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Wednesday, May 26, 1999 Published at 15:48 GMT

UK Politics

Blair hints at asylum concessions

The immigration bill is to return to the Commons for its report stage

Prime Minister Tony Blair has hinted that he is prepared to compromise with rebel Labour MPs to tone down controversial parts of the Immigration and Asylum Bill.

The prime minister raised the possibility of concessions while he was addressing the Parliamentary Labour Party at Westminster on Wednesday.

Mr Blair said Home Secretary Jack Straw was having "detailed discussions" with MPs about the details, and wanted them "to be satisfied' with the bill.

Report stage

It is understood that ministers might be willing to reduce the amount given to asylum seekers in food vouchers and make a proportionate increase in cash allowances.

[ image: Tony Blair was speaking to the MPs before recess]
Tony Blair was speaking to the MPs before recess
The Immigration and Asylum Bill is due to return to the Commons for its report stage after the Whitsun recess.

Under the measures proposed, refugees waiting for their claim to be processed will no longer be given cash benefits but vouchers worth 70% of the £28.75 income support payments.

They will also receive £1 a day in cash and an additional 50p a day for each child aged over three.

A party spokesman did not deny that the conciliatory tone was in contrast to the combative presentation of the welfare reform bill last week.

Labour business managers have warned Mr Straw that the bill has incurred more opposition than the welfare reforms.

Last week's vote, when 67 MPs defied the government by opposing planned cuts in incapacity benefit for the disabled, was the largest rebellion against Mr Blair since the general election.

Welfare reform warning

During the end of term meeting, Mr Blair warned MPs that the entire party must rally behind the government's welfare reform programme if it is to retain power at the next general election.

[ image: Backbenchers revolted to cuts to incapacity benefit]
Backbenchers revolted to cuts to incapacity benefit
The prime minister said: "It cannot be enough simply to declare that this is the position of the government.

"The whole of the party has to be behind it."

The prime minister said Labour had every reason to be confident about its prospects at the next general election, provided it kept to its policy of delivering social justice and a reform agenda.

"It is important all of the time that we recognise that part of the appeal of this New Labour government is that we are prepared to reform our public services and the welfare state," he said.

The prime minister also spoke about Kosovo, saying there was now "every chance" of an agreement by the international community on a settlement plan.

On Europe, he said that despite Conservative claims to the contrary, Chancellor Gordon Brown had convinced the other states the UK would not accept any new tax which would damage the City of London.

The chancellor had now been invited to come forward with the government's own proposals, he added.

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