Food Supply and Security - Motion to Consider

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:08 pm on 14th May 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Parminter Baroness Parminter Liberal Democrat 2:08 pm, 14th May 2020

My Lords, we know that if we are to help our bodies, we need to eat well and to eat sufficient fruit and vegetables. We must therefore as a priority pick the harvest that needs to be picked at the moment. As my noble friend Lady Sheehan said, the Government have introduced a Pick for Britain scheme, but no collated statistics have been provided yet. Can the Minister provide those today to show how successful we are in getting in the UK workers we need?

We will need skilled pickers to come in from other countries. On our local farm, which is one of the biggest employers of fruit pickers in the country, 77% of those have come from eastern Europe in the past. The Government have increased the seasonal workers pilot scheme to 10,000 workers, but how many are actually getting here? I understand that 2,000 are currently waiting to get their biometrics done in countries including Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia, but the visa centres are closed. What steps are the Government taking to address those blockages?

As my noble friend Lady Randerson said, flights are being chartered—difficult though that is—but has Defra spoken to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about the opportunity that repatriating Britons from other parts of the world could provide in bringing in some of those seasonal workers? My understanding is that, in the last two weeks, 80 people from Barbados could have come in, but the repatriation flights took off without discussions with charities bringing in seasonal workers to help pick our harvest.

The fruit and vegetable harvest is short, and those products have a short shelf life. We need those workers now, so that farmers do not make the difficult decision that the more cost-effective option is to plough those vegetables back into the field, and so that we do not lose those health-giving fruits and vegetables.