Seasonal labour scheme "essential" for next year, Commons hears

Parliamentary Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee chairman Neil Parish MP has called for a new seasonal agricultural workers scheme (SAWS) to relieve labour shortages in fresh produce.

Neil Parish MP - image: Badgerham (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Neil Parish MP - image: Badgerham (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Speaking at a Commons debate on the subject yesterday (6 July), Parish said: "A pilot scheme next year, or an even wider scheme, is essential. The challenge will become a crisis if the Government do not swiftly take measures. The challenge will only become more acute after Brexit, when the free movement of workers ends."

Such a scheme would allow the UK to import skills and labour for specific sectors of the economy, could be open to both EU and non-EU workers, and could require applicants to have a confirmed job before entering the UK, he said.

Parish oversaw EFRA Committee's publication of a report in April that criticised government inaction to address the problem.

Yesterday he added: "It is time that the large retailers did something. If they do not buy British fruit and veg, they will have to buy it from the continent and pay more for it because of the value of our currency. It is high time that they stepped up to the plate and ensured we are getting a good price for an excellent crop that has nowhere near as many food miles."

Supporting the motion, North Norfolk Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb added: "One of the major producers in my constituency is 77 staff short at the moment. That means leaving fruit unpicked.

"There is a real risk that this major success story could be undermined unless we get a good new seasonal agricultural workers scheme deal in place for the post-Brexit situation."

Farming minister George Eustice MP responded that DEFRA's SAWS transition working group had concluded that "this was a challenging situation but not a crisis" though it would continue to monitor data from the current season.

He added that a renewed SAWS scheme "needs secondary legislation, and it would be a matter for the Home Office", and that the EFRA Committee "heard what the Home Office Minister had to say on that" during its enquiry.


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