Furious MP denies immigration claims
By Jack Blanchard
April 30, 2008
A WORCESTERSHIRE MP has furiously denied claims made in Parliament by a Government minister that he wants immigration rules “relaxed” to help county farmers.
MId-Worcestershire's Conservative MP Peter Luff has written an angry letter to Liam Byrne, the regional minister for the West Midlands, complaining of “misrepresentation” after Mr Byrne told a House of Commons inquiry that Mr Luff had been lobbying for less stringent immigration controls for foreign workers.
Mr Luff has repeatedly spoken out over the past 12 months against the Government's decision to place tough new restrictions on the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme, a system allowing young people from non-EU countries to undertake short-term farmwork in Britain.
He fears the recent decision to restrict the scheme to just two countries – the new EU states of Bulgaria and Romania – is causing severe labour shortages for farmers in the Worcestershire area.
Last week Mr Luff's stance was cited by Mr Byrne – who is also Minister for Immigration – before a Commons committee as an example of the pressure he is under to allow more foreign workers into the UK.
“Peter Luff in Worcestershire – he is somebody who has been lobbying me to relax immigration control in eastern Europe,” Mr Byrne told the committee.
“He is talking to local farmers, local agricultural workers, and they are saying actually we want to make it easier to bring in low-skilled migration from outside today's EU.”
Mr Luff was furious with My Byrne's comments, insisting he does not want the rules “relaxed” but merely returned to the previous system which allowed workers from countries such as Russia and the Ukraine to come and work on Worcestershire farms.
“Maintaining the purpose of the highly effective Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme would not represent any relaxation whatsoever of immigration controls,” Mr Luff wrote in his letter.
“I am very surprised indeed that I have to make this blindingly obvious point.
“I am not calling for the relaxation of controls – rather, I have been trying to impress on you the need to maintain an existing system which has worked well over many years.”
Mr Byrne yesterday maintained his stance, however, that a revival of the previous system would represent an unwanted “weakening” of immigration laws.
“This year we bring in an Australian-style points system (for immigration), so people that Britain actually needs can come and work,” he said.
“Weakening that system by letting in low or no-skilled workers from outside Europe would just create a new back-door that I don't think British people want to see right now.”