South-west Agriculture and Fishing

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:31 pm on 19th October 2016.

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Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 5:31 pm, 19th October 2016

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I congratulate my hon. Friend Scott Mann on securing this timely debate. My hon. Friend the Minister of State had intended to cover this debate but regrettably is unable to be here today. The subject would be especially apt for him, as he represents a constituency in the south-west—a constituency of which he is very proud—where these issues are highly relevant.

I am delighted that my hon. Friend Mrs Murray is here supporting me. She is a great asset to our Department with her insight into this topic and especially the fishing industry. No debate in Westminster Hall would be complete without a comprehensive contribution from Jim Shannon, who yet again showed an ingenious way of linking his issues to those of hon. Members in the south-west. It is also a pleasure to welcome Sue Hayman. I believe this is her first Westminster Hall debate in her role as shadow Minister, and she made a very good job of it—well done to her.

Our priority is to ensure that we leave the European Union in the best way for the United Kingdom. That includes ensuring that our farming and fisheries sectors have a vibrant future, while recognising that the great repeal Bill offers, in the short term, the stability that the industry needs, which the hon. Member for Workington asked about. I assure Members that DEFRA will play a lead role in discussions and decisions on leaving the European Union. Mr Bradshaw brought up several issues about markets and article 50. He will be aware that the Government have not yet made any decisions on those matters, although we are clear that we believe we can trigger article 50. He will also know that there is an ongoing legal case at the moment, where the Attorney General is representing us.

We now have an unprecedented opportunity to redesign our policies, as my right hon. Friend Sir Hugo Swire said, to ensure that our agricultural and fisheries industries are competitive, productive and profitable, and that our environment is improved for future generations. Representing a rural constituency, I know that these are really good opportunities for us, particularly in the south-west, which has a long and proud farming and fishing history. Agriculture is vital across our country. Our farmers produce high-quality food to world-leading standards. Our farming heritage has shaped our landscape, defining us as a country, and contributes to a food chain worth £108 billion. It is all the more important for the south-west, with farming contributing even more to the south-west economy than the national average.

The Government have already recognised the importance of providing certainty to the agricultural and fisheries industries. In the summer, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that the agricultural sector will receive the same level of funding that it would have received under pillar 1 of the CAP until the end of the multi-annual financial framework in 2020. He later announced that all structural and investment fund projects, including agri-environment schemes and the European maritime and fisheries fund—known as the EMFF—signed before the autumn statement will be fully funded, even when those projects continue beyond the UK’s departure from the EU.

We have also confirmed that the Government will guarantee EU funding for structural and investment fund projects, including agri-environment schemes and the EMFF. Projects signed after the autumn statement that will continue after we leave the EU can continue if they provide good value for money and are in line with domestic strategic priorities. The hon. Member for Workington should therefore be assured. That provides the necessary certainty and continuity to our rural communities while we develop a new approach to supporting agriculture and fisheries and protecting our precious countryside and seas, which I hope gives some assurance to my hon. Friend Dr Wollaston.

As Members have set out, there are a number of similar issues and opportunities affecting agriculture and fisheries, but I will address each separately to give both their deserved airing. We recognise the need for early certainty for the agricultural industry, which is why the Government were clear on the commitment on pillar 1 to 2020 and have offered further guarantees under pillar 2. There are clear opportunities to support our farming sector to become more productive and more resilient to risks specific to the industry.

Operating outside the EU framework means we also have the opportunity to better realise some of the connections between agriculture and the environment. As Minister for the environment, I know some of these issues rather well, and I am looking forward to realising some of the great opportunities. More than 70% of our land is agricultural. There are substantial opportunities to deliver for the environment and tackle some of the totemic issues we face—air quality, water quality and biodiversity, to name just a few. We will want to embed key principles, building on strong foundations, to take a modern, open approach, using data and innovation to drive productivity, maximise new opportunities and ensure we minimise bureaucracy and red tape.

I must reiterate that although some EU rules can be burdensome, while we remain in the EU they still need to be met for farmers to receive their basic payment scheme payment. I am led to believe that 99.5% of BPS payments have been made. If there are any outstanding issues, hon. Members can contact my hon. Friend the Minister and bring them to his attention.

We are committed to developing two 25-year plans for the environment and for food and farming, as set out in the Conservative manifesto. I assure hon. Members that we will be working closely with the industry and the public on what is needed to drive agricultural and environment policies forward. There has been a wide range of contributions and thoughts on a future agricultural support system.