Home Affairs Committee Press Notice

Session 2003-04, dated 15 December 2003


EMBARGOED: NOT FOR PUBLICATION OR BROADCAST UNTIL

00.01 Tuesday 16 December

HOME AFFAIRS COMMITTEE PUBLISHES REPORT ON GOVERNMENT ASYLUM BILL

Key evidence and recommendations on the most significant and controversial elements of the Government’s asylum bill have today been published in a report by the Home Affairs Committee.

The cross-party document, which is being published at short notice ahead of the second reading of the Asylum and Immigration Bill, includes recommendations on ‘Clause 7’ - the much publicised measure that could lead to the withdrawal of financial support from failed asylum seeking families. Changes to the appeals process,and the problem of asylum seekers who destroy travel documents or refuse to co-operate to prevent their removal from the UK, are among other areas examined in the report.

The report also underlines MPs’ concerns that they have been forced to scrutinise government plans without the benefit of a draft bill or sufficient advance information.

Committee Chairman, Rt Hon John Denham MP said:

“We have been undertaking a major inquiry into asylum applications since March. Today we are publishing a special report containing our views and recommendations on some of the most controversial aspects of the Government’s plans based on evidence we have received, in order to inform the parliamentary debate on these proposals.

“We understand the Government’s desire to press ahead with further changes to the asylum system. However, it has not been possible for us, in the time available, to scrutinise all the measures in the Bill. Nor was sufficient detail provided in the Government’s consultation document to enable concerned organisations to respond in detail.

“There is a strong case for many measures included in the Bill, but it is important that Parliament also ensures that they can and will be implemented effectively, efficiently and fairly. We hope our report will assist that scrutiny.”

Specific findings include:

On Children and Restriction of Family Support: The principle behind Clause 7 - which would remove taxpayers’ support from those who have no right to asylum and who refuse government support to leave the UK - is justified. However, MPs suggest that the provision should not come into effect until Parliament is satisfied that it will not lead to significant numbers of children being taken into care.  The Committee repeats its previous call for improvements to be made to the removal system and to the support and advice available to those families who now have to return to their country of origin.

On Undocumented Passengers: The Committee supports, in principle, proposals to penalise people who deliberately lose or destroy their travel documents and calls upon the Government to take steps to ensure that potential asylum seekers are made aware of this prior to travel and upon arrival in the UK. The report also recommends that immigration officers be deployed to meet passengers from selected flights as they disembark to see where they have arrived from and to send criminal ‘facilitators’ a discouraging message.

On Changes to the Appeals Process: The Committee believes that, in principle, the appeals system should be simplified as the government proposes. However, it finds the current poor quality of decision-making unacceptable and so recommends that before a new appeals system is implemented the Government should be able to demonstrate that there has been a significant improvement in initial decisions.

On ‘Safe Countries’: The government should publish and regularly update a list of those countries for which a voluntary resettlement programme is in place.

On the Immigration Services Commissioner (ISC): New powers for the ISC, proposed by the Government, are both sensible and proportionate.

The Committee’s main report on Asylum Applications will be published in January.