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Support for Farmers

Volume 633: debated on Thursday 14 December 2017

1. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on support for farmers after the UK leaves the EU. (902928)

3. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on support for farmers after the UK leaves the EU. (902930)

We have been working closely with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs on support for farmers, and the Government will provide the same cash total in funds for farmer support until the end of the Parliament. We continue to work closely with a range of stakeholders across the farming industry and beyond, as well as with the devolved Assemblies.

I recently met local farmers in my constituency and representatives from the National Farmers Union, and understandably, Brexit was one of the things we discussed. Will my hon. Friend assure farmers across the west midlands and the rest of the UK that he has given consideration to the supply of adequate seasonal labour on which many farmers rely?

Yes. The Government have commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee to gather evidence on patterns of EU migration and the role of migration in the wider economy, ahead of our exit from the EU. The MAC’s call for evidence on EEA workers in the UK labour market closed on 27 October, but it will continue to engage with organisations to gather further evidence. The Government are clear that the UK is open for business.

On a similar note to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), west Oxfordshire has a successful agricultural economy, particularly, for example, in poultry farming. Businesses in my constituency are looking forward to the opportunities that will open up as we leave the European Union, but what assurances can the Minister give to those who have concerns about labour supply that either they will have access to the workers they need from the European Union, or that there will be training for British equivalents?

At every step of these negotiations, we will work to ensure the best possible outcome for the British people, including our farming community that plays such a vital role in constituencies such as ours. No decisions have yet been made on our future immigration system. We are considering carefully a range of options and taking into account the needs of different sectors of the economy, including agriculture.

Farmers in Wakefield, Yorkshire, and across the country face a triple whammy from Brexit: the loss of common agricultural policy subsidies, and changes to the subsidy regime after 2021; tariff and non-tariff barriers; and potentially a flood of cheap imports after any new trade deal. What steps is the Minister taking to mitigate those risks?

As I said in my original answer, we are protecting total cash payments to farmers throughout this Parliament, and that is the longest guarantee right across the European Union. I do not accept the premise of the hon. Lady’s question, and we will continue to support farmers.

With special reference to global exports, will the Minister say what discussions have been held and how the Department has sought to establish trade rights for farming exporters in my constituency, of which there are many?

The UK farming sector enjoys a reputation for quality that has been built on high animal welfare standards, strong environmental protections, and the dedication of farmers and growers across the United Kingdom. Based on that reputation, we hope that we will flourish in the world market.

There has been a lot of focus on the uncertainty in sectors such as banking that have contingency plans for relocation. For many farmers, however, the decision is not one of relocation; it is about whether they stay in the industry at all, and we need good farmers to stay in the business. I urge my hon. Friend to work with colleagues at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the farming unions, to develop a strong post-Brexit plan for agriculture.

Order. The hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) has been in the House for seven and a half years, and he should not be standing for a supplementary on question 1 when his question is No. 2. It is a point so blindingly obvious that only a very clever person could fail to grasp it.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) knows, leaving the European Union means leaving the common agricultural policy. We believe that this is an opportunity to design a new agri-environment system to the benefit of our whole country.

The red meat sector accounts for 45% of Welsh agricultural production by value, and the EU is its nearest and biggest market. Evidence from the Welsh meat marketing board, Hybu Cig Cymru, suggests that under World Trade Organisation rules, tariffs of up to 84% could be levied on cattle carcases, 46% on lamb carcases, and 61% on cuts of lamb. Does the Minister recognise that securing tariff-free access to the EU market is vital for the viability of Wales’s livestock-dependent agriculture sector?

We recognise that securing tariff-free access is crucial, and it is our policy to seek to do so.