As at week ending Friday 5 December 2008, there were 156 asylum seekers supported under section 98 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 in the London borough of Croydon and just over 1,000 supported under the same section in England and Wales. Section 98 accommodation is predominantly provided in blocked accommodation, such as former hotels and hostels.
The Home Department should be congratulated on providing such accurate information. In the constituency that neighbours mine—the constituency of the right hon. Member for Croydon, North (Malcolm Wicks)—there was an unfortunate incident where an asylum seeker sought to be fed but ended up being involved in a contretemps where he was hit with a chain. What is done by the Government to ensure that reasonable service is provided to section 98 asylum seekers and what is done to oversee the quality of the contracts that are delivered?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue. On sight of his question, I asked for information and I shall write to him with the details of that investigation. I am satisfied that our officials and officers acted properly. It would appear that there was provocation and I shall give the hon. Gentleman details in my letter.
Would the Minister not agree that it might be better to house people in emergency or local accommodation where they are allowed to remain for some time? We all come across cases where asylum seekers are frequently moved, which means that schools for children, access to GP services and other essential services that are required are often simply not available or that the lives of those asylum seekers are subject to incredible disruption. Would it not be better if they were given a more stable living?
The best thing to do is to deal with the asylum applications quickly, effectively and fairly. The improvements that we are making in that regard have been quite rightly applauded. On my hon. Friend’s specific point, the section 98 people to whom the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling) referred are, of course, immediate applicants. The dispersal policy strives to meet the objectives outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) and it is important that we have as many local authorities in partnership as possible in order to achieve that fairly.