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Agriculture Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:16 pm on 3rd February 2020.

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Photo of Fay Jones Fay Jones Conservative, Brecon and Radnorshire 9:16 pm, 3rd February 2020

I congratulate all those who have made maiden speeches, particularly my hon. Friend Virginia Crosbie: a hearty llongyfarchiadau—congratulations—to her. I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak in this debate and represent the many beef and sheep farmers in my constituency.

Now that the debate on leaving the European Union is over and the sky still has not fallen in, as was promised, we can begin an incredibly exciting chapter for our farming sector. We have been part of a common agricultural policy that has all too often acted like a straitjacket on UK farming. I know just how tight that straitjacket is, having been part of the UK Government’s negotiating team during the last CAP reform when we tried to work with the European Commission on the greening requirements—a particularly awkward piece of legislation that meant that farmers would lose 30% of their direct payment if they did not plant three different crop varieties. The Minister made excellent representations to the European Commission, but we were still prevented from implementing that policy in our own way. We are now free to design a policy that works for our farmers, our consumers and our environment, and that is the real prize at stake.

Tackling climate change is a priority. We need farmers on our side if we are to make any progress. Farmers are a small part of the problem, but an enormous part of the solution. Who else will maintain the hedgerows, watercourses and flower-rich meadows that we need and who else will steward a system based on grass-fed cattle that is part of a virtuous circle—good for our stomachs, good for our health and, above all, good for our economy?

As I said, I represent one of the largest beef and sheep farming constituencies, so I am here to promote the benefits of livestock farming. With six in Brecon and Radnorshire, we have more livestock markets than supermarkets, so it is incredibly important that we maintain a future for the livestock industry. This Bill gives livestock farmers the space they need to continue to deliver for the natural environment while producing world-class food.

I endorse the comments of my right hon. Friend Mr Jones on the Bill’s reference to the red meat levy sector, which irons out an imbalance that is having a negative impact on farmers in my constituency in mid-Wales.

I also welcome the commitment to tackle unfair trading practices in the food supply chain. Farmers are very much price takers, not price makers, and it is essential to give them the tools to stand up to retail power, building on the excellent work of the Groceries Code Adjudicator.

Much of the Bill will not apply to my constituents in Brecon and Radnorshire as it relates to a devolved matter. While I fully respect the devolution settlement, I hope that the Welsh Government will copy this Government’s ambition.