Clause 4 - Multi-annual financial assistance plans

Part of Agriculture Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:30 pm on 12th October 2020.

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Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 7:30 pm, 12th October 2020

Let us start with some common ground. I am pretty sure everybody in the House thinks that the paying of public money for public goods is a good thing and that the environmental land management scheme is—in principle, at least—a good thing. Of course, by the Government’s own admission, the environmental land management scheme, or ELMS, will not be accessible to all farmers until 2028. We are three and a half months away from the scheme that it replaces beginning to be phased out, and 85% of the profitability of livestock farmers in this country is based on the basic payment scheme. My first ask is that the Government be mindful of that. They must not take a penny away from the BPS until ELMS is available to every farmer in this country. Given that fragility and that upcoming change in payments, it is all the more important that we do not put British farming at risk as a consequence of the new arrangements for trade.

Paying for public goods is vital. Those public goods are biodiversity, food security, access, education and so many other things, including the landscape that underpins the lake district’s tourism economy. All of them are at risk if we make the wrong decision here. Amendment 16 is so important because it underpins, and prevents the Government from undermining, British values when it comes to animal welfare, the sovereignty of this place in scrutinising and reviewing legislation and trade deals, and the future of farming itself.

What is the USP of British farming’s food exports? It is quality. If we allow the undercutting of our farmers through cheap imports—cheap because of the poor quality of their production—we undermine our reputation and our ability to trade internationally and be successful. It is important for Members to understand that amendment 16 is about strengthening Britain’s hand in negotiations. If our negotiators say to the US negotiators, “We’d love to help you out, but we can’t because Parliament won’t let us,” that is real strength which allows us to get the kind of deal that is good for British farmers, for the environment and for animal welfare. It would strengthen this Parliament. The Minister said that we have spent 100 hours debating the Bill. That contrasts very worryingly with the length of time we will have to scrutinise trade agreements that will last for generations. It will strengthen our standing and reputation as a country if we write into the Bill our determination to ensure that we uphold animal welfare and environmental standards, as so many Members on both sides of the House have said.

The only reason that the Government would resist the enforcement of minimum standards in the Bill is if they wanted to allow themselves the freedom—the wriggle room—to sell out our farmers. In a letter publicised last week, the Minister said:

“Such conditions would make it very difficult to secure any new trade deals.”

In other words, “If you don’t allow us to throw our farmers under a bus, we’ll not get the trade deal that we want.” If we care about not only farmers, animal welfare and environmental protections but the communities that those farms underpin, such as mine in Westmorland, we are letting down generations of farmers and the heritage that they promote and have protected if we allow the Government to throw all that away in negotiations. If Members want to back British farmers, they cannot just wear a wheat badge once a year—they must vote for the amendment tonight.