Clause 34 - Support for certain categories of migrant

Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 5th November 2015.

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

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Minister of State (Home Office) (Security and Immigration)

We now move to a new part of the Bill, part 5, which deals with support for certain categories of migrant. Some detailed amendments have been tabled to schedule 6, and clause 34 is almost like a bookmarker to insert schedule 6 into the Bill’s substantive provisions. It might help the Committee in its consideration of those amendments when we debate schedule 6 if I set out the Government’s overall intentions in introducing the measures and explain how they are intended to operate.

The starting point should be the basic policy that we are seeking to advance. We say that it is not appropriate for public money to be used to support illegal migrants, including those whose asylum claims have been found to be without merit, who can leave the UK and should do so. That is the starting point for understanding how schedule 6 will apply. It will restrict the availability of such support, consistent with our international and human rights obligations, and will remove incentives for migrants to remain in the UK when they have no lawful basis for doing so—I stress the latter point. In doing so, the Bill addresses long-standing issues with the system of asylum support.

Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab) rose—

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Minister of State (Home Office) (Security and Immigration)

If I may, I will finish this point and then give way.

The system that Parliament legislated for in the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 to discharge our international obligations towards those seeking asylum in the UK is too often used to support those whose asylum claim has failed and who have no lawful basis to remain in the UK. On 31 March this year, we were providing support to an estimated 15,000 failed asylum seekers, their dependants and others. In 2014-15, such support cost an estimated £73 million.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central

The Minister said a moment ago that the Government’s intention for this measure is to remove the incentives for people to stay in the UK. Does he acknowledge that the Home Office’s pilot, among a wealth of other evidence, demonstrated that there is no indication that this measure will succeed in helping the Government to achieve that policy objective?

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Minister of State (Home Office) (Security and Immigration)

The hon. Gentleman, in his normal, sage way, has pre-empted me. I intend to address the 2005 pilot directly. I will explain to the Committee why we judge that the arrangements in schedule 6 are different and why they are appropriate. In some ways, we have learned from the provisions that applied under the previous Labour Government.

Let me return to my principal point about providing support for those whose appeal has been analysed by the court and who have, as the lawyers would say, exhausted their appeal rights in relation to asylum and article 8 and have not made further submissions—we will discuss a detailed amendment to schedule 6 that pertains to further submissions. We believe it is wrong in principle to provide support in those cases, because it sends the wrong message to people who do not require our protection and seek to exploit the system. It also undermines public confidence in our asylum system.

Under the current system, failed asylum-seeking families continue to receive Home Office support as though their asylum claim and any appeal had not failed. The onus is on the Home Office to demonstrate non-compliance with return arrangements for support to be ceased. We believe we need a better basis on which to engage with those families, with local authorities and others, and a process that secures more returns. Our judgment is that schedule 6 will support that aim. We should focus on supporting those who have not yet had a decision on their asylum claim and who may need our protection, not on those who the courts have agreed do not need our protection and should leave the UK, subject to certain caveats in relation to proposed new section 95A of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, which we will debate in detail.

Schedule 6 makes two key changes to the existing support framework. First, those who have children with them when their asylum claim and any appeal is rejected will no longer be treated as though they are still asylum seekers. They will cease to be eligible for support under section 95 of the 1999 Act. Secondly, section 4 of the 1999 Act will be repealed, and support will be provided to failed asylum seekers and any dependent children only if there is a genuine obstacle that prevents them from leaving the UK. I appreciate that those changes raise important issues, as our public consultation highlighted. We have provided members of the Committee with a copies of our response to the consultation and the policy equality statement on these measures. I look forward to discussing many of those issues when the Committee debates the amendments to schedule 6.

Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Minister (Home Office)

The Minister dealt with the issue of cost and said that money ought to be spent on other cases, and he has now moved on to children. A concern was expressed in evidence about the duties under the Children Act 1989. Has there been an assessment of the likely cost overall—not to the Home Office budget but to public funds—of bringing these provisions into effect? In other words, has there been an assessment of how many are likely to go to local authorities and what the cost will be?

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Minister of State (Home Office) (Security and Immigration)

The hon. and learned Gentleman will have, in his detailed way, seen the impact assessment, which gives the macro impact on cost savings. I would make the point—which I will underline in further comments—about the new burdens analysis that we will conduct with local authorities. I have been clear in all my discussions with local government and other partners that this is not about trying to move a cost from one budget to another.

We will come to the detailed provisions of the separate support under schedule 3 to the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 which local authorities may have  a duty to fulfil under their human rights obligations. There is a separate mechanism that can apply and can fall on local authorities in those circumstances. It is precisely the work we are doing with local authorities to ensure an effective join-up between this arrangement and the separate schedule 3 arrangements which would apply to local authorities. I will come back to some of these points when discussing later amendments, because I know that some of the cost issues and minimum support requirements are further explored by them.

We have reflected carefully on what the consultation responses said about the experience of the 2005 pilot of the cessation of support for failed asylum seeker families under schedule 3 to the 2002 Act. We have taken account of that experience in providing, under this Immigration Bill, what we judge is a different approach.

First, under schedule 3 to the 2002 Act, the onus is on the Home Office to show that a family is not co-operating with arrangements for return. To qualify for support under new section 95A of the 1999 Act, as provided for by this Bill, the onus will be on the family to show that there is a genuine obstacle to their departure.

Secondly, the 2005 pilot involved a largely correspondence-based process for terminating support in family cases that had exhausted their rights of appeal in the 11 months prior to the commencement of the pilot, so some of the cases in the study were actually quite old. By contrast, the new approach will involve a managed process of engagement with the family, in tandem with the local authority, following the end of the appeal process, to discuss their situation and the consequences of not leaving the UK in circumstances where they can do so. Rather than this being a sudden change, it is part of a continuing process and dialogue with those families who will be affected.

Hon. Members will no doubt have noted that the transition provisions make it clear that this is about new cases, thus underlining that sense of a transition from appeal rights being exhausted and the cessation of potential support. No doubt we will get into the cooling-off period in moving from that arrangement to the cessation of support. That is something we are still reflecting on, on the basis of the submissions we received during the consultation. It is important to see this in that way: Home Office support will remain available if there is a genuine obstacle to the family leaving the UK.

Thirdly, we think circumstances have changed. It is now generally recognised that the taxpayer should not have to support illegal migrants who could leave the UK. We intend to work closely with partners in local government and elsewhere to achieve that outcome, because this is not simply about changing the law; rather, it is about some of the practical join-ups for local authorities. As I have reflected, some of the other regimes equally apply to local government.

We continue to consult with local government colleagues, in particular on the details of the new arrangements. I am grateful to the Local Government Association, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, the No Recourse to Public Funds network and other colleagues for their continued engagement with the Home Office on these issues. All are clear that we want to reduce overall costs to the public purse and encourage and enable more migrants, without any lawful basis to remain here, to leave the UK in circumstances when they can do so.

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith Conservative, Norwich North

I recall from our evidence sessions that many of the organisations that the Minister has mentioned agreed wholeheartedly that we need to be able to control our costs where somebody is not eligible for support in order to be able to do more where somebody is—I have in mind the 20,000 Syrian refugees whom we all wish to welcome to this country. Does the Minister agree?

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Minister of State (Home Office) (Security and Immigration) 2:30 pm, 5th November 2015

My hon. Friend’s point relates to my earlier point about confidence in the asylum system and ensuring that we are using public funds effectively and appropriately. The Committee may differ on that principal point, but I respect that and we will no doubt come to discuss it.

I return to the point that, for those who have had an asylum claim assessed and considered invalid by the court and who have not made further submissions, then unless there are obstacles that mean that they should not return, we say that, as a matter of policy, public funds should not remedy that. The remedy is that those people leave.

Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Will it not cost more if families disappear, as they did under the 2005 pilot, when 16 families dropped off the radar? I do not know whether they were ever picked up again. Does the idea that money can be saved and slipped into the Syrian refugee budget take families disappearing into account?

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Minister of State (Home Office) (Security and Immigration)

I was certainly not saying that money would transfer in that direct sense. As the hon. and learned Gentleman will know, we seek to provide support through the official development assistance that applies in the first year. That was why I was making a point about overall confidence in the asylum and immigration systems and in the rules being upheld. That is the broader issue.

I underline that we are continuing, with local government colleagues, to look at whether further provisions would assist in reducing costs, perhaps in respect of schedule 3 to the 2002 Act, which controls access to local authority social care for migrants without immigration status. We are listening carefully to what local authorities are telling us about the scope for simplifying and strengthening some provisions. Some of the processes are quite clunky and complicated, such as the separate human rights assessments that local authorities must undertake, so we are having discussions with local government about implementing a clear, streamlined process that still recognises existing human rights obligations. We need to understand that properly and appreciate how the asylum and immigration systems sit alongside each other so that safety nets operate effectively.

On the hon. and learned Gentleman’s point about people disappearing, this process is part of a continuum and is not a sudden arrangement. We will reflect further on the cooling-off period from indications being made and families being reminded of what will happen, which is currently 28 days. Discussions on such issues continue. We want families to be in no doubt. Clarity in the immigration system, in particular around assisted return, as we have debated previously, is really important to help people to make decisions.

Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I am grateful to the Minister for his generosity in giving way. I understand his point about the policy objective and the rules on removal being complied with, but in circumstances when the desired objective is not achieved and when the family does not go and there are children, will the cost to the taxpayer go up or down as a result of the change?

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Minister of State (Home Office) (Security and Immigration)

The hon. and learned Gentleman is clearly thinking about some of the hypotheticals and the relationship with local government. Our regulatory impact assessment has given us the best assessment based on our analysis of the operation of the scheme in terms of the potential savings. It has therefore taken into account some of those detailed thoughts on whether this represents a transfer of a burden from one place to another. We continue to discuss that with local government, because it concerns the new burdens analysis. I believe that is the point the hon. and learned Gentleman is trying to make: what the new burden on local government might be as a consequence of these changes and how local government might see some issues arising. It is precisely on that detail that we are continuing our engagement with local government, in order to understand that as clearly as possible and to reassure local authorities that this is not about a budgetary transfer.

Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to explore the matter in this iterative way. In order to make that assessment of cost, there must be some analysis of how many families will not leave as a result but will, in fact, stay. It is not possible to work out the cost to local authorities, however streamlined and whatever the discussions, without having in mind an assessment of how many families will not leave and will have to be provided for. What is that number and percentage?

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Minister of State (Home Office) (Security and Immigration)

Obviously we are looking at schedule 6 provisions and the changes under the new section 95A support mechanism within schedule 6. The regulatory impact assessment sets out our best analysis of the overall savings to the public purse, and it would be invidious for me to try to provide percentage assumption rates.

This is about departures and encouraging people to leave. It is also about section 95A support where there are barriers to removal. That is likely to be where there is no documentation or difficulty in obtaining it to facilitate departure, or medical issues. Let us not forget that, in conducting its duties, the Home Office will have obligations under section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 which it will need to factor in when taking decisions.

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Labour, South Shields

When referring to the impact assessment, the Minister said the cost was around £32 million. Is that not a drastic underestimation? I do not believe that takes into account the local authorities’ statutory duties under homelessness legislation, the Children Act 1989 or the principles of the Care Act 2014. Will the Minister please clarify?

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Minister of State (Home Office) (Security and Immigration)

I think the hon. Lady is alluding to some of the points I discussed concerning schedule 3 of the 2002 Act: the Human Rights Act assessments  that local authorities need to undertake. We seek to continue our engagement with local authorities about the new burdens assessment.

The published impact assessment will be revisited and republished, if required, in relation to further analysis of the new burdens work. Although we have published our regulatory impact assessment based on the evidence provided at the date of the Bill’s publication, it will continue to be reviewed in the light of further discussions with local authorities.

It is not that our minds are closed on that. Rather, having given the best assessment of the savings that the hon. Lady has identified, we will keep this matter under examination. If the measures led to, or risked leading to, migrants being supported by local authorities when they would previously have been supported by the Home Office, we have made it clear through the consultation that we would wish to discuss and address those impacts and their financial implications with local authorities and the devolved Administrations in accordance with the new burdens doctrine.

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Labour, South Shields

I think what the Minister is saying is that the £32 million is an underestimate.

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Labour, South Shields

I am struggling with this. The Minister says that conversations are going on with local authorities, but should those conversations not have happened before the legislation was put in place? It seems a bit back to front to me.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Minister of State (Home Office) (Security and Immigration)

No. As always with legislation, we have to have it in place and, as a result, that sometimes provokes further discussion. We have been running a consultation, which we published earlier this week, and the hon. Lady will find in it the response and the feedback, as well as some of the points that we have said we will reflect on further. That is the right and appropriate way in which to deal with the matter. We judge the provisions to be appropriate to the policy intent that I have outlined, so the clause should stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Minister (Home Office)

The Minister rightly makes the point that if there are rules, they should be complied with, and that there is a public interest in ensuring that rules are complied with. I concur with that. He said that another objective behind the measure is to facilitate removal, according to the rules. That is the objective, but one of the concerns about the clause is that all the evidence suggests that that objective will not be fulfilled.

I will turn first to the 2005 pilot and then address the Minister’s points about what is in the Bill being different. The pilot, under the existing scheme, involved 116 families, and there were two reports or evaluations, one published in 2006 and the other in 2007. It is worth running through some of the numbers, because they show a lot of the causes of concern.

The 2006 evaluation, published by the Refugee Council and Refugee Action, found that of the 116 families, only one left the country as a result of the pilot under section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004, while three signed up for  voluntary return and another 12 took steps to obtain travel documents. By contrast, 32 families—I think I said 16 earlier—went underground, without support, housing or access to health or welfare services. That was the impact. Nine families were also removed from the pilot because their cases were reviewed as part of the process and it was found that their claims should not have been refused. Many of the families had serious health and mental health problems. The 2006 review therefore found the approach in the pilot to be wholly counterproductive, even for the Government’s own objective.

The Home Office review was published a year or so later, in 2007, and concluded:

“In the form piloted section 9 did not significantly influence behaviour in favour of cooperating with removal—although there was some increase in the number of applications made for travel documents. This suggests that the section 9 provision should not be seen as a universal tool to encourage departure in every case.”

The scheme has been rarely if ever used since, because it was considered a policy failure, but now that failure is to become the norm under the provisions of the Bill. The Minister said that in the Government’s judgment there was such a difference between the new scheme and the one piloted in 2005 that the results of the pilot were unlikely to be repeated. He gave three reasons. First, the onus is now on the applicant and not on the Home Office to prove or disprove, as the case may be, the obstacle to return. I will hear whatever the Minister has to say on that, but I am not sure that that is a reason. It is a difference between the two schemes, but why that difference makes it more likely that people will leave, rather than not leave, as in 2005, he will have to enlighten me about.

Secondly, the old scheme was correspondence-based, but the new one is a managed process involving contemporary decisions. I can see that that makes a difference and it might have some impact, but the results of the pilot were so profoundly claimed by pretty well everyone to be a complete failure that it is hard to see that that difference will be the silver bullet.

The third reason the Minister gave was the change of attitudes to whether support should be provided for that category of individuals. Again, he will have to enlighten me as to why that is thought to be a reason why the objective of people going has changed in the past 10 years. How that impacts on the minds of the families is difficult to assess and I would have thought it was un-evidenced. When we strip those reasons away, we see that the Government’s judgment that this measure will have realistically different consequences from the 2005 pilot, which was a complete failure, is based on little.

I listened carefully to what the Minister said about costs. I recognise why he said that the Government’s mind is not closed on the cost implications and that further assessments are being carried out. However, when the costs are fully assessed and local authorities’ various assessments and duties are satisfied, if it transpires that this measure costs more than it saves, how will the Government respond?

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Minister of State (Home Office) (Security and Immigration) 2:45 pm, 5th November 2015

Let me respond to the points raised in the debate. I want to underline the change in the nature of administration in the immigration system  which has taken place. We scrapped the UK Border Agency and we have now established separate commands: UK Visas and Immigration, which processes asylum and other visa claims, Immigration Enforcement, and Border Force.

The proposals I have outlined are about embedding the work with local authorities. We are working more closely with local authority colleagues, drawing on their experience and ours of effective family engagement. In particular, that work will build on our existing family returns process, in which a dedicated family engagement manager works directly with the family. From 1 April to 2 October, the process achieved the return of 377 families. The point I therefore make to the hon. and learned Gentleman—perhaps this is why he did not grasp my third point, on the public policy objective—is about the alignment between activity in local and central Government, with that shared endeavour.

In many ways, that takes us back to the point made by the hon. Member for South Shields about these measures simply passing the cost of supporting destitute failed asylum seekers and their families on to local authorities. The proposals have been carefully framed to avoid that. The Home Office has consulted local authorities on the proposals and will continue to do so. There is no general obligation on local authorities to accommodate illegal migrants who intentionally make themselves destitute by refusing to leave the UK when it is clear that they can. None the less, we are considering whether it might be necessary or helpful to clarify that, perhaps in schedule 3 to the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002.

Schedule 3 to the 2002 Act provides that, across the UK, a range of local authority-administered welfare provisions are generally unavailable to failed asylum seekers and their families who remain in the UK unlawfully. It enables such support to be provided where necessary to avoid a breach of a person’s human rights, but such a breach will not generally arise if the person or family can leave the UK. We are working with local government on precisely that interface and whether further clarification may be helpful.

Let me provide further amplification of what I have said about the impact assessment. It currently assumes that 10% to 20% of individuals who lose Home Office support under schedule 6 may move on to local authority support, pending the outcome of a further non-asylum, article 8-based application to the Home Office. We have factored in a figure in relation to that. The figure will be reviewed as part of the “no new burdens” analysis, but as I have said, the legislation has been framed to avoid that. We have considered that as part of the impact assessment. Although the hon. Lady suggested the figure may be an underestimate, our judgment is that we have undertaken the best assessment and have carefully factored in some of those issues.

Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I think the Minister may be moving on from the question of what impacts on the minds of individuals and their families. In the end, whether the Government have aligned or realigned with local authorities or are working well with them is not the central question. The central question is: what operates on the minds of these individuals that improves the chances they will leave in circumstances where, in the past, they have not?

As I understand it, the 2005 pilot was a failure. The family returns policy, by contrast, is thought to have been successful, but that scheme runs under the current support regime. Rather than introducing an element that has failed in the past, would it not be far better to simply put the focus on improving the family returns process—in other words, to focus on what persuades people to go? We have a scheme that seems to be working pretty well, so we should focus on that and make it work even better. How does taking away support help to improve the scheme running at the moment?

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Minister of State (Home Office) (Security and Immigration)

I have two points for the hon. and learned Gentleman. The first comes back to my point about administration and public policy and aligning local and central Government to give families a consistent and clear message about the likely outcomes. This scheme will start before the cessation of support, and we have underlined that. A clear message is important in order to ensure that families understand what is likely to happen to them, and consistency is being provided by both the Home Office and local government.

Secondly, the hon. and learned Gentleman rightly touched on issues with assisted voluntary return and on family returns. This is about both elements combined. Assisted voluntary return for families is a scheme for families comprising a maximum of two adult parents and at least one child. Families who leave the UK under that scheme qualify for support in the form of advice and financial assistance both pre and post-departure, help with travel arrangements, medical assistance and support following arrival in the country of return.

From January, the assisted voluntary return programme will be administered directly by the Home Office, which we judge will enable us to work closely with local authorities and other partners to deploy the scheme more flexibly. In particular, we will be able to ensure that the scheme is targeted at and promoted effectively for newly appeal rights-exhausted families as part of a focused engagement with them about the available options and the consequences of not accepting the help and advice available. Those factors, together, respond to the hon. and learned Gentleman’s point about what is likely to change behaviour, and we judge that they are the right way forward to meet the underlying policy objective.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 7.

Division number 24 Decision Time — Clause 34 - Support for certain categories of migrant

Aye: 9 MPs

No: 7 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 34 ordered to stand part of the Bill.