Leaving the EU: Farming Policy

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons on 29th November 2018.

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Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative, Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk

What plans he has to implement an independent farming policy after the UK leaves the EU.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

What plans he has to implement an independent farming policy after the UK leaves the EU.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Government’s Agriculture Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, is the first major piece of legislation affecting agriculture since 1947. It provides certainty for farmers through a seven-year transition period and lays the foundations of a new farming policy based on public goods and fairness in the supply chain. At their request, it also includes provisions for Wales and Northern Ireland. This critical piece of legislation will enable us to seize the opportunities to help our farming, horticulture and forestry sectors become more profitable and sustainable.

Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative, Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk

Many farmers in my constituency are very concerned at the decision of the SNP Scottish Government to opt out of key parts of the Bill. Does my hon. Friend share my concern about the fact that the Scottish Government have not presented alternative proposals, so many farmers may not be sure whether there will be a legislative framework to ensure support for farming after we leave the European Union?

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend makes an important point. As he knows, agriculture is devolved. At the request of the Welsh Government there is a schedule containing provisions for Wales, and at the request of the Northern Ireland Administration there is a schedule containing provisions for Northern Ireland. Scotland has yet to decide what it wishes to do. We have maintained an open offer to insert provisions in the Bill at later stages should the Scottish Government wish us to do so. Alternatively, they can legislate through their own Parliament, but they will need some legislation in order to be able to pay their farmers in 2020.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

Can the Minister confirm that under a clean, global, free trade Brexit the United Kingdom will be able to protect farmers with tariffs just like every other country, and to provide more help for smaller farmers? Can we have more optimism from the Government, and less “Project Fear” with gumboots on?

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

As my hon. Friend knows, I have always been very optimistic about the opportunities presented by Brexit. It is important to note that in a no-deal Brexit, the UK would be free to set its own trade policy unilaterally. The options open to us would be to create autonomous tariff rate quotas, tariff rate suspensions or lower-band tariffs on certain goods if we wished to do so, but we would have an independent trade policy in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

Has the Minister had any discussions with the Prime Minister about her withdrawal agreement’s implications for the transport and sale of livestock from Northern Ireland to the rest of this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

That was not altogether adjacent to an inquiry about an independent farming policy. The hon. Gentleman might more usefully have shoehorned his inquiry into Question 2. Because he is a very public-spirited fellow, I will let him off on this occasion, but he should not repeat his offence.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The withdrawal agreement and the political declaration on a future economic partnership set out the Prime Minister’s and the Government’s approach to trying to deal with issues relating to the Northern Ireland border, and I am sure that we have many days of discussion on those matters to look forward to.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin Chair, European Statutory Instruments Committee

Can my hon. Friend assure me that we will not be replacing one set of bureaucrats with another set of bureaucrats? How can we ensure that the right sort of assistance goes to the less favoured areas that are so important to our countryside?

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My right hon. Friend makes a good point, but I can tell him that the Bill has important provisions that will enable us to strike down and improve some retained EU law, particularly in relation to the burden of administration. We are absolutely clear that we want a totally different culture in how we regulate farmers in the future. The Bill also enables us to target support at farmers who are delivering public goods, including those in severely disadvantaged areas.