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Wednesday, 3 October, 2001, 14:01 GMT 15:01 UK
Asylum and hate law to be overhauled
Asylum seekers near the entrance to the Channel Tunnel in France
Ministers say genuine immigrants have nothing to fear
New laws targeting religious hate crimes and an overhaul of the asylum and immigration system have been announced by Home Secretary David Blunkett.

The government is also to target terrorist cash by making it a requirement for financial institutions to report suspicious transactions.

Main proposals
New law to ban religious as well as race hatred
Swift asylum system reform
New work permits to regulate foreign workers
Financial institutions required to report suspicious transactions
Mr Blunkett told delegates at the Labour Party conference in Brighton that, with the country now on guard, Britain was a safer place since the 11 September terror attacks on the United States.

But, speaking amid speculation Tony Blair is set to visit Russia and other countries in the next few days, the home secretary stressed that everyone had a right to that security.

He said that because "one of the most basic freedoms of all" was "freedom from hate", UK law was currently not providing sufficient protection to victims of religious hatred.

As a result, he said, race hate laws would be extended to cover religion to help "those who are faced with that form of hatred and bigotry".

Move welcomed

The Muslim community, targeted in a spate of attacks across the country in the wake of the US suicide hijackings, has welcomed the announcement.

Other measures to be announced by the end of the month include an overhaul of the extradition system and a tightening of immigration laws.

The aim would be to ensure people suspected of terrorist links could not be considered for asylum.

Home Secretary David Blunkett
Blunkett has said the asylum system is a mess

But Mr Blunkett promised that action would be measured and insisted that he would protect people's rights.

"We must lift the pall of suspicion from those who come into our country and are in our country legitimately and openly - we cannot become a fortress Britain," he said.

The home secretary pledged to be "tough on traffickers" but "rational on economic migration".

A work permit system will be examined as part of moves to tackle the exploitation of migrant workers.

Possible permits
Highly skilled migrants: Allowed to enter UK and seek work if they are self-supporting and have qualifications
Overseas students: If UK graduate allowed to seek work without leaving country
Seasonal workers: Offered temporary permits
Quota-based permits: For economic areas hit by labour shortages

He also hinted at concessions to those who think the UK's current asylum system is too harsh and want to abolish the voucher system for food and basic needs.

Among them is Transport and General Workers Union boss Bill Morris, who told delegates he had withdrawn a motion calling for the scrapping of vouchers after behind the scenes negotiations with Mr Blunkett.

"During my conversation with the home secretary, he said two words to me: 'Trust me'.

"David, we do. But please remember asylum seekers cannot sit in the waiting room of the promised never, never land for ever."

But Mr Blunkett later denied striking any deal and would not confirm the voucher system would be dropped.

It was not the "most appropriate" time to do so because reviews of vouchers, asylum seeker dispersals and the entire system had not yet been completed, he said.

ID cards

Mr Blunkett also told BBC Radio 4's World at One that suggestions he had decided to rule out introducing identity cards to the UK were wrong.

"On 14 September, I said 'We're thinking about it, we're going to think about it at length, it's not an immediate response to the attacks on the World Trade Center, it's much more about citizenship and entitlements and that position holds."

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes said that far reaching reform of the immigration system was "very welcome".

"Opening the front door a little may ease some of the pressure on the back door," he said.

But questions were raised over work permits by John Tincey, director of information and research at the Immigration Services Union, who said recipients would need to be very carefully selected because of the problem of changing business needs.

The BBC's John Pienaar
"One of the most basic freedoms is freedom from hate"
The BBC's Niall Dickson
"Dover is filled with asylum seekers"
David Blunkett, Home Secretary
says economic migrants should play a part in the UK's economy
Afzal Khan, Muslim Council of Britain
"This really is positive news"

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Blair's speech

From the fringe

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03 Oct 01 | UK Politics
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