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The BBC's Mark Mardell
"This is his second speech on asylum in a week"
 real 28k

Michael Ancram, Conservative Party Chairman
"The important thing is they won't be held for long"
 real 28k

Simon Hughes MP
"Less about the interests of asylum seekers or the electorate than those of the Conservative Party"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 18 April, 2000, 17:51 GMT 18:51 UK
Asylum camp plan attacked
asylum seekers
Asylum seekers are being dispersed around the UK
The government has attacked Conservative leader William Hague over his proposal to detain asylum seekers rather than let them live in the community.

Mr Hague outlined his policies on asylum seekers in a keynote speech on Tuesday evening to the right-of-centre Social Market Foundation think-tank.

But a spokesman for the prime minister said Mr Hague's plans for a shake-up of the asylum process were further evidence he was "stirring up" the issue.

Mr Hague's proposals
New asylum seekers to be held in detention centres
Cutting out duplication of casework and tape recording interviews
Assuming applicants from 'safe' countries are not fleeing persecution
Reminding other European states that asylum seekers should be dealt with by the first country they enter
Setting up a removals agency to remove asylum seekers from the country immediately if their applications are refused
Mr Hague has insisted he has the right to highlight "organised abuse" of the UK's immigration system.

In his speech, Mr Hague said Britain had a "proud tradition" of offering sanctuary but warned: "That tradition is now under threat as never before."

The number of asylum applications has risen from under 4,000 in 1988 to 71,000 last year, and the "consistent" pattern was that between 70% and 80% of claims were unfounded, said Mr Hague.

The Conservative leader continued: "People are arriving in Britain armed with expert knowledge of how to exploit our asylum laws; what to say on arrival; how to string out appeals and how to remain here if their cases are eventually turned down."

He called for all new asylum seekers to be held in centres, probably former army barracks, where they could be "adequately housed and supported" while their claims were processed.

At present, most refugees are dispersed throughout the country and only a minority are detained.

The issue of asylum seekers has become a key issue in the local elections on 4 May.

Both major parties have been accused of creating a debate on the issue that could give comfort to racists, after the Liberal Democrats reported Labour and the Tories to the Commission for Racial Equality.

And last week, union leader Bill Morris accused the government of "giving life to racists".

'Cruel deception'

In response to the Tory leader's proposals, Home Secretary Jack Straw said: "William Hague's speech is further confirmation that the Conservatives are more interested in exploiting the asylum issue than they are in dealing with it.

"It is a cruel deception from a deeply cynical party."

Oakington Reception Centre: Already in use
And immigration minister Barbara Roche said the Tories had been to blame for the problems in the asylum system.

She declared: "This is empty rhetoric. The Tories had their chance to deal with the asylum system, but left it in a shambles."

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes said he was "comfortable" with housing asylum seekers in reception centres, providing they were "respectable and reasonable places" and residents were free to come and go.

He said: "I guess that the Hague speech today is much less about the interests of refugees, asylum seekers or the British electorate than the interests of the Tory Party."

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See also:

12 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Fresh row over asylum seekers
11 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Asylum cost under fire
10 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Parties defend asylum comments
10 Apr 00 | Europe
Europe toughens asylum policies
14 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Government defends race record
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