Agriculture Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:25 pm on 10th October 2018.

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Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge Conservative, South Suffolk 6:25 pm, 10th October 2018

It is a great pleasure to follow the fantastic speech of my hon. Friend Robert Courts and to have the opportunity to pay tribute to the farmers of South Suffolk who produce such good quality food and who are responsible for the stewardship of our beautiful countryside, which is the key to the quality of life in my constituency and which is shared by my constituents and those who visit from other parts of the country.

In supporting this Bill, I want to stress two key principles. The first and most important is simply this: for all the faults of the current system, our farmers are still able to produce great food and they produce it under that system. Ever since the debate started on how we should follow the CAP once we leave the European Union, I have said that whatever system comes into place, it should not come into place until it is ready and until it is better. I very much welcome a long transition; it is common sense and very much welcomed by our farmers—certainly the ones to whom I have spoken.

There is another key principle. Like many of my colleagues, I favour schemes that support public goods and environmental schemes, but they must not be at the expense of food production or food security. That point has been made by many of my colleagues.

For the rest of my speech, I want to follow in the footsteps of my right hon. Friend Mr Paterson who went off to the Swiss alps to discuss the model in use there. Switzerland is very important in all of this, because it has moved towards a system based on public goods. There are two particular points that I want to stress here. Earlier in the debate, my right hon. Friend John Redwood intervened on Sue Hayman who speaks for the Opposition and asked why she thought that food imports had risen. She declined to answer, so I then intervened and suggested that it may be related to changing consumer taste. It is interesting to note that on 23 September the Swiss held a national referendum on food sovereignty. The proposal was to adopt new, highly interventionist measures to restrict imports and so encourage more local food. In the end, against expectations, 60% voted no. That was because they were scared of higher prices and less choice.

After I made that intervention, I had a tweet from Jeremy Squirrell, a farmer in my constituency, who farms in Wattisham. He said, “Should we expect advocados all year round?” [Interruption.] Dr Drew says, “No”. There is a debate to be had about air miles and so on, but the fact is our consumers do expect that choice, so we have to balance that against farm support.

The most important point in relation to Switzerland is on the issue on which I have had the most correspondence from constituents, which is, of course, trade deals. I have had many emails urging me not to support cutting our standards to get a trade deal. The Secretary of State said at the start of this debate that that will certainly be our position, but the key thing is that we do not need to speculate. When people say that if we accept the common rulebook we will not be able to get good trade deals, we do not need to speculate. Switzerland is effectively in the common rulebook on agri-food and goods and outside the customs union, and all the evidence shows that it negotiates very effective trade deals. In an email, I said to George Baur, assistant Secretary General of EFTA, “Do those rules limit the ability to get good fair trade deals, given that they are maintaining the standards for their farmers?” There is no evidence that they do. In fact, the most recent deal with Mexico increased trade with Switzerland by 37%. I simply say that when we seek to increase the competitiveness of our farmers, it must be on quality, not on low cost. We must produce the best food from the best farmers to the highest standards. That is the future for British farming and that is the one that I support today.