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Mr. Blunkett: I stand here slightly humbled because the Home Office's record on technology has not been one of the greatest. We are all aware of that especially after my predecessor sorted out both the passport issue and other technological hiccups. Having learned that lesson, we are very clear indeed that by phasing in the new system from January, not only can we make it work but make it work so much better than the current letters system, which is grossly open to fraud. There are examples of people selling multiple copies of a letter, of no clear identification being provided and of entitlements not being clear. We want to ensure in the new system that there is trust in the community and that those who are receiving help deserve it and can receive it with dignity.
The same applies in relation to removals. We did not step up removals activity over the summerwe did not have an effective working system thenprecisely to ensure that we did not have scenes of families with young children being pulled out of blocks of flats. As a result of the new protocol, together with links with the police service and the ability to track people through reporting centres, we shall be able to operate the system better.
The ultimate message is this, "If you want to be in our country and have something to offer, but know in your heart that you are not a refugee from persecution, the new economic migration proposals will enable you to achieve that goal." By next spring, the work permit system will have enabled 150,000 people to receive permission to be in our country and to work here.
I pay tribute to the staff who are turning round two thirds of applications in 24 hours and 90 per cent. of applications in five days. If the rest of my Department and the IND can come anywhere near that sophisticated administration we shall all be very glad.
Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): The Home Secretary will know, as I told him in a conversation earlier this year, that his principles and general proposals will have a welcome from those on the Liberal Benches. I should therefore be grateful to hear him express a desire to ensure that the principles are not only very clear, so that people from abroad can understand them, but humane and scrupulously fair.
The Home Secretary is right to say that, in 1997, the incoming Labour Government inherited a mess. Both the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993 and the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996 had failed very badly. However, the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 was an equal disaster. Is not today's announcement therefore a somewhat belated announcement that the voucher system was both degrading and inefficient, as it not only failed to deter people but costed more than alternatives, and that the dispersal system invented by the Home Secretary's predecessor was completely unsuccessful? Therefore, after a very unfortunate experience, surely it is clear that the provisions that were introduced less than three years ago by the Home Secretary's predecessor are being fundamentally replaced by his own much better ones.
The proposals on induction and reception centres are hugely welcome. Liberal Democrats Members have been advocating such proposals for years, not least because the arrangements used by the Dutch and the Finns and best practice across Europe show that they have worked very successfully elsewhere. Can the Home Secretary explainas he is very keen that his Department works wellwhy it always takes the Home Office so long to learn the lessons from other countries and from the failures of the past?
Does the right hon. Gentleman's announcement on the replacement of vouchers by smart cards herald movement towards a general entitlement card for immigrants or for people more generally? What is the timetable for reception centres to be established and for vouchers to disappear entirely? Will he guarantee that there will always be an entitlement to appeal against refusal of asylum?
Does the Home Secretary's interesting statement about working with the European Union and the UNHCR mean that it will be possible for people to make a case for asylum from abroad, and does it mean that we will increase resettlement from other countries as the UN has asked us to do? As the Government want to make the new system cost efficient, will those who have to wait here for the final determination of their case, who have great skill and a willingness to offer it to the British nation, be able to work and contribute to the state rather than be a cost to it as has been the nonsense of the system so far?
Mr. Blunkett: I welcome the hon. Gentleman's opening statement. I must say that I missed his policy advocation of induction and accommodation centres, but I am always willing to work in parallel with him on such matters. We may have come to the same decision at the same time.
The answer to the question about those who come in with external applications through the UNHCR is yes, that is my intention. It will take some time to implement, but I believe that it is the right thing to do, to stop people hanging under trucks and coming through in tankers.
The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question about induction and accommodation is that we will be able to offer people support, but not to permit them to work while waiting for their appeals. Once somebody had started a
Yes, we are intent, as the hon. Gentleman said at the beginning of his question, on ensuring that we have a humane and acceptable system that treats people well and speeds up their applications, but which also ensures that if they are granted leave to remain, or refugee status, they are integrated fully and properly in the community.
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): Is my right hon. Friend aware that, simply because I have been in the House for 31 years, I have probably dealt with more immigration and asylum cases than any other Member of the House? Is he further aware that the leading members of the ethnic minority communities with whom I work in my constituency find it easy to distinguish with clarity between those who flee from oppression, and those whoegged on by crooked immigration advisers and disreputable solicitors such as Thornhill Ince, against which I have lodged a complaint with the Law Society todayuse applications for asylum as a device when they have come here illegally, overstayed as visitors and then married as a further device, and will spin out any way of trying to stay here? Those leading members of the ethnic minority community in my constituency would wish my right hon. Friend to treat those who are fleeing from oppression with compassion and generosityas he invariably doesbut to give the others short shrift.
Mr. Blunkett: I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. We need a much more robust system, following the delivery of the smart card, which is not a forerunner to anything, but simply a means of dealing with a particular problem. The smart card and the reporting centres will enable us to get a grip on where people are at any time, and what they are doing. Above all, they will allow us to carry through a determination to remove someone who has come into the country fraudulently, often abandoning the person whom they married or came to marry.
I also agree with my right hon. Friend that, as I said last Thursday evening in a lecture, those who believe that their profession is merely a trade rather than a profession should be very clear about that.
Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald): It would be wholly wrong not to preface my question by welcoming this damascene conversion, and the Home Secretary's frank admission that a system that only five months ago the electorate were told was working perfectly, is not working at all. However, I want to ask him a specific question. Among all his statistics about accommodation centres, he announced a very substantial expansion of the detention estate. When that expansion is complete and all the places are available, what percentage of new asylum seekers will be detained in secure accommodation until the outcome of their cases?
Mr. Blunkett: For new asylum seekers, the Oakington facility will remain, but all others will go through the normal process of induction and then accommodation, unless they have committed a crime, are suspected of having committed a crime or are affected by the measures that I shall introduce in a few weeks on anti-terrorism. Should their asylum applications fail, or for some other reason they fall foul of the law or are not eligible to be in
Mr. Iain Coleman (Hammersmith and Fulham): I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement this afternoon, especially of the phasing out and eventual abolition of the much hated voucher system. It was hated for two main reasons. The first was the degrading and stigmatising effect that it had on those people who had to use the vouchers, and the secondand more importantwas the very low level at which that benefit was paid. It equated to 70 per cent. of income support. When the new smart card is introduced, can the level be set at 100 per cent. of income support, so that poor and vulnerable people do not continue to be paid unacceptable and miserly levels of benefit?