South-west Agriculture and Fishing

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:13 pm on 19th October 2016.

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Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire Conservative, East Devon 5:13 pm, 19th October 2016

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Scott Mann for securing the debate, which is particularly timely for me because I have my catch-up with the National Farmers Union at Crealy park in East Devon on Friday. We will hear a lot over the coming months and years about the threats and opportunities of Brexiting and it is up to us as parliamentarians to ensure that the opportunities trump the threats.

The threats are pretty obvious to the farming and fishing sectors. There are threats of access to markets—we do not know what shape they will take—and we have heard about freedom of movement issues, and of labour in particular, in the south-west, be that for people working in the poultry business or picking vegetables or daffodils further west. However, it seems to me that none of us will lament the passing of the common agricultural policy or the EU common fisheries policy.

We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to answer the question: does farming have a future? That is a question that, if we get it right, we will no longer have to ask ourselves. This is a time to shape our farming, shape our fishing and shape our countryside, to show people that there is indeed a future. It is self-evident, of course, that we continue with arrangements as they are for now. It does need the Secretary of State to confirm this; we can continue with the status quo until we sign the decree absolute in the divorce from the EU. It is what happens after that is important, as we change the existing legislation to reflect what we want for UK policy.

I think this is genuinely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our farming industries and I very much hope that Ministers in the Department will not spend the next few months or years talking to lobbyists or large organisations, but talking to the practitioners on the ground. I hope they will talk to the supermarkets and finally get some sense out of them in promoting British products at fair prices. I hope they will talk to the Environment Agency and Natural England and other organisations to ensure they are refocused to support a farmed countryside, not the sanitised version of the countryside as evidenced weekly by programmes that the BBC so loves, such as “Countryfile”—or, even worse, by the absurd Chris Packham.