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Mr. Malins: What I say to the hon. Gentleman, whose expertise on this subject is well known and has been appreciated over many years on various Standing Committees, is that one looks to a Government to behave reasonably in each case. If someone is willing to go, is about to go and is making arrangements to go, and that is imminent, an argument exists for the Government not to serve the certification notice but to wait until they take the view that the person is refusing to go.

Mr. Dawson: Have not the Government made it plain that while families are co-operating with the removal process they will not have social security benefits removed from them? Is not the hon. Gentleman setting out a position whereby the Conservative party accepts what its leader railed against some weeks ago—one in which children will have to be received into care because of the destitution of parents?

Mr. Malins: Let me make it clear to the hon. Gentleman that when my right hon. and learned Friend the leader of my party, who, incidentally, comes from a refugee background, raised the issue of children being taken into care, he was doing so following a briefing from Government circles—we never quite discovered who was responsible for it, because it was denied, I think—that the taking of children into care would in effect be used as a mechanism to encourage people to leave the country.

We were strongly against that, and my right hon. and learned Friend was right to feel as he did. When the Bill was published the matter was not referred to, so the issue did not arise.

Mrs. Annette L. Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): Is not the threatened removal of children still being used in that way in clause 7? Does it not pose the threat of their being taken into care if there is no voluntary departure?

Mr. Malins: I have read clause 7. I know that the hon. Lady did not have the benefit of serving with us in Committee, but at no stage does clause 7 threaten the use of children as a tool.

Annabelle Ewing: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Malins: I am anxious to make progress because many others want to speak, but I will give way to the hon. Lady, who served on the Committee.

Annabelle Ewing: It was clear in Committee that although no provision in the Bill would directly require

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such action, it might well occur as a consequence of the provision. That, I think, is what we have been talking about.

Mr. Malins: The hon. Lady may be right, but if she is suggesting as a direct alternative that benefit for failed asylum seekers and their families should never cease, I cannot agree with her.

One of my amendments would change the period relating to the cessation of benefit. I think it more appropriate to allow people 28 rather than 14 days following receipt of the certificate, so that they have more time in which to organise their lives. Another, minor amendment suggests that notice should be served not just on the applicant but on the applicant's legal representative. Clause 7 allows the Secretary of State to vary the specified period. Because I do not want him to be able to vary it to the extreme detriment of a failed asylum seeker by varying it to, say, one day, I have also tabled an amendment that will allow him to vary it by up to seven days—from, that is, the 28 days that I suggested in my earlier amendment. That would provide a little more leeway.

I must tell the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre that my party cannot support amendment No. 23. I hear "Tut, tut" from a number of Labour Members, but they must understand that their own Government, to whom they are indebted, are violently against their proposition in any event. I hope that when they make critical remarks during the debate they will direct them at the Government, who will oppose them when the matter comes to a vote.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) (Lab): I support amendment No. 23, but I want to concentrate on amendment No. 33 and new clause 1, which bear my name and those of, among others, my hon. Friends the Members for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Coleman) and for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck).

New clause 1 would repeal section 55 of the 2002 Act. Members who were present for the debate on that Bill will recall that we had only about 15 minutes in which to discuss the introduction of that provision. It appears we shall have rather less time on this occasion to debate a section that has left thousands destitute, on the streets with no support. When it came into effect, we were given numerous assurances. We were told that it was intended to deal with people who had entered the country, worked illegally and eventually claimed asylum, or people whose entry visas had expired and who had then claimed asylum—in other words, people who had been in the country for substantial periods. We were told that a reasonable amount of time would have to elapse before someone was refused support on the basis that a claim had been made late.

We have seen what has actually happened. People have been refused support, in some cases after being in the country only a matter of hours. There have certainly been many cases of people being refused support when they have been in the country for just a few days. People have had to sleep rough on the streets or survive on the generosity of others in refugee communities who do not themselves have many resources to offer.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware of the Refugee

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Council survey of people left destitute under section 55? It found that 61 per cent. of such people were sleeping rough; 70 per cent. did not have regular food; and more than half had suffered serious health consequences as a result of being destitute.

Mr. Gerrard: Yes, I have seen that survey, and one carried out by the Greater London authority. A similar picture has emerged from every survey that has been conducted.

The other problem is the clogging up of the courts. We were told that, in October last year, about 60 challenges a week were going to the administrative courts, and the judges started to complain bitterly that it was clogging up the system and preventing other business from being dealt with.

I am astonished by the latest development. In the past few days, the Home Office has sent a letter in which it says that unaccompanied asylum seeking children, who might have lived here for some time, will be the subject of section 55 interviews on their 18th birthday—their 18th birthday present might be to lose all benefits and support. The child might even have been in care, so we need to reflect on our duties to children when they leave care. That letter was sent, despite the Home Affairs Committee report that was issued a week or so ago, which criticised what was happening, highlighted serious concerns and urged the Government to review the operation of section 55.

Mr. Dawson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing that appalling matter to the House's attention. Any reasonable person reflecting on the issue will view it as an attempt wholly to undermine the Hillingdon judgment, which stated that young asylum seekers who had received benefits under section 17 of the Children Act 1989 would, on attaining adulthood, be eligible for support under the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000.

Mr. Gerrard: There are some interesting connections with that judgment. The measures in the letter will apply to children leaving care whose asylum claims have not been decided, rather than those who have been in care and have been given permission to stay.

Finally—I shall be brief because I know other hon. Members want to speak—we should think again about the reasons that people make late asylum claims. I can think of a whole string of reasons. People might have been trafficked or brought in by agents and told to behave in a certain way. Some people might have suffered trauma and understandably do not feel confident about making a claim the moment they step inside the country.

From debates in Committee we know that the Government take the view that people who make late claims make weak claims. The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration expressed her view of section 55 by saying:


Again, the implication is that someone who claims in country is making a weak claim. We have had this debate during every asylum Bill since 1996, and the

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Home Office's own statistics show that the rate of recognition of asylum claims made within the country for year after year is hardly different from—and in some years exceeds—the rate of recognition for people who apply at port.

What is fundamentally wrong with section 55 is that, like some earlier measures such as vouchers, it penalises the genuine claimant. It was supposed to deter the abusive claimant, but in effect it penalises the genuine claimant. That is why section 55 is so absolutely immoral.

I hope that it might be possible at an appropriate point during this evening's proceedings for a separate Division to be called on new clause 1 or amendment No. 33, which I hope will have the House's support.


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