HL Deb 20 June 2002 vol 636 cc887-9

3.24 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether their proposals for action on migration into the European Union for the Seville European Council include proposals to publish accurate figures on current migrant flows, countries of origin, transit and destination.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Filkin)

My Lords, the Government are proposing a range of measures to speed up progress on migration and asylum measures at EU level. Clearly we need to make sure that our action is based on appropriate evidence. EU member states already share information on migratory flows on a regular basis. If our discussions with our EU partners highlight the need for additional information gathering, then we shall consider how we can work together to take that forward.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that it is not so much information gathering, but the publication of such information that is necessary if we are to hold a slightly less passionate debate about immigration? At present, phrases such as "being swamped" and "floods of immigrants" are used frequently without the benefit of detailed evidence. I was happy to note that, two days ago, the Foreign Secretary gave some figures, although those figures concerned which countries people are coming from and in what numbers. Figures to show whether flows are rising or falling are not so easily available. Could not the Government suggest that it would help to promote a more dispassionate debate if such figures were to be published?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, to an extent, yes. Noble Lords will know well that the problem with many migration statistics, in particular information with regard to illegal immigration, is that the people concerned are not particularly keen to be enumerated. Furthermore, it is often the case that problems are encountered with data comparisons between different countries.

Nevertheless I agree with the thrust of the question put by the noble Lord. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary could not have made clearer his position on race and immigration; namely, that we must stand absolutely clear on our commitment to oppose racism and those who seek to equate pressures from migration with racism. We must also recognise the very positive contribution made by migration into the European Union and to the United Kingdom. The issue concerns bringing those migratory pressures under appropriate control.

Lord Renton

My Lords, will population densities and unemployment figures also be provided for the European Union?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, I have no idea. I shall certainly raise those queries with the respective departments and write to the noble Lord.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is very disturbing that recent research illustrates that many people in Britain, in particular the young, believe that there are 10 times as many immigrants in this country as is in fact the case? Should not a great deal of government time and resources be put into correcting this misapprehension so that, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, pointed out, we can have an intelligent rather than an emotional debate about this crucial issue?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, I agree that poll evidence suggests that many members of the public have considerably misplaced perceptions of the scale of asylum-seeking. It is a point that needs to he rebutted by all responsible politicians. Both my right honourable friends the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary could not have made it clearer that it is important to look truthfully at this issue. On the other hand, however, the reverse does not apply: it does not imply that nothing needs to be addressed.

Earlier this year we held a very good discussion on these issues. At the time the Government stated that it is crucial that the public should be convinced both by the Government and by responsible political parties that there are issues to be addressed, but that they are not out of control. Furthermore, we must sustain confidence in the fact that this country will welcome refugees, but that it does not have an open-door policy for economic migrants. That is impossible and the notion that it is happening in any way should not be allowed to catch fire.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, I join with the Minister in welcoming a rational debate on this very important issue. Returning to the Question with regard to Seville, does he agree that there would be a greater chance of achieving progress if European-wide agreement were reached to the effect that, when people move from one safe country to another safe country, they should return to the safe country from which they started their travels to have their applications processed?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, I am pleased to welcome to the Dispatch Box a fellow newcomer on this issue. The noble Baroness has expressed exactly what we believe and what we think a number of other countries feel would be right; namely, that there should be a responsibility in this area, as had been the original intention of Dublin 1. The first safe country should process the applications of asylum seekers. Under Dublin 2, one of the Prime Minister's goals for Seville, among a number of others, will be to try to ensure that we achieve a commitment to get a rapid agreement on Dublin 2, preferably by the end of this year.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, is the Minister satisfied that as the European Union enlarges there will be safe boundaries and that country states will be capable of carrying out their duties for the first registering of refugees?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, the Citizens' Freedoms and Rights, Justice and Home Affairs Committee of the European Union recognises that this is a significant challenge which requires vigorous preparation in terms of enlargement, which the Government strongly support. Enlargement will bring in a number of extra countries and considerably expand the land border. Some of those countries do not as yet have effective border controls for historical reasons. The challenge is to raise their performance on border control to the level of the best within Europe rather than allowing them to have the poorest border.