Bishop Helen-Ann joins horticulture debate

First published on: 19th April 2024

On 19 April 2024, Bishop Helen-Ann took part in the 'Horticulture' debate in the House of Lords. Read her full speech below.

My Lords, I thank each of the members of the Horticultural Sector Committee for their work in producing a thorough report highlighting the challenges that this undervalued sector experiences and to Lord Redesdale for his excellent opening summary in this debate. It’s an honour to follow Earl Caithness. My own understanding of this sector has been greatly helped by conversations with a horticultural business owner, Matt Naylor in South Lincolnshire who I met at the Oxford Farming Conference a few years ago. Listening to Matt has brought home to me the immense obstacles the horticulture sector has faced in recent years. This 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 disappointment with other noble lords in this debate, that the Government scrapped their plans last year to publish a Horticulture Strategy for England.

My lords, I want to focus my own 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, poor pay and working conditions. I agree with my noble friend Baroness Bennett in her remarks on this matter.

I support the recommendation that the GLAA should ensure that welfare standards are upheld through compulsory welfare spot-checks, and 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 agricultural sector in 2022 showed the inadequacy of these visits. Issues raised at visits were not appropriately recorded, nor escalated or followed up on, resulting in a lack of action. My Lords, 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 to us all, a point raised by Lord Colgrain in comments about education. Newcastle GP Services Social Prescribing Team have established projects allowing patients spaces to connect with nature, offering them community feeling, social inclusion, and support for their mental and physical wellbeing. Benfield Park Surgery have 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 as little as they wish. They have raised beds, green houses, 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 attending the garden. I encourage the Government to continue to support these programmes.

My Lords, when considering horticulture, discussions on the economy, business, and supermarket power are often prioritised. Of course, these 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 to us all.

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