HC Deb 26 April 1999 vol 330 cc11-2
11. Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe)

If he will instruct immigration officials to ensure that asylum seekers who appear to have been tortured are not dispersed to areas without agencies specialising in the support of torture victims. [80960]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mike O'Brien)

Wherever possible, the immigration service shall endeavour to respond positively to individuals' circumstances by arranging a suitable dispersal location, particularly in the case of torture victims.

Dr. Palmer

I am grateful to the Minister for his reply, which he mentioned in private correspondence. Although many of us see the sense in dispersing asylum seekers across the country so that there is not a huge burden on a particular area, it would cause enormous distress to all of us if the situation of torture victims or apparent torture victims were aggravated by a lack of support in this country. Will my hon. Friend therefore reinforce his statement by saying that he hopes that immigration officials will give particular weight to that consideration?

Mr. O'Brien

We shall indeed ensure that we are very considerate of those who have been victims of torture. I have had discussions with the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture—which, until now, has been based predominantly in the London area—and said that we have to begin to create infrastructures outside London, so that victims who are already in other locations, and those who might go there in future, are able to obtain full and proper treatment. We are determined to do all that we can to achieve that.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam)

Does the Minister agree that it would be better if Home Office officials spent their time developing proper care packages for victims of torture—as they have done recently in Leeds with their excellent work for the Kosovans—rather than wasting it setting up the ludicrous and unworkable voucher support system for asylum seekers? Will he not now heed the call of The Big Issue and other organisations to amend the relevant part of the Immigration and Asylum Bill, so that those who are fleeing persecution and torture are not thrown into social exclusion when they arrive in the United Kingdom?

Mr. O'Brien

Unfortunately, I read a copy of The Big Issue, which misquoted me at length, and was particularly disappointed at the way in which it ran that story. It is important that all hon. Members face up to the reality of abuse of the asylum system. Although we have to create an asylum system that delivers for people who are victims of torture and who are genuine refugees, our system should also deter those who deliberately set out to abuse and undermine it. We have to restore integrity to the asylum system, and the Government are committed to doing that.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

May I bring the Minister back to the issue of victims of torture? He will be aware from the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture that many of the experts whom it draws upon to help victims of torture are based in particular areas, especially London. Although sharing burdens in the matter is important, does not the Minister agree that, in both current and future arrangements, we should do all that we possibly can to get help to the victims of torture who need it, to help them to come to terms with their experiences? They have already been through terrible experiences; should not our arrangements be designed to help them as much as we possibly can?

Mr. O'Brien

We certainly have to be sure that our asylum system is able sensitively to address the particular and very sensitive issues of victims of torture. We are committed to operating such a system. We are therefore committed not only to dealing with victims of torture who are already in the United Kingdom but to capacity building, so that we start to create the types of mechanisms that will ensure that victims of torture are properly dealt with when they come to the United Kingdom. I am not convinced that we have in place sufficient capacity to deliver for victims of torture. We still have much work to do, and I hope to work with the medical foundation and other organisations to improve our capacity to help the victims.