Import of agricultural goods after IP completion day

Part of Agriculture Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 13th May 2020.

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Photo of David Johnston David Johnston Conservative, Wantage 4:45 pm, 13th May 2020

Here in Wantage I can hear cows mooing as I speak, so the debate is relevant to my constituency.

Beginning with imports, it is fair to say that across Wantage and Didcot we have first-rate farming—Brimstone farm in the west of my constituency is one example. The food that is produced and the environment, agriculture and welfare standards are extremely high. A number of my farmers would like me to support some of the proposals that we are considering, particularly new clauses 1 and 2. I thought hard about that, and was pulled in that direction, but in the end I decided not to do so. Even if that provided short-term help—I am not sure that it would, even if it were compatible with World Trade Organisation rules, and I am not sure that that is the case—in the long term it would not help exports from the great farmers here and across the country. There is a five-year requirement to report on food security. That is a minimum requirement, but I hope that we will hear about food security much more regularly.

In my judgement, public money for public good, is one of the most exciting parts of the legislation. We will change entirely the system for paying farmers, and we will be able to do so in a way that helps to protect the environment. Farmers are the natural custodians of the environment, and measures that enable us to support them to improve air, soil and water quality as well as biodiversity are a hugely welcome development. Maybe—just maybe—it will help to reduce farmers’ average age, which is 60 at the moment. They find it difficult to persuade their children and grandchildren to take on their work. This may be a step to help encourage others to maintain the land for the great purposes that support our efforts on climate change. In future, some people may try to minimise the food production aspect. I hope that that does not happen, because that should not be regarded as a contrast to efforts on the environment. These are mutually beneficial things that we can do together in the Bill.

Turning to exports, I voted to leave the European Union, and was surprised to be told that that meant that I believed in a closed society, rather than an open one. On the contrary—I wanted an open society that was open to more than just the EU. I would like to see British products in countries around the world, and I hope that we will do everything that we can to ensure that that is the case. I think that there is an opportunity on food labelling at the end of the transition period, so that we can clearly define and consistently apply food labelling that demonstrates and signals to the world the high standards that we have in this country.

There is undoubtedly more that we can do to promote our exports. We have the “Food is GREAT” campaign. I hope that we turbo-boost that in the coming years. Finally, I want to make sure that we remember small farms, because this is a tremendous opportunity for our farms, and I hope that we will support them in their contracts and by promoting their goods, so that they too can benefit from this groundbreaking legislation.