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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 November 2005, 21:12 GMT
Asylum statement demand defeated
Jack McConnell in chamber
Jack McConnell discussed expulsions with the Home Office
Opposition MSPs have been defeated in their call for an emergency statement from the first minister over the removal of failed asylum seekers.

The vote was sought amid concerns that Jack McConnell had been rebuffed by the Home Office over the issue.

It also emerged that Mr McConnell had not directly challenged the Home Office over dawn raids but instead raised related child care issues.

Demands for a statement were defeated by 66 votes to 51 with one abstention.

Mr McConnell was given the backing of ministers but the Tories said he had been made "to look like a political pygmy".

The first minister has come under increased pressure from MSPs since senior Home Office officials ruled out making a special deal with the Scottish Executive on removal tactics.

It is humiliating that the first minister of Scotland should be the subject of such a dismissive approach
Bill Aitken
Tory MSP

Concerns had been raised about the use of "heavy-handed" tactics in Scotland, particularly following the deportation of the Vucaj family in September.

Mr McConnell was understood to have discussed the row in a phone conversation with the UK Immigration Minister Tony McNulty and he said he was working on a protocol with London.

MSPs wanted him to explain the status of his negotiations with Whitehall.

Issue reserved

However, Home Office officials stressed the issue was reserved and entirely in their hands.

The executive insisted it had only ever sought to tackle back-up problems which could affect asylum families like education and child care.

It said Mr McConnell had always been clear that the expulsion of failed asylum seekers was entirely a matter for the Home Office.

During heated exchanges at Holyrood, opposition MSPs said the Home Office "snub" should be addressed.

Green MSP Chris Ballance told Labour and Liberal Democrat MSPs: "If you refuse to debate the snub issued by the Home Office, you will be seen by the whole of Scotland as a doormat parliament."

The Vucaj family
The Vucaj family were deported after a dawn raid

Scottish Tory MSP Bill Aitken argued it was the third time Mr McConnell had been "snubbed" by Whitehall in recent months.

"It is humiliating that the first minister of Scotland should be the subject of such a dismissive approach by the previously unheard of Immigration Minister Tony McNulty," he said.

"He is seen frankly as a political pygmy by those at Westminster who have scant regard for the deliberations of this parliament."

Scottish Socialist Party leader Colin Fox said Mr McConnell should explain why there was no protocol.

'No substance'

He added: "How many more 13-year-old girls must be dragged from their beds in tears in the dead of night and slammed in the back of a van before change occurs?"

SNP MSP Linda Fabiani said the public would back the first minister if he told the Home Office the treatment of asylum seekers was unacceptable.

However, Mr McConnell was earlier defended by Parliamentary Business Minister Margaret Curran.

She told MSPs: "Today I am being asked to disrupt parliamentary business on the basis of an allegation against the first minister, and the work of this executive, which has no substance whatsoever."




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Heated exchanges over asylum policy



SEE ALSO:
McConnell asylum plea rejected
22 Nov 05 |  Scotland
Sheridan arrested at asylum demo
21 Nov 05 |  Scotland
Call for asylum employment rights
17 Nov 05 |  Scotland
Denial of dawn asylum raids rift
17 Oct 05 |  Scotland
Supporters visit deported family
10 Oct 05 |  Scotland


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