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Agriculture Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:33 pm on 3rd February 2020.

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Photo of Anne Marie Morris Anne Marie Morris Conservative, Newton Abbot 9:33 pm, 3rd February 2020

I welcome the Bill, which is a fine transition between the EU and the UK and a real opportunity for Britain to be British and do it our way.

The Bill is underpinned by a concept of public money being paid for public good. I absolutely welcome the broadening in respect of how money will be paid, and the reduction in its being paid just for the size of the land in favour of more being paid for what is done with the land, but if the motto is that we are going to pay public money for public good, what do we mean by the public good? It is not defined in the Bill. It worries me that the technical, economic definition specifically excludes food production, which does not quite fit with clause 1(4). It seems to me that clarity on and a definition of “public good” would be a good thing. It seems to me to be equally important that the productivity necessary to deliver increased food security should be specifically included as a public good. The Bill simply provides for measuring it; there needs to be a measure to ensure that we actually do it.

There is an issue in respect of what public money is—it is also not defined. Is clause 1 exhaustive? I hope not. Given my very rural Devon constituency, I have particular concerns about the support in the Bill for beef and sheep. Currently, they are the most subsidised parts of agriculture. Although several of my colleagues have said that sheep will be well provided for, I have my doubts and would like to know exactly how that will be done.

I have a significant coastal area in my constituency, which is difficult to support, and it is difficult to make it productive. We have done very well in Labrador bay. We have special methods to ensure, as far as we can, that we increase productivity and, at the same time, environmental stewardship. That is undoubtedly something that we could spread by way of best practice across all coastal communities, but there is nothing specific in the legislation that would help.

I support the provision that means that, when there are adverse market or climatic conditions, farmers will be subsidised and supported—but I should like to know how. The definition is not there. At one point, a Minister had suggested that there should be an insurance scheme. I should like to know whether that is still under consideration.

Marketing standards are absolutely critical to this legislation, but what then are the implications for food labelling and for ensuring that we have a proper campaign for buying British? Not dealing with those two issues is very much a missed opportunity. That said, I will support the Bill as it is a great step forward for British agriculture.