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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 April, 2004, 01:02 GMT 02:02 UK
Blair 'to end immigration abuse'
Tony Blair
The PM personally chaired the immigration summit
Tony Blair has pledged to end abuses of the immigration system after an emergency summit in Downing Street.

Mr Blair announced an inquiry into asylum statistics to restore public faith and denied claims of a "secret deal" to admit Romanian workers.

Meanwhile Home Secretary David Blunkett announced fresh crackdowns on bogus students and sham marriages.

But the Tories branded the event a "publicity stunt" and said Labour "had more summits than the Himalayas".

'Get a grip'

The summit, which was attended by senior Cabinet ministers and security chiefs, follows Mr Blair's promise to take a "close interest" in immigration issues after the resignation of Beverley Hughes last week.

Are the failings we have heard about in recent weeks the direct result of a deliberate prime ministerial policy to reduce an embarrassing statistic?
David Davis
Shadow home secretary

Speaking afterwards, Mr Blair said: "There is no, and should be no, tolerance of abuses."

But he also argued that immigration was vital for Britain's economy.

Mr Blunkett, who has been under fire for his handling of the events leading up to Ms Hughes' resignation, said: "We are determined to get a grip on the situation.

"We appeal to people to have trust in the system because we can't have Fortress Britain. We need people to come here and work."

The key points agreed on at the summit were:

  • "Managed" immigration is essential for the economy, providing essential people and skills for the workforce.

  • Abuses of the system need to be tackled in order to restore public confidence.

  • Measures to be introduced to prevent "bogus" college places and "sham" marriages being used to get round immigration controls

  • The National Audit Office to review the official statistics to ensure that immigration rules are not being relaxed in order to massage the asylum figures

Ms Hughes quit as immigration minister after admitting she "unwittingly" misled people about a suspected visa scam involving applications from Romania and Bulgaria.

The prime minister's decision to become personally involved, just two months before the European elections, reflects concern within senior government circles at just how politically damaging the issue has become.

But shadow home secretary David Davis dismissed the Downing Street event as a "typically cynical gimmick".

He said public confidence in the immigration system would not be restored "a series of re-hashed announcements designed to make the prime minister look tough".

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.
Home Secretary David Blunkett
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer
Attorney General Lord Goldsmith
Immigration minister Des Browne
Work and pensions minister Chris Pond
Representatives of the security services
He called for a full independent inquiry to find out if the events that led to Ms Hughes' resignation came about "by design or incompetence".

"Are the failings we have heard about in recent weeks the direct result of a deliberate prime ministerial policy to reduce an embarrassing statistic, or the inevitable result of a chaotic home office, overseen by an increasingly over-stretched home secretary?," Mr Davis asked.

He also called on ministers to re-instate without disciplinary action the civil service whistleblowers who raised concerns about the system in the first place, and who had, he said, been proved right.

Investigation launched

Ministers have been forced to fend off a series of fresh allegations over recent days.

An investigation has been launched into the most recent claims that untrained Romanian immigrants have been allowed visas to work as child protection social workers in the UK.
If no-one knows how or why immigration occurs then there is only fear and confusion
Alastair Somerville, Wolverhampton

Documents revealed the Romanians, who were trained as probation officers, were granted visas to be social workers in Britain, the Evening Standard newspaper claimed.

The Department for International Development said it was considering what action to take over the claims.

The BBC's Mark Mardell
"Downing Street sources say the Prime Minister will not allow this issue to rest"

David Davies MP, Conservative, Home Affairs
"The stories are coming from front line immigration officers"

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