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Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:27 pm on 21st January 2020.

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Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 1:27 pm, 21st January 2020

Happily, Mr Speaker, my contribution is confined to the content of the Bill, so it will be quite a lot shorter. [Interruption.] Revolutionary, indeed.

I welcome the new shadow Secretary of State to his place, and congratulate him on taking on that important position. I look forward to working with him in future, and will he please pass on my best wishes to his colleagues, with whom I very much enjoyed working in the previous Parliament?

Here we are here again, just as I predicted back in the good old days when we discussed the old Agriculture Bill, which, as some Members will recall, we were told was “absolutely essential” before Brexit. It turns out, however, that it was essential only until the Prime Minister fancied an election, so here we are with emergency legislation that is being done in a rush to cover the Government’s failure to plan ahead.

Some former Scottish Tory MPs are no longer with us, and none of those left is in the Chamber to hear this debate, which rather surprises me. They said at the time that all Scotland needed was a schedule on the back of that essentially English Bill, because that would ensure continuity for Scotland without us Scots having to bother our pretty little heads about it. But here we are. The UK Agriculture Bill has been shelved and needs to restart, this panicked Bill is needed to allow payments to keep farms and crofts running, and UK agriculture policy is down the pan. Three and a half years of planning for Brexit, and the Government are still in chaos without a single clue about what is going on. In the Scottish Parliament, the Agriculture (Retained EU Law and Data) (Scotland) Bill is proceeding in a steady, measured and orderly fashion—the kind of thing that can only be dreamed of here. In the interests of keeping farmers and crofters in business, and seeking to ensure that some food continues to be produced—that being the point, I would argue, of most agriculture—Scotland’s Parliament has agreed to allow legislative consent for this Bill: sensible politics. The Bill needs to get through to safeguard livelihoods and food supplies, and that necessity should give the Government pause for thought as we trundle on towards the next attempt to get an agriculture Bill through. What is the purpose of agriculture support? Is it food production or is it something else?

We will not oppose the Bill, so I will keep my remarks short and confined to its substance, but I will lay down a marker or two. The convergence money that was swiped from Scottish farmers—I point out to the Secretary of State that that was not simply a matter of perception, but theft plain and simple—was to be returned under the Bew recommendations. It should still be paid to Scottish farmers and I will continue to pursue that. They should also be paid interest and compensation for the initial theft, but, frankly, I hold out no prospect of that happening.

Clause 5 will allow an uplift in the moneys paid to farmers. Given the chaos that Brexit is bringing and the shutting off of the mainland EU markets by this Government’s actions, we will be looking for that money to get a substantial boost just to keep the farming lights on. Scottish farmers and crofters have seen a succession of Tory promises made and discarded in recent years. That will not be allowed to continue. For the short period before the forthcoming independence referendum, SNP MPs will stay on the Government’s case and we will continue to press for the needs of Scotland’s farmers and crofters to be addressed. My hon. Friend Dave Doogan addressed one of those points—the need for seasonal workers—at Prime Minister’s questions last week, showing the benefits to Angus of electing an SNP MP who is willing to put in a full shift once again. We will be back over and over again.

There will be questions to be raised on farm payments as in the Bill, but also on the other issues on agriculture that Brexit threatens.