The Minister, in her introductory remarks, referred to various provisions in the Bill that will devolve more power and responsibility to the Welsh Parliament. She also referred to her family’s long history of farming in Oxfordshire and other counties. I would like to explain to her how concerned I am by this moving of additional powers to the Welsh Parliament, because I represent a border community. As Cardiff and London move further and further apart, we have already seen huge additional complications and problems for our farmers on the border in dealing with sometimes highly different and contradictory legislation emanating from both Parliaments.
One classic example is the crisis that we are facing in Shropshire of bovine tuberculosis on an unprecedented scale. We killed 47 cows in Shropshire in 1997 as a result of bovine TB. Last year, it was more than 2,000. My farmers are going through a crisis of untold proportions. Some of my farmers have land on both sides of the border, and bovine tuberculosis unfortunately does not respect national frontiers, so the devolution process is very difficult for my farmers.
Secondly, my understanding of the Bill is that subsidies will end for English farmers in seven years’ time, but not for Welsh farmers. Again, that is a devolved matter. My question to the Minister is how my farmers, whether chicken or dairy farmers—or farmers of anything that we produce in Shropshire—are meant to compete against their Welsh friends and counterparts across the border when they still have the subsidies but we do not. That is a real concern to me.
I have come here specially today, in person rather than over the internet, to look the Minister in the eye and ask her to take these genuine concerns from border communities into consideration. I would like her to create a taskforce in her Department to look at and evaluate the impact on farmers who operate in border communities and to assess how they can remain competitive, and have a level and fair playing field, with this ongoing divergence between Cardiff and London.
I also wish to speak on new clause 1. interestingly, Robert Newbery, who represents the National Farmers Union in my constituency, and many others—including my association chairman, Dan Morris, who is a cattle farmer—are asking me to support my hon. Friend Simon Hoare and my hon. Friend Neil Parish, the Chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. They rightly feel that we have some of the best standards not just in Europe but across the whole globe, and they want guarantees enshrined in law that there will be a level playing field.
I am always amazed by the amount of investment that our farmers have had to make in order to comply with these standards. It is absolutely mind-blowing. I spoke for 30 minutes today to Guy Davies, a farmer in Little Ness who produces 5 million chickens a year, and in addition uses the chicken manure to generate over 9 million kW of electricity, which can power up to 2,000 homes. He wants me to support the new clause.
In the little time that I have left, if the Minister wants me to back her rather than going with my hon. Friends, she really does need to explain when she winds up just what guarantees we will have to take back to the NFU and others who feel so very strongly on this matter. According to the president of the NFU, this is the most important Bill since 1947. It is a landmark Bill, and I would like to pay tribute to all the Shropshire farmers who contribute so much to my community.