Clause 17

Part of UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:30 pm on 13th March 2007.

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Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 5:30 pm, 13th March 2007

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.