Population boom is a 'spectre', says Alan Johnson
Richard Ford, Home Correspondent
From Times Online
December 9, 2009
Mr Johnson said that earlier projections by the ONS had been inaccurate
Britain is being terrorised by official projections that the population will reach 70 million within two decades, the Home Secretary said today.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest that the population of the UK will increase by almost 9 million by 2028.
Alan Johnson dismissed this figure as a spectre and pointed to earlier projections by the ONS that overestimated future population increases.
Mr Johnson said that even if the population did reach 70 million, the countrys public services and infrastructure would cope.
Although Mr Johnson was careful to avoid criticising the ONS, in private Home Office ministers are angry at the increasing high profile taken by the organisation in promoting its statistics.
The Home Office and ONS were involved in a row earlier this year after Phil Woolas, the Immigration Minister, accused it of a sinister release of immigration figures.
He said the ONS was playing politics over the way it released some information.
Today Mr Johnson said that a debate about immigration based on the 70 million projection was not sensible.
He said: I dont know if it is where the sensible debate is because these are predictions. The prediction was we would be at 76 million population by 2001.
When I was a kid in the Sixties all the stories were around that there would be a population explosion [and] that you wouldnt be able to move in London by 1980.
I dont know whether that is the sensible debate of people just being terrorised by some spectre.
But the ONS make it very clear they dont make predictions, they make projections. I dont think thats going to happen [the population reaching 70 million].
Mr Johnson said the offical population projection was a worst case scenario and its hypothetical.
He added: I think we will always cope whatever the population is. We are a civilised society.
A spokesman for the ONS said today: We stand by the projection we produced in August.”
The Home Secretary was speaking before a debate tonight with Chris Grayling, the Shadow Home Secretary, and Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman.
Mr Grayling said : “I think Alan Johnson is showing breathtaking complacency and a complete lack of understanding of the pressures that uncontrolled immigration under this Government is putting on our country.
“Schools, the NHS and housing all face immense pressures, but the Home Secretary just seems to think it's okay to carry on as he has been. He is completely out of touch.”
Chris Huhne, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: Labour and the Tories seem more interested in what the population will be in 30 years' time than in re-establishing control of our borders and a firm but fair immigration system.
We need to halt illegal immigration and ensure migrants move to where they are needed.
Mr Johnson accepted there may be some truth in the claim that ministers had avoided talking about immigration in the past.
He also admitted Labour had been slow to deal with backlogs in the system when it came to power in 1997.
Earlier this year officials admitted they had discovered 40,000 case files some dating back to the 1983 when William Whitelaw was Home Secretary which contained no record of whether the individual had left the country.
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of the MigrationWatch think-tank, said: It is appalling that the Home Secretary should attack professional statisticians in this way.
Their projections have in fact been correct at the 20-year range to within 2.5 per cent for the last 50 years.
He added: The reality is the Government has lost control of immigration. This is having a huge impact on our population, but they remain in denial.
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