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Agriculture Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:29 pm on 3rd February 2020.

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Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, The Cotswolds 8:29 pm, 3rd February 2020

And industrious too, no doubt—industrious in particular.

I declare my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, in that I am a farmer and receive income from farming.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham reminded us, this is the first debate that we have had since we left the European Union—and we have well and truly left the common agricultural policy, so we now have the opportunity to design a new domestic agricultural policy that will recognise the unique characteristics and needs of the UK farming industry as opposed to 27 European countries.

The Government, in the shape of my right hon. Friend Mr Davis, originally said that they would negotiate

“a comprehensive customs agreement that will deliver the exact same benefits as we have”.—[Official Report, 24 January 2017;
Vol. 620, c. 169.]

However, more recently, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said in the Financial Times of 17 January that farms have had three years to prepare for a new trading relationship. But to prepare for what—a free trade agreement with full benefits or a no-deal situation where beef and sheep exports face 50% to 60% adverse tariffs? The future of agriculture is very uncertain at the moment. However, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in her excellent speech, this landmark legislation could not only boost productivity but give some of the highest environmental protection in the world, setting an example to others.

This is an industry that employs 474,000 people, with a net annual contribution to the UK economy of some £8 billion. Last summer, the National Audit Office produced a report with some frontline statistics, which it is very good at doing, saying that there were 85,000 recipients of CAP payments in England in 2017. It went on to say that of those, 82,500 would participate in the new environmental land management scheme by 2028. That seems a very high and optimistic target, I say to my hon. Friend the Minister, and it will be achieved only if the scheme has properly defined objectives, is relatively simple to apply for and operate, and, above all, has an absolute commitment from the Government to pay on time for the work done, in line with their commitment to other small businesses. As I said, this is a highly ambitious target. I remind the Government that only 20,000 farms, as opposed to 82,500, had enrolled in the countryside stewardship scheme after 42 years of operation.

The NAO report goes on to tell us that without direct payment, 42% of farms would have made a loss, assuming that everything else had remained the same. The Government are committed to making payments at the same level this year, thereafter moving to a system of public goods for public money. However, having tabled amendments to the previous Bill, which fell due to the general election, to ensure that food production is at the heart of this legislation, I find it somewhat disappointing to see that public goods do not secure more of our food supply. For farmers, it will be difficult to compete in the same market as those who either have a one-sided subsidy such as the CAP or regulations that discriminate against our farmers. I understand that this year, 95,000 tonnes of rapeseed was imported into this country from Ukraine—a country that is allowed to use neonicotinoids, which are banned in this country. So we are simply exporting environmental risk to other countries by doing this.