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Farming Sector

Volume 613: debated on Wednesday 13 July 2016

7. What recent assessment he has made of the contribution of the farming sector to the economy in Wales. (905789)

The farming sector is the economic backbone of the Welsh rural economy. The total income from farming in Wales is estimated at more than £175 million, but more important is the contribution that Welsh agriculture makes to our rural communities. It is crucial and this Government will continue to support it. [Interruption.]

Does the Minister share my concerns and those of the Welsh farming unions about the administration of the single farm payment scheme in Wales, particularly in relation to cross-border issues? Will he agree to meet the farming unions at the Royal Welsh show next week to discuss this serious issue?

I agree completely with my hon. Friend that any delays in payments to the farming community are problematic. This issue is devolved to the Welsh Government and it is one I have already discussed with farming unions. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be at the Royal Welsh next week, subject to the decisions of the next Prime Minister, and meetings have been arranged with farming unions at that event, which is undoubtedly the premier farming event of the whole United Kingdom.

Welsh, and indeed British, farmers are responsible for producing some of the finest food in the world. Now that we are to leave the EU, what effort is my hon. Friend making to make sure that the Department ensures that all of the UK’s fantastic home-grown produce is promoted to international markets?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that the quality of food produced in Wales is second to none. We produce the best lamb in the entire world, and the contribution of such produce to the economy is crucial. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have already met business leaders, including food producers, to give them confidence that they can still access international markets following the EU referendum result.

The Royal Welsh show next week in Builth Wells will indeed show the very best of Welsh agriculture. When the Secretary of State goes there, he will get the same question that I have received in the past few weeks, since 23 June: what guarantees are there that the support for the family farm at its current level will remain in the future to sustain the essential rural economy, in west Wales and more generally?

The hon. Gentleman is a champion of the agricultural sector—there is no doubt about that. I can assure him, once again, that the Wales Office has already had meetings with the farming unions. We can certainly offer the guarantee that the current funding arrangements will be in place until at least 2018, but the ongoing support for Welsh farming will be subject to agreements involving this Government, the way in which we exit the European Union and the decisions taken by the future Prime Minister.

Given that the common agricultural policy and rural development programme contribute hundreds of millions of pounds to the Welsh rural economy, what UK exit scenario could possibly best serve Wales?

As the hon. Lady knows, I argued for Wales and the UK to stay within the EU, but the reality is that Wales voted to leave. It is therefore crucial that we support the industries that are dependent on exporting to the EU. We have a quality product offered by Welsh agriculture, so it is imperative that we talk up that market and support the sector to the best of our abilities. Again, I give assurance to the farming unions that the current funding situation is in place until 2018.

Does the Minister agree that leaving the European Union offers a golden opportunity to assess the level of subsidy paid to farming in Wales to see whether that money can be more effectively and efficiently spent in other areas?

We need to look at the way in which Government spend money. If there is to be a funding mechanism in the future for Welsh agriculture, it must be looked at in the totality of Government spending. However, it is pretty important to state that more than 60,000 jobs in Wales are dependent on the agriculture sector, and it would be short-sighted in the extreme for any Government to turn their back on a sector that puts Wales on the international map.