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Asylum System Reform

Volume 686: debated on Monday 14 December 2020

As the Home Secretary has already announced, we will embark next year on one of the biggest ever reforms of our asylum system. The system is in need of fundamental reform in which the principles will be firmness and fairness—fair in that we will rapidly grant claims that are meritorious, but firm in the sense that, where claims do not have merit, we will rapidly refuse them and ensure that people cannot have endlessly repeated bites of the cherry, which sadly is the case at the moment.

We are all rightly proud of the UK’s history as a safe haven for the persecuted, but can my hon. Friend outline what steps his Department is taking to ensure that claims of asylum from unsafe countries are being prioritised over those from inherently safe countries such as France?

My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. The United Kingdom’s resettlement scheme aims to take people directly from dangerous conflict zones, such as those around Syria, into the United Kingdom. We have run the biggest resettlement scheme of any country in Europe over the last five years. In terms of preventing claims from safe countries, he will be aware that we introduced some inadmissibility rules a few days ago, and we are working with our French colleagues to prevent these very dangerous small boat crossings from France to the UK. Thanks to that work, I am pleased to be able to report to the House that over the last three months since September, the number of small boat crossings per calm-weather day has come down by over 60%. That is testament to the great work being done by UK officers and by our colleagues in France as well.

It is immensely important that asylum seekers and refugees received the welcome and support they need when seeking sanctuary in the United Kingdom, but does my hon. Friend agree that those who are rejected should leave the country promptly?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. Where an asylum claim has been rejected, it is only right and fair that the person whose claim has been rejected should leave quickly. Sadly, that is not always the case. In fact, we are currently accommodating some thousands of failed asylum seekers at public expense, but it is right that they should leave when their asylum claim has been rejected. One of the problems is that repeated appeals and last-minute claims can go on almost without limit and we intend to legislate in the first half of next year to ensure that that breakdown in process—that breakdown in the system—no longer happens.

The failure to manage the backlog of asylum claims has led to the Minister planning open prison-style camps in temporary accommodation in unsuitable locations, remote from healthcare services. Can he explain to the residents of Barton Stacey how the changes laid to the immigration rules last week are going to help? Does he not run the risk of establishing a separate tier of asylum seekers who cannot have their claims processed but cannot be returned to any European Union country because no agreement exists to enable that to happen? And does that mean that they will be permanently stuck in limbo?

The large numbers being accommodated are to some degree a consequence of covid because, as my right hon. Friend will know, we have been running significantly lower levels of move-ons for people whose asylum claims have been decided. For example, no negative cessations are happening at all at the moment, and that has led to a significant increase in the number of people being accommodated. As we move out of coronavirus next year, we hope to get those numbers rapidly back down again.

In relation to my right hon. Friend’s question about the immigration rules, they are laying the foundations for our post-transition period system. As she knows, we are currently in the Dublin system, which provides for people who have claimed asylum elsewhere to be returned to those countries, including France, Germany and Spain. It is our intention to open discussions with those countries as soon as we are able to do so, in order to bring into force similar measures after the transition period ends.

My hon. Friend will be aware that approximately 60,000 people are currently stuck in our asylum system. Does he agree with me and my constituents in Newcastle-under-Lyme that we must get this reform through, not only to treat those people fairly but to treat the taxpayer fairly? We should not be picking up the tab for a bloated and broken system.

My hon. Friend puts it perfectly. It is unfair on the taxpayer to have people whose claims have been rejected still subsisting in accommodation, and it is unfair on people with meritorious claims, whose claims take longer to hear because the system is not operating in the way it should. We certainly will be reforming it to address the issues he is rightly raising, and he can look forward to supporting legislation in this House in the first half of next year to do exactly that.

The law on asylum is dated and complex. Loopholes have been exploited for many years and, as my hon. Friend has stated on many occasions, tougher legislation is required. Will he advise the House as to when that legislation will be presented?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. As I said, we will be introducing legislation in the first half of next year. It will aim to be fair to people with meritorious claims, to make sure that their claims are decided quickly and they are properly looked after. For people who have no valid claim or who seek to bring repeated, vexatious claims, often at the last minute, in order to frustrate removal, we will be shutting down those avenues, which are being abused. This is to make sure the system works fairly for those who need protection, but prevents abuse.