HL Deb 10 June 1999 vol 601 cc172-3WA
Lord Hughes of Woodside

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have to change the support arrangements for the families of asylum seekers. [HL2858]

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

The Government are determined to deliver an immigration and asylum system which is fairer, faster and firmer. The Immigration and Asylum Bill is key to achieving this goal. The new arrangements contained in the Bill will provide a coherent national support system for asylum seekers, including families with children.

The Bill has been carefully scrutinised by a Special Standing Committee which took evidence as well as considering it clause by clause. We are very grateful to all the honourable Members who took part in this Committee. In the light of issues raised, we are making the following changes:

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has today tabled amendments to the Immigration and Asylum Bill to make clear that the Home Secretary will be under a new duty to meet the accommodation and essential living needs of destitute asylum seeker families. The assistance they receive in this way will be comparable to what would otherwise be available under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989. All the other safeguards for children contained in that Act will continue to apply. Linked with the commitment we have already made to provide 24-hour emergency cover for such families, these measures will ensure that the children of asylum seekers receive the same kind of protection as other children enjoy.

We have also reviewed the balance between cash and vouchers in the resources to be made available to asylum seekers for living expenses, and have concluded that a cash allowance of £10 per person per week is justifiable for both adults and children. This would mean that, at the present illustrative support rates, a family of four would receive £40 per week in cash, and a further £50 of spending power by way of vouchers.

In the White Paper, Fairer, Faster and Firmer, the Government set a target of delivering, by April 2001, most initial asylum decisions within two months and most appeals in a further four months. In respect of families with children, we have decided to bring forward this target to April 2000. From that date, our aim will be to deliver initial decisions on new asylum applications in such cases in an average of two months. Average waiting times for appeals are already below four months. Our intention is to maintain this for the future for all categories of cases. If we cannot achieve these targets for families with children, we will not bring these applications into the new support arrangements in April 2000. We will only do so when we are satisfied that the targets for these cases can be met. For those people who remain on the support arrangements for more than six months through no fault of their own, we shall be introducing an additional discretionary payment to assist with the cost of any replacement items they may need.

These changes, together with the other amendments that we are tabling today, will strengthen the Bill and ensure that the Government's objectives are achieved.