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Volume 653: debated on Monday 21 January 2019

On 19 December last year, the Government published a White Paper that set out our principles and plans for a future skills-based immigration system. The future system will focus on high-skills, welcoming talented and hard-working individuals who will support the UK’s dynamic economy and enabling employers to compete on the world stage.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his response. When we leave the common fisheries policy, as he will be aware, we take back control of our waters and our fish. We can expect at that point an expansion of the seafood processing sector in my constituency of Banff and Buchan, an area of very low unemployment. Will he therefore assure me that our future immigration policy will, if required, facilitate the sourcing of skilled seafood processing workers from outside the UK?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the opportunities that Brexit will bring for certain industries. I can assure him that the immigration White Paper does contain proposals to bring medium-skilled workers into the scope of skilled workers and also to introduce a temporary workers’ route at all skill levels. I hope that that offers him some reassurance.

Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the skills-based immigration system will not fall foul of an arbitrary salary cap? This is important in many sectors. In research—I declare an interest as I am on the board of a university—very highly skilled researchers are often not paid anything like £30,000 at the beginning of their career, but we need them for our university and research sector.

My hon. Friend is right to raise that issue. He may know that we made our visa offer for academics even more generous last year. Those changes have been warmly welcomed by the research community. I can assure him that we will engage with employers in the higher education sector and others before we determine any future salary thresholds.

Chichester is home to a fresh food industry worth £1 billion, and its businesses rely on European workers. One grower in my constituency reached 1.5 million picking hours last year, and with no mechanical alternative for picking soft fruit, any restriction in accessing labour will curtail growth. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that our post-Brexit immigration policy will ensure that such businesses will be able to get the workers that they need?

I understand the importance of the fresh food industry to my hon. Friend’s constituency. We are piloting a scheme to bring in workers from outside the EU to work in this industry, and our immigration White Paper proposed a temporary work route, allowing workers to come to the UK to work in jobs for up to a year at any skill level.

Will the Secretary of State assure me that he will listen to North Yorkshire farmers and those in the agricultural sector who wish to retain access to seasonal workers after Brexit? Will he confirm how the pilot will be assessed and that changes to numbers will be reviewed?

I can tell my hon. Friend that, first, the pilot will test the effectiveness of our immigration system, alleviating seasonal labour shortages during peak periods of production while ensuring that there is a minimal impact on local communities. We will fully assess the outcome of the pilot, but I am happy to give him the assurance that he seeks.

It is impossible to consider the future of the immigration system without considering the injustices that the immigration system has meted out in the past. In relation to the compensation scheme for Windrush citizens who have been unjustly and unlawfully treated by the Home Office, is the Home Secretary aware of reports that unscrupulous law firms are approaching Windrush victims and seeking to represent them in relation to the compensation scheme on the basis of a commission rate of more than 25% of the compensation awarded? Will he condemn that utterly predatory and exploitative practice and take steps to ensure that 100% of the compensation awarded by that scheme, when it is finalised, will go to the victims, who have already suffered enough?

It is very important that we have a fair compensation scheme in place. The work that Martin Forde, QC, has done independently is excellent; we will announce more on that soon. I join the hon. Lady in condemning those unscrupulous firms that are thinking only about lining their pockets, and not about the victims.

Can the Home Secretary say what progress he has made regarding compensation for victims of the Windrush scandal?

The hon. Lady will know that a consultation on the subject recently closed; it was extended at the request of Martin Forde, the independent chairman appointed to look into the matter. We are now working through the responses across Government, and we will announce more details soon.

Tens of thousands of families have been split by the Prime Minister’s draconian anti-family immigration rules. How many more families will be destroyed by the Home Secretary’s proposals to extend those rules to EU family members? Should we not be getting rid of these rules, rather than extending them?

The hon. Gentleman may be aware that in the withdrawal agreement in the Prime Minister’s deal, there is an extensive section on guaranteeing citizens’ rights. I believe that what we have agreed with the EU is very generous. No one has any interest in splitting any families. We must do everything we can to welcome those EU citizens who have made their home in the United Kingdom.

Can the Home Secretary tell us how the settled status scheme will work for EU nationals ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom, but working in the offshore oil and gas industry, or the merchant marine? Can he confirm that the fact that many of those people work outside the 12-mile limit for more than six months in the year will not be a barrier to their inclusion in the settled status scheme?

One of the reasons why we piloted the scheme was to look at any issues that might come up before the full launch, which is expected in April. The pilot has just closed; we published the results today. It looks at precisely such issues as the one that the right hon. Gentleman has brought up. We will look into that carefully.

This morning, the Government launched the largest stage of the settled status roll-out. If just 5% of those who need settled status fail to apply for it, 175,000 people in the UK will have insecure immigration status, or no status at all. The British Medical Association found that 37% of EU doctors are not even aware of the settled status scheme. What are the Government doing to make sure that EU citizens know that they need to register for settled status to avoid a repeat of the Windrush scandal?

The hon. Gentleman might be interested to know that in a recent test—we have just published the results—out of 30,000 applicants, 70% were granted settled status; 30% were granted pre-settled status. None was refused. Almost 80% said that they found the application process very fair and easy to complete, so the process is working well, although he is right to highlight the question of what it might look like once it is fully open. We are making sure, through a huge comms campaign, that we get through to everyone who needs to know about the scheme. We are, for example, working with employers; I visited one such employer, GSK, just last week.