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Mr. Gerald Howarth: This is a slightly unusual Adjournment debate and the hon. Lady's willingness to give way is much appreciated. I received a letter today from EWS--English, Welsh and Scottish Railways--saying that, since 1 March 1999, it has been fined no less than £182,000 as a result of illegal immigrants being found when they arrive in the United Kingdom. The letter says that

which is, no doubt, in the constituency of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). It points out that that is

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At its own expense, EWS has installed the equipment but, as soon as it finds someone, along comes the immigration and nationality directorate and slaps a £2,000 fine on the company. What incentive is there for private sector companies to invest in the detection equipment if, as a result of the success of the equipment, they get a £2,000 fine for each immigrant they discover?

Mrs. Roche: The hon. Gentleman raises the related but different issue of the rail freight that might come from Italy, pass through the tunnel and arrive in the yard. EWS works in partnership with SNCF in bringing the trains through the tunnel, and we are working with EWS; I have had a couple of meetings with the company. I have also spoken to SNCF about the way in which CO 2 devices can carry out checks in the freight yards.

We are grateful for the partnership that we have with EWS in carrying out the checks at Dollands Moor, but the difficulty is that, by the time they are done, it is in a sense too late because people have already come through the tunnel. That is why we are working with the company to see what we can do about the problem.

We are pleased with the response that we have had from Eurotunnel and it has said that, once the precise details are worked out, it can do as we have suggested to reinforce security. That is to be welcomed.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman also mentioned the use of Ministry of Defence personnel.

Mr. Howard: Before the Minister moves on to that issue, will she deal specifically with my first point about the importance of SNCF strengthening the security fencing in that part of the Coquelles terminal for which it is responsible?

Mrs. Roche: I will deal with that point. The issue was raised at my meeting with Eurotunnel on 8 March. We shall certainly see whether we can take the matter forward and we shall work in partnership with SNCF to do that. The issue has been raised, and I accept the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point that it is a serious one.

On the question of military assistance and Ministry of Defence personnel, our clear understanding is that there is no provision in the Sangatte protocol to support the deployment of United Kingdom armed forces at Coquelles. I am afraid that that is the position.

Mr. Howard: As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) said, the Minister has been generous in giving way, but we have some time available. She said that the protocol does not cover the use of United Kingdom military personnel, but is that also the case for the use of UK police officers, including MOD police officers who have been mentioned to me by Eurotunnel and whom I have mentioned to the Minister?

Mrs. Roche: It is our understanding that the permission applies only to immigration officers.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the Red Cross centre at Sangatte, which is effectively a holding centre for people who are seeking to enter the United Kingdom clandestinely to apply for asylum or work illegally. I accept that people who think that they have a well-founded fear of persecution under the convention should apply for asylum in the first safe

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country that they reach. We must reject asylum shopping. However, the key consideration is that if we ring-fence asylum as the ancient, noble and honourable concept that it is--I make no bones about describing it in that way--it must not be undermined.

I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will forgive me for making this point again, but we disagree on it. He will recall that from April 1995, we were able to remove all illegal entrants back to France under the gentleman's agreement. Although that still works for non-asylum cases, it no longer works for asylum cases. That is a problem. The Dublin convention was a long time in its implementation, and was signed and imposed by the previous Government. It was always going to be difficult to prove where a claimant for asylum had first entered the EU. We believe that the Dublin convention is not working properly. That is widely accepted in the EU and the Commission is reviewing it.

We are determined to continue to work with our European partners to stamp out people smuggling.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: Has the Minister been to Sangatte?

Mrs. Roche indicated dissent.

Mr. Howarth: Well, my right hon. and learned Friend, my colleagues on the Home Affairs Committee and I have. If the Minister has read our report, she will know that we were appalled by what we saw. This issue cuts across party lines. Not only are people being kept in less than adequate conditions, but they are being warehoused by the French authorities under the noses of French officials until they manage to make an illegal journey across the channel, where they land on us and become our problem. Those people are the responsibility of the French authorities. If the much-vaunted co-operation that the Government say they have with the French authorities exists, why do they not persuade them that it is their responsibility to deal with those 25,000 people instead of supervising their illegal crossing of the channel?

Mrs. Roche: That is partly the fault of the abject failure of the Dublin convention. We cannot make someone apply for asylum. The hon. Gentleman's point supports my case. We need to clamp down on the people smugglers and the traffickers, who are taking part in an evil trade. That is why our initiative for action in the western Balkans is making good progress and drawing support from other member states. The aim is twofold: to send operational teams of immigration and police officers to work in support of the authorities in Bosnia and Croatia and to create a wider network of immigration liaison officers to gather information and to target and encourage operational activity by host countries. The objective is to break up the networks involved in people smuggling and to prevent smuggling at source and on transit routes.

We are working with the French authorities. I am sure that during their visit to Sangatte, hon. Members were told of the number of successful prosecutions in France and England of the facilitators behind the trade. We have supplied intelligence to the French authorities. Successful prosecutions have taken place and people have, rightly, received prison sentences.

We are determined to do everything that we can to extend that bilateral co-operation. That was confirmed at the successful United Kingdom-France summit on

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9 February, at which the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and other Ministers had full discussions with their French counterparts. The summit confirmed the introduction of juxtaposed controls at Eurostar terminals. We recently introduced an order on that subject in the House, and in future, there will be a juxtaposed control at Gare du Nord, which will stop people buying a ticket to Calais, getting on the train and staying on it until they reach the United Kingdom, as some have been doing. We are pleased that the French Government have confirmed that they will introduce domestic legislation to ensure that all passengers will have to pass through juxtaposed controls regardless of whether their stated intention is to travel to the UK or to Calais. That will be a major change in French law, and it is a good illustration of the co-operation that exists.

This is an important debate. The legislation that we have passed, especially on the civil penalty, enables us to clamp down on the trading and smuggling of people.

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We are using the increased resources that we have given to the immigration service to disrupt criminal gangs. We are also reducing the backlog of cases. The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe did not mention the backlog of undecided cases that had been left to us. One of the key factors in encouraging people to make unfounded applications is a system that is mired in delay. We are determined to eradicate that delay. Last year, a record number of decisions, 110,000, were made by the immigration and nationality directorate, and I am grateful to all the staff who have given so much of their time and dedicated effort.

This has been an interesting debate, which has taken place at an earlier hour than most Adjournment debates. It has exposed several issues, but the key point is that the Government are determined to deter those who would make unfounded applications, but will continue to offer sanctuary to those who are genuinely fleeing persecution.

Question put and agreed to.

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