Agricultural Transition Plan

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:31 pm on 30th November 2020.

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Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 4:31 pm, 30th November 2020

First, let me confirm that the policy we set out today is for England. Indeed, most of the powers in the Agriculture Act 2020 were for England. It will be open to the devolved Administrations to pursue their own policy. Even under the common agricultural policy, devolved Administrations had some freedom about the pillar 2 schemes that they could put in place. We will also co-ordinate policy with the devolved Administrations to ensure that there is no disturbance within the internal market. It is the case that over time, albeit at different paces, other devolved Administrations will not want to be shackled to the common agricultural policy that we have inherited, and they will want to take the opportunity to do things better.

The second point I would make relates to the profitability of agriculture. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the position of smaller farms. In fact, work done by AB Agri on farm productivity shows that there is not a correlation between farm size and productivity. Indeed, it is often the case that highly technically proficient, smaller family farms will have lower overheads and can look forward to the future with confidence. Agriculture is an industry that needs attention to detail, and that attention to detail is often best given by some smaller enterprises.

The other point I would make relates to food standards, which have been debated extensively in this House during the passage of the Agriculture Bill, now the Agriculture Act. We made changes to the Bill to introduce the Trade and Agriculture Commission and to require the Secretary of State to bring a report to Parliament outlining the impacts of any trade agreements on those standards. We have also been very clear as a Government that we will protect our producers from being undermined by substandard products produced overseas by using a combination of sanitary and phytosanitary policy in trade agreements and tariff policy.

I do not accept the criticism that the plan lacks detail. It is a 65-page document with many detailed annexes. It sets out in great detail the pace at which we intend to reduce the basic payment scheme, the other schemes we intend to roll out and the years we intend to roll them out. There will be some further consultations in the new year, in particular on the design of the voluntary exit scheme that we have said we will offer to those farmers who want to exit the industry with dignity.

I should make one final point, which is that our Agriculture Act requires the Government to report on food security every three years. The coronavirus pandemic has proven to us that domestic food production is a critical component of the food security of our nation, and that is something we will continue to measure and to support, so that we can have a vibrant food-producing agriculture sector in this country.