As members of the body setting up a review of Liberal Democrat policy on immigration and identity under Andrew Stunell MP, or members of the review itself, we feel the need to put a few facts in the public domain following Nick Clegg’s speech on Friday.
It would have been helpful had we been made aware of the contents in advance. It would have been very helpful if members of the Policy Working Group had been sent an embargoed copy of the speech the night before.
There was much in the speech that reiterated Liberal values on immigration; indeed much of it was positively un-newsworthy. Of course, those weren’t the passages that were reported.
The policy of an earned amnesty to speed up the regularisation of the immigration status of those here illegally who have abided by the law, and want to contribute to our society by paying taxes and taking part in the democratic process – a policy championed by Nick himself – remains Liberal Democrat policy until our Conference decides otherwise. Unlike the other two parties, we do not believe in top-down policymaking by diktat.
The reason for that policy – the serious issues of whether UKBA is competent to manage this process, with which every MP is familiar from casework – were not touched on in the speech; an unfortunate oversight of the one issue without which public fears about immigration and the application of the rules simply cannot be tackled.
By contrast, the suggestion – it has no more formal status – of Liberal Democrat policy being changed to feature the requirement of a bond payment for visa applications from certain countries is unproven, and will need further development before our party supports it. Have the implications and practicalities of “going on an English Language course” for those needing translation been thought about, and is the terminology even right? The biggest need is for an interpreter not translator anyway. However the public will now think that this is our policy, and it would have been so much more helpful if the suggestion could have been put to the working group in advance.
The debate on immigration in this country has been unhealthy for too long. That the sudden surge of interest by party leaders appears to have been triggered by short-term expediency is a symptom of that.
For what it’s worth, we will play our part to encourage a more constructive and helpful policy debate. However, we need the time and space, as planned by the Federal Policy Committee last year to do this.
Suzanne Fletcher, Member, Working Group on Immigration and Identity
Louise Bloom (FPC)
Gareth Epps (FPC)
Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera, Liberal Democrat English Party Diversity Champion
Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrat (EMLD) – Vice Chair, Member, Working Group on Immigration and Identity
Prateek Buch (FPC)
Lucy Care (FPC)
Will Dyer, Liberal Youth
* Suzanne Fletcher was a councillor for nearly 30 years and a voluntary advice worker with the CAB for 40 years. Now retired, she is active as a campaigner in the community both as a Lib Dem and with local organisations. She is Liberal Democrat Seekers of Sanctuary's parliamentary and external relations officer.