult.

I am concerned that the Minister has made several references to people in such situations being entitled to section 4 support, but there seems to be a very low take-up of such support. In response to a question I asked recently, I was told, I think, that the figure was 250 people in the entire south-west region; it may have been 270. That includes not only Bristol, but places such as Plymouth, Swindon and Gloucester, so the number must be a tiny percentage of failed asylum seekers not receiving any support. Why does the Minister think that take-up is so low and what does she  think is happening to people who are not getting section 4 support? The answer must be that they have either gone underground and are relying on the charity of friends or family, or have resorted to criminal activity because they have no other alternative.

What analysis has the Home Office done of the idea that destitution encourages people to return voluntarily? I have written to the Minister recently about the work of the Hotham Mission in Australia, which has been taking the opposite approach in assigning caseworkers to work with asylum seekers. Its evidence seems to be that following such heavy intervention, more than 85 per cent. of all asylum seekers who have been refused places leave the country voluntarily on the final decision. The Minister and I are in correspondence about this matter at the moment, but the argument of those involved would be that with such intervention—providing some support and working with families—asylum seekers are much more likely to return home than go underground and escape the system altogether.

Finally, where are we with the section 9 pilot schemes that have been running and in providing support to children rather than families as a whole? I understand that the Department is due to report on the outcome of those pilots soon. It would be interesting to know when the results will be published.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

New clause 15 gives rise to a deep and important debate on a clash of principles, each of which is entirely reasonable. The first is that one should not use destitution as a tool of public policy. All of us would clearly agree with that. The second is we should not have a system that will create more demand for asylum at a time when we know that the vast majority of asylum claims are not true ones. Anything increasing that demand would itself have bad effects not only in terms of the system clogging up again, but in encouraging evil people such as human traffickers to try to use the asylum system. I recognise the good intentions behind new clause 15, but it is a counsel of despair, because it says that we need to change the law in response to what is an administrative failure. That failure, as the hon. Member for Rochdale rightly pointed out, is the sheer length of time it still takes to get through the system.

In answer to one of the previous debates, the Minister said the Government are doing better than they used to do with the speed of getting applications through from beginning to end. That may be true. In the aggregate, she will know well that in certain individual cases it is definitely not so, in some cases to an horrendous extent. I suspect that we have all encountered in our constituencies people who have been waiting four, five or six years and longer and who seem to have disappeared off the radar as far as the Department is concerned.

Nevertheless, there are only two big competing moral principles. One is to say that the process will always be chaotic and that it will always take so long that people will be forced into destitution, perhaps for long periods. Destitution in this case normally means relying on the charity of good people and good institutions around the country. I am sure we have all met such people. I had a particularly eye-opening day in Leeds with some of the organisations there. I met  some people who felt that they had been lost by the system and who wanted work. Some of them, who came from Somalia—this was recognised by the hon. Member for Bristol, East—said that they could not go back home. They wanted to work but were not allowed to; they could not receive benefits, so they were living off charity and doing voluntary work.

Clearly, that situation is unsatisfactory, but the solution is not to pass laws accepting it as a permanent feature. The solution is administrative, not legislative; it means getting down the amount of time involved in getting from the beginning of the process to the end, not just on average but for everyone. I accept that that is not going to happen overnight. As the situation has built up over time to be as catastrophic as it has been in recent years, it will take the current Home Office Ministers some time to make an impact, helped as they are—fortuitously—by the worldwide and particularly Europe-wide reduction in the number of potential refugees. We all know that the peak came in the early years of this century, when the Balkans were in such a terrible state. The end of that Balkans situation has had many good effects, one of which is that far fewer people are seeking asylum across borders inside western Europe.

Nevertheless, however bad the situation is now—and it is bad—I do not think that new clause 15 and the thinking that lies behind it are the solution. The solution should be administrative, not legislative. For once during our consideration of the Bill, I must part company with the hon. Member for Rochdale.

Photo of John Hemming John Hemming Liberal Democrat, Birmingham, Yardley

The hon. Member for Bristol, East said that we need to think again. She referred to evidence from Australia. We should be looking for evidence on the most effective way of handling the asylum process. If people are rejected and have been through all the appeals processes, they clearly have no right to remain in the country and should go. Is it best to say to them, “Disappear, we don’t want to see you” or to keep some track of where they are so that they can eventually be removed through an administrative process? At the moment we have a process that says, “Disappear: go and work in the twilight economy or whatever. Do what you want. We want to pretend that you don’t exist.” Then, with a bit of luck, some few years down the track, somebody from the IND might find where a person is and try to get rid of them, although they will probably just zap across to somewhere else in the country.

We need to start looking at evidence. The experience in Australia is that such an approach is not the best way of achieving the outcome that we wish to see: if somebody has no right to stay here, they are not here. From an administrative point of view, the current approach does not work. The issue raised by new clause 15 needs a little more attention than simply saying “It won’t work.”

Photo of Stewart Jackson Stewart Jackson Conservative, Peterborough

Like other hon. Members, I have a great deal of sympathy with the sincerity of the views articulated by the hon. Members for Rochdale and for Birmingham, Yardley. However, I think that the issue is one of principle, which is why Conservative Members cannot support the amendment.

Despite earlier comments such as those of my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere about the skills of certain asylum seekers, as I have tried to explain throughout our consideration of the Bill, the problem is simply that we do not have enough reliable data and information on which to base a decision as to whether to support such a proposal. I think that the principle is very important. In the absence of hard evidence, rather than anecdote, we cannot reward criminality, which is effectively what the new clause would do. It would reward people who may well be seriously involved in criminal activity such as drug dealing, people trafficking and so on. There has to be a finality in the system. We pride ourselves on the fact that we have a fair, transparent, robust and humane system that people are obliged to go through when they seek asylum—when they are in fear for their lives or in fear of torture.

We have all had such cases. I had a case last year, where a man who was born a Muslim and who had converted to Christianity was being returned to Pakistan. That was a heart-rending decision for many people involved. I felt desperately sorry for him. He had exhausted every avenue and, despite the comments and support of the churches in my constituency, he went back. I prayed that he was safe and able to continue in safety.

These are difficult decisions. However, by agreeing this amendment we would entrench a hard core of people who have exhausted our system at great cost to the taxpayer.

Photo of John Hemming John Hemming Liberal Democrat, Birmingham, Yardley 5:45 pm, 13th March 2007

I have a question of principle for the hon. Gentleman. If he were shown, from the Australian experience, that such a measure would make it easier for the IND to remove people who have no right to be here, would he support new clause 15?

Photo of Stewart Jackson Stewart Jackson Conservative, Peterborough

The evidence given by the immigration lawyers a couple of weeks ago, during a robust exchange, was that the way to offset this problem was to deport people quickly. I am a fair person. The Government have gone in the right direction, after the calamitous situation in 2002 when we had hundreds of thousands of failed asylum seekers, and they have reduced that number. However, as a point of principle we cannot embed and entrench criminality.

I have no reason to dispute the views expressed by the hon. Member for Bristol, East, although generally the Australian example is a tough one and Australia probably has the toughest immigration laws in the world. I should be interested to see the information that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley mentioned. However, at the moment I support the Government’s resistance to the amendment. There has to be finality in the system and if we do not accept and respect that, we undermine the genuine people who are fleeing from persecution, terror and threats to their life and liberty. No Committee member would want to support that.

Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

If we agreed to new clause 15, it would replace clause 17 with a different provision. The proposed new clause seeks to end destitution for refused asylum seekers in the UK. I accept and  understand the motivation of the hon. Member for Rochdale in relation to that. His proposal is supported by a range of refugee and other organisations. It would also make changes to the health care entitlements of unsuccessful asylum seekers. I shall try to deal with the two matters separately, although I acknowledge that there are strong links between them.

I understand the concerns about asylum support that gave rise to the new clause, as do other Committee members. None of us wish to see people living in destitution. However, the Government cannot support a proposal that would maintain asylum support, potentially indefinitely, for those who have made an asylum claim and had it and any appeal rejected and have chosen not to return voluntarily. In such circumstances, the harsh fact is that people who do not need our protection have chosen to be destitute. Returning home is a clear alternative for them.

Support under section 4 of the 1999 Act is available for those who are taking all reasonable steps to return home, while that return is being arranged. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East asked me about the figures in relation to section 4. The last published figures show that more than 6,500 failed asylum seekers are currently getting section 4 support. That is a not insignificant number. We inform all those whose section 95 support is to be terminated of the availability of section 4 support, but they need to meet the criteria. Those who could make a voluntary return will be supported only if they are taking all reasonable steps to do so. The support is also available where there is some temporary barrier to return.

Those making a voluntary return are also eligible to receive the world-leading reintegration assistance that is provided by the International Organisation for Migration on behalf of the Home Office. Our system of asylum support is fair. It ensures that support is available to asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute from the moment when they claim asylum in the UK until their claim is determined. It ensures that those who appeal against an immigration decision flowing from the refusal of their asylum claim within the clear statutory limits will continue to be supported during the course of that appeal.

The level of support provided includes adequate accommodation, where requested, and cash to meet essential living needs. It would not be right for UK taxpayers to be asked to fund on a potentially indefinite basis people who are choosing not to return to a home country that has been found to be safe for them to live in.

It might be helpful if I were to give an idea of the sorts of sums that we are talking about. The cost of supporting a single asylum seeker is approximately £106 a week—that takes account of the fact that not all of those who are destitute and seek support require our accommodation—which equates to £5,500 a year. Supporting even an extra 1,000 unsuccessful asylum seekers on that basis would cost an additional£5.5 million per annum; the cost would be an additional £55 million for every 10,000 or so people supported.

That money could be used to fund a variety of other important Government initiatives. Instead, the new  clause proposes that we use that money to provide support to people who have been unsuccessful in their asylum claim and who are unwilling to make a voluntary return home. We have a long and proud tradition of granting asylum and humanitarian protection to those who are fleeing persecution and torture. Unquestionably the tradition must be maintained, but the Government believe that, in doing so, it is also our job to preserve the integrity of the asylum system. It is vital that the system does not appear to be the subject of abuse. This is not about meeting a target for the sake of it; it is about doing the right thing, which is working towards the departure from the UK of those who have no right to be here.

We are always looking to improve our processes. That includes doubling our enforcement and compliance resource and expanding our activity by 2009-10. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East said, we are in correspondence about measures in Australia. We are, rightly, always interested to learn about how things are managed in other countries and about the success of such measures. We are also always willing to learn from them.

Our new asylum arrangements for total case ownership will mean that one named officer will be responsible for the case from the point of claim through to the point of integration or removal. The case owner will be responsible for all aspects of the claim— asylum decision, support, appeal and removal. That does not mean that it would simply be appropriate to provide ongoing asylum support in all cases until removal is achieved. We have clear targets for the case owners dealing with asylum claims that focus on the conclusion of the case, rather than simply on making a decision or on getting a case through the appeals process. Those measures touch on the administrative measures that the hon. Member for Ashford has talked about and demonstrate why we have achieved considerable improvements in the system. Our commitment is to grant asylum to or remove 90 per cent. of new asylum seekers within six months by the end of 2011, having ramped up performance in the preceding years.

That is all part of our work to preserve the integrity of the asylum system. The new clause would certainly not help us to achieve that aim. Furthermore, it might have a damaging effect, given that it would provide a significant pull factor for asylum seekers who come from beyond the European Union and those who enter it illegally and work their way up to the northern states. If a person could make an asylum claim and be supported indefinitely on the basis that they managed to enter this country, that could have a significant impact beyond our borders. We could not contemplate supporting that.

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

I have been carefully following the Minister’s argument. I thank her for giving way, but cannot let her remark about indefinite support go by. We are clear that it would be support until the person was removed. In our view, the issue is about dealing with the administrative stuff as well as the other issues, not about indefinite support. That is an important principle.

Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I accept that the hon. Gentleman does not view the process as never ending. However, support  until removal would make a significant change to asylum policy, would have a significant financial impact and would still be a significant pull factor, as point of removal is not determined. The difficulty that I have outlined certainly still applies.

We have talked about some of the solutions—the administrative solutions and the strengthening of our borders. Another key point to bear in mind is how we work in the European Union with our partners; that is also helping us to reduce the number of illegal entrants and, therefore, asylum seekers.

I do not think that it is simply a matter of there being less pressure; circumstances around the world change, but colleagues from Spain and Italy talk about the pressure and illegal immigration problems that they are experiencing on the southern maritime border. We are working with them in Frontex, the European Union border agency, to try to deal with such asylum seeking—not least because large numbers of people at sea in boats are at terrible risk, and some lose their lives. That kind of co-operation is also extremely important.

Across the piece, we have taken clear and determined action to deal with illegal entry and the level of unfounded asylum seeker application. The hon. Member for Rochdale will know that applications are at their lowest level since the early to mid-1990s. Those measures are having an impact and are the ones that we need to pursue to continue to deal with the situation.

I turn to health care, which is an important part of the hon. Gentleman’s new clause. The new clause would change the current entitlement to health care for those who have been unsuccessful in their asylum claims. As announced in our recently published enforcement strategy, we intend to shut down inappropriate access to services—those that are privileges intended for those in the UK legitimately. At its simplest, that is an issue of fairness.

On health care, we will review the rules governing access to the national health service for foreign nationals. We will work with the NHS to ensure that the implementation of the new rules flowing from the review is accompanied by a programme of communication and good practice.

Photo of Stewart Jackson Stewart Jackson Conservative, Peterborough 6:00 pm, 13th March 2007

On a very specific point, I wonder how the Minister will collect that information. On several occasions, I have tabled parliamentary question to the Department of Health and other Departments about access by foreign nationals to health services, but I have been told that that information is not collected centrally. How will the Home Office collect that information?

Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

We will work with the NHS to ensure that the implementation of the new rules flowing from the review is accompanied by a programme of communication and good practice for those who apply the rules, including practice staff, general practitioners and trusts. Clearly, working closely with primary care and hospital trusts will be important. However, despite difficulties, it is important that we tackle that issue.  

Given the review, I say to the hon. Member for Rochdale that it would be inappropriate to make changes at the moment. The basic humanitarian needs of failed asylum seekers for health care are met already. They receive free treatment in accident and emergency departments and for many infectious diseases such as tuberculosis. For other life-threatening conditions, and in order to prevent any conditions from becoming life-threatening, they will receive appropriate treatment regardless of their ability to pay. Treatment will not be withheld or delayed. Charging issues will be sorted out subsequently, and trusts have the discretion to write off debts if it would not be reasonable or cost-effective to pursue them.

In conclusion, although I understand the motivation behind the hon. Gentleman’s new clause, we cannot agree to the measure for supporting failed asylum seekers. It would be a dangerous measure that would drive a coach and horses through our policy and desire to deal with the issue using other means that are showing results and must be pursued. As I said, I think that we should await the outcome of the review.

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

I listened very carefully to the Minister and in particular to her last point about the provision of health care. Nevertheless, we believe that a clear principle is at stake here. The remarks of the hon. Member for Bristol, East are pertinent to the argument. Failed asylum seekers might face a choice between homelessness and destitution, and going back home to face uncertain circumstances that might be life-threatening. In my experience, getting them to agree to go home voluntarily is difficult. I dealt with a case last year in which we persuaded someone to go back to south America—not directly, but via another country, because they were concerned about arriving at the main airport and then being arrested by the police of that country. Through support from the organisations that the Minister mentioned, we managed to get an agreement for the family to return by a circuitous route. That illustrates the point that the hon. Member for Bristol, East, made: one can enable that outcome if one gives appropriate support.

The new clause makes it clear that we are not seeking an open-ended commitment; we want support to be provided until removal. That allows time for the administrative process to sort out the matter. At the moment, there is no incentive for the IND to sort out the process for the huge numbers that will remain in the country, even under the new policy. New proposals are needed, along the lines described by the hon. Member for Bristol, East, to provide that support. I am pleased that more people are using the process, but 5,500 or 5,600 is a small proportion of failed asylum seekers. On that note, I give notice that at the appropriate time, we will want to press an amendment regarding the new clause.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

I should advise the hon. Gentleman that if the Committee agrees that clause 17 should stand part of the Bill, I cannot allow a separate Division on proposed new clause 15, because clause 17 and proposed new clause 15 are alternatives. If one stands, the other falls; if he wishes to vote, he can vote on clause 17 stand part.

Question put,That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 10, Noes 2.

Division number 9 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 17

Aye: 10 MPs

No: 2 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 17, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.