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Mr. Malins: I thank the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson), who has a history of interest in such matters, for the way in which he introduced his amendment. However, I must bluntly say to him that his criticisms of the attitude of Conservative Members might have been better directed against Members on his own side, because the amendment reveals to the House the deep divisions within the Labour party on the question of support for failed asylum seekers. When he puts the matter to a vote, he will find that the Government whom he supports are wholly against his proposition and will do all that they can to vote it down. I therefore hope that in winding up he will reserve some of his critical remarks for his own Government, against whom he speaks with much force today.

Clause 7, which has been the subject of much discussion—not least in Committee, where it occupied us for two or three sittings—deals with the position of failed asylum seekers in terms of their support. It is well known, but let me reaffirm it, that failed asylum seekers with dependent children receive asylum support until such time as they leave the UK or fail to comply with a removal direction. As stated in the explanatory notes, the clause provides that

My party does not disagree with that. It is proper, and fair to our system, that when people have exhausted their rights of appeal under asylum laws, benefits should be removed from them. That brings into sharp focus the whole issue of removals policy, where for the past few years the Government have been their own worst enemy in setting themselves a series of targets that they have never been able to reach and have had to drop one by one, instead introducing amnesties for failed asylum seekers. A parliamentary question that was answered on 11 December 2001 told me that the target for removals of failed asylum seekers for the year 2003–04 was 37,000. The Government utterly failed to meet that target and it has been dropped.

The clause deals with the certification period. My probing amendments would make its operation more efficient and sensible. The period between the refusal of a last appeal and the removal direction is a kind of limbo. If the Government are to be able to certify at any stage during that period that the person concerned is not taking reasonable steps to leave the UK, they must be carefully scrutinised in that respect.

A matter was briefly raised in Committee that I want to consider again today. What will the Government do about certification when a failed asylum seeker does not

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have removal directions served on him or her for some reason? For example, under the Bill, many failed asylum seekers whom the Government will not remove could be certified in relation to support. One reason for not removing them might be that the country of origin, as in the case of China, is unwilling to take back failed asylum seekers. Another reason might be practical difficulties, for example, a lack of airports in the specific part of the country from which the asylum applicant came.

Let us consider Zimbabwe, to which the Government have suspended removals for some time. Only a week ago, I asked the Government about their removal policy to Zimbabwe. They replied that

That prompts the question of what could happen to a failed asylum seeker who cannot be removed because of either the Government's direct policy of non-removal, as in the case of Zimbabwe, or the impracticality of removal.

I raised the subject in Committee when I stressed that I believed that it was important to establish some form of appeal against the certification process. I am pleased that, as a result of my arguments, those of my hon. Friends and those in other parties in Committee, at the end of the debate, the Government said that it would be appropriate to introduce a limited form of appeal against cutting off benefits, but not removal. That shows the way in which Committees can work to the benefit of all concerned.

Mr. Blizzard: From listening to the hon. Gentleman's argument so far, he appears to accept that there will inevitably be circumstances in which benefits to a failed asylum seeker have to be stopped. It is regrettable, but we will get to that stage. If that happens, what should happen to the children?

Mr. Malins: That is a difficult question. The other side of the coin is the argument that one should never reach that stage and that the host country should continue to provide financial support indefinitely to failed asylum seekers. I cannot agree with that proposition. Although I hope that I always speak moderately, there is a question of parental responsibility. I wish that there were more opportunity to challenge a bad decision, but I have no reason to believe that the Government would act other than in good faith on the matter. If they act in good faith, they will not serve the certification notice until they are satisfied that the family concerned could and should go back to where they came from. They should not serve it when there is doubt, a suspended removals policy or when it is not practicable for a person to return to the relevant country.

Hitherto, the notice has been served when removal directions have been given. That is an administrative act, effectively the last act in the chain, by which time the Government are in a position to remove. By bringing that forward and giving themselves an option to serve the notice earlier, when appeals have failed, the Government have created a period of limbo. I therefore seek from the Minister an assurance that difficult cases,

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which are subject to the notice prior to a removal direction, can be tackled humanely, sensibly and properly.

Mr. Blizzard: Effectively, the hon. Gentleman is therefore saying that he would not stop the benefit of a failed asylum seeker—he would only stop the benefit when the asylum seeker was ready to get on the plane back home. Is that what he is saying?

5.30 pm

Mr. Malins: The hon. Gentleman has completely misunderstood me, no doubt inadvertently. What I am saying is that there comes a time at which benefit must stop. If an asylum seeker has failed in their claim, their appeal and their final appeal, it does not seem wrong in principle to say that from that moment, the benefit should stop, rather than waiting sometimes for many months until the removal directions are given, which is much later in those proceedings—

Mr. Blizzard: What about the children?

Mr. Malins: The hon. Gentleman raises again the question of the children. I dare say that that is a question that he will raise with his Minister, as clearly, from what he has said tonight, he is bitterly at odds with his own Government—and he is not the only Labour Member at odds with the Government. I am looking forward to hearing him challenge his Minister in the strongest possible way. Let us see if he does so.

Mr. Blizzard: As the hon. Gentleman noticed in Committee, I fully support the Government's measures on this point.

Mr. Malins: In that case, the hon. Gentleman is playing devil's advocate and teasing me somewhat.

Mr. Redwood: Does my hon. Friend agree that what we really need is a Government who can persuade people to go back if their claim has failed, and that the only satisfactory outcome is either legal settlement here or early return to another safe country whence the person came or to which they choose to go. What we are looking at is a failure to achieve that. Given the underlying reality—the Government's failure to persuade people to leave—this is a clumsy instrument, to which there is an ugly side.

Mr. Malins: My right hon. Friend raises a good point. Again, he draws attention to the fact that the Government, over seven years, have not been able at any stage to put in place an effective removals policy. It is simply not good enough to answer a parliamentary question by talking in terms of targets of 33,000, 35,000 or 37,000 removals a year of failed asylum seekers, and to fail lamentably in that purpose. The hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard), who, I am sure, will contribute to this debate, will know as well as I do that at the moment only one in four failed asylum seekers are ever removed from this country. That is not a record of which any Government can be proud.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey) (LD): How, therefore, does the hon. Gentleman answer

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the following question, which is the same one that I put to the Government? Let us imagine that someone has made an application that has failed and that they are willing to co-operate with voluntary return, which people who come to my surgery often say that they are. Before that happens, however, there is a period in which they have no income, and they may have children to support. There must be a humane and civilised response to that predicament. At the moment, none is on offer from the Government, and I do not hear any on offer from the Conservative Front Bench.

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