Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend's refusal to bow to the hysteria about large numbers of people coming here and adoption of a sensible system of allowing people to work here legally. I am sure that he agrees, however, that if it is to work he will have to crack down on employers who are prepared to employ people illegally. Employers who do not bother to check up on people under the current system will not bother to check whether they are registered under the new scheme, but will continue to employ people illegally, to pay less than the minimum wage, to fail to pay national insurance and so on. We have not had a good record in dealing with those employers, so I urge that he take that extremely seriously. We should target people who employ illegal workers to ensure that significantly more are prosecuted.

Mr. Blunkett: I agree that we should step up our inspection and enforcement system. Good employers, including those represented through the TUC, British Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses, are in favour of that. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration chairs an intergovernmental working group to consider how we can improve on section 8 of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996. That regulatory framework, which was introduced by a former Home Secretary who is now Leader of the Opposition, has signally failed—it never worked and will need radical updating.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard (South-West Norfolk) (Con): Officers of Breckland district council, part of whose area I represent, calculate that some 15,000 migrant workers have arrived in the past two to three years. Some are here legally, but some are here illegally, with, in some cases, the obvious consequences of appalling exploitation and pressures on health and other public services. Does the Home Secretary accept that he has left somewhat late his response to what will happen as a result of the European directive? Can he give the House any idea of the numbers he expects to arrive; and can he reassure the House that the pressures on local services, about which I have warned him, his Department and other Departments for at least two years, will be avoided when we have large numbers of additional people in these islands?

Mr. Blunkett: I know the right hon. Lady well, and I know that she will welcome those people coming to Norfolk legally, rather than illegally; their being registered, rather than unregistered; and their being monitored, rather than left to sink in the sub-economy. Through that regulation and monitoring, we will be able to plan for the requirements that she spells out, avoid

23 Feb 2004 : Column 33

the unwarranted pressures to which she rightly draws attention, and ensure that we have a degree of sensible planning within this flexible market system.

On numbers, I cannot give the right hon. Lady a definitive figure. Last June, we published the figures that have been mentioned. We do not intend to be held to those figures. Neither my right hon. Friend the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration nor I have ever used them—although the Department clearly has, because it funded the research. I have no intention of being held to the 13,000 figure: if I had, I would be a very foolish politician, because in future the only issue raised in this House would not be whether those people were good for our country or had paid their tax or national insurance, but whether I had got the figure wrong.

Mr. Gwyn Prosser (Dover) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement and support his balanced approach. That will also be welcomed in areas and constituencies that have experienced large flows of people from eastern Europe—most seeking asylum and most with unfounded claims. However, does he agree that it is important to raise the issue in those eastern European countries and send a signal that people will be welcome to come to seek work but that there will be difficulties for and restrictions on those who want to abuse the system? What measures will he take to get that message across?

Mr. Blunkett: We spelled out our intention some time ago, but I reiterate it this afternoon: we will spend resources on ensuring that the message is clear, especially in those countries where there is misinformation about people's likely entitlements if they reach our shores. That is fair to them, so that they do not trail themselves and often their children across Europe only to find that they are not entitled to benefit, and fair to us to ensure that those people do not make the attempt to exploit a system that we are now closing down.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con): Does the Home Secretary accept that the best word that can be applied to the measure is "dilatory"? Does he recall that his predecessor announced that the Government would not implement the measures that we had introduced against illegal working in 1996 and then two years later had to admit they were wrong? Now, some two years after that, they have managed to prosecute no more than one person—in 2001—for employing people illegally. They have known for a long time that this particular problem was about to arise, and that it is bound to increase the amount of illegal working, because people will have—

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North) (Lab): What is the question?

Miss Widdecombe: The question was, does the Home Secretary accept that the applicable word is "dilatory"? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept—

Mr. Speaker: Order. That should be enough.

Mr. Blunkett: I am tempted to say simply that the answer is no. The applicable term is "common sense".

23 Feb 2004 : Column 34

Many countries in Europe have not laid regulations or spelled them out in detail. The Germans have done that, but many countries have not set out precisely what they will do. Since I have spelled out precisely the policy that I have enunciated for two years, I can hardly be described as dilatory or contradictory.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): I appreciate everything that my right hon. Friend said in the statement. I want to ask him about the comment that the proposals would provide a platform for a national ID card scheme, under which, in time, all non-UK nationals would be required to register. How will we know who are non-UK nationals if we depend on employers, such as the gangmaster who allowed the men to die in Morecambe bay, to be in charge of registering? Are we reaching the point where we may have to move towards a national ID scheme for us all?

Mr. Blunkett: We are moving towards an ID scheme for us all, as I said at the end of last year. We will introduce a draft Bill in the spring for prior consideration and scrutiny and present it for the House to decide whether it wants to go ahead with the scheme that is being recommended and is now agreed by the Cabinet. Yes, we need to toughen up on gangmasters and ensure that any ID card scheme that commences with overseas nationals takes account of the terrible exploitation of clandestines that I am trying to avoid, through the measures announced this afternoon.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Is the Home Secretary comfortable about being so out of step with our European Union partners? Is it possible that Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Holland, France, Austria, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece are all wrong?

Mr. Blunkett: Not all of them are wrong. However, some have decided to adopt bureaucratic methods of achieving the same goal. The British Chambers of Commerce has condemned those methods and the Confederation of British Industry has not welcomed them. I have avoided the massive bureaucracy involved in trying to stop people getting in in the first place by providing for them to register when they arrive and have a job to do. That is a commonsense approach, which I hoped hon. Members of all parties would welcome.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): What has happened in the past few weeks to make the Home Secretary renege on a commitment to which the Government proudly held in the past seven years as the champion of enlargement? He has presented no evidence to suggest either that benefit tourists will come here for those purposes or that the Home Office will be able to cope with the new registration scheme. We have already heard about the backlog. On 1 May, surely we should warmly welcome the new members of the EU rather than rip away the welcome mat from under them.

Mr. Blunkett: You see, Mr. Speaker, the dilemmas amid which we walk. I shall just ask my hon. Friend to consider the way in which we maintain community and race relations in this country, the way in which we have

23 Feb 2004 : Column 35

been able to open up a new work permit system and legal, managed migration, and the way in which we shall become able, during the next few weeks, to welcome people openly as asylum seekers to this country, via the United Nations route, rather than in the back of lorries. Those methods are precisely to ensure that people in this country do not believe that their taxes and national insurance contributions are exploited by those who have no entitlement, have not contributed and would come to this country to draw on one of the most generous welfare state systems in the world. That is the balance that I have achieved right across the board in asylum and immigration, and that is what I am seeking to achieve this afternoon. It is not only common sense; it is absolutely critical to the maintenance of decent race relations in Britain.


Next Section

IndexHome Page