Leaving the EU: Agriculture — [Mr Peter Bone in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:33 pm on 1st February 2018.

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Photo of Scott Mann Scott Mann Conservative, North Cornwall 3:33 pm, 1st February 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone; I think it might be my first time. I congratulate Mr Carmichael on securing this important debate. I have four points that I would like to make, and I will try to keep my remarks brief because we have got just under half an hour before the first Front Bencher is called. The four points are about subsidies, promoting agricultural jobs, migrant workers and environmental protections.

On subsidies, it is my firm belief that the common agricultural policy is fundamentally flawed and wasteful. The UK could implement a subsidy of its own that could save money and create better standards. The safeguarding of our current level of subsidies in establishing the new system was a welcome announcement from the Government, but we need to look further ahead, and we need some strategic investment in our agricultural sector. We need to offer capital grants, loans and tax incentives for investing in infrastructure. It is my firm belief that farm-led research and things to do with equipment and buildings should be implemented in collaboration with farmers.

The need to support new entrants and succession in farms is an issue that I have picked up when I have been out speaking to my farmers. There seems to be a break in people wanting to take part in agricultural work. We need to ensure that we invest in that. We also need to make things much more resilient for farmers who need protection against and compensation for unforeseen circumstances, such as crop blights. We have a step to go in that direction, but by promoting agriculture, we will see huge investment in the south-west.

Secondly, there are big opportunities for tech-based agriculture jobs. I recently met with Duchy College in my constituency. People there talked to me about how they are linking food and agriculture, and teaching young people about how the new innovation and tech of the future will benefit them. The Government also need to explore the opportunities for apprenticeships in agriculture. We have not done enough in that regard, and we owe it to our agricultural workers to do much more.

My third point is on migrant workers. We heard from Kerry McCarthy about the challenges around crops in Cornwall. In the south-west, 57% of our workers in the meat sector and 40% of people in the egg sector are migrant workers. Leaving the EU will enable us to control the number of people entering and leaving the UK, but we must maintain the balance by ensuring that we have the right people in place to do farm work. We need that to continue.

The NFU has been keen to promote an agricultural permit scheme for a 12-month visa. We had a seasonal agricultural workers scheme that stopped in 2012 or 2013, and we should look again at that. We have a challenge that we need to address to ensure that everything in the field is brought in on time. In the short and medium term, I want our farmers to have access to labour markets and visas. In the long term, we should be looking to retrain and re-employ British people to do those jobs and to bring in EU or other workers if and when required.

My main point is about environmental protections. I see big opportunities post Brexit for us to have a British agricultural policy that shapes production and improves environmental standards. I recently went out with the Westcountry Rivers Trust on a farm visit in my constituency, and the trust talked me through its work on upstream thinking. It implements a policy with a water company to provide a 50% grant to take slurry pits away from water courses. As we move towards a British agricultural policy, our water protections, our improvements to soil quality, our ability to maintain the uplands to store water and our ability to deliver high standards of animal welfare are all vital.

In conclusion, I am firmly of the belief that we can improve our production and increase our environmental protections at the same time. We will need to shape a British agricultural policy. I am looking forward to the agriculture Bill coming to the House. I ask the Minister to consider the points I have made.