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Leaving the EU: Farming

Volume 654: debated on Thursday 21 February 2019

Our plans for future farming policy are set out in the Agriculture Bill. At the heart of our new policy in England will be a system that pays public money for public goods, rewarding farmers for enhancing animal welfare, improving soil health and creating habitats for wildlife. We are also introducing measures to support investment in farm productivity and to improve fairness in the supply chain.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Will he update me on what steps the Government are taking, following a very serious case in my constituency, to give the courts the power to grant injunctions to prevent people who are on trial for animal cruelty from acquiring new animals as they go through that legal process?

I recall meeting my hon. Friend about a particularly difficult and tragic case in his constituency. His local authority did make a powerful case for there to be a power to have an injunction to prevent the restocking of farms while prosecutions were pending. Such injunctions are usually reserved for civil cases. It is already possible to confiscate animals under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, but I will look again at this issue as we consider future legislation.

Will the Minister reassure the House that food production will remain central to agricultural policy and that we will continue to encourage farmers to produce food of the very highest standard?

Yes, I can absolutely give my hon. Friend that guarantee. It is called the Agriculture Bill and it has provisions to allow market intervention to support that. There are provisions to improve fairness in the supply chain. Every five years, we currently have an assessment of our food security. The Bill is absolutely about producing food sustainably, not ceasing to produce food.

John Vernam, the chairman of Cherry Valley, the source of the majority of the world’s Pekin duck breed, came to see me recently to talk about his concerns about the effect of a no-deal Brexit. He says it will have a wide-ranging impact on the industry and on animal welfare and food standards. Can the Minister please prove that he is no chicken and reassure the poultry industry that he is actively encouraging the Prime Minister to avoid a no-deal Brexit?

My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) has also raised the case of Cherry Valley, and I have given an undertaking that I will meet it as soon as possible. The company exports live ducklings and imports ducks, and I am happy to look at its concerns. Obviously, on the wider issue, the Prime Minister absolutely wants to avoid no deal. That is why she is encouraging everyone to back the agreement that she has secured.

It would be nice to know when the Agriculture Bill is coming back to this place, given the months that have now fallen by the wayside. I ask the Minister on behalf of his boss, the Secretary of State: how are discussions going with the Chancellor on whether there will be tariffs on food imports?

The Government are currently in discussions about a tariff policy in the event of no deal. The options that are open to us are to have tariff rate suspensions, which we are likely to do on goods that we do not produce, and to have autonomous tariff rate quotas or lower applied tariffs. That issue is being considered by the Government and a statutory instrument will be laid before Parliament in due course.