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Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it may be a good idea to ask asylum seekers precisely those questions? Should we not ask them who brought them here and try to find out who the traffickers are? Perhaps we could persuade them by saying, "Look, if you tell us, you may have a better chance of getting here." I know that that approach is a bit hard, but it is so important to find out who is making all the money that we should perhaps tie consent to the giving of information.

Simon Hughes: The hon. Lady raises a perfectly proper question. Indeed, I asked such questions myself. My understanding is that many of the traffickers come from eastern Europe. They are around and about in northern France and shuttle between there and elsewhere regularly. Certainly, they should be picked up by the authorities on the basis of such information, where that is possible.

One of the things that came across very clearly is that the showing of a video to try to dissuade people from attempting illegally to cross the channel was a complete disaster. It failed for two obvious reasons. First, I understand it included images of the white cliffs of Dover, which made coming here even more appealing instead of putting people off. Secondly, it showed people trying to break into vehicles, which gave ideas about how to do so. No wonder it did not succeed in putting anybody off, but had the reverse effect. Everybody told me that the last thing we should do is go down that road again. People with authority and experience are needed to talk to those who are waiting individually in order to persuade them and offer options for the way forward.

My judgment is that Sangatte will probably not close in the very near future, for reasons that have been tested in the French courts. The camp probably should not be located where it is; it is within sight of the channel and the ferries are visible from it. I understand that that is an incentive for people to leave. However, there is no way on earth that the safeguards that Eurotunnel and others have introduced—they now pick up and stop 98 per cent. of people who are trying illegally to come through the tunnel—can be perfect. I spoke to people and I know that the evidence shows that, if a fence is built 2 km from the coast, people will come in 2.5 km from the coast, and the problem will merely be pushed back.

Some 70 per cent. of all freight coming through the tunnel is not container freight, but is open-sided, so people can get in at some stage. It will probably happen at an overnight stop. Most lorry drivers do not know what has happened. Most people are picked up and dealt with, but they will try again, as in their heads is the intention to try

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to come to Britain. We know the consequences. Most of them do not succeed and terrible injury and occasional death occur in the process. If and when Sangatte closes, we need instead several accommodation centres in and around Europe of the sort that the Government are proposing for this country to deal with the flows of people. The Home Secretary is absolutely right that that there is such a need on the southern Spanish coast, where hordes of people come into the country from the straits of Tangier and north Africa. The Spanish authorities cannot handle those people. Frankly, they process them and turn them out on to the streets of Spain the following day.

Finally—I have just asked the Home Secretary to take advice and I am very happy to contribute further—I come to a very effective point that was put to me by the director of the Red Cross centre at Sangatte. None of these people has any status at all in the world. If somebody is a refugee, they will have a passport saying that that is their status, but people who are seekers of asylum have no status. If we were to expect them to have some obligations in return for our giving them a status and papers, we would at a stroke take them out of the hands of the traffickers—the only people with whom they currently have a status—and put them into the hands of a system that could deal with them. I do not claim that that is my idea, but it struck me as an extremely telling point. If we could recognise people as wanting to be either asylum seekers or economic migrants—and if they could put the case for being either—we would have a chance of getting them into the system and processing them. Yes, in some cases, when peace has returned after a decent interval, whether in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone or—let us pray—Sri Lanka, they would have to go back, but a proper interval has to be allowed to ensure that that peace has been tested.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney): The hon. Gentleman has made a number of interesting points, but will he address the one central point before he concludes his speech? Is his position and that of the Liberal Democrats that we should use some of our negotiating capital in Europe to get a bilateral agreement with France for the return of asylum seekers?

Simon Hughes: That is a perfectly proper question, and I shall end with a reply to it. I have nothing against trying a bilateral agreement. However, as I said in the recent debate in Westminster Hall, I do not believe that it is the way forward, not for any great theological reasons but because it simply passes the problem down the line or returns to France people who will try to come back again for the reasons that I gave earlier.

In northern Europe, the Schengen agreement means that there are no border controls and people do not therefore wait at other frontiers. They wait near the channel because we have border controls; Liberal Democrats, like the Conservatives, are in favour of retaining them. However, it means that the problem appears locally, at our frontiers, and nowhere else. Sending people back to France will simply lead to recycling, because they will not disappear. Even if the French could find out whence they entered France, we would simply pass the problem to somewhere else, such as Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium or Luxembourg.

I understand the argument that a bilateral agreement may not do any harm in the short term, but we need a Europe-wide solution as soon as possible. I have tried to

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offer some practical suggestions about what to do now, such as starting to educate people who get to the edge of the frontiers around the United Kingdom so that they understand the options. We should then deal with them humanely and fairly and help all those who have spent millions of pounds building their fences to realise that all the fences in the world do not change the aspirations of people who have paid $10,000 and travelled from Afghanistan to Calais. Telling such people that they cannot go any further will not persuade them that their journey should end and that they should return home.

4.46 pm

Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes): I apologise to the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) for missing some of his opening remarks. I welcome the measured and reasonable tone of the debate. I am sorry to say that the race card was played in the general election campaign, so it is gratifying that pejorative terms such as "bogus asylum seekers" have not been used in today's debate. When people use such terms, and make asylum deeply party political, the only beneficiary is the British National party. There was evidence of that in my constituency in the general election campaign, when race and immigration were raised. I therefore welcome the change in the tone of our debates since the hon. Gentleman took over as shadow Home Secretary.

The system has difficulties, many of which were acknowledged in the opening speeches and many of which occur in and around Calais because of Sangatte. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that his ultimate goal is the centre's closure, because its existence means that people congregate at the closest crossing point to the United Kingdom.

I represent a port area. We often talk about Dover and Calais, but I represent Immingham, one of the busiest container ports in Britain. Grimsby is nearby, and Hull is across the river. A huge amount of container traffic comes to Britain via the Netherlands and other countries. We often overlook the problems that are perpetuated at all the gateways to the United Kingdom, not only at Calais. I therefore believe that the debate should move beyond France, as the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) said. It is too easy to point the finger at our nearest neighbour, and it is not fair. The Government have been doing their best in difficult circumstances.

Our close relations with the French have paid off in some respects. We should examine the figures and get away from the screaming headlines about floods of immigrants and the pictures of 500 people storming the tunnel. Between 2000 and 2001, the figures show about a 20 per cent. drop in the number of people crossing illegally to the United Kingdom from France. They also show that about 6,000 people were refused entry and returned to France. It is unfair to cite France as the key to all the problems. There are problems with Sangatte, but France is trying to provide solutions.

We need tighter controls at Eurostar stations and more UK immigration officers in France, and we must pursue the facilitators and racketeers, mainly from eastern Europe, who congregate in Sangatte and use that route to facilitate the prostitution of very young girls from eastern Europe in the UK and elsewhere in Europe.

Mrs. Ann Cryer: Trafficking in young women for the purpose of prostitution was debated at length in the

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Council of Europe two weeks ago. Many of the people who enter the country in the backs of lorries and never seek to legitimise their position are women. Some drift into prostitution, while for many that is part of the deal, although they are not told that beforehand. Many others go and work effectively as slave labour, thereby putting employers who pay at least the minimum wage—I am talking here not about prostitution but about legitimate businesses—out of business. Often, those women owe the traffickers a great deal of money and are forced to repay it by working in slave workshops.

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