On the 3rd February 2016 the House of Lords considered the Government’s Immigration Bill in committee. The Bishop of Norwich, Rt Revd Graham James, spoke in support of an amendment to clause 37 on levels of support for those seeking asylum. The Bishop echoed the concerns of the Bishop of Southwark, made at the Bill’s Second Reading, that further reducing the weekly support for people in the asylum system was unwelcome. After debate Peers decided to let the clause stand as part of the Bill.
The Lord Bishop of Norwich: My Lords, I support Amendment 230 in this group. My colleague, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, spoke at Second Reading of his concern about the architecture of Clause 37 and Schedule 8. I share his belief that the reduced weekly support of £36.95 per person, to which the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, referred, for an asylum seeker under the current system is inadequate. Where that financial provision is refused, it is subject to a right of appeal. I note that in nearly two-thirds of such appeal cases, the appeal is successful or the refusal is withdrawn.
There seems to be an inexorable but ultimately self-defeating utilitarian logic in government policy in this area. The argument seems to be that when an asylum seeker’s application is refused and an appeal is unsuccessful, there is no further need for or right to any financial support. It seems to be assumed that this will be an incentive in itself to leave the United Kingdom. I fully understand the Government’s desire to maintain the integrity of immigration control by ensuring removal, whether voluntary or not, but I wonder how effective this policy will be.
As we have heard, the criteria under the new provisions for any financial support in such situations are destitution and genuine obstacles to leaving the UK, and there is then no right of appeal. What constitutes,
“a genuine obstacle to leaving the United Kingdom”,
is not defined, although it could appear in the Bill rather than be left to regulation. In another place, the Minister expressed hope that greater engagement with failed claimants would lead to many more voluntary departures. He said that under existing legislation such engagement led to 377 people leaving between April and October last year.
The Refugee Council notes that this engagement often went on over months and involved many meetings with families and case conferences. Such experience suggests that a significant period of grace, with some financial support, in such cases is both necessary and constructive. I may have misunderstood but the Bill’s existing provision seems inimical to developing this practice and may well undermine its very aim. Scrutiny of the existing system—one which, after all, involves rather modest financial maintenance—shows that on appeal there are a significant number of corrected decisions. That is why, if the provisions of Clause 37 and Schedule 8 are conceded, they ought to be subject to appeal. I hope the Minister may be sympathetic.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Bates) (Con): [extract] My Lords, as we now embark on Part 5, which deals with levels of support and the treatment of migrants, it might be helpful if I put some general points on the record. First, I readily accept that we are talking about a vulnerable group of people. Irrespective of whether their asylum claims are upheld, they have travelled from another country and find themselves in a country where they often have difficulties with the language. One does not minimise in any way that they are a vulnerable group.
Secondly, when the Immigration and Asylum Act was passed by the previous Labour Government in 1999, the provision under Section 95(5) for people in need was a recognition of our international obligations to provide a basic standard of care for people who had applied for asylum in our country and for our protection while their case was being considered. I do not think that it was ever the intention of the Government at that time, as evidenced by their attempt to reform Schedule 3 to the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, that this would be an open-ended commitment, irrespective of whether the person was within the asylum process or had gone through that process and found that their claim was not upheld. It was not intended for that support to continue ad infinitum.
The next point is that we have not embarked upon this approach lightly. We have had a period of consultation on this, and that consultation received many representations from the groups that have already been referred to. The consultation was responded to by the Government. We then set out, in my letter to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, on 21 January, significant supporting materials setting out what the changes would be, with the purpose that noble Lords would have greater detail than perhaps is normally the case in considering what the reform of support for failed asylum seekers and other illegal migrants is going to be, and the information contained in Schedules 8 and 9.
Because of the above, we are aware that we are dealing with very sensitive situations and that we have a duty of care, particularly to vulnerable people, so we want to be absolutely sure that we are getting this right. That is the reason why so far we have introduced some 26 different government amendments, including three in this group, which we will be coming to in the next seven or eight groups, to deal with some of the gaps that have been identified—for example, in relation to human trafficking. The reports that have been received from the Red Cross have been considered very carefully, and the Asylum Support Appeals Project does valuable work, particularly with those who go through that route of applying for asylum support.
The broad principle that I am trying to set out is in many ways a response to the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich about the importance of having a fair and humane process. I want to set out that when we talk the about the cash elements that are available, we have to remember that they are in addition to safe and secure accommodation with all utility bills paid for. All that we are talking about here, when it comes into force—“when” being an issue that we will return to—would apply only to new applicants….
Clause 37 agreed.
(all speeches made during the debate on these amendments can be seen at Parliament.UK)