HL Deb 29 July 2002 vol 638 cc673-4

2.53 p.m.

Lord Greaves asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to strengthen the work of the National Asylum Support Service in the regions.

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

My Lords, the National Asylum Support Service is currently undertaking a project designed to increase substantially its presence in the regions by the end of this financial year. It is intended that services that can best be provided by regionally based teams, such as investigations and outreach, should be included in the project.

Lord Greaves

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, and I encourage him in his work in this direction. There is still a huge need for much better liaison between NASS and local authorities in receiving areas; for much better individual support for asylum seekers, which is what I assume the Minister means by "outreach"; and for much better control of some of the accommodation providers. I should add that, recently, there was yet another television programme exposing the activities of Landmark in Merseyside. Does the Minister agree that those are three main aims in strengthening the service, and that a genuine decentralisation of the service—not just two or three more people in each region—is required?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, it may help if I amplify slightly what I said in my original Answer. There is an intention which is being actively explored to devolve four functions—investigations, outreach, intelligence and housing and contract management. It is our hope that, by the end of this financial year, we shall have substantially achieved that. As will be inferred, we substantially agree that, for example, housing and contract management benefits from close local liaison. That is one of the reasons for devolving control and management to the 12 regions.

Baroness Greengross

My Lords, does the Minister agree that many asylum seekers have great skills and abilities which need to be used particularly when they are waiting—sometimes for a long time—to know the results of their application to stay in this country? I declare an interest as the chair of the Experience Corps, a government supported initiative to enable people to use their skills on a voluntary basis. I am aware, for example, of an initiative in Derby where English-speaking asylum seekers give help, advocacy services and support to many people who have had great difficulty. It is a way of keeping them involved and healthy. They are also giving help to other people, which is enormously important.

Lord Filkin

Yes, my Lords, I agree that many asylum seekers have skills that could be harnessed through voluntary effort, either by giving voluntary support within legitimate parameters to other asylum seekers or by volunteering support within the community.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, further to the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, I can well understand the Government's reluctance to connect an asylum seeker's need to work with managed migration. However, does the Minister agree that, as 70,000 applications are still pending decision, the considerable sum that NASS could save by operating such a policy would help considerably in reducing the administrative and taxation burden in this country?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, if I understand the noble Lord correctly, he is referring to the Government's recent decision. Previously, asylum seekers who had not had a decision on their application within six months were entitled to apply to the Home Office for an employment concession enabling them to work. As the noble Lord will be aware, given the considerable success in processing new applications—the vast majority of which are processed in substantially less than six months—the Government no longer see a need to give the employment concession in its previous form.