HC Deb 27 November 2002 vol 395 cc22-4WS
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett)

A review of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers' Scheme (SAWS) was announced on 7 February 2002 in the White Paper on Immigration and Asylum entitled "Secure Borders, Safe Haven: Integration with Diversity in Modern Britain". Officials within the Home Office have since completed a formal consultation in which the views of a wide range of organisations with an interest in the scheme have been sought.

The Government would like to thank all those who responded to this review. The response of those contributing, many of whom were farmers and growers or their representatives, is that the SAWS plays an important role in providing an additional source of seasonal workers. We have listened to the views expressed and concluded that the scheme should be retained and developed where appropriate with the primary purpose of providing farmers and growers access to seasonal labour.

The use of operators in administering the scheme is felt by the industry to be one of the key strengths of the current arrangements. They play a crucial role in recruiting and allocating participants to farms, overseeing their welfare, and monitoring and evaluating the scheme. Operators will therefore continue to be a feature of the revised SAWS. They will be appointed following a tendering exercise and will be in place in preparation for the revised SAWS which will operate from 2004 onwards.

I am aware that many farmers and growers who have an unmet need for seasonal labour are not within the scope of the existing arrangements. Consequently, the period during which the SAWS operates will be extended beyond the current months of May to November to allow participation in the scheme at any time throughout the year so as to meet the demand for seasonal workers. Additionally the work that SAWS participants are permitted to undertake will be extended, provided it is agricultural work and seasonal in nature. These changes will be fully implemented from January 2004. However, in recognition of the difficulties farmers and growers who are outside the scope of the current arrangements might experience in recruiting seasonal labour next year, I will bring forward these changes for the 2003 SAWS season. This is provided it is within the capacity of the existing operators to handle the additional work, and the employers wishing to benefit are able to meet the welfare needs of participants, in particular the provision of accommodation.

In response to these changes the Government will increase the already agreed quota for SAWS 2003 from 20,200 to 25,000. Future quota levels will be determined annually on the basis of an appraisal of the scheme's performance and estimates of future demand by key stakeholders, in particular through scheme operators on behalf of the employers they represent. Although the review found no evidence to support an immediate increase in the quota to 50,000 as recommended by a recent Policy Commission report into the future of food and farming, the Government accept that subject to economic growth demand for seasonal workers will rise steadily in the coming years. It will continue to be a requirement of a revised SAWS that participants must be full-time students in their home country as the review indicated students have an incentive to return home at

Resources Capital
Change New DEL Of which: voted Non voted Change New DEL Of which: voted Non voted
-3,746 199,725 137,401 62,324 33 5,789 5489 300

The change in the resource element of the DEL arises from: the merger, on 1 July 2002, of the National Investment and Loans Office with HM Treasury and the Debt Management Office (£192,000 net, of which administration costs is £1,975,000). NILO's DEL will be reduced from £191,000 to £0 and the administration cost limit will decrease from £2,018,000 to £0 as a result of the merger; draw down of £485,000 Invest to Save Budget funding; a transfer of £67,000 administrative costs to HM Customs and Excise for costs incurred by the Penrose Inquiry team; a transfer of £4,400,000 programme expenditure from the Office of Government Commerce to the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Court Service for properties transferred from the OGC's residual estate portfolio.

The change in the capital element of the DEL arises from the merger of NILO with HM Treasury and the DMO (£33,000). NILO's capital DEL will reduce from £33,000 to £0.

There is also an increase to non-voted DEL of £44,000 as a consequence of the NILO/HMT merger. This is for provision programme expenditure. NILO's non-voted DEL will decrease from £44,000 to £0.

The increases will be offset by inter-departmental transfers and will not therefore add to the planned total of public expenditure. the end of their time on the scheme. However, the upper age limit of 25 will be removed altogether to enable mature students to benefit from the scheme and to earn money that they can use to fund their education.

I hope these changes will ensure the scheme can continue to make an important contribution to meeting the seasonal labour needs of the agriculture industry and in doing so provide participants with a valuable experience of working in the UK.

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