Agriculture Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:27 pm on 10th October 2018.

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Photo of Derek Thomas Derek Thomas Conservative, St Ives 5:27 pm, 10th October 2018

This Bill is about how we continue farming after Brexit and the CAP, and farmers in my constituency welcome it.

The most beautiful constituency has been mentioned a few times, but I do not even need to pitch for it, because any MP who has been down to West Cornwall or even on Scilly has already decided that St Ives is the most beautiful constituency, so there is no need to persist. That is important to this debate, because if we go to the start of my constituency on the Helford river and follow the coast all the way around to Land’s End, and then right around St Ives to Hayle, in the constituency of the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, we not only find a huge length of coast and the Isles of Scilly, but we see that every farm is a small farm.

I ask three things of the Bill: that it protect small farms, access to labour and protected status, which is important for us. As I said, my constituency has lots of small farms, and access to those farms is not conducive to the huge machinery that we have seen an enormous growth of in recent years. However we go forward after leaving the common agricultural policy, we must understand that because of the pressure on keeping food prices low and the difficulties in finding people who see a small farm as a viable future, we have seen many farmers come to the end of their working life with no option but to simply rent their land out to large contractors.

It is quite clear—this is not a criticism—that looking after the environment, the natural habitats and how these farms are organised is nowhere near as high a priority for a large contractor that needs to get a decent crop and get in and out quickly as it is for a farmer who lovingly looks after the quality of the soil, the habitat and the wildlife that lives in it. It is very important that, as we move forward, we understand the contribution that small farms make to our rural communities, our countryside and our food supply, and to the protection of our natural habitats. This is a great opportunity to get that right.

I also want to talk about protecting access to labour. In a rural constituency such as mine, which takes ages to get to, accessing labour is a real challenge. The truth is that food production in West Cornwall and on the Isles of Scilly requires foreign workers to be employed permanently, not just in seasonal jobs. I was nervous and concerned after announcements last week about how our approach to skilled labour will go forward. I have met these farmers many times since being elected, as has the Minister, and it is clear that they are keen to secure a foreign workforce not just on a seasonal basis, but to provide the labour they need. In Cornwall, where unemployment is low, it is very difficult to get the seasonal workers we need.

Finally, we need to protect our protected status. In Cornwall we have the pasty—a fantastic part of a balanced diet, I hasten to add. On Saturday I organised the great western dog walk for the third year in a row. We walked across the beach with the dogs in aid of brain tumour research and support, and we ended it with a cup of tea and a pasty, which is perfect on a blustery day. It is very important that Cornwall maintains the protected status of the pasty, alongside many other foods produced in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly that are rightly protected. That is part of how we will maintain a good agricultural and economic policy and look after our natural environment.