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Tuesday, 2 May, 2000, 21:57 GMT 22:57 UK
Ministers plan more asylum places
asylum seeker
The number of places for asylum seekers may increase, say ministers
Ministers are examining plans to increase the number of detention centres used to house asylum seekers, it has emerged.

Lord Bach told the House of Lords in a written answer that the government is looking for possible sites for the new centres.

He said "consideration is being given to a further expansion of the detention estate".

He said any decisions would be made in the context of this year's spending review and the need to increase removal of failed asylum seekers.

Lord Bach said it was planned to have 889 places in centres for asylum seekers next year, rising to 1,381 places in 2002 and 1,381 in 2003.

He said the reception centre at Oakington, Cambridgeshire, had a further 400 places used under detention powers.

The debate over asylum seekers has been at the centre of the political agenda in recent weeks.

Both the government and the Tories have been criticised over their language on the issue.

'Soft touch'

And this week, Conservative leader William Hague again defended his decision to focus on the issue in the run up to local elections in England.

The debate has also extended to the London mayoral contest, with Tory candidate Steve Norris defending his party from accusations of racism over the issue.

The Conservatives say the government has made the UK a "soft touch" for people seeking asylum, with ministers accusing the Tories of attempting to stir up anxiety over the issue.

Last week, lawyers working with asylum seekers attacked the government over the way applications are being turned down.

'No change'

Solicitors said applications are rejected by a standard circular letter without any explanation of why the application has been refused.

But the government says there has been no change in policy.

Home Secretary Jack Straw last week travelled to Dover to see immigration officers at work.

He saw 10 people being caught attempting to illegally enter the UK.

His visit came the day after the Home Office announced that it had dealt with a record number asylum applications last month.

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