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Leaving the EU: Agriculture Policy

Volume 620: debated on Wednesday 25 January 2017

We are determined to get the best deal on leaving the EU. We want a world-leading food and farming industry and the cleanest, healthiest environment for generations. Agriculture is clearly a devolved area, and I am keen for Welsh farmers to add value to their products. We have the capacity and scope to be innovative, not only in growing great products and producing great food, but in processing and selling them worldwide.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Will he confirm whether, once the UK leaves the European Union, agriculture policy and funding will be devolved to the regions or remain here with the United Kingdom Government?

It is certainly the case that agriculture policy is currently devolved. Clearly, there will be a repatriation of powers from Brussels to Westminster as a result of the decision to leave the European Union, but there is an ongoing and positive discussion between Westminster and the Welsh Government in relation to where powers will lie. I say categorically that that partnership is essential for the success of agriculture. That partnership must be not only constructive but objective in respect of what works for the farming industry in Wales and the UK.

Many of my constituents farm cross-border and produce excellent, high-quality British agricultural produce. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure there is the widest possible market access for that produce post-exit?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, who knows the agricultural sector in north Wales and Cheshire extremely well, and who understands the cross-border nature of much farming in Wales. The key point is that we must be aware that we have a great product to offer the rest of the world. It is essential that we go out and sell that product, which is why the Wales Office is forging such a close relationship with the Secretary of State for International Trade. It is essential that we grow the markets for Welsh products, rather than be defensive about the issue.

Is this not a wonderful opportunity to reform agricultural subsidies to decouple Wales from the system in England that rewards people for owning land and not, as they are rewarded in Wales, for producing food? Should we not end the system of paying millionaires and billionaires up to £1 million each a year, while Welsh farmers have to struggle with small subsidies? Can we have Welsh policies for Welsh farmers?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the aim of the Government is to have a farming policy that is right for the UK and right for Wales. He was much more positive about our farming industry in a recent Westminster Hall debate and I agree with the comments he made in that debate. It is essential that we support the farming industry in Wales, while moving forward following our exit from the European Union.

Does the Minister agree that Brexit gives us the opportunity to set a new agricultural policy in Wales, starting with positive changes to the common agricultural policy?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that, in view of our decision to leave the European Union, it is essential that we develop an agricultural system that works for farmers in Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom. The common agricultural policy was guilty of the fossilisation of Welsh farming, because it encouraged people not to retire. It is essential to look at the problems created by the common agricultural policy while we design a new system for Wales.

12. Sixty- eight per cent of Welsh exports, including those from the Welsh agricultural sector, go to the European Union. Perhaps the Minister can tell us how leaving the single market and the customs union will lead to a better deal for Welsh exporters. (908315)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the percentage of Welsh exports that go to the European Union, but he should realise that access to the single market is what is now crucial. It was very apparent from the decision to leave the European Union that we will not be a member of the single market. We need to negotiate the best possible access deal with the European Union and I think that will be possible in due course.

Last Friday, I visited Trewen farm in Botwnnog with the Farmers Union of Wales. This dairy farm has contributed over £150,000 to the local economy in the last three years, yet only three years from now Welsh farmers are set to face a perfect storm. Can the Minister reveal what transitional arrangements will be put in place to safeguard our rural economy?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question and the use of the term “perfect storm”. It is an acknowledgement of the press release sent out by the Farmers Union of Wales. I can reassure her that the issue should be about access to the single market, and while the FUW has expressed its concern about the decision to leave the single market, my discussions and meetings with farmers’ unions in Wales, both the FUW and the National Farmers Union, have highlighted access to it as the crucial issue for Welsh farmers.

During Welsh questions last April, the Minister said:

“The extent of Welsh agricultural produce that is exported to the EU shows how important that market is; 90% of Welsh agricultural produce is exported to the EU and we should not risk losing that.”—[Official Report, 13 April 2016; Vol. 608, c. 341.]

Given those comments, will he explain why his Government wish to leave the single market?

At the risk of repeating myself, let me point out that the hon. Gentleman is right that 90% of Welsh farming exports go to the EU, which is why I have repeatedly stated that the issue that farmers in Wales are concerned about is access to the single market. That is the issue that will make a difference to Welsh farmers and towards which the Department and the Government will be working.

I call the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) and wish him and his colleagues a happy Burns night.