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Foreign Policy Centre

Ideas for a fairer world

Articles and Briefings

Address by the Home Secretary, David Blunkett MP

By Rt Hon David Blunkett MP.

Given at the Foreign Policy Centre Managing Migration Conference on Tuesday 15th January at Canada House

Well firstly I think you will be very pleased to hear that I agree with the latter points you've made and it is very clear indeed that deep-seated intolerance, prejudice and racism need to be rooted out and it is little to do with whether someone actually speaks English and a lot to do with all the multiplicity of things which we are endeavouring to overcome. I just want to say I am pleased to be here this morning and to be able to make a contribution. My apologies for not hearing all the speakers, particularly to my colleague from the Netherlands, who I would like to have heard. I was very pleased to hear the Director of Integration from Canada. I would like to thank the Canadians because two of the three best friends I had at school now live in Canada. One of them is married to a second generation Japanese Canadian and the other is married to an indigenous, as far as it goes, Ontarian, if that's the right phrase, so I owe Canada a debt of gratitude for being welcoming. The other friend of mine lives in Maidenhead so he's migrated there rather than anywhere else.

I am very painfully aware that we need to set what we are doing in this country in the context of what is taking place globally and we do need to develop a nationality and immigration and not simply an asylum policy. Those who are from outside this country will not be aware that there is an obsession over recent years in Britain with asylum rather than with the inward and outward migration with the issues that create a diverse culture and an economically dynamic nation and we are trying to set both hard headed policies that work, and I take the point that has just been made that policies need to be well managed and they need to be seen to be working within the wider context of what is needed for individuals who are escaping from persecution. But also what makes up a truly dynamic country where we can both take pride in our own culture and welcome the diversity, and the mix, and the ingredients that make up the context of the change which has taken place in this country over centuries. And it's in that spirit that I want to say a few remarks today, I will shortly say a word or two about Zimbabwe. I think the press and media are desperate that I should but I want to say one or two other things first.

We are about to publish a nationality and immigration White Paper, a policy paper at the beginning of February, followed by whatever necessary legislation we need to bring in in the Spring. We want to do so to try and settle once and for all where we are going – the framework and the structure within which we are working – not because that will in any way settle the issues, but it will provide the back-up, the support, and the context in which we then all have to work together to ensure that we have a future to be proud of. And it may well be that other people can say things that I would say and it would be heard differently, but it is important that that debate and dialogue takes place, because if we are to root out the worst that we see around us then we have to face it down by both have coherent policies that make sense to people, the building of trust in which people know that the administration and the system works, and a very robust political stance on being intolerant of intolerance and of seeing out prejudice and racism.

The White Paper will seek to set in the context of what is taking place globally the measures that we need to take. Firstly, and Bill Clinton spelt this out at a recent Dimbleby Lectures, the tremendous changes that have taken place in what is now described as globalisation, some bringing great good, some bringing considerable disruption and danger. Some being of benefit to many people and others being exclusive to those who are already in a beneficial position. That's why the whole issues that we are debating are not about Home Office policy in this country but about the departments and agencies, the NGOs and the interest groups that make up the dynamism that we have in the politics that we are dealing with. And within that globalisation to recognise some of the historic factors, I haven't got time to do this today but I just want to touch on very briefly the fact that we are caught in our history. I don't just mean the recent but going back a very long way in terms of those who first embarked on exploration leading to the traders and merchants of the immediate Renaissance period, the trade routes, the economic links that were built before colonisation and the terrible harm that was often done to indigenous populations by that process. But they were economic and not just nationalistic. They were about genuine pushing of boundaries and exploration as well as economic exploitation. And then of course the bite back, as we might describe it, with those links, those historic developments and contacts leading to inward migration to the original colonising countries, whether it was UK or France or Portugal, whatever. And the way in which we need to see that in the context of a very big change in globalisation, which because of greater mobility, because we have moved from the railroad to the airlines, because we have moved from the telephone to the Internet, the communication as well as mobility has led to much greater movement, greater aspirations and therefore greater desire to escape from the poverty and disadvantage, sometimes relative, sometimes absolute, that inspires people to want to move across the world. Who can blame anyone to want a better life for themselves and their family? In coping with it we have to have managed migration and inward migration policies that work for those seeking a better life or escaping persecution and manageable within the context of social cohesion within the country. And the difficulty that we face is that if you were escaping persecution, the only way you could actually be able to claim a place in this your new home and ours as well, was actually to do so clandestinely or to use another route which you intended then to jump when you got here.

So offering alternative routes, it seems to me, is the prerequisite to getting the rest of the programme right. Partly in terms of economic migration and we have over the last two years, and Jack Straw and Barbara Roche did a lot to help and foster this, improved enormously the economic migration routes into the country. I had responsibility for the work permit when I was in charge of Education and Employment. And now we have integrated it into the Home Office in my new jurisdiction. It seems to me that it makes sense to have it there and over the last two years we have doubled the number of work permits issued to just under 150,000 last year. It will exponentially rise as we develop our new programme. Later this month the new highly skilled programme will come on stream. We are looking to dramatically change the opportunity of people who have already been here under other programmes to be able to stay, whether they are able to switch as students into work, or whether they are able to stay on programmes that have been in place for some time. We are reviewing and hoping to modernise very rapidly the programme for those who came from the Commonwealth on holiday programmes, little known but substantially used programmes, to try and reflect the modern era. We are looking to expand the economic routes so that we can within sectors, including seasonal working, again make more sense of the programmes and providing better welcomes, better security and care for those who are coming in.

We need to actually ensure that we also take account of the lesser skilled areas. Of course, and I would have said this when I was in charge of Employment and Skills, of course we need to skill the indigenous population. We don't want people feeling, experiencing or having the perception imposed on them that someone else is taking their job, so we need to skill, encourage, provide impetus to the welfare to work programmes within our country. But we also need to recognise that in London 70% of basic catering jobs are filled by migrants and the difficulty that we as a government and we as a nation set pace, is without the appropriate routes for entry we will have a situation where clandestine working as illegals is tolerated because it actually continues to stimulate and sustain the service economy. There has to be another way of doing that if we are to clamp down on the exploitation which illegal working inevitably brings as gangmasters and traffickers rent their way on the most vulnerable from across the world. And I just want to announce today that as part of the development of broader policy the Proceeds of Crime legislation that's in Parliament at the moment in terms of those who are making large sums of money out of organised crime, the smugglers and traffickers who cause misery to literally hundreds of thousands of people who exploit need in whatever form for their own benefits, that we need to start getting much tougher with them.

I am therefore intending to legislate to expand the penalty for smuggling and trafficking from 10 to 14 years to send a signal to those who actually feel that there is nothing evil about the way in which they take and use the lives of others, often exploiting them when they're here, having got them here illegally, claiming neither nationality or asylum status. But in the end of course we will have to accept as well that we need out of country routes for those who are seeking to escape from persecution, torture or death. We need therefore to work with the UNHCR and others in providing a gateway for those who have a claim to be able to do so without having to hang under Channel Tunnel trains or get into container lorries crossing the Channel itself. And we need to do so in a fashion that builds security and understanding within our country so that people themselves are not afraid. It's why, and again I haven't got time to go in detail, I did the interview with the Independent on Sunday which was entirely in line with, if I can just give a plug to it, everything I'd written in "Politics and Progress", which I published at the end of September. But it was little noticed for all sorts of reasons, not least the proximity to the 11th September at the time, and although the interview was truncated and although the headline was incorrect, the interview itself I stand by. The interview spelled out that I do believe that it is critical for our future that we are able to work together on integration with diversity, that we make up the ingredients together of the country that is our home and will be our home in the future. And that whilst it won't solve all our problems for people to be able to speak English at home as well as second generations being able to speak it at school, it will make a difference to the way in which people can access education and employment understand the social and economic context in which they work. And of course those who teach, like mothers, who if they have a grasp of English and of a modern British society, will help to interpret their religion and culture within the context that those young people are living in today, not centuries ago. And that is something that I think we just need to face up to.

So there are complex pasts and presents to deal with but I think building trust and confidence both for those who are coming into our country and for those who are fearful of those coming in, fearful of change, fearful of difference, then we need to be honest with each other about how we do it. And we need to share the task which we would all come together on, and thereby being able to see off those who would exploit it and would use it to create the hate that I think everyone in this room would be committed against.

We often face contradictions. I am very pleased that the main opposition parties and remarkably a whole swathe of the British media have just warmed to the idea that we have obligations to those from across the world. That the language that is being used is very different to just twelve months ago, leading up to the general election. That the perception of having a debate and understanding what is happening across the world is now better informed and it gives us the possibility of having a rational debate and to take rational actions. I refer of course to the remarkable transformation on the road to Damascus of some of our media and politicians in relation to Zimbabwe. We have a history in this country of being able to respond to situations. Yasmin knows better than I do 27,000 Ugandan Asians, men and women came into this country 25 plus years ago and while we may not have managed it very well there was a substantial effort at a welcome. We have from time to time had to deal with immediate extingencies such as in the Republic of Congo, Sierre Leone, or closer to home in Turkey and Bosnia, where we've suspended the returns for those who have not demonstrated that they had a valid claim to asylum. Not necessarily they didn't have a valid claim to economic migration. Last year 2,800 people came into this country on work permits from the country that I am about to speak about where Robert Mugabe is creating terror in people's hearts and where the presidential election is gradually being eroded. And I have consulted with the Foreign Secretary and taken advice about the changing situation in Zimbabwe. It seems to me therefore that whilst some of the things that have been said over recent days and weeks about the immigration service and its operation are incorrect, there is a moment when it is sensible to pause and draw breath and ensure that we don't do anything that we might later regret.

The Immigration Service and its process has been working as they normally do in terms of making a judgement about the situation in that country and the relative claim of an individual in those circumstances to the right to remain because they are at real risk. Some of those who are being ……. at the moment in relation to Zimbabwe and claims here may not have come from Zimbabwe in the first place. Some have been here some substantial time before the worst of the situation that we are experiencing at the moment was evident. Some have come very recently. I have three cases that I was looking at last night of people who have arrived since the 1st January and have been through the fast track system and granted the right to remain. One, someone who ran a clinic that has now been closed down, that was subject to the terror of Mugabe, because they had treated leading NBC activists, one a teacher because of what she had been teaching, another a journalist who is the daughter of a very leading journalist and opponent of Mugabe and is crowd, all of whom, just in a fortnight, have had fast track agreement to their right to stay.

We have 106 people who are currently detained waiting removal from the country to Zimbabwe and others who are in the broader process. Because of the worsened situation and because I think it is right to review the position over the weeks ahead, I have taken the decision that we will suspend removals until after the presidential elections in Zimbabwe. We will continue to review what is happening there. But we will also continue to process claims, not least because it is right for those who have a justifiable and proven case to remain here and would be a continuing risk even after the presidential elections. And to be continuing the process of evaluating those cases on their merits. We need to do so partly because it is right and proper that we have a coherent system that works, secondly because those that call for immediate action now will be calling for something entirely different in six months, twelve months, two years time. The contradictions that exist in politics are boundless in terms of people's ability to change their minds or to simply provide you with contradictory advice in their leader columns.

But above all because this is a fluid situation and that we need to genuinely as government, as to opposition, or columnist to be able to see this in the long term. I hope that that cause will enable us to be able to do that evaluation better and I hope it will also lessen the tensions that exist for those who are here and genuinely fear being returned to the regime. Above all I hope we can bring international pressure to bear using the good offices of Jack Straw and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to bring about change in Zimbabwe because the other thing I wanted to say Yasmin, is that whilst we have duties that we must fulfil, responsibilities that we are prepared to accept in terms of providing a safe haven for those who are at risk, in the end the task of all of us and Tony Blair's made this clear sometimes to his cost in terms of those who would agree with it but like to use it to have a go at him, in the end changing what is happening in the world, reducing the terror, the persecution, the death of innocent people, changing the minds of those who run regimes that bring about that terror, has to be the way forward for the future. And what we do to welcome people, whatever the route they take, and how we have a more robust and viable and acceptable integration policy, because we haven't, will be crucial to ensuring that we are in a moral position to be able to speak to others about the actions they take. We need not only an integration policy in terms of those who have sought refuge here. We need it for those who have come through all sorts of migration routes and we need to work that through together with ideas from those here today about how best to do it, not paternalistically, but because it matters to all of us. We haven't done it well over the years. We have an opportunity to get it right and it doesn't matter to me in the end whether people are prepared to see this in personal terms, what matters in the medium and long term is that we lay a foundation for which we can be proud and that we are able to see a genuine improvement in the way in which this country responds to its obligations but also welcomes the opportunity, the tremendous opportunity of encouraging and supporting and integrating those who bring great drive, great economic dynamism and great cultural benefit to us all and it is in that spirit that we will go forward this year to try and get that nationality and integration policy right.