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Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): Is not one of the problems the continuing policy in France of allowing what I think the French call tolerated illegal presence? Despite their so-called robust preventive measures such as identity cards and so on, they continue to allow people from third countries who intend to claim asylum to avoid doing that while they are in France. In his very welcome discussions with France, has the Home Secretary been able to make any progress in persuading the French authorities to consider remedying that practice?
Mr. Blunkett: On a lighter note, I did point out that, given the wine, the food and the sunshineand the womenI was amazed that anyone would want to leave France to claim asylum anywhere else. My hon. Friend is entirely right to say that the tolerated illegal presence of so many people in France is a major problem. It means that those people are not encouraged to claim asylum, to seek another form of legal status or to leave the country legitimately. That is why the problem has accumulated in northern France. The problem also exists partly because the measures that have been taken make it very much more difficult for those people to leave northern France to reach
Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): May I join the Home Secretary in congratulating the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), on his elevation to the Privy Council? I also join the Home Secretary in accepting the idea that when we can have good relations with our neighboursincluding, obviously, Francewe should seek to do so.
Will the Home Secretary tell us whether the French Government are insisting on any preconditions or action from the British Government before the French Government implement any of their terms of the agreement? Has any estimate been made of the cost to the French Government of the measures that they are taking?
Does the Home Secretary accept that closing Sangatte, building fences or having more gendarmes will not stop people moving around Europe? The only real substitute for the nonsense of a policy that Europe has to deal with asylum seekers would be a common way of processing all asylum seekers, wherever they appear in the European Union. We need a common set of conditions and entitlements to which they will thereafter be entitled, and a common basis for deciding who is a refugee and therefore entitled to that status. The logic of that is that we should have a common agency to act on behalf of all member states, so that there is a common standard throughout Europe.
If we close the existing way of entry, how will Britain honour its obligation to allow people to come to this country to seek asylum legally? Given that we are not the nearest country to any of the land-mass countries in eastern Europe, how will we take our fair share commensurate with burden sharing if we close off all legal routes into the country for asylum seekers?
Mr. Blunkett: The hon. Gentleman's first and last questions were the same: how do we facilitate a legal and legitimate route for those who face persecution or death? In the White Paper on 7 February, I spelled out the fact that we would commence negotiations with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on a legitimate route for, first, a few hundred, and then for an expanded number of nominated and verified cases who could be allowed directly into the country, having sought refugee status outside Britain. That is the only way in which we will be able to make progress. We should discuss it with the United Nations and use the good offices of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to see how we can facilitate such work in our embassies and high commissions in an acceptable way.
The process is taking time, but I hope that we can make substantial progress, not least with the UNHCR, and on minors under 18, who form part of a worrying trend and are now fodder for traffickers. There are 2,000 youngsters with Kent social services alone.
It is true that simply putting higher fences round Frethun and closing Sangatte will not solve the overall problem. I agree that substantial measures must be taken EU-wide both in sharing the challenge and in finding administrative ways of dealing with it. However, I am not sure about a unified central agency. All of us, including those working for it, know how difficult the role of the immigration and nationality directorate is in this country. God knows what it would be like if it were run from Brussels. However, I accept that a common issue needs to be shared, with a common solution.
Mr. Gwyn Prosser (Dover): I welcome the new joint arrangementsand I say that as someone who has been highly critical of the slowness with which the French have moved to secure their sites. I welcome the new approach.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the French authorities can build a system that approaches anything like the level of security that we have in place in the port of Dovermy right hon. Friend and I looked at the measures for detection, forgery surveillance and other matters only last weekwe shall be near to closing the last of the gaps in the security system, and to bringing order back to it? That will give confidence to my constituents and others that we have the system under a measure of control.
Mr. Blunkett: I again congratulate my hon. Friend on the way in which he has handled a very difficult situation. Without any spin and advance preparation, last Monday he and I saw the operation of the new technology that detected the presence of people in a vehicle coming from France. Five people had been picked up from the same vehicle on the French side of the channel, but because the French did not have the equipment to look deep into the freight being carried, they had missed half the human cargo. That is why it is crucial to do that job, not merely for border protection purposes, but in a humanitarian sense, too. We all remember the desperate incident in which 58 Chinese people died because people were prepared to make money out of sacrificing their lives.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): The Leader of the House earlier today and the right hon. Gentleman rightly referred to the evils of people trafficking and the need for legislation. When does he anticipate that draft legislation will be available for scrutiny?
Mr. Blunkett: We have a partial measure in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill. I promised when we published the Bill and on Second Reading that the sentencing and criminal justice legislation, which we are committed to introduce in the next Session, will include measures necessary to increase the penalty to 14 years and to tackle trafficking, including trafficking for sexual exploitation purposes. The legislation will be available for scrutiny as soon as it is drafted.
Mr. Blunkett: I agree entirely about the freight industry. Freight operators have had to contend with horrific circumstances that are deeply undesirable from their point of view and for the commercial well-being of our country. The installation of double fencing by the end of July and the substantial increase in security personnel, which the French have promised, will facilitate the provision of the electronic surveillance necessary to back up the fencing. I hope that by the August deadline the fencing will have made an enormous difference to the difficulties currently experienced and to the rapid return of a full service.
Norman Baker (Lewes): What conditions did the French Interior Minister require the British Government to meet before he would agree to the closure of Sangatte? Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on, and rebut if necessary, a statement in one of today's nationals that he has allegedly pledged to introduce new measures to curb illegal working, including a national identity card scheme, as part of the agreement? Is that true?
Mr. Blunkett: No, there are measures in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill that relate to our position on illegal working. We made our view clear when we clamped down on that problem by developing ways to improve on section 8 of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996. I said that we will shortly undertake a consultation on entitlement cards. I made that clear to the House in an answer on 5 February and reiterated it in a statement to the House on 7 February. The consultation measures that I mentioned to the French were only what I reported to the House several months ago.