HC Deb 14 February 2000 vol 344 cc593-4
7. Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South)

What penalties are available to ensure road hauliers do not bring illegal immigrants into the United Kingdom. [108241]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mrs. Barbara Roche)

The Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 provides new powers to impose civil penalties on those who bring clandestine entrants into the United Kingdom.

Additionally, penalties of up to 10 years' imprisonment are available on conviction for facilitators of illegal entrants.

Mr. Chapman

Does my hon. Friend agree that whereas it has traditionally been the role of the Conservative party, as evidenced in the House again today, to put the interests of the road hauliers first, it is the job of Labour to put the interests of the British public first? Does my hon. Friend agree, therefore, that it is necessary to see that both the facilitators of the trade and the immigrants are appropriately dealt with?

Mrs. Roche

I am astonished by the attitude of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and her colleagues. Criminal gangs are facilitating illegal entrants into the United Kingdom, often preying on extremely vulnerable people, yet once again the right hon. Lady and her colleagues refuse to back the Government on an important measure to deal with the problem. They have refused to do so time and again. They say one thing and do another, which is typical of their behaviour.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

Does the Minister agree that the problem not of illegal immigration, but of political asylum seekers could at least be alleviated if it were Government policy not to entertain any application from people who come from the seven countries in Europe that are members of the Council of Europe? As the Council of Europe has high standards on democracy, the rule of law and human rights, no one ought to be allowed in from those seven countries, and if there is cause for such a person to be allowed in, that should be a matter for the Government to take up immediately with the relevant country or with the European Court of Human Rights.

Mrs. Roche

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting and important point. As he knows, the difficulty is that the Government, like the Government whom he supported, are a signatory to the 1951 convention on the rights of refugees. That gives us an obligation to consider applications for asylum on an individual, case-by-case basis. Nevertheless, I shall certainly pursue the hon. Gentleman's point.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

Is my hon. Friend aware that in my constituency, Slough, there is a belief among those who support asylum seekers that there is a lorry driver or someone else bringing in people from Romania once a week on a particular day of the week? I suspect that our local experience is not unusual. Will my hon. Friend make sure that when the urgently needed measure is introduced, such local intelligence is used to make sure that we target the organised gangs of lorry drivers who are bringing in people seeking asylum, sometimes as a totally bogus arrangement and sometimes genuinely, but who are in every case being facilitated by that kind of criminal activity?

Mrs. Roche

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who makes an important point. There is a problem with organised crime being behind the vile trade in the smuggling and trafficking of human beings—men, women and children. My hon. Friend is right to say that we need intelligence-led operations. Those are being implemented, and I am pleased with the professional approach of the immigration service. Once again, however, we are being let down by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald and the Conservative party, who are soft on that crime.