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2 Dec 2002 : Column 619continued
Mr. Blunkett: I agree with the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's comments. It is a pity that he did not notice the shadow Chancellor screaming at me when I spoke about extending economic migration. There is a contradiction within the Conservative party, and I know that he will want to deal with it decisively in the Reform Group. I do not, however, entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman's last point. It is very difficult to say that we will return someone to a country that is under siegea country such as Iraq, for exampleand it is therefore very difficult to say that the first country of entry should be the one that carries the whole load. That is why, building on Dublin 2, a sensible Europe-wide agreement will have to be reached on what is generally called burden sharing. In that way, we can make sense of what is currently a nonsensical situation.
Mr. Chris Pond (Gravesham): Is my right hon. Friend aware that although my constituents are certainly not opposed to people coming here to build a better life for themselves, and to fill many of our skills shortages, they are opposed to illegal immigration and abuse of the asylum system? They will, therefore, support the fact that he has been working with Mr. Sarkozy and his other European counterparts on dealing with the problems of asylum and illegal immigration that affect all parts of Europe, rather than simply exploiting the issues as some Conservative Members have done this afternoon.
Mr. Blunkett: It certainly concerns me if those who come here perpetrate, organise or are involved in acts of crime. I have made it clear both to the police and to the immigration service that if people who are here without citizenshippeople here on work permits, or for whatever other reasoncommit crimes or are involved in mafia-type activities, we should seek to remove them from the country as fast as possible.
Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): I totally agree with my right hon. Friend that a controlled immigration policy that seeks to match skills with labour shortages is the sensible way forward, but I want to ask him a question that I suspect some of my constituents will be asking me before the end of this week. It is about the 1,000 or so Iraqis. These are people who almost certainly travelled across Europe in the company of criminals and gangsters, and originally claimed to be asylum seekers but now claim to be economic migrants. Given that this country could be at war with Iraq in the relatively near future, how successful has the screening of these people been? How do we know who we are admitting to the country?
Mr. Blunkett: The great advantage of doing this in an ordered and managed fashion is that we can actually screen those people. We are undertaking security screening of those coming into the country, which would not be possible with those who reach our shores clandestinely. I take my hon. Friend's point that people will be concerned and will want to know that we have done that effectively. I want to make it clear that we are not taking any Iraqis who have claimed asylum. None of the people I am taking has claimed asylum in France. If they had I would have insisted, under article 12 of the original Dublin convention, that their claims be processed in France. That would be the case for anyone who had attempted to claim asylum there.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): The right hon. Gentleman is demanding a step-change in the operation, efficiency and competence of senior officials in his Department. Is that not an astounding admission of failure in the Department of which he is the political head? Is it not an extraordinary transfer of responsibility? Are not he and his Ministers responsible for policy and its implementation? If he cannot achieve that, should it not be he, rather than senior managers in his Department, who is held to account?
Mr. Blunkett: Something would be sadly wrong if a Home Secretary came to the Dispatch Box and pretended that black was white, and that everything was fine in the Department, when he knew that it was not. I would have thought that it was a refreshing change for a Minister to come here and say that everything is not right, and that we are doing something about it. We have just appointed a new director-general for the immigration and nationality directorate. We have also changed the whole operational system and, at last, managed to get a grip on the failed computer system that
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): My right hon. Friend knows that I have criticised his policies on occasion, but I am pleased to offer my support for his robust defence of his policy today. Anyone who has read the Foreign Office report on human rights abuses in Iraq can only be moved by the terrible abuses that have occurred to some Iraqis, and anybody who has been to Afghanistan recently, as I have, will not be surprised to know that some Afghans wish to leave that country as well. I therefore fully support my right hon. Friend; I also support the points that he made at the beginning of his statement. It ill behoves the sons and grandsons of immigrants on the Opposition Benches to scream hysterically every time the word Ximmigration" is mentioned in the House.
Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): The Home Secretary has admonished my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), but at least my right hon. and learned Friend was subject to a public inquiry, which no one on the Labour side dared to undergo when they got the country into the most appalling messand he was vindicated by it.
In the Home Secretary's talks with the French Government on securing the northern coast of France and the channel coast in this country, has he discussed foot passengers who might enter this country via the Channel Islands? When Sangatte is closed, what changes can we expect for passengers travelling from France to the Channel Islands and then from the Channel Islands to the UK? He will know that there is no passport requirement when people enter this country via that route.
Mr. Blunkett: I have not discussed that, although I certainly will, and I am grateful to the hon. Lady for drawing it to my attention. As for her defence of her right hon. and learned Friend, the only point I was making is that those who live in glasshouses should not throw stones.
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): Before the Home Secretary leaves the Chamber, will he beef up his comments on Belgium? Zeebrugge is just 30 minutes down the road from Calais and every night illegal immigrants come to this country from Zeebrugge and
Mr. Blunkett: When we debated the order on proscribed organisations I promised my hon. Friend that I would examine that point. I am doing so, as it is important and, as he rightly says, Lord Carlile has referred to it in the review. Nicolas Sarkozy and I met the Belgian Minister, Mr. Duquesne, at the end of September for a trilateral discussion. We agreed at the meeting, and I have since signed with the Belgians, an undertaking to set in place joint controls, including controls at Zeebrugge and at the Eurostar entry point in Brussels. I hope that we can get those in place as quickly as possible.
Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): The Home Secretary's announcement regarding Sangatte is welcome, but will the UK become less attractive for illegal immigrants? After all, those desperate people have crossed safe European countries, presumably because they regarded the UK as a better destination than France, Germany or Italy.
Mr. Blunkett: Yes they did, which is why some common reception policy and a common distribution pattern across Europe are sensible. That is also why we, through our balanced policy that separates clandestine asylum seekers from legitimate legal entrants, have sought to distinguish and develop one while clamping down on the other. I hope that that policy, through the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, has sent the right message.