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.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
football
News
Tangerine Dream Edgar Froese
people
News
Rob Lowe
peopleRob Lowe hits out at Obama's snub of Benjamin Netanyahu
News
Davies (let) says: 'Everybody thought we were having an affair. It was never true!'
people'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
News
Staff assemble outside the old City Road offices in London
mediaThe stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century at Britain's youngest paper
Life and Style
The Oliver twins, Philip and Andrew, at work creating the 'Dizzy' arcade-adventure games in 1988
techDocumentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Arts and Entertainment
Krall says: 'My hero player-singer is Elton John I used to listen to him as a child, every single record
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
News
i100
Environment
Number so freshwater mussels in Cumbria have plummeted from up to three million in the 20th century to 500,000
environment
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

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us