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2 Dec 2002 : Column 612—continued

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset): I am grateful to the Home Secretary for a marginally early copy of his statement.

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We welcome the closure of Sangatte. The camp was a symbol, as Mr. Sarkozy said today. But why is the symbol considered so important by the Home Secretary? Was not the camp a symptom rather than a cause? Was it not set up because the asylum seekers were in northern France rather than vice versa? How will its closure reduce the number of asylum seekers coming to northern France?

Turning to the price paid by the Home Secretary, on what legal basis is he intending to issue work permits to 1,200 erstwhile Iraqi asylum seekers? If those people were eligible for work permits, why were they not awarded such permits before the camp's closure? Why are the French authorities so keen not to admit those applicants to France?

More generally, the House will want to learn what impact the Home Secretary believes the measures in his statement will have on net inward migration to the United Kingdom. I cannot wholly rid myself of a suspicion that he is highlighting Sangatte, and that he has wished to highlight Sangatte for some time, to distract attention from the number of people entering and remaining in this country and from the administrative shambles that that number reveals.

In a piece of slightly jaded parliamentary rhetoric, the Home Secretary asks me to join him in resisting calls to block all immigration, but that is not the question we face today. He presides over a system that has allowed, and is allowing, record unlawful net immigration. There were a record 29,000 asylum applicants in the last quarter and only 3,500 removals, which resulted in 25,500 new net additions from asylum in that period. With roughly 70 per cent. of asylum applicants finally refused asylum, we face the prospect of 700,000 additional people, who are failed asylum seekers, coming to this country and remaining in it for the next 10 years.

When we face that situation, why is the Home Secretary talking about a total block? He is nowhere near a total block. Despite his heartfelt pleas from the Dispatch Box to his Department to perform better, and despite drawing down £1.8 billion in supplementary spending increases for his Department, he is nowhere near achieving even a respectable approximation to an effective partial block. I fear that no amount of fanfare about a single camp in northern France will distract us from drawing attention to that fact or will distract the country from noticing it.

Mr. Blunkett: I am not sure whether that was a welcome for the closure of Sangatte and the measures that we are taking.

The right hon. Gentleman asks whether the closure is a symptom or a cause of the problem. I draw his attention to a wise phrase:

If Conservative Members agree with that they agree with their leader because those were the words of Iain Duncan Smith in his article at the end of May in the Daily Mail. Sangatte is clearly a magnet. That is why the French and this Government want it closed. It is also

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why we have linked it to massive improvements in border controls along the French coast and why we are now working with Belgium and the Netherlands. That was never achieved by the previous regime.

What is more, the French Government, who have a nominal connection with the Conservative party, agree entirely with my stance. They believe that what we have agreed will make a significant difference. They think that it is necessary and have widely welcomed our co-operation in making it possible.

The right hon. Gentleman asks why we chose to grant permits to Iraqis. In some regions and parts of the world, it is possible to determine that a significant number of people want to take up the opportunity to work. We also know that it is not possible to send people back to some regions, even when their asylum claims are unfounded, and that if we do not allow entry in an ordered and managed way, they will come into our country clandestinely, claim asylum, be a burden on the support system and clog up the works of the immigration programme.

So what are we doing? We are lifting the burden on taxpayers, organising the system properly and providing for our economic needs by giving people the opportunity to work. I should have thought that hon. Members from all parties would welcome that, and that is why I asked the right hon. Gentleman to join me in condemning those, whose voices are louder and louder, who are against all legal, never mind illegal, immigration into this country. I heard such comment, by one who is very close to the Conservative party, on the XToday" programme this morning. I have read it in the newspapers. I read it almost every other day now in The Times, and I have to say that, in the case of Anthony Browne, it borders on fascism.

It is time that we challenged the Conservative party on where it stands because only in September the shadow Home Secretary, when challenged on the radio about whether he would take steps to get here if there was a blockage, talked about hanging on to trains and said:

The people whom we are inviting here are not parasites; they seek to work. They seek the right to be here legally, which the right hon. Gentleman has raised in the House on a number of occasions, and I am giving them that right.

Today we are unblocking a major problem for the French and British Governments. Of course, I could have wimped and let Sangatte dribble out while people came across the Channel prior to us being able to make substantive change. The change that has made a difference today is the shifting of the border controls from England to the French coast. We have shifted the immigration and security checks and ensured that people will not get here. Stopping people entering clandestinely has to make more sense than trying to process them and send them back whence they came.

We have not spent £1.8 billion more from the reserve. If the right hon. Gentleman wants a sensible debate, I will give him one, but let us have no silliness about 700,000 unreturned entrants to this country. Otherwise,

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we will have the kind of rabble that we have seen this afternoon, who cannot welcome agreement, who do not want a sensible, rational way forward and who will back the far right when it suits them to scare people into believing that managed migration is the same as clandestine asylum seeking. The two are separate; we are dealing with them as separate things and putting in place a managed programme to resolve a long-standing problem.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): The Home Secretary will know that Liberal Democrats believe that the United Kingdom, like all European countries, should honour its obligations to allow people to put their case for asylum and to accept them when they have a good case. The evidence shows that this country, like many other European countries, needs a net increase of immigrant workers to meet the needs of our economy.

If the Home Secretary is saying that he will make a renewed effort to sort out the problems in his Department, that is welcome, but we will believe it when we see it because we have heard it said for many years.

Does the statement and the deal with the French mean that those who want to put an asylum case will be able to do so? Will the United Kingdom take any of the people currently in northern France who want to put an asylum case, or will they be allowed to stay in France or go elsewhere in Europe? Please will the Home Secretary give positive consideration to the ideas I discussed with the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration a day or so ago, namely, that instead of the nonsense of trying to lock one door, which results in people going somewhere else—locking another port, which results in people trying another route of entry—we try an intelligent Europe-wide system whereby people are processed in the same way wherever they come to the attention of the authorities, and the responsibility for all asylum seekers who enter the European Union is shared fairly across all EU countries?

Lastly, will the right hon. Gentleman consider a way of dealing with the press, which whips up the belief that an increasing number of people will come to this country or stay here legally, by saying that that those asylum seekers who are of working age could be considered as the first group of those who will meet our economic working needs, and then we will consider as a country how many other people we require to meet our work force needs? If he were to give the House a figure for how many people a year we need, that would be very helpful.

Mr. Blunkett: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome. I shall take his first and last points first. I do not intend to take people from France as asylum seekers. I intend to take the Iraqis as I described, for work purposes, and I intend to take people for family reunification from among those Afghans who have been identified by the UNHCR.

I do not intend to confuse asylum claims with economic migration routes. I do not intend to say to those who have been asylum seekers, XWe will take you as the first batch of economic migrants", because that would only encourage people to believe that if they managed to get here and claim asylum, they would be able to work. That is why we took the measures that were announced last Friday.

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I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the need for Europe-wide action. I hope that by the end of December we will have agreed Dublin 2. I do not believe that that goes far enough or that it will resolve our problems, but it is a further step towards recognition by the EU as a whole that the problem affects us all, that it reflects worldwide movements of people, and that it reflects differences between the ways in which people have been dealt with across Europe. That is precisely why I passed substantial measures in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. I hope that we can make rapid and much better progress. Nicolas Sarkozy and I debated that again this morning, because we both believe that a Europe-wide agreement is needed.

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