Agriculture Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:21 pm on 10th October 2018.

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Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Conservative, Witney 6:21 pm, 10th October 2018

It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Luke Graham, who made a spirited and punchy speech that I enjoyed listening to. It is also a great honour to speak in this debate, because the last time this House considered an agriculture Bill was in 1947, when Albert Stubbs, my great grandfather, who was the Cambridgeshire Member, spoke on Third Reading. He would entirely agree with Sue Hayman in saying that that Bill was very good. He was much respected, and is to this day, for the work he did for the agricultural workers of Cambridgeshire.

Much has changed since that day—the House of Commons is no longer sitting in the other place—but some things have not changed. The value of farming to the UK most certainly has not. It provides national self-sufficiency, a safe supply of domestic food and jobs. It also provides a high standard of welfare and environmental protection—much more so now because of the progress we have made. Much will change in the years ahead, and there are many benefits from our leaving the CAP. As is made clear from talking to the farmers of West Oxfordshire, the policy is wasteful, inefficient and environmentally damaging. It is also economically damaging, given the artificial increases in the price of food that it causes. The policy favours large landowners over small ones, and the large companies over the families, with the top 10% of recipients receiving almost 50% of CAP payments and the bottom 20% receiving just 2%. So there is a great deal to be gained from the Bill, which I warmly welcome. I am glad the Government have introduced it.

I have met my local farmers and my local NFU branch. They have raised some concerns, which I know Ministers are listening to. There are concerns about the amount of burdensome regulation and red tape, and about fair pricing and the powers of supermarkets. Above all, they would like a feeling that their high standards and the quality products they are producing are valued and respected by the Government and by Britain as a whole. I reassure them that that is very much the case, and I am sure that Ministers will do so in due course, too. My local farmers do ask that there is a focus on linking all the public goods we are discussing in connection with the Bill to agricultural products and food production, and that that is seen as a good in its own right.

I warmly recognise and welcome many of the public goods set out in the Bill. I am particularly enthusiastic about the fundamental change whereby instead of pricing and subsidy being granted simply on the basis of the size of land, a public good is attached. EU subsidies currently encourage poor land management. Under the CAP, for example, farmers lose direct payments if they plant trees on their land, because it means that they are taking land out of agricultural production, so environmental factors are not given the pre-eminence that I, and we, would like.

It is quite right that only viable farms will be able to devote the necessary time and resource for this. As the Secretary of State said, farmers will be able to go green only if they are not in the red. I would very much like to see West Oxfordshire farmers who are light years ahead of the rest of the country in terms of combining food production and environmental protection having a system that means that those goods are recommended and valued, with small farms able to succeed in the same way as large ones.

There are many more things that I would like to say but, at this stage, I will just warmly welcome the Bill. This is our first major domestic policy on agriculture for well over half a century. It gives us a challenge to set forward a bold and ambitious vision, which I warmly welcome.