UKIP position on migrant workers under fire at BBC Any Questions? broadcast live in front of 600 people at Wisbech Grammar School
PUBLISHED: 12:27 03 May 2015 | UPDATED: 12:27 03 May 2015
Immigration focused heavily in the issues put to the four politicians on the BBC Radio 4 Any Questions programme that was broadcast live on Friday night from Wisbech.
In front of 600 people at Wisbech Grammar School, the deputy leader of UKIP, MEP Paul Nuttall, claimed many agricultural jobs now being undertaken by a migrant work force could be done by British workers.
“From 1950 to 1997 when we had sensible levels of immigration , the asparagus was still picked then and I am sure it would still be picked now,” he said.
His response was treated with bemusement by host Jonathan Dimbleby who told him that “the audience looked at you as if you were talking nonsense when you said that”.
The MEP retorted: “ We have enough people unemployed in this country. Get our own people back to work first”.
He said it was “not good for any society” to have 800,000 of its 18 to 24 year-olds not going out to work.
“We need British jobs for British people – there’s nothing racist or xenophobic about that,” he said.
The debate was sparked by a question from Samantha Harvey who had asked if it mattered who picked Fenland asparagus that then opened a wider debate about migrant workers coming into Wisbech.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said the issue of who did such work did matter if those doing it were being exploited “and if that exploitation is being used to under cut wages and jobs”.
She said Government advisers had identified Lithuanian and Latvian agencies advertising for “jobs that don’t exist, pay that doesn’t exist, putting people into overcrowded accommodation that is being used to over charge on rents and therefore not paying the minimum wage”.
Ms Cooper said a future Labour government would toughen enforcement laws and make exploitation of pay and jobs a criminal offence.
She said so often in the past the Crown Prosecution Service had told police that the law was not strong enough to tackle what she said was a form of modern slavery.
She said: “Abuse of people from wherever they have come is bad for local communities and we should make it a crime.”
Immigration needed to be controlled and managed and the “unfairness” inherent in exploitation associated with undercutting pay and jobs would become illegal.
Treasury minister Priti Patel said the Conservative Party believed “any form of exploitation is absolutely wrong; all agencies should work together to stamp that out”.
She praised Operation Pheasant for its work to stamp out issues surrounding exploitation and she also pledged a future Conservative government would continue with welfare reforms for EU migrants.
“Its about bringing control and fairness back to our immigration system,” she said.
Did it matter who picked the asparagus, she was asked.
“Whoever picks the asparagus should be paid the right wage and here for right reasons, on legitimate grounds,” she said. “It makes no difference if they are British or from Europe or overseas. It is about them being here for right reason and contributing to our country and our economy.”
Lib Dem energy minister Ed Davey said the UKIP policy on immigration would be “be disastrous for this country and our economy”.
He wanted increased powers for bodies such as the Gangmasters Licensing Authority but felt issues such as apprenticeships were important for the local and regional economy.
And in areas such as Wisbech, he said, transport infrastructure – including reopening the local rail line- and rural broadband “are the sort of things to make our economy more diverse and give real jobs to real people”.
• Any Questions is one of the few ‘self selecting’ political programmes so far as tickets are concerned.
Tickets are distributed through the hosts – in this instance Wisbech Grammar School- and were sent 10 weeks prior to transmission.
On their website the BBC tell hosts: “Members of your organisation will want to have first call on the tickets, but at least one third of the tickets must be made available to the general public on a first come, first served basis.
“Please offer a number of tickets to the local political parties in your area. We suggest you let them know you are hosting the programme and that you will hold approximately 10 tickets for each of them. It can of course be less or more depending on the total number of seats in your venue.
“Please ask our advice if you wish. We will be in touch before the broadcast to discuss take up.
“Any tickets that haven’t been taken up one week before broadcast can be released to the general public.”