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Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): Last year, there were 100,000, or slightly fewer, applications for asylum, of which 85 or 90 per cent. have been or will be refused; and of those people refused, perhaps one in 10 have been or will be removed. In addition, it is estimated that as many as 100,000 illegal immigrants enter this country each year. What estimate has the Home Office made of the number of failed asylum seekers and illegal immigrants in the country? Does the Home Secretary intend that all those people should be removed to show that he is, as he puts it, tough? What extra resources will he give the authorities that will carry out those removals? Finally, will he pledge that there will be no universal amnesty for illegal immigrants in this country?
Mr. Blunkett: I am not pledging anything that I have not announced this afternoon. Of initial claims, 75 per cent. fail and 80 per cent. of those who go to appeal have their appeal dismissed. Those are the figures. We do not
Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): Will the Home Secretary's proposals mean that the gross exploitation of vulnerable asylum seekers currently taking place in the Landmark and the Inn on the Park in Everton, Liverpool will cease permanently? Will he review the role and operation of the National Asylum Support Service, especially in respect of a possible conflict in its role as a body that both awards and monitors contracts with the private sector?
Mr. Blunkett: While we are trialling and evaluating the new forms of accommodation, we will need, as the reviews indicate, to get a grip on those things that have been going wrong in NASS. I am painfully aware of the difficulties in Liverpool. I hope that we can iron out the problems quickly and sort out the contractual arrangements that have been entered into.
Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury): When the Home Secretary's new system is fully operational, what incentive will there be for an asylum seeker whose appeal has failed not to disappear into the community, given that he will know that at that stage he faces detention prior to removal? Surely under the new scheme such an individual would have an incentive to disappear into the community as soon as he received notification of the failure of his appeal and before he could be detained?
Mr. Blunkett: He would, but that is why I am introducing a system whereby appeals decisions will be delivered in person rather than sent out in an envelope, and those who receive a refusal of their appeal will be accompanied, either to pick up their possessions or directly to the removal centre. As that begins to operate, we will be able to develop a system that would otherwise continue to undershoot expectations.
It is worth noting that there has been a substantial improvement in the number of removals. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn was Home Secretary, removals were increased by 100 per cent. or more on the number that had been inherited.
Mr. Chris Pond (Gravesham): In addition to dealing with the traffickers and gangmasters, will my right hon. Friend take action against those unscrupulous individuals and organisations who provide wrongful immigration advice to many people both here and abroad, and seek thereby to exploit people who are trying to build a better life for themselves and their families in this country? Will he give the House an assurance that the generous support so far given to authorities such as Kent county council and to public services such as the police and the national health service, which needed those extra resources to deal with the extra burden of asylum seekers, will continue to be provided until his new radical reforms are fully operational?
Mr. Blunkett: I cannot promise that they will get all the support that they request, but we will continue to provide the backing and support that are required to ensure that they can continue doing their job for the wider community and for people who are approaching them as
Peter Bradley (The Wrekin): May I join the chorus of welcome for my right hon. Friend's statement? It will be especially welcomed if it leads to a system that is more humane as well as more efficient. He will have anticipated that his announcement about the need for accommodation centres for some 3,000 asylum seekers will inevitably have caused uncertainty and apprehension in communities where the establishment of such centres is being proposed. Those communities include High Ercall and surrounding villages in my constituency, where the Angel Group, which is one of the Home Office providers, has made such a proposal. I know that he cannot be site-specific, but can he offer some clarification as to the number of centres that he seeks, their size and how soon he requires them to be operational?
Mr. Blunkett: Perhaps I should say on the record that any provider would be very unwise to speculate by buying up property, land or accommodation in the belief that we will simply take on the proposal. To make the new centres viable and to allow provision of support services on health, education and the like, we believe that they should have 750 places. The first four centres, making up the 3,000 places, will be established on that basis. Those from the voluntary and private sectors who genuinely want to collaborate and co-operate with us will be very welcome but no one needs to be under any illusion. People cannot simply present themselves and expect to recoup investment that they have laid out in anticipation, perhaps prompted by newspapers, that we will take on their proposed centre.
Martin Linton (Battersea): Will my right hon. Friend accept my congratulations on having acted on the unanimous suggestion made by the Select Committee on Home Affairs earlier this year that he should consider introducing entitlement cards? Does he envisage that the cards will help asylum seekers to get the public services and rights at work to which they are entitled, as well as helping him to supersede the voucher and dispersal systems?
Mr. Blunkett: I should make it clear that the card will not help with rights at work until people have been here for six months, otherwise I shall be in some difficulty. However, it will entitle them to confidence in themselves and the ability to present the card without feeling like second-class citizens in the way that people have described. The card may be also used more imaginatively in future, as a way of accessing other support.
Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre): My right hon. Friend has already taken the significant step of ensuring inclusion in the provisions of the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 of unaccompanied asylum- seeking children who are in care. While acknowledging that a great deal of money is being spent on meeting the needs of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, will his
Mr. Blunkett: With my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health sitting on the Front Bench, I shall be careful not to suggest accommodating asylum-seeking minors in children's homes. There are major problems not only with the appropriateness but with the practicalities of doing that. We must ensure that appropriate dispersal of young people through social services works well. However, we must also consider stemming the tide of those who make their way to this country unaccompanied or find family when they are eventually granted leave to remain. That matter is difficult to tackle, but we must face up to it.
Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): I have many constituents from ethnic minority backgrounds with proper and full rights to stay in this country. Will the Home Secretary assure me that they will not be asked repeatedly to show an entitlement card that they neither have nor need?
Mr. Blunkett: The answer is absolutely nothe card is for a specific purpose. As I said earlier, it will supersede the letter, which is unsatisfactory, not secure and clearly leads to fraud in many cases. It is not a suitable method for people to demonstrate their rights to the support that we offer them. Getting the balance right will mean, at last, a welcome and a trust in our communities and a clear understanding in the rest of the world. If we can achieve both together, we will have got it right.
Mr. Speaker: The Home Secretary has answered questions for more than an hour and 20 minutes and I believe that the House would want me to thank him.
The Home Secretary knows of my interest in the matter that the House has been discussing. I welcome vouchers being abolished because, as I know from experience in my constituency, they take away people's dignity.