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Last Updated: Sunday, 8 August, 2004, 10:45 GMT 11:45 UK
UK Immigration policy
On Sunday, 8 August 2004, Peter Sissons interviewed Nicholas Boles, Policy Exchange and Keith Best, Immigration Advisory Service

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

Nicholas Boles and Keith Best
Nicholas Boles, Policy Exchange and Keith Best, Immigration Advisory Service

PETER SISSONS: Now even though applications are falling steadily, Britain still grants asylum to more people each year than Germany, Canada and even the U.S.A.

However, critics on both left and right maintain that asylum processing is still hugely inefficient, and that the positive case for immigration is being undermined by a flawed asylum system.

I'm joined now by Nicholas Boles, head of the Policy Exchange think tank whose report on asylum is due out tomorrow, and Keith Best, Chief Executive of the Immigration Advisory Service.

Welcome both. Nick, what's the main point you'll be making in your report? NICHOLAS BOLES: I think fundamentally that we don't really have an honest system of dealing with asylum.

So you get figures like, you know, a certain percentage of applications are accepted, and that would suggest to most normal people that therefore those applications that aren't accepted, those people leave and return to the country from where they came.

And of course we actually know that that doesn't happen at all, that a very, very, very small number of people actually leave, and in fact the government has no idea how many of them stay, how many of them are in the country.

Similarly we have a hopelessly inefficient system. I mean it has got better to be fair, there has been a lot of work done and it has got better, but there is sense also that a lot of the burden's been shifted from the asylum system to the immigration system which has helped reduce the number of asylum applications only to boost the number of other forms of immigration.

PETER SISSONS: But broadly it is true that Britain is more attractive as a place to come to, than these other rich countries. Why is that?

NICHOLAS BOLES: I mean I think it's an incredibly good thing. It's a sign of success, and obviously we have the advantage that we're a country in which we speak English and that is the foreign language that most people learn elsewhere, and that most people want to learn in order to succeed.

So I think that's one major draw. But it's mainly the fact that we have a booming economy, we have very low unemployment, there's a huge amount of work on offer. We also have had a relatively generous system in terms of benefits and other possibilities to work here relative to our neighbours.

So it's partly a sign of our success, it's partly a sign of government policy, perhaps making it a little too appealing for people. But it is also because actually the government has not had a grip on the system.

PETER SISSONS: Keith, we're among the least generous in granting citizenship. We made lots of harsh noises about bogus asylum seekers and clamping down on benefits and this sort of thing. And yet, is it the buoyant economy that's keeping the lid on, on a crisis here?

KEITH BEST: Well first of all I share many of the view of Nick on what he said already and I won't repeat them. The fact is we do have a paucity of reliable and verifiable statistics.

We've been advocating for years now that there should be exit controls so that you actually know the identity of those who leave the country as well as those coming into the country, so we don't know how many people overstay for example, because we don't know when they leave.

And that is something I hope government will increasingly take seriously. But in terms of the way we treat people, we actually treat people who are claiming asylum fleeing from persecution appallingly badly.

We make them destitute. We lock them up in detention. There is a kind of second class citizenship if you are an asylum seeker. We've now seen after the problems in Harmondsworth detention centre, people being put into prisons and indeed the Welsh Assembly has just complained bitterly to the Home Secretary about that.

PETER SISSONS: There's talk of a plan to video deportations and broadcast them abroad as a sort of deterrent, a further deterrent to people coming here.

KEITH BEST: Yes I think that's interesting. You know, Jack Straw was confronted with that possibility and declined it because he thought it was tasteless and I share his view, it is tasteless. It will soon actually annoy people.

I don't think the British people generally want to be vindictive to those who are genuine asylum seekers. In fact it's quite the contrary, I think they want to make sure that we honour our international obligations.

And to make a charade, a show, out of dragging people in handcuffs including pregnant women and people like that, in order to remove them forcibly, I'd have thought if anything is going be the Home Secretary hoisting himself with his own petard.

PETER SISSONS: What would you say about the video idea?

NICHOLAS BOLES: I mean it is very difficult, I think we do have to create deterrents. Because the fact is, as we see, is that once people actually have got here it's very, very, very hard to actually make them go, and none of us would support the creation of the sort of police state that would be necessary to be able to make them go.

So therefore what you've got to do is try and stop them coming in the first place and creating deterrents, creating messages that say, "don't try it, it's not worth it" is something that any government's going to want to look at.

But fundamentally you do have the problem also of the number of people who are getting through the system. It's not just about what the system does, it's about whether it does it well and our problem at the moment is we're not actually implementing properly.

KEITH BEST: Can I just pick up briefly on that deterrents aspect because this is what we've seen and we've now just seen, given the royal assent, the fifth major piece of legislation in less than 11 years.

That degree of legislative incontinence has not been visited on any other major department of state, so that whole thing's clearly in crisis. But what's interesting, this deterrents business, of trying to stop anybody getting here obviously impacts against the genuine asylum seeker as well as the economic migrant. And funnily enough, the statistics show that.

Because you'd have thought that with all this business of a reduction in the numbers, and the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister congratulating themselves on doing that, you would have expected it. If that's excluding those who are not the genuine asylum seekers, the acceptance rate would have gone up. In fact it's gone down.

PETER SISSONS: But from both of you briefly. Do you think the government, after all the horror stories, has finally got a handle on immigration, that it is more or less going down the right track now? Briefly.

NICHOLAS BOLES: I don't actually. I don't, and I think it's partly because all political parties are avoiding what is at the heart of this issue, which is the UN Convention that we're all signed up to. Is this a complete right for anybody who's suffering from persecution to come in any number to Britain? Is that really sustainable in the world we currently live in?

KEITH BEST: On labour immigration I believe the government broadly has got it right although it could simplify the immigration rules considerably and make that easier. On asylum I think it's still in chaos. We only need another blow-up somewhere in the world and the whole policy will be shot through.

NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.

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