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Lord Rooker: My Lords, yes. It is not my function, as it was not in the other place, to decide whether there should be a Select Committee of your Lordships' House. That is a matter for the House itself. I can assure the House that I shall explore the issues raised in previous debates. I know that contentious issues were raised and I know that there were difficulties in respect of the points made regarding citizenship, vouchers and dispersal.
Over the past couple of years, enormous extra resources have been put into the immigration and nationality department by the previous Home Secretary--some 4,000 extra staff and 1,000 extra immigration officers. That was done to meet the backlog and to make 132,000 decisions, whereas in the previous year only 58,000 decisions were made. We are now making decisions faster, including over the summer months, than there are people entering the country. We are biting into the backlog so we can now look at and alleviate the pressures on the South East and London. We cannot reverse the dispersal. We shall not return to maintaining all these people in the South East and London with the consequential pressures on the services.
Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, asked about young people. I share his worries, particularly when I see young people, who barely speak a word of English, begging from people in cars at traffic lights, during school hours when they should be doing something else. Added to that is my concern about women in national costume, with babies in their arms, begging at traffic junctions, as they were last winter. I thought that was absolutely monstrous. Surely that is illegal. Why was it allowed to take place? If such people intend, as I believe they do, to stay in this country permanently, is there any need for them to beg?
Lord Rooker: My Lords, from anecdotal evidence there is much less aggressive begging than there was. In respect of the young people--a point made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally--and particularly unaccompanied children, I have been at airports when they have arrived on their own at the immigration officer's desk. They are then asked where they have come from and they say that they got off a certain plane. There is no adult accompanying them and there are no papers, when in order to board the plane in the first place there must have been some papers. In most cases it is quite clear that the child has been accompanied by an adult--a trafficker, or a family member or whoever--and that the papers have subsequently been destroyed. There is often a big delay--perhaps three or four hours--between the child getting off the plane and turning up at the immigration desk, so there is confusion as to which plane he or she has arrived on.
This is a serious matter. There are far more unaccompanied children arriving now--I do not have the figure in my head--than in the past. It is a major problem for social services, but they take it seriously. Accommodation is provided. There is sometimes a difficulty when people arrive claiming to be a child when clearly and visibly they are not. That can be a serious problem. We have to be very careful that they do not go into children's accommodation.
With regard to dispersal, we have had discussions with the Department of Health and the social services departments in the country regarding children who reach 18 and go into the NASS system. I believe that we have now arrived at a satisfactory conclusion.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, when, under the new scheme, asylum seekers first arrive in this country and are put into the category of accommodation described, who will run that accommodation? Will such people have access to legal and other advice, and will those centres be so located that members of local communities who wish to give help and support are able to get to them?
Lord Rooker: My Lords, the answer to all of my noble friend's questions is yes. As to who will run the accommodation centres, it will be the national asylum support service. It will still be an asylum support system run on a national basis.
As I have said and as will be indicated in the documents we have published today, we are beefing up the management of NASS considerably. Essentially it has been involved in running dispersal at the present time, but it will have an involvement in the new system.
There will be access to the centres. However, as I said in answer to a previous question, we have to be very careful about the security of the people living in the centres. While they are free to come and go, we have to be careful regarding those who go into the centres. There will be no barriers at all to the local community offering help and support to people in those centres: far from it.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, may I follow up the question asked earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Alton? We were told in 1993, 1996 and 1999 that we had a firm but fair system. The Minister now talks about a similar system which is clear, fast and well administered. What confidence can we have when we have said all along that the system in the past was not capable of working?
My first question relates to the cost of the accommodation centres. In answer to a question I put to the previous Minister in this place I was told that it would cost millions of pounds to set up and to run such accommodation centres. Do we have the resources needed to provide such centres?
Secondly, does what the Minister is advocating meet the provisions of the Human Rights Act, and has any consultation taken place with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees?
Finally, at present there are what are commonly called "snatch squads" of immigration officers whose powers in many instances exceed those of police officers. Are there any moves to establish some independent complaints machinery so that complaints against them can be dealt with properly and adequately?
Lord Rooker: My Lords, being new to your Lordships' house, I understand the feeling possibly being expressed that chickens are coming home to roost and the sentiment, "We were right at the time; you did not listen; and now you have had to come back and do it a different way". In terms of confidence, however, one has to make a comparison with the situation which existed before we obtained the extra resources in order to manage the Immigration and Nationality Directorate much more sensibly--the
We obviously want value for money, but if we run the operation on the cheap and in a scrimping way we will never have a fairly managed system. I understand that, and I believe that the point has been taken on board.
The centres will be expensive. We have secured the resources to set up the induction centres and for a trial of the accommodation centres. We shall probably go out with contracts into the commercial world. I am therefore not in a position to indicate the amount of money involved. It will cost several million pounds to set up such centres and, indeed, run them. Overall, however, if we can have faster decisions, better integration of those who succeed and faster removals, that will bring enormous value for money from the investment put into the system.
There are no indications whatever that anything that we are planning breaches anyone's human rights. In fact, the exact opposite is the case. It could be argued that we are planning something similar to that which operates in four or five other EU countries, and they have no problems at all with human rights legislation. We are not taking away anyone's human rights.
We are running a system, however, and we are not running it as a soft touch. It will be visibly tough, transparently fair and crystal clear, so that people understand, when they arrive and make a claim, exactly what are their duties and rights. They have to make their claim in that knowledge.
As to the last question of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, I am not sure whether he was referring to the powers of the immigration service itself. There is no shortage of people complaining, but I am not aware of any complaints procedure of the sort he mentioned. I was not sure to which group of people he was referring. Perhaps he can to write to me on that matter.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, can the Minister be clearer regarding his description of entrants who are already in Britain outnumbering those who are not? What proportion of the 79,000 applicants in the last financial year were applicants at the border and what proportion were in-country applicants? Of the 79,000, what proportion came in originally by air, by sea, or by land, namely via the Channel Tunnel?
Finally, is there any advantage or disadvantage to being an in-country applicant for asylum rather than being an applicant at the border?
Lord Rooker: My Lords, whether they are in-country or port applicants, the number varies from month to month, as indeed does the nationality. The figures are about 60 per cent in-country applicants and 40 per cent applicants at the port. The majority are therefore in-country applicants.
The noble Lord asked whether there was an advantage. In one way, there is an advantage for an in-country applicant, namely, that we do not know when they arrived. It may be that they have been working illegally, knowing that they cannot work as an applicant for asylum. They are then perhaps picked up for some other reason--a traffic offence, an inspector's visit to a factory, or whatever-- and then make the claim for asylum. It is difficult in those cicumstances to know precisely when they arrived in the country. To the extent that there is an advantage, it is in coming in clandestinely and working illegally, because if they come to the port and claim asylum they cannot work. That is the point to which I alluded in the Statement and which I have mentioned previously.
It is easier to work illegally in this country than in any other country in the European Union. Blocking off access to illegal working will reduce the pulling factor of the traffickers. If that could be balanced with managed migration, people coming in under quotas to some industries or under other schemes, based on their skills, would know in advance that if they want to come to the UK to work there are schemes and programmes to which they should apply. They are then less likely to pay out thousands of pounds in bondage to traffickers to get them here to work illegally in the first place. In that way, we help to put the traffickers out of business.
Tackling illegal working is crucial. In a way, illegal working is the answer to the noble Lord's question, because that is where an advantage does lie.
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