HC Deb 08 July 2002 vol 388 cc591-3
2. Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon)

What steps he is taking to deal with clandestine immigration. [64746]

The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Beverley Hughes)

We are working closely with the French Government to deal with the problem of illegal immigration from France, and the trafficking networks which bring so many of these illegal immigrants across Europe. We are making efficient use of intelligence to target resources against organised immigration crimes, and we are investing in new technologies to detect and deter those attempting to enter the United Kingdom clandestinely in road freight vehicles.

Mr. Swire

Does the Minister accept that the measures now proposed, which have still yet to be implemented, are too little, too late? Will she acknowledge the unacceptable strain that that inactivity has placed on the rail freight operators and the hauliers? Is this not just another example of a failure of Government policy?

Beverley Hughes

That is a bit rich coming from a member of the Conservative party, which does not seem to want us to co-operate with France or other EU countries on those measures. I do not accept for a moment that it is too little, too late. We are working co-operatively with the French in a staged and programmed way to implement increased security at Frethun and to introduce a range of measures, including improved security and identification of illegal immigrants, a joint reporting system and shared intelligence. Some of the measures that the French have worked with us to institute, including juxtaposed controls, demonstrate their commitment to work with us to tackle a joint and shared problem.

Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West)

Does the Minister recognise that many of her hon. Friends are fully aware that one of the major pull factors that makes this country—and especially the south of England—a target for illegal immigration is the lack of an effective ID card system? That is something about which the Conservatives appear to be ambivalent. I contend that many of my hon. Friends would welcome a compulsory system and cannot wait to see it implemented.

Beverley Hughes

The Labour Government have agreed that we need to address all the pull factors. An entitlement card, if the public wish to go down that route, could play an important role in tackling the potential for illegal working. However, my hon. Friend is right about the ambivalence of Opposition parties towards such measures. We are trying to make illegal working more difficult under measures in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill, which the Conservative party opposed. Through the institution of non-suspensive appeals for clearly unfounded cases, we are making it possible to remove people very quickly—again, the Opposition parties opposite will not support us.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Lady should not worry about the parties opposite.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

It appears that the Minister has a very short memory. Until 1997, thanks to the negotiations of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), there was a very effective system for returning illegal immigrants to France. The present Government changed the system, and it has taken the election of a right-of-centre Government in France to make any progress.

Does the Minister accept that what concerns the man in the street is not only that the problems have got worse since 1997 but that the arrangements that the Government are making will introduce new procedures on French soil, paid for by the British taxpayer? As my hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) said in the original question, is it not clear that what the Government have done is too little, too late, and that we do not even know whether it will work?

Beverley Hughes

At the very least, if the hon. Gentleman is going to ask a question, he should get his facts straight. The 1995 agreement—the content of which was determined by the previous Conservative Government—gave precedence to the Dublin convention in relation to asylum cases. In fact, the 1995 agreement in relation to non-asylum cases is still operational and under it we are removing more than 7,000 people a year to France. That compares with a few hundred who were removed from 1995 to 1997. This Government are bringing in effective measures to remove people, unlike the previous Tory Government, who were totally ineffective.

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