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Asylum Seekers

Volume 457: debated on Monday 19 February 2007

8. How many failed asylum seekers in England and Wales have exhausted all avenues of appeal; and if he will make a statement. (121297)

Throughout the first three quarters of 2006, more failed asylum seekers were removed than the number of unmeritorious claims made. Figures for the entire year will be published shortly.

I thank the Minister for that very illuminating answer. Hon. Members will be aware that local authorities have to pick up the bill for failed asylum seekers, so imagine my surprise when the London borough of Hillingdon asked the Home Office what it was doing to remove them and the Home Office replied, “We don’t know where they are. Could you let us know?” Is that acceptable?

I met representatives of Hillingdon quite recently, and that certainly was not the answer that was given to me. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is paraphrasing. But the way in which we have reduced the support costs, which are incumbent on a civilised society, for those who have failed in their asylum claim and are still here, because there are barriers against their going back home, is to remove them as quickly as possible. That is exactly why we have driven through the reform of the asylum system over the past few years. On numerous occasions, Opposition parties have had a chance to support those reforms and, by and large, they have refused to do so.

I have been trying to find out for quite some time just how many failed asylum seekers there are in my constituency and the wider Bristol area. So far, the only statistic that I have been able to uncover is that 260 people are claiming section 4 support in the whole of the south-west region, which is some way from giving a true picture of the situation. Does my hon. Friend agree that this is another reason to welcome the introduction of identity cards, particularly ID cards for foreign nationals from next year, so that we have a much clearer idea—

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: identity card technology has the potential to allow us to police illegal immigration—

All hon. Members appreciate that these are very difficult issues, and we should not suggest that all that the Home Office is doing in this respect should necessarily be criticised. However, the Minister will be aware that, to ensure that we have proper social cohesion, particularly in our cities, it is essential that we have a fair immigration and asylum system that works swiftly in this regard. Will he give a categorical assurance to the House today that, under no circumstances, will there be any amnesty for failed asylum seekers?

I am happy to give that assurance. As the House knows, I approached this issue with an open mind when my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary asked me to take over this brief. I see no evidence to support an amnesty; it would act as a pull factor in drawing illegal immigrants to this country. We need to put in place a number of protections over the next few years. We need to increase the number of enforcement staff that we have available. We need to increase the amount of resources. We need to ensure that those staff have the right powers, which is why the UK Borders Bill is so important, and where technology, such as identity technology, can help, we should exploit it, not shut it down.

Although I welcome the Minister’s commitment to try to sort out these matters, does he not think it a little odd that failed asylum seekers are allowed to remain, whereas those on the highly skilled migrant programme, whom we invited into this country, have been asked to leave immediately? Will that work be affected by the 8 per cent. cut in his budget?

My right hon. Friend knows that I agree with him on many matters, but I am afraid that I must dispute many of the grounds that he puts forward in this instance. When people have failed in their asylum claim, it is incumbent on us to seek to remove them from this country as quickly as possible. Equally, where there are other individuals who have come to this country to benefit from opportunities to work, but there are questions about the continued contribution that they can make, we are right to toughen the rules where we need to. If that means that sometimes people have to go home, so be it, I am afraid.

It may have escaped the Minister’s attention, but the Government have been operating an amnesty on asylum seekers since 2003 in the shape of the indefinite leave to remain programme. Will he explain why, last June, without telling the House, the Government implemented a change to that amnesty policy and allowed asylum seekers whose cases had yet to be determined, or whose cases had failed, to make a second application for an amnesty? Will he tell us how many people have been granted such an amnesty since last June?

I am happy to look into the hon. Gentleman’s question and write to him with the detail that he requests. The point that I would make to him is this: because of the reforms that we have put through over the last few years, the number of asylum applicants is now at its lowest level, not since 1997, but since 1993, and the number of failed asylum seekers who are being removed from the country is at a record high. The Opposition had a chance to support those reforms in 1999, 2002, 2004 and 2005 and they declined to do so at every opportunity.

In his response to the original question from my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), the Minister confirmed the startling reply that he gave me on 29 January, when he said:

“Information on the number of asylum seekers who have exhausted all appeals and registered with local authorities…is not collected by the Immigration and Nationality Directorate.”—[Official Report, 29 January 2007; Vol. 456, c. 124W.]

Is he aware that if he really does not know the basic figure for how many failed asylum seekers are being supported by taxpayers, we cannot trust any of his figures? Will he confirm that the reason he is taking no steps to find out how many failed asylum seekers are being supported is that he does not want the British people to know that figure?

That is a quite extraordinary question. I come back to this point: this Government have delivered reform to the asylum system, and have produced the lowest number of asylum seekers since 1993 and the highest number of deportations on record. It is true that it is difficult to know about those who remain in the country, because exit controls were dismantled by the last Conservative Administration. Every time that we have brought forward asylum reform, the Opposition have decided to oppose it. Will they change their tune and confirm that they are dropping the James review target of axing £900 million from the immigration and nationality directorate budget, and will they give their unequivocal support to the UK Borders Bill and the powers therein to strengthen deportation still further?