HC Deb 18 May 1995 vol 260 cc453-4
1. Mr. Norman Hogg

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement regarding delays in assessing the cases of asylum seekers. [23546]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard)

The Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993 has reduced significantly the average time taken to decide applications made since the Act came into force, but delays persist as a result of a large and continuing increase in the number of asylum applications. Earlier this year, I announced substantial additional resources to speed up asylum determination and the appeal system. I hope to announce shortly proposals for further improvement.

Mr. Hogg

The right hon. and learned Gentleman will recall that, in an answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) last November, we were told that some 129 people had been imprisoned or kept in detention centres or police stations for more than six months. Does he agree that that is scarcely consistent with the country's best traditions in dealing with asylum seekers, that it does not reflect well on the Government or, more important, on the nation and that he should try to do better?

Mr. Howard

I certainly do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. More than 90 per cent. of people who have been detained for the period to which he refers have already had their asylum applications refused. The proportion of asylum seekers who are detained is a tiny proportion of the people who apply for asylum. Only those who cannot be trusted not to melt away into the general population, never to be seen again, are so detained. I entirely reject the basis of his question.

Mr. Congdon

It appears that a sizeable number of people claim asylum some time after they have been in this country to avoid our immigration controls. Under the 1993 Act, how long after they have been here can they still apply for asylum?

Mr. Howard

There is no time limit, but that is one of the matters that we are considering. It is clear, from the questions of both my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg), that, while the Government are determined to take the necessary measures to deal with bogus asylum seeking, Labour would run away from the problem and not take any action to deal with it were it ever in a position to do so.

Dr. Howells

Will the Secretary of State explain why, at the culmination of 16 years of Tory Home Office administration, hundreds of people are being detained at centres such as Campsfield, at enormous cost to the British taxpayer—tens of millions of pounds every year—and why Group 4 is having to train a riot squad because conditions at Campsfield have become so miserable and dangerous? Is not that the most vivid indictment of this squalid regime?

Mr. Howard

Conditions are Campsfield are neither dangerous nor miserable, but we will take whatever action is necessary to deal with bogus asylum seeking, which has become a problem that needs firm and effective action. All that we get from Labour is criticism without any idea of what it would do, should it ever find itself in government. See no policies, hear no policies, speak no policies—that is what we get from the Opposition.