[Mr Mike Weir in the Chair] — Common Agricultural Policy
Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton, Conservative)
I thank the Chairman of the Select Committee for securing this debate, because it is important that we debate in this Chamber the future of agriculture, farming and the countryside.
I thank the Minister for being here. He has a difficult job ahead of him. I do not blame him for all our ills; the European Commission has got it entirely wrong. I have had some slight experience of the European Commission over 10 years. The Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner has got it absolutely wrong; we have to move to more competitive agriculture, and we must look after and manage the countryside well, but the policy that he is producing does not go in the right direction on either of those issues. I agree with my hon. Friend George Eustice that one size does not fit all.
Let me provide a brief history of the common agricultural policy. It arrived at the beginning of Europe, when the Common Market was made up of six countries, France and Germany being the dominant ones. This was after the second world war, when food was hugely important. For those five or six countries in the middle of Europe, it was much easier, given the type of crops they grew and their type of farming, to devise some sort of common agricultural policy. However, now there are 27 countries, covering from the north of Finland to the south of Greece, and including Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. There are hugely different types of farms—very small farms and very large state farms left over from previous communist systems, and private farms of various sizes throughout the rest of the European Union. If we also consider the different types of crops grown, and all the complicated subsidies introduced over the years—for cotton, olive oil, sugar and everything else—we begin to see the complexity of the matter. I agree that we need to ensure that we have an agricultural policy that suits this country. I know that the Minister is trying to work on that.
The shadow Minister, Huw Irranca-Davies, mentioned fisheries, and he has a point. The Commission is offering more regional powers; whether it is giving those powers in reality is a matter for another debate, but it certainly needs to move in that direction.
Let me turn to the need for agriculture. There are now more than 7 billion people in the world. There is a moral duty to produce food, and for this country to do so. As global warming and climate change alter the growth that can take place in many other parts of the world, it becomes up to us to produce good food when we can. Also, we would otherwise have to import food. There is also the issue of the water used to grow food; many countries can ill afford to lose water. Whatever economic difficulties our nation has, we can afford to feed ourselves and buy food, but in many parts of the world, that cannot be done. We need to be conscious of that.
We must face up to the reality of where agriculture and farming are going in future; I hope that the Minister agrees with me. I think he does not want to do away with the single farm payment and support for agriculture overnight, but he does want agriculture to be weaned off public support, because we cannot accept, year after year, ever more public support for agriculture. We need competitive agriculture, and we can have it.
Ian Paisley talked about the poultry industry; the thing to remember about it is that it is competitive even though it is unsupported. It is not supported by the common agricultural policy, so it competes well. We have a successful poultry industry in this country.