Select Committee on Home Affairs First Report

1  Introduction

1. On 27 November 2003 the Government published the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill. Most of the proposed measures in the Bill had been announced by the Government on 27 October. The Government had invited views in a consultation exercise which ended on 17 November.[1]

2. On 19 November we took oral evidence on the proposals from Beverley Hughes MP, Minister of State (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism) at the Home Office, Mr Bill Jeffrey, Director-General of the Immigration and Nationality Department (IND), and Mr Ken Sutton, Deputy Director, Asylum Support and Casework, IND. We had earlier received written evidence from individuals and organisations including Citizens Advice, Mr Peter Gilroy (Strategic Director of Social Services, Kent County Council), the Immigration Advisory Service, JUSTICE, the Law Society, Mr Ken Livingstone (Mayor of London), the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, MigrationwatchUK, the Refugee Legal Centre and the Refugee Children's Consortium.[2] We are grateful to all who submitted evidence at such short notice.

3. Our aim in the following report is to highlight the most significant and controversial elements of the Bill, in time for the Second Reading debate which is expected in mid-December. In carrying out this scrutiny we have not had the benefit of a draft bill, nor—in common with other interested parties—were we given more than a few weeks' notice of the proposals even in outline. In view of the fact that since March 2003 we have been conducting a major inquiry into asylum applications, we find this regrettable. We agree with the comment we received from the Immigration Advisory Service, that "the consultation document is so lacking in detail that it is impossible to respond to many of the proposals in an intelligent way".[3] We are also surprised that two of the provisions in the Bill, those for a new criminal offence in relation to people trafficking and for electronic tagging of certain asylum seekers, were not mentioned in the announcement on 27 October. Whilst we appreciate the Government's desire to legislate urgently on the measures in the Bill, we believe that it is unsatisfactory that a Bill has been introduced with insufficient advance information to enable proper consultation or prior parliamentary scrutiny of the principles involved. It is now essential that Parliament is able to give full and detailed scrutiny to these far-reaching measures.

4. In view of these time constraints, we have not been in a position to take evidence on the text of the Bill or to carry out any detailed scrutiny of that text. For this reason, the views of witnesses cited below relate to the proposals announced on 27 October, not to the text of the Bill. In the report we have focussed on the principle of the main proposals for which the Bill makes provision. We deal with these under the following headings:

  • Undocumented passengers
  • Reform of the appeals process
  • Removal to a 'safe third country'
  • Restricting family support
  • New powers for the Immigration Services Commissioner
  • Other measures in the Bill.

5. We intend to publish our main report on asylum applications early in 2004.

1   See HC Deb, 27 October 2003, col 1WS, and joint letter of the same date from Beverley Hughes MP, Home Office, and David Lammy MP, Department for Constitutional Affairs, headed New legislative proposals on asylum reform (printed as an appendix to this report, on pp 25-28, 30 below). Back

2   A full list of those who submitted written evidence is set out at p 30 below. Back

3   Ev 19 Back

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Prepared 16 December 2003