Agriculture Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:44 pm on 10th October 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Peter Heaton-Jones Peter Heaton-Jones Conservative, North Devon 5:44 pm, 10th October 2018

That is absolutely the case and that pasture is vital. I think that 51% of the farmed area of Devon is livestock grazing. It makes the county look how it does, and without financial subsidies, the farmers would not be able to undertake their important stewardship of that landscape.

The system of financial support that will replace the common agricultural policy will shape our rural economy for, frankly, generations to come, so it must be introduced cautiously, which is why I welcome the seven-year transition period and the powers in the Bill to extend it if necessary. I also welcome the fact that the Government have guaranteed the overall current level of subsidy spending until 2022—some £46 billion—but let us get the administration of the system right. There is a great deal of frustration among by farmers about the Rural Payments Agency, Natural England and the others who manage the system of payments. The system is not quite working as it should at the moment, and that is an understatement, so, please, in the new system under this Bill, let us get that right for farmers.

Public good is an integral part of the Bill and how payments will be managed. Domestic food production is in itself a public good. Importing food from other countries is environmentally damaging, because of the distances involved. British farmers have—it says here “some of the highest”, but I am going to change that—the highest welfare and quality standards in the world. I am in favour of the move to a system of payments based on the production of public goods, the productivity of our farms and the resilience of our agricultural sector.

I have a great deal of faith in my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in the Minister and in the ministerial team, and I want them to give themselves more powers than the Bill provides. I want my right hon. Friend to have the same powers as the Bill gives to the Welsh Farming Minister in schedule 3, which has been talked about a great deal, and I ask that that be reviewed at a later stage.

We are leaving the EU—that decision has been made—so there is uncertainty ahead for our farmers. It is incumbent on us to end that uncertainty, and this Bill is an historic opportunity to do so. We must get the transition right. The Bill makes a good start, but I say in a supportive and helpful way that there is room for improvement. I will oppose the amendment and support the Bill on Second Reading to ensure that as proceedings on it continue, we make it the best Bill possible for North Devon farmers.