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Mr. Blunkett: There is a cynic in every family. Given the location of the hon. Gentleman's constituency, I honestly wonder what his constituents would think about someone who wishes to wave away dispersal altogether. He should think seriously about advocating the complete abolition of dispersal and describing it as "disastrous". Without it, the coastal area of south-east England would have been overwhelmed. Everyone knows that. We do not believe that it is feasible, practical or financially viable to detain everyone who enters the country; nor is it acceptable or legal to do so, either in this country or under international conventions. No other country does that. That is why we have not considered it.
The notionlet me tackle this head onthat people who arrive as refugees want to rest in an inn somewhere for seven to 10 days and then take themselves off beggars belief. People who apply for asylum want permanent status in this country. That is why they do not come here and disappear illegally. By having the smart card and reporting and accommodation centres, we can not only track them but support them through to the time when they either stay as a welcome refugee or are speedily removed.
Mr. Speaker: Order. I want to call everyone who is standing. The Home Secretary has been on his feet for an hour. If questions are short and sharp, I shall be able to call everyone.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): I welcome most of the proposals in the statement which might help to relieve the burden on such constituencies as mine. However, we all know that the devil is in the detail. Can the Home Secretary assure me that asylum seekers will have access to proper advice and representation in induction and accommodation centres?
Mr. Blunkett: The support for legal advice, which is funded substantially from public funds, will be available. Direct support for health care and education and to meet individuals' needs, including those with major emotional problems, will be dealt with in the accommodation centres.
Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden): Will the Home Secretary explain how the introduction of a smart card will improve on the present system of allocating a unique and identifiable national insurance number, without which no asylum seeker can obtain benefits or a job? Given that his right hon. Friend at the Department for Work and Pensions has decided to abolish plans for an entitlement card for the rest of the population, was the Home Secretary not dangerously near misleading the House when he suggested that the essence of the new system was the introduction of fingerprinting? Will he confirmno doubt he will want to apologise to the Housethat fingerprinting of asylum seekers has been the practice for a number of years?
Mr. Blunkett: Let me get this straight. When I visit Croydonas, I am sure, the right hon. Gentleman hasand look at the ID system, people there explain that the electronic computerised fingerprinting facility that is linked to ports and other reception areas now enables a record to be kept of everyone's fingerprints. That was not possible under the previous system.
Mr. Blunkett: It was not. There is no point arguing about it because it is a simple fact. We are still compiling a record of the totality of asylum claimants so that they cannot multiple claim or come back into the country under a different name and not be detected. I am not going into the history of the Department of Social Security's entitlement card; suffice it to say that our proposed card will have a strip to entitle people to the support that they seek and the cash that they get. It will be impossible to forge because of the biometric use of technology, to which I referred earlier.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): The Home Secretary must be aware that 1,800 people are being held in prisons, police stations and detention centres under immigration law without any charge being made against them. How many does he expect to be held in secure detention in reception or
Mr. Blunkett: There are approximately 940 people in prison, half of whom have not committed, or are not accused of committing, a crime. They will all be removed from prison, or the prison places will be superseded, by the end of January. We do not envisage that anyone in the induction or accommodation centres will be held in detention.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Does the Home Secretary accept that the rights of genuine asylum seekers and the workability of our asylum system have consistently been undermined by the many people who claim political asylum in the full knowledge that, eventually, their claim will be turned down, but that by then they will have been able to disappear into British society? If he accepts that, what possible incentive can there be for such people to report to his voluntary accommodation centres in the full knowledge that when their asylum claim is turned down, they will immediately be transferred to a compulsory removal centre for deportation? Does not that criticism strike at the heart of the entire scheme?
Mr. Blunkett: It would if people did what the hon. Gentleman is describing. If people want to work illegally in this country, they do not apply for asylum at all; they simply work illegally. That is why we set up the interdepartmental working group to examine that problem and tackle it head on. If someone applies for asylum, it is self-evident that they will see their application through. That is why we have the backlog of appeals that I am dealing with today by allocating, with the Lord Chancellor, another £62 million for next year to speed up the process. Self-evidently, at the heart of the matter, to use the hon. Gentleman's phrase, lies the fact that if asylum seekers disappeared into the system, people would not appeal, we would not have a backlog and I would not be taking this action.
Vernon Coaker (Gedling): I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement. Will he ensure that any new system meets the needs of unaccompanied children, whether they are in a new induction centre or have had their asylum application refused?
Mr. Blunkett: The answer is yes. We are spending a very large sum£95 millionon dealing with unaccompanied minors. I want, with our European partners, to use the security services to track and identify traffickers, and to find out how they are moving minors across continents and bringing them to our country. Those children are not, as someone said recently, walking alone through the forests of Germany and France; they are being exploited by others.
Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon): The Home Secretary finished on the very point that I wanted to raise with him. At the beginning of his statement, he touched on the subject of the evil men and, probably, women who traffic in human beings. Will he say more about what
Mr. Blunkett: I agree entirely with that. I raised that issue at the two Home Affairs Councils that I have attended this autumn. I believe that the effort applies to drug traffickers as well as to people traffickers. We are making available extra investment, and we are working bilaterally with the French in the western Balkans to enhance border controls in the accession countries, rather than just concentrating on the existing 15 members of the European Union. I hope that for a number of those accession countries, that investment will be the forerunner for substantial resources from the European Union.
Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow): I welcome the demise of the voucher system. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that there will be no detention element in the reception centres that he has described? Will he ensure that gender guidelines will be considered by those working and providing advice at the centres? Will he assure me that the smart card, and the entitlement that it brings, will not work in reverse, causing problems, for example, for an asylum seeker who arrives at a hospital seeking treatment and who does not have a smart card?
Mr. Blunkett: First, other than delivery of the service at Oakington that I described, detention of those who have not committed an offence will be confined to removal centres. We shall develop that policy as the new elements are introduced. Secondly, staff at induction centres will ascertain and check individual needs as well as provide advice.
Thirdly, I hope that the card will be perceived as an entitlement. People who have not got it with them will be treated, just as those without a driving licence are entitled to produce it at a later date. The card is not a check for such purposes, but an entitlement that will allow us to obtain correct identification and enable people to operate the system fairly.