• Vince Cable attacks illegal immigrant crackdown launched by Tory coalition colleagues as “stupid and offensive”
• Business Secretary says posters on vans, saying “go home, or you’ll be picked up and deported”, is designed to create fear
The Business Secretary said Immigration Minister Mark Harper’s decision to send vans bearing the message “go home, or you’ll be picked up and deported” round London was designed to create fear among the public.
He rubbished “misleading” targets to reduce net migration and insisted Britain did not have a vast problem with illegal immigrants.
Mr Cable told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show the Liberal Democrats had not been consulted about the van campaign. “It was stupid and offensive. I think it is very unlikely it will continue.”
He questioned whether illegal immigrants would have enough of a “sophisticated grasp of English” to be able to read the posters on the vans at a distance.
“I think it is offensive. It is designed, apparently, to sort of create a sense of fear (in the) British population that we have a vast problem with illegal immigration.
“We have a problem but it’s not a vast one. It’s got to be dealt with in a measured way dealing with the underlying causes.”
Asked about the damning criticism about the accuracy of migration figures by the Public Administration Select Committee today, Mr Cable said: “We are not a totalitarian state. We don’t count every single person but actually it’s quite difficult being an illegal immigrant in Britain. You can’t work, certainly legally, you can’t have access to benefits. So, the idea that there’s some vast, hidden army of people, is almost certainly completely wrong.
“The argument about those numbers, which was raised this morning by a select committee, it only really matters if you are pursuing some target. There’s this sort of net immigration figure, which the Conservatives are very preoccupied by.
“It’s not a government objective, make it absolutely clear.
“This idea that you are pursuing a net immigration figure is very misleading because, amongst other things, the largest number of people counted as immigrants are overseas students, who are not immigrants, they are visitors but under the United Nations classification they are regarded as immigrants, but they are good for the country.
“So obsessing about this net immigration number is not helpful.”
Home ownership scheme could inflate market
Meanwhile, Mr Cable has warned that a government scheme to boost home ownership “could inflate the market”.
Earlier this week Chancellor George Osborne fleshed out plans to underwrite £130 billion of mortgage lending with state guarantees under the Help to Buy.
But critics, including former Bank of England governor Lord King, have warned it risks inflating another housing bubble and piling huge housing risk on the Government.
Mr Cable admitted the scheme “could be a problem” if it is not properly designed.
The Liberal Democrat told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show: “I am worried of the danger of getting into another housing bubble.
“The Help to Buy scheme is actually quite complex. We have one part that’s already operating, which is providing mortgages against new homes, nobody has questioned that.
“The proposal which hasn’t yet been implemented, which is providing a guarantee for a limited range of mortgage, could be a problem. It could inflate the market.
“But, if it’s properly designed it could be a useful addition.”