The Home Secretary admitted yesterday that the Government had made mistakes in its handling of immigration and had overreacted to the 7/7 bombings in London.

In his first speech on the subject, Alan Johnson said that ministers had ignored immigration problems and the growing pressure on jobs and services in parts of Britain. Some communities had legitimate concerns because they had been particularly affected.

Mr Johnson did not directly address the rise of the British National Party, but his comments came 12 days after its leader Nick Griffin made his landmark appearance on Question Time thanks to the party’s success in the European elections. Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, struggled to defend the Government’s record on immigration during the television debate.

Mr Johnson is the first Labour Home Secretary to admit mistakes on immigration. He said his predecessors had not addressed problems that led to huge backlogs of asylum seekers and foreign national prisoners. It emerged in 2006 that there were up to 450,000 “legacy cases” that officials are now working through.

In his speech to the Royal Society for the Arts, Mr Johnson said: “There are communities which have been disproportionately affected by immigration, where people have legitimate concerns about the strain that the growth in the local population has placed on jobs and services.”

Labour had been “maladroit” in its handling of the issue, but he said ending immigration altogether was “no sensible argument”. The Home Secretary also conceded that some counter-terror proposals made after the 7/7 attacks had gone too far. “That probably was an understandable feeling: that we should be more draconian. But perhaps that wasn’t the right way to go,” he said.

Chris Grayling, the Shadow Home Secretary, said: “Three months ago the Home Secretary said he isn’t losing sleep over immigration. Now he’s admitting that it’s putting massive pressure on many communities . . . What we need is a tightly controlled system with much lower levels of immigration and an annual cap on the number of people who come to live and work here.”