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Leaving the EU: Farming

Volume 622: debated on Thursday 2 March 2017

5. What plans her Department has to strengthen the British farming sector after the UK leaves the EU; and if she will make a statement. (909003)

At the recent National Farmers Union conference, I set out five principles that will support a prosperous future farming industry: trade, productivity, sustainability, trust and resilience. We are now in the process of a broad consultation ranging right across farmers, food producers and non-governmental organisations to hear their views as we build a policy that will achieve our twin ambitions of having a thriving farming sector and an environment that is in a better state than we found it in.

Like my right hon. Friend, I meet farmers regularly—mainly through Staffordshire and Lichfield NFU—and they are actually very positive about Brexit and see the opportunities. But I know we export about £20 billion-worth a year overseas and into Europe, so what efforts is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that we continue to have access after Brexit?

We are working very hard right across Government to make sure that we get the best possible deal on market access for our agri-food sector when we leave the EU. There are huge global opportunities for Staffordshire farmers and food producers, and later today I will visit Harper Adams University in neighbouring Shropshire and the chamber of agriculture to hear from the next generation, as well as current farmers, about how we can seize those opportunities.

Our constitutional arrangements today are very different from those in 1972. What assurances can the Secretary of State give that after our exit from the EU the agriculture rules that are currently set in Brussels will not be exclusively set by the UK Government, but will instead be set by the devolved Administrations with the closest knowledge of the local farming industries?

In the great repeal Bill we will be bringing all the acquis communautaire into UK law. We in the United Kingdom will then be in a position to look at what works best for the UK. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I am working very closely with our colleagues in the devolved Administrations to make sure that we get the best possible deal that works for all parts of the United Kingdom, and I will continue to do so.

10. Does the Secretary of State share my view that the need to accommodate the views of 28 different countries has led to the common agricultural policy becoming overtly bureaucratic in a way that has harmed the interests of British farmers? (909008)

My hon. Friend is exactly right. The complexity and bureaucracy associated with the CAP cost the industry £5 million a year and 300,000 man hours, so reducing burdens will help our farmers to grow more, sell more and export more of our great British food.

The strength of the farming sector will depend on whether it has an adequate supply of labour. Earlier the Minister of State suggested that there was not yet a problem here, but we know that workers from the European Union are already reluctant to come to the UK to work, so when is the Secretary of State going to make it clear that we are going to have a seasonal agricultural workers scheme? What is the timeline?

The hon. Lady is not correct when she says that people are reluctant to come here. In fact, the Office for National Statistics figures for last year show that there were more migrant workers coming from the EU than ever before, so that is just not true. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State has pointed out, free movement will continue until the point at which we leave the EU. We are working closely with the Home Office to assess, understand and put in place good systems to ensure that we continue to thrive in this important sector.

14. Recent EU regulations such as the three crop rule have tied farmers up in red tape but not delivered for the environment. As crop rotation has been around in Lincolnshire for rather longer than the EU, does my right hon. Friend agree that the first thing we do when we leave the EU should be to get rid of burdensome regulation on farmers? (909013)

I agree with my hon. Friend. The three crop rule is exactly the sort of measure we should change once we have left the EU. Of course, we want farmers to manage sustainable rotations, to optimise yields and to protect soil, but we can do that without forcing them to grow a specific number of crops on a specific acreage of land.

The National Farmers Union warned last week that the Government’s lack of clarity risked stifling the farming industry. This week, it was reported that the price of agricultural land fell by 7% in the past year due to the uncertainty of Brexit. The absence of any Government planning is plunging farming into a grave state. When will the Government give clarity and a long-term commitment to the farming industry on access to the single market, access to a seasonal workforce and a new long-term agricultural policy?

The Prime Minister has made it clear that our ambition is to have an all-encompassing free trade agreement with the European Union and to retain free and fair access to the European single market. As we have already discussed, we are looking closely at the need for a workforce now and in the future, and we are looking carefully at what more we can do around the world to make a huge success of leaving the European Union.