The Government tried to “deliberately deceive” the British people over a plan to relax immigration rules, the Tories have claimed. Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling told the Commons that ministers broke the law to cover up “a change of policy designed to encourage much higher levels of immigration” in order to clear a backlog.

Mr Grayling asked Immigration Minister Phil Woolas: “Will you confirm that in 2002 Ministers relaxed the rules for clearing immigration applicants so that those who had been waiting for more than 12 months would be granted clearance to stay without any further investigation into their cases?”

He claimed that the head of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate had told then minister Beverley Hughes that the policy meant “some risks would have to be taken”. And he said the Home Office had tried to cover up the scandal by withholding documents from the Information Commissioner, saying: “I have copies of those documents and they are clearly marked ‘withhold’ at the top.”

Mr Woolas said Beverley Hughes, the minister involved in the policy change who resigned in 2004, had “acted entirely honourably”. He added the issues over policy were dealt with “thoroughly and comprehensively” by a 2004 inquiry led by Ken Sutton.

He told Mr Grayling: “The allegation has been made, very seriously, that we broke the law, that was the phrase you used. In fact, the ruling from the Information Commissioner was issued on March 5, 2009 and on April 9 we disclosed, in line with that ruling, the information.”

Mr Woolas called on the Speaker, John Bercow, to rule on whether Mr Grayling was out of order in accusing ministers of “deliberately deceiving” the public. Mr Bercow said the comment was in order because “no personal charge against an individual minister had been levelled”.

The Speaker granted Mr Grayling’s request for an urgent question to force Mr Woolas to come to the House and make a statement on the claims.