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Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:43 pm on 21st January 2020.

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Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (North of England) (Northern Powerhouse), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Food and Rural Affairs) 1:43 pm, 21st January 2020

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Farmers are at the forefront of tackling climate change—they see the climate changing before their eyes, they are the eyewitnesses to our changing planet and the damage being done. In the uplands, in Cumbria and elsewhere, it is they who have the ability to help to protect the towns and villages from flooding by planting more trees, managing the land and more generally ensuring the carbon sink that will help to protect our planet. Without them, who will maintain the backdrop to the tourism economy in Cumbria, which is worth £3 billion a year and employs 60,000 people? Indeed, 80% of the working-age population of the Lake district currently earn their living there.

How can farmers be expected to invest in the long term if they can only look ahead one year at a time? Like most farmers, I accept that in the long term BPS needs to be replaced by public payment for public goods— no argument there—but “public good” needs to be defined widely enough for farmers to make a living, especially farmers in the uplands of Cumbria. I am not saying, therefore, that we should scrap ELMS and keep BPS forever, but I am saying that the Government should not delude themselves into thinking they can make radical change as seamlessly as they appear to think.

The Bill is necessary and we will support it—not just not oppose it—but it does not answer the need to pave the way for a new system. The Government cannot be permitted to do the bare minimum to fulfil the obligations of the withdrawal agreement, with no thought to the impact in real terms. The Government must protect British farming and therefore the environment—and therefore food security, rare breeds, heritage, landscape, our tourism economy—so will the Government now commit to transition arrangements that allow farmers to survive that transition? In short, I say to the Government: do not remove a penny of BPS from anyone until ELMS is available for everyone.