'Strip the Home Office of Power in Asylum Cases'; FORMER IMMIGRATION MINISTER CALLS FOR INDEPENDENT PANEL TO RESTORE CONFIDENCE

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Byline: PAUL WAUGH

THE HOME Office should be stripped of its powers to decide asylum cases and the job given to an independent body to restore public confidence in the system, a former Immigration Minister urged today.

In an interview with the Evening Standard, Barbara Roche, MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, said there was a need for radical change to persuade voters that the Government was treating their concerns seriously.

Other reforms could include an independent source of statistics to boost the credibility of official figures and a streamlining of the post of Immigration Minister to focus solely on migration and asylum, she said. Her remarks came as Tony Blair prepared for an emergency Downing Street summit on immmigration tomorrow in a bid to defuse the crisis that has engulfed him since Beverley Hughes quit as Immigration minister last week.

The Home Office faced fresh criticism today amid reports that officials had deliberately avoided arresting illegal-immigrants over fears that they would claim asylum and ruin Mr Blair's attempts to get the figures down. Ms Hughes was forced to quit when it emerged that she had misled the public over allegations that Romanian migrant scams were being ignored by the Immigration and Nationality Department.

Commenting for the first time on the affair, Ms Roche said that the resignation of her predecessor as Immigration Minister underlined the need for a fundamental shake-up in the Home Office. "I felt extremely sorry for Bev, watching it unfold the way it did. I think she is a very, very decent person.

But it is a tough job at the best of times," she said.

Ms Roche, who left the Government last summer, said one major reform that could transform the situation would be to take asylum decisions out of the hands of the Home Office's much criticised Immigration and Nationality Department.

The IND handles 80,000 asylum applications a year and any appeals go to an immigration tribunal and then a further appeal tribunal if disputes are unresolved.

Ms Roche favours Britain following Canada and Denmark, which have an independent body rather than civil servants determining most of their claims.

"We should make the whole system independent of Government from the beginning," she said. "You could have decisions made independently, quasi-judicially, then that would be good for both applicants and for the public as it would boost confidence in the system. …