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Agriculture Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:38 pm on 3rd February 2020.

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Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee 9:38 pm, 3rd February 2020

This will be less of a speech and more of some slightly connected bullet points. I welcome this Bill. In particular, I welcome the fact that the Front-Bench team listened to the previous Agriculture Bill Committee when it comes to the importance of food security. I hope that clause 17 will be explored further in Committee and on Report. It talks about a report at least once every five years. I suggest to the Front-Bench team, that we should have a report annually or biannually, particularly in the early years. The Bill is silent on what is to be done with these reports once they have been produce; it is silent on what will happen to them, and how we will act. The National Farmers’ Union is very keen to make sure that there is greater reporting, and I support it in that endeavour.

I was grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for what she said in support of the agritech sector and the good work that that can do in terms of driving forward environmental improvements. Again, there is some stuff in the Bill, but I think that it could be much clearer. Likewise, we have a great estate of county farms in Dorset, but they need support. I urge my right hon. Friends to read, if they have not done so, the report by the Campaign to Protect Rural England about reviving county farms.

The Bill is a golden opportunity to support our smaller, family-owned farms. Blackmore vale, which is at the heart of North Dorset is, in Thomas Hardy’s words, the

“vale of the little dairies”.

They are an integral part of our agricultural tapestry, and those small, independent farms need and deserve our support. The Bill allows us to remind ourselves of the importance of food, food production and the role that agriculture plays in the economy.

In closing, I want to turn to the Opposition amendment. Now is not the time to put the handbrake on the progress of the Bill. Farmers have waited too long and they want certainty. I urge Ministers to put Government Members out of their misery on what I would call the equivalence clause. It is fine and dandy that we are not going to reduce standards here, but if we are going to throw open our doors to foodstuffs produced to lower standards, there is absolutely no point in having an agriculture sector. The amendment will not be supported by Government Members, but the Minister should be aware that if the Bill proceeds to Report or Third Reading and an equivalence clause is not included, the Whips and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State should expect some trouble on these Benches.