Immigration and Social Security Co-Ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:40 pm on 28th January 2019.

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Photo of Steve Double Steve Double Conservative, St Austell and Newquay 6:40 pm, 28th January 2019

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the point he makes, which was exactly the one I am coming on to. In being able to take back our own immigration policy, we are provided with the opportunity to manage it in a way whereby the Government can ensure that any of the impact of large numbers of people moving into different areas of our nation can be addressed by investment and finance being put in place to support the services. We will able to manage the number of people coming into our country in a way that does not put that undue pressure on public services. Many of the negative impacts, sometimes perceived and sometimes real, can be handled in a much better way and, thus, we will be able to extol the virtues of the positive elements that immigration brings to our country while managing some of the negative perceptions that people have.

As I said, I very much welcome the Bill as a first step towards resetting our own immigration policy. I want to say a few words about the immigration White Paper that the Government produced, and I am glad to see the Immigration Minister on the Front Bench, because I am sure she will not be surprised at the points I am going to make, as I have made them to her many times. I do, however, want to put them on the record. There is much to be welcomed in the White Paper, in developing a fair system that no longer discriminates between where people come from, but assesses people on the basis of their abilities and what they will bring to our country. That absolutely should be welcomed. But as I have listened to businesses in Cornwall, I have heard about a number of elements of the White Paper that cause them concern, and I wish to highlight those here today.

We very much welcome the pilot scheme for seasonal agricultural workers. It is good that the Government acknowledge that this sector has a particular requirement for seasonal migrant workers that we need to make sure we are able to meet. The latest figures from the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly local enterprise partnership state that there are about 7,000 migrant workers working in our agriculture and food sector in Cornwall. Many farmers rely on migrant workers. My own father-in-law, who at the age of 89 is still farming on the Isles of Scilly, keeps making the point about how vital his seasonal workers from eastern Europe are to making sure he can pick his flowers and get them to market. It is vital for our farms that we continue to be able to meet that seasonal requirement for labour. The pilot scheme is therefore very much to be welcomed, as is the Government’s acknowledgement of the need of that sector.

The agriculture sector is not the only one that relies heavily on seasonal workers. In Cornwall, the tourism and hospitality sector, which is even bigger than our food and agricultural sector, has exactly the same requirement for seasonal workers from overseas. They are needed to come to man the hotels, bars, restaurants and the tourist resorts in Cornwall to make sure that those businesses are able to continue to function and provide the services for the many, many thousands of tourists who come to Cornwall every year. So I urge the Government to look beyond the agricultural sector and to other sectors that have a particular requirement for seasonal workers. I welcome the steps that have sought to address this need through the 12-month low-skilled work visa, but I urge the Home Secretary and the Government to look at this again, because we clearly have a balance to strike here. At the moment, in this country, we do not have an army of people waiting to take up these jobs.

We have almost full employment, so there is a need to make sure that we have the workforce that our businesses, particularly those that require a heavily seasonal workforce, need. I am concerned that the 12-month low-skilled visa will put additional costs on businesses, in terms of the need both to keep recruiting staff every year and to keep retraining them every year. I am not convinced that it will help to meet the requirements of many of our businesses, so will the Government look again at what more we could do, particularly to help the tourism and hospitality sector?

Like others, I have concerns about the £30,000 threshold for skilled workers. A salary threshold is a fairly blunt instrument for identifying the skilled workers we need. That is particularly true in an area like Cornwall: when the average wage in the constituency that I represent is only around £18,000, that £30,000 threshold is unrealistic and will mean many people will be unable to come and work in businesses in Cornwall.