South-west Agriculture and Fishing

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:03 pm on 19th October 2016.

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Photo of James Heappey James Heappey Conservative, Wells 5:03 pm, 19th October 2016

I agree very much. I will come back to the importance of getting the voices of individual farmers heard. This is a question not just of subsidy—although that is clearly what most farmers will be listening for most keenly—but of access to seasonal manpower and markets, and the regulations that will be in place to facilitate that access. I therefore welcome the initial announcement that all existing EU legislation will be brought forward as UK law and thereafter amended and improved in the UK’s interest. That at least gives farmers the reassurance that the standards and regulations under which they operate will not change in a blink.

As for access to the single market, I detect a little inconsistency among the farmers in my constituency. Many in my patch have called for greater protection of the UK market to reduce imports of cheaper, and frankly less tasty, produce from elsewhere. I am not sure that we should go down the route of protecting the market, because many an agricultural sector is exporting enthusiastically and we would like to see more do so. Instead, our challenge is to promote UK produce in the UK and abroad. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall that a first step in addressing that challenge should be to ensure that British-produced food and drink is prioritised in procurement for public services.

I also agree with my hon. Friend about the availability of migrant labour. As was said during the debate last week about the tourism industry, there is high demand for seasonal migrant labour to be able to come through. The points system that the Government moved away from—thank heavens—would not have achieved what our farmers and holiday parks need. We do not just want rocket scientists to be given permits to come and work in the UK; we want agricultural workers to come in on seasonal work permits too. That will clearly require a dynamic system for ensuring that we award the right number of seasonal agricultural work permits to meet the demands of the agriculture industry at any one time.

However people voted back in June, the CAP was bloated and broken. We now have a real opportunity to set up a system of our own that subsidises where necessary to ensure food security and make our agriculture industry more resilient, with more exporters and more profit. But a word of caution: there is a real danger that in the post-Brexit policy bun fight, the large, well-funded lobbying companies will have the loudest voice. We need to make absolutely sure that farmers, who are notorious for suffering in silence in the solitude of their tractors, get a seat at the table to come forward with their ideas about what the market needs to look like post Brexit. Farmers have incredible expertise, and it would be far better to hear them contributing to this debate than the well-funded lobbyists up in London.