Common Agricultural Policy — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:44 pm on 18 November 2010.

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Photo of Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lord Gardiner of Kimble Conservative 12:44, 18 November 2010

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Greaves for initiating this debate and declare my interest as a board member of the Countryside Alliance, a member of the National Farmers' Union and a partner in a family farm. It is intriguing that the European Commission communication on the future of the CAP has been published while your Lordships have been speaking today.

The CAP began more than 50 years ago. It was set up to increase agricultural productivity by promoting technical progress, to ensure a fair standard of living for the agricultural community, to stabilise markets and to ensure the availability of supplies at reasonable prices to consumers. While the CAP has undergone substantial and radical reform since its creation, the founding principles are as relevant today, and will be in the future, as they were 50 years ago.

Farming is undeniably important to the British economy. It utilises three-quarters of the land area of the UK, employs 500,000 people and in 2009 contributed approximately £6.2 billion to the UK economy. New challenges facing the agricultural sector, such as food security, climate change and the ever increasing need for energy, are likely to be even greater in future. It is estimated that farmers worldwide will have to produce more food in the next 50 years than they have in the past 10,000 years. Goodness knows what we were hunting then, but it is a sobering thought.

British farmers are capable of playing an important role in meeting this demand and increasing agricultural exports. They will also need to ensure that domestic food supply is secure and that they can continue to deliver affordable produce to consumers. The CAP remains important in aiding farmers to meet these new challenges and is valued by farmers. A recent survey of NFU members showed that 90 per cent of respondents indicated support for retaining a common EU agricultural policy, with 88 per cent indicating that the CAP was important to their business.

Over the past 50 years, the application of science to the production of food has enabled farmers to feed rapidly growing populations and it will be crucial to increasing future food yields and enhancing environmental protection. I take this opportunity to recognise the excellent review on agricultural research and development undertaken by my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach. It is important to remember that, while funding for scientific advancement is needed for farmers to meet future challenges, British farmers are already expected both to produce food to some of the highest standards in the world and to maintain the landscape for which Britain is famous. Our farmers have had more regulations imposed on them than non-EU producers. If we want high-quality food and we also want farmers to maintain the countryside and biodiversity and meet the challenges of climate change, energy supply and food security, we will need to back them.

While we all aspire for farmers in the future to be less dependent on public support, we must not forget that the single farm payment is often a lifeline. It is crucial that the CAP retains this element of support. I was therefore concerned that early analysis of this report, in particular from the National Farmers' Union, suggested that the proposals announced today could create a more complicated, less market-oriented and less common agricultural policy.

We should remember that in the forthcoming negotiations we in Britain need to secure a common policy, where agriculture remains at the heart of any changes, with farmers across the member states competing on a level playing field. British farmers already comply with many regulations and reforms, which ensure that we have the highest animal welfare standards and environmental benefits in Europe. The CAP should be a mechanism to help farmers to prosper in the world market; it should not hinder them. I am confident that, with a fair policy, British farmers will rise to the challenge and meet the many demands that we place on them.