UK: Ignoring immigration issue is not an option
hfsclpp at gmail.com
Mon Aug 27 13:37:20 UTC 2007
Ignoring immigration issue is not an option
Nick Clegg MP
Sunday August 26, 2007
The public debate on immigration is changing. In part, this is because
of a step change in the number of economic migrants coming to the UK
since the mid-1990s, and a sharp increase in those coming from central
and eastern Europe following the latest enlargement of the EU. In
part, it is because concerns on the left and centre-left of British
politics about the impact of economic immigration on wage levels and
working conditions have become more vocal. Immigration is no longer a
preoccupation only of the right; it now consistently features in the
top three issues that voters say are of greatest concern to them.
Simply ignoring the issue is not an option. But liberals should never
seek to play catch-up with tabloid-driven hysteria. Millions of
Britons take up the freedom to live and work abroad; there are more
Britons living abroad today than there are non-UK citizens living
here. We should never lightly deny the freedom of movement to others
that we so fully enjoy ourselves. But we do need to do more to set out
the case for a liberal, managed immigration policy. The benefits of
economic immigration only become possible if three conditions are met:
the system by which it is administered must be competent and fair;
government must plan for the consequences, particularly in those areas
where new immigrants have arrived in significant numbers; and
integration must be pursued in parallel with immigration.
The administrative incompetence of the existing system has led to
erratic decisions, woeful delays in paperwork and inhumane outcomes as
individuals are sent from pillar to post for months and sometimes
years on end. It has taken a decade for the government to decide to
implement a fairer, points-based immigration system, and to create a
separate agency administering the system at arm's length from
government, both measures long advocated by Liberal Democrats. Gordon
Brown belatedly acknowledged the case for a fully integrated border
force before the summer break - yet he failed to include police powers
in the new force, raising the risk that it will be little more than a
'border force lite'.
The government must go further and faster to restore public confidence
in its immigration system, including clearer rights of appeal on the
arbitrary way in which temporary visas are issued to visiting
relatives and students, and the rapid reintroduction of exit controls.
A liberal policy of integration and immigration within Britain is
possible only if our borders are first controlled more effectively.
Far better, surely, than the government's strategy of imposing
stringent controls on all of us through the intrusive use of ID cards.
Second, we must plan for the effects of large-scale immigration. The
slow and centralised allocation of money to local authorities, and the
inaccuracy of official statistics, have failed to keep up with the
demands made on local services by immigration.
Third, we must be more proactive in advocating integration. Government
policy is all over the shop. Cutting public funding for
English-language classes, when language barriers remain the biggest
impediments to integration, is self-defeating. Most worryingly,
neither Labour nor the Conservatives have anything to say about the
large number of irregular residents who live in a twilight world of
illegality and exploitation. The government estimates this number to
be up to 600,000 individuals. Do the Conservatives and Labour
seriously propose to deport them all, as they claim they will?
That is why the Liberal Democrats will be debating a policy proposal,
at our party conference in mid-September, that a route of earned
legalisation should be made available to those who have lived here
unauthorised for many years. We would set stringent criteria - this is
not a blanket amnesty - namely that the applicant should have lived in
the UK for many years; should have a clean criminal record; and should
show a long-term commitment to the UK. The applicant would be subject
to a public interest test and an English language and civics test, and
would be required to pay a charge. This would be of economic benefit
too, with the exchequer estimated to be losing out on as much as
£3.3bn in unpaid tax each year.
We live in an age in which 191 million people live outside the country
in which they were born. This age requires an immigration policy that
is both efficient and fair.
· Nick Clegg MP is the Liberal Democrat spokesman on home affairs
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