UK Politics

Lib Dem regional migration policy 'like Germans in 1935'

Sir Andrew Stunell
Image caption Sir Andrew was a coalition minister until September 2012

A former Lib Dem minister has ridiculed his party's immigration policy at the last general election, comparing it to what the "Germans did in 1935".

Sir Andrew Stunell said regional quotas for immigration would not have worked, adding: "Thank goodness we never had to put that into effect."

He heads a committee drawing up an immigration policy on which the party will fight the next election.

He was speaking at a fringe meeting at the party's conference in Glasgow.

The conference has heard calls for a return of the regional immigration policy amid claims it would help Scotland and other areas outside southern England where more migrant workers were needed.

'Doesn't work'

But Sir Andrew ruled out the idea, saying: "How are you going to do that? Is everybody going to have an identity card? Are we going to have police checks?

"Or are they simply going to catch a coach down to London each week? It just doesn't work, I'm sorry. Perhaps we penalise employers who take on people who are only licensed to work in Yorkshire. You could do it.

"You could do it - of course the Germans did it in 1935 - but I don't know that that's exactly the route we want to go down."

He was attacked by Julia Onslow-Cole, of the Migration Matters Trust, who said it was perfectly possible to implement a regional migration policy as it would just be a matter of linking a visa to specific job or company.

But the former local government minister said he wanted fresh thinking on the issue and policies that would be liberal, popular and deliverable.

He echoed Vince Cable's criticisms of the Conservatives' net migration target, saying it had been undermined by the economic recovery, which had led to fewer people emigrating.

Laws criticism

Meanwhile, cabinet minister David Laws also attacked the Tories' immigration cap, saying at another fringe it was meaningless as it did not include EU migration.

But he also also suggested that Lib Dems, Labour and the Tories are much more in agreement on the benefits of legal immigration than the public realise.

He told a meeting organised by the New Statesman magazine: "I actually think there is more understanding across all the parties about the benefits of legal migration.

"I am not allowed to be indiscreet and discuss what happens around the cabinet table - but one of the things I find amusing, of all the conversations I hear about immigration in the coalition government, ignoring the input of Liberal Democrat ministers, it's most usually Conservative ministers complaining about the impact on our economy of the Home Office and immigration control in not letting high value economic migrants into the country.

"(Home Secretary) Theresa May gets far more grief from Conservative colleagues about the issue of impediments to economic immigration than she does about defects in the immigration system in terms of keeping people out."

He also suggested there were some jobs that low-skilled British workers would not do because they were "aspirational".

"If we are honest, there are some jobs in a more affluent economy we will struggle to recruit from," the education minister told the meeting.

"What we have got to make sure is the jobs that people in this country could reasonably do, they have got the qualifications to do, the abilities to do." But he added: "We still have so many young people not achieving decent levels of education."

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