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

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 4:03 pm on 1st February 2018.

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Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union) 4:03 pm, 1st February 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone, and to start the summing up speeches.

We have had an interesting debate, but the most interesting aspect of it was what nobody said. Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of those who spoke were Conservative MPs, nobody suggested that free-market capitalism should be the basis for the production of our most basic, fundamental commodity. Mr Carmichael—I congratulate him on securing the debate—raised that possibility for as long as it took to shoot it down.

One thing is clear: whether we are in or out of the European Union, we need some kind of sustained Government intervention in our agriculture and food production industries. That is partly because where we have tried to run them through a free, unrestricted market, it has not worked. Does anybody seriously think we have struck the right balance between Tesco and the farmer with 50 or 60 cows, who is trying to get a decent price for their milk and to make sure that the person they sell it to this week will come back and buy it next week?

We have to be cautious, because although everybody can point to the faults, failings and weaknesses of the common agricultural policy, at the moment nobody knows what we are going to replace it with in 16 or 18 months’ time—perhaps in 30 months’ time if we get a transition and implementation period. We have to be very careful that we do not wait so long for a decision that there is a sudden shock to the system. Farmers are the same as workers in any other industry or business; sudden changes without adequate warning do not help them. I ask the Minister to guarantee that we will know about any decisions that are taken in plenty of time so people can adjust to them.

We have to remember that our agricultural industries are not just about the production of food. They also have a massive impact on the appearance and the very fabric of all the nations in these islands. The way that the land is farmed or worked makes a huge difference to its appearance, which makes a difference to its attractiveness as a place to live and has a huge knock-on effect, for good or for ill, on our tourism industry, for example.

Glenrothes and Central Fife does not look like the most rural, farming-intensive constituency in the United Kingdom, but I reckon about 1,000 households in my constituency live either in isolated homes or in homes in groups of two or three, scattered around the countryside. They do not all work full-time in agriculture, of course, but a lot of them do. My constituency is also home to Cameron Brig, the biggest grain distillery in Europe, and therefore perhaps the biggest customer for grain producers in Scotland—perhaps in the United Kingdom.

Kerry McCarthy made a very well-informed speech, which touched on a lot of areas that other hon. Members did not mention. She reminded us that Brexit is not just about what happens to the common agricultural policy; it is also about where workers come from and what conditions they work under.

On the affordability of fresh food, I think staff at my food bank in Glenrothes would beg to differ with Colin Clark, who said that food has never been more affordable. Andrew Percy used a lot of his time to sing the praises of chlorinated chicken. We respect each other’s views in this place, so the hon. Gentleman is welcome to his opinion. He is also welcome to his chlorinated chicken, but I do not think many of my constituents will be too chuffed if taking back control means that someone else decides whether chicken can be chlorinated.