Clause 17

Part of UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:45 pm on 13th March 2007.

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Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 5:45 pm, 13th March 2007

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.