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Conservative leader, William Hague
"We believe the number of unfounded applications would fall quite sharply if our policy was adopted"
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Sunday, 20 May, 2001, 18:57 GMT
Hague: No asylum split
William Hague makes his asylum speech last week
Hague: Has accused Labour of being a "soft touch"
Conservative leader William Hague has claimed there is no difference in principle between the main parties on asylum.

The only distinction was that Labour said it was going to be tough on asylum while the Tories would put those words into practice, he said.

Mr Hague, who has been at his Yorkshire home taking a breather from the campaign trail, made the comments on BBC Radio 4's World This Weekend programme on Sunday.

He claimed his party was "winning the campaign" and said the idea that the Tories would cut back public services was "nonsense".

Detention centres

Mr Hague reiterated his plans for more detention centres to house what he said would be between 4,000 and 6,000 asylum seekers.

He had been given legal advice that such plans would only breach human rights laws if people were detained indefinitely.

Instead, the Tories would process asylum claims in weeks rather than months.

Matthew Taylor
Taylor: Hague should back or sack Letwin
And the tougher measures would act as a deterrent to those who applications were ill-founded.

"In principle there is no difference between the parties over this," he said.

"The Labour Party say that they are going to be tough about asylum and say in principle that people could be taken to reception centres...

"The difference is who is prepared to put it into practice."

Conservative peer Lord Taylor of Warwick earlier turned his fire on the Tory asylum plans.

'Locking up wrong'

"I feel the locking up of women and children is wrong because you are talking about people who have not committed any crime or who have been alleged to have committed a crime," he told GMTV.

But Mr Hague stressed the Conservative approach had always been to offer a "welcoming home to the genuine refugee".

Jack Straw
Straw: Spoken of cap on refugees
In an interview with the Observer newspaper, Home Secretary Jack Straw said he planned a cap on the number of people granted asylum.

"There is a limit on the number of applicants, however, genuine, that you can take," he said.

"You can argue about how many thousands it is, but it is a matter of thousands, not millions."

Labour say the plans are not a new departure but were designed to share the burden with other states.

But Nick Hardwick, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said the article suggested Labour proposed to go much further than its manifesto commitment.

"The policy as reported would be much more harmful to refugees than even the current Conservative proposals," he said.

A Guardian/ICM opinion poll, published on Sunday evening, suggests Labour has the lead on asylum issues.

Of the 1,022 adults interviewed by telephone for the poll between 4 and 7 May, 20% said they thought Labour had the best asylum policies, 16% the Conservatives, with 29% saying none of the parties has the answer.

Election confidence

Elsewhere in his interview, William Hague insisted the Tories could still win the election despite their poor poll ratings.

He said: "We can win. We are certainly winning the campaign. Millions of people in this country are undecided about how to vote."

"It is one of the strong messages coming back that millions of people are fed up with Labour, feel let down by Labour.

"They want to know what the alternative is, they want to know what the Conservatives would do and they haven't decided how to vote yet."

Tax plans

Pressed on his tax and spending plans, Mr Hague again insisted he could afford to cut taxes by 8bn without hitting vital public services.

"The idea that we are going to be cutting back on public services is complete nonsense," he said.

Liberal Democrat treasury spokesman Matthew Taylor wrote to Mr Hague on Sunday to attack his tax plans.

He demanded that the Tory leader either back shadow treasury chief secretary Oliver Letwin over his alleged reference to 20bn tax cut plans or sack him.


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