HL Deb 20 April 2004 vol 660 cc150-2

2.54 p.m.

Lord Renton asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many people claiming to be asylum seekers have arrived in the United Kingdom since 31 March 2003; how many of these have been granted asylum; how many have had asylum refused; and how many cases remain to be decided.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, from 1 April to 31 December 2003—the latest period for which figures are available—there were 33,370 applications for asylum in the United Kingdom. We do not have data on the outcome of applications made in that period, but 43,480 asylum decisions were made during that time. Of these. 2,360 decisions—that is, 5 per cent—granted asylum. Around four-fifths of new applications now receive an initial decision within two months.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that no doubt accurate and surprisingly full reply.

Is it not vital that the invasion of asylum seekers should be thoroughly controlled, as some may be terrorists and a good many are simply illegal immigrants whom we do not need and do not want to have?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, we do not see this as an invasion of asylum-seeking terrorists and we do have very good control of the numbers. Your Lordships will know that we have halved the number of applications for asylum. In October 2002, 8,770 people applied for asylum; in December 2003, the figure was 3,535. In total, there were 49,370 applications for asylum in 2003. That is 41 per cent fewer than in 2002. With all the measures that we have put in place, we have this issue very firmly under control.

Baroness Walmsley

My Lords, can the Minister give the backlog figure for appeals over the same period? Does she share my concern that the Home Office appears to be increasingly using the tactic of refusing people in the first instance and then leaving the substantive decision to the appeal stage? For some countries the number of successful appeals is in the 40 per cent region, which indicates that the quality of decision-making in the first instance is not good and that the backlog has simply been shifted to the appeal tribunal.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I do not agree with that analysis. A record number of appeals— 81,725—were determined by adjudicators in 2003. That is more than one-quarter—27 per cent—higher than in 2002, when the figure was 64,405. The proportion of appeals dismissed rose to 78 per cent in 2003 from 76 per cent in 2002, while the proportion of appeals allowed fell to a figure of 20 per cent from 22 per cent in 2002. So, we are removing record numbers of failed asylum seekers, together with dealing with the appeals very expeditiously. I do think that adjudicators and the courts dealing with the matter need to be congratulated on the real improvements that they have made in this regard.

The Lord Bishop of Worcester

My Lords, is any record kept or research done as to the fate of those people whose applications are refused and who find themselves, whether voluntarily or by compulsion, back in the countries from which they came? Does the Minister agree that being clear about the quality of decision-making means, among other things, being clear about what happens when we say no?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I agree with the right reverend Prelate. It is necessary to make sure that the quality decisions we make are correct and robust. I reiterate: the Government are totally committed to maintaining provision of proper help and support to those who are entitled to asylum.

I do not have the relevant information in relation to what happens once the applicant goes back to his country of origin or another place. I shall write to the right reverend Prelate in relation to that matter.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, further to that point, when asylum has been refused, what normally happens to applicants who are already in the United Kingdom? Is physical force resorted to, or do most of them simply disappear in this country?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the applicants do not disappear. Your Lordships will know that we have sought to put in place a humane and appropriate system whereby notification is given to applicants so that they can voluntarily make arrangements with the appropriate authorities for their return. If they participate in those arrangements, removals take place in a way that we hope meets the needs of applicants and the authorities. We find that those arrangements work far better than they have in the past. The number of people removed in proper situations and circumstances has increased significantly, as I have already indicated.

The Earl of Listowel

My Lords, while recognising the need for a firm response to and management of asylum, does the noble Baroness recognise the concern of the 19 year-old woman to whom I spoke last night and her 63 year-old father about returning to Kosovo when 28 people were recently killed in ethnic conflict; when they know that they cannot return to their home or to their village because it is now Serbian occupied; and when there is a shortage of mental health services, of which she is presently making use? Does the Minister recognise the need to approach the matter sensitively, especially when families with young children are involved, and to be careful in how we proceed?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, of course we realise that there are worries about these issues and that sensitivity is necessary. I can tell noble Lords that factors relating to returns are carefully considered and the most humane and appropriate measures put in place to ensure that returns can be facilitated in a proper manner.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, can the noble Baroness clear up the confusion over government policy on returns of asylum seekers to Iraq that arose during the weekend? The Home Office seemed to give two different answers to the BBC and the Observer about its original intent to begin returns to Iraq by the end of April this year. Can she enlighten the House about what is now the policy?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I say openly to the noble Baroness that I did not know that there was any difficulty regarding the message about Iraq. I shall certainly write to her to clarify that point.