I welcome the introduction of the Bill by the UK Government, as do many farmers in my constituency, as well as NFU Scotland and Scottish Land & Estates, to name just a couple of organisations. As we come to the final stages of leaving the EU, the Bill offers security and a framework alongside guaranteed continued payments until 2022. I also welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to, and action on, ensuring that the United Kingdom maintains the highest possible food and livestock welfare standards, as well as his commitments to public money for public goods, and financial assistance for
“the purpose of starting, or improving the productivity of, an agricultural, horticultural or forestry activity.”
The opportunities contained in the Bill are the reason why it has been so warmly welcomed in my constituency and throughout the United Kingdom, with both Wales and Northern Ireland—unencumbered by nationalist Administrations—accepting the Government’s offer to be included. Scotland can only rely on the SNP Administration in Edinburgh to be strong for nationalism, with not one single provision for agriculture included in their recent programme for government.
To be fair, the SNP has launched a consultation on the matter—Deidre Brock held it up earlier—and I have read it. Almost all of it is just a restatement of current EU policy, with no new policy recommended, but if one reads between the lines and follows the pointed questions, one finds a lot in the consultation that agrees with the Bill. Look at some of the sections on greening, for example—questions 5, 6 and 7 talk about more productive farming, tackling climate change and improving the greening of agriculture in Scotland. Much of that is included in the Bill. I also agree with some of the consultation points—again, these are included in the Bill —about specific support for rural communities and economies. Both the consultation and the Bill are about establishing frameworks.
The briefing from the NFUS is clear: it wants Scotland included in the Bill. It wants a schedule similar to the one for Wales, with associated provisions that protect devolved Ministers’ powers to adjust for devolved policy areas while preserving the UK market. The NFUS is not alone: Scottish Land & Estates, the SRUC Scotland’s Rural College, the Countryside Alliance and many of my local farmers share that view. All afternoon, we have heard from Members from England, Wales and Scotland about how their upland farmers face challenges and how they have less favoured areas, just as we do. So we should be working together in this House to find the areas that we have in common, work on common policy and have a Bill that works for the entire UK. I think we can do it if we just try.
Finally, I also want to talk about young farmers and what we are doing to encourage young people into the agricultural sector. The Bill includes measures to support farmers who are planning to leave or retire from the industry, and I hope that it will also help with the transition to a new generation of farmers, through supportive grants and loans for younger people to come into farming. That should be included in the final draft of the Bill. As well as the financial incentives for younger people, there should also be incentives to encourage investment in new equipment and in innovation in agriculture.