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2 Dec 2002 : Column 622—continued

Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South): How long will the work permits last—two years, three years, 10 years? What criteria will my right hon. Friend use?

Mr. Blunkett: Much depends on the job that someone takes in a job match. We can offer a longer time to those who take what is clearly permanent work. We will want to renew work visas as we renew a range of other visas. Many people from around the world who have been here for a very long time before gaining nationality have simply asked for a renewal. I am happy to allow that, as part of a process of integration, welcoming and ensuring social cohesion. The more people feel that they are part of our community and can take on language and citizenship skills, the better.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): In view of the expense of our contribution to the liberation and reconstruction of Afghanistan, surely the best place for reunited families is there. Otherwise, do we not risk sending a further powerful signal to that country that we are a soft touch?

Mr. Blunkett: I think that aiding people to return and reconstruct their country is good common sense.

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The French are now doing it, and so are we. I have asked the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to find out how many of the 200 or so who are there would fall into the category of family unification. That is not clear at this stage, but I do not think there would be many. We should take such people, on what are perfectly open, legitimate and well tried grounds.

Claire Ward (Watford): What specific skills or qualifications will my right hon. Friend look for before issuing work permits? In the light of his responses to Members representing Kent constituencies, what assurances will he give local authorities in the broader south-east, including Hertfordshire, that potential extra pressure or costs resulting from his decision will be met by his Department?

Mr. Blunkett: Under the reception provision that we are establishing, we will pay. When people have been job matched and move around the country—we expect that movement to encompass the whole of the United Kingdom—they will sustain themselves. The great advantage of offering people a chance to fill vacancies of all sorts is that we will not need to sustain them any longer, and neither will local authorities.

As I said earlier, we have withdrawn the right to switch suddenly from one form of entry—one type of visa—to an asylum claim. I think that will reassure not only communities but local authorities that they will not face such costs.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Irrespective of the merits or demerits of the proposed admission of the Iraqis—on which it is indeed wiser at this stage to remain open-minded than to fulminate in a bucolic fashion—will the Home Secretary now answer a question posed by my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary and tell us what the legal basis of his decision is?

Mr. Blunkett: We are assured by officials—and believe me, I would not have allowed an agreement to be reached between two Governments had I not been assured of this—that we have a legal power to grant work visas to those people, and the right to do so. Work permits have been granted separately in the immediate past in relation to specific jobs. There is nothing to stop us bringing people in and finding them jobs. So that there is no misunderstanding, let me point out that we have a good precedent. After all, the mass advertising in the Commonwealth in the 1950s that led to the Windrush coming to this country took place under a Conservative, not a Labour Government.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): I am dealing with an ever-rising number of young Iraqi men who are Kurds. They have been through the IND system, and their official status is Xawaiting deportation". They are destitute, without money or housing. I deal with at least 20 such men, and I know of at least 50 in Greater Manchester. They want to work, and it is important that my right hon. Friend make it clear to them today whether he will welcome their applying for work permits.

Mr. Blunkett: No, I will not. I have made it clear that I want to establish centres in such people's regions of

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origin, to which, if they are economic migrants, they can apply sensibly. We will open discussions with countries in those regions, including the border of northern Iraq, to ensure that we can do that. If we simply transformed failed asylum seekers into economic migrants, we would immediately damage the signal that we are sending. People would believe that once they reached our shores clandestinely and had their application refused, it would be okay because eventually they would still be able to work.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney): I know that the Home Secretary believes that false asylum applications are attempts to jump the immigration queue, because I heard him say so. With that in mind, does not the proposal that he has agreed to today represent officially sanctioned, state-sponsored queue jumping on a giant scale? What message does that send to all those who have legally applied for residence here, and are waiting patiently?

Mr. Blunkett: I should make it clear that the people I am taking have not arrived in this country as clandestines, and that they have not made an asylum claim in France. It is on that basis that I am able to make this offer, and there is a logic to it; otherwise I would not have made it. If I were to offer clandestines the immediate opportunity to work, I would be criticised; if I were to offer failed asylum seekers the right to work, I would be opening the floodgates. I am taking a logical decision to deal with a problem rationally. I should say once and for all to those who commentate but never decide, and who can criticise but who take no responsibility, that if they have a better, clearer and more sensible way of dealing with this problem in reality—rather than fulminating at the French, wishing that the problem would go away, or pretending that such people would not come as clandestines and then claim asylum—they should come forward with it.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): The Home Secretary has made a welcome, constructive and civilised statement, but may I press him as to who is going to screen the Iraqis, and exactly for what purpose?

Mr. Blunkett: Our immigration services will undertake screening of status, together with officials from the Department of Work and Pensions, once those individuals have been received. In conjunction with security and law enforcement officials, we will check such individuals' status, so far as is possible. That is what people would expect us to do.

Mr. John Hume (Foyle): We are living through the greatest revolution in the history of the world in telecommunications, transport and technology. As a result, our world is much smaller, and for that reason immigration from deprived countries is far greater. Does the Home Secretary think that, in addition to the positive work that he is doing to deal with the problem, there should be substantial international co-operation in planning how to assist people in deprived countries?

Mr. Blunkett: Yes I do, and so does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development. In the past six months the UNHCR has

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assured us that it will transform its operation from what I described as in effect a non-governmental organisation, into a transnational governmental organisation that provides support in working out ways to deal with existing humanitarian and economic pressures in what—as the hon. Gentleman rightly points out—is a world of mass communication. In such a world, people know about how others live and where they live, and about lifestyles, in a way unheard of even a few years before. That has increased the responsibility, through the UN and other transnational organisations, to tackle the problem in a unified fashion.

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Points of Order

4.24 pm

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I draw the House's attention to the statement published today by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on Saddam Hussein and crimes and human rights abuses. Indict, an organisation that I chair, is quoted as a source on several pages of the document. I wonder whether we are to have a statement on the document. It raises many important questions that we should have the opportunity to debate with the Foreign Secretary on the Floor of the House, particularly as Indict has given the my right hon. Friend and the Government information that can bring some of these accusations against the regime in front of a British court. Why have the Government not acted on the conclusion that they have come to in their own document?

Mr. Speaker: There is a written ministerial statement today: No. 5. As for an oral statement, I have had no indication of one.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. On page 7 of the document is the statement that the Iraqi national football team had the soles of their feet beaten. This has been repeated time and time again. When I was in Baghdad I asked for information, and I have asked for other people's information about it, but information comes there none. Such statements may or may not be true, but should the House of Commons not have an opportunity at least to ask for further background information?

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