Agriculture Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:09 pm on 10th October 2018.

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Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Conservative, Witham 6:09 pm, 10th October 2018

I am delighted to speak in the debate, and I broadly welcome the Bill. The sheer number of Members who have participated means that there will be a lot of scrutiny, which is of course a good thing. As an Essex MP, I have the privilege of representing a part of the country with some brilliant food producers and farmers, and some fine landscapes and environmental features. The Secretary of State will recall from his visit to Tiptree just last month, where he was hosted by Wilkin & Sons, the finest producer of jams and preserves in the world—I think he enjoyed some when he was there —that farmers across the country will judge the success of this legislation on how it enables the right kind of stewardship, not just for food and farming, but for agricultural policy going forward.

One of the biggest advantages of leaving the EU should be that we will have the freedom to establish our own regulatory frameworks for agriculture, food and farming. This is an enabling Bill, with much legislation to follow, but I welcome the Government’s commitment to ensure that every possible approach, regulation and detail both supports and promotes our farmers as well as UK agriculture, food and produce. We have the benefit of enjoying much of that produce domestically, but we also know that our farmers and those who work in the agricultural sector want to do much more to export globally and showcase their products internationally. We now have a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate that we are great producers and are ambitious to export more, so I would welcome a commitment from Ministers that there will be a strong focus on exporting and that we will do everything possible through this Bill to back exporters.

Farmers in my constituency often find themselves dealing with the costs of rearing animals to welfare standards that are higher than those in the rest of the European Union. As we have heard today, our EU membership has prevented us from blocking imports when they fail to meet our high standards, but we can now address such concerns. For example, while pig farmers in my constituency adhere to the ban on sow stalls, they know that producers in other EU countries are flouting the rules. We should get on the side of our pig farmers and bat for them on the challenges that they face. Farmers want assurances that our post-Brexit agricultural policy will not place them at a competitive disadvantage when there are lower standards across the EU.

I welcome this important Bill for so many reasons, and we now have the chance to back our farmers and to support them on animal health, welfare standards, high-quality food production and the all-important public goods that we have heard about in today’s great debate. The Bill is vital, just as it is vital, while the negotiations with the EU are ongoing, that the Government protect our agricultural sector, our farmers and our producers. We need to challenge some of the controls from Brussels that the Secretary of State mentioned earlier on.