Immigration sparks passions at North Norfolk constituency’s first hustings, in Holt

The five North Norfolk constituency candidates, from left: Ann Steward (Conservative), Michael Baker

The five North Norfolk constituency candidates, from left: Ann Steward (Conservative), Michael Baker (UKIP), Denise Burke (Labour), hustings chairman Jenny Pathmarajah, Mike Macartney-Filgate (Green) and Norman Lamb (Liberal Democrat). Picture: ALEX HURRELL - Credit: Archant

Immigration proved to be the only topic which caused passions to puncture politeness during the North Norfolk constituency's first all-candidate hustings.

Some of those in the audience at Holt Parish Church for the hustings evening. Picture: ALEX HURRELL

Some of those in the audience at Holt Parish Church for the hustings evening. Picture: ALEX HURRELL - Credit: Archant

The controlled debate, in Holt Parish Church this evening, saw the five would-be MPs given 90 seconds apiece to answer questions from the 180-plus audience, and others which had been sent in advance.

They ranged from how each would vote in a referendum on staying in the European Union, to questions about the housing crisis, and what a Britain under their party would be able to offer today's young people in five years' time.

The event, organised by the town's Methodist and Anglican churches, was chaired by Methodist minister Jenny Pathmarajah who asked the audience not to applaud until the end of the evening.

But the rules were broken during answers to a question from someone who asked why they were a racist if they disagreed with 'mass immigration.'

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Green Party candidate Mike Macartney-Filgate warned against terms like 'mass immigration' and said Britain was not like Italy where 'boat loads of people' came ashore every day.

But there were murmurs of 'Yes it is' from the audience.

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He stressed his belief in British values of tolerance, justice and fairness.'

Norman Lamb (Lib Dem) and Ann Steward (Conservative) both spoke of the value to Britain of foreign workers, without whom the NHS would collapse.

But Mr Lamb said it was important to discuss immigration without accusing people of racism. He sympathised with unskilled workers who felt economically challenged by migrant workers.

Mrs Steward said her party had been given a 'big kicking' in last year's elections for not listening to people's concerns on immigration and, as a result, it was tightening up border controls and ensuring the welfare system was not abused.

Denise Burke (Labour) said the coalition government had done nothing to reduce immigration but she did not think it was a problem in north Norfolk.

Migrant workers were key to local industries like tourism and the care sector.

But Michael Baker (UKIP) said 298,000 people had come into Britain last year and European Union membership meant that some 500m people could 'come and go exactly as they please.' The open borders policy had prevented Britain from deporting a murderer.

Other questions included:

? How would you vote in an in/out Euro referendum?

Mrs Steward said the Conservatives were the only ones who would give Britain the chance to vote in a referendum.

Mr Baker: 'I will answer the question - out.'

Mrs Burke: 'I would stay in. I believe the Tories are taking a very dangerous approach which could see Britain sleep-walking out, with a huge risk to jobs in the UK.'

Mr Macartney-Filgate: 'In. It gives us opportunities to look at important things like the environment.'

Mr Lamb said the EU frustrated him and was too centralised but he felt very strongly that Britain should remain in. Major companies based themselves here, giving access to 500m consumers.

? No government seems to be getting enough homes built. Would a Secretary of State for Housing work?

Mr Lamb said his party was planning a significant housing programme, making much more effective use of brownfield sites. It would also introduce a scheme which meant young people who couldn't afford a deposit on a home could pay market rent on a property, with a proportion going toward their eventual ownership.

Mrs Steward said housing crossed too many departments and a secretary of state would not work. The government had built 700,000 new homes but it wasn't enough. Empty properties were being brought back into use too and, if they formed the next government, the Conservatives would help people under 40 to buy their first home.

Mr Baker said the real problem was immigration. He added: 'The way to control our housing problem is to control our borders.'

Mrs Burke agreed with Mrs Steward that a separate secretary of state would not work. A Labour government would build more affordable homes and abolish the 'bedroom tax'.

Mr Macartney-Filgate said the Greens would also abolish the 'cruel and unfair bedroom tax,' build 500,000 affordable homes by 2020, cap rents, and provide affordable tenancies. The number of young adults forced financially to stay living at their childhood homes was a 'national scandal.'

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