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2 Dec 2002 : Column 616—continued

Mr. Gwyn Prosser (Dover): I congratulate my right hon. Friend and his team on achieving a sensible, practical and fair settlement for the closure of Sangatte, and on delivering a raft of other important security and border control measures. However, when the management and accommodation of the British consignment of migrants is dealt with, will he take account of the fact that places such as my constituency, Dover, which already houses an induction centre, a removal centre and accommodation for almost 200 young asylum-seeker children, are already experiencing great pressure? As the Prime Minister said last year, we have already borne more than our fair share.

Mr. Blunkett: My hon. Friend's area has borne more than its fair share, which is why I am sure that he will welcome the transfer to the French coast of immigration and security controls. I am absolutely certain that that will alleviate a substantial part of the problem, when taken together with the massive security now in place around the passenger and freight depots in France. A year ago, people said that that was impossible—they said that we would not be able to do it, that the French would never agree, that we would never get those measures in place, and that people would continue to come from those areas.

We still face a major challenge. Distributing those who are organised and managed into this country under the agreement will be important, and I give an assurance that they will not be managed and organised into the Kent coast.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): I thank the Home Secretary for that final assurance. Does he accept that a failure by the House to have a proper and realistic discussion of the matter is the surest way to fuel the very worst forces out on the streets? Does he acknowledge that more than half the people who claimed asylum last year did so in-country and so have nothing to do with the process in France, and that the real solution to the sheer volume of work that is causing the bulk of our problems must be to have a rapid method of ejecting those who enter legally, overstay and, when they are finally picked up, try to claim asylum?

Mr. Blunkett: Yes, and that is precisely why, in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act, I introduced measures to deny people the financial support and housing that they would otherwise claim if they had not made a claim at or close to the point or port of entry. Many of the people we are talking about as in-country

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applicants have been trafficked in, spent time in the country, and then make a claim, which is entirely wrong—we all agree about that. My earlier reply was given entirely in response to the hooting that started when I announced that we were going to take people as legal economic migrants. We must be absolutely clear—if we are all united against clandestines, we are not all united on legal immigration on economic grounds to this country. That issue is now dividing us. It may not divide the shadow Home Secretary and myself, but it clearly divides him from members of his party.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): Is this a one-off acceptance of legal migrants, exclusively for people from Iraq and Afghanistan—dangerous but by no means the only dangerous parts of the world? While I welcome the Home Secretary's call for a step change in the immigration and nationality directorate, will it be accompanied by additional resources, both financial and trained staff? Will he make the same call for a step change and improvement in the National Asylum Support Service?

Mr. Blunkett: On the last point, I consider those support services to be an integral part of the immigration and nationality directorate, and want to seek substantial changes in them. Yes, this is a one-off—I have made that absolutely clear—designed to close Sangatte. We should remember that there were going to be several Sangattes only 12 months ago. Headline after headline said that we were not going to close Sangatte but instead would open several such centres along the French coast—wrong. Sangatte will be closed by the end of December, and we should rejoice in that.

Let me make one thing clear. Yes, the immigration and nationality directorate will get the money that it needs, and has had several thousand additional posts over the past three years. Using the money wisely, however, managing properly and taking decisive management action on failure and lack of productivity is something that everyone in the House now wants.

Derek Conway (Old Bexley and Sidcup): The Home Secretary's hopes that he expressed this afternoon will be shared, I trust he accepts, on both sides of the House. Nobody wants him to be anything other than successful. That is particularly true in my constituency of Old Bexley and Sidcup, where we have many asylum-seeker families who are perfectly decent people just trying to achieve a better role in life. However, many of my constituents will think that the Government are selling out. If the Home Secretary challenges the figures produced by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) on unreturned entrants, will he now give the House his own figures?

Mr. Blunkett: As the hon. Gentleman probably knows, I am conducting a major attack on illegal working, and I am running a consultation on entitlement cards. Given the obvious support for major action on that, I assume that the Conservative party, including the Front Bench, will now come out unequivocally in favour of entitlement cards and assist with that discussion. Let me make it clear that we do not

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accept the 700,000 figure, because it has been plucked out of thin air. However, we accept the need for a proper analysis of clandestine entry and the level of illegal working. We are working with the TUC to tackle that and introduce proper measures to secure the system for the future. I will do my best to ensure that we get that right.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): Does my right hon. Friend agree that at a time when a report on human rights abuses in Iraq has just been published, it is rather strange that members of the Opposition appear to be unhappy that this country is giving young men who have fled the tyranny of Saddam Hussein an opportunity to work and to make a contribution to our society? Is it not extremely worrying, when millions of people throughout the world are suffering and are refugees and asylum seekers in many countries, that some people are so narrow minded that they believe that we should do nothing to help individuals fleeing such tyranny?

Mr. Blunkett: Yes it is.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet): Those of us who campaigned for a long time for the closure of Sangatte will welcome the Home Secretary's achievement because we believe that it may facilitate the traffic of freight and passengers through the channel tunnel. However, the right hon. Gentleman's other comments are breathtaking in their arrogance. Why should 1,200 people be suddenly transformed, at the wave of a Home Office wand, from asylum seekers into work seekers, and granted work permits ahead of scores of others? Given the Home Secretary's answer to the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Prosser), why is the Department trying to establish a reception centre for even more asylum seekers in Folkestone? Has the right hon. Gentleman got the Chancellor's agreement to pay the county of Kent all the money that the arrangement will cost the taxpayers and council tax payers of the United Kingdom, especially those of Kent?

Mr. Blunkett: My budget will fund whatever temporary costs arise from the need to receive people and move them to job match through the agreement that was reached this morning. The costs will be much less than what we would have paid—on average £18,000, including legal aid—for putting those who would have come here to claim asylum through the process. We all accept that the 67,000 people who went through Sangatte in the past three years undoubtedly made their way to the United Kingdom. That was their purpose in struggling across Europe—to paraphrase the words of the shadow Home Secretary on a Radio 4 programme in September. We have therefore saved rather than spent resources.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley): The effective moving of the border for checks against human smuggling is welcome. So is the closure of Sangatte, which, as everybody knows, has for many years been a magnet for people who enter the country illegally. What are the implications for Iraqis and people from Afghanistan who are currently here?

Mr. Blunkett: I am pleased that my right hon. Friend welcomes the change. Changing the border controls to

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France is significant. The system of assessing individual asylum claims will continue in the usual way. Those who have not been assigned asylum claims will be considered in future for special humanitarian protection. However, as I made clear in the statement, we are keen to establish legitimate immigration routes for economic purposes so that people who want to create a better life do not present themselves as asylum seekers facing death and torture. If we can do that—we are doing it for 175,000 people this year—and meet the needs of our economy, we will square the circle.

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham): I am glad that the Home Secretary has moderated his tone from that which he deployed earlier, which many Members found offensive.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that many hon. Members perceive a good case for selective and controlled economic migration, and are passionately keen for Britain to maintain its noble tradition of giving asylum to those who are genuinely fleeing persecution in other countries? For those reasons, we are anxious for real control to be exercised over those who are not genuine refugees. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that regardless of whether Sangatte is open or closed, a system that deems that people who have passed through a safe country in the European Union are prima facie not refugees because they have forgone their opportunity to seek refuge in France or Belgium, should return them immediately to their country of origin?

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