The Daily Mail was guilty of publishing "absurd" and "entirely untrue" stories about Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants, a member of the government has said.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire, a Lib Dem whip who speaks for the coalition in the Lords, was told by peers on Monday that ministers should be careful not to use inflammatory language when discussing ethnic minority groups.

However he said the question would be better directed at "the editor of the Daily Mail more than any minister in the current government", given that newspaper's coverage of the immigration debate.

"There was quite absurd language and indeed some entirely untrue stories about extra planes and buses and so on which appeared in December," he said. "That is very unfortunate in an open, free and democratic society."

Towards the end of 2013, much of the debate around immigration focused on the fact Romanian and Bulgarian citizens would have the same right to live and work in Britain as all other EU citizens from January 1 2014.

On New Year's Eve, the Daily Mail published a story reporting that one air line had "doubled the number" of flights from Romania to the UK.

Writing for The Huffington Post UK on Sunday, the Romanian ambassador to London, Dr Ion Jinga, said the 2013 debate about immigration had been "a misguided and misleading".

"The media shapes public opinion and, as we can see, it is a clear gap between predictions, perception and reality when speaking about the immigration of Romanians to the UK," he said.

"I cannot tell how many of my compatriots came to Britain last January, as British statistics will be available only next May. But it looks like Romanians are not in a hurry to come."

Labour equalities spokeswoman Baroness Thornton told the Lords today that ministers should "not to pander to the racists by echoing their messages for short term gain".

She said all mainstream democratic parties should ensure "racists and extremists are pushed back into the political margin where they belong" and that the government should make sure this was "reflected in the language its ministers and its MPs use".