Agriculture Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:41 pm on 10th October 2018.

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Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 6:41 pm, 10th October 2018

It is an honour to sum up on behalf of the Opposition. I have eight minutes, so I hope Members will not mind if I do not take interventions. I have sat through every minute of this Second Reading debate, so I am well aware of the many opinions on both sides of the House. We have had contributions from 31 Conservative Back Benchers, seven Labour Members and another six Members. It has been a commendable debate.

With the benefit of hindsight, we can see why Labour states in its reasoned amendment that there should have been some element of prelegislative scrutiny. There are all sorts of reasons why the Bill will need to be improved, and we will make no apologies for playing our part constructively in the Public Bill Committee and subsequently to ensure that the Bill is worthy of the 1947 Act. That Act was the third great reforming bit of legislation after the NHS and the welfare state, which we are very proud of. For 50 years, the Act set what happened to British agriculture. It was all about security of supply and how we would have a system of tribunals and a Land Commission, but it was also about tenant farming. The one thing that has not really been talked about in enough detail is why British farming is different. It is different because we have a strong tradition of tenant farming, and Labour will maintain that. In fact, we would like to go further.

We would like to see embedded in the Bill the Tenancy Reform Industry Group reforms, about which the Minister spent a lot of time talking to various farming organisations. Like him, I support county farm estates. We would like to see younger farmers have the opportunity to be able to farm, and county farms were one way, if not the main way, in which they could do that.

In many respects, this Bill is about a funny stage, in the sense that the money—we always say “Follow the money”—is only guaranteed until 2022, or whenever this Parliament may fall. Given that the transition period starts in 2021 and will go on for seven years, it is very important that we get cross-party support, and Labour will offer its support. We will also look at the territorial issues, which are crucial. We cannot have four different systems of agriculture. That is a worry. We will do that through our links with the Welsh Government, but obviously the SNP must do what it does in Scotland, and Northern Ireland must do what it does in its own way. We must have some coherence in the way we bring forward our agriculture.

The key point, as has been said, is that the Bill is very strong on style. The Secretary of State is very strong on style, in his own way, but not so much on substance. We will table amendments to give the Bill the substance it needs.

Much has been said about the environment, but less has been said about food. We will seek to amend the Bill, with the Government’s support we hope, to make food central to the Bill. This is also about health. Despite the fact that the White Paper was entitled “Health and Harmony”, health seems to have disappeared from the agenda. We must ensure that health is brought back in, for all the reasons my hon. Friends and others have set out. “Multifunctionality” is a term that people were very keen on in the noughties, but it is crucial to the way British agriculture must now develop. We make no apology for making the link between the environment, food and the health of our nation.

We are concerned about a number of other areas. The Bill sets out many powers but very few duties. We will therefore seek to tie the Secretary of State’s hands, and the hands of subsequent Secretaries of State, so that they will have a duty to deliver an effective agricultural policy. We will look at all the details—for example, in relation to organic production. We cannot ignore Brexit, because obviously half the EU’s budget goes on the CAP, so it is a crucial part of how we consider the post-Brexit situation. We want the role of science and technology to be hardened up in the Bill, to ensure that there is a commitment to see how the future generation of agriculture can be developed.

Finally, the crucial test will be what trade deals, if any, we sign up to. The Opposition will not agree to anything that dilutes welfare standards, environmental protection or labour standards. We will be looking to see whether we can put back the Agricultural Wages Board—the Government might not agree to that—because we want to protect the quality of labour. The Secretary of State has said that he has got a new seasonal agricultural workers scheme, but it is very weak and we want to strengthen it. We want to see how we can have cross-fertilisation of labour, to ensure that we have the right people in the right places so that British agriculture can flourish. That is what we wanted in 1947 and what we achieved, heralding a whole new era of strength in British farming. We would like to work with the Government, but we also want to improve the Bill and we make no apology for saying so.