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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 March, 2004, 23:28 GMT
Minister claims 'no need to quit'
Beverley Hughes
Hughes says her integrity is important
A minister attacked over a policy to admit some immigrants to the UK without key checks has defended her decision not to resign over the issue.

Beverley Hughes blamed a backlog of applications for the decision by immigration officials in Sheffield.

Her claim she had not known about the policy prompted calls for her to quit.

But she told BBC's Question Time: "If I felt I was responsible, I would resign because my own integrity is more important to me than any job."

'No blame' culture

Ms Hughes defended her position after the issue was reignited by shadow environment minister Theresa May.

Ms May said she was "sick and tired" of ministers blaming other people "when things go wrong".

But Beverley, you are the minister who is responsible for what happens in your department
Theresa May

It was "whistle-blower" Steve Moxon, a civil servant, who revealed that immigration officials were told to waive key checks on immigrants from eastern Europe because a backlog had built up.

He said thousands of tradesmen claiming to be self-employed were allowed through without normal background checks.

In an emergency statement to the House of Commons on Monday, Ms Hughes said she had only discovered the scheme on Sunday and immediately ordered an inquiry by a senior civil servant.

'Better weeks'

But Mrs May, also a guest on Question Time, said: "I do think Beverley should resign as minister on this particular issue and I find it absolutely extraordinary that she's... blamed officials in her department for this decision to be taken...

It is not right for ministers to take on personnel matters ... it would be quite wrong
Beverley Hughes

"I'm sick and tired of government ministers in this Labour government who simply blame other people when things go wrong."

Ms Hughes insisted she had not said the problem was nothing to do with her, but admitted: "I have had better weeks in politics.

"I have never ducked an issue of responsibility in my life."

The minister said a team in Sheffield processing a particular group of applications had changed some aspects of the procedure without asking the permission of senior managers who advised her.

'Ludicrous'

"Therefore, I could not possibly have known about it," she said.

"As a politician, you are not there to manage staff - this is an organisation of 12,000 people.

"I could not possibly know unless I was told by my advisers that something has happened that is untoward...

"It is not right for ministers to take on personnel matters... it would be quite wrong."

This caused Mrs May to challenge her: "But Beverley, you are the minister who is responsible for what happens in your department and Steve Moxon has said that he e-mailed you, he tried to blow the whistle."

Ms Hughes retorted: "It is quite ludicrous that I could know what's going on in any of those teams unless I'm told by the senior advisers that I work with every day and are responsible for advising me."

She said she had not seen the e-mail Mrs May referred to and argued that many of the people who were involved in the Sheffield policy were already living in the UK.




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