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Thursday, June 17, 1999 Published at 14:33 GMT 15:33 UK

UK Politics

Asylum rebellion fears unfounded

Labour wants a "fairer and faster" system for asylum seekers

The government averted a major backbench rebellion on Wednesday night over its proposals on asylum seekers.

Despite several Labour MPs' criticism of a planned voucher system which is due to replace cash benefits, the Immigration and Asylum Bill cleared the Commons by 310 votes to 41, a government majority of 269.

The legislation now goes to the Lords.

Just seven Labour MPs voted against the Bill's third reading. They were:

  • Diane Abbott (Hackney N and Stoke Newington)
  • Tony Benn (Chesterfield)
  • Jeremy Corbyn (Islington N)
  • Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow)
  • Ken Livingstone (Brent E)
  • John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington)
  • Alan Simpson (Nottingham S)

A serious revolt over the bill had been expected but Home Secretary Jack Straw bought off most of the Labour rebels by offering concessions on the details of the bill.

Now refugee claims made by families will be processed with greater speed and more of the benefits given to asylum seekers will be paid in cash rather than vouchers.

'Reactionary, racist legislation'

As the debate on the bill got under way at least one Labour MP promised to vote against his own party.

John McDonnell said: "I think we ought to put this bill in its historical, reactionary context because I think it stands as one of the most outstandingly, reactionary, racist pieces of legislation of the last two centuries," he said.

"If there is fraud, investigate it, prosecute it. If there are delays in the system, speed the system up - that's the way to tackle the issue."

[ image: Neil Gerrard: No evidence for the government's claims]
Neil Gerrard: No evidence for the government's claims
Another likely rebel, Neil Gerrard, the chair of the parliamentary group on refugees, attacked the bill saying: "There is simply no hard evidence to back up the simplistic claim that cash benefits act as a draw.

"I seriously believe that what we are in danger of doing here will hurt families with children."

While Labour MP Julie Morgan said: "I am still very uneasy that the Children's Act in its entirety does not apply to asylum seekers' children. I think it's a dangerous precedent breaking up the Children's Act in this way."

At the opening of the debate Home Office Minister Mike O'Brien revealed that the punishment for those caught helping bogus asylum seekers gain entry into the UK would be increased from seven to 10 years in prison.

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