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Tuesday, November 2, 1999 Published at 16:55 GMT

UK Politics

Irvine refuses to put timing to asylum pledge

The controversial new asylum proposals have sparked protests

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, has admitted that only a "brave man" would attempt to put a timescale on when the government will fulfil key pledges to speed up the asylum system.

Lord Irvine refused to say when he thought all asylum applications would be processed within six months, as promised as part of the controversial Immigration and Asulym Bill currently before Parliament.

Home Secretary Jack Straw has set a target of April 2001 for speeding up the process so that all initial decisions are made within two months and all appeals resolved within a further four.

Challenged on Tuesday over when this would be met, Lord Irvine told the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee: "I would be a very brave man if I answered that."

More staff - but more appeals

He said he had employed 63 more part-time adjudicators to hear appeals and was recruiting another 50 in addition to full-time adjudicators.

But he warned the backlog of cases waiting to be dealt with had climbed to 85,000, with 40,000 appeals being made. He added that he could not promise the problem would not get worse.

[ image: Lord Irvine: Refused to set a date]
Lord Irvine: Refused to set a date
Lord Irvine said he was not saying the targets could not be met, and insisted he hoped they would be.

Labour MP Martin Linton said the success of reforms which have been given a bumpy ride by MPs was "predicated" on the basis of processing all applications within the two months, four months time frame.

Opponents this week forced through an amendment blocking the replacement of current cash support with a voucher system until the target time was reached.

A Home Office spokesman said the April 2001 date was a target, but had been set on the basis that the voucher system, designed to deter economic migrants, was also going to be introduced. The spokesman insisted that without vouchers, speeding up the system would be harder.

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