HC Deb 09 February 1995 vol 254 cc443-4
5. Mr. Tony Banks

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many applications for refugee status are currently outstanding; and what is the average time from application to decision.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Nicholas Baker)

An estimated 55,255 applications for asylum were outstanding at the end of last year. For applications received since the implementation of the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993 and decided in the period between 1 October and 31 December 1994, the estimated average time between the receipt of a completed asylum application and the decision was seven months.

Mr. Banks

Is it not a fact that that appalling backlog and the long time taken for consideration are caused by the immigration service being overstretched and underfunded? Is the Minister aware that there are more than 5,000 of those cases in my borough of Newham alone? That is 10 per cent. of all applications. Is he aware of how much pressure that puts on the people who are waiting for a decision, and how much pressure it puts on the hard-pressed services of Newham in terms of housing, social services and education? Will he give further resources to the immigration service and speak to his comrades—friends—in other Departments, so that boroughs such as Newham can be given additional resources to tackle the problem?

Mr. Baker

Perhaps I could point out to the hon. Gentleman that before the 1993 Act, the average time taken on those cases was 18 months, so seven months is an improvement on that. I share the anxiety expressed by the hon. Gentleman about the time that is being taken, and am urgently considering, in conjunction with the Lord Chancellor's Department, ways in which we may reduce those times, precisely. to deal with the problems that the hon. Gentleman describes.

Mr. Brooke

Does my hon. Friend, whatever the delay, encourage applicants for refugee status to spend the time learning English, which is in their direct interest and also in the interest of the community into which they are seeking to integrate?

Mr. Baker

I am sure that that must be sensible advice, although I fancy that that question might be better directed at my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education.

Dr. Howells

The Minister has placed in the Library a copy of the report that he commissioned from KPMG Peat Marwick on the workings of the refugee asylum appeals procedure. Has he read that report? If so, how can he explain the huge overload in existing work and the shambles that has resulted from 15 years of Government administration of that department? What will he do to clean up the mess in order to introduce common decency and efficiency into the entire procedure?

Mr. Baker

That report is in the Library. I urge anyone who is interested to look at it and to let me have their comments. We are, of course, studying it carefully. It makes a number of radical proposals, as well as sensible ones. We are looking urgently to see how we can improve the system in the light of those proposals.

Mr. Evennett

I congratulate my hon. Friend and his officials on the work that they have done in that difficult area and on shortening the time during which asylum seekers have to wait before their cases are processed. Will he assure me and my hon. Friends, however, that bogus applicants are sent back as quickly as possible?

Mr. Baker

One of the purposes of speeding up the appeals system set up in the 1993 Act is to deal quickly with appeals so that those genuine asylum seekers are given that right of asylum and those bogus asylum seekers to whom my hon. Friend referred are expelled as quickly as possible.