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Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab): There are two central issues. The first is the specific charges of fraud, which need to be fully investigated; the second is that we have deliberately misused the European Community Association Agreements system, which the previous Government introduced. It has been put to me that the charge constitutes nothing more than naked opportunism. If there is any substance in the allegations, surely we need to know what happened when the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) was Home Secretary. Should not we be able to compare the previous Government's policy with the current one? Should not all documents and memos that relate to that period be disclosed so that everyone in the country can see the whole picture and the whole truth?
Mr. Blunkett: In a moment. I simply want to make the point clearly that we need a properly managed, correctly authorised and accurately reported asylum and nationality system that rejects those who should not be in the country but welcomes those who should.
Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) (Lab): Before my right hon. Friend moves on, I want to make a point about responsibility. Will he cast his mind back to the backlog clearances that took place in the past and remember who was responsible for conducting them in 1993? The details were never made public. Yet the results of such exercises in the past few years have been announced and Ministers have clearly stated the criteria for them.
Mr. Blunkett: We all remember who was Home Secretary in 1993 and we shall remind the public of that repeatedly between now and the general election. We are dealing not with naked opportunism, to use the term of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe), but opportunism clothed in concern by those who want to get it right only when it suits them to put the evidence in the public arena.
Mr. Blunkett: I have made it clear that people who use the normal whistleblower procedure or the new hotline will not be disciplined for producing evidence. Let us show some maturity: I do not know everything that goes on, with the tens of thousands of people that my Department employs directly or indirectly. Any politician who pretended that they did would be stupid or duplicitous. We are neither.
Mr. Blunkett: I shall in a moment but first I want to deal with the four allegations. Two were straightforward and would not normally have been viewed as a cause celebre and, as I said earlier, two raised profound issues that need to be tackled. The first of the latter was the Moxon allegations. Whatever that individual's background and whatever statements he may have made, he deserved to be taken seriously. The review was set up to examine what he had alleged. The allegations related to the accession countries and what would happen before 1 May.
It was alleged that fast-tracking had been authorised to get people through the system and thus reduce the number of people who were seen to come in and register after 1 May. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State's head was supposedly on the block and her resignation was called for because of that. First, the allegations were proved to be entirely untrue: she had not authorised any change in practice in relation to fast track. Secondly, 80 per cent. of the cases were of people already in the country whose stays were being reauthorised. Even if one is not terribly intelligent, it is not difficult to understand that one cannot fast-track people into the country who are already here. Therefore, one cannot be accused and found guilty of fiddling the figuresthat was the allegationso that those people would not be counted from 1 May. Despite all the hysteria, that allegation did not stand up to scrutiny.
Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): The civil servant who made the original allegations, who reportedly believes that Muslims will need to be dealt with by nuclear weapons, is today quoted as saying that the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration is
Mr. Blunkett: I am trying desperately to keep the debate on a level that addresses facts and issues. People will have to draw their own conclusion both about behaviour in the Chamber and how people have been dealing with these matters outside. The facts in relation to the case that was put by Mr. Moxon, whose subsequent revelations will lead people to make judgments about his motives, need to be set aside.
After the Moxon suggestions, we had the e-mail from Mr. James Cameron, which was sent, as I understand it, on 8 March. As I spelled out, that was the day on which the review began. Incidentally, that was just four days after Mr. Cameron had been in the same room as one of my senior officials in Bucharest, along with others, talking about the very issues that we are debating this afternoon.
On 1 and 2 March, Mr. Cameron was quite properly in a meeting with a senior official from my Department. That official was seeking to get to the truth about the allegations and behaviour involved. When he came back, he wrote a note indicating that he would take action on the appropriate lines to ensure that the allegations were properly investigated. As he had indicated that, I was surprised to learn that, four or five days later, these allegations were made as if no one had been listening or taken any action at all[Interruption.] No, I am not smearing anyone. Perhaps it would be better if I did not give the facts so people could just have their prejudices. I am merely spelling out that tightening checks and investigating concerns are not the prerogative of the Opposition. It happens that my staff were, rightly, concerned about that and prepared to act on it. Therefore, the Cameron allegations must be taken seriously, unlike the second allegation, which was about the backlog reduction accelerated clearance exercise.
Mr. Osborne: If there were concerns about the Cameron allegations before they were expressed in the e-mail, why were they not investigated by the Sutton inquiry? In addition, if the Secretary of State is in charge of his Department, why do so many civil servants feel that they must send missives to the Opposition? Why do civil servants in his Department feel that they cannot use internal channels to raise their concerns?
Mr. Blunkett: First, Mr. Cameron is not a member of my staff, but that does not change the issue. We should not bandy words about which civil servants leaked what to whom, because we had a bellyful of receiving e-mails and faxes when we were in opposition, some of which were accidental, as the right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard) will recall, including finding her diary and handing it back to her. I put that on the record because it is important to show that politicians have some integrity. We remember what we received and did not receive from nefarious sources when we were in opposition, and that will continue.
I will come back to James Cameron in a moment. The second allegation was about the clearance exercise, which was not only in line with practice developed from the late 1980s, as was described a moment ago, but entirely sensible and in accord with the practice that we would have expected to be laid down, not necessarily authorised by current Ministers but certainly authorised in the past by Ministers. The second call for my right hon. Friend to resign was therefore absolutely spurious, and had no basis in fact.
The third allegation was even more ridiculous and concerned applications for citizenship. With security checks still in place, character checks and references still taken up, full immigration history still undertaken, and after a risk assessment and 100 per cent. tally with passport checks on visits overseas, it was decided not to
I want to make something clear. The Sunday Times, the Tory party and anyone else can keep on throwing mud, but my right hon. Friend is not resigning, she is not being sacked and she has the total support of this side of the House and everyone who has dealt with her.