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Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme

Volume 707: debated on Thursday 27 January 2022

5. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of winding down the seasonal agricultural workers scheme on the food and drink sector. (905289)

We are not winding down the seasonal agricultural workers scheme; in fact, we have now extended it until 2024 and it supports both edible and ornamental horticulture. There are 30,000 visas already available, with the potential to increase that to 40,000 if there is demand.

Instead of the 70,000 seasonal agricultural workers needed across the UK, the Government are limiting visas to 30,000, which is less than half of what is required. The National Farmers Union of Scotland has warned that, just like last year, we will again see millions of pounds-worth of crops lying rotting in the fields. Will the Secretary of State explain why the UK Government are not providing enough of the visas required? If they cannot manage an immigration scheme without harming one of Scotland’s key sectors, perhaps the Scottish Government should manage our borders.

As the hon. Lady may know, I worked in the soft fruit industry before coming into politics, so I am very familiar with the soft fruit industry in Scotland. It is one of the reasons why the Government have put in place the seasonal workers scheme, and we have had such a scheme since the second world war. Last year, we had a scheme with 30,000 visas, but only just over 25,000 were required. Many settled EU citizens will also continue to return to do seasonal work and we judge that 30,000 is probably the right number.