I beg to move amendment 222, in schedule 6, page 90, leave out lines 28 to 30 and insert—
‘(i) in subsection (2A) for “accommodation” each time it occurs substitute “support” and for “section 4” each time it occurs substitute “section 95A”, and
(ii) in subsections (6) and (7), for “section 4 or 95” substitute “section 95 or section 95A”’.
To provide a right of appeal against decisions of the Home Office to refuse or discontinue support under new section 95A for asylum seekers at the end of the process who are unable to leave the UK.
The amendment would provide a right of appeal against Home Office decisions to refuse or discontinue support, under new section 95A of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 as inserted by the schedule, for asylum seekers at the end of the process who are unable to leave the UK.
The right of appeal would be against decisions on support that are wrong. To give some context, Home Office decision making about support is particularly bad. We have heard statistics about Home Office decision making in general, but the success rate for challenges to support decisions is very high indeed. For example, from September 2014 to August 2015, the asylum support tribunal received 2,067 applications for appeals against Home Office refusal of asylum support. Of those, 44% were allowed by the tribunal, and 18% were remitted to the Home Office for a fresh decision or withdrawn because of an acknowledgment that the decision making was flawed. Together, that is a 62% success rate.
I caveat that figure, as I have in previous discussions about appeal rates, but it is an incredibly high success rate. It beggars belief that, when the statistics are of that order, there is to be no right of appeal in a simple case of a wrong decision on support. It is another example of removing the ability of people—often vulnerable people—to challenge a decision that is wrong and put it right. Therefore, we have tabled the amendment.
We have heard from other Members about the serious impact on individuals and their children of losing all forms of support. The amendment would ensure that we did not leave people, including children, helpless and possibly destitute while awaiting removal from the UK.
If the schedule is not amended we will be treating refused asylum seekers with complete contempt. We will be saying to them that we do not care how they support themselves while awaiting removal. I ask Members this: if that bleak scenario were to become a reality, what advice would they give those people when they came to their surgeries? Would Members walk past them in the street when they needed our help? Would Members close their eyes, put their heads down and walk past children who had been affected and needed something to eat or a place to stay? I think not, but that is what the schedule allows for. I hope that Members see the stark reality that faces us if it is not amended.
Liberty has pointed out that the Government’s own document, “Reforming support for failed asylum seekers and other illegal migrants”, states that the removal of any support for failed asylum seekers should be seen in the context of the wider enforcement powers that the Government have at their disposal. I have to say that that way of looking at the issue is crude, verging on inhumane. Are we honestly at a stage now where we are telling people to go cold and hungry to enforce immigration measures?
Not only is the position inhumane, but removing a person’s support does not achieve the aim of deporting them from the country any sooner, as was highlighted by the 2005 pilot that has often been mentioned in our discussions. I accept that the Home Secretary may wish to have the power to discontinue support for refused asylum seekers, but an avenue of appeal should exist to allow those affected to explain their circumstances and have their bare minimum support—let us not forget that they will have been surviving on a pittance—reinstated. The right of appeal proposed in the amendment is essential to ensure that impoverished asylum seekers are able to access the support that they are entitled to and desperately need.
As I have said, routes of appeal exist for a reason—to correct a wrongful decision. On the evidence of appeals against decisions on loss of support taken by the Home Office, we would conclude that a power of appeal against wrongful decisions made by the Home Office is of the utmost importance. The Immigration Law Practitioners Association has produced a helpful briefing detailing statistics from the asylum support tribunal. According to ILPA, 62% of appeals received by the tribunal had a successful outcome. From September 2010 to August 2015, the tribunal received 2,067 applications for appeals against a refusal of asylum support, of which it allowed 44% and remitted 18%. Furthermore, research conducted by the Asylum Support Appeals Project found that the majority of support cases are overturned at the appeal level, with the number of successful appeals varying between 6w0% and 80%. A range of sources put forward the strong argument that the Home Office has a poor track record of decision making when it comes to removing support from an individual, and the consequences are of the utmost seriousness.
In concluding, I echo the words of ILPA’s written evidence:
“Without a right of appeal to the Tribunal, the only remedy against destitution and breach of human rights will be judicial review of the section 95A decision. This would be an inadequate remedy, falling short of the requirements of article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights…The right of appeal to the Tribunal ensures judicial oversight of Home Office decisions in a cost-effective, straightforward and accessible way. Appeals are quick. If they are dismissed, then appellants lose their support immediately.”
The Government should not be afraid of the appeals process. If someone is not entitled to support, they will not receive it. The amendment would simply ensure that the right of appeal exists for those left in penury by the potential wrongful removal of support, and I urge hon. Members to accept it.
As always, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I will speak briefly to amendment 222, which would grant a right of appeal to those who are refused support by the Home Office, or whose support is discontinued. The right to appeal is important both for the individual concerned and because of the difficulties that the withdrawal of support for failed asylum seekers will create for local authorities, about which hon. Friends and I have already spoken.
It is necessary to set out the effect of clause 34 and schedule 6, to underline exactly why it is vital to have a right of appeal. The schedule as it stands will inflict destitution on families with children. Whereas in the past the Secretary of State could provide accommodation and support to help families survive, the new mechanism will impose a burden of proof on asylum seekers. They will need to show that they are destitute and that there is a genuine obstacle preventing them from leaving the country.
The hon. Lady has just said that the schedule will have an impact on asylum seekers; it will not. The mechanism in it relates to those whose asylum applications have been determined and have been found to have no grounds. I make that distinction because I want to underline that support is there for those who are having their asylum claims assessed.
I thank the Minister and apologise for my semantics.
We do not know what the “genuine obstacle” that must be preventing people from leaving the country means, because it has yet to be defined in regulations. We are potentially talking about denying support to extremely vulnerable families, so the House should be able to discuss and vote on that in primary legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham made that point well in our evidence sessions. That definition will effectively define the scope of support given to people, and it could leave families homeless and destitute. We should be debating that definition now. It is not something to be nodded through the House at the whim of the Secretary of State.
I do not know whether the hon. Lady was as struck as I was by the evidence sessions. There was only one organisation—I cannot for the life of me remember which it was—that actually prepared people who had gone to see it for a potential answer of no to their application. Everybody else just seemed to be keeping people’s hope alive and burning brightly. Does she agree that if more organisations prepared people for a no, people would be able to plan ahead and think about that, rather than wake up one morning and find, “Gosh, that’s a bit of a surprise”?
I agree with my hon. Friend; I did not hear only one organisation say that. I will say that I used to run a children’s hospice and, even when people were told the reality of what was going to happen, they always had hope. Even if it is to someone through the entire process, not everyone listens to reality.
I believe it is clear that whatever happens, the Government intend to introduce stricter conditions than currently exist for supporting failed asylum seekers, to try to encourage people to leave the UK more quickly once an asylum claim has failed. There is one obvious problem with that approach, which is that the evidence shows that it simply does not work. I will return to that when we discuss later amendments, but for the moment it is enough to say that cutting off support will make families less, not more, likely to engage with the Home Office and leave the UK voluntarily. Denying people support will be counterproductive if the Government aim to increase the number of voluntary returns. If those are the consequences of withdrawing support, having a proper right of appeal becomes even important.
The reason to support the amendment is simple. The right of appeal is needed because on far too many occasions, initial decisions are incorrect. Nearly two thirds of appeals are successful, and that amounts each year to hundreds of cases or, to put it another way, hundreds of people and families. When new section 95A comes into force, those people will be wrongly deprived of food and shelter.
The Home Office’s assessments of destitution are very poor. The asylum support tribunal overturns a high proportion of decisions; in 2011, the figure was an incredible 82%. If those people had not had a right of appeal, how would they have accessed the support that they were entitled to? How will they be able to do so in future? Without a right of appeal, the only recourse for those individuals would be judicial review, which is no substitute for a proper right of appeal. Judicial review, as we all know, requires time and money, which are things that people whose asylum claim has failed simply do not have.
Inevitably, hundreds of people who will have every right to support under new section 95A will be unable to access it. I cannot accept that the Minister and the Government are comfortable knowing that hundreds of people who are legally entitled to support will be left with nothing, but that will be the effect of schedule 6 if it is not amended. Ultimately, the debate is about the quality of decision making. Are the Government prepared to accept poor decision making and the injustices that stem from it? If they are not, they should accept our amendment.
I, too, want to speak in support of amendment 222. Throughout the Bill, the Government propose various measures to remove the right to appeal against Home Office decisions. Reading the Bill, one cannot but conclude that the Government are fundamentally opposed to their decisions being challenged in anything approaching an independent manner.
The consequences of the decision to deny support are potentially catastrophic. A migrant who is denied support has no right to work and no right to rent. Their bank account is closed and their assets are frozen. The choices that people in that position face are bleak. The Bill acknowledges the need to support refused migrants who have genuine obstacles to leaving the UK, but it has not been made clear what a genuine obstacle will be, even though my Opposition colleagues have been pushing for clarity. My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields has just raised the matter yet again. What is clear, however, is who decides whether the obstacle exists. It is the Home Office, without scrutiny, oversight or effective challenge. That is bad practice in any process, but in the light of the Home Office’s frankly miserable record of making the correct decision the first time, it will be disastrous.
There is currently a right of appeal on decisions made about section 4 support. Statistics from the asylum support tribunal should make for uncomfortable reading for the Government, because 62% of appeals between September 2014 and August 2015 were successful. The claims were allowed, sent back to the Home Office for a fresh decision or withdrawn in acknowledgement of a flawed decision.
The Home Office has a similarly poor record in assessing destitution. In 2014-15, the Asylum Support Appeals Project represented 168 asylum seekers whom the Home Office had denied support on the grounds that it did not believe that they were destitute. Of those decisions, 70% were overturned on appeal. Such figures cannot but lead us to the conclusion that there is a serious problem with Home Office decision making. During the Committee’s evidence sessions, witnesses offered various explanations for those failings, from inadequate training to overly complex immigration regulations, and Ministers have given other examples. Whatever the reasons, however, when nearly two thirds of decisions are being overturned on appeal, something needs to be done to address the problem.
The Government’s solution in the Bill and in previous immigration legislation is indeed novel: simply abolish the right to appeal. That will certainly result in far fewer Home Office decisions being reversed, but it is hardly a solution that will in any way contribute to better decision making. Children and families will be badly affected by the loss of appeal rights. Section 95 support will no longer continue for families with children at the end of the asylum process. That poses a serious risk of leaving children destitute with no judicial oversight, as was clearly detailed by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields.
Given the high proportion of Home Office decisions that will be overturned by the tribunal, the lack of appeal rights will inevitably transfer the responsibility for supporting destitute children to local authorities. We have heard from the Minister that the Department is in good consultation with local authorities, which is great, but the reality is that children who should be being supported by the Home Office will instead have to rely on overstretched local authority budgets to meet those most basic needs.
Much has been said of the need to ensure that our immigration system is one in which the public can have confidence. However, the way to achieve that confidence is not to pander to sensationalist headlines, but to ensure that most of the time the Home Office gets it right first time. Abolishing the right to challenge poor decisions and forcing people into the most abject poverty will not in any way contribute to achieving a goal that I am sure we all share.
I am pleased to have an opportunity to contribute to this debate. I will not repeat the woeful statistics that others have mentioned in relation to successful appeals, but I think that all those points should draw the Committee’s concern to the appropriate response, which must be about getting the process right, as opposed to abolishing people’s rights, because the net effect of the proposals will be that people who could otherwise win appeals will be left destitute.
The Minister talked at length about the dialogue between the Home Office and local authorities. I would like to share some concerns that local authorities in the region that I represent have expressed. They come together in an organisation called Migration Yorkshire, from across the entire county. They are anticipating that the impact of the provisions will be to leave significant numbers of refused asylum seekers destitute. They make a point, which is worth bearing in mind when the Minister says that measures such as this are about encouraging people to return: they ask, “Return to what?” We are talking about people who, in many cases, come from unstable and dangerous states. In their evidence, they cite Eritrea, Iran and Sudan. The choice of returning, or being destitute in Britain might not be a hard choice to make for many people, actually. Destitution in the UK is probably better than going back to a war zone and being destitute there.
It is clear that, under this policy, more refused asylum seekers will become destitute without the right to appeal. The local authorities’ concern is that the amount will increase in several towns and cities across Yorkshire, with all the related health and cohesion issues that will disproportionately affect some of our bigger cities, where we already face problems with the rise in rough sleeping and wider destitution. They are worried that local agencies will lose contact with refused asylum seekers, who will have very little incentive to stay in touch. They are concerned that unsupported, refused asylum seekers will feel compelled to use illegal forms of accommodation —to be in overcrowded, unhealthy conditions, potentially putting their friends in breach of tenancy agreements—and that they will feel compelled, in conflict with the Government’s policy objectives, to undertake illegal forms of employment to survive, opening themselves up to exploitation and abuse.
In Committee so far I have cited the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary; now I will turn to the thoughts of another member of the Cabinet. The comment is not contemporary, but arose from a 2008 study by the Centre for Social Justice, which, incidentally, stated:
“Making refused asylum seekers homeless and penniless is hugely counterproductive: it makes it much more difficult to work with them to encourage voluntary return or to ensure timely removal, and in driving them underground makes it harder to keep track of them.”
The foreword to the report was provided by the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), now the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, who has provided inspirational guidance to the Government in a number of areas. We should pay serious attention to his words. He said:
“It also appears that a British government is using forced destitution as a means of encouraging people to leave voluntarily. It is a failed policy…still driven by the thesis, clearly falsified, that we can encourage people to leave by being nasty.”
I rest my case.
I will respond to each of the points made by Labour Members. The points made by the hon. Member for Sheffield Central undermine the appropriateness of the various measures in the Bill to confront illegal working, including the extension of the right to rent scheme to ensure against abuses. We are joining up enforcement against rogue landlords and those who are abusing their position in that way.
Furthermore, the immigration system in operation in 2008 was in a poor condition under the previous Labour Government. It was in need of significant change and reform to get it to do the job in hand. That is why I emphasised the coalition Government proceeding to scrap the old UK Border Agency and putting in a different form of administration, which we judge to be improving the system, rather than making it worse.
I will also respond to some of the statistics proffered in support of change, because that might paint a slightly different characterisation from the one we have heard thus far.
Paul Blomfield rose—
Indeed I was trying to catch the Minister’s eye. I think he would recognise—as I hope he will now—that the comments made by the now Secretary of State for Work and Pensions were not related to the particular forms of administration or organisation at the time. They were made about the principle of pushing people into destitution in order to create an environment that might encourage them to leave, which was one of the objectives that the Minister present said were behind his policy.
What I have said is behind the policy is a question of a firm and clear approach on the options and on the process that I outlined in the preceding debate.
I am sorry if the hon. Member for South Shields thought that I was trying to be pedantic in some way; I was not. There is an important distinction between those who are claiming asylum but have not had their rights assessed—it is appropriate to support them, but I am sure we will come on to those issues generally—and those who have had their claim assessed by the courts and determined to be not valid, or not grounded. In that context, therefore, if those families and people decide to remain here unlawfully, rather than leaving voluntarily, they should not automatically continue to receive Home Office support simply because they have made a failed asylum claim.
That is the principle. It is not about being “nasty”, as the hon. Member for Sheffield Central pejoratively sought to characterise things. It is about fairness, confidence and clarity in the system. That is the approach that we are setting out in the Bill and, as I hope he will understand, the approach that I have sought to annunciate in the manner in which I have put forward the proposals.
I will come to that. The issue is equally one of fairness to those who play by the rules—those who put in applications, are here lawfully, and have not sought to overstay their visa or put in an asylum claim to try to drag it out in a further attempt to remain in the country. It is fair to those people who have done the right thing that people who do not have that right should leave. We need a better basis of incentives and possible sanctions and, together with local authorities, we need to engage with families in the process to secure more returns and to underline those clear messages.
I genuinely do not think that any of my colleagues are disagreeing that we want a strong, robust system. We are trying to argue that, looking at the number of appeals decisions that are overturned, the system is not strong and robust. We want a fair system too, but there are people falling through the net, who then get a fair outcome on appeal. To lose that right of appeal does not seem to provide that justice that the Minister seeks.
Obviously we have existing arrangements under sections 95 and 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. We are moving towards a different arrangement under proposed new section 95A, which will apply where there is a genuine obstacle to departure. To be clear, that will be defined in regulations. We expect that obstacle to be either the lack of necessary documentation or a medical reason. Of course, the person will need to show that they are making reasonable steps to obtain the relevant documentation. The Bill does not provide a right of appeal against the decision that no such obstacles exist because that should be a straightforward matter of fact for which a statutory right of appeal is not needed.
Before I give way to the hon. and learned Gentleman, I want to return to the issue of standards and Home Office decision making. I think the hon. Member for Rotherham said that her figures were from 2011. I point to the report of the previous independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, John Vine. I do not think anyone on the Committee would be backwards in coming forwards to identify weaknesses in the system and to expose matters of concern to him. It is worth highlighting his report of July 2014—a later period than that of some of the statistics that have been cited. He conducted an investigation of the whole system of asylum support. It is a long report, but the “positive findings” section of the executive summary noted:
“We found that the decision to grant or refuse asylum support was reasonable in most of the cases we sampled (193 cases out of the 215 cases—90%). We saw many examples of good practice, including staff taking extra steps to ensure that they made the right decision first time.”
“In cases where applicants were refused support, we found that in 92 of 103 cases (89%) the decisions made by Home Office staff were reasonable. This was a good performance. Additionally, we found that of 12 cases where an appeal was lodged, only two (17%) were allowed by the First-Tier Tribunal. This is lower than the overall allowed appeal rate for asylum support refusals or terminations.”
The system has been characterised as not operating well and, in fairness to the Committee, it is important that I put that report on the record.
We always look for improvement, which is why we changed the system. We have separate directorates looking at different aspects so that we can hold to account and have better clarity of focus and attention. I will always challenge the relevant directors general to achieve that sense of continued improvement, but it is important to contextualise.
I want to take the Minister back to the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central asked about the fairness of removing the right of appeal. The Minister’s response was that, equally, we have to be fair to those who play by the rules and make their applications properly. What about the failed asylum seeker who establishes a genuine obstacle and takes on the onus? What happens if that is accepted but the assessment of whether he or she needs support—whether he or she is destitute—is wrong? He or she has done all they can and accepted the burden, but the assessment of whether they need support is wrong. The Red Cross told us that there are a number of cases where that is precisely the situation. The Red Cross often supplies a report, and it is a dead cert winner on appeal. Why is it fair to that person to remove their right to appeal when they will otherwise be destitute?
The issues that we are dealing with are specific matters of fact, and it remains open to the individual concerned to draw their circumstances to the Home Office’s attention. I take the hon. and learned Gentleman back to how we intend to operate these arrangements. We are not doing this by correspondence; it is being worked through as part of an overall process towards the removal of that individual. The judgment has effectively been taken, and contact is therefore being maintained with the individual, so it is more of the joined-up approach on which I have already responded. That is why, in our judgment, it is a question of looking at the simple elements and at what will be the barriers to removal.
I do not want to add an unnecessarily acid tone to the debate—[ Interruption. ] I do not necessarily want to do it, but that does not mean that I will stop myself. I hear what Opposition Members are saying about fairness, but was it fair to those who were making applications and appeals, and so on, who discovered post-2010 that the Home Office had shoved all their paperwork down the lift chutes of abandoned offices? The Home Office had let the whole damned business get so out of control and had become so overwhelmed that it decided that putting the paperwork into the “too hard to deal with” tray was the best option.
I know this message might not be appreciated by some members of the Committee, some of whom were not here when we experienced some of those practices after coming into government in 2010. I heard, and continue to hear, some extraordinary stories about some of the practices that existed before some of the arrangements that we have now put in place, which is why it is right to focus on some of the administration issues. That is why I referenced the chief inspector’s report. Yes, there is still work to do, and we have been clear on the change and reform that we seek to make to the effective operation of the immigration system. The situation that we picked up was pretty bad. My hon. Friend makes the point clearly and firmly on why some—
I appreciate your direction, Mr Owen, but I think that the history has some relevance to how we administer these rules and requirements and some of the evidence that has been adduced to the Committee. I have tried to bring us into the here and now with what these provisions are intended to do and, through reference to the ICI’s report, to give further clarity on the focus attached to this matter and the decision-making processes. I recognise that this debate is primarily about the rights of appeal. In many ways, we have strayed quite widely, but I appreciate that there are strong feelings on this issue. I respect that, and the House should be able to allow for lively and robust debate where there are differences of opinion. The debate has been helpful, I am sure. Obviously it will be a matter for you, Mr Owen, as to whether we have a subsequent schedule 6 stand part debate, given the wider discussions. I understand that there is a point of difference on some of the principles and I respect that difference. Obviously it will ultimately be for the Committee to determine the decision in relation to the amendment.
We should all support the measures to improve the decision making. It is good that decisions are improving, and if the success rate is going up in the way suggested in the latest statement, we should put it on the record that we support that; that is a good thing. But is there a target or expectation for right decisions? In other words, is there a target of 90% right or 95% right? What is the threshold? What is the level that the Home Office considers good enough to remove the right of appeal?
I think the hon. and learned Gentleman is seeking to frame this in a slightly different way. The figures that I referred to related to the system as was. Obviously we are contemplating changes. The point I have made to the Committee is about the nature of the decisions—the very fact-based approach that in our judgment should be clear as to whether there are those barriers to removal. It is on that basis that we judge the formal right of appeal. That is not to say that the person would not make representations to the Home Office—or, through the regular contact that we would have, that assessment could be made—but it is on that basis that we have formed that judgment.
I would like the Minister to respond to statistics that have been cited. He made a powerful case and cited a report in favour of the effectiveness of the system, but by doing so sought to invalidate the suggestion of a 62% success rate in the appeal system. He will know, I think, that the Asylum Support Appeals Project receives the statistics from asylum support tribunals and analyses them. Does he recognise that the figure cited of 62% was based on that analysis, between September 2014 and August 2015, where, of the 2,067 applications for appeals against a Home Office refusal of asylum support, 44% were allowed by the tribunal and 18% were remitted—sent back—to the Home Office for it to take the decision afresh or withdrawn by the Home Office as it acknowledged its decision making was flawed? That 62% is therefore robust, is it not?
No. As I think my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General has highlighted, our judgment is that appeal statistics are not a good indicator of the quality of decision making. That is why I referred to the ICI’s report, in which he does the audits of performance. That obviously gives us oversight. Those figures do not, for example, take into account the fact that many appeals are allowed, as my hon. and learned Friend said, or remitted, because the appellant provides the necessary evidence of their eligibility to receive support only at a later stage. It is therefore important to contextualise this properly.
I recognise that there is a fundamental difference of opinion. We can continue the debate in the same manner, but our judgment is that, on the basis of the measure—ultimately, we are debating this particular amendment on appeals—and on the basis of my characterisation of how the system is intended to operate and how the administrative arrangements will function, the amendment is not needed. I therefore ask the hon. and learned Gentleman to withdraw it.
Before I call Keir Starmer, the Minister was being helpful and measured when he talked about having a debate on schedule 6. We have a lot of amendments to go through; we might cover a lot more ground before we get to schedule 6. I will make a judgment at that time, so I ask Members to speak to the amendments before us, whether they be Opposition or Government amendment.
You have been generous in letting us discuss amendment 222, Mr Owen. In the course of those discussions and the interventions, probably everything that could be said has been said. I just have a final point. I accept that within the figure of 62% being successful on appeal, there will be cases in which the Home Office, in truth, was not at fault because, for example, information came to light after the event or circumstances changed. However, there will be many cases in which it was at fault. The Government cannot simply put a figure like 62% on one side and say that it does not demonstrate anything. There is palpably a need for a right of appeal in this type of case more than any other. Given those circumstances, I will not withdraw the amendment.
This is a minor and technical amendment. It is consequential on the repeal of section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. Section 43(5) and (6) of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 contain provision about tenancies granted to provide accommodation under section 4 of the 1999 Act.
I hope to be brief in explaining this group of amendments. Amendments 96 to 99 are all minor and technical amendment relating to the repeal by schedule 6 of section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. Amendments 96 and 99 relate specifically to the repeal of section 43 of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006, which cross-relates to section 4 and tenancies granted to provide accommodation under section 4 powers. Amendment 98 is also linked to the repeal of section 4 of the 1999 Act. Amendment 97 is also a technical and minor provision. The term “claim for asylum” no longer appears in part 6 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, so the same change is needed in respect of section 141 of the 1999 Act.
Amendment 101 relates to persons supported under section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 when the new arrangements under schedule 6 take effect. Those persons will continue to be supported under section 4 by transitional arrangements. Section 4 support currently consists of accommodation and a weekly non-cash allowance to buy food and other essential items. The allowance is provided through an Azure card that can be used at supermarkets to purchase necessary items. There are no current plans to change those arrangements, but amendment 101 gives the flexibility to do so in future, subject to parliamentary approval of changes in regulation. Such a change might, for example, be appropriate if the numbers supported under section 4 decreased to a point at which the costs of administrating the Azure card outweighed the benefits.
That leaves amendments 100 and 102 to 104, which are minor and technical and relate to those who will remain supported under either section 4 or section 95 of the 1999 Act under transitional arrangements. The amendments will ensure that future and current dependants of those persons may be supported under the provisions. That will mean, for example, that a child born to a person already in receipt of support under section 4 or section 95 of the 1999 Act under the transitional arrangements will also be able to be supported under those arrangements.
I beg to move amendment 223, schedule 6, page 91, line 7, at end insert—
(a) in paragraph 6(1), after “person” insert “who entered the United Kingdom as an adult”
(b) in paragraph 7, after “person” insert “who entered the United Kingdom as an adult””
To ensure that all care leavers—including young asylum-seekers and migrants who came to the UK as children—are given the support they need while they are in the UK by amending Schedule 3 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 so it does not apply to people who initially came to the UK as children. It will not create an automatic right to support but make sure that a young person is not discriminated against on the basis of his or her immigration status.
I can deal with this amendment shortly. The intention is to ensure that all care leavers, including young asylum seekers and migrants who come to the UK as children, are given the support they need while they are in the UK by amending schedule 3 to the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 so that it would not apply to people who initially came to the UK as children. The amendment would not create a right to support but would ensure that a young person was not treated differently on the basis of his or her immigration status.
I will come to the nub of what sits behind the amendment. For adults, support continues under schedule 3 to the 2002 Act until the individual fails to comply with removal directions, whereas support can be withdrawn for young people if they are found to be unlawfully in the UK but have not been served with removal directions. There has been criticism of the impact of schedule 3 by the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Office of the Children’s Commissioner. The Refugee Children’s Consortium has also expressed concern about it. This is a narrow but important point.
I am going to speak very slowly and clearly. For many years, this country and other countries have struggled to support children who are leaving the care system. It has been well documented that those children’s life chances are measurably lower than those who do not go through the care system. Of course, various Governments have taken different measures to address that issue over time. When it comes to asylum seekers, however, we have a situation where children who are even more vulnerable find themselves destitute and without proper legal support when their appeal rights are exhausted, despite growing evidence that approximately 3,000 unaccompanied children come to the UK each year. This is another example of immigration legislation not keeping pace with the legislation protecting the rights of children and young people who are in our communities already but are no longer being supported by the Home Office.
We know that destitution forces young people into grave situations, some of which will be made worse by the Bill. Exploitation in all its forms, homelessness and ill health all follow on from the state turning its back on a desperate and isolated young person who has left care. It is worth highlighting an example given by the Children’s Society of a torture survivor from Iran who came to the UK aged 17. His initial claim was rejected and he went without legal representation for his appeal. Once that, too, was rejected, his support from children’s services was cut off and he was made homeless. He lost the support of the counsellor who had been helping him to deal with the trauma of the torture he had suffered. His health deteriorated further as a consequence of sleeping on the streets. I always find it useful to try to put myself in someone else’s shoes, and I think that sleeping on the streets for one night would be enough to finish most of us off. The good news is that he then received support from a charity and a fresh solicitor. His new claim was successful and he was granted leave to remain. His life was on course to be so much worse than I imagine it is now he has that support.
Amendment 223 is a sensible measure that would provide some protection for asylum seekers who have been in the care system and who are, by their very nature, among the most vulnerable in our society. I feel confident and hopeful that the Minister will support it.
I am not willing to accept amendment 223. It would allow persons who entered the UK when they were children to be provided with support, including local authority support, under the legislation on leaving care—and here I come back to the point of principle—even though they have since reached adulthood and all their applications to stay here and appeals have been refused by the independent judiciary.
I come back to the primary issue and the policy. From a policy perspective it would be wrong, in essence, to create other risks. In our judgment the amendment would create obvious incentives for more unaccompanied children to come to the UK to seek asylum, often by dangerous routes controlled by smugglers and traffickers, and for more young asylum seekers to claim falsely to be under 18. Those are problems that local authorities already struggle to deal with.
According to Eurostat in 2014 the UK received almost 80% of all asylum claims lodged by unaccompanied asylum-seeking Albanians in the EU. Most of the claimants were 16 and 17-year-olds and very few will qualify to be granted asylum. In our judgment part of the reason for that is a perception that the UK provides generous long-term support for all those who arrive in the UK as children, regardless of whether their asylum claims made out or not. The amendment would only add to that, because it is framed so that there would be local authority support regardless of the outcome of the asylum claim.
The existing legislation ensures that unaccompanied children who apply for asylum receive the same support from local authorities under the Children Act 1989 as any other child in need. Their entitlement to support is not affected by their immigration status. When they reach 18 years of age the position is different, if their asylum claim has been finally refused and an independent judge has dismissed their appeal. Automatic access to further support from the local authority should cease at that point; but it is important to recognise that it may continue where there is a genuine obstacle preventing the person from departing from the UK. The Bill creates a support system for those who have failed in their claims who face such an obstacle, as we have explained.
The Government remain committed to ensuring that young people leaving local authority care, whose immigration appeal rights are exhausted, do not face an abrupt withdrawal of all support, and the mechanism is constructed accordingly. If there are practical problems that need to be addressed, we are obviously content to find further ways to do that, but in our judgment the blanket approach that the amendment would apparently create would cut across important policy objectives and could, sadly, add to risk.
I too will oppose the amendment. I think that the hon. Lady has put her finger on the problem of why immigration has become such a huge issue in our constituencies, especially when juxtaposed with what we hear in the House and in Committee about councils’ central funding being reduced, and an overall cap on Government expenditure. I think that most ordinary folk in our constituencies, irrespective of their political affiliation, conclude on the basis of common sense that once a fair system has been tried, tested and exhausted, there must be a point at which the state, centrally or locally, withdraws.
The hon. Gentleman speaks about when rights have been exhausted, but the example I gave was not of someone who had exhausted his rights; it was someone who did not have the legal support to make a proper appeal, which is why he lost. When he managed to get the help of a charity it was found that he was entitled to support here. We are not talking only about people who have exhausted all appeal rights but about people who have had poor decisions or poor representation, or no representation.
I hear what the hon. Lady says, but I have to say I find it slightly surprising, given the quantum of those bodies that came to give evidence during our witness sessions. Most of those organisations—indeed, the lion’s share—were clearly focused, on either a regional or national basis, on providing advice, help and support to people who were seeking to make an application. I am not doubting the veracity of what she says, but I would be rather surprised if the problem she mentioned was large scale. Clearly, even the individual to whom she referred was ultimately able to find professional advice and support, and the response that they were looking for.
The nub of the issue is this: the British taxpayer—the council tax payer and income tax payer—cannot be expected to keep signing blank cheques to continue to support people to reside in this country when all of the systems have been tried and tested and their right to remain has not been proved or accepted. Just a few months ago, I am sure all of us heard on the doorsteps—
Gavin Newlands indicated dissent.
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. There must be some very eccentric voters in his constituency. Every constituency will have had people—on the doorstep, in the market square or wherever—who will have said that this is a problem about which political correctness has become just a little too wayward.
I support my hon. Friend. In Kent, we have seen significant numbers of unaccompanied minors over the past few months. I have noticed that the cost of looking after those unaccompanied minors has put massive pressure on our local authorities. Although we accept that we need to look after those young people and make sure that they feel safe when they come here, we must also recognise that we have a duty to the children already in state care in our county. When there is extra pressure on social workers and foster places, it is—
I am trying to explain why, like the Minister, I oppose the amendment, Mr Owen. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood is absolutely right. During our evidence sessions we were all concerned to try to ensure that the measures in the Bill helped community cohesion. When one section of the community feels that it is losing the local services, to which it has contributed through its taxes, in order to support the funding requirements of people who should not be here, people start to get annoyed and we start to see some of the rather ugly scenes we saw in Burnley and other areas where that little bit of racial tension became a little too hot and too heavy.
I am bringing in my generic thinking on the issue to explain why we should oppose the amendment. The amendment flies in the face of the common-sense approach that the British people want to see and that underpins the Bill.
In conclusion, the Minister made the apposite point that unless a clear message goes out to say that we are not a “soft touch”—I use that in inverted commas, because I appreciate that it could be inflammatory—or an easy target just because someone is a minor, far too many vulnerable youngsters will, I fear, be trafficked across the channel and elsewhere to come into the UK. This is all about signals and messages. That is why I oppose the amendment—argued for in a heartfelt manner, but fundamentally wrong—backed by the hon. Member for Glasgow North East.
I will be brief. We are talking about children coming out of care. It has been proposed that a message needs to go out to other countries—to be picked up by and to influence those coming to this country—that we treat those coming out of care unfairly. That proposition beggars belief. I will press the amendment.
Adjourned till Tuesday 10 November at half-past Nine o’clock.
Written evidence reported to the House
IB 31 UNHCR
IB 32 Immigration Law Practitioners' Association further submission part 6 and 7
IB 33 Shelter
IB 34 Letter from the Home Office on reform of support for certain categories of migrants
IB 35 Immigration Law Practitioners' Association further submission on Part 5 Support for Certain Categories of Migrants
IB 36 Airport Operators Association (AOA)