Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I should advise the House that Mr. Speaker has placed a 12-minute limit on Back Bench speeches, which will apply from now on.

2.24 pm

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) (Lab): I am sorry to have to speak in this debate, because I had hoped for better from a Tory party led by the child of someone who was a refugee from Romania. However, if one has any expectations of the Tory party, one is frequently disappointed. My right hon. Friend the Minister is being pursued as part of a deliberate strategy by the Conservatives to stir up antipathy towards people coming to this country. The Conservatives do not give a damn about the damage that that does to community relations. As far as they are concerned, a few cheap hits in the House of Commons are worth it, even if they result in some expensive hits on the streets and estates of this country. Those of us who represent constituencies where various communities manage to live happily with one another—including intermarrying—are disgusted by that approach.

If people think that I exaggerate, all that I can do is remind them—as my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Watson) has already done—of the stated views of the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) when he was director of the Conservative Research Department, even though he is now a shadow health spokesman. He said that immigration was

to hurt whom? It might hurt the Labour party or the Liberal Democrats, but it will hurt most—many—of our fellow citizens and people who come to this country to try to earn a decent living in peaceful circumstances.

All over the world, since history began, there have been huge movements of population and they have always presented great difficulties. However, they have been a huge asset to this country. A book published a few years ago, with the strange title "Hitler's Gift", listed all the geniuses whom he drove out of Germany and eastern Europe to this country and north America. They transformed the standard of our mathematics and physics, and we left Germany and eastern Europe far behind. That was a permanent legacy.

We should also consider the people who have come to this country more recently and the benefits that they have brought to our fellow citizens. For example, Professor Sir Magdi Yacoub is the world's greatest heart surgeon and he is welcome. He contributes, and so do hundreds of thousands of other people who have come to this country and made it a better place. We should

30 Mar 2004 : Column 1454

make them welcome, instead of indulging in cheap stunts in pursuit of Ministers, in the hope of some short-term, shoddy political gain.

Mr. Cameron: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dobson: No, I have only 12 minutes and I intend to use them.

The Government inherited a huge mess in immigration and asylum, with huge delays. The Conservatives apparently confused the amount of time taken to deal with applications with thoroughness, but the two are not necessarily related. The process was not thorough, but it did take a devil of a long time. The Government have set about tackling that problem and have faced enormous difficulties in doing so.

Things have gone wrong, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister—and she is a friend—will not take offence if I say that the Home Office and the other Departments involved did not cover themselves in glory in relation to events at Morecambe bay and the warnings given by my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Geraldine Smith). We cannot blame an individual Minister for the failure of four Departments to co-ordinate their activities properly. If everybody in the House, on both sides and in all parties, had listened to what Joan Maynard and Dick Body said about gangmasters 20 years ago and had done something about it, those events would never have happened. We cannot blame my right hon. Friend for those failures, because she was not even a Member of Parliament at the time.

My right hon. Friend has an awful job, but it is done more efficiently than it has been in the past. I have been a Member of Parliament for 25 years and I know that she achieves a good turn-round on the innumerable letters that I send her. I do not know what else she can manage to do besides answering my letters, because her replies are always thorough and accurate. I believe that other Members write to her, too. She is in a terrible position; when she makes a decision she is denounced by some people as illiberal and by others as limp-wristed and weak, because she has let all sorts of "villainous" people into the country.

Now we have the Tory party jumping on the bandwagon with a leak from Sheffield. In an excellent speech, the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten), asked whether the Sheffield civil servant had broken a code of conduct. He may have broken such a code if it turns out that he has pulled a political stunt with the Leader of the Opposition. It is against the civil service code of conduct for a civil servant to appear at a political stunt with the Prime Minister, so it would probably also be the case if he did so with the Leader of the Opposition.

The Tories are trying to link that to the advice that work permit applicants from the immediate accession countries should be "waved through", because it is so close to when they will be entitled to enter the country anyway. I have news for the Tory party: there is nothing new in that. The Tory party may have no corporate memory, but as the Leader of the Opposition was involved, he should be able to remember that the Home Office acted in the same way in 1995 when Austria,

30 Mar 2004 : Column 1455

Sweden and Finland were about to join the EU. As we were never told, we do not know whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman was unwilling, in the words of the motion, "to take responsibility" for the policy, or whether there were "dishonest internal workings" in his Department. He certainly kept quiet about it. Of course, he could say that he was following another Tory precedent, because exactly the same thing happened when Spain and Portugal were accession countries in 1986. As the period of accession drew nearer, the easier it was to enter this country, and eventually work permit applicants were "waved through", but that policy was not disclosed.

As has been mentioned, in 1992–93, when the Leader of the Opposition was Home Secretary, 20,000 people whose applications would otherwise have been turned down were given exceptional leave to remain, yet nothing was said about that. We found out that it had all been done secretly only when the figures were published some years later and had to be explained.

Of course, there are well organised scams. Indeed, I turn from scams to scum, because the people who organise the trafficking of their fellow human beings are among the scummiest people in the world. It appears that some of them are involved in what is going on in Rumania and Bulgaria and we need to check that and sort it out—and it will be sorted out.

There is a wider point, however. We are talking about people who are applying for work permits. They will receive a work permit only if we do not have people qualified for the work for which they require the permit. Work permits are going to people in the construction industry, to electricians and plumbers. Why do we not have enough of those workers? It is because the stupid Tory Government, under Mrs. Thatcher, abolished apprenticeships and sold off the training centres that could have trained the skilled people whom we now lack.

The Tories did not train enough doctors. They cut back on the training of nurses and reduced the number of nurses in training. Despite all that, they had planned to hold a debate later today—until they suddenly, opportunistically, chose to change the topic—about Labour's failure to prepare for doctors' reduced hours. The Tories reduced doctors' hours, but they did not increase the number of doctors to compensate for that. That is how we got into a mess, and the Labour Government are trying to get out of it.

When Nigel Lawson was Chancellor of the Exchequer, he mocked our calls for more and better training. He said that the jobs of the future would not necessarily be high-skill or low-skill, but that they would be no-skill jobs. As a result, we have a lot of people with no skills and they are the ones who find it hardest to get a job.

Today, we see the complete hypocrisy of the Tory party. The Tories left the immigration service in chaos and the Government are improving it. As for blaming officials, we shall take no lessons from the Leader of the Opposition; blaming officials was his stock in trade. The House will remember the famous interview when he said that he was responsible for prisons policy but not for operations. Paxman asked him again and again and again whether he took responsibility for operations in the Prison Service and he denied it. That is another

30 Mar 2004 : Column 1456

reason why we shall not tolerate this lousy, opportunist, second-rate, smeary effort from the Tories today. [Hon. Members: "Say what you mean."] One of these days, I shall say what I really think about them.

I want to say something very serious: if this sort of stirring up against people goes on, Islamophobia will grow. Our fellow citizens will be assaulted because they wear a scarf around their head. They will be spat at as they take their children to school and they will find life more and more difficult—

Next Section

IndexHome Page