Julian Huppert MP writes: Lib Dem immigration policy paper is strong, balanced and compassionate

Public concern about immigration has been fuelled by the rise of UKIP, and further driven by the Tories desperately trying to show how tough they can be on foreigners, and Labour keen not to be left out of the ‘sounding tough’ rhetoric. I am always disappointed that just about the only thing Labour has apologised for is letting too many people into the country in their 13 years.

We must stand firm against the anti-foreigner tide, and the Immigration Policy Paper, which you can read here, does exactly that. Andrew Stunell has led the working group impressively to produce a strong, balanced and compassionate document on this difficult subject.

Now that doesn’t mean we should close our eyes to the problems there are – immigration does have effects on local communities, and we provide ideas to deal with that, rather than simply ignoring it. Similarly, there are people who exploit our immigration system, with its numerous failings, to come here illegally, and take from the state. We should not tolerate abuse. We should make sure the legal routes are clear and easy for those who should go through them, and that the illegal routes are closed off.

As Liberal Democrats we vocally recognise the benefits immigration brings to the UK but we also recognise that the public has become increasingly sceptical about immigration control and parliamentary oversight. We’ve addressed this head on in the policy paper. We must rebuild trust in our system and this can only be done if, as we suggest in the paper, we make UKBA (now the Home Office again) work competently by making sure staff are well trained, well paid and motivated and on the other hand putting power back in the hands of parliament.

And fundamentally the system can only work if we actually know who is coming in and out. We’ve been driving home the importance of comprehensive exit checks for years now and will continue to do so until it is done. Otherwise, policy rests on guesswork. Public confidence in the immigration system hinges on two things – knowing who is in and who is out, and making the correct decisions quickly, so that people know where they stand. If we let these two things continue to fail, we help the xenophobes in their scaremongering.

We as liberals know that migration overall benefits Britain. We should be positive about it, and say ‘yes’ to migrants who come here to bring their skills, money and culture, enriching our society. We should have more foreign students who already contribute approximately £13bn to our economy each year. Allowing Post-Study Work visas will encourage more of them to come here and benefit our economy. By simplifying and speeding up our visa scheme we make Britain more attractive to the right people who we want here.

We have a proud history of helping those most in need, who come here fleeing persecution. We should never allow voluntary migration and asylum to be conflated. Refugees and seekers of sanctuary should be treated humanely, kept from destitution, and should be allowed to work if we take a long time to determine their claims – indeed, they should be expected to in the same way any Briton is expected to.

We would end indefinite detention; an expensive and inhumane system. We have already ended child detention for immigration purposes – the last government locked up 7,000 children in 5 years, for up to 190 days – and we have just persuaded the Home Secretary to write that into law. It should be easier for families to be reunited – the current proposals tear too many families apart.

Integration is important, and communities need help to cope with population changes. If migration is going to work for Britain it must work for British people too. That is why we would double the number of minimum wage checks, to stop wages being undercut, and set up a £1bn Community Protection Fund to relieve pressure on local housing, schools and healthcare created by rapid migrant flows. And we should help people to learn English, so they can engage with our society and be included.

The paper has a strong liberal thread running right through it. Its proposals are sensible, well thought out and will be effective when implemented. It is a paper that marries liberal aspirations and the reality we find on the ground and we should all be proud of that.

 

* Julian Huppert is Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge.

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14 Comments

  • LibDem policy on border controls should be based around joining Schengen. Immediately.

  • Whilst I’ve not read the policy paper in full and reflected on it, my first impressing having skimmed through it is that much thought and deliberation has gone into it. It is now in my reading list.

    Aside: It would be nice if these larger papers could also be released in ePub format. whilst PDF is good and means that everyone effectively gets exactly the same document, the ePub format permits eReaders to better display the text and navigate the document.

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Feb '14 - 3:22pm

    This sounds good. I often think these islands belong to the earth and we shouldn’t just say no to others out of pure selfishness. However, I think coming to claim benefits is a problem and I agree people should have to learn English too. There is also a problem with those coming to blow us up, which we can’t ignore.

  • jedibeeftrix 20th Feb '14 - 6:08pm

    I have to disagree with Chris, speaking in reference to a political party that hopes to get elected.

  • @jedibeeftrix The LibDems can be the one true party of IN, or they can join Labour and Conservatives with ‘are you thinking what I’m thinking’ type insinuated anti-European campaigning in a bid to tap into the massive groundswell of opinion that’s swept a wave of zero UKIP MPs into power. Nick Clegg’s made the right choice.

    Anti-Europeanism never wins in Britain. Ask Michael Foot, or Hague or Howard (if either of them were disposed to tell the obvious truth).

  • @Chris – I’m not sure what point you were trying to make in response to jedibeeftrix, but I agree with jedibeeftrix – the LibDems need to be credible if it wishes to be re-elected. I suggest the first priority is to have a functional immigration policy that people trust – from what I’ve read the policy paper presented here largely satisfies that requirement. I suggest in the current climate joining Schengen could be interpreted as an “opening of the floodgates” and result in much derision from certain sectors. From what I’ve read the policy paper is neutral over Schengen, so it is something that can be reviewed at some future date.

  • ” I suggest in the current climate joining Schengen could be interpreted as an “opening of the floodgates” and result in much derision from certain sectors. ”

    The editor of the daily mail won’t like it so don’t do it?

  • @Chris
    >The editor of the daily mail won’t like it so don’t do it?

    The question is do the LibDems want the option to be a party of government in 2015?
    I and jedibeeftrix suggest this is probably more important than laying all the cards on the table and then having the entire policy and party ridiculed over a single relatively minor point. Hence by using discretion you can avoid creating your own negative press and encourage the debate to be more level headed and allow the more substantive message to be conveyed.

  • Stuart Mitchell 21st Feb '14 - 7:11pm

    “Public concern about immigration has been fuelled by the rise of UKIP, and further driven by the Tories desperately trying to show how tough they can be on foreigners, and Labour keen not to be left out of the ‘sounding tough’ rhetoric.”

    This is just the usual Lib Dem sanctimony.

    The most outrageous anti-foreigner nonsense I heard during the last election was the suggestion that immigrants should be prohibited from entering the South East because, among other reasons, there wasn’t enough water there to go around.

    Which party leader was saying this? Nick Clegg.

  • I cherish my right to cross European borders, but there is little advantage in joining Schengen which is largely about crossing land borders. We have our own equivalent of the Schengen agreement with Ireland (and potentially Scotland), and I don’t detect any desire from either of them to abandon border controls.

  • As long as I can remember there have been anti-foreigner comments and from what I have read there must have been for hundreds of years. I remember one simple-minded individual in the 1970s saying that the cure for unemployment was to throw out all the “foreigners” in Britain.Ignoring the fact that many Britains work overseas.
    If this country is really ” full” then there would be no room for all the English people in South Africa who are steadily returning to England.

  • Alexander Matthews 23rd Feb '14 - 8:45pm

    Whilst not revolutionary, on the whole, this appears to be a carefully considered and electable immigration policy, so long as we portray it correctly.

    @Chris, I, too, would love to see us enter the Schengen agreement, but in the political climate, it is just not possible yet.

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