HC Deb 20 February 1996 vol 272 cc159-60
3. Mr. Alan Howarth

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans he has to ensure that potential asylum seekers arriving at ports of entry are made aware of the rules affecting their entitlement to social security benefits. [14352]

Mr. Lilley

The availability of social security benefits should not be a factor in the decision to apply for asylum.

Mr. Howarth

Is it not incumbent on the Government to ensure that advice is provided to potential asylum seekers arriving at ports of entry that if they do not apply for asylum there and then they will not be eligible for benefits and, under the Government's new policy, will be at risk of absolute destitution? What advice are the Government providing to new arrivals before they reach immigration control? Will the Secretary of State comment on the immigration service's reported insistence that posters, which were provided voluntarily and which would have alerted people to that situation, must not be sited in either the arrival halls or in the buffer lounges at Heathrow?

Mr. Lilley

The hon. Gentleman should be aware that, when people present before the immigration authorities in this country, they are asked their reasons for coming here. If they say that they have come to take refuge and to claim asylum, they will be able to pursue that claim and they will be entitled to benefit while doing so. However, if they manage to convince the immigration authorities that they are coming to this country as students, business men or visitors and they go on to persuade them that they have the means to support themselves, that they have somewhere to stay and that they have a ticket to return home, and they subsequently enter the country and change their story, they will have no right to benefit. I do not think that there is anything wrong with that.

The hon. Gentleman—who is a friend of mine, if not in the technical sense—did not seek asylum in the Labour party in the hope of deriving any benefits. Genuine asylum seekers entering this country do not come here for our benefits: they come here for our freedoms.

Mrs. Roe

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government should not encourage bogus asylum seekers who are not escaping persecution but are merely interested in benefits? Taking his point further, does he also agree that that sums up the position of the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth)?

Mr. Lilley

My hon. Friend is right on all points. We cannot have a system whereby people who are asked a straightforward question but who give a series of misleading answers are subsequently able to get benefits because they change their story. That must be wrong, and cannot be acceptable to anyone.