Illegal Immigration: Costs — [Graham Stringer in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall am 11:51 am ar 7 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 11:51, 7 Mai 2024

As is in order, and rightfully so, I thank Dame Andrea Jenkyns for raising this issue today. I am very happy to be a co-sponsor of this debate, because we cannot ignore the issue of immigration. I will speak, as the hon. Lady has spoken, about the general issues, as well as giving a Northern Ireland perspective.

The issue of immigration is of great concern to many of our constituents, not least to those of us in Northern Ireland who, as we previously highlighted during both protocol and Windsor framework discussions, are at risk of becoming a haven for those who travel to Dublin and then lose themselves in Northern Ireland. If we are to believe the Irish and the Republic of Ireland Government hype, it is the opposite way round, and we are to blame for the immigration rates. No, we are not; Government officials and Ministers have been clear on that. The proclamation, “Come as many as you are and find refuge” rang from the Irish Government up until at least last week. They can make their own decisions on that issue, but they cannot then blame us, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, for what goes wrong.

Everyone will know that I am not against immigration, per se. Indeed, I want to see a correct immigration system that invites, helps and encourages those who face persecution and human rights abuses. I believe that we have an obligation to do right by those who need help and assistance, but this cannot be unlimited and done by illegal means. I declare an interest, as chair of both the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief and the all-party parliamentary group for the Pakistani minorities. I speak on behalf of those with Christian faith, those with other faiths, and indeed those with no faith.

With persecution of Christians around the world, they need somewhere to go. In my constituency of Strangford, we have thrown the doors open in the past through the Syrian refugee scheme, as an example, to invite some of those Christian families who have been persecuted. Those who stayed have contributed greatly to our society, culture and relationships. Persecuted Christians across the world need somewhere to go, and the freedom of religion and expression to worship their God as they so wish, free from human rights abuses. We have a system in place for that, which the Government have made available. We thank them for that.

I am a faithful missions giver, and the projects that I support long term are those who seek to make improvements in the local communities to make a life. I understand that that cannot be done in war-torn nations and therefore there are some endeavours, such as the Ukraine scheme, that need a different approach. The Government were very positive and helpful, and I fully supported that scheme. Indeed, all of us in Westminster Hall today, and those in the main Chamber from all parties, recognised that we needed to take a different approach, and we did that. I thank the Minister and the Government for their help for the Ukrainians and their families.

In my constituency, we have helped numerous Ukrainians to gain job opportunities at Willowbrook Foods and in Mash Direct, where accommodation was available for them as well. The Minister and I discussed that a few weeks ago, and I gave him the contact names and phone numbers of some of the companies that are keen to address the issue. The Minister was keen for an opportunity to promote those two firms—Willowbrook Foods and Mash Direct—and I was keen on that as well.

I believe that there should be immigration; I am quite clear on that. However, mass immigration is a completely different issue, and this is where Ireland has found herself in difficulty. I absolutely refute that it is a problem of our making, or that we are facilitating. The civil unrest is not due to an unwelcoming people. There are few people more welcoming than the Irish—north and south. The issue lies in not being able to cope with acceptable levels of immigration. I support the Government in their plans to halt illegal immigration while ensuring that we have a fit-for-purpose asylum system.

Those Ukrainians who came brought a work ethic, skill and an ethos, and they have integrated well into our society. I believe we must always make clear the difference between illegal immigration and the necessary immigration that brings knowledge and expertise to our fishing industry and our hospitals, and brings a warmth and culture that only enhances this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

I have pursued the Minister a few times on the issue of fishing visas, and we discussed that at our meeting last week. It affects not just us in Strangford in Northern Ireland but those across the South Down constituency, particularly Ardglass and Kilkeel. We need a visa system. In answer to my question in the Chamber last week, the Minister kindly suggested that there was an onus on the fishing organisations to come up with ideas, so I have suggested that to them. I hope to come back with some ideas very soon and convey them to the Minister, so that we can find a workable system.

It is difficult to find a balance. I am aware that this is not a debate on the Rwanda scheme, although the hon. Member for Morley and Outwood mentioned it in her introduction, and we cannot ignore it because it does give opportunity and take some of the pressure off Government. However, this is a debate about how we can fulfil our moral obligations while ensuring that we do not sink further and further into debt. The fact is that the Republic of Ireland and the Irish people are a testament to the frustration that is felt when Government is not getting the right message across, and when people feel that the health and education of their children is at stake and that is at odds with Government objectives. That is why we have seen that discontent in the Republic of Ireland, and why there has been such uproar about what has happened. Whether or not the figures that the Republic of Ireland has suggested are correct is a question to be addressed.

I recently attended a family event in Newtownards with the Indian diaspora. They come from Odisha state in India. There were over 100 people there, and the wonderful thing was that every one of them has a visa—they are here to work, and they have brought their families with them—and every one of those people is involved in the health sector, so we need them because they contribute to our society. They work in the Ulster Hospital, Belfast City Hospital and the Royal Victoria, and every one of them—man and woman—is working in the health sector. We welcome what they do.

It was a wonderful night. Whether they were from a Hindu, Muslim or Christian background, the vast majority were integral workers within the NHS care system. I had a great night of fellowship with them. It was wonderful and fun. It was good to meet them, engage with them, welcome them personally and enjoy some of their food. I am a diabetic but I could still eat and enjoy the food that they presented, apart from the fact that my mouth was on fire afterwards, but that is by the way. I had fellowship with those men, women and children, and they are clearly part of the fabric of Newtownards and Strangford.

The messaging must be made clear. We need to get a handle on illegal immigration and welcome those who enhance, protect and build our nation through their jobs and opportunities. I am keen to work with the Minister and the Government and put forward ideas about the fishing sector in particular. I am also keen to see how we can build on the food sector; clearly, there is a need to ensure that Willowbrook Foods, Mash Direct and other firms in my constituency have the opportunity to gain expertise from other places and find people through the legal immigration system.

We must ensure that the young men who are coming illegally in droves across the channel from France are treated differently from young families seeking asylum and refuge. We must ensure that the message sent is clear: we will help where we can, as much as we can and in the best way we can. We have done that already, but we want to see that building.

Whether on our soil or foreign soil, we must strike a balance between compassion and obligation. We have an obligation to help persecuted families and those who have suffered severe human rights abuses. We are a welcoming country: we have been in the past, and we can be so in the future. I am pleased to participate in this debate, and I will also be very pleased to hear the responses of the Minister and of the two Opposition spokespeople, the hon. Members for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) and for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens).