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Page last updated at 13:49 GMT, Sunday, 19 October 2008 14:49 UK

Woolas rows back on immigration?

Phil Woolas, the Immigration Minister, appeared to row back on previous comments about capping total immigrant numbers.

He said: "Frankly, there's a lot of nonsense talked about the cap? it's very difficult, even if you're in favour of a cap, what it should be, but what we can do - and your report identified there - is look at the period of time."

He suggested that the points-based immigration system, which will come into operation in November 2008, would cut total levels of immigration so there would be no need for an overall cap.

He denied that his earlier comments, in an interview with The Times newspaper on 19 October, were prompted by electoral concerns, and he said he had a lifetime commitment to helping immigrants.

He went on to say: "I believe that we are cruel in many ways to the immigrants who come to our country - I believe we discriminate against them? I think we need to be tougher on migration but perhaps kinder on the way in which we help people to get involved in society once they're here."

Repossessions

Mr Woolas also commented on government plans to help homeowners avoid repossessions.

He said: "For some lenders? repossessing the house seems to be the first option rather than the last, and of course it's the most terrible experience for families, and that's why we want to make sure that all the powers are there in the system.

"We don't need legislation, but we're looking at how we can ensure that repossession is the last option rather than the first, and I think that will be welcomed."

He said the government was looking at measures including "extending mortgage repayment times, there are in some cases there are schemes where you can suspend payments, there are many ways that the courts can look at to ensure that repossession is not the first option. And that's what we'll be doing".

But he went on to deny that political involvement would extend to control of the banks: "Don't worry, the politicians won't be controlling the banks, Jon, don't worry about that."

Nigel Farage

Also on the Politics Show, Nigel Farage, the UKIP Leader, welcomed the points-based immigration system, but said its impact would be limited while the UK remained a member of the EU and could not cap migrant numbers from other EU members.

He said: "The difficulty is, it's all unenforceable. There isn't much point really in trying to control numbers that come in to the country from outside the EU whilst at the same time you're saying to hundreds of millions of people, as many of you as want can come in to Britain.

"So, he can't cap the numbers of people coming in to this country all the while we're part of an EU."

No time for novice

Mr. Farage, who will be on the European Parliament committee quizzing new British Commissioner Baroness Ashton on 20 October, said he did not think she should be the EU Trade Commissioner.

"Well, here we are, we've been through this massive credit crunch. We've got a contraction in global trade and the real, genuine threat of protectionism coming back, Baroness Ashton, whatever she's done in her life, she's never worked in the private sector. She's no experience of trading business and at this crucial time, given that the job is the most important trade job in the world, now this not the time for a novice."

He thought she should be given another role on the Commission.

"Well, I've put a resolution down to say that I'm not saying she shouldn't be a commissioner at all, I mean given the fact that she managed to get the Lisbon Treaty through the House of Lords without a referendum, she's obviously got some political skills. But she should not be the Trade Commissioner, this needs to be a big hitter."

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