British government divided over immigration

November 2nd, 2008 - 5:16 pm ICT by IANS  

Gordon BrownLondon, Nov 2 (IANS) A disagreement between Britain’s new immigration minister and its longest-serving Asian MP has opened up a divide in the ruling party over the number of skilled migrants who will be allowed to come into the country, a Sunday newspaper reported. Keith Vaz, the MP representing Leicester East, a constituency dubbed “Little India” for its large number of Indian-origin people, has described as “totally untrue” suggestions that the government wanted to place a cap on immigration.

Immigration Minister Phil Woolas suggested last month he wanted to place a cap on the number of migrants who will be allowed to come to Britain, saying he did not want to see Britain’s population increase from the current 61 million to 70 million.

However, putting a limit on immigration has never been Labour policy and Woolas’ comments also marked the first time a Labour minister had publicly linked immigration and population.

Woolas’s statement prompted Home Secretary Jacqui Smith - the senior minister - to ban him from a planned television appearance.

Vaz, on a visit to India to consult on a new Points Based System of immigration in his capacity as chairman of the British parliament’s home affairs committee, has been quoted saying: “There is a wrong perception that the new system will cap the number of migrants, but that’s totally untrue.”

Woolas hit back Saturday night saying: “The points based system is the biggest shake-up in immigration for 50 years and whilst we don’t support any specific figure it does allow you to control numbers.”

The Sunday Telegraph, a newspaper that supports the opposition Conservative Party, said Woolas had the support of Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Underlining the approach, which also links immigration with race relations and the unemployment, Woolas said: “Community cohesion is crucial. After the economy, this is probably the biggest concern facing the population.”

Damian Green, the shadow immigration minister, told the newspaper: “Keith Vaz has blown Phil Woolas’ cover.”

Vaz later clarified his comments, saying: “The government’s immigration policy appears to be in a bit of a mess. A cap of 70 million people as suggested by the immigration minister, but not supported by the Home Secretary, is not enforceable.

“The points based system is not about numbers but about skills.

“If there is a skill shortage then people will be allowed to enter. Those are the rules,” he added.

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