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28 Oct 2002 : Column 534—continued

Migration Schemes

9. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): If he will make a statement on his plans to set up new sector based migration schemes next year. [75320]

The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Beverley Hughes): My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced on 7 October two new schemes to help employers in the hotel, leisure and food manufacturing sectors to recruit workers from abroad to fill vacancies that they have been unable to fill from the resident work force. This is part of the continued development of our comprehensive policy of managed migration.

Lawrie Quinn : Does my hon. Friend agree that such managed schemes are good news not only for the economy but for key cutting-edge technology areas such as engineering, information technology and medical research? People can enter the country legally and make a great contribution to our future wealth, thereby providing extra jobs that can give a real boost to the economy. In addition, are we not sending a clear signal to those who try to smuggle individuals into this country by clandestine measures that we want to undermine their terrible acts and put a stop to the despicable smuggling of people?

Beverley Hughes: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Recent estimates suggest that migrants contribute a net benefit of about #2.5 billion to the economy, over and above any resources they consume. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is chairing a new Cabinet Committee that is looking into the social and economic impacts of migration. My hon. Friend is also right that the White Paper marked a radical shift in policy, based on a recognition of the positive contribution of migration while acknowledging that we need to manage it, return asylum to its proper purpose and bear down on the gangs that encourage people to enter the country illegally to work. We need better integration of refugees, including a UNHCR gateway, and to open up legitimate

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routes into the United Kingdom for people to work. These schemes will be additional to the work permit and other existing schemes.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): Everybody accepts the terrific benefits that this country has enjoyed over the years and centuries from the immigration of people with key skills, but is not this scheme one more example of the Government trying to paper over the disaster that is their asylum policy? Are not we still failing to deport even one in 10 of failed asylum seekers? At what stage will the Government recognise that they must look at more imaginative ways of tackling the asylum problem if they are going to avoid the sort of pressures that Members on both sides want to avoid?

Beverley Hughes: We are already removing more failed asylum seekers than the Conservative Government did—indeed, we are now removing more than any other European country. The hon. Gentleman misses the point. We will not get on top of the extent to which the asylum system is being used by people to get into the country unless we send out the right signals to the countries that they come from, and part of that is being clear that we will bear down strongly on traffickers and smugglers and that people who arrive here will be dealt with swiftly and removed if their claim fails. At the same time, we want to make it clear that we welcome people coming here legitimately and that we are opening up new legitimate routes.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): Does my hon. Friend agree that the attitude that all immigrants should be used as cheap labour should be stamped on firmly? Will the working party examine closely the way in which immigrants are constantly and deliberately being used in an attempt to keep down wages and conditions in certain industries?

Beverley Hughes: Indeed, the role that illegal working plays in encouraging people to come here, with the consequences for indigenous workers in some parts of the labour market and the economy that my hon. Friend describes, is a serious problem. That is precisely why the strategies of bearing down strongly on abuse of the asylum system and opening up legitimate routes in, as I outlined, are the two essential strands of a coherent policy—one that the Conservative party signally failed to introduce when it had the opportunity.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking): I listened with interest to the Minister's comments on the new migration schemes. Will she amplify as fully as possible the meaning, effect and means of implementation of the new external gateway proposals?

Beverley Hughes: I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is referring to the new migration schemes that the original question was about or to the UNHCR gateway. That gateway, to bring in refugees from out of country, is currently being discussed with UNHCR and the voluntary organisations. We intend to institute a pilot scheme from April next year. We aim to start fairly small, with about 500 people. We are currently working up the details of the scheme, considering both how the gateway will work and how we can ensure more effective

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integration of those people once they are here. Several European countries already operate such schemes, and we will draw on their expertise to ensure that we have an efficient and effective system in place early next year.

Coroners Service

10. Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham): If he will make a statement on the review of the coroners service. [75321]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): We established the review group last year. It published a consultation document in August and will report back by the spring.

Mr. Jones : Does my right hon. Friend agree that local coroners should be both accountable and sensitive to their communities? Clearly, that has not happened in Durham. I raised serious concerns about the death of one of my constituents, Maureen Malta, in the local accident and emergency department, but the local coroner, Mr. Andrew Tweddle, arrogantly refused to publish the letter or even to give reasons for that refusal. Will my right hon. Friend take a look at that case and have a meeting with me and others who have concerns about the service in Durham?

Mr. Blunkett: The Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Hilary Benn), will write to my hon. Friend shortly. We certainly need to open up consultation on how to improve the services. I do not want to make a statement about the individual case, other than to say that openness and transparency are very important and I hope that the health care trust will respond positively to his approaches. The consultation paper in August showed that existing systems for the investigation of deaths were fragmented and failed to provide clear participation rights or standards of service for the bereaved. They lacked appropriate mechanisms for skilling and training those involved, and a proper auditing processing system. They did not even respond to modern legal baselines, so there is a great deal of room for improvement in a process that has been left to fester for too long in the 19th century rather than being brought into the 21st century.

Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall): May I make a plea that, as part of the review, the Home Office examine the need for a formal appeal procedure for coroners' decision processes? The relatives of people who have been killed are often left in an unhappy state of mind because of their lack of ability to appeal against the coroner's decision.

Mr. Blunkett: I certainly do not rule that out, but we need much greater clarity as to what an inquest is for, how it fits in with the wider criminal justice system, and what the rights of the bereaved should be. We also need to narrow the number of occasions on which an inquest would be appropriate, so that we can use the resources, not least the pathology services, more effectively. I am always listening to the radio or watching the television and learning, as we did from ancient films, about the XHome Office pathologist"—but of course there are no Home Office pathologists, only a range of people who are taken on, for individual payments and on individual

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contracts, to do the job. All that needs to be brought together if we are to ensure that the whole system is geared to providing answers to questions, to a search for the truth and to action on the findings, rather than the present vagaries.

Vera Baird (Redcar): My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Law Officers' Department is holding an inquiry into the way in which deaths in custody are investigated and dealt with by the justice system. Clearly there is some overlap with the review of coroners, especially with regard to the investigative process. Although suspicious deaths in custody are few, one could argue that there is not currently great public confidence in any of the investigatory processes. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that the coroners service review team and the Law Officers' inquiry will liaise to work towards a better and more open mechanism for dealing with this difficult problem?

Mr. Blunkett: Yes, I shall be happy for the review to do that, and to do it in conjunction with the development work for the establishment of the independent police complaints mechanisms that will provide a more transparent route for those who raise complaints about what has happened to people in custody. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety will publish the latest statistics shortly.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell): Does the Home Secretary also accept that all too often the coroners service is signally failing the public? I shall give him a specific example about which I have been in correspondence with the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Hilary Benn). The parents of constituents of mine were killed in a car crash in Teesside more than 18 months ago, but because of incompetence and alleged short staffing, there has been no inquest, and the coroner has still not acted. Is there really a shortage of staff, and is the Home Secretary doing anything about it? When will my constituents who are suffering have their minds put at rest?

Mr. Blunkett: Those are all extremely good questions, but because the Home Secretary has no remit in such matters at the moment, the review will need to tell us how to develop sensible accountability, which will not take away the responsibility at local level, but will enable us to ensure that there is consistency and proper monitoring, and that we train those involved to be able to do the job. There is a kind of Xad hocism" here, which dates back to a distant bygone era. It is time to shed light on the process, and ensure that we use it sensibly so as to link it in with the criminal justice system in a meaningful fashion.

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