HC Deb 30 March 1998 vol 309 cc890-1
11. Mr. Loughton

What changes the Government are planning to introduce to the current system of admitting asylum seekers; and whether he will make a statement. [35162]

Mr. Mike O'Brien

We are considering the report of an interdepartmental study of the asylum process carried out as part of the Home Office comprehensive spending review and will announce our conclusions in due course.

Mr. Loughton

Given that the number of asylum seekers has fallen by some 20 per cent. since the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996 was enacted, and given the success of the previous Government in changing benefit restrictions, how does the Minister account for press reports that the Home Office is being overwhelmed with processing applications; and that up to 55,000 bogus asylum seekers may be granted permission to stay indefinitely in this country?

Mr. O'Brien

The hon. Gentleman must be aware of the asylum shambles that we inherited from the previous Government. There will be no blanket asylum for 50,000 asylum seekers—the hon. Gentleman should not believe everything he reads in the newspapers. I might add that those in glass houses should not.

An examination of the statistics on grants to asylum seekers of exceptional leave to remain shows that, last year, 3,000 people received it—about 9 per cent. of all asylum seekers. That excludes those with refugee status. In the first six months of 1993, under the Conservative Administration, the ELR granting statistics leapt—to 57 per cent. of asylum seekers, or 11,000 people. In addition, refugee status was granted to 7 per cent. The figure dropped back to 14 per cent. in the second six months of 1993. In 1992, the Conservatives granted ELR to 15,000 asylum seekers, or 44 per cent. of the then total. Was that a Tory amnesty, or was it the pragmatic granting of ELR to cut the backlog? I shall say no more.

Mr. Gerrard

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a bit rich for the people responsible for leaving more than 10,000 applications undecided from before the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993 to complain about what is happening now? They talked tough but did nothing—nothing to enforce refusals and nothing to regulate unscrupulous and fraudulent immigration advisers. Does my hon. Friend agree that, when bringing in a fairer system, it is essential to deal with the huge backlog, or the whole system will be bogged down? We have been left with a great many people who have been in the country several years and, often, who have had children here; in effect, they have become settled here.

Mr. O'Brien

I broadly agree with my hon. Friend. We will put in place sensible proposals that will ensure a firmer, faster and fairer asylum system.