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Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:44 pm on 21st January 2020.

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Photo of Dr Caroline Johnson Dr Caroline Johnson Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham 2:44 pm, 21st January 2020

I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. She is indeed right that we need certainty and a multi-year settlement. Farmers also need paying on time. There was a reference earlier to the RPA. As part of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in the previous Parliament, I can say that we did an inquiry into how quickly those payments were made to farmers after they were applied for. I am pleased to say that, under the tenure of this Government, that has improved and the target of 90% was met. In fact, it was exceeded this year, but there have been huge difficulties with mapping. I look to Ministers to ensure that, as these new schemes are introduced, the Department is well resourced and has the right type of staff to be able to ensure that farmers receive payments promptly when they deliver these great public goods for our community.

Finally, I want to talk about one public good in particular. As a children’s doctor myself, I am very concerned about the health of our children. Some 22% of five-year-olds in the United Kingdom now are obese. Only 8% of children get their five a day, and that has not massively changed over the past 30 years. However, what has changed is that, 30 years ago, 83% of that fruit and veg was produced in the UK, and now only 54% is grown here. That means that we have a huge capacity to improve the amount of home-grown fruit and veg. In fact, we could grow the sector by 66% overnight if people were to consume their five a day immediately. I encourage the Minister to think of the public good of producing extra food as well as producing environmental access improvements. We should think of food production, particularly fruit and veg production, as a great public good for our society, as it would really help to improve the health of our nation.