Lord Digby Jones says EU migration policies are 'mad'

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Image caption Lord Digby Jones says basic English skills should be a condition for workers

Immigration for any politician is like walking on egg-shells.

They can thank Enoch Powell and his Rivers of Blood speech in Birmingham in 1968. Then the attack was on the levels of immigration from Commonwealth countries, especially from India and Pakistan.

Now the issue is back on the agenda, with the focus on the numbers of migrant workers coming to the UK from European Union countries.

The former trade minister Lord Digby Jones of Birmingham has entered the controversy. He's a businessman not a party politician, but his thoughts will certainly heat up the debate.

Basic English skills

Speaking in Leicester, he said it was "mad" to allow so many EU citizens to seek work in Britain when they couldn't speak basic English.

"I can't see why if I find a computer expert in Auckland, New Zealand or a video games expert from Vancouver, they cannot come to my country, build a career, bring their families and pay tax. They speak English. But what's now being said is 'No they can't'," he told business leaders.

"But if you come from Latvia or Slovenia, and you don't speak English and you've no intention of integrating, then it's 'Come on in, pal. You're in the European Union. You can do it.'... We must be mad," he added.

"We should be saying, there's nothing wrong with immigration to this nation. Regardless of the colour of your skin or regardless of your religion, you are welcome. But you will speak English and you will have a job and a skill," he said.

Immigration numbers

His comments to members of the Leicestershire Chamber of Commerce last night follow the Prime Minister's speech this week on immigration. David Cameron said net immigration needed to be cut down to "tens of thousands, not hundreds of thousands".

Lord Jones is a former Director General of the Confederation of British Industry and was appointed by Gordon Brown as a trade ambassador in the Department for Business in 2007.

He told business leaders in Leicester: "Do you know that more Indians died on D-Day than Frenchmen? Jamaicans, Canadians, Australians died in their thousands so we could be free. And now we say you're not welcome.

"But if you are from anywhere in the European Union, we just say 'come on in'. I say they are welcome but only if they speak English, want to integrate and work hard. Because that's what my nation stands for.

"We have a manufacturing industry that is doing brilliantly. Last year we sold more motor cars from this country than at any time in the history of this country. So we want and need the best of skilled workers from around the world."

Lord Jones is highly critical of the media, saying it is not interested in the positive news of business success. He might find some media interest in his latest comments.