Agriculture Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:06 pm on 10th October 2018.

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Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 1:06 pm, 10th October 2018

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.