Page last updated at 09:03 GMT, Tuesday, 21 October 2008 10:03 UK

Minister attacks migration policy

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Mr Woolas says Britain is 'screwed-up' about the idea of a population cap

Immigration minister Phil Woolas has launched a scathing attack on the government's immigration policy.

He said Britain was "screwed up" about migration limits and its asylum policy had caused "untold human misery".

He also praised Holland's tough approach to immigration, such as banning new migrants' spouses, saying Britain was 10 years behind.

Mr Woolas later clarified his remarks, saying they applied equally to Conservative governments.

The minister has rarely been out of the headlines since taking over as immigration minister earlier this month as he attempts to strike a tougher note on immigration in the light of the economic downturn.

But his comments in a debate with the Dutch Justice Secretary on Monday represent his most sustained criticism of Labour's policy of "managed migration" to date.

'Screwed-up'

He said Labour's failure to fund asylum removals properly had caused "untold human misery and division".

He also condemned the use of translation services instead of encouraging migrants to learn English.

The public will be sceptical that the government which spent eleven years building up this problem, is the right one to solve it
Dominic Grieve
Shadow home secretary

"Our failure to resource the asylum processes has caused untold human misery and division within our communities," he told the debate in central London.

"My attitude to this issue is I am going to clear the backlog because it is the right thing to do morally for asylum seekers and the right thing to do for the country as a whole."

Mr Woolas, who hit the headlines on Saturday after appearing to suggest that Britain's population should be limited to 70 million, said the country was "completely screwed up" about the idea of a cap on population numbers.

He said: "We are, in this country, completely screwed up because we are asked the question about the cap without understanding what the question means."

In an interview with The Times on Saturday he backed the idea of a "balance" between the numbers coming in and those going out.

'Trailblazing'

He later suggested people had been "confused" by his statement and denied he had promised a 70 million population cap in Britain.

On Monday, he said he wanted to help immigrants to "help themselves become part of our society" and "earn" citizenship in Britain by integrating and learning English.

He also praised the Dutch immigration model as "trailblazing," saying it could be a "wake up call" to Britain, and claimed many Dutch policies were being brought in here.

But he also backed multiculturalism, which has been blamed for fuelling segregation of communities and discouraging integration.

"Our starting point is that multiculturalism is a good thing," he said.

Clarifying his criticisms of government policy later, he said they applied to Conservative government as well.

He said the Home Office was currently "very much fit for purpose" but added: "I do accept that the government didn't provide the framework of policy (for asylum removals) that anticipated the problems well enough."

He said that until governments got a grip on managing immigration, it was impossible to help new arrivals integrate in society.

"Just like in the Netherlands...people didn't believe the authorities knew what they were doing and there's a very good reason for that - they didn't."

"If you cannot have border controls that you can count people in and count people out the country...if you can't have that proper system, and carry the confidence of the public with you, you cannot help the immigrant to integrate in to society."

Shadow Home Secretary, Dominic Grieve, said the Conservatives welcomed Mr Woolas' "admission" on migration.

But he added: "The public will be sceptical that the government which spent eleven years building up this problem, is the right one to solve it.

"So far all we have had in the last few days is an exercise in kite flying - resulting in the minister tying himself up in knots. The public will judge the government on its actions over 11 years, not its 24 hour spin operation."


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