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Support for Farmers

Volume 660: debated on Thursday 16 May 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. (910917)

I continue to have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues across government. As my hon. Friend will be aware, we have pledged to commit the same cash total in funds for farm support until the end of this Parliament.

Export sales of organic produce totalled £188 million in 2016, supporting countless British jobs, particularly in the agricultural sector. What assurances can the Secretary of State give me on the certification that protects that organic produce in respect of exports to the EU after we leave?

I know my hon. Friend’s constituency very well, as it is where I was born and grew up. He is absolutely right to highlight the importance of this issue in the farming sector. I am happy to give him the commitment that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is looking at this issue. My hon. Friend will be aware that this is part of a wider approach, where we can take a much more bespoke approach to our farming needs once we are out of the EU, rather than the catch-all, one-size-fits-all approach in which the common agricultural policy applies.

The Minister will know that food processing is very much related to farming, and it is our biggest manufacturing sector. Has he talked to that sector? Does he not realise that research by King’s College London shows that every leave constituency of this country will be 20% worse off leaving the EU—on any terms?

First, may I join the Prime Minister in recognising the hon. Gentleman’s service? He said at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday that he was a Eurosceptic when he came into the House; there is still time for him to return to his true beliefs.

As the hon. Gentleman is well aware, I represent one of the key farming constituencies in the country, in the fens. He will also be aware that the majority of farmers voted to leave because they see the opportunities—for example, in respect of things like the three-crop rule, which is restrictive for many in the farming community. Through the Agriculture Bill, we can have a much more bespoke approach. The key issue is to speak to those who actually farm. The overriding message from the National Farmers Union is to back the deal, and farmers themselves want the liberty of being outside the straitjacket of the EU. That is what this Government will deliver.

Will my right hon. Friend reassure livestock farmers in Brecon and Radnorshire and throughout the country that immediate funding for them will be guaranteed in all circumstances?

My hon. Friend has championed the livestock sector extremely assiduously, and I know he has met my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to discuss these issues. We have given a commitment to match funding, but we must ensure that we do so in a more bespoke way. I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that further so that we can give his constituents the support that they need.

Will the Minister further outline the support for agrifood producers, with reference to the food labelling and stamps issue, which is still uncertain and has the potential to cause massive financial strain and supply issues?

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight an under-discussed area of policy. Some Members want only to talk down the opportunities of Brexit, rather than to talk about what we can do with the freedoms that Brexit unlocks. One of those freedoms is in respect of food labelling, which is an area in which the United Kingdom can apply a more bespoke approach and in which there will be opportunities. Indeed, last week I was in Scotland with manufacturers and we discussed just such issues.