Owen Paterson, UK’s former environment secretary and Conservative Party MP, proposed a plan that would put pensioners on the agricultural field to cut eastern European immigration. Paterson is facing severe criticisms for the suggestion, which reportedly stunned even the “more right wing” senior Tories in the cabinet.
The suggestion, which has been denied by Paterson, was made in the memoirs of former Liberal Democrat minister David Laws, the Telegraph reported.
Laws wrote that, upon presenting the suggestion a cabinet colleague said that though the move would limit immigration, it would still be very unpopular with the farmers as cheap labour would no longer be easily available for the strenuous outdoor work. In immediate response Paterson said, “Oh, but I’ve thought of that,” said Paterson. “I think I have the answer. We’ll try to get more British pensioners picking some of the fruit and vegetables in the fields instead.”
He added, “Of course, getting British pensioners to do this work could lead to an increase in farmers’ costs. After all, they may be a bit slower doing the work. I’ve thought of that too. I think we might arrange to exempt British pensioners from the minimum-wage laws, to allow them to do this work.”
According to Laws, the cabinet colleagues, even the more right-wing Conservatives listened to the proposal in stunned silence.
Paterson was criticized severely for tabling such a proposition amid concerns over an influx of Romanians and Bulgarians as a result of the lifting of the laws that prevent them from working in the UK.
“This is Owen Paterson treating pensioners as cheap labour. It’s the worst kind of reactionary politics and a sad state of affairs that this man graced the Cabinet table,” the Mirror quoted Tim Farron, Liberal Democrat leader, as saying.
Paterson said that has been going around story was completely wrong and that the scheme worked “very well.”
“We looked at all sorts of options of how we could substitute them once there was open season on January 1, 2014, right, so the story was wrong,” he told the Sky News.