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Immigration still a huge Black Country issue as Ian Austin urges Labour to get tough

Immigration still a huge Black Country issue as Ian Austin urges Labour to get tough

🕔10.Nov 2014

Black Country MP Ian Austin, whose marginal Dudley North seat is a Ukip top target, has launched an outspoken attack on both the Government and Labour for being soft on immigration. The timing and nature of Austin’s comments, published in the Tory-supporting Daily Mail, helped to fuel claims that the Labour MP is part of a plot to overthrow Ed Miliband, writes Paul Dale.

The Black Country certainly has form on immigration. Almost 50 years Enoch Powell, Conservative MP for Wolverhampton South-west, began a debate that still rages today when giving his infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in Birmingham. Powell was sacked from the shadow cabinet as a result.

And while Mr Austin’s language is nowhere near as intemperate as Powell’s, the points the Labour MP makes, in common with Powell, will strike a chord with working class communities’ concerns about immigration.

In the article Mr Austin argues that it is “plain common sense” that people should not be able to come to Britain and be unemployed and that they should have to work and pay taxes before claiming benefits”.

He adds:  “I’ve always said that if you want to live in Britain, you must be prepared to work hard and pay your way, obey the law and speak English. There’s no other way to play a full part in British society.”

Claiming to speak for most people in Dudley, Mr Austin said: “They certainly don’t think it’s fair that child benefit can be claimed in the UK for children living abroad.”

He added that he had received many letters and emails congratulating him on his stance and that “many said they were really pleased to hear a Labour MP saying it”.

Mr Austin admitted that his views hadn’t made him popular, either in his own party or with the Government,

“I’m afraid it didn’t go down so well in Westminster. The Prime Minister scoffed and sneered and said I shouldn’t be raising the issue. The Left-leaning Guardian accused me of sticking a jackboot into immigrants. I knew some people would not agree with me, but I didn’t anticipate being called a Nazi.

“I ought to be used to it by now. When I told ministers in the last Labour Government they’d made mistakes – including on Eastern Europe – and immigration was too high, I was told I sounded like the BNP.

“But this Government is getting it wrong too. David Cameron promised he’d get net migration down to the tens of thousands but it’s actually gone up to over 240,000.”

Mr Austin added: “The asylum system is in chaos and foreign criminals aren’t being deported. It’s no wonder people in Dudley think politicians in Westminster haven’t been listening.

“Most people think that if you have the skills we need and are ready to work, you’re welcome. But they also believe people shouldn’t be free to come and be unemployed or claim benefits without paying in first. That’s just not fair to British people working hard and paying taxes.

“And they agree when I say that if jobs are available I want my constituents to get them, and that large firms and the NHS should train British youngsters instead of hiring from abroad.”

Mr Austin said the main points of a new immigration bill should include:

  • Benefit reform: People who come to Britain must wait longer before claiming and should only get benefits after paying in first. No one should get Child Benefit for children living abroad.
  • Tighter border controls: The border force has been cut so the number stopped and sent home has fallen by 45 per cent. They need more resources to count people in and out.
  • Bring back fingerprinting at Calais: This safety check was scrapped by the Government and as a result illegal immigrants can’t be identified and turned round.
  • Deportation of foreign criminals: It should be easier to kick out criminals – and anyone guilty of a serious crime abroad should be banned from coming here.
  • Charges for visitors using the NHS: Migrants should pay up front or their country should foot the bill.
  • Local people should go to the top of housing lists: Councils should adopt the policy we have in Dudley where you only get on the housing list if you’ve lived or worked locally for two years.
  • Controls on cheap foreign labour: The minimum wage must be enforced to stop unscrupulous employers exploiting foreign labour and undercutting British workers. I want fines raised to £50,000, exploitative zero hours contracts banned and recruitment agencies stopped from hiring solely overseas.
  • Training for our young people: If a large firm can’t find a British worker to fill a vacancy and has to hire abroad they should have to train a British apprentice too.

He added: “I think these changes could be introduced now and I’ve urged the Government and the Labour Party leadership to look at them.”

Mr Austin, a former Minister in Gordon Brown’s government, is not the first senior Labour MP to urge the party to toughen its stance on immigration. Last month Liam Byrne (Lab Hodge Hill) said the Labour had no reason to be afraid of talking about managing immigration and he believed the issue could be a vote winner.

Mr Byrne, who is the shadow higher education minister, set out his views in an interview with the House Magazine: “You need to talk about stronger controls, you need to talk about the obligations on people who want to make Britain their home, and third, you make a tougher argument about enforcing the rules on employers who try and use immigration to undercut British workers.”

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