Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)|
BLUNKETT, MP AND
TUESDAY 23 OCTOBER 2001
40. Home Secretary, earlier on you referred
to mobilising communities, what exactly do you have in mind with
(Mr Blunkett) I have a particular interest and commitment
to a set of values about what I call civil society, the development
of individuals and communities being able to support themselves
to develop a contribution to resolving solutions within their
own life and that of the community around them and that the Government
should be enabling, it should be supportive, it should be on their
side providing the resources, the framework and the necessary
backing to make that possible so that people do not simply say,
what will the Government do for us but what will Government do
with us and alongside us. I would like us to develop that agenda,
it used to be called community development in the 1970s, when
I was a lad, but it is now called capacity building. I am very
keen that we engage with that across central and local government
and perceive this as a way of devolving both responsibility and
empowerment to those communities?
41. Is this an expansion of things like Neighbourhood
Watch and Crimestoppers?
(Mr Blunkett) It would be in the areas I have responsibility
for but it would also be the engagement of more special, the development
of communities being part of the Crime and Disorder Reduction
Programmes and safer communities. It would be, as I was describing
earlier, communities engaging in the anti-drugs and dealing policies,
sweeping those and other anti-social behaviour from the streets.
It is a long-term policy of building the confidence and the capacity
for communities not to be handed the problem but to be part of
42. I welcome those comments, Home Secretary,
how do you square that with the fact that this year Crimestoppers
have not been given any funding by the Home Office but last year
(Mr Blunkett) We have a very, very tiny, I have only
discovered, budget for these activities. I am looking forward,
albeit modestly, of course, having read a couple of papers this
morning, to the Spending Review and discussions with my right
honourable friend, the Chancellor, who is also deeply committed
to these values and this philosophy. I hope we will be able to
do more both in invigorating what is already on the stocks and
expanding new schemes and new programmes that relate directly
to people in their communities.
Chairman: Mr Russell, I am not clear how you
led us down this path, I thought you were going to ask about emergency
Mr Russell: Chairman, I am leading into that.
Chairman: Are you?
Mr Russell: I thought the Home Secretary's comments
earlier on were very encouraging and indeed emergency planning
arrangements, I understand, are going to be reported at the end
of this month. The Civil Contingency Secretariat is government,
I am trying to link in how the volunteers fit in with the blueprint
of central government.
Chairman: Thank you for that. Would you now
address emergency planning? I know we all have to take our chances
where we can.
43. Has the recent view of emergency planning
highlighted any weaknesses? You said earlier you wanted to mobilise
(Mr Blunkett) Now I have heard the question I am very
happy to give you the answer, that is that we have undertaken
an assessment, a capability management, a communications and a
national resilience policy over the last six weeks, building on
the programme of co-ordination, which was begun immediately after
this general election, when the Civil Contingency Secretariat
unit was drawn together in the Cabinet Office. We have done so
with a view to ensuring that the existing programmes were firstly,
as I described, resilient and properly co-ordinated, and secondly
where there was felt to be a need for review they are welcome
to take it. That is why both the Department of Health and ourselves
and the Cabinet Office have put out advice to the experts in the
field about what resources exist, about the update, for instance,
for emergency planning offices at local level. I intend, Chairman,
to put round to all members of the House of Commons as quickly
as possible an update paper on that so that people can see what
we have done.
Mr Russell: Chairman, notwithstanding your determination
to restrain my line of question I would like to come back to,
how does that then fit in with
44. My determination is that you should stick
to the green line question?
Mr Blunkett: How does it fit with the communities,
it fits with the communities because at a time of need mobilising
people at a local level is better undertaken if they have the
skills, they have the capacity to build, they have the communications
at local level to be able to get in touch with each other. As
we saw in New York there is great will, a capacity of people to
be able to respond at those times. I had not heard the question
in those terms, Chairman.
Mr Russell: Thank you, Chairman, for helping
45. Home Secretary, you talk about the capacity
of the people of New York, if the dreadful events of 11 September
had happened in London who would have been in charge?
(Mr Blunkett) The immediate action on the ground would
have sprung into place, as it did on a lesser scale in terms of
death and destruction at the beginning of August when the Ealing
bombing took place, where all branches of the emergency and civil
contingencies procedures came into being and acted. The new Committee
that has been established under the chairmanship of the Local
Government minister Nick Raynsford with the mayor and the Association
of London will ensure, just as we have done with the devolved
administrations, that there is total coordination. It is understood
by all of us that the voice of the mayor will be heard. It is
also understood that civil contingency arrangements and the emergency
planning arrangements will immediately come into play, co-ordinated
from central government.
Bridget Prentice: Thank you.
Chairman: We are going to the turn, if we may,
to the disturbances in Bradford and else where and then on to
immigration and asylum.
46. Home Secretary, after the riots, you may
prefer the word disturbances, in some northern towns over the
summer an interdepartmental ministerial group was set up to look
at the issues in place in those services, has that interdepartmental
group come to any conclusions or recommendations so far?
(Mr Blunkett) It has produced for its own purposes
an interim position and we hope that by Christmas we should have
a full report from them. We are very keen indeed that the various
reports, because there is a separate one initiated in relation
to what happened in Oldham, and what we might call the Cantle
Working Group under John Denham, the Minister for State, should
be pulled together so that we have a coherence about what is taking
place, plus an evaluation of the measures that were put in place
over the summer with the resources that were drawn together across
government, the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit, the Department of
Transport, local government and ourselves. I would like to do
it in a way that both informed future policy but also the Spending
Review because I do not want to be in a position, not necessarily
next summer, but maybe in two or three years time where events
erupt and people say, what happened to the last investigation
and report, why was it not acted on? I am very keen, indeed, that
we take the reports, that we discuss them and present them publicly
and that we try and make sure we learn the lessons from them.
47. I certainly take that point on board, Home
Secretary, because after the 1995 disturbance in Bradford that
is exactly what people said, what happened after those disturbances?
People feel that nothing happened. Just to move on slightly, you
are aware that Sir Herman Ouseley came out with a report which
was Commissioned before the disturbances and made some very, very
serious points about the segregation of school, self segregated
communities, has the working group looked at any of the issues
that Sir Herman Ouseley has raised?
(Mr Blunkett) There was one issue on the whole range
of support for the development of communities themselves, which
was referred to central government, the working party would take
that on board automatically but they have also looked, because
they could not avoid it, at these issues of how physical separation
and the workings of parental preference and admissions policies
and geography combine together to separate very substantially
in areas like your own in Bradford and else where with children
of different ethnic origin. I am looking forward to not only hearing
what they see, because we are fairly clear about the evidence
on the separation, but also long-term measures as to how we address
them. We are all very painfully aware of the experience in North
America and historically also in Bradford of busing policies,
in terms of bringing children to schools, of the socioeconomic
reasons for geographic separation, not purely on race or background
but also on economic status, on class, in old-fashioned terms,
and in relation to housing. We see it, perhaps, in communities
across the country. How do we deal with those issues in a way
that does not reinforce that separation and the dangers that go
48. Have these disturbances, Home Secretary,
anything to do with your plans to introduce or to make it an offence
to incite religious hatred? Why are you focusing on religious
hatred when religious discrimination may be much more of a problem?
(Mr Blunkett) It became clear to me, and it was clear
to my predecessor in 1998 when he indicated that he was sympathetic
and he would be prepared to return to this issue, that whilst
certain international religious groups were covered by the law
in relation to race hate others were not by, primarily Islam and
Christianity, and therefore it would make sense for us to bring
that in line. We are, of course, talking about incitement to hate
and the action that people take, the aggravated offences that
are generated from it. I ought to say this, whilst there is a
certain amount of amusement from many people at the writings of
comedians, and some of the writers who earn their living by being
comedians, it is not too funny for people who actually experience
it. Taking the mickey out of the law is perfectly free and open
to us all but may they do so in a way that does not distort what
we are trying to do. I just want to put on record that I enjoyed
Life of Brian, I thought it was political satire, not a
49. Home Secretary, on Friday my colleagues
Gerry Sutcliffe and Terry Rooney and I met with the Bangladeshi
community as they came out of Friday prayers and they were very,
very concerned about threats, about intimidation, about protecting
their mosque, about the harassment women were facing and about
the lack of support they were receiving from the police. I feel
this complaint may be reciprocated up and down the country where
we have ethnic minority groups, what are you doing to ensure that
the police do respond to these concerns and these needs?
(Mr Blunkett) Within the parameters of the operational
independence of the Chief Constable, which I understand and respect,
we have given very clear advice, it could not have been clearer,
that we wanted the protection of those most at risk to be secured
and additional policing time and resources have been, over the
last six weeks, substantially devoted to that end. What I feel
we are not yet cracking is people feeling comfortable with, and
able to communicate, that fear to those who can do something immediately
to redress it. That actually is a much more profound issue about
the nature of the relationship with the community as a whole and
how we reinforce trust and confidence so they feel able to do
50. Thank you, Home Secretary. If we can now
move on to some issues involving asylum and immigration, particularly
the dispersal and voucher system. I understand a review of the
voucher system was announced in October 2000, we are now in October
2001 and as far as I am aware nothing has yet been published in
connection with that review. Where is that review, have any conclusions
been reached and what is your view on the continuation of the
(Mr Blunkett) I inherited the stage of the voucher
review reached by the general election, and I have taken that
up, along with my ministers, and taken a look at its implications
in the broader context. As you are aware, I announced we were
undertaking a similar review of dispersal, which actually I had
initiated in June, which I announced in August. It seemed to me
it was right to take the issue of support to asylum seekers, and
vouchers is just one part of that, and their dispersal and the
procedures around what happens when people seek to come into the
country, how they are treated, when they are in the country, the
messages we are sending to our own community and internationally
in one package, in one programme. I shall seek to do that in the
next fortnight to the House and then follow it with a White Paper
on broader nationality, citizenship and immigration policy.
51. In terms of the dispersal system and NASS,
you will be aware of many of the complaints that currently are
around about the operation of NASS, for example that NASS has
failed to allocate 9,100 units of accommodation that it paid for
at a cost of £6.8 million. In Bradford I have people, landlords,
who were given the go-ahead to refurbish their properties by local
agencies contracted with NASS who were subsequently, having spent
the money, told, "We do not need your accommodation."
It seems to me they have a legitimate complaint there in the way
they have been treated and certainly it is very difficult to explain
how NASS is operating at the moment.
(Mr Blunkett) One of the reasons I have broadened
the reviews and taken not a lot of time, four months from the
general election, to come to conclusions is precisely to try and
develop systems which work. I just want to put on record that
I think staff at Croydon, Liverpool, Leeds and at the ports have
been doing a sterling job, have been working often against the
odds until very recently with limited resources which have been
substantially reinforced. I have been down to the Kent portsand
the Hon Member for Dover is aware of my visit recentlyand
spent a lot of time with people in Croydon, and I have been impressed
with how they have been struggling to work with those systems.
I want to try and make sure, whether it is in relation to fraud
or commissioning or in relation to relationships with both local
government and local communities, that we get this right for the
future. I hope what I have to say in the very near future will
achieve the beginnings of that process.
52. Finally, on a slightly different tack, I
have from my experience in my surgeries many constituents, women
especially, who have married men from overseas, the marriage has
subsequently broken down before indefinite leave has been granted
and yet, no matter how many times I write to the Home Office,
though I am I accept a third party, there is no information, there
seems to be no action taken to pick these people up, take the
action necessary to deport them because they have no right to
stay here. That is not just for broken marriages, that is also
for visitors or other people staying here illegally. It is my
impression, Home Secretary, that there is a lack of will there
to take the action which needs to be taken in many of these cases.
(Mr Blunkett) As you know, the previous Home Secretary
did take action against fraudulent marriages, marriages entered
into on deception and where people were then going to disappear
into the system, having got into the country or having come under
false pretences. I am a constituency MP as well and naturally
over the last 14 years I have had similar cases. I remember actually
having a personal meeting with a junior minister in the Conservative
Government way back in 1989. Let's hope it will not take another
12 years to be able to resolve some of these issues.
Chairman: Can we turn to Channel Tunnel security,
an issue close to the heart of Mr Prosser.
53. Home Secretary, when you visited my Dover
constituency in September, you made a number of announcements
about increasing security measures on both sides of the Channel
Tunnel, and I would like to ask you about progress. For instance,
can you tell us how many new x-ray scanners will be placed on
the French side of the Tunnel in Coquelles and when we expect
them to be in full operation?
(Mr Blunkett) As you know, we both commenced dual
use of the Customs & Excise scanners and will shortly order
up to five additional mobile scanners for the Kent ports together
with the other measures I announced in terms of acoustic equipment
(perhaps the simple way to call it is the heart beat equipment)
and the thermal equipment.
We have not yet reached agreement with the French on the x-ray
because they are going through the process we went through in
terms of evaluating and consulting on whether it posed a risk,
which it does not. So at the moment we have not actually got into
activation scanners in France.
54. We have heard there are some problems with
the vulnerability of the heart beat machines, which you have just
mentioned, because of wind noises and background noises. Is there
any improvement on solving those problems?
(Mr Blunkett) As you will be aware more than I will,
they need wind protection, ie they need to be enclosed in order
to be able to get the best results out of them, which is why a
multiplicity of scanning and detection equipment is necessary.
I would also like to say that we have not abolished using sniffer
dogs. Someone produced a report from some think-tank suggesting
we had, and we have not. We are running all these various elements
alongside each other at different entry points. The CO2 detection,
the acoustic and the x-ray together, formed at different points
of entry, I think are already proving to be a great success, so
much so that the French Government is concerned that people are
not getting through.
55. We will leave that hanging in the air. Compared
with the other transport operatives, the ferries, would you say
that Eurotunnel has been fully co-operative with the Government
and would you describe their present level of security, which
as you know has increased enormously over the last months, as
robust, or do you think there is still lots of room for improvement?
(Mr Blunkett) I would like to pay tribute to the work
they have done and the co-operation that is now being shown and
the investment which is taking place. You will forgive me for
being extremely careful as to how eulogistic I am, because they
still have an outstanding judicial review I think in relation
to a penalty.
I can say, and everyone will have noticed, there is much improved
co-operation, not least because we have agreed to step up the
number of officers of immigration at Coquelles, but we are co-operating
with the development of their holding centre at Coquelles. We
reached agreement when I went to see Daniel Vaillant, the Interior
Minister, on 12 September that they would take much more decisive
action in relation to prosecution. That was taking place in terms
of entry into the Coquelles centre, and of course the joint ventures
on screening at the holding centre outside Coquelles is beginning
to work as well, so there is a great deal of credit to be given,
and I would not want to take that away.
56. Finally, in terms of your discussions with
your opposite number whom you have just mentioned, are there any
other practical outcomes which come from those meetings? Are we
now in a position to have the appropriate number of British immigration
officers at Gare du Nord and Coquelles that we plan to have?
(Mr Blunkett) Yes, the French have co-operated very
well at Gare du Nord, and their legislation is going through in
relation to ticketing to the French coast, which of course is
important for being able to screen people. I think that is a very
positive measure. In order to understand more fully the way the
French see things, I have tried to put myself in the position
of having very large numbers of people at the Kent coast all trying
to get into France, with all the arrangements which have to be
made for policing and security for local people and the way in
which we would feel in our Parliament if we were having to legislate
at the request of the French in relation to ticketing and juxtaposed
immigration controls. I have come to the conclusion that we would
have considerable difficulty. I am therefore pleased that there
was a much more positive reaction from the French Interior Minister,
that we agreed that we needed to take joint and EU action, both
bilateral and EU action, in relation to the broader EU and extended
EU boundaries, those seeking accession, that we needed to work
together in the Western Balkans, and we now have people out there
working on avoiding people trafficking. We need to step this up
as part of EU-wide action, and one of the things we combined on,
including with the French and Spanish as well as the German Ministers
at the Home Affairs Council on 20 September, was to agree the
Commission should bring forward proposals reflecting the danger
of large movements of people consequent on what is happening in
Afghanistan and across its borders.
Mr Prosser: Thank you very much.
57. Home Secretary, it seems to me that one
of the reasons that we still have cases running on years after
an application has been made is because nothing very much has
been done to remove people. Even though they have been through
the whole system, through the appeals system and whatever, there
are still a large number of people who have not been removed and
they have become fairly complacent that, having gone through all
the hoops, they can still remain here. You have a service delivery
agreement which is very ambitious, it seems to me, because I have
grave doubts whether you can actually reach your targets. What
do you think?
(Mr Blunkett) Our manifesto and my statement when
I was speaking in the House on the Queen's Speech at the end of
June indicated that I believed it would be possible to reach 2,500
removals a month by the spring and 30,000 a year by a year after.
I believe that can only be done if we take additional measures
on top of the ones we have already instituted, including the new
protocol with the police. I believe it will take more than that
to achieve the goal and I want to address that as part of my statement
58. So that 2,500 per month is spring 2002?
(Mr Blunkett) I hope we will be able to reach that
by spring 2002. I realised within a week of taking over the reins
of Home Secretary it was impossible to get from where we were
then to where we wish to be more quickly than that.
59. Do you think that the extension of detention
centres will help you in that?
(Mr Blunkett) That is something we are addressing.
We have a programme which is raising from 1,800 to a total of
2,800 the number of places available at the moment, something
I wish to fit into a much broader programme.
2 Note by witness: The final number of scanners
will depend upon a variety of factors. They will be deployed,
according to perceived risk, in UK ports, the British Control
Zone in Coquelles, and, subject to agreement with the French,
in French ports. Thermal/millimetre equipment is being evaluated
although decisions on use have still to be made. Back
Note by witness: x or gamma-ray equipment-dependent upon
final procurement decisions. Back
Note by witness: On 23 October, Eurotunnel obtained leave
to move for a judicial review of the Government's decision to
impose the civil penalty on their services. Back