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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

Friday, 18 May, 2001, 17:11 GMT 18:11 UK
Hague sparks asylum anger
The Hagues and shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe (right)
The Hagues with shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe (right)
Conservative leader William Hague has come under a barrage of criticism after launching his proposals for cracking down on asylum.

Mr Hague promised that a Tory government would hold all asylum seekers in secure detention camps and make the UK a "safe haven" rather than the "soft touch" it had become.


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

William Hague
Prominent black Conservative peer Lord Taylor joined Labour and the Liberal Democrats in condemning the detention proposal.

Elsewhere, a group of doctors and nurses in East Anglia told Tony Blair morale in the NHS had hit "rock bottom" under Labour, and there were manifesto launches from the Greens and the Scottish National Party.

Lord Taylor, who last month threatened to leave the party over comments by a backbench MP on race, said he welcomed Mr Hague "constructive tone".

But he added: "I cannot see that simply locking up applicants is the answer. "The way forward is not to demonise or criminalise asylum seekers but to make the applications process quicker and more effective."

Lord Taylor of Warwick
Lord Taylor of Warwick: Critical of his leader
But Lord Taylor said that Mr Hague's speech was right to criticise the current system.

Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy, who started the day by outlining the party's 10-point plan to reinvigorate rural Britain, went further, describing the policy as "inhumane".

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

There was also criticism of the Tory plans from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

System abused

Speaking on a visit to Dover, where many asylum seekers enter the UK, Mr Hague 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."

But Labour, which was trying to put family issues at the centre of the day's debate, say the Tory sums for the reception centres do not add up and will take years to establish.

Manifesto launch

The SNP's manifesto 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 spent Friday 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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