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Mr. Vaz: May I clarify what I said? I did not say that there was no limit. I said that an immigration policy must be firm but fair. I did not say that we could have unlimited immigration to this country.
Mr. Lilley: I am sorry; I misunderstood the hon. Gentleman. I thought that he was against firmness and just in favour of fairness. I am glad that his remarks did not have the implications that I thought they had.
There is a large net inflow of immigrants into this country, perhaps half of whom are asylum seekers. The others are from the rest of the European Community and the rest of the world. After declining for many decades, in little more than the past decade, the population of London has increased dramatically by 600,000 people netmore than the entire population of Frankfurt. Many of those people are, of course, bankers from Germany, oil magnates from America, Greek shipping magnates from Athens or whatever, and contribute enormously to the wealth and prosperity of Londonthe point that I made last night at the Mansion House.
Mr. Dhanda: The right hon. Gentleman is making a rather misleading point, in the first instance by speaking of the net number of immigrants, and then by speaking about population. Population is not on the increase nationally. He cites the example of London. Population may be increasing in London, but there are various reasons for that. It is not all down to immigration.
Mr. Lilley: The population of London has increased by more than 600,000 in little more than a decade and is expected to go on increasing at that rate. We must recognise that there are strains and stresses arising from an increase in population, and we must accept that there can be legitimate concerns about that that must be taken on board.
We can learn some lessons from the French experience. I have a house over there and was there just before the elections. I was surprised by the outcome, but I should not have been. Every extended conversation that I have had with people at every level of society in recent years has inevitably got on to the subject of immigration and crime. The French are obsessed by it; they positively bore me with it.
I should have realised that although immigration dominates private discussion, it is largely excluded from public debate. As a result of that, and because the moderates have been silenced by accusations of racism whenever they raise those issues, the voters have been driven into the arms of the thugs and people like Le Penextremists of that ilk. We must make sure that the same thing does not happen in Britain. I entirely agree with the Home Secretary when he says that it is very important to discuss these issues and to articulate the concerns.
For all but two years of the past three decades I have lived in areas of London surrounded almost entirely by neighbours living in social housing. I have listened to them, and their conversations tend to be dominated by issues which most politicians are reluctant to discuss.
It is odious for anyone to try to play the race card, but there is a balance to be struck. It is equally odious for anyone to play the racism card and try to silence those who express the concerns of their constituents by labelling them as racism, or to try to stir up the fears of a minority against an element of the majority, as has been done before elections in this country.
Just before I came into the Chamber today, I was goaded by an interviewer on a television programme to attack the Home Secretary for using the word "swamped" and to accuse him of racism. I would not use that word myself, but it is ludicrous to accuse the Home Secretary of racismas ludicrous as it was to accuse my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) of racism or to accuse, as one of the speakers did, the noble Lady, Baroness Thatcher, of racism. We must distinguish between moderate, sensible politicians discussing important issues, and attempts to silence our political opponents by playing the racism card.
Dual standards also provoke resentment. We rightly condemn and should continue to condemn anyone or any party, such as the BNP, that appeals to the concerns of, or claims to speak for, the white majority, yet we seem to patronise people who claim to speak for ethnic and racial minorities.
Many years ago when I was a candidate for Tottenham, a House of Commons Select Committee that was considering immigration was carrying out a study of the West Indian community. It came to Tottenham and, with great publicity, met the leaders of various insignificant black power groupsself-appointed, self-proclaimed leaders of the West Indian community. I was incensed by that and afterwards telephoned the Chairman to ask why the Committee had met people who were unelected who claimed to represent a racial group, yet did not meet me who represented the Conservative West Indians, of whom there were a considerable number. He said, "I am terribly sorry, Mr. Lilley. I didn't realise you were black." There is often the view in the race relations industry that only black people can represent black people.
I am happy that although I fought Tottenham and Tottenham fought back, the present representative of the people of Tottenham is there manifestly on his extremely considerable abilities and his willingness to represent all the people of Tottenham. That is the attitude that all of us must try to reflect in the House. We represent everybody, of all the ethnic groups in our constituencies, not just those who share our own colour.
There are genuine concerns about numbers and I want to be sure that the Home Secretary thinks that the Bill, which I largely support, will deal with the problems sufficiently effectively. In particular, I want to raise one issue that came to my attention when I was Secretary of State for Social Security, and that is the difference in the treatment of those who were subject to removal proceedings and those who were subject to deportation proceedings.
Those who come to Britain and declare at the point of entry that they are here to seek asylum are technically subsequently, if they are found not to have a valid claim, liable only to removal proceedings, which are much easier for the authorities and subject to fewer appeal processes.
Has the Home Secretary considered whether that duality is right or sensible and whether the procedures that those who are knowledgeable enough to delay a claim for asylum until they are in the country can then take advantage of are sensible and wise? If he thinks that efforts are needed to change that, I hope that he will amend the Bill correspondingly.
Whatever one's views, the most important factor, to achieve both sensible limitation on numbers and the most humane outcome for those who are subject to the asylum procedures, is expedition. Anything that can speed up the process must be in the interests of genuine asylum seekers as much as it is of the indigenous population and those already settled here.
Mr. Gwyn Prosser (Dover): I supported the Immigration and Asylum Bill in 1999, warts and all, because it provided much needed relief for places such as Dover and the south-east, which were having to deal with, accommodate and provide health care for thousands of asylum seekers and educate their childrenall proper provisions of a tolerant society. However, we had little help and support at that time from the Government. Neither did we have the powers to direct people to more appropriate areas in other parts of the country.
Before that Bill was enacted, Dover and the south-east towns were blighted by BNP marches, National Front demonstrations and the mass distribution of obscene and fascist literatureall inspired from outside the constituency. That legislation certainly eased the pressures, but it fell short of solving all the problems. Serious problems remain and the present Bill, which I support in general, still fails to address them.
I welcome the provision of induction, accommodation and removal centres. They offer structure and services to asylum seekers and they allow asylum seekers a measure of support and the National Asylum Support Service a certain measure of controlbut great care needs to be taken in deciding the location of those centres.
I make no apology for using my constituency as an example of bad decision making. It has been seen fit to site an induction centre, a removal centre and an accommodation centre for unaccompanied asylum seekers in Dover. We understand the obvious necessity of housing the induction centre there. That is only to be expected as it is a major port of entry, with 20 million passengers every year, and we have the migrant help line and the infrastructure. However, there is no need for other centres to be there. If people were rational about such decisions, they would accept that there is no need for the removal centre to be in Dover and no reason for unaccompanied minors to be housed in the same street as the induction centre. That adds difficulties to our present problems.
Nothing undermines people's support and acceptance of the important principles of asylum more than the perception that the system is not working, the process being abused and our borders not being properly
If Dover is a test bed of people's tolerance towards asylum seekers, I regret to report that we are close to failing that test. For five years I have listened to the people's concerns, worries and anxieties about the asylum process and its weaknesses, and I have told and re-told them all about the awful history of the 20th century and the horrors of the holocaust. But many of my constituents find difficulty in making a connection between the flight for life of people fleeing from the Nazis and the flow of fit young men illegally entering Kent through the channel tunnel from France.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary referred to the scenes of disorder and the near riotous behaviour of people trying to gain illegal entry to Britain through the channel tunnel. Most people become aware of that disorder only when the numbers become great or when they hit the headlines, but my constituents experience it every day. They work on the ferries and in the channel tunnel and they are part of the border controls working as immigration, customs and police officers.
The residents who do not work in those areas see it every day because they see large groups of asylum seekers on the motorway verges. They even see asylum seekers waving from the backs of lorries and signalling from the backs of trains as they come into Kent. So it is not altogether surprising that they will look with some scepticism at the niceties contained in the latest Act of Parliament on securing border controls.
I was encouraged by my right hon. Friend's repeated statement today that he would seek to persuade his opposite number in the French Government to reinstate the bilateral agreement that would allow us immediately to return illegal immigrants to France. I know from first-hand experience that that system worked well. I was a seagoing officer with Sealink when the arrangement was in place. On most occasions clandestines were interviewed on board and returned on the return trip to Calais. We talk a lot in debates such as this about reducing Britain's so-called pull factors which encourage asylum seekers or asylum shoppers to risk life and limb night after night to gain entry from the safety of France. Nothing would deter that traffic more than the prospect of immediate return to France.
I come now to unaccompanied children seeking asylum who are accommodated by social services under the Children Act 1989. The Bill provides little practical help to alleviate the problems associated with accommodating and caring for these young people. Ostensibly, they are all under 18, but many are much older in reality and make false claims to be considered as minors. Of course, such classification is an advantage to them, but it brings problems for us. Locally, Dover has experience of housing more than 150 such young people. They were all in the same hotel, which was situated in the same street as the induction centre. That is not sensible management and it needs sorting out. The presence of the centre is stirring up all sorts of new tensions in the community. We have seen such tensions in the past and they have spilled over into the streets of Dover and caused violence. We do not want that to happen again.
Countrywide, Kent has the biggest casebook by far with regard to unaccompanied minors. More than 50 per cent. of the total number of children who are currently in care in Kent are asylum seekers. Kent is now accommodating 1,400 asylum-seeker children and the numbers are growing. Some 100 to 150 of them come into the port of Dover every month, and only last week 25 young people entered in just one night. Serious pressures and problems are building up in my constituency. I have asked my right hon. Friend urgently to meet me to discuss these matters. Unless discussions can start early and solutions can be found, we will stoke up problems for the future and find ourselves heading into a crisis.
I support the general thrust of the Bill, but I believe that it will be successful only if due care is taken by those making the decisions on locating the accommodation centres. They must take into account recent histories and sensitivities, which are important if they are to make the right decisions and ensure proper, firm and sensible border controls.