QUESTION TIME: Panellists debate immigration

Question Time panel: Vicky Pryce, Nigel Farage, Emily Thornberry, David Dimbleby, Anna Soubry and Benjamin Zephaniah
Question Time panel: Vicky Pryce, Nigel Farage, Emily Thornberry, David Dimbleby, Anna Soubry and Benjamin Zephaniah

Panellists on BBC’s flagship political show Question Time debated the hot topic of immigration when the show came to Boston last week.

Boston High School hosted the show on Thursday, which featured UKIP leader Nigel Farage, junior defence minister Anna Soubry, shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry, Rastafarian poet Benjamin Zephaniah and economist Vicky Pryce.

Immigration took up 27 minutes of the hour-long show and the debate was kicked off by Nigel Farage, who said: “It’s astonishing that since 2001 the number of EU nationals living in Boston has increased, officially by 467 per cent. However, that figure is undoubtedly wrong. That would say an extra 10,000 people from Eastern Europe arrived here. The figure, we suspect, is nearer 20,000.”

He feels it is ‘irresponsible’ to open the borders to Romania and Bulgaria in January.

He was challenged by a female audience member who accused him of scaremongering, and said a recent OECD report claimed immigration benefitted the country.

Anna Souby also criticised Mr Farage and added: “We know that when times are tough there’s a danger we turn to the stranger and blame them and we shouldn’t. I am proud that people come here, they come here to work.”

She said she was aware of the problems with funding in Boston and said there did need to be controls to make sure people coming here ‘didn’t take the Mickey’.

Emily Thornberry said migrants had paid 34 per cent more taxes than they had ever received in benefits but added: “Ten years ago Labour made a mistake and didn’t put in the controls we should’ve done for the new ascension countries. We have made mistakes, the current government have made mistakes and people got anxious about that.”

Vicky Pryce, who went to prison for perverting the course of justice after taking husband Chris Huhne’s speeding points, said all European countries were open to the new arrivals at the same time. She believes Bulgarians are most likely to go to Germany and Romanians would probably go to France or Italy.

She said post-2004 the country had good economic growth – but did not build enough housing to cope. She added: “It’s not just the fact of people coming here. We simply have failed everybody who needs affordable housing.”

Benjamin Zephaniah, who lives in South Holland, said: “A lot of the things people say about the houses and services are really myths.”

He said integration takes time, adding: “Pilgrim Hospital say that probably if it wasn’t for migrants they would’ve closed their maternity unit. If, to have a baby, you had to go to Lincoln or Peterborough you would then be really complaining.”

He made the analogy with people travelling to set up Boston in America and challenged Mr Farage to go on ‘Who Do You ThinkYou Are?’ because he thinks he would find migrants in his family tree.

Other questions centred on the loss of shipbuilding jobs in Portsmouth, whether the burkha should be banned and ‘e-mail snooping’.