– in the House of Commons at 12:55 pm on 10th October 2018.
I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the names of the representatives of the official Opposition.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
We are lucky in all four nations of the United Kingdom to have the best farmers in the world producing the best food in the world. This, the first comprehensive agriculture Bill for five decades, will provide those farmers with a new platform to modernise agriculture; to be able to produce, sell and export more food; and, at last, to receive the rewards that they deserve for their environmental work and the other public goods that they provide.
I am grateful for the enormous amount of hard work that has gone into the preparation of the Bill. I am grateful to the civil servants at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and I am grateful to those non-governmental organisations that contributed to our consultation paper “Health and Harmony”. Above all, I am grateful to our farmers, who are Britain’s backbone and on whom we are reliant for the food that we enjoy and for the health of our rural economy and society. Every measure in the Bill is designed to ensure that our farmers receive the support that they deserve to give us the healthy food that we enjoy and the beautiful rural environment on which we all depend.
In the course of his remarks, will my right hon. Friend reassure me that the Bill will be a vehicle for the support of common land, which accounts for 20% of our areas of special scientific interest and nearly 40% of open access, but which is nevertheless the subject of fragile traditional systems?
My right hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to meet some farmers who farm common land in the Lake district, and the particular work that they and others who farm common land do, to ensure both that traditional agricultural methods continue and that environmental benefits survive and are enhanced, is critical. We can provide for them with enhanced methods of support.
In April this year, the Secretary of State said that food production is “ultimately about health”, and I agree with him. That being the case, will he explain why he has not listed public health as one of the outcomes in clause 1? Will he think again about putting public health right at the heart of the Bill and his policies?
It is crucial that we all recognise that food production in this country is critical to the improvement of public health. My Department is working with the Department of Health and Social Care and others to ensure that, not only in this Bill but in other measures that we take, we put the importance of improving public health at the heart of everything that we do. The hon. Lady will be familiar with the actions that we have already taken on air quality, and she will also know that we are launching a food strategy, the first aspect of which I announced at the Conservative party conference last week: measures to ensure that we deal effectively with food waste and that healthy and nutritious food is provided to those who need it.
The Secretary of State was just speaking about the commons, and many of the farmers on the commons are sheep farmers. Would he care to say whether the report in The Times that large numbers of sheep will have to be slaughtered in the event of no deal is correct?
The Times is a great newspaper of record, but I did not recognise today’s report. Sheep do have to be slaughtered eventually to ensure that upland farmers and sheep farmers more broadly can get a fair price for the sheepmeat they produce. Indeed, our Bill has specific provisions to ensure that all farmers get a fair price in the market and that we can intervene where necessary to safeguard their economic interests.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is right to highlight the important role of farmers. I have met many of my local farmers and other quality food producers, and the question they have put to me in recent weeks is how will the new regime enable them to compete against often cheaper and often lower quality imports?
This Government have emphasised that we will ensure that the high environmental and animal welfare standards of which we are so proud and which our farmers uphold are defended. We will not enter into trade or other agreements that undercut or undermine the high standards on which British agriculture’s reputation depends.
My right hon. Friend is being generous in giving way. I congratulate him on his opening remarks. Speaking as a farmer and for the many farmers I represent in my constituency, we are heartened to hear that he is putting farmers front and forward in the Bill. Further to his response to our hon. Friend Mr Prisk, will he elaborate on the extent to which food security will be improved by the Bill, to ensure that we protect a viable agricultural sector in this country?
Food security is vital. Throughout the history of the United Kingdom, food security has depended on both quality domestic production and access to food from other markets. Some 60% of our food, and 75% of the food capable of being grown or reared on our shores, comes from the United Kingdom, but of course we also have access to food from other nations, and it is vital that we continue to do so. The Government’s approach as we leave the European Union is designed to ensure both that we have the best possible access to European markets—I am sure that the House knows that we import more than we export to the EU—but that we take opportunities for our farmers to secure new markets. Critically—I am sure Helen Goodman will be interested to hear this—the sheepmeat sector not only has significant exposure to the EU, but benefits from trade deals with the middle east and the far east, where there is a growing market for the high-quality lamb and mutton that we produce in this country. Leaving the EU therefore gives us an opportunity not just to maintain our existing trading links, but to expand them.
Does the Secretary of State not accept that, as we approach Brexit, there are concerns about food shortages and barriers to trade and to imports that may be followed by an open market situation where agriculturalists and farmers are subjected to low-price competition and perhaps questions about quality? Those investing in agriculture will face both demands for greater production and intense competition, and will that not create real problems for the industry?
I absolutely take on board the hon. Gentleman’s points, but we have some of the most productive, commercially successful and progressive farmers in this country ready to take advantage of both new markets and increasing demand among UK consumers and UK producers for high-quality UK produce. Supermarkets are often criticised in this House, but I think it is notable that UK supermarkets, from the Co-op to Waitrose, are increasingly responding to the demand from UK consumers for UK-sourced produce.
Is it not true that the high standards we have in this country and some of the niche products we produce are what make our exports so attractive, so the Bill, by creating a greener agricultural system and rewarding farmers for doing the right thing in managing our environment for the long run, is good not only for our economy, our environment and our people, but for trade?
My hon. Friend makes the case brilliantly. Members of the House will be familiar with the work of the Soil Association, which under its current leader, Helen Browning, manages to secure export markets for high-quality British pigmeat in Germany and beyond on the basis of doing precisely what my hon. Friend describes: meeting demand for high-quality organic produce and trading on the basis of the United Kingdom’s reputation for high environmental standards.
I am happy to give way to my hon. Friend Chris Davies, then my right hon. Friends the Members for East Devon (Sir Hugo Swire) and for Wokingham (John Redwood), and then my hon. Friend Dr Wollaston.
Order. The approach the Secretary of State is taking is most engaging, but it is not necessary for him to conduct an orchestra in proceeding with the debate, nor is it necessary to give a precise chronological guide to his intended order of taking interventions. Nevertheless, it is a notable eccentricity, which the House might enjoy. I call Sir Hugo Swire.
I am most grateful to you, Mr Speaker, as I think you have just given me an earlier slot than my right hon. Friend was indicating so effortlessly, like Herbert von Karajan.
My right hon. Friend just talked about supermarkets’ desire to stock more British and locally sourced products, which if true is manifestly a good thing. Will he commit to conducting a root and branch overhaul of food labelling and the country of origin system, which is currently misleading and has often been abused? The British consumer deserves to know where food is produced and where it is packaged and not to be misled by labelling.
My right hon. Friend makes a good point. Traceability and knowing the provenance of our food are vital. Outside the European Union, we can reform our food labelling system so that we have greater honesty about where our food comes from. He gives me an opportunity to say also that, as the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend David Rutley, made clear yesterday, we are looking urgently at how we reform labelling to ensure that the safety of the consumer is guaranteed. Recent tragic events underline the need for action, and we will act.
Why does schedule 3 give too wide- ranging powers to Welsh Ministers to offer financial support to food production and food-related businesses that are denied to England? Will my right hon. Friend not speak for England? He is England’s Agriculture Minister. Surely he can trust himself with those important powers. Does he not understand that we really do want more food production domestically and locally?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for making two important points. First, at the beginning of the Bill we stress that grants can be made by any Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to improve food productivity in the United Kingdom, but we have also made provisions so that the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Assembly can follow their own policies in their devolved Administrations in tune with the principle of respecting the devolution settlement across the United Kingdom. I regret that the Scottish Government have not taken advantage of such provisions, despite repeated lobbying from Members of Parliament who represent Scottish farming constituencies. I hope that the Scottish Government and the excellent Minister, Fergus Ewing, will pay attention to the demands from my hon. Friends, who have been crystal clear that the Bill provides a greater degree of clarity and certainty about food production and the environment than the Scottish Government have yet been capable of providing.
I call Chris Davies.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I preferred the way my right hon. Friend was conducting matters, as I would have been called first.
Is a specific, ring-fenced budget for agriculture to be agreed under the Bill? Will there be ring-fenced provision for the devolved Governments in times to come?
I do not know whether I am Karajan, Furtwängler or Mahler, but one thing I do know is how vital it is to listen to Welsh male voices, such as my hon. Friend’s. He is absolutely right. That is why shortly we will publish the terms of reference for a review of funding across the United Kingdom. I can guarantee, however, that agricultural funding will not be Barnettised, and the generous—rightly generous—settlement that gives Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales more than England will be defended. More than that, I underline in particular the fact that we provide for all UK farmers a greater guarantee of future funding than farmers anywhere else in the European Union enjoy. Our funding is guaranteed until 2022, whereas in the EU the current common agricultural policy is guaranteed only to 2020. UK farmers have greater financial certainty than farmers anywhere else in Europe.
The chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, has described antimicrobial resistance as a “catastrophic threat”, and the Secretary of State will know that it is not only in human healthcare but sometimes in farming that we see inappropriate use of antimicrobials, thus increasing the risk that we will lose their benefit to human health. Will he use the Bill as a vehicle to drive down further inappropriate antimicrobial prescribing in agriculture and to incentivise farmers who do the right thing? Will he also make sure that we are not exposed to products from places around the world where antimicrobials are used wholly inappropriately, including with environmental contamination?
The Chair of the Select Committee on Health and Social Care makes an absolutely important point. I have had the opportunity to talk to Dame Sally Davies, who has written a brilliant short book about the vital importance of dealing with antimicrobial resistance. I should also pay tribute to Lord O’Neill, who led work under Prime Minister David Cameron on this. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that the Bill contains provisions to provide support and payments to farmers who take the appropriate animal health and welfare measures to ensure that we can fight the overuse of antibiotics, which is both a threat to human and animal health, and an environmental danger.
May I go back to the point made by my right hon. Friend John Redwood about schedule 3, which gives specific powers to Wales? Is the Secretary of State telling the House that those specific powers are available to England as well?
The powers in Wales are different, but we have powers for improving productivity and providing farmers with the grants, support and loans they need not just to improve productivity but to ensure that producer organisations can work effectively in the market to secure for UK farmers, whether in England or in Wales, all the advantages they need to market effectively and secure the right price for their product.
Will the Secretary of State use the new system of farm support to discourage the intensive farming methods that can lead to low welfare standards and the overuse of antibiotics?
At the heart of everything we wish to do is making sure that we have an ethical approach and that farmers in the UK, who, overwhelmingly, are doing the right thing and leading the way in progressive farming, are supported. One thing I should say, which I believe is mentioned in the policy statement that accompanied the publication of this Bill, is that Dame Glenys Stacey is leading a review of farm inspection, because one problem we have at the moment is that, notwithstanding the good efforts of our field force, the level and intensity of farm inspection is not what we need it to be in order to ensure the very highest animal welfare and environmental standards.
I shall seek to make some progress, because I know that more than 30 Government Members and some 14 Opposition Members wish to speak in this debate. I hope the House will recognise that I have been generous in accepting interventions. I will say a little more about the contents of the Bill before, of course, listening to the contributions in this debate.
I should preface my remarks by saying that I want to pay a particular tribute not just to my predecessors in this role, my right hon. Friends the Members for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman) and for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), for the work they have done to ensure that DEFRA has been well led in recent years, but to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, my hon. Friend George Eustice. This week marks his fifth year in DEFRA. I think everyone from across the House will agree that someone who was brought up in farming, who has dedicated his whole life to getting the best possible deal for British agriculture and who has been an exceptionally thoughtful, courteous and wise guide to a succession of DEFRA Secretaries deserves the House’s thanks and congratulations. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]
I also wish to stress my gratitude to those from devolved Administrations. As we know, sadly there is no Assembly in Northern Ireland, but the excellent civil servants who work in the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs have been instrumental in making sure that provisions are there for Northern Ireland in this Bill. I also want to pay tribute to Lesley Griffiths of the Welsh Assembly and Fergus Ewing of the Scottish Government. Lesley Griffiths has taken advantage of the provisions in this Bill, as a number of Members have pointed out, to shape a settlement specific for Wales. I am delighted that the Labour Government in Wales are supporting the Bill, even if not every Labour Member here is taking the same pragmatic and positive line.
This Bill will set a clear direction for the future of agriculture. It will ensure that farmers have time to make the appropriate changes required: there will be a seven-year transition period from 2021 in order to enable our farmers to take advantage of the new opportunities that this Bill provides. We believe that strikes the right balance between addressing the urgency of the need for change in order to reward farmers better for the environmental and other public goods that they provide, and providing people with an opportunity to change their business model, if necessary, in order to take advantage of those changes in a staged and appropriate way.
It is striking that during the consultation we undertook on what should replace the common agricultural policy there was a universal embrace of the need for change; not one of the submissions we received argued that the CAP status quo should remain. It is striking also that in the pages of The Guardian George Monbiot, not naturally a friend or supporter of Conservative Governments, points out that this legislation takes us in the right direction. It is striking also that the National Farmers Union has pointed out that although it understandably would like to see more detail about how these schemes would operate—that detail will be forthcoming—it, along with the Country Land and Business Association, The Wildlife Trusts and Greener UK, welcomes the direction in which this Government are taking agriculture.
Of course, one reason why no one can defend the current system is that it allocates public money—taxpayers’ money—purely on the basis of the size of an agricultural land holding. As we know, many of the beneficiaries are not even UK or EU citizens, but foreign citizens who happen to have invested in agricultural land. Many people have made the point, as Helen Goodman and my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire have done today, that we must support our upland farmers particularly well. At the moment, the CAP does not give the bulk of its funds to those who are farming in marginal or upland areas; it gives the bulk of its funds to major landowners. It is a simple matter of social justice and economic efficiency that we need to change that system.
The approach my right hon. Friend has adopted of building the big tent coalition in support of the Bill’s principal aims and objectives is the right one. However, will he address a concern that I have? Will he confirm that food production and food security are integral parts of the Bill, and that farming and food production are seen as important and not as an attractive add-on to broader environmental issues?
My hon. Friend is right about that. When I was visiting an agricultural show recently—that is one of the many pleasures of this job—I was talking to a farmer who, although wholly supportive of the approach we were taking, reminded me that if we want all the environmental benefits that our farmers can produce, because they are responsible for 70% of the landscape of the United Kingdom, we must ensure that farms remain profitable businesses. This Bill will not only reward farmers for the public goods they provide, but provide a platform for increased productivity, because food production is at the heart of every farm business—as that farmer reminded me, “You can’t go green if you are in the red.”
Will the Secretary of State spell out what assurances he can actually give on food standards and various other standards that apply to this Bill? A lot of people want assurances on that and, in particular, environmental issues too.
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman that consumers are increasingly demanding, and rightly so, about the provenance, quality and standards of the food being produced. As my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon made clear, we have the opportunity to reform our labelling system, to ensure both that human health and safety are better protected than ever before and that people have a guarantee of the circumstances in which their food has been produced.
The Secretary of State is well aware that the UK Government withheld £160 million of convergence uplift money that was due to Scottish farmers. How much lobbying have Scottish Tory MPs done to recover that £160 million? How much of that money have they secured for Scottish farmers?
I mentioned earlier that an enjoyable part of my job is visiting agricultural shows, where I have had the opportunity of meeting Scottish MSPs, but I have never met a Scottish National party MP at any agricultural show in Scotland that I have visited. I have seen my hon. Friend David Duguid standing up for Scottish farmers. I have seen my hon. Friend Luke Graham standing up for Scottish farmers. I have seen my hon. Friend Colin Clark standing up for Scottish farmers. I have seen my hon. Friend Stephen Kerr standing up for Scottish farmers. I have visited farms with my hon. Friend Kirstene Hair. We can tell by the representation of Scottish Conservative Members here today, and by the dearth of SNP Members, who stands up for rural Scotland. The hon. Gentleman makes a signal and it shows exactly what the Scottish Government are doing for Scotland’s farmers—sweet zero.
Food production is critical, and making sure that farmers get a fair price for their products is important. For too long, farmers have been price takers, because there has been inadequate information about how supply chains work and inadequate powers to intervene. The Government have a duty to step in to support farmers, and we have in this Bill powers to ensure that the data is there for farmers to get a fair price at the farm gate for their produce and, in the event of severe market disturbances, that we can also intervene to ensure that farmers get a fair price.
There is one other critical thing. I mentioned the role of producer organisations earlier. Collaboration is critical not just in delivering environmental improvements at landscape scale, but in making sure that farmers get a fair price for what they produce. This Bill makes provision for increased collaboration.
I am enjoying the speech—not all of it, but most of it—but I hope that the Secretary of State will remember not just to tilt at windmills that are easily demolished, but to take on vested interest that will oppose him. I would like to hear more on the supermarkets. The role of the supermarkets in the agricultural and food sectors in this country is very dominant and sometimes very negative. Is he willing to take them on?
I appreciate the vital importance of supermarkets and other retailers. The powers that we are taking in this Bill should ensure that farmers get a fair price. However, I do want to stress—I had an opportunity to do so briefly earlier—the increasingly progressive role that those leading our supermarkets and our food retailers are taking. They are responding to consumer demand for more information about where food comes from. They are also responding to some of the criticisms in the past about the uniformity of vegetables that are capable of being sold. The Co-op and others who have responded to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s campaign for wonky veg—I am all in favour of wonky veg—are doing the right thing. The hon. Gentleman is right: we do need to remain vigilant both for the consumer and for the food producer to ensure that we have the right outcomes.
I am glad that the Secretary of State has turned his attention to the food supply chain. He will be aware, I am sure, of the reforms introduced last week by the French Government that will radically alter the power within the supply chain away from supermarkets to the producer. Is that something that the British Government are looking at?
I am always interested in what we can learn from France. We want to make sure that food and drink, which is our biggest manufacturing sector overall, can continue to be world leading. Critical to that, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned and as I acknowledged in responding to Mr Sheerman, is making sure that there is a fair price at the farm gate for our food producers. Our farmers do not want subsidy; what they want is fairness, and that is what this Bill seeks to deliver.
Talking of fairness, I just want to stress the critical importance of recognising what a public good is. There has been some debate over what a public good might mean. It is some time since I studied economics, but public goods have a clear definition: they are non-exclusionary and non-rivalrous. We can all enjoy them, and as we all enjoy them, no one, if they are enjoying a public good, does so at the expense of anyone else. I am talking about clean air, soil quality and making sure that we invest in carbon sequestration, that farmers get supported for the work that they do to keep our rivers clean and our water pure, that the public have access to our glorious countryside and that the contribution that farmers make to animal health and welfare is recognised. We all benefit from those public goods, but, at the moment, our farmers are not adequately rewarded for them. We in the UK spend a higher proportion of common agricultural policy funds on rural development and on environmental schemes than any other country in the European Union—I should say that the Welsh Administration lead the way in this—but far too much of our money still goes on coupled support based on hectarage payments, rather than on rewarding farmers for what they do and on giving DEFRA the opportunity to intervene to give farmers the deal that they deserve.
I am very happy to give way to—ah—Ruth George.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on his reading ability. He has mentioned animal welfare. Various Members have asked about the difference between Wales and England. Local abattoirs are very important—as important as farms—to high standards of animal welfare. Will he commit to supporting small abattoirs, a third of which have closed already, in the investment that they need to comply with the regulations and to looking again at DEFRA’s decision last week not to award grants to small abattoirs as is being done in Wales?
It is important that we have a network of abattoirs that enables, wherever possible, sustainable local food production. I know that it is an issue close to the hon. Lady’s heart; it is also close to mine. I pay tribute to Patrick Holden and the sustainable farming network for the campaigning work that they have done. We are doing everything we can to support small abattoirs. When it comes to animal welfare, it is also important that we make sure that we have a strong network of official veterinarians guaranteeing the quality of our food. It is also important that we recognise that this Government—originally under the leadership of my right hon. Friend Andrea Leadsom—have introduced, or required, CCTV in all abattoirs to make sure that there is no hiding place for animal cruelty. It is critical that we recognise that our farmers thrive on the basis of producing high-quality food with animal welfare at its heart.
In the timeline that was published this morning, it says that higher animal welfare standards will be defined in 2020. Will the Secretary of State assure me that the bar for those will not be set any lower than they are at present? Ideally, they should be considerably higher.
Absolutely. I recognise that I have been on my feet, although taking questions, for 27 minutes now, so I do want to draw my remarks to close.
I must give way to the hon. Gentleman.
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that he would be very welcome to come and visit us at the Black Isle show next summer. It is self-evident to me that we cannot do much with the straths and glens in my constituency other than rear sheep. I want to push him on one other point. Tourism depends on seeing our straths and glens populated with livestock and on vibrant and successful farming. May I push him for his comments on the tourism aspect of agriculture?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point. I would be delighted to visit the Black Isle show and also to visit Lairg in his constituency, where I know that some of Scotland’s finest sheep farmers have an opportunity every year to demonstrate what they can do. He is absolutely right: iconic landscapes from Caithness and Sutherland and Easter Ross through to the Lake District and, indeed, Exmoor and Dartmoor depend for their tourist appeal and for their pull on the human heart on the work of our farmers. It is inconceivable that those iconic landscapes could survive and flourish without the rural, economic and social network that sheep farming and other forms of farming provide. Absolutely, we do recognise that. It is a public good, and public access to our countryside is placed here.
I am happy to give way, but this will probably be the last pair that I give way to.
I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend. I warmly support this Bill because it incentivises farmers to enhance biodiversity and to promote animal welfare. This is not just a rural issue; it is an urban issue as well. What can he say about how there will be better potential for my constituents in Cheltenham to access this even more diverse and even more beautiful countryside?
I know how important the environment and animal welfare issues are to my hon. Friend, as he has tirelessly campaigned on them. I also know that his constituents will be able to enjoy improved access to the countryside through the provisions in the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education is making £10 million available to ensure that more schoolchildren have an opportunity to understand what goes on in our countryside. Making sure that the next generation understands where our food comes from and the vital importance of food production will be absolutely critical. When the Department for Education set up the school food plan and when this Government ensured that all children up to the age of 14 received lessons in where food comes from and in cooking, that was an earnest example of our commitment to ensuring that everyone appreciates the vital importance of our farmers and the work that they do.
I am seduced by the vision of the future of British agriculture painted by the Secretary of State, but I am puzzled why he wants to take so long before he can get started on it. Why do we have to remain trapped in the limbo of the transition, whereby we will still be trapped in the common agricultural policy when, by joining the European Free Trade Association and the European economic area on our way out of the EU, we could start on his magnificent reforms next March?
I am delighted to have been able to seduce my hon. Friend. What is striking in the seduction is that, rather than asking for a slower hand, he wants a rough wooing. He makes the best possible case for his proposition, but I must respectfully disagree with him. The transition period, both the one that is being secured as we leave the European Union and the one for our farmers, is the right balance between urgency and space for reform.
My right hon. Friend was talking about public goods—an approach that I welcome. May I bring him to the question of health? Can he assure me that his Bill will support the production of fruit and vegetables in this country, which is so important to the nation’s health?
Absolutely; the consumption of more fruit and vegetables is critical to improving public health. I am delighted that, thanks to the lobbying of my hon. Friend and so many Conservative Members, we were able to introduce a seasonal workers scheme pilot to ensure that fruit and vegetable growers get the support that they deserve. We will also have new schemes—improved over those that the EU provides—to ensure that the producer organisations that represent our growers continue to do the brilliant job that they do.
I should stress that the Bill will also ensure that the UK can take its seat at the World Trade Organisation and negotiate on behalf of the whole United Kingdom. Some people have suggested that the Bill constitutes a power grab from our devolved Administrations—nothing could be further from the truth. The Bill will empower the Welsh Assembly, the Northern Ireland Government and the Scottish Government to do what they believe is right for our farmers, and what is right for our farmers is to move away from a system that has constrained their energy, undermined their enterprise, held back innovation in food production and inadequately rewarded them not only for the food that they provide, but for the environmental and other goods that they provide for us.
The Bill gives us an opportunity to put farming across the United Kingdom on a surer footing, so that we can produce more, sell more and export more, but also hand on our environment in a better state to the next generation. I commend it to the House.
It will be very obvious from the number of people now on their feet that there is a huge demand for time to speak this afternoon. Although we have many hours ahead, I will have to impose a time limit from the very beginning. I give warning now—so that people can throw away pages and pages of their notes—that the time limit will initially be eight minutes, and I anticipate that it might well reduce later.
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “That” to the end of the Question and add:
“this House, whilst recognising that on leaving the EU the UK needs to shift agricultural support from land-based payments to the delivery of environmental and other public benefits, declines to give a Second Reading to the Agriculture Bill because it fails to provide a strategy to safeguard the nation’s food supply at a time when food poverty and foodbank demand are rising rapidly alongside an epidemic in food-related health inequality, fails to recognise the central importance of UK sustainable food production and supply, leading to a greater reliance on imports, while failing to provide for controls over the production methods, working conditions, or animal welfare and environmental standards in countries from which the UK’s food is imported, and, when the natural environment is in crisis, with species decline at an alarming scale, soil degradation and increasingly volatile and extreme weather conditions driven by escalating climate change, provides the Secretary of State with wide-ranging powers but no duties or legally enforceable environmental protection targets, whilst giving Parliament limited ability to scrutinise any changes in the regime, and fails to legislate for current funding to continue until 2022 as Ministers have promised;
and is of the opinion that the publication of such a Bill should have been preceded by a full process of pre-legislative scrutiny of a draft Bill.”
This country is in desperate need of an Agriculture Bill that provides certainty and clarity for our food and farming industry, but instead the Secretary of State has laid before us nothing but a huge missed opportunity. There are no targets for environmental improvements or reducing carbon emissions; there is no commitment to producing healthy, home-grown food in a post-Brexit world; and there is no commitment to protecting the people of this country from food poverty at a time when thousands rely on food banks. We need an Agriculture Bill, but we need it to be better than this.
The Labour party absolutely agrees with the need to shift financial assistance in the way proposed by the Bill, from support for simply owning land to the principle of public money for public goods to help those who work our land to restore and improve the natural environment. This has been rightly welcomed by environmental campaigners as a real turnaround in the Government’s thinking. I join those campaigners in applauding the Secretary of State in this regard, because—make no mistake—our natural environment is in crisis, with soil degradation, species in alarming decline, increasingly volatile and extreme weather conditions, and air pollution that has remained at illegal levels since 2010. But does the Bill actually match up to the scale of the environmental crisis facing us?
The Bill provides only powers. Clause 1 states that the Secretary of State “may” give financial assistance for environmental purposes—there is no duty or requirement for him to actually do anything. The environmental outcomes we need delivered are not prescribed. There are no targets and no mechanism for setting any targets. No funding is identified in the Bill. No delivery or regulatory bodies will be resourced by it.
My hon. Friend is making a marvellous speech. She will be aware of the warning from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that we will reach the 1.5° C threshold in 12 years, by 2030, and of the contribution of cattle and agriculture in general towards our carbon emissions. Does that not underline the importance of having targets, which are so sadly missing from this Bill?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. The report was deeply shocking and the Bill must reflect that urgent action needs to be taken.
Let me bring the Secretary of State’s green Brexit dream into the cold light of day. At first contact with the Chancellor and all the other competing demands on the Treasury, the reality is that the Secretary of State’s green Brexit will soon wither on the vine without any commitment written into the Bill to maintain the current levels of spending. Farmers and green campaigners are in complete alignment on this.
My hon. Friend is making a very powerful speech. I had hoped to intervene on the Secretary of State but he refused to let me. I would have told him that many small upland livestock producers in my constituency are really concerned about the lack of detail in the Bill, particularly given that the Secretary of State says that he wants to support them and enhance their profitability. Does my hon. Friend share my concern about when we might get this detail and whether the Government will even consider the different scenarios that Brexit could bring to these upland producers?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. There are also many upland farmers in my constituency, and they have raised exactly the same concerns with me.
We know that for farmers to be sustainable environmentally, they must also be sustainable economically. I remind the Secretary of State who the farmer he quoted earlier actually was: Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers Union, who said that farmers cannot be green if they are in the red. Farmers need to be able to invest with certainty over long periods, especially in sectors such as forestry. How can they be expected to stay afloat when the Secretary of State has proved himself unable to make good in the Bill any of the funding promises?
The hon. Lady is making a very sensible point, specifically regarding basic payments for farmers. However, the post-Brexit agricultural policy of the Welsh Labour Government more or less mirrors exactly what has been proposed by the Secretary of State. After the hon. Lady finishes her speech, will she get on the phone to the branch manager, Carwyn Jones, and tell him to introduce a more sensible policy?
Well, I think that more powers are provided in this Bill for some Welsh Ministers than for English Ministers. I have had a long discussion with my counterparts in the Welsh Government and will continue to work with them to discuss these points.
Will the hon. Lady explain why the Welsh Government appear to be supporting this Bill and the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, yet her colleagues are opposing this legislation?
As I have said, we believe that greater powers are provided for Welsh Ministers than English Ministers in this Bill; there is more certainty. It is really important that we bring that back.
On Sunday, I attended a harvest festival at my local church, and I am sure that many hon. Members did something similar. I know that the whole House will join me in expressing our thankfulness for everything that the farming community in this country achieves to help feed the nation, often against the odds. After the extreme weather that farmers endured last winter and this summer, they are probably more affected by climate change than any other sector.
However, agriculture now accounts for 10% of UK greenhouse gas emissions—a larger share than at any time since 1990—and the Committee on Climate Change has reported that there has been virtually no change in agricultural emissions since 2008. This means that agricultural emissions are not on track to deliver the carbon budget savings required by 2022.
Net carbon sequestration from forestry has flatlined but the Bill provides only for mitigating or adapting to climate change. It seems that the Secretary of State has not heard the Committee’s call, made only in June, for this Bill to link financial support to agricultural emissions reduction and increased carbon sequestration.
Does the hon. Lady agree that the Bill needs to have a net zero emissions target for the agricultural sector? If we shifted to more support for organic farming, that would help too: organic soils are much better at retaining carbon than intensively farmed soil.
The hon. Lady makes a good point. It is critical that we begin looking across all industries to see how we can shift to net zero.
Will the hon. Lady explain how much, according to her calculations, it will cost to achieve net zero in agriculture? Will that be met from general taxation through the Government or through increased food prices at the supermarket?
I do not believe that I made that commitment, so it is not something on which I have done calculations at this time.
Continuing to deplete soils, lose pollinators and pollute waters does nothing for farm productivity; that is why we need a Bill that delivers food security as well as environmental outcomes. It is self-defeating and academic to separate those objectives, as the Secretary of State is attempting to do. This is the first time in more than 40 years that a Secretary of State has been directly responsible for the nation’s food security, yet food security has drifted off the Government’s agenda, and they are not offering any clear vision for the future of our nation’s food supply. The Bill is worryingly silent when it comes to food poverty. It says nothing about the balance between the production of healthy and sustainable British food and reliance on imports, the jobs and health and safety of agricultural workers, and preventing trade deals involving lower standards, undercutting British producers.
It is 71 years since the Agriculture Act 1947 was passed by the great post-war Attlee Government. Attlee judged that its author Tom Williams
“effected nothing less than a revolution in British agriculture” and that
“his place in history is assured as the greatest British Minister of Agriculture of all time”.
I remind the House that the purpose of the Act was
“promoting and maintaining...a stable and efficient agricultural industry capable of producing such part of the nation’s food and other agricultural produce as in the national interest it is desirable to produce in the United Kingdom, and of producing it at minimum prices consistently with proper remuneration and living conditions for farmers and workers in agriculture and an adequate return on capital invested in the industry.”
Article 39 of the treaty of Rome set out the aims of the common agricultural policy, including ensuring
“a fair standard of living for the agricultural community…the availability of supplies”,
“supplies reach consumers at reasonable prices.”
It is a matter of strategic national interest and social justice that we should ensure that our country is better able to feed itself with healthy, nutritional food while protecting itself against volatility. That is why it is important for sustainable food production to be a central part of the Bill.
Why did we lose so much market share and end up importing so much food under the CAP?
That is a good question, but one to which I do not have a detailed answer—I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman for that. It is a really important point: we were increasing production, but then it began to drop. It is an issue that we need to address. If there is a dramatic reduction in UK food production, greater reliance on imports would result in a lack of control over production, animal welfare, and environmental and working standards.
The answer lies simply in the tastes of the consumer. We like oranges—we like food that grows abroad but which we do not grow. That demand has grown over the years, so we import more. We should be careful lest we try to search for set levels of output or demand in what is still a market economy.
Clearly, we cannot grow everything that consumers would like to purchase in this country, but we can do more to increase the production of food that can be produced in this country. It is important that we protect standards too, and any trading deals should protect the standards that our farmers currently work to.
I think the answer will be yes, but does the hon. Lady agree that it will be a hallmark of success for the whole Brexit process if, 10 or 15 years down the line, we find that we are importing no more foodstuffs than we do today, and preferably less because we are producing more?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point.
I would like to think about health, because the Bill fails to recognise the importance of food and diet for health. Why, when we spend so much money subsidising our food producers, are so many of them on the verge of bankruptcy or breakdown? Why is there so much wasted food when foodbank demand has never been higher? While the quality of our home-produced food has never been higher, why do we have an epidemic of obesity and diabetes? The Bill completely misses the opportunity to tackle those problems. We need a Bill that strengthens and enshrines support for sustainable food production, promotes healthy outcomes and supports rural economies, because we believe that access to good-quality, healthy food must not be allowed to become the preserve of only those who can afford it.
Given the shadow Minister’s concern about these issues—green Brexit, food, food waste and all those things—it is interesting that she was not given a major slot on the main stage at the Labour conference. In my meetings, I have not come across a single environmentalist or farmer who does not support the initiatives in the Bill.
The hon. Lady may recall that the Leader of the Opposition discussed the environment and issues connected with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in his speech.
All over the world, nearly all farmers are supported financially to produce food, and our farmers must be able to compete with them, but to do so they will need the right financial and policy framework so that they are not disadvantaged in a competitive and volatile global marketplace. We need to move away from the current system of direct payments, but if we are to bring in land management contracts, they need to be accessible. The recent delivery of payments to farmers and landowners has been poor, and the hoops that have to be jumped through put many people off signing up in the first place. We need to ensure that the agencies are adequately resourced—only then can they properly help the farmers who need the support that subsidies provide.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, given their excellent relationships with farmers and landscape managers, national parks are ideally placed to provide that network in our national park areas, where so much farming goes on?
I thank my hon. Friend for her contribution. I have discussed that with the Lake District national park, which is in my constituency, and I am sure that there will be other discussions in this area.
An important point was made about the number of forms that farmers have to fill in to access funds. Does she not agree that one of the most important things is ensuring the availability of reliable broadband, given that the amount of farming now done online is way in excess of the amount of farming when Clement Attlee was the post-war Prime Minister?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that important contribution. It is disappointing that the digital roll-out came before farmers could access it. I would add that mobile connectivity is as important, because when farmers submit their application online, they are sent a text message with a code that they need to put in; if they do not have a mobile signal, they cannot continue with the application. All these things need to be considered before we move forward.
We praise all our farmers for the important role that they play in environmental stewardship. The Secretary of State talked about the fact that the food and drinks industry is such a huge manufacturing sector. It is incredibly important that we get more support for our farmers than the Bill currently offers. At the moment, the Bill offers our family farmers just a payoff, which we believe risks leaving our fields to ever larger, more intensive factory farms run by global big business.
It worries me that the vision of the UK as a leading free trade nation with low tariff barriers is completely at odds with the commitment to thriving British food and farming sectors. Combining and delivering those two objectives will be a considerable challenge for this Government, who are and always have been in favour of more deregulation and who have a blind reliance on the free market to deliver social outcomes. Labour will oppose any free trade deal that threatens existing standards: we will fight any such deals tooth and nail.
In conclusion, the development of a new post-Brexit UK agriculture policy is a seminal moment for the future of our environment, our food production and our countryside. Never has it been more important to lift our line of sight and to talk proactively about what we want to see as part of a long-term strategy for food, farming and the environment. Sustainability, above all else, has to be at the forefront of a thriving farming, food and drink sector.
It is right that we shift agricultural support for land-based payments to the delivery of public and environmental benefits, but the Bill sadly falls short in a number of areas. There is no strategy to safeguard our nation’s food supply or recognition of the importance of sustainability to reduce the reliance on imports. There is no provision for controls over production methods, working conditions, animal welfare or environmental standards in countries from which our food is imported. The Bill hands wide-ranging powers to the Secretary of State but includes no legally enforceable environmental protection targets, and there is no provision for current agricultural funding to continue until 2022, as Ministers have previously promised.
This House should have had the chance to conduct proper prelegislative scrutiny of the Bill. What we are discussing here is fundamental to the future of British agriculture, and getting it right is crucial. For those reasons, I am afraid that Labour cannot support the Bill’s Second Reading, and that is why I strongly urge colleagues to vote for our reasoned amendment tonight.
This is a historic moment, as we last had an agriculture Bill in this House in 1947, since when there have been 15 Prime Ministers and many Governments. We therefore really need to get this Bill right.
The Bill is about agriculture and the environment not just today, but in the future, so I welcome our Secretary of State’s commitment on food security. During the Bill’s passage, I will look for us to adopt for England provisions similar to those in schedule 3 for Wales to ensure that we can support high-quality food production and high animal welfare standards in England and across the United Kingdom. Food security—the ability to have plenty of food, and good food, for our constituents—is very much a public good, and we will debate that further.
While I very much welcome the Bill, I am disappointed that my Select Committee was not offered the opportunity to subject it to prelegislative scrutiny. However, the Secretary of State and Ministers should not worry, because we will do our utmost to ensure that we scrutinise the Bill carefully, clause by clause. While the Bill is very good, I am sure that a little tweak here and there will not do it any harm.
I welcome the long transitional period because it gives farmers certainty over that time. We also need to ensure that as we build stewardship schemes, land management schemes and environmental schemes, we also enter into contracts with farmers of at least five to 10 years. Ministers and the Secretary of State might say that we cannot bind successive Governments, but we must ensure that we have a contract in place so that land management and farming can go hand in hand. We talk as though the environment, food production and farming are all separate, but they are not—they are very much combined. I believe that farmers are the original friends of the earth, and we will ensure that we deliver better soil, a better environment and great food while having as much food security as possible in this country.
I also welcome the Bill’s attempt to tackle unfairness in the supply chain.
Before my hon. Friend moves on, I share his ambition in those respects, but does he agree that as the general framework for subsidy support or payment for ecosystem services lies in this Bill, and the general framework for the environment will lie in the environment Bill, it is appropriate that issues such as the contracting he describes should be covered in secondary legislation?
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s intervention. He is right that that can be dealt with in secondary legislation, but I am, shall I say, a little bit naturally suspicious, so I am trying to ensure that we get everything covered as soon as possible. I like the Bill’s direction of travel towards the environment, but I am convinced that having good, healthy, affordable food is absolutely essential, and that is one of the issues towards which I will maintain my driving forces.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way again. The question of how the Select Committee will proceed under his chairmanship seems an important one to resolve. I think that many of us would welcome his driving on that issue, as long as it is done in a way that recognises that we are not trying to build it into the two pieces of primary legislation, which would confuse the issue.
I will take on board my right hon. Friend’s wisdom, and we will look at that as we go through the Select Committee process to ensure that do not do that. I thank him for his intervention.
The Bill very much attempts to tackle unfairness in the supply chain. That is essential. We need to ensure that the groceries code covers all aspects of trade—from the big retailers through to the processors and right down to the big suppliers—so that we can have true fairness in the supply chain. Often, when a consumer buys a product, enough money is paid to the retailer to ensure that there is enough money for the producer, and it is a question of ensuring that that money then gets back to the producer. There is an uneven relationship, with producers often being the weaker partner and not having enough strength in the market.
I welcome the proposals to request data, which will improve transparency in the supply chain, but the way in which that increased transparency will improve fairness in the supply chain remains unclear. Furthermore, there are proposals to streamline support payments and reduce bureaucracy, which I believe we all welcome. I look forward to the Secretary of State and the farming Minister coming before our Select Committee to explain exactly how that can be done. Whether people love or hate the common agricultural policy, there is no doubt that we can have an agricultural policy that suits the four nations of the United Kingdom and that we can devise a better system than the one designed for the 28 countries of the European Union. I have direct knowledge of that, having previously chaired the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee, so I know that we can do better and I look forward to that.
We welcome this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shape British farming and the environment. We can improve policies such as our stewardship scheme, for example by ensuring that it runs for a minimum of 10 years and involves forestry. We can also ensure that we do not have to work out when a tree is a sapling and when a sapling is a tree. If we want to include water management, our schemes can include planting trees on banks to hold back water and so on. We can do so much better, and I look forward to hearing about that from Ministers.
Does the hon. Gentleman, who chairs the Committee on which I serve, agree that there is a real danger that it will be the big landowners and farmers who will be best able to apply for environmental grants? We have to guard against that by reducing bureaucracy, as he has indicated.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. We have to ensure that applying for grants is simple enough for all famers, not just the big landowners who can employ offices full of people to do that, and I believe that we can. With some of the ideas coming forward about how we make payments, we can also ensure that, as we transition, family farms and smaller applicants can have less taken from them in the first instance. There are ways we can make this much more palatable.
Upland farming, which the Secretary of State mentioned, is very important, especially because of lamb and beef production. It is coupled with that great environment on the hillside, and we will not be able to pay public money just to keep sheep and cattle on the hillside; we have to ensure that they are profitable. Profit is what will drive this because—this point has already been made—if you are in the black, you can go more green. That is absolutely essential.
We produce great food. We also have a very effective poultry industry, although sometimes that is not mentioned. That is why we can produce good-quality chickens for under £5. Let us look at how we deal with our food industry and our production.
Does my hon. Friend agree that post Brexit there will be a real opportunity to buy “British first” through the procurement of British-sourced food?
My right hon. Friend and constituency neighbour makes a really good point. We must redouble our efforts to encourage our armed forces, our schools and our health service to procure our high-quality British food. Let us ensure that we can feed our nation with our food, because that is absolutely essential.
I also think that healthy food, as a public good, can be recognised naturally across the piece. This is an agricultural Bill, but if we think about the NHS, we could save nearly £2 billion when we consider the type of healthy food that we can produce. Buying from local producers will allow us to reduce our carbon footprint and improve the environment, so we also need joined-up thinking about future-proofing the Bill. If we weaken our farming sector to the extent that we have to import more food from abroad, there will be many consequences. When we import food from other countries, we also import their water and their means of production, and some countries can little afford that. We have to ensure that we continue to produce good, high-quality food and that, if possible, we produce more of it in future.
It is a pleasure to see so many members of the armed services here to observe the debate—I hope that the Secretary of State was not so alarmed by the prospect of my speech that he called them in.
The Bill lacks a foundation, because as yet there is no Brexit deal and no trade deal. No one here knows what rules will have to be followed in order to allow agricultural produce into the European single market. No one even knows where the UK’s borders will be—perhaps in the middle of the Irish sea. It is that uncertainty that is causing the most concern to farmers and other food producers.
There is a need to be prepared, and I acknowledge that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has to try to guess the future framework that will be needed. I appreciate that Ministers have to bring forward proposals for consideration. Being prepared for what is to come seems sensible at first glance. I have to observe, however, that preparing for Brexit is a wee bit like someone blindfolding themselves before jumping off a cliff: they cannot see the horror, but it is still going to hit them pretty hard. I appreciate where Ministers are coming from, but they seem to have gone off a little prematurely. However, that is not all that is wrong with the Bill.
I think it is important that we talk about what agriculture is for, and what it has been for since the first sod was turned: food production. Agriculture is about producing food or it is about nothing. The advantages to the human race of being a species that can produce its own food rather than just hunt or gather it have been immense. There have been some downsides, not least the environmental damage that some farming practices wreak, but agriculture is what has allowed us to build the civilisations and lifestyles that we now have.
The hon. Lady, my colleague, will of course be aware that during the recess the British Government appointed a food supplies Minister, in preparation for a no deal Brexit—such is the panic at the heart of the British Government. Is it not somewhat incoherent that in agricultural policy there is not that focus on food production that she mentioned, either from the British Government in relation to England or from the Labour Government in relation to Wales? The Scottish National party Government in Scotland, however, will maintain basic payments to help farmers produce food.
I thank my friend the hon. Member for that intervention. I will be coming to that point shortly.
It is agriculture that gives those of us who are worried about the environmental effects the time and space to do that worrying. Agriculture is what lies behind civilisation, because food production and food security—the nourishment of people who can be productive in other ways because they do not have to find or produce their own food—is what underpins the modern economy. Take away the food supply and we destroy the rest of the economy.
Of course, once we leave the EU we will be able to settle our own schedule of tariffs, including those, if any, that we might wish to impose on European continental food. What level of tariff would the hon. Lady recommend?
I am not sure what the right hon. Gentleman is speaking about, because we will also have tariffs imposed on us as a result of these discussions, and they are alarming. Lamb farmers in Scotland are certainly very concerned, and a tariff of something like 46% has been suggested to me.
With the stark warnings about chaos in the chain for imported foods post-Brexit, one would think that domestic food security would be top of the agenda in DEFRA just now. As my friend Jonathan Edwards has just said, the situation is serious enough for a Minister to be appointed to oversee food supplies. That is the kind of ministerial brief we associate with wars in the middle of the last century. With that kind of concern, which is clearly a feature of Whitehall’s panic after failing to plan for Brexit, one would think that domestic food production would be getting a look-in now.
During the recess a constituent of mine was in a care home and saw a poster that said:
“Rationing means a fair share for all of us”.
Does my hon. Friend think that was nostalgia or forward planning?
I certainly hope that we will not get to that situation, because it is an alarming thought. I thank my hon. Friend for that point.
Food production is missing from this Agriculture Bill. We have a Bill to regulate agriculture that is silent on the very essence of agriculture. I appreciate that not every aspect of a portfolio area can be present in every piece of legislation and that there will be times when things are missed, but surely we cannot miss out the core point of the legislation. We really cannot talk about how to regulate or support farming unless we also talk about producing food. Agriculture is not agriculture if it is only land management and form filling.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith, that famous farming constituency, is making a powerful speech.
“The Scottish Government’s climate change ambitions…pose a bigger threat…than Brexit”.
They are not my words, but those of Jim McLaren of Quality Meat Scotland. Would she care to comment on that?
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, although I do not really appreciate the snide remarks about Edinburgh North and Leith, because people there actually eat and they are interested in food.
Returning to my subject, which was food, there is plenty in the Bill to allow Ministers to gather information about food chains and to interfere where they see fit, but nothing about how it will change the structures or the framework around producing food or how Ministers might want to protect, improve and increase food production, food security or food quality. We really need to know a bit about the direction of travel. There is nothing in the Bill that tells us, and the public pronouncements of the DEFRA Secretary suggest a move away from support for food production—or farming, as I like to call it—towards a style of support that would be perfect for managers of large estates, but not those with less land. Grouse moors could benefit, but farmers will not.
None of that detail is in the Bill. There is nothing even to suggest a route map, far less lay out the steps that the Government intend to take. There is nothing about the proposed support mechanism. That is massively important. A farm in Cambridgeshire is very unlike a farm in the Yorkshire dales and even more unlike a farm in Sutherland, where my parents-in-law live, let alone one on Scotland’s islands. Promises were made to Scottish farmers that Brexit would not see them losing cash, at the same time as convergence cash intended for farms in Scotland was being distributed elsewhere, as my hon. Friend Alan Brown mentioned.
The hon. Lady has spent a lot of time criticising this Government’s legislation. I would like to ask the question that many of my constituents who are farmers are wondering about: what is the Scottish Government’s plan for farming post Brexit? We have not got a clue.
I am rather surprised that the hon. Gentleman has not yet read our very sensible proposal for stability and simplicity, which sets out the route map. Let us not forget either that the Scottish Government were the first UK Administration to set out detailed plans for the short and medium term after Brexit. I suggest that he goes online and has a look at our proposal.
Where now are the pledges and promises that were made? Where are the guarantees for Scottish farmers that they will not lose out? Where in this Bill is the guarantee that the cash going to Scotland for Scotland’s farmers will not fall under some newly invented Barnett guillotine or that the additional support that has been available for less favoured areas, which is so important to Scotland, will not simply vanish, like so much else that Scotland is due but Whitehall absorbs? Perhaps we should be looking for a red bus with some numbers on the side and a promise to Scotland’s farmers of untold riches to come. Without that certainty from Whitehall and the news that the funding for Scotland’s farmers is secure, protected from the Brexit meltdown and protected in the long term, farmers in Scotland cannot start planning for the future, and not even the near future.
I looked at the National Audit Office’s report card on DEFRA’s progress in preparing for Brexit and it did not make for pretty reading. It was in fact quite stark, saying:
“DEFRA has not been able to make progress in supporting business in their preparations,” although it makes it clear that this is partly the fault of the Department for Exiting the European Union for choosing to restrict Departments’ ability to engage with their stakeholders. But whose fault that is will not concern farmers, nor will it be a great concern for those who would like to see food continuing to appear in their shops. The NAO goes on to point out that no information was available on the DEFRA website about the EU exit or any potential changes following Brexit and that, almost ironically, stakeholders such as farmers had to look to the EU agencies’ websites for information about what was likely to follow. The warning about lack of preparedness was pretty stark:
“there is no guidance on Defra’s website for businesses exporting food products to the EU. Some of these may have to apply for an export health certificate for the first time and change trading routes so that their products enter the EU through a border inspection post.”
The most damning part of the report, though, might be the observation that
“DEFRA does not have a clear vision either for the new services and functions it has to introduce or for the organisation as a whole post-EU Exit”.
No clear vision, no plan and no action, but here we are with a Bill to set the future direction. In spite of a 37% increase in the number of legislative staff in the Department, the portfolio board heard in June that
“DEFRA is at high risk of being unable to deliver a full and functioning statute book by end March 2019” if there is no deal, due to the number of statutory instruments that need to be drafted, but here we are with a Bill that will need further secondary legislation.
I am slightly surprised by the hon. Lady’s criticisms of DEFRA. I understood that agricultural policy was devolved in Scotland.
Which is of course the very point we are making. I thought that everyone would welcome the opinions of the Scottish National party and the people of Scotland, because of course in this precious Union surely we are all equals, although I will come to points that directly affect Scotland shortly.
DEFRA admitted to the NAO that it will be unable to handle the increase in export health certificates needed for farmers to carry on exporting their produce to the world’s largest single market because it is currently done on a spreadsheet that only one person can operate at a time. The Department’s long-term ambition is to get up to the same standard of e-certification that other nations use, but the Treasury has not yet seen the business justification document in order to approve it. I will lay odds that the costs of sorting that out will be more than the spare change down the back of the DEFRA sofa.
If anyone thought that animal exports getting done over was enough bad news, they had better not look at animal imports. The UK will lose access to the EU’s TRACES, or trade control and expert system. Data on animal imports will have to be entered manually at border inspection posts, so we can expect higher error rates, delays at borders while manual checks are carried out and an increased biosecurity risk, according to DEFRA’s report card from the NAO. Potentially, we will have high-quality beef sitting on one side of the border waiting for its turn on the spreadsheet to get a health certificate for export, while the supermarket lasagne is sitting on the other side waiting for a border guard to punch its information into the system. In the meantime, farmers will be watching their livelihoods disappear, while every truck in the game is held up at the border.
There are two points, parallel to those issues, that are vital to Scotland’s food production and marketing. The first is the need for seasonal workers. My hon. Friend Pete Wishart will go into our concerns about that at length, but I will quickly add that the pitiful pilot scheme announced recently for seasonal workers would have been laughed at, had we not already seen crops rotting in the fields this year for want of workers to pick them. The other issue is the need for protection in global markets. Those needs are being ignored in Whitehall.
The position on geographical indicators and other protections is similar. The EU currently protects Scottish produce in international markets, including Scotch whisky, Scotch lamb, Scotch beef, the cheeses, Stornoway black pudding, and so on. There are similar products elsewhere—the Melton Mowbray pork pie springs to mind, along with Fenland celery and Yorkshire rhubarb. The Minister of State for Trade Policy gave evidence to a Committee of the Scottish Parliament last month, and said that Scotch whisky would continue to be protected because of the importance of Scotch whisky exports to the UK economy, but that the others were basically up for grabs. He said:
“PGIs present quite serious difficulties in free-trade negotiations because some nations regard them as unfair protection or non-tariff barriers to trade.”
He went on to say that the issue is not straightforward in trade negotiations because we would have to demonstrate market penetration or recognition. In other words, protections in international markets for goods produced here will be negotiating chips on the table in each new trade deal that the UK looks for. Scotland’s farmers, having built a reputation for quality and traceability that helps to sell their products across borders, are about to see their market share threatened, even if they can get through the border posts, because they will be losing easy access to the world’s biggest single marketplace, but also because the protections that the machinery of the EU afford will be stripped away as the UK struggles to learn once again how to negotiate trade deals and negotiates away any protection that our unique products might have had.
It is notable that the briefings on the Bill that I have received from organisations in England are broadly in favour of it, while the briefings from organisations in Scotland are not.
In this, as in so much else, Scotland and England are different, and the differences cannot be easily reconciled. There was a time when Ministers in Whitehall acknowledged and accepted those differences and to an extent celebrated them as part of the diversity of the UK they sought to govern. Acknowledging that diversity and respecting its history could be achieved by respecting the devolved Administrations. There is no need for a power grab. There is no need for the centralisation of responsibility in Smith Square. Indeed, we know, and I am sure the Secretary of State will concede, that the plans being made for agriculture in England and the policies already being implemented would not suit Scotland; they will be harmful to Scottish food producers.
The hon. Lady speaks about briefings. Does she agree with the National Farmers Union Scotland, which said in its briefing that the Scottish National party Scottish Government should accept the offer from the Westminster Government to include a schedule for Scotland? Why is the SNP refusing to do that?
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is very important that we hear from the SNP, because the Bill does pertain to Scotland. However, as the hon. Lady has just said, a large part of this area is devolved. Is it not then fair that the SNP abides, as we all have to, by the eight-minute limit, instead of taking twice that amount of time?
I appreciate the point made by the hon. Gentleman, but Deidre Brock is her party’s Front-Bench spokesman. She is therefore not subject to a time limit. I am quite sure that, being an hon. Lady and a good orator, she will not take more time than is suitable, but it is up to her to decide what that is.
Thanks for that, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is always a delight to hear just how warmly we are welcomed by Members in this place from other parties, especially those on the Government Benches.
Returning to my point, these are plans made by England’s Ministers for England’s industry: policies created by English Ministers to be English solutions to English problems. The sensible approach, I would argue, is to embrace Scottish solutions to Scottish problems and Welsh solutions to Welsh problems. Ministers in the Scottish and Welsh Governments should be in full control.
Why is it that the Welsh Administration are capable of providing a schedule to the Bill for Welsh needs, but the Scottish Government are not? Why are the Scottish Government silent on future policy for Scotland’s farmers? Why is it that we are providing certainty for farmers in the United Kingdom, as the Welsh Labour Administration are doing, but the hon. Lady is so recklessly negligent of rural Scotland’s interests?
I am afraid that, unlike Welsh Labour Government Ministers, our Ministers are prepared to stand up for Scotland rather more forcefully. Ministers in the Scottish and Welsh Governments should be in full control of environmental, food and rural affairs policies, including agriculture. Let England be England; let Scotland be Scotland; and let Wales be Wales. There are fully functioning Administrations ready to take up the reins.
The Bill should be taken away and thought through again, so that there is something resembling sensible proposed legislation to be considered. We have a Bill that came prematurely: a lack of focus on the actual purpose of agriculture, a senseless and damaging power grab, the absence of any indication of a financial underpinning of Scottish agriculture and the protections that Scottish produce currently enjoys being stripped away. The Secretary of State is not a stupid man and he will know that the Bill is not fit for purpose. He has a leadership campaign to consider, no doubt, but legislation made here affects people who are trying to work, earn a living, get ahead and plan for the future. It should be done with care and a great deal of thought.
Finally, once upon a time, there was a Prime Minister called David Cameron, who started his term of office by visiting Edinburgh and then Cardiff to promote a respect agenda. He said that he wanted to make sure the UK was a partnership, not a dictatorship, and that he was determined to make devolution work. His Government, which contained many of the members of the current Government, promised to uphold the devolved powers to make sure that Scotland’s Parliament was properly respected. That agenda has vanished in the rush of blood that characterises the current Government’s planning for Brexit. Instead of respect for Scotland’s democracy and instead of upholding devolution, this Government are guilty of a centralisation of power the likes of which has not been seen in Europe for a lifetime. The political equivalent of an asset-stripping raid on the powers and responsibilities of Scotland’s Parliament and Scotland’s Government is breathtaking in its scope. Perhaps more breathtaking, however, is the truly outrageous determination of Ministers to pretend that there is nothing to see here, that nothing is being removed and that everything is being done for our own good.
The truth is that this is an assault on Scotland’s democracy that bears parallels to a previous Tory Government’s assault on Scotland’s industrial base. The ramifications of that assault are still being felt in Scotland and the ramifications of this one, if it is allowed to proceed, will hold Scotland back for decades to come. No decent Scottish MP could stand by and allow that to happen, no matter what party rosette they wear. No Scottish MP should be supporting a Bill that is part of that command-era-style centralisation. Every Scottish MP who wants to protect Scotland’s democracy, Scotland’s Parliament and the right of the Scottish people to choose their own Government will not be voting for the Bill today.
It is a pleasure to follow Deidre Brock. I am glad she has finished. I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
This is a great day. We can debate the details of an agricultural policy for which we are responsible. We may not agree with the shadow Secretary’s speech, but she made points that now have to be answered in this House. On day one in DEFRA, I was amazed to receive my brief and hear that we were being fined—called “disallowance” in Eurospeak—£630 million because the Commission did not like the cack-handed manner by which the previous Labour Government had gone from historic payments to area payments. That cannot now happen. The people now responsible, I am delighted to say, are sitting on the Government Front Bench. They have brought forward the Bill, which enables us to deliver what I think will be a real future for our farming industry and for our environment.
At DEFRA, I set four priorities: grow the rural economy, improve the environment, protect the country from animal disease and protect the country from plant disease. They can all be fulfilled within the Bill. The common agricultural policy had got itself completely stuck. Originally begun as a heavily subsidised production regime that produced vast amounts of food that could not be sold but had to be dumped on third markets with great export subsidies, it is morphing slowly to an all-encompassing environmental scheme for a continent where, as was pointed out to the Commission during the CAP negotiations, it is minus-45 in northern Sweden and plus-45 in Andalusia. It is impossible to have an all-encompassing regime for the continent. We have ended up with muddles such as the three-crop rule, which is deeply damaging to the mixed variety of farming in this country. We can now design a policy tailored to our own environment for each of our regions, as we touched on just now.
My first criticism is that it would be nice to have in the introduction a mention of food. Food and drink production is huge. It is worth £85 billion a year to the economy, supporting 3.5 million jobs and providing 62% of the food we eat. By the way, that is down from 78%. In 1978, we produced 78% of the food we eat. The CAP has failed even on self-sufficiency. It would be appropriate to have food in the title of the Bill, because that surely is the first role of farming.
What I would like to see—I am delighted no one has touched on it—is us leaving food production to farmers. I cite two countries from which we should take an example. New Zealand and Australia stopped all food subsidies. New Zealand used to have 70 million woolly raggedy things called sheep running around causing appalling environmental damage, including soil erosion and water pollution. In one year, I think 1983, six million tonnes of sheep had to be turned into fertiliser—it could not sell them. It now has zero subsidies for production and has improved its technology enormously. Today, there are about 27 million sheep, but it exports more lamb. That is an incredible achievement and that is the lesson for the Secretary of State: we should not subsidise food production. The New Zealanders have created whole new industries—with wine, and with venison. They hardly had any deer, but that industry is now worth a significant sum in exports for New Zealanders—about $100 million.
Those are the clear lessons. Where the Government can help, and there are opportunities in the Bill, is on technology. The Secretary of State came with me to Harper Adams University and we saw a prototype machine that will go along a row of strawberries in a polytunnel, leave the brown one because it is rotten, leave the green one for tomorrow and pick the big red one for one supermarket and the little red one for another, and pack it on the machine, avoiding all contact with human hands and delivering swift, healthy food to our consumers. The university would like help to get that prototype moving, and that is the sort of area where the Government have a direct opportunity to help.
Secondly on technology, the Secretary of State came with me to Soulton Hall and saw my young constituent Tim Ashton, who has gone for no till. He has managed to reduce costs in wheat production by 60%. In North Shropshire, just outside Wem, he can look Kansas, Australia or Argentina in the eye at world prices. He will make money at world prices. So long as we are not idiotic about glyphosate, with no till, there are the most amazingly beneficial environmental outcomes. Less water is going in the river and there is a huge increase in flora and fauna—so much so that he has stopped counting barn owls because there are just too many. On soil, having seen that, I would flag up to the Secretary of State that clause 1 really ought to list soil improvement as a public benefit to be sought. He has a pretty good list of public goods, but I would add soil and animal welfare, which is very important. I do not think that there is a single person in the House who would not like to see improved animal welfare standards. That is a clear public good that costs. We saw what happened when Lord Deben unilaterally improved our regime on tethers and stalls; there was a huge cost to our own industry and we ended up importing pork products from regimes that are less beneficial. But animal welfare is a public good; we would all support it; and there is room in this Bill to pay for that.
The other country that I would consider would be Switzerland. Do not subsidise food production—leave that to technology, to development and to individual farmers—but consider that livestock farming has an enormous environmental role. Tourism is worth about £30 billion in the rural economy. People will not go to the Derbyshire dales if there are elders and willows and the stone walls have fallen down. They will not go to the Lake district; they will not go to Scotland; they will not go to north or mid-Wales. They will go there if there is a managed number of livestock maintaining the environment. That is the lesson from Switzerland. Very large numbers of sheep, cattle and calves are taken up to the highest Alps in the summer at vast expense—probably the most ludicrously uneconomic way to produce food in the world, but one with a massive environmental benefit, maintaining the landscape. That is the lesson on public goods, most of which are cited in clause 1.
Let us copy New Zealand and Australia on zero food subsidies and following technology, and copy Switzerland on significant payments—more than we get on the CAP at the moment—for the maintenance of those rural and marginal areas where one cannot survive at world food prices alone. Lastly, and very briefly, we are talking about public good and if the farm is large and provides lots of public goods, I do not mind if it gets more public money. The Secretary of State is quite right to criticise the old basic payment in which people just got paid for having vast amounts of land and not delivering public good, but I think it is unfair to penalise large, efficient units if in future they are going to provide lots of public good.
I congratulate the Secretary of State heartily. We will see a lot of detail in the statutory instruments, but the Bill broadly gives us a very good framework to copy New Zealand and Switzerland. With that, I look forward to voting for it tonight.
This is a Bill that I hoped we would never have to discuss. No Russian cyber-attack could ever do as much damage to the UK as we are about to do to ourselves by leaving the world’s biggest market. The best deal we can get could only ever be second best to what we now have. However—and here I agree with Mr Paterson—if there was one aspect of leaving the European Union to which I could see a silver lining, it would be the ability for the United Kingdom to design and deliver its own policy for supporting agriculture, food security, and the productive and environmentally sustainable management of land.
Westmorland and Lonsdale is not just my home but the home of upland farming and of our most spectacular natural assets—the lakes and the dales. After London, it is Britain’s biggest visitor destination and a vital centre of high-quality food production. How we support agriculture is of colossal importance to me and the communities that I am proud to represent.
The Bill aims to do a lot of good. The commitment to having public money for public goods is commendable and to be encouraged. Moving to enhance the already significant environmental benefit of agriculture is also right. But the detail is everything: the Bill has good potential, but it also contains the potential for some of the most disastrous unintended consequences if this House fails to act wisely and long-sightedly.
I welcome the Bill’s commitment to maintain our environmental and animal welfare standards in farming, but it makes no mention of standards for imported food from trade deals. If standards on imports are not guaranteed, our farmers will be at a competitive disadvantage. The Secretary of State must therefore ensure that all food imported into the United Kingdom is produced to at least equivalent standards on animal welfare, environmental protection and production quality.
When UNESCO granted world heritage site status to the Lake District last year, it did so in large part in recognition of the landscape management of our hill farmers. I am proud of them and I fear for them. Perhaps the biggest blind spot in this Bill is a failure to ensure that those who farm the uplands and the less favoured areas get a sustainable deal that will guarantee them a future and, crucially, draw new entrants into the industry.
The Federation of Cumbria Commoners has asked me to express its concerns about the Bill’s failure to provide an effective framework for Government to support its members. Their collective stewardship of common land has helped to create and conserve the landscape, wildlife and archaeology of the Lake district, the Pennines, the Howgill fells and the western dales.
When I was a Minister at DEFRA, I was quite shocked at the attitude of some people—even those who were quite senior in the local national park—who had an aggressive attitude towards precisely the kind of farmers that the hon. Gentleman is talking about. Rewilding has its place in certain areas, but a landscape that has been formed and created by human beings since the time of the Norse people surely needs to be supported, not attacked, by those who have responsibility for it.
I completely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. The importance of recognising that our landscape is as diverse as it is because it is managed and maintained is huge. He makes a very good point.
In my view, the Bill should state that traditional hill farming and commoning are a public good. This finely balanced system is at risk and will disappear without explicit public investment. When hill farmers have made changes to how they work to benefit the environment they should be rewarded for that too, but there must be a baseline payment, equivalent at least to the old hill farm allowance, so that they can have security and stability in the long term.
I want the Government to understand not just what farmers do but why they do it. Their chief motivation and purpose is to produce food. We think too little about food security: some 45% of the food we consume today is imported, whereas 20 years ago that figure was more like 35%. That is a very worrying trend. If UK farmers’ ability to compete is further undermined, that will only get worse.
If farmers got a fair price for their produce, there would be no need for direct payments and farmers would not want them. That is not the case—not even close. The food market is so warped by the power of supermarkets that removing direct payments to farmers could leave them entirely at the mercy of the forces of that skewed market, so the powers and scope of the Groceries Code Adjudicator must be vastly expanded to ensure an effective referee on this extremely uneven playing field.
I know it is not an either/or, but the Government should be strengthening the Groceries Code Adjudicator, not, as they propose to do in the Bill, strengthening the failing and discredited Rural Payments Agency. The Government’s proposal to phase out direct payments without a guarantee of an immediate and equivalent replacement is unwise and will not work, either for hill farmers or the country.
One issue regarding the fact that frameworks across the UK no longer need to be agreed but can be imposed is that less favoured area makes up less than 20% in England, but more than 80% in Scotland and Wales and more than 70% in Northern Ireland. For people in those areas, direct payments are even more critical.
Indeed, and we need to understand that the fact that this has been part of our payment landscape, and therefore our farming landscape, for the last 45 years has affected the actual landscape and our ability to produce affordable food, so it will have differential impacts across different parts of the United Kingdom.
I will make progress. If we combine that failure to recognise the impact of phasing out payments with the Bill’s failure to impose standards on imports, we do not see a very pretty picture for farmers or the communities in which they live. The unintended but utterly predictable consequence is that the Government will flood the market with cheap foreign imports and remove the lifeline of direct payments. Hundreds of farmers, especially hill farmers, will then go under. This is not a nice, gentle seven-year phase-out for hill farmers or those in less favoured areas; for many, it is a seven-year notice to quit the landscape altogether. When we can already meet only 55% of our food needs domestically, the last thing we need is a disastrous loss of capacity because of such a poorly thought-out and dramatic change.
If we remove direct payments for farmers without an immediate equivalent and tariffs are introduced on imports into this country, we will see a significant rise in the price of food on the shelves. The wealthiest people in this country spend 10% of their income on food, but the poorest spend 25%. Removing direct investment in farming will hit every family on a low or medium income in catastrophic and heartbreaking ways. It is shameful that we collectively preside over a society in which food bank usage is at its highest level ever. If we get the Bill wrong, the result will be greater poverty, greater need and greater misery for families who seek to budget for their weekly food shop.
That is why I fully support the NFU’s call on the Government to include the support of domestic agriculture to secure food security and stability of food supply as a cause for financial assistance. I can think of no greater public good. Food security does not need to come at the expense of caring for our land: there is no point in having food security for the next 20 years if the land is unusable after that. Biodiversity and the sustainable management of land must be central to the new systems that are devised. Alongside the lack of clarity over the transition period, there is an absence of guarantees beyond 2022. That is simply not good enough. Anyone who thinks that three years constitutes the long term knows absolutely nothing about farming.
I am sorry, but I will not. The NFU and environmental groups alike want a long-term funding solution so that the issue cannot be used as a political football down the road, and they are right. If the money is not there, we may end up with a fantastic environmentally friendly farming system but no farmers left to deliver it. That is why the Liberal Democrats advocate a 25-year funding plan, to fit alongside the Government’s existing 25-year environment plan, to maintain agriculture spending beyond 2022 to at least the current level.
Helping farmers to deliver public goods and improving the productivity and resilience of UK agriculture will mean releasing farmers from the burdens of bureaucracy, badly run payment agencies and, worst of all, insecurity. The Bill is therefore well-intentioned but inadequate. If we want a rich, diverse, beautiful and bountiful ecology, we need farmers to steward it and deliver it. If we want a better environment, we need farmers. Many of the words in the Bill are good, but the detail and the understanding of farming is lacking. It reads as if it has been written in Whitehall, not Westmorland. Could do better—must do better.
I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Having spent a lifetime immersed in both the environment and farming—I grew up on a farm—this, for me, is a very exciting moment. It is an opportunity to rethink our land use policy. It is a chance to build on the health of our environment, from soil to water to air, and to set ourselves on track to produce healthy, sustainable food and reset the biodiversity gauge.
Given that a quarter of all agricultural holdings are in the south-west, producing a third of the nation’s beef and lamb, the proposals are really important for our farmers, too. They are possible only because we are leaving the EU, and they have become a reality because the Government are putting not just their aspirations, but their financial support behind this endeavour.
As other colleagues have mentioned, the Bill is very much a framework Bill, which provides the finances and the tools for us to transition out of the common agricultural policy and gives us the chance to have a dialogue in every relevant area. We can now design our own tailor-made approach and not be dictated to by 27 other countries in the joint system that we have been part of. That system has often not been suited to the UK, but to get the money—all £4 billion of it—our farmers and landowners have had to accept the system. Who would not? Who could blame them?
Does the hon. Lady recognise that the same issue exists within the United Kingdom, in that the land in Scotland, which makes up one third of the UK land mass, is utterly different from that being farmed on the south coast of England?
The hon. Lady makes a good point, but the new Bill will allow us to tailor our approach to suit every part of the UK. Wales is taking this opportunity, and schedule 3 states clearly what it will do. Interestingly, we have not heard from Scotland yet.
The real risk to Scottish farmers is the fact that the SNP Scottish Government have failed to opt in to this Bill and failed to introduce a Bill in the Scottish Parliament to allow Scottish farmers to get the support they will desperately need after Brexit. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is the SNP who are letting Scottish farmers down?
Our Scottish Conservative colleagues provide strong representation for farmers. Farming is very important to Scotland, which is a rural area. The SNP and the Scottish Parliament have really missed an opportunity to get their details down on paper so that they can play a full role in the really exciting future that this Government are creating. If it were not for the Conservative Government and our coming out of Europe—I say this even though I was a remainer—we would not have this great opportunity.
Crucially, the essence of the Bill is to move away from making payments simply for the privilege of owning land, as has been mentioned, and towards the concept of paying for public goods. That is the cornerstone of the Bill, and it is absolutely the right thing to do. The basic idea of receiving money for doing something for the public good has met with universal approval, not just from farmers but from environmentalists and right across the board with everybody I have met in Taunton Deane so far. That is true of improving the quality of our water—currently, only 14% of our rivers are classed as clean, which is absolutely shocking; planting more trees to help to reduce the speed of run-off from the hills to the Somerset levels, which will help to reduce the terrible flooding that we have had over many years; and creating new habitats to improve biodiversity and reverse the catastrophic declines in plant and animal populations that we have witnessed in our own lifetimes, as the 2016 “State of Nature” report clearly sets out.
In many cases, EU agricultural policy has been the driver for those wildlife declines, with the loss of mixed farming—grass is so important to that, as it was on the farm where I grew up—less rotation, fewer hedgerows and increased pesticide use. The increased use of pesticides has reduced the quantity of plants on which foraging insects rely; indeed, we rely on those insects to pollinate our crops. The Bill offers an opportunity for new schemes that emphasise the protection of biodiversity and help to redress those losses. Habitat creation schemes such as the one run on West Sedgemoor by the RSPB, which is producing tasty beef, creating summer water meadows and bringing back the snipe—I am proud to be the RSPB snipe champion—are really working. The Bill offers the opportunity to build on such schemes, which I welcome.
There is, however, one thing that I must ask the Minister. If farmers and environmental groups are already involved in environmental stewardship schemes, will those schemes still operate following the implementation of the Bill? Will they be allowed to run their course, or will they end with those groups then having to apply for new schemes?
The Minister will not be at all surprised to learn that I am now going to mention soil, because I have bent his ear on the subject many times. Half the soils in the east of the country are likely to become unproductive within a decade. That was highlighted in our Environmental Audit Committee report—and I see that the Committee’s Chairperson, Mary Creagh, is in the Chamber. Soil erosion is a very serious issue, as is the fact that soil has been treated as a growing medium rather than a living habitat for far too long. I therefore welcome the priority that the Bill gives to soil health, and I was pleased that the Minister came to the launch of the Sustainable Soil Alliance in the House. I hope that the work that it is doing to advise on how we could monitor soil erosion or set targets to address it might influence the way in which payments are made.
The hon. Lady is a true soil evangelist, but the Government have already signed up to a target in the Paris agreement to increase soil carbon content by four parts per 1,000 every year in order to sequester more carbon into our soil. Does the hon. Lady agree that that is a public good that should be funded and subsidised through the Bill?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. As she knows, I am passionate about this issue. We need to have a conversation about all our climate change targets, including the potential net zero target that some people are talking about. The question of targets is very important: how can we pay unless we know what we are paying for? The targets that we set for the climate change commitments have worked well, and a similar model might chime with the 25-year plan and the forthcoming environment Act. I believe that many of the details will go into that Bill rather than this framework Agriculture Bill.
Payments relating to our natural heritage and culture are very welcome. My constituency contains two areas of natural beauty where people are pleading that landscape, and landscape beauty, be included in the Bill.
The Government’s commitment to funding until 2022 and for the transition period demonstrates our ongoing support for the countryside. That is obviously important, given that two thirds of farm incomes in the south-west are currently derived from basic payments. I know the Minister understands that. However, I would like to see a further commitment to future funding. God forbid that we ever change Government, but the production of beef or horticultural crops cannot be switched on like a light bulb, and farmers would like some long-term commitment.
Although the Bill does not directly list food as a public good, it does much to enable the efficient production of food. My local farmers welcome the data-gathering elements in the Bill, although, for the purpose of transparency, they would like supermarkets to be included, as well as the manufacturers and producers along the line—not just the raw-material producers. However, I welcome the data collection, and I stand by the Secretary of State’s commitment to maintaining our high food standards. That is crucial to the future. I look forward to the creation of an overarching environmental standards body—in, I believe, the environment Bill—which will hold people to account.
Let me say penultimately that, much as we love our Welsh farming colleagues—indeed, many of them come to Somerset to trade at our markets, especially Sedgemoor market, and they are very welcome—no one wants an internal competitive market to develop as a result of the flexibility offered to Welsh farmers. I am sure the Minister understands what I mean by that.
In conclusion—and thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to speak—let me say that the Bill heralds the most significant change in our land use for decades, with the finances to underpin it. It is the Conservatives who are leading the way in that regard, for farming and for the environment. I am confident that issues relating to the environment, farming and everything to do with our rural communities will dovetail in the Bill. It is absolutely the right way forward for a sustainable and healthy future. Not one of those elements can survive without the others, and on that note, I give the Bill, and all those who have worked so hard on it, my full support.
Order. After the next speech, the time limit will be reduced to seven minutes, but that does not apply to Mr David Simpson.
Now we come to the easiest part of the United Kingdom to resolve when it comes to agri-food. I dare not tread into the issue of Brexit. Reference was made earlier to a red line in the Irish Sea, but I assure Members that that will never happen as far as the Democratic Unionist party is concerned. We are part of the United Kingdom, and that is how it will remain.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I have been involved in the agri-food sector for about 43 years—I know that that is hard to believe—from working as a primary producer to working in retail and production and processing.
I think that we are about to experience dramatic changes throughout the industry. These are exciting times. When I speak to farmers and industry representatives, they acknowledge that. They know that there will probably be some trying times, but they are excited by the opportunities that we will have after we have left the European Union.
I welcome the opportunity to debate a Bill that will have an impact on every farmer and farm business throughout the United Kingdom, whether it keeps sheep on the Antrim hills or grows wheat in East Anglia. Given that the UK is leaving the EU and the common agricultural policy, it is vital that a new domestic British agricultural policy is introduced. I welcome the regional flexibilities that are proposed for the different regions of the UK. I believe that there should be a variation in the new policy for each of those regions, provided that those variations do not produce competition in the internal market.
I note the name of the Bill, and I hope that agriculture will remain the central theme in any future policy. The Prime Minister is on record as saying— on three occasions, I think—when I put questions to her that agriculture would not be a poor cousin or the sacrificial lamb in any negotiations with Europe. We will hold the Prime Minister’s feet to the fire, along with those of the Secretary of State and the farming Minister. Agriculture must remain at the top of the agenda.
In Northern Ireland, we employ some 120,000 or 125,000 people in the agri-food sector. There is huge concern in the industry, and of course in the farming community, about EU casual workers. We need to address that during the Bill’s Committee stage, or perhaps it can be dealt with by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. There is a massive shortage of workers in the agri-food sector. A few weeks ago, along with the Chairman of the Committee, I met representatives of the industry, who emphasised that they were reaching crisis point, because the sector did not have enough workers to deal with production. The Government need to deal with that issue.
Food production that involves sustainable but profitable farming is essential. As has already been mentioned, those who are in the black at the bank can do many things. Given the changes that are coming, we must encourage farm production. It has already been mentioned that the Bill needs to give more emphasis to the incentive for farmers to grow and produce food. The incentive is there, but it needs to be made clearer that farmers will be encouraged to produce good food.
In Northern Ireland we have for many years had the Albert Heijn supermarkets in Holland insisting on coming to buy their meat in Northern Ireland because of how it is reared and because husbandry and animal welfare is maintained. That applies right across the whole of the United Kingdom. Across the whole UK, we produce the best food produce to be found anywhere in the European Union. That is a fact, and our standards and our animal welfare must be maintained. It is vital that we do that.
I have talked about opportunities. I believe there are opportunities, but the Government must take the issue of the workforce in the agri-food sector more seriously. Some companies in Northern Ireland are 60% dependent on people from other countries. We must get that situation right in some shape or form, and hopefully we will resolve it.
I want the Bill to allow for a UK-wide approach on matters that affect the whole UK. My party believes there should be an overarching policy across the UK to deal with such issues as marketing standards and crisis fund management. It is important that we do such things collectively.
Ultimately, the effectiveness of this Bill will depend on the trade policy that is implemented. Let us be clear: trade legislation or a Pacific trade deal that views agriculture as a sacrificial lamb for the importation of lower quality and standards than those in UK production will not be accepted. The British public will not accept that. We have a standard and a reputation not just across the whole European Union, but further afield, such as in South Africa and in those other countries that buy our chicken product because we cannot market it anywhere else. Our standard must be maintained. I am sure the farming Minister is aware of that—he has been told about it often enough when he has given evidence to the EFRA Committee.
As the granddaughter of a Fermanagh cattle farmer, I agree with the hon. Gentleman wholeheartedly about the fantastic standards and great tradition of farming in Northern Ireland. Does he agree that it is imperative for the future of farming and agriculture across the UK that the Government avoid a no-deal Brexit, which would put World Trade Organisation tariffs of 30% on our lamb and beef and drive most of the beef and cattle and lamb producers in this country out of business? That must be avoided at all costs.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, but the Prime Minister has said that we have to get the right deal—that is important. I do not think that anyone here wants to go towards WTO, but we must get the right deal. I spoke to the lamb industry a few weeks ago, and, if we go to WTO for that industry—the Minister will know this because he has been told often enough—and tariffs of 14% or 15% are introduced, that would decimate the Northern Ireland lamb industry overnight, given that we export 90% of our lamb. Having said that, we need to get the right deal. Unfortunately, however, the EU keeps sticking in its heels at present, which is nonsense, especially in terms of the border of Northern Ireland, the movement of cattle and so forth, free trade within Northern Ireland, and the soft or hard border. That is all nonsense, because the situation will remain as it is and has been for many years. There is no reason to change that. No one wants to see us going towards WTO, but we must get the right deal. If the right deal is not there, we will have major problems with our industry and employment, and the sector will be decimated. We therefore have to get the right deal and I know the Minister is well aware of that.
It is a pleasure to follow David Simpson, and it is always a great pleasure to hear his wise and knowledgeable words in any agricultural debate in this House. I congratulate the Secretary of State and his ministerial team on bringing forward this Bill and delivering the principle of support for agriculture in this House for the first time in over 40 years.
Many aspects of the CAP were of course very unpopular, but it did provide a vital lifeline for farm businesses and farming families in my constituency and many upland constituencies right across the country. However, change needs to come, and thank goodness the Government have worked long and hard on this and change is going in the right direction.
We need to reduce the administrative burden on farmers. This is a very overburdened industry, and we have a great opportunity to reduce the burden. I know the Minister in particular is keen to see this happen and has great ideas that will come forward in future statutory instruments.
We must also think about how the payments are going to be made. Many of my constituents are concerned about the Rural Payments Agency, as in the past it has not exactly covered itself in glory. If it is to be in charge of our new scheme, there must be tighter control, and greater regulation must be placed on it by DEFRA. I hope Ministers will take that request back to the Department with them.
I am pleased that the Welsh Government have decided to couple themselves with the Bill and the British Government, and I am very disappointed that the Scottish Government are not following suit. That is a massive disappointment to the people of Scotland, and Colin Clark, who serves as my vice-chair on the Back-Bench DEFRA committee, works particularly hard for farmers in Scotland, as do all the other Scottish Conservative Members, so I am very disappointed at what we have heard from the Scottish National Benches today.
If the hon. Gentleman would bother to consult the NFU Scotland, he would find that its primary concern is of farming being run from here in Westminster, not only with a centralising agenda but by a Parliament that took £160 million of EU money from Scottish farmers. [Interruption]
I do not agree with the hon. Lady and it is clear that other Conservative Members also disagree.
In fact the briefing states very clearly that the biggest concern that the NFUS has is the politicisation of the process by the SNP, which is governing Scotland not in the national interest but in the nationalist interest.
I would go further: I would be interested to know if DEFRA would consider ring-fencing the agricultural budget to all devolved nations as time goes on, because certainly in Wales we are concerned that the money will not be spent on agriculture. We hope that Scotland will spend its money on agriculture, but time will tell.
Importantly, the NFU right around the country is keen to see a national framework. All the countries in the UK need to work under a national framework; otherwise, farming will become fragmented, with Scottish farmers competing against Welsh farmers and English against Northern Irish and so on, which will be to the detriment of the whole farming industry in the UK. It is therefore important that we have a national framework.
Does the hon. Gentleman not share my concern that DEFRA here in London has been listening to, and had the ear of, English farming lobbyists for the last 19 years? That raises the question of how the Government will best represent the interests of farming in Wales and Scotland.
I do not share the hon. Lady’s concern. My constituency lies on the border, and there are of course border farmers between Scotland and England as well as between Wales and England, and we are concerned that we might see different processes taking place on either side of the border, causing great problems for cross-border farmers. I am afraid the hon. Lady, the leader of Plaid Cymru in Westminster, does not share that concern with Welsh farmers on the Welsh side of the border.
Farmers are also conservationists. They have a dual role; there is no difference—there is no difference at all. The Secretary of State visited a farm in my constituency just before the summer recess, and met farmers there—family farmers and Young Farmers’ Club members.
The Painscastle valley is a typical farming valley in Wales. It has a river at the bottom and well fenced and hedged green fields leading up to the commons above. This was not designed by a young civil servant with an environmental degree sitting in Westminster, Cardiff or Scotland, or by a bearded, sandal-wearing lifetime environmental campaigner, or even by a fashionable environmentalist who writes a blog and has thousands of Twitter followers. That scene, that valley and that countryside were designed and managed by generations of farmers over 300 years and more. Farmers really are the best people to take the environment and farming forward, and livestock farmers should be right to the fore in this brave new world of farming. They should be looking after our payments, guiding our policies and ensuring that they are there to provide the true knowledge of agriculture.
As the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on forestry, I should like to touch briefly on the subject of forestry. It has not been touched on a great deal in the debate so far. The Bill focuses on agriculture, as has my speech so far, but it is important to consider tree planting in this country. Brecon and Radnorshire is a large constituency in which forestry and timber production support many rural livelihoods. We have the largest sawmill in Wales, based in Newbridge-on-Wye and employing nearly 200 people. It is important that we support tree planting, and I was delighted to hear the Secretary of State giving a firm commitment during our conference a week or so ago to planting 11 million trees during this Parliament. I hope that he will be able to achieve that aim, because it is vital to maintain the timber processing industry, whether for flood prevention and mitigation or purely for products for the future, to enable it to thrive and prosper.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is intensely regrettable that the current Mayor of London has not continued to plant as many trees in London as his predecessors did?
I fully agree with my right hon. Friend. It is important that we plant trees in this country, wherever they might be: in the countryside, in the streets or in the middle of dual carriageways. The public want that to happen, and I hope that DEFRA will ensure that it does.
We might not all be farmers or foresters, and we might not all be cheese makers or honey producers, but whatever we do and wherever we reside, it is important that we live in a clean and healthy environment. And of course, we all need to eat. Unlike some Members who might sit on the Opposition Front Bench, we cannot all live on avocados from Mexico or mung beans from India. We need to feed ourselves on great British products, and it is important that we support our farming industry. We clearly produce the best products in the world, including livestock in the form of beef and sheep, and fruit and vegetables. Here in Britain, we have the best welfare standards in the world and our products are of the best quality. Through this Agriculture Bill, we need to support that and support our farmers.
No matter what our views on Brexit are, there is near-universal consensus that the common agricultural policy is in dire need of reform. I want a farming system that is both economically viable and environmentally sustainable, with the highest possible animal welfare standards. I chair the all-party parliamentary group on agro-ecology for sustainable food and farming, and we have long called for more support for organic farming, agroforestry, pasture-based livestock systems, integrated pest management and low-input mixed farming—mixed farming is very important—as well as for a move away from unsustainable intensification and an over-reliance on agrochemicals and cheap fossil fuels.
We want to see whole-farm systems that support nature-friendly farming. I believe that the Bill, with its emphasis on public money for public goods, could provide an ideal opportunity to support that sort of farming, through rewarding farmers for what they do as custodians of the land for future generations, and not simply on the basis of how much land they own. Public money should be used not to subsidise market failure but to reward behaviour, which the market does not do. That means farming in a way that addresses the serious environmental challenges facing us, such as biodiversity loss, habitat destruction, disappearing pollinators, soil degradation, polluted rivers, water run-off and much more. It is vital that we get this right.
There are fundamental weaknesses in the Bill, however, including the uncertainty around funding beyond 2022, the emphasis on powers rather than duties, and the absence of any information on how the money will be split between productivity payments and environmental payments. The Bill needs to set a multiannual budgetary framework under clause 33 to provide more certainty for farmers. I would endorse Greener UK’s recommendation for a duty on Ministers to introduce an environmental land management scheme by a set date, and its call for targets and benchmarks for public goods. We also need clarity that the public goods listed in clause 1 are the priority for funding, and that any payments for productivity must contribute to their delivery.
I am concerned that there is no regulatory baseline in the Bill. The Minister will no doubt tell us that this will be determined by Dame Glenys Stacey’s review, which is due to report by the end of December, and that it might then be included in the environment Bill, but that would be the wrong place for it. Cross-compliance is a fundamental part of the common agricultural policy. It underpins taxpayer investment, and this Bill is setting out a replacement for the CAP. Can the Minister therefore assure us that the Government will introduce amendments to this legislation, most likely by the time it is in the other place, on the basis of Dame Glenys Stacey’s review?
It is also time that we looked far more seriously at reducing farming’s carbon footprint. This has already been mentioned, and all I will say at this point is that I would like to see a goal in the Bill for agricultural emissions to reach net zero by 2050, in line with the Paris agreement. That is absolutely necessary following Monday’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The Bill is also missing an opportunity to link farm payments to public health goals. It is predicted that diet-related ill health will overtake smoking as the biggest cause of preventable death before too long. We spend more on the treatment of obesity and diabetes than we spend on the police, the fire service and the judicial system combined. I am quite excited by what I have heard so far about DEFRA’s future food strategy. It sounds promising, but we need to see measures in the Bill to increase the availability, affordability and accessibility of healthy food, including UK-grown fruit, vegetables and pulses. Also, as the Chair of the Health Committee said, we urgently need to act to address the public health crisis of growing antimicrobial resistance, and the associated rise in superbugs, by eliminating the overuse of antibiotics in farming and rewarding good animal husbandry. As I said to the Secretary of State earlier, I will be keen to hear where the bar for animal welfare will be set when it is defined in 2020. At the moment, we are too complacent about animal welfare standards in this country, and I would like to see far more ambitious targets and a more ambitious definition.
There have been calls to amend the Bill to include food production as a public good—this is basically about maintaining direct payments under another name—but we are talking about a limited pot of public money. Food production is ultimately rewarded by the market, or it certainly should be. We need to ensure that the market is fair and that farmers get what the president of the Country Land and Business Association, Tim Breitmeyer, describes as
“a fairer share of the food pound”,
along with the security that comes from a longer-term funding settlement.
The Government clearly accept, with the new fair dealing measures in the Bill, that they were wrong not to extend the remit of the Groceries Code Adjudicator to cover indirect suppliers, but they need to go further to ensure the fair treatment of all those who produce our food, along the whole supply chain. I have just been told that I have a Back-Bench business debate next Thursday on ending modern slavery, human rights abuses and the exploitation of workers in the supermarket food supply chain, and I urge as many Members as possible to come along to support it. Cheap food in our supermarkets often comes at the cost of worker exploitation. The fair dealing measures in clause 25 must apply to all sectors and to all stages of the supply chain. I gather that dairy will be the priority because the existing voluntary code of practice is not deemed to have worked well, but fruit and veg farmers need protection, too.
The Bill alone will not be enough to safeguard farming in this country. The real battle and the real danger come from the global Britain Brexiteers and their enthusiasm for cheap food imports and the scrapping of standards post-Brexit. The US Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, made it clear that any post-Brexit trade deal will hinge on the UK ditching its higher, EU-derived food safety laws, which currently prohibit chlorinated chicken, hormone-pumped beef, ractopamine growth promoters in pork and much more. The implications of that would be huge for UK food and farming. It would drive out higher-welfare and smaller-scale UK farmers, who would be unable to compete on price, and make it more difficult for us to export to the EU.
There are also food safety issues. One in seven people in the US contracts a food-borne illness every year, compared with just over one in 70 in the UK, which must have something to do with US food production system standards. The Secretary of State has repeatedly said he has no intention of reducing standards, and I think he is entirely sincere, but I am not convinced that all his colleagues agree. We often hear them say that there will be no drop in British standards, but that does not mean that goods produced to a lower standard in other countries will not make it into this country under a trade deal, and I want reassurance about that. Without such a commitment, even the most generous and sensitively structured support that emerges from the legislation could be fatally undermined.
I start by drawing the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. This is a historic moment for British agriculture, and I warmly welcome certainty and clarity for the sector regarding the shape of future agreements that the Bill provides. Certainty is as vital for agriculture as it for any other business sector. That is highlighted by the proposals for a seven-year transition period, beginning in 2021, between CAP and the new policy, which will provide farmers with much-needed time to refashion their business models and plan for the future. The transition period is longer than predicted, which must be welcomed, and demonstrates the Government’s commitment to the progressive evolution of the sector rather than the cliff-edge revolution that was once discussed.
I also welcome the phasing out and delinking of basic payments, including lump-sum payments, to assist farmers in diversification or exiting the market, including through funding retirement, thereby supporting new entrants to the sector. Proposals to encourage new blood into agriculture should be promoted enthusiastically.
While we may welcome payments that enable farmers to exit farming, does the hon. Gentleman agree that there should be protections for the taxpayer in the statutory instruments that flow from this Bill? We cannot have a farmer taking seven years’ payments up front to retire and then signing the farm over to his son or daughter the next day, thereby double claiming on the same land for the next seven years.
I accept that fair point, but my reading is that land belonging to those who take their retirement money up front and leave the sector—land that we hope would go to a new entrant—would not be entitled to any payments. However, the devil will be in the detail.
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that financiers from the City, rather than new entrants, may purchase that land? That is an issue that I see in East Sussex, where the possibility is that we may lose farming altogether.
My hon. Friend makes a good point, but is that not more about our tax system than this Agriculture Bill? Perhaps that is something to consider going forward.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on science and technology in agriculture, I support the principle of shifting state funding for the sector towards supporting innovation and productivity gains, alongside public money for public goods. Leading technologies of the fourth industrial revolution, such as robotics, data science, autonomous vehicles and biotechnology, have the potential to transform agriculture, so it is wise to concentrate support on facilitating the growth and efficiency gains of tomorrow. To that end, a commitment from Ministers to a certain level of funding for productivity and innovation after the “same cash total to 2022” guarantee expires would be most useful in this area.
I note that, as some Members have already said, soil health is not specifically mentioned in the text of the Bill as a public good that deserves financial assistance. There are, though, very encouraging references to it in the Department’s policy statement; that is important given the importance of soil for flood prevention, for the preservation of fertility and for productivity for future generations. I hope that Ministers can give greater prominence to soil health as the Bill progresses.
I broadly support the transition to a system of public money for public goods, but I urge the Government not to lose sight of the fact that the main activity of most farmers will and should remain the production of food. Moreover, food production and environmental stewardship are already two sides of the same coin, as several Members have said. A resilient and profitable agricultural sector is nature’s best friend. If we remember that, we can have a good environmental policy.
The supposedly natural landscapes and countryside of today have been shaped by centuries of agriculture, from the clearing of the forests that once covered virtually all our islands to the first planting of cereals. Policy making in this subject area will therefore benefit from the constant understanding that farming is not some imposition on or extraction from the country, but a positive evolutionary force that has shaped the green and pleasant land that we all seek to protect.
I am glad to see that food security is covered in DEFRA’s accompanying policy statement, but it is not specifically mentioned in the Bill. The National Farmers Union recently estimated that if the UK tried to live solely off locally produced food for a whole year, starting in January, we would run out by
The Government need to make sure that the move towards supporting public goods does not have unintended negative consequences. I have spoken to the Minister about this issue in the past. The classic example of the unintended consequences of the CAP is the renowned three-crop rule. Although it might have been put in place for the right environmental reasons, it has had huge negative impacts, certainly throughout the UK. The Secretary of State rightly emphasised that the CAP currently incentivises farmers to put every possible acre into food production, so less public funding is available for natural capital assets such as wetlands and forests. Equally, I am sure that he does not want to see a situation in which policy incentivises farmers to take as many acres as possible out of food production, or to cease farming altogether, lay off workers and just collect payments for managing land to provide public goods. Balance is needed, and we have to find that balance for the policy and in the Bill.
Similarly, in designing the policy, Ministers must take care to ensure that funding for the sector is not substantially transferred to people who just own land and are not actually farmers. That might best be done by putting in place clear commitments on future funding to support innovation and productivity increases on farms.
I applaud the measures in the Bill that will allow the Secretary of State to introduce regulations to ensure fair dealing with agricultural producers and to facilitate that through the collection of data, which is mentioned in the Bill a lot. It is important that Ministers make clear as soon as possible how they intend to use the powers and how they can be made as comprehensive and effective as possible, with real teeth, ultimately. There are many positive aspects to the Bill that I support, but the devil will always be in the detail, and that is what I will scrutinise as the Bill progresses through Parliament.
Order. Many Members want to speak, so can we try to shave some time off speeches? If Members do not do that, I will have to take the limit down, or we will not get everybody in. I call Pete Wishart.
I am grateful to you for calling me so early in the debate, Mr Deputy Speaker. MP4 will forever be grateful to you for enabling us to go and make the video we are supposed to be doing today.
Let me say to Bill Wiggin that it might be a bit tiresome to hear another Member from the Scottish National party speak, but we have every right to speak in this Parliament. We will make our points and continue to do so.
Of all the matters we need to consider in the fallout from Brexit, our agricultural policy and the needs of our rural economy are probably the most acute, with farming the sector hardest hit by the no deal, hard deal Brexit. Probably for the first time since the war, we are faced with searching questions about the nation’s food security. We know that astronomical tariffs might be placed on British agricultural products, driving many farmers out of business and leading to an almost unprecedented reinvention of rural Britain. Agricultural goods are perishable, yet they could be sitting in a giant car park in south-east England, waiting to get to market. Those are the type of issues we will be facing, but in the face of the incoming storm, we have this Agriculture Bill—this modest Government response to a Brexit that could decimate the productivity of our agriculture and our countryside. It is an Agriculture Bill without agriculture; a Bill for farming that pays scant regard to food production; a sort of “let them eat environmental strategies” approach; an aspirational land management Bill for a countryside that does not really exist and probably never will come to be.
The vision in the Bill is of a countryside that is better managed for the environment, but not as a location for thriving small businesses providing the healthy, diverse foods we need. We are asked to believe that the Government’s newfound enthusiasm for greening is real—a Government who would probably prefer to frack the countryside than farm it. Many farmers in my constituency take great exception to the suggestion implicit in the Bill that they are doing nothing to improve the environment and their land. Every day, they are doing everything to manage the land for the benefit of us all, and the suggestion that they need incentives to do that is doubly insulting. Tim Farron made a good point: this is a seven-year phasing out of direct payments to farmers. For many of them, it will be nothing other than an opportunity to quit farming once and for all.
The UK Government kindly invited the Scottish Government to be covered by the Bill’s provisions. My colleagues in Edinburgh, quite rightly, have declined. Scotland has a very different rural economy from that in the rest of the United Kingdom, requiring an altogether different approach. As has been said a couple of times now, some 80% of the land in Scotland is made up of less favoured areas. We depend more on support. Our food and drinks sector depends on excellence, and in particular on protected geographical indication status, which is threatened by Brexit.
I have in my constituency half the berry farmers in Scotland. There is nothing in the Bill about immigration. Apparently, we have a pilot seasonal workers scheme, which will provide 2,500 workers—2,500 workers, when in a response to a written question from me, DEFRA said 64,500 workers were required. What are we supposed to do with 2,500—one or two per farm? Is that the Minister’s plan to try to save the many berry farms in my constituency? Agriculture is fully devolved to Scotland, and we will not compromise on anything that threatens our Government’s ability to serve Scottish farming.
The hon. Gentleman speaks in apocalyptic tones. Can he explain why the Scottish Government do not have a schedule to the Bill? Their refusal of any offers from the UK Government will leave us in a position where, in 2020, Scottish farmers will have no mechanism to enable them to receive their support payments.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because I was just coming on to that. I thought that he would perhaps lead me on to the key of this agenda—and the objections and screams from the Scottish Conservatives. We will not agree to a schedule to this Bill for as long as this Parliament and this Government fail to respect the devolution settlement and indulge in this grotesque grab of powers that should rightly belong in the Scottish Parliament. That is what has happened. As long as it continues to happen, and as long as the Secretary of State refuses to respect devolution, there will not be a legislative consent motion from the Scottish Parliament. We are happy to have common frameworks across the United Kingdom, as we have said again and again, but they have to be agreed and negotiated; they cannot be imposed. As long as he continues to approach devolution as something that he can control and manipulate, this is not going to happen. The sooner he gets beyond that mindset, the better things will be.
The key dispute, where I ask the Secretary of State to respond, is about the World Trade Organisation regulations in the Bill. In his view, everything to do with the WTO is reserved. Does he not accept that the administration of WTO terms is a matter for the Scottish Parliament? We do not have to take the Scottish Government’s word for that, because in a piece of very useful legal advice from NFU Scotland yesterday we learned that it is indeed the case. The advice says that
“Scottish Ministers will not have total freedom to apply domestic support as they see fit if the Secretary of State makes regulations setting limits in relation to WTO classifications.”
It also says that
“it would not be a legitimate use of regulation-making power to prescribe within the limits how Scottish Ministers would be able to exercise the powers to apply support.”
NFU Scotland agrees with us that WTO rules administration is a matter for the Scottish Parliament. [Interruption.] If the Secretary of State does not agree, what is his basis for not agreeing with the legal opinion of NFU Scotland.
How many farmers did the hon. Gentleman speak to in his constituency prior to writing his speech? As he knows, my constituency borders his, and farmers in Angus are calling out for clarity from the SNP Government in Edinburgh. They want them to put the national interest before the nationalist interest. They want to ensure that farming has a prosperous future. They want to ensure that the SNP puts its country before party. Can he tell me when—
Order. I must say to hon. Members that interventions are meant to be short, not speeches. I am very concerned about the number of Members who wish to get in. I am going to drop the time limit after this to six minutes, but Members should not be surprised if shortly after I have to drop it again.
I am sincerely grateful to the hon. Lady because the other key point we have been hearing from Conservative Members today is that, apparently, there is no plan or policy from the Scottish Government. Of course we will have a Government Bill. But let me tell Conservative Members that this Bill presented by the Secretary of State is nothing other than an aspirational wish list. What we are doing is consulting with the sector. We will be hearing from our rural champions. Once we have heard back, a clear agricultural policy Bill will be secured to ensure that Scottish agricultural interests are properly looked after—it will not be this aspirational nonsense that we are hearing from this Government. We need an agricultural approach that acknowledges the full horror of a hard deal Brexit and the absolute disaster of a no deal if it comes along.
The Scottish Government’s “Stability and Simplicity” paper sets out a detailed five-year plan to minimise the potential disruption of this Tory Brexit to our rural communities. Our plan will give farmers and crofters stability during a period of unprecedented change not of Scotland’s making. We have always to remember that Scotland wanted nothing to do with this disastrous Brexit policy, and it is up to us to try to clear up this mess to ensure that our farmers are properly protected and that they will be able to do their business. When that consultation is concluded, the Scottish Government will set out their plans, taking into account recommendations from our own agricultural champions and the National Council of Rural Advisers. That is how to frame legislation: speak to the sector involved, ask it what it wants and what it would like to see in the Bill, and then legislate.
Can the hon. Gentleman explain why there are more Scottish Conservative MPs in this debate than Scottish nationalist MPs?
I will just finish my point given that it is about the Secretary of State, and then, if I have time, I will respond to the question.
I particularly enjoyed the Secretary of State’s histrionics when challenged on convergence funding. I have never seen him so rattled. The question back to him is this: when will he do the right thing by Scottish farmers and give back the money that is due to them as soon as possible?
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I believe that Pete Wishart inadvertently misled the House. He can look at the record and see that I definitely said that the SNP should be heard, and to say otherwise is obviously wrong. I hope that he will check that and put what he said right.
It is open to any Member to check. Let us crash on now. David Warburton has six minutes.
Some months ago, in this House, I reminded the Prime Minister of the fact that my constituency contains more cows than any other. I have that on firm authority, although the exact source has slipped my mind, and as far as I know Somerton and Frome’s bovine supremacy is under no immediate threat.
Those cows, and our entire farming industry, face an enormous opportunity in the shape of the Bill: although perhaps not a giant leap, it is certainly not a small step. It is more a confident stride towards a confident future in which it is this country that decides how to frame our own agriculture policy in the interests of our own countryside, our own farmers and our own producers. After almost 50 years of having policy levers pulled by the hands of others—although, I am quite sure, with our best interests at heart—our hands are now back on the controls for a healthier environment, a cleaner environment, better soil health, better animal welfare standards, better public access to the countryside and, rather importantly for Somerset, better flooding control.
Let us not forget food production. Land management and food production must work hand in hand not only to provide the greatest environmental benefits, but to feed the country. With that in mind, I am delighted to welcome the Bill and, in particular, the financial powers in part 1, in which we at last depart from the area-based system of direct payments and arrive at a system of assistance based on providing environmental outcomes and, crucially, on improving productivity—be that to an agricultural, horticultural or a forestry business.
The focus really needs to be on how, by virtue of the best practice in improving productivity, we can deliver those environmental benefits. The two aims must run together. It is, after all, the Somerset grass that feeds the Somerset cow and gives forth our glorious Somerset milk and cheese.
My hon. Friend will know, because his constituency neighbours mine, that Arla, one of the biggest producers of dairy products, is in my constituency. In welcoming this Bill, as both he and I clearly do, does he nevertheless share the concerns of Arla as a first purchaser that clause 25 in particular might cause difficulties for it, while also trying to eschew the bad behaviour of rogue producers?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have also spoken to Arla and I understand that there are concerns around that issue. I suspect that, during the passage of this Bill, there will be much scope for tweaks and additions. Our food security must come from targeting support for domestic agriculture so that we achieve not only the stability of food supply, but the environmental outcomes that pave the way to a sustainable countryside.
Agriculture in the west country, as elsewhere, needs help with both competitiveness and resilience. It needs to manage risk, market fluctuations and changeable conditions on a daily basis. The financial provisions in part 1 will be vital in helping farmers improve productivity, thereby shoring them up against adverse conditions.
Will my hon. Friend also draw attention to clause 25, which deals with the outrage that dares not speak its name in the countryside, namely the treatment of primary and secondary producers by monolithic, all-powerful supermarkets? For a long time, as he will recognise, the supermarkets have ridden roughshod over good commercial practice and it is time that this wise and insightful Secretary of State took action and rebalanced the food chain in the interests of farmers and growers.
I add my voice to that of my right hon. Friend in hoping that Ministers are fully aware of the misbehaviours of supermarkets and are prepared to push them in the right direction, but farmers also need to know what to expect.
My constituency is ornamented with innumerable orchards and fruit farms, from which pour the juices that make the finest—sometimes dangerously fine—cider. Clause 10 allows the Government to modify and discontinue the EU fruit and vegetable scheme, as the Secretary of State alluded to. I understand that existing programmes will continue to completion and a successor scheme is planned, but I ask Ministers exactly how that scheme will be framed. Any details would be enormously valuable.
Equally, it would be useful to know from the Minister a little more of the details of the Government’s intentions around the reduction of direct payments in the first year and beyond of the agricultural transition described in clause 7. Although it is desirable to move away from the current system, it is important that this is done in a phased and controlled way; and although it is also important to move towards the environmental land management system, it is also possible that the coming years may prove challenging for farming. In these circumstances there needs to be sufficient scope for the Government to make the necessary interventions to ease pressure.
We can set out clear objectives for improving soil and water quality, improving access to the countryside, protecting habitats and the environment, and flood mitigation. These are all worthy and essential elements of policy, but the Government understand well that food production is the key to unlocking our golden environmental heritage. Managing the financial and policy framework for our growers and livestock farmers will allow them to hold that key and use it effectively.
While I am on the subject of risk, I must mention my private Member’s Bill, the Rivers Authorities and Land Drainage Bill, which is due to have its Second Reading later this month. It would give the Secretary of State the power to put rivers authorities such as the Somerset Rivers Authority on a statutory basis, raise the precept and allow them to plan effectively. Should my Bill fall at this fence, perhaps the Minister would like to take those ideas forward; there may be room in this Bill.
As we face continued uncertainty—tempered, of course, with optimism and confidence—about the outcome of negotiations in Brussels, we must ensure that agricultural policy is not only firm, but flexible enough to accommodate the shifting sands between us. I am quite sure that the Government’s will is very much in that direction. While admiring the confident stride of the Bill, I look forward to our next steps with great anticipation, as do the innumerable cows scattered across the Somerset fields.
Order. I will have to bring the time limit down to five minutes; I did ask Members to help, but they did not wish to.
It is a pleasure to follow David Warburton. I agree that we need more certainty, but not that this is an excellent Bill without that lack of certainty. Without any certainty, I cannot see that it is a particularly valuable Bill.
I think that the Secretary of State would readily acknowledge that this is essentially an enabling Bill. It enables him to make regulations: to protect our environment, or not to protect our environment; to support some farmers financially, but not necessarily to tell them beforehand whether they would get that support, or what they would get it for; to support the public access to the countryside, or not; and even to create offences without Parliament knowing what they will be before agreeing to give him those powers.
What the Bill does not do is lay out a duty, a process, a funding mechanism or any other indication of how the Secretary of State will ensure that farmers in this country will produce food that is healthy, environmentally friendly, animal welfare friendly—or, indeed, any food at all. What on earth is the point of our giving the Secretary of State vague and plenipotentiary powers to encourage and enforce the highest possible environmental, health and animal welfare standards in English agriculture if we end up buying all our food from non-European countries where we have no influence whatever over the environmental impact of their agriculture and cannot be certain of the animal welfare regimes or employment regimes under which that food is produced? If the Government are serious about promoting healthy food, why is there no food and farming framework? Why are they not willing to use any future funding regime to promote the production of healthy foods?
Some mention has been made of mung beans. I am actually very fond of broad beans. I would eat far more broad beans if more were available in the shops, but I hardly ever find them. Why, among all the various powers that the Secretary of State is taking, does he not wish to take any to encourage the production of healthy food that I always thought agriculture was meant to be about?
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate. May I begin by endorsing what the Secretary of State said about my hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who is widely respected and has overseen this subject during our five years in government? I realise that for him and for the Secretary of State, withdrawal from the European community will give them the power so importantly contained in the Bill, which frees us from the common agricultural policy. Although I personally thought that we should remain in the European Union, I well understand the desire in the agricultural industry to put the Bill on the statute book and to see how the future will be laid out.
It is worth bearing in mind the reason why our countryside is so attractive and visited by many people, particularly in my constituency and the Peak district: it has been farmed and looked after by our farmers for generations. I hope that the Minister of State can speak in his winding-up speech about the importance that we place on food production. Some of the less favoured areas in my constituency cannot be easily farmed without some form of support. That is very important indeed, and I wonder why we have not copied what is available in schedule 3 to Wales so that it is available to England.
Replacing the current system, which pays farmers according to the total land farmed, rather than a specific public benefit, is very important indeed. At the present moment in time, the top 10% of recipients receive almost 50% of payments, while the bottom 20% receive just 2%, which does not reflect the farming or agricultural good provided by many smallholdings and small farms in the uplands. I very much want that to be encouraged.
A lot has changed in agriculture over the past few years. I remember thinking that the foot-and-mouth crisis would be a big problem for me, as I had a large agricultural constituency. In fact, it was the tourism industry, which is important in the Derbyshire dales, that suffered the most. A third of total farm business comes from farm diversification. Rural tourism provides £90 billion a year to the UK economy. There are opportunities, and we need to support our farms.
The Bill has been welcomed by a number of organisations, but I hope that we do not somehow replace a Brussels bureaucracy with a bureaucracy that is even more constraining for farmers and the way they farm. I am pretty sure that the Secretary of State would not want that. However, I fear that some of the bodies that he works with and some of the Government bodies responsible for countryside issues may take a different view, so I look forward to his ensuring that there is an iron rod to tackle how regulations are imposed on agriculture, so that we let British farmers get on with farming.
Agriculture’s economic contribution to rural areas has already been emphasised this afternoon. It applies to Wales, and in particular Ceredigion, just as much as the other countries of the UK.
The structure of the Welsh agricultural industry is, at least for the time being, rooted in the family farm. In Wales, the average size of holdings is 48 hectares, which is significantly less than that in the UK, and the industry’s share of total employment in Wales is three times the UK average. It is important to note that, as a result, agriculture is of not only economic importance, but cultural importance, sustaining the Welsh language and the fabric of rural life.
I do not intend to go into detail about what a new agricultural policy for Wales should look like or how it should work, for such matters are rightly beyond the scope of the Bill and will be determined in the Senedd in Cardiff. While policy decisions relating to the future of Welsh agriculture are devolved, their funding ultimately is not, so I wish to concentrate my remarks on that.
Much has been said in this debate about the importance of direct payments, and in particular ensuring the viability of the agricultural sector. The industry in Wales is heavily dependent on the support it receives through the CAP. In 2017, for example, payments represented 107% of the total income from farming, compared with 68% in Northern Ireland and 52% in England. Any changes to the overall level of funding for UK agriculture will therefore have a particular impact in Wales, and as farmers manage around 80% of land in Wales, ensuring their viability is essential if other outcomes of agricultural policy are to be realised.
I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that it is not enough for Ministers to wax lyrical about farmers being the stewards of the uplands. They must also recognise that, in Wales, a living countryside as we know it is dependent on farmers’ ability to be certain of a living wage in the future.
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention, with which I wholeheartedly agree.
On that point, the UK Government have committed to guarantee current levels of funding until 2022, but it is unclear how future levels will be decided or how funding will be allocated across the four countries of the UK. The farming Minister may recall a discussion at a session of the Welsh Affairs Committee some months ago about the fact that these are questions of not only how the cake will be shared, but how big the cake will be in the first place.
Giving as much clarity and stability as possible to the industry must be a priority, and any future funding framework should be based on a seven-year cycle. Ministers have suggested that decisions about future funding will be taken by the UK Government, subject to the Treasury’s budgetary cycle and comprehensive spending review. That would not afford the industry the same certainty as under the present multi-annual financial framework. I appreciate that Ministers are hesitant to make unilateral funding decisions that would bind successive Governments, but if they were to make such a framework subject to the consent of all four countries of the UK—perhaps by means of a dedicated intergovernmental body—they would be at greater liberty to make such commitments to maintain funding for agriculture in the UK and to deliver the support and stability that the industry deserves.
Such an approach would also assist with the inevitable headaches that will emerge about how any funding is allocated across the UK. In fairness, both the Secretary of State and the farming Minister have confirmed that the Barnett formula will not be used to determine allocations. That is to be welcomed, particularly in Wales, but a question remains about how the allocations will be decided. The Secretary of State referred earlier to an imminent review of this process.
I will not as time is against me.
What role will the devolved Governments play in the process? How will future disputes be resolved? Only if financial frameworks are developed jointly by all four countries will they be sustainable and reflective of the needs of each. The Welsh and UK Governments believe that policy areas can be managed through non-legislative intergovernmental co-ordination, but I fear that that approach is unrealistic for questions of funding.
I would argue that an intergovernmental body is necessary to address any market distortions that may arise from policy divergence, which is not unlikely when we consider that on direct payments, for example, divergence looks possible between Scotland and Northern Ireland on the one hand, and between England and Wales on the other. Each nation should decide its own agricultural policy, but an intergovernmental body is required to address any issues that cause an imbalance in the market or unfairly disadvantage one country over another. The existing structures are not fit for that purpose.
I conclude by reiterating the need for any future financial frameworks to be agreed, built and maintained in co-operation between the four nations. When the Minister responds to the debate, perhaps he could assure farmers that such decisions will be made on the basis of shared governance and that the unique characteristics of the industries in each country will be supported accordingly. I am afraid to say that, at present, such an assurance is lacking.
I have met some farmers and local NFU branch representatives in my constituency—yes, the meeting took place literally in the middle of a field—and they raised specific concerns. They talked about the need for the Government to ensure that UK farmers are treated equally and that they will not be at a disadvantage compared with those in the devolved countries, Europe and the rest of the world. They would therefore welcome a universal framework that applies to the whole United Kingdom.
Some farmers in South East Cornwall have supported public money for public goods as a good principle, but there is some concern about the ability of individual farmers to access schemes to replace the average Cornwall payment of £16,000 under the basic payment scheme through increased productivity. Tenants are concerned about how they will have access to environmental payments when landlords are seeking to retain them, even though the majority of the public good is delivered by the occupier —soil, water and carbon.
There is a general feeling that the level of regulation and inspection from Government and retailers is becoming too great, and that the administrative burden needs to be significantly reduced so that farmers can concentrate on what they do best: producing food. The power given to Ministers was acknowledged, but there needs to be increased scrutiny of contracts, risk-based assessments or inspections, and earned recognition so that the costs in time and money of needless and duplicated visits are eradicated. One farmer gave an example of a recent visit by trading standards to check the harvest interval of his onions, in case someone ate them raw.
Some farmers mentioned the need for sustainable and profitable farm businesses to deliver public goods, and the fact that these factors seem to have been left out of the Bill. They also raised the impact of last winter’s cold weather, with the snow, and the very dry summer. Those environmental factors have had a detrimental impact on businesses and on the security of food supply. Indeed, concern was expressed that the Bill does not acknowledge a secure food supply as a public good, which is difficult to understand in view of the climate and trade challenges. The question of the farmer’s position in the supply chain is always to the fore, and farmers want to know how the Bill will help.
I acknowledge that the Bill will improve matters, but more support is needed for producer organisations, including a wider exemption from competition law and further financial support to engender collaboration. The need for high environmental and animal welfare standards is acknowledged, but it will be impossible for farmers to deliver if their businesses are not profitable.
I welcome the Bill, despite these concerns. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will address some of my farmers’ concerns and sensible suggestions when the Bill is in Committee. I have every confidence that he will be supporting the farmers, and I will support the Bill tonight.
The Bill gives the UK a huge opportunity to revitalise the countryside in a way that meets the needs of people, farming, food and the environment for generations to come. I welcome the Bill’s broad thrust of shifting financial assistance to help farmers to restore and improve our natural environment, and public money for public goods. I also welcome the Secretary of State outlining the provision in the Bill to allow the Welsh Labour Government to set their own targets.
Crucially, however, the Bill fails in many areas. It fails to safeguard our food supply or to tackle health inequalities. It falls well short on properly protecting our natural environment. Depleting soils, losing pollinators, and polluting waters do nothing for farm productivity. At a time when we face huge environmental challenges, with the ecological challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss, we also need a Bill that delivers on outcomes, with clear targets.
The key weakness is the failure to secure long-term future funding for the agricultural sector, or to place a duty on Ministers to set budgets that reflect the scale of financial need and to specify timeframes for the longevity of those budgets. There is no doubt that the Secretary of State has excellent oratory skills, but does he have the negotiating skills to argue for the appropriate budget from the Treasury and to specify where and how it is to be spent? Can he also confirm by how much the DEFRA budget will be cut in future? The Bill must also ensure fair distribution across the four countries of the UK. I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State say that funding will not be Barnettised, but how will it be decided and assessed, and exactly how much will it be? That is crucial.
As it stands, the Bill fails to properly address unresolved issues between the Welsh Government and Whitehall, particularly around the red meat levy, which must be properly distributed. Change is required to underpin mechanisms for a fairer and more representative distribution of the levy, but the Bill fails to recognise that. This issue has been debated over many years—I took part in the debate many years ago—and it is disappointing that it is not addressed in the Bill. Lesley Griffiths, the Welsh Cabinet Secretary, has also expressed her disappointment that the Bill does not contain provisions to improve the functioning of the red meat levy.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that he will fight to save our 14 food products in Wales that have been granted protected name status? Foods such as Anglesey sea salt, Welsh lamb, Welsh cider and Caerphilly cheese, to name just a few, are all products that enjoy protected status but are under threat. I would like to him confirm that he will do so and say whether he will make provision in the Bill.
My final point is about trade. This Bill is utterly dependent on Brexit and the disastrous negotiations that are currently taking place. We know what World Trade Organisation rules would mean for our farmers, our agriculture and our land, let alone our environmental safeguards and protections. They would mean the end of farmers, businesses, food production and safeguards— the end of British agriculture as we know it. We need confirmation that this will be taken into account, and we need that assurance not only from the Secretary of State, but from the Government.
We need an agriculture Bill that delivers outcomes, delivers on food security, delivers on environmental protections, keeps farmers on our land, addresses the huge challenges that we face and sustains a thriving British farming, food and drink sector. I think that this Bill falls short.
It is a pleasure to follow Anna McMorrin. I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am the chairman of the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association, which promotes grass-fed as an alternative to grain-fed in our meat supply chain. I also keep a small herd of grain-free Hereford cattle at my home in Herefordshire.
The Agriculture Bill is a hugely important piece of legislation that will directly affect the majority of businesses in my constituency. There are over 2,000 businesses in Herefordshire in the agricultural sector, and 84% of the land in Herefordshire is devoted to agriculture. Farmers in Herefordshire welcome the reassurances that funding systems for farming subsidies will be slowly phased out over seven years, starting in 2020. That enables them to be sure of what lies ahead in the medium term and gives them the opportunity to have some input into how the system should work after the seven-year transition is over. There are issues with land values and the importance of subsidies over that period, but they can be dealt with.
The philosophy of public money for public goods is the right approach to take as long as we remember that the most important public good is health. That can be improved through the production of high quality, high welfare food for the British market. I am also supportive of increased environmental protections and higher animal welfare standards. I am, however, nervous of a system in which food production itself is not the main goal of agriculture.
There is a way to support agriculture that solves the productivity dilemma. As chairman of the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association, I have visited some of our members’ farms. I believe they provide an excellent model for how British livestock, or beef and lamb farming, should look in the future. The 100% pasture-fed model is one which is: better for the environment, through carbon sequestration; better for animals, coming top, according to Compassion for World Farming, of all welfare systems; better for the consumer, because of the high omega-3 fatty acids; better for the climate and our health; and, crucially, more profitable for the farmer.
In 2016, the PFLA produced a document called “It Can Be Done”. It demonstrates that the economic case for pasture-fed compares very favourably with more intensive farming models. A survey earlier this year showed that it is better for animals. Some 53% of PFLA farmers reported a reduction in the use of antibiotics, 51% a reduction in vet bills and 66% noticed an overall improvement in the health of their stock. It is better for the environment. Some 81% of members have made significant changes to their grazing management, with over 50% achieving a longer grazing season and 25% seeing a movement towards that. Some 32% have reduced their synthetic fertiliser use and 64% have reported an increased diversity in their grass swards and bird life on their farms. Some 55% saw an increase in mammal and insect life. In animal welfare and environmental criteria, nobody reported a single negative outcome. That is good for the consumer, who will get that high omega-3 fatty acid which leads to the manufacture of conjugated linoleic acid, the only substance in one’s body that can fight tumours. This is a really good way of helping not just the richest but the poorest sectors in our society.
There is one thing we need to do to make this work: we need to change the definition of pasture-fed. At the moment, it means that 51% of an animal’s life must be on grass. It needs to mean 100%. We on the Conservative Benches have been campaigning for honesty in labelling for a long time. Brexit offers us a wonderful opportunity to deliver it. I want grass-fed to mean 100% grass fed. I want to see the benefits for the people farming: putting less in and getting a better product out. That is the way for a better future for our agricultural sector.
I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this debate, because my constituency includes Teesdale, which is part of the north Pennines area of outstanding natural beauty, and I represent 400 sheep farmers. The area has a very rich environment, with 17 sites of special scientific interest. Not unconnected with that, a large part of the land is in the commons. A high proportion of farmers are tenants and incomes are low, last year averaging about £14,000.
Clause 1, which provides financial assistance for public goods, improving the environment, restoring the natural heritage and supporting public access, should be welcome in such an area. However, the total lack of detail in the Bill means that it is not at all reassuring. The implementation of clause 1 could be very arbitrary. As the Secretary of State explained in his description of public goods, they are non-rival and non-excludable. That means there is no market price, so how will DEFRA Ministers put a value on public goods when they decide on payments to farmers?
Over the summer, I talked to a large number of farmers who stressed the uncertainty they face, which the Bill does very little to allay. It is, like the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill, simply proposing a bundle of delegated legislation and Henry VIII powers, and DEFRA Ministers are not even showing us them in draft, even though clause 3(2)(h) creates criminal offences.
In the Bill the Minister is taking the power to write regulations and giving himself the power to make payments, but we do not know what the criteria will be, to whom the payments will be made and what the amounts of the payments will be. There is a seven-year transition, which is not like the general 21-month transition under the Prime Minister’s Brexit proposals. In fact, it is not really a transition at all, because the current payments will not continue beyond 2022 and on any day in the following five years the Minister can make changes to those payments. That might be a series of steps down, or a cliff edge.
This is the ultimate in what it is now fashionable to call a blind Brexit. We need to see the draft statutory instruments before Third Reading and we need a proper agreed scrutiny process—the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs should be able to undertake that, or we need an explanation of whether Sir Patrick McLoughlin will be covering it in his Bill.
Let us be clear: farming cannot be environmentally sustainable if it is not financially sustainable. Farmers in the uplands have low profit margins and face considerable volatility, and Ministers must guarantee that the new payments will be equal in value to the basic payment and rural development schemes. They should consider making income support and stabilisation purposes for which payments can be made. Clause 18 is drafted to provide short-term market support, but it needs to cover chronic disruption in the event of changes to trade regimes that damage domestic farm incomes.
There is a real risk of a disorderly or no deal Brexit, and Ministers must be able to deal with that. Clause 26 gives the Secretary of State powers to comply with WTO obligations, but all the future trading arrangements remain a mystery. They will have a massive impact on farmers, whether we are talking about access to the EU—personally, I believe we should stay in the customs union and it seems that the Prime Minister is coming round to that—or the regime for imports.
The Bill should contain provisions to require all food imported to the UK to be produced to at least equivalent standards as they relate to animal welfare, environmental protection and labour. I have asked DEFRA Ministers 39 times whether they will guarantee that they will not have imports of cheap lamb from New Zealand, Australia, Canada and America. They have a 40th chance tonight to answer the question.
I very much look forward to supporting the Bill later this evening. It is important and long overdue, regardless of Brexit, although, of course, Brexit will impact on trade deals and our ability to export and strike bilateral trade deals.
Farmers, like all industries, need as much certainty as they can get at the present time. I therefore think it is entirely regrettable that the Scottish nationalist party has chosen to put politics above certainty for farmers in Scotland. Farmers in Scotland deserve better.
The challenge for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—and he is a friend of mine—is to strike a balance between environmental stewardship and the production of food. There will always be those on all sides who argue that he is erring on one side or the other, but what he must take away from this debate is the fact that it is not just about managing land but about the production of food. We all have these balances in our own lives and our own constituencies. In my beautiful constituency we have to balance the area of outstanding natural beauty status against farming, which is a constant challenge. There is also the issue of access to the countryside, which I will come to in a minute.
My right hon. Friend can further champion the industry by doing more than the Bill stipulates. He can talk more about, and do more to support, our land-based colleges. In my constituency I have Bicton College, which he visited in a previous incarnation as Education Secretary in May 2012 to open the earth centre. We should do more to get young people into farming and show them the industry. The number of county farms has shrunk, and it is more difficult for young farmers to get in. At the other end is the work of charitable trusts such as the Addington Fund, which looks after farmers when they have to vacate their residences at the end of their farming careers. We need to show young people that there is a future in farming. Frankly, there is a demographic problem in farming and we need to encourage more young people into it.
My right hon. Friend has a real chance to be a champion in food production. I alluded to food labelling in an intervention. For too long, we have put up with misleading food labelling and country of origin labelling. The consumer deserves better and needs to know the country of origin. We need to know what is purely British—what has been reared, produced and packaged in Britain—and what has been imported into Britain, repackaged and sold in a misleading way. He can go much further in that respect.
Another issue is of great concern around the Chamber is that of livestock transportation. We can ensure that we have the toughest possible regimes for our livestock exports, which I hope will increase after Brexit.
My right hon. Friend has done a lot regarding our slaughterhouses and abattoirs. I have written to him in respect of one of my small abattoirs, which does very little business. I think we have to have a light touch to secure the best possible practice. One abattoir in my constituency has CCTV as well as someone sitting there, even though it only slaughters animals once or twice a week. The requirements are very onerous for such a small business, and I hope my right hon. Friend will look at those issues when they arise. We should not shy away from the fact that the practices of some communities—for example, halal butchery and orthodox Jewish butchery—are simply not acceptable in animal husbandry terms.
I said earlier that we have a chance to introduce a “buy British” policy, and somebody from the Opposition said that we could not do that under WTO rules. We do not know the rules yet, but we should put buying British products for our schools, hospitals and armed forces at the forefront of everything we do once we are out of the EU.
On land access, my right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We want to encourage people to make more use of the countryside as part of the anti-obesity campaign, but there is a quid pro quo. The landscape looks as it does because it is farmed. It is man-made. Stone-walling, ditch-digging and hedge-laying are all done at farmers’ expense, so farmers are due some compensation. Simply to open up land irrespective of that, without acknowledging that it is private land that people are paying to maintain, is entirely wrong. I think there is a wonderful opportunity to review the whole question of footpaths, which are way out of date, and perhaps to look at compensation for farms that are covered in footpaths. We need to look at bridleways and the use of off-road vehicles. We can do so many of these things now that we are coming out of the EU.
This country should be able to feed itself; that is the duty of the Government. I think that the Opposition amendment is unnecessary and, frankly, unintelligible. I believe that the country should be able to feed itself, and I hope that the Bill will bring that goal one step closer.
Over the past 50 years, through the intensification of agriculture, we have lost much of our nature and wildlife. I pay real tribute to Chris Packham and the wonderful march for nature that he organised a few weeks ago in London, where thousands of people marched through the city to demand that we change how we manage the land to protect the species with which we are fortunate enough to share the planet.
Let us take as one example the amazing bird that is the swift. One bird can fly a million miles, yet we have lost 50% of our swift population over the past 20 years alone, as a direct result of the way in which we manage the land. Our wild spaces, flowers and animals that give our landscape such magic and beauty have been devastated by the impact of our farming and land management, and it is now acknowledged that that must change.
That understanding needs to be at the heart of the Bill. We must use it as an opportunity to transform how we live with and in our countryside and rebalance our relationship not only with nature, but with how we produce and consume food. Sadly, despite some positive steps, the Bill fails to engage meaningfully with the endeavour to restore and protect the natural world. I want to talk about a few of the areas in which it does so.
The first failure, about which others have spoken, is that while the Bill provides powers for the Secretary of State, it does not place duties on the Government to act. That must change if it is to have a real impact. There needs to be a clear framework for the establishment of environmental land management schemes and the date by which they must be up and running. Given that more than 70% of UK land is used for agricultural purposes, now is the time to place a legally binding responsibility on Ministers to ensure that it is managed and farmed in a way that restores the natural world. Without such a guarantee, this—like so much of the Government’s green agenda—will remain a Bill with too many words and not enough substance.
Secondly—others have raised this issue as well—we need to have guarantees of longer-term funding, rather than leaving the Bill vulnerable to wavering political priorities. We need a clearer indication that long-term funding will continue well beyond 2022.
Thirdly, it is important to adopt a new definition of agricultural productivity. I fear that unless that happens, there will be a real risk that the Bill could undermine the policies that flow from other parts of clause 1, on assistance for the restoration and protection of the natural environment and animal welfare. DEFRA’s guidance on food chain productivity clearly states that the measure of productivity that is currently being used
“does not incorporate external effects on society and the environment.”
We must have a definition of productivity that captures those wider external effects if we are to be sure that the Bill will be successful.
In my first intervention on the Secretary of State, I mentioned public health. It should be at the front and centre of the Bill, and this should have been an opportunity to ensure that it is at the heart of our farming system. The Secretary of State has said:
“Food production is ultimately about health.”
If it is—and I agree that it is—why is health not firmly included in clause 1 as a clearly stated outcome of the Bill?
The Bill needs to do an awful lot more on climate change. In 2016, agricultural emissions accounted for 10% of UK greenhouse gas emissions, and according to the Committee on Climate Change, there has been virtually no progress at all in reducing them since 2008. The Bill should therefore contain a clear commitment to reaching net zero emissions in the agricultural sector by 2050. Ministers must, as a matter of urgency, get serious about what climate change means for farming and land use, get serious about helping farmers to harness the potential of land to capture carbon through trees and soil, and embrace ecologically sensitive farming techniques.
There is also the issue of biodiversity. The Bill should be more explicit in its ambition to protect and restore the natural world. In the UK, almost 60% of species are in long-term decline, and one in five mammals are at risk of extinction. The ambitions in clause 1 should be much higher. There should be a clear provision for reversing biodiversity decline, which should be linked to the 25-year environment plan, should be based on the latest science and should connect with the UK’s obligations under the convention on biological diversity. We need to channel a significant proportion of the finance provided in clauses 1 and 2 towards farmers who adopt agro-ecological and organic farming methods. We know that organic farms use far fewer antibiotics. They also have, on average, 50% more wildlife than conventional farms and deliver healthier soils, with nearly 50% more humic acid, the component of the soil that stores carbon over the long term.
Finally, let me say something about trade. We absolutely must have a provision that says, loudly and clearly, that we will not reduce our standards: we will not allow food of a lower standard to enter the country and threaten our food, our farming and our animal welfare standards.
There has been a big decline in our self-sufficiency as food producers during the 46 years in which we have been in the common agricultural policy. As a result, we are now net importers from the continent of Europe, to the tune of £20 billion a year—a very large part of our balance of payments deficit—of food, including processed food, that we could rear or grow for ourselves, or process for ourselves if we wished. I hope that, as the Secretary of State works away at the Bill during its passage through the House, he will take on board what is being said by all of us who are urging him to make good production—high-quality food production, and local food production—a central part of his mission and what he is trying to achieve in conjunction with our agricultural businesses and our farmers, because much more can be achieved.
One of my colleagues has already pointed out that we could have new procurement rules that would allow us competitive procurement that also takes into account food miles. A really good green policy is to get the food miles down. We do not need ships and trucks carrying around bulky and quite heavy items of not huge value, when we could be growing them for ourselves and the farmer could be making a profit because transport costs would be lower, so can we please do that?
Will the Secretary of State understand that perhaps the most important thing farmers need to know, from
The great joy is that this Bill rightly takes powers so that the Secretary of State and the Government can do what they need to do with the WTO, which will be running our trade framework whatever we do by way of agreement or no agreement. The WTO also has a pretty important role in this today, but of course we cannot influence it directly because the EU handles the account, and very badly it does so from the UK point of view.
If we look at our tariff schedule, we see at the moment that we have eye-wateringly high tariffs on temperate foods that we can grow or produce for ourselves from outside the EU, but zero tariffs on temperate products we could rear or grow for ourselves from inside the EU, and that competitive onslaught from some of the intense, and often subsidised and highly capitalised, farming on the continent has done enormous damage to our market share and undermined the businesses of many of our farmers over the 46 years we have been in the EU.
The Government should set out urgently for consultation what our tariff schedule will look like if we are leaving on
I am not sure what the right balance is; that is something I am sure my right hon. Friend and the International Trade Secretary have either worked out or will work out quite soon, but the sooner we consult on it, the more hope we will give the farming industry. It must feel part of this process, because these will be its tariffs and they offer us this great opportunity to get access to some cheaper food where we are not competing and have uniform protection at a sensible level for both the EU and the non-EU, because it is the EU that is causing the main threat.
May I remind my right hon. Friend that he is our English Agriculture Minister and we want him to speak for England? Who in this Government does speak for England? I come into the Chamber and hear debates about the Scottish problem and the Irish border, but we must not forget England, our home base for most of us on this side of the House. England expects; England wants better; England wants to be able to compete; England wants a policy designed to promote English farms. I find that a really good English farm, with really good farming, looks beautiful and deals with the environment as well as food production.
It is a pleasure to follow John Redwood, who outlined his vision of a socialist protectionist England in the future, which certainly surprised me.
This has been billed as an historic Agriculture Bill, the first since 1947, but the truth is that it feels like a missed opportunity. I realise that it is an enabling Bill, but there is not enough clarity on other matters, particularly future funding and common UK frameworks. The farming unions across the nations have made it clear that there is insufficient reference to agricultural activity and how it will be supported and incentivised going forward.
I realise that only clauses 22 to 26 cover Scotland, and there is no doubt that policy decisions taken for England can have funding implications for the devolved nations. It is therefore critical that we get to know what the arrangements will be for agreeing future funding settlements. I say to Scottish Tory MPs that the NFUS wants the budgets to be devolved to Scotland to get the clarity that it seeks—the clarity that the Tory MPs say that they are demanding.
We know that Scottish farmers are not getting the £160 million convergence uplift money that they should have received, but Scottish Tory MPs have stood by and achieved nothing on that. How is that deficit going to be addressed? The NFUS has also highlighted the red meat levy, which is costing Scottish farmers £1.5 million a year. How is that going to be addressed? These precedents confirm why we and the Scottish Government are concerned about the direction of policy and funding, yet we are supposed to be relaxed about the power grab and the UK Government’s ability to legislate for Scotland.
One example that could affect farmers is trade and trade resolution. The UK Government have refused to allow devolved representation on the Trade Remedies Board. During the Bill Committee, the then Trade Minister stated that devolved representatives would not necessarily be impartial. He was effectively saying that the UK Government did not trust our representation and that we should just let them get on with it and deal with this for us. Other recent indicators include the early pulling of the renewables subsidy, the broken promises of amendments to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and the fact that the UK Government are taking the Scottish Government to court.
Then there was the 2014 campaign, in which we were told that the only way to stay in Europe was to vote no. Well, we know how that has worked out. Scotland voted to remain within the EU, but the referendum result is now having an impact on the fruit and vegetable sector as well as on the food processing sector. The response from the UK Government has been completely inadequate. It was stated earlier that the seasonal agricultural workers scheme is pathetically shy of what is required. Let us bear in mind that the current Secretary of State was the one offering Scotland powers over immigration as a supposed Brexit dividend. What has happened to those powers? It is quite clear that the Tories cannot be trusted. It is therefore imperative that we see what a UK framework for funding will look like, and we need guarantees that it will not be imposed on the devolved Administrations. The NFUS has sought a legal opinion on part 7 of the WTO clauses, and it completely backs up our concerns.
Going back to the UK-wide frameworks, the Farming Minister talks of protecting the UK internal market, yet during questions in the same Committee he intimated that existing funding levels were such that the Scottish Government could not actually skew the internal market. So what is the concern? Why the reluctance? Let us work with the Scottish Government to get the UK frameworks agreed. Some of the more laudable aims of the Bill include the provision of payment for the greater good and environmental improvements. This is logical, although further clarity is required on what the funding arrangements will be and how the different measures will be prioritised.
Positive change can happen. A farmer in my constituency, Bryce Cunningham, farms at the historic Mossgiel farm, which was previously home to Rabbie Burns. He has managed to turn his farm into a fully organic dairy farm in just a few years. He started producing and selling his own milk from the farm as a financial cash-flow necessity during the milk price crisis. Since then, he has undergone the full organic conversion. He has now gone plastic free, and his product is in demand all over Scotland. His is a great story, and Scotland has a great story when it comes to the quality of food and produce that we make and supply. That is why we want to protect and grow those sectors further, and why we want the levers of power to be retained at Holyrood and not to be interfered with by Westminster. At the same time, we are happy to work with the UK Government to agree on frameworks that are in the best interests of the nations.
Heavens! You caught me by surprise there, Mr Deputy Speaker. I was not ready for that at all. Anyway, thank you very much for calling me to speak. I refer hon. Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
Yes, I did vote for Brexit and yes, I am a turkey voting for Christmas because the subsidies that my farm receives will be considerably reduced, putting my business plan if not at risk then certainly into review. I do not object to that: I voted to leave the EU because I believe that that is best for our country. I believe that this is a wonderful opportunity. The Agriculture Bill sets out provisions for farming in this country to be reviewed to a huge degree and to be controlled from this place. As we have heard, that has not happened for decades.
I thank the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, my hon. Friend George Eustice, who continually comes down to South Dorset to speak to my farmers—even at short notice. He has been incredibly kind and generous with his time, for which I am most grateful, and I am delighted that he is still in place. I am also delighted that the new Secretary of State has taken up this responsible position and that agriculture will be added to environment, food and rural affairs, giving it a far higher priority than has been the case over the past 10, 20 or 30 years. Now that we will have control of our farming, the Secretary of State’s role will be crucial.
I take great pride in representing South Dorset and its many farmers. My constituency is the most beautiful in the country—[Interruption.] It is true, and I would welcome anyone who wants to come down to see it. Every quarter since I was first elected I meet my farmers to discuss their concerns. Those concerns are then passed to the Minister of State, who kindly passes his responses back down, and the system has worked extremely well. I do all that because I felt that local farmers were not really represented in the past. Getting back control through this Agriculture Bill will be a chance for us to help our farmers to produce the food that this country needs.
There was talk earlier on of educating children, about which I feel strongly. Ten or 11 years ago, I started offering visits to my farm to local schools, and we now welcome between 150 and 200 students every year. They spend the day going around the farm learning how it works and what goes into the food that they eat. At the last visit in June, I was talking to some children and asked them where milk comes from. Sensibly, one boy put his hand up and said, “From the cow,” and I said, “That’s extremely good. Well done!” I then said, “Do you know why the milk comes from the cow?” and there was a bit of a pause before one of them said, “Because the cow has a calf,” and I said, “Absolutely spot on!” Interestingly, as the group was leaving, one of the adults said, “Richard, thank you so much. I have been educated today, because I did not know that a cow had to have a calf to produce milk.” My point is that we need to educate not only our children, but clearly our teachers and everybody else about the significance of agriculture, which I hope that we will now be able to do.
My right hon. Friend Mr Paterson went through the statistics about agriculture’s significance. I will not bother the House with them again, but they are significant. We also heard from my right hon. Friend John Redwood that Brexit will offer huge opportunities to the agriculture industry. I do not agree with the doomsayers from the SNP and other Opposition Members who say that we are all going to hell in a handcart. We will have huge opportunities for agricultural business, and I shall be shouting from the rooftops when that day comes.
It is worth noting that it is the farmer who creates the environment that so many of us have talked about. It is our farmers whose standards are, on the whole, way higher than those of our European friends and partners. Let us not forget that, for all intents and purposes, we are the gold standard for farming around the world. Yes, there is room for improvement but, by gum, we set good examples and a very high bar. Down on the farm, those who love the land—and they do—continue to battle legislation, red tape, quangos, politicians and the weather. I ask the Front-Bench team to help with three of those issues: can we remove the red tape and the quangos and prevent too much political interference?
The United Nations estimates that over 8 million people in the United Kingdom suffer food insecurity—over 8 million people who are unable to afford to eat or who worry where their next meal will come from. I am astounded that we have been presented with an Agriculture Bill, which should have food at its heart, that contains nothing to address the growing levels of desperate hunger in the UK on this Government’s watch.
Any Bill concerning agricultural markets and our food chain should also address the end of the food supply chain: consumers and, more importantly, the impact of food insecurity on them. Globally, there have been predictions that we are heading for a serious food shortage as early as 2027. As populations rise, conflicts spread and more extreme weather affects food supplies, it is clear that food insecurity will become an even more important issue.
The all-party parliamentary group on hunger, of which I am a member, has taken a deep look at the growing issue of UK hunger. Over recent years, we have found that austerity, punitive welfare reforms, benefit cuts, and inaction on low pay and insecure work, as well as the widening gulf between incomes and the cost of living, are the main drivers of UK hunger. We also found that 3 million children are at risk of hunger during the school holidays and that 1.3 million malnourished older people were
“withering away in their own homes”.
I have received answers to parliamentary questions showing that rising levels of hospital admissions for adults and children because of malnutrition are costing the NHS £12 billion per year. We now have approximately 2,000 food banks—that we know of—and evidence has shown time and again that food-bank use alone is an indication of last resort. There are legions of hidden hungry who do not go to food banks and do not ask for help, either out of shame or embarrassment, or because they do not know where to go.
Each time that I have raised the issue of hunger in the House, various Secretaries of State and Ministers have denigrated statistics from charities, researchers, food banks and colleagues, claiming that the figures are not robust enough, or that the information is not reliable enough to inform Government policy. Denying the accuracy of the data or simply turning a blind eye allows them to pretend that the problem does not exist, but it does.
This is where my Food Insecurity Bill comes in. All I am asking is for the Government to replace redundant questions in an existing UK-wide representative survey—such as the living costs and food survey that they already conduct—with questions pertaining to hunger, and place the results before the House on an annual basis. The Bill is therefore cost-neutral and will give a true, robust and reliable measurement of UK hunger. It is backed by more than 150 MPs from all parties, dozens of peers, 30 organisations and 77% of the public. The cross-party all-party parliamentary group on hunger and the cross-party Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee have also advocated such a measurement.
Despite all that support and repeated correspondence with the Minister of State, the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, the Government remain dogged in their determination not to implement my Bill. I hope that today the Secretary of State will see the merit in adding the asks of my Bill into this Bill. In a country as rich as ours, no one at all should go to bed hungry and wake up hungry. The fact that so many people do is an abject failure of this Government.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
As a rural Northumbrian for more than 20 years, I have been closely involved with the trials and tribulations of the local farmers and land managers, whose livelihood is determined by the health of our rural economy. It is a physically hard life, and the Northumbrian weather—perhaps even more dramatic than that in the constituency of my hon. Friend Richard Drax—is a constant companion, with financial rewards sometimes feeling scarce.
The understanding of taxpayer support for farming is a fundamental underpinning of our food supply system, and it is a support that taxpayers buy into, as long as it reaches its intended target and meets its stated aims. The EU’s common agricultural policy did not do that. The voice of UK farmers has too often been drowned out by the demands of French or Spanish farmers. We have been stuck in a system not aimed at investing in the best land use in Northumberland or anywhere else across our islands.
With our departure from the EU and this Bill, we can stop the EU CAP funding bias against our own farming communities and put our own more effective and targeted land-management choices first. This reflects the optimistic outlook that Brexit brings—despite the depression on the Opposition Benches that has positively brought me down to earth—about the fact that we can and should determine our own land-management policy.
At a local level, my caseworker Jen spends a great deal of her time dealing with concerned farmers who have yet to receive last year’s payment, or are wondering whether this year’s will ever materialise. Mapping disagreements, disputes over hedge lines, common land use and cross-border issues with the Scots—not helped by the SNP’s current position—are just some of the challenges that the EU-based system, and perhaps historically our own delivery teams in Whitehall, have thrown up, causing months of financial and emotional challenges for Northumbrian farmers.
In addition to the funding disparity with other EU nations, years of working with our upland farmers in Northumberland has brought to my attention too many stories of wasted time and energy that could be better directed. One of the biggest gripes, as the Minister well knows, is the multiple visits by officials to ensure that EU rules are being followed, each visit adding stress and taking time, when one visit could cover all the issues—like an Ofsted visit, perhaps. Farmers would face one short window of pain, but would then be trusted, left alone to get on with their job. The vast majority of our farmers want to look after the land they are stewarding.
The undue pressures placed on our rural communities have always worried me. Farmers have been asking for help to ease the burden for years, but until now there was nothing we could do. That is why the Bill is so exciting: we will at last be able to create management and financial incentives to suit our needs and this Government’s long-term commitment to looking after our whole environment. We will be designing a system that does not funnel funds to our farmers’ foreign competitors, but frees up our land stewards to innovate; a system that supports a holistic perspective of land management, which puts long-term soil health, food production and water basin management with tree planting; and a system that incentivises long-term investment for public and economic good—the two are not mutually exclusive. Most important, public good is not an empty phrase: it means that we can join up long-term urban and rural health and security needs with the way we use our land—for everyone.
The Bill is based on inherent fairness, whereby farmers are rewarded for what they do and produce, rather than for the size of their landholding. Crucially, it offers rewards for those already working hard to improve the environment and to ensure that their methods of production are sustainable. That will begin to drive change for good across the countryside.
As the MP for one of the most sparsely populated constituencies—albeit the most beautiful, and I will take on anyone who wants to fight me on that—I am pleased that is not just farmers who grow food who will benefit from the new system. I have spoken many times about trees, and this debate offers an opportunity to do so again. As the Minister is aware, I believe we need to be planting at least one tree for every citizen, not one for every five, but the target of 11 million needs at least to be met to allow the long-term thinking we need for land management and water basin stabilisation, to support the timber industry’s needs and to reduce long-term reliance on imports for biomass, for housing frames and for furniture. We must aim to be able to become self-sustaining in timber.
I will not. Timber absorbs carbon dioxide as it grows and then holds that carbon a second time as wood products. I ask the Minister to consider, as part of the Borderlands initiative, planting a borderlands forest as part of our meeting our tree-planting targets—not so much a wall dividing us from our Scottish colleagues, but a biodiverse habitat that the English and the Scots can nurture together.
Were the Minister in his place, I would remind him that many of us have been attending agricultural shows and sheepdog trials for many years, and not just in our role as MPs. Our farms and our farming communities are part of our way of life in areas such as the Peak district. It is important to remember that when we examine the Bill. Promoting agriculture and the proper management of our land is important not only to tourists and visitors, but to those of us who live in rural areas and want our communities to be maintained.
Farming is important not only to our economy but to ensuring that we can continue the rural way of life. I am talking not just about upland farmers, but lowland farmers—in the Peak district, we have both the hills and the dales—sheep farmers, dairy farmers, beef farmers and smallholders. Most farming families have been farming for generations. They understand animal welfare, looking after the land, and how to put together a dry stone wall—a skill that takes years of dedication to acquire.
The rural way of life needs to be sustainable for future generations. The Bill is being introduced at a time when the average age of a UK farmer is 59, 30% are over 65 and only 3% are under 35. The Bill needs to be able to give the new generation the certainty to carry on in farming. At the moment, it is hard for them to see a way forward. The number of farmers in the UK has dropped from 141,000 in 2011 to 126,000 now: a drop of 11% in just seven years. The average income is about £20,000 a year—for lowland sheep grazing, it is about £16,000—and that is for all the hours farmers put in. They work 24/7 in many cases, particularly during the sort of weather we have had this year. Farmers have been out in the freezing weather and out taking water to the uplands when the water pressure has dropped and the supply has not been able to continue. Farming is a way of life and farmers want to be able to continue living it, but they are very concerned that the proposals in the Bill may mean—we have not seen any figures yet—that that is impossible.
It is a pleasure to follow Mrs Trevelyan, who set out clearly the problems that lots of farmers are having with the Rural Payments Agency and the bureaucracy involved in trying to claim a lot of the agri-environment payments on offer at the moment. The thought that their whole income has to be derived from those sorts of projects—the filling out of huge forms, all the bureaucracy, taking photos, reporting everything online and having multiple visits—does not fill them with confidence for the future. One of my local farmers reported that the RPA had asked him whether he was measuring his dry stone wall in metres or acres, and that was when he started to worry that RPA staff really do not know about farming and are far too remote from the farms and what is actually going on.
At the moment, farms are supported with nearly £3 billion via the CAP. Fortunately, we are going to see that continue, but direct payments make up 78% of that amount, so they are incredibly important to grazing animal farms, which actually make a loss. The direct payments are a source of sustained income on which they can rely when they are looking to invest. We need to make sure we have a system that recognises different types of farms, as has been said by Members from across the House. It may well be that we can have different systems of payment for different types of farm, and that that will take away the problems that farmers have having, but the Government need to make sure they set that out clearly for farmers for the future.
I refer hon. Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I welcome the Bill. When the coalition Government were formed in 2010, I recall that the Government’s chief scientific officer spoke to us about the possible perfect storm of shortages of food, energy and water all at the same time. Farmers are in the lucky position of being able to provide all three, and the medium to long-term opportunities for agriculture in this country are very good. I hope that the Bill will set us on a path to farmers being able to achieve that in a way that is connected to the market as much as is possible, rather than requiring recourse to the taxpayer.
Let me start by talking about clause 1. Many hon. Members have made the good point that it contains no mention of food production as a public good, but I urge a bit of caution there, as the argument of agriculture can be weakened in terms of other parts of the food industry and other sectors in the economy. It is much more important to talk about food security, and the public good of producing healthy food with high animal welfare and environmental standards. That is much more connected to the aspirations of the public than talking about just the production of food.
The Government should take credit for the 25-year environment plan, which is an excellent document. I want to see its themes running right through this Bill as we get into its detail and the statutory instruments that flow from it. I am also extremely proud of the natural environment White Paper, which was produced in 2011. It did a number of things, including hard-wiring the concept of natural capital into our thinking right across government. Natural capital is not only something that should appeal to the environmentalists among us, but good business. As a farmer, I am carrying out a natural capital audit of the land for which I am responsible not just because I want to know what I am doing well and whether there are improvements to make, but because I want to use it as a baseline from which I can show the public that I am making the improvements that they need.
That brings me on to one of the most important factors: the concept of “water first”. DEFRA asked me to chair the UK Water Partnership, which we are taking forward. Basically, if we are doing the right thing for water, everything else environmentally and for those businesses that depend on the environment falls very quickly into place. I commend Mary Creagh, the Chair of the Environment Audit Committee, for mentioning the four parts per 1,000 initiative. If we are doing the right things for water, we are doing the right things for soil. That means that soil is locking up carbon and being retained for future generations. That is good business as well as good environmental management.
In the short time that I have left, I want to refer to a very important theme in the Bill. When we talk about agriculture, we need to remind ourselves that the second part of that word is “culture”, and culture is all about the human element of farming. We have heard eloquent speeches today about the beauty of the landscape. Many billions of pounds are made by industries such as tourism on the basis of human interventions in our countryside that go back centuries. That is apparent even in our wildlife. Barn owls, corn buntings and field mice are species that developed because the landscape was managed. We need to encourage the next generation of farmers to be the great land managers of the future.
I hope that I have read the Bill correctly and that it includes an element that will allow those who have come to the end of their farming career to make way for the new generation. I am hugely impressed by the young generation of farmers I meet. The people whom I met at the south of England show last Sunday were getting awards for really innovative thinking. They are the ones I want to see managing the land in the future. It is unkind to call farmers “bed blockers”, but there are some who want to retire and to be given the incentives to do so. If I have read this Bill correctly—I hope the Minister will give us some assurances—it implements mechanisms that will allow long-term farmers to retire with dignity, making way for a new breed of entrepreneurial land managers who can cope with the difficult environmental problems of the future and make a contribution to agriculture in our country.
It is a pleasure to follow the thoughtful speeches of Richard Benyon and my hon. Friends the Members for High Peak (Ruth George) and for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck). We have heard quite a lot in general about the sunlit uplands of Brexit, and about a rosy bucolic Brexit Britain, but much of the debate has missed out the red meat—questions such as what the quantum of funding will be, what powers the Secretary of State will have, and what outcomes we are seeking to achieve.
Two years ago, the Environmental Audit Committee warned that UK farmers faced a triple whammy from Brexit: first, the loss of subsidies; secondly, the potential for tariffs on exports; and, thirdly, the threat of being undercut by cheap imports from countries with lower standards in food safety, animal welfare and environmental standards. Today, I want to talk about my two concerns with this Bill. First, it gives Ministers the power to spend taxpayers’ money with no accountability. I can think of no other area of public policy where we would be discussing the expenditure of £20 billion to £25 billion of public money without demanding some very detailed answers. The second area of concern is the lack of ambitious targets for the restoration and recovery of nature, which need to be linked to those payments.
We know that the CAP has shaped and underpinned British farming for the past 40 years. Each of us is only one or two generations from people who grew up and managed land. Basic payments from the CAP make up between a third and a half of the average farmer’s income, and 60% of profits for average farms and 90% of profits for grazing livestock farms. They are a very, very important part of the farm business.
The CAP currently has a seven-year budget cycle, which provider farmers with the long-term certainty that they need about what they will receive, and allows them to plan and invest. We have heard from Ministers that they will match current levels of EU funding until 2022, but farmers are asking, “What next?” and the Bill provides very few answers. It fails to say how much funding there will be, whether funding security will be guaranteed and who will administer the money. Its vague list of purposes risks policy inconsistency.
My Committee has called for an agricultural policy with clear goals, but the Bill says that payments can be made for anything from
“mitigating or adapting to climate change”,
which is obviously very welcome, to restoring or enhancing
“cultural heritage or natural heritage”—
I am not entirely sure what that means or how we measure it—through to
“improving the productivity of…an agricultural…activity”.
That leaves open the possibility of taxpayers incentivising intensive farming, and incentivising and paying for activities that harm the environment. We must not get into a policy pickle with the Bill.
Budgets could also be subject to the dead hand of the Treasury coming in halfway through, as we have seen with the abolition of various other environmental initiatives in other parts of the economy, so where is the Government’s accountability to farmers, the public and this place?
I am concerned that there is no obligation for people in receipt of so-called delinked payments to continue farming. Clause 7 gives the Secretary of State powers to make a lump-sum payment. As I said in an intervention, it would be possible for a farmer to quit farming and pass their farm on to their children, and for their children then to receive financial assistance under the new scheme. This sort of double accounting must not be allowed.
Clause 2 states:
“Financial assistance may be given by way of grant, loan, guarantee or in any other form.”
What “any other form” are we talking about? If we cannot define it on the face of the Bill, what are we signing up to? This is the beginning of an administrative nightmare. We know that problems at the Rural Payments Agency have brought down fines under both the Labour Government and this Government. Subject to conditions, as the Secretary of State considers appropriate, we need to ensure that this money is spent responsibly and well.
I will conclude by mentioning the lack of environmental targets. We need to stop and reverse the decline in species and soil health, which we will hear a lot about in the new environment Bill. That Bill will contain the targets; this Bill contains the money. Having two Bills risks policy incoherence, so we should start with the targets and design an agricultural policy around them, if we are to meet our international obligations on soil carbon content and reversing species loss in this country.
When the last Agriculture Bill went through this place in 1947, we were genuinely concerned about our ability to feed ourselves. In the year that potatoes hit the ration list, food security was the core component of the legislation. Times have now changed and so have our priorities. I welcome the fact that the environment is now such an important part of this Agriculture Bill and that the public so overwhelmingly support that principle. However, food security must continue to be a factor.
Last year, the UK produced only 60% of what it needs to feed itself, compared with 74% 30 years ago. In 1947 there were 13,000 farms in Somerset. Today, just a fraction remain, but agriculture continues to be a hugely important part of Somerset’s economy. Seventy-one years on, Brexit gives us the opportunity to reinvigorate our relationship with the UK’s farmers, and to restate the importance of the food security that they provide and their role in caring for our natural environment.
I very much welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to articulate his vision for a green Brexit in the Bill. There is much to applaud in the way in which environmental concerns have been brought to the fore in the drafting of the Bill, and the Secretary of State and his team at DEFRA have rightly won plaudits from the green lobby for their evangelism on the environment. We have to be careful, however, that we do not superimpose a London-based, non-governmental organisation definition of environmentalism on to the country beyond. I am sure that that is not the Secretary of State’s intent, but there is a danger that we cast farmers and farming as detrimental to the environment when actually so much of the good that happens in our countryside is the work of our farmers.
It should not need to be said, but farming is a good thing—so much of the rural idyll that people picture in their minds is the product of farming—and we should not be sniffy about intensive farming, provided that the right animal welfare and environmental standards are maintained. When farmers seek to deliver quality products at low prices through economies of scale, it is surely a good thing. Mega-farms might exist elsewhere in the UK, but farms labelled as “intensive” in Somerset probably consist of a few hundred cows being milked by two or three robots. We must not talk down those important and innovative rural businesses.
Last week, when I met farmers across my constituency to discuss the Bill, they were passionate about the landscape in their care and talked enthusiastically about the amount of wildlife on their land. Some of them farm sites of special scientific interest, where the habitats are particularly sensitive, and they do so with real love for the land in their care. It was clear, however, that how they defined what was of environmental value differed from farm to farm. For some farms in my constituency, an environmental good might be flood alleviation; for others, it might be planting woodland; and for others, it might even be rewilding. Those are undoubtedly good environmental things to do, but they would mostly happen instead of farming rather than alongside it. We must make it absolutely clear that for all the good environmental intentions, we can never judge an agriculture Bill to be successful if it reduces food production.
At the end of the day, it comes down to how we define the public good. I would argue strongly that while good stewardship and a focus on the environmental aspect is clearly a public good, so too is our sovereign capacity to feed ourselves. The key part of the Bill is the connection between subsidy and environmental good practice. While subsidy per acre is a pretty universal measure, if we are to subsidise environmental good, it will be much harder to say what is worthy of subsidy in different parts of the country. Some farms are more productive than others, so there is leeway to do things in a more environmentally focused way. Many farms in my constituency are on poorer-quality land, and margins are very tight indeed. This summer’s weather affected grass growth badly, so feed costs will be higher this winter. Our subsidy regime, while prioritising the environmental aspect, must have the flexibility and agricultural nous to respond to such pressures.
Decarbonisation grabs the headlines, but methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, so any farming that includes livestock contributes to climate change. We must look carefully at how we help the farming industry with research and development costs to develop livestock farming methods that produce less methane. There is drive towards veganism, but that change in consumer habits will put my constituents out of business. Surely there is a way of supporting agriculture and our environment without casting them as being at odds with each other.
I should like to begin by putting on record my thanks to all those who have worked incredibly hard to develop the Bill. For almost 50 years, this country has been bound by the common agricultural policy, with its legislative roots in the treaty of Rome. Policy has been dictated to us by the bureaucrats in Brussels for too long. All the farmers I speak to welcome the opportunity for change and also the security of farm payments until 2022.
The Bill is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to form our own bespoke agricultural policy, allowing us to cater not to the needs of the maize growers of Poland and the citrus growers of Catalonia, but to the farmers of Cumbria, Caithness and Cornwall. I was delighted to hear the Secretary of State refer, not once but twice, to the Cumbrian Lake district in his opening speech, recognising the importance of lowland and upland farmers. This is our chance to tailor legislation to the needs of British farmers and maximise their businesses. It is key that we ensure that our agriculture sector is agile, diverse and efficient in an ever more globalised economy.
It is important to note that one key feature of the Bill is securing a new system based on paying public money for public goods. That new system will undoubtedly give one of the largest boosts to food production, environmental protection, rural public access and flood reduction that we have seen in this Parliament. Farmers transfer their knowledge and experience from generation to generation—more so than in any other industry. Farmers know their land best. Environmental protections play a crucial role in ensuring a sustainable agricultural sector. Ultimately, it is nature that underpins our farming system, with insect pollination worth £690 million to UK farming. It is vital that we give our farmers the environmental protections they need to create an economically and environmentally sustainable food production industry.
Another critical issue related to the Bill is flood reduction measures. I am sure many Members remember the devastation caused by Storm Desmond in December 2015. While I commend the Government for investing millions of pounds in flood defences, we must not forget that one of the most effective ways of reducing a storm’s impact is to work with our farmers and riparian owners on methods such as planting riverside woodlands and increasing surface infiltration, which will also support the benefits to wildlife and their habitat. In particular, I would like to see added protection for our native species, such as the iconic red squirrel, whose habitat is being destroyed by the Forestry Commission and others.
The Bill is not limited to attaining public goods for public money, however; it also opens our eyes to the world of opportunities available to our agricultural sector. The provision set out by the Secretary of State that allows the collection of supply chain data could unlock a huge boost in productivity, which our economy sorely needs, and allow the minimising of risk, waste and environmental harm—three things that are key for a sustainable industry.
I am so pleased that this Government recognise the value of school visits. I commend farmers in my Copeland constituency, such as farmer Kevin Holliday, who has welcomed hundreds of schoolchildren and gave me my first experience of lambing a ewe during the spring while on my roadshow of farm visits.
With Brexit on the horizon, it is time to make this significant investment in agriculture. It is time to ensure that young farmers understand the terms and conditions for their future and to enable better productivity, and it is time to back British farming.
This Bill is about how we continue farming after Brexit and the CAP, and farmers in my constituency welcome it.
The most beautiful constituency has been mentioned a few times, but I do not even need to pitch for it, because any MP who has been down to West Cornwall or even on Scilly has already decided that St Ives is the most beautiful constituency, so there is no need to persist. That is important to this debate, because if we go to the start of my constituency on the Helford river and follow the coast all the way around to Land’s End, and then right around St Ives to Hayle, in the constituency of the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, we not only find a huge length of coast and the Isles of Scilly, but we see that every farm is a small farm.
I ask three things of the Bill: that it protect small farms, access to labour and protected status, which is important for us. As I said, my constituency has lots of small farms, and access to those farms is not conducive to the huge machinery that we have seen an enormous growth of in recent years. However we go forward after leaving the common agricultural policy, we must understand that because of the pressure on keeping food prices low and the difficulties in finding people who see a small farm as a viable future, we have seen many farmers come to the end of their working life with no option but to simply rent their land out to large contractors.
It is quite clear—this is not a criticism—that looking after the environment, the natural habitats and how these farms are organised is nowhere near as high a priority for a large contractor that needs to get a decent crop and get in and out quickly as it is for a farmer who lovingly looks after the quality of the soil, the habitat and the wildlife that lives in it. It is very important that, as we move forward, we understand the contribution that small farms make to our rural communities, our countryside and our food supply, and to the protection of our natural habitats. This is a great opportunity to get that right.
I also want to talk about protecting access to labour. In a rural constituency such as mine, which takes ages to get to, accessing labour is a real challenge. The truth is that food production in West Cornwall and on the Isles of Scilly requires foreign workers to be employed permanently, not just in seasonal jobs. I was nervous and concerned after announcements last week about how our approach to skilled labour will go forward. I have met these farmers many times since being elected, as has the Minister, and it is clear that they are keen to secure a foreign workforce not just on a seasonal basis, but to provide the labour they need. In Cornwall, where unemployment is low, it is very difficult to get the seasonal workers we need.
Finally, we need to protect our protected status. In Cornwall we have the pasty—a fantastic part of a balanced diet, I hasten to add. On Saturday I organised the great western dog walk for the third year in a row. We walked across the beach with the dogs in aid of brain tumour research and support, and we ended it with a cup of tea and a pasty, which is perfect on a blustery day. It is very important that Cornwall maintains the protected status of the pasty, alongside many other foods produced in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly that are rightly protected. That is part of how we will maintain a good agricultural and economic policy and look after our natural environment.
It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Derek Thomas. He started his speech with a very controversial statement, with which I think no Member of the House agreed, but I think that everybody will agree with me when I say that British food is the best in the world, and I think that our constituents would be pleased to agree that our prices are among the lowest in Europe. Although I have no financial interest in farming, I should declare that I am a hobby farmer—a continual irritant to the many generations of my family who farm properly for money. I therefore do not have an interest to declare in the register, but I do have the soil of Oxfordshire under my fingernails.
I feel extremely strongly that we must get this right. On the day after the referendum, my first worry was for the environment. In fact, as the previous Prime Minister was resigning, apparently I was muttering something about hedgerows. Whatever else we might think of our friends in Europe, we must admit that their farming lobbies have always been extremely strong.
I am a big fan of the Secretary of State, and of course of the Farming Minister—anyone who farms South Devons must be a great farmer. The Department has certainly got the environmental message, and I have confidence in its ability to make good decisions on the future of subsidies, but I urge both Ministers to make these decisions quickly. Stability and long-term planning are really important to farmers. Farms are not just businesses; they are somewhere to live, and they often provide work for the next generation. We need as much notice as possible of the direction of travel.
Other Members have spoken about the importance of workforce planning.
Given that I represent many of my hon. Friend’s relatives who work in fruit picking in the Vale of Evesham, I had better be careful about what I say. On workforce planning, does she agree that seasonal workers play a pivotal role? Are they receiving sufficient attention?
I will always give way to the representative of my many relations who grow soft fruit and vegetables in the Vale of Evesham—our family history is called “Not only cabbages”. I agree that workforce planning is critical. That is one issue about which I hope to learn much more in the coming months. We need 95,000 seasonal workers. We grow asparagus in Oxfordshire as well, and this issue is important to many of our farmers, although not all.
To keep prices low and the food supply secure, we need to focus on food production as well as the environment. We are proud of our local housing record in my constituency. That is important, but it is literally true that we are losing productive ground to housing—apparently the national equivalent of about the Isle of Wight every year. It is important when we make all these decisions that we look at real evidence. For example, the ban on neonics was widely welcomed. I keep bees on my hobby farm and I know how fragile they are and how important they are to my cider and perry orchards—my cider is definitely the best in the country. The ban on neonics may well be right for them, but the flip side is that some local farmers have sprayed their oilseed rape seven times this year with alternatives to neonics and killed far more of the surrounding eco-structure as a result. Very little rape will be grown in my constituency next year, and of course we all need fields of wheat to continue in Oxfordshire. It would be ludicrous if the new system allowed crops sprayed with neonics to be imported without restriction. If an environmental restriction is right for us, it is right for the produce that we import from around the world. We must assess the evidence rather than be swept up by environmental campaigners.
I would also urge caution around re-wilding. It sounds sexy and is gaining ground and celebrity endorsement, but the object is to remove all human impact on the environment. It comes with environmental risk, including species loss, and would completely alter significant national assets such as the Lake district and the North Yorkshire Moors, where nature and farmers have worked together for thousands of years.
I should end by focusing on the corn bunting, which my right hon. Friend Richard Benyon mentioned earlier. I am proud to be the species champion, but the corn bunting is in peril, with numbers dropping by over a third since 1995. These are farmland birds, which breed mainly in cereal crops and depend on farmers helping them by providing cereal grain over the winter, given that they do not migrate. Tailored agri-environment schemes, such as mid-field double-drilled strips in winter cereals, are perfect for them. We can get it right, but in order to do so, food production must be considered every bit as important as environmental protection. Food may grow on trees, but trees grow better with care and attention. We must listen to the voices of the countryside when making this new policy.
I welcome—patiently—the Bill, which puts in place the necessary changes as we leave the EU. I am truly delighted to follow my hon. Friend Victoria Prentis. She may represent a beautiful county, but of course I represent the most beautiful constituency. I draw hon. Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am a conventional farmer—an organic farmer—I am a producer and I receive the single farm payment. This gives me an intimate knowledge of the industry.
The Bill focuses mainly on public money for public goods, and we are evolving from a common market. The Bill and future legislation will create a framework and support specific to the UK and the devolved Administrations. I welcome that. Like other Members, I want to see food production and farming in the Bill. Financial assistance for environmental purposes is laudable, but I believe that productive agriculture and the environment are mutually inclusive.
We have moved past the grubbing up of hedges and updated our pesticide and chemicals usage. In 30 years in agriculture—yes, it is hard to believe—I have seen leaps and bounds. I do not recognise some hon. Members’ characterisation of what farming is. We have moved a long way in 30 years. Farmers are the guardians of the land and the countryside. The longevity of that land is so important, and family farming, on whatever scale, looks to hand it on in a better state than it was received in. Upland farming must be protected by the Bill.
Part 1 of the Bill focuses on public money for public goods, encompassing the importance to rural and urban populations. I recognise that. I also take comfort from the Secretary of State’s words on food security and access to wholesome, well-produced and affordable food. I hope to see the Bill evolve.
On that point, I would like to mention schedule 3. It is very important that two SNP MPs, fellow Scottish MPs, are here. Schedule 3 is a very important provision, which relates to Wales. I hope that the Scottish Government see sense and follow Wales by being included in the Bill. There is scope to provide flexibility. Carping about a power grab fools no one: they are neglecting farmers and crofters in Scotland. They are compounding the rural payment disaster that sees Scottish farmers totally confused about payments. They still have not received their 2015 money. The Scottish Government should embrace the Bill, make provision for payments—if they do not do that here, they cannot do it in Holyrood—and work with DEFRA to add a Scotland schedule.
Specifically on the payments point, the hon. Gentleman may not have seen the press release today, which clarifies that, under proposals in the Scottish continuity Bill and the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, existing European law will be rolled over, ensuring that the Scottish Government retain the legal ability to make the farm payments beyond March 2019. To suggest otherwise is inaccurate.
There is the contrast: the Welsh Administration are trying to work for their farmers and the Scottish Government are politicising the deal.
Does my hon. Friend think that, once the Bill has gone through its parliamentary stages, the Scottish Government will complain that they do not have the powers they need?
I truly hope that if SNP MPs are listening to the industry, they will introduce a schedule to the Bill as it progresses.
The north-east of Scotland is a traditional area of agriculture, with high organic matter. Leaving the EU is a massive change, but it is also a huge opportunity. I welcome the fact that the Bill addresses retiring farmers, something I am not planning to do for a long time. It is disappointing that the Scottish Government’s right to buy has undermined the rented market in Scotland and young entrants are not getting in because there is no access. Yet again, the Scottish Government are neglecting the farming community. I hope that the Bill will encourage new entrants. I applaud my right hon. Friend Richard Benyon, who is no longer in his place, for his recognition of young farmers.
I would like to highlight the 2016 ADAS consultation on public money for public goods. It raised a few issues of which we have to be very conscious. It recognised that Brexit is an opportunity to address these issues. It defined public goods as consumed by society as a whole, not necessarily by individual consumers. It draws a contrast between food and energy as private goods. If we create a differential, an environmental or standards cost, ADAS recognised that this could risk the competitiveness of UK producers. I would therefore like clarity from the Minister on who compensates or buys the public good when we set higher standards. It is not that I want to drop standards; I just want to understand who compensates farmers.
ADAS was very clear that moving to public money for public goods would be radical and would need testing. I welcome the fact that there is a transition period, because we have to check its efficacy during adoption. Modern productive agriculture does not have to undermine the environment; it goes hand-in-hand with the environment. Many Members have reminded us that every acre of this island and this Union has been created and shaped by agriculture in some way.
The good farmers of Gordon stand ready, with the opportunity of Brexit when we negotiate our free trade deals, to grow more malting barley for export to the rest of the world. The Bill must accommodate productive farming. I echo the words of my hon. Friend Derek Thomas. We need access to labour for our factories, our abattoirs, our fish processing factories and our food factories. That is very important. I want to see the back of one-size-fits-all EU interference. I want to see the UK internal market protected. Most of all, I want to see a Scottish schedule in the Bill.
Let us move from north of the border to North Devon, where, I can assure you, Madam Deputy Speaker, my constituents are watching the progress of the Bill very carefully indeed. Farming is an incredibly important part of our local economy. More than 11% of workers are employed directly in the industry and, of course, that figure increases markedly when we look at all the small businesses and sole traders whose livelihoods rely directly on farming.
Let me be clear that, for us in North Devon, this is about more than just economics. Nearly three quarters of the entire land area of North Devon is farmed. To put it simply, the landscape looks as beautiful as it does because it is managed so expertly by our farmers. They are the stewards of our environment, particularly in an area such as mine with its diverse landscape, as the Secretary of State, who is not in his place, will know because he visited Exmoor over the summer to see the fantastic work being done by the Exmoor Hill Farming Network, which, under challenging circumstances, not only farms productively but looks after that national park environment.
Farming is incredibly important in North Devon, and to underline that I met more than a dozen farmers last Thursday. We had very useful and wide-ranging discussion about the Bill, and I want to thank the NFU in the south-west for arranging it. In that meeting, a series of reasoned and reasonable suggestions was put to me on how the Bill might be improved. I want to run through some of them now, but in doing so I want to make it clear that I will support the Government on Second Reading. I will not be supporting the Opposition’s amendment because, frankly, to decline to give this Bill a Second Reading would be entirely counterproductive and far more about politics than helping our farmers.
One of the main arguments made to me by the farming industry in North Devon is that the Bill needs to focus more on the fundamental purpose of farming, which is the production of food. This is an Agriculture Bill and its greatest impact will be on the industry that feeds our nation, so we must make clear that financial assistance is explicitly linked to agricultural activity. The Bill rewards farmers for public goods to deliver a cleaner and healthier environment, which is to be applauded, but the point made to me is that insufficient significance is placed on the greatest public good, which has to be the production of food in a safe way.
The reality is that financial support is absolutely critical to the survival of many of our farms. Without it, more than four in 10 of all British farms would probably make a financial loss or become economically unviable. Subsidies are crucial, and of course, historically, they have come from the EU under the common agricultural policy.
My hon. Friend is my constituency neighbour, and the interesting thing about many parts of Devon, and North Devon in particular, is that it is mainly permanent pasture and grassland, so farming in the sheep trade and beef trade will keep that environment and the good tourist attraction in the area. Those things are all linked.
That is absolutely the case and that pasture is vital. I think that 51% of the farmed area of Devon is livestock grazing. It makes the county look how it does, and without financial subsidies, the farmers would not be able to undertake their important stewardship of that landscape.
The system of financial support that will replace the common agricultural policy will shape our rural economy for, frankly, generations to come, so it must be introduced cautiously, which is why I welcome the seven-year transition period and the powers in the Bill to extend it if necessary. I also welcome the fact that the Government have guaranteed the overall current level of subsidy spending until 2022—some £46 billion—but let us get the administration of the system right. There is a great deal of frustration among by farmers about the Rural Payments Agency, Natural England and the others who manage the system of payments. The system is not quite working as it should at the moment, and that is an understatement, so, please, in the new system under this Bill, let us get that right for farmers.
Public good is an integral part of the Bill and how payments will be managed. Domestic food production is in itself a public good. Importing food from other countries is environmentally damaging, because of the distances involved. British farmers have—it says here “some of the highest”, but I am going to change that—the highest welfare and quality standards in the world. I am in favour of the move to a system of payments based on the production of public goods, the productivity of our farms and the resilience of our agricultural sector.
I have a great deal of faith in my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in the Minister and in the ministerial team, and I want them to give themselves more powers than the Bill provides. I want my right hon. Friend to have the same powers as the Bill gives to the Welsh Farming Minister in schedule 3, which has been talked about a great deal, and I ask that that be reviewed at a later stage.
We are leaving the EU—that decision has been made—so there is uncertainty ahead for our farmers. It is incumbent on us to end that uncertainty, and this Bill is an historic opportunity to do so. We must get the transition right. The Bill makes a good start, but I say in a supportive and helpful way that there is room for improvement. I will oppose the amendment and support the Bill on Second Reading to ensure that as proceedings on it continue, we make it the best Bill possible for North Devon farmers.
I am a farmer’s wife and I represent Sleaford and North Hykeham, a beautiful area of rural Lincolnshire for which this Agriculture Bill is particularly important. Farmers care about the environment. They do so because they derive income from the land to support their family, and they will need to care for the land if they are to continue to work on it successfully. More than that, however, farmers love their land, they love wildlife and they love producing food. Some 96% of farms are family farms, in which one generation is merely the custodian of land that many hope future generations of their family will enjoy.
I welcome the direction of travel in the Bill, which will fairly reward the public good that farmers do, not just to mitigate any loss of revenue but in recognition of the benefits that we all derive from their care of the land. Those benefits include clean air and water, high-quality soil, a biodiverse habitat, a beautiful rural environment and much more.
I welcome the contractual nature of the new schemes and the Secretary of State’s assurance that they will be of a longer duration—five to 10 years—which will give certainty of income to farmers and duration of benefit to all. I have met the Secretary of State to discuss this in recent months, and I also welcome the widening of the GCA’s remit to include more areas of the farming sector.
The number and variety of public goods that the Secretary of State has identified is great, and I know that my constituents will look forward to benefiting from them all. However, even if the schemes are, as been said, simpler, with number and variety comes complexity for the farmer. Which scheme should they choose? For the larger farmer, who has an office full of specialists to weigh the pros and cons of each scheme, the decision will be straightforward, but for the parent and child combinations who run so many of our country’s farms, it will not be so easy. It will also be easier for a larger farmer to add a new footpath without it going past their kitchen window. It will be easier for them to identify areas of poor or marginal land to turn over to environmental schemes. I therefore ask the Secretary of State what will be done to guide farmers about which schemes they should use and what assessment he has made of how the money is likely to be distributed between large and small farms.
The transition period from the CAP to the new scheme has been set at seven years, and it will start in 2021, giving farmers nine years to adjust. I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State has listened to farmers’ concerns about the pace of change at a time of uncertainty caused by Brexit.
Finally, as a paediatrician, I am concerned about our diet and the health of our nation. Some 22% of five-year-olds and more than a third of 11-year-olds are overweight or obese. Food production is part of the definition of agriculture, and although I welcome the definition of productivity as a public good, I would be grateful if the Minister elaborated on how the Bill will secure the availability of high-quality food for my constituents. If that is to happen, food production must be profitable. How does the Minister intend to ensure that when farmers have the choice to use a given parcel of land for an environmental scheme, there is enough incentive for them to do so—but not so much that there is no longer any incentive to farm, reducing the availability of home-grown produce?
Overall, I welcome the Bill. I look forward to supporting its Second Reading this evening and further scrutinising the detail in Committee.
I have listened to much of the debate, and have heard a great many contributions from Members on both sides of the House—but particularly on this side—who are farmers or farmers’ wives, and who have a history of farming in this country. Unfortunately, I have none of those qualifications. What I do have, though, are some constituents who are farmers and who care deeply about the countryside and the environment. They have spent much time with me talking about the issues that they face and about the Bill, particularly over the last couple of weeks. Let me take this opportunity to mention a few of them: Ed Phillips, Tom Williams, Will Dickinson, Stuart Roberts, Jamie Burrows, Richard Pleydell-Bouverie, Paul Cherry and Ian Piggott. They, among many others, have helped me to understand how the good things in the Bill will help them in their lives as farmers over the years to come.
As I see it, there are two major aspects of the Bill for farmers and for farming in the countryside. The first is the way in which we farm, and, in particular, how we manage our land environmentally so that it continues for our children, our grandchildren, and our grandchildren’s children. We must remember that we need to enable our farmers to compete better in a domestic and international market. They have struggled at times, and continue to do so. The Bill does a lot in both those respects.
Clause 1(2) makes clear that the Government will be able to improve the productivity of individual farmers by allowing them to invest in equipment so that they can farm as effectively as possible. The Bill will also facilitate better, more efficient and more transparent supply chains, and that too will help our farmers to engage in the market. Moreover—I do not think that this has been mentioned so far, but perhaps I missed it—the Bill will encourage collaboration among growers, to ensure that we are not subject to certain competition-law restrictions to which we are currently subject under the common agricultural policy. It will help farmers to have a stronger voice in the market, and will help to deal with the problems and distortions in the market that are generated by supermarkets and others.
We have heard a great deal in the debate so far about the way in which we farm and manage our land. That, as well as ensuring that our farmers can compete, is the thrust of the Bill. We often hear about hard Brexit, soft Brexit, Chequers, “chuck Chequers” and a no-deal Brexit, but the Bill gives us a green Brexit. That is a fundamental move that constitutes a real, positive change of direction. Not only farmers or inhabitants of the countryside in my constituency or anywhere else, but everyone in the country can be proud of that, and I commend the Minister and the Secretary of State for their work. The Bill rewards farmers for improving air and water quality, soil health, animal welfare standards and flood prevention. There are all sorts of respects in which it, and public money, will improve how we manage our land, and I think we can all commend that.
However, I urge the Minister and the Secretary of State also to keep in mind that, once the Bill is—hopefully—passed and we proceed to secondary legislation, our farmers will want to know that the Government care deeply about food production. I hope that they will continue to make clear the ways in which we care about it. I know that everyone in the House cares about it, but we need to ensure that our farmers understand that, and help them to understand how the Bill will aid their production. I also urge the Government to explain further their strategic objectives for the national security of food and water, and also to bear in mind that our farmers need to compete with producers throughout the world, often in places without our commitment to high environmental standards.
Overall, this is a good Bill. It will lead to a green Brexit, and we will have great British farms and countryside for generations to come.
Order. To accommodate all Members wishing to speak, after the next speech I will reduce the time limit to four minutes.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker; I will give you that fiver later.
The outcome of the referendum presented us with the opportunity to sculpt for the first time in many decades our own bespoke agricultural policy, and the Department has been absolutely right to build a consensus of interest, ranging from farmers and landowners to environmental groups and other non-governmental organisations; that is absolutely pivotal. I do want to echo, however, a theme that has run through many speeches by Members on my side of the House: there is an anxiety among many farmers—particularly in my constituency, which was aptly named by Thomas Hardy as “the vale of the little dairies”, covering quite a lot of the Blackmore vale in north Dorset—that in an attempt to bring the environmental groups onside, some of the key, principal purposes of UK agriculture have been slightly underplayed.
There is an anxiety that sitting somewhere within this Bill is an idea to create, through some form of environmental public good subsidy, effectively our largest open air non-working museum, where redundant farmers will wear pastiche smocks, lean over gates, chew wheat stalks and talk to people while sipping on a glass of cider, fitting in some form of agricultural production in the few acres that we allow them after they have done all these mad rewilding schemes and other bits and bobs.
As others have mentioned, we also need to educate about the importance of agriculture and what it does to our economy, water, air quality and tourism. We live in an increasingly urbanised country with a very urban-centric media, and we should be trying to find ways through to a new agricultural support scheme of rewarding farmers who open their gates and bring people in, teaching schools and others about the importance of farming.
We must have up front and centre at the heart of the Bill food production and security; I make no apology to the Minister for repeating that. I am inclined to think that in the Secretary of State’s Oxford conference speech of January he thought food production was such an obvious aspect of agriculture that he did not mention it and instead talked about all the other environmental things. I view that as an oversight, but our farmers need to be reassured at every step and turn that food production is important. It is important for all the good things it does, and for the contribution it makes to our economy.
To those who say that food production does not matter and that we can make up the gap in domestic production through cheaper imports, which could be some sort of domestic Brexit dividend, let me point out this: those cheaper imports, potentially raised at lower standards, will only be cheap while there is a viable domestic production sector that introduces market competition. If we kill that off, then—hey presto!—the prices will go up, and will be likely to go up higher to compensate for the greater discount introduced to kill off the domestic production.
Food production is absolutely imperative, and there is no disconnect between food production and environmental farming; the two are now intensely interwoven. In all of my meetings with my farmers and the NFU, I have yet to find one—irrespective of age, I say with respect to my right hon. Friend Richard Benyon—who wants to go back to some pre-European system where we could grub up the hedgerows and put slurry in the watercourses and so forth.
Let me close by saying to the Minister that the mechanism for financial support to agriculture, whatever that system is, needs to be clear, simple, speedy and robust. Moreover, it needs to be regional and bespoke to address the varying types of agriculture that we have in this country. It should also provide stability, to allow investment and to put it beyond political tinkering as and when there is a change of Government. Our agricultural farmers need the certainty that the regime in place is beyond political tinkering. I note that I have the support of the shadow junior Minister, Dr Drew, on that, which I welcome.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Simon Hoare. The concerns that he has expressed on behalf of his farmers about productivity and food production are echoed in my constituency. Eddisbury’s highly productive lowland farming land is responsible for producing about 3% of the UK’s dairy products, and the chances are that hon. Members will have used milk from Eddisbury in their coffee at some point this year. Indeed, they might well have woken up to a breakfast glass of milk from Eddisbury.
My hon. Friend Bim Afolami talked about a green Brexit, but I would argue that that that underplays the role of past Ministers and Secretaries of State. The UK has had a strong influence on previous common agricultural policies, and we have seen the EU moving towards a greater focus on the delivery of environmental goods and services—sometimes called ecosystem services. It is good to see the UK Government continuing in that direction of travel, but not at the cost of productivity and hopefully not at the cost of innovation in the farming sector.
What concerns my farmers, particularly after this summer’s experience, is market volatility and market failure. We had some of the toughest weather conditions, with a sustained period of drought. This meant that my farmers were having to feed their winter fodder to their cattle during the summer. It took a long time, but I am grateful to the Secretary of State for negotiating a derogation with the European Union in relation to field-side margins. I ask the Minister to ensure that we use the fact that we have left the common agricultural policy to ensure that we have that flexibility and fleetness of foot when there is market failure or volatility—particularly when it is caused by extreme weather events, which we are likely to see more and more due to climate change. For example, my local farmers have suggested that the hay and wild flowers growing on field-side margins that have been designated as set-aside land could be cut and used or sold for forage, thereby reducing some of the real pressures that farmers in my constituency have felt.
The second thing that farmers in Eddisbury are concerned about is fair prices. We have all heard about mineral water in supermarkets being more expensive than a pint of milk. British farmers make fantastic produce, but they want to be paid a fair price for it. I welcome the proposals in the Bill for an obligation to promote a fair contractual relationship between farmers and the first purchasers of their products. That is a really important matter for my constituents. Finally, others have mentioned workforce planning: it is really important that we have a workforce that can help to manage those farms and take their success into the future.
I am delighted to speak in the debate, and I broadly welcome the Bill. The sheer number of Members who have participated means that there will be a lot of scrutiny, which is of course a good thing. As an Essex MP, I have the privilege of representing a part of the country with some brilliant food producers and farmers, and some fine landscapes and environmental features. The Secretary of State will recall from his visit to Tiptree just last month, where he was hosted by Wilkin & Sons, the finest producer of jams and preserves in the world—I think he enjoyed some when he was there —that farmers across the country will judge the success of this legislation on how it enables the right kind of stewardship, not just for food and farming, but for agricultural policy going forward.
One of the biggest advantages of leaving the EU should be that we will have the freedom to establish our own regulatory frameworks for agriculture, food and farming. This is an enabling Bill, with much legislation to follow, but I welcome the Government’s commitment to ensure that every possible approach, regulation and detail both supports and promotes our farmers as well as UK agriculture, food and produce. We have the benefit of enjoying much of that produce domestically, but we also know that our farmers and those who work in the agricultural sector want to do much more to export globally and showcase their products internationally. We now have a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate that we are great producers and are ambitious to export more, so I would welcome a commitment from Ministers that there will be a strong focus on exporting and that we will do everything possible through this Bill to back exporters.
Farmers in my constituency often find themselves dealing with the costs of rearing animals to welfare standards that are higher than those in the rest of the European Union. As we have heard today, our EU membership has prevented us from blocking imports when they fail to meet our high standards, but we can now address such concerns. For example, while pig farmers in my constituency adhere to the ban on sow stalls, they know that producers in other EU countries are flouting the rules. We should get on the side of our pig farmers and bat for them on the challenges that they face. Farmers want assurances that our post-Brexit agricultural policy will not place them at a competitive disadvantage when there are lower standards across the EU.
I welcome this important Bill for so many reasons, and we now have the chance to back our farmers and to support them on animal health, welfare standards, high-quality food production and the all-important public goods that we have heard about in today’s great debate. The Bill is vital, just as it is vital, while the negotiations with the EU are ongoing, that the Government protect our agricultural sector, our farmers and our producers. We need to challenge some of the controls from Brussels that the Secretary of State mentioned earlier on.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for concluding her outstanding oration.
Several right hon. and hon. Members have mentioned that this is the first time in over 40 years that our UK Parliament has discussed and debated UK agricultural policy. For us younger Members, it is the first time in our lifetime that this Parliament has been able to discuss such matters, which I welcome greatly. As someone who, from leaving agricultural college to being elected, had not just a job in farming but a passion for farming, this legislation is important to me.
That passion has continued in my time as the Member of Parliament for Moray, which is a rich agricultural community. Farmers from Glenlivet to Garmouth, and from Keith to Kintessack, are extremely positive about several of the Bill’s elements, because there is a great deal to be positive about. However, what we have unfortunately heard from SNP Members throughout the debate has been doom and gloom. We heard from Deidre Brock for 20 minutes, and I would have liked her to have spoken for longer, because we heard absolutely nothing about a SNP vision for Scottish agriculture—[Interruption.] I will come to their holding up of bits of paper in a moment.
All we got from the hon. Lady was petty political point scoring and absolutely no answers for Scottish farmers, who are looking for Scottish MPs to come down to Westminster to stand up for farming. I believe that they are getting that from Scottish Conservative Members, and I think they got that from Jamie Stone in his earlier intervention, but from SNP Members they got nothing but criticism. The SNP highlighted the omissions from the Bill and the failures regarding briefings, but there was nothing about what the SNP would do for agriculture in Scotland.
I really do wish that the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith had spoken for a bit longer, because that would have given us more than just her holding up documents, saying that the Scottish Government are consulting. In reality, there is a vacuum in policy from this tired SNP Scottish Government. They do not have the answers. Our Scottish farmers and my Moray farmers deserve better.
I urge the SNP Members here—all three of them—to join us and start working together to set things right. Give Scottish farmers the guarantee of inclusion in the Bill while Nicola Sturgeon and her Ministers work on their own long-overdue proposals. The NFUS made it clear in its briefing for the debate that another schedule should be inserted in the Bill. Local farmers in Moray and farmers across Scotland are greatly disappointed that the SNP would rather play party politics than get around the table, work with Ministers and accept the offer that was accepted by the Welsh Government.
It is becoming more and more evident to Scottish farmers and rural Scotland in general that it is the Scottish Conservatives, not the Scottish National party, who are truly standing up for their interests. That has been clear in today’s debate. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith thinks that farming is a matter for her to laugh at. It is a serious matter for our constituents, and that is why so many of us are here today, trying to ensure that this important Bill is passed. I am sure it will be improved as it goes through Parliament. It is unfortunate that, time after time, the SNP simply wants to talk down what we do in Westminster, rather than talking it up and working for our farmers, who deserve more than they are getting from the SNP.
I welcome the introduction of the Bill by the UK Government, as do many farmers in my constituency, as well as NFU Scotland and Scottish Land & Estates, to name just a couple of organisations. As we come to the final stages of leaving the EU, the Bill offers security and a framework alongside guaranteed continued payments until 2022. I also welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to, and action on, ensuring that the United Kingdom maintains the highest possible food and livestock welfare standards, as well as his commitments to public money for public goods, and financial assistance for
“the purpose of starting, or improving the productivity of, an agricultural, horticultural or forestry activity.”
The opportunities contained in the Bill are the reason why it has been so warmly welcomed in my constituency and throughout the United Kingdom, with both Wales and Northern Ireland—unencumbered by nationalist Administrations—accepting the Government’s offer to be included. Scotland can only rely on the SNP Administration in Edinburgh to be strong for nationalism, with not one single provision for agriculture included in their recent programme for government.
To be fair, the SNP has launched a consultation on the matter—Deidre Brock held it up earlier—and I have read it. Almost all of it is just a restatement of current EU policy, with no new policy recommended, but if one reads between the lines and follows the pointed questions, one finds a lot in the consultation that agrees with the Bill. Look at some of the sections on greening, for example—questions 5, 6 and 7 talk about more productive farming, tackling climate change and improving the greening of agriculture in Scotland. Much of that is included in the Bill. I also agree with some of the consultation points—again, these are included in the Bill —about specific support for rural communities and economies. Both the consultation and the Bill are about establishing frameworks.
The briefing from the NFUS is clear: it wants Scotland included in the Bill. It wants a schedule similar to the one for Wales, with associated provisions that protect devolved Ministers’ powers to adjust for devolved policy areas while preserving the UK market. The NFUS is not alone: Scottish Land & Estates, the SRUC Scotland’s Rural College, the Countryside Alliance and many of my local farmers share that view. All afternoon, we have heard from Members from England, Wales and Scotland about how their upland farmers face challenges and how they have less favoured areas, just as we do. So we should be working together in this House to find the areas that we have in common, work on common policy and have a Bill that works for the entire UK. I think we can do it if we just try.
Finally, I also want to talk about young farmers and what we are doing to encourage young people into the agricultural sector. The Bill includes measures to support farmers who are planning to leave or retire from the industry, and I hope that it will also help with the transition to a new generation of farmers, through supportive grants and loans for younger people to come into farming. That should be included in the final draft of the Bill. As well as the financial incentives for younger people, there should also be incentives to encourage investment in new equipment and in innovation in agriculture.
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that until very recently Scotland was the only part of the UK that had a scheme, under the CAP, to support new or young entrants? We have supported more than 1,000 new and young entrants since 2015, which surely shows why we need to keep our powers over funding and policy in Scotland.
That shows the gross misunderstanding here. I am not saying anything against that; I am saying that in this Bill we should encourage young farmers and work together. Why have SNP Members not put this forward? Why have they not put a schedule forward? It is because they do not believe in the United Kingdom and in Scottish farming. They just believe in nationalism and the break-up of the United Kingdom. The different parts of the UK do face different challenges in agriculture, but there are also many, many similarities. As the Bill progresses, I hope that Members from across the UK can focus on the commonalities between the different parts of the UK so that we produce a Bill that delivers for our farmers and our rural communities.
It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Luke Graham, who made a spirited and punchy speech that I enjoyed listening to. It is also a great honour to speak in this debate, because the last time this House considered an agriculture Bill was in 1947, when Albert Stubbs, my great grandfather, who was the Cambridgeshire Member, spoke on Third Reading. He would entirely agree with Sue Hayman in saying that that Bill was very good. He was much respected, and is to this day, for the work he did for the agricultural workers of Cambridgeshire.
Much has changed since that day—the House of Commons is no longer sitting in the other place—but some things have not changed. The value of farming to the UK most certainly has not. It provides national self-sufficiency, a safe supply of domestic food and jobs. It also provides a high standard of welfare and environmental protection—much more so now because of the progress we have made. Much will change in the years ahead, and there are many benefits from our leaving the CAP. As is made clear from talking to the farmers of West Oxfordshire, the policy is wasteful, inefficient and environmentally damaging. It is also economically damaging, given the artificial increases in the price of food that it causes. The policy favours large landowners over small ones, and the large companies over the families, with the top 10% of recipients receiving almost 50% of CAP payments and the bottom 20% receiving just 2%. So there is a great deal to be gained from the Bill, which I warmly welcome. I am glad the Government have introduced it.
I have met my local farmers and my local NFU branch. They have raised some concerns, which I know Ministers are listening to. There are concerns about the amount of burdensome regulation and red tape, and about fair pricing and the powers of supermarkets. Above all, they would like a feeling that their high standards and the quality products they are producing are valued and respected by the Government and by Britain as a whole. I reassure them that that is very much the case, and I am sure that Ministers will do so in due course, too. My local farmers do ask that there is a focus on linking all the public goods we are discussing in connection with the Bill to agricultural products and food production, and that that is seen as a good in its own right.
I warmly recognise and welcome many of the public goods set out in the Bill. I am particularly enthusiastic about the fundamental change whereby instead of pricing and subsidy being granted simply on the basis of the size of land, a public good is attached. EU subsidies currently encourage poor land management. Under the CAP, for example, farmers lose direct payments if they plant trees on their land, because it means that they are taking land out of agricultural production, so environmental factors are not given the pre-eminence that I, and we, would like.
It is quite right that only viable farms will be able to devote the necessary time and resource for this. As the Secretary of State said, farmers will be able to go green only if they are not in the red. I would very much like to see West Oxfordshire farmers who are light years ahead of the rest of the country in terms of combining food production and environmental protection having a system that means that those goods are recommended and valued, with small farms able to succeed in the same way as large ones.
There are many more things that I would like to say but, at this stage, I will just warmly welcome the Bill. This is our first major domestic policy on agriculture for well over half a century. It gives us a challenge to set forward a bold and ambitious vision, which I warmly welcome.
It is a great pleasure to follow the fantastic speech of my hon. Friend Robert Courts and to have the opportunity to pay tribute to the farmers of South Suffolk who produce such good quality food and who are responsible for the stewardship of our beautiful countryside, which is the key to the quality of life in my constituency and which is shared by my constituents and those who visit from other parts of the country.
In supporting this Bill, I want to stress two key principles. The first and most important is simply this: for all the faults of the current system, our farmers are still able to produce great food and they produce it under that system. Ever since the debate started on how we should follow the CAP once we leave the European Union, I have said that whatever system comes into place, it should not come into place until it is ready and until it is better. I very much welcome a long transition; it is common sense and very much welcomed by our farmers—certainly the ones to whom I have spoken.
There is another key principle. Like many of my colleagues, I favour schemes that support public goods and environmental schemes, but they must not be at the expense of food production or food security. That point has been made by many of my colleagues.
For the rest of my speech, I want to follow in the footsteps of my right hon. Friend Mr Paterson who went off to the Swiss alps to discuss the model in use there. Switzerland is very important in all of this, because it has moved towards a system based on public goods. There are two particular points that I want to stress here. Earlier in the debate, my right hon. Friend John Redwood intervened on Sue Hayman who speaks for the Opposition and asked why she thought that food imports had risen. She declined to answer, so I then intervened and suggested that it may be related to changing consumer taste. It is interesting to note that on
After I made that intervention, I had a tweet from Jeremy Squirrell, a farmer in my constituency, who farms in Wattisham. He said, “Should we expect advocados all year round?” [Interruption.] Dr Drew says, “No”. There is a debate to be had about air miles and so on, but the fact is our consumers do expect that choice, so we have to balance that against farm support.
The most important point in relation to Switzerland is on the issue on which I have had the most correspondence from constituents, which is, of course, trade deals. I have had many emails urging me not to support cutting our standards to get a trade deal. The Secretary of State said at the start of this debate that that will certainly be our position, but the key thing is that we do not need to speculate. When people say that if we accept the common rulebook we will not be able to get good trade deals, we do not need to speculate. Switzerland is effectively in the common rulebook on agri-food and goods and outside the customs union, and all the evidence shows that it negotiates very effective trade deals. In an email, I said to George Baur, assistant Secretary General of EFTA, “Do those rules limit the ability to get good fair trade deals, given that they are maintaining the standards for their farmers?” There is no evidence that they do. In fact, the most recent deal with Mexico increased trade with Switzerland by 37%. I simply say that when we seek to increase the competitiveness of our farmers, it must be on quality, not on low cost. We must produce the best food from the best farmers to the highest standards. That is the future for British farming and that is the one that I support today.
No Government want any Bill to become a Christmas tree on which Back Benchers hang their hobby-horses, but if any Bill should have something to do with trees or horses, it is the Agriculture Bill. With that in mind, I will talk about three public goods that are currently part of the Bill, but not key parts.
The first matter that I want to discuss is flooding. My constituency is the most likely to flood in the country, according to the Association of British Insurers. It is also home to some of the most fertile land in the country, precisely because that land is reclaimed from the sea. Boston and Skegness is the breadbasket of Britain, and when this Bill talks of public good we should bear it in mind that the greatest public good performed by agriculture in my constituency is flood defence. By maintaining defences, farmers operate businesses that provide livelihoods for thousands and food—genuinely in the case of my constituency—for millions. They should be rewarded for that, and the Environment Agency, the internal drainage boards and Natural England should be encouraged through this Bill to work in ever close union, to coin a phrase, with the interests of farmers and farming so that flood defences can be secured. By the way, I hope this Bill can be used as a vehicle to bring the Rivers Authorities and Land Drainage Bill of my hon. Friend David Warburton to the statute book.
As we leave the EU, we should seize the opportunity to adopt new standards that allow farmers to behave in a way that is even better for productivity, wildlife and jobs. For example, in a constituency such as mine there is great discussion about borrow pits and drainage. We are not currently able even to consider what that means for local farming because of EU law. Leaving the EU allows us to have that conversation in a new way. This is not an argument for lowering the standards; it is an argument for seeing whether there are better and equivalent ways of doing things.
The second matter is productivity. My constituency, working with the nearby University of Lincoln, is home to some of the most advanced experiments in the automation of farming in the world. Silicon Valley has come to Lincolnshire to ask how it should be done. What greater public good is there than fast-forwarding that process? Innovation will allow more of my constituents to move into higher-skilled work and it should be encouraged through the Bill. There is a public good in flood defence and in fostering innovation.
Thirdly and finally, I want to mention the workforce. The Migration Advisory Committee has said that we should have a seasonal workers scheme, and I applaud that. Seasonal workers have made a profound difference to Boston and Skegness in both good and less good ways. I applaud the proposed introduction of a new scheme in a new immigration policy, partly because it is vital to the local economy. However, in that context, the public good is also in ensuring that workers who come to this country temporarily are properly housed and integrated into local communities. The Bill and its relationship with immigration and seasonal work can play a part in that, and I encourage the Secretary of State to look at that suggestion.
I thoroughly support the Bill, and I hope that the Government will show that it is an opportunity to back farmers and farming very publicly, but also to back flood defence, a responsible migration policy and innovation—in short, to seize every opportunity associated with agriculture, as well as agriculture itself.
I welcome and support Second Reading of this important Bill. As someone who comes from a long line of people who worked on the land—mainly ploughmen—I am very grateful to witness and be part of this historic and significant moment as, for the first time in decades, the House of Commons legislates in this vital area. I congratulate and thank the farmers of the United Kingdom for the excellent produce that they provide for us on our dinner tables, and for the social good that was described by my hon. Friend Matt Warman from which we resultantly benefit.
In my short remarks, I will focus on things that are missing from the Bill. The first thing that is missing is a schedule relating to Scotland. I am afraid that that is down to the intransigence and the wrecking tendency of the SNP. There is no way of escaping that conclusion. While the SNP protests its concern for Scotland’s farmers, what we have in Scotland is a policy vacuum on agriculture. Witness the spectacle of the past few days in Glasgow at the SNP conference—not one mention of agriculture in the speech by the leader of the party and, by the way, no mention of an agriculture Bill in the SNP Government’s programme for government, which has produced very little legislation.
What we get from the SNP are carefully constructed, artificial areas for conflict so that it can progress the only agenda that matters to it—the break-up of the United Kingdom. What we see in that intransigence is simply another tactic in its campaign to bring about the tearing up of this wonderful, 300-year-old-plus, successful Union between England and Scotland.
I shall mention the other things that are missing from the Bill very quickly, as time is running out. First, I would ask the Secretary of State to include in the Bill—my friends and I will seek to include it somehow—the issue of the red-meat levy. Members will be aware that quite often the levy is imposed at the point of slaughter of cattle, sheep and pigs. It is a devolved matter, with revenues collected by Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. To cut a long story short, a lot of the cattle, sheep and pigs that are raised in Scotland are shipped across the border to England where they are slaughtered, so there is a sum of money that should go back to Scottish industry for the promotion of Scotch beef and lamb. I urge the Secretary of State to make provision for that simple change in the Bill, as it would require primary legislation. It is worth about £1.5 million for the promotion of Scotch beef and lamb.
The other thing that is missing at the moment are detailed terms of reference for the promised review of convergence payments. My friends and I wish those terms of reference to become known. Perhaps the Secretary of State can make that clear, so that we understand the pathway on timelines and so on. The result of such a review would set a baseline for the allocation of resources to Scottish farming. As my hon. Friends have said, we absolutely believe in and are defending the principle of devolution in the path that we are taking. Finally, there is a crying need for UK frameworks. That is what the industry wants, and that is what we should get on with delivering.
It is a great pleasure to be the last to bring in the harvest of contributions on the Bill.
I wish to put on record my interest in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and my chairmanship of the all-party parliamentary group for bees and pollinators. I have an interest not only in the production of food but in enhancing and sustaining the built environment around us and in habitat protection. I, too, wish to associate myself with calls for more references to food production and food security in the Bill. Of course, I encourage financial assistance for environmental good, but I am concerned that there is not enough reference to food production in the Bill.
The amount of food that the UK produces has fallen from 100% to about 60% in the past 50 years. We should encourage farmers to produce even more food to ensure that we have food security in an uncertain world. I am proud to represent an area of East Sussex covering 200 square miles, 75% of which is an area of outstanding natural beauty, much of which is managed by the High Weald AONB. The average farm in my constituency covers about 120 acres. It is grazing pastureland with a low yield. Those farmers rely greatly on the basic payment that they receive. Without it, their income will be reduced by 30%. I am concerned that if we do not reward those farmers for the food that they produce we will not see the same number of livestock in our AONB, which helps with the management of the AONB.
I also have great concern with regard to the very worthy element of clause 7(7), which seeks to allow new entrants into the market. Of course I encourage new entrants and the Bill’s nod towards improved productivity, but the difficulty in my part of the UK is that our pastureland tends to be purchased by investment bankers from London who are seeking their own piece of tranquillity. Any further incentives on sale, particularly in the event that food production is not at the heart of the Bill, will mean that there is not as much incentive to farm, and those who purchase the land will not use the land for farming. I have great concern, because our landscape is already being changed by those who are not farming. We know that legislation can throw up the law of unintended consequences. If we are to have this worthy clause in the Bill, I ask that measures are taken to ensure that there is some form of disincentivising to purchase the land for those who will not farm. Otherwise, there could be an impact on my landscape.
I welcome the Bill, including the measures to reduce the administrative burden on farming. In the event that there are not more protections for food security, I ask that we go further in that regard. The farmers I speak to find it incredibly difficult that they are rewarded not on the basis of yield, but on the basis of the number of inspections they tend to have. I refer back to the 100% production post war. We did not reach that production by forced inspections of our farms. Those farmers did that because they knew how to farm. If we let farmers get on with their job they will deliver the goods, and they will also deliver the environment. Overall, I very much support the Bill.
It is an honour to sum up on behalf of the Opposition. I have eight minutes, so I hope Members will not mind if I do not take interventions. I have sat through every minute of this Second Reading debate, so I am well aware of the many opinions on both sides of the House. We have had contributions from 31 Conservative Back Benchers, seven Labour Members and another six Members. It has been a commendable debate.
With the benefit of hindsight, we can see why Labour states in its reasoned amendment that there should have been some element of prelegislative scrutiny. There are all sorts of reasons why the Bill will need to be improved, and we will make no apologies for playing our part constructively in the Public Bill Committee and subsequently to ensure that the Bill is worthy of the 1947 Act. That Act was the third great reforming bit of legislation after the NHS and the welfare state, which we are very proud of. For 50 years, the Act set what happened to British agriculture. It was all about security of supply and how we would have a system of tribunals and a Land Commission, but it was also about tenant farming. The one thing that has not really been talked about in enough detail is why British farming is different. It is different because we have a strong tradition of tenant farming, and Labour will maintain that. In fact, we would like to go further.
We would like to see embedded in the Bill the Tenancy Reform Industry Group reforms, about which the Minister spent a lot of time talking to various farming organisations. Like him, I support county farm estates. We would like to see younger farmers have the opportunity to be able to farm, and county farms were one way, if not the main way, in which they could do that.
In many respects, this Bill is about a funny stage, in the sense that the money—we always say “Follow the money”—is only guaranteed until 2022, or whenever this Parliament may fall. Given that the transition period starts in 2021 and will go on for seven years, it is very important that we get cross-party support, and Labour will offer its support. We will also look at the territorial issues, which are crucial. We cannot have four different systems of agriculture. That is a worry. We will do that through our links with the Welsh Government, but obviously the SNP must do what it does in Scotland, and Northern Ireland must do what it does in its own way. We must have some coherence in the way we bring forward our agriculture.
The key point, as has been said, is that the Bill is very strong on style. The Secretary of State is very strong on style, in his own way, but not so much on substance. We will table amendments to give the Bill the substance it needs.
Much has been said about the environment, but less has been said about food. We will seek to amend the Bill, with the Government’s support we hope, to make food central to the Bill. This is also about health. Despite the fact that the White Paper was entitled “Health and Harmony”, health seems to have disappeared from the agenda. We must ensure that health is brought back in, for all the reasons my hon. Friends and others have set out. “Multifunctionality” is a term that people were very keen on in the noughties, but it is crucial to the way British agriculture must now develop. We make no apology for making the link between the environment, food and the health of our nation.
We are concerned about a number of other areas. The Bill sets out many powers but very few duties. We will therefore seek to tie the Secretary of State’s hands, and the hands of subsequent Secretaries of State, so that they will have a duty to deliver an effective agricultural policy. We will look at all the details—for example, in relation to organic production. We cannot ignore Brexit, because obviously half the EU’s budget goes on the CAP, so it is a crucial part of how we consider the post-Brexit situation. We want the role of science and technology to be hardened up in the Bill, to ensure that there is a commitment to see how the future generation of agriculture can be developed.
Finally, the crucial test will be what trade deals, if any, we sign up to. The Opposition will not agree to anything that dilutes welfare standards, environmental protection or labour standards. We will be looking to see whether we can put back the Agricultural Wages Board—the Government might not agree to that—because we want to protect the quality of labour. The Secretary of State has said that he has got a new seasonal agricultural workers scheme, but it is very weak and we want to strengthen it. We want to see how we can have cross-fertilisation of labour, to ensure that we have the right people in the right places so that British agriculture can flourish. That is what we wanted in 1947 and what we achieved, heralding a whole new era of strength in British farming. We would like to work with the Government, but we also want to improve the Bill and we make no apology for saying so.
It is a real pleasure to close this debate, in part because, as the Secretary of State set out at the start, I worked in the farming industry for 10 years and my family have farmed in Cornwall for six generations, and in part because that time spent farming and my five years as Farming Minister have shown me that the common agricultural policy is dysfunctional, frankly, and that we can do far better. The Bill creates the framework to do things better and to set a more coherent course for our policy.
As power returns to Parliament as we leave the European Union, it has been genuinely encouraging this afternoon to hear so many hon. Members take part in the debate. It shows that Parliament is ready for the task. We have heard many powerful speeches from Members with farming experience, including my hon. Friends the Members for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), for York Outer (Julian Sturdy), for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin), for South Dorset (Richard Drax) and for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), my right hon. Friend Richard Benyon and my hon. Friend Colin Clark—apologies to any Members I have missed out. We have also heard many other passionate speeches from hon. Members in rural constituencies who work in close partnership with farmers in their constituencies and who have championed their interests today.
The shadow Secretary of State and many others said that they did not believe that there was enough about agriculture and food in the Bill. I want to address that point. Let us start from the top. The Bill is called the Agriculture Bill. The long title says that it is a Bill to
“Authorise new expenditure for certain agricultural and other purposes…to make provision about the acquisition and use of information connected with food supply chains;
to confer power to respond to exceptional market conditions affecting agricultural markets,” and
“to make provision for the recognition of associations of agricultural producers”.
I therefore do not agree that there is nothing about food or agriculture in the Bill. What is true is that part 1 is predominantly about delivering environmental goods, but parts 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 are predominantly about other issues that will assist farmers in their key task of producing food for the nation.
What the Bill does not envisage, however—this is true—is a long-term place for old-style subsidies of the sort that we have seen in recent decades. There are a number of key points to recognise here. First, our current area-based system is not about food production either, but is an arbitrary area payment paid to farmers regardless of what they produce. Decoupling took place some 50 years ago. The current system is not about food production. We should also recognise that some of our most successful and vibrant food-producing sectors of agriculture have never been subsidised. Look at the poultry industry, the pig industry, the horticulture industry or fruit and veg producers. They have never had subsidies.
Our approach has therefore been to say that we should look at the underlying causes of why some farmers are dependent on the single farm payment and a subsidy. If there is a lack of fairness and transparency in the supply chain, let us bring forward provisions to address that, so that farmers can get a fair share in the value chain. If we need farmers to invest to become more competitive and reduce some of their costs, let us make available the powers to give them grants and financial support to invest in the future and in technology. If we should help new entrants into the industry and, as my right hon. Friend Richard Benyon pointed out, assist others who should retire to do so with dignity, let us make provision for that in the Bill, and we do.
There has been a lively discussion about the uplands. My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton and Tim Farron both spoke about the precariousness of the uplands and raised questions about their financial viability. However, organisations such as the Uplands Alliance are telling us that they believe that they can create a viable and successful model based on the delivery of public goods and that if we are serious about what we say—that we want to reward farmers based on what they do for the environment—the uplands can help with flood mitigation, water quality, carbon sequestration, public access and tourism. They believe that they can do a great deal by way of public goods.
We have had a number of lively exchanges about provisions for Scotland and some powerful contributions from Scottish Conservative Members. Deidre Brock is in a slightly difficult position, because her colleagues in the Scottish Government currently have no plan. We are setting out a plan for England in this Bill. Wales has a plan, set out in schedule 3, and Northern Ireland has a plan, set out in schedule 4, and it does not even have an Administration. Scotland is alone in not having a plan. We have been clear with the Scottish Government that we will reserve a place in the Bill to add a schedule, should they want us to on their behalf, but if they do not want to do that, they must make time in their own Parliament to introduce their own legislation.
The shadow Secretary of State raised the issue of climate change. This is explicitly provided for in clause 1(1)(d), which recognises climate change as a purpose. She also complained that this was too much of a framework Bill and that there was not enough detail, but she went on to praise the Agriculture Act 1947. The 1947 Act was also a framework Bill, which made lots of provision for new orders. If she reads it, she will see that its sections are peppered with the words “the relevant Minister may”. I believe there is no difference. This is a framework Bill in much the same way as the 1947 Act was.
My right hon. Friend Mr Paterson, who was the very first Secretary of State I had the pleasure of working with in the Department, raised two important issues. First, we agree on the need to invest in technology and agri-tech. Clause 1(2) provides for that to happen. Secondly, he raised the importance of soil. The very first purpose of managing land and water in a way that protects and improves the environment is intended to cover soil. I can also tell him that the policy statement we published alongside the Bill explicitly states that soil health is one of our key objectives. I would like to commend the great work my hon. Friend Rebecca Pow has done in this area. We are working with a number of academic institutions, including Cranfield University, Rothamsted and others, to develop a soil health index. I believe that paying greater attention to soil health, as we design future policy, will be very important.
A number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend Chris Davies, my right hon. Friend Sir Patrick McLoughlin and my hon. Friend Mrs Trevelyan, highlighted the difficulties of regulation. Some pointed out the current frustrations we have with the administration of existing EU schemes. Some perhaps pointed the finger at the Rural Payments Agency and Natural England. I would say to hon. Members that our agencies can only deal with the legislation they are given currently by the European Union. It is very dysfunctional. It is very onerous. We have an opportunity to sort it out, as this House takes back control. Clause 6 will provide a very clear power to give us the ability to modify retained EU law, knock off some of the rough edges and remove some of the unnecessary provisions and unnecessary audit requirements.
I am not going to give way, because I am going to try to pick up on a few final points.
My hon. Friend David Warburton asked a question about clause 10, which is intended to modify the existing fruit and veg regime. The industry has some concerns with the regime. It does not work very well and often ends in litigation. We want to tidy it up and bring some clarity to it. He also asked about clause 7 and the transition. We have published our intention for year one of the transition. Smaller farms receiving under £30,000 a year would have a 5% cut. For larger farms, anything they receive over £150,000 would see a 25% reduction. We believe we have set out an approach that deals with that.
In conclusion, I believe we have had a very comprehensive debate. It has been a pleasure to close it. I am sorry that I have not been able to pick up on all the issues hon. Members have raised, but I am sure there will be opportunities to do so during the Bill’s later stages, or indeed before then should they wish to meet me. I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
The House divided:
Ayes 227, Noes 286.