Agriculture Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:40 pm on 10th October 2018.

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Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee 3:40 pm, 10th October 2018

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.