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Illegal Immigration (Smuggling)

4. Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield): What steps he is taking to tackle the international crime syndicates currently involved in smuggling illegal immigrants into the United Kingdom. [48396]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mike O'Brien): People trafficking is getting more sophisticated, but so is the Government's response. We have set up the organised immigration crime section at the National Criminal Intelligence Service to tackle the problem. The unit targets the criminal networks involved and is helping in the development of a more proactive, intelligence-led approach to combating the problem. We are also creating better international co-operation with European and transatlantic partners. Several countries face this problem, and we need to work together on it.

Mr. Sheerman: I understand that a report from the immigration service highlights the true number of illegal immigrants entering the country and suggests that immigration has accelerated in recent years. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is galling for constituents, who may wait for years for a loved member of their family to join them, to see illegal immigrants arriving and little action being taken? Does he agree that high levels of illegal immigration spawn crime and add to the cycle of exploitation?

Mr. O'Brien: I agree with every word my hon. Friend said. Many people, particularly in ethnic minority communities, are outraged at abuse of the asylum system and illegal immigration. We are determined to tackle the people-traffickers who make vast amounts of money from illegal immigration. We will disrupt what they are doing and will prosecute wherever possible. Today, I have published a consultation paper on the appeals system, which we are trying to sort out. Shortly, we shall publish a White Paper showing how we can create a fairer, firmer and faster system of immigration control.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): No one should underestimate the Minister's difficulty in trying to make the system more effective. Is he aware that many of those who work in the immigration service are appalled at being unable to cope with the rising tide of illegal immigration and at finding themselves having to let go people whom they know to be illegal immigrants who are never again found? Does he agree that this problem should be a first charge on the Government's time? Will he do all he can to bring order to the current chaos?

Mr. O'Brien: I agree that the system that we inherited from the previous Government was a shambles. They did not put in place the resources or facilities necessary to

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ensure proper immigration control. We want to put them in place. That is why we have had a complete review of how the immigration and asylum system operates. We will publish the outcome soon and deliver what the Government of which the hon. Gentleman was a member never delivered--firm and fair immigration controls.

Restorative Justice

5. Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): What progress has been made on extending restorative justice to new police areas. [48397]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Alun Michael): In recent weeks I have seen work demonstrating the value of restorative justice in Northampton, Gwent and the Thames valley, which has made young offenders face up to the injury they cause others. The reparation order and other measures in the Crime and Disorder Bill, with proposals for reform of the youth court, incorporate restorative justice principles, and will lead to a major extension of restorative justice.

Fiona Mactaggart: My hon. Friend will no doubt be aware of research from the system operating in the Thames valley that suggests that the reoffending rate among young people with whom it deals is about 3 per cent., compared with 30 per cent. nationally. However, my hon. Friend may not be aware of the anxiety expressed by several officers participating in the scheme that, if untrained officers use this robust method of forcing young people to confront their wrongdoing, it might be damaging and lead to quite frightening results in some areas. In the face of a large expansion of the scheme, what resources will be devoted to ensuring that every police area operates the scheme as excellently as it is being operated in the Thames valley?

Mr. Michael: I agree with my hon. Friend that training and preparation are necessary. The benefits are obvious both to the victim, who often feels that he or she has been able to confront offenders with their damaging behaviour, and to young offenders, who often do not realise that they are damaging other people through their burglary, theft or car crime. We are offering guidance and support to ensure proper training and preparation locally and partnership and co-operation among a variety of organisations, not just the police.

Refugees

6. Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): If he will list the proposed changes to the Dublin convention on the treatment of refugees which he has made to the European Union. [48398]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mike O'Brien): On 29 May, member states agreed a series of measures--including a comprehensive programme of action put forward by the British presidency--designed to improve the practical operation of the Dublin convention. Our measures address

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both the difficulties of establishing responsibility for asylum seekers who are undocumented and the need for better co-operation and liaison between member countries.

Mr. Wilkinson: While it is laudable that the Government have followed the excellent example of the previous Conservative Administration and extended the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987 to international train operators who run services through the channel tunnel, why have Her Majesty's Government not been able to prevail on the French--France is a signatory to the Schengen convention--to make the channel tunnel carriers' liability order apply to SNCF train services? The Belgians comply, so why not the French?

Mr. O'Brien: Some legal defects in the treaty make it difficult to extend. However, we have had discussions with the French--and received much co-operation from the French Government as a result of the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary--to ensure that we reduce the number of refugees who enter the country from Paris. It is correct to say that there are practical difficulties, but we are receiving the co-operation of the French in seeking to resolve them.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): The Minister chose to refer to the Government's review of asylum and immigration appeals in his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames). Can he tell us a little about the background to that review? Do the Government acknowledge the problem caused bythe increased number of such cases? Does not the Government's proposed single right of appeal amount to an extension of the principle behind the so-called white list cases, which Labour opposed in opposition? Will the Minister say specifically whether, in initiating the review, the Government are paving the way for some form of general amnesty for asylum seekers?

Mr. O'Brien: The white list has little or nothing to do with the Dublin convention or the other issues that we have discussed. We have made it perfectly clear that we do not intend to have a blanket amnesty; we have given that reassurance on many occasions. However, I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the previous Government's actions in 1993, when more than 50 per cent. of exceptional leave to remain cases were granted the right to stay in a one-off process. It ill becomes the hon. Gentleman to start talking about amnesties now.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow): Does my hon. Friend accept that there are 10,000 outstanding cases that predate the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993? We inherited that problem, the Dublin convention and the difficulties of dealing with undocumented asylum seekers. Will my hon. Friend assure the House that he will see what he can do to deal with that backlog, so that those who have waited for years may finally receive a fair decision on their cases?

Mr. O'Brien: My hon. Friend is right; the Dublin convention and the pre-1993 backlog are another fine mess that the Conservatives left the country in. We will clean it up as fast as we can, but the Tories left us quite a mess.

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Minimum Sentences (Burglary)

8. Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): When resources will be available to implement mandatory minimum sentences for burglars convicted of a third offence as set out in section 4 of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997. [48402]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Alun Michael): On the time scale set down by the Conservatives in government, when they passed this legislation with our support.

Mr. Bercow: I thank the Minister for that answer. Will he confirm that the average sentence for someone convicted of a seventh burglary is less than 20 months? Does he find that acceptable? If not, will he say why he and the Government continue to oppose mandatory minimum sentences, given that the courts refuse to use the powers at their disposal to impose long enough sentences on repeat burglars?

Mr. Michael: As usual, the hon. Gentleman constructs something to criticise while disregarding accuracy. The Government have not opposed mandatory minimum sentences; we have introduced two. He should ask why no date for implementation was set by the Conservative Government.

Mr. Ross Cranston (Dudley, North): Is not this point a bit rich coming from the Conservative party when burglary increased by more than 120 per cent. in the 18 years after 1979? It is a cardinal principle of our system that people should be subjected only to penalties that are commensurate with the circumstances of the crime, taking into account the victim's circumstances and the impact on the victim's family, for example. Should not we move away from that principle only where there are compelling circumstances, such as protection of the public?

Mr. Michael: Yes, my hon. Friend is right. It is also a bit rich for Conservative Members to squander money that they did not provide for in their period in office, with all the irresponsibility that they seem to have adopted since the general election.


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