China's government has been too harsh in its treatment of the country's vast army of poor, migrant workers and needs to "adopt a fair attitude", according to Vice Minister of Police Bai Jingfu.
Migrant workers lead insecure lives
"It was wrong in the past to punish farmers in the cities for having no temporary residence permit," Mr Bai told journalists in Beijing.
"It was also wrong to fine them or send them back to the countryside," the French news agency Agence France Presse reported him as saying.
Mr Bai's unusual confession is the latest sign of a fast-developing shift in the government's view of laws restricting migrant workers rights.
It comes a week after civilian authorities took over responsibility for the running of migrant detention centres from the police under new rules drawn up in the spring.
China's booming factories and construction sites depend upon migrant workers.
At least 100 million workers have left the countryside to seek work in the cities since China's economic reforms began.
Migrants live with the constant fear of arrest and deportation to their home districts if they are caught without proper papers.
The government has issued new rules making it easier for migrants to apply for local residence permits
Beatings and extortion have been banned in migrant holding centres, and the authorities have been forbidden from holding detainees indefinitely.
As China shifts towards a market economy restrictions on workers' movement drawn up in the days of central planning make less sense.
Migrants "provide indispensable help in sectors such as construction, decoration, repair and public hygiene," Mr Bai acknowledged. "We need to adopt a fair attitude towards them."
But China's authorities want to maintain some controls.
They remain concerned about how to maintain social stability in a vast country with a huge wealth gap where millions of city dwellers are losing their jobs to the reform process.