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Mr. Blunkett: We should accord the staff at the immigration and nationality directorate praise for their achievements last year. They reduced the initial backlog of cases to be heard from 103,000 to 43,000a remarkable achievement. If we can do the same in relation to streamlining the whole system so that it works coherently from induction through to removal, and ensuring that the administration of the support system is equally effective, we shall achieve what my hon. Friend rightly seeksan efficient system, not only on paper but in practice.
Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire): If an illegal immigrant arrives in this country from an EU country, cannot it be presumed that they are arriving from a safe haven? Consequently, will the Government seek to amend the Dublin convention so that, for example, an illegal immigrant to this country from France can immediately be sent back there and France would have to admit them?
Mr. Blunkett: For the past four and a half months I have been gleaning facts as fast as I can, and it is an interesting but little known fact that we actually return just under 6,000 people to France every yearspeedily and often before they manage to cry asylum. I hope that we shall continue to be able to do that in the case of illegal immigrants. But let us take the Dublin convention head on. First, a Conservative Government signed it in 1990. Secondly, a Conservative Government failed to get it amended when it was clear that it would have a perverse result in the United Kingdom. Thirdly, yes, we are seeking to amend it. The Commission has published a draft directive. We hope that we can toughen up the proposal and that we can get other countries to agree to it, given that proving where someone came from and whether or not they really did have a safe haven in the countries that they passed through is something on which the whole House would unite because the lack of such proof makes a mockery of any organised and rational immigration and asylum policy.
Mr. Gwyn Prosser (Dover): I thank the Home Secretary for his statement and for his assurances that the
Mr. Blunkett: It is crucial that dispersal from the coastal area and the entry points is not only effective but seen to be so. That is why the induction centres will help enormously. Instead of spot bed- and-breakfast accommodation, with all that that involves in terms of people hanging about on the streets, it will be possible, in the months ahead, to pull people together in a way that not only has some coherence for them but relieves those local communities.
I take the point entirely about removal centres and the transfer of one set of accommodation to a new use. I got the message from my hon. Friend very clearly. I pay tribute to him again for the stand that he has taken during the past few years in very difficult circumstances.
Norman Baker (Lewes): I welcome most of the Home Secretary's statement, but may I press him on one issue? Why does he not allow asylum seekers to enter gainful employment while they are waiting for their applications to be determined? That would not only give them self-respect and dignity but reduce the call on the taxpayer, end the opportunity for some of our media to be so inflammatory about this issue and equip asylum seekers with skills if and when their applications were successful. Why will he not do that?
Mr. Blunkett: Because it is precisely the belief that asylum seekers can work here, coupled with the English language, that is such a pull factor in their coming to this country. That is recognised very clearly by all our European partners. Every time I meet them, they rub it in very heavily that people think they will get a different deal. Well, they will get a different deal in terms of welcome and support, but not in terms of being treated as economic migrants when they are refugees.
Refugees often suffer from trauma, they have often been tortured, and they have often fled from the most desperate circumstances. They are not the same as doctors, nurses and engineers whom we wish to attract through the work permit system. I make the point againand we have to do so internationallythat if people want to come and work here and contribute they will be welcome, but if people are refugees they will be treated as refugees applying for asylum status and, although they may choose to volunteer to provide support to their own community and those outside it, they cannot expect to be treated as though they are not asylum seekers but economic migrants in the first few months of being here.
Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): How long does my right hon. Friend envisage the induction process will take? Did I understand him correctly to say that if asylum seekers refuse to move to an accommodation
Mr. Blunkett: It is expected that induction will take seven to 10 days. My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that it is not administratively possible to restart people's claims, so those who are already here will have to be dealt with speedily within the existing framework. Initially, under the induction system, a proportion of first-time applicants will be offered places in accommodation centres. If they decline, they are saying, "Thank you very much. We don't need support." Some 30 per cent. of those coming in for asylum do not claim support and a further 20 per cent. claim voucher-only support. If people are genuinely in desperate need, we do not think it is unfair to ask them either to opt for an accommodation place or to decide to live with family or in their community.
Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): Will the Home Secretary tell us more about his proposal for greater co-operation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and with the European Union? In particular, has he any thoughts on the remarks of Mr. Ruud Lubbers, the former Dutch Prime Minister who is head of the UNHCR? On 1 September, he said that he thought that the right way forward was to have a quota for every member state and that the appropriate quota for the United Kingdom was 200,000, which is well over double what we had last year.
Mr. Blunkett: It is a good job that we, and not Ruud, are running the system. We have no intention of introducing quotas of that nature, but we think that a combined, co-ordinated system that accepts those with genuine refugee status who would otherwise have to find clandestine means of reaching our shores makes sense. That is particularly so, given the developments that have taken place and the work that has been done by the Australian Government in similar circumstances. We do not refuse to take anyone but do not simply invite anyone to try for refugee status.
Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): In view of my right hon. Friend's wish to improve the integration of those granted permanent residence, will he hold discussions with his colleagues in other Departments to ensure a consistency of approach towards support for higher education? One of my constituents has been granted permanent residence, has a degree in physics and has accepted a place to train as a radiographera skill that is in great shortage, particularly in my areabut is being treated as an overseas student, so he cannot take up that opportunity. However, if he wished to undergo teacher training, he would be treated as a home student. I shall write to the Secretary of State for Health, but I would be grateful for any support that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary could give in this case.
Mr. Blunkett: I have a feeling that I must have brought about the alternation at what is now the Department for Education and Skills when I was hanging about there. I will obviously raise this issue with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health to see whether there is
Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet): First, in response to the Home Secretary's remarks on the Dublin and Geneva conventions, may I say that those of us who represent Kent constituencies do not have too much difficulty working out whether an asylum seeker has come from a safe haven? Most of them arrive on the Dover ferry or through the channel tunnelthose forms of transport originate in France and France is a safe haven.
The Home Secretary's hubris this afternoon has been breath taking. He is right to say that he inherited a shambles, but he inherited it from his immediate predecessor who has taken asylum in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. However, now that the Home Secretary has recognised that all the Government's policies, particularly the disastrous dispersal programme, have failed to date and now that he has begun to adopt at least some of the measures suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), will he accept that there is fundamental difference between us? Some of us believe in secure reception centres while he believes in walk-in, walk-out ones. An asylum seeker arriving in the United Kingdom will go to a secure reception where he receives food, clothing and rest after his weary travel, but what is to stop him disappearing? The Home Secretary describes the system as "robust"that is today's wordbut some of us regard it as flaccid.