Import of agricultural goods after IP completion day

Part of Agriculture Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:45 pm on 13th May 2020.

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Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield 3:45 pm, 13th May 2020

Madam Deputy Speaker, I would have loved to have been with you this afternoon in the Chamber, but I am not allowed to be with you. I cannot look you in the eye, but I am here speaking up, I hope, for my constituency of Huddersfield, where we do have farms and farming. We are, of course, the centre for the great Syngenta, one of the leading agricultural science companies in the world. It used to be owned by my old employer, Imperial Chemical IndustriesICI. It is now owned by ChemChina, which is an arm of the Chinese Government.

Things are changing. What the Bill is about, and why I support the amendments that have been tabled, is getting the balance right, across parties, between having good-quality food for our constituents and our children to feed the people of this country and our need for a secure supply chain. Nothing has taught us more about supply chains than the recent coronavirus scandal and the terrible deaths that have been caused by it. The fact of the matter is that we have to have secure food supplies.

Only recently, there was a leaked document—I have to say from the Government side—that said, “Why do we need a farming sector any longer? Why don’t we do what we do with everything else and get the cheapest possible deal in the global supermarket?” That is not the answer. We now know that we must have not only a vibrant farming sector but one that is compatible with a highly skilled and well managed industry. It also needs to be compatible with a diverse and bountiful countryside in which species are not being eradicated and where industrial agriculture does not destroy habitat.

I believe that this is Hedgehog Awareness Week. That is no laughing matter. When I was a young person it was very common to see a hedgehog in a garden. They have almost been eliminated in our country, as have many bird species, through an industrialisation of agriculture about which we must all be wary.

It would be wrong in this debate not to say that farming is under threat from the unscrupulous practices of many of our supermarkets. Getting that relationship between farming, the retailer and the supermarkets is extremely important. It is easy to say that our farming is the best. Our farming, where it is good, is very good indeed, but it is not perfect. We have a lot to learn from experience around the world, and not only in terms of high science, good management, good skills training and paying people well who work on the land. The fact of the matter is that we have to get the balance right between all those competing goals.

I am not someone who gets carried away with campaigns, but I hate the fact that we are eliminating the lovely British badger. I believe that that is a wrong-headed, contrary to science campaign, and we should all deplore that.

There must be a right balance between the countryside, the environment and high-quality agriculture, as well as the opportunity for young people who want to become farmers to get hold of some land and get started. Very largely, the push for local authorities to sell off their land during the recent austerity has meant that many young farmers do not have that opportunity. There is much to go at beyond this Bill. Let us all do it together.