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Interview with Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Liberal Democrats

April 29, 2015 10:00 AM

DPM Nick Clegg MPQ&A by Editor of Singtao Chinese Newspaper, Alego Poon

1. What are the policies in the Lib Dem Manifesto that you think would benefit the Chinese community in this country most?

NC: Our starting point is that no matter who you are, where you come from and whatever your circumstances, you should have the opportunity to fulfil you potential. That's why we've used our time in government to take some great strides in tackling inequality and improving the lives of Britain's ethnic minority communities. So we've helped disadvantaged ethnic minority pupils close the gap with their peers through our £2.5bn Pupil Premium, providing targeted funding for pupils who need the most help. We've supported entrepreneurs from ethnic minorities by helping them get access to finance to start their businesses. And we're proud to have stood up to the xenophobic and nationalistic politics of UKIP, which threaten the wellbeing of new migrant communities and well-established ethnic minority communities, such as the Chinese community, alike.

Yet people from communities such as the Chinese community still face inequalities in areas such as health, education and justice, so we have made sure that our manifesto contains targeted policies to iron out those inequalities. This includes policies aimed at rebuilding trust in the immigration system, and protecting migrants from ugly attempts to blame them for society's problems, as well as plans to increase the number of apprentices from ethnic minority backgrounds, so that young Chinese people can fulfil their potential.

2. There has been serious lack of skilled staff in the Chinese catering industry, while the current visa regime has been preventing skilled catering workers like Chinese cuisine chefs from being employed from non EU countries. Hence the standard of the Chinese restaurants has slid far below the level of the past. And there is a true crisis that the Chinese cuisine would disappear from the UK food scene . What could you do to remedy this dilemma?

NC: Chinese food plays a major role in British food culture, from the "traditional" British-Cantonese restaurants, to those cooking more regional Chinese food from Sichuan, Hunan and other areas of China, so it's no surprise that Chinese restaurants and takeaways are among the most popular in the UK. I know the current visa regulations can be difficult for small businesses to negotiate. While we need to make our immigration system secure and fair, it doesn't make sense to restrict businesses based in the UK from hiring the skilled workers they need to grow. We have made some progress in fixing the mess the Labour Party left the visa system in, and we've streamlined regulations to help businesses and individuals. Admittedly we've done this more successfully in some areas of the visa system than others, for example, more first-year students from China have enrolled at UK universities this year than those from the whole of the EU put together. We now need to build on the progress we've made and make the system more straightforward so that we can attract highly skilled applicants across all industries

3. A great part of the Chinese population in UK is Cantonese speaking. So there has long been quite a number of weekend Chinese schools teaching local born Chinese children the Chinese language in Cantonese, with government subsidies. However the number of these schools has dwindled dramatically in recent years due to government funding cuts. There is then a crisis that these schools would disappear completely eventually. What could you do to salvage the situation?

NC: As someone who has grown up speaking a number of different languages, I know how valuable it is to be able to communicate across cultures, and how important it is for communities to maintain their cultural heritage through language. Given the influence of China in global business and politics, there are many benefits to be gained from encouraging young people in the British Chinese Community to learn Cantonese and maintain those cultural links. At the core of Liberal Democrat values is the belief in the power of education to build a stronger economy and a fair society and provide opportunity for everyone. That's why we forced the Conservatives in coalition to protect the education budget, and why we have committed to doing that in the next government.

4. The local Chinese community services in this country have diminished greatly due to lack of funding. Many Chinese community centres may not be able to exist in the near future. How would you help?

NC: Community centres play a very important role in cities, towns and villages across the country. I believe that as many spending decisions as possible should be made at a local level and that local authorities are best placed to make the right choices for their communities and for community based organisations. That's why the Liberal Democrats in the coalition have fought hard to reverse decades over over-centralisation by Labour in government. Looking forward, I am very keen to increase the number of Neighbourhood, Community and Parish Councils which will be able to lend direct support to Chinese community centres and at the same time I think more could be done to enable charities and social enterprises to access the support and finance they need to develop and deliver important cultural services like community centres.

5. Are there any ways to help the Chinese citizen in this country to be more interested in participating in public life, e.g. to get more Chinese people register as voters and cast their votes in elections?

NC: The Chinese community in the UK adds significant value to our society, and it is important that all members of that community feel engaged with the political system and empowered to make decisions about the way their country, their community and their workplace are run. I'm incredibly proud of the work that Chinese Liberal Democrats to do encourage participation within our party, and we have some great candidates from the British Chinese community standing in the general election including Philip Ling in Tooting, Steven Cheung in Walthamstow and Alex Payton in Hampshire. I believe that politics needs to be representative, and that it's incredibly positive for ethnic communities when they see themselves reflected in Parliament.

I think the barriers to participation are often the same for the British Chinese community as they are for society as a whole, and that's why the Liberal Democrats are committed to modernising the government and reforming the political system to limit the power of vested interest through party funding reform and give individuals more power at the ballot box through reform of the voting system. We have taken some steps in the right direction, despite sustained resistance from the Conservative and Labour parties. There's still a long way to go, though, but we are determined to deliver further reforms.

6 How do you view the current situation of the Britain-China relation? Is the Lib Dem on good terms with the Chinese Government?

The Taiwan representative in UK was invited to the Lib Dem Chinese New Year party earlier this year, but no one from the Chinese embassy. And the Lib Dem has always been in defence of the Dalai Lama. Do you think this would contribute to the welfare of the Britain-China relation?

NC: I think we have a productive relationship with China - we have an important trading relationship which is mutually beneficial and which has continued to grow over the decades.

However, as Liberal Democrats, we believe that our relationship with the rest of the world has to be based on more than just trade, and I do have serious concerns about human rights in China, especially after the events in Hong Kong over the last year. We are committed to engaging with China on these issues. A strong and mature relationship is one where no concern is off limits, but where we talk about our differences with honesty and mutual respect, sometimes in public, sometimes in private. That is why I will not shy away from promoting democracy in Hong Kong, and supporting Taiwan's democratic government and the people in Tibet who are fighting for their rights.

China is a country which is going on an extraordinary journey. We've seen economic transformation on a scale possibly unheard of in the modern world, with millions of people becoming economically emancipated. We recognise that China has made unprecedented improvements in social and economic rights and personal freedoms in the last 30 years, bringing hundreds of millions out of poverty and in the long run, I believe that commercial prosperity in China and economic transformation will lead to increasing pressure for social and political emancipation as well.

7. If elected, what do you think could be done to boost Britain-China relation?

NC: I think the two most important things we can do are to continue our open dialogue, and to maintain trade and investment in each other's countries. The UK is also a founding board member of China's new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and I hope that closer cooperation that will come through that.

8. Streamlining the Visitor visa system has long been a concern for the business sector. What could you do to improve British-Chinese economic relations through the visa system overhaul?

NC: For the visa system to be working effectively, it should be helping us to keep control over our borders while ensuring that the UK remains an attractive destination for tourists and business investors so we can boost job creation and growth. I'm not saying that we haven't still got a way to go to get there, but we're committed to creating a better process for visa applications and we're slowly improving the system that was left in chaos by the previous Labour government. We have made some progress in streamlining the system, for example by introducing a new, one-stop visa service so that Chinese tourists can use the same website to apply for a visa to the UK and to other EU countries. This will help to encourage more Chinese tourists and business visitors, and we are very open to considering similar policies which will further help businesses.

9. Increased university tuition fees have been burdened on many families and many students are suffering from this. How would you help to facilitate the younger generation to access higher education?

NC: It's important to remember that the Liberal Democrats have ensured that absolutely no undergraduate student in England has to pay a penny up front of their tuition fees, and students do not have to pay anything back until they are earning over £21,000 per year. In fact we now have the highest university application rates ever, including from disadvantaged students. We have also introduced a loan system for some post-graduate courses, which gives more people access to courses that were prohibitively expensive.

We believe that education is the backbone of providing opportunity for everyone, and we will continue to make sure that higher and further education remain accessible to as many people as possible. That's why in the next Parliament we want to get even more people going to university and do more to drive up standards. We have plans to expand the number of full-time two year Foundation Degrees, and we'll seek to introduce more flexibility to encourage more part-time study and help students transfer between and within universities and colleges. We will also review higher education finance within the next Parliament to see whether it needs reforming.

Of course, we also want to ensure the UK is an attractive destination for overseas students, not least those who wish to study STEM subjects - Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. That's why we will reinstate post-study work visas for STEM graduates who can find graduate-level employment within six months of completing their degree.

10. Gambling addiction has become a big problem in the UK society. What could you do to better control the gambling industry, like the burgeoning betting shops, online casinos, etc?

Many people across the country enjoy gambling responsibly, from playing the Lotto to betting on the Grand National. But we have to make sure there's a framework to protect those who become addicted and get caught in a downward spiral. That's why we plan to give councils the power to limit the number of betting shops in their area, powers which would help tackle the particular problems that arise when several betting shops are clustered together. It's also why we would also look at legislation to curb addictive high stakes gaming ­machines by reducing the maximum amount of money that people can gamble when using Fixed Odds Betting Terminals.

11. What could you do to ensure the NHS has enough GPs to provide health care for the people in need?

NC: I truly believe that good health is one of the most important assets we can have in life, and we must do all we can to help people stay healthy, as well as provide them with high-quality care when they are ill. That's why in government the Liberal Democrats have increased the NHS budget in real terms every single year, and that's why we are the only party have committed to matching the £8bn of extra funding NHS England chief Simon Stevens say the health service needs.

Over the past five year, we have helped fund 10,000 more doctors and 7,000 nurses. With a new pipelines of doctors established, we will use part of the £8bn in additional funding to establish a £500m per year "Care Closer to Home" fund to safeguard the NHS by investing in care in people's own homes, GP surgeries, care homes and community clinics. This will benefit people of all ages by helping them to stay healthier for longer and avoid hospital admissions.