HC Deb 23 February 2004 vol 418 cc16-7
14. Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab)

What progress has been made in meeting the target to reduce asylum applications by half. [155757]

The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Beverley Hughes)

My hon. Friend will know that the benchmark that we took was the monthly figure for October 2002—the period immediately before the introduction of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. In September 2003—the latest month for which data are available—there were 4,225 applications for asylum. That figure is 52 per cent. lower than the number in October 2002. We have therefore met the Prime Minister's 50 per cent. pledge, which is very encouraging. However, we are not complacent and we continue to look into ways of reducing the number of asylum claims further.

Jim Dobbin

In those figures I am sure that there will be a number of families with children. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that their rights regarding housing, health and education will be protected during the whole asylum process?

Beverley Hughes

Yes. While an asylum claim is ongoing, until it is finally completed, individuals and families, including children, have access to health and education as well as asylum support and housing through the National Asylum Support Service process. Of course, if and when a claim is refused and the appeal rights are exhausted, we expect failed applicants. including families with children, to return home. My hon. Friend will know that there are measures in the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill, which is currently before the House, to ensure that they do so, and that we do not carry on supporting people once their claim has been refused.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD)

Is the Minister aware that because of the emphasis on the asylum backlog. routine visa applications such as those connected with marriage are inordinately delayed, often for years? Why does the Home Office not adopt the simple policy of copying travel documents once they have been verified, and releasing them so that people can get on with their lives while they are waiting?

Beverley Hughes

I agree with the spirit of what the hon. Gentleman proposes; that is exactly what we are trying to do. In some cases, for various important reasons, it is not possible, but I agree that in general, documents can be copied and sent back, and we have asked the immigration and nationality directorate to implement that process in future.

Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab)

I welcome the considerable success that the Government have had in reducing the number of asylum applications, but does my right hon. Friend accept that there is a danger that some people who might have applied for asylum will be drawn into illegal working in this country? Will she take this opportunity to say that she would welcome the use of the Proceeds of the Crime Act 2002 against employers who knowingly employ illegal labour?

Beverley Hughes

That is a suggestion that my right hon. Friend made a little while ago in the context of the Home Affairs Committee inquiry and, as I shall indicate in my response to the most recent inquiry, we are looking at it in great detail. I shall be happy to provide him with further information once we have undertaken that investigation.

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