Lord Ahmed of Rotherham, a leading Muslim peer, has urged the Government to keep a tight rein on immigration and warned the issue is damaging race relations. Lord Ahmed, who was Britain’s first Muslim member of the House of Lords, accused ministers of aiding the rise of Far Right extremists by neglecting the white working class. He said that many people believed immigration was damaging their chances of getting a job or accessing public services.

The outspoken peer, formerly a Labour member, said: “I honestly think that we have got to see what increased migration does to our economy, our resources, our race relations in this country. “People say Europe needs 50 million immigrants in the next 30 or 40 years. Of course there are all these arguments, but this perception that foreigners are coming in and taking all the jobs creates difficulty in communities and has a detrimental impact on community relations in this country. “As a result you have people looking towards the BNP and other right wing fascist groups.”

Lord Ahmed, who was born in Pakistan, is a member of the Cross-Party Group on Balanced Migration, which also features Lord Carey and Frank Field, and which has called for the UK population to be capped at 70 million.

The peer said: “It is better for learned people to be driving this debate, which is needed for our country, rather than those who are racist and fascist. It is important that we discuss this. “There is this perception that people are coming in from Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia as well as Eastern Europe. There is the perception that they are taking all the resources and that British white working class people are not getting them. That perception is bad. More needs to be done to make sure that the white working class are not in the position and the condition that they are.”

He accused the Government of neglecting education and training in white working class areas of Britain. “I think it is very clear that the white working class communities, particularly in the north, have not economically benefited over the years because the gap between the rich and the poor has increased, so the opportunities have diminished, and because of the lack of achievement and education they have not been able to get the jobs that are available to more qualified people from abroad who are fitter and more educated.

“The government should have done more to provide incentives for white working class citizens to engage in these employments. “Most of the white working class people in these areas are not equipped, they are not trained, they are not empowered.”

Lord Ahmed said he did not agree with Lord Carey’s view that immigrants should be predominantly Christian. But he did want to see controls put on immigration. “I honestly think that to maintain our country in good economic and political and social health, to make sure that there are not problems in terms of unemployment and also to make sure that there is no race relations problem, that you need to have control [of immigration]. “I want to make sure that we have a balanced migration policy which is looking at the need of Britain and why we need migrants coming in.”