Before going into politics I worked in the farming industry growing vegetables and strawberries. I therefore fully understand the challenges facing farmers at a time when we have record low unemployment and labour shortages. This week I tabled a motion in Parliament calling on the government to immediately convert its planned pilot scheme into a fully operational Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme by 2020. Not only would this address the urgent nature of the current labour shortage facing the agriculture sector, it would show that we are willing to be open to non EU countries and allow people to come here on short stay working visas.
I campaigned to leave the EU and I want us to have an independent immigration policy but with our new freedom comes the responsibility to get it right. We should think of the cleaners working late tonight, the care worker who will help your grandmother start the day tomorrow or the farm workers who have been out in the rain to put fresh vegetables on our tables. Do we value these people and the work they do?
We should, but sadly the message from the Home Office is they don't. They envisage a post Brexit immigration policy where so called "low skilled" people, who have fewer formal qualifications and are on lower incomes will not be allowed into our country. Instead they only want what they term the "brightest and the best", people like them who went to university and are on a big salary. Under the approach, Home Secretary Sajid Javid’s own father would have been denied entry to our country. That's indefensible.
One of the achievements of the Conservative led government after 2010 was its success in creating jobs. Levels of employment are at record levels but businesses across many sectors report real challenges recruiting staff. We have no shortage of under-employed graduates. What we lack is enough people willing to do hard graft and any coherent policy must recognise this.
The Home Secretary has been badly advised by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC). It is a panel of narrow minded economists. Not one of them has ever run a business nor created any wealth. Therefore to turn things around, the first thing we need to do is shut down the current MAC and replace it with a new advisory council made up of serious people in business with real experience of employment.
Secondly, the government should convert the planned pilot on a seasonal agriculture workers scheme into a fully-fledged one. We successfully ran a scheme from 1945 to 2013 so what's the point of a pilot? Finally, the government must make clear that when we leave the EU and free movement ends, we will open up an appropriate provision for Tier 3 work permits for lower skilled and lower income occupations since this is where there is a shortage that needs to be addressed.
People voted to take back control of immigration but they didn't vote to pull up the draw bridge and they certainly did not vote to give preferential access to the wealthy or those on big salaries so it is time for a rethink about immigration policy.