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Miss Widdecombe: I am asking the questions, because I am intervening on the right hon. Gentleman. A man in Kent reported to the police that he believed that he had

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clandestine entrants in his load. He co-operated with the police who, when they found clandestine entrants, fined him £14,000 and drove him out of business. What would the right hon. Gentleman say to that man?

Mr. Straw: The answer is straightforward: there is an appeals process, and we do not seek to operate the civil penalty system unfairly. The person has a right of appeal--end of story, and the right hon. Lady should know that.

If right hon. Lady would like to, she could tell me what else would be in her proposal. She could provide more details on locking up all asylum seekers, but she refuses to do so. I asked her several questions about where the money would come from, and she said we knew the figures. I shall give her the figures; she is happy to rely on them. The cost of providing at least 60 detention centres to house 30,000 asylum seekers is £2 billion. She could get that money on hire purchase, through the private finance initiative, but would have to pay a little more. The cost of running those centres is £1 billion.

The right hon. Lady may say that the time scale does not really matter, but it will take years to establish the centres, not least because in Kent, where we are trying to establish one detention centre at Aldington, Conservative-dominated Ashford district council opposes its establishment, as does the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green)--a Conservative. Furthermore, the local Conservative parish councillor is so offended by the idea that there might be asylum seekers--albeit, locked up--in his back yard that he has pleaded that it offends his rights under the Human Rights Act 1998, and has succeeded in gaining an adjournment of the planning inquiry.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): I told the right hon. Gentleman that that Act was not a good idea.

Mr. Straw: I admit that we did not expect that the Act would be used in those circumstances, and we look forward to the courts regarding the case as entirely vexatious and worthless. It is interesting that, although Conservative Members talk in general about establishing detention centres, they fight every proposal to establish them. They know that that is a promise full of deception; they cannot deliver it. They have neither the money nor the will to do so.

Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire): May I tempt the Home Secretary back to the Government's policy for a moment? What is his estimate, since the previous Queen's Speech, of the number of people who have been told to leave the country at the end of their appeal process but are still here for one reason or another?

Mr. Straw: The answer to the right hon. Gentleman's question is the same as the one that he would have given had he been in my position--we can only estimate the number of people who are in the country wholly illegally. Perhaps this will be in the Conservative proposal, but unless we introduce compulsory identification cards for everyone who is lawfully resident in this country and provide the police with the power to stop individuals and ask them to produce their identification cards, and to

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arrest them if they do not have one, we shall remain in the area of estimates. We are putting vast resources into increasing the number of removals.

Mr. Bercow: What is the number?

Mr. Straw: The number of removals is already higher. Before Conservative Members start trading figures about other countries, I should say that, for example, in Germany--often cited as a paradigm--the numbers are rising; it has 500,000 rejected asylum seekers whose addresses are known because they still claim benefit, whereas at least in this country, when asylum seekers lose all entitlement to be here, their entitlement to benefit is also, quite properly, removed.

Sir Brian Mawhinney: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw: No, I want to make progress.

Miss Widdecombe: What is the estimate? The right hon. Gentleman will not tell us. Will he confirm that if everyone was housed in secure reception centres and not merely allowed to disappear, he would not need identity cards and would have a much more efficient system? Will he also confirm that the costs that he has mentioned, first, include unused capacity; secondly, make no allowance for deterrence; thirdly, make no allowance for the changes in decision making; and fourthly, include the costs of case-working staff, whom he would have to employ anyway in centres or in the community? When he has added all that lot up and taken into account the fact that new build is not necessary and that PFI can work perfectly well, will he not admit that our proposal will save money in the end and produce a more efficient system?

Mr. Straw: The prolixity of that question shows that the Conservative's have no real proposal; it is simply intended for the headlines. Our estimate takes account of the fact that there is no unused capacity in RAF stations or former mental hospitals. We have scoured the country to find places, such as Aldington, and when we have the whole of the local Conservative establishment has opposed our proposal. They would continue to do so if--God forbid--the right hon. Lady were doing my job. Our estimates are based on very slow progress.

The right hon. Lady suggests that we should lock up all asylum seekers, but let us be clear that the proposal includes not only healthy, single, adult males but those who are unhealthy and every woman and child. They would have to abandon any bail provision, which would break various aspects of the 1951 convention. In my more rash moments, I look forward to her doing that.

Mr. Simon Hughes rose--

Mr. Straw: Let me make progress, because many other hon. Members wish to speak.

Where we have promised investment and reform, the shadow Chancellor promises cuts. Where we have introduced proposals for reform, the Conservatives promise only outdated and discredited ideas, with their very dismal record still fresh in the memory. The Conservative party calls for more police, yet suggests that

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we are spending too much on the police; it described our plans as "reckless". The shadow Chancellor refused to match our promises on the police, confounding what the right hon. Lady says.

I know only too well that opposition is not a happy place. Indeed, we can all judge that from the right hon. Lady's composure today. The Labour party learned the hard way that, to be taken seriously as a Government, it is necessary to have policies and spending plans that stand up to scrutiny, but after three and a half years in opposition the Conservative party does not have even the beginnings of a coherent set of proposals on law and order.

Let us consider a proposal that was made a huge example of at the Conservative party conference, but about which the right hon. Lady has been surprisingly reticent. Indeed, when she was asked about it last week, she said that she would not rehash the arguments. There was a headline-grabbing policy at the party conference. She tried to pull a rabbit out of the hat, but all she got was a harebrained scheme--a policy so off the wall that it was immediately discredited by the police, with her shadow Cabinet colleagues salivating at the prospect of going on television to denounce her.

The right hon. Lady's deputy, the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), joined the queue entirely gratuitously some time later. In an interview that he gave to the New Statesman, he said:


That represents a vast dumping on his own apparent boss. That fiasco was not simply embarrassing but catastrophic for the right hon. Lady and her party because it exposed, as never before, the policy-making chaos at the heart of the Conservative party, and it is the same story on police numbers.

Overall police numbers have declined since 1993, but we are taking effective steps to increase them again. The last people who should criticise us about police numbers are Conservative Members. When they were in government, numbers fell by 1,500, despite the right hon. Lady's promises, made from this very Dispatch Box, to increase them by 5,000. As I have said, they described our spending on the police from 1999 as "reckless". Most crucially, the shadow Chancellor is now saying not that they would increase spending, but that there would be savings in every part of the Home Office budget, apart from that relating to asylum. It is, perhaps, a mark of the regard in which the right hon. Lady is held by her colleagues, especially the shadow Chancellor, that every time she has asked about additional spending today, she has been forced to waffle and bluster.

Miss Widdecombe: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw: I shall give way in a moment. The right hon. Lady has dined out on her reputation for straight talking. I shall give the House an example. Asked whether she would match our spending on policing, she said this on the radio:


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