HC Deb 24 July 2000 vol 354 cc757-8
14. Ms Christine Russell (City of Chester)

If he will make a statement on the number of applications for asylum from Chinese nationals in the past 12 months. [130335]

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

Compared with the first quarter of 1999, applications from Chinese nationals have increased by 180 per cent. in the first quarter of this year.

Ms Russell

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Earlier this year, I visited China with a number of parliamentary colleagues and, at first hand, we heard from our embassy and consular staff of the amazing demand for visas among young Chinese who want to improve their quality of life in the west. In the light of the appalling tragedy at Dover, does she agree that the civil penalty is fully justified and what discussions, if any, has she had with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to try to get the Chinese authorities to tackle at source the evil trade of trafficking in impressionable young Chinese?

Mrs. Roche

We are having continuing discussions with our colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but, as the House will know, there are difficulties with the way in which the Chinese Government carry out redocumentation. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to refer to the civil penalty, which has been very successful, and the appalling tragedy at Dover. We must make a concerted effort to combat that evil trade and the civil penalty is playing its part: since implementation, the number of clandestine entrants arriving through south-east Kent has dropped by 23 per cent. Perhaps the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) will now drop her opposition to the civil penalty.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

The Minister will be aware that Britain is being promoted in China as a soft touch for asylum seekers, who receive free national health service treatment and social security, neither of which are available in France. What is she doing to have the Chinese authorities place under arrest those gangsters—those facilitators—in China who promote Britain as a destination? It is no good her talking to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which is patently doing nothing. When will her Department actively ensure that those facilitators in China are arrested?

Mrs. Roche

I would take the hon. Gentleman a lot more seriously if he agreed to support our civil penalty, which gets to the heart of the matter, and if he had not backed the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald when she opposed our plans to withdraw social security benefits and introduce the national asylum support service. Once again, the Tories say one thing and do another.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Are Ministers seriously considering the benefits that would arise in the management of asylum seekers—whether from China or elsewhere; whether legal or illegal—were the United Kingdom to introduce a national identity card system? When one begins to analyse that approach, does not the message come through that such a system would greatly reassure the wider public?

Mrs. Roche

With the greatest respect to my hon. Friend, I do not think that that is the issue and we have no plans to introduce such a system. We must deal with those who seek to undermine the asylum system. Like many Members of the House, I owe a great deal to the stance taken by this country over the centuries on giving protection to refugees. I do not want anything to undermine that. Let us continue to provide sanctuary for those genuinely fleeing persecution.