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Asylum Applications

Volume 498: debated on Monday 26 October 2009

In December we met our targets to conclude 60 per cent. of new cases within six months. That means not only that decisions were taken early but that in a significant proportion of refusals, removal from the UK was effected within six months of application.

In 1997 it took on average 22 months merely to reach an initial decision. We can only speculate how much longer than that it was taking to remove those who were refused at that time.

Why are Members of Parliament routinely sent letters by the Border and Immigration Agency advising them that cases of individuals applying for asylum and indefinite leave to remain will not be resolved until July 2011? Is not that a sign of a failing and dysfunctional Department, or as we heard earlier, is that the policy of this Government—

Order. [Interruption.] Order. Let me just say very clearly to the hon. Gentleman that when I interrupt, he resumes his seat, and that is the end of the matter.

It is important not to confuse asylum with immigration. The contrary is the case: the reason why the former Home Secretary, who is in his place, set that target was to ensure that Members of Parliament could be confident that their constituents’ cases were being dealt with. To be fair, as we have reported to the Home Affairs Committee, we are getting through the legacy backlog at a significant rate. The date is that by which we must have completed those cases; it does not mean that all the cases with which the hon. Gentleman is dealing will take that long.

The Minister has announced that, as a result of reorganisation in Liverpool, Croydon will be the only centre in the UK that will deal with walk-in asylum applications. That will have a profound effect on the borough of Croydon. Why has he made that decision? What assessment has he made of the impact on the borough of Croydon, and will he campaign for extra funding to address the inevitable pressure on services that will result?

Order. In defiance of the convention, there were three questions, but I know that the Minister will understand that one answer will suffice.

I do not accept the premise of the question. We have been able to make the change because of the significant drop overall in the numbers of asylum applications, from 57,570 in 2002 to 23,210 in 2008. As we bring forward renewed applications with further information, we are requiring those people to have face-to-face interviews in Liverpool. I would imagine that the hon. Gentleman supports that policy. The impact on Croydon, which is provided with £30 million a year for children, will be minimal as a result of those background facts.

My hon. Friend will know from his own casework that many of the people in the legacy stream have been waiting for a considerable number of years, and their lives are on hold because there is nothing they can do to progress their current status. Is the July 2011 date a firm one, and can he bring forward some of the cases?

The Home Secretary has allocated extra resources to ensure that we can get through the legacy backlog even more quickly. As I said in answer to the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson), that is very much an end date. Members will see cases coming to their advice surgeries as a result of the success that we are having in getting through those cases. I point hon. Members to the new tracker service, as introduced by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier).

It is now more than three years since the former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid), famously promised to make the asylum and immigration system fit for purpose. Since then, fewer than half the legacy cases have been concluded. The backlog of applications under the new asylum model increased by more than a third last year, and last week the existence of another, previously unknown, 40,000 non-asylum legacy cases was revealed. In a spirit of generosity, we do not expect the Minister to solve all those problems at once, but can he say which of the various disasters he is presiding over is his top priority this week?

The hon. Gentleman calls for the Government to manage the migration system, but he then opposes the very measures that we have introduced— such as the comprehensive electronic borders—to do so. The cases that he has mentioned—cases, not people—are being got through apace. As I have said, the record of this Government in deciding those cases shows that 60 per cent. are decided in six months, as opposed to 22 months in 1997. Who has got their priorities right?