ANOTHER VIEW: Fair and firm on immigration

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The Independent Online
The proposed Asylum and Immigration Bill now before the Commons will be one of the most contentious to come before the House. The Labour Party, recognising that many of its supporters are in favour of the Bill, attempted without success to have it go to a Special Committee of the Commons, thereby obviating the need to vote against it.

Applications to the UK in relation to other EU countries have risen sharply over the past few years and unless something is done now it is projected that this country will be receiving applications at the rate of about 100,000 by the end of the century. Astonishingly, last year only 4 per cent were genuine applicants. At the same time, applications to other Western European countries have declined sharply. As a consequence of our EU colleagues tightening up the rules on asylum, applicants from safe third countries such as Germany and France apply to the UK because of its less rigorous rules and lengthy, bureaucratic assessment procedures.

This Bill will seek to manage this upsurge in applications more efficiently whilst continuing to ensure that genuine asylum-seekers are given a safe haven (and Britain has a proud historical record in that respect, which will continue).

Currently, asylum seekers awaiting acceptance by the Government benefit from our excellent welfare system: pounds 100 per week in benefit, local council accommodation and, of course, free NHS treatment. The result is that those in greatest need in our country, including many members of the ethnic minorities, the elderly, single parents and the homeless, are penalised the most.

The Labour Party has attempted to play the "race card" and failed. The Bill is not about race; it's about efficiency. Currently more than pounds 200m is spent in checking the accuracy of the applicants' information and in welfare. Most applicants arrive from the troubled countries of Eastern Europe, Romania, Russia, Poland and Yugoslavia. I trust this will prevent anyone from assuming that this is a race issue. It is not. It is a question of ensuring that only those who are genuine refugees are given a safe haven and that Britain is not a honey pot for those who apply principally for economic reasons.

The Bill will be good for community relations. It is good for the ethnic minorities - particularly those from the Asian subcontinent, now in their second generation and happily settled in the UK. They are seen as an integral part of this country. If the Bill fails and bogus asylum-seekers are able to be in this country, a time will come when everyone without strictly European features will be viewed as such. The destabilisation and insecurity for those legally settled here would have far-reaching consequences for all. Good race relations can only be engendered by fair and firm immigration policies.

The writer is Conservative MP for Brentford and Isleworth.