Question to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs:
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what assessment his Department has made of the recent recommendation in the Automation in Horticulture Review on a long-term Seasonal Workers Scheme for edible horticulture starting in 2022.
During 2021 my Department undertook a review of automation in horticulture, covering both the edible and ornamental sectors in England. We have now published this review (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/defra-led-review-of-automation-in-horticulture). The review recommended extending the Seasonal Worker visa route to 'mind the gap' until automation technologies have developed enough to reduce the sector's reliance on seasonal labour.
The review provides a better understanding of what is required to accelerate the development and uptake of automation technologies in both the edible and ornamental sectors, in England, with the view to reducing the sector's long-term dependency on seasonal migrant labour from 2022 onwards. Non-binding recommendations are put forward to increase adoption of available technology and accelerate development of innovative automation and robotics. HM Government will consider the report's recommendations and will respond in due course.
Our responses to the review will work alongside the recently extended and expanded Seasonal Workers visa route - and Defra's efforts to attract more residents of the United Kingdom into agricultural work - to support the overall aim of reducing the sector's dependency on seasonal migrant labour.
HM Government recognises the importance of a reliable source of seasonal labour for crop picking and packing, and that it is a key part of bringing in the harvest for the horticultural sector. That is why the Prime Minster committed to look at expanding seasonal workers schemes in the leadership campaign and we have already extended the seasonal worker visa route to 2024. Discussions are on-going with the Home Office on the visa allocation for 2023.
As announced in the Government Food Strategy in June, HM Government has now commissioned an independent review which will consider how automation, domestic labour and migrant labour can contribute to tackling labour shortages in the food supply chain. The review will focus on farming, processing, and food and drink manufacturing as sectors which are critical for food production and food security. This review, due to report in spring of 2023, will inform our thinking on the Seasonal Workers scheme beyond that.