It is a pleasure to follow Mr Paterson. First and foremost, I want to put on record my thanks to the local farming community in my constituency and to farming communities up and down the country, as they have been vital in helping to maintain the food supply to communities throughout the land in this crisis. Many farmers are anxious about their health, and are concerned about family members and the welfare of their workers. Too many farmers have unsold produce going to waste, as supply chains—restaurants, hotels, caterers and cafés—have had to close because of the crisis. Dairy farmers in my constituency have been hit particularly hard. I know that Members across the House have lobbied the Government to do whatever it takes to support those farmers, and I certainly welcome the announcement of a hardship fund as a step in the right direction. I look forward to the Minister’s response on that.
I want to highlight three areas of concern that need to be improved at this stage of the Bill. Importantly, the concerns are highlighted by those at the chalkface of our agricultural economy: the National Farmers Union, the custodians and users of our countryside, and the consumers of our British products. First, the Bill must ensure that specific provisions in future trade deals require agricultural imports to meet our environmental, animal welfare and food standards. I raised the matter with the previous Secretary of State, and I will raise it again with the current Secretary of State. As Members across the House have said today, that needs to be enshrined in law. British produce must be a global gold standard, and a race to the bottom will have serious consequences for our farmers, our health and our global reputation.
Secondly, the current national and international pandemic has shone a bright light on the importance of food security. While I welcome the fact that the Bill requires the Government to report on the state of the nation’s food security, the current timescale of every five years is too long. The National Farmers Union rightly argues that the Bill should be strengthened to include annual reports on food security, and there should be clear requirements relating to the degree of the nation’s food security derived from domestic production and a clear commitment to prevent any further decline in self-sufficiency.
Finally, as somebody who is keen to maximise access to our countryside, I welcome the provisions that would enable funding for farmers who support public access. However, that is by no means a guarantee that the payments will deliver new paths or make existing paths more accessible. What assurances can the Secretary of State give the House and my constituents that that will happen?