HL Deb 24 July 2002 vol 638 cc366-9

2.52 p.m.

Lord Chadlington asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress they have made towards meeting Home Office targets on the removal of asylum seekers whose cases have been rejected.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Filkin)

My Lords, the number of failed asylum seekers removed from the United Kingdom has increased year on year from 6,990 in 1998 to some 9,185 excluding dependants in 2001. The number removed in the financial year 2001–02 including dependants was 11,515. The target in the Spending Review 2002 PSA is the same as that in the Spending Review 2000 PSA: enforcing the immigration laws more effectively by removing a greater proportion of failed asylum seekers".

Lord Chadlington

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Can he tell the House precisely how many bogus asylum seekers will be deported in the next 12 months?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, the House would be amazed if I could give an accurate figure. It will depend on a number of factors. First, there must be a safe place to which people can be removed; so the country from which they have fled has to be normalised. We hope that Afghanistan will increasingly move into that category. Secondly, there must be effective documentation so that, when a person is removed by means of a charter flight—a method of travel that is increasingly used—he or she is accepted on arrival. Thirdly, we must be able to identify the failed asylum seekers, which is why we are increasing contact management and building up a detention estate.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, in the midst of all our other preoccupations about immigration and asylum policy, the objective which is perhaps most important is that every single asylum seeker who should have asylum in this country is accorded it with the minimum of delay? Will not history judge us by our record in that respect?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, I agree that one of the standards by which we shall be judged is the care and humanity that we apply to those making genuine asylum claims. There is good progress. As to new asylum claims, the vast majority of initial decisions are now given within two months. But history will judge us also by how we manage the challenge—faced by many countries—of large numbers of people seeking to use asylum routes for understandable, but not acceptable, economic migration.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth

My Lords, does that mean that the targets referred to by the Minister are not realistic in the circumstances?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, the original target—which remains the current target—of removing some 30,000 failed asylum seekers a year is right. If one looks at the rate of acceptance in asylum cases, as a proportion of those applying, over time we should be seeking to remove about 30,000 a year. But we shall arrive at that point only when the other measures are in place—when it is safe to do so, when there is documentation, when transportation means are in place, and when we have the strength and ability to identify and detain failed asylum seekers. The commitment is there. The debate is about how rapidly we can arrive at it.

Lord Greaves

My Lords, it is reported that yesterday the Home Secretary made a decision that asylum seekers will no longer be allowed to apply for work after they have been in this country for six months. Is that not a mean and unfortunate decision—made at the behest of the French Interior Minister, M. Sarkozy, who is one of the more hard-line right-wing populists in European government? The increase in the speed of decision-making that the Government have been able to bring about is very welcome; but there will always be some asylum seekers whose cases are complex and difficult and in regard to whom a decision will take considerably longer. Is it not good for those people that they should be allowed the experience of working here, good for the country, and good in terms of staying in contact with asylum seekers, so that, whatever the end decision, we know where they are?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, I do not think that the noble Lord's original suggestion is right. The employment concession was introduced in 1986 when asylum claims were rocketing upwards and the backlog of claims on which the Government could give initial decisions was becoming lengthy. The decision to withdraw it has been taken because of our success in reducing the backlog. New applicants now have their claims dealt with in far less than six months. Therefore, the employment concession is no longer necessary. A person who is accepted for asylum or granted exceptional leave to remain is entitled to work in this country.

Viscount Bridgeman

My Lords, in evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee in March 2001, the Government's target for removal of failed asylum seekers, as the Minister said, was given as 30,000 for 2001–02, rising in 2002–03 to 33,000. Does the Minister agree that the current rate for the first quarter of 2002 of approximately 1,000 a month is most disappointing? Since the Minister still adheres to the target of 30,000, can he give any indication as to when that can be achieved?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, I should be in danger of repeating myself. I have said why I believe that the target is still appropriate as a goal. If one looks at the ratio of non-accepted cases, over time we should get to that level. It will depend on how rapidly we can get return agreements with the countries concerned; on increasing the number of detentions; and on managing more tightly the detection of people who have been rejected for asylum. I am confident that we are making good progress, but it will no doubt take several years to get there.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale

My Lords, will my noble friend remind the House where we are in discussions with our partners in the European Union on agreeing and implementing a common asylum policy, and on making it possible for people to claim asylum in the first safe country in which they arrive?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, essentially the Dublin agreement was based on the expectation that asylum claims should be processed in the first country in which asylum seekers arrive; therefore, that should be the point at which asylum cases are heard. For reasons with which I shall not bore the House, that arrangement has not worked as well as Members on these Benches or the other side had hoped. That is why we are negotiating Dublin 2. Active discussions are taking place within the European Union to seek to increase intergovernmental co-operation to get to grips with this issue.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, can the noble Lord—

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords—

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, I think that it is time for the next Question.

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