Now this is how to write a motion on immigration issues

From the last paragraph of the Preamble to our Constitution:

Our responsibility for justice and liberty cannot be confined by national boundaries; we are committed to fight poverty, oppression, hunger, ignorance, disease and aggression wherever they occur and to promote the free movement of ideas, people, goods and services. Setting aside national sovereignty when necessary, we will work with other countries towards an equitable and peaceful international order and a durable system of common security.

That’s a brilliant, positive statement of who we are and what we are against. It’s a very clear statement in favour of free movement of people.

Now have a look at the second paragraph of our new policy paper on immigration to be debated in Brighton:

However, migration today is not the peaceful, equitable, ordered guarantor of durable security that our constitution envisages. Fuelled by the failure of governments to spread economic prosperity widely, some people feel that their concerns about employment, housing, and social and welfare resources are somehow linked to immigration. There has been an alarming rise in hostility to all immigrants, including some British people settled here for a generation or more.

Some people also believe that the earth is flat. We don’t supply them with ropes in case they fall off the edge. We prove to them that they are wrong. The way to stop hostility to immigrants is to challenge the poisonous drip-feeding from the right wing tabloid press and right wing politicians, to to pander to it, don’t you think?

The statement in just the second paragraph sets an unfortunate tone which legitimises prejudice which is not borne out by evidence. I thought we were about evidence-based policy. Everything we know about immigration suggests that it is beneficial to our nation. We are already finding out what happens when we chase immigrants away – a huge strain on our NHS because one in ten nursing posts are unfilled.

Conference will also debate a motion which seeks to provide justice for the Windrush Generation whose stories came to light earlier this year. This motion has taken the opposite approach to the half-hearted timidity of the Migration paper. Its authors go for it. The motion is full of the sort of indignation we should feel on behalf of the people who have been wronged and contains excellent suggestions for remedy.

Conference deplores:

1 The official ‘hostile environment’ immigration policy of the Conservative Government applied to the Windrush generation, embedding institutional racism at the Home Office, which has resulted in mass breaches by the UK Government of the British Nationality Act 1948 and the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962 and which has led to the deportation of retirement-age citizens with rights to live in the UK under the Immigration Act 1971.

2 The government’s pursuit of exemptions for the Home Office from transparency legislation such as GDPR (EU) 2016/679 and the UK Freedom of Information Act 2000, in order to conceal the extent of harm resultant from the ‘hostile environment’ policy. The policy of forcing the NHS, private landlords and the DVLA to act as quasi immigration police, resultant from the Home Office’s inability to manage immigration effectively.

3 The consequent application of aggregate immigration and deportation targets – with staff bonuses for deportations – which, encourage Home Office officials and contractors to make decisions contrary to domestic and international law, breaching UK regulations and published official guidance; even in cases where it was known that claims to reside were valid.

Conference notes:

1 The failure of the Home Office to establish and implement a rules-based legal, fair and just immigration system; leading to a targets-driven approach and tabloid-focused gimmicks like ‘go home vans’.

2 The negative effects of the government’s ‘hostile environment’ immigration policies on the economy and public services, increasing the shortage of technical skills in industry and the shortage of skills in the NHS.

Conference believes that:

1 The programme of mass deportation of the Windrush generation, and the destruction of relevant data to facilitate the programme, arose because the individuals, well established in British society, were the more easily located and victimised by administrators and contractors.

2 The blame for the recent shameful Home Office approach to the Windrush generation lies in the policy established by the Home Secretary in office from 12th May 2010 to July 13th 2016.

Conference calls for:

1 A public enquiry into immigration policy and practice of the UK government 1997–2018 with powers to compel the Home Office, Cabinet Office and other UK institutions to reveal all relevant information leading to the repeal of the offending legislation. Righting wrongs perpetrated by the Home Office in each individual case, including the full restoration of rights to indefinite leave to remain, access to housing, healthcare, welfare, and employment, plus the return of those wrongly deported, and a new task force to apply justice, with access to legal aid for victims where needed; to include the release of such individuals currently wrongly detained and wrongly facing deportation.

2 The establishment of a system of compensation for all the victims of the Home Office’s unjust policies in line with recommendations of Ministry of Justice appointee Martin Forde QC.

Our immigration policy would be enhanced by the people who put this motion together.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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24 Comments

  • I felt sick when I read that paragraph that conference is being asked to endorse – that:
    “migration today is not the peaceful, equitable, ordered guarantor of durable security that our constitution envisages”.

    The immigration motion and paper is launching an attack on our ideals and principles as liberals. It is doing this because our discourse as a society has been infected by the Griffins, Farages, and Trumps of this world.

    If the architects of the immigration motion had their way, we will be disowning our own constitution because we are afraid to stand up to these people and tell them they are wrong: we will be disowning our principles because we daren’t disagree those whose views we are fundamentally opposed to. It makes me feel sick. How can a Liberal Democrat conference be asked to do this.

  • I agree with Caron

  • Andy Hinton 4th Aug '18 - 11:21am

    I agree with Caron. I might be a little skeptical of anything which calls for a public inquiry as a solution, but the general thrust of this policy is considerably better than the officially sanctioned work from FPC. It’s almost as if the membership of this party are actual liberals, while the leadership are more inclined to managerial centrism because we wouldn’t want to run the risk of ever saying anything that anyone didn’t like.

  • The Conference: I fear this will be another case of talking to ourselves, the public is still not interested in us – eg the local election results over the past fortnight.

  • paul barker 4th Aug '18 - 11:31am

    Is it too late for the Immigration to be withdrawn ? If it is then Conference should reject the whole thing & demand something more in line with Our values.

  • I’d be ashamed to vote for anything that said “some people feel that their concerns about employment, housing, and social and welfare resources are somehow linked to immigration.” Policy should be better at cause-and-effect than having to include the word “somehow”!

    And it should be based on evidence and liberal foundations, not anyone’s feelings. We have policies on things like decriminalizing sex work and drugs which also fly in the face of a lot of people’s feelings that those things are inherently bad and that somehow making bad things illegal will stop them happening.

    I’m proud of our policies in those areas precisely because they get past the knee-jerk, uninformed opinions and actually consider what’s good and liberal to do. This proposed immigration policy does none of that, so it is not fit for purpose.

  • James Baillie 4th Aug '18 - 11:35am

    As someone who grew up in an immigration-sceptic, rural Tory part of the country – I absolutely agree with this post. It would, as a campaigner, be a huge dereliction of my duty to the people I grew up with if I were to say “well clearly there are valid concerns about current levels of immigration”, because basically I’d be doing what Labour and the Tories keep doing on this a.k.a. lying to voters to make them feel better. That’s a terrible idea and not why I’m in politics. Our job is to help people, pure and simple, and that includes challenging, not repeating or reinforcing, the myths on issues like this which are stopping us from actually getting everyone in the UK the things that they need and improving their lives.

    Anti-immigration sentiment is a utility monster, you can never sate it via immigration policy because the problems it’s based on aren’t caused by immigration. It’s also one of the issues for which our liberal movement is most desperately needed – we have to take a lead on this for everyone’s sake, we can already see how badly these sentiments are eating the country from the inside out. We can’t afford to mince our words on this, and other people can’t afford for us to do so either.

  • I appreciate the concerns. But I would suggest that it is equally to ignore the facts to ignore the public’s feelings on immigration. Economics is not a science like physics where sometimes a hard and virtually undisputed truth can be established = as the pages of LDV show. Where two economists gather there will be at least three opinions!

    But even so a policy paper on evolution in the USA might well acknowledge that some people believe in creationism/intelligent design. The advantages and disadvantages of immigration are far more up for debate. And there some clear disadvantages of immigration. It puts pressure on the availability of housing – and people on LDV have berated the lack of housing – especially for young people. And while that might be better tackled by other measures in the short term it doesn’t look as if that is happening. It puts downward pressure on wages. And it puts pressure on public services.

    Now it is my opinion that actually – especially in the medium term, immigration is a net economic benefit to the country. Economic wealth and activity gets generated in THIS country that would not be generated otherwise – generating more and better paid jobs and more money for public services. But it is ONLY an opinion and I can’t say that I have studied it in minute detail.

    The policy paper on immigration proposes two important things. Increase the quality of asylum decisions – asylum is a tiny amount of immigration but having seen some of the horrendous and clearly legally wrong home office decisions this is clearly needed and urgently too. Secondly it moves responsibility for work visas to the department for business where they can be judged against Britain’s best economic interests.

  • East Sussex Council to reduce services to bare minimum, reason given too many old people. Now how do you square that circle of too many old people, export the old people or import younger ones. Immigration actually covered up a large number of problems. It allowed us to import skills we wouldn’t pay for and youth to do jobs we wouldn’t do. So by all means cut immigration but be planning to deal with the problems that brings, lack of skills, lack of youth. There will be pluses of course, cheaper housing (not so good if your future is based on buy to let), less green belt build but challange free it will not be.

  • Peter Martin 4th Aug '18 - 3:21pm

    “some people feel that their concerns about employment, housing, and social and welfare resources are somehow linked to immigration.”

    Yes they do. But are they wrong to think this? Let me start by saying that immigration can be a good thing if it is managed properly. Countries like the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand wouldn’t be what they are today without it. Therefore immigration per se cannot be a bad thing. Although I dare say the Aboriginal inhabitants of these lands may have cause to disagree.

    Let’s just take the first one. Employment.

    The highly uncomfortable factor the socialist left and liberal centre-left needs to address is the impact of high unemployment rates on wage levels. Some may already be familiar with the term “the Philips curve” which simply says that real wage levels decline when unemployment is high and vice versa. This gives rise to the theory of the so-called NAIRU (you can Google these terms) which suggests that unemployment needs to be kept to around 4% to prevent wage led inflation. The effect of underemployment is being increasingly recognised too.

    These are not terms that you’ll read Mark Carney or Tory politicians use in public but they form the heart of their thinking. This is, for instance, the reason the BoE has just raised rates to 0.75%. To increase unemployment levels. Although I do suspect even worse Machiavellian reasons.

    However, what happens if there is a large pool of unemployed/underemployed labour sitting just over the border which isn’t counted in the 4%? Does this have an effect on UK wages? Well, yes, it does in just the same way. Obviously. So when UK workers complain that incoming EU workers are depressing their wage levels it simply isn’t true to say they are wrong.

  • Peter Martin 4th Aug '18 - 5:07pm

    @ frankie,

    “Now how do you square that circle of too many old people, export the old people or import younger ones”

    We have to think more deeply about what we want and what we’re worried about. We can’t, on the one hand, say we won’t have any jobs to do because we’re worried about the rise of the robots, and on the other worry that there won’t be enough people to do the jobs that need doing because we all are getting too old!

    Some constructive lateral thinking is urgently needed!

  • Andrew Daer 4th Aug '18 - 5:47pm

    Caron and others are right about our core beliefs, but not about how to write a policy. When fishing you have to remember the breaking strain of the line – reel in too hard and you lose the fish. The moment this particular line broke was around midnight on 23rd June 2016, so it sadly isn’t true that “everything we know about immigration suggests that it is beneficial for our nation.” The policy committee deserve praise for trying to create a policy that might be acceptable to voters, even if it ruffles the feathers of purists. We need to get MPs elected to have an impact in the real world.

  • @Peter Martin

    There is quite a lot of debate about the Philips Curve, its shape, when it takes off and long term versus short term – see for example https://www.tutor2u.net/economics/reference/the-changing-phillips-curve-in-the-uk-economy

    The second issue is if there a pool of labour sitting across the channel that is cheaper then for many uses they can be employed there and thus “undermine” and lower our wages without immigrating here. At least if they are working in our economy they are spending money in our economy generating further economic activity. An increasing amount of work can and will be done very easily anywhere in the world – internet work, call centres, programming – even if something is “made” here.

    Finally if someone has a job here that is not been done for whatever reason – may be because the skills, may be sometimes because few if any people want to do it then – obviously doing it generate economic activity and wealth and further jobs that helps the unemployed and poorer. It is why the Tories’ monthly caps on work visas where there is demonstrated skilled labour market shortage is particularly stupid.

    I have outlined why I – personally – am doubtful of the arguments over immigration suppressing wages etc.. But there is a more than valid liberal argument as you outline complete freedom of movement which I tend towards but only a small minority does – harms other liberal ideals of fighting “poverty and ignorance”. This is through suppressing wages and encouraging just the importation of skills rather than educating our own citizens through excellent primary and secondary education leading to enough going to university. If you don’t have complete freedom of movement you have to have some form of immigration control which I would suggest from a liberal perspective is broadly as outlined in the motion and the policy paper.

  • marcstevens 4th Aug '18 - 7:11pm

    I agree with the policy paper and support the general thrust of it. You can be against unlimited immigration without being xenophobic and I am strongly against the demonising of immigrants and think more should be done to combat it. Overpopulation is a problem in this country, though not necessarily caused by immigration per se, there isn’t the same land mass here as in other countries like France and Germany. If you go to some areas of London there are just so many people of all backgrounds and this strains services. I am also against building housing on the green belt and am glad to have come across some Lib Dem councillors in rural areas with the same views of taking on developers of massive over dense building projects against the wishes of local residents. There are plenty of empty wasted buildings which can be put back into housing use.

  • Peter Martin 4th Aug '18 - 9:07pm

    @ Michael1

    “The second issue is if there a pool of labour sitting across the channel that is cheaper then for many uses they can be employed there and thus “undermine” and lower our wages without immigrating here”.

    Not in the same way. It doesn’t have to be just across the channel. It could be in China. But then, at least theoretically, and to a large extent in practice too, if we buy too many imports the pound falls and the currency of the exporting country rises to correct the imbalance.

    That’s not the case when workers migrate here.

  • UK unemployment is low by both international and our own historic standards, so it is mostly wrong to blame unemployment on immigration.

    Our current employment issues aren’t unemployment, but stagnant wages that don’t keep place with inflation. Presumably some people think that if we reduce the labour supply by restricting migration, then wages will rise faster. However I don’t think that will happen – if nothing else changes we are more likely to start exporting jobs instead of importing labour, and that won’t make the economy better.

    The only sustainable way to generate higher value jobs and improve living standards over the long term is to invest in R&D, infrastructure and productivity improvements. But that requires foresight, strategy, consultation, long term commitment etc. which is difficult and beyond most politician’s (and company shareholder’s) attention span.

    It’s much easier just to blame immigrants………

  • Peter Hirst 5th Aug '18 - 9:52am

    Unless you want to live in cloud cuckoo land, the implications of immigration policy cannot be divorced from the desire for free movement. It is doing that that partly resulted in this Brexit mess. Where I am in full agreement on humanitarian grounds is that once you’ve lived here for say five years, you cannot be forcibly deported. That is why it is essential to get our borders secure and know who’s leaving and entering as well as who’s here. In a democracy, free movement is always going to be an aspiration rather than a policy. I also agree migration targets are useless. What we need is fair policy and the resources to enforce it humanely.

  • Peter Martin 6th Aug '18 - 8:10pm

    @ Nick Baird,

    “…….so it is mostly wrong to blame unemployment on immigration.”

    Yes I agree.

    “Our current employment issues aren’t unemployment, but stagnant wages that don’t keep place with inflation.”

    It’s the competition for jobs that keeps wages down. It has been traditionally analysed in terms of local unemployment keeping down local wages. See the well established theories of the Phillips curve and NAIRU mentioned earlier. However I haven’t seen anything to extend the theory to include a pool of mobile unemployed workers sitting just over the National border but which clearly must have some effect. Maybe even the same effect.

    Of course, if we had expansionary economic policies at the same time as welcoming into the country more new arrivals then there needn’t be increased competition for available jobs but we all know that we don’t have those!

  • Peter Martin – “So when UK workers complain that incoming EU workers are depressing their wage levels it simply isn’t true to say they are wrong.”

    Well actually it is true to say they are wrong.

    The majority of our immigrants in every single year of our ECs/EU membership have been non-EU immigrants, not EU ones. It is amazing how in Brexit land, those non-EU immigrants appear to have no effect on wage levels, but that only EU ones do.

    And it is particularly amazing when the average EU immigrant here is a higher net contributor to the Exchequer than either the average non-EU immigrant OR the average British citizen – a feat that, given our PAYE system, clearly implies that the average EU immigrant is more likely to be earning more, not less, than the average person in either of the latter two categories.

  • Charis Pollard 7th Aug '18 - 10:16am

    I was having a debate with an ex-Home Office civil servant about immigration over the weekend and he used the phrase ‘You have to be aware of what the public want and work with that.

    Normally, I kind of agree. I’m a pragmatist at heart.

    But I found myself saying something like ‘Maybe, but I also have to know the world I want to see and be arguing for that – and that whatever gets put in place is on that path’.

    The FPC motion is clearly written by those who in their hearts agree with my friend. And maybe you can say that the proposals are just the publically acceptable steps on the path towards the world we truly want to see. But I feel we need to be much stronger in stating what that end goal – the vision – truly is.

    Pragmatists like my friend – and me – need to be pushed and made to understand the ideals. Or true change will never happen. And I assume we want true change, or we probably wouldn’t be Liberal Democrats…

  • marcstevens 7th Aug '18 - 5:38pm

    Paul R makes some really valid points on EU and non EU immigration which I totally agree with. The EU was used as a scapegoat by the Leave brigade misrepresenting how EU countries manage migration internally and the checks and balances any EU member state can use.

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