HL Deb 06 March 2000 vol 610 cc125-6WA
Baroness Massey of Darwen

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will announce the outcome to date of the policy of dispersal of refugees. [HL1413]

Lord Bassam of Brighton

Further to the reply of my right honourable friend the Minister of State at the Home Office, Mrs Roche, in another place, (House of CommonsOfficial Report, cols. 379–380W, on 6 December 1999), we propose to bring in the new support arrangements on Monday 3 April 2000 for asylum seekers who make their applications at a port of entry from that date. The entitlement of new port applicants to cash, social security and housing benefits will thereupon cease; in-country applicants do not have this entitlement.

Those who apply for asylum from that date and who are then detained at Oakington reception centre whether their application is port or in-country will go onto the new support arrangements.

My right honourable friend the Minister of State at the Home Office, Mrs Roche, will also make arrangements for asylum seekers who claim asylum and support from 3 April in Scotland or Northern Ireland and who are eligible for support to come on to the new support arrangements.

It is her intention to bring the new support arrangements on stream as soon as possible for other asylum seekers who make in-country applications for asylum in England and Wales and for those in England and Wales who claim asylum at their port of entry prior to 3 April 2000 who receive a negative decision and who then go on to appeal. Until then, responsibility for providing support will continue under the terms of Schedule 9 to the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.

The new support arrangements comprehensively change the system by which asylum seekers are supported. A phased implementation of the kind described in this Answer is the sensible course, drawing on the lessons from previous experience in implementing major change. The arrangements have been tested in simulated trials. Bringing port applicants on to the scheme first will enable the National Asylum Support Service to deal with any teething difficulties before rolling out the scheme fully.

The new support arrangements provide that asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute may be supported by the National Asylum Support Service. Support will consist of the provision of accommodation on a no-choice basis in cluster areas in the United Kingdom. Essential living needs will be met either in kind or by the provision of vouchers. There will also be a cash voucher valued at £10 per person per week which can be exchanged for cash.

The scheme is intended fully to meet the United Kingdom's international obligations in relation to those who are genuinely fleeing persecution while at the same time deterring those who are seeking to evade immigration control by using the asylum process.

During the passage of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, we gave an undertaking that new asylum applications from families with children would not be brought on to the new support arrangements in April 2000 unless we were satisfied that the targets of delivering most initial asylum decisions within two months and most appeals in a further four months could be met in such cases.

We have put in place arrangements to identify and deal promptly with new asylum applications from families with children: the arrangements are being closely monitored. As a result, provisional figures show that, of the new family applications made in the eight weeks after 1 November, over 70 per cent have received an initial decision within two months of receipt. At the end of January, the average waiting time for all asylum appeals to be dealt with by an adjudicator was 13 weeks. On this basis, my right honourable friend the Minister of State at the Home Office, Mrs Roche, has decided that from 3 April, the new asylum support arrangements should apply to new applications from families with children as they apply to other applicants.

My right honourable friend the Minister of State at the Home Office, Mrs Roche, has also decided that some modification of the targets is necessary for applications which might be the responsibility of another European Union member state under the Dublin Convention. In these cases, the process of consulting other member states normally takes more than two months, but there is then no suspensive right of appeal if another country accepts responsibility for consideration of the substantive claim. For that reason, the target for reaching an initial decision in potential Dublin cases will be to resolve most cases within four months of receipt. The normal further four-month target for dealing with an appeal will apply in the event that the case is not transferred and there is a substantive refusal.