Earned Citizenship

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 12:31 pm on 20th February 2008.

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Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Shadow Minister (Olympics and London), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Olympics and London) 12:31 pm, 20th February 2008

First, may I thank the Home Secretary for an advance copy of the statement? It acknowledges that the Government are guilty of chronic mishandling of immigration. Their incompetence has created a crisis of public confidence and a strain on public services in some parts of the country. It would appear that immigrants are now to be made the scapegoats for the Government's failures.

The Liberal Democrats accept the need for reform. The skills that UK plc needs have to be much more closely matched with those of the immigrant population. We therefore support the points-based immigration system. We also accept the need for immigrants to have a strong command of the English language and regret that Government policy on that has been so inconsistent in recent months. Such workers are needed by the UK economy. Does the Home Secretary accept that there will be projects such as Crossrail or the Olympics and fields of employment such as the restaurant sector where staffing requirements will have to be met from much further afield than Europe? Can the Home Secretary confirm that she has assessed her proposals as not having a negative effect on the UK's ability to attract such people?

Can the Home Secretary explain what benefits and services she expects migrants to be able to access before they become British citizens or permanent residents? Can she confirm that that will not deter genuine and badly needed migrants from coming to the UK? If the Home Secretary is worried about resources going into the system, will she consider a sliding scale of charges to employers for work permits, using the resources thereby raised for training for the domestic work force, to make our workers more able to take up those jobs?

Hardly a day goes by without another initiative, pronouncement or press release on immigration. They come thick and fast. Today is no exception and tomorrow will not be either, because until the Government devise a fair, straightforward and properly resourced system, they will lurch from crisis to catastrophe.