Page last updated at 14:49 GMT, Monday, 2 November 2009

Johnson admits migration mistakes

Immigration officer
The immigration system was tightened up last year

Home Secretary Alan Johnson has admitted that the government has made mistakes in handling immigration.

Labour and Conservative administrations had been "maladroit" in dealing with the issue, he said in a speech.

Mr Johnson said parts of the UK had been "disproportionately" affected by immigration, with some areas seeing a "strain" on jobs and public services.

But the UK was now "more successful" at tackling migration than most countries in Europe and North America, he added.

'Ignored too long'

The Home Office said last week that up to 40,000 immigrants who should have left more than six years ago could still be in Britain.

The government introduced a points-based system last year to control the entry of non-EU citizens to the UK.

I want to talk about immigration today, tomorrow, next week and on any occasion I can
Alan Johnson
Home secretary

But the government has been repeatedly criticised by opponents, who say it has failed to stem the increase in immigration since 1997.

Mr Johnson 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."

Learn language

Mr Johnson rejected "fashionable" criticisms that mainstream politicians "shied away" from talking about immigration.

He said: "I want to talk about immigration today, tomorrow, next week and on any occasion I can."

The "moderate majority" had not had their views heard on the issue, he said.

At the same time as accepting genuine refugees, they wanted Britain to return home illegal immigrants, failed asylum seekers and foreign national prisoners.

Mr Johnson said there was "no sensible argument" for immigration to cease altogether.

But people who come to live in the UK should learn the language, obey the laws and pay tax, he added.

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