Agriculture Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:29 pm on 10th October 2018.

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Photo of Matt Warman Matt Warman Conservative, Boston and Skegness 6:29 pm, 10th October 2018

No Government want any Bill to become a Christmas tree on which Back Benchers hang their hobby-horses, but if any Bill should have something to do with trees or horses, it is the Agriculture Bill. With that in mind, I will talk about three public goods that are currently part of the Bill, but not key parts.

The first matter that I want to discuss is flooding. My constituency is the most likely to flood in the country, according to the Association of British Insurers. It is also home to some of the most fertile land in the country, precisely because that land is reclaimed from the sea. Boston and Skegness is the breadbasket of Britain, and when this Bill talks of public good we should bear it in mind that the greatest public good performed by agriculture in my constituency is flood defence. By maintaining defences, farmers operate businesses that provide livelihoods for thousands and food—genuinely in the case of my constituency—for millions. They should be rewarded for that, and the Environment Agency, the internal drainage boards and Natural England should be encouraged through this Bill to work in ever close union, to coin a phrase, with the interests of farmers and farming so that flood defences can be secured. By the way, I hope this Bill can be used as a vehicle to bring the Rivers Authorities and Land Drainage Bill of my hon. Friend David Warburton to the statute book.

As we leave the EU, we should seize the opportunity to adopt new standards that allow farmers to behave in a way that is even better for productivity, wildlife and jobs. For example, in a constituency such as mine there is great discussion about borrow pits and drainage. We are not currently able even to consider what that means for local farming because of EU law. Leaving the EU allows us to have that conversation in a new way. This is not an argument for lowering the standards; it is an argument for seeing whether there are better and equivalent ways of doing things.

The second matter is productivity. My constituency, working with the nearby University of Lincoln, is home to some of the most advanced experiments in the automation of farming in the world. Silicon Valley has come to Lincolnshire to ask how it should be done. What greater public good is there than fast-forwarding that process? Innovation will allow more of my constituents to move into higher-skilled work and it should be encouraged through the Bill. There is a public good in flood defence and in fostering innovation.

Thirdly and finally, I want to mention the workforce. The Migration Advisory Committee has said that we should have a seasonal workers scheme, and I applaud that. Seasonal workers have made a profound difference to Boston and Skegness in both good and less good ways. I applaud the proposed introduction of a new scheme in a new immigration policy, partly because it is vital to the local economy. However, in that context, the public good is also in ensuring that workers who come to this country temporarily are properly housed and integrated into local communities. The Bill and its relationship with immigration and seasonal work can play a part in that, and I encourage the Secretary of State to look at that suggestion.

I thoroughly support the Bill, and I hope that the Government will show that it is an opportunity to back farmers and farming very publicly, but also to back flood defence, a responsible migration policy and innovation—in short, to seize every opportunity associated with agriculture, as well as agriculture itself.