David Bunkett admitted yesterday that he had no idea how many illegal immigrants were currently hiding from the authorities in Britain.
In a dramatic admission, the Home Secretary revealed the Government had no accurate estimates of the number of failed asylum seekers living in the UK, saying "I haven't got a clue". His remarks drew immediate condemnation from opposition politicians, who said it showed the Government's asylum policy was in disarray.
Mr Blunkett called for a Bill to be included in the Queen's Speech in November, introducing a compulsory system of identity cards which could include impressions of a person's iris. He said this would help the Government keep track of asylum seekers and people entering Britain illegally.
The Home Secretary also said he wanted the introduction of new rules to make it easier to throw failed asylum seekers out of the country, including limits on the number of appeals, particularly judicial reviews, and a crack-down on fees for immigration lawyers.
Asked on BBC's Breakfast with Frost programme how many illegal immigrants were in Britain, he said that he did not know, but thought the number was below a million. "I haven't got a clue ... The reason we haven't is, of course, because we don't have a rigorous and enforceable identification system linked to a register of all those who are in the country," he said. "That is, of course, what we are debating in Cabinet at the moment. Should we have a register of all those in the country and should we have an identification system that relates to it?"
But Oliver Letwin, shadow Home Secretary, said: "We have repeatedly said the Government's asylum and immigration system is in chaos ... Unless they scrap the whole thing and start again, with a system of quotas, offshore processing and proper record keeping, they will never find out, much less control the situation."
Mr Blunkett said legal immigration could help fill job shortages and fuel growth, but he wanted to curb the number of illegal immigrants to rebuild public confidence.
"I have to get people's trust on asylum and immigration. And one of the trusts that we need is that we know who's here, we know who they are, that we can track them, that people don't work if they are not entitled to work, they don't draw on services which are free in this country, including health, unless they are entitled to, and that when we find people we can identify quickly that they are not entitled and get them out," he said.
But his plans have met stiff opposition from inside his own party. MPs and ministers fear the ID card scheme could breach civil liberties, be difficult to push though the Commons, and be open to forgery.Reuse content