During a visit yesterday to Burnley, the Lancashire town hit by vicious race riots less than three years ago, the Conservative leader condemned the right wing British National Party as 'a stain on our democratic way of life'.
Insisting that it has been a mistake for mainstream politicians not to visit Burnley - where the BNP have seized seven local council seats - Mr Howard said: 'There is a specific reason why I have come to Burnley. I want to address directly what I see as a stain on our democratic way of life: the British National Party.'
In a powerful address, he went on: 'There are those who say that it is better to ignore their presence on the political stage - that talking about the BNP gives extremists the oxygen of publicity. I do not agree. It is important for politicians from mainstream parties to face up to extremists in any form, to tell people why we disagree with them and why they should be defeated.'
Warning that the policies of the BNP are based on bigotry and hatred, in an approach which is 'entirely alien' to Britain's political traditions, Mr Howard declared: 'The BNP preaches a message of racism, intolerance and brutality that flies in the face of this country's history and heritage.
'For centuries, Britain has welcomed energetic, ambitious and optimistic people from every part of the world. My father was one of them. We are a stronger and better country, rich in our cultural diversity, because of the immigrant communitie s that have settled here. People of all races and religions are to be found in every walk of life, doing as well as their individual talents and efforts deserve. Many of them came to Britain and had to start again from scratch. But hard work, ingenuity and determination have propelled them forward. They are a credit to our community.
'Britain has an enviable record of racial integration. Over decades and centuries, this country has successfully absorbed many immigrant communities. They have held on to their traditions and culture while at the same time embracing Britain's and playing their full role in our national life.'
He said: 'This country now boasts hugely successful black British and Asian British entrepreneurs, black cabinet ministers and senior black and Asian police officers. Our national health service depends in part on the talents of immigrants - many of the East African Asians who came here in the 1970s were GPs who have made a real contribution over the last thirty years, as have the many nurses from ethnic minority backgrounds.'
Mr Howard has also committed the Conservatives to a tougher stand on immigration and asylum, promising stronger curbs on migration from the former Soviet bloc states due to join the European Community in May.
Signalling his support for rules which would ensure that immigrants from eastern Europe have to obtain work permits and jobs to go to, he said: 'The Conservative Party has always supported the enlargement of the EU to take in the former communist countries, and we continue to do so. If the EU stands for anything, it is healing the divide that has scarred our continent since the Second World War. But almost every other country in the EU has quite rightly taken the precaution of putting in place transitional arrangements to deal with immigration.'
He added, 'It is still not to late for the British government to put in transitional arrangements as well. If we were in government we would do so.'
Read the full speech here.