Parts of Britain desperately need workers from the former Iron Curtain countries about to join the European Union, David Blunkett said yesterday.
The Home Secretary was responding to calls from the Conservatives and right-wing newspapers for a ban on citizens of new EU member states coming to this country to work.
He said plans to stop so-called "benefit tourists" heading for Britain after 1 May, when the EU expands to include nations such as Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, would be announced within days. But he said there was no prospect of the UK following France, Germany and Italy and preventing people from "accession countries" working legally in Britain. "We need it, not just in London and the South-east but Scotland are crying out for labour. There are demographic and population reasons for this. The growth in our economy has been so much more substantial than other parts of Europe. That's a positive thing. That's a good thing.
"It's the way the United States built their prosperity over the last century and it's the way we must do it," he told BBC Radio 4's The World At One.
Mr Blunkett criticised the "day-by-day hiking-up of fears" that floods of immigrants, including impoverished Gypsies, will come to Britain later this year. But he added: "There's a real challenge to make sure we don't act as a beacon in relation to benefits and housing and social services, and the Work and Pensions Secretary, Andrew Smith, and myself will be dealing with that very shortly." He said: "That message will then go out to those countries, and people will know they will receive a warm welcome if they come here legally, genuinely, and are able to contribute."
The Home Secretary's intervention was designed to combat suggestions that there was confusion in the Cabinet over how to deal with the effects of EU expansion in May.
In the Commons last week, Tony Blair indicated that a work permit scheme for new arrivals from new EU countries was a possibility. But the Government has subsequently said that any such measure would be incompatible with the freedom of movement granted to all EU citizens. The Prime Minister's official spokesman said yesterday: "The Government remains committed to ensuring that the UK labour market is opened up to those who genuinely want to come here and work."
A spokesman from Migrationwatch, the pressure group demanding tight controls in immigration, said: "The issue is not whether Eastern Europeans should be allowed to work in Britain but whether they should be required to have work permits as is required everywhere else in the EU except Ireland. Failure to impose any controls is very unwise given the massive levels of immigration."
Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Cyprus and Malta become full members of the EU on 1 May.Reuse content