HC Deb 15 February 1999 vol 325 c598
14. Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Rothwell)

What steps he proposes to take to ensure that new support arrangements for asylum seekers reduce the incentive for economic migrants. [69119]

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

Cash payments to asylum seekers provide a strong incentive for economic migrants. As a disincentive to economic migration, we have therefore decided that support for asylum seekers in real need should be in kind rather than in cash. However, we are speeding up the decision-making process so that genuine refugees should be on the system for only a very short time.

Mr. Gunnell

I welcome the fact that we are continuing to receive genuine refugees. I also welcome the Minister's reply. Inevitably, there will still be residual costs. Can he assure me that the matter has been discussed with receiving authorities such as Leeds and that a disproportionate share of the costs will not fall on council tax payers?

Mr. O'Brien

As a result of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996, an enormous burden was placed on local authorities which was not really intended. As part of our reform, we aim to introduce a national system, with a national agency which will take responsibility for the support and accommodation of asylum seekers. Obviously, we will be working very closely with local authorities, to try to ensure, so far as we can, that they are able to recover moneys from national sources, which is where the responsibility should lie. As far as I am able, I give my hon. Friend the reassurance that he seeks. The system that we are trying to create will put most of the burden where it belongs: with the national Government.