HC Deb 26 June 2000 vol 352 cc647-50
5. Mr. Robert Syms (Poole)

How many performance targets the immigration and nationality directorate met in 1999–2000. [126121]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mrs. Barbara Roche):

The immigration and nationality directorate met half its targets in full, and another two in part. In the final month of the year, IND made 11,340 decisions, which is a new record and almost 5,000 more than in the best month under the previous Administration.

Mr. Syms

The IND 1999 report forecast a budget of £350 million, but we know that the outturn will be nearer £597 million—which is 71 per cent. Over—and, in the same year, more than 20,000 failed asylum seekers have absconded. Is that not a disaster and indicative of the failure of the Government's policy on immigration?

Mrs. Roche

The hon. Gentleman is talking absolute nonsense. He is right to say that the budget has increased; that reflects the number of applications. We said at the beginning that it was difficult to predict the amount that would be needed for asylum support because it depended on numbers. This Administration have removed more unsuccessful asylum seekers than the previous Administration. Why do we not give the immigration service some credit for that?

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow)

I am sure that my hon. Friend recognises that delays in decision making can have serious consequences for the people concerned. Even in what should be routine cases, people are unable to travel or to prove their status because they do not have documents. What specific targets are being set in IND for dealing with travel documents and applications for indefinite leave to remain? We are aware of the targets that have been set for decisions on asylum cases, but are there specific targets for each area, and if so, will they be published?

Mrs. Roche

Yes, there are, and we will publish the new targets. I can tell my hon. Friend, who takes a close interest in these matters, that decisions in straightforward cases are being made rapidly, but he will know, as will all hon. Members, that more complex cases take considerably longer. The way to deal with that is to make sure, as we are doing, that the proper administrative procedures are in hand and that there are enough experienced caseworkers. Unlike the previous Administration, whose policies resulted in the voluntary redundancy of hundreds of experienced caseworkers, we are taking on more people.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

Is the hon. Lady convinced that the immigration authorities are totally colour blind in routine cases? Is she aware of the difficulties experienced by Maori people in coming to the UK—difficulties which, one suspects, would not have arisen in the case of white citizens from New Zealand? Will she make sure that, in the work of the immigration authorities, we are as generous to people coming from countries such as New Zealand as those countries have been to UK citizens?

Mrs. Roche

The immigration service and the immigration and nationality directorate operate in a completely non-discriminatory way. If the right hon. Gentleman has evidence of any practice that is not correct, I will be delighted to hear about it, and I undertake to investigate it as speedily as possible. We have only a small proportion of such inquiries, but the right hon. Gentleman may be assured that if such cases arise, the most rigorous investigation takes place.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

Is it not the case that investment in making decisions quickly saves the Home Office money? If that is the case, what is my hon. Friend's prediction of how quickly decisions will be made in future?

Mrs. Roche

My hon. Friend is right; she has great experience of such matters. Not only is it right to make the decisions as quickly as possible, but it reduces the distress of those involved in the process. We are speeding up the asylum and non-asylum decision-making process. A good example is Oakington reception centre, where we consider cases in about seven days.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet)

Can the Minister explain why, although she is so reluctant to detain asylum seekers on arrival in the United Kingdom, her Department is now considering building asylum prisons for those whose cases have been determined and who ought to be deported immediately? Does she understand just how horrified my constituents are to learn that, in spite of representations, her officials are still trying to find sites in North Thanet to build asylum prisons for people who ought to be deported?

Mrs. Roche

I am sorry to say that the hon. Gentleman completely misunderstands the position. We are talking about further detention spaces for those at the end of the process. It is unpalatable but true that those whose claims are unsuccessful have to be removed at the end of the process, so they have to be detained. That is why we need an increase in that space. The hon. Gentleman knows—I have met and corresponded with him—that I am certain that that is the way to proceed. The previous Administration sought to introduce such an increase, but did not do so.

6. Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow)

If he will make a statement on the progress of efforts to reduce the backlog of outstanding immigration cases at the immigration and nationality directorate. [126122]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mrs. Barbara Roche)

The backlog is being progressively reduced and we aim to clear it by the end of July. We have streamlined the process for dealing with the intake of after-entry casework. We have introduced revised procedures to speed up the consideration of cases and have allocated all available resources to deal exclusively with backlog cases.

Ms King

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I am delighted by the undoubted improvements that have occurred. May I ask her about the evidence and inquiry unit? She will be aware that when an entry clearance officer abroad asks the Home Office for a statement of the case, it comes from the evidence and inquiry unit, but often takes six months to arrive. Bearing in mind the fact that many applicants have already waited a year to get an interview, will she consider increasing the allocation of staff at the evidence and inquiry unit? I understand that six hard-working individuals cover the globe. Will she ensure that re-applicants are interviewed in less than a year, because the failure to do so is keeping many families apart in heartbreaking circumstances?

Mrs. Roche

I well understand the important points that my hon. Friend makes. She will know that there is some good joint working between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Home Office, with the establishment of the joint entry clearance unit. In the context of that work, I undertake to consider her proposals to find out what we can do to assist in the matter.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)

The Minister will know that there are reports that many of the Kosovans who were given leave to remain have extended the time that they have been allowed to stay in the country. Doubtless, many of them will apply for asylum. I wonder how long it will take to process their cases simply because such people are kept in limbo while their cases are processed—often for a long time, which is grossly unfair. It is not a question of statistics; real people are involved and the longer they are kept in limbo, the greater the problems for them and everyone else. When will the cases of those Kosovans be dealt with?

Mrs. Roche

I completely understand the hon. Gentleman's point and appreciate the context in which he makes it. More than half those who came on the humanitarian programme have now returned. The great majority of those who remain have claimed exceptional leave to remain rather than asylum. I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that we shall deal with the cases of those who have made asylum claims as quickly as we possibly can.