Agriculture Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:00 pm on 10th October 2018.

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Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin Chair, European Statutory Instruments Committee 4:00 pm, 10th October 2018

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate. May I begin by endorsing what the Secretary of State said about my hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who is widely respected and has overseen this subject during our five years in government? I realise that for him and for the Secretary of State, withdrawal from the European community will give them the power so importantly contained in the Bill, which frees us from the common agricultural policy. Although I personally thought that we should remain in the European Union, I well understand the desire in the agricultural industry to put the Bill on the statute book and to see how the future will be laid out.

It is worth bearing in mind the reason why our countryside is so attractive and visited by many people, particularly in my constituency and the Peak district: it has been farmed and looked after by our farmers for generations. I hope that the Minister of State can speak in his winding-up speech about the importance that we place on food production. Some of the less favoured areas in my constituency cannot be easily farmed without some form of support. That is very important indeed, and I wonder why we have not copied what is available in schedule 3 to Wales so that it is available to England.

Replacing the current system, which pays farmers according to the total land farmed, rather than a specific public benefit, is very important indeed. At the present moment in time, the top 10% of recipients receive almost 50% of payments, while the bottom 20% receive just 2%, which does not reflect the farming or agricultural good provided by many smallholdings and small farms in the uplands. I very much want that to be encouraged.

A lot has changed in agriculture over the past few years. I remember thinking that the foot-and-mouth crisis would be a big problem for me, as I had a large agricultural constituency. In fact, it was the tourism industry, which is important in the Derbyshire dales, that suffered the most. A third of total farm business comes from farm diversification. Rural tourism provides £90 billion a year to the UK economy. There are opportunities, and we need to support our farms.

The Bill has been welcomed by a number of organisations, but I hope that we do not somehow replace a Brussels bureaucracy with a bureaucracy that is even more constraining for farmers and the way they farm. I am pretty sure that the Secretary of State would not want that. However, I fear that some of the bodies that he works with and some of the Government bodies responsible for countryside issues may take a different view, so I look forward to his ensuring that there is an iron rod to tackle how regulations are imposed on agriculture, so that we let British farmers get on with farming.