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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 2:00 pm on 28th January 2020.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 2:00 pm, 28th January 2020

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I agree wholeheartedly, and will go into that shortly.

I want to talk about the farmers who do well, the companies that work through them, and the partnerships that are established. Lakeland Dairies, which employs some 260 people, produces milk and powder and exports them across the world. There is also Rich Sauces, Willowbrook Foods and Mash Direct. Those are just four of the companies in Northern Ireland that work in partnership with farmers. Farmers with direct payments enable those companies to produce good products, which they sell across the world.

Farmers in my constituency and in Mid Down are ranked second for milk production across the whole of Northern Ireland. I declare an interest, Madam Deputy Speaker: I am not only a member of the Ulster Farmers Union, but a farmer, so I understand the importance to my neighbours of milk and the whole sector. I received correspondence from the Ulster Farmers Union, the sister organisation of the National Farmers Union. I welcomed the announcement from Her Majesty’s Treasury on farm funding for 2020, as it delivers on the commitment made by the Conservative party, and by the Minister. It is essential that Northern Ireland’s share of UK farm funding is maintained. It is my understanding that Her Majesty’s Treasury has confirmed to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in the Northern Ireland Assembly that the money will be rolled over from 2019 to 2020.

We hope that DAERA will be able to pay 100% of payments by mid-October. Has the Minister had an opportunity to discuss the nitty-gritty directly with the new Minister in Northern Ireland, and is there an understanding of how we will achieve the things that we wish to?

Getting a new Northern Ireland agriculture policy up and running by 2021 will be very ambitious, but I hope that the Government are up to the challenge. Last week, the Ulster Farmers Union’s beef and lamb policy committee met to discuss the priorities for the new Northern Ireland Agriculture Minister. The UFU’s hill farming policy committee will meet this week to look at its key priorities. I tell the Minister that because it is important that we work together, and that what is happening in Northern Ireland is mirrored by what is happening here.

I assume that a key priority is to re-establish the areas of natural constraints scheme, especially now that the flattening of payments is frozen at five sevenths of the commitment. Beef and lamb are key priorities for support. Again, I put that on the record because it is important to the farmers back home. As the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton said, we have small farmers in Northern Ireland who depend on the direct payment scheme to enable their farms to deliver profitability. Beef and lamb are key priorities for support. Immediate-use targeted suckler cow payments are needed to stabilise the numbers. We also need immediate examination of the impact of the €100 million beef exceptional aid measure scheme received by Irish beef farmers. DAERA must consider emergency support for Northern Ireland beef producers.

Let me turn to the safety net—the volatility mitigation support. The Ulster Farmers Union requests that a deficiency scheme, or slaughter premium scheme, be established for the Northern Ireland beef sector. A draft proposal has already been submitted to DAERA. I am keen to know whether the Minister has had the chance to look at those things yet, as they will provide a safety net for farm businesses and the rural economy. We need the Minister to be involved with the Northern Ireland Assembly Minister on that.

We also need an immediate new targeted breeding ewe payment—similarly, a roll-over of the scheme in the Republic of Ireland. Such targeted support will contribute positively to sheep welfare. We want immediate re-instatement of DAERA funding for GrassCheck 2020, Beef from Grass and Land from Grass.

The Northern Ireland Agriculture Minister has committed to doing all in his power for the sector, but we also need the Minister’s commitment on this. I am pleased to see that in clause 3(2), the Secretary of State must obtain the consent of

“DAERA, if the regulations relate to that body of law as it applies in or as regards Northern Ireland.”

It is clear that the Minister and this Government have given their full commitment to working along with the Northern Ireland Assembly to ensure that these things happen.

The Ulster Farmers Union has concerns that the farming sector in Northern Ireland will fall under EU controls; we would like assurance from the Minister that that will not be the case. We want to be treated the same in every way as the rest of the United Kingdom. Close co-operation between the Ministers in Westminster and the Northern Assembly is vital.

I conclude with a point on the environmental schemes. They are critical if the Government are to meet their target of net zero carbon by 2045. The tree planting, for instance, will result in trees that will become the lungs of the world. The Glenwherry grouse project is sponsored through direct payments, but it also enables the environment to grow and sustain itself, so that it is there for the future.

I very much welcome what the Minister has said. I look forward to working co-operatively with him, and beseech him to ensure that he works alongside the Northern Ireland Assembly. If that happens, we all gain.