Agriculture Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:44 pm on 10th October 2018.

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Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 2:44 pm, 10th October 2018

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.