Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400-419)|
4 JULY 2006
Q400 Mr Maclean: We had fewer asylum
seekers than we have now, Prime Minister.
Mr Blair: No, excuse me, you did
not. The figure, if you include the dependents, for the last year
of your administration was 40,000. It is 30,000 this year. It
is actually lower and we had a 60,000 backlog that we have taken
down to 6,000 and we get 80% of the cases done within two months.
Q401 Mr Maclean: Prime Minister,
we did not have an official report from the Home Office saying
we had half a million illegal asylum seekers in this country who
have not been deported.
Mr Blair: No, and I will tell
you why you did not; because your Home Secretary at the time said
that he could not calculate the numbers. David, there is no point
us being daft about this. The fact is you were trying to deal
with this problem; we are trying to deal with it; every country
round the world is trying to deal with it. There is no point suggesting
it is just because people are being feckless and silly.
Mr Maclean: No-one is suggesting that,
Q402 Mrs Dunwoody: Can we just have
one at a time. I am happy to let you fight, children, but let
us try and get some order!
Mr Blair: Thank you, Gwyneth.
Q403 Mr Maclean: Can I say that Jack
Straw, an honourable and decent and straight man, as Home Secretary
never made the point when he took over the Home Office that somehow
it was a shambles. He wanted more legislation, quite rightly,
he wanted to implement his programme. One never heard the same
comment from David Blunkett or Charles Clarke. Why is it that
your new Home Secretary has decided that after nine years the
Home Office is now dysfunctional and a shambles? You cannot blame
that on an administration nine years ago, when none of your other
Home Secretaries has made the comment.
Mr Blair: First of all, I will
send to you a series of comments that David Blunkett made and
I think Charles himself made, which suggested because of the scale
of the changes that are taking place and the challenges, the Home
Office needed fundamental change and reform. The point that I
am making to you is it is not as ifand I know this is a
very common way of putting it and it is what people always say,
"We have had nine years and nothing has happened." Lots
of things have happened. The asylum system is in a completely
different shape from what we inherited in 1997, but the fact isand
as I say this is why every single country is facing the same issuesthe
system is very, very difficult. I do not go back and say that
everything you guys did when you were in the Home office was wrong.
Some of the problems that Michael Howard was trying to deal with,
some of the legislation actually he introduced before we came
into office was exactly trying to deal with the same problems.
This is a feature of the modern world.
Q404 Mr Maclean: And you scrubbed
the black list of countries and the white list and then created
Mr Blair: No, we did not actually,
David. The problem with the way that your list worked was that
there were certain countries that you said literally, "We
are not returning people to," and in the end this is why
we introduced the non-suspensive appeal system because you need
to get a far faster way of dealing with these people who are coming
through and claiming asylum. Let us be absolutely clear about
this, this is part of the problem. For the majority of people
who claim asylum it turns out their claims are unfounded. Let
us be clear about this before we stigmatise these people. It is
not because they are terrible people. They are people who, for
perfectly understandable reasons, are in search of a better life.
They come from very poor countries, they go abroad because they
want to work hard for their families and raise their families
in some sort of decency. They are basically decent people but
the trouble is they come in claiming asylum when actually they
are economic migrants.
Q405 Mrs Dunwoody: I just want to
move on Prime Minister. Dr Wright?
Mr Blair: We were beginning to
enjoy ourselves there, but anyway
Q406 Mrs Dunwoody: I rather thought
you were doing that. That is why we are moving on!
Mr Blair: That is a very indicative
Mrs Dunwoody: You looked to me like you
were moving into automatic mode so I thought the moment had come
to intervene. Dr Wright?
Q407 Dr Wright: Could I ask you,
Prime Minister, does the Government have a population policy?
Mr Blair: A population policy?
No, but we do have a migration policy obviously.
Q408 Dr Wright: You know this is
political dynamite, do you not?
Mr Blair: I think that is pretty
obvious, yes. I do not know where that is going to lead the news
tomorrow as a comment.
Q409 Dr Wright: You have been asking
us to have a debate about all kinds of things as we have gone
along. Why do we not have a proper debate about population and
migration rather than just letting it explode all over us every
time we have an election or a crisis? The population has gone
past 60 million in the last year. It is going to rise by 12% in
the next generation. Every year we are inventing a new Oxford,
a new Middlesbrough, or a new Ipswich. This may be a good thing,
it may be a bad thing, it may mean that it is easier to get a
waiter and it is harder to get a parking place, but what the country
desperately needs is some serious debate about this, does it not,
and we are not getting it, are we?
Mr Blair: The remedy lies in our
own hands. We should have that debate. I am perfectly happy to
participate in it and give my views on it. Look, the most difficult
thing, as you well know Tony, is to have a debate on this topic
devoid of hysteria and over-emotion. The most important thing
is to have a rational and sensible debate. I think that is a very,
very sensible thing to do.
Q410 Dr Wright: Why do we not therefore
have a proper cost-benefit analysis of the costs and benefits
of different levels of population, most of it being fuelled by
migration, and perhaps have an independent commission that looks
at these issues that can inform public debate about them, because
if we do not do these things, I think we all know that the potential
for nasty Right-wing extremists doing things about them is there
all the time and is going to get worse.
Mr Blair: Yes, but the difficulty
when you try to examine what is the cost and benefit is that you
can look and analyse this at a number of different levels. Even
on what you were talking about with population growth, I do not
have the exact figures in my head but I am not sure that the driver
is simply migration or even mainly.
Q411 Dr Wright: It is the main driver.
Mr Blair: You have also got population
Dr Starkey: Longevity.
Q412 Dr Wright: The main driver is
migration and the effects of migration on the birth rate.
Mr Blair: I was about to say that
the birth rate is different amongst different communities but
not all of those communities are necessarily people who have not
been here for some significant period of time, and indeed perfectly
lawfully. I am not sure that it is the facts in an objective sense
that you need to debate. I am very happy to look at that, but
I think the facts are very difficult to be objective about in
terms of what is the benefit or disbenefit of migration. My own
view of this is that migration, on the whole, is positive and
of benefit to countries but it needs to be controlled and there
need to be rules. The question is how do you impose rules in the
modern world where there is this mass migration, mass travel and
mass communication? It is very, very difficult to do. I think
most people in the country, in fact, are not racist about this
at all actually; they just want to think that there is some order
and some rules that can be brought to this situation. The trouble
is from a policy-making point of view those rules are very, very
difficult because, as I say, the moment you realise that literally
11 to 12 million people come into this country every year, you
understand the scale of the problem because, as I say, the vast,
vast bulk of those people are perfectly lawful and absolutely
necessary for our economy. I think it is the rules that are the
Q413 Mrs Dunwoody: I hope you are
not telling us, Prime Minister, that you are taking decisions
on facts that you are not sure about. I am sure you would never
do a thing like that.
Mr Blair: The facts on cost-benefit
are not necessarily facts. When you actually analyse them sometimes
they are opinions.
Q414 Mrs Dunwoody: I see, facts when
you agree with them are facts
Mr Blair: No, I am not saying
that. All I am saying is I do not think you will get a factual
statement as to whether migration is a good thing or a bad thing.
Mrs Dunwoody: Finally, Mr Sheerman wants
to ask you a brief question about education.
Q415 Mr Sheerman: Prime Minister,
people in this country are very fair-minded, as you have said,
and we have a very tolerant society on the whole but they do want
to see migration and the migrants that come here to have skills
ands job and to become, in some way, real members of our community.
There seems to be confusion amongst yourselves, particularly amongst
your ministers, about what we are trying to do about British citizenship.
We have ministers shooting off saying we must have a test of "Britishness".
We have the more thoughtful work from Professor Crick in terms
of how we indoctrinate people into being good citizens. What is
your feeling about what makes a good citizen now?
Mr Blair: I think the most important
thing is that everybody who comes into this country shares the
basic values of the country, values about democracy, the rule
of law, and tolerance and respect for people of other faiths and
races and creeds. I think that is the most important thing. What
binds us together and makes us British are the common values we
Q416 Mr Sheerman: Would you say the
English language is central to that?
Mr Blair: I think it goes back
to what we were saying before about integration. I think it stands
to reason that the more that people, whilst retaining their own
identity in terms of religion or race, integrate the better, and
therefore that is why I think English language is important, yes.
Mr Sheerman: Evidence given to my Committee
suggests that there was a deficiency in terms of the ability of
people to get English language. Peter Hyman who used to work in
Number 10 as an adviser and now works in an Islington school,
said if only there was a capacity for intensive English language
training when migrants come here, whether it is from Pakistan
Mrs Dunwoody: I think the Prime Minister
has got it.
Q417 Mr Sheerman: Why is there not
enough money and resources for English language?
Mr Blair: I think we do put a
lot in. I have not got the exact figures in front of me but I
think we do put a lot in.
Yes, there is more that we can do. The thing that really worries
me is if people have been here for maybe ten, 15 or 20 years and
cannot speak the English language. That is a worry.
Q418 Mr Sheerman: Do you look at programmes
in order to help those people?
Mr Blair: Yes, and I think also
it goes back to what we were talking about earlier, you also need
the community itself where these people are living to be engaged
in that as well.
Mrs Dunwoody: On that note of co-operation,
Chairman: Thank you very much, Gwyneth.
We move now, Prime Minister, away from domestic affairs into what
is likely to become a regular subject area which is across the
international field and the international update. Sir George Young?
Sir George Young: Prime Minister, in
this last session we want to try and cover a lot of territory.
We plan to ask short, focused questions in the hope that these
will elicit short, focused answers. Can we start with Iraq and
Q419 Mike Gapes: Prime Minister,
how long do you expect British troops to be in Iraq?
Mr Blair: As long as the Government
there wishes them to be there. I suspect over the next 18 months
there will obviously be opportunities to draw down significant
numbers of British troops because the capacity of the Iraqi forces
will build up.
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