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Last Updated: Sunday, 22 February, 2004, 14:26 GMT
Citizenship and migration
Jeremy Vine interviewed the Home Office Minister Beverley Hughes, MP and John Bercow, MP Shadow International Development Minister on Sunday 22 February 2004.

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

Home Office Minister Beverley Hughes, MP
Home Office Minister Beverley Hughes, MP

Jeremy Vine: Let's talk then to the Home Office Minister Beverley Hughes. And strange isn't it that the ceremony is coming in before the test.

Beverley Hughes: Not really, because obviously there are already people who want to become British citizens whose applications have been in the pipe line for some time. I think it would be quite wrong to make them wait for citizenship whilst we further develop the detail of the curriculum. This isn't you know a kind of flash in the pan at all Jeremy. We're in this for the long haul. We see citizenship as a vital strand of promoting integration, and integration itself is a very important part of our overall policy on migration. So it's important that we get it right.

But I do think it's actually right that we start with the ceremonies and you heard from people on the film how important symbolically those ceremonies are and that was the case when I saw them in Canada too. Important for the new citizens, but important for the rest of us as well, in underlying our responsibilities to new citizens.

Jeremy Vine: That's the criticism; you put the cart before the horse. You're giving people music and flags before you've discovered how committed they are.

Beverley Hughes: Not at all and I think, you know I think people are committed if they want to go along the road ....

Jeremy Vine: Why have the test.

Beverley Hughes: Well we will have the test, we will have the test.

Jeremy Vine: Well why do you need it.

Beverley Hughes: I think that we want to give people, and make sure that at the point at which they acquire citizenship, they have the where with all, really to participate in mainstream society, and that means a minimum standard of English because all of the evidence tells us that unless people speak the language adequately, then their access to jobs, to employment and mainstream economic and social life is much more limited.

And that they secondly have a basic practically based knowledge of our institutions, a bit of our history, Britain as a diverse society, and how to as I say negotiate the things that you and I take for granted in our every day life.

Jeremy Vine: We heard from Sir Bernard Crick there who's been helping you work out exactly what questions to ask. He's pretty angry isn't he, because he feels that if you're going to ask people to be good speakers of English, you need to teach them English.

Beverley Hughes: We do, and in fact we're already doing a lot of teaching of English in and around all sorts of activities. And one of the things that we want to do now, is to look at what's going on already, and how we can build on the existing provision, which is very substantial. The department of work and pensions for example, gave English tuition to speakers of other languages to help them access jobs, ... almost three hundred thousand people in the last year.

Jeremy Vine: He doesn't seem to think there is a lot of it going on.

Beverley Hughes: Well there is a lot going on. It's not particularly focused on citizenship at the moment, but the teaching is going on, both in relation to work and pensions, and the department for education. And we know that a lot of the ESOL(?) teachers as they're called are also doing a lot of citizenship teaching in the context of teaching people the language. Now it makes sense for us to look first at what provision there is, how we can build in the citizenship strand through what's going on already, and we intend to do some pilots to test that out.

Jeremy Vine: Cos a question was asked in parliament about this recently. Where is the money for the classes, these potential citizens need, and Baroness Scotland said, and I quote, the 2004 spending review will determine the overall level of resources available for these classes. The money is not there yet.

Beverley Hughes: Well the scale of what's possible in terms of promoting citizenship and therefore the level of provision we'd need for everybody who might want to become an English citizen is very very substantial indeed as Bernard Crick acknowledged and to do that for everybody, we will need additional resources. But I have made clear and this is true, that there's a lot of teaching going on already. We can you know, dove-tail this in to some of the existing provision, and we're mapping that out at the moment to see how far we can go with what we've got already.

Jeremy Vine: Do you feel sympathetic towards those people we saw in Bradford. They're citizens already, the accountant for example who says, hang on a minute, I can't answer these questions on the national background of Britain's historical institutions and so on. But I'm British.

Beverley Hughes: I think you get a kind of different kind of point of view from people who are aspiring to be new citizens, and those people who are citizens already and maybe from a different culture because what aspiring new citizens say to a man and a woman, and as I say I saw this in Canada as well, is that they see the going through of a test as confirmation of their commitment and as something beneficial, not as a hurdle through which they're being required to jump. They see it as part and parcel of the process.

Jeremy Vine: One of the citizens in Bradford there said it may actually make things worse.

Beverley Hughes: I don't agree. I think that the opportunity for people not only to go through a ceremony, but to be seen to go through a ceremony, to have fulfilled the qualifications to do that is a powerful statement, not only for them, as I say, but for us, because it starts to bring in to the public domain, some of the issues around commonality, shared rights and responsibilities, a degree of shared identity, and in a very diverse society as we are in Britain, with wanting to welcome more migrants who come here legally, then we need to try and strive for that integration with diversity and citizenship is one of the ways in which we need to this.

Jeremy Vine: I've mentioned you've got a very busy week coming at the Home Office. I want to ask you about a couple of other things in the news.

On the subject of migrants, you're about to announce on Monday what you're going to do about benefits for workers who come here from Eastern Europe, because you're worried about an influx. Why are you panicking on this.

Beverley Hughes: We're not panicking.

Jeremy Vine: It's sudden.

Beverley Hughes: No, it isn't actually sudden. I've been working on this since October because we always know that in order to fulfil our aspiration, which is to allow people to come here and work, because of course there is free movement for people from the accession countries, right across Europe; I think that was a misunderstanding early on.

There is free movement across all of the EU countries. But countries have a discretion as to whether when people come, they can work. And we wanted to make it possible for people to work from 1st May. But we identified as I say months before the end of the last calendar year, that we needed to make sure that we could protect the benefit system.

And that's the work that's been going on between the Home Office and the Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions. We needed to make sure that we could do that in a way which wouldn't disadvantage say returning UK citizens coming to this country.

Jeremy Vine: Sure, but you had the facts on the table in 2002 and it's not until just a few weeks before the doors open, that you're actually getting this sorted.

Beverley Hughes: Well as I say Jeremy the work has been going on for some time. The Home Secretary will announce tomorrow the package of measures that we think will both enable us to meet our aspirations in terms of managed migration, but also protect our benefit system.

Jeremy Vine: MI5 is to be doubled in size we gather. The same number of staff they had in World War II. Is that the kind of threat we're facing.

Beverley Hughes: The threat we're facing is a high level of threat as the Director General of the Security Services has made clear very recently. It's a long term threat. It's not going to go away. It's a particular kind of threat in that it's perpetrated by people who are very sophisticated in their planning, they don't care what methods they use. They're not negotiating around some political cause, as we've had experience in the past. And so the dependence on intelligence is very very high indeed.

And that's why we think it's right to put the resources in to enable our security services to do more to protect the public from the international terrorism that we're now facing, and that's why we think, as we were debating this week, it's important to re-new the powers that we have in the anti terrorism crime and security Act to be able to detain foreign nationals who we think are terrorists, and also to start a debate about where we go from here, in making sure that we can protect the public fully, including from the minority, but the substantial minority of suspected terrorists whom we're concerned about, who are in fact British citizens.

Jeremy Vine: Right, you got to my last question ahead of me there because I wanted to ask you about that debate on Wednesday. It's under challenge in the committees, with Tony Newton running it, has looked at this power you have to detain indefinitely suspected foreign terrorists. You're not backing off that at all.

Beverley Hughes: No. We're going to proposing to parliament that we believe, and the security services have confirmed this, that we still face the same state of public emergency that justified the taking of those powers in the first place.

And therefore that we need to renew them. It's built in to the legislation though, that these powers have to end in November 2006. And so it's very important that we start a debate now, way before November 2006, to see how we go from here, how we can better protect the public from the international terrorist threat that we seriously face.


Interview with John Bercow, MP Shadow International Development Minister

Jeremy Vine: Well I'm speaking now to John Bercow, the Conservative front-bencher about these ideas. Welcome to you. Ian Gilbert, let's go to his view first of all, he's the Leicestershire farmer we heard talking, and he basically said if this comes in, he'll be wiped out.

John Bercow: I don't think that's going to happen. There's no question of a change over night. I think what we do have to grasp however, is that there is an internal and blatant inconsistency Jeremy, between aid policy and trade policy. In 2002, the OECD countries gave the poorest people in the world, 58 billion dollars.

Yet at the same time, the European Union was spending one hundred and thirteen billion dollars, almost twice the level of aid in subsidising domestic agricultural production. Now it's the combination of over subsidy of agricultural production in the rich world on the one hand. And trade barriers to poor countries products on the other that are doing so much damage to the living standards of the poorest people on the planet.

Jeremy Vine: But haven't we decided effectively here in Britain that we're going to spend a bit more in the supermarket and it's going to go to British farms and it's going to keep them in business. It may be selfish, but that's the reality isn't it.

John Bercow: I think there is a need for a debate about how we spend public money, but also about how we change the trade rules to give the poor a chance. The situation at the moment is grotesquely unfair, and hypocritical.

It's unfair in the sense that we're saying to the poor countries, let's play a game of football, you can have a half sized goal in to which to try to score, and we will have a double sized goal in to which to score. You can have five players, and we'll have eleven. Now that is terribly terribly terribly unfair. It's also incredibly hypocritical Jeremy.

Jeremy Vine: But the eleven players, to continue your analogy, they're your constituents, they're Edward Garnier's constituents.

John Bercow: I do have farming constituents in Buckingham and I can tell you that EU agricultural policy is grossly inefficient, and what's more, it benefits very little people in my Buckingham constituency, it tends overwhelmingly to benefit large scale farmers, principally in Germany and France. The issue is not whether we need to give some support to farming, that is not in dispute.

The issue is, when do we get to implementing the agenda that was agreed at Dohar and reiterated at Cancun in Mexico, which is an agenda of getting rid of trade distorting subsidies, getting rid of export subsidies which wreck the market, and improving access for the poorest countries in the world. That's the task that we have to address.

Jeremy Vine: Let me ask you about the other leg to this. We've had Oliver Letwin, the Shadow Chancellor's spending plans coming out. He's going to stick with the rises in health and education and pensions, but he's going to cap or freeze departments, actually yours if you go in to government. The aid programme budget will be capped under the conservatives. Now how do you feel about that.

John Bercow: There always has to be a limit to public expenditure Jeremy. I think what I would say to you is two fold. First of all detailed budgets have yet to be determined. There will be a negotiation to have, and I will take part in that. I will make the arguments.

Jeremy Vine: You're reportedly angry by the way, today in the press.

John Bercow: I'm not angry about anything.

Jeremy Vine: You haven't knocked on Letwin's door and said hang on a second.

John Bercow: I haven't knocked on anyone's door. The only thing I'm angry about is the way in which the hypocritical policy of the West is applied to trade. The truth of the matter is that the traditional left Jeremy is wrong about trade. Traditionally, the left has tended to argue that the third word is the victim of capitalism. That's not actually true. The truth is that the so-called capitalist countries, preach free enterprise, but they practise protectionism on a grotesque scale.

Jeremy Vine: Right but ..... terrible damage. It seems very unfair for you to float what your fellow MP Edward Garnier calls far reaching ideas, but before they even come in. Before these subsidies are cut in Britain, you are actually freezing the aid to these countries.

John Bercow: I'm not freezing anything. Aid is a very important part of policy, and Aid budget will continue a substantial aid budget is needed. What I am saying to you.

Jeremy Vine: Can I just read a quote to you which is just on the, we've got on the screen. Aid agencies who wrote to The Times, you probably saw this, after Mr Letwin made his announcement. They said, Such a shift to your policy would be devastating for the world's poorest people.

John Bercow: What would be devastating for the world's poorest people and is already devastating, is the way in which trade policy is stopping the developing world having the chance to compete and grow.

And what I would say to you Jeremy is simply this, Yes aid policy is important, we need a mixed economy of support for the poor, public sector and private. But agricultural trade currently represents ten times, ten times the level of rich countries aid to the poor. So what I'm saying is, yes of course there's a role for aid, of course that's important.

Of course conservatives will continue it. But what we've got to do is stop the hypocrisy of giving with one hand and taking away much more with the other. Its the politics of Robin Hood in reverse, it is completely intolerable, and it is a near criminal conspiracy by people who have a lot against people who have very little.

Jeremy Vine: But let's say you want to help Mozambique with this policy, there's a problem isn't there because once you let the market rip, Mozambique's sugar gets undercut by Brazil, they get even less money.

John Bercow: It is true that seventeen of the ACP countries benefit from a special deal which helps them. It may well distort their domestic economies, but it helps them in the short term.

You cannot have complete free trade over night. You have to have a stage process, but what I don't want is a situation in which we have rhetorical commitments to change, but they never actually happen.

The European Union and the United States are effectively co-conspirators, they're partners in crime in this process, it's got to stop, we've got to have a deal that gives the poorest people and the most vulnerable people on the planet the chance to make a living for themselves. That's what I want to do.


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.

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