Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
19 September 2007

A humane solution to immigration?

Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg explains his party's new policy on immigration saying he's

By Nick Clegg

On Tuesday, the Liberal Democrat conference passed a radical new immigration policy which will give us the policy tools to address this increasingly salient political issue.

Our party is refusing to be cowed into silence on immigration – instead we will vocally promote the benefits that immigration can bring, whilst arguing for the need for it to be sensibly managed. This requires a number of changes in the way the government works.

There is a clear need for our borders to be effectively controlled. 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’.

A rigorously policed border is surely preferable to the government’s strategy of imposing stringent controls on all of us through the intrusive use of ID cards.

The government must also address the administrative incompetence of the existing system which 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.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Equally, there is also a clear need to 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.

Content from our partners
How do we secure the hybrid office?
How materials innovation can help achieve net zero and level-up the UK
Fantastic mental well-being strategies and where to find them

We must be more proactive in advocating integration, and ensuring immigrants can speak English is key to this. 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. Immigrants that are able to speak English are both better able to stand up for themselves and to contribute more fully to community life.

Significantly, building on the pioneering work of the Stranger into Citizens campaign the Liberal Democrats are also proposing an earned route to citizenship for irregular migrants. 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.

Deporting 600,000 people – as suggested by both the Tories and Labour – at vast expense is simply not a practical option. Academic studies show the cost of each deportation to average £11,000. Bringing such people in from the twilight world of exploitation and oppression and into our society is both humane and in our national interest.

We live in an age in which 191 million people live outside the country in which they were born. British politics needs a political party to offer serious and realistic proposals to deal with this global world. The Liberal Democrats are that party.