According to the website of the UK Borders Agency,
"The Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill will lay down a radical new approach to British citizenship that will require all migrants to speak English and obey the law if they want to gain citizenship and stay permanently in Britain - while speeding up the path to citizenship for those who contribute to the community by being active citizens.'
I have to say that, whenever I see language like that, I am immediately wary and, given the form of this Government in terms of talking tough and then failing to resource the work properly, creating hardship and organisational chaos.
Certainly, the new proposals will appeal to those who feel that immigration to the United Kingdom is too easy, and the talk of restricting access to benefits, and of sending foreign criminals home probably qualifies as 'dog whistle' politics.
I admit to doubts about the proposals that all foreign migrants committing crimes will risk the automatic loss of their right to remain (for those earning prison sentences), or an extension to their qualifying period for citizenship for minor offences. For those migrants from countries that are unsafe, or with whom we are unable to reach agreement over repatriation, a future of semi-permanent detention beckons, and the cost to the public purse will be formidable. Restricted access to benefits, particularly if applied to genuine refugees, will cause great hardship and greater temptation to commit minor crimes to keep body and soul together. If, however, we enable refugees to work, this might be mitigated to some extent.
We've already had plenty of warning of the new points-based system and, whilst it is claimed that it will 'allow the Government to manage immigration which in turn will help contribute to future population projections and control', I am yet to be convinced that, when immigration from other EU countries is unlimited, it will prove to be much more than guesswork. Besides, in an employment market as complex and fluid as we have in the United Kingdom, I suspect there will be plenty of work for lawyers in challenging how the points system operates.
Border and Immigration Minister Phil Woolas is quoted as saying:
"We are clear that newcomers should speak English, work hard, and earn the right to stay here - and only get British citizenship once they have proved their commitment to the country.
"Migration only works if it brings benefits, and these measures will ensure that only those migrants that make a positive impact on their local community will be able to stay in the UK."
Nonsense, of course. Lithuanians, Poles and Bulgarians will be exempt from this, as will French, Portuguese and Greeks. Given that much of our immigration is from EU nations, it's all talk from 'Bruiser Phil'. As a bid to draw voters away from the BNP, it may well do the trick, at least temporarily, but it hardly acts to mark us as reaching for higher moral and ethical standards in public life.
There are some positive elements though. The Bill will strengthen Britain's security by giving frontline staff of the UK Border Agency combined customs and immigration powers, allowing them to be more effective.
The Bill will also place a duty on the UK Border Agency to safeguard the welfare of children in its work; introduce new rules to give automatic British nationality to a child born in the UK where at least one parent is a foreign or Commonwealth member of the British armed forces; and fix the current situation whereby a father could pass on his British nationality to a child born abroad before 1961 while a mother could not. I think that we can all applaud that...
I suspect that the Conservatives will wave this through whilst complaining that it isn't tough enough and the Government are all talk and no action. They're probably right on the second point, but I'm hoping that our Peers and MPs will do what they can to improve the Bill. The notion that we have to be tough on people coming to our shores 'just because' is no excuse for injustice.