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

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 4:19 pm on 1st February 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 4:19 pm, 1st February 2018

I congratulate Mr Carmichael on securing this debate. Like him, I am a farmer’s son. Unlike my hon. Friend Neil Parish, I am not farming now, but I did try farming for 10 years. It is a real honour to be farming Minister at an exciting time: we have an opportunity, for the first time in half a century, to design fresh thinking and coherent policy in agriculture.

As the Minister for Agriculture, I have wrestled with the common agricultural policy, and the rules and bureaucracy, for four years. It is stifling. Although there have been changes to the CAP over the years, in its current incarnation it is a bureaucratic quagmire. It attempts to regulate every single field and every feature in them. Our administrators spend their time fretting about the width of a hedge: whether it is too narrow or too wide, whether the gateway is too big and whether there are too many trees on a parcel of land. It goes on forever.

Every Administration in the UK feels deep frustration at some of the bureaucracy in the CAP. We have an opportunity as we leave the EU to do things differently and to design coherent policy. We set out our intention in the Queen’s Speech last year to bring forward an agriculture Bill later this year. Before that, we will publish further plans about our initial thinking—some time later in the spring or in early summer.

The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland and others talked about the importance of UK frameworks. We absolutely recognise that and I think that all other parts of the UK do, too. As he pointed out, when we consider the UK framework, we will be looking predominantly at two areas: first, what is required to protect the integrity of the UK single market. Clearly, we could not have one Administration subsidising sheep farmers in a way that would be to the huge detriment of farmers in other parts of the UK. There would have to be some boundaries. Secondly, everyone accepts the need for UK frameworks when we talk about what is necessary to secure international agreements, be they on trade or other matters: things like phytosanitary, food safety and traceability issues to protect our export market. We will have to have some kind of framework and common outcomes and objectives to deliver those things.

I reassure the hon. Gentleman and others that we are engaging regularly with Ministers in all the devolved Administrations. We have regular meetings with them and in some of those meetings, different devolved Administrations lead on particular aspects. They have been updating us on some of the work that they have been doing. At official level there has been a very in-depth analysis, both to deliver what is necessary for the current European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and for the detailed work on the principles and features that a future UK framework will need.

Picking up on the point that my hon. Friend Colin Clark made, our critique of the CAP is that it is a one-size-fits-all policy, and it does not work for that reason. I want to ensure that leaving the EU and the CAP is liberating for everyone in this country—for all the devolved Administrations and for farmers right across the UK. As he put it, it is not our intention at all to have a DEFRA-centric, top-down policy. Far from it: we want to protect maximum flexibility and ability for each individual devolved Administration to design policies that work for them.

I will give an example of the sort of thing that we have to put up with. About 18 months ago, the Welsh Government got into a legal dispute with the European Commission because the Commission did not like the size and shape of the ear tag that they used as the second tag on cattle. I would have no intention of trying to dictate to other devolved Administrations what the size, shape or colour of their ear tags should be. All I would want to know is that they had proper traceability in place.