04 March 2009

UK Immigration Minister accuses ONS of 'playing politics'

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The UK Immigration Minister Phil Woolas has run into trouble this week over comments he made about the Office of National Statistics (ONS), reports the Daily Mail.

Mr Woolas is feeling the backlash after making comments that the ONS was "playing politics" by releasing data about immigration numbers after he urged them to refrain from doing so.

The statistics revealed that one in nine people living in the UK were born overseas, and were released in the midst of the Government's debate about retaining 'British jobs for British workers'.  The statistics also revealed that the number of foreign workers increased by 175,000 to 2.4million in 2008 while the number of British dropped by 234,000 to 27million.

Meanwhile, Mr Woolas is currently leading a campaign to reduce the number of foreigners on UK visas during the recession so that the thousands of unemployed British have greater access to vacant positions.  His apparent attempts at trying to stop the ONS from releasing the data failed, and he then accused the ONS of unnecessarily involving itself in a political game.

According to the newspaper, last night Mr Woolas said: "The ONS need to be aware that they are entering shark-infested waters.  It's not the role of the ONS to dictate the debate."

MPs have lashed out at the Minister, saying he is threatening the independence of an institution charged with providing British people with the facts. 

'It's disgraceful, undermining the ONS.  You can't have ministers attacking its independence.  He should withdraw the comments or be sacked," said Senior Tory Michael Fallon, a former chairman of the Commons statistics panel.

Mr Woolas said the problem lay in the fact that the public think the Government is responsible for releasing data that he feels produces "anti-foreign sentiment".

The ONS have not responded to Mr Woolas' letter.

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