HL Deb 29 February 2000 vol 610 cc67-8WA
Baroness Rendell of Babergh

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they are taking to address delays in the asylum decision-making process. [HL1281]

Lord Bassam of Brighton

The Government are devoting great effort and substantial additional resources into the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) in Croydon to reduce the backlogs there and to deliver faster decisions as part of the commitment to delivering a fairer, faster and firmer immigration and asylum system. The asylum system we inherited required a radical overhaul to the processes used in making asylum decisions and the legislative basis for appeals to deliver these faster.

The Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, now on the Statute Book will help to achieve this. Its provisions will be introduced progressively, but a fairer and faster system cannot be delivered by legislation alone.

One of our actions was to undertake a thorough review of the asylum decision making processes. Vantagepoint was commissioned by the IND to help with its review of the asylum decision process. The aim of the review was to identify where there were delays in the procedures which might affect the ability of the IND and the Lord Chancellor's Department's to achieve the White Paper targets, and to make recommendations for change.

A number of ways in which IND could improve its procedures and introduce more flexibility into the asylum decision-making process were identified and are being implemented as part of a systematic overhaul of the asylum business.

Changes that have already been made include the following:

In this year and the next two years, we are investing a minimum of £120 million in IND, including an extra £60 million on speeding up casework. Hundreds more staff are being deployed as caseworkers. Output in the Integrated Casework Directorate (ICD) is improving and staffing levels remain under review to ensure that output targets are met. There has already been a significant increase in asylum productivity as our new recruits to asylum decision making gain experience, and we expect this to continue;

Ports and the ICD are jointly taking forward the implementation of streamlined processes aimed at ensuring as far as possible consistency in the processes for handling asylum casework. A new Statement of Evidence Form has been introduced for use by both the ports and the ICD, where appropriate;

Outside consultants are currently training existing staff and new staff in effective and efficient interview skills;

All health and safety issues concerning interview rooms have been addressed and resolved. Safety alarms have been issued to all interviewing staff and guards are readily available; and

Country policy advice is being systematically reviewed. There is a full library of country information available for the top asylum producing countries and short country background briefs are, additionally, being provided in a consistent format. A chief caseworker post has been created with particular focus on co-ordinating needs of asylum caseworkers for country policy advice.

We are also committed to achieving the targets set out in the White Paper published in July 1998 to deliver most initial asylum decisions within two months and most appeals within a further four months. The White Paper target is to do this by April 2001. For families with children we are already meeting the targets.

We are taking measures to reduce the backlog of cases in IND dating from 1996 onwards. The rate at which we do this will be dependent on a wide range of variables, not least of which will be future application rates, but we remain committed to the White Paper target of reducing the backlog of initial asylum decisions to fractional levels by April 2001. We expect to make major inroads into this backlog by the end of the year.

Other actions taken include piloting new procedures in respect of both port and in-country asylum applications. Measures have been introduced which aim to obtain the maximum amount of information at the outset. These, together with enhanced computer links between ports and IND in Croydon, have reduced the stages and time in the decision making process.

Copies of the report dated July 1999 by consultants Vantagepoint (formerly called BDO Stoy Hayward) on the asylum decision-making process has been placed in the Library.