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Sunday, 22 April, 2001, 16:58 GMT 17:58 UK
Tory asylum lock-ups 'impractical'
Campsfield Detention Centre
The Tories want to build a network of detention centres
Conservative plans to detain all asylum seekers arriving in the UK have been dismissed as "impractical" by the government.

Shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe said a network of secure reception centres would be up and running within the first half of a Tory government's term in office.


I am quite confident that this is something that we can do speedily

Ann Widdecombe on Tory asylum plans
But Home Office Minister Barbara Roche has hit back, saying the proposals would be expensive, take years to complete and do "nothing to deal with the problem".

The Tories believe that incarcerating asylum seekers while their applications are considered will deter potential economic migrants from travelling to the UK.

Speaking about the proposed detention centres on BBC1's Breakfast with Frost, Miss Widdecombe said: "I am quite confident that this is something that we can do speedily.

"It isn't something that halfway through the parliament we shall still be struggling to achieve."

Promising to "start immediately" on the centres, she continued: "Obviously, we won't have places there for everybody in the first five minutes, nor will I sit back and wait until all the places are on stream.

"So we will start by detaining people who come from countries with perfectly safe records who are not likely to be suffering from persecution and we shall build up from there."

'Fantasy'

But Ms Roche rejected Miss Widdecombe's proposed timescale for construction as "pure fantasy".

Detaining every asylum seeker would require 60 centres, which would "take many, many years, cost billions of pounds and would ultimately do nothing to deal with the problem," she said.

Barbara Roche
Ms Roche rejected Tory plans as "pure fantasy"
"The real irony is that while uttering these ludicrous and utterly impractical suggestions, Miss Widdecombe and the Tory party are continuing to oppose the government's plans to build a detention centre at Aldington in Kent."

Ms Roche defended the government's record on dealing with asylum applications, saying the backlog was at a seven-year low.

"A record number of failed asylum seekers are being removed and we are making the asylum system faster, fairer and firmer," she added.

A Labour spokeswoman later described the Tories' plans as "unprincipled".

The asylum issue was "a complicated one which cannot be solved by the gimmicky one idea solution the Tories have proposed," she said.

About 75,000 people sought asylum in the UK in the 12 months to the end of February, according to the latest statistics.

Earlier this month a report by the Council of Europe's racism commission criticised the UK for the tone of the asylum debate.

It expressed concern at the political discourse used in support of "increasingly restrictive asylum and immigration laws".

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See also:

05 Apr 01 | UK Politics
Councils 'overspend on asylum seekers'
23 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Asylum applications at 20-month low
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