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Agricultural Policy

Volume 639: debated on Thursday 26 April 2018

2. What assessment he has made of the responses to his Department's consultation on its future agricultural policy. (904945)

The future farming consultation is still open and continues until Tuesday 8 May. We encourage everyone with an interest in food, farming and the environment to respond. We will make a full assessment of the responses once the 10-week consultation is over, but it is clear from initial responses, and events that have taken place across England, that there is a real appetite to embrace change.

Will my hon. Friend reassure me that as well as protecting and enhancing environmental protections in this country, our future agricultural policy will seek to ensure the primary importance of our landscape as a working agricultural countryside that produces food, and that that will continue to be protected?

Yes, I give my hon. Friend that undertaking. Our consultation sets out how we can change our approach to farm husbandry so that it is more sustainable and we put more emphasis on things such as soil health and water quality. It is clear that we want to support farmers to become more productive and profitable.

I share the bemusement of Sussex farmers that, when the Government published a list of public goods for land use in this country, food production was not one of them. Why? Will the Government reconsider that and, if so, when?

Food is obviously vital to life, and in that sense it is a public good. The hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, understand that “public good” is an economic definition that means things for which farmers are not financially rewarded. My view is that food production is vital and essential, and farmers should be rewarded for food production in the market.

The National Trust has two beautiful properties near my constituency—Packwood House and Baddesley Clinton. They would welcome the opportunity for their tenant farmers to be rewarded for the provision of new public goods, but the National Trust seeks assurances from the Minister that if things such as new bridle paths and footpaths need to be provided, there will be long-term sustainability for such a shift.

My right hon. Friend makes an important point—this is crucial as we design environmental land management policy. There will be some interventions that may be highly short term, because they are instant and affect, for instance, the way in which farms approach agronomy or cropping. Others, such as those that my right hon. Friend highlights, may require a longer-term, more multi-annual commitment. That is entirely doable within the nature of the agreements that we are considering.

There are concerns among those involved in agriculture in my area about whether there will continue to be appropriate access to workforce when we leave the European Union. What are the Government doing to ensure that that will be the case?

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, the Migration Advisory Committee is carrying out a large piece of work on the UK’s labour needs after we have left the European Union. We have also listened carefully to industry representations about a seasonal agricultural worker scheme after we leave the European Union, and a working group is looking at seasonal agricultural labour.

Can my hon. Friend reassure upland food-producing family farmers that they have a future under his Department’s plans?

Yes I can, and I have had meetings with the Uplands Alliance, which is very excited by the approach set out in our consultation. Our uplands deliver many public goods and environmental benefits, and under our new policy we will be rewarding those.

Food manufacturing and farming are great British success stories, so does the Minister think that a customs union arrangement with the EU will help to ensure their future success?

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

The overwhelming response of farmers to the consultation is that they want to know what help and advice they will get in managing the change from the basic payment to environmental support. As the Minister knows, that is particularly true of smaller and tenant farmers. What will the Government do to put in place some form of advice strategy so that those people can get independent, objective and, more particularly, comprehensive advice about how to completely change many of the ways in which they have farmed in the past?

We will look at that issue, but fundamentally we have been clear that we recognise the current dependency on the existing basic payment scheme—the area payments. That is why we have set out a plan for an agricultural transition period to give farmers, especially those on our smaller family farms, plenty of time to prepare. Our new environmental land management scheme, when published, will have plenty of guidance alongside it.