Agriculture Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:43 pm on 10th October 2018.

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Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy) 4:43 pm, 10th October 2018

It is a pleasure to follow John Redwood, who outlined his vision of a socialist protectionist England in the future, which certainly surprised me.

This has been billed as an historic Agriculture Bill, the first since 1947, but the truth is that it feels like a missed opportunity. I realise that it is an enabling Bill, but there is not enough clarity on other matters, particularly future funding and common UK frameworks. The farming unions across the nations have made it clear that there is insufficient reference to agricultural activity and how it will be supported and incentivised going forward.

I realise that only clauses 22 to 26 cover Scotland, and there is no doubt that policy decisions taken for England can have funding implications for the devolved nations. It is therefore critical that we get to know what the arrangements will be for agreeing future funding settlements. I say to Scottish Tory MPs that the NFUS wants the budgets to be devolved to Scotland to get the clarity that it seeks—the clarity that the Tory MPs say that they are demanding.

We know that Scottish farmers are not getting the £160 million convergence uplift money that they should have received, but Scottish Tory MPs have stood by and achieved nothing on that. How is that deficit going to be addressed? The NFUS has also highlighted the red meat levy, which is costing Scottish farmers £1.5 million a year. How is that going to be addressed? These precedents confirm why we and the Scottish Government are concerned about the direction of policy and funding, yet we are supposed to be relaxed about the power grab and the UK Government’s ability to legislate for Scotland.

One example that could affect farmers is trade and trade resolution. The UK Government have refused to allow devolved representation on the Trade Remedies Board. During the Bill Committee, the then Trade Minister stated that devolved representatives would not necessarily be impartial. He was effectively saying that the UK Government did not trust our representation and that we should just let them get on with it and deal with this for us. Other recent indicators include the early pulling of the renewables subsidy, the broken promises of amendments to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and the fact that the UK Government are taking the Scottish Government to court.

Then there was the 2014 campaign, in which we were told that the only way to stay in Europe was to vote no. Well, we know how that has worked out. Scotland voted to remain within the EU, but the referendum result is now having an impact on the fruit and vegetable sector as well as on the food processing sector. The response from the UK Government has been completely inadequate. It was stated earlier that the seasonal agricultural workers scheme is pathetically shy of what is required. Let us bear in mind that the current Secretary of State was the one offering Scotland powers over immigration as a supposed Brexit dividend. What has happened to those powers? It is quite clear that the Tories cannot be trusted. It is therefore imperative that we see what a UK framework for funding will look like, and we need guarantees that it will not be imposed on the devolved Administrations. The NFUS has sought a legal opinion on part 7 of the WTO clauses, and it completely backs up our concerns.

Going back to the UK-wide frameworks, the Farming Minister talks of protecting the UK internal market, yet during questions in the same Committee he intimated that existing funding levels were such that the Scottish Government could not actually skew the internal market. So what is the concern? Why the reluctance? Let us work with the Scottish Government to get the UK frameworks agreed. Some of the more laudable aims of the Bill include the provision of payment for the greater good and environmental improvements. This is logical, although further clarity is required on what the funding arrangements will be and how the different measures will be prioritised.

Positive change can happen. A farmer in my constituency, Bryce Cunningham, farms at the historic Mossgiel farm, which was previously home to Rabbie Burns. He has managed to turn his farm into a fully organic dairy farm in just a few years. He started producing and selling his own milk from the farm as a financial cash-flow necessity during the milk price crisis. Since then, he has undergone the full organic conversion. He has now gone plastic free, and his product is in demand all over Scotland. His is a great story, and Scotland has a great story when it comes to the quality of food and produce that we make and supply. That is why we want to protect and grow those sectors further, and why we want the levers of power to be retained at Holyrood and not to be interfered with by Westminster. At the same time, we are happy to work with the UK Government to agree on frameworks that are in the best interests of the nations.