1. Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): What recent discussions he has had on the availability of agricultural labour; and if he will make a statement. [276574]

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jane Kennedy): May I say on behalf of those who come to Prayers that it is a little disconcerting to have the blinds run up and down during them, particularly as we need all the help we can get these days and Prayers are quite important?

At the end of last year, in response to concerns expressed by the industry about shortages of seasonal labour, the Government announced a 5,000 increase in the seasonal agricultural workers scheme quota for 2009. I am pleased that we were also recently able to address swiftly some practical problems that could have arisen affecting the availability of sheep shearers. I am grateful for the assistance of my Home Office colleagues, and the hon. Gentleman will know that we meet representatives of farmers regularly on all sorts of subjects.

Mr. Whittingdale: I welcome the measures that the Minister refers to, but she will be aware that many people, particularly in the horticultural and fruit growing industries, depend heavily on the seasonal agricultural workers scheme and are concerned about what will happen when Bulgaria and Romania become full members of the European Union. Will she consider extending the scheme to other countries to ensure that there remains a flow of seasonal workers for those very important industries?

Jane Kennedy: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter. We are being advised that there is more confidence among farmers and growers this year that they will have sufficient labour for seasonal fruit and vegetable harvesting, largely due to the economic climate in which they are operating. However, I can assure him that we keep the situation under close review. Indeed, all being well, my noble Friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath will meet my hon. Friend the Minister for Borders and Immigration in the week after the recess.