Gordon MP Richard Thomson has branded this morning’s meeting of the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee as “quite extraordinary” after the Conservative MP chairing the meeting delivered a stinging rebuke to the Conservative Home Office Minister who was being questioned in a strongly-worded attack.
MPs were taking part in an evidence session on the shortage of labour affecting various sectors, particularly meat processing, which is having a hugely detrimental effect on the pig industry, leading to animal welfare issues and healthy pigs having to be culled as they can’t get to processing plants.
In an exchange with Immigration Minister Kevin Foster, Conservative Chair of the EFRA Committee Neil Parish revealed the chaos at the heart of the UK Government in tackling the labour shortage when he said:
“It’s a very open secret there have been huge problems between DEFRA and the Home Office in getting the number of people we need here, you’ve been hugely slow at getting everything in place and then you blame everybody else when it goes wrong. I just can’t understand why you won’t just have the humility this morning to actually take away some of this and look at it. We’re not asking you to make policy on the hoof, we’re not even asking you to repute policies, we are asking you to take the situation seriously. I don’t know if we’ve ever had a Minister before this Committee who has been so intransigent and just completely sticking to a line, irrespective of whether that line is right or wrong.”
In another exchange with the Minister, Mr Parish said:
“There is an emergency in the pig industry and an animal welfare issue which people are very concerned about in this country and I suggest to you some flexibility in the immigration system will get us through it. A lot of people who are probably engaged in immigration will see the logic of that and I just can’t understand Minister why you’ve come here today and just block everything we’re asking for. Why don’t you just go away and say we will look at it? Why is that not possible?”
During proceedings, SNP member of the EFRA Committee and MP for Angus Dave Doogan said:
“Quite clearly in your responses and your answers you’re holding the line. I don’t understand why in the actions and policies of the Home Office there is a tension between the most important industry in the supply of food in the country and government policy. Even allowing for an element of subjectivity, to who’s right and who’s wrong, how can we have got to a position where there is such tension between the industry and the Home Office?”
Commenting, Gordon MP Richard Thomson – who has been pressing both DEFRA and the Home Office for more flexibility on action to address the labour shortage – said:
“These were quite extraordinary scenes at the Committee’s evidence session. For a Conservative MP to go after a Conservative Minister in this fashion is confirmation if any were needed that this UK Government really doesn’t understand the problem and is therefore some distance away from even being able to come up with the solution.
“Neil Parish has long experience as the Chair of this Committee and his comments provide an insight into just how dysfunctional the UK Government’s departments are when it comes to something as basic as reacting to industry demands for flexibility to allow it to keep food on our tables and our pig farmers and meat processors in business.
“If this had been the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament, no one would doubt that we would have seen action long before now.”