Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford): Is my right hon. Friend aware that in 1996-97, as a direct consequence of the Conservative legislation, Kent county council incurred costs of £2 million? When it made representations to Kent Members of Parliament, it was told to clear off. They did not lift a finger to help, which is in complete contrast to the assistance that my right hon. Friend has given under the current Administration.

Mr. Straw: I am, of course, aware of the situation my hon. Friend has described and I pay tribute to the local authorities in Kent, of whatever political persuasion, and their staff for their bearing of that huge burden. However, the responsibility for that burden rests wholly and exclusively on the shoulders of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald and her colleagues, who imposed that burden on local authorities.

Mr. Charles Wardle (Bexhill and Battle): The right hon. Gentleman knows that I have mixed feelings about the 1996 legislation, as I have said before in the House. However, should not he tell the House that in-country applicants for asylum are mostly people who have arrived here as visitors and overstayed? When they had their first conversation at the port of entry with the immigration officer, they made it clear that they had the funds to finance their visit. Therefore, they are in a different category.

Mr. Straw: I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman's comment, but that is why I hope that he shares my astonishment that amendment No. 118 tabled

26 Oct 1999 : Column 829

in the other place by the Opposition--I recommend that he read the amendment because the effect it would have is plain--would restore cash benefits for asylum seekers to those from whom we propose to remove them from 1 April next year, the day on which the new system of support is due to come into force, and would also restore cash benefits to all the in-country applicants the hon. Gentleman mentioned. That is the most astonishing position for the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald and her right hon. and hon. Friends to take. She has even described amendment No. 118 as sensible.

The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald has also said that amendment No. 118 was tabled to ensure that we honour a commitment not to implement the new system of asylum support until the limits of two months for initial applicants and four months for appeals had been brought into force. However, if she were to read our White Paper, she would see that it made it clear that there was no link whatever between those two proposals. The two plus four system will come into force from April 2001, and we made clear our determination to bring the new asylum support system into force in April 2000.

I have had many conversations with the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Wardle) about the asylum and immigration system, but I can tell him that the proposals in amendment No. 118 to restore cash benefits to asylum seekers for at least a year--which his Front-Bench colleagues support and apparently intend to whip every Conservative Member into the Lobby to support when the Bill returns to this Chamber--would cost £500 million and suck in thousands and thousands of opportunist economic migrants. I hope that the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald explains her position to her constituents and the other people of Kent.

The Conservatives have raised only two issues with any seriousness on the Immigration and Asylum Bill. I have just dealt with their proposals to restore the payment of £500 million to abusive in-country asylum seekers. What was the second? In all the hours and hours of debate on the Bill, what constructive proposals were made by Conservative Members? Did they say that they were going to reinstate the white list? No, they never discussed it. Did they say that they were going to overturn our removal of the primary purpose rule? No, and when they had the opportunity to vote against in June 1997, they did not take it--they allowed it through without a Division or discussion. Did they propose other ways in which they could tighten control? No.

What makes what the Conservatives are now saying totally hollow is that, of all the issues that they could have selected in Standing Committee, the only one that they chose was to try to undermine the civil penalties on rogue lorry drivers shipping in clandestine immigrants. If the right hon. Lady wants to intervene now, she had better explain why she so pathetically failed to make any proposals to improve immigration controls. The two proposals that she made would undermine those controls.

Miss Widdecombe: I did not do so because we had instituted a system that resulted in a 40 per cent. fall. Therefore, we had done what was necessary. The right hon. Gentleman was trying to unpick it and we were opposing that unpicking. Yes, we opposed the fining of

26 Oct 1999 : Column 830

lorry drivers who find clandestine entrants in their loads and report it to the police. They deserve to be commended, not fined.

Mr. Straw: If they are complicit in having clandestine entrants in the backs of their lorries, they deserve not to be commended, but to be fined. That is exactly what we are proposing. As for the numbers, the previous Administration had to make two attempts at improving immigration control in one Parliament, so the right hon. Lady knows that the numbers of asylum applications rise and fall for reasons that have nothing to do with circumstances in this country.

There are pull factors and I fully accept that--that is why we are going to overturn the restoration of social security cash benefits to in-country applicants. The right hon. Lady is claiming clairvoyance among her many attributes if she is saying that it was possible to foresee the conflict in the former Republic of Yugoslavia in the past two years.

Mr. John Townend (East Yorkshire): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw: No.

The third issue raised by the right hon. Lady is that of Mitrokhin and spies. It was dealt with in great detail in my statement to the House last Thursday. I also gave a full written statement on 13 September, following revelations in the media in the wake of the publication of the Mitrokhin archive. I do not intend to repeat all that I said this time last week, beyond answering the points raised by the right hon. Lady in her speech.

On the back of newspaper stories that were published in early September, the right hon. Lady appeared on the "Today" programme to issue her instant response to the revelations, saying:

referring to Mrs. Melita Norwood--

    "living freely without being prosecuted then we should be told. Parliament should be told all of the names and the reasons why they were not brought to justice unless there are clear security reasons not to do so."

I ask my hon. Friends to weigh the right hon. Lady's words. The reason that she gave for not denouncing people without trial or conviction was not the rule of natural justice or the rule of law in this country, but simply whether there were "security reasons" for not doing so. Today, she asked why I did not inform Parliament when I was first told of the plans to publish the Mitrokhin archive. As I said, I was told that in December 1998.

The right hon. Lady's implication is that I should have informed Parliament of the plan to publish the book, which was not my responsibility--as she well knows, the decision to publish in that way was initiated by her former right hon. and learned Friend Sir Malcolm Rifkind, then the Foreign Secretary, and it was endorsed by the present Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister. Alternatively, I can only assume that she was asking me to publicise the fact that the Security Service was considering whether to recommend Mrs. Norwood for prosecution, as I was told in December last year.

I ask right hon. and hon. Members to consider the implications of what the right hon. Lady was inviting me to do. Before the Security Service had decided whether

26 Oct 1999 : Column 831

someone should be prosecuted, still less before the Attorney-General and the prosecutors could decide, she was inviting me to announce that consideration of prosecution was in train. That would have amounted to the grossest interference by the Secretary of State in the prosecution process, and would have been wholly improper. I am astonished that the right hon. Lady, who dug herself a pit by proposing that we should support trial by denunciation, should keep on digging.

Miss Widdecombe: I thank the Home Secretary for giving way, as these are important issues. He now appears to be presenting a picture that is slightly different from the one presented in earlier statements. He may want to clarify what he has just said, but my understanding is that the decision not to prosecute was made in 1992. That is what he has told us hitherto--that that decision had been taken before he was told about the matter in 1998.

Again according to what the Home Secretary said, I understand that the decision to review whether there was a case for prosecution was taken after publicity had been given to the matter, and after a taped confession was broadcast in the press and media. That meant that we then had an admission by Mrs. Norwood that could be added to the former evidence, which did not include that admission. Is the Home Secretary saying that he knew in 1998 that there was such an admission by Mrs. Norwood?

Next Section

IndexHome Page