§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett)
With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement on illegal immigration from northern France.
As the House knows, since the beginning of June I have been in negotiations with the French Government to tackle illegal immigration from France, focusing on making substantial improvements in border controls, improving security at freight depots and the removal of the magnet of the Sangatte centre. This morning, I held further talks with the French Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy.
I am very pleased to tell the House that we have today agreed that the Sangatte centre will close by the end of December, and will be handed back to the owners, Eurotunnel. That is four months earlier than originally anticipated. As the House knows, the centre has been a magnet for illegal trafficking of immigrants since October 1999. More than 67,000 people have passed through the centre since that date. Its closure is, therefore, an extremely welcome achievement and a major contribution to stemming the tide of clandestine entry into the United Kingdom.
I wish to place on record my appreciation of the positive way in which Mr. Sarkozy has approached these negotiations over the past six months and for the good faith that he has shown throughout our talks. I am grateful, as I know those concerned will be, for the decisive action that he has taken against illegal immigration in the Calais area, including the deployment of 1,000 gendarmes and substantial enhancement of security measures.
The French Government have taken away and re-housed some 500 people so far. Just as importantly, however, I have agreed with the French Government a range of measures to establish immigration controls and border security operations in northern France, effectively moving border security to France. The extension of those measures to other ports along the French coast and, in future, to Belgium ensures that instead of dealing with the symptoms, we address the causes of our present difficulties. I can also tell the House that we have opened discussions with the Netherlands.
As the House will recognise, this is a transformation in our border security. It is far better to stop people entering the country illegally than to have to send them back, with all the time wasting and expense that that entails. These measures build on the progress already made. The security measures at Coquelles and Frethun have now been strengthened. The number of clandestines arriving from Frethun has fallen from almost 400 in April to a handful in October. By Christmas, 100 per cent. of the freight traffic travelling through Calais port each and every day will be searched.
Co-operation between our security and law enforcement services has led to the arrest and disruption of six major trafficking gangs operating in northern France over the past few weeks. Almost 250 people have been arrested for people smuggling this year. Immigration officers have been operating in Calais since 612 20 August. This operation will develop rapidly following today's agreement into a full, joint immigration control as early as possible next year. These actions have been significant in sending a signal, and today's announcement will complete the message to those seeking to traffic human beings across Europe to the UK.
To ensure that we play our part in getting Sangatte closed immediately and, of course, for good, I have agreed that up to 1,000 Iraqis can come to the United Kingdom, not as asylum seekers but on work visas. This is a one-off exercise. They will be temporarily housed for up to three months while we undertake job matching. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions for his co-operation. In this way, we will ensure that those who might have reached Britain clandestinely will now pay taxes and national insurance and will not be subject to continuing support from the British taxpayer. We will also take a limited number of Afghans under family reunification, determined by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The remainder of the Sangatte population, together with those with whom the French have already dealt, as well as anyone subsequently arriving in the area, will be handled by the French authorities.
I can also tell the House that I intend to ensure that the UK's economic migration channels are available to those from countries that currently generate significant unfounded asylum claims. Legal economic migration strengthens our economy and underpins our coherent policy of managed migration. I believe that we should all unite against those who are currently arguing for a complete block on all immigration to this country, and I challenge the shadow Home Secretary to join me in this regard.
This agreement with the French Government is a further piece in the jigsaw of radical reform to our asylum, immigration and nationality programme. Taken together with the new Act—which was passed against considerable opposition, especially in the House of Lords—it will give us the capacity to manage properly entry into this country. I do not today pretend that we have reached the end of the road. We have only just passed the new legislation and we have only just reached agreement with the French. We cannot, therefore, be expected yet to have achieved the results that will come to fruition only from the implementation of these policies. This is a substantial step forward, however, which no one predicted just six months ago.
I want to finish with this warning. We can put legislation in place, we can reach agreement with our French counterparts, and we can debate these issues in the House, but they will come to nothing without a substantial change in the administration of the system. I am making it clear today to the immigration and nationality directorate that we expect a step change in the operation, efficiency and competence within the system and in how it is handled. I shall hold to account senior managers in my Department for an entirely different approach and a step change in the results that we now expect to be achieved.
§ Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset)
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for a marginally early copy of his statement.
613 We welcome the closure of Sangatte. The camp was a symbol, as Mr. Sarkozy said today. But why is the symbol considered so important by the Home Secretary? Was not the camp a symptom rather than a cause? Was it not set up because the asylum seekers were in northern France rather than vice versa? How will its closure reduce the number of asylum seekers coming to northern France?
Turning to the price paid by the Home Secretary, on what legal basis is he intending to issue work permits to 1,200 erstwhile Iraqi asylum seekers? If those people were eligible for work permits, why were they not awarded such permits before the camp's closure? Why are the French authorities so keen not to admit those applicants to France?
More generally, the House will want to learn what impact the Home Secretary believes the measures in his statement will have on net inward migration to the United Kingdom. I cannot wholly rid myself of a suspicion that he is highlighting Sangatte, and that he has wished to highlight Sangatte for some time, to distract attention from the number of people entering and remaining in this country and from the administrative shambles that that number reveals.
In a piece of slightly jaded parliamentary rhetoric, the Home Secretary asks me to join him in resisting calls to block all immigration, but that is not the question we face today. He presides over a system that has allowed, and is allowing, record unlawful net immigration. There were a record 29,000 asylum applicants in the last quarter and only 3,500 removals, which resulted in 25,500 new net additions from asylum in that period. With roughly 70 per cent. of asylum applicants finally refused asylum, we face the prospect of 700,000 additional people, who are failed asylum seekers, coming to this country and remaining in it for the next 10 years.
When we face that situation, why is the Home Secretary talking about a total block? He is nowhere near a total block. Despite his heartfelt pleas from the Dispatch Box to his Department to perform better, and despite drawing down £1.8 billion in supplementary spending increases for his Department, he is nowhere near achieving even a respectable approximation to an effective partial block. I fear that no amount of fanfare about a single camp in northern France will distract us from drawing attention to that fact or will distract the country from noticing it.
§ Mr. Blunkett
I am not sure whether that was a welcome for the closure of Sangatte and the measures that we are taking.
The right hon. Gentleman asks whether the closure is a symptom or a cause of the problem. I draw his attention to a wise phrase:If asylum seekers knew they could no longer use France as a gateway to the United Kingdom, fewer of them would make their way there in the first place.If Conservative Members agree with that they agree with their leader because those were the words of lain Duncan Smith in his article at the end of May in the Daily Mail. Sangatte is clearly a magnet. That is why the French and this Government want it closed. It is also 614 why we have linked it to massive improvements in border controls along the French coast and why we are now working with Belgium and the Netherlands. That was never achieved by the previous regime.
What is more, the French Government, who have a nominal connection with the Conservative party, agree entirely with my stance. They believe that what we have agreed will make a significant difference. They think that it is necessary and have widely welcomed our co-operation in making it possible.
The right hon. Gentleman asks why we chose to grant permits to Iraqis. In some regions and parts of the world, it is possible to determine that a significant number of people want to take up the opportunity to work. We also know that it is not possible to send people back to some regions, even when their asylum claims are unfounded, and that if we do not allow entry in an ordered and managed way, they will come into our country clandestinely, claim asylum, be a burden on the support system and clog up the works of the immigration programme.
So what are we doing? We are lifting the burden on taxpayers, organising the system properly and providing for our economic needs by giving people the opportunity to work. I should have thought that hon. Members from all parties would welcome that, and that is why I asked the right hon. Gentleman to join me in condemning those, whose voices are louder and louder, who are against all legal, never mind illegal, immigration into this country. I heard such comment, by one who is very close to the Conservative party, on the "Today" programme this morning. I have read it in the newspapers. I read it almost every other day now in The Times, and I have to say that, in the case of Anthony Browne, it borders on fascism.
It is time that we challenged the Conservative party on where it stands because only in September the shadow Home Secretary, when challenged on the radio about whether he would take steps to get here if there was a blockage, talked about hanging on to trains and said:Sure. Absolutely. I think we need to recognise that people who seek to better themselves by engaging in desperate efforts to get to places where they can work hard are not morally in the same category as a scrounger who seeks to be a parasite.The people whom we are inviting here are not parasites; they seek to work. They seek the right to be here legally, which the right hon. Gentleman has raised in the House on a number of occasions, and I am giving them that right.
Today we are unblocking a major problem for the French and British Governments. Of course, I could have wimped and let Sangatte dribble out while people came across the Channel prior to us being able to make substantive change. The change that has made a difference today is the shifting of the border controls from England to the French coast. We have shifted the immigration and security checks and ensured that people will not get here. Stopping people entering clandestinely has to make more sense than trying to process them and send them back whence they came.
We have not spent £1.8 billion more from the reserve. If the right hon. Gentleman wants a sensible debate, I will give him one, but let us have no silliness about 700,000 unreturned entrants to this country. Otherwise, 615 we will have the kind of rabble that we have seen this afternoon, who cannot welcome agreement, who do not want a sensible, rational way forward and who will back the far right when it suits them to scare people into believing that managed migration is the same as clandestine asylum seeking. The two are separate; we are dealing with them as separate things and putting in place a managed programme to resolve a long-standing problem.
§ Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)
The Home Secretary will know that Liberal Democrats believe that the United Kingdom, like all European countries, should honour its obligations to allow people to put their case for asylum and to accept them when they have a good case. The evidence shows that this country, like many other European countries, needs a net increase of immigrant workers to meet the needs of our economy.
If the Home Secretary is saying that he will make a renewed effort to sort out the problems in his Department, that is welcome, but we will believe it when we see it because we have heard it said for many years.
Does the statement and the deal with the French mean that those who want to put an asylum case will be able to do so? Will the United Kingdom take any of the people currently in northern France who want to put an asylum case, or will they be allowed to stay in France or go elsewhere in Europe? Please will the Home Secretary give positive consideration to the ideas I discussed with the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration a day or so ago, namely, that instead of the nonsense of trying to lock one door, which results in people going somewhere else—locking another port, which results in people trying another route of entry—we try an intelligent Europe-wide system whereby people are processed in the same way wherever they come to the attention of the authorities, and the responsibility for all asylum seekers who enter the European Union is shared fairly across all EU countries?
Lastly, will the right hon. Gentleman consider a way of dealing with the press, which whips up the belief that an increasing number of people will come to this country or stay here legally, by saying that that those asylum seekers who are of working age could be considered as the first group of those who will meet our economic working needs, and then we will consider as a country how many other people we require to meet our work force needs? If he were to give the House a figure for how many people a year we need, that would be very helpful.
§ Mr. Blunkett
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome. I shall take his first and last points first. I do not intend to take people from France as asylum seekers. I intend to take the Iraqis as I described, for work purposes, and I intend to take people for family reunification from among those Afghans who have been identified by the UNHCR.
I do not intend to confuse asylum claims with economic migration routes. I do not intend to say to those who have been asylum seekers, "We will take you as the first batch of economic migrants", because that would only encourage people to believe that if they managed to get here and claim asylum, they would be able to work. That is why we took the measures that were announced last Friday.
616 I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the need for Europe-wide action. I hope that by the end of December we will have agreed Dublin 2. I do not believe that that goes far enough or that it will resolve our problems, but it is a further step towards recognition by the EU as a whole that the problem affects us all, that it reflects worldwide movements of people, and that it reflects differences between the ways in which people have been dealt with across Europe. That is precisely why I passed substantial measures in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. I hope that we can make rapid and much better progress. Nicolas Sarkozy and I debated that again this morning, because we both believe that a Europe-wide agreement is needed.
§ Mr. Gwyn Prosser (Dover)
I congratulate my right hon. Friend and his team on achieving a sensible, practical and fair settlement for the closure of Sangatte, and on delivering a raft of other important security and border control measures. However, when the management and accommodation of the British consignment of migrants is dealt with, will he take account of the fact that places such as my constituency, Dover, which already houses an induction centre, a removal centre and accommodation for almost 200 young asylum-seeker children, are already experiencing great pressure? As the Prime Minister said last year, we have already borne more than our fair share.
§ Mr. Blunkett
My hon. Friend's area has borne more than its fair share, which is why I am sure that he will welcome the transfer to the French coast of immigration and security controls. I am absolutely certain that that will alleviate a substantial part of the problem, when taken together with the massive security now in place around the passenger and freight depots in France. A year ago, people said that that was impossible—they said that we would not be able to do it, that the French would never agree, that we would never get those measures in place, and that people would continue to come from those areas.
We still face a major challenge. Distributing those who are organised and managed into this country under the agreement will be important, and I give an assurance that they will not be managed and organised into the Kent coast.
§ Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)
I thank the Home Secretary for that final assurance. Does he accept that a failure by the House to have a proper and realistic discussion of the matter is the surest way to fuel the very worst forces out on the streets? Does he acknowledge that more than half the people who claimed asylum last year did so in-country and so have nothing to do with the process in France, and that the real solution to the sheer volume of work that is causing the bulk of our problems must be to have a rapid method of ejecting those who enter legally, overstay and, when they are finally picked up, try to claim asylum?
§ Mr. Blunkett
Yes, and that is precisely why, in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act, I introduced measures to deny people the financial support and housing that they would otherwise claim if they had not made a claim at or close to the point or port of entry. Many of the people we are talking about as in-country 617 applicants have been trafficked in, spent time in the country, and then make a claim, which is entirely wrong—we all agree about that. My earlier reply was given entirely in response to the hooting that started when I announced that we were going to take people as legal economic migrants. We must be absolutely clear—if we are all united against clandestines, we are not all united on legal immigration on economic grounds to this country. That issue is now dividing us. It may not divide the shadow Home Secretary and myself, but it clearly divides him from members of his party.
§ Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)
Is this a one-off acceptance of legal migrants, exclusively for people from Iraq and Afghanistan—dangerous but by no means the only dangerous parts of the world? While I welcome the Home Secretary's call for a step change in the immigration and nationality directorate, will it be accompanied by additional resources, both financial and trained staff? Will he make the same call for a step change and improvement in the National Asylum Support Service?
§ Mr. Blunkett
On the last point, I consider those support services to be an integral part of the immigration and nationality directorate, and want to seek substantial changes in them. Yes, this is a one-off—I have made that absolutely clear—designed to close Sangatte. We should remember that there were going to be several Sangattes only 12 months ago. Headline after headline said that we were not going to close Sangatte but instead would open several such centres along the French coast—wrong. Sangatte will be closed by the end of December, and we should rejoice in that.
Let me make one thing clear. Yes, the immigration and nationality directorate will get the money that it needs, and has had several thousand additional posts over the past three years. Using the money wisely, however, managing properly and taking decisive management action on failure and lack of productivity is something that everyone in the House now wants.
§ Derek Conway (Old Bexley and Sidcup)
The Home Secretary's hopes that he expressed this afternoon will be shared, I trust he accepts, on both sides of the House. Nobody wants him to be anything other than successful. That is particularly true in my constituency of Old Bexley and Sidcup, where we have many asylum-seeker families who are perfectly decent people just trying to achieve a better role in life. However, many of my constituents will think that the Government are selling out. If the Home Secretary challenges the figures produced by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) on unreturned entrants, will he now give the House his own figures?
§ Mr. Blunkett
As the hon. Gentleman probably knows, I am conducting a major attack on illegal working, and I am running a consultation on entitlement cards. Given the obvious support for major action on that, I assume that the Conservative party, including the Front Bench, will now come out unequivocally in favour of entitlement cards and assist with that discussion. Let me make it clear that we do not 618 accept the 700,000 figure, because it has been plucked out of thin air. However, we accept the need for a proper analysis of clandestine entry and the level of illegal working. We are working with the TUC to tackle that and introduce proper measures to secure the system for the future. I will do my best to ensure that we get that right.
§ Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that at a time when a report on human rights abuses in Iraq has just been published, it is rather strange that members of the Opposition appear to be unhappy that this country is giving young men who have fled the tyranny of Saddam Hussein an opportunity to work and to make a contribution to our society? Is it not extremely worrying, when millions of people throughout the world are suffering and are refugees and asylum seekers in many countries, that some people are so narrow minded that they believe that we should do nothing to help individuals fleeing such tyranny?
§ Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet)
Those of us who campaigned for a long time for the closure of Sangatte will welcome the Home Secretary's achievement because we believe that it may facilitate the traffic of freight and passengers through the channel tunnel. However, the right hon. Gentleman's other comments are breathtaking in their arrogance. Why should 1,200 people be suddenly transformed, at the wave of a Home Office wand, from asylum seekers into work seekers, and granted work permits ahead of scores of others? Given the Home Secretary's answer to the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Prosser), why is the Department trying to establish a reception centre for even more asylum seekers in Folkestone? Has the right hon. Gentleman got the Chancellor's agreement to pay the county of Kent all the money that the arrangement will cost the taxpayers and council tax payers of the United Kingdom, especially those of Kent?
§ Mr. Blunkett
My budget will fund whatever temporary costs arise from the need to receive people and move them to job match through the agreement that was reached this morning. The costs will be much less than what we would have paid—on average £18,000, including legal aid—for putting those who would have come here to claim asylum through the process. We all accept that the 67,000 people who went through Sangatte in the past three years undoubtedly made their way to the United Kingdom. That was their purpose in struggling across Europe—to paraphrase the words of the shadow Home Secretary on a Radio 4 programme in September. We have therefore saved rather than spent resources.
§ Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)
The effective moving of the border for checks against human smuggling is welcome. So is the closure of Sangatte, which, as everybody knows, has for many years been a magnet for people who enter the country illegally. What are the implications for Iraqis and people from Afghanistan who are currently here?
§ Mr. Blunkett
I am pleased that my right hon. Friend welcomes the change. Changing the border controls to 619 France is significant. The system of assessing individual asylum claims will continue in the usual way. Those who have not been assigned asylum claims will be considered in future for special humanitarian protection. However, as I made clear in the statement, we are keen to establish legitimate immigration routes for economic purposes so that people who want to create a better life do not present themselves as asylum seekers facing death and torture. If we can do that—we are doing it for 175,000 people this year—and meet the needs of our economy, we will square the circle.
§ Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham)
I am glad that the Home Secretary has moderated his tone from that which he deployed earlier, which many Members found offensive.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that many hon. Members perceive a good case for selective and controlled economic migration, and are passionately keen for Britain to maintain its noble tradition of giving asylum to those who are genuinely fleeing persecution in other countries? For those reasons, we are anxious for real control to be exercised over those who are not genuine refugees. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that regardless of whether Sangatte is open or closed, a system that deems that people who have passed through a safe country in the European Union are prima facie not refugees because they have forgone their opportunity to seek refuge in France or Belgium, should return them immediately to their country of origin?
§ Mr. Blunkett
I agree with the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's comments. It is a pity that he did not notice the shadow Chancellor screaming at me when I spoke about extending economic migration. There is a contradiction within the Conservative party, and I know that he will want to deal with it decisively in the Reform Group. I do riot, however, entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman's last point. It is very difficult to say that we will return someone to a country that is under siege—a country such as Iraq, for example—and it is therefore very difficult to say that the first country of entry should be the one that carries the whole load. That is why, building on Dublin 2, a sensible Europe-wide agreement will have to be reached on what is generally called burden sharing. In that way, we can make sense of what is currently a nonsensical situation.
§ Mr. Chris Pond (Gravesham)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that although my constituents are certainly not opposed to people coming here to build a better life for themselves, and to fill many of our skills shortages, they are opposed to illegal immigration and abuse of the asylum system? They will, therefore, support the fact that he has been working with Mr. Sarkozy and his other European counterparts on dealing with the problems of asylum and illegal immigration that affect all parts of Europe, rather than simply exploiting the issues as some Conservative Members have done this afternoon.
§ Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)
Does it cause the Home Secretary any concern that so many economic migrants come to this country from areas and countries in which, organised crime is a way of life?
§ Mr. Blunkett
It certainly concerns me if those who come here perpetrate, organise or are involved in acts of crime. I have made it clear both to the police and to the immigration service that if people who are here without citizenship—people here on work permits, or for whatever other reason—commit crimes or are involved in mafia-type activities, we should seek to remove them from the country as fast as possible.
§ Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green)
I totally agree with my right hon. Friend that a controlled immigration policy that seeks to match skills with labour shortages is the sensible way forward, but I want to ask him a question that I suspect some of my constituents will be asking me before the end of this week. It is about the 1,000 or so Iraqis. These are people who almost certainly travelled across Europe in the company of criminals and gangsters, and originally claimed to be asylum seekers but now claim to be economic migrants. Given that this country could be at war with Iraq in the relatively near future, how successful has the screening of these people been? How do we know who we are admitting to the country?
§ Mr. Blunkett
The great advantage of doing this in an ordered and managed fashion is that we can actually screen those people. We are undertaking security screening of those coming into the country, which would not be possible with those who reach our shores clandestinely. I take my hon. Friend's point that people will be concerned and will want to know that we have done that effectively. I want to make it clear that we are not taking any Iraqis who have claimed asylum. None of the people I am taking has claimed asylum in France. If they had I would have insisted, under article 12 of the original Dublin convention, that their claims be processed in France. That would be the case for anyone who had attempted to claim asylum there.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)
The right hon. Gentleman is demanding a step-change in the operation, efficiency and competence of senior officials in his Department. Is that not an astounding admission of failure in the Department of which he is the political head? Is it not an extraordinary transfer of responsibility? Are not he and his Ministers responsible for policy and its implementation? If he cannot achieve that, should it not be he, rather than senior managers in his Department, who is held to account?
§ Mr. Blunkett
Something would be sadly wrong if a Home Secretary came to the Dispatch Box and pretended that black was white, and that everything was fine in the Department, when he knew that it was not. I would have thought that it was a refreshing change for a Minister to come here and say that everything is not right, and that we are doing something about it. We have just appointed a new director-general for the immigration and nationality directorate. We have also changed the whole operational system and, at last, managed to get a grip on the failed computer system that 621 was put in by the Conservative Government in 1996. Let me make it clear, however, that we are accountable for policy and its implementation, and we expect managers to be accountable for the administration and efficiency of the system. Ministers do not direct; they do not appoint or sack. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will know from his extraordinary time in the then Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—which he will remember vividly, because he refused to resign over the most disgraceful carry-on and incompetence imaginable—that Secretaries of State sometimes have to say publicly that they will no longer put up with incompetence and lack of productivity that everyone else knows exist.
§ Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)
My right hon. Friend knows that I have criticised his policies on occasion, but I am pleased to offer my support for his robust defence of his policy today. Anyone who has read the Foreign Office report on human rights abuses in Iraq can only be moved by the terrible abuses that have occurred to some Iraqis, and anybody who has been to Afghanistan recently, as I have, will not be surprised to know that some Afghans wish to leave that country as well. I therefore fully support my right hon. Friend; I also support the points that he made at the beginning of his statement. It ill behoves the sons and grandsons of immigrants on the Opposition Benches to scream hysterically every time the word "immigration" is mentioned in the House.
§ Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)
The Home Secretary has admonished my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), but at least my right hon. and learned Friend was subject to a public inquiry, which no one on the Labour side dared to undergo when they got the country into the most appalling mess—and he was vindicated by it.
In the Home Secretary's talks with the French Government on securing the northern coast of France and the channel coast in this country, has he discussed foot passengers who might enter this country via the Channel Islands? When Sangatte is closed, what changes can we expect for passengers travelling from France to the Channel Islands and then from the Channel Islands to the UK? He will know that there is no passport requirement when people enter this country via that route.
§ Mr. Blunkett
I have not discussed that, although I certainly will, and I am grateful to the hon. Lady for drawing it to my attention. As for her defence of her right hon. and learned Friend, the only point I was making is that those who live in glasshouses should not throw stones.
§ Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)
Before the Home Secretary leaves the Chamber, will he beef up his comments on Belgium? Zeebrugge is just 30 minutes down the road from Calais and every night illegal immigrants come to this country from Zeebrugge and 622 other ports in Belgium and the Netherlands, unchecked by the IND, which is not present at the smaller ports around the UK. That is a big problem. I know that people seep in all the time along the river frontage in my constituency, so I hope that my right hon. Friend will invite Lord Carlile's committee of inquiry on our borders to revisit the idea of setting up a ports police to supplement and buttress the IND, Customs and Excise and the county police forces. Such a force is desperately needed and would be a great help, not instead of the measures that my right hon. Friend has announced today, but as an addition to them.
§ Mr. Blunkett
When we debated the order on proscribed organisations I promised my hon. Friend that I would examine that point. I am doing so, as it is important and, as he rightly says, Lord Carlile has referred to it in the review. Nicolas Sarkozy and I met the Belgian Minister, Mr. Duquesne, at the end of September for a trilateral discussion. We agreed at the meeting, and I have since signed with the Belgians, an undertaking to set in place joint controls, including controls at Zeebrugge and at the Eurostar entry point in Brussels. I hope that we can get those in place as quickly as possible.
§ Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge)
The Home Secretary's announcement regarding Sangatte is welcome, but will the UK become less attractive for illegal immigrants? After all, those desperate people have crossed safe European countries, presumably because they regarded the UK as a better destination than France, Germany or Italy.
§ Mr. Blunkett
Yes they did, which is why some common reception policy and a common distribution pattern across Europe are sensible. That is also why we, through our balanced policy that separates clandestine asylum seekers from legitimate legal entrants, have sought to distinguish and develop one while clamping down on the other. I hope that that policy, through the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, has sent the right message.
§ Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South)
How long will the work permits last—two years, three years, 10 years? What criteria will my right hon. Friend use?
§ Mr. Blunkett
Much depends on the job that someone takes in a job match. We can offer a longer time to those who take what is clearly permanent work. We will want to renew work visas as we renew a range of other visas. Many people from around the world who have been here for a very long time before gaining nationality have simply asked for a renewal. I am happy to allow that, as part of a process of integration, welcoming and ensuring social cohesion. The more people feel that they are part of our community and can take on language and citizenship skills, the better.
§ Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)
In view of the expense of our contribution to the liberation and reconstruction of Afghanistan, surely the best place for reunited families is there. Otherwise, do we not risk sending a further powerful signal to that country that we are a soft touch?
§ Mr. Blunkett
I think that aiding people to return and reconstruct their country is good common sense. 623 The French are now doing it, and so are we. I have asked the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to find out how many of the 200 or so who are there would fall into the category of family unification. That is not clear at this stage, but I do not think there would be many. We should take such people, on what are perfectly open, legitimate and well tried grounds.
§ Claire Ward (Watford)
What specific skills or qualifications will my right hon. Friend look for before issuing work permits? In the light of his responses to Members representing Kent constituencies, what assurances will he give local authorities in the broader south-east, including Hertfordshire, that potential extra pressure or costs resulting from his decision will be met by his Department?
§ Mr. Blunkett
Under the reception provision that we are establishing, we will pay. When people have been job matched and move around the country—we expect that movement to encompass the whole of the United Kingdom—they will sustain themselves. The great advantage of offering people a chance to fill vacancies of all sorts is that we will not need to sustain them any longer, and neither will local authorities.
As I said earlier, we have withdrawn the right to switch suddenly from one form of entry—one type of visa—to an asylum claim. I think that will reassure not only communities but local authorities that they will not face such costs.
§ Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)
Irrespective of the merits or demerits of the proposed admission of the Iraqis—on which it is indeed wiser at this stage to remain open-minded than to fulminate in a bucolic fashion—will the Home Secretary now answer a question posed by my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary and tell us what the legal basis of his decision is?
§ Mr. Blunkett
We are assured by officials—and believe me, I would not have allowed an agreement to be reached between two Governments had I not been assured of this—that we have a legal power to grant work visas to those people, and the right to do so. Work permits have been granted separately in the immediate past in relation to specific jobs. There is nothing to stop us bringing people in and finding them jobs. So that there is no misunderstanding, let me point out that we have a good precedent. After all, the mass advertising in the Commonwealth in the 1950s that led to the Windrush coming to this country took place under a Conservative, not a Labour Government.
§ Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East)
I am dealing with an ever-rising number of young Iraqi men who are Kurds. They have been through the IND system, and their official status is "awaiting deportation". They are destitute, without money or housing. I deal with at least 20 such men, and I know of at least 50 in Greater Manchester. They want to work, and it is important that my right hon. Friend make it clear to them today whether he will welcome their applying for work permits.
§ Mr. Blunkett
No, I will not. I have made it clear that I want to establish centres in such people's regions of 624 origin, to which, if they are economic migrants, they can apply sensibly. We will open discussions with countries in those regions, including the border of northern Iraq, to ensure that we can do that. If we simply transformed failed asylum seekers into economic migrants, we would immediately damage the signal that we are sending. People would believe that once they reached our shores clandestinely and had their application refused, it would be okay because eventually they would still be able to work.
§ Mr. David Cameron (Witney)
I know that the Home Secretary believes that false asylum applications are attempts to jump the immigration queue, because I heard him say so. With that in mind, does not the proposal that he has agreed to today represent officially sanctioned, state-sponsored queue jumping on a giant scale? What message does that send to all those who have legally applied for residence here, and are waiting patiently?
§ Mr. Blunkett
I should make it clear that the people I am taking have not arrived in this country as clandestines, and that they have not made an asylum claim in France. It is on that basis that I am able to make this offer, and there is a logic to it; otherwise I would not have made it. If I were to offer clandestines the immediate opportunity to work, I would be criticised; if I were to offer failed asylum seekers the right to work, I would be opening the floodgates. I am taking a logical decision to deal with a problem rationally. I should say once and for all to those who commentate but never decide, and who can criticise but who take no responsibility, that if they have a better, clearer and more sensible way of dealing with this problem in reality—rather than fulminating at the French, wishing that the problem would go away, or pretending that such people would not come as clandestines and then claim asylum—they should come forward with it.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
The Home Secretary has made a welcome, constructive and civilised statement, but may I press him as to who is going to screen the Iraqis, and exactly for what purpose?
§ Mr. Blunkett
Our immigration services will undertake screening of status, together with officials from the Department of Work and Pensions, once those individuals have been received. In conjunction with security and law enforcement officials, we will check such individuals' status, so far as is possible. That is what people would expect us to do.
Mr. John Flume (Foyle)
We are living through the greatest revolution in the history of the world in telecommunications, transport and technology. As a result, our world is much smaller, and for that reason immigration from deprived countries is far greater. Does the Home Secretary think that, in addition to the positive work that he is doing to deal with the problem, there should be substantial international co-operation in planning how to assist people in deprived countries?
§ Mr. Blunkett
Yes I do, and so does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development. In the past six months the UNHCR has 625 assured us that it will transform its operation from what I described as in effect a non-governmental organisation, into a transnational governmental organisation that provides support in working out ways to deal with existing humanitarian and economic pressures in what—as the hon. Gentleman rightly points out—is a world of mass communication. In such a world, people know about how others live and where they live, and about lifestyles, in a way unheard of even a few years before. That has increased the responsibility, through the UN and other transnational organisations, to tackle the problem in a unified fashion.