Home secretary declines to apologise for 'go home' ad vans

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Home Secretary Theresa May has confirmed that adverts aimed at illegal immigrants will not be rolled out further, but stopped short of apologising for the scheme.

Vans bearing billboards telling illegal immigrants to "go home" or face arrest drove around the London boroughs of Barking and Dagenham, Redbridge, Barnet, Brent, Ealing and Hounslow - ethnically diverse areas where it is thought a lot of illegal immigrants live and work.

A trial of the vans in London is still being evaluated.

As she opened debate on the Immigration Bill on 22 October 2013, the secretary of state said: "Politicians should be willing to step up to the plate and say when they think something actually hasn't been as good an idea, and I think they were too blunt an instrument."

She went on to say: "Under the last government, if somebody came to the end of their visa, nobody got in touch with them to say to them that they should no longer be staying here in the UK. That is now happening as a result of the changes on the immigration enforcement."

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said of the vans: "You should confirm that you will never pursue such divisive gimmicks again, it is beneath you and it ought to be beneath this government."

She later invited her opposite number to apologise for the initiative, but the home secretary did not rise to do so.

'Soft touch'

Ms Cooper's criticism was echoed by Labour chair of the Home Affairs Committee, Keith Vaz, who warned of an "arms race" between parties wishing to show they are "tough on foreigners".

But Conservative backbencher Robert Syms welcomed the bill, saying: "We all know in our heart there are many people who come to the UK to take advantage because we are a soft touch."

The bill brings in new powers to regulate migrants' access to services.

Migrants with time-limited immigration status, such as certain categories of workers and students, will be required to make a contribution to the NHS via a charge payable when applying for entry clearance or an extension of their leave to remain.

The bill also reduces the numbers of grounds on which foreign nationals can lodge an appeal against deportation and blocks illegal immigrants from opening bank accounts in the UK.

Labour will not oppose the bill at second reading but will seek to make changes at committee stage.

Second reading is an opportunity for MPs to debate the general principles of a bill.

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