The government has failed to hold a “sensible debate” on immigration or build any kind of consensus on an issue that dominated the referendum on EU membership, according to MPs.
The Home Affairs Committee warned that migration policy “now risks being caught up in a rushed and highly politicised debate in the run up to the vote on the withdrawal agreement”. What is needed is a “measured, open and honest debate”, they said.
In an interim report, the MPs put forward a number of recommendations, including the introduction of a seasonal agricultural workers’ scheme.
Farmers have warned crops could be left rotting in fields as they struggle to find fruit and vegetable pickers.
UKHospitality has also sounded the alarm, with a quarter of employers in the sector “struggling to fill vacancies”. The organisation’s chief executive Kate Nicholls welcomed the MPs’ report. “The country’s future immigration policy should not be determined by a narrow ideological viewpoint, it should support the needs of the country and benefit the UK economy,” she said.
The net migration target – which has been described as a “massive chain around the Home Secretary’s neck” – should also be ditched, the MPs said.
“We found there were a much wider range of possible precedents and options for immigration reform than people often talk about – including options that could be combined with participation in the single market – that we believe the government should be exploring further now," said the committee’s chair Yvette Cooper.
Irrespective of the future EU relationship, the government should also seek to improve labour market conditions. “Regulation of the labour market, further measures to prevent exploitation and increased funding for enforcement would benefit both domestic and migrant workers, subject to practical arrangements with business,” the report reads.
Indeed, research published this week by the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS) showed that UK businesses are not doing enough to identify modern slavery in their supply chains.
The survey of 897 supply chain managers (including those in the food sector) found that 31% of UK supply chain managers admitted they did not think their business was taking the necessary steps to tackle the issue.
Since the introduction of the UK Modern Slavery Act three years ago, only 23% of the companies the Act applies to have undertaken site inspections to check for evidence of any slavery or human trafficking – a finding that demonstrates a “worrying lack of progress from last year”, when only 22% had undertaken inspections, CIPS said.
Half of supply chain managers reported that they have provided modern slavery training to their staff – only a slight jump from the 45% that provided training in 2017.
CIPS group director Cath Hill called for a change in mindset. “Instead of seeing modern slavery prevention as an annual compliance exercise, business and government must integrate it into the way they conduct due diligence every day,” she said.