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Agriculture Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:19 pm on 3rd February 2020.

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Photo of Flick Drummond Flick Drummond Conservative, Meon Valley 9:19 pm, 3rd February 2020

I start by welcoming the Bill. The core tenet of the common agricultural policy—subsidising farming—is vital. Farming is one of our fundamental industries, and it needs our support.

I ask the Minister to touch on two areas of detail. The first is the balance between environmental protection and food production. The focus on the environment will help tackle climate change, reduce pollution and make us a healthier, happier, more sustainable country. However, we need to make sure that all our countryside organisations are working together collaboratively. Much of the Meon Valley is in the South Downs national park; I would be grateful for some indication of how the Glover report will impact on the environmental land management schemes for farmers in Meon Valley.

I am glad that this version of the Bill will introduce a reporting requirement on food security. Will the Minister explain in more detail how the Government will ensure that they get the balance right between the environment and food production, and how the funding available will reflect that?

My second issue is how targets will be set for farms, both individually and on a national level, for the public goods that we wish them to produce. Farmers need clarity and an articulated, joined-up agenda that makes it easy for them to plan for the long term. How will the Government ensure that individual farmers are advised on and funded for the best use of their land? Is seven years enough time for farmers to adapt or should it be a 25-year timeframe, in line with the environmental plan, to allow farmers to plan for longer? Will there be national targets for, say, carbon capture, and how will those be set? If we are falling behind in a national target, will the subsidies change to reflect that? I appreciate that the Bill marks the beginning of a lengthy process, but I know that farmers would appreciate as much detail as possible.

Tree planting is excellent for healthier soil and absorbing carbon dioxide, but there are other carbon capture initiatives and we need to reduce pesticides. What will the targets be for improving the biodiversity of the soil, much of which is now lacking in basic nutrients? According to the Cranfield report, 80% of soil is now dead. For all farms, some environmental protections will be more viable than others. That will differ from region to region and by land type—for example, chalk, heathland, clay and so forth. Some 159 different land types have been characterised by Natural England. Will the Government reflect that in their planning and targets?

I look forward to hearing more over the course of this debate. I will support the Bill, which is an important step in the right direction, but I would like to know more about the balance between food production and environmental protection, and about how the targets will be set.