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Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): So it is all our fault, then?

Mr. Blunkett: I thought that we had all agreed that where fraud, deception, forgery and illegal action need to be dealt with, we all have a responsibility to do so.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Blunkett: I shall give way in a moment to the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), who will have apoplexy if I do not, but I just want to make it clear that responsibility is not confined to Ministers: we all have an obligation. I simply put myself in the position of the shadow Home Secretary and ask whether I would want to make mischief—

Mr. Speaker: Order. There are so many voices in the Chamber that I cannot hear the Home Secretary. I should be able to hear the Home Secretary. I say again, as I have said before, that shouting is unacceptable in the House.

Mr. Blunkett: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, although I am not worried about being shouted at.

Were I to be in the shadow Home Secretary's position, I would certainly want to cause maximum embarrassment to the Government. Oppositions do that—we did it ourselves. However, I would have questioned my conscience as to whether, having received material and held it for several weeks, I would have been honour-bound to present it not to me, the Home Secretary, but to Ken Sutton.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I point out to the Home Secretary that I am listening very quietly, unusually for me. As a former Minister, I, like many of my colleagues, was subjected by this Government, when they were in opposition, to a two-year full public inquiry chaired by the Master of the Rolls, with all ministerial papers being made available. I refer of course to the BSE inquiry. I have no objection to having been put through that exercise, but I remind the Home Secretary that not one Minister who was subject to that inquiry sought at any time to blame any official. During our term of office, the buck stopped with Ministers, and we recognised that fact.

Mr. Blunkett: But I do not remember a single Minister resigning. I remember that BSE cost the country billions of pounds, that it cost people a great deal of misery, and that there were very many allegations, but I do not remember the Secretary of State or any Minister resigning. [Interruption.] Hon. Members are shouting that they were exonerated. Well, my right hon. Friend the Minister has been exonerated. [Hon. Members: "No, she has not."] Yes, she has. This is not simply a matter of protecting my integrity or that of my right hon. Friend or other Ministers: it is about the confidence that the public need to have and about the morale of staff in dealing with such issues as they undertake a

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difficult job. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden said, "We value the staff, we have confidence them, and we applaud them for their courage." So do we. We have, above all, a duty of care to our staff, and we have not sought to blame them for what has happened. [Hon. Members: "Yes, you have."] No, we have not. We have sought to get to the root of the allegations that were made in relation to specific measures that were taken, why they were taken, and who authorised them to be taken, even if we understand why they were taken. There is a difference.

Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester) (LD): As the internal inquiry was unable to consider the Cameron e-mail, will the Home Secretary come to the Dispatch Box and agree to a full independent inquiry so that it can be considered?

Mr. Blunkett: I am already at the Dispatch Box announcing the measures that we intend to take and the way in which we will deal with the material: we will of course make it publicly available.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): The Secretary of State said a moment ago that Ministers have not sought to pin the blame on officials. Was he not present for the statement that his right hon. Friend the Minister made to this House about a month ago, when she specifically indicated that officials, not herself, were responsible for what had gone wrong? She should know what is happening in her part of the Department. If she is not in full control of the situation, that suggests that she is not up to the job.

Mr. Blunkett: I am sorry, but I intend to deal with the specific allegations one by one; trying to slur the Minister does not shed any light on the situation—

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton) (Con) rose—

Mr. Blunkett: I want to make some progress before I give way again.

We need to get a bit of light on the issue, as well as heat, so I am happy to deal with the facts. I remind the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) that I was not in the Chamber for my right hon. Friend's statement because I was in the United States; otherwise, I would have made the statement myself. I have read it, however, and the truth is that she simply gave the facts. There is a big difference between trying to get to the facts and blaming staff, as was illustrated by the example of BSE that was cited a moment ago. Somebody had made the decisions, so somebody was to blame, but in the end nobody was blamed. Well, fair do's: if nobody is to blame for anything, nobody is accountable for anything. We are accountable and responsible for our policies. I am responsible and accountable even when I have not devised the policies because that is our constitution, which goes back a very long way. As someone who did politics at university, I am fully familiar with its niceties.

Let me deal with the context of the events. For example, let us consider the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden that we inherited a golden era of immigration and asylum control. In fact, we inherited a complete shambles in 1997. The previous

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Government did not have an electronic fingerprinting system; they had a computer that had broken down, and it took 20 months to process the initial decision on asylum compared with two months now. There were 54,000 outstanding cases whereas there is now less than half that number. Fewer than 9,000 people were removed every year, whereas last year we removed 17,000 asylum seekers as well as 12,000 other illegal immigrants. If the Opposition want to bandy words about who inherited a shambles and who did something about that, we are happy to do so.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Citizenship and Immigration has been instrumental in turning the system around in the past 18 months. She has ensured that, instead of a 45 per cent. increase in asylum claims, there has been a 50 per cent. drop in the past year. [Interruption]. I mention asylum only because there has been a clever attempt to combine the word "asylum" with the immigration allegations that have been made in the past three weeks, to the point where even a BBC political reporter did that on the news yesterday. That is not surprising because some of the newspapers that have jumped on the bandwagon have hinted—they have not told lies because not telling the truth is good enough for them—that the matter related to the asylum system rather than entry clearance, and to those who were already in the country and having their cases reaffirmed. [Hon. Members: "Blame civil servants and the media."] I was not blaming anybody but simply pointing out that there is a desire to confuse the system. It exists because some people deeply oppose any inward immigration to this country.

Mr. Osborne: Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Blunkett: I shall in a moment. When we published our White Paper two years ago, we set out a clear, balanced policy and a comprehensive approach to immigration, nationality and asylum. We said that we wanted to clamp down on those who entered the country clandestinely. We wanted people who did not have a legitimate asylum claim to apply openly and legitimately to come into the country to work.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Blunkett: I shall give way in a moment. People inside and outside the House have opposed that balanced policy throughout. I want to make it clear that we are sticking to it. Whatever the allegations, whatever the truth of the matter, we shall not be diverted into believing that everybody who applies to enter our country—those who want to work or happen to have a foreign name, a different nationality or religion—is somehow suspect and up to no good, and should be rejected.

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): The Home Secretary spoke of the importance of good community relations. All hon. Members agree with that. However, does he accept that the failure to remove 250,000 failed asylum seekers since 1997 has the potential fatally to undermine the ability to build good community relations in this country?

Mr. Blunkett: Doubling the removals of those who are not here legitimately has helped. Identity cards

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would be a major step forward in ensuring that we knew who was in the country, whether they were entitled to services and whether they had been authorised to draw on those services. It would also make the reinstitution of embarkation procedures, which the previous Government abandoned, at least a possibility. At the moment, it is not.

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