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By LGCnet political correspondent Robert Hedley ...
By LGCnet political correspondent Robert Hedley

Press reports that the government was to use the asylum Bill to introduce legislation allowing the children of asylum-seekers into care were wrong, insisted home secretary David Blunkett.

On October 24 the government published the exact proposals that appear in the Bill. 'We were talking about destitution in cases in which, despite our best efforts, people refused to leave and so their benefits were no longer paid, because they were - by definition - illegal immigrants', Mr Blunkett said during the continuing debate on the Queen's Speech.

Annabelle Ewing, SNP MP for Perth, said having listened carefully, it seemed to her the home secretary had not totally ruled out taking the children of asylum into care. As far as Scotland was concerned, the children's panel system had jurisdiction, and Mr Blunkett's write on this matter did not run in Scotland on what is deemed to be in the best interests of the child.

Mr Blunkett said that was incorrect. Dealing with asylum families was a Westminster responsibility and would remain so.

'I am asked what should we do once an asylum-seeker family has refused to go, and, even after trying to raid the household, cannot be removed, subsistence has been taken away, the family are destitute and the child is at risk: the answer is exactly the same as what would be done with any other child'. said Mr Blunkett.

'It is then suggested that that is despicable and that I ought to be ashamed of myself. Well, I am neither despicable nor ashamed of myself'.

Michael Connarty, Labour MP for Falkirk East, asked if the home secretary was trying to pretend that he did not know that most people who have social security removed, as was happening throughout Scotland, worked illegally for exploitative, low wages, but still survived.

'To single out those people who have children and to take their children into care may not make him feel ashamed, but it will certainly make me feel ashamed', he added.

Mr Blunkett as ked, rhetorically, whether Mr Connarty was saying people should be paid benefits when when they are here illegally, or that we should be more robust in removing them?

The home secretary commented: 'All those issues are deeply sensitive, but they are not affected in any way by the changes that we propose in the Bill because social services authorities, certainly those south of the border, have the same obligations for asylum-seeker children or those who have failed in their asylum claims as for any other child'.

Richard Allan, Liberal Democrat MP for Sheffield Hallam, claimed there was a crucial difference between a family suffering destitution and a family seeking asylum. If social workers came across a destitute family in Sheffield, they would have a duty to lift the family out of destitution so that they are not split up, using powers under the National Asssistance Act 1948. However, asylum-seeking families are explicitly excluded from those provisions, so social workers could not keep those families together.

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