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Saturday, 22 April, 2000, 06:36 GMT 07:36 UK
Tory asylum policy warning
william hague
Asylum issue could overshadow election campaign
Senior Tory backbenchers say their party's leadership risks stirring up racial tension if they continue to use the problem of asylum seekers as a major campaigning issue.

Asylum seekers
Asylum-seekers should not be dealt with 'emotively'
Former minister Ian Taylor warns the level of attention being given to asylum seekers could unleash "dangerous forces" against Britain's ethnic minorities in the run up to the next election.

Mr Taylor, MP for Esher and Walton, said: "The initial attempt to raise the issue was valid, but the way it has become a major campaigning issue bothers me."

He said that while Tory leader William Hague had not himself used inflammatory language in the debate, the prominence given to the issue risked overshadowing the election campaign.

Our job as politicians is to calm public fears, not to stoke them

Ian Taylor, MP for Esher and Walton

"Language in these issues can get more and more intense as the debate rolls on," he added.

Fellow Tory backbencher and former health secretary Stephen Dorrell has supported Mr Taylor's remarks.

He is quoted in The Times as saying that the problem of illegitimate asylum seekers should not be dealt with in an "emotive" fashion.

Inflaming tension

The Conservative Party was quick to deny that its election campaigning, which has focused on cracking down on so-called bogus asylum seekers, might inflame racial tension.

A Tory spokesman said: "We have been very careful at every step of the way to stress that the rights of genuine asylum seekers must be and will be upheld.

"Our concern is about those who are not genuine asylum seekers and who seek to come here on grounds for which they are not qualified."

William Hague's proposals to detain asylum seekers in reception centres rather than allow them to live in the community has sparked widespread criticism.

Home Secretary Jack Straw accused the Tories of being more interested in exploiting the issue than dealing with it.

But the Tories say if the government's plans to redistribute asylum seekers across the country go-ahead, then the issue will affect nearly every voter.

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.

Drawing attention to past mistakes, Mr Taylor added: "We need to learn the lessons of history. Enoch Powell was an altogether different magnitude of problem.

"I am not saying we are anywhere near that, but our job as politicians is to calm public fears, not to stoke them."

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See also:

12 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Fresh row over asylum seekers
11 Apr 00 | UK Politics
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10 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Parties defend asylum comments
10 Apr 00 | Europe
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14 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Government defends race record
19 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Tories deny 'racism' jibe
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