I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the future of upland farming after the UK leaves the EU.
Dioch yn fawr iawn, Mr Pritchard. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship and to lead this debate. I thank both the farming unions in Wales, NFU Cymru and the Farmers’ Union of Wales, for their help in preparing for this debate and for their overall contribution to supporting the farming industry in Wales and the wider rural economy.
Wales does not have a national animal in the way that New Zealand has the kiwi, Australia the kangaroo, Argentina the puma and South Africa the springbok. We have the splendid mythical Welsh dragon, of course, but if we were to have a living animal, a very strong case could be made for the sheep, or perhaps the ram. There are more than 10 million sheep in Wales, based on the latest annual survey, accounting for 33% of all UK sheep. That compares to a human population of around 3 million, accounting for only 5% of the UK population.
The reason for the huge number of sheep livestock in Wales is the terrain and climate of my country. Wales is very mountainous and, as we know, even more wet. Some 82% of Welsh lamb is utilised for agricultural purposes, an incredible figure when considering Welsh terrain, and 10% of UK agricultural land is in Wales. Agriculture contributes 400% more to direct employment in Wales than it does in the UK on average, if my reading of the British Government’s Brexit economic impact assessments is correct. With those statistics in mind, Welsh politicians should be extremely concerned about the likely impact of Brexit on this vital indigenous Welsh industry. We have far more to lose from a botched Brexit than other parts of the British state do.
The vast majority of farming land in Wales is designated a less favoured area. It is more suited to pasture than to arable farming. As a consequence, the Welsh farming model tends to be the traditional family farm based on livestock, rather than the crop-based farming that we tend to see in England.
In the late winter of 2010, before I was elected, I visited Mr Ian Rickman and his family at their Gurnos farm to undertake some work experience. Gurnos is high above the village of Bethlehem in the Tywi valley, near the Garn Goch. The Garn is one of the largest iron-age forts on the Brecon Beacons mountain range. It houses the monument to the late Gwynfor Evans, a national great, and the first Plaid Cymru MP elected to Westminster. He used to walk its slopes to gain solace and inspiration.
When I did my work experience, it was bitterly cold. The reality is that the only productive use of land at such altitudes is for sheep farming. After that experience, I gained a huge amount of respect for the sheep as an animal, but also for the families who endeavour to make a living out of hill farming. I assure you, Mr Pritchard, that there are far easier ways to make money and sustain a family. Let us remember that according to Welsh Government statistics, the average farm income in Wales is less than £30,000 a year.
These people, however, are from the land. Their families have worked the hills for generations upon generations, and have sustained a community, a culture, a language and a way of living that has lasted thousands of years. They have cultivated a natural landscape so beautiful that in 2017 “Lonely Planet” designated the north of my country one of the most essential places to visit in the world. As beautiful as the north is, I would of course say that Carmarthenshire is best, but the critical point I am endeavouring to make is that the beauty of our country, and everything that goes with it, is not just something that happens naturally. It is the result of the work of the agricultural community and its livestock. Without that, Wales would not be the special place that it is; nor would it have the impact that it has, economically and socially.
Had I more time, I would have elaborated on the economic and cultural importance of agriculture, and its benefits for tourism, other sectors of the Welsh economy, and the Welsh language. My good friend Councillor Cefin Campbell, who leads for the executive board of Carmarthenshire County Council on rural development, has identified working with the agricultural community and young farmers’ clubs as a key cog in his strategy for regenerating the economy and preserving the language in Wales.
I realise that other Members want to speak, and I am grateful for the support I received before the debate from those Members, so I will move on. Farmers are a tough bunch, used to operating in a climate of fluctuating incomes and rapid market changes for their produce. European agricultural support has been the one constant in keeping their businesses sustainable. The European market is by far the biggest external market for Welsh agricultural produce, especially lamb. I have to say to the Minister that there is a huge amount of anxiety and foreboding about the future. I have held many meetings with farmers and unions since the Brexit vote, and anxiety is increasing as we move on. If this debate achieves only one thing, I hope it is that we can collectively begin to reduce those anxieties in the agricultural community.
We have to concentrate on three main areas that are vital for the future of hill farming: devolution, agricultural support, and trade. If it is the ultimate decision of the British Government to leave key European frameworks such as the single market, new frameworks of the territories of the British state will have to be created in their place to govern internal trade. I am not opposed to the creation of such frameworks, if the British Government do decide to shoot the economy in the foot by leaving the single market. Following Welsh independence, I would want the Welsh economy to be within a larger trading bloc; cross-border economic co-operation is a very good thing.
The key divide between Plaid Cymru and our Unionist opponents is that we believe that any common framework should be built and regulated by the four Governments of the state in co-operation—in a partnership of equals. Any decisions should be made on a shared governance basis, by a properly constituted UK council of Ministers, with a robust decision-making and dispute resolution process. They, on the other hand, believe that these matters should be decided in Westminster, and Westminster alone. That risks Wales becoming a permanent rule taker—or, as the Foreign Secretary might say, a vassal country within the British state. That risks English-specific frameworks being imposed on Wales, to the detriment of hill farmers in my country.
Admittedly, our position in Wales has not been strengthened by the contemptible capitulation of our country’s Labour Government, who accepted the changes. As Professor Tim Lang said recently in an evidence session of the External Affairs Committee of the National Assembly, when it comes to Brexit, Welsh interests are now “steamrollable”. As I said during a Ministerial statement last week, the actions of the Welsh Government will go down as one of the biggest sell-outs in Welsh political history, and I can assure you, Mr Pritchard, that that is quite some achievement.
The 26 policy powers re-reserved by Westminster include vital agriculture-related policy areas such as agricultural support, fertiliser regulation, genetically modified organism cultivation, organic farming, zootech, animal health, animal welfare, food and feed safety, food labelling, public procurement, nutrition labelling, plant health and food geographical indicators. Welsh lamb holds EU-protected geographical indication status, of course, as does Welsh beef.
I thank my hon. Friend—diolch yn fawr iawn. Would he agree that it is time for the red meat levy—on animals that were reared in Wales but slaughtered in England—to come back to Wales, so that Hybu Cig Cymru can do an effective job on marketing that meat?
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. It has been a bone of contention for the Welsh farming community for far too long that when products go over the border to be slaughtered, the levy is collected in England and not returned to us for the proportion of our products.
Welsh meat has an EU protected geographical indication, which is a mark of its quality and a vital marketing tool. Indeed, Hybu Cig Cymru considers the PGI to be of enormous economic importance to the Welsh red meat industry as it identifies the origin and unique qualities of our lamb and beef. Hybu Cig Cymru estimates that 25% of the growth in Welsh lamb exports between 2003 and 2012 can be directly attributed to its PGI status.
The Welsh Labour Government have effectively handed control of the issue to Westminster, despite the warnings of farming representatives. Of course, that is a Westminster Government who insist that only the Union Jack can appear on our driving licences, despite honourable exceptions in Wales who insist on having the Welsh dragon on them.
Concerns are not limited to Wales. The chair of Food Standards Scotland, Ross Finnie, expressed his concern in a letter to the Scottish Parliament. On the power grab, he said:
“However, if those matters are reserved to the UK Government to determine, it will be difficult for Scottish stakeholders’ voices to be heard, or for the needs of businesses or consumers in Scotland to be given priority.”
I thank the hon. Gentleman, my neighbour, for giving way. He mentioned the UK market framework, which most of the farmers in my constituency are pleased about. He also mentioned the Welsh Labour Government. The fear of farmers in my constituency is about that Government being in charge of farming—thank goodness that Westminster will be leading the way.
I fear the hon. Gentleman is continually getting mixed up. Nobody opposes the creation of common frameworks should we decide to leave the EU internal market. The key question is where power over those frameworks resides. Our approach is that this is a multi-polar state, so the four Governments of the UK should have a joint say. His approach, confirmed today, is that such matters should be determined only in Westminster. A serious political divide separates us, and the people of Wales can cast their view on that at the next election.
The second major issue is agricultural support. Since the formation of the common agricultural policy, hill farmers have received direct support, which constitutes a significant element of farm incomes. In Wales, 80% of total farming income comes from CAP, and Wales, which has 5% of the UK population, gets 9.8% of CAP spend in the UK, which equates to nearly £300 million a year. CAP is a key part of the EU’s seven-year multiannual financial framework, which gives great certainty in support at a time when market prices for produce are volatile.
Does the hon. Gentleman welcome the Government’s announcement that they will guarantee CAP payments until 2022? Since he mentioned Scotland, will he back the National Farmers Union Scotland, which supports the Government’s approach to have common frameworks but to allow the devolution of currently devolved agriculture matters to Scotland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom?
I am afraid that the situation in Wales is not as good as for English farmers, who have certainty until 2022—[Interruption.] I am not aware of the situation in Scotland, because I am a Welsh Member of Parliament. I am sure Luke Graham will accept that. [Interruption.] Pete Wishart may address those issues.
Order. If Members want to make a contribution, they can intervene or speak. I ask those who intervene to be mindful that this is a very popular debate. I will impose a time limit once Mr Edwards ends his speech, and that is likely to be shorter if people keep intervening. I do not want to stop debate, but be mindful of other colleagues in the Chamber.
I am grateful for your guidance, Mr Pritchard. I will return to the issue at hand, Welsh farming.
In Wales, the situation has been compounded by the decision of the Labour Government of my country to reduce direct payments to producers by 15% by moving money from pillar 1. However, the point remains that CAP payments offer a degree of stability. While previously, under CAP, farmers did not have to worry overtly about the impact of Westminster elections on the amount of agricultural support they would receive, they could easily now face a situation in which a new Westminster Government could radically alter agricultural support policy. As we see from the power grab, the Labour Government of my country have abdicated all responsibility.
I will not give way. I will carry on, mindful of what the Chairman has said. While the British Government have promised to protect the current UK level of EU payments until 2022, the reality is that once we have left the EU, agricultural support will become an annual issue for the budget, or at the very best a three-year cycle under a future comprehensive spending review. There is no guarantee that current levels of funding for Wales will continue after March 2019.
We urgently need clarity for Welsh hill farmers, particularly about what the budget for agricultural support will be and how exactly it will be administered. Now that agricultural support has been re-reserved, I would be grateful if the Minister could outline how it will work for Welsh hill farmers. Will the Welsh share of agricultural support be based on our agricultural footprint, or do the British Government intend to distribute funds for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland based on Barnett consequentials?
During the referendum, the leave campaign argued that farmers would receive a dividend post-Brexit, because the UK would no longer have to make contributions to the EU budget. However, the reality is that there will be less money for Government investment post-Brexit, because the economy will slow and revenues will subsequently be less. Agriculture could find itself way down a long list of priorities for Westminster. Will the Minister outline what inter-governmental discussions have been held between the UK and the devolved Governments, and where exactly we are on getting clarity on the vital issue of agricultural support?
The third major issue is access to export markets. The European Union is a vital market for Welsh meat. Hill farmers inform me that approximately half of all their lambs are exported to the EU on a frictionless, zero-tariff basis, and 90% of all Welsh meat exports are destined for the EU. The EU is the largest global market for agricultural produce, and while the rest of the world is doing everything possible to get access to that market, the British Government are moving in the opposite direction. Preserving those markets is vital. It is sobering that some of the highest new tariffs are agricultural. The lowest that tariffs on lamb can be under WTO rules is 40%, and they are far higher if the product is frozen or processed in any way.
Admittedly, a comprehensive trade agreement with the EU could solve the problem, but while the British Government continue to maintain that no deal is an option, those of us who have concerns about the British Government’s negotiating strategy cannot be accused of scaremongering. We only have to look back to the chaos caused by foot and mouth. There was a collapse in market prices, a collapse in farm incomes and a host of other problems, all because farmers could not export to the EU. Impacts on upland farms were particularly acute. While such circumstances occurred due to a ban on exports rather than trade barriers, such impacts are worth bearing in mind when we consider the potential impacts of harder Brexit scenarios.
Now is the time to commit to maintaining tariff-free access to the UK’s largest trading bloc through our membership of the EU single market and customs union. That would ensure that our food producers could continue to export tariff free, that there would be no other barriers to trade and that already established, complex supply chains were not disrupted. The Farmers Union of Wales agrees. The president of the union, Glyn Roberts, said:
“Since the Referendum we have maintained that we should remain within the Single Market and Customs Union, and every day that passes brings more evidence supporting our view that at least in the short term, leaving these institutions would be a grave mistake.”
Our farmers are proud of the standard of their produce. They have some of the highest environmental and welfare standards in the world. If the British Government insist on dragging us out of the EU single market and customs union and pursuing free trade deals with third countries, it is vital that those standards are not compromised in any way, and that our markets are not opened up to substandard produce. It is essential that such matters are not regarded as exclusively within the remit of the UK Government and Parliament. As Hybu Cig Cymru chairman Kevin Roberts has said,
“Any future trade deal must take full account of the needs of the Welsh red meat sector.”
To close, agriculture, due to its complex supply chains and its prevalence in Welsh culture, is the backbone of the rural economy. It is vital, therefore, that the UK and Welsh Governments should do all they can to ensure its sustainability and success into the future. As the director of NFU Cymru, John Mercer, told me,
“Farmers were promised a bright and prosperous future after Brexit and it is now imperative that those political promises are upheld.”
Welsh hill farmers potentially face a perfect storm of hindered access to their main export markets and the opening up of the UK domestic food market to lower-standard food produce. Policy makers cannot afford to get it wrong. With the clock ticking, it is time for Ministers to start coming up with some answers.
Order. I thank the attendants and technical team for their help in resolving a problem with some of the microphones earlier.
Given the popularity of the debate, I reluctantly have to impose a time limit of four minutes. That, of course, excludes the Front Benchers, who have five minutes, apart from the shadow Minister and the Minister, who have 10.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I congratulate Jonathan Edwards on securing the debate. My interest in upland farming lies with Exmoor, and I am incredibly proud that about one third of the national park is in my constituency. For the record, the other two thirds are in the constituency of my parliamentary neighbour, my hon. Friend Mr Liddell-Grainger.
Farming is an incredibly important part of the county’s economy. It is 13% of Devon’s GDP, by some measures. As well as producing food, upland farming adds value to rural economies in many ways through diversification. The retail, recreational and tourism industries are especially important. I am proud that many of the upland farmers on Exmoor are embracing that diversification, and proud of the work that they do to protect and enhance the unique upland landscape. However, I want to focus on the primary industry, if I may put it that way, of farming.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree, furthermore, that diversification of the final product of upland farming, such as quality land and products, can enhance its economic future, particularly because of the image of an unspoiled environment, wind and rain and so on?
Yes, that is absolutely right. There are about 70 million day visits a year to national parks in this country, because of the landscape. Quite apart from the farming that goes on there, stewardship by upland farmers contributes to the fact that so many people want to visit those areas.
The uplands are home to about 44% of England’s breeding ewes and 40% of its beef cows. I saw a small sample of what I am talking about on a recent visit to West Ilkerton farm at Barbrook, near Lynton on Exmoor. It is a family-run livestock farm whose farmers have not only embraced diversification and run a successful business in challenging areas, but are leading members of the Exmoor Hill Farming Network, which, along with the Exmoor National Park Authority, has been instrumental in producing a detailed document, “Exmoor’s Ambition”, seeking to engage the Government in discussions of how upland farming might be supported post-Brexit.
There is clearly considerable uncertainty for upland farmers now, and it is right that they should play their part in shaping future policy, so I am delighted that the Government are listening. I know they are, because three weeks ago the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was kind enough to make two visits over two days to Exmoor farms in my constituency, in which he took full account of what the document says about realising Exmoor’s ambition. The national park authority and the Exmoor Hill Farming Network have an idea for a pilot for a new approach, to be used after Brexit, to secure and enhance the many public benefits that rural landscapes and their farming businesses give their local economies.
“Exmoor’s Ambition” is about a simpler, more integrated and locally accountable policy that incentivises all the public benefits provided by the countryside. It would be delivered through a single scheme that has the concept of natural capital at its heart and is driven by results and evidence about what actually works. There are no better people to talk to about that than the upland farmers who have worked that landscape for many years.
The proposed scheme consists of two complementary measures: “good farming”, available to qualifying land-managing businesses, and “enhanced benefits”, which target specific outcomes. Importantly, those measures would be matched by the branding and promotion of goods to secure a premium income for their producers and the local economy. The post-Brexit outcomes that this programme seeks to achieve include tackling climate change, protecting the historical environment of the uplands, restoring damaged landscapes, rejuvenating hedgerows, improving river quality, enhancing public recreation, promoting local products and reducing flooding, which is incredibly important on Exmoor.
In the very limited time left to me, let me say this. These are uncertain times, as we approach Brexit. For upland farmers, such as those on Exmoor, the uncertainty is exacerbated by the inherent challenges to farming in that difficult landscape. I know that the Government are alive to those issues, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister about the support that upland agricultural communities, such as those on Exmoor, will have as the Brexit process moves forward.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I congratulate Jonathan Edwards on securing this very important debate.
My constituency includes Teesdale, which is part of the north Pennines area of outstanding natural beauty. I represent 400 sheep farmers, most of whom are on the uplands. Teesdale is a unique natural environment. A couple of months ago, I got up at 4.30 am to see the black grouse lekking, and we had a tour of the area to see the fantastic bird life. There were lapwing, curlew, snipe, oyster catchers and partridges. There were also mad March hares boxing. The biodiversity is absolutely spectacular, but it is fragile. If we do not get a good post-Brexit solution for the farming community, those species could collapse in 20 years. If they do, we will not be able to bring them back.
I must visit the lovely place that the hon. Lady is describing. Does she agree that some of the attributes she mentioned are down to the passion with which rural communities pursue their country sports in those areas?
In Teesdale, we have achieved a balance between shooting and hill farming that the community is happy with.
From a farming perspective, the land is extremely marginal. Tenant farmers have an average annual income of about £14,000, which means that, when we change the subsidy regime, we need to bear in mind that their income cannot fall.
Three things matter. The first is the trade regime, about which I think I have asked the Minister 39 times since the Brexit referendum, and I have still have not had a proper answer. As Peter Heaton-Jones has said, the EU is our biggest market, so we have to be able to continue to sell into Europe. That means staying in a customs union and maintaining the current regulatory standards so we have regulatory alignment. It also means that we do not want the Department for International Trade to negotiate a flood of cheap lamb imports from New Zealand and Australia. It is DEFRA’s responsibility to make it clear that that is a red line.
If we lose our domestic market and do not have our European markets, we will not be able to secure the environmental benefits we want, because farming must be sustainable as a business. One of my constituents has written to me to point out that other World Trade Organisation members have already made a formal complaint about the proposed EU-UK split on agricultural import quotas, so it will be interesting to hear what the Minister has in mind on that.
The second important thing is the support mechanisms, because we obviously do not want to see a cliff edge. A switch to public goods is fine in theory, but it will be fine in practice only if the amount of money paid is sufficient to keep farmers in business. I have already pointed out that people are on low incomes that they cannot afford to see cut; they need to see their incomes rise.
I am worried by the proposed cap on payments to individuals, which is aimed at the landed aristocracy. The only way that Ministers can avoid it is if they start paying tenant farmers directly without—this brings me to my third point—increasing Rural Payments Agency bureaucracy, which is a long-standing problem about which the Department is well aware. Obviously, we do not have a lot of scope for deregulation in the farming community, on animal identification and so forth, because we have to maintain our access to the European market.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I thank my parliamentary neighbour, Jonathan Edwards, for proposing the debate.
I think it is fair to say that my constituency is based on agriculture. It is a hill farm constituency that measures 85 miles by 45 miles, and upland hill farms are predominant throughout. Agriculture is the backbone of the constituency, but in GDP terms tourism is now in front of it. However, our tourism industry exists only because of the agriculture industry, and people forget that the two are intertwined, as are many other industries. The upland hill farmers support our vets, garages, shops and so on, so when we talk about upland farms we are also talking about communities.
Farmers in my constituency have many concerns, one of their main ones being—I have already touched on this—that the Welsh Government will take the lead on agriculture outside of a UK-wide framework. We need only consider the lack of a response to bovine tuberculosis in Wales. Only on Sunday I visited a farm that, sadly, after three generations of farming beef, has had to sell all its cattle. They went clear weeks before and have now, sadly, stopped beef farming.
Quarantine units at local shows are another issue. DEFRA has not introduced them in England, but they have been introduced in Wales. Local shows are the lifeblood of communities, yet those communities are being penalised. It is tragic, so thank goodness—we hope—that Westminster will take a sensible lead on that.
Three weeks ago the Secretary of State visited the beautiful valley near Painscastle in my constituency. As we came over one of the open common hills, I told him to look down the valley and tell me that it was not designed by an environmentalist based in a London or Cardiff office just two or 20 years ago. That valley is so beautiful because it was designed by farmers over the past 100, 200 and 300 years. Farmers are the best people to run our environment and they should be supported to do that.
I am delighted to say that the Secretary of State made it clear—as I am sure will the Minister again today—that environmental payments, or public payments for public goods, will continue under the “Health and Harmony” consultation. That consultation covers England, but we must not forget that Cardiff Bay has produced nothing to address looking after farmers or to consult them on their future in a post-Brexit world.
The Secretary of State spoke to many senior farmers in a barn from which he could not escape. He gave a very informative talk and answered all their questions on their concerns about the future. Even more importantly, after that visit I took him up the road to Rhosgoch—another village, next to Painscastle—where he met 40 representatives of local young farmers’ clubs whose futures depend on a post-Brexit agricultural world. My goodness, if hon. Members had seen and heard the positivity in that room, they would not be concerned about a post-Brexit agricultural world.
Ladies and gentlemen—[Interruption.] I am sorry, I meant to say “hon. Members”. I was on the stump there —I’ll sell something in a minute! We constantly hear negativity from politicians, academics and the press, but what we are hearing from the agricultural world, including the young agricultural world, is positivity, because of what the Westminster Government are doing and our future in a post-Brexit world. Europe sells more to us than we sell to it, and this country’s farmers have a very positive future.
Rwy’n llongyfarch fy Nghyfaill anrhydeddus yr Aelod dros Ddwyrain Caerfyrddin a Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) ar sicrhau y ddadl hon. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr on securing this debate. Dwyfor Meirionnydd is eryri—mountainous and magnificent to the eye. It has been a man-made landscape for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Livestock husbandry made much of the environment, and taking farmers and families out will unmake it.
Earlier this year, I held a series of events with agricultural societies and farmers unions, which included visits to upland farms in the Trawsfynydd, Abergeirw and Cwm Prysor communities of Meirionnydd. Time and again, I heard anxiety for the future and a real fear that the voices of upland farming and upland communities would be lost in the Brexit lobbying cacophony.
Geraint Davies—Geraint Fedw Arian Uchaf of Rhyduchaf—is the chair of the Farmers’ Union of Wales in Meirionnydd. He has a lot to say about Brexit, but I will keep it simple. He tells me that in Wales, we need evidence of a long-term vision for rural communities as a whole, a sense that those communities matter, and an appreciation of their dependency on the rural economy. The single farm payment is spent in local shops and stores. Rural development programme money keeps local contractors in business. There is an interconnectivity to the agricultural economy that is as far-reaching and vulnerable to change as any environmental habitat.
Much is made of the payment for delivery of public goods. Farmers do not need to hear that that is a good thing—most agree—or that a way will be found to conform to World Trade Organisation requirements. They truly need to know not just whether but how a 100% level of public payments for public goods will work. I beg the Minister to respond to that. How will it conform with the WTO regulations?
In the same breath, if agriculture payments are to be used as environmental tools to deliver environmental benefits, we need clarity on the role of grazing livestock and how to manage grasslands to maintain habitats while symbiotically producing meat that inherently meets high-quality welfare standards.
The hon. Lady is making a powerful speech. Many of the issues in my constituency that involve the farming community are exactly the same. In terms of the overall principles of future farming support, does she want a system that simply replicates the current common agricultural policy, that promotes efficient and productive farming, or that focuses on the marginal farms in our country, which I suspect we both have in our constituency? It is important to understand the driving force that she sees as being behind the future CAP.
To speak frankly, I would like to see a system that does not result in the upland clearances of farmers. Farmers and their contribution are important to the wildlife, and we should consider the people and their role.
On the significance of grazing, it is important to have an awareness of the impact of under-grazing and over-grazing, local knowledge and the implicit co-operation of the Government, environmental officers and agriculturalists. It goes without saying that such awareness cannot be centrally managed from Westminster; it must be devolved.
Farmers in my constituency are being told to diversify and that they need to look at the sort of animals they produce. Surely, however, we need to acknowledge that only native mountain breeds are suitable for upland environments. It is simply not an option to diversify by crossing with lowland breeds, because large-carcase sheep simply cannot survive the winter, let alone fare well in such environments. At the same time, the small breeds that will flourish in mountain environments have their markets in Europe, and we are yet to find another market for them.
I take this opportunity to call on farmers to speak to each other and to speak out. The Brexit debate has been, and remains, toxic. People have been driven to one side or the other. Frankly, by now, it does not matter how someone voted in the referendum, but what happens now does matter. It is fast becoming clear that individual businesses and communities as a whole are at risk. Wales was sold Brexit on the back of unsubstantiated soundbites. Now is the time to come up with the substance of these promises or to come clean and admit that the risk to Welsh communities is a price Westminster is willing for us to pay.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I congratulate and thank Jonathan Edwards. Hill farming is of colossal importance to the United Kingdom it brings the public benefits of biodiversity and flood prevention, and economic benefits. In my constituency we have the Lake District national park, the Yorkshire Dales national park and South Lakeland, and the Lake District became a world heritage site just 12 months ago. The tourism economy of Cumbria is worth £3 billion a year and 60,000 jobs, all underpinned, as other hon. Members have said, by the work of our farmers to protect and maintain that landscape.
Why are most of our hill farmers involved in hill farming? It is about food production. Some 45% of UK lamb is produced in the uplands; 55% of the UK suckler herd is located in the uplands; and 35% of UK milk is produced in the uplands. Of course, straw and feed grown in the lowlands goes to feed animals in the uplands, so without hill farming, lowland farming would soon go. That should concern and bother us all.
Rightly, we are often concerned about fuel security, but we think too little about food security. Some 45% of the food we consume today is imported. Twenty years ago, that figure was more like 35%. It is a very worrying trend. The future for hill farming is vital. Providing a future for our uplands must be at the heart of the Government’s plan in the agriculture Bill that we look forward to in a few weeks’ time.
The ring-fencing and protecting of the common agricultural policy budget post Brexit of £3.8 billion until 2022 is important. I have heard some Government Members talk about that as a long-term commitment, but anyone who thinks four years in farming is long term understands nothing about farming. It does need to be a long-term commitment, and there needs to be a growing, not fixed, budget. The Government must take immediate action on existing payments.
Many hill farmers are coming to the end of their high-level stewardship and entry-level stewardship agreements. A friend of mine, a farmer in the Westmorland part of the Yorkshire dales, comes to the end of his HLS agreement in January 2019. He is not allowed to start an application or have a start date for a countryside stewardship scheme until January 2020, so he has to live for 12 months without a scheme of that kind. Even then, mid-tier countryside stewardship schemes offer little value, and higher tier schemes are frankly unfathomable and incredibly difficult to get through. Many farmers simply do not bother with them. Will the Minister ensure the continuation for hill farmers of HLS and ELS agreements until a new, better and bespoke scheme for the uplands can be introduced? I also suggest that the new scheme has monthly start dates, to ease the workload for the RPA and Natural England.
It looks like the one thing we are sure of in the agriculture Bill is that basic payments will not be part of it. Over the last 40-odd years, we have subsidised food in this country and we have never had a debate about whether we thought that was a good idea. But we can be certain that we will feel it when we stop subsidising food. We can welcome public goods being funded, but we should all take a step back and consider what that might mean for the upland farmer. If we over-commodify every single thing that they do, will we not be in a situation where we see the price of everything and the value of nothing?
I do not really have time to express my concern for the future of young people in hill farming; about how to create incentive schemes to get them in and to allow older farmers to retire with dignity to an affordable home, given the astonishing price of housing in rural areas such as mine. Every £1 invested in farming produces a £7 return. British farming begins in the hills. It has a future only if the uplands have a future.
I declare an interest as a member of the Ulster Farmers Union, as a land owner and a former sheep farmer. The latest available data from 2014 shows some 33.7 million sheep and lambs in the UK, including some 16 million breeding ewes. A large percentage of those sheep can be found in upland and hill areas. In England, 41% of breeding sheep are found in less favoured area farms, and 53% of cattle and sheep holdings are in LFAs in Wales. Some 80% of the sheep population in Northern Ireland are within LFAs, and LFAs in Scotland are home to 91% of breeding ewes, so it is a very important sector for the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Clearly, the hills and uplands are a vital part of a complex picture and require particular attention. Some 53% of the utilised agricultural area in the UK has been designated as less favoured. That is 5.3 million hectares in Scotland, 2.2 million in England, 1.53 million in Wales and 0.69 million in Northern Ireland. That land is perfect for the hard nature of the sheep industry, and would be inappropriate for any other farming use, so without that industry flourishing it would be unusable.
The National Sheep Association’s report on the complementary role of the sheep and upland and hill areas contains incredibly interesting information. I do not have the time to go through it, but I recommend those who have sheep farmers in their area to speak to them and gain a greater understanding of the challenges.
I recently read an article in the press back home that almost half a million lambs leave Northern Ireland for processing south of the border on an annual basis. We are under no illusions that Brexit could massively affect the sheep industry, along with almost every other industry in the UK. The facts are clear that everything that serves to make markets on mainland Europe less attractive indicates difficult times ahead for the sheep industry throughout the UK as a whole. I speak as a Brexiteer—one who supported, and still supports, leaving the EU. I am aware that the Brexit team is working hard to secure the ability for our cross-border sales to continue. Today’s debate will certainly serve as yet another reminder of the importance of the EU market to our sheep farmers in Northern Ireland, Wales and the rest of the UK.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s dedication to continue the subsidies in agriculture and I do not question that commitment, but I join others in asking for the details of that funding as soon as possible for sheep farmers who farm difficult lands and need to be secure in their hard work and industry. Tim Farron mentioned a four-year plan for farmers. Farmers have a 10-year plan, a 20-year plan and a 30-year plan, not a four-year one. We need to know what is happening in the long term. The level of support is high in the last common agricultural policy reform package. That must continue if we are to allow our farming sector to thrive.
In Northern Ireland we are dependent on the less favoured areas for our sheep in particular and, to a lesser degree, cattle. That is very important to us in Northern Ireland, where we have a large agri-food sector and depend on exports. The sheep industry has the potential to do more, and that must be encouraged post-Brexit. I have every faith that the Department will continue to support the industry. I will work with the Department as it continues to facilitate the work of sheep farmers, as well as so many other farming industries that are reliant on subsidies to farm what we rely on so much in Northern Ireland and throughout the whole of the United Kingdom.
I fully support the case put forward by the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr and by other hon. Members who have spoken. I look forward to the Minister outlining how his Department will fully support our sheep farmers throughout the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
I congratulate Jonathan Edwards on securing this important debate. We are in the agricultural show season, when the public directly interface with our wonderful rural life and environment. I had the great pleasure of being at the Royal Highland show last week. I know the Secretary of State was there. I am not sure whether the Minister was there; he can let us know when he speaks. We saw the great interest in agricultural issues, and it was great for the Scottish Affairs Committee to come face to face with so many of our agricultural producers, growers and farmers at a roundtable.
Upland farmers are the backbone of the rural economy. Without their work, upland and highland constituencies such as mine would simply be abandoned. The value of hill farming and crofting cannot be measured by kilos of beef or lamb alone; they make a hugely significant contribution to thriving communities and flourishing environments. That contribution can be difficult to quantify. It is all about the maintenance of our upland environment, with all its iconic wildlife and landscapes. As we have heard, it is about the preservation of the social fabric in our more remote rural areas, and it is the cornerstone of both the local and national economies. But it is all in the margins, socially and, in particular, financially.
Without financial support payments, farming could simply disappear from large parts of Scotland. Less favoured areas make up 85% of farmland in Scotland, compared with 17% of farmland in England—and we make up more than a third of the landmass of the United Kingdom, so that is an awful lot of land. We are therefore a sector that is more dependent on support. Without it, so many places in Scotland would return to scrubland and weeds. That is now a real risk. Brexit uncertainty threatens to undermine confidence among all those involved in traditional hill farming. We need a post-Brexit package of co-ordinated policy measures to secure the long-term viability of hill and upland farming and crofting businesses.
The UK Government’s clueless Brexit has caused serious uncertainty about the economic viability of Scotland’s agricultural sector, given how valuable the EU is to the industry. Subsidy payments are immensely important to Scotland and account for about two thirds of total net farm income. Between 2014 and 2020, Scotland will receive €4.6 billion from the EU, which is equivalent to about £500 million per annum, representing 16.5% of the UK’s common agricultural policy allocation.
We do not know what will happen when things change. We have heard about plans for subsidies to somehow follow environmental improvements, or this vague suggestion of success. What we do know is that in 2022, payments as we currently understand them will come to a halt, and sectors such as upland farming will be disproportionately hit. We also have no idea how the devolved Administrations will be funded. We have heard talk of per-capita payments, or payments subject to the Barnett formula, but we have crunched the figures: the better outcome of the two would be the Barnett formula, but Scotland would still lose some £2 billion of CAP funding that would need to be replaced. That is because of Scotland’s higher concentration of farmers and crofters. We have no clue what the Government’s plans are, post 2022. Hopefully that will become more apparent in the agriculture Bill.
Meanwhile, in Scotland, we cannot wait. The Scottish Government have put in place a plan that will offset the worst of the chaotic cluelessness that underpins the UK Government’s approach to Brexit. We want to keep support in place beyond 2022, and the Scottish Government have announced a deal for Scottish farmers that would give them some sort of security until 2024. That five-year transition period would give a two-year period of stability in which we continue to adhere to EU rules, and a second phase of transition in which amendments could be made to payment schemes to simplify and improve issues around livestock inspections and farm mapping.
Scotland has the only plan in the UK to deal with the ravages of Brexit, but Scotland is not responsible for the UK’s Brexit. We did not vote for it and we did not want it. Indeed, this Government are doing all they can to lock us out of their plans. We heard from the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr about the plans for the power grab. Is it not unusual that all the powers that have been grabbed from Scotland and taken by the Westminster Government are on animal welfare or agriculture? The idea of trying to secure a UK single market is, for us, a creation of the UK superstate, administered centrally from Westminster, and the devolved Governments are to be locked out.
Finally, what about the EU convergence uplift payments that Scotland was supposed to get? All that money was earned in Scotland. We enabled the UK Government to qualify for a £190 million payment, yet Scotland has secured only £30 million of that back. When are we going to see that money? Agriculture and upland farming are vital to Scotland. We need to hear solid plans for what the Government will do as we leave the EU.
I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. We have had a very interesting debate, and I congratulate Jonathan Edwards on introducing it. It is vital that we tease out where we are going on these important matters. We have had contributions from my hon. Friend Helen Goodman, and the hon. Members for North Devon (Peter Heaton-Jones), for Brecon and Radnorshire (Chris Davies), for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts), for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon), as well as from the Scottish National party spokesman, Pete Wishart.
I will keep my remarks very short, so that the Minister has plenty of time to respond. We have heard about the contribution that the uplands make to agriculture through lamb and beef, so I will not repeat those points. I want to look at some of the environmental issues, and I am indebted to the National Farmers Union, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the National Trust, the Countryside Alliance, and Compassion in World Farming, which have all written to me about the debate.
If we look at the figures about the contribution that the uplands make to the environment, approximately one quarter of the total area of English and Welsh woodlands are in the uplands. The largest remaining tracts of semi-natural habitats in England and Wales are found in the uplands. The uplands are home to 53% of England’s and 40% of Wales’ sites of special scientific interest. The uplands are home to many rare animals and birds, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland made clear. They are the source of 70% of our drinking water. Last but not least, they are a store of 40% of England’s and 80% of Wales’ soil carbon. I could go on about the importance of the national parks, and how they put something in the order of £1.78 billion into England and about £205 million into Wales.
Given that contribution, which has shaped our natural environment, I ask the Minister what else we could ask from the farmers who look after the uplands. How could they work any harder to provide that public benefit and earn the money that they deserve? What could they do that they are not already doing?
In response to Chris Davies, the idea that we will renegotiate the devolution settlement is somewhat ambitious and dangerous, because we have a clear relationship. This is a devolved responsibility. One of my Welsh colleagues could respond to the debate, because this is about Wales and Scotland, as well as England. These are devolved matters.
In conclusion, I ask the Minister to respond to those two points. What else could we expect these people to do? They already start at a huge deficit. Some argue it is £14,000, and some that it is as much as £16,000 or £17,000. What else could they do to earn more money? The second question is: how does this impact on the devolution settlement?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I congratulate Jonathan Edwards on securing this important debate on upland farming after we leave the European Union.
The uplands have some of our most beautiful landscapes. Some 12% of land in England is in the upland areas, but it constitutes 75% of the world’s heather moorland. Some 70% of our upland areas are in national parks. The uplands are also home to important, vibrant rural communities. The hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr discussed the position in Wales and the importance of the uplands to rural communities there, and I agree with him on that.
The truth is that future agriculture policy will be devolved. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland already have some, albeit limited, scope within EU schemes to design their own approaches; we have been clear that we want them to have as much freedom as possible to design schemes and approaches that work for their own agriculture. We want them to have more freedom than they have now under EU schemes.
Might I put in a plea on behalf of Dartmoor farmers, whom I met recently? The one thing that matters most to them is that they are involved and consulted closely in designing whatever schemes come forward from Brexit. In that context, may I commend to the Minister the Dartmoor Farming Futures initiative? It is having conspicuous success in uniting farmers throughout the Dartmoor area in designing outcomes, including livestock numbers, and turning out and taking off dates. It is a model scheme. In considering how upland farming support should go forward, I urge him to look at that scheme closely.
I can reassure my hon. and learned Friend that I have already looked at that scheme; I visited it two years ago. The Dartmoor Farming Futures project can show us the way, and it is something that we can learn from. It has been developed as a pilot, as a bit of a derogation from existing EU rules. As we think about future policies, we are keen to work out how we can tailor them to an individual area and focus more on outcomes, rather than processes and inputs.
Further to the point made by my hon. and learned Friend Mr Cox, we are making a bespoke arrangement for the future. The Dartmoor scheme has huge amounts to recommend it, but in the meantime, many of our stewardship schemes will run out before we can set up the new schemes, so is it not a good idea to run the existing systems on for a couple of years, and pick up a bespoke arrangement when we are ready? Otherwise, many of these schemes will fall, and instead of getting more environmental benefits, we might get fewer. I am very concerned about that.
I was going to come back to that. We will be absolutely certain that the existing countryside stewardship schemes will run on and be funded. Some of the agreements will outlive our membership of the European Union; they will continue to be funded until we have successor schemes in place.
We will ensure that we have the new schemes in place by the time those agreements start to run out.
As I said, this area is devolved. It is recognised by everyone that there will be a need for some UK frameworks, particularly when it comes to delivering international obligations such as our obligations to the World Trade Organisation, which I will return to, but also in ensuring integrity in the UK single market. We are taking two approaches. There will be areas where things may be reserved—for instance, where they are directly attributable to international trade and international agreements that we have entered into. There will be others where we can construct frameworks through memorandums of understanding. There is already a lot of quite detailed work being done in that space.
The hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr asked about our working with the Welsh Government. I reassure him that we are in regular dialogue with Ministers from across the devolved Administrations and that, at an official level, there has been incredibly close working on developing, for instance, the statutory instruments that we all need to bring forward in our various legislatures under the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. There is a lot of close working on that. We have also done some quite detailed work on what future frameworks would look like, looking policy line by policy line at where we think a memorandum of understanding would work, what we think can be fully devolved and what we think should be reserved. That work is at an advanced stage.
We should be positive here. We can look forward to a future where we all have far more power. Under current schemes, we are told the minimum and maximum width of a hedge, what width a gateway is allowed to be, what types of crops someone can grow and whether they can claim that a cabbage is the same as a cauliflower or winter wheat is the same as spring wheat.
Tim Farron raised the issue of the frustrations regarding countryside stewardship schemes. I agree with him. Farmers should be able to enrol on those schemes in any month of the year, but get this: we used to be able to do that, under the old schemes. The European Commission proposed that we change to a common commencement date for everyone. The UK opposed that vociferously, but the EU ignored us. As a result, we have an administrative nightmare, trying to put all these schemes in place on the same start date. We can leave all that behind and no longer fret about disallowance risks.
We had a consultation earlier this year on future agricultural policy, in particular as it relates to England. We have had over 44,000 responses. We are clear that there will be an agriculture Bill in this Session of Parliament, but we have also made a few other things clear. In our manifesto, we committed to keeping the budget the same in cash terms for the duration of this Parliament, out until 2022. We were clear in our manifesto that we would replace the common agricultural policy with the future funded scheme, to be rolled out thereafter.
We have also been clear that we think we can spend the money better, focusing it on the delivery of public goods and environmental outcomes, rather than on arbitrary payments based on how much land people own or control, which clearly makes no sense if we are seeking coherent policy. Finally, we have been clear that we recognise that there is quite a lot of dependency on the basic payment scheme and area-based payments. We will make changes gradually, over an agricultural transition period running for a number of years. We have invited suggestions on that in our consultation.
Before the Minister moves away from discussing the funding arrangements, could he assure me that, in designing a future funding arrangement, the Government will look at ensuring there is a period of similar length—perhaps five or seven years? That gives certainty to farmers that a shorter period simply would not.
There have been a number of representations about how long that period should be. Most people have suggested that somewhere in the region of five years or possibly a little bit more makes sense. As the Secretary of State has indicated for illustrative purposes, something in the ballpark of five years seems to make sense and seems to be where the consensus is.
We also recognise that we need to help businesses prepare during the transition. We recognise that we may need to take account of the less favoured area status of some areas, particularly the more financially vulnerable upland areas, and of the impact on those rural communities. We are certainly willing to do that, and we flagged the potential need for it in our consultation.
However, there is more than one way to approach this. We could continue with something similar to what we have now, but a number of organisations representing upland interests have actually said to me that they see great opportunities in the principles and the approach that we advocate. For instance, the Uplands Alliance told us that it was very keen to move to a system of payment for the delivery of public goods. It makes a powerful point, because at the moment the uplands, and particularly the moorlands, get less area payment because they are deemed to be disadvantaged areas on less productive land. That could not be more upside down.
In fact, they potentially have the opportunity to deliver more by way of public goods, in terms of public access, flood mitigation, carbon sequestration, peat bog restoration or improvements in water quality. There are many opportunities for the uplands to deliver those public goods, and several people are starting to say that, if we are serious about payment for the delivery of public goods, they see a vibrant, profitable model for upland farming.
We also set out, in an annexe attached to our consultation, ideas about the type or flavour of the options that we might offer. We have about 30 years of experience in various environmental land management schemes. For instance, even in the current schemes there are options for enclosed rough grazing, the management of moorland, the protection of native breeds and the shepherding supplement. We also have grants for stonewall protection, hedgerow restoration, the maintenance of weather-proof traditional farm buildings in remote locations and haymaking. There are many options within those existing schemes, and we have a lot of experience of making them work.
I will turn to some of the points made by hon. Members. The sheep sector is very important for Wales. There are 10 million sheep—around 30% of the UK total —and some 14,000 holdings with sheep, many of which are in disadvantaged areas. It will be for the Welsh Government to design a policy that works for their own farmers and their own circumstances. The hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr mentioned how closely we are working with the Welsh Government. As I pointed out earlier, very detailed working is going on. Peter Heaton-Jones highlighted some of the great work being done on Exmoor, and I very much agree with him. I visited the mires project, run by South West Water and other local partners on Exmoor, and some innovative policy thinking is going on there.
Helen Goodman raised a number of issues relating to trade. I do not accept that we need a customs union, but we need a customs agreement. That is exactly what the Government seek—a comprehensive, bold free trade agreement with no tariffs and agreed customs arrangements. I do not agree that we need absolute uniformity on regulations. It is possible for us to recognise equivalence, since our starting point is that we are departing the single market; we are not a country with a very different regulatory tradition.
The hon. Lady also asked about the WTO. We believe that we should treat this as technical rectification, and we are working with the European Union to split our WTO schedules, both on tariff-rate quotas and aggregate market support, which is the ceiling on market support and subsidies that can be paid to farmers. Those will simply be divided based on historical use, which we do not believe will provide us with any problems.
Finally, on future trade deals with other countries, we have been crystal clear that we have standards and values that we will not abandon, and we will not abandon or compromise our standards in pursuit of a trade deal.
Will the Minister confirm that, if the Government do not seek the endorsement of the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly on our trade policy, we will effectively have a situation in which those three constituent parts of the UK will have less power and influence over our trade policy than Wallonia has over trade policy at EU level?
I do not really think that that is the case. At the moment, none of us have much influence over trade policy, because it is decided by the European Union. I know that my colleagues in the Department for International Trade are working closely with colleagues in the devolved Administrations to work out a sensible approach to our future trade agreements.
My hon. Friend Chris Davies is passionate about farmers in his constituency and made the important point that we need to carry farmers with us on this journey. I agree that we cannot deliver the outcomes that we seek without the support of farmers to deliver them.
We have had a good and comprehensive debate covering many issues, with powerful contributions from Members from every single part of the UK. I believe that these are exciting times as we face the future. We should see this as an opportunity, not a threat.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered the future of upland farming after the UK leaves the EU.