NEWS: QUEEN'S SPEECH - Liberty slams Blunkett's 'disgraceful' Asylum Bill

Home Secretary David Blunkett is using the Asylum Bill as a "political football to boost his tough-guy image", according to Liberty.

The human rights organisation is one of a number of charities that are dismayed at the Asylum Bill in this year's Queen's Speech, which includes the withdrawal of state benefits for rejected asylum seekers, taking their children into care if they refuse a flight home, and restricting appeal rights to a single hearing.

Liberty says the legislation, which is the third Asylum Bill in four years, exposes the authoritarianism at the heart of government.

"Refugees and asylum seekers are the Home Secretary's favourite soft target," said Barry Hugill, director of information at Liberty. "What we're seeing here is a Government that has no respect for the British legal system, and is more concerned with grabbing headlines than sensibly reforming a chaotic and unfair system."

The latest Bill includes a two-stage plan to cut a further £30m worth of Legal Aid to asylum seekers, with many charities fearing that the Government plans to axe Legal Aid completely.

"Everyone working in the field accepts that making an application for asylum is a very complex process where legal representation is almost essential," said Hugill. "This is absolutely disgraceful legislation."

Details of the new Bill were announced just as Tony Blair claimed a victory in hitting Government targets for a reduction in asylum figures. The Refugee Council says government policy reflected in the new Bill is fundamentally flawed.

"We are dismayed that the Government wishes to remove the legal checks and balances, which are an essential aspect of the system," said Maeve Shirlock, chief executive at The Refugee Council. "The Government should put its energies into improving initial asylum decisions in order to make the system fair for all."

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