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

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:52 pm on 1st February 2018.

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Photo of Luke Graham Luke Graham Conservative, Ochil and South Perthshire 3:52 pm, 1st February 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I congratulate Mr Carmichael on securing this important debate. Many of my points have been raised by other Members, so I will keep this short and sweet, and make three key points. First, I will touch lightly on the UK framework and funding; secondly, I will talk about the opportunity to do things differently; and thirdly, I will stress the importance of the environment and infrastructure in the development of UK frameworks.

In my constituency of Ochil and South Perthshire, agricultural industries are a cornerstone. They are involved in land and environmental management. They create jobs. They help integrate the economies of the villages and towns that make up the constituency. Although farmers are different, whether they are arable, livestock or dairy, and face different challenges in different parts of the country, there are some common challenges throughout the UK, including price pressures from retailers, international competition and the pressure on innovation and value. It is important when we develop UK frameworks that we recognise the differences throughout the United Kingdom, but also that we, as elected Members, make sure we are reaching through each part of the United Kingdom to recognise the common challenges faced in each of our constituencies, and that we make policy that works for the entire United Kingdom.

As my hon. Friends have outlined, funding and decisions on how the spend is distributed should be devolved, as currently. However, it is very important that, whatever the UK body turns out to be, the funding should be ring-fenced. When Westminster is putting money out to the devolved Administrations around the United Kingdom, that should be ring-fenced and protected, so that devolved Administrations, which may be under some political pressure, do not shift funding from agriculture into health or transport or whatever might be the subject of political pressure at the time—maybe even things such as IT systems.

When we devolve different areas of funding, as already takes place, we still maximise the benefit of being one United Kingdom together. Central Departments such as DEFRA have central resources such as IT systems. Perhaps the devolved Administrations should have freer access to those things, which could save money and help farmers with the receipt of payments and other administrative tasks.

My second point is about the opportunity to do things differently. The Secretary of State outlined in his Oxford speech that we have a chance to develop our own policies, shaped by our collective interests. I could not agree more. This is an opportunity to tackle the criticisms of the common agricultural policy. Anyone who studied politics or economics at Higher or A-level has been taught for many years about butter mountains and the inefficiencies of the system. This is our chance to address that. We can create a bespoke policy for our industries, not for one political party.

On the environment and infrastructure, we have stressed the importance of the protection of the environment and its preservation, but it is important to remember that my constituency and others across Scotland and the United Kingdom are not biscuit-tin communities. They are active, working, agricultural landscapes. We have to make sure that we are educating people across the UK to understand the value of the agricultural industries, which help preserve, protect and progress the environment as a working, living landscape.

This is a prime opportunity for us to start redirecting payments towards more infrastructure. In reports on broadband over the last week, rural parts of our country fall vastly behind urban parts. We have targets of 95%, reaching 100% under the devolved Administration, for superfast broadband. My constituency is at 83.3%. I hope that when forming policy we look not only at direct payments but at how we can help regenerate our towns and villages and make sure that our rural economies are as connected as our cosmopolitan ones.

It is important that in our UK framework we make sure that we devolve implementation so that we recognise the nuances, but pull together common resources where that will serve our constituents best; that we take note of the opportunity and grasp it with both hands in order to do something differently, and finally, that we recognise the importance of the environment but also the opportunity to invest in more infrastructure.