On the Politics Show, Sunday 19 October 2008, Jon Sopel interviewed Phil Woolas MP
JON SOPEL: Joining us now from Manchester, is the Immigration Minister, Phil Woolas, thanks very much for being with us.
PHIL WOOLAS: Thank you Jon, for inviting me on. Thank you very much.
JON SOPEL: It's clear we're going in to an economic downturn, jobs are going to get tighter. What exactly are you proposing in terms of immigration policy?
PHIL WOOLAS: Well thank you very much for the opportunity to say what we're actually doing, Jon. At the end of November, we will be introducing the points based system, for the skilled workers. This is where we can define where the economy has shortages, and predictive shortages, and then allow people who've got those qualifications and a job to go to in to the country; so a big change is coming about in the way in which we approach migration and workers.
JON SOPEL: But don't you want to go further and put a cap on the total population.
PHIL WOOLAS: Well I think frankly Jon, there's a lot of nonsense talked about the cap. Of course as your report very accurately said there, the European Union population can come and go, just as we from Britain, go and live in Spain perhaps or France, so too can others come to this country. So it's very difficult to say, even if you're in favour of a cap, what it should be. But what we can do and your report again identified there, is look at the period of time, and a work permit of course limits the period of time that you can come - that a person can come - to this country to work.
JON SOPEL: So, hang on, so there will be a cap or there won't be a cap.
PHIL WOOLAS: Well you tell me what you mean by a cap Jon and I'll tell you the answer to the question, and this has be-devilled this debate. We recognize of course that we (interjection)
JON SOPEL: Well, sorry, let me answer your question, cos you've been kind enough to start interviewing me. A total number of people in this country.
PHIL WOOLAS: The population as a whole? Including temporary visitors?
JON SOPEL: Yeah.
PHIL WOOLAS: Students, tourists?
JON SOPEL: Well, I mean, you know - okay. Let's go back to me interviewing you. There have been suggestions that it would be a total of seventy million.
PHIL WOOLAS: Yes. This is the serious point Jon, you're right to raise that. Frank Field and his colleague Nicholas Soames on the Conservative bench, Frank on the Labour bench, raised this point, that if you extrapolate recent trends, the population of the country will go up by seven million. We're already introducing changes, with the points based system, and I can give reassurances to people that that sort of figure is not on the horizon. Can I just explain Jon, the points based system, had we introduced it a year ago, there would be 12% less migratory workers in this country now, than there are at the moment. So we think this is a good mechanism, but it doesn't affect people's rights. It's got nothing to do with the debate about race relations and permanent settlement that some people have reacted to my comments yesterday, and I'm glad your film, if I may so Jon, without embarrassing you, was very accurate.
JON SOPEL: Yeah, okay, enough gushing Minister please, you're doing our reputation some damage here. Seriously though,
PHIL WOOLAS: Sure.
JON SOPEL: You said there could be no limit whatsoever.
PHIL WOOLAS: No, I'm not saying there couldn't be no limit whatsoever. But if you look at for example, there are around four hundred thousand students who come here temporarily. There are of course people who marry people from overseas and they have rights under our laws and under treaty laws, you wouldn't want to break up families. But of course there are things that we are doing and will be doing more of to control immigration, partly as a result of the point based system, but in other ways as well. And parliament will be debating this on Tuesday, so it's not a simple message Jon and I'm sorry if people are confused about it. There will be limits on worker migration and of course we will look at the total population in that context.
JON SOPEL: You're quoted as say, 'I've been brought in to be tougher'.
PHIL WOOLAS: Yes.
JON SOPEL: What does that mean.
PHIL WOOLAS: Well Jon, I have a lifetime's involvement in this issue. I believe that we are cruel in many ways to the immigrants who've come to our country. I think we discriminate against them. Your report showed the unemployment there in Birmingham; we need to do more to help people get job opportunities, to get educational opportunities. We're doing our best but we need to do more. So I think we need to be tougher on migration but perhaps kinder on the way in which we help people to get involved in society once they are here.
JON SOPEL: So just tell us how you're going to be tougher on migration.
PHIL WOOLAS: Well I mentioned the points based system. We've got the identity (interjection)
JON SOPEL: but that was already in the system.
PHIL WOOLAS: It's coming in at the end of the November Jon.
JON SOPEL: Sure. But it was pre-announced before you became Immigration Minister.
PHIL WOOLAS: No, yes, but I'm implementing it on November 25th. We're suspending, have already suspended the unskilled workers category. We're introducing the new categories for the skills that we need. We're introducing identity checks, the border is going to be much better controlled. We're having identify cards for all overseas foreign national visitors. We're having passenger checks.
JON SOPEL: Sure.
PHIL WOOLAS: We're going to be able to Jon, under my tenure, to count people in and count people out of the country and we've never been able to do that before.
JON SOPEL: But you're saying, I'm going to be tougher. It implies that your predecessor was somehow weaker and what you've just confirmed to me is all the stuff that your predecessor put in place. I want to know how you, Phil Woolas, are going to be tougher on this issue.
PHIL WOOLAS: Well my job is to implement these policies that you rightly give credit to my predecessor for, Jon. The government is seamless in this matter. But we are going to be tough in implementing these policies. It's very important that the public are reassured that the authorities, including the government, know who's coming in to our country and who's leaving it. And my job is to ensure that we - as tough as we can - implement that, whilst at the same time changing the regime for people who earn citizenship to our country, to help them, to help themselves more than we have done in the past. So if you like it's a tough and tender policy.
JON SOPEL: Okay so maybe when you're talking tougher, it's about reassuring people.
PHIL WOOLAS: It's very important I think that we do reassure people that we, that they know that these measures, such as the border controls, such as the new visa arrangements that we have, such as the measures that we're putting in to place to get illegal immigrants out of the country, because everybody recognizes that some people abuse our system and that's getting tough, if you want to use that phrase, on that as well, Jon. So yes, there are changes coming in and that is to give reassurance to the population and to give reassurance that people will be able to get jobs if they're prepared to put in the effort.
JON SOPEL: This isn't just pure election politics is it, that you know, you're in a bit of a hole at the moment, this has a popular ring to it. British work, British jobs for British workers.
PHIL WOOLAS: Well, let me just reassure you on that point, Jon, because I have been accused of having a bad motive in quite a nasty way this morning.
JON SOPEL: By some of your own colleagues.
PHIL WOOLAS: My col - well, I think that perhaps they've been reacting to reports rather than to what I said. My own seat, constituency, Jon, is a marginal seat. The ethnic minority population in my seat is greater than my majority, so I see no electoral motive behind this policy and the accusations against me are deeply hurtful. This is an issue that I've been passionately involved in all of my adult life.
It's the reason why I got involved in politics, to tackle racial discrimination and to help people who are immigrants. But we can only do that if the public are reassured that we've got tough immigration policy and it is implemented. That is what I think most upsets and annoys people, that they see laws that are not implemented and that's my job; the Prime Minister has asked me to do that and that's what I'm going to do.
JON SOPEL: And one of the points that Frank Field has made, who you referred to earlier and Sir Andrew Green, who we saw in Paola's report there, is about breaking the link between people who come to work here and then almost some automaticity in them getting citizenship.
PHIL WOOLAS: I agree with that point Jon. I think the public need again and want and have the right to reassurance on that point. That if somebody comes to a country or indeed if you visit another country for a specific purpose, that there should be no automaticity between living and working in an area or studying in an area if you're a student perhaps, and staying in that country. And that is one of the things that we will be ensuring is part of our policy.
JON SOPEL: Mr Woolas, let me just ask you about something else which I know, 'cos you have a Treasury responsibility and it's something else we're going to be talking about later on, on this programme, and that is about home repossessions. What more can the government do to keep people in their homes when unemployment is going to rise, people are going to struggle to pay their mortgages and repossessions will go up?
PHIL WOOLAS: Well, for some lenders, not by all means everyone, but for some, particularly the middle men, repossessing the house seems to be the first option, rather than the last and of course, it's the most terrible experience for families and that's why we want to make sure that all the powers are in their, in the system. We don't need legislation, but we're looking at how we can ensure that repossession is the last option, not the first and I think that that will be welcomed.
JON SOPEL: How do you do that?
PHIL WOOLAS: Well there are a number of measures that we can do. My colleague, the Chief Secretary, is looking at those. There are for example measures such as extending mortgage repayment times. There are, in some cases, there are schemes whereby you can suspend payments. There are many ways that the courts can look at, to ensure that repossession is not the first option. And that's what we will be doing. But I'm not assuming Jon, don't put words into my mouth, if anybody is listening, that I'm assuming that things are going to be terrible; we're determined to fight our way through this and to be on the side of the people who've got difficulties.
JON SOPEL: Just a very quick, final thought. Pretty difficult for you, with you kind of controlling some banks, stake in others, to start kicking people out of their homes. It's hardly electorally popular.
PHIL WOOLAS: Hardly electorally popular for what, sorry Jon.
JON SOPEL: Well for the government to be the banker that then says to people, by the way, you're out of your home.
PHIL WOOLAS: ? we said now don't worry, the politicians won't be running the banks, Jon, don't worry about that.
JON SOPEL: Okay, all right. Mr Woolas, thanks very much indeed for being with us.
PHIL WOOLAS: Thank you very much.
END OF INTERVIEW WITH PHIL WOOLAS
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The Politics Show Sunday 19 October 2008 at 12:00 BST on BBC One.
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