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The Minister now has to face up to her responsibilities. She has been asked many times what responsibility she takes in all this. How does she square her responsibilities with what she has said in the past? What does she accept responsibility for today, given the mess, with all the immigration system's defences down, as described in the memo at the Sheffield office? It is no use the right hon. Lady shaking her head; we want answers. What responsibility does she accept?
Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): I am pleased to have the opportunity to take part in this debate because it touches on one of the issues of greatest concern to my constituentsmatters relating to asylum and immigrationand it is precisely for that reason that I believe that the Conservative party has raised it particularly at this time. When an election is coming, the Conservative party talks about immigration. Muddling up debates about eastern Europe and the EU also plays well.
I am particularly pleased to support the work that my right hon. Friend the Minister has done in pushing forward improvements to the asylum system. An awful lot of what is needed in her job is exceptionally unglamorous and does not involve big policy decisions; most of it relates to putting in the proper procedures, seeing them through and getting the systems working. She has done that extraordinarily well, and certainly the recent moves that she has made have produced real benefits for my constituents.
Shortly after I was elected, I went to look at some of the asylum procedures that were in place in my constituency. A number of people were arriving there, but we inherited the system from the Conservatives, and it was the most ramshackle, non-system that I had ever seen. There was a completely farcical approach to the payment of benefits, there was no networking between the different agencies, and the Conservatives' idea of
The Labour Government have increasingly put steps in place that have improved the system, and my right hon. Friend the Minister has pushed them through. For example, a new system was put in place for asylum support. Certainly, it faced problems, but it was a distinct improvement on the shambles that we inherited from the Conservative party. A range of different identification documents and cards are in place and they will establish who people and their dependants are. Those documents can be relied on and they replace the lack of documentation in the previous system. There has been an increase in the number of decisions taken, and they have repeatedly been reported to Parliament.
There has also been an increase in the number of removals. Any Member who visits their police station can ask the police officers there about the number of removals that they have to deal with. There has certainly been in an increase in the number of removals going through Northampton. There has also been open discussion about managed migration, which relates to the points that my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) made about ensuring that we have the people to do the jobs that others simply do not want to do.
In my constituency, there has been, particularly recently, an increase in the number of enforcement actions taken. For example, a successful raid took place today on a factory that employed illegal migrants. Fifty-seven people were stopped and, so far, 33 of them have been arrested and will be removed. I very much welcome the increase in such actions.
It is certainly true that there is further to go. The Conservative party has highlighted a scam, but it is not the only scam that has ever existed. There should be proper recognition that circumstances have changed over the past couple of years and that an increasingly and extremely sophisticated international industry is engaged in trafficking and the forging and sale of documents. That has made it extremely hard to tackle some of the problems that we confront.
I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister shares my concerns about the proliferation of forged documents, and I know that she and her Department are also working to tackle the problem. An examination of the forged documents in the possession of the immigration and nationality directorate at Croydon and at Heathrow make it clear that they are produced to an extremely high standard and put through a sophisticated market. However, there is an increasing problem of documents being obtained through apparently legal means and then being used by different
Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that all these issues are real and that this Government have tackled them by putting in more resources and getting the organisation right? The last thing we need is any future Government threatening cuts in those resources. That would make it impossible in future to tackle the problems created by new technologies.
The Conservative party has been extremely good at talking the talk in the way it did before 1997. It absolutely refused to put in place the steps and procedures that were needed to deal with the problem. Just as it did not have proper procedures for dealing with benefits, it did not have the proper documentation available to check on who people were, or the proper new technology in place to enable the different agencies to network properly. It also refused to support openly the proposals that my right hon. Friend the Minister and colleagues introduced to improve and speed up the legal procedures, so that we could deal with claims, in particular false claims, more quickly. Rather than just talking about the problems, we need to ensure that there is proper support in place for the solutions that the Government are putting forward.
My right hon. Friend is tightening up on the procedures to prevent abuse of the legal system, but there is also a need for the Law Society to deal with some of the problems created when certain lawyers handle such cases. It is noticeable that the case in Bucharest involved lawyers who were taking substantial sums of money for processing many claims that they must have known were false.
I very much welcome the steps that have been taken so far. My right hon. Friend has done more than any other Minister who has held her position to tighten up the procedures, to take difficult decisions and to see them through. I hope that she will continue to do that in exactly the way she has done previously. The public must also realise that, if the problems of asylum and immigration are to be dealt with properly, it will take tough decisions and proper resourcing. Cuts of the type proposed by the Conservative party will not suffice, and impractical proposals such as parking people on offshore islands, are complete nonsense. It is only by clamping down on the procedures while dealing with the issues of properly managed migration that my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras mentioned that we can allay people's fears and make for a civilised society that has decent race relations and sound systems.
Lady Hermon: I am enormously grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene so early in his speech. For clarification and my peace of mind, will he justify the shadow Home Secretary's use of the word "collusion"? I should like to learn four things from the debate, one of which is the justification for the use of that word by the shadow Home Secretary.
We have learned three important things. First, Ministers seem reluctant to get to the facts. The Home Secretary told us that Mr. Cameronno relation, I stressthe official in our Bucharest embassy, met Home Office officials on 1 March. We need to know who was told about his concerns. Why were they not examined by the Sutton inquiry? We need to see the minutes of the meeting between Mr. Cameron and the Home Office official so that we can find out who knew what and when. If Ministers wanted to get to the facts, the Sutton inquiry would have covered that straight away.
Secondly, Ministers seem reluctant to take responsibility. The Home Secretary said on the radio this morning that Ken Sutton will now widen his inquiry, go to Bucharest and examine the matter further, which is important. He also said, as he repeated in the House, that no Minister would resignthere will be no scalps. What will happen if Ken Sutton finds that Ministers were responsible in some way and that they knew something but did nothing about it? The Home Secretary has effectively prejudged his own inquiry.
We learned a third important fact from my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis): that our embassies in Sofia and Bucharest had written to the Home Office raising important concerns. The most important question that the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration must answer is whether Ministers saw those letters. If they did but did not act, they are to blame for much of what has gone wrong. If they did not see the letters, does that not prove that we need a wider inquiry, worthy though the Sutton inquiry is? I am sure that Ken Sutton is a great man, but we need a proper independent inquiry.
I wanted to speak in the debate because immigration and asylum are of long-standing interest to me. I am not some Johnny-come-lately to the subject, although Labour Members say that we are interested in the matter only because of the politics. I worked in the Home Office, I have served on Committees that have considered asylum and immigration Bills and I am a member of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. I have asked the Minister questions about the Moxon affair in that Committee and the Chamber, but I have
I agree that the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration has what I once described in The Guardian as the "job from hell" in having to deal with all inquiries. I do not pretend that a Minister with thousands of civil servants can be held responsible for every last thing that they do. However, I have seen events unfold from relatively close at hand, so I know that the way in which the Government have handled the matter has not been impressive in any sense.
Let us be absolutely clear about what has happened throughout the saga. First, the policy on entry clearance for one group of people was being operated by officials without ministerial knowledge. That is clearly evidence of a failing Departmentwe have heard further evidence from my Front-Bench colleagues about its failure today. The Minister herself said about the Sutton report:
Next, we find out that the whistleblowerMr. Moxontold the Minister's private office that the policy has been introduced, but he received no response for more than two months, which is evidence of a failing private office. As she told the Home Affairs Committee:
From what I have seen, a clear picture emerges of complacency among Ministers, of them not wanting to get to the facts and of them having the truth pulled out of them slowly, bit by bit. Let me give two examples of that.