English Horticultural Sector (Horticultural Sector Committee Report) - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 12:37 pm ar 19 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of The Bishop of Newcastle The Bishop of Newcastle Bishop 12:37, 19 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, I thank the members of the Horticultural Sector Committee for their work in producing a thorough report highlighting the challenges that this undervalued sector experiences. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, for his excellent summary when opening this debate. It is an honour to follow the noble Earl, Lord Caithness.

My understanding of this sector has been greatly helped by conversations with horticultural business owner Matt Naylor in south Lincolnshire, whom I met at the Oxford Farming Conference a few years ago. Listening to Matt has brought home to me the immense obstacles that the horticultural sector has faced in recent years. As other noble Lords have indicated, the sector is not in isolation from the totality of the farming and agricultural sector. To ensure food security for the future, of which horticultural activity is an integral part, we need joined-up, long-term thinking. I share the disappointment of noble Lords in this debate that the Government scrapped their plans last year to publish a horticultural strategy for England.

I want to focus my remarks on two issues. The reality of the seasonal work that the sector requires is not suited to most UK residents, resulting in a reliance on migrant seasonal workers. Without them, the industry could not function. However, their working arrangements often place them in positions of vulnerability. As evidence to the committee revealed, their protection under UK employment law is frequently not upheld. Seasonal workers often face abuse and poor pay and working conditions. I agree with the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, on this matter.

I support the recommendation that the GLAA should ensure that welfare standards are upheld through compulsory welfare spot checks. I note the Government’s response that UKVI compliance staff already undertake some welfare checks, but the ICIBI’s inspection of the immigration system and the agriculture sector in 2022 showed the inadequacy of those visits. Issues raised at visits were not appropriately recorded, escalated or followed up, resulting in a lack of action. What use are they if no action is taken in cases where compliance issues are found? What steps will the Government take to ensure that seasonal migrant workers are not exploited and that employment laws are upheld on farms?

Secondly, I refer to the report’s final chapter highlighting the benefits that horticulture and interaction with nature have for us all, a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Colgrain, in comments about education. Newcastle GP Services’ social prescribing team has established projects allowing patients spaces to connect with nature, offering them community feeling, social inclusion and support for their mental and physical well-being. Benfield Park surgery has set up a community allotment as a space for patients experiencing loneliness or mental or physical health difficulties. Patients can access a garden and help as much or little as they wish. They have raised beds and greenhouses, and grow fruit and veg. The work is predominantly patient led, with the benefits being demonstrated by a patient being taken off medication because of positive changes to his mental health through tending the garden. I encourage the Government to continue to support these programmes.

When considering horticulture, discussions on the economy, business and supermarket power are often prioritised. Of course those issues matter, but in debating them we must not neglect the human aspect of horticulture—the people whom the sector relies on and the benefits that horticulture can have for us all.