Thursday, 27 November 2014

My Free Press article on immigration in full.

Immigration has been hugely important to the history of Rossendale as it has to the United Kingdom as a whole. Irish immigrants came to Rossendale in the 19th century to build the East Lancashire railway and work in our factories. Like previous influxes of immigrants there was resentment. Cheap labour brought in undermined the economic interests of indigenous the English.

Following the Second World War, South Asian immigrants came to work in the mills and shoe factories when there was full employment. Their contribution to our community and their struggles in moving to a new country are movingly documented in Horse + Bamboo’s ‘Different Moons’ exhibition currently on at the Whitaker Museum.

I want to be clear though; it isn’t racist to talk about immigration and not just the benefits but the problems that immigration bring.

The sheer numbers of people now migrating to Britain can be unsettling and puts pressure on local services and local jobs. I am quite clear that the last Labour Government did not do enough to address people’s concerns about this issue and Ed Miliband was quick, clear and unequivocal in saying this. Not the defensive political speak we are used to hearing from politicians.

It was unforgiveable for Gordon Brown to describe Mrs Duffy as “bigoted” for expressing her point of view. Indeed, Will Straw and I have often discussed how concern about new waves of immigration are held by people from Asian, Irish and English backgrounds in Rossendale. Will himself was quick to defend the rights of the Britannia Coconut Dancers, a century old traditional Clog dancing troupe from Bacup to blacken their faces in the face of criticism political correctness.

If we are elected next year, Labour will take a different approach on both immigration and on benefits.

I am particularly concerned by employment agencies which only hire from overseas and undercut local people’s job opportunities. This is wrong and unfair. Labour will ban these agencies and put in place tougher enforcement of minimum wage laws stopping agencies who are only recruiting from abroad, or firms that are exploiting zero hours contracts or not paying the minimum wage. We will target sectors with high levels of foreign recruitment for training and apprenticeships so local workers – particularly the young unemployed – can get jobs. We will require large firms seeking to recruit migrants from outside of Europe to also offer an apprenticeship in the UK.

We will retain the cap on non-EU economic migrants and permanently close the route for low-skilled non-EU migrants. We will treble the fines for employing illegal migrants and introduce an escalator for serious offences. We will make serious exploitation a crime to prevent dodgy gangmasters exploiting migrants to undercut local jobs and wages.

Last week Labour laid out plans to get a grip of our borders with 1,000 extra enforcement staff, and tighter benefit restrictions to ensure that entitlements are earned migrants are only entitled to benefits once they have been in the UK for two years to reduce the pull factor for low skill migration that can under-cut wages. This will help restore the important principle of contribution into our welfare system and deter welfare tourism. We will work to change EU rules to stop child benefit and child tax credit from being paid to children not living in the UK. We will make sure people who come to this country learn English – and that public sector workers in public-facing roles are required to speak English.

We want to see stronger border controls to deal with illegal immigration - for example we should have proper checks on people entering and leaving the country to stop people overstaying on their visas, and stop criminals too. For the first time, people will be counted in and counted out. We will strengthen enforcement of illegal immigration, including reinstating fingerprint checks for illegal migrants at Calais.

Labour are committed to European cross border policing unlike UKIP and reluctant Tories. 4,000 foreign criminals have been deported on average within 42 days, not the 10 years it once took from outside the EU; and 500 British sex offenders including paedophiles have been identified to our UK police under EU policing powers.

Most people I know celebrate our diversity – and we mustn’t forget the benefits we all enjoy meeting different people from different backgrounds to ourselves. However it isn’t wrong or racist to have genuine concerns over immigration. The Labour Party was established to defend the economic interests of the working class and I am determined to ensure that this Labour tradition continues.