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Standing Committee Debates
Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill

Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill

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Standing Committee B

Tuesday 27 January 2004

(Afternoon)

[Mrs. Marion Roe in the Chair]

Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill

New Clause 9

Late claim for asylum: refusal of support: appeals

    'In section 55 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (late claim for asylum: refusal of support), omit subsection (10).'.—[Mr. Oaten.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    Question proposed [this day], That the clause be read a Second time.

2.30 pm

Question again proposed.

The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following:

New clause 10—Asylum support: back payments—

    'In Schedule 8 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (provision of support: regulations) after paragraph 12, insert—

    ''13 The regulations may make provision for the back payment of a regular support payment not received by the claimant''.'.

New clause 11—Termination of NASS support—

    'For subsection 94(3) of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 substitute—

    ''(3) For the purposes of this Part, a claim for asylum is determined at the end of such period beginning—

    (a) on the day on which the Secretary of State notifies the claimant of the associated termination of his or her support, or

    (b) if the claimant has appealed against the Secretary of State's decision, and the appeal has been disposed of, on the day on which the Secretary of State notifies the appellant of the associated termination of his or her support, as may be prescribed.''.'.

New clause 12—Victims of domestic violence: recourse to public funds—

    'Individuals who apply for indefinite leave to remain in the United Kingdom under paragraph 289A of the Immigration Rules (Refusal of indefinite leave to remain in the United Kingdom as the victim of domestic violence) shall have recourse to public funds while their application is being considered.'.

New clause 20—Late claim for asylum: refusal of support—

    'For section 55(1) of the Nationality, Immigration & Asylum Act 2002 (c. 41) there is substituted—

    ''(1) The Secretary of State may not provide or arrange for the provision of support to a person under a provision mentioned in subsection (2) if—

    (a) the person makes a claim for asylum which is recorded by the Secretary of State,

    (b) the Secretary of State is satisfied that the person's claim for asylum is manifestly unfounded, and

    (c) the Secretary of State is not satisfied that the claim was made as soon as reasonably practicable after the person's arrival in the United Kingdom,

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    for more than a period of 28 days after the person is notified of the Secretary of State's decision.''.'.

New clause 21—Benefits to failed asylum seekers—

    '(1) Save for the services listed in subsection (2), a person who is a member of a group listed in subsection (3) is ineligible to receive benefit in cash or kind at the expense wholly or partly of public funds whether nationally or locally raised.

    (2) The services are—

    (a) those services which are provided indiscriminately on a non-individual basis;

    (b) treatment of infectious disease;

    (c) treatment in response to a health emergency;

    (d) care immediately before and after maternity; and

    (e) such other services as the Secretary of State may by order designate.

    (3) The groups are—

    (a) those persons covered by section 7 of this Act; and

    (b) in relation to any particular service or benefit, any EEA national—

    (i) whose country does not offer a broadly equivalent level of service or benefit to a citizen of the United Kingdom in that country as is offered to a citizen of the United Kingdom in the United Kingdom; and

    (ii) who has been resident in the United Kingdom for less than 12 months.

    (4) The Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament guidelines on the interpretation of subsection (3) to which providers of services not exempted by subsection (2) shall have regard.'.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Welcome back to the Chair this afternoon, Mrs. Roe. When the Committee adjourned I was about to explain the purpose of new clause 21, and anxious enquiries were made over lunch as to whether I would keep the Committee sitting until 7 o'clock. I assure you, Mrs. Roe, that I am not paid by the word or the hour, so I intend to move on as quickly as possible.

New clause 21 is born of the assumption, which many of us made when we first heard about the Bill, that all benefits to failed asylum seekers would cease. When we listened to the Minister and read the Bill in more detail we discovered that that was not the case. Therefore, I tabled the new clause to seek an explanation from the Minister as to why some benefits will remain available.

Subsection (2) of the proposed new clause consists of a list of benefits. Subsection (2)(a) refers to benefits that are

    ''provided indiscriminately on a non-individual basis'',

such as the police, coastguard services, refuse collection and road maintenance. I wondered whether prisons constitute a service ''provided indiscriminately''. It would be impossible to deprive someone of such services simply because fall under subsection (3) of the new clause.

It is essential to provide people with certain benefits and services, such as ''treatment of infectious disease'', for the benefit of the rest of the community. There are other benefits that it is humane to provide, such as

    ''treatment in response to a health emergency'',

or

    ''care immediately before and after maternity''.

I am sure that no one would argue that those services should not be available to people covered by clause 7, which outlines those people that the Government feel should receive no benefit. Therefore, I have included a

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catch-all phrase in subsection (2)(e) to allow the Secretary of State to make other services available to people whether or not they fall under clause 7.

The new clause covers two groups, both of which cause resentment when it is believed that they have better access to services than those who have lived in the country for a long time. I shall refer to an example from what I am sure is the Minister's preferred read: the Daily Mail. It refers to a person whose asylum claim was rejected in May 2002 and who suffered a road accident in November 2002. As a result of the accident, the North East Lincolnshire primary care trust spent £440,000, and ongoing treatment will cost £4,000 a week or £208,000 a year. I am sure that such examples are few and far between but they cause resentment. That it why I suggest that persons covered by clause 7 should be excluded from the provision of services that are not included in subsection (2) of the proposed new clause.

Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester) (LD): I do not understand the connection between the article to which the hon. Gentleman referred and the points that he is making. Does he believe that the individual who had the road traffic accident should not have been given care in this country?

Mr. Turner: The cost of the emergency treatment is exempt from ineligibility, as covered by subsection (1) of the proposed new clause. However, it is a matter of judgment for the Committee whether such people should benefit from services such as the ongoing treatment provided once the individual is stabilised and there is no emergency. Our constituents make that judgment every time they read the Daily Mail. I gave that example because all sorts of other services are available to people whether or not they have the right to be in this country. The belief was that the Bill would exclude them from the receipt of such services, but a close reading of clause 7 shows that it does not.

The second group worth discussing is nationals of European economic area countries who come to this country and benefit from our welfare services. They come from countries that do not extend to our nationals, should they visit them, benefits equivalent to those available to them in this country. That includes some European Union countries, and it is likely to extend when the eastern European countries join the EU later this year. I should like the Minister to justify why people should continue to receive that benefit on a very unequal basis.

Annabelle Ewing (Perth) (SNP): I am listening with care. Are not various rights afforded to EU nationals coming here and to UK citizens going to EU member states, pursuant to European treaties and law? I should have thought that that would extend to EEA nationals who are not also EU nationals.

Mr. Turner: The hon. Lady is right. That is why I put it in my new clause. It is wrong that we should offer to people who have come briefly to the country a level of welfare service that is far above that available to our

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nationals should they go to their countries. I am happy for reciprocity of an equivalent level of service. I am unhappy, as are many of my constituents, when welfare services to which we have contributed for decades are offered to people who have neither contributed, nor lived in the country for a substantial period, nor offered similar services in their countries to our nationals should our nationals visit their countries. That is the argument for the new clause.

The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Beverley Hughes): We have had a wide-ranging debate on a number of issues concerning support and access to various benefits. I shall deal first with new clauses 9 and 20 because they relate to section 55 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 in relation to support for people when they first come into the country.

Section 55 is part of a wider package of measures in the 2002 Act designed to create a more streamlined and cohesive asylum system. It was aimed, primarily, at tackling abuses that we were experiencing, and still are. I have mentioned some instances that intelligence shows us are still happening. We wanted to bring about a change in behaviour on the reasonable assumption that somebody fleeing persecution, or in fear of his life, would want to claim asylum in the safe country in which he had arrived as soon as possible. That would, surely, be as soon as he arrived on the UK mainland and came through a port. Why would somebody go through a port and claim some time later, in country? It was a reasonable assumption. It was also an attempt, through getting people to change their behaviour and claim at port, to break the power of the traffickers. The traffickers, the criminals who are paid to bring people in, say to them, ''Do not claim at the port. Go into the country, claim later and don't tell anyone how you came in. Don't tell anyone about me, or about the help that you had from me. Say nothing.'' In that way, their livelihood, their ability to charge large sums of money to get people into the country illegally, is protected.

We were thinking how to encourage people to claim at the port, and to be open and honest about the routes that they had used to get here and about some of the people who had helped them—people who are making big money. I received a briefing from another part of our security services about the work being done abroad. The extent to which people are put at risk on routes across northern Africa and various other places is horrendous. It is a wonder that the number of people dying and being placed in jeopardy by traffickers is not a national scandal. It is a serious problem, and we have attempted to get claimants to claim early by being open and honest, as it will help us to crack the power of some of the traffickers.

Implementation of that measure included safeguards to protect vulnerable people. For instance, families are exempt from section 55 of the 2002 Act, and support will be provided if it is necessary to avoid a breach of article 3 of the European convention on human rights. I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) that human rights issues were considered from the outset. Some cases are

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granted support immediately on that basis—for example, women who are obviously pregnant or who are willing to go through a process to confirm it, and those who are especially vulnerable and who clearly have no other means of support. Such matters are considered at the outset.

New clause 9 would create a right of appeal to the asylum support adjudicator. Under new clause 20, my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow would exclude the vast majority of cases—90 per cent. of them—from consideration under section 55. I cannot accept those new clauses. I would be the first to admit that, subject to the initial court cases, the implementation of section 55 has had a somewhat troubled history, but we have worked hard to rectify that. However, as a result of the changes that we announced in December, together with other measures on the reconsideration process, I hope to be able to assure them that the new clauses are not necessary. Although these are early days, the 72 hours provision and the reconsideration process are working well, and confidence is growing in our ability to manage the system.

 
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Prepared 27 January 2004