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Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:09 pm on 21st January 2020.

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Photo of Alicia Kearns Alicia Kearns Conservative, Rutland and Melton 3:09 pm, 21st January 2020

I congratulate my hon. Friend the new Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Fay Jones), who gave a wonderful speech, and who will bring experience, and also a great deal of heart, to the role. Dave Doogan spoke passionately about his geographically protected foods. I hope he will join the new all-party parliamentary group on geographically protected foods that I intend to establish.

This debate on the direct payments Bill is of such importance to my constituents. Rutland and Melton is an agricultural hub for our country, with arable, dairy, sheep, pig, poultry, bison and many more types of farmers, as well as—as it turns out—not just two geographically protected foods, but three, as I have learned since my maiden speech: Rutland bitter, Stilton cheese, and, of course, the pork pies, on which I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. The agricultural sector not only powers Melton as the rural capital of food but powers our amazing cattle market in Melton Mowbray, which is visited every week by farmers from across the country.

Given the importance of agriculture in my constituency, as well as the referendum result where we voted to leave, I am pleased to support this Bill. It ensures that we honour the result of the referendum but also provides the continuity and support that our farmers need. The certainty that this decision on direct payments will provide for farmers will have real benefits, and not just to farmers. In Leicestershire, for example, there are over 1,000 people employed in cheese and meat factories, often working with locally sourced products in a way that respects the local environment. According to 2018 estimates, there are nearly 40,000 agricultural workers in the east midlands, and the vast majority are in my constituency.

While certainty is delivered, I am also pleased the Government have promised, along with this Bill, to introduce a new payment scheme that will encourage farmers to tackle climate change, protect our water and improve animal welfare. Giving farmers certainty matters, because food is a national security issue. There are countries out there that seek to undermine our economy by flooding the market or withholding goods to achieve their strategic intent, so protecting our farmers matters, to protect our environment, to feed our people, and for our shared national security.

I take this Bill to be the first step in fostering an agricultural step change in the United Kingdom that will transform the agriculture industry by recapturing our sovereignty, by defending the farmers, who are the lifeblood of many of our communities, and by protecting our country—particularly those in Rutland and Melton, for whom farming is their lifeblood and their life, and who proudly feed this country.