New Forest East



Dr Julian Lewis:  To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what recent assessment he has made of the effect of seasonal workers from abroad on UK food security; for what reason the pilot Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS), currently underway, caters for only one-third of the number of such workers permitted prior to the UK's withdrawal from the EU; what recent discussions he has held with the Home Secretary on restoring the previous total permitted to enter the UK; what steps he will take to reduce the paperwork involved in processing applicants to become seasonal workers; and when a permanent SAWS will be established.  [51569]

[Due for Answer on 23 September] 


The Minister of State for Farming, Fisheries and Food (Victoria Prentis): The UK's food supply is highly resilient and the food industry is well versed in dealing with scenarios that can impact food supply. However, Defra is aware of the impact that labour shortages are having on the supply chains and we continue to work with stakeholders like the NFU to monitor the situation.

Defra is working closely with industry and the Home Office – which engages with a wide range of stakeholders, including non-governmental organisations, when designing and implementing immigration policy – to understand better the effectiveness of interventions and to ensure there is a long-term strategy for the food and farming workforce beyond 2021.

Horticulture, in particular, relies heavily on seasonal labour, and whilst the number of workers needed varies throughout the year, Defra estimates approximately 50,000 seasonal workers are needed annually to bring in the harvest. For 2021 we envisaged that growers will recruit more from an increasing pool of domestic labour, supported with 30,000 workers from the Seasonal Workers Pilot extension.

Although the numbers of workers have increased based on the success of the Pilot so far, it is not designed to meet the full labour needs of the horticulture sector. The extension and expansion of the Pilot for 2021 will allow for further review of the Pilot, including how growers will reduce their reliance on migrant labour now we have left the EU , whilst also easing some of the pressure felt on farms when they are at their busiest.

The Government encourages all sectors to make employment more attractive to UK domestic workers through offering training, careers options, wage increases and to invest in increased automation technology. To support these efforts, Defra is working with the Department for Work and Pensions to raise awareness of career opportunities within the horticulture sector among UK workers.

The Home Office is responsible for the visa licensing system that processes applicants to become seasonal workers, including the paperwork involved with that process.