Debating immigration is not racist, is quite proper in a mature democracy and should be encouraged if a void is not to be left vacant for fascist groups to exploit.
I have made these points throughout my time in politics, including four years as Leader of Bradford Council, and they have not always been met with universal approval. But I was nonetheless keen to repeat them during Tuesday’s Commons debate on Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Ours is a generous country, which rightly offers the hand of friendship and help to people wherever they may come from. That has been demonstrated over many generations by our commitment to international development, and also by our record on granting asylum to those who genuinely deserve it.
It is important for us to start from that position. But I believe that we as a nation have a right to set out our own rules on immigration, and to determine who should and should not migrate into the United Kingdom.
Theresa May and Damian Green have made a commendable start to the huge task of tackling the immigration mess left behind by Labour.
Measures such as capping economic migration from outside the European Union, introducing minimum skills, closing the Tier 1 general route that has allowed self-selecting migrants to come here without a job, reforming the student visa system, and setting a minimum income for those who wish to bring a spouse or family member here are all welcome steps towards the goal of restoring some sanity in this area of policy.
Inevitably, there will be detractors.
For example, I have already received representations from some of my own constituents opposed to the need for a minimum income. But my response to them is simple: why should the British public have to bear that financial burden?
If someone wants to come to this country and gain from all the services, facilities, democracy and freedom of speech that it provides, then they should be expected to meet some minimum standards.
In this regard, I believe the rewriting of the immigration rules to help prevent Article 8 of the European Convention on Human rights from being abused is helpful.
I look forward to future changes as we seek to raise the bar on immigration.
We should not stop reminding individuals that it is a privilege to come to the United Kingdom, live in it and gain citizenship of it. And those who abuse that privilege should have it taken away.
The Labour Government famously lost control of immigration, and they lost public confidence in our border controls. The Coalition Government has a huge responsibility to right those wrongs.
As ministers continue to meet the challenges before them, all politicians should feel confident to engage in debate – with the public and with each other – on immigration.
It is important for us to contribute our voice, take ownership of immigration issues, face up to the fact that policies have failed in the past, and enable the people we represent to be confident about the fact that sensible measures are being put in place.
Some might wince at the language that is used, but let us get over the issue of language: let us engage in all parts of the country and help restore confidence in immigration. And as we do so, let’s work together to put fascist organisations such as the BNP and the EDL out of business.