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Immigration Rules: Agriculture

Volume 626: debated on Monday 3 July 2017

10. What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the effect of immigration rules on the seasonal agricultural workforce. (900125)

I spoke to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about this issue only last week. I know that he is engaging with the National Farmers Union, and I shall meet NFU representatives and my right hon. Friend shortly to discuss it further.

Every summer farmers in my constituency require thousands of workers to pick their delicious fruit, but only 705 people in the constituency are unemployed and claiming jobseeker’s allowance, so it is very difficult for the farmers to recruit enough workers locally. Will my right hon. Friend consider a permit scheme for seasonal agricultural workers?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point about the excellent fruit that those workers pick in Kent. In terms of quality, it is almost up there with the blackcurrants in Great Yarmouth. While we are still full members of the European Union farmers can benefit from the free movement of labour, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I will continue to discuss with the sector what will be done after we leave the EU.

As the Minister knows, agriculture is devolved and stringent immigration rules could have a particular impact on the Welsh food production sector. Does he agree that, if there is to be, regrettably, a Brexit outside the single market, there would need to be a geographical visa system to protect key sectors of the Welsh economy?

We are determined to ensure that we have an immigration system that continues to encourage the brightest and the best, and to ensure that all our sectors are able to flourish and thrive. However, I am not going to predict the outcome, or what we will be doing once we leave the European Union, after those negotiations.