[John Cummings in the Chair] — Agriculture (South-West)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 20th January 2009.

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Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 9:30 am, 20th January 2009

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Thornfalcon is only two or three miles from my constituency, and I am pleased that he has had the opportunity to visit a pig farm there. We should be trumpeting from the rooftops what excellent standards of pig production we have in this country. If we can get good standards on farms, local abattoirs and local sale—supermarkets should be persuaded to feature local produce, and the growth of farm shops is a significant factor in our part of the world, as in many others—we would have a much healthier industry to look forward to.

I want to deal with a couple more matters before I give others the opportunity to participate. The first is set-aside, which is a difficult issue. It was a way to reduce production, and then it became a good in itself, because of its environmental benefits. Set-aside has now ended, and a sort of son of set-aside is being developed. However, instead of being developed for the right reasons, it is being developed haphazardly and supplanting environmental stewardship schemes, which are surely the right way—identifying good environmental practice on farms and paying premiums for good stewardship—rather than adventitious growth or retention of set-aside land that may be valuable for cereal production.

I am concerned that the south-west as a region still imports a significant amount of cereal foodstuffs and straw, which does not seem environmentally sensible. Wildlife and habitat concerns aside, it does not make sense to bring in heavy goods from outside the region to maintain livestock, when we can produce them ourselves on land within the region. There is an equation that the Department has not yet figured out and that it would do well to consider.