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Mr. Blunkett: My hon. Friend has put his finger on a central issue. If, for the fourth time, there is a call for my right hon. Friend's resignation, on what basis is it made? To substantiate it—having not substantiated the three earlier calls—those issuing it would have to show that she had authorised or condoned the actions that Mr. Cameron alleged to be taking place, which are now to be investigated and about which a further allegation has been made this afternoon by the shadow Home Secretary. There has to be some route back from the authorisation or condoning of the sort of gross illegality that has been alleged. That is why I agree that making allegations is easy, but providing facts to back them up is much more difficult.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con) rose—

Mr. Blunkett: I will give way in case a fact is about to emerge.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way. He has now twice told the House that on 8 October one of his senior officials went to Bucharest to investigate what was going on there. Was that a routine investigation and, if not, why was the Sutton inquiry not asked to investigate those matters, too? Does it not show that the Sutton inquiry was not in possession of the full facts and therefore not a thorough inquiry?

Mr. Blunkett: I said that my senior official went on 1 and 2 March, and I pointed out that the Sutton review was about the first of the spurious allegations and was being investigated. The subsequent allegations, including those made in the e-mail sent on 8 March, but not revealed by the shadow Home Secretary until last night, were an entirely different issue. I have already said that the blending of all the different issues together is understandable as clever politics, but it is wholly a tactic rather than a reality of fact.

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I have therefore disentangled points one, two and three this afternoon. We dealt with the first through the review; the second and third were spurious and, in any case, conformed to the practice of previous Home Secretaries—of which, incidentally, I approve and take responsibility for. The fourth is now about to be investigated. Those are all nothing more than allegations against a Minister who has done so much to reinforce our border controls, and to tackle—she will announce it in a few days' time—months of work on sham marriages, bogus student applications and the lack of proper controls that we inherited from the previous Government. She has done a fantastic job on turning round the asylum system. Of course, our opponents, who have to move on to the next issue, have tried to present what we have been doing in getting a grip on the system as a shambles.

Those who have made the allegations this afternoon have failed to make their case. They have failed to demonstrate the facts and failed to demonstrate again and again that calls for my right hon. Friend's resignation were justified. That is why we stand four-square behind her. We are getting to the truth by all means and reassuring people that we know what we are doing. We are ensuring that we have a balanced nationality, immigration and asylum policy, and we are proud of the work that we have been able to do so far. We are determined to ensure that no one undermines that policy, whether through illegal activity outside our country, through sloppy work inside it, through lawyers—I have indicated that a lawyer has been arrested—or through a failure of enforcement.

All of that will be taken into account in the review, but, in the end, we have to make a judgment. Has the Minister of State done a first-class job? We all know that she has, so the answer to that question is yes, yes, yes. That is why she has our unequivocal backing and will continue to do so.

1.53 pm

Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester) (LD): This is a serious debate, and I am glad that the Home Secretary has acknowledged that some of the issues raised, particularly in the most recent allegations, are indeed serious. I wish to examine the allegations in some detail and also examine some of the operations taking place in the Department, particularly those of the immigration and nationality directorate. There have been calls for the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration to resign, so I shall also look at some of the reasons behind those demands for her resignation.

Before I go into the detail, I would like to make a general observation about the climate in which the debate is taking place. I am convinced that if we did not live in a society where issues of migration, asylum and immigration were sometimes deliberately muddled and confused, and where we had to respond to so much nonsense in the tabloid press, some of the misunderstandings and the actions of individual civil servants would not have happened in the first place. In a climate where politicians and Ministers are so frightened to explain transparently and in some detail what they are planning to do—in other words, their precise intentions on asylum and migration—the real issues will be buried and hidden away, leading to the sort of confusions that have emerged over the last couple of

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weeks. I believe that all sides have a responsibility to improve the quality of debate on asylum and migration issues, so that we do not end up with the sort of debate that we are having now—a debate that is the consequence of the climate in which we live.

Clearly, the allegations that have emerged over the past three or four weeks are of serious concern. This country cannot have a system of immigration that is open to different levels of interpretation in different Government offices and that is not transparent. The House should be able to know exactly what Government policy on immigration is and we should not allow decisions to be taken, as it would appear, without clear ministerial approval.

The issues are complex and hard to understand, so I want to look in detail at the three basic allegations that have been made. The first could be described as the Moxon/Sheffield set of allegations. In layman's terms, they suggest that a policy was in place to fast-track in-country applications from EU accession country nationals. It is alleged that rather than going through the usual detailed paper process, a simpler application base was used and that the policy was put in place not necessarily to deal with a three-month backlog, but from day one in order to speed up the process. Sutton has investigated that and I am happy to accept Sutton's conclusion that, on the specific allegations made by Moxon, the Minister did no wrong.

The second allegation can best be described as The Sunday Times memo. It was written by Graham Austin and Moira Bing to senior immigration officials at the casework directorate at Croydon. Again in layman's terms, it suggests that there is a policy to waive through immigration applications if they take more than three months and that those applications are for a range of permits—family visits, spouses, domestic workers and so forth. The memo stated:

It goes on clearly to state that the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration approved the exercise. It is alleged that there was a new procedure for fast-track applications. Even though that was not examined by the Sutton inquiry, I am prepared to accept the Home Office view that it was not a new policy, but standard practice which had been applied to in-country applications for some time.

The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Beverley Hughes): For the record, Ken Sutton explicitly dealt with the backlog reduction accelerated clearance exercise. Many people may have read my ministerial statement and various commentaries, but not the Sutton report itself. If they read it, they would find that it refers expressly to BRACE and its predecessor.

Mr. Oaten: I am grateful for that clarification. My understanding was that the particular allegations and the memo presented to The Sunday Times had not been submitted to Sutton and that we had therefore not had

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independent clarification of the allegation by a national newspaper, which we did have in respect of the Moxon/Sheffield case.

Beverley Hughes: For further clarification, the particular minute dealt with my intervention in the case of Mrs. Martin, which Members will recall arose about a year ago. Mrs. Martin was an American woman who came here with her British husband after the second world war. She had lived here for 40 years and had several children. Under BRACE, taking a decision on the basis of the papers, Mrs. Martin's case for settlement was refused because she could not prove that she had lived in the country for 40 years. I intervened to say that that was not a sensible decision in cases such as hers. I said that such a refusal on the basis of the papers under BRACE should be referred to a senior caseworker to ensure that it was a sensible decision.

Mr. Oaten: I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for clarifying that point.

On the second allegation, which relates to The Sunday Times memo, I accept the Home Secretary's assertion that this procedure has been in place for some time. However, I have two concerns, the first of which relates to the word that he used yesterday on the Floor of the House. He said that such applications were "substantially" in-country applications. It would help if he clarified what he meant by "substantially". As I understand it, some 80 per cent. of applications are in-country, which means that some 20 per cent. are not. It is important that we do not simply assume that, in all such cases, we are simply recycling the numbers.

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