Smith to make statement over migrant disclosure

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LONDON, Nov 13 (Reuters) Home Secretary Jacqui Smith will make a statement to the House of Commons today after claims her department covered up a blunder over security clearances for illegal immigrants.

She will address MPs at 3:30 p m following the disclosure of government documents in the Daily Mail suggesting the Home Office was aware of the problem over the summer.

Her department acknowledged at the weekend that around 5,000 illegal migrants had been cleared to work as security guards.

The confirmation came after a Sunday newspaper reported that illegal migrants had secured security jobs at airports, ports and government buildings.

The Daily Mail today published internal Home Office memos from August in which Smith was said to agree that there should be no public announcement over the issue.

A memo on August 9 from Smith's private secretary to other ministers and officials about the issue reads: ''She (Smith) agrees with you that this is not ready for public announcement yet.

''She did not think the lines we have are good enough for Press Office or Ministers to use to explain the situation.'' Conservative Leader David Cameron said it was another example of government spin.

He told BBC radio that the memo showed that the government had put its own convenience ahead of informing the public.

''That looks as if the justification for not making an announcement was because this was going to look bad for the government,'' he said.

''It does look as if spin was put first rather than dealing with the issue.'' The Home Office said the delay in disclosure was justified.

''The responsible thing to do was to establish the full nature and scale of the issue rather than put partial and potentially misleading information into the public domain,'' a spokesman said.

Last month the government admitted it had underestimated the number of foreign nationals who had come to work in Britain in the last decade by 300,000 -- the size of a medium-size city such as Coventry.

REUTERS SKB RN1541

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