The House of Lords Debate: Food Supply and Security
Yesterday, 14th May, Peers debated food supply and security in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The current situation has highlighted the importance of food security to the UK and our current reliance on seasonal workers to harvest fruit and vegetables, as well as their importance in other sectors of the rural economy such as forestry and game farms. We briefed Peers in advance of the debate to outline our position and concerns. Our primary concern is the lack of clarity over what a future seasonal workers scheme will look like, and whether, if at all, it will be sufficient to satisfy the current demand for 70,000 seasonal workers. The current crisis has highlighted the reliance on seasonal workers to carry out essential tasks central to the UK's food supply, and although a change to a less labour intensive practice is welcome, it has to be gradual, and certainly cannot be immediate when the transition period ends on 31st December, as it risks being now.
Our briefing was praised by Lord Ramsbotham in the debate, raising our concern directly with the Defra Minister: "The Countryside Alliance, which I thank for its excellent briefing, draws attention to farmers' lack of certainty in both the 2018 White Paper on immigration and the current pilot scheme, which runs out at the end of 2020."
Our President, Baroness Mallalieu also drew attention to the importance of small shops and abattoirs. The full debate can be read here, and our submission can be read here.
Labour and Food Supply Chain
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee are currently looking at the issues of labour and the food supply chain - details of which can be found here. This will become an ever increasing issue once the transition period ends on the 31st December and the new immigration system comes into force.
We have submitted evidence to the Committee, that can be found here. Again, we raised the issue of uncertainty surrounding a future seasonal workers scheme, and called for any scheme to be based on industry need, not Government quotas. Simply, the Government must ensure the sector has access to the labour it needs to both feed the nation and export to other countries. UK agriculture is in a period of transition as leaving the EU has allowed us, for the first time in over forty years, to approach farming support in a way that is unique to the UK. We must get it right.
The Agriculture Bill, which sets out the framework for the future support of farming, completed its Commons stages this week and will now be considered by the House of Lords. The current crisis has shown just how important our farmers and producers are to the UK's food supply and how vulnerable our food exports are to the UK economy.