Agriculture Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:50 pm on 10th October 2018.

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Photo of David Warburton David Warburton Conservative, Somerton and Frome 3:50 pm, 10th October 2018

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.