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Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): I warmly welcome the Secretary of State to his post. I do not think that there is very much between us on dealing with the proceeds of crime, but may I ask him about the balance between the liberty of the individual and the responsibility of the state? Again, the Government have in their agenda a proposal to take away from individuals the right to choose whether to be tried by jury, because, so the Government claim, abuse of that entitlement is widespread.
First, will the Secretary of State consider the figures that show that the number of people who use that entitlement has fallen, not risen? Secondly, if he believes that there is any logical link between taking away the right to jury trial and improving the criminal justice system, will he set out the justification for it--that was never done by his predecessors--because most people simply do not believe the Government?
Mr. Blunkett: I certainly will not do so this afternoon; I am awaiting, as is the Lord Chancellor, Lord Justice Auld's report, which my colleagues and I will consider carefully. We intend to dovetail his recommendations with our own thinking and with John Halliday's work, on which I shall comment in the next few weeks. I can promise that we shall seek radically to improve the administration of the court service in conjunction with the Lord Chancellor's office and the Attorney-General. It is important to do that if we are genuinely to deliver justice speedily and fairly. I do not think that there is anything between the hon. Gentleman and me on that matter, so the question on the mode of trial must be determined by the contribution that it makes to achieving those overall goals.
What I said about those who exploit others is equally true of those who profit from the misery of people who seek a better life across the world. Our approach, our procedures and our effectiveness must not encourage or enable organised criminals to exploit the immigration rules and, in doing so, to exploit those in desperate need. For the sake of success in developing communities that can welcome and embrace those who come from overseas, and to ensure good race and community relations, it is absolutely critical that we avoid unjustifiable fears being enhanced by organised criminals who clearly exploit our immigration processes, misleading others about what will happen when they arrive here; and that we want an immigration system that dissuades those whose claim of persecution is not justifiable from using other routes.
In the months ahead, I want, with my right hon. and hon. Friends, to spell out how we can develop an immigration policy, rather than simply having an obsession with asylum; how we can use a revised and updated work permit system; and how we can enhance what we are doing by considering the experience of green card proposals in places such as Canada--not to open the floodgates to people who believe that they can come to this country, but to provide sensitive and sensible routes by which we can deal with genuine claims.
The message to those who organise trafficking in people is very clear: we are not prepared to let them exploit those who land in our country only to have to be turned around and sent back. Where a claim of persecution is well founded, we shall deal with it quickly and effectively and--to paraphrase someone else--we shall ensure that there is a safe haven, not a soft touch. That safe haven must involve considering how we treat people better when they are here and how, when their claims have been justified, they are integrated not only in our communities, but in our nation, so that we have a nationality policy, as well as an immigration policy.
It is time to draw a line under what happened in the run-up to the general election and for everyone, including those who comment on public debate, to help us to look again at what we have been doing so that we get it right.
The Home Office team believes that the tremendous job done by my right hon. Friend, the new Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, and his colleagues has been underestimated. I visited the Immigration and Nationality Directorate in Croydon yesterday and was deeply impressed with the work there, as I have been by the work in Liverpool and Leeds and at our ports and airports. The new investment in fingerprinting, technology and the fast-tracking of cases is beginning to work only because investment has started to flow through and people are able to give time to those cases that need it.
A speedy appeals process--together with the removal of those people who have failed to make a justifiable claim--is paramount to getting the system right. Turn-around times for new arrivals is also important. However, that has to be built on a measure of trust and decent investment so that it is possible for immigration officers and those who work with them at the point of entry to do their job more effectively. The House must support those people who have the difficult job of removals, which was mentioned by the right hon. Lady.
The Labour manifesto said that in excess of 30,000 people who had not justified their claim would be removed by 2003-04, which is about 2,500 people a month. We have decided that that target must be met by early next year, which enables us to have a commitment to reach and exceed the 30,000 removals by 2003.
There has been no fiddling of the system--[Interruption.] I do not know about Treasury websites--I have enough problems handling my own without examining what Treasury officials are putting out on the Home Office's behalf. However, Opposition Members know, because they were vigilant in the run-up to the general election, that we dealt with the matter in April. It has not just been announced--
Mr. Blunkett: Opposition Members may say that that does not make it better, but they know that it was debated and in the public arena in April. I know about the inference in the stories in the Evening Standard and, this morning, The Sun--yes, I am an avid reader of that newspaper; I want to discover what is happening and to take account of it. Those stories were not new. They may have been newly released, but that is all.
Let me spell out what happens and why. There was a clear reason why the issue arose in the spring. When people claim asylum as head of the family, it is their claim that is reviewed to discover whether the alleged persecution is well founded. If the claim is agreed, the dependants that they have brought with them are treated in the same way. If it is refused, they and those who entered with them are removed, which makes them removals. [Interruption.] I am being heckled again, so let me put the arrangements on the record.
About 20 per cent. of justified removals are dependants. I promise the House that we will not only publish the number of removals, but break it down into heads of households and dependants. There will be no fiddling of Home Office statistics; instead, there will be clarity and transparency.
Let me say one other thing about removals. It is no good people rightly wanting to ensure that those who do not have a justifiable claim leave the country if, when measures are taken to remove them, crocodile tears are shed in the media. It will not be easy, and those who have to do it will have a difficult job, but it has to be done. We are determined to carry the policy through because it will be a prerequisite to dealing with, supporting and handling those who have a justifiable claim and allowing them to remain in this country fairly, openly and without the incipient racism that was implicit in the debate that took place some months ago.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): The Secretary of State referred to the fact that there will be consequences. The people whom we are talking about as statistics are the children of people who have claimed asylum and do not have a well-founded claim. Do we all recognise that the passage of time creates genuine compassionate circumstances in some cases where children are involved and deportation is conceived of? As we have not yet managed to make the decisions as fast as we might want to, there could be cases in which the act of deportation is unfair on children.
Mr. Blunkett: That is why we need a highly efficient system. I saw yesterday a massive speeding up of that system, and a great improvement in our ability to deal with people from the point at which they enter this country. There is still a growing backlog of appeals, partly because of the speed with which existing claims are being dealt with. Of course, there is a reduced number of applications now--14 per cent. down on the previous figures. That is very welcome. [Interruption.] It is no good the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald mumbling away. I give way to her.
Geraint Davies: May I thank my right hon. Friend for paying a visit to Croydon and saying such kind words about the good job that is being done there? In Croydon we are now processing 100,000 cases a year and thousands more people are being employed. Some of them were concerned at the prospect of a possible Tory victory and the loss of their jobs.
More people are being removed than ever before. Will my right hon. Friend pledge that sufficient resources will continue to be given to turn round this difficult problem in an efficient and sensitive manner so that I can take that message back to the hard-working people in Lunar house?