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I should declare an interest, as my parents are tenant beef farmers, and I refer Members to the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I rise to offer my maiden speech as the new Member for my home constituency of West Dorset. My family has farmed in West Dorset for almost 100 years. My grandmother was in the women’s land army during the second world war. She met my grandfather when she came to work on our farm, and it is with nearly a century of family insight and experience—I am the fourth generation—that I address the House today.
I am not an academic and I did not go to university, but I must pay tribute to two people in West Dorset who did. The first is my predecessor, Sir Oliver Letwin, who has been greatly contentious in more recent times in this place, and Members shall have their own view on that. As Sir Oliver’s association chairman since 2016, I can tell the House that there was no shortage of correspondence to tell me. What the press and Members of Parliament would not have seen so prominently was Sir Oliver’s tireless efforts to support constituents in the greatest need—work that I have already committed to continue as his successor. He and I have differences of opinion on the European Union, but he was highly regarded by many as a hard-working and respected constituency Member of Parliament.
I should also like to pay tribute to the vicar of Sherborne, Canon Eric Woods, who first came to my hometown in 1993—the year in which I started secondary school. Eric has been a good friend to West Dorset and announced his retirement last week after 27 years of service.
West Dorset is the home of the Jurassic coast, from Lyme Regis to Chesil beach. It is Thomas Hardy country. Glorious Sherborne Abbey stands proud above a town that is a world leader in education, where Alan Turing, who cracked the Enigma code during the second world war, was educated. The oldest post box in Britain is in Hollwell—the village where I went to primary school. There is even a village called Loders. Morcombelake is home to the famous Moore’s Dorset knob—a savoury biscuit so famous that we even have a Dorset knob-throwing festival! We are also home to Dorset Blue Vinny cheese— and to wash that all down, our very own beverages from Palmers brewery, Fordington gin and countless vineyards to name just a few, which can almost certainly be bought at Felicity’s farm shop! As you can see, Mr Deputy Speaker, I am living proof that you will rarely go hungry with such good local produce.
My hon. Friend Danny Kruger told us last week of white chalk horses in his constituency. I am not one to boast about size, but it would be remiss of me not to point out to him that in West Dorset we have the Cerne Abbas giant—a 55-metre-tall chalk fertility symbol, standing to attention while dominating the hillside of the Cerne valley in all his glory.
As beautiful as it is, we still have many challenges and difficulties in West Dorset, including rural isolation, broadband speeds and the continued reduction of rural transport—made worse, I am afraid, by the recent announcement by FirstGroup of its intention to remove the No. 6 bus between Beaminster and Bridport. We have a three-hourly rail frequency, and the railway lines are mostly single track since the Beeching cuts some 50 years ago. There is much to do.
The idyllic countryside does not appear by accident. Our farmers work hard in all weathers, in all seasons and at all times of day. But we are seeing unprecedented levels of media depictions of our farmers as the enemy of our environment, even going as far as advocating criminal repercussions against them. Those who say that British beef, sheep and pig farming is the enemy of the environment are completely wrong. Farmers in the UK are the best and biggest advocates of our environment, and that has been the case for so many years.
This Bill is the most significant piece of UK legislation on agriculture for some 70 years. I recall the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend George Eustice, coming to Beaminster several years ago and telling me that he could not do lots of things because of the common agricultural policy. I am so pleased that that will no longer be the case. We will no longer be bound by the EU’s common agricultural policy, spending £44 billion a year and achieving none of its objectives. We can finally define our agricultural destiny, and I am absolutely delighted that domestic agricultural law and policy decisions have been returned to this House of Commons.
Agriculture contributes £8.6 billion to the UK economy every year, with 72% of UK land being used and cared for by our farmers. It is easy for everyone to see our farmers’ inborn environmental instinct just by looking at the rolling hills of our green and pleasant land. For far too long, farmers have been price acceptors, having to accept whatever price and conditions the supermarkets dictate, no matter how low. This Bill supports farmers, with provisions for fairness in the supply chain and assistance during times of exceptional market disturbance. British farmers need stability and certainty, and that is exactly what this Bill will provide.
The Bill is a groundbreaking piece of legislation that will transform our farming sector. It is key to achieving a green Brexit, and will unleash our nation’s farming potential and make our environment better for all of us.