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Leaving the EU: Labour Supply

Volume 630: debated on Thursday 26 October 2017

6. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the UK leaving the EU on the supply of labour to the farming and agricultural sectors. (901405)

We are working with the farming and agriculture sector to assess the impact on this industry of leaving the EU. Following the decision to close the seasonal agricultural workers scheme in 2013, DEFRA set up the SAWS transition working group, which brings industry and the Government together to monitor seasonal labour. I met this group on 7 September. DEFRA is working with the Home Office to ensure that workforce requirements are considered in any future immigration system.

In order to give farmers and the industry confidence in the system, when will the promised review that the Minister alludes to report?

We regularly meet the SAWS transition group, as I said, and we work closely with Home Office officials on this. The Home Office has established a review by the Migration Advisory Committee. Indeed, its call for evidence closes this week—on 27 October. Over the past month, we have been encouraging all interested parties to contribute to that review.

There is a lot of discussion about the farming and agricultural sector but, as the Minister will know, the Department is also responsible for food and drink manufacturing, which is the largest manufacturing sector and also a very large employer. Will he assure me that that sector will not be overlooked?

I assure my hon. Friend that I regularly meet food processing companies and food manufacturers. He is right that some sectors, notably fish processing and meat processing, have become very reliant on east European labour, particularly over the past 10 years. We are ensuring that all the information provided by those sectors is fed back into the review that is being undertaken by the Home Office.

14. The Minister will no doubt be aware that farming contributes £1.5 billion a year to the Welsh economy. If the Government decided on a no-deal Brexit, it would have a significant impact on Welsh farming, including in relation to workforce shortages. Will he make a statement on what he plans to do in a no-deal scenario to support the Welsh agricultural economy? (901413)

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government are planning for all scenarios. We have been very clear that we want a comprehensive free trade agreement with our European partners, and we want a close partnership to be put in place. However, if we want to be serious around a negotiating table, we obviously have to prepare for everything, and that is why we are also preparing for a no-deal scenario.

New Zealand has had an effective seasonal migrant workers scheme for farms for many years. Will the Government, at the very least, look at that? Will they also note that New Zealand has expanded its scheme to include the tourism sector, and especially the fishing sector? Such a scheme would prevent boats on the west coast of Scotland from being tied up due to lack of crews, especially at a time when we often see fine crews prevented from coming from the Philippines or Ghana. Due to barmy Home Office rules, the boats are tied up, at a cost to the economy.

We are indeed looking at the system in New Zealand, which is similar in many ways to the seasonal agricultural workers scheme that operated from 1945 to 2013 in this country. The Home Office had some other sector-based schemes, but the MAC concluded in 2013 that they were not being utilised and were therefore unnecessary, but as I said, there is a review led by the Home Office with the MAC looking at this question now. That is the right place to put that information.