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Agricultural Labour

Volume 702: debated on Wednesday 27 October 2021

7. What assessment he has made of the availability of agricultural labour in Northern Ireland and its impact on the profitability and viability of that sector. (903820)

We are moving to a high-wage, high-skilled economy and the Government are encouraging all sectors to rely increasingly on workers from the United Kingdom, but we have listened to the concerns of the sector and 5,500 poultry workers are now eligible to enter the UK for work, on top of the 800 butchers who were already eligible to enter the UK for six months under the skilled worker route.

It is all very well saying they are eligible to come in, but the industry is telling us that its ability to deliver the food needed, particularly for Christmas, is deeply jeopardised by the Government’s failure on both migration and skills to ensure the workers we need in our food processing industry are here. How can a Government who so passionately advocate for Brexit be so ill-prepared to deliver it?

When people voted to leave the European Union, they wanted us to level up the United Kingdom and increase wages for the workforce—including, by the way, the 60% of the hon. Gentleman’s Chesterfield constituents who voted to leave the EU. We are taking the opportunities of that and I wish he would join me in promoting Northern Ireland’s vibrant agri and food sector, including companies such as Kennedy Bacon and Ballylisk Dairies, which I have visited in the last couple of weeks and are excited by the opportunities.

For many years, agriculture in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK has been very dependent on overseas workers, even before the high levels of EU migration of recent years, so will the Minister do everything he can to make sure agriculture in Northern Ireland can still access the overseas and seasonal workers who are so crucial to making sure our food supply is resilient?

My right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State speaks with great authority on these matters. There has been extensive engagement with the sector. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I had engagements around the Balmoral Show recently. We have both visited businesses in this sector and are listening carefully to their concerns.