7. What steps his Department is taking to support the rural economy. (900592)
The Government are absolutely committed to supporting and strengthening the rural economy to allow good businesses to grow and thrive. We have invested nearly £2 billion of public funding in delivering superfast broadband. We have the universal service obligation, and we will be securing improvements to mobile connectivity in rural areas.
The best way to help the rural economy is to keep farmers in business. Will my hon. Friend will give me a modest little birthday present today, and undertake to be positive about reintroducing a deficiency payments scheme? That scheme was very popular with farmers before 1972, and the United States introduced such a scheme after 2002 that was not contrary to World Trade Organisation rules. The scheme would actually help the rural economy greatly.
We will study my hon. Friend’s comments carefully. I must admit that I was born in 1971, so I do not have any direct knowledge, but he will know of the ongoing support that the Conservative Government will continue to give farmers, and we have made a commitment to continue that stable support as we transition out of the EU.
One of the best things the Government could do to support farmers in my constituency, particularly sheep farmers, is just give them simple clarity about whether they will be paying tariffs on their exports to Europe of sheep products. That will be key to their ability to plan their investment with certainty during the next 18 months.
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government have set out the approach we intend to seek for a comprehensive free trade agreement with the European Union once we depart from it. We want to provide such clarity as soon as possible, and he will be aware that the negotiations are ongoing.
17. I note that the Minister is aware that the cost of the bureaucracy related to applying for common agricultural policy subsidies has been considerable for farmers over recent years. Will she reassure me that this cost under the new British agricultural policy, or whatever it ends up being called, will be considerably lower and that it will be easier to apply for? (900602)
I am very happy to assure my hon. Friend that our future agricultural policy will be designed in a way that reduces needless and energy-sapping bureaucracy. We expect it to be simpler than the CAP, but she will recognise that we have a duty to ensure that taxpayers’ money is spent carefully and transparently. We will continue to reward farmers and landowners, who manage our precious countryside, in a way that supports the best environmental outcomes.
In the Minister’s answer to the original question, she mentioned the roll-out of rural broadband. May I appeal to the Minister by saying that the roll-out is taking far too long in many communities, including my own constituency? What more will she do to speed up the installation of superfast broadband in rural areas?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Welsh Assembly Government are working closely with local communities and BT Openreach to reach such places. I am sure he will be able to follow up on that directly, but I will pass on his concerns to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Digital.