Election 2015 England

Election 2015: South East 'under pressure' from immigration

From left: Jenny Jones, Michael Fallon, Mark Reckless, Peter Kyle, Norman Baker
Image caption From left to right: Jenny Jones, Michael Fallon, Mark Reckless, Peter Kyle and Norman Baker

Public services and towns in the South East are "under pressure" from immigration, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has claimed.

During a BBC South East Today general election debate, the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Sevenoaks admitted it was a mistake for him to have used the word "swamped" when talking about immigration last October.

Mr Fallon told an audience of 150 voters at Chatham's Historic Dockyard in Kent: "Almost as soon as I said that I knew it was a mistake, and I withdrew it because swamped was probably the wrong word to use.

"But there are towns and there are parts in the South East that do feel under pressure and where public services are under pressure."

Mr Fallon added: "I think the public do need reassurance that immigration is not going to be unlimited."

Image caption As well as immigration, the panel discussed the National Health Service and the economy

Also taking part in the debate were the Liberal Democrat candidate for Lewes, Norman Baker, the Labour candidate for Hove and Portslade, Peter Kyle, UKIP's candidate for Rochester and Strood, Mark Reckless, and Baroness Jenny Jones of Moulsecoomb, for the Green Party.

Mr Reckless said UKIP was the only party that could control immigration because "all the other parties support freedom of movement within the European Union, unlimited numbers of people able to come from any country within the European Union at will to our country".

He said UKIP were keen on an Australian-style points based system "where we accept people on the basis of skills... where we assess Europeans and non-Europeans on a fair and equal basis".

Image caption The debate was filmed in front of an audience at Chatham's Historic Dockyard in Kent

Former home office minister Mr Baker was keen to point out the coalition government had introduced measures to curb immigration from outside the EU.

"But what is important is that we look at the issue rationally, coolly, without hyping up the whole issue, without seeking to exploit it in any way," he said.

"We also have to recognise that some immigration has been very good for this country... and we want a situation where people come here to work, but don't come here to claim," he said.

Image caption The debate was pre-recorded ahead of broadcast on BBC One in the South East

Mr Kyle faced criticism from one member of the audience for the rise in EU migrants under the previous Labour government, but he said he believed immigration had been "a force for the good for this country, historically and overall", and the economy had benefited.

"We need to make sure we get to a point where we as a country are at ease with immigration so that we can come together to tackle the problems... rather than picking on a minority," he told the audience.

For the Greens, Baroness Jenny Jones pointed out the benefits of immigration.

"Some of the rhetoric has had some very nasty overtones, blaming immigrants for all sorts of things.

"The fact is most of our public services would collapse if we didn't have immigrants - one in four NHS doctors is foreign-born and that's not even talking about the number of nurses who are foreign-born, and we rely on them to keep our services going," she said.

As well as immigration, the panel also discussed the National Health Service and the economy during the 40-minute debate.

General Election 2015: A BBC South East Special was broadcast on Wednesday 29 April at 22:50 BST on BBC1 and on BBC Radio Kent and BBC Sussex. You can watch it again on BBC iPlayer.

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