Labour made mistakes over immigration, Alan Johnson admits
Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, admitted today that the Labour Government has made mistakes over immigration policy in his first speech on the issue.
Published: 12:55PM GMT 02 Nov 2009
Alan Johnson: Distancing himself from his predecessors, he said ministers had ignored for 'far too long' problems in the immigration system Photo: REUTERS
Mr Johnson said that some parts of Britain were "disproportionately" affected by immigration, with an influx of new arrivals putting a "strain" on jobs and services.
Setting out four key principles for debate, including that all immigrants should learn English, he also accepted that his party had been "maladroit" in its handling of the issue
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Distancing himself from his predecessors, he said ministers had ignored for "far too long" problems in the immigration system that led to huge backlogs of asylum seekers and foreign national prisoners.
He told an audience at the Royal Society for the Arts in central London: "Whilst I accept that governments of both persuasions, including this one, have been maladroit in their handling of this issue, I do believe that the UK is now far more successful at tackling migration than most of its European and north American neighbours.
He added: "The legacy problems with unreturned foreign national prisoners and asylum seekers may have accumulated under previous administrations, but they continued to be ignored for far too long on our watch."
Mr Johnson outlined four principles in the debate on immigration which he said should be accepted by everyone.
â¢ That there was "no sensible argument" for immigration to cease altogether;
â¢ Some communities more affected by immigration than others had "legitimate concerns about the strain that the growth in the local population has placed on jobs and services";
â¢ Other countries are affected by the problems caused by immigration;
â¢ People who come to live here should learn the language, obey the laws and pay tax.
Since 2001, "real and rapid progress" had been made on tackling illegal immigrants from war-torn conflict zones, he said.
At the time, illegal immigrants living in the Sangatte camp could get into Britain with "comparative ease" by hiding in the back of lorries, he added.
Since then, improvements to checks in Calais had cut the numbers found in Kent by around 90 per cent.
Mr Johnson also criticised Tory plans for a cap on migrant numbers as "arbitrary" and claimed it would hurt businesses who needed to hire skilled staff.
Tory claims of an "open door" immigration system under Labour were a return to "dog whistle politics" he said.
The speech signalled a tougher line on migration from Mr Johnson, who has made few significant pronouncements on the subject.
Only months into the job, he told a committee of MPs he did not "lie awake at night" worrying about the population hitting 70million.