Immigration sparks a lively set of exchanges as five Parliamentary candidates come together for Ely Cathedral debate

Ely Husting

Ely Husting - Credit: Archant

Immigration sparked a lively series of exchanges during the latest hustings meeting of the five candidates fighting to become the next MP for South East Cambridgeshire.

Ely Husting

Ely Husting - Credit: Archant

Some 200 guests of the Ely Cathedral Business Group listened to – and questioned- the candidates.

Deborah Rennie (UKIP) said: “No one is blaming anyone for coming here for a better life –if we were in their position we would probably want to. But our current system is at fault.”

She said the net migration last year into Britain was 300,000 – comparable to a city she said roughly the size of Hull- and if it carried on at this level “I would suggest going forward we are going to have some serious issues”.

She said changes to the EU were needed “but with the best will in the world we cannot negotiate with the EU. Cameron has tried and did not succeed and unless you get other member states to agree with changes you are proposing, that change will not happen.”

Ely Husting

Ely Husting - Credit: Archant

Asked if she wanted Britain out of Europe she replied: “Yes, I do.”

Lucy Frazer, the Tory candidate, spoke of there being “good immigration, great immigration” quoting her own family’s experiences. Her great grand parents had come to the country with nothing and with no English language but had built up a successful small family business.

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But what worried her were those who “come to commit crimes and then we struggle to deport them because they have built up their human rights. That immigration isn’t welcome.”

Labour’s Hew Jones praised the efforts of NE Cambs MP Steve Barclay for helping to expose and tackle the exploitation of migrant workers in Wisbech and March.

He warned though of the “drivers at the bottom of the labour market” and criticised the role Ms Frazer’s predecessor Sir Jim Paice had played in abolishing the agricultural wages board which controlled pay and conditions for rural workers.

It meant agricultural workers “lost the protection they once had. I remember knocking on the door of a man in Prickwillow who had been made redundant who told me ‘they can get two of them for one of me.’”

Mr Jones warned that “the race to the bottom not only exploits migrants but also displaces the work of some of the local population. It’s like scenes from the Grapes of Wrath, something from the 1930s.”

Jonathan Chatfield (Lib Dem) believed “managed” immigration would sit alongside the British people’s history of being both hospitable and welcoming.

There were opportunities for work in hospitals, factories, schools and fields but the issue was that we don’t have the exact knowledge and number of those coming into this country.

“Certainly I think lot of debate on immigration sometimes gets emotive,” he said.

Clive Semmens (Green) said of course there were criminal elements among the immigrant population, as too were there among the English population.

He was relaxed about the numbers coming to this country, believing a lack of investment by Government in building new homes and schools on brown field sites had left big shortages. He said it was about lack of money not an excess number of people that was the real issue. Mr Semmens also felt that if we allowed only those immigrants with special skills to come to the UK we could be depriving their own countries of much needed talent and skills.

“Immigration needs to be balanced,” he said.

A former naval lieutenant commander in the audience told the panel he had been seconded to Norway for four years and had served both that country, Latvia and Estonian. He was proud to “work for the common good” and said he was sick to death of hearing about benefit scroungers when, in places like Norway, Germany and France, it was British people who were the worst offenders.

Another speaker said among immigrants only six per cent claimed benefits compared to 15 per cent from UK nationals.

“If you look at what is put back in by immigrants and through general taxation that is far higher than the amount that goes out,” he said. “The net benefit is much stronger.”

Another who works for an American company based in Cambridge said that one of the reasons they moved here was to access talent. The argument should be about how Britain can improve being a member of the EU rather than the “shot gun, in/out debate which is frankly idiotic”.

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