I could almost see the Whips' sheet in front of the hon. Gentleman when he was reading out the question. I have two points to make. I remind the hon. Gentleman and this arrogant Government that Ministers are accountable to Parliament, not the other way round. If the hon. Gentleman had listened to his own Home Secretary on the radio this morning, he would have heard him say that that was the responsible thing to do if one did not know the provenance of a piece of information. That is what I did until I could confirm the provenance of the document, which was last Wednesday night/Thursday. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman should talk to his own Home Secretary. He was the one who said that that was the right thing to do. The Whips' plants should get their act together.
I shall excite the Whips' plants now. In the past few days, documents that have been sent to me, which I am making public today, indicate that the decision to waive checks on ECAA applicants went wider and deeper than any previous memo suggests. These documents suggest that ministerial denials of responsibility are, frankly, incredible. I have given the Home Secretary a copy of the documents and placed a copy in the House of Commons Library. The story they tell is one of concerns ignored, warnings unheeded and objections overruled.
Last night the Minister of State claimed that she knew nothing of the allegations of the consul in Bucharest. That is difficult to believe when one looks at the facts. I have a letter written by Sir John Ramsden, a senior Foreign Office civil servant, to Chris Mace, who is the deputy director general of the immigration and nationality directorate. It was copied to Peter Wrench, the deputy director general in charge of policy. It is one of several accounts of the abuses of the ECAA scheme.
Let me read the House the key extracts. Sir John is writing about the ECAA scheme. He states:
"It clear from what they"
the British Embassy in Bucharest
"told me that this has developed into an organised scam that completely undermines our entry control proceduresand indeed makes a bit of a nonsense of having a visa regime."
"Post had just received 70 virtually identical business plans . . . Interviewed applicants rarely knew what was in their business plans, typically explaining that these had been 'written by the solicitors.'"
The letter goes on:
"It was often clear that applicants had no idea about the trade they were supposed to be setting up in the UK. . . Post have to write long referral letters pointing out the flaws in the cases submitted to them . . ."
But the business case unit in the Home Office
"only rarely refuses applications. . . . Even those with a previous immigration history e.g. people caught submitting forged documents in the past have been accepted under the scheme."
"It is demoralising for our Post to have to devote a great deal of work to servicing a scam which makes them look ridiculous."
I do not dispute for a moment that such allegations are deeply serious and should be dealt with
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as such. Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that any Minister approved the actions that he describesthat where previous fraudulent activity had been identified and where there was clearly illegal action, Ministers had told staff that they should ignore it and wave through the application?
Unfortunately, the Home Secretary has teed me up well for my next paragraph. The letter was written to the Minister's senior civil servants in November 2002, six months after the Immigration Minister was appointed to her position. Are the Government seriously suggesting that she was not told? In which case, who is running the Department?
Hugh Bayley (City of York)
(Lab): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
In a moment.
Last night the Minister asked why the consul in Bucharest had not taken the matter up with his senior managers. Let me read to the House a letter that James Cameron wrote to the Home Office as far back as October 2002 to complain about the way in which ECAA applications were processed. He states that the Home Office
"judgement and decision making with regard to BCU/ECAA applications is a continual problem for overseas posts such as Sofia and Bucharest."
"Many of the applicants have adverse immigration histories, administrative removals, suspect relationships, have applied after Leave To Remain has expired, and been working illegally in the UK for sometime prior to their ECAA application."
He goes on:
"As if this was not enough, most of our ECAA applicants have paid £1500£2000 to a UK lawyer who 'guarantees' them a visa at the end of the application process.
The applicants rarely know what is in their business plan, cannot speak English, and have absolutely no knowledge or experience in the type of skills needed for respective businesses.
Unfortunately against our strongest recommendations,"
the Home Office
"continues to issue ECAA applications such as these."
Let us understand what this means in realitywhat Mr. Cameron and his demoralised staff had to face. I shall give just a few examples of the people being let in under the scheme. I have concealed individual names to protect their identities. One example is a Ms A. who was a former British asylum seeker. All her claims for asylum and all her appeals were turned down in the mid-1990s. Facing deportation, Ms A. absconded. She was subsequently picked up by the police and removed from the UK in 1997[Interruption.]
Yes, picked up and removed. Exactly right[Interruption.]
Order. We must have order.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I need protection.
Ms A. was not, one would have thought, an ideal candidate for the ECAA scheme, yet in October 2002 she was granted an entry visa to the UK under the
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scheme, under a Labour Government. Or consider Mr. N., whose application to the ECAA scheme was reviewed in March last year. The British embassy "strongly" recommended that Mr. N.'s application be refused because he had insufficient funds to support himself without recourse to public funds. The Home Office's response? "Entry cleared."
Many other examples of extraordinary ECAA applications include not least a range of builders who know nothing about bricks and mortar, and electricians who know nothing about electricity. A common factor in these applications was an inability to speak English. And the Home Office response? "Entry cleared."
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I will not. I have given up.
Those are not one-off examples. It is an organised scam. It is well run and well known to the Home Office, yet instead of being tightened since these examples, the rules have been weakened. Yesterday the Home Secretary made a statement on organised crime. This is a prime example of organised crime. One of the excuses given by the Minister and the Prime Minister was that the vast majority of ECAA cases were already in the country legally, but that was all part of the scam.
I have a letter from the British embassy in Bulgaria to the immigration and nationality directorate in Croydon. It lists the names of 48 people who applied to come to the UK for four to six-day holiday visits from Bulgaria, with an organisation called Delfi Tours.
Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central)
(Lab): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I will notI want to finish this point.
More than three quarters of those who came to the UK on those holiday visas applied for ECAA status and never returned to Bulgaria. The vice-consul points out that Delfi Tours is
"just one agency of about 40 we have on a list."
The letter states that that
"is clear evidence of organised human trafficking for economic migration from Eastern Europe . . . If this does not demonstrate the enormity of the problem and that something should be done about the ECAA problem sooner rather than later, I don't know what would. It is surely high time Ministers were addressed and the policy of 'switching' in country removed altogether".
The letter also states:
"It is no wonder that our daily work is now confined mainly to the depressing task of processing ECAA main applications, ECAA dependants, family visits to ECAA members, or hapless visitors or businessmen with forged documents and increasingly credulous applications to visit the UK with the sole purpose of working there . . . Many local agencies and legal firms in the UK are now jumping on the ECAA bandwagon and submitting mass applications here for applicants with horrendous previous local or UK immigration records, as it is widely and correctly perceived that it is easier to get into the UK under the Agreement that it is to go on a visit."
That letter was from the British vice-consul in Sofia to the immigration and nationality directorate in Croydon, and it was sent on 20 October 2002. How can Ministers seriously claim that they knew nothing about that?
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I will give way to the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Geraint Davies), who has a constituency point.