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19 Feb 2007 : Column 15

Mr. Randall: I thank the Minister for that very illuminating answer. Hon. Members will be aware that local authorities have to pick up the bill for failed asylum seekers, so imagine my surprise when the London borough of Hillingdon asked the Home Office what it was doing to remove them and the Home Office replied, “We don’t know where they are. Could you let us know?” Is that acceptable?

Mr. Byrne: I met representatives of Hillingdon quite recently, and that certainly was not the answer that was given to me. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is paraphrasing. But the way in which we have reduced the support costs, which are incumbent on a civilised society, for those who have failed in their asylum claim and are still here, because there are barriers against their going back home, is to remove them as quickly as possible. That is exactly why we have driven through the reform of the asylum system over the past few years. On numerous occasions, Opposition parties have had a chance to support those reforms and, by and large, they have refused to do so.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol, East) (Lab): I have been trying to find out for quite some time just how many failed asylum seekers there are in my constituency and the wider Bristol area. So far, the only statistic that I have been able to uncover is that 260 people are claiming section 4 support in the whole of the south-west region, which is some way from giving a true picture of the situation. Does my hon. Friend agree that this is another reason to welcome the introduction of identity cards, particularly ID cards for foreign nationals from next year, so that we have a much clearer idea—

Mr. Speaker: Order. We must stick to the question that we have before us.

Mr. Byrne: My hon. Friend is absolutely right: identity card technology has the potential to allow us to police illegal immigration—

Mr. Speaker: Order. We will go back to asylum seekers.

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): All hon. Members appreciate that these are very difficult issues, and we should not suggest that all that the Home Office is doing in this respect should necessarily be criticised. However, the Minister will be aware that, to ensure that we have proper social cohesion, particularly in our cities, it is essential that we have a fair immigration and asylum system that works swiftly in this regard. Will he give a categorical assurance to the House today that, under no circumstances, will there be any amnesty for failed asylum seekers?

Mr. Byrne: I am happy to give that assurance. As the House knows, I approached this issue with an open mind when my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary asked me to take over this brief. I see no evidence to support an amnesty; it would act as a pull factor in drawing illegal immigrants to this country. We need to put in place a number of protections over the next few years. We need to increase the number of enforcement staff that we have available. We need to increase the amount of resources. We need to ensure that those staff have the right powers, which is why the UK Borders
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Bill is so important, and where technology, such as identity technology, can help, we should exploit it, not shut it down.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): Although I welcome the Minister’s commitment to try to sort out these matters, does he not think it a little odd that failed asylum seekers are allowed to remain, whereas those on the highly skilled migrant programme, whom we invited into this country, have been asked to leave immediately? Will that work be affected by the 8 per cent. cut in his budget?

Mr. Byrne: My right hon. Friend knows that I agree with him on many matters, but I am afraid that I must dispute many of the grounds that he puts forward in this instance. When people have failed in their asylum claim, it is incumbent on us to seek to remove them from this country as quickly as possible. Equally, where there are other individuals who have come to this country to benefit from opportunities to work, but there are questions about the continued contribution that they can make, we are right to toughen the rules where we need to. If that means that sometimes people have to go home, so be it, I am afraid.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): It may have escaped the Minister’s attention, but the Government have been operating an amnesty on asylum seekers since 2003 in the shape of the indefinite leave to remain programme. Will he explain why, last June, without telling the House, the Government implemented a change to that amnesty policy and allowed asylum seekers whose cases had yet to be determined, or whose cases had failed, to make a second application for an amnesty? Will he tell us how many people have been granted such an amnesty since last June?

Mr. Byrne: I am happy to look into the hon. Gentleman’s question and write to him with the detail that he requests. The point that I would make to him is this: because of the reforms that we have put through over the last few years, the number of asylum applicants is now at its lowest level, not since 1997, but since 1993, and the number of failed asylum seekers who are being removed from the country is at a record high. The Opposition had a chance to support those reforms in 1999, 2002, 2004 and 2005 and they declined to do so at every opportunity.

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): In his response to the original question from my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), the Minister confirmed the startling reply that he gave me on 29 January, when he said:

Is he aware that if he really does not know the basic figure for how many failed asylum seekers are being supported by taxpayers, we cannot trust any of his figures? Will he confirm that the reason he is taking no steps to find out how many failed asylum seekers are being supported is that he does not want the British people to know that figure?

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Mr. Byrne: That is a quite extraordinary question. I come back to this point: this Government have delivered reform to the asylum system, and have produced the lowest number of asylum seekers since 1993 and the highest number of deportations on record. It is true that it is difficult to know about those who remain in the country, because exit controls were dismantled by the last Conservative Administration. Every time that we have brought forward asylum reform, the Opposition have decided to oppose it. Will they change their tune and confirm that they are dropping the James review target of axing £900 million from the immigration and nationality directorate budget, and will they give their unequivocal support to the UK Borders Bill and the powers therein to strengthen deportation still further?

Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme

9. Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): What change there was in the maximum award available under the criminal injuries compensation scheme in each year since 1997; and if he will make a statement. [121298]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): The maximum award payable under the criminal injuries compensation scheme has been £500,000 since the current, tariff-based scheme was introduced by the previous Administration in April 1996.

Simon Hughes: Given that there is agreement across all parties that we need to look after victims and that clearly, whereas we have seen increases in damages for severely injured people in the civil courts, that is not the case with the criminal injuries compensation scheme—we are talking about people with the worst brain injuries and the worst physical injuries—will the Minister be kind and consider at least uprating, to keep pace with inflation and the real cost of living, the damages that we give to sufferers from crime? Will he also look at the speed withwhich those payments are made, which is often far too slow?

Mr. Sutcliffe: I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman accepts that we do a lot for victims. In addition to the criminal injuries compensation scheme, there is work with victim support and we have introduced victim care unit pilots. A great deal of work is going on. He will also know that money is given to victims from sources other than the criminal injuries compensation scheme—in relation to benefits and support from the national health service. We are going to respond shortly to “Rebuilding Lives”, the Green Paper that we published earlier, and that matter will be a consideration. He will know that, over the years, the tariffs have been looked at. There are 25 tariffs. If we were to increase the highest tariff, we would have to do something at the other end. We have to keep that balance in mind. I can assure him that we will always keep the matter under review.

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Corporate Manslaughter Bill

11. Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): What plans he has to bring forward amendments to the Corporate Manslaughter Bill following the decision in the House of Lords on 5 February; and if he will make a statement. [121300]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): The Home Secretary, the Attorney-General and I are consulting on how we should take the Bill forward. The House will have a further opportunity to consider the Bill when it has completed all its stages in the House of Lords.

Mr. Mullin: On immunity for the police and the Prison Service regarding deaths in custody, may I gently put it to my hon. Friend that he is in a bit of a pit and ought to stop digging?

Mr. Sutcliffe: I do not feel that we are in a pit at all. There is complete disagreement about how we should take the Bill forward. The Bill came about due to a health and safety issue and the corporate manslaughter aspect of it was to apply to incidents such as train crashes. I understand that people are concerned about deaths in custody. However, there are opportunities for the Independent Police Complaints Commission and a variety of bodies and agencies to examine such matters and thus separate the question of deaths in custody. We, as the first Government ever to examine the issue of Crown immunity, will clearly have to examine the impact of the situation on other services, whether regarding the Ministry of Defence or others. I will consult and listen to what is said, but we are very worried that major advances on corporate manslaughter might be lost.

James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): The Minister will know, following the meetings that I have had with him about my constituent, Paul Day, that I am especially interested in segregation units. Will he consider examining liability in the Prison Service in the context of different types of prisons? For example, there is a material difference between introducing liability for an open prison and doing so for a segregation unit.

Mr. Sutcliffe: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point and the way in which he has handled the case of Mr. Day on behalf of his family. He highlights the point of concern: how do we deal with deaths in custody in different types of prisons and police custody? That matter should be seen differently from the way in which we approach corporate manslaughter in the context of health and safety. I am happy to examine what we are doing in open and closed prisons and to consider the impact of deaths in custody and the way in which we can work more closely on safer custody. However, we need to examine corporate manslaughter in terms of health and safety, which is why there is a difference regarding the Bill.

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): May I urge my hon. Friend to examine closely the case of young Gareth Myatt, who died in Rainsbrook? Will he
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consider the lessons coming out of the inquest and reflect on the need to achieve proper legislation to deal with deaths in custody through the kind of amendment about which my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) has talked?

Mr. Sutcliffe: We are not arguing that there does not need to be a look at deaths in custody. As I explained, existing inspectorates are involved. Independent reports are also written and we know of coroners’ views on deaths in custody. However, we argue that a consideration of the matter is not appropriate for the Corporate Manslaughter Bill and that other vehicles might be needed to deal with it. We are clearly concerned that we are in a position in which it is said that Crown immunity should be removed so that the situation is as it would be for the private sector when dealing with such issues as employers or owners of property, with deaths in custody thus being seen differently. I am sure that we will return to the matter and discuss it further when we receive the Bill from the other place.

Immigration Centres

12. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): What steps he is taking to reduce the numbers held in immigration centres. [121301]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Joan Ryan): As a result of the effective use of detention, we have been able to deliver record removals of failed asylum seekers and deportations. Detention will always be for as short a time as possible and no longer than necessary.

Richard Ottaway: Because of overcrowding in prisons, the Minister has adopted a policy of moving foreign national criminals from prisons into detention centres, which has caused tensions such as those that we saw at the time of the riots at Harmondsworth. Will she now openly admit that that failed policy has been a complete disaster?

Joan Ryan: May I tell the hon. Gentleman that delivering additional detention capacity will help us to
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manage better the overall speed with which we can deal with all types of immigration detainees? It is important to remember that the vast majority of detainees pass through detention in a matter of weeks, if not days. However, detention is often prolonged by individuals with no right to be here refusing to leave voluntarily and frustrating our attempts to remove them. They can leave voluntarily at any point.

Gambling Addiction

13. Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): What programmes he plans for those serving prison sentences to tackle gambling addiction. [121302]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): There are no plans to develop specific programmes to address gambling addiction. However, we constantly review provision across the range of offender needs with a view to identifying gaps. Factors likely to be relevant to gambling problems are addressed within general offending behaviour programmes such as enhanced thinking skills. Use is also made of specialist organisations such as Gamblers Anonymous.

Annette Brooke: One of my constituents has now been in prison for six months without receiving any treatment. Given the increase in online gambling, the proposed new casinos and the fact that a proportion of compulsive gamblers are likely to commit crimes to feed their habit, should there not be a coherent plan in place before the problems become any greater?

Mr. Sutcliffe: It is a question of proportionality. Less than 1 per cent. of the prison population have gambling problems, but that is not to say that we should not tackle those problems, and Gamblers Anonymous is present in 50 per cent. of our prisons. I hope that the hon. Lady and other Opposition Members support the Offender Management Bill, which will deal with those issues by looking at the requirements of individual offenders. Rather than talk about the problem, I hope that the Opposition parties will support us in our efforts to deliver offender management programmes that rehabilitate offenders.

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House of Lords Reform

3.31 pm

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Jack Straw): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a short statement—

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): I surrender.

Mr. Straw: No. Listen to what is coming. I should like to make a statement on the procedure for the free votes on the composition of the House of Lords.

In my statement on 7 February, I set out the Government's proposal for using an alternative vote ballot to establish the House's preferences on composition. I told the House that I believed that that would be the most effective way of the House being able to come to a decision on the issue, and I outlined the difficulties posed in the use of our traditional Division system in eliciting multiple preferences.

I took the view, and I still do, that the new system had many advantages. [Hon. Members: “Had.”] However, it became evident during the exchanges in the House on my 7 February statement and the next day during business questions that my own enthusiasm for the new system is not as widely shared as I had anticipated— [ Laughter. ] Indeed, there was vocal opposition to it from many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House.

As Leader of the House, I have listened carefully to those views and reflected on them over the recess. I do not want discussions about procedure to overshadow the important substantive debate that we will have on the future of the House of Lords itself. I think we all agree that we must not let process get in the way of a reform to which all parties are committed.

I therefore wish to tell the House that we shall not proceed with the alternative vote proposal. [Hon. Members: “Hooray!”] Instead, we shall revert for all votes to the traditional Division system. That will mean that a series of resolutions will be put to the House for separate votes at the close of the promised two-day debate on Lords reform. We will consult the usual channels and interested Members on the exact form of the resolutions and the order in which they should be put. I hope what I have said is for the convenience of the House.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): I would like to thank the Leader of the House for giving me significant advance sight of his statement. He has indeed listened to the concerns of the whole House and scrapped his proposal for a preferential ballot. That would have been a dangerous constitutional precedent and I am delighted that he has changed his mind—and that he has done so so quickly. After all, today’s statement comes less than two weeks—in parliamentary terms, only one full parliamentary day—after he first put his proposal to the House.

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