|Trevor Phillips: plea for sanity
Phillips comments come as Conservative leader Michael Howard launched his party's manifesto with a pledge to get tough with a quota on the number of immigrants allowed to enter Britain.
Phillips called for all politicians to be sensible about the issue of immigration in the run up to the general election.
The debate should be expressed in terms of clear policies, not vague, racially-charged comments.
Speaking today, Phillips said: “'I think the basic point here is that immigration is an important issue, but it doesn't have to be divisive.
“You don't have to racialise it. What I think is that we do need to have a proper discussion about how we manage immigration, but we don't have to turn it into a race-row.
“Actually, the truth is that most of the parties have the same position now. Everybody agrees we need immigration for our economic prosperity, but we need to manage it properly to sustain our social stability.
“It seems to me that as long as people stick to working out what will benefit Britain when it comes to immigration, rather than – as one or two of the anti-immigration pressure groups have suggested – that actually all immigration, all black people and so on are bad, then I think we're fine.”
The Conservative Party is campaigning hard on immigration, attacking the government for mismanagement. Critics have in turn attacked the Conservative Party, accusing it of electioneering and playing to prejudice.
|You don't have to racialise it. What we need is a proper discussion not a race-row.
Phillips added: “We know that we need continued immigration, but we know that it is not a simple straightforward matter of people turn up, they take a job, everybody's happy.
“We know that there are frictions that arise, and that of course is why the Commission for Racial Equality, and bodies like us, exist: to try to make sure that new immigrants are integrated.”
Yesterday Howard made a speech in the white working class town of Telford, Shropshire, promising to reduce levels of immigration and a points system to allow migrants into the country who could fill skills gaps.
Howard said: “It's long been regarded as a taboo subject and I am determined that it shouldn't be treated as such. Britain has benefited from immigration. We are a stronger, richer country because we are more diverse. But immigration today is out of control.”
“It's tripled since Mr Blair came to office. Asylum numbers were coming down when he came to office, they have gone up since.”
The head of the Immigration Advisory Service and former Conservative MP, Keith Best, warned that there was a danger of it descending into bar room politics.
He said: “In many respects immigration is already controlled. It is impractical to have quotas for things like spouses coming in. The last time that was tried was in 1968 with the Commonwealth Immigrants Act and some people were waiting for as long for six to exercise their voucher.
“Of course superficially the idea of quotas is very attractive because it gives the impression to the general public that everything is under control. However it all depends on the total number.
“This issue should not be taboo, if we look at all the opinion polls, it registers at something like fifth amongst people concerns. What I fear, though, is that those concerns are being inflamed by many of the comments of the press and the politicians.”
Labour's health secretary Dr John Reid tackled Howard accusing the Tories of exploiting the issue.
He said: “Anyone who pretends to protect our borders while at the same time removing billions of pounds from resources that are used to provide the people who protect our borders, is not out to resolve the immigration programme. They are out to exploit it.”