Several hundred years ago, the British brought mass death to foreign lands. They crossed the Atlantic, sneezed on the native Americans and watched them die of the common cold. Now the tables have turned. We live in fear of foreigners bringing death to our own land. Tony Blair said on Tuesday that it was 'inevitable' that al-Qa'eda would try to launch a terrorist attack on the United Kingdom; but immigrant terrorists are by no means the most potent threat to British lives. It is not through letting in terrorists that the government's policy of mass immigration - especially from the Third World - will claim the most lives. It is through letting in too many germs.
From exotic cuisines to driving entrepreneurialism, Third World immigration brings many good things to this country. But it also brings the epidemics that blight the poorer countries: HIV infection, tuberculosis and hepatitis. And the diseases that mass immigration is bringing to Britain will probably claim more British lives in the long run than terrorism. The thousands of infected immigrants who are arriving in Britain each year are doubling the rate of HIV, trebling the rate of TB, and increasing twentyfold the rate of hepatitis B. All of these are life-threatening diseases which could be, and in some cases have been, passed on to the host community. Between them they claim six million lives a year worldwide. TB can be cured, but HIV infection and hepatitis B can only be treated - at huge expense to the NHS. Even if victims survive for many years, HIV and hepatitis B are incurable.
Britain's new epidemics are the direct result of Labour policy. The government is not only importing epidemics, but is also failing to tackle them and indeed is trying hide what is happening from the British public. Obviously the government has no desire to spread disease, but its fear of being branded racist means that this is precisely what it is doing. The government is culpable. These are Blair's epidemics - and to think I voted for the man.
The government has made much noise about cutting back on abuse of the asylum system - which is, of course, used as a means of immigration - but, through fear of the refugee lobby, it has done virtually nothing. While almost every other European country has managed to slash the number of asylum-seekers, the numbers coming to Britain grows rapidly. Last year they swept past 100,000 - a dramatic increase on the 40,000 in 1996.
On top of this, the government has said that it wants immigration at a rate of at least 150,000 settlers a year. It has increased more than fourfold the number of work permits, most of which can lead to a passport, from 41,000 in 1996 to a target of 175,000 this year, with people from the Third World making up almost all the increase. In addition, it increased the number of student visas to more than 339,000 last year, with two thirds coming from the Third World or Eastern Europe.
David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, has said that he wants fewer holiday workers from Australia and New Zealand (which have good public health) and more from Africa and Asia (which are blighted by epidemics). The government has tripled net immigration - the numbers arriving, less those leaving - from the Third World and Eastern Europe from almost 70,000 in 1996 to almost 200,000 last year. And it is promising more - it is passing legislation this year that will make Britain the only major Western European nation to give 73 million Eastern Europeans, who also suffer high disease rates, the right to immigrate and be given free medical treatment. Britain has no health tests for immigrants, either as a condition of entry or in the form of compulsory screening after they arrive.
In contrast, the United States, Canada and Australia all insist on tests - usually paid for by the aspiring immigrant - to show that they will not be a threat to public health or a burden on the health system. I went through the Canadian immigration system and had to pay for X-rays, blood samples and urine tests with a Canadian accredited doctor in London to prove that I was clean. Even in the days of mass immigration to the US at the turn of the century, the huddled paupers were sent straight back from Ellis Island to Europe if they were diseased.
Professor Lord Turnberg, the former chairman of the Public Health Laboratory Service, has said that Britain must protect the public and the NHS by introducing immigrant health tests. But the government has dismissed as 'fascist' any criticism of its policy that an immigrant cannot be prevented from coming to Britain and getting free healthcare just because they carry a lethal contagious disease that threatens the lives of British people and requires expensive lifelong treatment. The government, clearly, is determined that the immigration system must be run in the interests of immigrants, not the British.
New Labour has made it official policy that carrying a lethal contagious disease is grounds for immigrants being allowed to remain in Britain once they are through immigration. By applying its beloved Human Rights Act to everyone who sets foot in Britain, the Labour government has decided that if treatment is unavailable in their home country, anyone with a life-threatening condition, such as HIV infection, hepatitis B or TB, has a right to stay in the UK and be treated on the NHS -even if they are here on a tourist visa, or illegally. In fact, all the 28 million HIV-positive people in Africa have to do to save their lives is get into Britain. We are now witnessing significant health migration, with seriously sick people coming to Britain on tourist and student visas and then using legal-aid-funded immigration lawyers to apply under the Human Rights Act to get lifelong treatment in Britain. HIV charities even have immigration departments to help them do it. You cannot blame them; you and I would do exactly the same in their situation.
The government is further accelerating the epidemic by going on a massive recruitment drive for nurses from sub-Saharan Africa, where as many as one in three adults is HIV positive. As a result, 700 HIV-positive nurses are entering the country each year. Each of them is allowed to bring in an HIV-positive spouse, and both will receive NHS treatment costing £11,000 a year for the rest of their lives, a potential total cost to the NHS of £1 million. One HIV doctor told me that some hospitals are spending their entire HIV budgets treating their imported nurses.
Since the government insists that it is unfair to deny people the right to come to Britain to work or study just because they carry lethal diseases, the outcome of its mass-immigration programme from the world's most diseased countries is inevitable. Britain is, in some respects, rapidly becoming one of the world's most diseased countries. Last year, African immigration overtook gay sex as the main cause of HIV in Britain, and a quarter of all those being treated by the NHS for HIV are now African immigrants. Government figures show that more than 2,000 HIV infections were imported last year, which could cost the NHS £1 billion. The fact that those lives will be saved is wonderful, but the government's policy of tackling the African Aids holocaust by giving NHS treatment to those who can afford the plane ticket to Britain is totally irrational. Spending these vast sums in Africa itself would save millions of lives, not just thousands.
Effective HIV policies kept the number of new HIV cases in Britain steady at about 2,600 a year before Labour was elected in 1997, but the government has succeeded in doubling it to about 5,000 last year. HIV - which still kills about 400 people a year in Britain - is now spreading to the resident population, so that contracting HIV from heterosexual sex with infected immigrants has overtaken both injecting drugs and mother-to-baby transfer as a sourc e of infection. About 200 people acquired HIV from immigrants last year, the same number as were killed in the Bali bombings. Doctors fear that African immigration may be igniting the heterosexual epidemic we have until now successfully avoided in Britain.
Similarly, the level of TB, an often curable but sometimes lethal disease, is at its highest since the 1980s, with 7,300 cases last year, two thirds of them imported from overseas. The London Borough of Brent now has higher rates of TB than China, and twice the rate of Brazil.
The PHLS has estimated that 6,300 hepatitis B infections were imported in each of the last four years, compared with under 300 domestically acquired cases - in other words, a staggering 95 per cent of cases of this incurable liver disease, one of the world's worst killers, are imported. A study soon to be published will show that in east London one in 50 people is now infected with hepatitis B, the same rate as Nepal and Ecuador. Liver doctors are warning that it is inevitable that this imported epidemic will start spreading to the host population.
In this age of mass transport, all developed countries are touched by the globalisation of disease, but Labour, with its policy of encouraging mass Third World immigration while refusing health tests, is ensuring that Britain is far more seriously affected than most. In the face of such a public-health disaster, a vaguely sane government would try to tackle it. But this is Labour, whose intellectual faculties are so crippled by political correctness that not offending would-be immigrants has become more important than saving the lives of British people.
Doctors who have inquired whether they should be draining their HIV budgets by treating illegal immigrants have been ordered by senior officials to stop causing trouble. The PHLS's press releases have seriously misled the British media about what is happening. When I wrote in the Times demanding Canadian-style health tests, government officials denounced me as a fascist, and David Blunkett echoed that view in the House of Commons. But one of the government's own advisers rang me up and said, 'It is far bigger than BSE, claiming far more lives than BSE, and it's being covered up.' One worried health official told me, 'It's just a matter of basic honesty with the British public, but ministers are worried about racism.'
So, instead, the government has launched a public campaign not to curb the influx of HIV immigrants, but to tell teenagers to wear condoms. Rather than stem the deluge of imported hepatitis B infections, the government is planning to vaccinate every child in Britain to protect them from it.
A few weeks ago, the crescendo of warnings from doctors was such that the government launched a review of its life-threatening policies. But don't hold your breath. Alarmed at the number of HIV-positive nurses it was recruiting, the NHS recently held a review of HIV tests for medical staff. All staff must now have HIV tests, but they won't be used to stop infected nurses coming to Britain, claiming free lifelong treatment and spreading the disease. Instead, they will be used to decide which hospital department infected nurses should work in. Make no mistake. These are serious epidemics. And they are all Labour's fault.
Anthony Browne writes for the Times.