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Lady Hermon: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cameron: I have given way to the hon. Lady once; I am trying to answer her question at length.

First, in the Minister's response to the urgent question on 8 March, did she tell the House that accelerated procedures were being applied to other groups of applicants for residency in this country? No, she did not. Did she answer questions about that matter from my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden and others? No, she did not. Did she deliberately give the impression that the situation was rare and untypical? Yes, she did. If the Minister had come to the House to apologise for what had happened, announce a proper inquiry and talk frankly about the problems of dealing with backlogs, the Home Office would not be in the mess that it is in now. The way in which she made her statement on 8 March was a genuine misjudgment.

Mr. Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman talks about misjudgment and backlogs. Was it a misjudgment in 1992 and 1993 when the backlogs were wiped out by the Conservative party?

Mr. Cameron: If we were to have a proper debate, we could talk about a time when we had a Home Secretary who actually cut crime and had a decent asylum and immigration policy with fewer applications than at present, but that is not what we are discussing today.

The scope of the inquiry that the Minister set up shows a second profound misjudgment. Part of her Department is failing, and her private office and press office have been shown to fail. There are huge question marks over the extent to which the accelerated procedures for migrants have been applied. We know that much more widespread concern exists, including that expressed by our embassies in Bucharest and Sofia. However, what was to be covered by Ken Sutton's inquiry? Would it cover her private office? No. Would it cover the press office that deliberately misled the press? No. Would it examine initially how far the accelerated procedures for granting immigration went? That was not the case to start with because there had to be a second announcement about the inquiry on 12 March. A third extension of the Sutton inquiry was announced on the radio this morning by the Home Secretary when he said that Ken Sutton is going out to Bucharest. The situation is utterly unconvincing. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden and the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) said, we need a proper independent inquiry. The Minister has made a profound misjudgment.

Lady Hermon: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cameron: I will not give way again. We have seen a picture of complacency and unwillingness to get to the

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facts. The truth had to be dragged out of the Minister time after time. The hon. Member for Winchester was rather generous to the Minister—

Mr. Clappison: And polite.

Mr. Cameron: He was polite as well. The Minister has lost the confidence of many of her officials because she has blamed them for what went wrong. She has certainly lost the confidence of much of the press because her press office has completely misled it. She has lost the confidence of many MPs because she simply has not given us full answers.

The question for the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister is: if one has a Department and a private office that have failed, and if there is more and more evidence of chaos in the system and clear evidence that a wider inquiry is needed, is the Minister of State the right person to turn matters around? I find it hard to believe that the answer to that question is yes.

3.8 pm

Mr. Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester) (Lab): I am sure that I am not the only person in the Chamber to remember the episode of "Yes Minister" in which Sir Humphrey remarked that almost all Government policy was bad, but frightfully well carried out. I do not think that that is the case in this instance. Today we must ask with whom responsibility lies when a policy is right, but not carried out properly.

Let us not mistake the broad consensus—I think that there is probably some consensus on both sides of the House—that the basic policy is right. I hope that there is some agreement that this country needs hard-working migrants to boost our economy and enrich our society. When my parents came here in the 1960s, they were part of a generation of immigrants who helped to build up our public services. Likewise, prospective immigrants today, if they have qualifications, skills and a willingness to work, should be welcomed—and, yes, even fast-tracked.

Today's dispute is about the implementation of such a policy and the ways in which my right hon. Friend the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration should be held responsible for errors in that implementation. Unfortunately, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) advanced an argument the conclusions of which bear no relation to its premises. The Opposition cite the principle of ministerial responsibility, by which they mean the Minister taking responsibility for officials' actions that contradict the very policy set out by the Minister. Not only do the Opposition blame my right hon. Friend personally, but they claim that the only way in which she can exercise responsibility for it is by resigning. That is simply not the case.

Ministers are answerable to Parliament for the actions of their officials. They can be and are held accountable through questioning and public debate, as has happened in the present case. Ministers might have to explain in the House what has been done by an official, and that, too, has happened in this case. That is the convention, that is what my right hon. Friend has

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done in the House, and that is what has been examined in some detail by Ken Sutton. None the less, the Opposition allege that responsibility must, at all times and in all places, equal a resignation. No offence is considered too far removed from a Minister's private office. The claiming of a ministerial scalp seems to be the most important—indeed, the only—thing that the Opposition are willing to accept.

The Tories' rationale for demanding that my right hon. Friend leave office was unwittingly revealed by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) last night on "Newsnight". He told Kirsty Wark:

that is, the Tories—"of popularity." I would not dream of accusing them of such a thing. However, in the present case, they are guilty of ham-fisted and unprincipled opportunism.

Mr. Cameron: If this is all about opportunism, why has the Home Secretary today announced that no further immigration applications will be accepted from Romania?

Mr. Dhanda: I was coming to those points. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is absolutely right to have a further investigation. He says that if there are issues to be investigated, let us investigate them, and he is right to do so.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to intervene?

Mr. Dhanda: Let me make a little more progress, then I shall be happy to give way.

In my view, when the shadow Home Secretary received the e-mail in question, he should have reported it to the Home Office straight away. Instead, he decided to wait three weeks. The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire tried to explain the inordinate delay by claiming:

That has been repeated today in the Chamber. However, checking the accuracy of the allegations was the whole point of the inquiry, so the e-mail should have been forwarded three weeks ago.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is misattributing remarks. The point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) and I have made, time and again, is that we needed the time not to check the accuracy of the statement—we were in no position to do so—but to check the e-mail's provenance. All we knew was that we had an anonymous e-mail; we had to find out its provenance and determine whether its author had some justification for making the allegations set out within it. That is totally separate from authenticating its contents.

Mr. Dhanda: I believe that if the hon. Gentleman found evidence of a burglary or a murder, he would not act as judge and jury himself, but would report that evidence to the authorities immediately. The Opposition chose not to do that in the present case, and although the

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hon. Gentleman has given his reasons for acting as he did, I disagree with them. The Opposition stood back and calculated the political gain that they believed they would score from delaying for some weeks. They put the e-mail in the public domain only yesterday, repeated its allegations today, then—feigning indignation—they called for the resignation of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration.

Mr. Paice: The hon. Gentleman appears to be in conflict with the Home Secretary, who this morning accepted that my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden was right to wait while the provenance of the e-mail was checked. Of course, we had no knowledge as to its authenticity until the Foreign Office interviewed Mr. Cameron and suspended him, and he then telephoned my right hon. Friend's office. That was the first time that we were certain that the author of the e-mail was anyone who knew what they were talking about.

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