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Support for Farmers

Volume 653: debated on Thursday 24 January 2019

2. 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. (908745)

I continue to have regular conversations with ministerial colleagues across Government on all aspects of exiting the EU, including support for farmers. The Agriculture Bill will allow us to break free of the common agricultural policy and help our farming sector to become more profitable while sustaining our natural environment.

I, too, want to ask about sheep farming, which is economically very significant in my constituency. It is an industry that, for many decades, has been underpinned by an EU payments system. There is major concern that this support system will be changed too abruptly for the industry to cope as the UK leaves the European Union. What reassurances can the Secretary of State give to the sheep farmers of Montgomeryshire that that will not be the case, and that changes will be gradual and manageable and not destroy the industry?

My hon. Friend raises a very important point. One of the main reassurances to those farmers, I suspect, is knowing that they have such a champion of their interests in my hon. Friend. In terms of the policy, the Government have pledged to commit the same cash total in funds for farm support for the duration of this Parliament, providing much needed certainty to farmers and landowners. The Agriculture Bill includes a seven-year transition period for direct payments to provide further stability for farmers, giving comfort to them as they look to a brighter future.

Farmers in my constituency tell me that the majority of grain exports go to the European Union, and they are very concerned about the risk of the imposition of tariffs in the event of no deal, or indeed after the end of the transition period, when arrangements are very uncertain. What assurances can the Government give them?

We have already covered the fact that there is an issue for the farming community in terms of tariffs. That is why I advocate a deal and those voting against a deal need to explain the impact of that issue to farmers. However, polls are obviously selective, but a poll taken in Farmers Weekly showed that a majority of farmers supported leaving the EU. I suspect that that was because they see a brighter future where we can have high animal welfare standards and good environmental standards, building on the reforms set out in the Agriculture Bill. So instead of talking down the opportunity of Brexit for farmers, this House should be looking at the opportunities that a green Brexit will deliver.

The Minister might know that as the chair of my party’s Back-Bench DEFRA committee, I think there are at last real signs that preparation for farming and farmers has been quite significant. However, that contrasts distinctly with what has been happening with the Secretary of State for International Trade. Has the Brexit Secretary seen the disgraceful remarks that his colleague made in Davos yesterday? Has he seen the front page of The Times, which says that 100 companies are going to the Netherlands, to Ireland and to France? What is he going to do, talking to colleagues, actually to get things moving?

The hon. Gentleman talks about disgraceful comments from Davos, but I do not want to dwell too much on what Tony Blair may or may not have said. The hon. Gentleman makes a serious point, which is that timing is of the essence for the business community. Businesses face decisions about their no-deal planning, and they want the certainty of the deal that the Prime Minister has to offer. Opposition Members who have tabled amendments that seek to delay the level of uncertainty need to ask themselves how that uncertainty and delay is helping the business community, who need to get on in the real world and make those decisions.

With special reference to the farming community in Northern Ireland, what discussions have been held with the permanent secretary for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs at the Northern Ireland Assembly regarding the transport of livestock beyond March?

I know that the hon. Gentleman has considerable expertise and takes a deep interest in that issue. He will know that there have been extensive discussions within the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on that very issue, and I am happy to liaise with him and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on it.