Statement from the Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP
Recent press reports about the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme, leaked from a Cabinet subcommittee, are grossly inaccurate.
I was a strong supporter of this particular scheme, which gave a quota of 21,250 temporary job opportunities to Bulgarian and Romanian seasonal workers. They were provided with good accommodation and catering. These skilled workers were employed where there was a specific demand for their labour and they left to return home at the end of each season.
The horticulture industry was extremely keen to continue the scheme, or something similar, when transitional controls ended on 1 January 2014, allowing free access to the UK for Bulgarian and Romanian citizens. The industry was angry at the end of the scheme as they had an urgent need for skilled temporary labour.
The industry proposed various options, which were discussed with a number of Cabinet colleagues including the possibility of extending the scheme to non-EU countries and that young UK unemployed should be encouraged to sign up through workfare schemes with horticultural businesses. Developing and improving technology to reduce the need for seasonal labour was a longer term option.
Some in the industry suggested reviving the practise of city dwellers, including pensioners, taking paid holidays during the fruit-picking season. There was absolutely no suggestion that any of these ideas would have been anything but voluntary. They asked that insurance and employment legislation should be investigated. After investigation, this idea came to nothing.