Agriculture Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:37 pm on 10th October 2018.

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Photo of Colin Clark Colin Clark Conservative, Gordon 5:37 pm, 10th October 2018

I welcome—patiently—the Bill, which puts in place the necessary changes as we leave the EU. I am truly delighted to follow my hon. Friend Victoria Prentis. She may represent a beautiful county, but of course I represent the most beautiful constituency. I draw hon. Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am a conventional farmer—an organic farmer—I am a producer and I receive the single farm payment. This gives me an intimate knowledge of the industry.

The Bill focuses mainly on public money for public goods, and we are evolving from a common market. The Bill and future legislation will create a framework and support specific to the UK and the devolved Administrations. I welcome that. Like other Members, I want to see food production and farming in the Bill. Financial assistance for environmental purposes is laudable, but I believe that productive agriculture and the environment are mutually inclusive.

We have moved past the grubbing up of hedges and updated our pesticide and chemicals usage. In 30 years in agriculture—yes, it is hard to believe—I have seen leaps and bounds. I do not recognise some hon. Members’ characterisation of what farming is. We have moved a long way in 30 years. Farmers are the guardians of the land and the countryside. The longevity of that land is so important, and family farming, on whatever scale, looks to hand it on in a better state than it was received in. Upland farming must be protected by the Bill.

Part 1 of the Bill focuses on public money for public goods, encompassing the importance to rural and urban populations. I recognise that. I also take comfort from the Secretary of State’s words on food security and access to wholesome, well-produced and affordable food. I hope to see the Bill evolve.

On that point, I would like to mention schedule 3. It is very important that two SNP MPs, fellow Scottish MPs, are here. Schedule 3 is a very important provision, which relates to Wales. I hope that the Scottish Government see sense and follow Wales by being included in the Bill. There is scope to provide flexibility. Carping about a power grab fools no one: they are neglecting farmers and crofters in Scotland. They are compounding the rural payment disaster that sees Scottish farmers totally confused about payments. They still have not received their 2015 money. The Scottish Government should embrace the Bill, make provision for payments—if they do not do that here, they cannot do it in Holyrood—and work with DEFRA to add a Scotland schedule.