I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the effect of the UK leaving the EU on agriculture and fishing in the south west.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon, and I am grateful to be able to introduce this debate today. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary on her appointment in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Our farmers work incredibly hard in the south-west. They are the beating heart of our economy. I, like many, campaigned to leave the European Union to help our farmers and fishermen get a better deal. I believe that they have suffered under the EU and that Brexit will offer them more freedom and prosperity. South-west farmers manage 38% of Britain’s dairy herd and directly support over 8,000 jobs, with thousands more employed in the wider agricultural sector. The farmers and fishermen in the south-west will be directly affected by Brexit— I believe for the better.
There will be big benefits for fishermen in leaving the EU. They have suffered under the EU and its common fisheries policy and taking control of our territorial waters will only benefit. They get a very thin slice of the pie when it comes to quotas and that must change.
For farmers, the situation is slightly different and it is right that we try to offer them confidence as we head towards the exit door. They rely on the EU for farm subsidies and for tariff-free trade. Importantly, they also count on the EU for foreign labour, which is a particularly sensitive issue. On one hand, farmers say they want to continue having migrant workers; on the other hand, millions of people are calling for lower immigration. It is imperative that we strike the right balance.
In place of the EU’s common agricultural and fisheries policies, I would like to see a British agricultural policy and a British fisheries policy. The National Farmers Union would like a domestic agricultural policy that establishes a stable consensus on what farming can deliver for the economy, consumers and the environment. It is imperative that we continue to guarantee farm subsidies and I was pleased that the Chancellor has done so until 2020, which gives south-west farmers some much needed certainty. Farm payments must be processed faster than currently—I have had so many farmers complain to me about the Rural Payments Agency and the penalties that are imposed on them without any prior communication or justification.