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Agriculture Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:01 pm on 3rd February 2020.

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Photo of David Jones David Jones Conservative, Clwyd West 9:01 pm, 3rd February 2020

It is a pleasure to be called to speak after so many excellent maiden speeches on both sides of the Chamber today. I would invidiously single out the contribution of my constituency near neighbour, my hon. Friend Virginia Crosbie, who is one of seven Conservatives now representing constituencies in north Wales.

I strongly welcome and support the Bill, which ensures the Government’s continued support for all those across the United Kingdom whose livelihoods depend on the agricultural sector. It provides certainty and I am sure great reassurance to farmers across the country. I represent a Welsh constituency with a strong agricultural heritage in which a great deal of economic activity and employment are linked to and depend on farming, particularly livestock farming. Indeed, the importance of livestock farming to my constituents is such that the decision to include within the Bill changes to the red meat levy will be greatly appreciated. The current system of levy is seriously flawed, in that it depends entirely upon the location of the slaughterhouse rather than the place of production. In north Wales, the decline in the number of slaughterhouses means that animals reared in north Wales are increasingly sent to England for slaughter. The consequence has been a severe loss of income to the Welsh meat promotion entity, Hybu Cig Cymru, and therefore a reduction in its ability to promote Welsh meat, which is, of course, among the finest in the world.

The Welsh livestock industry has long been calling for reform of the levy basis. The provisions in the Bill to enable the creation of a more equitable scheme, under which those who rear the animal and add value benefit from the levy payments, have already been widely praised by industry groups. It is essential that, once the powers provided by the Bill are in place, the Government, the devolved Administrations and the meat promotion bodies work swiftly together to ensure that a fair and effective scheme is implemented as soon as possible.

It is also good that the Bill imposes an obligation on Ministers to report regularly to Parliament on the issue of UK food security, although, like other contributors, I would suggest that a more regular report might be appropriate. In an increasingly uncertain global environment, food security should be at the forefront of our minds and be subject to constant reassessment. It must always be remembered that farmers, although they are also certainly stewards of our landscape, are primarily food producers. While protecting our environment is of course a matter of fundamental importance, so is ensuring that as we move out into the wider world after Brexit, farmers do not just become ”land managers”. Rather, they must be given every opportunity to become efficient and highly competitive businesses in the global marketplace, and to enable even more of our world-renowned agricultural products to be sold in markets old and new the world over. I am therefore pleased to note the provision in clause 1(4) that, in framing any financial assistance scheme, the Secretary of State must have regard to the need to encourage the production of food in an environmentally sustainable way. It is, of course, an England-only provision, but I am sure that farmers in my constituency will hope that it will be emulated in the Welsh Government’s own agriculture Bill.

In that connection, I have to say that it is a disappointment that the Welsh Government have decided not to take powers in this Bill to operate new schemes in Wales post Brexit, as was the case under the 2018 Bill, but to introduce their own domestic legislation later. The delay may well push the implementation of a new scheme beyond the Welsh Assembly elections in 2021, with the risk that payments under the basic payment scheme will have to be reduced for the 2021 claim year. I therefore hope that the Minister will be able to give my constituents some reassurance about the level of support that they will receive for the 2021 claim year in the absence of timely legislation from the Welsh Government.