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Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is right to pinpoint The Sunday Times, which is full of dishonesties and inaccuracies on stories of this nature. This one was particularly untrue. Is he aware that its editor is a man called John Witherow, of whom the vast majority of the public will not have heard because of his hiding behind a wall of privacy? He is fond of misleading the public and charging them money for the privilege of being misled, but has never thought about resigning himself. I can tell my right hon. Friend that in 100 years, not one editor has resigned for giving inaccurate information or lying to the public
Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): My right hon. Friend was describing the process that has been under way over the last few weeks. Does he recall that, a few moments ago, the shadow Home Secretary claimed that not until this weekend did he know about previous backlog clearance exercises? Would he be interested to know that on 14 March, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, at which she spoke openly about the BRACE exercise? Would he also be interested to know that in the audience when she said that was the shadow Home Secretary? Does the Home Secretary agree that, although these issues are serious, some of the outrage is a trifle synthetic?
Mr. Blunkett: I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend. The allegations included one that my right hon. Friend the Minister would not come to the House, as if she had not just been in front of the Home Affairs Committee, answered the private notice question, dealt with Home Office questions at the beginning of last week[Interruption.] Of course, we took it for granted. I am merely advising colleagues about the allegations that she had not done so. I heard those allegations on the radio. One can say things on the radio and be heard. That is a fact; I have discovered it. Those things can be recorded and used in evidence against one, which is why programmes such as "Question Time" and "Any
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) (Lab): May I say something before my right hon. Friend does that? I do not think that I could be described by any Member as a Whips' woman, but may I now say how delighted I am that my right hon. Friend has defended the Minister of State so vigorously? As a humble Back Bencher who deals with her Department regularly, may I say that she probably has the worst job in Government, but that she does it extremely well? She is always available and is a very committed Minister.
Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab): The Home Secretary has described the exemplary record of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Beverley Hughes) as a Minister. May I record my appreciation, and that of my constituents, of the timely, courteous and entirely proper way in which she has dealt with immigration inquiries that I have raised with her? I am sure that Members in all parts of the House share my experience.
I said that Mr. Cameron had been at a meeting with one of my senior officials in Bucharest at the beginning of March. Shortly before that meeting, a clearly undesirable lawyer had been arrested. As the shadow Home Secretary said, the lawyer has been involved in fraud and unacceptable illegal dealings relating to entry to this country from Romania and Bulgaria. This individual was picked up at the end of February, a week before the e-mail was sent, and will appear in court on 29 April. That was part of the ongoing National Criminal Intelligence Service work that Mr. Cameron was generous enough to mention at the end of his e-mail.
I have mentioned both the NCIS work and the lawyer's arrest to show that, far from being behind the door, my officials, the enforcement agencies and all concerned have been working assiduously to try and ensure that the right things are done. One of the allegationsthat lawyers were not being pursued, and the enforcement and intelligence agencies were not doing their jobwas quite simply untrue. If it is true that staff in Sheffield were dealing with matters in an unwarranted fashion, we must look into that, and look into who gave the instruction. I agree that low-level staff should not be blamed for what is not of their making.
In February, middle managers in Sheffield were concerned about fast-track clearing from Bulgaria and Romania, so they reverted to more detailed assessment. I have announced today that we are stopping all entry from Romania and Bulgaria, because that should be done while we get this right. When I met the Romanian Prime Minister last year, we stressedas we stressed to the Interior Minister two weeks agothat part of the movement towards full accession and the lifting of visa regimes from Romania and Bulgaria would depend on getting to grips with criminality, illegal and forged documentation and an atmosphere and culture that lead naturally to suspicion.
Kevin Brennan: My right hon. Friend speaks of necessary measures, but in the long term is it not right to bear it in mind that many immigrants from Romania have made a great contribution to the United Kingdomnot least Mr. Bernat Hecht, the father of the Leader of the Opposition, who cannot be blamed for the subsequent sins of his son?
Let me put this on record. As soon as the lawyer was arrested at the end of February, staff in Sheffieldsensibly, from their point of viewnot only suspended dealing with cases that had been handled by him, but recalled those that had already been dealt with. Our staff are caring. They do give a damn. They wanted to get this right, andI say this very forcefullythey were not under instructions from any Minister to do other than follow the procedure, deal with the law and uphold what we would consider to be decent, proper, professional standards.
Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry) (Con): A few moments ago, the Home Secretary spoke of his dealings with the Romanian Prime Minister last year, and a strong reprimandmy word, but I think that it summarises the position reasonablyor warning to him about the dangers of improper practice in relation to visa applications. If the Home Secretary made those remarks to the Romanian Prime Minister at that time, presumably he did so following advice from officials in or around Bucharest, and from his own Department. If he had that advice, why did Mr. Cameron's revelations this month apparently come as a surprise that required a complete reversal of policy?
Mr. Blunkett: The specific allegations made by Mr. Cameron go much further than allegations made previously. The e-mail does not simply say what Mr. Cameron said to my senior official at the meeting, or what was said to his immediate colleagues. In the light of that, and in the light of the mistrust, misapprehension and concern that now exist among the publicunderstandably, given what they have been readingit is sensible to try and bottom this once and for all.
Yes, I did know that there were difficulties. Jointly with the Foreign Office, we had a conference here in London attended by Prime Ministers from all over south-eastern Europe. The publicity is on record and shows that we discussed the real issues of organised crime that we debated here yesterday afternoon. I was surprised that the revelations came after that statement
Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): My right hon. Friend has made one of the most sensible points that we have heard in all this. In the context of migration from south-east Europe, we know that we are dealing with criminality and possibly even with terrorism. The allegation that our right hon. Friend the Minister of State would collude in that is not just ridiculous but goes so far over the top that I think Opposition Members should consider their own position. Having alleged a lack of integrity on the part of our right hon. Friend, unless they can demonstrate that she had a motive, the charge is not against her but against the Opposition Front Benchers.