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Last Updated: Monday, 5 April, 2004, 08:01 GMT 09:01 UK
Legal immigration
Jeremy Vine interviewed David Davis, MP, Shadow Home Secretary on Sunday 4 April 2004.

Please note BBC Politics Show must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

David Davis, MP, Shadow Home Secretary
David Davis, MP, Shadow Home Secretary

Jeremy Vine: I'm joined now from his home in Humberside, by the Shadow Home Secretary, David Davis. Welcome to you.

David Davis: Good afternoon. Better call it East Yorkshire though, or you'll get lots of letters.

Jeremy Vine: Okay, fair enough. How many legal immigrants do you think we need in this country each year, Mr Davis?

David Davis: Well you just, you can't just pick a number out of the air, because if you do that, you end up corrupting the system in the same way that Tony Blair appears to have done, when he picked a number out of the air for asylum seekers a year or so ago.

What you have to do, is manage the system properly, in order to provide the skills we need, without overwhelming the local social services or the housing market, without upsetting community relations, and you could do that almost on a month-by-month basis, by having a proper and well run work permit system, so long as you don't have vast holes in the system elsewhere, either by not picking up illegal immigrants, as was reported this morning in the Sunday Times, or indeed by the scams you've heard about over the course of the last several weeks.

Jeremy Vine: You are not against Bulgarians and Rumanians being allowed into this country with a business plan, are you?

David Davis: Well I'm not against them, I'm not against people coming here generally, wherever they're from, if they have, if they will contribute to the economy. That's not the same as with a business plan.

One of the problems we've seen, you know, in the last few weeks has been that people coming, 200 applicants for example cited I think in one case, all with the same business plan, from the same solicitor.

That sort of thing is one of the scams. What we want to see, are people who can make contributions to our economy. The sorts of people who have the skills we're short of.

There's lots of people who can do the jobs we need done, but in numbers that the communities can deal with, can handle, not in excessive numbers that cause housing shortages, or other pressures on the system.

Jeremy Vine: So you would almost rather a situation where someone said, ... I'm a Bulgarian plumber, let me in because you need plumbers ... and he has to put together some comprehensive business plan on some rather over-organised application scheme?

David Davis: Well in a way, that's how the work permit system works. If he's got a job to come to, you know roughly where it is, you know what the skill is he's filling. That's how you deal with it.

That's why we argued for some time, that from May the 1st of this year, when 10 of these countries, not Bulgaria as it turns out, but 10 of the Eastern European countries entered the European Union, we ought to continue with our work permit system under a derogation for several years, just as the Germans and the French and others have done, rather than having a sort of open season.

I, you know, we have a situation in this country where we've had net immigration for a long time. We had net immigration on a much smaller scale, under Tory governments.

What's happened, is it's run out of control, so much so now, that the Home Secretary tells you, if you ask him, he doesn't know how many illegal immigrants there are coming into the country.

Jeremy Vine: But going back again to the Bulgarians and the Rumanians. You don't seem to have a problem with that, because actually if there are jobs, they need to come here. Correct?

David Davis: I don't have a problem with people coming through a controlled system. What we've seen in the last few weeks, is large numbers of scams.

I mean 40 companies in Bulgaria, that run tourist operations to bring people here on 6 day tourist visas, and then when the bus goes back it's three, it comes in full, it goes back three quarters empty. That sort of thing is not the way you run a proper immigration policy ...


Jeremy Vine: But they're still coming to work, aren't they?

David Davis: ... .got to have ...


David Davis: Well we don't know. I mean we don't know what they're doing in truth. I mean some of them might be criminals. I mean, for example, there was a story in one of the papers this morning, that the Bulgarian Ambassador had been raising the question of criminals from his country, in this country, and couldn't get an answer out of the Minister for 6 months, and that's the problem of this shambles; we actually don't know what on earth is going on, we don't actually know the real cause, we've got suspicions that it's driven by Downing Street, but we don't know, because we haven't had a proper independent inquiry, and until we do, we won't actually have, we won't bottom the problem.

But it's quite clear that we don't, we don't have a what you might term a managed migration system. That's what the government likes to call it, a managed migration system. I've rarely seen in my life anything so unmanaged.

Jeremy Vine: The first case we heard about, which was revealed by the Sheffield civil servant, Mr Moxon, simply showed that people from countries that were about to be in the EU anyway, were coming. Now you're in favour of a free market in Europe. A free market involves those people being able to move around. What's the problem?

David Davis: Well the problem is this. That on the May 1st, there's going to be open access to this country. To almost no other country in Europe will there be that open access, certainly none of the other major ones. The average wages in the accession countries, the average is roughly half of our minimum wage.

So almost, well anybody leaving those countries, could have a massive increase in income by coming here. What we don't want to see, is a massive influx for their own interests obviously, and I can't blame them for that, which then puts unbearable pressure on either housing or on healthcare, or on schooling, or indeed on community relations.

I mean we've got a long, and very honourable, and good history in this country, a very good strong community relations. We don't want to jeopardise it by letting this thing go, fall apart. Now what I think was happening in part, in Sheffield, was that the civil servants were being asked to wave people through quickly, for one of two possible reasons. One was to stop them getting fed up with that system, and coming as asylum seekers and hoping they can stay here, as 9 out of 10 asylum seekers do whether they're bogus or real, and that will be one reason, and the other possible reason could be that the government was trying to avoid an embarrassing influx on May 1st, so it got as many through beforehand as possible.

Now either of those reasons is a, frankly, is corrupt. It's the wrong way to run an immigration system. It should be run in order to give the economy and our own citizens the best possible deal, and also to be fair, to real asylum seekers, and fair to people who can contribute to our economy. All of that can be done, but not this way.

Jeremy Vine: As the film pointed out, you've got two issues here which get confused, don't they? You've got work permits, which you're talking about, and then you've got the whole business of bogus asylum seekers and everything else. Now do you worry, do you not worry, as a politician, that in focusing on specifically this one-legged roof tiler, you play into this whole area of immigration, and confuse everything?

David Davis: Well the, funnily enough the Prime Minister was the one that confused them on Wednesday, because he elided from one, he just slid from one to the other, in the course of answering Michael Howard. I was, I'd be very, very careful in this exercise to be very, very focused on the problem, which is a problem as it would, at least it appeared in first sight, of complete loss of control.

What is becoming more apparent, however, is that there is at least a belief in the immigration service, and we don't yet know whether it's real, that this is actually being driven deliberately, as a way of reducing the asylum seeker target, because the Prime Minister made this promise on a TV programme some time ago, to halve the asylum seeker numbers, because they were a political totem, or a political argument, centre of argument at the time, he made the promise to halve the numbers, and did it by what you might call a tactic of diversion, by letting people in by other ways, so they don't try and become asylum seekers, bogus or otherwise, and also by simply not, stopping the immigration service doing its job, and arresting illegal immigrants, which has got all sorts of dreadful possible outcomes.

Jeremy Vine: Now just, I want you to make this clear. You are worried about this on economic grounds, not on cultural grounds. This is not about Britishness being diluted by loads of Bulgarians or anything?

David Davis: That's not the issue here. The issue here is pressure on housing, pressure on local public services, pressure on communities, causing resentments, which then feed the sort of extremism that we, we've seen in some parts of England today. Those are the issues. It's not just economic, it's social too, and the, you've got a balancing to undertake.

That's one of the reasons that actually keeping it under a work permit control would work, because you can use that. When somebody comes with a work permit, he's saying where he's going to work. You could actually make a judgement, not just on the skill shortages involved, but also on where in Britain he would go.

But the point is, that this policy appears not to be being used to control in that way for what is after all the best interests both of British citizens, and people who are incoming to the country. But also, it's being used to score sort of political headlines, and in doing so, corrupting the whole system.

Jeremy Vine: David Davis, Shadow Home Secretary in East Yorkshire, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.

Let us know what you think. That is the Politics Show Sunday 14 March at Midday.
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