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Incorporation of EU legislation governing the CAP direct payment schemes

Part of Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Bill – in the House of Commons at 1:45 pm on 28th January 2020.

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Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 1:45 pm, 28th January 2020

At the risk of repeating myself, I am going to repeat myself. The Bill is needed only as a result of the Tory party’s descent into a Brexit fetish. Having to craft emergency legislation to do what was until now normal and routine seems almost a metaphor for the chaos to come. Here we are compensating for a Government who failed to plan and seem surprised that the logical consequences of Brexit are coming to pass. Like those Brexit supporters who have been surprised to discover that the loss of freedom of movement will in fact apply to them, too, the Government seem ill prepared for a future outside the EU.

The Bill needs to go through to paper over some of the cracks and allow the business of farming and crofting to go on. No one will oppose it, so I will not take up much time speaking about it. Nor will I do what other Members did in the earlier stages and haver on about matters unconnected to the Bill. I will not, for example, talk about how crofters and farmers will face massive uncertainty at the autumn markets if there are tariff barriers and trade hurdles with the EU. Nor will I lay out the succession of broken promises from one UK Government after another. I will not point out the problems that agricultural businesses will face in importing fertiliser, animal feed, herbicides, pesticides, machinery and so on. Let all those other things wait their turn in the debates on the maelstrom of Brexit consequences. I may, though, mention the purloined convergence cash from time to time, and demand that its return does not simply become a bit of public relations. It should be returned with humility, rather than a fanfare. We can hope, I suppose.

I wonder whether Ministers have had the chance to consider the questions they were asked and failed to answer last week. [Interruption.] Perhaps the Minister could have a wee listen, because I am keen to hear his answers. Those questions came from Members representing a range of parties and a wide geographical spread. The Minister suggested last week that the issue of possible currency fluctuations had been considered, but he did not offer an answer to the question posed by Jamie Stone. Will any drop in the value of sterling see a corresponding uplift in farm payments, to take account of the increased costs of the imported products that farmers need?

In answer to Jonathan Edwards, who asked whether there would be a multi-annual framework, the Secretary of State said that the details had not been worked out yet. Surely the basic framework of the scheme is more than a detail. When are we likely to hear the details? The Secretary of State also said that she had yet to decide on basic payments, which have been raised by other Members today. That is the kind of information farmers are likely to be desperate to get so that they can plan their businesses. When will we see the details, or even the outline of them? More importantly, when will farmers be getting news about how much they are likely to get—or some way to work it out?

The Secretary of State said that the division of moneys was yet to be decided; when will we hear details about the settlement for the devolved Administrations? While I am on that subject, let me get back to the convergence funding, because it is important. The convergence funding was payable to Scotland to even out farm payments, taking into account the extent of Scotland’s less-favoured areas. Last week, however, the Minister said that

“there will be an uplift in funding for Scotland and Wales to reflect their severely disadvantaged area status”,

and that

“the uplift for Scotland and Wales will be paid for with new funds. There will therefore be no loss to the BPS payments for English or Northern Ireland farmers.”—[Official Report, 21 January 2020;
Vol. 670, c. 217.]

That means that there is no levelling of payment, Scottish farmers are being short-changed again, and that severe comparative disadvantage to which the Minister referred remains. Will the Minister give assurances that additional funding will come to Scotland—and, of course, go to Wales—to address that imbalance? That is, after all, what the convergence funding was supposed to do.

On the unsettled issue of long-term guarantees, will Scotland’s farmers be able to rely on the cash going to Scotland from the Treasury? Will the funding keep pace with the inflationary costs that farmers and crofters will face? It really concerned me earlier to hear the Minister’s language on future support. As the English system moves away from providing support for food producers, will the funding available for Scotland’s food producers be maintained in real terms? It seems clear to me that the proposed scheme for England will store up some serious long-term problems in food production, without actually delivering on the public goods that the environmental campaigners hope for. That will become clearer as modifications to those public goods are made under the provisions of clause 50 of the new Agriculture Bill, but the ability to provide subsidies for grouse moors and monoculture forests is already written into the first clause of that Bill.

All those will, in the main, be matters for English politicians and campaigners to debate. As the shadow Secretary of State, Luke Pollard said last week, farmers will be asking how it affects them. My concern is for the effect that the Bill might have on Scotland and Scottish food production, so what guarantees can Ministers offer us today about the security of future funding for Scottish farms crofts and food production? The Bill will not be opposed, but equally those questions will not go away.