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.