Food and Farming: Devon and Cornwall — [Mr Clive Betts in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 23rd February 2022.

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Photo of Geoffrey Cox Geoffrey Cox Conservative, Torridge and West Devon 9:30 am, 23rd February 2022

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered food and farming in Devon and Cornwall.

I am most grateful and delighted to have secured this important debate on food and farming in Devon. It is good to see so many of my colleagues from Devon, and it is very good, if I may say so, to see some honorary Devonians this morning: the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron). It is a particular joy to see them so interested in food and farming in Devon. Of course, many of the themes on which we will touch will be of common interest to those whom they represent and so, speaking for myself and, I am sure, all my colleagues, we are delighted to see them.

I should say straightaway that I own farmland in Devon and derive an income from it. Although I do not myself currently farm the land, it is eligible for some of the schemes that I will discuss today and therefore it is possible that I might benefit from them.

A prosperous and flourishing agriculture in the United Kingdom is in the national interest—I do not imagine that that is a controversial statement in this company. It is not a dispensable or superfluous activity. Recent international events have confirmed, in the most dramatic way, that food production, and more specifically food security, is of increasing national importance and should be a vital Government priority. It does not need much imagination or foresight to see that, for some time now, we have been living through a new and unstable phase of international affairs. The effects of pandemics, wars—threatened and actual—and climate change are thrust upon us with every news bulletin. We cannot take for granted an uninterrupted international supply chain and an endless stream of imports.

On Monday this week, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence observed that the impact of a Russian invasion in Ukraine—now already in action—would be to remove access to the breadbasket of the world. It would have the most deleterious impacts upon vulnerable states and nations throughout the world. Similarly, the gradual erosion by climate change of fertile and cultivable areas of the world, increasing regional tensions, confronts us with a growing threat to the interest of this country in ensuring a constant and adequate food supply to its people. Perhaps not for a very long time has it been so critical that our domestic agricultural policies—under our own exclusive control again after 45 years—should be got right. That is no doubt why the Government sensibly included a legal duty on Ministers, in devising the financial support schemes, to have regard to the need to encourage the production of food and to report each five years to Parliament on food security.

However, agriculture in Devon and Cornwall, like farming all over the country, faces a time of great unpredictability and uncertainty. It must adapt to the major implications of the Agriculture Act 2020 and of changes in our trading relationships after our exit from the European Union.