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Fishing Industry: Visas for Foreign Workers | Commons debates

Labour recognises the vital role that the fishing industry plays in securing the food that we all rely on. That is why it is so important that our immigration system is designed alongside the agricultural sector with the specific sector bodies representing its constituent parts. The announcement this week is a prime example of the Government’s points-based system not working as it should. Too many industries rely on immigration to fill skills gaps, but we cannot just turn off the tap. If we want to back British industries to buy and sell more in Britain, they need the workforce to do it.

Under the Conservatives, the immigration system exists entirely in isolation from long-term plans for the labour market. Action in both areas is far too weak. On immigration, the Home Secretary claims to want to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands, in disagreement with the Prime Minister, while net migration exceeds 500,000. On the labour market, the Chancellor speaks of tackling economic inactivity, despite soaring levels of people off work due to long-term illness. There is no proper interaction between these two areas. The consequence is no long-term plan to balance sector-specific labour shortages with immigration rules, and instead, panicked fixes developed on an ad hoc basis. A concession is in place for offshore wind and not for fishing. Thousands of visas are released for HGV drivers but not for the meat industry. If those differences were justified by evidence, one might have sympathy, but sectors such as the fishing industry would be forgiven for thinking the Government are just making it up as they go along.

The Labour party supports the principle of a points-based system, but we will improve the current system to make sure it is fair, firm and well managed. We will balance the requirements of businesses and public services with the need to provide the right levels of training and support for home-grown talent, while recognising the critical role that immigration can play and ensuring that we treat those migrant workers with the dignity and respect they deserve. This year, the Labour party is undertaking a review of the points-based system, but unlike the Government, we are engaging in a dialogue with businesses, trade unions and communities, so that the system works for all.

The fishing industry will be keenly watching this, and I want to ask the Minister three quick questions. What are the Government doing to help the fishing industry transition? What consultation have the Government had with the fishing industry on these changes, and how have they adopted their approach as a result? What reforms are they considering to the points-based system to ensure that businesses train up home-grown talent in exchange for recruiting from overseas, so that the labour force is resilient? I hope the Minister can answer those questions.