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I announced earlier this month my proposals for sensible, controlled legal migration into this country. That will enable people with skills to enter our country legitimately to work. In addition, we will explore the establishment, with the European Union and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, of agreed gateways to take nominated refugees from outside the country. That has been an anomaly for many years, leading to the scenes at ports and Eurotunnel facilities.
We will also take action to root out illegal working. Those working in our country illegally are being exploited by unscrupulous gangmasters and employers, in conditions that undermine the minimum wage and fair conditions, and at the same time defraud the tax and national insurance system.
The Prime Minister has recently announced a cross- departmental working group under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend Lord Rooker. He will bring forward proposals for stamping out illegal employment, which will be combined with wider policies to remove the incentive to traffickers, and the pull factor created by the opportunity of employment.
I believe that we can also do more to give practical help to people seeking to settle here, in addition to the men and women seeking refugee status. The White Paper will address their language needs, together with education for citizenship. I shall also be looking to enhance the importance of naturalisation.
This is a substantial package of measures that will fundamentally overhaul our asylum and immigration policy. It is a rational approach to a rapidly changing situation. I believe that it will send a message to the rest of the world that this country is not open to abuse,
Does the Home Secretary recognise that we and he have shared aspirations? Does he understand that many of us on both sides of the House are here today only because our own relatives sought and obtained refuge from persecution? Does he accept that we regard the provision of a safe haven for the innocent victims of persecution as one of the highest duties of the British state? Does he agree that the first purpose of our asylum system should therefore be to establish quickly and definitively who are the innocent victims of persecution, and to provide them with a safe home? Does he agree that its second purpose should be to ensure that others who are not victims of persecution cannot use application for asylum as a way of getting around the normal immigration rules?
Let us turn to the future. Does the Home Secretary acknowledge that the new system of accommodation centres that he hopes eventually to make universal will work only if those centres contain all the people and facilities required to provide fast and fair decisions? Does he agree that it is a scandal that we currently have more than 300 people detained for more than 100 days, many without even an initial determination, and that the time taken to process applications in the new centres will have to be far shorter than that?
What steps will the Home Secretary take to consult people about the siting of the new induction, reporting, accommodation and removal centres, and to reduce public hostility? Can he tell us how he will judge whether the accommodation centres are working, and whether they should replace the reporting centres? Can he tell us what he will do about the total backlog of more than 40,000 people now awaiting an initial determination, about the estimated 50,000 now awaiting an appeal hearing, and about the tens of thousands of asylum seekers who have simply disappeared?
We understand that under the Home Secretary's plans, financial assistance to asylum seekers who are offered places in accommodation centres will be available only within those centres. That, we understand, is intended as an incentive for people to remain in the accommodation centres; but what incentive to remain is there for people whose aim is to find work in the black economy,
By what proportion will the right hon. Gentleman's proposals on work permits increase the number of people90,000who currently enter the country each year on the basis of such permits? What assessment has he made of the proportion of asylum seekers who are not eligible for asylum, but who will be eligible for work permits under his new scheme? Does he really believe that the bulk of the problem relates to highly skilled people?
The whole country will hope that the Home Secretary has at last begun to address a problem that the Government have so far lamentably failed to address. The whole country will hope that his new proposals will establish a civilised, humane and effective system. Does he agree that whether that is indeed the case will depend heavily on the answers to those questions?
Mr. Blunkett: I strongly welcome the opening statement by the hon. Gentleman that one of our agreed highest duties is to offer a safe haven for those who are at risk of persecution and death. I am just glad that he on behalf of his party has changed entirely the language, tune and policy that it adopted.
I am sorry that, having given the hon. Gentleman time to read my statement, he has been unable to grasp some of its key elementsfor example, the black economy. I seek to assist as well those who do not claim asylum, who are working in the economy unknown and unmonitored and who are often unable to get basic rights in our country. Those in accommodation centresI hope very much that the new programme will resolve the issuewill be there precisely because they have sought help, need accommodation, a roof over their heads and support for themselves and their families, so the incentive to be there is self-evident. The incentive to leave the accommodation centre if their appeal fails is dealt with by the fact that we will deliver appeal decisions at the reporting centre or accommodation centre, and then take people to the new removal centres. In that way, we will avoid the calamity of having to go into communities to root people out from their homes.
I hope that sorting out that problem can be seen as building on what has taken place over the 18 months to which the hon. Gentleman referred, following the Prime Minister's statement. Eighteen months ago, the then Home Secretary commenced the process of dramatically increasing the facility of the immigration and nationality directorate. Four thousand extra people are now employed to do the job that was not done under the Conservatives. Through the fingerprinting facilities, we know who is in the country, who is making multiple applications, and who is making applications having left the country and come back under a different guise. None of that information was available until the then Home Secretary put the investment in place. Removal centres did not exist at all under the Government of the hon. Gentleman and his friends. We need no lectures about why something did not work from those who purchased a computer system that failed within 12 months of its installation.
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): I welcome the Home Secretary's assurance that the use of prisons to detain asylum seekers is to cease, and his decision to phase out the hated voucher system, but what assurance can he give that the smart cards will work, given the unhappy history of Government information technology projects?
Everyone understands that the number of removals will have to increase greatly for the system to be credible, but what steps, if any, is the Home Secretary taking to ensure that removals are handled as sensitively as possible, especially in cases where children are involved, given that many of the people, who may not be deserving asylum applicants, may return home to destitution?