Until negotiations conclude and the UK leaves the EU, all existing arrangements remain in place, including rural development programmes across the UK. It will be for a new Prime Minister and his or her Cabinet to consider the future shape of rural development once the UK leaves the EU.
Agriculture plays a major part in Scotland’s £14 billion food and drink industry. Following the uncertainty created by the EU referendum result, what reassurances can the Minister give today to ease the concerns that the result has caused among Scotland’s farming communities?
I can give farmers throughout the UK the reassurance that, for the time being, we remain in the EU, and all existing arrangements remain in place, including all existing support payments, until we leave the EU, and until a new type of partnership and a new domestic agriculture policy are put in place.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the energy, enthusiasm and intelligence he brought to the leave campaign. Having met farmers in my constituency in Kettering before the vote, it was clear to me that the senior leadership of the National Farmers Union had signed up to “Project Fear” and was trying to scare farmers and rural dwellers into voting for remain. Now that the result has been decided—in Kettering, we voted overwhelmingly to leave—can we make sure that everyone involved in rural communities and farming talks up rural communities and farming, because we have a very bright future ahead of us?
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind comments. It is important, now the debate has concluded and the country has made its decision, that we move on and focus on next steps and the future. This week, I visited the Livestock Event and had meetings with many farmers. What I find interesting is that once we get past the initial shock—for some—of the decision, people engage with the detail of what might be possible in the future and become more excited about the potential for our future.
Does the Minister agree that leaving the European Union will provide us with a tremendous opportunity to develop a tailor-made package of measures designed to support and help UK farmers? In fact, there is nothing to stop us starting to work on putting that package together right now.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. I can reassure him that while no decisions will be made until there is a new Prime Minister who has chosen a new Cabinet, the Department is working on options that might be presented to the new Prime Minister.
One claim from some leave campaigners was that Brexit would lower food prices. Now that Brexit is the decision the country has made, will the Minister tell us what options are available to deliver them?
Food prices are driven by a range of factors, most importantly energy prices, developments in weather around the world and exchange rates. Those are the key drivers of our food prices. I have always made clear that while food prices go up and down—they are down 7% over the past two years—they are driven by bigger events than EU membership.
Many farmers and landowners are about to sign higher-level stewardship contracts, but there is a dilemma for Natural England. Many are 10-year contracts and in these uncertain EU times they are being put on hold. Will the Minister give assurances that these precious pieces of environmental biodiversity will not be at risk and that something will happen to protect them?
My hon. Friend puts her finger on an important point, which is that there will be areas and elements where we need continuity. We are having discussions across Government about how to ensure we secure that continuity without prejudicing what a future Prime Minister might want to do.
Meirionnydd is the Sir Nawdd-Feature County at the Royal Welsh agricultural show this month and I hope Ministers will be able to attend. Will the Minister reassure the farmers of Meirionnydd and Wales by explaining what discussions he has had with colleagues in the Welsh Government regarding the funding of rural development and agricultural schemes in Wales?
I have regular discussions with my opposite numbers in the devolved Administrations. I hope I will be able to meet the new Welsh Administration when I next go to Council in Europe, which is in about two weeks’ time, and discuss these issues in more detail. I also hope to attend the Royal Welsh show this year.
I welcome the shadow Minister and her team to their place. Will the Minister confirm that his plans to ensure the fair allocation of the convergence uplift are on track? Will he tell us when Scottish farmers should expect to receive increased payments?
We have always had a commitment to review the allocation of common agricultural policy budgets—the so-called convergence uplift, as the hon. Gentleman refers to it—during 2016. I had a meeting and early discussions with NFU Scotland in January. Now that the Scottish elections are over and we have passed the referendum purdah, I would expect to be able to progress those discussions with the Scottish Government in the autumn.