§ 8. Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow)
If he proposes to develop the regionalisation of the National Asylum Support Service. 
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Angela Eagle)
The internal review into the operation of dispersal recommended that the National Asylum Support Service should establish a greater regional presence. While plans are at an early stage, we are considering how NASS can have the capacity to answer more inquiries and solve problems at local levels. We are also considering outreach so that people who have been dispersed in regional clusters can be visited by NASS employees.
§ Mr. Gerrard
My hon. Friend will know of the serious concerns about administrative inefficiencies in NASS that have led, in far too many cases, to people being left without support for weeks on end. I welcome what she has said about setting up a regional structure, but I would like her assurance that it will not be only administrative. We need local access points where asylum seekers or their representatives can contact NASS directly, with telephone numbers that—unlike at present—do not continually change. Problems that should be straightforward could then be sorted out at local level by direct contact, which does not happen at the moment.
§ Angela Eagle
I agree that we need to ensure that NASS works more efficiently in the service that it gives to people once they have been dispersed, but we are not considering establishing counter services in the regions at this stage. Such innovations as the voucher inquiries line have improved service from what was an unacceptable level. The line turns inquiries round within 48 hours of the call being made, so that aspect of the national service is improving, but we do recognise the need for more outreach in the regions.
§ Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire)
The success of NASS depends crucially on the degree of confidence that asylum seekers have in the Home Office. Is the Minister aware that that confidence is severely under pressure because of reports that the Home Office is still unable to give details of which asylum seekers were being held at the Yarl's Wood centre on 14 February, the night of the disturbances, and that the immigration service had refused an offer from Bedfordshire police to check the backgrounds of those likely to be moved to Yarl's Wood? Can she comment on that allegation and will she publish immediately a list of those detainees and asylum seekers who were at Yarl's Wood in order to dispel local rumours that, contrary to assurances, low-risk asylum seekers were 631 held with those with criminal convictions, those who might be prone to violence and—possibly—those who might have terrorist connections?
§ Angela Eagle
The immigration service holds the definitive list of those who were in Yarl's Wood, although it is not my intention to publish it. The difficulties in providing a definitive list of those present at the time of the incident were the result of the destruction of the records that were held there and the fact that detainees had been transferred in and out of the centre after the last roll call at 6 pm but before the disturbance. We had to reconcile the figures that the immigration service holds because of that transfer. Group 4's records were destroyed in the fire, but I assure him that we have the immigration service figures.
It is true that there were approaches from Bedfordshire police to check the police national computer, but they wished to check for every single person. Many of those who present for asylum at the ports do not have police national computer issues. Those who present in-house would also not necessarily be checked in that way. There are data protection concerns as to why there was not a wholesale transfer of that information, but this is an issue that we are looking at.
§ Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)
My hon. Friend has seen the nasty, despicable little racist leaflet circulating in my constituency that has been promoted by a right-wing party in an attempt to raise fear within the community. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will condemn that activity. Will my hon. Friend seek to focus the discussions about the Government's proposals so that people in the community know that they have been told downright lies by that right-wing racist bunch?
§ Angela Eagle
I agree with my hon. Friend that attempts to exploit racial tension of the sort to which he refers and the despicable leaflets that he has shown me are unacceptable. Clearly, the sooner we are in a position to make choices about sites for accommodation, the sooner we will be able to dispel people's worries about this.
§ Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking)
Given that the National Asylum Support Service currently houses over 40,000 asylum seekers, does the Minister accept that the recent fire and break-out from Yarl's Wood removal centre has severely damaged the Government's ability to manage the asylum system efficiently? How many of those who absconded are still on the run? How many persons have been charged with criminal offences arising out of this incident, and how many people whose asylum appeals are still current have been moved from Yarl's Wood into prison? Finally, when will the official inquiry into these events be available and ready for debate in the House?
§ Angela Eagle
I do not accept that the events at Yarl's Wood have made it harder or impossible for us to control the asylum system. Off the top of my head, 41 people were moved back into prison following the events at Yarl's Wood. The hon. Gentleman will know that a search is ongoing in the debris of the part of Yarl's Wood that was destroyed by fire to check the forensics. The last count that I saw—again this may not be the most up-to-date figure—showed that 22 people were missing, 632 presumed on the run. I will check the list of the hon. Gentleman's other questions and write to him, but he has to realise that we are in the middle of an inquiry about this. There are also ongoing police inquiries. We are simply not in a position at this stage to give the hon. Gentleman detailed answers to his questions. However, I assure him that, when the answers come out of the inquiries, they will be made public.