HC Deb 23 February 2004 vol 418 cc18-9
16. 16. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab)

What plans he has to tackle the backlog of cases at the immigration and nationality directorate. [155759]

The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Beverley Hughes):

We are committed to reducing the numbers of outstanding cases in all areas of the immigration and nationality directorate to a steady state of frictional levels of work in progress and we have allocated dedicated resources to achieving that. As I have already mentioned today, the number of outstanding asylum cases awaiting an initial decision had fallen to 29,100 in September 2003—the lowest level for a decade. The number of outstanding asylum appeals is being reduced by 1,500 cases a month. We expect to clear outstanding leave to remain work by spring 2004 and nationality work by autumn 2004.

Keith Vaz:

I welcome the Minister's commitment and the news that she has announced today; however, the fact remains that there is still a substantial backlog. A constituent who came to my surgery last Friday has been waiting for two and a half years for a letter from the IND. Will my right hon. Friend look in particular into the fact that Home Office presentation officers do not attend immigration tribunal cases? A third of all such officers simply do not attend and that must have an impact on the backlog. Will she make a commitment to ensure that there is better attendance by those officers at the hearings?

Beverley Hughes

I acknowledge that the availability of presentation officers has been a problem, especially in London where there has been a shortage. However, I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that we have already taken action and that 65 additional officers are being appointed. The process is far advanced and I expect them to be in post by March this year. I am sure that, as my hon. Friend says, that will have a discernible impact on the problem that he outlined.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con)

The Minister has told us that the backlog stands at 29,000. Can she tell us how many asylum seekers have benefited from the relaxed criteria introduced by the Government in their backlog clearance exercises? How many?

Beverley Hughes

If the hon. Gentleman is talking about the indefinite leave to remain exercise announced at the end of last year, the process of identifying people who meet the criteria is still going on-as I made clear when we made the announcement. People have to be checked, both as to whether they meet the criteria and, for example, whether they have committed any criminal offences in the meantime. We expect to conclude the whole exercise by April or May this year.