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Mr. Straw: If the right hon. Lady wants to refer to soft touches, will she explain why she authorised members of the other place to vote in favour of amendment No. 118 to the Immigration and Asylum Bill, which would have the explicit effect of restoring social security cash benefits to those from whom she withdrew them in 1996, the cost of which in a full year would be £500 million?

Miss Widdecombe: Amendment No. 118 was moved by the Bishop of Southwark--on this occasion I pay tribute to him, although I do not always do so--and was supported by us, by the Liberal Democrats and by some of the Home Secretary's colleagues in the upper House. We were trying to assist the right hon. Gentleman, because he said that he would not implement the voucher system until he had the asylum system under control, and that he would turn round applications within six months. We decided to hold him to that promise. We are still in favour of the voucher system, but only when he has established the underlying systems that will make it work. It is as simple as that.

Mr. Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central): Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Miss Widdecombe: I did not get any enlightenment from the hon. Gentleman the last time I gave way to him, so he can sit down now.

Does the Home Secretary admit that the backlog on asylum applications is now 90,000, which is almost double the figure we left him? That is due to his policies.

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Does he acknowledge that even without counting the people who come from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, asylum applications are now running at 70,000 a year at least, whereas we left him with a figure of less than 40,000 a year? Does he admit that that is due to his policies? He alone decided not to implement the safe list and procedures against illegal working. He alone decided to grant an amnesty to 20,000 asylum seekers. He alone decided that--not his officials, not the Opposition, not the international community--so let him have the guts to acknowledge it. [Interruption.]

Several hon. Members rose--

Madam Speaker: Is the right hon. Lady giving way?

Miss Widdecombe: No, I am not.

Madam Speaker: The right hon. Lady has made it clear that she is not giving way, so hon. Members should not try to intervene.

Miss Widdecombe: I shall now come to the second last issue on our list of fiascos: the immigration situation. Over the summer, a great deal of attention was paid to the right hon. Gentleman's mismanagement of the passport system.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek your advice. One of my constituents waited eight and a half years for a decision on his asylum status--

Madam Speaker: Order. I ask the hon. Gentleman to resume his seat. He is trying to make a political argument through the Chair. It is not a point of order.

Miss Widdecombe: If the hon. Gentleman has a constituent in difficulty, he should approach his own Government. I do not know why he feels that he has to approach you, Madam Speaker.

As I was saying, over the summer there was considerable concern about the mismanagement of the UK Passport Agency. Huge queues formed, and people trying to get passports were in considerable distress. Will the Home Secretary take this opportunity to assure the House that he will not pass on the costs of that fiasco to British passport holders in increased fees for passports?

Of course, much of the muddle resulted from the fact that the right hon. Gentleman combined a change in the computer system with a change in the rules governing child passports. One would have thought that he would learn from that, and say, "If new computer systems are being installed, I really should not add anything else." But what did he do? In Croydon, where the Immigration and Nationality Directorate tries manfully to tackle long queues, he added to a new computer system a relocation.

Mr. Geraint Davies: Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Miss Widdecombe: It was no good last time, so I do not want to listen to the hon. Gentleman this time either.

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Is the Home Secretary aware of the effect of what he did? Applications for visas and applications in respect of immigration have remained unopened since July. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of that? Is he aware that in one month--

Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster, Central): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I cannot find any reference to this matter in the motion.

Madam Speaker: The motion refers to Home Office affairs in general.

Miss Widdecombe: The Home Secretary added to a new computer system in Croydon a complete relocation. As I have said, although the right hon. Gentleman has tried to cover it up, that resulted in--[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman will have to hear this, whether he wants to or not. That resulted in mail remaining unopened since July. In one month, only 1,800 out of 52,000 calls were answered by the office in Croydon. Many foreign investors are complaining because they are unable to obtain visas, and many other people have been put through immense distress.

I have been down to Croydon. I saw what looked like human cattle pens: people crammed in, pressed together, desperately trying to obtain answers to their immigration applications. I talked to some of the people coming out, who told me that this was their third, fourth or fifth visit. That, too, was the Home Secretary's decision. He authorised the relocation, at a time when he knew that a new computer system was being installed.

Mr. Geraint Davies: Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Miss Widdecombe: Yes, if the intervention is about Croydon.

Mr. Davies: As the right hon. Lady has pointed out, the number of asylum seekers has risen from 30,000 to nearly 80,000. Does she accept that, when the brief for the new computer system in Croydon was given to Siemens, it assumed a maximum of about 50,000? That could not satisfactorily embrace the needs of people--[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must be heard.

Mr. Davies: The system did not take account of the crisis in Yugoslavia. [Interruption.] It is all very well for the right hon. Lady to laugh at the plight of asylum seekers, but it was her Government's fault.

Miss Widdecombe: The hon. Gentleman has just made out a case against the Government and their handling of the problem. Having increased the number of applications, they imposed a relocation on top of that. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman had thought through what he said--although I had given him a good deal of time to consider it, because I did not immediately allow him to intervene.

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Finally, let me deal with the issue of the Mitrokhin archive. [Interruption.] I am sorry that Ministers are weary of the Mitrokhin archive. I am sorry that they find the issue of cold war spies so trivial and laughable. Those who suffered from their treachery will not.

Will the Home Secretary answer two questions that I put to him last week and which he did not answer? As he knew about Melita Norwood in December 1998, and knew that information was coming out and that details would be published, why did he do nothing to inform either Parliament or the Prime Minister? The Home Secretary knows that, when I asked him for a comprehensive list, I meant a list not of every spy going back to the 15th century, but of those likely to be exposed as a result of the Mitrokhin archive. We were getting a-spy-a-day revelations in the press. It would have been more appropriate for the Home Secretary to give the revelations to Parliament. That was the question that I asked. I should like to know what on earth the Home Secretary was doing between December 1998 and September this year in respect of the Mitrokhin archive. Perhaps a few officials kept him in the dark. I do not know; perhaps he will blame them again.

Can the Home Secretary answer the question that I ended with last week and which I expected him to answer with vehement indignation? Instead, he did not answer it either publicly at the time, or privately since. Will he assure the House that, given the links between the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Stasi and between Labour Ministers and CND, there is no link whatever between any currently serving Minister and anyone who is named in the Mitrokhin archive? It seems such a simple question, yet, apparently, it cannot be answered.

Before they came to power, the Government promised that they were going to be tough on crime and on the causes of crime. They have reduced police numbers by more than 1,000; encouraged bogus asylum seekers through a long series of measures to soften up the system; failed to handle the issue of asylum seekers who were crowding into Kent, despite continual pleas from Kent, until the issue had flared up in Dover--only then did the Home Secretary act; have added changes in the law to one agency and changes in location to another when they were already hard pressed and could not cope with what they had; and have not keep the House informed of something that would drip through our press over the summer and that concerned issues as serious as treachery.

I could list a host of other things, as you said, Madam Speaker, that the debate was about Home Office affairs in general. I will resist the temptation, but on future occasions we will return to those matters. On the four issues that we have identified, the Home Secretary should take responsibility and apologise properly.


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