Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380-399)|
4 JULY 2006
Q380 Mrs Dunwoody: Prime Minister,
precisely what is Her Majesty's Government's policy on mass migration?
Mr Blair: To control it so that
the people that come into the country are the people we want and
need and to do our level best to prevent illegal migration.
Q381 Mrs Dunwoody: So you really
have an upper limit? You do not consider that mass migration is
needed for economic reasons?
Mr Blair: Yes, I think there is
migration that is needed for economic reasons but there should
be those economic reasons and it should not happen in an uncontrolled
Q382 Mrs Dunwoody: You know that
migration quite often means that people concentrate in areas which
are already socially deprived. They have difficulty with housing,
they have difficulty with social services, and you know that we
have had, for example, an influx of Polish workers greater than,
some say, any previous movement for many years. Who deals with
co-ordinating policies in Whitehall that are responsible for that
kind of immigration?
Mr Blair: The Home Office, obviously,
deals with the issue of migration but across Government both the
Local Government Department and the Home Office look at how you
deal with the consequences of this. Dr Starkey mentioned Slough
and John Denham had the issue down in Southampton which I know
he wrote to me about, and as a result of the letter he wrote we
are looking now at how we manage better this process because,
I agree, it is very difficult. There comes enormous pressure on
local authorities and so on.
Q383 Mrs Dunwoody: But, Prime Minister,
it is not being managed at all, is it? Even in an area like Crewe
we have had a large influx of Polish workers. They have no support
from the social services system. Why should they? They have not
contributed. They have to find their own housing. They are brought
in by agencies who charge them for accommodation and transport
and everything else they can think of and leave them with hardly
any money at all. Who is dealing with that problem in Whitehall?
It is not just a Home Office problem.
Mr Blair: It is not just a Home
Office problem. It is not only the Home Office that deals with
it, but the fact is we cannot stop people from the European countries
that have come into the European Union coming to our country.
Q384 Mrs Dunwoody: Other nations,
of course, have done but we have decided there should be no bar.
Mr Blair: No; it is very important
we get this clear. Free movement of people has been there for
all the countries in Europe so there is no reason why Polish people
or Czechs or Slovaks cannot move around Europe absolutely freely.
With regard to the free movement of workers, the ability to work,
there were transition periods that some countries agreed but most
of those countries have now either come into line with what we
are doing or, even through the barriers they have put in placeI
think I was reading the other day that Germany has got somewhere
in the region of 500,000 work permits that it has given to east
Europeans, so we are all facing the same issue as a result of
the membership of the European Union. However, on the whole I
think a lot of that migration has also been beneficial for our
Q385 Mrs Dunwoody: In my constituency
schools are closing and then suddenly receiving large influxes
of children they had not planned for. Is there a minister with
special responsibility for co-ordination across the Home Office,
social services, benefits, education as well, who can demonstrate
that they have a co-ordinated policy that they are very happy
to accept, for economic reasons, these migrants and that they
are going to give support to the local government areas concerned?
Who is it?
Mr Blair: The Home Office and
the Department for Communities and Local Government do work very
closely on it but there is a limit to what they can do because
it is not clear always where the people will go, and when they
do go and, for example, there is then pressure on the local school
then yes, of course, the Department of Education is brought in
Q386 Mrs Dunwoody: You have yourself
said that public concern is frequently generated by the perception
that the system has not been sufficiently managed or controlled,
so what are your plans now to deal with that?
Mr Blair: I think you have to
look at migration in two quite separate dimensions.
Q387 Mrs Dunwoody: You have to deal
with the migration when they appear, Prime Minister, on the ground,
to be fashionable.
Mr Blair: But there is a big difference
between people who have got an absolute right to come here, which
is what those people who are members of the European Union have,
and other people, who obviously have to go through visa requirements
and so on.
Q388 Mrs Dunwoody: At the moment
we do not seem to be dealing terribly well with either. What is
the co-ordinated plan? Let us take immigration from eastern Europe.
What local government support is being given? What services are
available? What extra monies have been donated by central Government
and who has the overall responsibility for deciding these priorities?
Mr Blair: For example, in respect
of the money that comes to local government, that is part of the
continual discussion that the Department for Communities and Local
Government has with local government about the pressures that
are on them, and this is part of the perpetual negotiation when
authorities come to us, as they have done recently and said, "Look:
there are more people here than we bargained for. You have to
give us additional resource". That is part of the negotiation
that has gone on for ever about these things. The point I am making
to you though is that it is a completely different situation with
people coming from the European Union than with people coming
Q389 Mrs Dunwoody: Yes, and the point
I am making to you is that I see no clear indication that we have
a very clear policy for either group.
Mr Blair: We do actually have
a clear policy for both, but I agree: it is very difficult. There
are huge challenges for any country at the moment dealing with
mass migration. We are not alone in that. It is probably the biggest
issue on the agenda of most European countries and it is the single
biggest domestic issue in the United States.
Q390 Mrs Dunwoody: So is it the Government's
intention to isolate specific sums of money to deal with this
and to make it very clear to the local authorities who are under
pressure that they will give them extra support that is not part
of their normal local government funding?
Mr Blair: We do as part, as I
say, of the negotiation that goes on the whole time between local
government and central Government. When there are particular issues
that come up in local authority areas then we can and do allocate
additional sums, but obviously it is a situation which you have
to negotiate on each basis because otherwise you end up not having
proper control of public money.
Q391 Mrs Dunwoody: Except that the
people who have children who appear on the doorstep of schools
which are about to be closed are not negotiating, are they, Prime
Mr Blair: If you have a situation
where, as a result of people coming into the country, there is
pressure on a particular school, or indeed it could be pressure
on the local employment circumstances and local housing is another
major issue, then you have to handle it as best you can, and that
is a matter, as I say, for discussion between central Government
and local government, but there is no easy way of dealing with
Q392 Mrs Dunwoody: Life is difficult,
Mr Blair: Yes. Thank you for acknowledging
Mrs Dunwoody: I thought it was what you
were paid for; forgive me. You have differentiated between illegal
migrants and the other kind. Can Mike Gapes ask you some questions
Q393 Mike Gapes: Leaving aside the
European Union migrants, you referred to people who come here
with visas. Could you tell me how many people come in legally
to work, to study, to join families or as asylum seekers each
Mr Blair: People who come in to
study I thinkand I will have to check the exact figures
year there were round about 270,000 who came into study, which
was slightly down on the previous couple of years. The asylum
applications last year were 25,000. You have got basically 11
to 12 million people who come in, most who come in as tourists
but others who come in for short work periods and so on.
Q394 Mike Gapes: What is your best estimate
of the number of people who come in illegally, either by overstaying
or by being smuggled in by people smugglers or coming in in other
Mr Blair: As I always say to peopleand
it is not often I pray in aid Michael Howard but I do on this
occasion, when he was Home Secretary in the previous Governmentthe
very nature and the fact that they are illegals makes it difficult
to have a precise estimate. As I say, this is a problem for every
single major country and the reason is perfectly simple: because
you have got millions of people who come into our country perfectly
lawfully, who we want to come into our country, for reasons of
trade, for reasons of studying, for reasons of tourism. The difficulty
is that if any of those people overstay then you have got to have
a system for checking up on it. That is why, to get back on one
of my familiar hobby horses, in the end the only answer to this
is electronic borders and identity cards, and even then you will
not have a complete answer.
Q395 Mike Gapes: The Home Office
published in 2005 a study by the Migration Research Unit at the
University College London that said in 2001 their central estimate
was 430,000 illegal migrants in the UK in 2001. Would you demur
from that figure?
Mr Blair: No but, as I think they
also pointed out at the timeand that is why this figure
has been widely canvassedthe truth is you cannot be absolutely
sure for the very reason of the problems that you have. One of
the reasons why we have introduced the points system, why we have
tightened up significantly, for example, on student visas, why
we are introducing biometric visas and biometric passports, is
precisely in order to make sure we have a better record, but we
are in no different a position, in fact in some ways we are in
a better position than many other European countries.
Q396 Mike Gapes: The new Home Secretary
John Reid said that: "Illegal immigrants should not be coming
here; if they get here we should find them; and when we find them
we should deport them." Given that there are hundreds of
thousands of illegal immigrants in this country, many of whom
may have been here several years, including people who have young
children born in this country, people who have been educated entirely
in this country, is it really a realistic option to find and deport
hundreds of thousands of people and their families?
Mr Blair: It is extremely difficult
but on the other hand it is important that where people are here
illegally that they are deported. Part of the trouble is, though,
when you do want to deport people, for very obvious reasons, you
will find great local campaigns in favour of the people, people
saying it is quite wrong that they are put out of the country
and so on. In the end, until there is a proper system of identifying
people, it is going to be very, very difficult to do.
Q397 Mike Gapes: Two-thirds of all
new migrants come to London and the South East. Presumably a similar
proportion of illegal migrants or maybe more come to London and
the South East. We know that in the London economy, which is so
vital to the rest of the country, there are hundreds of thousands
of people working in all kinds of jobs, many of whom may have
a chequered immigration history. What is going to be the consequence
of deporting hundreds of thousands of people from London and the
Mr Blair: Well, I think, Mike,
you have got to look at it the other way as well. What is the
consequence of saying that even if someone is an illegal migrant,
you are going to allow them to stay? The consequence is that you
are going to get a lot more. So it is very difficult. The most
sensible thing for us in this particular debate is to realise
the scale and the challenge of the problem. I know it is very
easy for you to sit here and say this, "But this Home Office
official or that Home Office minister . . . " When I had
a discussion with the European Council a couple of weeks ago with
the European leaders, the discussion over dinner was about this
topic and the Spanish led the way on it and just said, "Down
in the south of Europe we are being overwhelmed by this problem
of mass migration. Up in the north of Europe it is all different,"
and we all put our hands up and said, "No, it is not."
If you take a small country like Malta, this is a very, very serious
issue for them right now because of the numbers of people that
are coming illegally across from Africa and elsewhere. In the
end the reason why it is so difficult is this: there are good
reasons for people coming into countries today and the majority
of people, as I say, you want to come in and therefore the problem
is if someone, for example, comes in with a student visa and they
overstay at the end of it, you need a big system to put in place
to be able to go and track down that person and pick them up and
put them back. One of the reasons why I am saying that you need
to refashion all the rules around this type of situation is that
the scale of what you are talking about is just a world away from
20 or 30 years ago. I agree with you, it is very, very hard to
go and deport people who may have been here for several years
illegally. On the other hand, it is a very big signal to send
out if you are going to say, "Provided you can stay here
a certain length of time, even though you are an illegal, we will
not do anything about you." That is why in the end this is
where Europe has got to co-operate on a far better basis to protect
our borders. In the end, as I say, here in this country and I
am sure this will happen elsewhere as well, biometric technology
and identity cards will be the answer.
Q398 Mr Maclean: Prime Minister,
in answer to Gwyneth a few moments ago you said this was one of
the greatest problems the Home Office faced and there was a limit
on what the Home Office could do about it. Is that limit not apparently
imposed by the Home Office itself, since it seems to have fallen
into a shambles according to your current Home Secretary? Why
after nine years of your administration does your Home Secretary
say that the Home Office is dysfunctional, unfit for purpose,
lacking in management systems and leadership?
Mr Blair: What he actually said
was as a result of the scale of the challenges in mass migration,
the Home Office is not fit for purpose. If you look back over
the past nine years it is simply not true to say that nothing
has happened. If you take the asylum system that we inherited
from your administration, David, that system was in a genuine
shambles. You were not a Home Office Minister, were you?
Q399 Mr Maclean: I was a Home Office
Minister and it was not a shambles, Prime Minister!
Mr Blair: Actually it was a shambles.
I am so glad I remembered that! Let me just tell you that when
we came to office, it used to take on average, I think I am right,
14 months to do an asylum application and we had a 60,000 backlog
of asylum cases. Am I right?
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