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Breakfast with Frost Sunday, 26 May, 2002, 12:41 GMT 13:41 UK
Interview with Simon Hughes MP, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman
Simon Hughes MP, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman
Simon Hughes MP, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: France has indicated that it intends to shut down the controversial Sangatte refugee centre near the Calais entrance to the Channel Tunnel. The Government here hasn't agreed to take half the 1300 or so refugees, officially, as some have suggested, but nor has it ruled out taking some of them. I'm joined now by the Liberal Democrat's Home Affairs spokesman, Simon Hughes. As things stand today about Sangatte and on asylum, there are two views of the government policy, apart from people who say it's absolutely right. I mean some say that we are being too generous, and white flags and all of that, too generous to people trying to get into our country and others who say that we are not showing our traditional open house policy. Which way do you go on that?

SIMON HUGHES: I think the Government are in danger of getting confused about this too. We're not excessively generous, huge numbers of refugees don't come to this country compared to many, many poorer countries of the world - the Pakistans and the Irans and Central Africa. Europe actually takes relatively few, traditionally. And of course traditionally we've sent many more people out of this country for economic migration than we've ever collected in, so we have to be very careful we don't misinform people or not deal with the facts. There are specific issues, there are immediate issues like Sangatte. I've been to Sangatte, I've talked to the people there. The reality is some are real asylum seekers and some are economic migrants. But the system is a nonsense and what the Government ought to do, instead of what is becoming increasingly, it seems to me, a posturing position. I mean we've just had a very good comment saying the Prime Minister is well respected abroad - he ought to use that position in order to lead in an informed humanitarian, a compassionate, intelligent way. There's a danger that he is starting, and the Government is starting, to pander to the prejudice that they think exists around Europe on the basis of what's happened in France and the Netherlands. We're very different from France and the Netherlands.

DAVID FROST: So should we be willing to take people from Sangatte?

SIMON HUGHES: The answer is: that will not be resolved until after the French elections. It never would have been. It's no good posturing now. What should happen, and it should have been agreed a long time ago, is that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees should be asked to manage the premises. They should then invite in British officials with French officials, who should jointly process them, and those who have an asylum claim ... between the two countries and around Europe. And there are people coming across the Straits of Tangier to Spain; there are people coming into the Italian coast who have come by boat; there are people coming over the Eastern European ... - it's the same issue, and therefore you need a European solution and a European sharing of responsibility.

DAVID FROST: But how do we deal with this thing with ... the numbers who are actually deported or sent home or whatever is about 9000 and they were hoping for 60 per cent more than that, and in any case if 60,000 people were rejected where do they go and do we have a floating mystery population?

SIMON HUGHES: The answer is yes to that, let me just deal with how you should deal with both of those. It seems to me that we get about half of those who apply are accepted one way or another - and we've really got to be honest about that and educate ...

DAVID FROST: Now that's fascinating, yes.

SIMON HUGHES: Twenty per cent as asylum seekers, and then others are given indefinite leave to remain or they go to court and it's settled, but about half, traditionally, have been accepted. Now many of the others go home, but many don't. I'll give you an example, this week I had somebody in my constituency surgery, she may have to go home because her claim has been rejected. But she'll go home with encouragement and help to go home, making sure there's somewhere to go to and a job to go to, she'll be willing to go. But she's not going to be likely to go if there is no thought given as to what future she'll have. You know, if it's Afghanistan you're talking to, people will need some encouragement to think they will have potential work or something - they won't just go by somebody saying 'right, go now.'

DAVID FROST: Does this make a case for ID cards? Do you think that would help the situation?

SIMON HUGHES: Well, many European Union countries have ID cards and don't appear to have had any ... resolution. Some have them and you have to use them, some have them and you don't have to use them and we don't have them. I don't think that's the answer. I hope that we agree that what we need is separation of asylum policy from immigration policy - they're different; that we have a sensible managed immigration policy; that we agree a number of people coming under the resettlement programme to the UN; and then we have a common European system. If you're going to have an ID card, you need a European Union ID card. And if I can just, I've just come out of the committee on the immigration and asylum bill. There appears to be a double standard in the Tory party too - we've had very enlightened views by the spokesman on the committee, by my opposite number Oliver Letwin, but then last week we had a blast from Iain Duncan-Smith which was a bit of a blast from the past, saying 'no way can we take anybody from Sangatte.' You don't - I can understand the desire to posture but if we're going into a bidding game between the government and the Tory party as to who sounds tougher, that doesn't help produce a solution, which is a European wide solution - and it's there for the taking, and it would be entirely acceptable and the responsibility could be shared.

DAVID FROST: In terms of drugs policy, you're out further ahead than the government on that one, aren't you? You agree with them on the latest suggestions about cannabis or ...

SIMON HUGHES: We have a very good report this week from the select committee. They weren't bizarrely radical, they were very sensible. They made practical suggestions, we accept them all. It's sad that the government suddenly rejected one of them without even having time to think about it - I think that's a mistake whenever Parliament comes out with recommendations. But two things they didn't do that we think they could have done are say sending people to prison simply for being a drug user is not helpful and taking people to court, charging, arresting, even warning people for using cannabis on the street, is a real waste of police time. The police are needed to deal with the dealers and then to deal with all the other criminals and thugs on the street. We really don't have time to have the police going round picking up people who may be smoking cannabis.

DAVID FROST: But if we - the odd thing is that if cannabis, if young people or whoever, you know, are not going to be put in jail, which seems a sensible thing, when they're smoking cannabis, on the other hand people who trade in it are, where do they get it from?

SIMON HUGHES: You've got to stop youngsters getting caught by the dealers - that's the issue - because you're right, the dealers will offer you cannabis and then if they think they've got a market, they will start offering you heavier drugs, and that's how people get addicted. If we can take the personal cannabis use away from that criminal supply, then you break the link between that recreational drug - which lots of people chose to use and the criminal law hasn't stopped them doing - and the rest. Eventually we will have to renegotiate the international treaties, and eventually, in my view, sensibly we'll say that cannabis ought to be treated like alcohol and tobacco, as something which is legitimate - we can't do it yet because we're internationally committed to accepting it, it's got to be prosecuted, but we've got to separate the use from the criminal supplier - and you can lock up the suppliers and the dealers for as long as you like in my book, but not the people who are addicted. They need help.

DAVID FROST: Simon, thank you very much. A pleasure.


Links to more Breakfast with Frost stories are at the foot of the page.

Links to more Breakfast with Frost stories

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