Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Education (Understanding the Armed Forces)

13. Paul Clark (Gillingham): What measures he is taking to further understanding of the armed forces in schools. [8363]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): Defence, and the skills and experiences of the armed forces in particular, have an important part to play in supporting education in schools. It is also important that young people—the voters and taxpayers of tomorrow—should have a general awareness of defence. We already do a lot of work with schools through our service presentation teams and the cadet forces, and by providing publications and other materials. We intend to expand that effort by increasing the number of teams, appointing a schools adviser in the Ministry of Defence, setting up a schools page on our website and developing material for teachers and pupils. All that will be linked into the curriculum.

Paul Clark: I thank my hon. Friend for that response. I welcome the appointment of a schools adviser. Many, if not all, of us will know that teachers and schools are the first line, as they are the gateway to opportunities for our young people who are entering the world of work. However, can he reassure the House that this is not a one-off, isolated measure? Will he also reassure us that the Department for Education and Skills, together with the Ministry of Defence, is already taking steps to ensure

29 Oct 2001 : Column 625

that our young people recognise the value of our armed forces to society and to help with the recruitment of first-class youngsters to the armed forces—especially the Corps of Royal Engineers in my constituency?

Dr. Moonie: Yes. I am delighted to say that, in addition to the measures that I have described, we also have a programme called outreach, in which cadet forces work with youngsters who may have problems in order to introduce them to life in the cadets. The programme has had remarkable success in producing recruits to the armed forces. We have also developed a concept called skill force, whereby experienced instructors visit schools and help kids with particular problems to develop self-esteem and a range of skills and abilities on which they would otherwise miss out. I assure my hon. Friend that we take a very close interest in the help that we can give schools and are always looking for ways in which we can add to it.

Patrick Mercer (Newark): Will the Minister outline what special initiatives have been taken since 11 September to capitalise for recruitment purposes on the very high profile of the armed forces?

Dr. Moonie: As I said, we have an on-going programme of development that involves an increase in the number of presentations made to schools. We have not considered it appropriate to take any further measures, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that interest in the armed forces remains very high.

Royal Navy

14. John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland): What plans he has to review his Department's strategy on the Navy. [8364]

The Minister of State for Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State informed the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) in an earlier answer, we will be conducting work designed to ensure that our concepts, force structures and capabilities, including those of the Royal Navy, are exactly those that we need to meet the challenge of the kind of asymmetric threat that we saw on 11 September. That work will look both at the defence of the UK and at our capability to counter and deter terrorism abroad.

John Robertson: I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Does he agree that the constant review of how we deal with situations such as Kosovo and Afghanistan, especially in relation to our Navy, is of paramount

29 Oct 2001 : Column 626

importance? Will he make a statement at a later date on what has been learned from the present conflict and on how he sees the future of the Navy?

Mr. Ingram: With regard to the latter point, we are entering a process of considering the challenge posed by the asymmetric threat that we experienced on 11 September. That was presaged anyway in the strategic defence review. Clearly, we will need to engage as many people as possible in understanding the extent of that problem. At the end of the process, a statement will be required as to how we go forward in terms of a new chapter of the strategic defence review.

On the Navy, we remain committed to the two ALSLs—alternative landing ship logistics—that are to be built at Govan and the type 45 orders announced earlier this year. Discussions are continuing to finalise certain aspects of those contracts, but I am sure that my hon. Friend will want to discuss the matter further when they are announced.

Hawk Contract

15. Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): If he will make a statement on the ways in which the Department is helping BAE Systems in its representations to the Government of India on the Hawk contract. [8365]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): Ministers and officials continue to take every opportunity to support BAE Systems' proposals for the supply of the Hawk to India. Negotiations between the company and the Indian Government continue.

Mr. Jack: At a time when aerospace workers at BAE Systems in my constituency are rejoicing at the news of the joint strike fighter announcement, they have not forgotten that the contract with India seems to have been marched up to the top of the hill of agreement and down again at least half a dozen times in the recent past.

I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for doing much to represent the interest of our aerospace workers in the contractual discussions with the Indian Government. However, can the Minister give any idea of the likely timing of the Indian Government's further commitment to and consideration of the project?

Dr. Moonie: I greatly sympathise with the workers in the Hawk factory, but I cannot enlighten the right hon. Gentleman much further. We are making every effort to persuade the Indian Government to take up the contract, and we are well aware of its importance to the workers in his constituency.

29 Oct 2001 : Column 627

Asylum, Migration and Citizenship

3.30 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on asylum, migration and citizenship.

This year is the 50th anniversary of the Geneva convention on refugees, to which the United Kingdom is proud to be a signatory. We will uphold our fundamental moral obligations to protect those who flee persecution while protecting our national boundaries and integrity.

The world is a very different place from that of 50 years ago. At the beginning of the year, there were around 12 million refugees worldwide. Such global movements are a challenge to all nations. Alongside our European partners, we must establish an asylum and immigration system that can respond effectively to the pressure that we face.

Steps, which I intend to extend, have already been taken to root out the organised criminal gangs who are responsible for the barbaric trade of trafficking in people. The gross exploitation of those in greatest need is unacceptable. It is crucial that our approach leads to radical change at home, creating trust among the people of our country, and conveys a message that is clearly understood in the rest of the world. It must be crystal clear and tough, thus sending a signal to everyone that the United Kingdom is not a soft touch.

Significant improvements have been made in recent years. Staff in the immigration and nationality directorate have worked tirelessly to deal with the backlog of claims. In the past financial year, 132,000 decisions were made, surpassing the 79,000 applications. The new civil penalties and carriers' liability have already cut illegal entry into the United Kingdom. Substantial investment, which I announced last month, in new equipment for surveillance and border controls will reinforce that work.

I pay warm tribute to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), and his Ministers. They inherited a terrible mess and made huge improvements. However, much remains to be done. That is why I do not intend to tinker with the existing system, but to introduce radical and fundamental reform.

The reviews of voucher and dispersal policy that I am publishing today demonstrate that the current system has suffered from genuine problems. I have placed copies of the reviews in the Vote Office and the Library. The system is too slow, vulnerable to fraud, and felt to be unfair by asylum seekers and local communities. Many people work illegally while claiming support or sub-letting their accommodation. Other accommodation is paid for, but not used.

As the House is painfully aware, there have been social tensions in neighbourhoods across the country and considerable pressures on local education, social and GP services. We need a seamless asylum service, from initial decision through appeal to integration or removal. It must be clear, fast and well administered.

It is my intention to publish a White Paper and, subsequently, legislation, which will provide a comprehensive approach to asylum, nationality and immigration. At the heart of my asylum proposals is the presumption that, from the moment people present themselves, they will be tracked as well as supported.

29 Oct 2001 : Column 628

There will be three key elements to the structure: induction, accommodation and reporting, and fast-track removal or integration. In addition, the fast-tracking of straightforward cases at Oakington will continue. The application process will be streamlined and integrated.

We will develop a small network of induction centres in which people will be accommodated after application to facilitate screening, health checks and identification procedures. After induction, asylum seekers, whether receiving support or not, will have to make themselves regularly available at new-style reporting centres. We will phase in that process.

Crucially, by the end of next year, a proportion of first-time asylum seekers will be offered a place in new accommodation centres, which we are trialling. We will establish 3,000 places, offering full board, education and health facilities. Those in accommodation centres will receive a small cash allowance. Those refusing to take up such a place would disqualify themselves from support.

Decisions about the long-term mix of facilities will be taken in the light of emerging evidence, here and abroad, about what works. Subject to that, our aim is to phase out the current system of support and dispersal.

While the trial is being evaluated, those receiving support will be subject to a robust new regime. Instead of the standard acknowledgement letter, which is used for identification, smart cards will be phased in from January to ensure entitlement. That will guarantee identification and tackle fraud. Using new biometric techniques, including fingerprinting and photographs, we will provide both security and certainty.

Further steps will be taken to improve the current voucher system. The value of voucher support will be uprated as soon as possible in line with the April 2001 income support increases for adults and the increase announced for children last week. Within the total of support available, the cash allowance will be increased from £10 to £14.

We recognise that in revising the existing voucher system, we need to establish a long-term robust solution. Induction, accommodation and removal centres clearly remove the need for vouchers for those assigned a place. I can tell the House that once the new smart cards are introduced, the voucher system will be superseded. By early autumn next year, we will have established a robust, but less socially divisive scheme.

I am exploring with colleagues the potential for automated credit transfer and other mechanisms to provide financial support for asylum seekers. Although we are not reversing the principle of dispersal away from London and the south-east, we will improve consultation with and the involvement of local authorities and others.

It is crucial that private providers give proper notice to local authorities when asylum seekers are dispersed to an area. We will develop a stronger regional structure as part of a more devolved and decentralised process, and greater co-ordination with voluntary organisations. However, none of those changes will work effectively unless we drastically speed up the system. I therefore intend to tackle head-on the backlog, including those cases waiting for appeals. The Lord Chancellor and I intend to improve significantly the throughput of appeals.

First, we will cut out multiple opportunities for delay. Secondly, we will streamline any further right of appeal, limited to a point of law. Thirdly, we will increase the

29 Oct 2001 : Column 629

capacity of the adjudication service by 50 per cent., from the current 4,000 to 6,000 cases a month. From next month, the capacity will increase to 4,500, and by next November to 6,000.

Where a claim to asylum is granted we will improve the integration procedures. Where an appeal has failed, my intention is to streamline the process for removal. Those who have no right to stay must leave the country immediately. [Interruption.]

We currently have 1,900 detention places, which we will have increased to 2,800 by the spring of next year. I intend that we should expand the capacity by a further 40 per cent. to 4,000 places. Those will become secure removal centres. [Interruption.] Asylum seekers will no longer be held in mainstream prison places; I can confirm that from January next year that practice will cease. [Interruption.]

Next Section

IndexHome Page