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Oral Answers to Questions — Illegal Immigration (Smuggling)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13th July 1998.

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Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield 12:00 am, 13th July 1998

What steps he is taking to tackle the international crime syndicates currently involved in smuggling illegal immigrants into the United Kingdom. [48396]

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

People trafficking is getting more sophisticated, but so is the Government's response. We have set up the organised immigration crime section at the National Criminal Intelligence Service to tackle the problem. The unit targets the criminal networks involved and is helping in the development of a more proactive, intelligence-led approach to combating the problem. We are also creating better international co-operation with European and transatlantic partners. Several countries face this problem, and we need to work together on it.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

I understand that a report from the immigration service highlights the true number of illegal immigrants entering the country and suggests that immigration has accelerated in recent years. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is galling for constituents, who may wait for years for a loved member of their family to join them, to see illegal immigrants arriving and little action being taken? Does he agree that high levels of illegal immigration spawn crime and add to the cycle of exploitation?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I agree with every word my hon. Friend said. Many people, particularly in ethnic minority communities, are outraged at abuse of the asylum system and illegal immigration. We are determined to tackle the people-traffickers who make vast amounts of money from illegal immigration. We will disrupt what they are doing and will prosecute wherever possible. Today, I have published a consultation paper on the appeals system, which we are trying to sort out. Shortly, we shall publish a White Paper showing how we can create a fairer, firmer and faster system of immigration control.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

No one should underestimate the Minister's difficulty in trying to make the system more effective. Is he aware that many of those who work in the immigration service are appalled at being unable to cope with the rising tide of illegal immigration and at finding themselves having to let go people whom they know to be illegal immigrants who are never again found? Does he agree that this problem should be a first charge on the Government's time? Will he do all he can to bring order to the current chaos?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I agree that the system that we inherited from the previous Government was a shambles. They did not put in place the resources or facilities necessary to ensure proper immigration control. We want to put them in place. That is why we have had a complete review of how the immigration and asylum system operates. We will publish the outcome soon and deliver what the Government of which the hon. Gentleman was a member never delivered—firm and fair immigration controls.