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Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons on 28th March 2019.

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Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Privileges

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the seasonal agricultural workers scheme.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

We regularly have detailed discussions on the seasonal workers pilot with colleagues across Government. I will continue to work closely with Home Office colleagues in particular to ensure the successful operation of the pilot.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Privileges

Farmers say that the pilots began too late for this spring season, and the Home Office does not appear to understand the needs of the sector. On 14 February, James Porter of the National Farmers Union Scotland told the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Public Bill Committee that the pilot was too small scale and needed to increase immediately to 10,000 places. Will the Minister have discussions with his Home Office colleagues so that the labour needs of the sector can be met as a matter of urgency?

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The first workers under the scheme will be arriving in April. Indeed, I met one of my officials who had just come back from Ukraine to ensure that the scheme works well. There will be 2,500 workers coming in each year, and I will also meet with the president of the NFU this afternoon to discuss what views she may have on that.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the pilot underlines the Government’s commitment to ensuring that farmers have certainty post Brexit, and that the one way to ensure that that certainty continues is to vote for the deal when it comes back before the House?

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Let me make it clear that EU workers already here will be able to stay. During the implementation period, people will be able to come to live, work and study from the EU and there will be registration scheme. Indeed, in a no-deal situation, European economic area citizens will be able to live and work here without a visa for three months, and they can continue to stay here, applying for European temporary leave to remain for 36 months after that, so we are still open for EU workers to come here in every scenario.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

Two thousand five hundred—what an absolute and utter joke. The farmers and growers in my constituency are laughing at it. This is where an obsession with immigration gets us: to crops left to wither in the field. The NFU says that 90,000 workers are required for a feasible working scheme. When will the Minister get serious about meeting that target?

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I have already said that we will continue with the possibility of EU workers coming here. I know that a number of Bulgarians and Romanians continue to come here, and there are about 29,000 seasonal workers in the country. Of course, the best way to make sure that we get into a stable situation is to vote for the deal.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Conservative, Preseli Pembrokeshire

This issue is bigger than just seasonal workers on farms: throughout the rural economy, there are people working in food processing, logistics and a wide range of other sectors. We still need people from the EU to come here, so will the Minister assure the House that our immigration policy post Brexit will continue to be open and welcoming?

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I can absolutely give that assurance. There are 400,000 EU nationals working in the UK food chain, and we would be delighted for them to stay here, work and contribute to our economy. Indeed, I am told that one reason why some may not come is the weakness of sterling, but if we get the deal through, I would not be surprised if sterling hardened.