Ministers caught using the B-word

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Indy Politics

Ministers who have branded asylum-seekers "bogus" are in breach of their self-imposed rules on inflammatory language.

Mike O'Brien, the Home Office minister, revealed last night that he had instructed officials working for him not to use the word in relation to people seeking sanctuary in Britain. But Mr O'Brien, his Home Office colleague Paul Boateng, Home Secretary Jack Straw and the Prime Minister have all, as the debate on asylum-seekers escalated, used the banned word.

Now, in the face of a row over the language used in the debate, Tony Blair has made it clear that ministers must choose their words with care.

"Unfounded" is understood to have replaced "bogus" in official government-speak.

Yesterday, a Church of England bishop joined the attacks on the use of inflammatory words, saying politicians were using language similar to that of Enoch Powell during the 1960s. The Bishop of Croydon, the Right Rev Wilfred Wood, one of the leading black figures in the church, said talk of "bogus" asylum-seekers was the "same evocative kind of language that stirs people up" as the late Mr Powell's famous "Rivers of Blood" speech opposing increased immigration.

"We have moved on and are now more populist in the kind of language but the sentiments behind it are the same," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. He said there had been a "stirring up of racism and bigotry". The bishop's remarks came after Bill Morris, the general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, accused the Government of "creating a climate of fear" through its efforts to appear tough on asylum-seekers and illegal immigrants.

The Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes also voiced his concerns about the escalation of language used by Labour and the Tories in a complaint to the Commission for Racial Equality. Hugh Harris, the CRE's chairman, warned all parties to "consider very carefully the language they use".

The Government has rejected claims that its ministers have been playing the race card as "simply not justified". Mr Blair's official spokesman said: "We are sensitive to the importance of language."

And a Downing Street spokesman said: "The Prime Minister recognises this is an area where you have to be careful about the language and the tone you use... There has been no edict from anyone saying 'these are the acceptable phrases, these are not', but people within government recognise that you do have to be sensitive about language when it comes to this issue."

But there are several cases where ministers have used the word "bogus". They include Mr Boateng's comments to a select committee in February 1998, when he stormed at a Liberal Democrat MP: "What sort of a world do you live in? Of course, there are bogus asylum-seekers and they are preying on our hard-pressed taxpayers and council taxpayers."

Mr O'Brien said in a letter to The Daily Telegraph in 1997: "Some asylum-seekers could rightly be labelled 'bogus'." Last month Mr Blair said: "Bogus asylum-seekers do nothing but harm to the cause of proper asylum-seekers."

And Mr Straw had criticised "bogus asylum-seekers who come, claim benefit, work and carry on ripping off the system".