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Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:10 pm on 21st January 2020.

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Photo of Neil Parish Neil Parish Conservative, Tiverton and Honiton 1:10 pm, 21st January 2020

My hon. Friend, the new MP for Totnes, makes a good point. When considering an agricultural policy that is, rightly, much more linked to the environment, we must ensure that we do not stop the means of production. We must look at new technologies. Some in this House will throw up their hands in horror when I talk about gene technology and other things, but there are ways to reduce the amount of crop protection we use, while still keeping a dynamic and productive agricultural industry.

Take oilseed rape, for instance. In this country we cannot use neonicotinoids, yet all the oilseed rape we import has largely been treated with a product that we cannot use here. We must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater—we want a productive agricultural industry and to produce food in this country, and that will be the great challenge for us. As we look for a new policy, plant trees and help our environment, let us ensure not only that we plant those trees, but that we are smart about where we plant them. At the same time we can help to stop soil erosion and flooding, and we can make a real difference. During the election there was a sort of bidding war over how many trees each party could plant, and it got to some ludicrous figure in the end. I am not sure where we will plant all those trees, but I think we can plant them and do so smartly.

I have made this point in the Chamber before, but as we plant trees we must ensure that there is an income from doing so. Let us return to my dear bank manager. If I bought some land, had a big mortgage and said, “I will plant some trees and come back to you in 50 years when there might be an income”, I think he would say, “It’s probably best not to buy it in the first place, and do not borrow the money from my bank if you do so.” To be serious, however, if we are to look at land and those who own it, we must ensure that there is a support system, so that the right trees are planted in the right places. We also need a support system that takes people through a period of time, and ensures a crop of trees. People should be able to replant trees where they need to, or take wood from those areas, because they are sustainable. I am putting on my hat as a farmer and landowner, but at the moment people might be cautious about planting too many trees on their best land, because they cannot be certain that they will get an income from it in future, or that they will ever be able to cut those trees down. This is about ensuring that we improve the environment, but also that we have enough land for really good food production.

We have spoken a lot about the Agriculture Bill, and that is for the future. I expect you want me to shut up in a minute, Mr Speaker—[Interruption.] I am still waxing lyrical, because I am keen to ensure that we have good food and enough land to produce it. We also need affordable food. If I have any criticism of the Agriculture Bill, it is that it rightly focuses on high welfare and high standards, but also probably on quite highly priced food. This country has a highly competitive, productive poultry industry that delivers good poultry to good standards and at an affordable price. Dare I say that most of us in the House—I can talk about myself in particular—are fairly well fed, and we probably do not worry about buying food? To make a serious point, however, a lot of the population have to look at their budget and be careful about how much they spend. We can produce food in this country, even under intensive conditions, to a much better standard than the food we import. We must be careful that we do not exclude intensive production, but then import it from elsewhere in the world where there are much lower standards, including on welfare. That is key.