Vince Cable has spoken up for the economic benefits of immigration in the Queen’s Speech debate, challenging the half truth and hyperbole in the illiberal rhetoric that’s doing the rounds at the moment. He reserved much of his ire for the Labour party:
I was hesitant about raising the subject because it is essentially covered by the Home Office, but substantial economic issues are also involved and it is important to refer to them. I was provoked into feeling that we should debate the issue in this context because a couple of days ago I was on the radio on the “Jeremy Vine” programme. I was following a female voice that was ranting on about millions of illegal immigrants and the negligence of the Government in letting them all in and not deporting enough people. I thought at the time that it was some fringe party that regarded Mr Nigel Farage as a sort of soggy, left-wing liberal, but I then realised it was the Labour shadow Home Secretary, and I tried to understand where she was coming from. It says quite a lot about the Labour party’s current values that it feels it necessary to apologise for letting in foreigners, but is still reluctant to apologise for wrecking the economy.
He then described how he had calmly debated the issue of immigration with a constituent who had expressed concerns:
I vividly recall a conversation I had with a constituent, shortly before the last general election. She was taking me to task for what she said were millions of illegal immigrants in the country and, rather recklessly perhaps, I decided to debate the subject with her. I asked, “How do you know?”, and she said, “Well, I see them in the high street the whole time.” I said, “Okay, but how do you know they are illegal?” She looked at me and said, “Mr Cable, why are you being so difficult? You know exactly what I mean”, and pointed up the road to the Hounslow mosque. Unfortunately, beneath a lot of the arguments about numbers, that is the prejudice we are trying to confront. We must, I think, make the case—I certainly intend to make it—for managed immigration that has a positive impact on the country, while at the same time providing the necessary level of reassurance.
He then had a bit of a go about the “logical absurdity” of setting policy in terms of net migration:
In order to clear the decks for an honest discussion of this problem, we must confront the reality that some of the facts, or factoids, used in this context are deeply unhelpful. All parties and commentators use the concept of net immigration as a way of measuring what is happening on that front, but at the heart of that concept lies a logical absurdity. One reason net immigration rises is because fewer British people emigrate—one would have thought it rather a good thing that people feel comfortable living in this country and want to stay here. Net immigration declines if more British people emigrate, which one would have thought is rather a bad thing. We often operate, therefore, with a concept that gives us misleading and unhelpful conclusions.
While I expressed concern the other day about the immigration proposals in the Queen’s Speech, I am reassured that our lot are saying the right things, both in private and in public and it’s not just the usual suspects, either. Ed Davey took Nigel Farage’s immigration rhetoric apart in a little watched conversation on the BBC News Channel, telling him that if we put up our drawbridges, there would be retaliation from the rest of the EU. He pointed out that most EU citizens were in fact working here and paying taxes.
I heard excerpts of Vince’s speech on last night’s Today in Parliament which is well worth a listen, not least because it also has our Lords Chief Whip Dick Newby talking about his costume for State Opening of Parliament. You can read the rest of Vince’s speech, which includes details on comsumer protection, intellectual property and reducing NI costs for businesses, in Hansard here.
* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings