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

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:27 pm on 28th January 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of David Duguid David Duguid Conservative, Banff and Buchan 8:27 pm, 28th January 2019

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the wide range of opinions on immigration across the United Kingdom, across Scotland and across my constituency, and, no doubt, his own.

The vision of a future skills-based immigration system tailored to our economy was set out in the UK Government’s December White Paper, which I welcomed as a strong basis for our future immigration system. One of the challenges that we will face as we implement that system is ensuring that it works for all sectors of our economy—both public and private—and for parts of the country with high unemployment and those with low unemployment alike.

I am happy to say that Banff and Buchan is an area with low unemployment, and there is good reason to believe that more jobs will come to the area in the years ahead. As home to the great fishing ports of Peterhead, Fraserburgh and Macduff, among others, the constituency stands to gain from Brexit as we leave the common fisheries policy. If we embrace that sea of opportunity, Banff and Buchan will be on course to gain thousands of new skilled jobs in fishing itself, in seafood processing, and in other sectors such as maritime engineering, and those jobs will in turn lift the wider local economy in hospitality and other public services. That, combined with our already low claimant count, is why it is so important for Banff and Buchan that we get our future immigration policy right. We can only make the most of the golden opportunity that is on the horizon if the key sectors of our local economy have access to the labour that they need, and the labour of which there are shortages.

I should make it clear that I am not calling for those sectors to have unrestricted access to cheap low-skilled labour. The fisheries sector wants to be able to rely on local labour and is willing to work substantively towards that goal, but we are not there yet. The Scottish White Fish Producers Association has estimated that, much as we want to reach a point at which we are, if not totally unreliant on foreign labour, much more reliant on local labour than we currently are, that could take up to 10 years.

In the short and medium term, the fisheries sector will need to employ a significant amount of migrant labour if it is to keep going at its current level, let alone make the most of our taking back control of our waters. Like other sectors, it is increasingly looking outside the EU for skilled and experienced crew, and for skilled—or at least competent—workers in our seafood processing facilities. If anything, free movement, historically—combined with the basic need to limit net migration—has made it more difficult for labour from non-EEA countries to be hired. The end of free movement, as provided for in the Bill, gives us a chance to rectify that by creating a more level playing field.

The UK Government have engaged with me, and with many of my colleagues on both sides of the House who represent coastal constituencies, on this issue, and I am grateful for that. I look forward to engaging with them on it further after the Bill has been passed. I am confident that our future immigration policy will help the fisheries sector in Banff and Buchan, and the wider local economy with it, to make the most of what Brexit has to offer. To achieve that, we must lay the groundwork first, and that is why this Bill is so important. This is what the vote to leave the EU was about; it was not just about immigration, but about control in the wider sense—the ability of this country and this Parliament to control and decide our own immigration policy; not to end immigration, but to ensure that our businesses and services can source the skills they need. This Bill provides a great opportunity for Banff and Buchan and for the United Kingdom as a whole, and I will support it as a means towards taking that opportunity.

I want to conclude by reminding my right hon. Friend the Minister of concerns I have raised previously regarding the level of skills that are considered “skilled” for immigration purposes. I would also welcome further discussion around the detail of salary levels, which has been mentioned by other hon. Members. The Migration Advisory Committee has suggested a £30,000 level for guidance, but I would welcome the opportunity to discuss that further, and as I said at the start of my speech, I particularly welcome the 12-month consultation process that the Department will be taking with businesses and services around the country.

In summary, I support this Bill.