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The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Tony McNulty):
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) on her success in securing the slot for an Adjournment debate today. As she knows, these occasions provide Members with an opportunity to raise in some detail on the Floor of the House issues of a constituency nature. I have to say, for reasons that I will discuss, that I was a little disappointed by her choice of subject, not least because, as she knows only too well, we have been in fairly regular correspondence about the case to which she refers.
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I have, as my right hon. Friend knows, taken the time to respond in some detail about the case. However, as a matter of principle, it would not be right for me to discuss on the Floor of the House or in any other public forum the particular circumstances of this or any other asylum case, and I will not do so today. I also consider it inappropriate to discuss this case on the Floor of the House because the applicant's legal representatives have applied for the case to be heard before the High Court under judicial review, and that application remains outstanding. In that context, it simply is not proper for me to discuss the substance or the individual circumstances of the case. I receive numerous requests from MPs to meet and discuss specific cases, and where appropriate I do so. I also receive numerous requests to use my limited discretion, and where appropriate I do so.
I do not agree with my right hon. Friend's contention that there is a growing unwillingness to listen to cases or a hardening of attitude at the Home Office, for reasons that I shall outline as I set out the broad general principles.
My right hon. Friend is more than aware that asylum and human rights applications are considered by the Home Office on their individual merits, in accordance with our obligations under the 1951 UN refugee convention and the European convention on human rights. When cases are assessed as well founded, we provide protection by granting asylum to those who meet the definition of a refugee under the 1951 convention, and by granting humanitarian protection to people who are not refugees but who would face a serious risk to life or person arising from torture, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, the death penalty or unlawful killing, and who are not subject to specified exclusion criteria.
Each application is considered against the background of the latest available information about the situation in the country of origin. Full account is taken of the ability of the individual concerned to reside safely in other parts of their country when it is not safe for them to return to their home area. By the bye, however busy I amand I do not deny that everyone is busyI take each and every case that comes before me extremely seriously, and read them in as much detail as necessary.
The Government firmly believe that the right approach is to continue to assess carefully the protection needs of individuals on an individual basis. Similarly, returns are taken forward on a case-by-case basis. We enforce the return of an individual only when we are satisfied that to do so would not put the person at risk.
As my right hon. Friend knows, since the new single-tier appeal system was introduced in April 2005, unsuccessful applicants have been able to appeal to the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal. If unsuccessful at appeal, an applicant may submit an application to the tribunal for a review of the decision. The AIT is an independent body established by Parliament to adjudicate on matters of that kind, and I would not normally intervene where an applicant's appeal had been dismissed by the tribunal, except in the most compelling circumstances. In cases where an applicant still has an avenue of appeal, such as an application for judicial review of an immigration decision, it would not be appropriate for a Minister to intervene.
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As my right hon. Friend knows, the Government expect all asylum seekers found not to be in need of international protection to return to their country of origin. Help and advice for those who want to return voluntarily can be obtained from the immigration office dealing with the applicant's case. Alternatively, such help and advice can be obtained from the International Organisation for Migration, which is an independent body.
Clare Short: I did not know that there was a judicial process, but I have two questions for my hon. Friend. In a case such as this, when he will not agree to meet me and has turned everything down, yet I genuinely and sincerely believeas do her doctorsthat a child is likely to kill herself because her father's life is in danger, how does he recommend that I take the case forward? Secondly, if the judicial process does not lead to success, will he agree to meet me to discuss the case?
Mr. McNulty: Members find ways and means of raising aspects of cases each and every day. I shall not comment directly on the outcome of the judicial process until it is complete. We are doing all we can through the immigration and nationality directorate, to ensure through correspondence, e-mail, hot lines and so on, that any subsequent information that a Member wants to submit about an individual case can be taken fully into consideration. I spend much of my time deferring decisions on removal directions or other aspects of cases so that new informationif it is genuinely newcan be put before the caseworker concerned, or me.
With the greatest respect, I have to point out that with the best will in the world, the issue is not simply about meeting the Minister in every instance. I meet individual
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MPs and they talk to me about cases and raise specific points with me every time I am in the House. It is right and proper that I should make myself available in that way. As and when appropriate I meet MPs on a regular basis, but I do not do so in every case where a Member has requested a meeting. I do not think that doing so would be fair on the MPs, given the expectations that may or may not be raised with the applications or the general process that I undertake in dealing with cases.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will accept that things are improving in our interactions with MPs in such cases. We are doing all we can to improve not only the decision-making process and the information made available during that process, and how the IND and the Home Office work with MPs and their caseworkers and correspond about cases, but more broadly in creating a more robust asylum process, rooted in the 1951 convention, which is and must be our starting point.
In conclusion, the IND and the Home Office are doing things far more efficiently, but not in the context of a more hard-headed approach or a growing unwillingness to use discretion. Of course the asylum system, rooted in the 1951 convention and the European convention on human rights, is and should be about dealing with political repression and the circumstances of specific cases and their ins and outs. Rather than going into the specifics of a caseto be perfectly honest, it would be inappropriate to do so on the Floor of the House or in any public forumit is right and proper that I have dwelt on the broader issues that I hope will be of some use to my right hon. Friend.