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Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I have listened with great care to what the Minister has said this afternoon, but the only bit that I feel able to welcome is the fact that an inquiry has been established. Even on that, I believe that it should be independent of the Department, which is clearly at fault. This is no longer about immigration policy: it is a question of the competence and organisation of the Department, right up to Ministers themselves. Is it not unsustainable for an undisclosed policy to run in parallel with the policy disclosed to the House? That is especially the case when it would appear that people are being admitted on little more than a bus ticket, while others in similar circumstances are deported. That is not sustainable.

Was Mr. Moxon required to operate the policy in the Department's Sheffield office at the time when my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) asked questions specifically about the operation of the office on 2 July 2003, at column 324W? Specific requests were made of the Minister to provide information on the operation of the directorate in Sheffield. Were no inquiries made at that time? Was there dissimulation on the part of those working in that office? Was it simply the case that the advice to civil servants that they were not even to refer to the policy guidance on their computers extended to not referring to it in response to parliamentary questions?

If, as the Minister has said this afternoon, the basic principles of what Mr. Moxon has described—for whatever motives—in the newspapers are true, and the documents on which he based his evidence were genuine, is not it extraordinary that it is Mr. Moxon who is suspended and will presumably be subject to further disciplinary action, rather than those who ordered this extraordinary state of affairs?

Beverley Hughes: I agree with the hon. Gentleman's basic premise that questions clearly arise about competence, unacceptable behaviour and management. The investigation will seek to provide the answers to those questions. However, my biggest regret is that incidents such as this, however rare and untypical they may be, create a general impression about the vast majority of very good staff in the immigration and nationality directorate, who have worked hard in the past 18 months to build up an organisation that the Conservatives left in a parlous state in 1997. It grieves me that the efforts that the staff have put in and what they have achieved—in getting to grips with asylum applications and correspondence, and introducing proper practices to the organisation—are diminished and clouded by the actions of some people. However well intentioned those actions may have been, they were wrong and cannot be justified. I am taking action to ensure that we get the full answers as to how and why the problem arose, why senior managers did not know and how people can feel that they can behave in that way without permission.

As to Mr. Moxon, I hope that the hon. Gentleman understands—and agrees—that it is not the job of Ministers to manage personnel. I am sure that in other parallel circumstances, all Opposition parties would

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acknowledge that. I have to leave decisions about personnel to senior managers, who decide what, if anything, needs to be done.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): As the Minister said, the flexibility policy was not approved by Ministers in any way whatever and is now to be cancelled. Given that Mr. Moxon endeavoured to advise the Minister, by writing letters to her, is it not wrong in principle to suspend him? In my view, he has done nothing wrong, and has only drawn the Government's attention to a muddle. Will the Minister try to solve the problem by ensuring that in every month until May, she publishes the number of people who have been permitted to come here from the eastern European countries that are being admitted to the EU?

Beverley Hughes: On the hon. Gentleman's last point, I would like to clarify an important aspect of applications through the ECAA route, where people apply to set up businesses here. The vast majority of people given permission to settle through that route are already—and legally—here. We are not talking about a whole additional group of people coming in: there are some, but the majority are here in one capacity or another, have been admitted regularly and are here legally. Some people are applying to switch into the business route. It is important that Members understand that and avoid claiming that somehow large numbers of additional people are coming into the country through that route. As I said, most are already legally here.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point about Mr. Moxon, but an investigation is taking place and managers have taken the view that it is right and appropriate for him to be suspended at this time. He will be interviewed and no doubt managers will reach their own conclusions about what, if anything, needs to be done.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): In the light of the very unsatisfactory circumstances relating to the Minister's office, which must be her personal responsibility, will she now say exactly when she discovered the state of affairs that she has described today?

Beverley Hughes: Yesterday.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): When the House debated and passed the EU enlargement treaty last year, many hon. Members asked the Minister about the immigration figures. We accepted her assurances then on the assumption that she was in control of her Department. It now seems that her Department ran a parallel covert immigration policy, so was not the House misled in that respect when the treaty legislation was passed?

Will the Minister comment on a further specific matter? She alluded at that time to a Home Office study that established that the maximum immigration from the country concerned would be between 5,000 and 13,000 a year. Will she confirm that she still holds and stands by those figures? Ministers have been asked about that repeatedly in recent weeks, but have provided evasive answers.

Beverley Hughes: We have not given any evasive answers. I certainly accept that we should be as well

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informed and transparent about these issues as possible, but I would also say, with respect, that the right hon. Gentleman needs to be better informed. The questions that he has just asked reveal considerable muddle about the issues. There are two main issues. One is the ability of people to enter the country and seek work—in other words, to be given free movement as workers. In respect of an estimate of those numbers, the Home Office commissioned independent research by University college London, which produced best estimate or best advice figures.

What we are now discussing is a wholly separate issue: under the terms of the EU treaty, every member state signing up to it—I have already said that when it was signed in 1994, the UK was Conservative controlled—agreed to allow a number of people to enter the country not to work, but to set up in business. That applied to all member states under the terms of that agreement up to 1 May this year, after which there will be no further requirements under free movement provisions to allow people to go through some form of process if they are to set up a business. They will be treated like any UK citizen, and the same terms apply in Germany, France, Italy—[Interruption.] I am surprised that the shadow Secretary of State does not seem to understand the rules. People from any member state—both now under the terms of the EC association agreements and in May under the terms of the treaty—will be able to come into the country, be treated like any UK citizen and set up a business.

Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye) (Lab): Bearing in mind that Her Majesty's Opposition and all the other parties voted for the accession treaty, will a single additional person from the accession countries, who would not have had the right to be here, be in this country on 1 May as a result of this hiccup?

Beverley Hughes: The answer to that question is no; there will not be.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Will the Minister take this opportunity to congratulate Mr. Moxon on trying to alert her through the proper channels in December and January? Will she assure the House that disciplinary action will not be taken against him, and will she promise us that disciplinary action will be taken against all those who put through this unauthorised policy and, as she tells us, kept her in the dark?

Beverley Hughes: I have already said that an investigation is under way. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that it was this Government who introduced legislation to protect so-called whistleblowers. I wonder

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what his view of that was at the time. The bottom line is that I am glad that I now know what has been going on; I am glad that somebody has told me—and so are the senior managers. I repeat, though, that I regret the method that Mr. Moxon has used, not because of me—[Interruption.] I say that because it has cast a shadow—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Hon. Members must allow the Minister to answer.

Beverley Hughes: It has cast a shadow over the excellent work of the vast majority of those in the IND, and has created a general impression, which is not typical, of such work.

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