David Blunkett sought to head off an embarrassing row last night following the disclosure of internal Home Office advice recommending the detention of all asylum-seekers.
The proposal, reported in The Times to have been contained in a memo, was made only days after the 11 September terror attacks. It suggested that the Home Secretary adopt a policy put forward by Ann Widdecombe, the shadow Home Secretary in the run up to the 2001 General Election.
Last night Home Office sources said the advice was "absurd'' and would never have been implemented because it would have meant locking up 100,000 asylum-seekers, more than the entire prison population of England and Wales.
The memo was reported to have been written by a civil servant on 27 September 2001 under the heading 'Terrorists in the UK'. It is reported to have said: "Unpalatable as it may seem to you the only way around this is to adopt Ms Widdecombe's proposal to detain all asylum-seekers at least until they can satisfy us as to their identity, age and nationality.''
Ms Widdecombe was sharply criticised by Labour when she suggested detaining all asylum-seekers in secure "reception centres''.