I inform the House that Mr Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.
I beg to move,
That this House is concerned at the possible impact upon the rural economy of the Government’s aim for the UK to leave the EU; and calls upon the Government to present to Parliament a clear statement of its aims for the rural economy in negotiations with the EU prior to triggering Article 50, and to give assurances on the future of agriculture, particularly with regard to funding, and fisheries after 2020.
We want to use this debate to consider the significant and tangible benefits that EU membership has afforded the Scottish rural community through funding, trade and freedom of movement. Those benefits must be acknowledged and the Government must offer, prior to the triggering of article 50, a clear statement on how they intend to mitigate the impact of leaving the EU on rural areas. They must do so now because the combined threat of the loss of direct funding, an end to tariff-free trading and the abolition of the free movement of people could have devastating consequences for rural communities throughout Scotland and, indeed, the rest of the UK.
The Prime Minister set out 12 points in her speech, but people in my constituency are not reassured, because it lacked detail and certainty. We are told that Brexit is about a more global Britain, and that the process will represent a clean break. Well, let me be absolutely clear in stating how far removed from reality that rhetoric is. Under the Government’s current direction of travel, Brexit will not be a clean break for the sheep farmers in my constituency, whose produce could face prohibitive tariffs and whose direct support payments could be wiped out.
Brexit will not be a clean break for the fish processors in Shetland—where in 2015 more fish was landed than in the entirety of England and Wales—whose access to the largest seafood market in the world is now under question. Nor will it be a clean break for the soft-fruit farmer in Angus when the plug is pulled on the seasonal labour that his business needs to function. It will not be a clean break for the most remote highland communities, which are now contemplating the loss of hundreds of millions of pounds of European regional development funding. We again find ourselves facing a combination of Tory indifference to the needs of the Scottish economy, and a dramatic democratic deficit.
The hon. Gentleman and his party are optimistic people and rays of sunshine in this House. Can he see any possible benefit to the Scottish rural economy from leaving the EU? I am thinking particularly of fisheries, the European policy for which decimated the Scottish fishing industry.
If the hon. Gentleman spends a little more time with us, he will find that we are optimists at heart, but this debate is about the realities and the implications for the rural economy. I will, with great delight, return to fisheries later in my speech.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No; I would like to make a little more progress, but I promise to give way in time.
As the many complex challenges of Brexit pile up, we need to remember that real political leadership is about finding solutions, not soundbites.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?
I promise I will in one moment.
This debate is necessary to ensure that the Government do not overlook or downplay all the possible outcomes of Brexit. They must not walk away from the policy vacuum that is opening up before our eyes.
Is the hon. Gentleman telling the House that if we devolve more agricultural powers to the Scottish nationalists, they will not be able to think of a single way in which they could improve policy to help their farmers?
The right hon. Gentleman, who is highly respected, usually makes excellent contributions, but I am afraid that that was a poor one. There are many ways in which we would be delighted to improve agricultural policy, so long as his Government do not make a power grab as powers are returned from Brussels.
Does my hon. Friend also agree that something like 70% of farmers’ incomes comes through the common agricultural policy, which is not subject to the Barnett formula, but it may be if it all comes back to the UK, which would lead to a significant reduction in funds available to rural Scotland?
I thank my hon. Friend for that excellent contribution, which brings me on to one of the first areas that I want to look at. Nowhere is the policy vacuum more apparent than on the issue of farm payments. Whatever its flaws—
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on making some very compelling points. We have a similar situation in Northern Ireland where 80% of farm incomes are dependent on European resources. Does he agree that there is a fear that that sort of funding is not likely to come from the Treasury, thus undermining our local rural economy and our agricultural enterprises?
I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Lady. It is something on which I would like us to focus in this debate. I am talking about the importance of these support payments to the prosperity not just of farming, but of the whole rural community.
I wish to make a bit more progress. We have two debates squeezed in today.
As I was saying, nowhere is the policy vacuum more apparent than on the issue of farm payments. Whatever the flaws, the moneys invested in Scotland and indeed in all the rural communities in the UK through the CAP are absolutely vital in underpinning the rural economy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Angus (Mike Weir) mentioned, farm payments account for two thirds of total net farm income in Scotland. We have about 8.4% of the population, but 32.5% of the land mass, and our distinct topography means that Scotland received 16.5% of UK CAP funds.
Like farmers in Lancashire, many farmers in Scotland are involved in upland sheep farming, which I am sure all Members will acknowledge is often a very, very difficult business. Does he not think that, if we leave the European Union, there will be an opportunity for the Government to refocus support on those most marginal farms that he is talking about—specifically the uphill farms in Lancashire and Scotland? Farmers in Lancashire are hoping for more from Brexit, just as farmers in Scotland will be hoping for more from Scexit?
Hill farming—sheep farming—is one of our most fragile industries. I have deep concerns about its support in the future. I want to make a point about the level of funding because we need the Government to step up. I would like to talk about lamb when we look at trade, because it is one of the most threatened trade areas.
My hon. Friend spoke earlier about the lack of detail in the Prime Minister’s statement. Does he agree that the Government should have taken cognisance of the resulting report of the Environmental Audit Committee inquiry into the future of the natural environment after the EU referendum as summarised in a letter to the Secretary of State—I have it here—from the British Ecological Society, the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management, the Landscape Institute and the Institution of Environmental Scientists? These are the people we should be listening to, and these are the details that the Government should be including in their letters.
My hon. Friend’s point is well made.
Agriculture is already a devolved area. As powers are repatriated from Brussels, it is essential that they go directly to the Scottish Government. Any power grab from a Westminster Government would be totally unacceptable. We absolutely understand the need for levels of commonality, but that is not a justification for a power grab by Westminster.
We need a commitment from this Government that the existing allocation of funds will not be tampered with. The starting point for funds to be delivered to Scotland is once the convergence uplift is added to the 16.5%. Throughout last year’s referendum campaign, the Secretary of State and her farming Minister, the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), who is, I understand, in Scotland, argued for Brexit and it is now incumbent on them to take responsibility for the commitments made during that campaign. Last March, the farming Minister said:
“The UK government will continue to give farmers and the environment as much support—or perhaps even more—as they get now”.
Yet this commitment appears already to have been abandoned.
Earlier this month, the Secretary of State, the farming Minister and I were all at the Oxford conference, and both the Secretary of State and the farming Minister refused to confirm that funding would at least match current levels beyond 2020. Will the Secretary of State take the opportunity today to make a clear commitment that, as the farming Minister promised, Brexit will not result in a reduction in the level of funding available for farmers? Or is this another Brexit broken promise?
We acknowledge that the CAP is far from perfect and we recognise that we now have an opportunity to design a new and better system, but we also recognise that there must be a route to sustainable farming without direct income support because there must be an evolution that takes great care over the fragility of the rural economy. It is also important to note that the CAP is about much more than farming. In Scotland, EU funding has helped to support the roll-out of superfast broadband, business development, housing investment and measures to address rural fuel poverty, in addition to improvements in infrastructure and transport through pillar two regional development funds. We need the Government to explain whether they will match the funding for such programmes and, if they will, the more detail we can have from the Secretary of State, the better.
Another area in which the rural economy has benefited massively from EU membership is freedom of movement. For significant portions of the Scottish rural economy, access to a seasonal workforce is a vital factor in keeping their operations sustainable. At any one time, between 5,000 and 15,000 non-UK EU workers are employed in Scottish agriculture alone. We support continued freedom of movement because it is a system that works not just for farming and food production but for a range of sectors in rural Scotland, especially in fragile and often ageing populations.
I represent Angus, which, along with the constituencies of my hon. Friends who represent Perthshire, has the highest number of economic migrants into Scotland, because they work in the horticultural industry. Many industries could not survive without that labour. Members talk about the unemployed taking the jobs, but there are more migrant workers working in that industry than there are unemployed people in our areas, even if all those unemployed people could take up the jobs. We need these people and the Government must take that into account. At the recent Oxford conference, the Secretary of State hinted that there might be some relaxation in that regard and I would be grateful if she gave more detail when she speaks.
My hon. Friend’s contribution reinforces the point I was making and gives it a bit more colour.
Given the announcements today and the consensus in Scotland against a hard Brexit, we must have powers over immigration devolved to the Scottish Parliament in order to pursue our own distinct policy—[Interruption.] Government Members might laugh, but I respectfully suggest that they go and read “Scotland’s Place in Europe” —that is what a plan for Brexit looks like.
In the meantime, I know that the Secretary of State understands the importance of seasonal workers, in particular, to the rural economy, so I would like to hear today what steps the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is taking to ensure that the rural economy does not grind to a halt, because seasonal workers are already beginning to look elsewhere.
One area that Government Members get very excited about, because there are opportunities, is fishing. We welcome the chance to move beyond the common fisheries policy, but we on the Scottish National party Benches will not forget the circumstances in which it was first imposed on Scotland. Ted Heath, a Conservative Prime Minister, sacrificed the “expendable” Scottish fishing industry in order to gain entry to the European Economic Community—[Interruption.] Government Members might not like it, but that is why we are in this position, so we will take no lectures from them.
I note that the farming Minister has just arrived. I welcome him to his place and hope that he enjoyed his visit to Scotland—hopefully he was learning about the importance of honouring the level of payments that Scottish communities currently receive.
The legacy of that deal means that today over half the fish caught in our waters are caught by foreign vessels. Brexit will clearly mean the re-establishment of our exclusive economic zone, but the process is key. As with Norway, the Faroes and Iceland, access to the EEZ should be negotiated on an annual basis and led by Scottish Ministers. Those negotiations must not form part of Brexit talks. Scottish fishermen want to hear a clear commitment from the Secretary of State to the Scottish fishing industry, and indeed to the UK fishing industry, that it will not be just another pawn in the Brexit negotiations?
Finally, I would like to turn to trade and, in particular, the important question of assess to the single market. I think that the numbers speak for themselves. Overall, 69% of Scotland’s overseas food exports go to the EU, and they were worth £724 million in 2015.
On trade, two thirds of Scottish exports go to the rest of the UK and only 15% go to other EU countries, so why is the SNP suggesting that Scotland should stay in Europe but come out of the UK?
I do not understand why Government Members do not get this. It is as though they think that if we become independent we would float off into the Atlantic. That is not what happens. Are you saying that Ireland will be able to trade freely with the UK and the EU, as the Brexit Minister said, but somehow Scotland would not? I hate to break it to you, but we buy more from you than you do from us.
Order. I cannot let the hon. Gentleman get away with saying “you.” I know what he meant, but maybe he could say it the right way, just to keep me happy.
Apologies, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am getting rather over-excited, but I will always be passionate when defending my constituency and rural Scotland against those who want to do it harm based on a hard-right, Tory Brexit.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way; he is being generous. On the subject of trade, does he agree that actually the EU is Scotland’s growth market area? We have seen a 20% increase in the export of goods since 2007, and for services the figure was 50%, so actually the EU is our growth market for the future.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, as always. If we look at the numbers, we see that 68% of Scottish seafood exports that leave the UK go to EU countries, and that 80% of beef and lamb exports from Scotland are destined for the EU.
Outwith the EU, as we hear the Government trying to carve out a policy, those exports will be at risk of tariffs. I want to look at the risk that that poses. Let me take the example of red meat. Quality Meat Scotland has conducted analysis that shows that if we were subject to the current tariffs that apply to non-EU countries, there would be, on average, a 50% increase in costs for importers buying our products.
At the Oxford Farming Conference, the Secretary of State spoke of fields of opportunity but in the press conference afterwards, she admitted that UK exports would decline if tariffs were erected. That is the prospect faced by exporters in Scotland and, indeed, the whole UK. We call upon the Secretary of State to outline which products her Department thinks should be prioritised in upcoming negotiations.
There is no easy way to withdraw from the world’s largest trading bloc, and the search for alternative markets will involve a host of costs and compromises. For example, Canada’s standard tariff on beef stands at 26.5% and South Africa’s is currently at 40%. Do the Government really think that alternative markets, many with lower production costs than our own, can compensate for restricted access to the EU? The recent success of Scotland’s £14 billion—I was slightly taken aback by the size of that figure—food and drink sector shows that we are already an exporting global country. New trade links cannot mitigate the economic vandalism of cutting off access to a market of 500 million people on our doorstep.
Real political leadership is about seeking solutions to combat the impact of leaving the EU not just in Scotland, but all over the UK. If all the tangible benefits of single market membership end up being frittered away in pursuit of a red, white and blue Brexit, or a global Brexit, the Scottish people, who have shown that they want to build, not sever, their links with Europe, will recognise a familiar pattern. They will recall that the Heath Government sacrificed Scottish fisheries when we joined the EU and that the Thatcher Government decimated Scottish industry in the 1980s, and they will conclude that this Tory Government, with no mandate for the damage they may cause, will wreck Scotland’s rural economy and ignore our overwhelming wish to retain our links with Europe.
If this Government have already made a calculation that rural Scotland is expendable in order to engineer a clean break with Europe, they can never again turn to the people of Scotland and claim that the Union is a partnership of equals. Will the Government take this opportunity to recognise the potentially devastating impact that a hard Brexit could have on the Scottish rural economy or will they be content to make a desert of rural Scotland in the name of Brexit?
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “House” to the end of the Question and add:
“recognises the importance of the rural economy to the UK, not least the food, farming and fishing sector which is worth £108 billion to the economy and employs 3.8 million people in communities across the whole of the UK; welcomes the continuity and certainty the Government has provided by guaranteeing the same level of funding to the agricultural sector that it would have received under Pillar 1 of the Common Agricultural Policy until the end of the current Multiannual Financial Framework in 2020; further welcomes the Government’s undertaking that all structural and investment fund projects, including agri-environment schemes and schemes under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund that offer good value and fit with domestic objectives and are signed while the UK remains a member of the EU will be honoured for their lifetime even when this is beyond the UK’s departure from the EU; welcomes the opportunity that leaving the EU will bring to improve the management of fisheries in UK waters and to champion sustainable fishing; supports the continued investment in superfast broadband and the introduction of a Universal Service Obligation; shares the Government’s commitment to securing a deal in leaving the EU that works for all parts of the UK; and notes that one of the best ways of supporting rural communities is by having a strong economy that works for everyone.”
It will not surprise the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Calum Kerr) that I do not quite see it in the same way that he does. I thank him for giving us the opportunity to debate the rural economy, which is a vital part of our national economy. Hon. Members of all parties will know how diverse the rural economy is, and much of it is underpinned by our food, farming and fisheries sectors. Those industries have shaped all four parts of the UK and continue to do so. They are central to our heritage, landscapes and economic wellbeing, generating £110 billion for the economy each year and employing one in eight of us in all parts of the UK. We should all be proud of the world-class food and drink those industries produce and the role they play in our national life. The rural economy matters enormously.
Although leaving the EU offers huge opportunities to the farming and fisheries sector, it is vital that we provide the industry with as much continuity and certainty as we can. That is why we have already provided reassurance to all farmers across the UK that they will receive the same level of financial support under pillar one until 2020 For rural development programmes, agri-environment schemes and the European maritime and fisheries fund, we will guarantee projects that are signed before we leave the EU for their lifetime, even when this stretches beyond our departure from the EU.
The Government will also ensure that the devolved Administrations are funded to meet the commitments they have made under current EU budget allocations. Given that the administration of EU funding is devolved, it will be for those Administrations to decide the criteria used to assess projects.
I would like to believe the promises the Government are making, but, of course, the Government have form. If we go back to the convergence uplift criteria, Scotland was supposed to be rewarded with £223 million of funds from the EU, but we are getting only 16%. We were promised a review in 2016—it has not happened. When will it happen, and when will our crofters and farmers get what is due to them? The real question on the devolution of agriculture to the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament is about making sure we get the correct funding—it is about what happens not up to 2020 but after that.
I do recognise the hon. Gentleman’s point, and it is something I continue to look closely at in my Department. I will keep him up to date with progress on it.
Leaving the EU will give us the chance to develop policies for the rural economy that are bespoke to the needs of this country rather than the different approaches and circumstances of 28 different member states. As Secretary of State, I have made very clear my two long-term ambitions: first, to make a resounding success of our world-leading food, farming and fisheries industry—producing more, selling more and exporting more of our great British food; and, secondly, to become the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it in. These ambitions look far beyond tomorrow; they are about long-lasting change and real reform. They form the bedrock of a balanced approach to policy, and the success of one is integral to the success of the other.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that one of the difficulties the agricultural sector faces under current EU legislation is with honest food labelling. Some food sold as British in this country is not, under EU regulations, necessarily grown in Britain—it may well have been grown or farmed a long way overseas. One real opportunity on leaving the European Union is that we can have honest food labelling so that we know that food is genuinely grown, farmed and produced in this country.
I share my hon. Friend’s concerns. This is something we have improved on greatly through voluntary and compulsory schemes for labelling, and we continue to look at that, particularly as we leave the EU, so he is right.
That brings me to the mechanics of our departure from the EU. The great repeal Bill will transpose the body of EU legislation into UK law. We will then be able to change or amend it, as UK law, at our leisure. We will soon be publishing a Green Paper consulting on a framework for our 25-year plan for the environment. This will help to inform our decisions, better connect current and future generations to the environment, and ensure that investment is directed to where it will have the biggest impact on the environment. I am sure all hon. Members will agree that our constituents want clean beaches, clean air, clean water, good soil and healthy biodiversity, whether we are a member of the EU or not, and I can assure hon. Members of my full commitment to that.
Will my right hon. Friend also make it a priority to publish proposals for a British fishing industry that will allow us to catch more of our own fish and protect our fishing grounds for the future?
My right hon. Friend makes a good point about the potential for all UK fishing. I hope that our policies, when we come to them after consultation, will enable us to deliver exactly what he asks for.
Today, the Prime Minister made a passing reference to Spanish fishermen and their interests when she was talking about doing a deal with the EU. That suggests that fishing is already in play in these negotiations, so can the Secretary of State clarify what the Prime Minister is offering Spanish fishermen and why our fishermen are being used as pawns in this process already?
I can assure the hon. Lady that, as she will appreciate, we are not entering into any negotiations until we have triggered article 50. We are, however, consulting our colleagues very widely in the devolved Administrations, and any negotiating positions will be discussed with them, so she does not need to worry about that.
A healthier environment will enable our world-leading food, farming and fishing industry to go from strength to strength. As pledged in our manifesto, our upcoming Green Paper on food, farming and fisheries will set out a framework for the future of these industries over the next 25 years. We will consult widely on that Green Paper.
Clearly, in relation to the environment, there are decisions that may still properly be made at a European level, but some decisions made in Europe damage our farming industry in Lancashire. A perfect example is that in Rossendale and Darwen: farming of commons is what most upland farmers do, and each movement of the cattle between commons is counted. A farmer may have 15 movements in the life of his herd, reducing the price that he gets at market. Will my right hon. Friend commit to making sure that this is altered?
There is a lengthy answer to that but also a much shorter one, which is that the opportunities that arise from leaving the EU include points such as that which my hon. Friend raises. During consultation on our food, farming and fisheries Green Paper, there will be the opportunity to make those points and to seek remedies.
I want to give a few examples of how our departure from the EU gives us some very specific opportunities: first, to design a domestic successor to the common agricultural policy that meets our needs rather than those of farmers across the entire European Union; secondly, to ensure that our fisheries industries are competitive, sustainable and profitable; and thirdly, to make our environment cleaner, healthier and more productive. Ours will be a system that is fit for the 21st century, tailored to our priorities and those of our farmers, our fishermen, and our environment.
The UK guarantee on funding was my first priority on arriving at DEFRA in the summer. It provides crucial certainty to farmers and the wider rural economy. I am conscious, however, that many farmers and rural businesses plan much further ahead and work to much longer investment cycles, so it is vital that we start planning now for life beyond 2020. It is important that we think carefully about what happens next and develop the ideas and solutions for a world-leading food and farming industry and an environment that is left in a better state than when we inherited it. That will involve focusing on the industry’s resilience, unlocking further productivity, and building environmental considerations into our policies from the outset.
I believe that the fundamentals of our food and farming sectors are strong. Food and drink is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK—bigger than cars and aerospace combined—and leaving the EU will provide more opportunities for the sector to thrive. [Interruption.] It is important to take stock of how much we already export beyond the EU: 69% of exports of Scotch whisky go to non-EU countries; 59% of salmon exports, which are predominantly from Scotland, go to non-EU countries; and non-EU dairy exports are up by over 90%. Leaving the EU will allow us to shape our own trade and investment opportunities, encourage even greater openness with partners, in Europe and beyond—[Interruption.] I sincerely hope that the hon. Gentlemen who keep shouting are going to read this in Hansard since they are obviously not interested in any of my words in the Chamber.
Several hon. Members rose—
I will give way once they have listened to me for a moment.
Leaving the EU will allow us to shape our own trade and investment opportunities, encourage even greater openness with partners, in Europe and beyond, and put Britain firmly at the forefront of global trade and investment. The recent launch of our international action plan for exports, with nine campaigns across a number of global markets, demonstrates our ambition in this area—an ambition that builds on our strength as a great, outward-looking trading nation.
Scotland has always been at the heart of this success, accounting for 30% of the UK’s total exports of food, feed and drink in 2015. One of the highlights of my trip to Vietnam last year was a lunch to promote fabulous Scottish smoked salmon and Aberdeen Angus beef to Vietnamese food importers.
The Secretary of State mentions planning and careful thinking going forward to 2020, but what planning and careful thinking have been done for the crofters of Na h-Eileanan an Iar and the west highlands, and what will post-2020 mean for them and their futures?
My hon. Friend the Minister of State met the National Farmers Union of Scotland yesterday, as I did recently, so we have taken informal advice. At the same time, I have made it very clear—unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman was not listening—that the consultation on our Green Paper on the long-term future of food, farming and fisheries is the perfect opportunity for him to represent his crofters’ interests and for them to feed into the consultation, and we would welcome such an opportunity. [Interruption.]
Order. Hon. Members ought to have the courtesy to listen to the Secretary of State.
Scotland has a rich and varied agricultural heritage, including the grain-producing lowlands in the east, and beef and lamb production in the uplands. It is no surprise that Scotland has a number of world beating brands, including Scotch beef, Shetland lamb, Stornoway black pudding and Orkney Scottish island cheddar. On my last trip to Scotland, I met representatives from key industries and trade bodies that are vital to the Scottish rural economy, including NFU Scotland and Scotland Food and Drink. I was given a guided tour of Paterson Arran, which has grown into one of Scotland’s best-known independent food companies, with a turnover of almost £24 million in 2015. I was also fortunate to be shown around the Glenmorangie bottling plant in Livingston. Scotch whisky is a phenomenal global success, accounting for about one fifth of all UK food and drink exports, worth £3.9 billion in 2015.
On working with the devolved Administrations, I regularly meet my ministerial counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and I look forward to welcoming them to London for further discussions next week. I am determined that we secure a deal on leaving the EU that works for all parts of the UK and recognises the contribution that all corners of this country make to our economic success.
Leaving the EU is DEFRA’s biggest focus, as it is the Whitehall Department most affected by the EU, but alongside this, the day-to-day work of DEFRA continues to focus on achieving the right conditions for a thriving rural economy. Although much of rural policy is devolved, in August 2015 we published the rural productivity plan for England to set the right conditions for businesses in rural areas in England to prosper and grow. Across the board, Government policies will help rural communities: having an industrial strategy that works for all areas; delivering 3 million apprenticeship starts in England by 2020, including trebling the number in food, farming and agri-tech; and building more homes and providing better access to services.
My right hon. Friend is making an important point. Does she believe, as I do, that the huge opportunities for rural diversification will strengthen our rural economies and rural communities? Not the least of those opportunities are the outdoor recreation and other activities, which can create meaningful experiences for people, that will help the rural economy, as well as physical health and wellbeing?
My hon. Friend is exactly right. Reconnecting with nature and the outdoors is incredibly good for wellbeing. We expect and anticipate that the success of rural tourism will continue as we seek to become a more outward-looking nation.
The Secretary of State is making a very powerful point. Does she agree that there are huge opportunities in rural industries in relation to renewable energies, many of which are based in the rural economy, and that we should build on this and sell our technology and our innovation on the world stage, which will help with climate change across the globe as well?
My hon. Friend is quite right. The UK is the scene of incredibly successful renewable energy schemes. Many offshore wind projects are in fact in Scotland, and they have brought prosperity to some key areas in that nation.
Increasing connectivity right across the UK is vital both for businesses to be competitive and for communities to thrive. We are investing over £780 million to make superfast broadband of at least 24 megabits per second available to 95% of UK premises by 2017. Reaching the 5% that this figure does not cover is absolutely key and that is why I welcome the Better Broadband scheme. Under the scheme, those who cannot get a broadband speed of at least 2 megabits per second qualify for a subsidised broadband connection, with a grant of up to £350 available. I do encourage anyone who is eligible to contact their local authority.
We are also working to introduce a broadband universal service obligation by 2020, at a minimum of 10 megabits per second. An additional £442 million will make superfast broadband available to a further 2% of premises in the UK. This will be complemented by a further £1 billion broadband infrastructure investment, as announced in the autumn statement. For areas with poor mobile coverage, planning reforms came into force in November to facilitate the building of taller masts, and to make upgrading and sharing of infrastructure easier. I assure Members across the House that better connectivity, the key to unlocking the full potential and productivity of rural areas, will remain a priority for the Government.
In conclusion, our goal is to secure a deal that works for all parts of the UK. Promoting our great British food at the same time as improving our environment is central to building a strong economy that works for everyone.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. Before I call the Opposition spokesman, it will be obvious that a great many Members wish to speak and that we have a very short time for this debate. I warn Members that initially there will be a time limit of four minutes and that that is likely to be reduced to three minutes. If Members make lots of interventions they will find that they will be called later in the debate than they otherwise would have been. No time limit, however, applies to Rachael Maskell.
If I may, before I begin, as this is my first opportunity to do so, I would like to pay my personal respects to Katie Rough. Katie lived in my constituency and died tragically in York just over a week ago. The whole city has been shocked and saddened by the loss of such a precious little life. Yesterday would have been Katie’s eighth birthday, and I joined with her community in Westfield to celebrate her life alongside her parents and friends. I am sure the whole House would want Alison and Paul Rough to know that they are very much in our thoughts and prayers. May Katie rest in peace.
We live in challenging times, in which it is often difficult to see over the horizon, and yet we have a duty to steer a steady path to achieve the best outcome for our nation. The country voted to leave the European Union on 23 June, so we now have a responsibility to take the whole country forward together—the 100%— to provide economic and national security for all, and to cut deals with the EU and others to ensure that our export focus remains robust.
Seven months have passed since the vote, and negotiations are due to begin in just a couple of months’ time, so where is the plan from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs? I have heard plenty of platitudes from the Conservative party. I have listened to dogmatic ideology about cutting red tape. There have been utterances about aspiration and the “fantastic opportunity” before us, but all is meaningless without even a shred of a DEFRA plan being shared. Those words no longer wash with farmers. Farmers do not work with esoteric concepts; they live in a real, tough, cut-throat and challenging world where straight talking is what matters. So where is that DEFRA plan we have been promised? Of course we should have had it before the referendum, and we continue to hear talk of the two seriously delayed 25-year plans, but farmers need a plan now, so that they can shape their agribusinesses and give them the best possible chance to succeed. The year 2020 is just around the corner and provides little security for so many.
The whole food and farming sector needs security now, security through transition and security for the long term. It is challenging enough for the farming community at the best of times. That is why so many voted to leave the EU, in the hope that surely things could not be worse, but being kept in the dark, not knowing what the Government plan to do, is even more worrying. Farmers at the Oxford farming conference showed their vote of confidence in the Secretary of State; only the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), eventually came to her rescue by putting a sole arm in the air to show support for his boss.
Farmers need clarity. The success of the food and farming industry, which we must celebrate, has been down to the sheer grit and determination of farmers in making a success of their businesses, but let us not get away from the fact that it is tough out there: incomes are falling and debts are rising. Incomes were down by a shocking 29% last year, and a fifth of farmers are struggling just to pay their bills. The average debt for a farming business is now £188,500, and too many have gone out of business altogether, including more than 1,000 dairy farmers in the last three years. Not all farmers are thriving, or even surviving.
Not every problem can be blamed on the EU. For sure, there are some regulations that farmers would happily see the back of. With 1,200 regulations to analyse, of course we would want to see some go, but rather than picking out one or two by name, the Secretary of State should first set out the strategy, and then test each regulation against the criteria, not take a piecemeal approach with no systematic logic applied. Ever since I was appointed to my brief, I have been asking how the Government will police regulations and prosecute those who breach them outside the EU framework. Answers are needed, as this will be a matter for the UK alone.
All this has little relevance, however, if the big question is not answered: what will replace the common agricultural policy? What succeeds CAP is not subject to any negotiation with the EU, so what has been agreed with the Treasury? With subsidies accounting for over half the income and investment resources of farmers, they need to know what will take its place. What will the criteria be, how will they access funding and how can they start shaping their businesses now, in line with the new criteria, so that by 2020 they can be on the firmest financial footing possible? What has the Treasury agreed? What has the Secretary of State determined?
If Labour were in power today, we would be launching our rural investment bank, and building sustainability for businesses and the environment, and resilience across farming. We would be giving farmers the stability and security they need to plan their future, along with the business support they need and the infrastructure and technological investment to drive productivity.
Does the hon. Lady agree that there are grave concerns about early pest and disease intelligence from Europe, which might become much less accessible, alongside investment in research and development, which might fall without access to EU funding?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. It is our co-operation across Europe that has built the resilience of farming, and the huge knowledge base that we all take advantage of, so of course the relationships we maintain with the science and research base across the EU will be absolutely vital to the success of farming in the future.
Of course, our fishermen and women are searching for answers, too. I have always believed that honesty is the best policy to abide by. It is time the Government clearly set out for those working across the fishing industry what they can expect to change after we leave the EU. The building of a sustainable fishing industry in an international context is vital if the industry is to survive, but as has always been the case, it is the responsibility of the UK Government to make sure that small fishing fleets have access to stock.
Accessing global markets is vital for the future of the UK food and drink and farming sectors, but again I have to ask the Secretary of State what the strategy is. It surely cannot be her role to conduct the global auction on every food product, promoting her favourite brands, such as Snowdonia cheese or Walkers shortbread. What is the approach to help every farmer access tariff-free global markets? She cannot skip over the EU as if it no longer exists. Some 72% of our food and non-alcoholic drink exports go to the EU, and farmers want the security of knowing that they will have tariff-free access to this market. That is why Labour has been explicitly clear: “We want you to have access to the single market and tariff-free trade.” We must warn the Prime Minister, who, from what she has said today, is steering towards a hard Brexit, not to create more barriers or impossible competition for the agricultural and food sectors.
The other pressing issue is labour. Free movement has enabled 98% of the UK farmers’ seasonal workers to come from the EU—80,000 people coming to pick our fruit and veg each year. On this point, we must be clear. This is absolutely not about taking anybody’s job from anyone else. These are jobs that failed to be recruited for locally. This is not an issue on which farmers can afford to wait and see what happens, because they need to know what they will reap before they sow. Seasonal labour is already in short supply as a result of last June’s vote, and the fall in the pound has made other countries more attractive to seasonal workers. The xenophobia is keeping some away—and xenophobia has no place anywhere in our country. We owe it to those who come here to make it clear not only that they are welcome, but that we recognise the valuable role they play in our food and farming sector and in the wider economy.
For those in the EU who have made the decision to work in the UK, the Government should grant them the right to stay now. Indecision and delay is resulting in many leaving and keeping others away. I know that the meat sector has highlighted the serious risk that the dithering over these rights is causing to its sustainability—and the meat sector is not alone. Today, the Prime Minister had the opportunity to provide businesses and workers from the EU with the stability they need, but when she was asked specifically on the point, she yet again ducked the question.
Does my hon. Friend share my disappointment that, apart from a passing reference to the word “agriculture” in the preamble to the Prime Minister’s speech, there was nothing about the environment, food or farming in the 12 objectives that she set out? Does my hon. Friend think that the Prime Minister should be according these subjects far more importance?
I thank my hon. Friend for that point, and I have certainly scoured the speech to try to find the word “environment” in it, but it was not there. I have serious concerns that the environmental protections that we currently enjoy from the EU will not be there for the future. Of course, as we go forward and the EU makes more progress in these areas, there was no guarantee in the Prime Minister’s contribution today that that will be part of her 12-point negotiating plan or strategy. [Interruption.] I hear the Secretary of State saying that it is non-negotiable, but if it is a key point on which we expect to make progress, we need to see it in the 12-point plan. Clearly, the Prime Minister missed the opportunity to make clear the importance she would place on the environment; that was not stated.
Does the hon. Lady share my concern about the staggering fact that the Government have not incorporated at least some of the recommendations for future land management that were suggested earlier this month in a letter to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs from the Institution of Environmental Sciences and other professional bodies about the still foggy post-Brexit plan—
Order. Interventions have been far too long. It is simply not fair for the hon. Gentleman to take the time of other Members who are waiting to make speeches. It is simply not courteous—no matter how important his point might appear to be.
We see yet again the lack of certainty being given, so a valid point has been made.
Let me raise a further point, about apprenticeships, with the Secretary of State. I am sorry, but apprenticeships are not about simply filling unskilled labour gaps; they are about sustaining people in skills development and training in their field, so that they can have a career ahead of them. The suggestion that they will fill the posts that 80,000 workers currently hold is not appropriate and not what apprenticeships are for.
Farmers need real solutions, so why not reintroduce the seasonal agricultural workers scheme? I know that the Government scrapped it in 2013, but it would provide a lifeline to farmers now and would be far better than leaving fruit and veg rotting in fields this summer. On behalf of all farmers, especially those who may be watching and listening to us speak here today, I sincerely hope that the Secretary of State finally provides a solution to this issue.
We also have a wider biodiversity system to protect. Farmers are the great conservationists of our nation. They, along with many non-governmental organisations, are the ones investing in and restoring our natural habitats, levering in environmental sustainability. With more support, they will go further still. We know that there is far more to be achieved. We cannot return to being the dirty man of Europe; nor can we stand by and sign trade deals with nations that pollute on our behalf, having no regard for soil, air or water quality. As responsible global stewards, we must stem pollution and drive forward progressive environmental standards. If the Government are pinning all their hopes on a deal with the next United States Administration, I urge them to think again.
As we debate rural communities, we cannot ignore all the other needs that they are still calling on the Government to address. As the Secretary of State said, access to broadband is an important issue, as is mobile connectivity, and rural communities are among the 5% of the population who have no access. Access to jobs, housing and transport are essential, as well as good public services. However, our ambition must go further. We must aim to halt the urban drift and rebuild rural communities, sustaining rural business and investing in new businesses, so that we pull ourselves back into the countryside and take the unsustainable strain from urban Britain. All those aims are important, and Labour Members understand how vital investment in rural communities is. No one will see a Labour Government cutting the budget for our national parks by 40%, as this Government have.
So what will the Secretary of State do? It is a shame that the Government amendment fails to recognise the unique needs of rural communities and the central role of investment in strengthening the wider economy. The huge challenges faced by rural economies require clear interventions, not complacency, and the shocking disparities between rural and urban environments must be addressed.
There is no such thing as a single, monolithic rural economy in the UK. There is great diversity, not just between communities but within them. I have focused much of my speech on farming, because that is where the challenges are most pressing, but we must remember that there is more to life in rural and coastal communities than farming and fishing alone. If the Government truly intend to deliver for rural communities, that will require a far more sustained effort than simply addressing immediate, short-term challenges in isolation. We need a proper, cross-Government strategy. This Government’s abolition of Labour’s Commission for Rural Communities and their establishment of the much-diminished policy unit in its place has weakened rural communities through a lack of both capacity and expertise.
Many of the issues that are being raised today are long-standing and cannot be blamed on the EU alone, but the turmoil that the Government are now creating through uncertainty is causing an escalating risk for this sector. Those who work across the rural landscape, or who fish in our seas, felt left behind by a Tory Government who failed to invest in their industry and their communities. That must change. With Labour, people would be confident that it would, and that farming would become far more stable, secure and sustainable.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. I already have to reduce the speaking time limit, before I have even imposed it. The time limit will now be three minutes.
It is very nice to follow the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell). I believe that she mentioned her “urban drip”, which I think was a very unfair way of referring to the Leader of the Opposition.
I have a very small farm in North Herefordshire where I raise Hereford cattle, which, as the Secretary of State ought to know, are the finest and most popular beef breed in the world. The assumption made in the motion that Brexit is something for farmers to be scared of is far too pessimistic. There are risks, but there are also opportunities.
The European Union has subsidised farms for years under the common agricultural policy. We have seen our farmers fall from pole position, and we are now behind some of our European partners in respect of profitability and innovation. Leaving the EU, and thus ending the common agricultural policy, should therefore not be a cause for concern in itself. Indeed, farmers and research organisations such as Linking Environment and Farming, or LEAF, have noted that Brexit is far more of an opportunity than a risk. We currently have a common agricultural policy which compromises for 28 states containing 12 million farmers with an average farm size of 15 hectares, or 37 acres. The United Kingdom has an average farm size of 84 hectares, or 207 acres. Now we are able to create a uniquely helpful agricultural policy for our farmers, prioritising the goals that we most want to achieve. It is important that we have an agricultural policy that works for our farmers, for we need their contributions, but it must also work for voters, the environment and all of us who need a healthy diet. That is particularly true as the NHS faces pressure from type 2 diabetes and other diet and exercise-related illnesses.
It is true that the reliability and predictability of funding is a major worry for farmers. However, the Secretary of State made it very clear in her conference speech that agricultural support would continue until 2020. By then we will have had enough time to prepare for a new agricultural policy which will work for this country.
The Government have already indicated that they are keen to cut back on ridiculous levels of EU bureaucracy, but we must be aware that within DEFRA there are evil individuals who are still rolling out hideous EU regulation by increasing the area suppressed by nitrate vulnerable zones. These are the nastiest and most ridiculous rules and need to be frozen or rolled back, but instead they are being increased, which is beyond scandalous. The civil servants who have recommended these roll-outs should be sacked, and if that involves getting in touch with the Prime Minister to ensure that it is done, then so be it, because it is absolutely against the will of the people and the Government.
I have placed on the record in this House multiple times the eminently sensible and straightforward position that this country stands to gain nothing from the Government setting out our negotiating position before the negotiations commence. The EU negotiators would gain the upper hand.
I am desperately disappointed that the Prime Minister signalled today that she intends to pull the UK out of the single market as well as out of the EU. Those who potentially have the most to lose from this hard Brexit approach include Scotland’s beef and sheep farmers. We have been farming beef in Aberdeenshire for thousands of years. Farming is a way of life more than a job, and we produce some of the best beef in the world for premium markets.
I am not going to repeat the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Calum Kerr), because he made the case well, but I will say the following in response to the Secretary of State. Scotland exported beef and lamb worth £73 million to EU countries in 2015. It is important to realise that more than 90% of Scotland’s red meat exports go to EU countries, and Switzerland, Norway and Monaco are at the top of the non-EU destinations.
Over the last 10 years Scotland’s food and drink exports have grown substantially, and our biggest growth markets have been in the EU, with a massive 20% growth over the last decade, a much higher rate than in other markets, including the UK market. That is why retaining access to the single market is so important to our future economic security, especially in rural areas where livelihoods are so affected by trade.
The other commodity produced on a large scale in my constituency is fish. We have a huge catching sector; up to a quarter of the UK’s fish is landed in my constituency. But for every job in the catching sector there are four or five in the processing industry, and that sector supports thousands of jobs across Scotland and a wider supply chain.
The vast majority of fishermen voted to leave the EU—and given the way they were sold out in 1972 and shoe-horned into the common fisheries policy, who can blame them? The catching sector sees many potential gains from being outside the CFP, not least a big bonanza on the horizon if it can secure extra quota. However, it is a very different story for the processing sector, where the opportunities are tempered by some significant drawbacks from a hard Brexit, as against a Norwegian-style deal that keeps our foot in the door of the single market. One of the major employers in my constituency has already come out and said publicly that we need to protect our position in the single market because we have a market advantage there.
We need to remember that two thirds of our fish exports go to the EU, so this is a huge issue for some employers. We exported nearly £450 million-worth of fish to the EU in 2015. That is a big chunk of our food exports; we cannot afford to jeopardise trade. While we probably cannot avoid tariffs at this stage, we can avoid non-tariff barriers such as rules of origin or the requirement for export health certificates at £300 a consignment, adding costs and bureaucracy that we do not need. That would leave an open goal for our Norwegian, Icelandic and Faroese competitors.
During the Brexit campaign, when I talked to people in the fishing industry who were ardent Brexiteers, they consistently held up Norway as the model they wanted to emulate, but that is no longer an option in this post-Brexit mission creep situation. The biggest risk now is, as I said to the Secretary of State, our Government selling us down the river, which was suggested might be happening in respect of the Prime Minister’s speech earlier today.
It was my privilege, in opposition and in government, to work with Sir Jim Paice. He and I might have voted to remain in the European Union, but we both had deep reservations about the common agricultural policy and desperately wanted the farming community to embrace the concept of changing the narrative and changing the ask of Government. We have to deal with the continuing acceptance of words such as “subsidy” as part of the lexicon of modern agriculture. We have to change the narrative. My message to Ministers today is: please be bold. We do not want a son of CAP, or a CAP-plus. We do not want a system that simply perpetuates what has happened in the past. We must look at this as an opportunity to introduce a rural policy that is an economic policy, an environmental policy and a social policy.
Does my hon. Friend agree that support will still be needed for hill farmers in places such as Wales and Scotland after Brexit?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I will talk about that precise issue.
I would like to have had the opportunity today to talk about innovations in farming. Precision satellite-assisted farming has become old news, with the internet of things and the incredible changes in technology bringing huge advances in agriculture. This is an opportunity for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to be at the heart of those changes and to support farming enterprise.
The impact of globalisation and the machinations of the CAP have caused the number of smaller farmers to plummet. This is bad news for the fabric of rural Britain, for rural communities and for the environment. We now have a chance to avoid some of the failures that have afflicted rural policy making for decades, including grants to drain moorlands followed a decade or so later by grants to fill them in; grants to rip out hedges followed a decade or two later by grants to replant them; and incentives to plant thousands of acres of Sitka spruce and lodgepole pine in areas such as the flow country in northern Scotland. The list of lamentable policy making goes on, so please can we get it right, most importantly in the uplands?
We need to be very worried about what is happening in the Lake district. Hill farming created the wilderness and pasture that still defines the Lake district landscape. The hefted flocks and those who shepherd them are as much a part of that landscape as the woods and the open fell. That was what Wordsworth loved about the lakes. It was also what led Beatrix Potter, an expert Herdwick sheep farmer, to save 14 farms and to give them, their sheep and 4,000 acres of land to the National Trust. Her intention was for the National Trust, and us, to preserve this rural heritage for the nation. She expected us—as millions of people do today—to maintain those fragile social structures in rural areas and to preserve the skills we need to sustain some of our most treasured landscapes.
There is, however, a vision that treats sheep farmers as the enemy and aims to turn the fells into a Petri dish for nature free of human intervention. This sees the replacing of the unique blend of the wild and the pastured that has defined the Lake district for 2,000 years with something that is frankly shameful. Allowing Ministers to recognise that small farms, particularly those in our uplands, are the most economically fragile and arguably the most socially valuable should be key to any new post-Brexit model of rural support. Being mindful of what our countryside is, and seeking to protect and enhance the most stunning landscapes in the world while assisting the industry to innovate and be more efficient and market responsive has to be the goal. I urge Ministers to take this opportunity to be bold and to create something better than what we have had.
I want to speak about the Environment Audit Committee’s report, “The Future of the Natural Environment after the EU Referendum”, which is tagged in this debate. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and to the hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), both of whom are in the Chamber today. Our report, produced by a cross-party group of MPs, found that changes from Brexit could put our countryside, farming and wildlife at risk, that protections for Britain’s wildlife and special places currently guaranteed under European law could end up as “zombie legislation”, even with the great repeal Bill, and that the Government should safeguard protections for Britain’s wildlife and special places in a new environmental protection Act. I will talk a little about that, but first I will address the issues around agriculture.
The Committee found that farmers face triple jeopardy from leaving the EU. Let us not forget that farms and farm businesses account for up to 25% of all UK businesses. First, the CAP provides 50% to 60%, on average, of UK farm incomes, and the figure will be much higher for certain farmers. The loss of the CAP threatens the viability of some farms.
Secondly, the new trade agreements could threaten incomes if they result in tariff or non-tariff barriers to export. At the moment, 95% of lamb exports go to the EU. If we are exposed to a common EU customs tariff, it could mean charges of up to 30% according to the Country Land and Business Association. Thirdly, any new trade deals with the rest of the world, such as that proposed yesterday by Mr Trump, could lead to competition from countries with lower animal welfare, environmental and food safety standards.
The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union told the House that he will do everything necessary to protect the stability of the financial services sector, and again we heard reassurances to the car industry in the UK, but there have been no such reassurances to the 25% of UK businesses that are classed as rural businesses. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said during a question and answer session at the Oxford farming conference that farm exports to the EU will decline post-Brexit. She also did not give my Committee any clarity on whether there will be subsidies for farmers after we leave the EU, and the Committee wants to see clearly defined objectives for future subsidies, such as promoting biodiversity, preventing flooding and repairing peat bogs.
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that, when the Environment Secretary gave evidence to the Committee, she said that up to a third of environmental legislation will not be covered by the great repeal Bill? That leaves a huge vacuum for environmental protection.
My hon. Friend is right. Our Committee discovered that copying EU legislation into UK law will not be enough for up to a third of the UK’s environmental protections. There is a risk that the legislation will be transposed but will no longer be updated because there is no body to update it, will not be enforced because there is no body with the legal duty to enforce it and can be eroded through statutory instruments with minimal parliamentary scrutiny.
Of course, we have had calls from some parts of the Conservative party for a sunset clause in the great repeal Bill, which is another thing from which the Secretary of State did not distance herself when she appeared before our Committee. That is why we want a new environmental protection Act to be passed before we leave the European Union. If the Government are to achieve their manifesto commitment for this to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than it found it, they must set out how they will provide an equivalent, or hopefully better, level of protection when we leave the EU. This House will have a vital role in providing clear-sighted scrutiny, rather than cheerleading, as that debate goes forward.
I received a letter from a local farmer last year. He had been informed that he could no longer grow cabbages because the EU considered them to be too similar to cauliflowers for compliance with the three-crop rule. Turnips, he was helpfully advised, would be more acceptable. Agriculture and food and drink are great British success stories, yet for half a century they have been held back by the ceaseless meddling of Brussels’s self-appointed vegetable police.
There are three simple reasons why leaving the EU represents an opportunity for the rural economy. Every year UK farmers receive some £3 billion of payments from the CAP, and some people act as if that money is a gift bestowed upon us by Brussels. The truth is that that money is the money of British taxpayers, who every year make a net contribution of £9 billion to the EU budget. With that money returned, we could fund Britain’s agricultural policy three times over. The difference will be that we have the freedom to provide funding for British farmers, and for the needs of British farmers, without smothering them with European regulations that they do not need.
The second benefit to our rural economy will be for the food industry and trade. Food demand is projected to grow by 70% in the coming decades, which is a huge opportunity for British food producers. The demand is being driven by China, Brazil, the US and India, all of which are countries that the EU has entirely failed to sign a free trade agreement with. With British trade policy back in British hands, we can sign a new generation of free trade agreements, allowing our companies to fulfil their enormous potential abroad. Lastly, rural businesses will gain enormously from the freedoms Brexit will give us to invest in infrastructure.
After we leave the EU, that box-ticking bureaucracy, a Government elected by the British people will be able to help fund the roll-out of better broadband to rural areas without having to wait a year for compliance with the European Union’s inflexible state aid rules. As wonderful as Provence is, it is not the Yorkshire dales. As dramatic as Seville’s orange groves are, they are not Dartmoor and Exmoor. Our rural areas are not the same as those of the 27 other European countries. Outside the EU we can design the policies that work specifically for our rural communities, and use our new-found freedoms to create a rural economy more robust and dynamic than ever before.
Like every part of Scotland, my constituency voted to remain in the European Union. More than 60% of the people in my constituency said that they wished the United Kingdom to retain its membership of the European Union and allow our high-quality, locally produced seafood, whisky and other goods access to the world’s biggest and most valuable market. In return, we would continue to welcome, with open arms, the EU citizens who wished to come to live and work in Argyll and Bute and call it their home. As the economic development service of Argyll and Bute Council has done with some notable success, we would continue to promote Argyll and Bute as an excellent place for foreign multinationals to invest in as they sought secure entry into the European single market for their products. That is why we voted to remain and that is why the Brexit being pursued by this Government will have a profound and damaging impact on so many areas of my constituency’s economy.
As we have heard many times, Scotland is a world leader in food and drink, and my constituency boasts 14 of the best whisky distilleries in the world.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the rural economy in Scotland is able to support our fantastic food and drink industry only because of the health of our environment, which has thrived under the environmental protection legislation made in partnership with Europe?
I absolutely agree, and I think that provenance and purity are essential, and a great part of what Scotland’s produce can offer.
Last year, Scotch whisky, much of it produced in my constituency, contributed £5 billion to the UK economy; whisky is absolutely massive, and removing us from the EU damages that. I am surprised that the Secretary of State seemed unaware that a huge percentage of the Scotch exported beyond the EU still benefits from deals brokered by the EU, and that is what we stand to lose.
There is so much I would like to say about this issue, but let me conclude by saying that I believe membership of the European Union has been good for Argyll and Bute and for Scotland, and that our continued membership is vital to the future economic regeneration of our area. We need people in Argyll and Bute, and the plan for future economic growth put forward by its council is predicated on attracting inward migration from EU citizens who want to come to work in our food and drink sector, in our forestry, in our farming sector and on our seas. We need people to come to work in our rural communities. We need EU nationals to come to Argyll and Bute, and we welcome EU nationals to Argyll and Bute. Almost 2,000 EU nationals are living in my constituency, and it is a disgrace that this Government will not guarantee their right to remain in the United Kingdom post-Brexit. I want to put on the record the fact that every EU national living in Argyll and Bute is very welcome. They have my full support and I wish to thank them all for the positive contribution they have made and will continue to make to our communities between now and Brexit. I will do everything I can to support their staying post-Brexit.
Brexit will be bad for the UK and for Scotland, and it will be particularly harmful for rural communities such as my own. As I said, being a member of the European Union has been beneficial for my constituency, which is why when we were asked the question last June, the people of Argyll and Bute overwhelmingly voted to remain.
There is an active and interesting debate going on about farming and agriculture in our rural communities. I was reminded of just how active on Friday, when I had the privilege of visiting the Plant House farm in Prestbury to find out more about dairy industry issues. We had a wide-ranging debate that completely captivated us for an hour and a half. I barely had time to see the new milking parlour, which had been the underlying reason for the visit, and the wonderful cakes on the kitchen table went untouched. Such are the sacrifices we make—unbelievable.
I recognise that this is a time of uncertainty for farming, but it is also a time to define new opportunities. The Prime Minister was clear today that although we are leaving the EU, we are not leaving Europe, so we need to define ongoing trading relationships with the EU. There are in her ambitious strategy new opportunities in broader markets, which will have positive implications for all industrial sectors and benefits for UK farmers as well.
Some may want the relative certainty of the common agricultural policy, but few would argue that it is a perfect system—far from it. It is quite the opposite. For too long, it has had all the hallmarks of a system created in the 1950s. It is over-bureaucratic and designed for the needs of 28 states, not the primacy of the UK national agricultural interests that we have to have in mind. Brexit will bring us a huge opportunity, so the passing of the CAP will not be mourned. We will create a better approach. The Prime Minister has already said that there are going to be protections for pillars 1 and 2 of the CAP until 2020.
Like the wider UK economy, the fundamentals of the UK agriculture sector are in good shape. We can compete with the best in the world, so we must now look forward to realise the opportunities before us. Like the wider economy again, though, it is not all about Brexit. Brexit should be a spur to action to tackle long-standing challenges and realise opportunities that have been with us for some time. I mentioned rural diversification in my intervention on the Secretary of State; we must realise those opportunities. That is particularly true for tourism and the visitor economy, which will be pivotal. Outdoor recreation also has a part to play in that particular debate.
We need to help young people to build careers in farming and develop their livelihoods in agriculture. I am impressed by the work I have seen done by young farmers clubs in and around Macclesfield, and by the enthusiasm that they have and bring to agriculture. As the Secretary of State develops her Green Paper and thinks about her 25-year DEFRA strategy, will she please not forget the other opportunities outside Brexit, such as rural diversification and, of course, the prospects for young farmers, who are pivotal for future success?
As the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, I am well aware of the likely impact on the rural economy of the UK Government’s policy on leaving the European Union. Indeed, after the Prime Minister’s speech today outside of Parliament, it is clear that that impact will be catastrophic.
We must all be clear that, short of continuing European Union membership, full membership of both the single market and the customs union is the best outcome, not just for the people of Scotland, but in the national interests of each country of the UK. In Scotland, the key economic sectors of the rural economy in terms of employment are agriculture, forestry, fishing, manufacturing, and the wholesale and retail sectors. In remote rural areas, like much of my constituency, tourism, accommodation and food and drink—including whisky and gin—also play a vital role.
Our infrastructure has benefitted immeasurably from the European funding of new bridges and roads that have shortened journey times and enabled remote communities to sustain themselves. Building them has created employment, and using them has created a tourist industry that has begun to thrive.
We have benefitted economically from enhanced protection for workers, financial support for our farmers and crofters, access to the single market for our goods and products, and new skills and employees found through the free movement of labour.
The hard Brexit announced today will be utterly devastating for Scotland’s rural economies, with high tariffs and the loss of financial support. Our exporters face the prospect of losing the Scottish protected food names that we value, and the common regulatory frameworks that help maintain our food safety, animal and plant health standards, and the competitiveness that we rely on through non-tariff barriers to trade.
We do not have to choose between the single market and the UK market. Scotland is already the top destination for exports from the rest of the UK, but the single market of the EU is Scotland’s real growth market, and eight times bigger than the UK market. As a member of the single market, not only does Scotland have access to a market of 500 million people in Europe, but through the European Union, it trades with the rest of the world.
Today, we reiterate our request to seek common ground with the UK Government and to find a solution that will preserve Scotland’s membership of the European single market and for the UK Government seriously to consider Scotland’s place in Europe.
It is a pleasure to make a contribution to this debate. As somebody who grew up in a horticultural environment in Wiltshire, I see agriculture and horticulture as absolutely key to the rural economy. This is a time of uncertainty. If a business was told that 50% to 60% of its current income was to end in three or four years’ time, it would feel a degree of uncertainty. Against that, in all the conversations that I have had with farmers over the past seven years in and around Salisbury, there was extraordinary frustration with the way that the CAP operated. Every time I met farmers, I heard about a difficulty that had not been overcome. Ministers in Whitehall were unable to effect the changes that they wanted to see.
We must now grasp the opportunities that exist—and considerable opportunities do exist. We must remember that 60% of all food eaten in the EU comes from this country. Some 70% of the UK landmass is managed by those working in the rural economy, and the rural economy contributes £100 billion to the British economy each year, which is a significant sum. We need to be ambitious about the sorts of reforms that we bring to the new funding mechanisms. We have given assurances for the next three years, but we also need to have a bold vision for the future of agriculture and the rural economy that not just delivers more, but demands more. We need to say to those who are frustrated with underfunding and the under-delivery of rural services that we can do more in return for a more productive sector.
I wish to mention the matter of access to the right skills. The problem was clear to me when I visited a fish-gutting plant outside Downton last year. The signs on the wall were not in English, but Polish. Everyone who worked there was bussed up from Southampton. We need to be clear that we nail this issue well. Despite excellent agricultural colleges in Hampshire and Wiltshire, we are not providing the supply of skills to the industry from local home-grown youths. We need to be clear that we answer the question that many farmers are asking, which is how we ensure access to the skills that are needed in this vital sector. This should be a time of optimism for the industry, as we are releasing the burden of all those issues that have been so difficult for farming for so long.
Coming from the mainly rural constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone in Northern Ireland, I know what it is like to live among farmers. Indeed I am a farmer myself. The European Union has provided significant finance and wider support to the rural community. Although many farmers, fishermen and rural businesses recognise that, they also add the question: at what cost? With all the paperwork involved in European regulations and directives, many farmers and rural businesses are saying, “Is it worth it?” Most of them are answering no, it is not, simply because it adds to their burden. Farmers want to farm and businesses want to get on with their business, and they do not want to be burdened with that additional red tape and bureaucracy. I listened to the hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak) proactively highlight that—he is not in his place at the moment, but I thought that he showed an interesting aspect of this. When we exit the European Union, we need—in fact, we demand this—the United Kingdom and the devolved institutions not to follow through with red tape and bureaucracy, particularly that related to the common agricultural policy.
The most effective report on this that I have read comes from the Scottish Government and was published in August 2014. It says:
“We believe that the EU Commission rely on a fear culture to achieve compliance with a complex set of regulations. The fear culture transcends through to Paying Agencies (fear of disallowance), inspectors (fear of audit failure) and beneficiaries (fear of unintended compliance failures and financial penalties).”
I commend the Scottish Government for being so open, honest and truthful about the regulations and how they affect their farmers and rural communities. They are hugely critical of the penalty system imposed through the common agricultural policy, mainly due to the fear culture imposed by the Commission.
Whatever happens with the exit under Brexit, my one plea is that we will not follow through with those regulations and directives. Many other countries in the European Union do not impose them, but we in the United Kingdom have to impose them to the top end.
It is a pleasure to contribute to this important debate. It is clear from my perspective that our rural communities and rural economy have not fared well during our time as a member of the European Union. There is one thing that was even worse for the rural economy than being part of the EU, and that was 13 years of Labour Government. It is quite laughable that the Labour Front-Bench spokesman suggested that rural Britain has something to fear from a Tory Government, because I can tell the House from Cornwall that 13 years of Labour did no favours to our rural economy. We need to understand that leaving the EU presents some great opportunities for rural Britain.
As has been mentioned, much of our rural economy is dominated by agriculture and fishing and neither have been able to thrive in the way that I believe they can while we have been part of the EU. The one-size-fits-all common agricultural policy and common fisheries policy in which we have to take into consideration all 28 member states simply does not work for Britain. The British countryside is unique; there is nowhere like it in the European Union and leaving the EU presents us with an opportunity to develop policies for agriculture and fisheries and to manage and invest in our countryside in a way that will be fit for the British countryside and British rural communities. I believe that that great opportunity is facing us now that we have decided to leave, and we can make the most of it.
I am often asked what will replace the European funding— the hundreds of millions of pounds that we have had from the EU, or should I say through the EU, for Cornwall. Let us remember that that money is British taxpayers’ money that is recycled through the European Union and comes with strings attached under heavy bureaucracy, so we are unable to invest it in the things that we really need to invest it in. Leaving the EU will give us an opportunity to have a regional development fund fit for the UK and fit for Cornwall. We will be able to spend it on the things that we want to spend it on and the things that Cornwall needs us to spend it on without the bureaucracy, box ticking and form filling that so many businesses find is needed just to qualify for the grant. I am confident that Cornwall and rural communities across Britain will have the opportunity to thrive and trade with the world once again.
We seem to think that once we leave the EU it will suddenly stop wanting to buy our world-class produce. Of course the EU will still want Cornish clotted cream and Cornish seafood, but this will give us the opportunity to trade with the emerging markets around the world, such as China, where there is a growing demand. I am confident—
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I will happily give way—
Order. It is the end of the hon. Gentleman’s three minutes.
Now we know that it is to be the hardest of hard Brexits, in what will perhaps be remembered as the biggest single act of economic self-flagellation ever inflicted on a nation. It will practically crucify our rural economy. If we were indulging in this hard Brexit for some lofty ideal, such as tackling global injustice or trying to improve the conditions of some of the world’s poorest, I could just about stomach it, but we are indulging in this sadistic piece of national self-harm because the UK does not like immigrants. That is the predominant issue, and it takes precedence over all others when it comes to exiting the European Union.
We live in a global, interconnected world where the movement of people has never been so profound, but the new global Britain is about to raise the drawbridge and ensure that nobody comes here. It is the Faragists on the hard right of the Tory party who have won the terms of Brexit. It is their vision that will now inform how this country progresses. I am so proud that my nation voted overwhelmingly to remain within the European Union, and I will do absolutely everything I can to ensure that its decision is respected.
I am proud of the people of Perth and North Perthshire, who also voted overwhelmingly to remain within the European Union. My constituency is almost totally rural. We have some fine hill farming in highland Perthshire, and some of Scotland’s finest arable lands in east Perthshire, and the city of Perth was once the centre of agricultural administration in Scotland. All those activities are reliant upon international trade and support from the European Union. Farmers in my constituency are very concerned about what will happen to them. The news that one in five Scottish farmers and crofters intend to quit farming because of their concerns over Brexit should alarm this House.
I have the world-renowned Perthshire berry sector in my constituency—no better strawberries or raspberries are produced anywhere in the world. The harvesting of that crop relies entirely on European labour. This Government could put my berry farmers at ease today by announcing that they intend to renew the seasonal agricultural workers scheme. Just a few weeks ago I went around the hotels in Pitlochry, all of which depend upon European Union workers, and all of which are now under severe threat and greatly concerned about what will happen to them.
If England wants to indulge in this economic self-harm, that is up to England, but our country must now be listened to. We have decided something else and our view must be respected. We have alternatives, and I encourage the people of Scotland to have a very close look at them now.
Looking at the statistics of the referendum, it is evident that a vast number of rural areas voted to leave the EU. We in this place must respect that decision, but we should also ask why that was—although, I fear that debate is for another day. As we are now on the cusp of triggering article 50, I welcome this debate, which was initiated by SNP Members. Indeed, I even agree with them in several areas. We agree that we must do all we can to support our vitally important rural areas and we agree that the rural economy is vital to the British economy at large. Food security is key, along with the rural way of life. But sadly that is where our paths diverge. The title of the debate on the Order Paper is “Effect of the UK leaving the EU on the rural economy”, and I take umbrage at literally the first word of that title. What does it say about an opposition party that it uses the word “effect” when talking about Brexit and the rural economy, rather than the opportunities it presents? It seems to want to do down our rural areas from the start, and I certainly cannot agree with that.
If nothing else, Brexit presents major opportunities for our rural economy: on subsidy reform, new markets, forestry, tourism and broadband access, to name but a few. One of the major issues I hear when travelling around my constituency is the effect that leaving the EU will have on single farm payments and the common agricultural policy, but I cannot help but think that there is a great opportunity here for Britain. One thing is for sure—I am sure the whole House agrees—there is nothing common about the common agricultural policy.
Time is against us, but it is clear that there are two sides to this debate and two sides alone. There are those who want to do down our farmers as nothing more than a subsidy, and there are those who believe that our farmers have the capacity to be the most innovative in the world. There are those who want to do down our rural areas as wholly reliant on the EU, and there are those who want to do up our rural areas so that they may flourish. There are those who seek nothing but their own self-created negativity towards Brexit, and there are those who see nothing else but the opportunity that it will provide.
After the Brexit vote last year, we are now in possession of the ambition that our American cousins have held for more than 300 years, for we can truly state that Great Britain is the land of opportunity. Now is the time to capitalise on that. All that matters is that we go into our negotiations with the right attitude and protect our rural economy for the long term.
Diolch yn fawr iawn. The Government amendment mentions continuity and certainty to 2020. That is three years away. People fear uncertainty, and the rural communities I represent are afraid that the certainties that underpin their way of life are to be swept away.
Farming is a difficult profession, requiring a commitment to a lifestyle that is almost unmatched. Yet, the economic impact of farming in communities in my constituency is far wider than is possibly appreciated. In Wales, upland farm profits fell last year to £21,900, meaning that about 60% of farms either made a loss or would have done so without farm support. However, despite their economic hardship last year, the 10,000 or so farm businesses in Wales paid employees and other businesses about three times as much as they made. Many Welsh communities are dependent on the rural economy for their year-round existence. The Welsh language, culture and traditions of Wales are rooted in these communities and their future is at risk.
That brings me to my next point, which is the much maligned—today, before and probably afterwards— EU common agricultural policy. Undoubtedly, this financial support mechanism is not perfect and its administration could clearly be improved, but what we have heard so far from the Government does not offer us much hope of an improved CAP-style model. Of course, farmers do not want to have to rely on direct payments, but a legacy of 60 years of policy making aimed at cultivating a plentiful, cheap and secure food supply means that the returns from the market are simply too low to sustain most livestock businesses. If we slash and burn the support mechanisms that we afford our already struggling farms, we risk not only our food supply, but the future of our rural communities and the industries they support.
Wales has about 5% of the UK population, but receives about 12% of the EU funds that flow to the UK. That is a result not only of its considerably more rural society, but of the less profitable livestock hill farms of Wales receiving a far greater share of CAP payments compared with the crop farms of southern England. Those farms, which are vital to our rural and national economy, must receive guarantees now that they will not suffer any loss of support. I call on the Government to do something radical—to slow down and think.
Policies must be evidence-based, rather than the product of idealistic aspirations and clever-sounding buzzwords. A “clean Brexit” chimes with a clean break, but no rhetorical flourish will ring true for those who end up broken. I therefore call on the Government to maintain direct payments and budgets, to ring-fence the moneys until we have found a realistic way to replace farm incomes, and to guarantee that there will be no power grab from the nation of Wales. As I was told recently,
“if they want to do to rural communities what was done to the miners, let them…do so with their eyes open.”
I have said many times in this House that my constituency voted more than any other to leave the European Union, but what has not been said in this debate is that it was the rural parts of England and Wales that particularly voted to take back control. Those are the parts of the country for whom democracy today is working. What the rural UK voted for, it is getting. For those who remain remainers—behind the times though that may be—it is appropriate first to ask what rural Britain voted for. I would say that there are three things.
First, even though we know that agriculture has long been powered to a greater or lesser extent by migrant workers from elsewhere in the UK or from eastern Europe, a desire for a migration policy that has the consent of the British people was a key factor. By some estimates, a third of central Boston’s population is now from eastern Europe. These are hard-working men and women in the main, paying taxes and working in all weathers, but that is not a change the then Labour Government planned for or the constituency ever voted for.
A key impact of voting to leave the EU should not be to make any individual feel unwelcome, as I have said in this House many times; it should be the restoration, partly in the rural economy, of simple self-determination over environmental regulation and the workforce. No party went to the country on a manifesto that said that market towns across the east of England would see huge changes in numbers that would result in serious pressures on public services, and if they had, they might not have won.
So, on immigration, which is a key issue in my constituency, I hope one impact of Brexit will be the restoration of some form of the seasonal work visa scheme we had until relatively recently that means that people are able to come here, pay taxes and work if a job is already lined up.
Secondly, we should point out that there has already been an impact on the supply of labour in constituencies such as mine. In my area, there is already not the abundance of minimum-wage labour there once was. I submit that that will combine with the more than laudable impact of the national living wage to create a third condition, which, I suspect, will be a renewed push for further mechanisation and automation.
As the labour supply changes, and as technology gets more powerful, the Brussels sprouts and the brassicas in my constituency will, if hon. Members will forgive me, become guinea pigs for new research into how we make growing and picking them even more affordable for businesses that often work on ferociously tight margins, thanks in part to our supermarkets. We will see a rise of the rural robots. In that increasingly complex environment, we must guard against the challenges of modern slavery, but we must also bear it in mind that we have a huge potential to seize that industrial revolution and to take back the control my constituents voted for.
I thank the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Calum Kerr) for affording us this opportunity, albeit a rather short and curtailed one. The one guarantee I think we can assume we will have at the end of this debate is that we will return to these issues again and again—not least those of us who represent rural constituencies.
I do not think anybody would doubt the passion and concerns in this debate, not least about the impact of the hard Brexit we have heard about today. In my county of Ceredigion, small family farming is critical to the local economy and to the sustainability of our rural communities. The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) and those on the SNP Benches about the multiplier effect—the effect on single family farms and the potential loss of business in the wider community—should not be lost.
Farming is crucial to Wales’s economy. It is described by some as Wales’s last great industry, employing 58,000 people directly, with many more jobs created indirectly, and outputting £1.5 billion of produce each year. Some 13% of the people in my constituency are employed on the land, and farming has a hugely significant effect on the broader economy.
The UK’s food and drink sector as a whole is the fourth largest exporting sector in our country and is worth over £12 billion a year to our economy, with 72% of its exports going to the EU. The Welsh figures are somewhat higher.
The Government say they will keep their negotiating cards close to their chest, but that should not mean a lack of the long-term assurance—the certainties many have mentioned this afternoon—that is needed by those industries that need to plan years ahead at a time. Concern and anxiety are very much the order of the day among the small hill farmers I represent, who are operating on the margins and on a support regime—it is not something they want to exist in perpetuity, but they are concerned that, without transitional arrangements, with the rug pulled from beneath their feet, they could be on the edge of a cliff, which could have huge impacts.
Glyn Roberts, the president of the Farmers Union of Wales, said:
“Careful and precise statements are needed now more than ever.”
The reality is that we still await detailed, careful, precise statements. Yes, let us have guarantees about funding up until 2020, but a three-year window in which to plan a business is inadequate; it needs to be greater—we need far greater certainties. Glyn Roberts also said:
“The livestock producers which make up the vast majority of Welsh farmers are particularly reliant on exports to the continent, and we have made it clear since the referendum that full and unfettered access is essential to Wales.”
He went on to say that he was concerned that a deal was being floated with New Zealand for reasons of political expediency, and that gaining a market of 4.5 million customers on the other side of the planet—
As we have heard, British food and farming are central to our national identity and a key part of the UK’s economy, generating £110 billion a year and employing one in eight people across the country, some of whom are employed on the small but none the less very important number of farms in my constituency, along with Hayhead farm shop and other food-related businesses.
In debating farming and fisheries in the context of this Opposition day motion, it is important that we recognise the role that all farmers play in managing the countryside, wherever they are in the UK, and the work that they do. I come from a farming background. My dad worked in farming for 40-odd years; he has probably never had a mention in this place before. I know that for many, farming is not a nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday job—it is a 365-days-a-year job in what can be a very challenging sector. That is why, in this post-23 June era, I am pleased that at this stage, as the Government prepare to leave the EU, we are guaranteeing that current levels of agricultural support will be maintained until 2020.
Is my hon. Friend, like me, very pleased to hear the Secretary of State for Brexit’s announcement that agriculture will be at the centre of future trade negotiations with the EU and the rest of the world?
My answer to that is short and simple: absolutely yes.
Agricultural support is being maintained until 2020 to provide stability while a new agricultural policy is being developed, and we are guaranteeing for their lifetimes any agri-environment schemes that are already in place or are agreed in future, even if they run beyond our departure from the EU. Anything we can do help to build a sense of stability will be good for the industry.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I am going to continue because we are short of time.
One of the issues that local farmers have raised with me is the workforce and the need to attract the next generation—which is why this stability matters—but also the need to ensure that the agricultural sector has the workforce it needs for today. That is why it is so important to recognise that the PM has said she wants to protect the status of EU nationals already living here.
Turning more directly to the motion, it is disappointing that its primary focus is on farming and fisheries. Vital though those industries are, as are the comments we have heard today, let us not forget that in a rural economy there is also tourism. There are also the very many small and medium-sized enterprises in other sectors that come together to form the backbone of our rural economy. In fact, the rural economy is part of our country’s economy as a whole—the economy that Government Members continue to build and strengthen further. I acknowledge that there will be challenges in the Brexit era, but let us understand that there will also be opportunities, and go out there and find them.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. After the next speaker, there will be a limit of two minutes. I ask Members to bear it in mind that if anybody makes an intervention, the last few remaining speakers may not get in.
We all know and understand clearly my EU stance: I have been firmly out, out, out, as were my constituents. I watched entire families who had fished for generations walking away from the harbour and walking towards uncertainty, and all that was within me revolted against the EU. I have been told about massive schools of fish and yet told by the scientists that there were no fish. I have heard of modernisations for boats being scrapped as they did not meet EU standards, in order to have more money spent on useless changes that did not help or aid the crew to do their job. I have had furious British fishermen prevented from working only to see European fleets fishing at will in our waters. I have heard the death knell rung over British fishing, not because there was a problem in the sea, but because there was a problem in Europe. I have watched that decline during my time as an elected representative at council level, in the Assembly and finally in this place.
I commend our negotiators. I have every faith in the ability of the Secretary of State and the Minister of State to do the job that we want them to do. We look forward to their doing it, and we support them entirely.
When the Brexit vote took place, I met many of the agri-food industries in my area, and I arranged for the Secretary of State to come to Northern Ireland to discuss their needs in a post-Brexit market. Their view is clear, and the Minister knows it. I know it, and I want to put it on the record. Lakeland Dairies—the Secretary of State saw it during her visit to Northern Ireland—is expanding its exports further, beyond these shores and across the world, with much success. Willowbrook Foods has signed new contracts, which indicates how much it is looking forward to the future. Mash Direct, Rich Sauces and Glastry Farm ice cream are all firms from my area that may have had some concerns, but now see the opportunities for them in the future.
In our negotiations about coming out of Europe, the impact on the rural economy will come down to our trading power. The fact that we import so much from the EU surely gives us the strength to ensure a fair return on our trade. Let us therefore look at the good things that we will have when we leave the EU when it comes to fishing and certainly when it comes to farming. These are the issues that will affect our rural economy and the factors that we must consider and that, more importantly, the Brexit team must consider.
I know that the team is under no illusion about the difficulties of finding the right plan for the majority of fishermen, farmers and producers. However, as a businessman said to me, this is an opportunity—leaving the EU will be an opportunity—that cannot be wasted, and we must not look back on it and wish we had done it differently. Let us do it the right way now. This is a democratic process: the people across the whole United Kingdom have spoken collectively to leave the EU, and we must now work on their behalf to bring to our strong rural community the benefits from the decision that has been taken. This is our challenge. Are we up to it? I believe we are.
Mine is a truly bucolic rural constituency, with quaint market towns, the beautifully old-fashioned seaside town of Filey and the stunning north Yorkshire moors. I believe it is the most beautiful constituency in the land—I would say so—but those magnificent landscapes conceal a vibrant economy. There is farming, of course, but also fantastic foods, which are on display every year at the sun-drenched Malton and Filey food festivals. Groovy Moo makes superb gelato ice cream, and Ian Mosey and Karro Food are pig and pork producers. There are other businesses that Members might not expect, such as precision engineering firms run by octogenarian Christopher Shaw of Sylatech and Eddie Neesom of Hunprenco. These people get up early and travel the world. They are not lazy; they are hard-working people who are confident of taking their products to the world.
One thing these people want across the world, as new trade deals are agreed, is a level playing field. They are excited by the future, but we need to be realistic. In this country, we quite rightly keep quite strong regulation on our businesses in terms of the workplace, the environment and animal welfare. If we do trade deals elsewhere, we must feel that we are on a level playing field with businesses in other nations to make sure that our businesses are not at a competitive disadvantage. We also need a level playing field in the United Kingdom. In our rural areas in north Yorkshire, we do not get the level of investment in infrastructure that we see in other parts of the country; it is about half in transport projects and broadband. All I would say on behalf of my constituents is that they see the world as an opportunity, but they want a level playing field.
I was born and brought up on a farm where we had Ayrshire cows. They were fine—the greatest export Scotland has ever made. However, that is where any agreement with my Scottish colleagues ends in this debate.
I am very proud to represent the largely rural constituency of Taunton Deane, where farmers, growers, rural businesses and small businesses are the backbone of the economy. The south-west farming business brings in £2.7 billion and 220,000 people work in the food and drink trade, while there is also the all-important tourist trade. Leaving the EU represents an enormous opportunity for all these businesses, provided we have the right framework and backing from this Government. The Prime Minister’s statement about certainty and the new global Britain has set us on the right track. Which region wins on exporting the most and on having the most contracts? The south-west region, and we are perfectly placed to take advantage of the opportunities presented by leaving Europe.
Everyone agrees that the common agricultural policy must be reformed and the Government are on track to do that. I applaud the Secretary of State for mentioning that we must leave the environment in a better state than we found it. We must build a framework at home that enables all our businesses to be strong in the world. If we can do that, we will build on the global market. I applaud the Government for pouring money into infrastructure for Taunton Deane: the A358, the rail transformation project and the improvement to digital services. All those things will help us to build an environment that works for everyone, a farm economy that works for everyone and a rural industry that, contrary to what we hear from the Opposition Benches, will thrive.
I have sat through the whole debate and heard all the contributions, and it is very odd that nobody on the Scottish National party Benches thinks that leaving the EU would be a good thing. One of the curiosities of first past the post is that 38% of Scotland voted to leave the EU, but the SNP is entirely negative about the prospect of leaving it. It shows an iron discipline that Zanu-PF in Zimbabwe would be very proud of, but it is not representing the full range of Scottish opinion.
I want to make a very obvious point. For every £1 we receive from the EU, we put £2 in. That is what being a net contributor means. We can therefore more than compensate for the loss of any EU subsidies from our own budget, which—this is the point—we can decide for ourselves in the United Kingdom Parliament.
One would think that Britain never had a thriving, successful industry and agriculture before we joined the European Economic Community in 1972. Britain had industry, business and farming for 1,000 years before that. If the Opposition parties knew their history—I am surprised that Labour Members have not mentioned this—they would know that the Labour party introduced the Agriculture Act 1947, which very successfully underpinned British agriculture before we joined the EEC. No one remembers that; we just have doom and gloom from the Opposition parties.
I have the luck to represent a very beautiful constituency, but it is incumbent on all of us to remember that although the countryside is beautiful, it is not a living museum or a frozen Constable painting. There are real jobs and real livelihoods in the countryside, and they are extremely important.
In the very brief time available, I would like to make one point. The Minister will no doubt remember the pioneering flood alleviation work at Honeydale farm in my constituency, which she visited with me. I recently visited Littlestock brook in Milton-under-Wychwood, which is engaged in a similar scheme. A partnership of local landowners, the community and the Environment Agency are working together on upstream flood storage in the Evenlode valley. The measures include tree planting and re-routing of streams to follow their natural watercourses. I make this point for one very good and clear purpose: there is an economic as well as an environmental benefit to the scheme. Fruit trees create fruit and wood that can be harvested by the local community. The scheme enables local sustainable businesses to create jobs and money.
Littlestock brook is essentially an open-air laboratory. I mention it because of the way the common agricultural policy is funded, which makes it very difficult for such small community endeavours to gain the funding they need. The CAP tends to favour very big schemes and very big landowners. Leaving the CAP gives us a golden opportunity to rework the policy, so that it works for all, and so that landowners in our communities can easily access the funding they need, without environmental schemes being tacked on as an afterthought. As the Secretary of State said, these environmental schemes can be part of the policy from the very beginning.
I declare an interest as an active crofter.
I congratulate all my hon. Friends who have spoken so passionately about the threat to our rural economy from a hard Brexit and the concern about what the future holds for many of us. For us, Europe and the single market are about opportunities for growth, investment and jobs; the best opportunities to create sustainable economic growth; and playing to our strengths in order to benefit from the single market. Our opportunity to create a vibrant, prosperous economy hinges on access to the single market. It is a foundation stone of our desire to enhance our productive potential and deliver strong, sustainable growth. For Scotland to succeed, we need additional labour—nowhere more so than in the highlands. We need people who want to be part of our story and help us deliver that modern, vibrant economy. We want free movement of people. Why would we want to remove ourselves from this opportunity?
The Prime Minister should come clean: a hard Brexit means uncertainty for investment, a threat to jobs and a threat to trade for those who trade with the EU. It threatens lower living standards from lower wages and higher inflation. Sterling is down as a consequence of Brexit. Make no mistake: inflation is on the rise, and it is driven by a fall in sterling. Inflation will rise as the cost of imports reflects the fall in the value of the pound. The December inflation report out today showed that inflation that month rose to 1.6%, the highest level since July 2014. We have seen real wages rise over the last couple of years, but rising inflation will choke off any rise in real wage growth.
The Prime Minister talks of wanting to trade with Europe, but the best route to trading with Europe is by retaining access to the single market. We cannot walk away from market access and expect quickly to put a solution back on the table. There will be a cost, and it will come either from higher costs of participation or from lost jobs. Let me take an industry important to Ross, Skye and Lochaber: salmon farming. As members of the single market, we have tariff-free access. Norway pays a tariff of 2% on its salmon sold into the single market as a consequence of its arrangements. The tariff for those who are not members of the European economic area is 8%. That is the threat facing our fish farming sector if our access to the single market ends.
Food exports to the EU in 2015 represented 69% of Scotland’s overall food exports. There is clearly a threat of tariffs being put on those exports. That is not a price worth paying. Why would we willingly seek to disadvantage Scottish seafood producers, farmers and crofters? The Scottish Government have put forward a compromise plan to keep Scotland in the single market even if the rest of the UK leaves. Will the UK Government honour the commitments made to examining options brought forward by the devolved Administrations, acknowledge that Scotland delivered a clear message against leaving the EU, and recognise that we are demonstrating the importance of free movement and the single market to Scotland’s economy?
Our Government in Edinburgh are outward looking, internationalist and secure in seeing Scotland’s destiny as part of the family of nations in Europe. We are open and seek people to come to Scotland to study, work, invest and, critically, enrich our society with the contribution that they can make as new Scots. Scotland is looking outward while the UK wants to pull up the drawbridge. It is a UK where the welcome mat is no longer put out, a UK closed to Europe and European migration. It reminds me of the newspaper headline from the past: “Fog in the channel, continent cut off.” The reality of a hard Brexit is that the UK will be cut off—from the single market and from European trade.
Look at what the Prime Minister said today. [Interruption.] For Conservative Members, this is a laughing matter, but it is a real threat to jobs and prosperity for people in Scotland. Having no access to the single market is the road to self-destruction. We should contrast the inward-looking, “turn your back on Europe” message from the UK Government with the forward-looking document published by the Scottish Government in December, “Scotland’s Place in Europe”—a road map that allows us to work with the UK to achieve a settlement that respects the vote taken in the UK, but that seeks to protect our economic interests; a road map that respects that the UK has voted to leave, but seeks an appreciation of our position: Scotland voted to remain. That is why, when we see a UK Government so driven to take us out of the single market and to damage our rural economy, we say, “Not in our name”.
Let me be clear: Europe has been good for the highlands and islands. Europe recognised the importance of investing in the highlands. Take the convergence fund, which was put in place in recognition of a lower level of support for Scottish crofters and farmers than was in place for most of Europe. Some €223 million of extra funding over four years was granted to the UK on the clear understanding that this would primarily help Scottish crofters and farmers. Sadly, the UK Minister with responsibility for farming took a different view in 2013: Scotland would get only a pro rata share of its normal CAP pillar funding—16% of the total. Put simply, Scottish farmers and crofters were done out of funds by a Westminster Government who failed to pass on what the EU had meant for Scotland. I know who we trust, and it is not the Westminster Government. We were done out of fairness from Europe. Europe wanted to help Scottish crofters and farmers; Westminster once again short-changed us.
The then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), promised that a review of how the funds were to be allocated would take place in 2016, and the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), confirmed that this review would begin after the devolved elections last May. There has been no review. The people of Scotland can contrast the behaviour of Europe, which sought to assist Scottish crofters and farmers, with that of Westminster, which denied the funds. We were promised a review, but it has not happened. Little wonder that we worry what will happen to our crofters and farmers after Brexit.
Will the Minister guarantee to protect CAP funding for Scottish farmers after 2020? Support from the CAP amounts to two thirds of total net farm income in Scotland. Between 2014 and 2020, Scotland will receive around €4.6 billion in funding. We need an assurance that funding for farming and crofting will be ring-fenced. In Scotland, 85% of our land is designated a less favoured area, with a reliance on livestock production. We need to reassure farmers and crofters that active farming and crofting will be supported. Powers over farming and fishing must be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, but they must come with a commitment to funding. We cannot be short-changed again.
Creating sustainable communities and empowering communities in the highlands and islands takes hard work. Our region is full of signs saying, “Project funded by the EU.” Roads, hospitals and much of our infrastructure have benefited from EU funding. The revival of the Gaelic language has been aided by EU funding, not least through support for the Gaelic college, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on Skye. The EU is ready to make contributions of £6.6 million to the highlands this year through the highland LEADER funding programme, to take one funding stream. We need to know that this will be supported.
In summing up, I remind the Prime Minister that the people of Scotland are sovereign; that has been the historical context—not parliamentary sovereignty, but the sovereignty of our people. Will the Prime Minister work with us to protect Scotland’s interest in retaining access to the single market? Failure to do so will mean that the Union that she cherishes will be put to a fresh question. Respect Scotland, or risk the consequence of us seizing the day. A referendum on Scotland’s future may be our only alternative if we are to protect Scotland from a hard Brexit.
This has been an interesting debate, and I am grateful for all the contributions from right hon. and hon. Members. I hope to be able to cover all the many points that they have made.
Rural businesses in England contribute more than £230 billion to the economy, employing 3.4 million people. The contribution of sectors is as varied in the rural economy as it is in the urban economy. As we have heard today, the food, farming, fishing and tourism sectors play an important role in building rural communities and preserving and protecting the environment. In the countryside in particular, there are many small businesses which cover all sorts of industries—certainly a higher proportion than in urban areas.
The rural economy is vibrant and diverse, but it is not without its challenges. For example, productivity in predominantly rural areas is lower than it is in urban areas. While DEFRA’s responsibilities mainly lie with England, rural businesses and communities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland face similar challenges. Those challenges would be there regardless of our membership of the EU, and that is why we are already addressing them. That is why we launched the rural productivity plan, and why we are taking steps to improve life opportunities for those living in rural areas.
We have already done much to support and boost the rural economy. Nine enterprise zones in rural areas in England were set up last year, and a further six will start in April. Businesses that locate to an enterprise zone will receive business rate relief or enhanced capital allowances, and local enterprise partnerships can use the resulting increases in business rates to fund economic development in their areas. In the autumn statement, we doubled rural rate relief to 100%. That will give a much-needed boost to businesses, saving them up to £2,900 a year.
We are improving digital connectivity: 91% of premises can now access superfast broadband, and that is estimated to reach 97% by 2020 on our current delivery plans. Our universal service obligation of every premises receiving 10 megabits will be particularly important for remote rural communities. Reform of the electronic communications code, as a key part of the Digital Economy Bill, will help to increase rural coverage of mobile phones, and also the provision of fibre. Planning reforms that came into effect last year will enable industry to enhance existing masts and to upgrade and share equipment, which, again, will benefit mobile coverage in rural areas.
We are making it easier for people to live and work in rural areas. There are pilot programmes in parts of Northumberland and Staffordshire, providing 30 hours of free childcare for three and four-year-olds, and the national roll out is set for September this year. Under our plans for full implementation, every local authority in England will receive a minimum funding rate of at least £4.30 per hour, which will benefit many rural areas.
As was pointed out by my hon. Friends the Members for Macclesfield (David Rutley) and for Salisbury (John Glen), we need to work on skills and future careers so that farming is an attractive industry and we provide the skills that are necessary to employers. I can assure them of our commitment to trebling the number of apprenticeships to encourage people into the food and farming industries.
Extensive reference was made to the need for access to the single market. My right hon. Friend Prime Minister made clear today that we would pursue a bold and ambitious free trade agreement with the European Union. She said that we were not seeking membership of the single market, but the greatest possible access to it through a new, comprehensive, bold agreement. It is important to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England for us to ensure that we take full advantage of the economic opportunities that we enjoy today.
There has also been considerable discussion about devolution. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister reiterated, it is important that a Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations has been established so that Ministers from each of the UK’s devolved Administrations can contribute to the process of planning our departure from the EU. As has already been mentioned, we have received a paper from the Scottish Government, and we look forward to receiving another from the Welsh Government. Both papers will be considered, but I think it important to stress that our guiding principle must be to ensure that as we leave the EU, no new barriers to living and doing business within our own Union are created. That means maintaining the necessary common standards and frameworks for our own domestic market, empowering the UK as an open, trading nation to strike the best trade deals around the world and protect the common resources of our islands. The Prime Minister has made absolutely plain that as we do that, no decisions currently taken by the devolved Administrations will be removed from them. It is very clear that there will be no power grab.
The subject of migrant workers was also raised today. As we draw up our plans to leave the EU, we are harnessing industry’s knowledge and experience, and ensuring that its voice is heard. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said at the Oxford farming conference, access to labour is an important part of our discussions, and we are committed to working with the industry to ensure that it has the right people with the right skills.
On EU nationals, a topic raised by SNP Members, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister reiterated today the desire to see this issue resolved.
On future support, we have provided early guarantees on CAP payments, specifically on pillar one, so that farmers have certainty. We have said to farmers that they will receive the same level of financial support until 2020. I welcome the support of many Members on the opportunities to shape a bespoke agricultural policy for the needs of our nation. A Green Paper will be published in due course, giving everyone the opportunity formally to offer thoughts on its future design. I particularly like the thoughts of my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), whom I would expect to get good thoughts from as he is my predecessor. I am sure his three-pronged approach of thinking of the agricultural, environmental and social objectives with a focus on small farmers will get much support.
On CAP pillar two, the rural development programme and the fisheries fund, the Government will also guarantee funding for structural and investment funds projects which are signed before we leave and which continue after we have left the EU. This includes rural development programmes and the European maritime and fisheries programme. Funding for projects will be honoured where they provide good value for money and are in line with domestic strategic priorities.
These conditions will be applied in such a way that the current pipeline of committed projects is not disrupted, including agri-environment schemes beginning this month. Where the devolved Administrations sign up to structural and investment funds under their current EU budget allocation, the Government will ensure that they are funded to meet these commitments.
We are committed to acting on the decision taken by the British people to withdraw from the common fisheries policy and to putting in place a new fisheries regime. We want to use this opportunity to ensure our fisheries industries are competitive, productive and profitable, and that our environment is improved for future generations—cleaner, healthier and more productive. The Government will continue to deliver their commitments on sustainable fisheries and ending discards, and will work closely with industry in designing the future fisheries management rules.
Following EU exit, the UK will continue to be subject to international law on fisheries management. This includes the United Nations convention on the law of the sea and the UN fish stocks agreement.
On leaving the EU, we will want to take our own decisions about how to deliver the policy objectives previously targeted by EU funding. As has been mentioned by several Members, EU funding is actually UK taxpayers’ funding, and we will be able to decide how that is spent in due course. Over the coming months, we will consult closely with stakeholders to review all EU funding schemes in the round to ensure that any ongoing funding commitments best serve the UK’s national interest, while ensuring appropriate investor certainty.
City deals and devolution have helped to improve local economies and we are gradually seeing more rural economies being boosted. In Scotland, the Government have given considerable support—£2.3 billion-worth—to the oil and gas industry in the last years alone. We should remember how much of the Scottish Government’s case for independence was made on the basis of a high oil price to support their economy. It is a good job that the Union has pulled together and supported the industry in these challenging times.
This has been an important debate highlighting the importance of the rural economy. What we heard from the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) was, “We are all doomed,” but far from it: as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has stated, Brexit means Brexit and we are going to make a success of it. We are determined to get the best deal for the British people on leaving the EU. We want a world-leading food and farming industry and the cleanest, healthiest environment for generations. We are clear that when we bring EU law into UK law that is non-negotiable and we will make sure that the environment is protected, if not enhanced, for future generations. That is why today I urge the House to reject the motion but to support the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friends.
Question put (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the original words stand part of the Question.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I inadvertently omitted to refer hon. Members to my entry in the register before making my remarks in the previous debate, and I am hoping that this is a means of drawing the House’s attention to that fact and apologising for that omission.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman, both for his good grace and for his pithiness in communicating the point, which I think will have been warmly received by colleagues across the House. Thank you.
[Relevant documents: The Sixth Report of the Environmental Audit Committee, The Future of the Natural Environment after the EU Referendum, HC 599.]
17 January 2017
The House divided:
Question accordingly negatived.View Details
Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the proposed words be there added.
Question agreed to.
The Speaker declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to (Standing Order No. 31(2)).
“That this House recognises the importance of the rural economy to the UK, not least the food, farming and fishing sector which is worth £108 billion to the economy and employs 3.8 million people in communities across the whole of the UK; welcomes the continuity and certainty the Government has provided by guaranteeing the same level of funding to the agricultural sector that it would have received under Pillar 1 of the Common Agricultural Policy until the end of the current Multiannual Financial Framework in 2020; further welcomes the Government’s undertaking that all structural and investment fund projects, including agri-environment schemes and schemes under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund that offer good value and fit with domestic objectives and are signed while the UK remains a member of the EU will be honoured for their lifetime even when this is beyond the UK’s departure from the EU; welcomes the opportunity that leaving the EU will bring to improve the management of fisheries in UK waters and to champion sustainable fishing; supports the continued investment in superfast broadband and the introduction of a Universal Service Obligation; shares the Government’s commitment to securing a deal in leaving the EU that works for all parts of the UK; and notes that one of the best ways of supporting rural communities is by having a strong economy that works for everyone.”