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Mr. Blunkett: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I have already said this afternoon that we will uprate the amounts as per the income support changes. Children will, of course, receive 100 per cent. of income support levels. We have no current plans to change the 70 per cent. level, although I have changed the ratio to £14 cash instead of the £10 currently paid. I appreciate the concerns that have been raised about the 70 per cent. ratio and that is why the accommodation centres will be so crucial. They will, of course, offer the full board, lodging and support system, plus the pocket money that will enable people to live comfortably.
Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire): The Home Secretary will know from the debate in Westminster Hall last week that I welcome the introduction of reception centres more generally for those applying for asylum. Does he intend that those accommodation centres, as he now terms them, will be established using the powers under the Immigration Act 1971 and the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999which allow the Secretary of State to do so by orderfor those granted temporary admission? Does he intend that the Oakington centre in my constituency should remain a place of detention legally or will it, too, be a reception centre using those powers instead of remaining a place of detention with all the difficulties of legal challenges that might ensue?
Mr. Blunkett: On the latter point, leave was granted to appeal to the House of Lordsas the hon. Gentleman will know, being so close to the situation. It is not my intention to address that issue this afternoon, except that I did say that we intended to continue to use Oakington for those entering the country for whom detention and fast-tracking is appropriate. On the other point, both the 1971 and 1999 Acts facilitate the setting up of accommodation centres. Should any legal challenge arise
Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow): As one of the few hon. Members who argued against the introduction of the voucher system, I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement that it will be scrapped and that we will return to a cash-based system delivered through the smart cards. In relation to his proposals on reception centres, which will take some time to phase inthey will need to be built and that will not happen overnightwhat will be the implications for the continuation of the National Asylum Support Service?
If NASS is to continue supporting significant numbers of people for some time, as seems likely, what can be done to improve its efficiency while it continues? In addition, what can be done to deal with the many people who are still being looked after by local authorities?
Mr. Blunkett: I appreciate the thrust of my hon. Friend's question. Multiple systems have operated for a long time and will continue to do so. That is inevitable, whatever system is introduced and whatever the speed of change. Therefore, it is crucial, as outlined in the dispersal and support review that we published today, to ensure that measures are taken on regional decentralisation, streamlining administration and co-ordination with local authorities and voluntary organisations. The system should be geared effectively towards ensuring that we take the service out; that is what we are doing in the appeals and support process in Scotland, rather than flying people from Scotland to London. Those measures, together with a toughening and tightening up with regard to private providerswhose service and accommodation, although often satisfactory, has in some instances been deeply unsatisfactorywill be the prime concern of the next 12 months.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): The Home Secretary said a moment ago that he wanted to reduce multiple opportunities for delay in the courts, streamline the appeals system and achieve a 50 per cent. increase in the system's capacity. To achieve those laudable aims, will he not need the co-operation and support of the judiciary and the legal profession, 99.9 per cent. of whose members are interested in the efficient and humane administration of justice and in faithfully applying the laws passed by this House and Parliament as a whole? Does he not think it unwise and counter-productive to spend too much time insulting and making offensive remarks about the very people whose co-operation he will need to achieve the new policy?
Mr. Blunkett: I am not going to enter into banter about one of our more powerful pressure groups. Last week, I quoted Professor Sir William Wade and recommended "Administrative Law" to which I referred. Of course we need the co-operation of the judiciary. They will co-operate with us because, like me, they are doing their best to ensure that the system works. However, the massive increase in the capacity of the adjudication system will be welcomed not only by asylum seekers but by those operating it. Speeding up the process, taking out
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington): The Home Secretary has made a detailed statement which will require detailed appraisal. Obviously, the whole House welcomes the review. I speak as someone who served on the Committee stage of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 and voted against it, largely because of the arrangements for vouchers and forced dispersal.
I have three questions for my right hon. Friend. First, are the proposed reporting centres intended to supersede or run alongside existing arrangements for some categories of immigrant and asylum seeker to report to the police? Secondly, I understand that smart cards are entitlement cards. Will supposed asylum seekers be stopped on the street and asked for their card? Finally, to repeat what was said earlier, removals look clean and simple on paper but in a diverse community such as mine in Hackney, the police are anxious to have a considered approach to the subject. They are well aware of the tensions and disorder that could arise from removals involving families with small children being dragged out of tower blocks.
Mr. Blunkett: On the latter point my hon. Friend is correct. That is why the protocol signed with the police in September is crucially about ensuring that the process is handled with great sensitivity. I entirely take that point.
The cards would not allow people to be stopped in the street; they are not about policing. On my hon. Friend's first question, we are trying to speed up the system and make it more humane, not to ensure that what we put in place will make life more difficult for people who are already struggling.
Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe): May I first congratulate the Home Secretary on the skill as well as the speed with which he has so far executed, on taking office, this necessary policy U-turn, and also on the way in which he carried out the necessary formalities of praising his predecessor, the present Foreign Secretary, which he did with taste but without excessive enthusiasm?
I return to the question put by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) about the large number of applications from people who have been resident in this country for many years, but who are probably illegally overstaying as visitors; who have probably acquired a partner, a residence and some kind of job; who apply for asylum when pressure is exerted on them; and who are usually granted not asylum but indefinite leave to remain. How will the Home Secretary's policy statement actually affect such cases? Presumably they will not be removed to accommodation centres to be processed. Does he propose that a higher proportion of such cases should in future be removed rather than given indefinite leave to remain, and how does he intend to achieve that?
Mr. Blunkett: The right hon. and learned Gentleman has not lost his touch, although I remind him that if, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, he had given some of the resources that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor gave my predecessor to invest in the system, it might have worked much better.
I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman refers to exceptional leave to remain, often granted when it is not safe to return someone to their country of origin. In those circumstances, we would obviously not place people in a detention removal centre. However, there is a real issue underlying this point: ensuring that our actions globally are intent on opening up those countries again so that people can be returned safely to them. That is why exceptional leave to remain rather than asylum status has historically been granted.
Kate Hoey (Vauxhall): Does the Home Secretary realise that many local authorities, such as mine, will welcome the radical changes that he proposed today, especially those for the accommodation units which will relieve the difficult housing situation in boroughs such as mine where it has been possible to transfer very few people? We welcome that. Will he give us more detail on how he will speed up the current huge backlog? Much of what he said refers to what will happen in future. How does he think that we can speed up the process practically for the thousands of peoplehundreds in my constituencywho are awaiting decisions and have been told that they may have to wait for at least another year?