Norman Baker is happy to be the odd man out at the Home Office: Immigration, surveillance, drugs... the new minister differs with Theresa May on all of them

Liberal Democrat has brief to 'make sure there is a liberal voice clearly heard' in the government department

The Home Office has been guilty of “ramping up” its rhetoric on immigration as a diversion from the failings of Britain’s border controls, the new Liberal Democrat minister in the Home Office has claimed.

Norman Baker also put himself at odds with Home Secretary Theresa May by warning that plans to force landlords to check potential tenants’ immigration status could force vulnerable people underground.

In an interview with The Independent, he denounced the “hysterical” attacks he had faced this week over the book in which he suggested the Government scientist David Kelly could have been assassinated and his murder covered up.

And he disclosed he had been given the go-ahead by the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, to range across all policy areas to “make sure there is a liberal voice clearly heard in the Home Office”.

Mr Baker made clear his differences with his Conservative Secretary of State over drugs legislation and the so-called “snoopers’ charter”.

But the outspoken MP, who is regarded as on the left of his party, reserved his strongest criticism for the Home Office’s past language on immigration.

Mr Baker said that, overall, he supported the new Immigration Bill, but expressed grave reservations over moves to require landlords to check potential tenants’ immigration status before renting them property.

“We have got to make sure we don’t end up having a huge burden on landlords, that we don’t end up having indigenous British people who may not have a passport or driving licence finding it difficult to get rented accommodation.

“Most important, we want to make sure we don’t end up driving people underground.”

The scheme will be trialled in one area before being rolled out across the country. Mr Baker’s comments suggest his party would seek to block national implementation if it believes landlords are being unreasonably forced to double as immigration officers.

He denounced the Home Office’s decision to send vans carrying billboards urging illegal immigrants to “go home” to areas with large ethnic minority populations. The summer campaign caught the Lib Dems by surprise, and the episode is believed to have helped seal the fate of his sacked predecessor, Jeremy Browne.

Condemning the posters as “intimidating”, he claimed there had been a “hard feel” to the way Home Office ministers have spoken about immigration to divert attention from problems with border controls.

But he said: “We are now correcting it, so we are getting the processes quicker. But in the past, rather than sorting out the processes, the substitute for sorting them out has been to ramp up the language.”

Mr Baker, whose portfolio will include crime prevention and drugs policy, said he believed he had been promoted – and his appointment endorsed by David Cameron – because of his record as a transport minister.

He said a Home Office review of drugs policy was almost concluded and he would be “led by the evidence” in drawing up his recommendations.

But he echoed Mr Clegg who complained this week that the Conservatives were “not willing to look openly and imaginatively” at the issue.

Mr Baker said: “There will be a problem perhaps in reaching a common position. The work’s being done. That will produce an evidence base, and even if we conclude collectively there will be no changes this parliament, that will nevertheless inform the next government and indeed the next [Lib Dem] manifesto.”

He signalled his hostility towards the Data Communications Bill, being supported by Mrs May, which would give sweeping powers to the police and the security services to monitor everyone’s internet use.

He said he would “take account” of his Lib Dem colleagues’ objections to the scheme. He added: “I naturally want to make sure we don’t end up tipping the balance away from the individual towards the state unless absolutely necessary.”

Mr Baker said he believed his new department sometimes lagged behind changes in society – and should learn from the reforming Labour Home Secretary Roy Jenkins.

He said Jenkins had shown he could act in the public interest while also “reforming and moving society forward in a way which was consensual and liberating”.

He said coverage in the “right-wing press” of his views on Dr Kelly’s death had been “somewhat hysterical”. He said: “If people want to raise the book from years ago, then I suppose they can raise that, but I didn’t see anything from my successful time at transport or any other aspects to balance things.

“I’m concentrating on what’s happening in the next 18 months.”

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
football
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Qualified Primary Teaching Assistant

£64 - £73 per day + Competitive rates based on experience : Randstad Education...

Primary KS2 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam