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 A/V REPORTS
Conservative leader William Hague
"Everyone knows that this country cannot take in unlimited amounts of people"
 real 56k

Home Secretary Jack Straw
"It is the most difficult problem for any government to deal with"
 real 28k

Liberal Democrat Alan Beith
"It does not help the election atmosphere at all"
 real 28k

The BBC's Philippa Thomas
"Mr Hague believes voters see Britain becoming the asylum capital of Europe"
 real 56k

Friday, 18 May, 2001, 13:15 GMT
Hague stokes asylum row
Mr Hague said the asylum system was being abused
Mr Hague said the asylum system was being abused
William Hague has accused Labour of turning Britain into a "soft touch" for asylum seekers.

In a speech in Dover, the Tory leader said his party would build a network of reception centres to deter and detain all asylum claimants arriving in the UK.


Britain is no longer just a safe haven. Britain has been turned into a soft touch

William Hague
The plans have been severely criticised by the Liberal Democrats and Labour, which says Tory tax cuts would lead to 3,000 job losses in the immigration service.

Margaret Lally of the Refugee Council said detaining claimants in the manner suggested might be illegal under the terms of the Geneva Convention.

And the United Nations High Commission for Refugees has also said Tory policy could create more problems than it solved.

System abused

Mr Hague said a future Conservative government would make Britain a "safe haven" for genuine asylum seekers and not a "soft touch".

He said Labour's "incompetence and mismanagement" of the asylum process had led to a "systematic abuse of the system".

"The simple truth is that today our asylum system lies in pieces," he said.

"It is little wonder that, as a result of Labour's policies, Britain is no longer just a safe haven. Britain has been turned into a soft touch.

"The chaotic system that we have now is both ineffective and unfair," he said.

"The people who are losing out most are genuine refugees, who are forced to wait for months or years in a queue along with thousands of bogus claimants."

"Bogus claimants"

Mr Hague also pledged to speed up asylum seeker applications and decisions.

"We need a system which makes it possible to process claims speedily, so that genuine refugees can be integrated into British life and bogus claimants are sent back home."

Home Secretary Jack Straw
Mr Straw criticised the proposals
But Labour, which is trying to put family issues at the centre of the day's debate, says the Tory sums for the reception centres do not add up and will take years to establish.

Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy, who started the day by launching a 10-point plan to tackle the problems of the countryside, was scornful of the Tory policy.

"This latest lurch into populism.... combines the instincts of Alf Garnett with the electoral appeal of Michael Foot."

Manifesto launch

Elsewhere, the Green Party, the Scottish National Party and the Wales Communist Party have launched their manifestos.

The SNP emphasised its commitment to increasing public spending under the slogan "Creating a better Scotland now".

The Green Party is proposing to renationalise the railways, impose higher taxes on big earners and ban the import and production of genetically modified food.

Prime Minister Tony Blair is spending the day visiting NHS Trusts in Lincolnshire and Norfolk before holding a question and answer session later on Friday.

And John Prescott has rejoined his battlebus for the first time since the punch-throwing incident in north Wales on Wednesday.

He visited a shipyard in Tyne and Wear wearing a hard hat and stayed well clear of waiting journalists.

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