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My hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Mr. Reed) spoke on behalf of his constituents, as always, about their keen interest in all things nuclear. He welcomed the social price support, but asked us to do more. We are always looking to do more on fuel poverty and will consider everything he said. On CCS, he referred to the
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huge potential opportunities, including job opportunities, for areas with CO2-intensive industries. We agree with him and believe that CCS will be adaptable to many industries.

The hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones) asked whether the Secretary of State would exclude rural communities from the CCS levy. That is not one of our plans, but all such issues will be a matter for debate in Committee. He was also not keen on the proliferation of wind farms in Wales, but we are talking about a technology that can be used now and ought to be used now, and we should be getting on with that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire (Nick Ainger) gave a helpful account of gas import and storage. He welcomed the Bill, and we appreciate his support. On fuel poverty, he argued that pensioners were not an absolute priority, but I have to tell him that, regrettably, the majority of people in fuel poverty are still pensioners.

The hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir) posed a lot of questions that I think I have dealt with already. [ Interruption. ] I am being urged to come to the end of my remarks by everyone around me.

This is an important Bill. It is important to implement the measures to decarbonise our electricity supplies, help more vulnerable customers with their energy bills and provide the clear market framework needed for a transition to a low-carbon economy.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

energy bill (programme)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

Question agreed to.

energy bill (money)

Queen's recommendation signified.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),

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Question agreed to.

energy bill (ways and means)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),

Question agreed to.

Business without Debate

Delegated legislation

Mr. Speaker: With the leave of the House, we shall take motions 5 to 7 together.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Health Care and Associated Professions

Income Tax

Corporation Tax

Question agreed to.

Electoral Commission


Regional Select Committee (London)

Motion made,

Hon. Members: Object.

Sittings of the House

Motion made,

Hon. Members: Object.

human rights (Joint committee)


Statutory Instruments (Joint committee)


Tax Law rewrite Bills (joint committee)


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Asylum System

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. -(Mr. Mudie.)

10.1 pm

Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Ind Lab): I have secured this Adjournment debate in order to plead with the Government to reconsider the disgraceful arrangements that have been in place since 14 October this year for processing new claims from asylum seekers who are already in the UK. I have discussed this with the Minister, and it is my view that the whole international asylum system needs reorganising, and that the existing convention is out of date and needs renegotiating. For example, it is ridiculous that people cannot apply for asylum in the UK without arriving here, and they have to pay people-smugglers to get here. The possibility of applying for asylum is therefore controlled by criminal networks.

I also believe that the £2 billion a year that the Government spend running a large bureaucracy designed to refuse as many cases as possible could be much better spent elsewhere. However, the inadequacies of the international system do not excuse the way in which people already in the UK are subjected to a refusal to allow them to work, and given very mean benefits, which have recently been cut further. As soon as their claims are refused, all support is cut off. We therefore have significant numbers of destitute, homeless asylum seekers scattered throughout our cities. It is the conclusion of almost everyone who works in this field that this cruelty is deliberately inflicted to encourage asylum seekers to leave the UK, and to discourage others from arriving.

I see many such cases in my constituency advice bureau. The people who have been refused have often waited for many years for a decision. They are destitute and homeless. Not surprisingly, many of them suffer from depression and other mental and physical illnesses. Heartbreakingly, for example, two weeks ago, I saw a man from Gaza who had been here for two or three years. He was trying, through the Red Cross, to contact his seven brothers and sisters who were still in Gaza. He did not know whether they had survived the Israeli bombardment that took place a year ago. He had recently been very badly beaten up in Stoke, and came to me with a medical report saying that he had severe post-traumatic stress disorder. He was frightened of all authority and distrustful of everyone. He was destitute, and reliant on another asylum seeker to help him to deal with the authorities and find some kind of food and shelter. I frequently feel ashamed that this is how we are running our asylum system in Britain in 2009.

May I ask the Minister in passing to ask the National Asylum Support Service to review the placing of asylum seekers in Stoke? I have heard of more than one case of asylum seekers there being very badly beaten up. We know that the British National party has considerable representation on the council there. I really think we should do something about that.

Fortunately, in this bleak picture, there are some good people in Birmingham and elsewhere to whom those in great distress can turn. I am particularly impressed by the work of ASIRT-Asylum Support and Immigration Resource Team-in Birmingham, which helps people
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to sort out their legal position and make properly organised new applications. Then there is my old friend Geoff Wilkins, who with others runs a destitution fund, supported by various charities and Church groups so that we can help people with small amounts of money and provide temporary housing for homeless women and children while they are helped to submit properly organised new applications, which enable them to apply for hard case support from the UK Border Agency.

Similar organisations in other parts of the UK, report the same experience. In October 2008, for example, members of the Asylum Support Partnership, plus a number of other agencies run by the Red Cross and others, recorded the number of visits made by asylum seekers in one month. The study found that destitution is most common among refused asylum seekers and that 1,178 visits from among this group took place in October, and that 62 per cent. of the destitute asylum seekers have been destitute for six months and more. Of them, 70 per cent. were from Iraq, Iran, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Eritrea, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Somalia-all deeply troubled countries likely to generate asylum seekers. Similar studies in Leeds and Leicester showed an increase in the number of destitute asylum seekers this year compared with 2008, an increase in long-term destitution and also an increase in those reporting physical and mental health problems, including HIV/AIDS, pregnancy and tuberculosis.

The Children's Society contacted me when it noticed that this Adjournment debate would be taking place. It reminded me that in 2008 it published a report that revealed, in its words,

It pointed out that the main cause of destitution was lack of legal representation during the asylum claims and concluded that the lack of proper legal advice was directly responsible for the failure of many asylum claims.

Since then, the Children's Society has set up the west midlands destitution project to work with Church partners and others to help such families. Many families were found to be destitute either because, having been refused asylum, they had their support cut off or through delays in bureaucracy after applying for support. It concluded that the effects of destitution on children were very serious indeed. Many of the children considered in the forthcoming report, which I believe is due shortly, were displaying, in its words,

That was the rather shameful situation that refused asylum seekers faced in the UK. Let me repeat that many were refused because they did not have adequate legal representation when they made their first application. Then, on 14 October 2009, without any notice or consultation, the UK Border Agency announced the establishment of an even worse new set of arrangements that required new asylum submissions to be made in person and not by post. A ministerial statement explained that because there were parts of the system where information "is not gripped quickly"-I think those were the Minister's words-applications from those who have been refused cannot in future be made by post.
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Instead, people have to make an appointment and then go in person to Liverpool if they first applied before March 2007, or to a regional centre if they applied after that.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I am very grateful to the right hon. Lady for allowing me to intervene. As someone who has a huge number of asylum cases in his constituency, may I say that this is one of the most unacceptable changes in policy ever, as it is impractical and completely arrogant and insensitive? I am glad that the right hon. Lady has sought this debate and I hope that her plea to the Minister will make him realise, as I believe his officials do already, that this system cannot justifiably be allowed to continue.

Clare Short: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and I really cannot believe that the Minister intended this to be as bad as it has proved to be. I am hopeful that he will agree to review and change the situation.

In order to receive hard case financial support-which is also known as section 4 support, and is the only support of any kind that is available to asylum seekers who have been refused once-people must present their applications to Liverpool, and the UK Border Agency must validate their claims. Incidentally, to accommodate the change, the office currently deciding on hard case support applications that have already been submitted has been moved from Liverpool to Croydon, and the Refugee Council's Birmingham office tells us that as a consequence the number of decisions made has declined from five per day to five in two weeks. That inevitably means more destitution and homelessness for those who are in the queue for hard case support.

When we ask the UK Border Agency how destitute people are to get to Liverpool-and they are advised to bring family members if their names are to be added to applications-the agency makes it clear that it will not provide funds for travel, let alone for overnight accommodation if families cannot travel there and back in a day. When questioned, it said that the voluntary sector should fund such travel. That is a disgraceful suggestion, particularly at a time when charities are hard pressed because of the general recession.

Part of the madness of the new arrangements lies in the fact that the system has recently been reorganised and regionalised. There are offices in Birmingham and other regions, but people from Scotland, Dover, London, Bristol and Birmingham must go to Liverpool if they first applied before March 2007. Moreover, there will be no interviews when they get there. Papers are simply to be handed over, and no interpreters are available. It is impossible to understand the intentions behind the new arrangements without concluding that they were designed to make it as difficult as possible for people to make new applications and to apply for hard case support.

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