Page last updated at 22:04 GMT, Thursday, 23 October 2008 23:04 UK

I haven't gagged Woolas - Smith

Phil Woolas
Phil Woolas has made a controversial start to his new job

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has denied "gagging" new immigration minister Phil Woolas after her department pulled him from BBC One's Question Time.

It follows a series of controversial remarks since he took up the job.

The Home Office offered work minister Tony McNulty instead. But Question Time editors, who decide panel members, invited Lord Hattersley to appear.

Lord Hattersley hit out at Mr Woolas, saying the idea of a population cap was "not Labour policy and nor will it be".

Mr Woolas hit the headlines when he appeared to call for a 70 million limit on Britain's population, in an interview in Saturday's Times.

On Sunday he rowed back on these comments during a BBC Politics Show interview but then found himself in further hot water on Monday when he appeared to attack the government's managed migration policy.

In a debate in central London, he said the failure to fund asylum removals properly had caused "untold human misery and division" and said Britain could learn from the more hard line Dutch approach to immigration.

He later issued a "clarification", stressing that he had been referring to the policies of all previous governments not just the current Labour administration.

'Contradiction'

Issues discussed during Question Time are decided by the audience - it is likely that Mr Woolas would have faced questions about his recent immigration comments, and his prediction of the eventual disestablishment of the Church of England.

Other panellists on Question Time attacked Mr Woolas for his recent comments while criticising Labour for withdrawing him from the show in Peterborough.

Baroness Warsi, Tory spokesman for community cohesion, said it was a "real shame" Mr Woolas was not able to "defend" his comments and questioned how the public could trust him if he could not be trusted to appear on the programme.

SNP leader Alex Salmond said some of Mr Woolas' comments about immigration were "deeply cynical and deserved to be deplored".

For the Lib Dems, Jo Swinson said the government did not want the immigration minister on the programme "because he had actually the guts to say the system was not working".

Mr Woolas was pitched into fresh controversy on Wednesday when The Times released unpublished quotes from his weekend interview, in which he predicted the eventual disestablishment of the Church of England.

He argued that the government's Lords reform programme will eventually lead to the historic links between Church and state being cut.

The government distanced itself from the minister's comments and the Church of England emphasised its continued commitment to its role at the heart of the British constitution, with the Queen as its head.


SEE ALSO
Woolas in Church of England row
22 Oct 08 |  UK Politics
Minister attacks migration policy
21 Oct 08 |  UK Politics
Woolas rows back on immigration?
19 Oct 08 |  Politics Show

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