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I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate. Like many, if not most, Members, I was acutely aware long before the general election of just how important the issue of immigration had become to the people in this country. Of all the issues raised with me on the doorstep by my constituents, immigration was unquestionably the number one concern, and scenes throughout the summer, across Europe and in Calais, have done nothing but exacerbate that concern in recent months.
Like my right hon. and hon. Friends, I welcomed the reforms brought about by the Immigration Act 2014, but there is still work to be done. My constituents are absolutely clear about the fact that they want us to control our borders, and that includes dealing with those who have already managed to evade our border controls.
While there are, of course, many benefits to Britain from some controlled immigration, we must face the fact that the current levels are unsustainable. It is well documented that mass immigration forces down wages and makes it more difficult for residents like mine to find work. However, illegal immigration is the major source of frustration and grievance for my residents. I therefore welcome the Bill’s attempts to support working people by clamping down on illegal immigration. These measures will help to protect our public services, and will send a message to those who try to exploit our system for their own gain.
There are those who seek to take advantage of some of the most vulnerable people by promising them a better life in Britain, but the reality for those who arrive is often exactly the opposite, so I welcome the proposals to introduce new, tougher sanctions for rogue employers. It is right that we make it an offence for anyone to employ someone whom he or she knows, or has reason to suspect, is an illegal worker. We cannot allow ruthless criminal gangs to continue to exploit the vulnerable, or to bring undocumented, even potentially dangerous, individuals into the country. The Bill sends a clear message to those gangs: “You will not win.” It also sends a clear message to potential illegal migrants that it will not be as easy to establish themselves in the United Kingdom as they were promised it would be.
Since 2010 the Government have worked hard to support new businesses, many of which have been set up in my constituency. We should be ensuring that those hard-working, law-abiding entrepreneurs are rewarded. Equally, we must punish those who continue to flout the law by employing illegal labour and giving themselves an unfair and illegal competitive advantage. Illegal labour not only exploits the workers whom it employs, but denies work to UK citizens and drives down wages. Businesses that ignore the law should be closed, and those who run them should be prosecuted, and seen to be prosecuted, for their actions.
Legal immigrants can make, and often have made, an enormous and valuable contribution to our society, but there is no doubt that illegal migration, and even the current levels of legal migration, have an adverse effect on our most important public services. By 2024, if current levels are maintained, we shall have to find an extra 900,000 school places. There is already pressure on primary school places in my constituency, and there is even pressure for schools to be built to provide more places. We already have to build 210,000 new homes every year to keep up with population fluctuations. It is hard for anyone to argue that such numbers are sustainable. It is not bigoted to note those facts; we need a pragmatic solution to the problems.
In Castle Point we have a shortage of housing, a shortage of space for housing, and, most acutely, a serious shortage of affordable and private rental accommodation. Hard-working families must wait for accommodation, sometimes for months and months. They naturally feel that it is just plain wrong if even part of the reason for that is illegal workers taking up private rental properties.