Select Committee on Home Affairs First Report

Conclusions and recommendations

Undocumented passengers

1.  We assume, in the light of the Minister's comments, that a "reasonable excuse" will include circumstances where a person fleeing persecution has no practical way of obtaining valid documents. We recommend that the Government make this clear explicitly in the text of the Bill. (Paragraph 20)

2.  We support in principle the Government's new measures to penalise, in certain circumstances, those who deliberately lose or destroy their travel documentation. However, to avoid disadvantaging genuine refugees, we recommend that the Government should take steps to ensure, as far as is reasonably possible, that the potential consequences of deliberately losing or destroying their documentation is drawn to the attention of people arriving in the UK, both immediately on arrival at a port, and (by requiring carriers to provide this information) prior to arrival. (Paragraph 23)

3.  We support the use of surveillance techniques to assist in linking passengers who lose or destroy their travel papers with their flight of arrival. We recommend that consideration be given to extending such schemes to airports other than Heathrow, and to seaports. We also recommend that the tactic of deploying immigration officers to meet passengers as they disembark from selected flights should be used more often, both to establish where people who have disposed of their travel documents have arrived from, and to send a discouraging message to the criminal 'facilitators' (Paragraph 26)

4.  We recommend that the Government should clarify its intentions as to whether or not, if it were to introduce a power to require carriers to copy travel documents, this would apply to all carriers and all flights. (Paragraph 29)

5.  We recognise that a power [to require carriers to copy travel documents] such as the Government envisages may be useful if used in the targeted manner described by the Minister. We believe that the Government should demonstrate that the proposal would not cause undue delays to legitimate passengers and that the costs imposed on airlines would be commensurate with the benefits to be gained in tackling abuse of the asylum system. We hope that the Government will not seek to amend the Bill to introduce this provision without first publishing the results of its consultations with carriers and other interested parties. We believe that it would be desirable for the Government to publish an assessment of the operation of similar powers in the Netherlands. (Paragraph 33)

Reform of the appeals process

6.  We recommend that, in considering the Government's proposed simplification of the asylum appeals system, the House should consider whether the Government has made sufficient commitment to investing the necessary resources, and making other improvements to the quality of initial decision-making on asylum cases. The real flaws in the system appear to be at the stage of initial decision-making, not that of appeal. We recommend that the implementation of the new asylum appeals system should be contingent on a significant improvement in initial decision making having been demonstrated. In particular, the relevant sections of the Act should not be brought into force until the statistics show a clear reduction in the number of successful appeals at the first-tier, adjudication level. (Paragraph 43)

Removal to a 'safe third country'

7.  We repeat our earlier recommendation, in respect of non-suspensive appeals, and make a similar recommendation in respect of the proposals relating to 'safe third countries' in the present Bill, i.e. that if the Secretary of State wishes to add further countries to the list in Schedule 3 to the Bill, he should append a written memorandum to the relevant Statutory Instrument, explaining the rationale for believing those countries to be safe. (Paragraph 53)

8.  We also recommend that the Government should make a clear statement of the circumstances which might trigger a decision to seek parliamentary authority for the removal of a country from the list of 'safe third countries'. In particular, we expect that satisfactory mechanisms will be set up within Government to keep the human rights situation in 'safe third countries' under review, so that they do not remain on the list if that situation significantly deteriorates and they cease to be safe. (Paragraph 54)

Restricting family support

9.  The Minister also informed us that the Home Office is not in a position to give estimates of the number of families to whom Clause 7 might apply. We believe that this is unsatisfactory and that the Home Office should at least be able to publish figures showing the number of families, including the number of children, who are currently in the asylum system and to whom Clause 7 could apply. (Paragraph 64)

10.  We believe that the priority should be to improve the removal system so that it is understood by all parties that a failed claim will lead to swift action to effect a removal. (Paragraph 67)

11.  The principle behind Clause 7, of removing taxpayers' support from those with no right to asylum, is justified, and we do not recommend that Clause 7 be removed from the Bill. However, we recommend that the Government should give assurances that Clause 7 will not come into effect until the House is satisfied that in practice it will not lead to significant numbers of children being taken into care. (Paragraph 69)

12.  We recommend that in its consideration of the Bill, the House should give particular attention to the way in which the Government plans to implement Clause 7. (Paragraph 69)

13.  If the provisions in Clause 7 are brought into effect, we recommend that the Government should submit a written report to Parliament once a year on the number of families from whom benefit has been removed under the terms of the clause, and the number of children who have been taken into care as a result of the operation of the clause. (Paragraph 70)

14.  We believe that it would be an important safeguard if the Government were to publish and regularly update a list of those countries for which a voluntary resettlement programme is in place. (Paragraph 71)

New powers for the Immigration Services Commissioner

15.  We consider that the proposed new powers for the Immigration Services Commissioner, which have been requested by the Commissioner himself, are sensible and proportionate, and we urge the House to support them. (Paragraph 77)

Other measures in the Bill

16.  [Clause 4 and Clause 15] were not announced in advance of the publication of the Bill on 27 November, and accordingly we have not had an opportunity to take evidence on them or explore their implications with the Minister. We therefore recommend that the Standing Committee on the Bill should give particular attention to these provisions, with a view to exploring and testing the Government's justification for them. (Paragraph 79)

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Prepared 16 December 2003