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Mr. Allan: We are considering the issues of dispersal in other parts of the country, such as Sheffield, where we may be asked to receive people. We have two primary concerns. The first is that we shall need extra support like that given to Kent, which the hon. Gentleman has described, if we are not to suffer community relations problems. The second is the comments that he has referred

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to, which give the impression that other parts of the country are being asked to take incredibly difficult and dangerous people who are no longer wanted in Dover and Kent. It is counterproductive for people to make such negative comments.

Mr. Shaw: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. As I have said before, the dispersal programme is right, but it needs to be carefully managed. It is important that the Home Office works closely with local authorities to ensure that it is successful. It is the right policy. The burden should not fall only on particular communities.

The Tories in Kent know a good excuse when they see one. Despite the best social services budget in years, with a 6 per cent. increase on the standard spending assessment, they are blaming the cost of dealing with asylum seekers for their decision to put up the cost of old people's meals on wheels. What a cynical attempt to use a problem that they created to cause fear among elderly people. That increase in cost comes to £18,000. At the same time, they are spending £5 million on new computers and a new call centre. We can see where their priorities lie.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for the listening ear that he has provided. However, the Government are about more than just listening; they have provided real resources. I have lived in Kent all my life, but never before have I witnessed such scenes of intolerance and violence as I saw in the ports and elsewhere last summer, and I hope that I never see them again. It is our responsibility to do everything that we can to handle the delicate situation. In a letter to the Home Office Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), who was then responsible for immigration, the Tory leader of Kent county council said that there was a tinderbox atmosphere in the port towns. I agreed with him but, sadly, he felt the need to release the letter to the press. A couple of weeks later, there were attacks in Dover. He added to the problems rather than seeking solutions.

The performance of the Tories in dealing with the matter has been a disgrace. They passed the 1996 Act and put the burdens on Kent and now they are blaming the Government. We welcome the additional resources and we look forward to the new legislation to lift the burden on areas of Kent.

5.56 pm

Mr. Charles Wardle (Bexhill and Battle): The hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Mr. Shaw) and I have spoken together about Kent from time to time. We were both brought up in the county, although in different eras, I suspect. I hope that he will bear it in mind that, when there is uncontrolled immigration, the first people who suffer tension and prejudice are not those such as he or I, living in relatively leafy towns and suburbs, but British born and bred ethnic minorities.

This short debate covers a wide range of Home Office responsibilities, which have in common the indelible mark of the Government's failure to fulfil their promises to the electorate, their failure to make their policies work and their failure to sustain the services and standards that they criticised so stridently when they were in opposition.

The fall in police numbers and the slump in police morale this year and last year vividly illustrate the deficit between Labour's pre-election boasts and its performance

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in government. Large numbers of police officers are leaving the service and the pattern is the same throughout the country. The Police Federation has been unable to conceal its dismay at the undisguised hostility of the Macpherson report, the shortfall in promised funding, the betrayal of the Blakelock family, the manipulation of recruitment statistics and the creeping disease of political correctness that hampers authority. No wonder that crime is rising under a Government insensitive to victims, muddled about practical crime prevention measures and slow to act on the causes of crime.

On asylum seekers, the Government are compounding a growing and acute problem. I do not doubt that the Home Office will continue to honour the Geneva convention and will try at the same time to use the fair but effective means at its disposal of ruling out the large number of applicants who do not have a well-founded fear of persecution, but the scale of the influx, genuine or bogus, will not diminish as migration from eastern to western Europe continues unchecked.

The Government are compounding the problem in three ways. First, as I have said in the House before, the Home Office and the Treasury should recognise that the existence of a long asylum queue, with all the delays that that entails, is the biggest attraction for others to arrive here and join the queue. The several hundred million pounds that Ministers have spoken about will not resolve the problem. To massage numbers from the list by awarding exceptional leave to remain status and through other devices is not the answer. That did not happen in the first half of the previous Parliament, as one Minister wrongly claimed during the summer recess. To process the whole queue fairly but quickly would cost a great deal more in the short run but, once it was done, the repeated annual savings would be much larger than the once-and-for-all processing cost.

Secondly, the no-doubt-genuine aspirations of the Government's new legislation will soon be undermined if the appeal procedures are not conducted as swiftly in practice as Ministers have claimed theoretically will be the case. The Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993 had provisions for a seven-day determination of manifestly unfounded applications, but that foundered when the Lord Chancellor's Department refused to add enough extra adjudicators to process the appeals within the prescribed timetable. That failure by the Lord Chancellor's Department could have been remedied, but it was overlooked in the second half of the previous Parliament, and has--unwisely, in my view--been disregarded by the present Home Secretary.

Thirdly, the European Union cross-pillar and comprehensive approach to asylum, to which the Government too readily subscribe, is turning attention away from a basic principle of the Geneva convention that, because of our island geography, is advantageous to the United Kingdom. The convention requires that asylum seekers must apply in the first safe country that they reach--so all the applicants who arrive in the United Kingdom via continental Europe should, by definition, be returned to whichever other convention country they first reached. Even if they have a well-founded fear of persecution, their cases are manifestly unfounded in the United Kingdom, because they should have been considered elsewhere. That is the way to respond fairly and properly to the convention.

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Immigration control is similarly affected, as events in Tampere showed, by the European Commission's plans to absorb more third-pillar interior and justice policies within treaty competence. Rights of appeal to the European Court on immigration cases are the thin end of the wedge.

A greater threat to the integrity of our controls comes from the Commission's desire that a standard format European visit visa, issued, say, by a Greek entry clearance officer, should have some legitimacy when presented to an immigration officer at a British port of entry.

As Ministers know, I applauded the Governmentfor having kept our border controls. However, the Commission will not rest until it has found other ways in which to envelop United Kingdom immigration controls within treaty competence. No one should doubt that, with EU enlargement, the already porous external frontiers will grow more porous still, as they extend into central and eastern Europe.

Finally, there is the Government's handling of the revelations in the Mitrokhin archive. The most disturbing aspect of that bizarre episode is the fact that the Security Service took it upon itself to decide whether the material provided sufficient evidence to mount a prosecution with a realistic chance of success. Surely that was for Ministers, the Law Officers and the Crown Prosecution Service, not the unaccountable Security Service, to decide.

In a recent letter to the Home Secretary, I said that I believed strongly in our constitutional monarchy and in a framework of authority that promotes the rule of law and safeguards genuine national interests, but that I abhorred the abuse of power. The Security Service is virtually immune from the law, and has no legal status, but it can break and enter, bug and tap telephones under the Royal Prerogative. It communicates as it pleases with a parliamentary Committee that cannot even report to Parliament, and that has to be content with arbitrary deletions from what it is told.

It is astonishing that the Government, who are allegedly committed to freedom of information and human rights, should fail to impose accountability on the secret service for its high-handed decisions about how to deal with the Mitrokhin archive. In 1988, Sir John Donaldson, then Master of the Rolls, said:


That still applies today.

Richard Tomlinson, who helped to bring the Mitrokhin files to the west, is pursued. David Shayler, who has had the temerity to criticise managerial inefficiency in the service, is hounded. However, spies whose persistent treachery has now been exposed by Mitrokhin were to be left alone without reference to the Law Officers or the Crown Prosecution Service.

The mishandling of the Mitrokhin archive, and the Government's failure to hold the Security Service accountable, are yet another example of the Labour Government's inability to put their promises into practice.


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