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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A sticky question

In many ways the publication of a report by a Committee of the House of Lords on the economic impact of immigration could not have come at a worse time. There is already speculation that the BNP may make a breakthrough onto the GLA, and whatever its merits or demerits, the general thrust of this report can only offer succour to that party.

Why that should be is complex but essentially boils down to the fact that none of the mainstream parties are really addressing the issues involved. Despite the fact that they are separate, the subjects of immigration and asylum are intermingled in many people's mind and the truth is drowning in a sea of misinformation and myth.

Talking to even the most liberal constituents on the doorsteps we hear stories about people coming to this country and being given homes, cars and benefits for nothing. The Internet is awash with semi-racist jokes making the same point, whilst ethnic minorities suffer abuse on the streets and even in their own homes. There is a strong undercurrent of Islamophobia in all of this which is not even acknowledged by most politicians.

There are of course a host of facts and figures to refute all of these allegations and a solid economic argument about the benefit of immigration, irrespective of what the noble committee of Lords might have to say on the subject. However, not only is nobody making this case on a consistent basis, week-in, week-out, but it is being undermined by other factors, not least the number of illegal immigrants who disappear into the system never to be seen again and the various scandals about prisoners who should have been deported at the end of their sentence but who instead, are living at large in Britain.

The Government do pay lip service to the problem and try to appear tough but all they succeed in doing it seems to me is to reinforce the feeling amongst many people that there is a problem. There is no public acknowledgement at the highest levels of government of what people are thinking on this subject nor any attempt to engage them in discussion on it.

Liberal Democrats have attempted a more radical approach by at least admitting that there is a problem and offering solutions to it. Nick Clegg, then Shadow Home Secretary, argued that the time has come to make the liberal case for a successfully managed immigration system. He said:

“Government incompetence has led to an immigration system on the brink of meltdown, yet ministers prefer to avoid debate over the true scale of the problem.

“We cannot continue to ignore the issue of the hundreds of thousands of people living illegally in this country. To do so does nothing to solve the problem and merely helps those traffickers who currently exploit the system.”

The Liberal Democrat Conference voted for a policy that proposed:

1. A National Border Force, bringing together the present border control functions of HM Revenue Customs, the Immigration Nationality Directorate and police guarding ports and airports.

2. The reintroduction of exit checks at all ports.

3. The Government to work closely with the European Union on immigration, especially in tackling people-trafficking and immigration crime, and shared asylum policy.

4. The Foreign Office to prioritise the improvement of visa services at UK consulates around the world, introduce a full complaints procedure and review the restrictions on rights of appeal for visa nationals.

5. The development of an earned route to citizenship, beginning with a two-year work permit, for irregular migrants who have been in the UK for 10 years, subject to:
a) A public interest test.
b) A long-term commitment to the UK.
c) A clean criminal record.
d) The payment of a charge, waived for those who have completed a set number of hours of service in the community or volunteering.
e) An English language and civics test, or proof that the applicant is undergoing a course of education in these subjects.

6. A full review of social housing allocations policies to establish best practice, so that those who have waited a long time for a home or home transfer are treated fairly, and a major programme of building social housing to tackle housing shortages for all those in need.

7. Increased fees to businesses for work permits, charged as a percentage of starting salary for those receiving the permit, with additional revenue used to fund skills training for the domestic workforce in shortage areas.

8. Extension of language lessons especially for asylum seekers, refugees and recent migrants, with out-reach programmes in some communities to identify those who would benefit.

9. Reform of the Life in the UK test to empower new arrivals to engage fully in society at every level, with a less detailed version of the test for those applying for long-term visas, and for Indefinite Leave to Remain, and ‘welcome packs’ with information about life, and culture, in the UK, for all long-stay arrivals.

10. Twinning arrangements between schools with different ethnic or social mixes of pupils, so children can mix across ethnic and religious boundaries in some classes.

11. Full ratification of the Council of Europe convention on people trafficking.

12. Transfer of responsibility for migration statistics to the Office of National Statistics, which will itself be reformed under current legislation to make it more independent of government.

This is a humane and liberal approach, which could make a difference. It would certainly send a signal that government is addressing people's concerns. However, since the change over in the Home Affairs Team things seem to have gone very quiet on this subject. Is it not time that the Liberal Democrats at least, started to promote their solutions to this issue?
You the politicians talk in black and white about immigration when the fact it the issues are shades of grey', some immigration is good, some immigration is bad. What's so difficult about saying that.

Immigration is like Europe in the UK we benefit from and yet we don't like it at the same time, when the Pro Europeans speak they are drowned out by the anti Europe lobby in the press, it about leadership.

as for the BNP they nearly one an Assembly seat in North Wales last year and yet I wonder what the welsh parties are doing about addressing people's real concerns, very little I suspect and then your all shocked when the BNP poll well.

Over to you Peter and the rest of our elected representatives for some answers and action. I wont hold my breath thou.
I think your comments roughly summarise what I said. I have put forward some ideas but as you say it is not a black and white issue and that means that solutions are difficult to find.
According to the This report in the Evening Standard The number 2 on their GLA list thinks that "Women are more troubled by bag theft than rape"

This sort of thinking needs to be exposed at every opportunity.
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