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A resignation would also fail to serve any practical purpose. We are well aware of the developments in the Home Office and of how much my right hon. Friend the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration has managed to achieve. Margot Asquith once memorably said of Lloyd George
I know that a great deal of work needs to be done in the Balkan states. On Saturday, in Split, I met representatives of south-east European countries. I believe that they would be the first to accept that much work is necessary before their countries can become accession states. However, I share the concern expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) that debates such as this one can have a detrimental effect on immigrant communities resident in this country. I hope that the debate and the way in which the Conservatives have decided to handle these issues will not have a negative impact.
The shadow Home Secretary said that he feels that the Conservatives had their immigration and asylum strategy right. I say that a strategy that in April 1997 had people waiting up to 20 months for a decision was not the right and proper strategy. The current incumbent in the post of Minister for Citizenship and Immigration, my right hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Beverley Hughes), has presided over a Home Office department that has ensured that the people in two thirds of cases now wait for less than six months. She is doing a terrific job and everyone in the House should get behind her.
Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): The debate raises two issues. The first is the pattern of behaviour of Ministers, which began with denial, followed by grudging acceptance when finally they were faced with documentary evidence of what they had previously denied. That was then followed by denigration and suspension of the whistleblowers. They moved on to protestations of ignorance of what was happening in their Departments, and in the end they blamed officials. Above all, and most wrong of all, Ministers refused to accept responsibility for the actions and inactions of their Department. In my view, to blame officials is despicable, to claim ignorance is culpable and to deny responsibility is intolerable.
It is not only the Minister of State. The Home Secretary behaved with apparent chivalry by clasping the right hon. Lady to his bosom but, in fact, he was using her as a human shield. He must ask himself who is ultimately responsible in the Home Office for policy and who will take responsibility. The position of the Home Secretary must itself be under question. I suspect that the Prime Minister will move the right hon. Gentleman from his present post before too long. Anyway, there must be an independent inquiry into what has happened under his stewardship of the Government's policies.
Far more important than that is the policy that is being pursued by the Home Office. Most people imagine that its policy on immigration is to restrict immigration to what is necessary for family reunions, for meeting shortages that cannot be met until we have trained indigenous people to meet the requirements of particular jobs, and for bringing in people with company-specific knowledge necessary for the functioning of their companies, for example.
We learn, however, that there has been a transposal of policy. The basic thrust of what is happening in the Home Office is to facilitate and encourage immigration to this country. I say that advisedly, and not only because of the devastating revelations about particular eastern European countries that my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) set out. The Department has set a target to boost the number of people asking for work permits to come into this country: from a figure of about 47,000 in 1997, it has set a target of 200,000 in the current year.
I asked the Minister, on the day after she made her statement, a series of questions. I asked what the targets were within the Department. Characteristically the right hon. Lady has not answered. Is that because she does not know the answers to the questions that I tabled for answer within five days or is she withholding them until after this debate, as has been done so many times before?
Lady Hermon: Forgive me for being boringly repetitive, but will the right hon. Gentleman explain and justify the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr. Davis) using very serious language and suggesting that there was collusion? Where is there one item of evidence that there has been collusion?
Mr. Lilley: I did not catch that particular word, but I take it that my right hon. Friend was referring to collusion with the accelerated procedures, which seem to have been responsible for the bulk of cases. It is claimed that only a small tweak was introduced. The Minister of State said that it was not introduced by senior managers, but Ken Sutton said that it was introduced by senior managers.
It is not only that a target has been set to increase the number of work permits; people are being actively encouraged to apply for work permits. I have a letter that was sent out by the Home Office Work Permits (UK) to small businesses in this country, which reads:
The Government are actively encouraging people to bring other people into this country. They have reduced the rate of refusals from more than one in eight under the Conservative Government to fewer than one in 20 of those who apply to come here. We have seen how they are colluding in the exploitation of loopholes. The particular loophole that was the origin of all this was the requirement under the accession treaties to allow people to come from the accession countries to the UK to
The reason why we have such backlogs that constantly have to be dealt with by accelerated procedures is that there is a growing number of applicationsabout 500,000 according to the Sutton report. The reason why there are so many applications is that the Government have made it easy and speedy to get into the country, unlike the position in most other countries. Consequently, more people apply and they overwhelm the system.
It has become clear, too, that the default position in the Department is to let people in rather than to deny them entry: if they do not provide sufficient information, let them in. The document says, "If they don't supply a bank statement, let them in. If they don't have other information about their national insurance and so on, let them in." Surely if people cannot or do not provide the information that is requested of them, they should be refused entry. That should be the default position.
My constituents, by and large, want a restrictive immigration policy, and that includes people of all ethnic groups there. I have had representations from ethnic minorities in my constituency to the effect that they would prefer a stricter and firmer immigration policy. The reason my constituents want that is certainly not because they hold racist views. They accept it when I say that the bulk of the people who want to come to this country, be they asylum seekers, economic migrants or even illegal immigrants, are basically decent people who want to better the lot of themselves and their families. But they know, as we surely all know, that this country is too crowded to be a country of net immigration.
Apart from the Netherlands, England is the most densely populated country in western Europe, yet for the first time in our history we have one of the highest rates of net immigration and it is being deliberately encouraged by the Government. We see the consequences in our constituencies. The bulk of the people who come to this country come to London and the south-east. Accommodation has to be provided for them. The Government admitted in response to a question that I tabled that 85 per cent. of the growth in population that they expect over the next 30 years5.6 million extra peopleis the result of net immigration. That is one of the major reasons that there is pressure on housing accommodation and public services in the south-east.
Unless and until the Government and the Ministers concerned are prepared to make the immigration service do what it ought to dorestrict immigration to those who need to come to this country, not encourage it on a large scalethere will not be the public confidence in the Home Office that there ought to be.