Draft Immigration (Leave to Enter) Order 2001

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Simon Hughes: I am grateful to the Minister for dealing with those points. I envisage the Secretary of State taking an interest in cases involving the sort of compassionate circumstances that we have spoken about. If it was a matter of life or death or one of those criminal record issues, would the individual or Members of Parliament, for example, be able to ask for the matter to be referred upwards? In some instances, we would rather have an exceptional case considered by the Secretary of State than by someone for whom the exercise is run of the mill every day.

Angela Eagle: The hon. Gentleman is trying his luck. Members of Parliament can ask such questions already, but there are narrow grounds on which Ministers can become involved in day-to-day asylum cases. They must be of the most exceptional nature. The system would clearly break down if there were to be creep in that respect. If the hon. Gentleman has to deal with those sorts of cases, he should make Ministers aware of them—but only in exceptional circumstances. As a Minister, I would expect people to respect the fact that, otherwise, the system would not work. If such cases were brought to the personal attention of Ministers, we would give them special consideration. That is so today, and it is certainly my intention to perform my duties in that manner. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that the order will make no difference to that way of going about things. I think that I have answered most of the issues that he has raised.

I hope that the Committee will recognise that we have introduced the measure as part of an on-going strategy to streamline and modernise the asylum system. We have done much already. We made a record 133,695 initial decisions last year, which amply illustrates some of the progress being made. However, we are not complacent and we appreciate that much more needs to be done.

Mr. Hawkins: I anticipate that the Minister is about to conclude, but I have one brief question to ask. She has just mentioned the number of decisions that were made. In what proportion of them was it decided that a person had no proper grounds for remaining? What proportion of those determinations did not then lead to the person departing the UK because they could not be found? In answering that, can she say how many of the Afghan refugees—those involved in the high-publicity case that she has been discussing with the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey—about whom it was decided they had no proper right to remain, have now been found and deported?

Angela Eagle: I understand that the Afghan refugees have not disappeared and are currently being held in a hotel and various other places while the process continues. There are various complex judicial reviews going on around that case, and the hon. Gentleman will know that many of the refugees in question have been returned. I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman the figures off the top of my head, but I would be happy to write to him if he wanted that information.

Since we have no embarkation systems any more—we do not check people leaving the country—we have only anecdotal evidence about outflows as well as inflows. If we did have embarkation controls, it would take us all a lot longer to get away for our holidays, given the millions of people who go through our airports and ports every year—a steadily rising figure. However, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that most initial decisions are still in the appeals system, and so people have not yet reached the stage at which they would be required to leave. I can also tell him that, anecdotally, people who disappear into the system are recycled and reapply for asylum. Our new electronic fingerprinting systems, which are now being used at Croydon, are picking up people who have entered the country under several guises, claiming to be several different nationalities. Those people have come in, lodged asylum claims, left and disappeared, and have then come in again using different papers, sometimes several times. There is only anecdotal evidence about that, but I suspect that the hon. Gentleman would not be prepared to put up with the huge queues to leave the country that would occur if we were to restore embarkation controls so that we could tell who was leaving the country and when. I hope that despite that, the hon. Gentleman will support the order.

The order will contribute in a positive and practical way to a more efficient asylum system. It will cut out the double handling of cases; it will assist us in our commitment to deliver faster asylum decisions; and it will release immigration officers for other duties, and to concentrate on other areas of work for which their skills and training make them more effective and efficient. I commend the order to the Committee.

5.10 pm

Simon Hughes: I thank the Minister. There is one matter on which she did not give a reply, and on which I would like to press her, and one matter that I am happy for her not to respond to now, as long as she can ask for the information to be given to us later. I would be grateful if she could supply us with the figures for the past year in each of the categories in the order. I would be happy to receive that in writing.

There is a key question, to which I would be grateful for an answer. I am not trying to trap the Minister into giving an over-hasty answer; I would be happy if she either gave a specific answer or came back to me with one. What is the way by which somebody who wants to claim asylum can get to Britain without breaking the law?

5.10 pm

Angela Eagle: A person can arrive in the UK without entering illegally, and it is not necessary for a person to enter illegally in order to claim asylum. We are committed to our international obligations, but we do not condone illegal entry. Any country that has immigration rules must take that approach. Clearly, the hon. Gentleman will not be satisfied, but I hope that he has heard what I said. I will write to him on the other matter.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the draft Immigration (Leave to Enter) Order 2001.

        The Committee rose at eleven minutes past Five o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Winterton, Mr. Nicholas (Chairman)
Atkinson, Mr. Peter
Berry, Mr.
Bryant, Mr.
Chaytor, Mr.
Eagle, Angela
Gapes, Mike
Hall, Mr. Patrick
Hawkins, Mr.
Hughes, Simon
Humble, Mrs.
Johnson, Mr. Boris
Jones, Helen
McGuire, Mrs.
Younger-Ross, Richard

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