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Farming Regulation

Volume 619: debated on Thursday 19 January 2017

4. What assessment she has made of the potential effect of the UK leaving the EU on the regulation of farming. (908255)

One of the great opportunities for farmers as we leave the EU is that of scrapping some of the bureaucratic rules that have limited their ability to maximise productivity and profitability sustainably—for example, the rule that dictates how many crops of what type they must grow, or the excessive number of inspections and farm visits to which they are subject.

Long life, Mr Speaker.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer. As we free ourselves from the straitjacket of the common agricultural policy, which has added so many bureaucratic burdens to our farmers, what assessment has she made of the financial burden that our farmers are facing as a result of the common agricultural policy? What extra freedom will that mean for our farmers in the future?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to this issue. It is something that we are determined to address as we develop new policies. Unnecessary rules cost farmers millions of pounds and up to 300,000 man hours each year, which says nothing of the lost opportunities. I will be paying very close attention to these issues in the coming months, as we look for better solutions that work for us rather than 28 EU member states.

I do not want to be nasty to anyone, especially on this day of all days—your birthday, Mr Speaker—but the fact is that these Government Front Benchers are sleepwalking into Brexit. We have heard so much from the Secretary of State before the Brexit vote; now we hear nothing. Our farmers and our people in the countryside know nothing about what is going to happen. They fear a new agricultural devastation in our countryside. What is she going to do about it?

If that is the hon. Gentleman’s definition of not being nasty to anyone, that does not really work very well. I am not sure that Labour has much support in the countryside because it has done nothing for country folk. It is the Government who have ensured that we continue with support until 2020 and with all agri-environment schemes that are signed up before we leave the EU for their lifetime, to ensure that continuity for business confidence. It is the Government who are committed to a world-leading food and farming industry, while at the same time to an environment that is better than we inherited. Those are great ambitions and we will achieve them.

Having heard what my right hon. Friend has said, and knowing what sort of Minister she is, I cannot really believe that her team were fully briefed properly when they saw the nitrate vulnerable zones regulation rolled out to new parts of England.

I would be happy to meet and discuss that issue separately with my hon. Friend, but I can absolutely assure him that we looked very carefully at this issue. As ever, there is a balance between successful sustainable farming, food productivity and what is right for our environment.

May I also wish you a happy birthday, Mr Speaker?

Earlier this month, the Secretary of State told the Oxford farming conference how excited she was about

“scrapping the rules that hold us back”,

saying that we could all think of at least one EU rule that we would not miss. That may be true, but I am sure that each of us can also think of at least one rule that we would miss and would want to keep. Will the Secretary of State share her choice with us?

I have already shared a few choices—the three-crop rule, farm inspections, some of the rules around billboards and so on. I know that the hon. Lady cares a great deal about this matter, as I do. In the great repeal Bill, we will be bringing all environmental legislation—all EU legislation—into UK law, so that, as the Prime Minister said in her speech, the day after we leave the EU, the rules will be the same as the day before we left the EU. That is really important for continuity. At that point, we will be able to look at and change those rules for the better to suit the needs of the United Kingdom.

If only it was that easy. Of course, that was an incredibly vague answer—not a specific EU regulation mentioned. Those of us who value EU regulations, which set high standards for food safety, the environment and animal welfare, will not find the Secretary of State’s answer reassuring today. Of course I assume that some kind of objective criteria have to be applied and that rules and regulations are not just going to be thrown on to the Brexit bonfire on the Secretary of State’s whim. If that is correct, can she tell us what those objective criteria are?

I am sorry if the hon. Lady perhaps did not hear my previous answer. I made it extremely clear that the day after we leave the EU the rules will be the same as the day before. After that, we will be seeking to meet our twin ambitions of a world-leading food and farming industry and an environment that is better than the one we inherited. To give her one example of a manifesto commitment that Labour did not have in its manifesto, we will push for high animal welfare standards to be incorporated into international trade agreements.