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Mr. Gerrard: The right hon. Gentleman suggests that 570,000 people were here illegally, according to the 2001 census. Would he like to hazard a guess as to how many of them were here before 1997?

David Davis: I will leave hazarding a guess to the Home Secretary, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind. The simple truth is that we have been asking for these numbers for some time, and we are not the only ones: so have several public bodies. For a very long time, the Home Secretary, his predecessor and his predecessor's Ministers all denied that it was even possible to assess such numbers—and at a time when the Prime Minister had actually summoned those numbers from the Home Office. So the hon. Gentleman has not got much to go on in this regard.

Last year, this approach to policy and its public handling played a part in the resignation of two Home Office Ministers. By now, the Government should have learned the lessons of those events, but the latest revelations from the Home Office have a ring of déjà vu.
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It would be more than generous to the men concerned to accept that they genuinely had no idea about the true figure on the numerous occasions in the past that they had denied it. But ignorance of such an important fact should be no defence; it merely confirms people's suspicions that this Government have let the immigration and asylum system run out of control, and are clueless as to how to put it right. [Interruption.] The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality says from a sedentary position, "Go read the documents." He should spend a little while reading last year's newspapers, which would tell him a bit about this issue.

Time and again, the Government's left hand has not known what their right hand was doing. First, we had the chaos of the eastern European immigrants, who unveiled the breakdown in relations between the head office of the Home Office and the immigration and nationality directorate. A whistleblower revealed that immigrants from eastern Europe were being waved into Britain without proper checks. The then Immigration Minister first denied that it had happened—until it was proven to be true. Then, she blamed junior civil servants—until it turned out to be the work of senior officials, with ministerial acquiescence. Next, she said that such cases were rare and untypical—until they were shown to be widespread. Then, the whistleblower was sacked, but the Minister stayed.

Secondly, we had the scandal of the migrant scams in Romania and Bulgaria, which were brought to light by our consul in Bucharest. This incident revealed a complete lack of communication between the Home Office and the Foreign Office. Our consul warned the Government that groups in Romania and Bulgaria were making fraudulent claims, yet Home Office officials granted such people visas anyway, knowing their claims to be false. Again, the consul was sacked, the Minister stayed. The Minister was finally forced to go, but only because of the utter chaos and lack of communication in the Home Office itself. She claimed not to know of any of these scams; it turned out that she had been warned a year before by her own Home Office colleague. If ordinary people behaved like that in their daily jobs, they would be sacked straight away—and rightly so. Within this Government, however, there is no such sanction: if a Minister fails, cover it up; if that fails, blame someone else; only if that fails will a Minister give in and go. In the light of the Government's capacity for incompetence and irresponsibility, it is little wonder that people hold politicians in such low regard.

While we are talking about numbers, let us consider what the Government promised.

Keith Vaz rose—

David Davis: I will give way in a moment.

What did the Government promise about the number of immigrants from the new EU accession countries who could apply to live in Britain? They said that there would be between 5,000 and 13,000 such immigrants in a whole year, but there turned out to be 16,000 in one month—nearly 200,000 a year. What was the excuse when Ministers had to face the figures? Well, we were told, more than a third of them were living here already—
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illegally. It is hard to find words to describe their incompetence. On the subject of incompetence, I give way to the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz).

Keith Vaz: I am most grateful to the shadow Home Secretary for giving way. Does he regret the hysteria that he generated at the time of the enlargement of the European Union on 1 May last year, when it was claimed that all these eastern European immigrants were going to come into this country to go on benefits and take everybody's jobs? In fact, what happened is that those people contributed to the British economy, they behaved perfectly lawfully and the registration scheme worked. Does he regret the hysteria that he personally stirred up on that issue?

David Davis: Once again we see the Government's favourite mechanism, which is to blame the messenger. Only this Government would think that telling the truth is whipping up hysteria and only this particular former Minister for Europe would think that telling the truth about the real number of migrants is whipping up hysteria—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman shouts from a sedentary position that we were wrong. The Government's estimate was that there would be 5,000 to 13,000 such people in a year. Does he deny that? I gladly give way for him to deny it.

Keith Vaz: Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman that he should take great care about playing with statistics on the subject of immigration. That just fuels prejudice in our society. He should be ashamed of himself.

David Davis: The hon. Gentleman did not answer. He would not tell us whether the figure was 5,000 to 13,000, yet even the Home Secretary at the time said that the 13,000 figure was not his estimate, but the Home Office's. That was an interesting distancing exercise. The raw truth is that more than 190,000 such people have come here in one year. If the hon. Gentleman cannot cope with the truth, that is his problem rather than anyone else's. The simple truth is that large numbers of immigrants have come into this country and the Government have to make a judgment in relation to their points scheme about how many should be coming here on various skill and income levels. How can they possibly make that judgment if they confuse themselves by mistaking 192,000 people for 5,000 people?

Keith Vaz: I thought that the Conservative party was in favour of the enlargement of the EU and in favour of allowing people from the 10 countries to come here. What is the problem with allowing members of the public from Poland, the Czech Republic and other new member states to come to this country to work lawfully and legally by registering under the scheme? What is the right hon. Gentleman's problem?

David Davis: Germany was in favour of enlargement, as were Denmark and Finland, but they all had intelligent transitional schemes that allowed them to manage the process. They took a sensible attitude towards the enlargement of the EU. The hon. Gentleman ought to know better, but this country did not and we have ended up having nearly 200,000 people come here. It was unplanned and we have yet to see whether it was a good or bad thing.
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Every two years since the Government have been in office, we have had a big announcement followed by a failure. In 1997, the promise was a swift and fair asylum system. The reality is that it is not fair to anyone—not to genuine refugees, lumped in with the fraudsters and forced to plead their case; not to immigrants who spend their life savings paying people smugglers for the chance to come to Britain; and not to opposition party members of Zimbabwe who are caught up in this Government's public relations offensive and face torture or worse if they are sent back.

Again, in 1997, the Prime Minister promised to achieve firm control of immigration, but the reality is that annual net immigration into the UK tripled. Another promise was made in 1999—that we would have a fairer, faster and firmer asylum system. The reality was that, a few years later, the number of asylum applications in one year passed 100,000 for the first time in our history.

Two years on, in 2001, the promise was to remove more failed asylum seekers from Britain. The result was that a smaller proportion is removed now than was the case when this Government came to office.

In 2003, the Government promised to

but the result is that the legal aid budget for asylum and immigration has soared by 682 per cent.—from £26 million to £204 million. This year—election year—the shortest lived announcement of all was made. While the Prime Minister was quickly adding his sixth election pledge and promising to get a grip on immigration, almost simultaneously the Home Secretary was telling a private meeting of Labour supporters:

One statement or the other is true: both of them cannot be. We are locked in a two-year cycle of big announcements, bold promises and botched policies.

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