Boston and Skegness MP warns of ‘rise of rural robots’

Boston and Skegness MP Matt Warman
Boston and Skegness MP Matt Warman

The MP for Boston and Skegness has called on the Government to take back control of the agricultural labour supply in the face of changes in migration policy, the national living wage and the ‘rise of the robot’.

Conservative Matt Warman spoke during a debate on the rural economy as part of the discussion on leaving the European Union, when he made the comments.

As the labour supply changes, and as technology gets more powerful, the Brussels sprouts and the brassicas in my constituency will, if honourable members will forgive me, become guinea pigs for new research into how we make growing and picking them even more affordable for businesses that often work on ferociously tight margins, thanks in part to our supermarkets.

Boston and Skegness MP Matt Warman

The debate called upon the House of Commons to say it was concerned at the possible impact on the rural economy as a result of the EU Referendum, and called on Government to present a clear statement of its aims for the industry in negotiations with the EU.

Mr Warman told ministers that in his constituency he wanted to see ‘some form of the seasonal work visa scheme’ which meant people could ‘come here, pay taxes and work if a job is already lined up’.

He said: “A key impact of voting to leave the EU should not be to make any individual feel unwelcome, as I have said in this House many times; it should be the restoration, partly in the rural economy, of simple self-determination over environmental regulation and the workforce.

“No party went to the country on a manifesto that said that market towns across the east of England would see huge changes in numbers that would result in serious pressures on public services, and if they had, they might not have won.”

He also told ministers that he suspected a lack of minimum-wage labour combined with the impact of the national living wage would create a ‘renewed push for further mechanisation and automation’.

He said: “As the labour supply changes, and as technology gets more powerful, the Brussels sprouts and the brassicas in my constituency will, if honourable members will forgive me, become guinea pigs for new research into how we make growing and picking them even more affordable for businesses that often work on ferociously tight margins, thanks in part to our supermarkets.

“We will see a rise of the rural robots.

“In that increasingly complex environment, we must guard against the challenges of modern slavery, but we must also bear it in mind that we have a huge potential to seize that industrial revolution and to take back the control my constituents voted for.”

Following the motion MPs voted not to present the question as it stood, but instead to recognise the importance of the rural economy and welcomed a Government commitment that the sector would be guaranteed the same level of funding.