Agriculture Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:23 pm on 10th October 2018.

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Photo of Trudy Harrison Trudy Harrison Conservative, Copeland 5:23 pm, 10th October 2018

I should like to begin by putting on record my thanks to all those who have worked incredibly hard to develop the Bill. For almost 50 years, this country has been bound by the common agricultural policy, with its legislative roots in the treaty of Rome. Policy has been dictated to us by the bureaucrats in Brussels for too long. All the farmers I speak to welcome the opportunity for change and also the security of farm payments until 2022.

The Bill is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to form our own bespoke agricultural policy, allowing us to cater not to the needs of the maize growers of Poland and the citrus growers of Catalonia, but to the farmers of Cumbria, Caithness and Cornwall. I was delighted to hear the Secretary of State refer, not once but twice, to the Cumbrian Lake district in his opening speech, recognising the importance of lowland and upland farmers. This is our chance to tailor legislation to the needs of British farmers and maximise their businesses. It is key that we ensure that our agriculture sector is agile, diverse and efficient in an ever more globalised economy.

It is important to note that one key feature of the Bill is securing a new system based on paying public money for public goods. That new system will undoubtedly give one of the largest boosts to food production, environmental protection, rural public access and flood reduction that we have seen in this Parliament. Farmers transfer their knowledge and experience from generation to generation—more so than in any other industry. Farmers know their land best. Environmental protections play a crucial role in ensuring a sustainable agricultural sector. Ultimately, it is nature that underpins our farming system, with insect pollination worth £690 million to UK farming. It is vital that we give our farmers the environmental protections they need to create an economically and environmentally sustainable food production industry.

Another critical issue related to the Bill is flood reduction measures. I am sure many Members remember the devastation caused by Storm Desmond in December 2015. While I commend the Government for investing millions of pounds in flood defences, we must not forget that one of the most effective ways of reducing a storm’s impact is to work with our farmers and riparian owners on methods such as planting riverside woodlands and increasing surface infiltration, which will also support the benefits to wildlife and their habitat. In particular, I would like to see added protection for our native species, such as the iconic red squirrel, whose habitat is being destroyed by the Forestry Commission and others.

The Bill is not limited to attaining public goods for public money, however; it also opens our eyes to the world of opportunities available to our agricultural sector. The provision set out by the Secretary of State that allows the collection of supply chain data could unlock a huge boost in productivity, which our economy sorely needs, and allow the minimising of risk, waste and environmental harm—three things that are key for a sustainable industry.

I am so pleased that this Government recognise the value of school visits. I commend farmers in my Copeland constituency, such as farmer Kevin Holliday, who has welcomed hundreds of schoolchildren and gave me my first experience of lambing a ewe during the spring while on my roadshow of farm visits.

With Brexit on the horizon, it is time to make this significant investment in agriculture. It is time to ensure that young farmers understand the terms and conditions for their future and to enable better productivity, and it is time to back British farming.