The hon. Gentleman’s intervention was not entirely unexpected. He knows that we are committed to ensuring that asylum claims are considered without unnecessary delay, so that people who need protection can be granted it as soon as possible in order for them to integrate and rebuild their lives.
Until recently, our aim was to decide 98% of straightforward asylum claims within six months from the date of the claim. However, many asylum claims are not straightforward, which means that it has not always been possible to make an initial decision within six months. Many of these cases had a barrier that needed to be overcome in order to make the asylum decision, and many of those barriers were outside the Home Office’s control.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber yesterday when I said that I regard the situation as not good enough. I know that we have to do more in this area, and one of our key priorities is to speed up the process. I would still like to make several comments about the rights of asylum seekers to work; if the Committee will indulge me, I will expand a little on some of my thoughts in a moment.
I am conscious that we cannot simply dismiss the risk that removing restrictions on work might increase the number of unfounded claims, which would reduce our capacity to take decisions and support genuine refugees. However, we recognise the importance of getting both the policy and the process right, which is why the Home Secretary has already committed to a review of the policy on asylum seekers’ right to work. Officials are already undertaking that review, looking at available evidence and anticipating the economic impact that such changes might bring about.
Hon. Members are right to point out that this matter has been raised frequently in both the Chamber and Westminster Hall. I remember that in October many hon. Members here today contributed to a debate led by the Second Church Estates Commissioner, my right hon. Friend Dame Caroline Spelman. I later responded before the Select Committee on Home Affairs to a question from my hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope, when he spoke of a report he had contributed to several years ago on the rights of asylum seekers to work.
The issue was raised extensively on Second Reading and yesterday it cropped up again in Home Office oral questions. I had forgotten, until the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston mentioned it, that I sat on the Bench last week for the First Reading of the Asylum Seekers (Permission to Work) (No. 2) Bill, the ten-minute rule Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green, who spoke passionately about this issue and made a number of the points that we have heard again today.
Over the course of the past 12 months I have made a significant effort to engage on the issue, not only with non-governmental organisations and charities involved in the sector, but with hon. Members in this place. I appreciate the thought and time that have gone into those conversations, not least with the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston and her good friend and colleague, Thangam Debbonaire, who made a fleeting visit to the Committee this morning. I think she was a little optimistic if she thought we would get to this amendment before lunch. She has always made a powerful case on this subject.
As Immigration Minister, I am conscious that one should not conflate asylum seekers with refugees. I fear that in my next comments I am about to do just that, for which I apologise. I have spent a great deal of time on visits over the course of the past year, and I will give some edited highlights. One of my first ministerial visits was to Bradford, where I met members of World Jewish Relief Aid who were working closely with resettled refugees who had come here as part of the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme. That is where the conflation is coming in. They were making efforts to enable those with refugee status to improve their English and CVs and work through the process of moving into employment. It was a humbling experience and fascinating to have the opportunity to talk to the refugees about the importance to them of work. Hon. Members will have heard me say previously—