[Relevant document: Tenth Report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee of Session 2017-19, Scrutiny of the Agriculture Bill, HC 1591]
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This Bill will introduce the first major reform of agriculture policy in this country for half a century. Now that we have left the European Union, we are determined to do things differently and to pursue the priorities of the people of this great nation. That means strengthening the Union of our United Kingdom by levelling up opportunity, to unlock our country’s potential. As we commence consideration of this landmark Bill, I want to highlight the huge contribution that farmers make to our society by putting food on our plates and conserving the natural landscapes that we all value so much. This Bill will provide our farmers and land managers with a chance to play a fundamental role in tackling the greatest environmental challenges of our time: protecting nature and tackling catastrophic climate change.
Brexit means that we can finally leave the common agricultural policy, to build a brighter, better, greener future for British farming. With its exasperating rigidities, complexities and perversities, the CAP is a bad deal for farmers, a bad deal for landscapes and wildlife, and a poor return on public investment for the taxpayer. We can do so much better.
I hope very much that we will be able to do better. The Secretary of State talks about looking after our farmers and higher standards, but will she guarantee that those higher standards will not be undercut by cheaper imports that do not meet those standards? If they are, we will not be doing our farmers any favours at all and will simply be outsourcing lower standards. Can she guarantee a legal commitment that no imports will undermine those standards that we will have in our country?
I can reassure the hon. Lady that our manifesto is very clear on this. We will maintain our high standards of animal welfare, food safety and environmental protection. It is there in our manifesto, and we will defend that line in our trade negotiations.
This weekend, I was approached by a young farmer who wants to succeed his grandfather as a tenant farmer. His landlord is the Church Commissioners—not so much a Christian organisation as a violently commercial one, which I suppose may be its right. Can my right hon. Friend assure all our good, solid tenant farmers, who are the bedrock of our support in the countryside, that we stand four-square behind them against rapacious landlords?
I can. My right hon. Friend will know that the Bill contains provisions to introduce greater fairness for agricultural tenants, which we believe is very important. That is one way in which the Bill has been strengthened since the version considered in the last Parliament.
Speaking of rapacious predators, farmers and growers in my constituency and elsewhere have been victims of the habits and customs associated with monolithic retailers. We welcome in the Bill the powers that the Government will introduce to give a fair deal to farmers and growers. Will the Secretary of State speak a little more about how and when she intends to use those powers?
Does the Secretary of State agree that the theory of productionism, which lies at the heart of the common agricultural policy, encourages farmers to put as much land as possible into agricultural use, thereby disincentivising room for biodiversity? Can she confirm that the Bill will reverse that trend?
The Bill enables us to provide financial assistance for environmentally friendly farming practices. Providing more space for biodiversity, trees and nature will, I hope, be at the centre of many of the environmental land management schemes that we will be able to take forward under the Bill.
Is the Secretary of State aware that providing modest support for small-scale farmers could be extremely valuable? That is part of my campaign for an Island deal similar to the one enjoyed by the Scottish islands. It could include support for small-scale abattoirs or humane slaughter on farms, which is the most humane way of slaughtering animals for human consumption, as well as milk storage, grain storage and vegetable box erectors on the Island. Those would work for not only my patch but many other parts of the United Kingdom. How will this excellent Bill help? Will she come to the Isle of Wight to talk to my farmers and see that for herself?
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way; she is being incredibly generous with her time. I want to take her back to the fact that the Bill lacks any legal guarantees to protect our food standards from being undermined. The Conservative party’s manifesto may have referenced that, but the Bill does not, so will she give us a cast-iron guarantee that the Bill will protect those standards?
The Secretary of State knows Northern Ireland well, so she will know that the big issue facing agriculture is farm incomes, which have fallen by 23% in the last two years. What assurance can she give to farmers listening in Northern Ireland tonight that the Bill will encourage an increase in both farm productivity and farm incomes?
My hon. Friend will appreciate that agriculture is a devolved matter, but the Government’s manifesto does commit us to maintain the same overall levels of support for our farmers in each year of the current Parliament. We do clearly recognise the importance of ensuring and securing prosperity in the farming community in Northern Ireland, and we will work closely with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs on these matters in the weeks and months ahead.
We are going to put the broken system of the CAP firmly behind us. We are replacing it with an approach based on the principle of public money for public goods. We have committed in our manifesto to support that new approach with an overall level of funding to match 2019 levels for every year of the current Parliament. The Chancellor has already announced that the Government will provide £2.852 billion of direct payment support for the 2020 scheme year.
The objective of the Bill is a productive, profitable, resilient farming sector, empowered to produce more of the high-quality food that is prized around the world and appreciated so much here at home, all the while meeting the highest standards of food safety and traceability, animal health and welfare, and stewardship of the natural environment. Now more than ever before we need to recognise the vital importance of the work that farmers do, because our climate is changing, because our ecosystems are under increasing pressure and because by the end of this decade 9 billion of us will share this planet.
I say to my right hon. Friend that we must not get too misty-eyed about farmers. There is far too much cattle slurry, from dairy farms in particular, going into our rivers and destroying those rivers, and we really do need to make sure that farmers are held accountable for what they do with the slurry their cattle produce.
Through a combination of regulation and farm support payments, we are certainly doing everything we can to ensure that farmers play their part in addressing and reducing pollution, and contribute to cleaner water and cleaner air.
Finding a way sustainably to feed a rapidly growing global population is essential if we are to have any chance of tackling the climate and nature crisis that we face. Getting Brexit done means that we are able to forge ahead with the reforms that the United Kingdom has sought for so long from the European Union, but never managed to secure. For 40 years successive UK Governments of all political complexions have vowed to secure reform of the CAP, and for 40 years Ministers returned from Brussels and stood at this Dispatch Box with very little to show for their efforts. This Bill will therefore deliver one of the most important environmental reforms for decades. It shows that we can deliver a green Brexit, where we have a stronger and more effective focus on environmental outcomes than was possible while we were a member of the European Union.
My right hon. Friend is being characteristically generous in giving way. I agree with her entirely about the need to green and be environmentally friendly in farming. Against that backdrop, is she able to indicate her thinking about the support this Bill could provide to those farmers who are really keen to invest in agri-tech as a way of reducing the need for both insecticide and pesticides?
The new scheme of farm support will include support for agri-tech to support productivity enhancement in a sustainable way. My hon. Friend raises an important point, which I will refer to later in my remarks.
If we get right the reform we are contemplating today, we can be a beacon for others to follow. Over $700 billion is spent around the world on agriculture subsidies. If we successfully deliver a new approach to farm support here and that encourages even a fraction of those billions of dollars of farm subsidies to be diverted into environmental improvement schemes, we will have created a massive boost to efforts to address the climate crisis. As Secretary of State, I want to emphasise that I fully recognise the urgency of that crisis. I have been driving forward this Bill as just one part of the biggest package of legislative reform in Whitehall, but I am determined to go further. In the coming weeks, I will be publishing documents outlining more detail on our proposals for the future of farming.
The Government have always been clear that we will seize the opportunity Brexit presents to deliver reforms that work for our farmers across our Union and that help to secure crucial environmental goals, but I am afraid that that cannot be said of the official Opposition. In all the years Labour Members had to change things, they did nothing. They wanted us stuck in the EU, locked forever into the CAP and anchored to a status quo that has been holding us back for decades. I am shocked that, in tabling a reasoned amendment, they have signified their intention to vote against this Bill.
I speak here as a patriot, and I have quite a farming community in Weaver Vale, and I and Opposition Members certainly want to maintain good British standards. Why does the Secretary of State not be true to the Government’s words in the manifesto and put this into legislation, as the National Farmers Union has called for?
The hon. Member has heard my response on that. It is in the manifesto, and we will deliver on our manifesto commitments.
The first chapter of the Bill provides the framework for funding schemes to support farmers, foresters and land managers. Clauses 1 to 3, which contain the meat of the Bill, will empower the Government to devote public money towards securing the public goods that people value so much, but which the market does not fully recognise or reward.
No, I will not give way.
That includes improving standards of animal health and welfare, managing land in a way that enhances cultural and natural heritage, and improving public access to the countryside. Of course, protecting the environment will be right at the heart of our new approach. The Bill will enable the Government to support farmers to deliver improved water and air quality, increased biodiversity—for example, through enhanced protection for our hedgerows—and measures to address climate change. We all here know that farmers and land managers are already doing a huge amount to meet these environmental goals, but, as in so many parts of our economy and our society, we need to do so much more if we are to have a chance of reaching net zero and preventing disastrous climate change. These changes in farm support will help us to meet our hugely ambitious target for planting trees and safeguarding peatland.
I am very grateful to the Secretary of State for the gracious and generous way in which she has given way. I point out to her that, as she will probably know, livestock farming contributes some 27% of methane production—methane is 85 times worse than CO2 for global warming—and, what is more, slurry contributes about 40% of the secondary PM2.5 in UK cities. Why does the Bill not contain anything about air pollution, despite her saying it is all about climate change and helping the environment?
I am sorry to hear that Labour wants to talk down British farming. The reality is that well-managed livestock production can provide important environmental benefits, including for biodiversity. I think we need a debate on livestock farming that reflects the facts, which include the fact that our livestock farmers are some of the most carbon-friendly in the world in the way they produce their products.
We know how vital it is to protect soil health. Soil is clearly one of our most precious national assets, and we have added it to the list of purposes underlying the schemes that we can pay for under the Bill. This is a direct response to the views expressed in this House about the previous version of the Bill. A further addition is to include in clause 1 the conservation of native breeds and plants, so that the species that sustained our ancestors are kept safe for future generations. Work is already well under way to prepare and implement these crucial reforms. Our environmental land management scheme is the cornerstone of our new agriculture policy. Extensive tests and trials are under way in different parts of the country. We will launch the ELM national pilot in England in late 2021, and the scheme will launch fully in 2024.
ELM will provide a powerful driver towards meeting the goal set out in our 25-year environment plan, which is to leave the environment in a better state than we found it. Getting ELM right is crucial for meeting our commitment to net-zero carbon emissions, and to meet the tough targets set out in our forthcoming Environment Bill. I emphasise that our goal is to design ELM schemes that work for farmers and land managers, and in which a very wide range of farmers and land managers can take part.
I welcome the points that the Secretary of State makes about protecting our environment, because without a good environment we cannot produce the good, tasty, and traceable food for which Britain and the United Kingdom are famous. Does she recognise that the UK currently imports 16% of its milk? Why can we not buy more British milk from British farmers and close that deficit?
I would encourage everyone to do that. We produce some of the finest food and drink in the world, and I encourage everyone to reflect that in their shopping habits.
We fully recognise the particular challenges faced by upland farmers—indeed, I discussed that issue just a few days ago with a group of farmers in Northumberland National Park. We are determined that ELM will also work for upland farmers, and the incredible work they do to safeguard our beautiful natural landscapes will put them in a strong position to take part in our environmental schemes.
Reformed funding support for farmers and land managers will be an important part of our programme to level up the rural economy, and we will provide grants and funding to improve productivity and help farm businesses become more resilient and successful. We believe that farming efficiently and improving the environment can, and indeed must, go hand in hand. We will therefore support investment in green agri-tech, as referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), and invest in research and development to help raise sustainable productivity levels.
Clause 4 includes a duty on the Secretary of State to set out a multi-annual plan for financial assistance, while clauses 5 and 6 include provisions that will require the Government to make annual reports on the amount of financial assistance provided in England. Those three clauses are designed to provide greater certainty and stability about assistance in the future, and are in direct response to concerns expressed by right hon. and hon. Members about the earlier version of the Bill. Clauses 7 to 13 provide that during a seven-year transition period basic farm payments will gradually be phased out.
I strongly believe that the changes in the Bill will be positive for farmers and the environment, but change of this magnitude will also have far-reaching impacts, and adjustment to the new approach will not always be easy. As I emphasised in the debate on the Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Act 2020, a managed seven-year transition period up to 2027 will give farmers time to adapt to the new system, and provide time for the new schemes to be fully tested before they are delivered across the country.
I am extremely grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. She will appreciate that in that seven-year transition period farmers will be expected to cope with the loss of the basic payment scheme—according to her Department’s figures, 85% of funding for livestock farming comes from that scheme—and for all the likely and theoretical benefits of ELM it will not be functional for everybody until 2028. Does she agree that a wiser and more compassionate way of dealing with this issue would be to not phase out BPS until 2028, rather than starting before that?
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. In part, we want our grants for productivity and investment to help plug that gap. But we have to get on with this; we must make progress in transforming the way we support land management in this country. I am afraid the climate crisis is urgent.
Clause 11 contains provisions to introduce delinked payments during the transition, and where we can, and subject to constraints in the withdrawal agreement, we will introduce simplifications to the existing BPS scheme. Our transition to the new schemes opens the door to a fresh approach to the rules that we expect farmers to meet, as provided for in clause 9. We are determined to have a far more rational and proportionate approach to compliance than the inflexible CAP regime that we are leaving. For too long farmers the length and breadth of this country have had to put up with systems of inspection, compliance, and penalties that often seemed to defy logic or common sense. Outside the EU, we can do better.
Clauses 18 to 20 provide that in exceptional circumstances the Government can act to support farmers through significant market disturbances in England. Our farmers want to be competitive, collaborative, and innovative, and to negotiate effectively at the farm gate to get a fairer return. We are using the Bill as an opportunity to take further action, and to improve fairness in the agriculture supply chain.
Will the Secretary of State accept the offer from the National Farmers Union to work with the Government on legislative provisions, in order to safeguard standards while allowing sufficient flexibility to conduct meaningful trade negotiations?
I am in regular touch with the National Farmers Union—indeed, I spoke to its representatives only today. Throughout the process of negotiating our new relationship with the European Union, and our trade agreements with the rest of the world, there will be strong engagement from the Departments for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and for International Trade, and from the Government as a whole, with farmers and other stakeholders on those crucial matters.
I have to make progress because I know there is a long list of speakers.
Clauses 21 to 26 on data will increase transparency and help to manage risk and market volatility more effectively, and clause 27 will help protect UK producers from unfair trading practices. The Bill enables us to make progress on our new multi-species livestock information programme. That addition to the Bill that was debated in the previous Parliament will support a game-changing initiative to strengthen biosecurity through traceability, and help to strengthen consumer confidence in the quality and safety of the food that reaches the supermarket shelf. Parts 4 and 5 include new UK-wide provisions on fertiliser and organic products, and on reform of agriculture tenancies in England and Wales. Many of those provisions will benefit farmers in every corner of our United Kingdom, delivering a fairer and more modern agriculture system.
The Bill includes new powers for the devolved Administrations in Wales and Northern Ireland, which they requested to enable them to bring forward new agriculture policy. We fully respect the fact that agriculture is a devolved matter, and we have worked closely with the devolved Administrations on this Bill. I thank them for the collaborative approach that they adopted. Where clauses cover devolved matters, we will of course seek the appropriate legislative consent motions.
Crucially, this Bill fully recognises the importance of food production and food security. In response to concerns expressed in this House, and beyond, about the previous version of the Bill, clause 17 places a duty on Ministers to report regularly on food security to Parliament. The Government are committed to boosting the best of British, and to championing our iconic produce on the global stage. Our manifesto commits us to maintaining and defending our high standards of food safety, animal welfare, and environmental protection as we embark on our trade negotiations with countries around the world.
We will give our farmers unfailing support as their businesses adapt to the bold and radical programme of change that this Bill ushers in, so that they can maintain and enhance the high standards that are the backbone of their success, play their part in tackling climate change and giving nature the space to recover, and continue their vital work of feeding the nation. I urge the House to back this historic change to agriculture policy in this country. Together we can seize this opportunity to deliver a better future for British farming, and I commend the Bill to the House.
Order. Before I call the spokesman for the Opposition, I ought to give notice that there will be an immediate time limit, initially of seven minutes. A great many Members wish to make their maiden speech this evening and we want to ensure that those making a maiden speech do not have to do it in less than seven minutes, but that means that many people who have indicated that they would like to speak this evening will not have an opportunity to do so, because there simply will not be time. I call Luke Pollard.
I beg to move,
That this House, whilst recognising that on leaving the EU the UK needs to shift agricultural support from land-based payments to the delivery of environmental and other public benefits, declines to give a Second Reading to the Agriculture Bill because it fails to provide controls on imported agricultural goods, such as chlorinated chicken or hormone treated beef, and does not guarantee the environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards which will apply.
The amendment, which stands in the name of the Leader of the Opposition and others, would deny the Bill a Second Reading because it fails comprehensively to guarantee environmental protections and animal welfare standards in any post-Brexit trade deals. The United Kingdom’s history and identity are connected and integral to our countryside, to our farming and to our connection to the natural world. We are rightly proud of our high farm animal standards and our high standards of animal welfare and food hygiene. Today, I will ask some difficult questions about where the Bill takes us, voice serious concerns about the Bill and set out Labour’s genuine, heartfelt and reasonable concerns about a Bill that is silent on food imports produced to lower standards that risk undercutting the great British farmer.
What kind of country do we want to be? In which direction will Britain face in the future? Will our nation rise to the challenge of the climate emergency? Will we crash out of the transition period without a deal? Will we sell our values short for trade deals, especially with the United States? I have looked in ministerial statements for certainty and found plenty of words, but no answers—at least none that I genuinely believe. The Bill sets out a path to a wholly new system of agricultural support, and Labour backs many of its provisions, but as I will explain, legal protections to guarantee animal welfare, food hygiene rules, agricultural workers’ rights and environmental protections on the food we import are deliberately omitted from the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman knows I have a lot of sympathy with what he wants to end up with on those issues, but does he not agree that denying this important Bill a Second Reading, when farmers want to know the direction of travel and have some certainty, would be absolutely the wrong step? Those issues are quite properly addressed in Committee and on Report, and we should get moving forward quickly.
I share the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about giving certainty to our farmers, and I will come to that matter later in my speech, but Labour Members cannot accept a Bill that opens the door to chlorinated chicken being sold in Britain. We simply will not do it.
On the day when people are looking for certainty about where we are going as a country, this Bill does not provide that certainty—the key challenge that the hon. Gentleman mentioned and that I just spoke about. The United Kingdom has exceptionally high environmental and food standards, and an internationally recognised approach to animal welfare, which is a good thing.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the research in the United States about hormone-impregnated meat—beef in particular—giving rise to premature pubescence in children; premature breast growth and so on? Does he know that there was an attempt to pursue that, but the officials in charge were sacked by Donald Trump when he became the President?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. There are valid questions about some of the farming methods used by some of our key trading partners and the reasons why they are used.
I do not want the legacy of high standards to be ripped apart by the introduction of cheap, low-quality foods following our exit from the European Union. Britain has a brilliant diversity of growers, farmers and producers. Our rural communities define what it is to be British. Our rural landscapes are beautiful, but they are not frozen; they are working environments. Our rural areas are an inheritance that we pass to our children, and that is why the rules that govern our stewardship of farms, fields, rivers and hills and valleys are so important.
Before I embark on my main argument, Madam Deputy Speaker, may I again declare an interest? My little sister is a sheep farmer in Cornwall, and I have been asked by my old man to add that he keeps a few chickens. I overlook the Pollard chicken coop at my peril.
There is much in the Bill that Labour supports. Public money for public goods is a philosophy that Labour backs. I am no fan of the common agricultural policy—it is probably one of the few areas where the Secretary of State and I agree. Incentivising farmers to protect wildlife, enhance biodiversity and restore habitats is a good thing, which my party supports. At what pace and by what mix of payments is still to be determined in detail. How this move will help smaller farmers as well as large producers is still uncertain, but the direction of travel is one that I welcome. Farmers have been looking after the land for generations, and it is not if they should do so but how that matters, especially as we scrutinise the Bill further.
As my hon. Friends the Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) and for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) have said, the Bill is silent regarding the big promises the Prime Minister has made on standards. Indeed, this very morning, in his speech in Greenwich, the Prime Minister promised the British people that
“we will not accept any diminution in food hygiene or animal welfare standards”,
but the Bill contains no legal guarantee to put those words into law. So many of the Prime Minister’s promises have been broken, words twisted and responsibilities shrugged off. For any of those promises to be believed, they must be enshrined in law. For the British public, for our farmers and for anyone we do trade deals with in the future to see clearly, there must be no regression on standards—no undercutting of British farmers with food grown to poorer standards, poorer animal welfare, more damaging environmental impacts or poorer protections for workers.
My hon. Friend is, as always, making a well-informed speech. The concerns he is voicing are not just those of the official Opposition or of other parties in this House. They are shared by organisations such as the NFU and other farmers associations—organisations that naturally support attempts to change agriculture in this country. It is not just us asking these questions. The Government need to listen to the NFU and the Farmers’ Union of Wales, which have genuine concerns and fears about the Government reneging on the commitments they made in their December 2019 manifesto.
I do not for one second suggest that the hon. Gentleman is in any way dodgy, but does he not realise that while the points the hon. Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) made are valid to him and would be perfectly reasonable to make the subject of amendments, by choosing to oppose Second Reading of the Bill, he would make amendments impossible? Will he withdraw his opposition to the Bill so that he can make the amendments that he purports to want?
Perhaps the Government’s whipping arrangements are somewhat flawed tonight, but with a majority of 80 the Bill will proceed, unless the hon. Gentleman would like to join me in the Lobby. If he is so worried about the future of the Bill, he is welcome to join me in expressing the serious and heartfelt concerns not just of Opposition Members, but of organisations that work day in, day out with our agricultural communities, which are worried that while they are improving standards in the UK, we will leave the door open to their being undermined. That is not something I can accept.
I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but does he accept that the farmers of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland have a commitment to deliver high-quality products that they can sell all over the world, and they have no intention of changing the regulations that ensure that those products continue to be delivered? Does he accept the Secretary of State’s assurance on the need for the devolved Administrations to be part of that? They accept that being part of the regulations is the way forward.
The hon. Gentleman is right. British farmers do not want lower standards; they are proud of the standards they uphold and we are proud of what they grow and how they grow it. What worries us is the risk that, despite those high standards, the door could be opened to lower-cost, poorly produced food imports. That concern is shared by farmers. That is why the importance of putting legal protections in the Bill is so clear. Why is the Secretary of State not proposing legal protections so that chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef will not be on sale in our shops, restaurants and takeaways? Why is she not insisting that our farmers’ best practice is not undercut by US mega-agriculture? Why does she not make upholding Britain’s example on animal welfare her red line that she refuses to cross?
Speaking frankly, few in this House believe that the Secretary of State will last long in her job with the reshuffle coming up, so she had nothing to lose in making the case to support our British farmers to stop them being undercut. If she had done so, she would have been the farmers’ hero—a protector of the environment, an upholder of promises to the electorate, someone we could all be very proud of—but her silence on the issue of leaving out legal guarantees from the Bill points to one inevitable conclusion: the promises made by the Prime Minister to uphold the standards are disposable. They are liable to be rejected and replaced at will to secure a bargain-basement trade deal with Donald Trump and usher in a potential for chlorinated chicken, hormone-treated beef and more besides to be sold. If the Government say that that is not happening, why is it not in the Bill? Why will that point not be put into law?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about food imports: I want to see less food imports and more of the food that we consume grown here to assure traceability and guarantee food security. To get him off the hook, it would be much better for the Opposition’s credibility if they backed the Bill and made these arguments later. Not to back the Bill is to fail our farmers by not giving them the support that they need as we leave the European Union—surely he must know that.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman: it is important to back British. Indeed, if he had been present, as many of us were, during debates on the Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Act 2020, he would have heard my call for us to buy British, buy local, and especially buy food from the south-west, a region that I and the Farming Minister—the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice)—can be very proud of. Look for the red tractor, because it supports our local businesses and our country.
This issue is fundamental for the future. This is not just a minor amendment that can be put in place; it is fundamental to the direction that we are going in as a country and whether we leave the door open to cheap imported food that undermines our standards. That is why we have tabled this reasoned amendment. That is why it matters and why I am making this case today.
Another fellow west country MP—the recently re-elected Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish)—put it very succinctly:
“Imports produced to lower standards than ours pose a very real threat to UK agriculture. Without sufficient safeguards we could see British farmers significantly undermined while turning a blind eye to environmental degradation and poor animal welfare standards abroad.”
He proposed a very good amendment in the previous Parliament that won cross-party support, although sadly, not the support of his Front Benchers. He said:
“Our suggested amendment calls for agricultural goods to be imported into the UK only if the standards to which those goods were produced are as high as, or higher than, current UK standards.”
We could all get behind that.
I want to try to get my head around this: is the Opposition’s opposition to chlorinated chicken about chlorinating all foodstuffs? Every single lettuce grown in the United Kingdom is dipped in chlorine, so do they have a principled objection to using chlorine in foodstuffs, or is it just about Trump-bashing? [Interruption.]
A Member on the ministerial Bench says, “Tell us about the vegetables.” The important thing is to tell us about the standards and the produce. The hon. Gentleman raises a good point: some people in the House might not be familiar with all the agricultural practices that go into producing our food each day. The issue with chlorine-washed chicken is not the chlorine that washes the chicken—he is right that we chlorine-wash some of our vegetables in the UK that are on sale in supermarkets—but the reason why it needs to be chlorine-washed in the first place. That is because it frequently compensates for poor hygiene standards, such as dirty or crowded abattoirs, cages packed with birds, which would be unlawful in the UK, diseases and infections. The reason why the chicken is chlorine-washed, rather than the chlorine, is what is most concerning.
We cannot wash away poor animal welfare standards with swimming pool water. The realities of how the chicken was reared remain. Refusing to set out legal protections against that in the Bill leaves the door open to allowing such food into our food chains in future trade deals. Here is my challenge to the Secretary of State. She has heard, effectively, from both sides of the House—
I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman’s arguments. The Americans use peroxyacetic acid, not chlorine. Will he comment on the fact that Americans eat about twice the volume of chicken as Europeans but have significantly fewer cases of campylobacter and salmonella? He makes the correct case that they have different animal husbandry standards from ours, but what metric would he use? If he goes on the outcomes of the food, based on the medical evidence, American food is safer or as safe as ours. What will the Labour party do in considering food that is produced under a different regime? How will it be judged, what data will be used, and how will he stop this, or propose that it is stopped?
The right hon. Gentleman is right that acetic acid is used in many cases instead of chlorine. Whether the infection is killed by acetic acid, chlorine, or any other process, the concern is that there is an infection there in the first place through poor animal husbandry. I invite him to look at that and at the work produced by the EFRA Committee under his colleague, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton. It goes into detail to make sure that the standards of any imported food are as least as high as those we have in the UK.
This goes to the heart of why Labour is supporting the reasoned amendment and does not want to allow Second Reading to go through. In the last Parliament, we supported the Second Reading of the Agriculture Bill. I sat on the Bill Committee. The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton tabled new clause 4 and I tabled new clause 1 to the Bill. The Government were terrified that they were going to lose, because we had such cross-party consensus on this—from the NFU to environmental groups, to farmers and to greener people—so they suddenly shelved the Bill. We have not seen anything of it since December 2018. We cannot trust the Government this time and allow Second Reading to go through without trying to raise this point now.
I thank my hon. Friend for that very good point. Farmers will be watching this discussion tonight who are unfamiliar with parliamentary process. For them, the idea of letting the Bill pass Second Reading without making a case for this might seem appealing, but unless the Government and the Secretary of State, in particular, will accept an amendment or propose one that sets the promises in law, it is important that we make the case now. I say to all the farmers who do not want their standards undercut, who are genuinely worried about this, that they have an opportunity to ask their Member of Parliament, whichever side of the House they sit on, to make that case, because that challenge about putting this into law is important. Every day that passes when it is not proposed, including in the Bill, we have to ask why.
We do not need to look too far back to find a precedent that would help the Secretary of State. Last week, the Government whipped their MPs to vote for the NHS Funding Bill to set into law their commitment to spend more on the NHS. Why do the Government need a law to implement promises on the NHS but not a law to implement promises on animal welfare and environmental concerns? Let us look at what the Health Secretary said about that Bill:
“The crucial thing in this Bill is the certainty: the Bill provides everyone in the NHS with the certainty to work better together to make long-term decisions, get the best possible value for money”—[Official Report, 27 January 2020; Vol. 670, c. 566.]
Indeed, certainty is a good thing. The certainty that British farmers will not be undercut by cheap imported US produce grown at a lower cost with lower standards would help them as well. Why is legal certainty good for one election promise but not for another? We know the reason: one they intend to deliver, and one they do not. That fact has been pointed to by leaks from DEFRA officials that were unearthed by Unearthed. A report published in October said:
“Weakening our SPS regime to accommodate one trade partner could irreparably damage our ability to maintain UK animal, plant and public health, and reduce trust in our exports”.
That is why this matters.
I am proud of British farmers—not just the ones who are in my family, but all of them. Because the Bill fails to uphold animal welfare and environmental standards in law, Labour cannot support it. We need a legal commitment not to allow imports of food produced to lower standards or lower animal welfare standards. We need advice and support to help smaller farms transition to more nature-friendly farming methods that tackle the climate crisis, and we need the Government to set out a clear direction of travel for future agricultural regulation. Food grown to lower standards, some with abusive practices, must never be imported to undercut British farmers.
I have no doubt that Tory MPs will dutifully vote for the Bill tonight, but each and every one of them must know that my argument has merit. They might be wise to ask themselves why the NFU, the RSPCA and Greenpeace are saying the same thing as that Labour chap at the Dispatch Box. Why did the re-elected Chair of the EFRA Committee present a similar argument in the last Parliament? Could it be that collectively we are on to something? If we are—spoiler alert: we are—I encourage Members to make a beeline to the Secretary of State to encourage her to propose an amendment to the Bill as swiftly as possible to set in train the promises made at the general election, not only by the Prime Minister but, I believe, by nearly every Tory MP here.
I and my colleagues on the Opposition Benches will be voting for the reasoned amendment to deny the Bill a Second Reading because it omits the legal protections to prevent our British farmers from being undercut. I hope that the Bill can be improved—and swiftly—because in proposing a greener and better future it will also allow for that future to be undermined by imported food grown more cheaply and to lower standards. Who will eat that food? It will be the poorest in society. Who will be able to afford food grown to higher standards? The better-off. It will lead to deregulatory pressure to ensure that Britain’s farmers can compete with US industrial agriculture, which is the opposite of the spirit of the Bill and of what the Secretary of State said at the Dispatch Box, and it is the reason we need legal protection to ensure that no food is imported that has been produced to lower standards than we have today. The Secretary of State has the opportunity to do that. Every day that she lets that opportunity slip by is an indication that they intend to renege on their promise.
I will try to be quick as there are maiden speeches to be made.
I welcome the Bill, and I urge the Opposition to vote for Second Reading and then to try to amend it in Committee and on Report, because the amendments I tabled in the last Parliament, which the shadow Secretary of State mentioned, I might well reintroduce at a later stage. Now is the time to let the Bill through, which I welcome as an historic moment.
We want long-term certainty, as we move forward, so I am pleased that the Bill now includes a reference to multi-annual financial assistance plans, but while the Government lay out clearly how they are to phase out direct payments, which is wonderful, they are not so clear about how the ELMS and other payments will kick in. I look forward to some proper pilots. I know that some have been done, but they were started and then stopped and delayed by the problems in the last Parliament. We must have practical schemes in place as we replace the basic farm payment, and if we have trouble rolling out the ELMS quickly enough, we should reconsider the level of basic farm payment paid in the interim, because we must make sure that the money gets to farmers and the agriculture community.
The EFRA Committee looked at the role of the Rural Payments Agency in overseeing and enforcing fair deal obligations for businesses and purchasers of agricultural produce. I am keen to see how the RPA will work with the Groceries Code Adjudicator and hold processors to account—for instance, in the beef or lamb sector, if a processor is not paying the right price for the carcase, will we be able to hold them to account? Will the RPA be able to fine them? If we are to make them change their practices, we have to get in there and make it work. As I have said, I am keen to hear how the RPA and the Groceries Code Adjudicator will work together.
On food standards, the point has been made across the House that we produce some of the best—if not the best—food in the world, to high environmental and animal welfare standards. We cannot allow in food that does not meet those high standards, so I look forward to things coming forward in Committee and on Report. As we design our new policy for enhancing our environment—planting trees, stopping flooding, and so on—we must also seek to enhance the way we grow our food. Agritech will be important in helping to reduce our use of sprays and fertilizers while also producing a great deal of food.
There are more than 7 billion people in the world today and there will probably be some 8.6 billion by 2030. Seeking to enhance our environment and manage our land differently is very moral from an environmental point of view, but feeding the population of the world is also a moral issue, so as we import food let us be careful that we are not importing the water to grow it and taking food from those who can least afford it. Also, if, as we enhance our environment and plant more trees, we reduce our food production, where will much of that food come from? It will come from Brazil. I have been to Brazil, as have many others, and seen them ploughing up the savannah and driving their cattle towards the rain forest. They are destroying much of their environment in order to produce food. I am sure that hon. Members can see my point. Let us be careful to keep that production in this country.
Furthermore, we rightly make much of holding carbon in the soil and planting more trees, but we sometimes lose sight of the importance of the carbon that is locked in our permanent pasture, in the grassland and in the hills. We must maintain the level of production in this country, especially from grazing livestock, in part because it is produced to high welfare and environmental standards.
We should be proud of the efficiency and productivity of our farmers. In this debate about the environment, much of which I respect and agree with, we must not lose sight of the effectiveness and efficiency that has made our farmers leaders across the world.
My right hon. Friend is right, and I am looking forward to seeing that in the Bill. As we leave the CAP and develop our own agriculture policy, we will have an opportunity not only to enhance the environment, increase biodiversity, plant more trees, and so on, but to look at the efficiency of our production and livestock breeding—for example, by introducing native breeds and cross breeding in order to deliver that very high quality. On crop production, let us use genome technology and everything that is there so that we can produce lots of food.
It is also important, as we look to managing our landscape in the future, that we seek to enhance our hedgerows and field margins, but we must ensure good production where we have very good fertile land. One thing that worries me about our policies going forward is that it is very much at the high end of food production, and that is great, but much of the population also like to enjoy good-quality chicken meat that is produced intensively but is also very reasonably priced. We produce intensively reared chicken in this country according to very high standards, and I do not want us to phase out production in this country and then import that type of meat from other countries where it is produced much more intensively. Likewise with cereals: we must make sure that the types of crop protection used to produce cereals that we import are also available to our farmers. If we do not, all we will do is export our livestock and our poultry and pig production.
This is an important Bill, and it contains much that is to be recommended. However, we must be careful to ensure that as we enhance the environment and our biodiversity we also increase production. We have an opportunity now to produce more food in this country and to be more self-sufficient.
I am sure I have seen this Bill somewhere before but, as it seems that we are destined to repeat this whole thing, and we will no doubt be going over the same ground, let me say upfront that the Bill does not respect the devolved settlement and that that cannot be a basis on which to proceed.
Let me deal first with the issue of farming support payments. We discussed it during the passage of the Bill that became the Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Act 2020. That Bill was, of course, needed as a result of the Government’s failure to plan, which, I suppose, is why we find ourselves repeating a failed Agriculture Bill.
Questions that were asked during the passage of the direct payments legislation were not answered at the time. I wonder whether Ministers have had an opportunity to consider them yet, and whether they find themselves in a position to answer them now. In order to be as helpful as possible, let me refresh their memories. Like the debate itself, this may seem rather like an episode of déjà vu, given that I asked those questions twice, and other Members asked them as well. None of us received an answer, but I am eternally hopeful. It must be my Aussie optimism.
First, let me ask about currency fluctuations. Will any drop in the value of sterling see a corresponding uplift in farm payments to take account of the increased costs of the imported products that farmers will need in the event of legislation requiring the Scottish Government to make payments on the basis of existing EU rules? We know that the currency recently took another beating as a result of Brexit; do the Government propose to help farmers a little with that, and with future fluctuations?
Will there be a multi-annual framework for farm support, or will there just be ad hoc, “make it up as you go along” nonsense? We were told that the details had not been worked out. Has any thought been given to that framework since then? Even the merest idea of how the basic framework of the scheme will look would be a start. When will that be available?
When will we hear details of the shared prosperity fund—details of how much money it contains, and what conditions might be attached? When will we see the global funding figure, and the proportions for Scotland and Wales? Will we have any guarantees that they will be at least maintained in real terms and on international comparators? Will support for our farmers at least keep pace with the support that farmers in the remaining states of the EU will receive? Farmers need some idea of the long-term support that they will receive, or not receive, so they can plan their businesses. The Minister is a farmer himself, and he must be aware of that. Brexit is enough of a disaster for farmers without their not being made aware of the funds that they are likely to receive.
Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us whether it will be open to owners of grouse moors, shooting estates, private forestry and other such land to apply for the new English scheme for public goods. Will public money, having been directed away from food production, be finding its way to them? I personally think—and I believe that many other people think so too—that the proposed new English system will store up long-term problems in England’s food supply, which will, of course, affect Scotland’s production chain. I hope that we shall hear some answers from the Minister tonight, even if there is a timetable for substantive answers.
We have some other concerns. The viability of many of our farms relies on getting produce to European markets, but the only word that we seem to have had on the future relationship is the Prime Minister’s lukewarm hope for a trade deal. We do know that there are a couple of deadlines on the horizon in June, with the questions of financial services and fishing to be decided. We are fairly sure that fishing will be sold out in favour of the City of London’s access to the European markets. However, that wrangling and betrayal dance will mean less concentration on agriculture and the movement of goods—food produced here, to be sure, but also the fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides and other crop products that our farmers use, as well as the animal feed on whose import they rely.
That, of course, feeds into the subject matter of part 2: food security and the supply chain. There will be little point in the Bill if farmers cannot farm in any case. What conversations are Ministers having about ensuring the free flow of goods into and out of the EU? Just this morning we read that the Prime Minister would rather accept tariffs than EU laws, and would not follow EU regulations. Imagine the feelings of farmers and crofters hearing that from the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom! What guarantees can be offered on the future of their trade? Without some guarantees, the structures and rules being set up by the Bill are meaningless phrases and empty promises.
The other deadline in June is, of course, the decision on applying for an extension of the transition period beyond the end of this year. I do not think that anyone will be surprised if there is a great deal of hubristic chest thumping and a great many refusals to extend, but the truth is that farmers will need that extension while the deals to ensure their survival are being hammered out.
In the midst of all of that chaos, the Bill contains measures that cut into devolution, trampling on devolved competences such as livestock identification and organics. That is not acceptable, and it must be reversed if the Government want to respect the voices of the Scottish people.
One final issue worth addressing, given the promises made by the Government time after time, is the failure to include protections for food quality and protected geographical indications, of which we have heard much today. We have no guarantees, our food protections are being stripped away, our food quality and welfare protections are going, and support for farmers is under threat, as is their ability to farm. This is not legislation; it is a Brexit fire sale.
In an area of “government by clever wheeze”—or what the Government think are clever wheezes, anyway—good management and sensible government have gone, and we are left with assertion, bluff and bluster. Far from the ideal of evidence-based policy making, the Bill is a hope-and-prayer pitch at filling a giant hole with a tiny pebble. In Brexit England, evidence seems to be treated with the same suspicion as experts, and we are left with this nonsense instead.
This Bill does not respect the devolved Administrations, and the SNP will be withholding our consent for its progress.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The Second Reading of the Agriculture Bill is particularly important to my constituency. It will enable this Government to reward farmers for the work that they do to protect and improve our environment. I shall be working closely with the Welsh Government to ensure regulatory alignment, so that farmers in England and Wales can continue to work in partnership.
I am proud to say that the island of Ynys Môn is without doubt the best constituency in the UK. The island’s motto is Môn Mam Cymru: Anglesey the Mother of Wales. It was voted as one of the happiest places in which to live in Wales. Why? It is beautiful. The Anglesey coastal path consists of 125 miles of coastline, with beaches from Cemaes to Amlwch, Benllech, Beaumaris, Newborough Forest, Rhosneigr, Rhoscolyn and Trearddur. We have heritage, from the 13th-century Beaumaris mediaeval castle to Copper Kingdom Parys Mountain and Oriel Ynys Môn in Llangefni. Our lighthouse, South Stack, is surrounded by cliffs where puffins, guillemots and razorbills breed. The port town of Holyhead is the second busiest ferry port in the UK, and provides a key link to our Irish friends thanks to Stena Line and Irish Ferries. We are playing our part to keep the UK safe: RAF Valley trains fast jet pilots and helicopter crews, and Group Captain Chris Moon has promised me a tour.
We are home to Morgan Evans Auctioneers in Gaerwen and the legendary Anglesey agricultural show in Mona, which is held every year, and to which I extend a personal invitation to the Secretary of State. We have our own sea salt, Halen Môn, which, like the pork pies in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns), has protected status, and which is the key ingredient in Barack Obama’s favourite caramels.
Orthios Eco Park is creating jobs and safeguarding our planet for future generations. My first job was with dolphins, so I am pleased to say that we even have our own zoo aquarium, Sea Zoo, and our own Butterfly Palace in Llanfairpwllgwyngyll. For those who like racing, we have Trac Môn and Cartio Môn. We even have our own science park, M-SParc.
How do you get there? You do not have to swim. You do not have to sail. We have two bridges, the Menai suspension bridge and the Britannia bridge, and if you fancy flying, we even have our own airport, Anglesey airport. But most importantly of all, Ynys Môn has its people, and these are people who have put their trust in me. It is an honour to have been elected to represent Ynys Môn, and I want to use my background, my experience and my determination for all my constituents, however they voted.
My grandfather was a miner in Wales for 47 years, and my mother worked in a jam factory. I am the first person in my family to have stayed on at school beyond the age of 16. I would like to pay tribute to my predecessor, Albert Owen. He leaves big shoes to fill. He was known for sticking up for his constituents and working cross-party. I hope to follow in his shoes, and I look forward to hosting Anglesey day here in Parliament. My focus will be on delivering the jobs, skilled employment and investment that Ynys Môn needs, and I am hoping that the Wylfa Newydd nuclear power station will transform the island. It will deliver jobs and help the Government to deliver their 2050 net zero carbon target.
Wales is a nation with a language that has been spoken for thousands of years, and I give my personal commitment to support this beautiful language by creating a robust economy. I took my parliamentary oath in Welsh, and I am learning Welsh. I know my pronunciation needs work, and I thank you for your patience. I am not a linguist; I am a scientist. My degree is in microbiology. I worked in pharmaceuticals and more recently I taught maths. It is a privilege to be an MP, and with privilege comes responsibility. I want to be a voice in this place for those who have no voice. This is not the hardest speech that I have ever done. The hardest speech I have done was at my brother’s funeral. That is why I understand how important our mental health services are. I also understand how fantastic our NHS is. I nearly died in a car crash when I was just 19, and this is an opportunity to publicly thank Mr Brian Sommerlad—who has changed so many children’s lives at Great Ormond Street—and his brilliant team for their surgical skills. He gave me the courage to face university.
I am proud that I am one of the 220 women MPs in this place. I am only the 551st woman MP to be elected. Before the 2019 general election, there had never been a Conservative woman MP in Wales. We now have three. I am looking forward to working with my hon. Friends the Members for Wrexham (Sarah Atherton) and for Brecon and Radnorshire (Fay Jones), and with the whole Welsh team. I would not be here without the Conservative Women’s Organisation, 50:50 Parliament, Women2Win and, in particular, Baroness Anne Jenkin. I am most grateful for their support and I promise to continue the campaign to get more women elected. I would also like to thank the police at Llangefni and the friends who have supported me on social media. You angels know who you are.
I would like to end by saying that I am a mother, a wife and a friend. I want to dedicate my life to public service, to work hard and to use my enthusiasm and ideas to make tomorrow a better day for my constituency, Ynys Môn—Anglesey, the Mother of Wales. I have an active dialogue with the National Farmers Union and the Farmers Union of Wales, and I know that they and the farming community are working hard to help us to tackle climate change and wildlife decline. I am looking forward to voting on the Agriculture Bill and the Environment Bill to ensure that they are rewarded. Môn Mam Cymru. Diolch am wrando.
There are a lot of maiden speeches tonight, and I know that a lot of colleagues have come into the Chamber to hear those maiden speeches, but there is also a debate going on, so I would ask people to listen to the other speeches as well, without too much chattering.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie) on her maiden speech. Her Welsh pronunciation sounded absolutely fine to me, but what would I know? Perhaps my colleague here, my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones), is in a better position to judge.
I do not want to repeat everything that I said on Second Reading or in Committee last time round. I hope to be on the Committee again. I will start on a positive note by saying that an addition to the Bill will now give financial assistance to farmers to share information about agroecology. Those of us in the all-party parliamentary group on agroecology have been involved in this for a long time and we would like to see a little bit more clarity in writing from the Minister about how that will work in practice. We are rather disappointed that there is not more of a commitment to financially rewarding the transition to and practice of whole-farm agroecological systems. There is a concern that we are still looking at small tweaks to a system in which environmental stewardship will be located very much on the margins, rather than being done at farm scale. That is one of the weaknesses of the Bill.
We have talked in the past about county farms, and I know that there was a commitment to support county farms, but it is not in the Bill. I would like to hear more about that if the Minister has time when he winds up.
There is no commitment to net zero by 2040 in the Bill. The NFU supports that, and I would have thought that the Government felt able to commit to putting it in the legislation. That ties in with the whole debate that we need to have about land use, which ranges from the impact of the deforestation of the Amazon and the importation not just of meat but of livestock feed, which has a direct connection with our farming here, to the burning of peatlands—the natural carbon sinks that ought to be protected and preserved, not burned to a cinder because of grouse shooting.
It is widely acknowledged that the common agricultural policy was a failure. It was a blunt instrument that led to the inefficient and unsustainable use of farmland. Landowners and farmers were often rewarded for how much land they had, rather than what they did with it, so I very much support the public money for public goods approach, but there is concern that the future environmental land management scheme could end up failing in the same way if it does not adopt that whole-farm approach to landscape-scale delivery. We also need to build in natural climate solutions to that, and to have far more debate about rewilding, peatlands, the planting of trees, agriforestry and so on. I hope that we will do that in Committee.
The Bill is also silent on the baseline of environmental standards that all farmers should adhere to, whether they are in receipt of financial assistance or not. We discussed that in Committee before, and it is really important that we establish that baseline in law and make it clear not only that farmers will be rewarded for going above those standards, but that they will be punished if they go below them. This morning’s report by the Institute for European Environmental Policy highlighted the fact that hedgehogs, birds and mammals could all be at greater risk because of the gaps in domestic regulation as a result of our leaving the EU.
As a member of the Children’s Future Food Inquiry, which I co-chaired, my hon. Friend will be aware that we made recommendations to the Government to establish an independent children’s food watchdog to implement policies that could improve families’ access to affordable and healthy food. Does she agree that the small nod to food security in the Bill by way of a report to Parliament every five years is just not good enough in this regard? Does she also agree that the Government should look into implementing a food watchdog?
Yes, I think that that is very much the case. As I am fond of saying, the F in DEFRA stands for food, not just farming. Food is quite cheap and there are question marks about who is paying the price. We only have to look at the breaches of human rights and the modern slavery that is prevalent in our food chain, as well as the difficulties involved in trying to find people to work here. Despite food being cheap, many people still cannot afford to feed their family in a healthy, nutritious way and are forced either to go to food banks or to buy food that is barely worthy of the name. It might have calories in it, but it has very little nutritional value. I want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the brilliant work she has done with the Food Foundation and on school food. She has done so much to make the case that food is intrinsically connected with our health. That is such an important thing, and I hope that we can carry on talking about it.
On trade, I tried to introduce new clause 1 on Report in the previous Parliament, but the Bill mysteriously disappeared as we were gearing up for victory. It is so important to have a black-and-white commitment, because I do not believe that many Back Benchers are prepared to accept the Government’s word. Without such a commitment, we will offshore our nature and climate commitments, exacerbating the crisis we face, we will undercut UK producers, creating a race to the bottom here at home to compete on price, and we will leave consumers unprotected against low-quality imports produced to standards that would be illegal on British soil.
Whenever we question the Secretary of State, junior Ministers, the International Trade Secretary or even the Prime Minister, we must listen carefully, because they tend to say, “No lowering of UK standards,” but that is not good enough. This is about the standard of goods that we allow into this country, so it is completely irrelevant to make promises about UK standards. A leaked DEFRA briefing stated that the Department would come under “significant pressure” from the Department for International Trade to weaken our food and environmental standards to secure trade deals, particularly with the US and Australia. I happened to be in Washington at the same time as the previous International Trade Secretary, who was on television saying that he did not think there was a problem with chlorinated chicken.
Now, with the publication of the leaked US-UK trade talk papers, we can see just how determined the US is to weaken our standards. Taken with the evidence American farming lobbyists provided to the US Trade Policy Committee last year, the US wish list now includes: abandoning the precautionary principle for food and farming; accepting hormone-treated beef, chlorine-washed chicken and meat raised with high levels of antibiotics, when we know that there is a crisis in the routine use of antibiotics in farming and its impact on human health; lifting the ban on ractopamine in pork and stopping parasitic tests on pigs; allowing genetically modified foods to be sold with minimal regulation; scrapping mandatory labelling on GMOs and for E number additives and food colourings—if anyone is lost, this is what the US has said its priorities are—ditching rules that protect traditional food and regional specialities, such as pork pies and the salt from Anglesey; removing our safety-first approach to chemicals; and legalising hundreds of pesticides currently banned in the UK under EU law. The latter is a particular cause for concern if we are serious about transitioning to a sustainable food and farming system, because the US currently allows around 1,430 pesticides compared with just 486 in the EU.
That is why those of us who have been engaged in these issues for a while have always been clear that while chlorinated chicken has become totemic, it is just the tip of the iceberg. While the Secretary of State’s commitment on “Countryfile” that we would not import hormone-treated beef or chlorinated chicken was welcome, it does not cover the million and one other issues that we ought to be equally worried about. There are questions, for example, about how easy it would be to unpick the statutory instruments that underpin that position and, frankly, all SIs that contain transferred EU food safety legislation.
I look forward to serving on the Agriculture Bill Committee, Whips permitting, to bringing back my new clause 1 on Report if the Government do not make any concessions—and to winning this time.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Like every new Member rising to give their maiden speech, I feel daunted at the prospect of speaking in this Chamber for the first time, but that feeling is dwarfed by my fear of failing to do justice to the achievements of my predecessor, the right hon. Ken Clarke. Ken served the people of Rushcliffe for 49 years and served our country in many of its great offices of state. He was a friend, sparring partner and mentor to many on both sides of the political debate. A real personality, Ken is known for his love of jazz, football, bird watching and Hush Puppies—although I have since been informed that he actually wears Crockett & Jones and by perpetuating the Hush Puppies rumour I am spreading fake shoes—[Laughter.] My oratorical skills may improve, but I am afraid that the jokes probably will not. Ken was the last Chancellor to drink brandy at the Dispatch Box. How I wish at this moment that the custom would be revived and extended to Back Benchers making their maiden speech.
By any measure, Ken’s record is more suited to a full debate than a single speech. He is one of the greatest political reformers of the 20th century. His reforms to the NHS, the police and the justice system provided many of the foundations for the institutions we have today. His skilful management of the economy resulted in the economic boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Following such a great politician is an immense privilege, and I am incredibly grateful for his advice, encouragement and endorsement as his successor in Rushcliffe. Ken’s experience, wisdom and commitment to one nation Conservative values are needed at this pivotal time for our country. I sincerely hope he will soon be joining our colleagues on the red Benches of the other place.
I am hugely grateful to the people of Rushcliffe for putting their trust in me. Rushcliffe is a very special place. It is consistently ranked one of the best places to live in the UK. We have world-famous sports grounds, such as Trent Bridge, Nottingham Forest, who will be promoted this season, and a thriving grassroots sports scene. The vibrant town of West Bridgford in the north of the constituency gives way to rolling countryside and the tranquil waters of the Grantham canal. It is dotted with villages, large and small, and we are home to many historic traditions, such as the annual wrestling match in the village of Bunny, for example, for which the prize was a gold lace cap. Sadly, I will not get the opportunity to compete, because the competition was discontinued in 1810—before even the tenure of my predecessor began. I will, however, be taking part in the Hickling scarecrow weekend this September—an ambition that far outstrips my artistic talents.
In Rushcliffe, we make tractors, wine, gypsum products and electricity. We are the home of the British Geological Survey. We are proud to host the Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre and the brave veterans it works with. We care passionately about protecting our environment and supporting local producers. Cropwell Bishop and Colston Bassett are two of the handful of dairies that produce the pungent, blue-marbled goodness that is Stilton cheese. Packed local markets in Ruddington, West Bridgford and Sutton Bonington showcase our vibrant scene of local food and drink producers.
That brings me on to the Bill, and I should declare an interest as my husband has received direct payments for his smallholding. I welcome the stronger focus on food production and food security alongside environmental protections, because food production and protecting our environment are inextricably linked. Where our food comes from and how it is produced are key factors that will determine how fast we are able to reduce adverse impacts on the environment. I am delighted that the Government are encouraging the environmentally sustainable production of food, and I hope the high welfare and environmental standards adhered to by British farmers will be imposed on food imported into our market, so that our farmers have a level playing field. I also welcome the inclusion of measures to protect and improve soil quality as a public good for which financial assistance can be given.
Finally, I welcome the provisions in clause 27, which strengthen protections for producers across the entire agriculture supply chain from unfair trading practices imposed on them by some supermarkets and middlemen. For too long we have taken the food on our plate for granted. We have not questioned too closely where it comes from, its impact on our planet, or whether the people we rely on to produce it are treated fairly by those who sell it to us. That must change, and I welcome the significant contribution that the Bill will make in bringing about that change.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards). I congratulate her on a fantastic speech and tell her to listen out for a reference to Nottingham Forest later in my own speech.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech during this important debate. I encourage the House to join me in welcoming the SNP’s reasoned amendment as a significant step towards environmental sustainability, food security and the necessary protections of animal welfare in what are uncertain times for the hard-working farmers of these countries—a progressive step, I might add, already taken in November by our Scottish Government, which is world-leading on climate change.
It is an immense honour to be sent here to represent the good people of Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill. I wish to take this opportunity to thank my election team, who have been with me from my first leaflet drop as a “yes” activist and have remained by my side until this day. Those activists took a very wet-behind-the-ears retail worker with a simple desire for self-determination for his country and made me into an elected Member of Parliament in a few short years. I am not quite sure how they have actually managed that.
I wish to take this opportunity to thank all those who put their cross in the box of myself and the SNP. I will do my best, every day, to repay that trust. I also wish to take this opportunity to assure those who did not vote for me: I will work tirelessly to represent your interests, wherever they may lie, for as long as I am in this place. I will do so with the same vigour and determination that I always have since my first day as an elected representative. I have no doubt that, in taking forward our needs and desires together, my constituents and I will face some of the same disdain, derision and apathy that people in my constituency are well used to facing when it comes to the ruling hand of London upon our shoulders.
Friends, at this point I wish to take a moment to pay tribute to the former Member I have replaced here—Hugh Gaffney. I am sure that everyone will agree that he was a formidable voice in this place for postal workers. Hugh would certainly have been expecting longer down here than the brief time he got, but I would like to wish him and his constituency staff the very best of luck in their future endeavours.
The burgh constituency of Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill is made up of a few large towns and many small villages. The large towns lend the constituency its name, but the villages and other new communities, such as Stepps, Muirhead, Moodiesburn, Bargeddie, Glenboig, Birkenshaw and my own home village—my beloved Viewpark—have strong individual identities of their own. Unlike many hon. Members before me, I cannot stand here and make the claim of having the most picturesque constituency; we are, by and large, a collection of housing schemes built to house the many who worked the pits and steelworks of industrial Lanarkshire and beyond. But my constituency is not without its breathtaking scenery, like the vista of the snow-topped Campsie hills, observed as we take in the view from the historic and much-loved Douglas Glen. But at our core, we are an industrial set of towns and an industrious people—hard-working, straight-talking and as honest as the day is long. That is who we are. We wouldnae do ye a wrang turn, but you wouldnae want to step on our toes either.
We are proud of our achievements, and those of our sons and daughters—many contributions to the worlds of politics, law, sports and the arts. Poet Laureate Walter Watson lived and died in Chryston. The great boxing champion Ricky Burns hails from the town of Coatbridge; a three-weight world champion and an inspiration to many, Ricky and his fighting spirit encapsulate the town perfectly. Then there is Bellshill’s own Matt Busby. Sir Matt will need no introduction in this place: the figurehead of Manchester United and that side known lovingly as the Busby Babes.
And then there is my own home village of Viewpark. An area much like Scotland as a whole, it is always punching well above its weight on the international scene, none more so than in the sporting arenas. With a population of under 14,000, the sporting achievements of Viewpark are surely unparalleled. This wee village has three UEFA European cup winners’ medals in its back pocket. Not anywhere in Germany, Italy, France or Spain—indeed, nowhere in any of the great footballing nations—will such an achievement be matched. There are two medals for the mercurial John Robertson, won under the stewardship of the great Brian Clough and his formidable Nottingham Forest teams of 1970 and ’71; and one for Viewpark’s greatest son—the late, great, Jimmy “Jinky” Johnstone, won alongside that most famous team, Celtic FC’s Lisbon Lions. A statue to the wee man stands proudly in Viewpark today as a fitting memorial and a small measure of the esteem in which he is held. And then there is Michael Kerr, our double Paralympian for the Team GB wheelchair rugby team. The only Scot ever in the GB squad, Michael went on to captain the side, competing at both the London and Rio Olympics. His achievements also include European golds and world titles. I know you would not know it by looking at me, but we are a sporting lot.
I would like to place on the record my gratitude to my former employers and, more importantly, my work colleagues throughout the years, for the part they have all played in my journey to this place. My working life began with British Home Stores, where I had two spells before I was made redundant in 2008, when my daughter was only five months old. I wanted to take this chance to thank Philip Green for that harsh life lesson, which so many of us endured under his employment. I will not use his given title of “Sir”, as I think it is a disgrace that he still holds it. To see it stripped would go some way to repairing the damage that his immeasurable greed and indifference for his employees and their families created.
I went on to work for Debenhams in both Glasgow and Dublin and the iconic John Lewis partnership before becoming an elected councillor and now being elected to this place. Without the love and consideration of family, that would not be possible, as many Members will know, so to my Mum Margaret, KellyAnn and Sara, I say thank you and I love yous. It is that strong and loving family support that allows me to come to this place now and carry out the role requested of me.
As with many citizens of Scotland, the removal of our rights as European citizens has had a personal impact. My daughter is what I jokingly call “half Polish, fully Scottish”; with a Polish mum and a Scottish dad, it was by the grace of God she was born in Scotland and able to avail of the wonderful birthright of a Scottish accent. At least I will not have to apply for settled status for my own wean.
The good people of the towns and villages of this diverse constituency delivered an emphatic mandate for an MP committed to Scottish independence. The election results between 2017 and 2019 should crystallise one thing: my election to this place, and that of many of my colleagues on these Benches, is a direct response to our recent treatment from the UK Government. I have been sent here from a constituency that feels that it has very much been overlooked and underestimated by this place and its Governments. The contempt we have been treated with in respect of the Brexit negotiations, and how they have been handled over the last three years, will not be forgotten for a long time in Scotland—or easily forgiven.
The SNP’s emphatic victory in Scotland is in complete response to the disregard that has been held for our people and our democratic decisions, brought into sharp focus since the day we overwhelmingly voted for the retention of our European rights and privileges. It is a direct response to the treatment of the Scottish people, of our elected representatives, and of our Scottish Parliament. Madam Deputy Speaker, those days are numbered.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker; it is a pleasure and a privilege to follow three such eloquent and powerful maiden speeches.
I had originally intended to make my maiden speech on 15 January. However, something much more exciting happened at 1.30 in the morning that day, when my wife gave birth to our second child, Charlie. With your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to thank the wonderful NHS staff at Stoke Mandeville Hospital for the care they gave my wife and Charlie. Most importantly, I would like to thank the 37,035 electors of the Buckingham constituency who voted for me in December. I will work tirelessly to repay their trust, determined and principled in my advocacy of all my constituents’ concerns.
As with all of us, my being here today is only possible due to the support I receive from those nearest to me—not least my incredible wife, Annalise, for whose support and patience I will remain forever grateful, plus our three-year-old son Jacob, who does not understand why Daddy is not around so much. I hope he will read this in Hansard one day and understand just how much of my daily motivation comes from him.
I also pay tribute to the dedication of my predecessor, John Bercow, who served Buckingham for over 22 years. During the campaign, many local residents remarked on how assiduous a constituency Member of Parliament he had been—a trait I seek to emulate. However, I am certain John and I would have clashed, certainly in more recent years, over our views on Britain’s membership of the European Union. As someone whose first interest in politics was sparked by horror at the treaty of Maastricht, it is with particular pride that I have been elected as part of this Conservative majority, mandated to get Brexit done, and to be making my maiden speech in the first debate since our country became an independent nation once more. As we forge a brave, new, outwardly-looking path in the world, I look forward to playing my part in supporting this Government’s positive agenda, on the side of aspiration and opportunity, low taxes and high wages, delivering world-class public services and spreading free markets across the globe.
The 335 square miles of the Buckingham constituency are as beautiful as they are dynamic. From the medieval market town of Princes Risborough and the oldest recorded parish in England of Monks Risborough, the market towns of Winslow and Buckingham accompany over 100 vibrant, community-spirited villages and hamlets, too many to mention here today. Steeped in history, Stowe, Ascott House and Waddesdon Manor all add to the rich heritage of the constituency—not to mention the Prime Minister’s country gaff, Chequers. We have a rural economy, where farming is so important, but that is coupled with manufacturing, retail and new, high-tech industry and jobs in our enterprise zones. The University of Buckingham, under the leadership of Sir Anthony Seldon, is the largest single employer. In an era of our universities having a reputation as seedbeds for left-wing radicalism, I was delighted to discover the Hayek library in the centre of its new Vinson building, complete with the country home of the Institute of Economic Affairs. And it is an absolute personal pleasure, as a motorsport fan since I was eight years old, to represent roughly half of the iconic Silverstone circuit. As an aside, going completely off topic, is it not time that the greatest living British sportsman, with six world championships and counting, should be recognised with a knighthood in our honours system?
My constituency faces threats on multiple fronts: HS2; the Oxford-Cambridge expressway; and over- development, not least from the outrageous, expansionist plans of Labour-run Milton Keynes. One of my early mentors in politics, a former Member of this House, the late Eric Forth, once said to me that the most powerful question in politics is simply “why?” So let me put it this way: why would we take people’s homes, cut their farms in two, blight the landscape, destroy 108 ancient woodlands and risk the chalk streams of the Chilterns, all for a 60p return on every pound spent and no benefit to my constituents, when other solutions exist? It is my passionate belief that our countryside is the defining feature of our United Kingdom. There may be those who believe it is somewhere to occasionally go for the weekend, and what does it matter if we build over it or slam a new railway through the middle, but they are wrong, for when it is gone, it will be gone forever. Nor should our countryside ever be treated as just the bit between the towns and cities, for we are dynamic, home to thousands of successful rural businesses, big and small; many of which, but by no means all, grow and rear the food everyone needs and enjoys.
Turning to the Agriculture Bill, I must declare an interest, in that my wife’s family are farmers, in receipt of subsidies. I have learnt so much from a real hero of British farming, my father-in-law, not least because at family dinners he only has two settings: silence; and talking about farming. It is extremely welcome that this Bill now recognises the central aim of food production. Freeing our farmers from the CAP is one of the major benefits of leaving the EU, but unwinding from decades of bureaucracy and building a system that properly rewards quality food production and the enhancing of our biodiversity is not straightforward—to give that classic countryside answer to the city dweller who stops to ask directions, “I wouldn’t start from here.” This Bill gives certainty, and I welcome it. But as the clock is against me, I cannot better conclude than by quoting Margaret Thatcher’s closing words in her speech to the National Farmers Union in 1986:
“There is an independence and a stability in farming upon which Britain depends and which Britain cannot afford to lose...Agriculture means so much, our farming future must be assured.”
It is a huge honour to follow a quartet of excellent maiden speeches from Members from across the House, each of whom has big shoes to fill and a big personality to match. My advice, as someone who has been there, is: be yourself, and you will do wonderfully well and be a big personality in your own right.
The Secretary of State was right when she said at the beginning of this debate that farming is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland. Therefore, some of the issues could be wrongly dismissed out of hand when we consider farming, its impact and what it means for the British mainland. Northern Ireland produces an awful lot of the food consumed on this side of the channel, so it is important that we have a joined-up approach to our agrifood matters. I am delighted that my colleague in the Northern Ireland Assembly Edwin Poots is the Minister for agrifoods and the environment there. I hope it will make a relationship with the Secretary of State easier because of the good connections and good support we have had from the current Government.
However, the Secretary of State and this Bill have to address the fears that too many farmers in Northern Ireland have about potential tariffs east-west, on the movement of foods, grains and other products from the British mainland to Northern Ireland. The potential for those tariffs creates a volatility in prices and has helped to drive down farm incomes in previous years. Those and threatened tariffs will only serve to do much more. This Bill is important, providing a new opportunity for agricultural product and agricultural payments that should be flexible, to meet the needs of the regions of the United Kingdom. I say that because the needs of Northern Ireland and what we produce will be different from those of Wales, Scotland or England. Therefore, these things must be flexible. They must address and support the primary producer where it matters most; help increase his or her sustainable productivity; help put money back into the pockets of our farmers; improve food security; and protect our naturally beautiful countryside.
In Northern Ireland, agriculture is king, with 75% of all its land being used for agriculture. It is used to produce meat, dairy and eggs, which account for 80% of our food output. In Northern Ireland and Ireland, animals use more land than is used to grow any crops, including indigenous products, such as potatoes. Therefore, it is essential to understand how important land and agricultural produce are in Northern Ireland; our turnover is £4.5 billion, employing one in eight people, which works out at more than 25,000 farm businesses in our country. That is threatened by volatility in the market. The big issue is that farm incomes have fallen by 23% in the past year and a half, from £467 million to £360 million in the past year.
I go back to the key point: the tariffs between Great Britain and Northern Ireland that could be introduced as a result of Brexit would drive that down further, which is why all the commitments made from the Dispatch Box about ensuring that those tariffs will be minimal or non-existent, and ensuring that things are frictionless, have to be met in reality, otherwise farmers will be put out of business in Northern Ireland. What will that do? It will help to destroy food security here in the United Kingdom. In Northern Ireland, we produce most of the milk consumed on this island. We produce some 73% of the beef consumed on this island. Do not destroy your food basket in Northern Ireland, and make sure that our products are protected by this Bill.
We export about 800 litres of milk a year to the Republic of Ireland, so we are also an export nation in food production. I have already given the figure for the amount of beef eaten in the United Kingdom. We want to produce so much more of that product, and if this Bill does anything to encourage agrifood production, to increase the opportunities for farmers to produce more, that will do more to sustain farming and increase farm incomes, and will address many of the problems and concerns people have about cheap food coming into the UK.
Agritech has been mentioned in the debate. I am sorry to get on to this subject, but in Northern Ireland every year 1.1 million tonnes of solid animal waste is produced. Its calorific value is 15 millijoules per kilogram. At the same time, Northern Ireland’s heating demand represents around 24,650 GWh. If we bring those two things together with agritech, we will be able to utilise that solid waste, which could account for around 20% of Northern Ireland’s heating need. There is a huge opportunity that has to be grasped, but how? Can the Bill support such innovative technology? Can it ensure that those who wish to get behind such technologies have the financial support to allow them to invest and create not only jobs but the opportunities that arise from addressing those needs? Of course, that would also give environmental support. As we all know—it has already been raised—phosphates are destroying much of our land and affect water pollution, which can also be addressed by agritech.
The needs I have described require investment, and the only way that we can do that is to ensure that the Bill really gets to the heart of it and addresses the needs of the primary producers, who care most about the environment because they work in it and need a good environment to make the best, tastiest food on these islands.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in the debate on this key Bill for North Devon where, I am assured, we have a higher density of sheep per square acre than south Wales.
It is easy to be the one-woman tourist board for North Devon: it boasts stunning surf beaches at Woolacombe, Croyde and Saunton; the Tarka trail connects our sand dunes from Braunton to Instow; and Members should not miss a stop at Fremington quay for afternoon tea—cream on first, for anyone not sure how to tackle their scones. We have the Lynton to Lynmouth funicular railway; miles of idyllic rural walks, by day or night, with Exmoor being the first international dark sky reserve in Europe; and our vibrant market and coastal towns of Ilfracombe, Barnstaple and South Molton. We are proud to boast 139 pubs that will warmly welcome last week’s announcement on reducing their business rates. I visited a mere 40 of them in the campaign, so there are still plenty to go in my support of the village pub, which is vital to North Devon’s rural communities.
Getting to North Devon is about to get somewhat easier, with the improvements to the North Devon link road starting this year, championed by my predecessor Peter Heaton-Jones. Peter stepped down as MP so late that many colleagues in the House were more than a little surprised to see me. I pay tribute to his hard work in putting North Devon on the map. In his maiden speech he referred to the need for more infrastructure, and in particular faster broadband. It is with some disappointment that, despite his best efforts and some hard-won improvements, broadband remains top of my wish list for infrastructure developments in North Devon.
I am what is known as a “blow in” back home in Devon. Drawn there a few years ago by its heady mix of sand, sea and rolling hills, I am far too old to ever become a local, but it is the best place to have blown in to. When I leave here and switch my work suit back to my wetsuit, I wake to the sound of the Atlantic crashing over the bar and into the double estuary of the Taw and Torridge, tucked behind a sand dune on Instow beach, which George—my rather plump Labrador—and I love to walk, with stunning sunsets and the idyllic view out to Lundy.
Over three quarters of Devon’s landscape is farmed, yet managed by less than 1% of the residents. I am therefore delighted to be speaking up for them in the debate on this Bill, which will both boost food production and champion our environment, which is another key concern in North Devon. The Bill will ensure that farmers are finally rewarded for being the stewards of the environment that they always have been, and that that is related to how the land is used, managed, protected and preserved, rather than solely to how much land is owned. The National Farmers Union is aiming for English and Welsh agriculture to be carbon net zero by 2040, and the Bill will ensure that that endeavour is rewarded. As the environment is so important to those of us who have the privilege of living in stunning North Devon—so much of which is highly designated to ensure that we are able to safeguard it for future generations—I will champion working towards net zero in the House.
Levelling up will mean a lot to all of us in North Devon. We have the eighth highest percentage of people in work, but our productivity per head is £5,800 below the UK average. That is possibly no wonder given that our average broadband speed is only 60% of the UK average. That has to change. Connectivity is so poor that one village resident explained to me at a farmers market that they were struggling even to get “The Archers”. Having run a dotcom myself for 15 years, I know how important broadband is to small and medium-sized local businesses.
It is an absolute privilege to represent the community in which I love to live, and a particular honour to be its first ever female MP. I wish to take this opportunity to thank Baroness Anne Jenkin and the Women2Win team for their ongoing support. I suspect I am like many ladies on this side of the House in attributing our presence here in large part to Women2Win. I very much hope that I may go some way to inspiring young women and girls in North Devon to fulfil their dreams and reach beyond what they thought might be possible.
My personal journey to this point has been varied, as life’s paths so often are, and I hope that that rich experience will serve me and my constituents well. Members may have noticed that I like my statistics: my short time teaching maths opened my eyes to our education sector and the need to raise our young people’s aspirations. I never knew that my decades as a fitness instructor would be so much needed, given the miles I walk daily getting lost in the corridors of the House.
I stand here to champion the people of North Devon, however they voted last December. On countless doorsteps I said that I would get things done, and I will. I am delighted to speak in the debate on this vital Agriculture Bill in this, our first week as an independent coastal state, which I hope will lead to good news for my local fishermen. I hope that by the time there is another MP for North Devon—in many years to come, of course—they will not be asking for better broadband in their maiden speech.
It is an honour and a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby), who represents a part of the country that I have been to with my family and that we very much enjoyed. More importantly, it has been really helpful to learn how to eat scones, making sure that we do the cream first. I am sure that she will continue to make excellent contributions for her constituency in this place.
I welcome the changes made to the Bill relating to the importance of soil and the plans to assist farmers, but the Bill is not robust enough and remains vague on key areas of importance. It provides many powers but very few duties for the Secretary of State to take action, and for a Bill on food production it remains remarkably vague on food. It is silent on action to reduce food poverty and there are no provisions to promote healthy foods. It is also a missed opportunity to provide a much clearer priority in respect of food sustainability. In the world’s sixth richest country, no one should be going hungry. Food is a basic human right, but the Government’s welfare policies have seen food bank usage rise, and continue to rise. The climate crisis and reckless post-Brexit trade deals could make food insecurity even worse.
I pay tribute to the volunteers who work so hard for the food banks in my constituency, including the Trussell Trust and the Whitefoot and Downham Community Food+ Project, which I founded to meet the increasing demand for food in my community. It is shocking that there are now more food banks than ever throughout the country. The latest figures from the Trussell Trust show that in 2018-19 there was an 18.8% increase in the number of emergency food parcels distributed, compared with the previous year. That is shocking. It is shocking that there are now more food banks than ever before across our country and in particular that children are in food poverty. Clause 17 requires a five-yearly report on food poverty, but the first report is, coincidentally, timed to be after the next election. That is not good enough. We do not need more talk and inaction. We need a robust plan to tackle food poverty head-on and to end food banks completely.
The greatest thing about speaking in this debate on agriculture policy is that we are having it at all. The last Agriculture Bill passed by this House was in 1947. That means that no one under the age of 93 has had the chance to elect an MP who could vote on farming policy—until now.
It is a special honour to speak here on behalf of my home constituency, South Cambridgeshire. It is where I grew up, went to school and got married. It has lots of farms, one of which I grew up on. My predecessor, Heidi Allen, represented the constituency with great commitment, great passion—and great political versatility. She was diligent in attending local parish meetings and famous for dancing into the night at local events, and I certainly will not be able to follow in those dancing shoes. We do not agree on everything, but we do agree that it is a fabulous constituency. One resident told me that South Cambs has more Nobel prizes than France and that is a fact too good to check. [Laughter.] It is true—apparently. It is certainly true that just one building, the Laboratory of Molecular Biology, has produced 12 Nobel prize winners itself. We also have the global headquarters of AstraZeneca, one of the biggest drug companies in the world. We have Addenbrooke’s hospital, one of the top hospitals in the country, and one where I had my life saved when I had my appendix out. It has been joined by the newly opened Royal Papworth Hospital, the top heart hospital in the UK. Other MPs have urged Members to visit their constituencies if they want a great day out. My hon. Friends, I urge you to visit my constituency if you want a great heart transplant.
My hon. Friend will be very welcome to come.
The Government are planning a new children’s hospital and a cancer hospital. It is proof of our Government’s commitment to the NHS. We are the life science capital not just of the UK, but of the world. Even tiny villages boast their own science parks. Take Hinxton, which now has the Wellcome Sanger Institute, leading the world on gene sequencing. It is now decoding the genes of 500,000 people, starting a revolution in personalised medicine.
The traditional heart of my constituency is rural. Farmers are some of the most affected by EU membership. Many get subsidies from the EU and many export to it, but the overwhelming majority of farmers I met were pro Brexit. There is a good reason for that: the common agricultural policy is not fit for purpose. Billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money are given to people basically for owning land, and with great subsidies come great rules—600 pages of them. There are 15 pages alone defining when a hedge is not a hedge. Farmers have to employ administrators just to help them survive the red tape.
I know that Brexit has its challenges. I spent five years as the chief executive of the British Bankers’ Association, which included negotiating Brexit with the EU institutions—the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission. But on CAP, we can all agree. The left-wing columnist in The Guardian, George Monbiot— not often quoted by Conservative MPs—wrote recently:
“I’m a remainer, but there’s one result of Brexit I can’t wait to see: leaving the EU’s common agricultural policy.”
As we heard earlier this evening, Labour has long opposed the CAP. I remember meeting the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett) 20 years ago when she was the Environment Secretary railing against the CAP.
As Europe correspondent of The Times, I covered the European summit where Tony Blair gave up a portion of the British rebate, which had been so hard fought for by Margaret Thatcher—hooray. He gave it up in return for a promise from Jacques Chirac that France would think about reforming the CAP. I can tell Members that the French President did not think very hard.
I am a former environment correspondent of The Observer and of The Times, and I now chair the all-party group on the environment. Green issues are close to my heart. Most environment groups, most farmers and all major political parties have long wanted to scrap the CAP, but there was nothing that we could do about it. I found it an affront to democracy, so nothing gives me greater pleasure than voting for this Bill. It uses public money for public goods, such as improving the environment and animal welfare.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has shown what can be achieved at its Hope Farm in my constituency, where environmentally friendly farming has led to a 1,500% increase in overwintering birds. This Bill has very wide support from farmers’ groups and from environmental groups. Certainly, there are questions to ask. It is good to have a seven-year transition from one scheme to the other, but what is the profile of that transition? Should there be a food security review every five years or every year to start with? The great thing is that we can now debate this and decide this. Voters can make their views heard and we will listen. It is part of the renaissance of British democracy.
Farming still faces challenges. It is essential that, when farmers export, they do so with a level playing field. They must not be undermined by competitors who cut costs by cutting environmental or animal welfare standards. The Bill does mean that many farmers will have to change the way that they do things, but the farmers I have spoken to are up for the challenge. They welcome being paid to protect the environment. Many are already diversifying what they do. Last week, I met a farmer who had started producing crisps and is now exporting them by the container load to America. Other farmers are improving productivity by automating. One company in my constituency, Dogtooth, is leading the world in producing artificially intelligent strawberry- picking robots. It is one of many agritech companies in South Cambridgeshire that are unleashing a new agricultural revolution.
Yes, there are challenges ahead that need managing, but we must have confidence in ourselves as a country. One millennial said to me recently that we could not possibly survive outside the EU, and I was left thinking, “How have we come to think so little of ourselves?” There are roughly 200 countries in the world, and only 27 are part of an international government that makes laws for each other. No one else has followed the EU, so there are roughly 170 countries that fully make their own laws and of those we are the fourth biggest economically—in the top 2%. If we cannot survive, what about the 98% of fully independent countries that are economically smaller than us? That includes such successes as Canada, Australia, Singapore and South Korea.
I am half Norwegian, part Irish, part French and married to a Canadian. I have lived overseas and worked and travelled in more than 70 countries. Often I see Britain as others see us—an extraordinary country capable of extraordinary things. But how has such a great country lost so much of his mojo?
We have left the EU. The new political divide is no longer between Brexiteers and remainers; it is between optimists and pessimists. Whatever side of the argument you are on, we must now come together and work together to embrace the opportunities. It starts here with this agricultural policy. I commend this Bill to the House.
It is a great pleasure to follow the maiden speech of the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne). One thing on which we can certainly agree is the wisdom of George Monbiot. I hope we will have many other opportunities to quote from his copious writings and agree with one another in the forthcoming months and years.
I welcome some improvements made in this Bill compared with the earlier version, but I want to set out where it still is not going far enough if the Government are serious about climate and nature. First, it is good to see stronger protections for farmers from unfair trading practices. Having previously tabled an amendment to bring the whole of the supply chain within the remit of the Groceries Code Adjudicator and, indeed, any new regulator, I can say that is a step in the right direction. It would be better still if the Bill placed a proper duty on the Secretary of State to act rather than simply conferring powers to do so, and I personally cannot see the case against turning many “mays” into “musts” throughout this clause and indeed throughout this Bill. I am sure that others will applaud the excellent work of the Sustain alliance, but all eyes will be on the detail, delivery and, crucially, enforcement.
Secondly, the inclusion of soil in the public goods in part 1 is another welcome move. However, as a member of the Environmental Audit Committee that conducted a whole inquiry into soil health, it is disappointing to see so many of these recommendations still not acted on given the overwhelming importance of soil carbon storage. For example, the Committee called for rules with greater scope, force and ambition to deliver restoration and improvement of soil, so why have the Government still not banned practices that do unforgivable harm to soils, such as burning on blanket bogs or the use of peat in compost. With organic farms supporting healthier soils with 44% higher capacity to store long-term soil carbon and 50% more wildlife, why does this Bill not seek a major expansion of organic farming? Furthermore, if the objective is to have healthy living soils for carbon storage, biodiversity and fertility then surely we prioritise policies that minimise inputs that exterminate that precious biological life, yet there is nothing in this Bill to phase out pesticides either.
That illustrates a wider point—the gaping hole in the Bill is on the crucial role of regulation, not just on pesticides but to drive innovation and to deliver environmental, public health and animal welfare goals.
The third positive is the new mention of agroecology in the Bill. The hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) has championed that as chair of the all-party group on agroecology, but I suspect that she would share my mixed feelings. Although agroecology is recognised in the Bill, it is in a bizarrely minor way. In clause 1(5), the Bill states that
“‘better understanding of the environment’”—
one of the purposes for which the Secretary of State may give assistance—
“includes better understanding of agroecology”.
That seems like a fundamental misunderstanding of what agroecology is and what a wholesale shift to agroecological farming should deliver for nature, climate, public health and farmers. It should not be consigned to a legislative footnote—it should be at the very heart of the Bill and the Government’s wider farming policy.
I support the better eating campaign that suggests that overall in this country we should seek to reduce meat eating by about 50%, but in that shift to plant-based diets we want to eat less but better meat. In other words, we still want to support our farmers. Crucially, they need to be supported during that transition. It is no good simply setting up new goalposts and not supporting farmers with finance, help and advice to enable them to make that transition.
Over the past 18 months, an incredibly strong case has been made for a 10-year transition to agroecology. I would like that vision to take shape as a green new deal for the food and farming sector. One example of the growing mountain of evidence that makes that case is the RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, a major, two-year, independent inquiry that includes leading experts from industry and civil society, as well as inputs from farmers and growers across the UK. It includes abundant detail on how to make that transition, including a proposal that every farmer should have access to trusted, independent advice, including through farmer support networks and establishing a national agroecology development bank to accelerate a fair and sustainable transition. Crucially, the inquiry found that
“most farmers agreed that they could make big changes to the way that they farm in five to ten years—with the right backing.”
It is that right backing that we have to make sure that the Bill provides.
Time is of the essence if we are to reverse the loss of biodiversity and meet climate goals. A goal of net zero by 2050 is in line with neither science nor equity, and climate delay is almost as bad as climate denial. The Bill needs more than one line on that topic, especially as that one line simply says that the Secretary of State “may”—not even must—give financial assistance for climate mitigation or adaptation.
The Bill desperately needs a link to carbon budgets, unambiguous duties to deliver, and the incorporation of Committee on Climate Change advice, in particular, strengthening the regulatory baseline. I hope that the Minister will explain precisely how the Government will deliver major emissions cuts during the seven-year transition period, not just afterwards.
On biodiversity, it is truly shocking that the Bill contains nothing really on pesticides. As a minimum, it should set bold, national targets to cut pesticide use and introduce regulations to protect the public from the hazardous health impacts of pesticide use near buildings and in public spaces. There was broad, cross-party support for my amendment on pesticides last time round, yet it is rumoured that DEFRA’s inadequate pesticide plans are being diluted even more as the Department caves in to agrochemical industry lobbying. Why do Ministers not listen instead to the 70 scientists who recently called for the phasing out of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers as an urgent, no-regrets action as part of a road map to insect recovery, designed to reverse the insect apocalypse?
What is DEFRA’s response to the letter from over 2,500 scientists across the EU that warns of the unequivocal scientific consensus on the intensification of agriculture and the ever-increasing loss of biodiversity that could soon become irreversible?
Another glaring omission is on trade. Many of us have raised it tonight, but the Bill needs a watertight requirement for all food imported into the UK to be produced to at least equivalent standards on animal welfare, pesticides, environmental protection and public health. It is simply unacceptable to ask our farmers to meet higher standards, then allow them to be undermined by cheap competition from countries that do not meet those standards. I refer the Minister to the amendment to the Trade Bill in the other place that sets out that argument clearly.
Finally, the Bill should be used to introduce new measures of success for our agriculture sector so that the payments for productivity in clause 2 do not undermine progress on biodiversity, climate and animal welfare. Just as there is growing consensus on the need to measure economic progress with indicators that incorporate ecological health and human wellbeing, which GDP fails to do spectacularly, so we must adopt new indicators for agriculture. The Bill should require the Secretary of State to begin that work to develop those new metrics, to steer us towards a truly sustainable future for food and farming, and they must include overseas as well as local impacts. Greenpeace research shows that UK chicken, for example, is contributing to deforestation due to the imported soya in its animal feed. We need to design new farm policy to deliver value, not volume; diversity, not monocultures; and people nourished per hectare, not tonnes of yield.
I should declare an interest, as my parents are tenant beef farmers, and I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I rise to offer my maiden speech as the new Member for my home constituency of West Dorset. My family has farmed in West Dorset for almost 100 years. My grandmother, who during the second world war was in the women’s land army, met my grandfather when she came to work on our farm, and it is with nearly a century of farming insight and experience—of which I am the fourth generation—that I address this House today.
I am not an academic and I did not go to university, but I must pay tribute to two people in West Dorset who did. The first is my predecessor, Sir Oliver Letwin. Sir Oliver has been greatly contentious in more recent times in this place, and Members shall have their own view on that. As Sir Oliver’s association chairman since 2016, I can tell the House that there was no shortage of correspondence to tell me! But what the press and Members of Parliament would not have seen so prominently was Sir Oliver’s tireless efforts to support his constituents in the greatest of need—work that I have already committed to continue as his successor. But despite he and I having differences of opinion on the European Union, he was highly regarded by many as a hard-working constituency Member of Parliament.
I should also like to pay tribute to the vicar of Sherborne, Canon Eric Woods, who first came to my hometown in 1993—the year in which I started secondary school. Eric has been a good friend to West Dorset and announced his retirement last week after 27 years of service.
West Dorset is the home of the Jurassic coast, from Lyme Regis to Chesil beach. It is Thomas Hardy country. Glorious Sherborne Abbey stands proud above a town that is a world leader in education, where Alan Turing, who cracked the Enigma code during the second world war, was educated. The oldest post box in Britain is in Holwell—the village where I went to primary school. There is even a village called Loders. Morcombelake is home to the famous Moore’s Dorset Knob—a savoury biscuit so famous that we even have a Dorset Knob-throwing festival! We are also home to Dorset Blue Vinny cheese— and to wash that all down, our very own beverages from Palmers brewery, Fordington gin and countless vineyards to name just a few, which can almost certainly be bought at Felicity’s farm shop! As you can see, Mr Deputy Speaker, I am living proof that you will rarely go hungry with such good local produce.
My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) told us last week of white chalk horses in his constituency. Now I am not one to boast about size, but it would be remiss of me not to point out to my hon. Friend that in West Dorset we have the Cerne Abbas giant—a 55-metre-tall chalk fertility symbol, standing to attention while dominating the hillside of the Cerne valley in all his glory.
As beautiful as it is, we still have many challenges and difficulties in West Dorset—including rural isolation, broadband speeds and the continued reduction of rural transport—made worse, I am afraid, by the recent announcement by FirstGroup of its intention to remove the No. 6 bus between Beaminster and Bridport. We have a three-hourly rail frequency, and the railway lines are mostly single track since the Beeching cuts some 50 years ago. There is much to do.
The idyllic countryside does not appear by accident. Our farmers work hard in all weathers, in all seasons and at all times of day. But we are seeing unprecedented levels of media depictions of our farmers as the enemy of our environment, even going as far as advocating criminal repercussions against them. Those who say that British beef, sheep and pig farming is the enemy of the environment are completely wrong. Farmers in the UK are the best and biggest advocates of our environment, and that has been the case for so many years.
This Bill is the most significant piece of UK legislation on agriculture for some 70 years. I recall the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), coming to Beaminster several years ago and telling me that he could not do lots of things because of the common agricultural policy. I am so pleased that that will no longer be the case. We will no longer be bound by the EU’s common agricultural policy, spending £44 billion a year and achieving none of its objectives. We can finally define our agricultural destiny, and I am absolutely delighted that domestic agricultural law and policy decisions have been returned to this House of Commons.
Agriculture contributes £8.6 billion to the UK economy every year, with 72% of UK land being used and cared for by our farmers. It is easy for everyone to see our farmers’ inborn environmental instinct just by looking at the rolling hills of our green and pleasant land. For far too long, farmers have been price acceptors, having to accept whatever price and conditions the supermarkets dictate, no matter how low. This Bill supports farmers, with provisions for fairness in the supply chain and assistance during times of exceptional market disturbance. British farmers need stability and certainty, and that is exactly what this Bill will provide.
The Bill is a groundbreaking piece of legislation that will transform our farming sector. It is key to achieving a green Brexit, and will unleash our nation’s farming potential and make our environment better for all of us.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder). I congratulate him on a very impressive maiden speech, and have no doubt that he will make a great impression on this place and serve his constituents well.
As other hon. Members have said, this Bill will determine the future of agriculture for decades to come, so it is crucial that the course it charts is the right one. Several aspects will need to be addressed in Committee, but in the time allocated to me this evening I shall concentrate on two areas that have not been addressed in the second draft of the Bill: the need for a pan-UK intergovernmental structure to agree, establish and monitor common frameworks on agricultural policy and funding; and, as other Members have mentioned, the need to uphold UK farming production standards in the context of international trade negotiations.
On Second Reading of the Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Bill a fortnight ago, I made the point that replacing some of the CAP’s associated frameworks would be to the benefit of all four nations of the UK. As the nations develop future policy, the question of how they will co-operate to ensure the effective functioning of the internal market of these islands looms ever larger. It is disappointing that the Bill before us today does not answer that question, but luckily for the Government, the Farmers’ Union of Wales has produced a policy paper outlining how common frameworks could work in practice, and how the four Governments—in the form of an intergovernmental body—could come together to agree the principles underpinning them, oversee their operation and resolve any disputes that may arise.
Agreeing common objectives need not limit the ability of any Government to tailor policies to best support their respective industries, but by establishing common parameters and thresholds, damaging market distortion and disruption to supply chains can be avoided. This is not an academic or hypothetical concern. For example, reflect for a moment on the consequences of the Bew review into allocations for UK agricultural funding, which over the next two years will see the difference between average annual Scottish and Welsh farm payments diverge to about £16,200 a year, or 175%; or consider this Bill, which offers Welsh Ministers scope to maintain financial assistance to farmers in the form of the basic payment scheme in a way that is not replicated for farmers in England and is not even needed for Scotland. There are already signs of divergence. The only question is how harmful a distortion it will cause.
There is danger from divergence in other areas, such as equivalence in standards, labelling, eligibility rules for different schemes, rules defining what constitutes a farmer who is genuinely eligible for support and interventions, or the rates at which direct support, environmental payments, payments for providing public goods and other interventions should be capped. Agreeing common parameters in those areas will ensure a level playing field for farmers across the UK and should be prioritised in the Bill.
I turn to an issue that has already been discussed this afternoon: the lack of commitment in the Bill to upholding farming production standards in the context of international trade negotiations. In this regard, I support the efforts and comments of the NFU, particularly its call for a standards commission to ensure that any imports meet the standards of UK products. I suppose it is quite disappointing that the Bill and this evening’s debate do not give us an opportunity for a detailed and meaningful discussion on what sort of standards or outcomes we wish to see in international trade negotiations, or how best to determine equivalence and what we actually mean by the word. Instead, it seems as though we must persuade the Government of the importance of making such a commitment in the Bill, and of the futility of developing a comprehensive and ambitious domestic policy whereby our farmers produce quality food in a sustainable manner, only for their efforts to be undermined by the importation of products not produced to equivalent environmental and animal welfare standards. As far as I can glean, the Government’s argument is that such a commitment on the face of the Bill is not required, and that instead we should take Ministers at their word—after all, as has been said this afternoon, it was a manifesto commitment. But as the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones) will know, if manifesto commitments were always adhered to, particularly by this Government, I would have travelled here by an electrified south Wales main line from Swansea; of course, I did not.
When one considers the words of the Prime Minister at the UK-Africa summit only a few weeks ago, when he proudly proclaimed his wish to see more Ugandan beef shipped to the UK, it is no surprise that hon. Members from across the House are anxious to see a commitment in law that food imports will be of an equivalent standard to UK produce. It was good to see the Prime Minister recognise in his written ministerial statement today the importance of maintaining existing sanitary and phytosanitary measures, but as he stated that the Government’s goal is a Canada-style free trade agreement, the question arises as to whether that will apply to sectors such as beef and lamb. Although the Canada-EU trade deal eradicates tariffs on the majority of goods, sensitive products such as some food products—including beef—are not included. There is a danger of the Prime Minister, on the one hand, appearing to project himself as the champion of free and frictionless trade while, on the other, partly conceding that there will be some technical barriers to trade where once there were none. This inconsistency is a cause for concern, as is the Government’s apparent unwillingness to introduce some friction to UK-EU trade.
It must be stressed that this approach would be damaging to Welsh agriculture. I know that the Minister fully recognises the importance of the EU market for Welsh agricultural exports, particularly sheepmeat. It need not be highlighted again that approximately 35% to 40% of all lamb produced in Wales is exported, of which over 90% is destined for the EU market. Following today’s statement and the possibility that Welsh farmers will have reduced access to the EU market, it is even more important that we see a commitment in this Bill that future trade policy will not also expose them to competition from imports of a lower standard.
This is the first chance I have had, Mr Deputy Speaker, to pay tribute to you for being back in your rightful place in this House.
I also pay tribute to the six excellent maiden speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie), for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards), for Buckingham (Greg Smith), for North Devon (Selaine Saxby), for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne), and for West Dorset (Chris Loder). They are a highly talented group of men and women in whom I think our party will have an asset for many years to come. They are fantastic advocates for their constituencies, and they will all no doubt have long and industrious—illustrious, rather—political careers.
And industrious too, no doubt—industrious in particular.
I declare my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, in that I am a farmer and receive income from farming.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham reminded us, this is the first debate that we have had since we left the European Union—and we have well and truly left the common agricultural policy, so we now have the opportunity to design a new domestic agricultural policy that will recognise the unique characteristics and needs of the UK farming industry as opposed to 27 European countries.
The Government, in the shape of my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), originally said that they would negotiate
“a comprehensive customs agreement that will deliver the exact same benefits as we have”.—[Official Report, 24 January 2017; Vol. 620, c. 169.]
However, more recently, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said in the Financial Times of 17 January that farms have had three years to prepare for a new trading relationship. But to prepare for what—a free trade agreement with full benefits or a no-deal situation where beef and sheep exports face 50% to 60% adverse tariffs? The future of agriculture is very uncertain at the moment. However, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in her excellent speech, this landmark legislation could not only boost productivity but give some of the highest environmental protection in the world, setting an example to others.
This is an industry that employs 474,000 people, with a net annual contribution to the UK economy of some £8 billion. Last summer, the National Audit Office produced a report with some frontline statistics, which it is very good at doing, saying that there were 85,000 recipients of CAP payments in England in 2017. It went on to say that of those, 82,500 would participate in the new environmental land management scheme by 2028. That seems a very high and optimistic target, I say to my hon. Friend the Minister, and it will be achieved only if the scheme has properly defined objectives, is relatively simple to apply for and operate, and, above all, has an absolute commitment from the Government to pay on time for the work done, in line with their commitment to other small businesses. As I said, this is a highly ambitious target. I remind the Government that only 20,000 farms, as opposed to 82,500, had enrolled in the countryside stewardship scheme after 42 years of operation.
The NAO report goes on to tell us that without direct payment, 42% of farms would have made a loss, assuming that everything else had remained the same. The Government are committed to making payments at the same level this year, thereafter moving to a system of public goods for public money. However, having tabled amendments to the previous Bill, which fell due to the general election, to ensure that food production is at the heart of this legislation, I find it somewhat disappointing to see that public goods do not secure more of our food supply. For farmers, it will be difficult to compete in the same market as those who either have a one-sided subsidy such as the CAP or regulations that discriminate against our farmers. I understand that this year, 95,000 tonnes of rapeseed was imported into this country from Ukraine—a country that is allowed to use neonicotinoids, which are banned in this country. So we are simply exporting environmental risk to other countries by doing this.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. That is precisely what I am trying to get at—our farmers can compete with any farmers in the world, provided they have a level playing field.
It is not only regulation that could be an obstacle to them. There could be a tariff schedule that broadly supports European farmers and disadvantages British farmers. For example, lamb producers in the Cotswolds, who work in a very important farming sector, could be undercut by New Zealand lamb being brought into this country with zero tariffs, while they face an adverse European tariff that prevents them from continuing their lucrative export to Europe.
The new ELMS and productivity scheme needs to be implemented on time, to see how it works in practice and to play an important role in achieving net zero goals. If it is not introduced on time in 2024, there will be a gap in funding. Many experts believe that introducing it on time will be extremely difficult, and that it is more likely to slip from 2024 to 2028, which will produce a gap in funding. We have an opportunity, post Brexit, to create a progressive, carbon-neutral model of farming in the UK, with the NFU committed to an ambitious target of the sector being carbon-neutral by 2040.
The Bill prepares our farming industry for the future, so that it can meet the needs of this country, and with that comes consideration of the younger generation of farmers. The lump sum payment provisions should be more geared towards encouraging young people into farming. As they stand, the provisions could well lead to some areas of the country simply not being farmed, because there will be land without the ability to get any subsidy whatsoever.
Farming has experienced a huge technological transformation in the past 10 years, with better IT, better animal husbandry, better use of GPS, improved agricultural chemicals and soil sampling, and a host of other technological improvements. Those advances in the agricultural industry will no doubt continue at pace. Younger generations can quickly adapt to new technology, as I am finding with my son, who has just moved to my farm. We must support them, so that they can play a bigger part in British agricultural production, considerably increasing productivity and environmental and animal welfare standards.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is a great honour to share this debate with so many Members making incredibly impressive maiden speeches on both sides of the House. I did not expect there to be even one mention of Nottingham Forest, but there were two from our new colleagues. It is a team with a rich European heritage and, like the United Kingdom, I am sure, a prosperous European future at some point.
Today, Brexit goes from the emotional to the practical, and we are instantly reminded that “Get Brexit done” is the most misleading political slogan since David Steel told Liberals to go back to their constituencies and prepare for government. Brexit is not done and will not be done for perhaps 10 years or more, but our agricultural industries might well be done if the Government get this wrong—and there is every sign today that they will. We must design an agriculture policy that supports agriculture and food production and rewards farmers for the public goods that we rely on them for. We need to begin by acknowledging that this Bill will be a bad deal for Britain if it is not a fair deal for farmers.
First, we must address the transition from the current system. I have been horrified by the Government’s wilful deafness to the farming community over the phasing out of direct payments. ELMS may be a step forward, but the Government’s own figures show that 85% of livestock farm incomes come through direct payments. The phase-out begins in 11 months, even though ELMS will not be fully available until 2028. That is seven years of lost income and uncertainty, when we may lose hundreds of the farmers needed to feed us and deliver vital environmental and public benefits—how short-sighted and foolish. The answer is simple: the Government must not begin to phase out the BPS until 2028, when ELMS is available to all. The Government must listen to our farmers in Cumbria and across the country and make that announcement today.
In order to achieve a fair deal for farmers, it is essential that public goods are defined, to recognise the incredible work that they are already doing. The ultimate public good that farmers provide is food. We must have a coherent food production strategy, and yet the Bill fails to address that. It is a dreadful missed opportunity. Food production is the central motivation for most farmers, and food security is a real challenge for our farmers. Some 50% of the food we consume in the UK is imported, compared with 35% about 20 years ago. We are in a precarious position. How stupid would we be to put our farmers in a similarly precarious position?
We could solve so many of our problems if our farmers got a fair market price for their produce. The Liberal Democrats were proud to introduce the Groceries Code Adjudicator during our time in coalition, but of course the Conservatives limited its powers. The adjudicator could be empowered to take referrals from advocates such as the NFU, the Tenant Farmers Association or, indeed, Members of Parliament. They could expand its scope to investigate unfairness in every element of the supply chain. It must have powers to penalise those who abuse their market power to pay farmers a pittance. In short, it must have the power to secure a fair price for farmers.
A fair price for farmers will be made harder by the Bill’s failure to impose import standards. The consequences of cheap goods flooding our market would be catastrophic. Cheap imports, a market watchdog that lacks teeth and the phasing out of farmers’ main source of income in less a year are threats to farms that are plain for all to see except, it would appear, by this Government. If we fail to support farmers to be productive and to survive, there will be no farmers left to deliver any public goods.
The public good that I fear is in most danger of being overlooked is the one hardest to quantify or reward—the work farmers do in maintaining the aesthetics of our land. It is a privilege to call the Lake district and the dales of south Cumbria my home. Two or three years ago, UNESCO granted world heritage site status to the Lake district, largely due to the contribution of our farmers to the maintenance of our landscape. As well as being worth £3 billion a year to the economy, tourism in Cumbria provides 60,000 jobs. Without farmers to maintain the landscape, the entire industry would be undermined.
This is not just true of Cumbria. Helping farmers to deliver public goods and improving the productivity and resilience of UK agriculture mean releasing farmers from bureaucracy, badly run payments agencies and, worst of all, insecurity. If we want a diverse and bountiful ecology, we need farmers to steward and deliver it. If we want a better environment, we need farmers. The intentions behind this Bill may be good. In practice, though, it looks set to do more harm than good, because the Government have not listened to the farming communities that will bear the brunt of a poorly managed, detail-free transition.
Order. We have less than an hour before the wind-ups, and I still have 17 names on my list. If Members can make their speech in less than five minutes, they will help not to squeeze out somebody else—so no pressure at all on Fiona Bruce.
I am delighted that leaving the EU means we can take back control of our agriculture policy, and there is much in the Bill to commend it. I want to make three points in the short time I have.
First—on part 1, chapter 1—it is encouraging that clause 1(4) states:
“In framing any financial assistance scheme, the Secretary of State must have regard to the need to encourage the production of food”.
That is right. The primary focus of any financial assistance must be to support our farmers in their production of food and their contribution to our food security. That is critical not only as our nation’s population increases, but as the global population is predicted to increase from 7 billion to 9 billion by 2050.
I admire the innovation and diversification of many farmers in Cheshire over recent years, but the priority for most of them is food production. It surely must also be the Government’s priority to have a robust and resilient agriculture sector. It should be a sector where, in my view, farmers have the dignity and respect due to them for the incredible hard work that they undertake to produce our food. Going forward, the emphasis on Government financial assistance must be to encourage the sustainable production of food. Supporting the development of a sustainable farming model both environmentally and economically is surely common sense. It is surely common sense that the more viable a farm business is, the more able a farmer will be to deliver positive environmental and animal welfare outcomes, while also contributing to our food security. Will Ministers confirm that this is indeed the Government’s priority?
On part 2, chapter 1, I welcome the fact that, under clause 17, the Government will be required to report on the state of the nation’s food security, but I suggest that every five years is too long a period. The clause states that a report must be produced
“at least once every five years”.
At a time of profound change for our country, may I suggest that such a report ought to be an annual requirement, at least during the seven-year managed transition period? Will Ministers consider that? The need is clear. The farming sector—certainly in Cheshire, and I believe elsewhere—has experienced substantial uncertainty, challenge, and change over recent years, and it is critical that the Government are appropriately agile in recognising and addressing those challenges and changes going forward. An annual report would better facilitate that.
As an example of some of those challenges and changes, let me mention, with great respect, a well-received speech that was made recently by Richard Blackburn, chair of Cheshire NFU, at Chester cathedral. He highlighted how many challenges farmers in Cheshire have had to address in the last two or three years, and emphasised their resilient ability to do so. Those challenges included the weather, with an exceptionally dry 2018 being followed by an unusually wet 2019. In 2018, more than 2,000 cows in Cheshire were put down because of tuberculosis, and protracted Brexit negotiations during the last Parliament led to uncertainty and a drop in many prices. Horticultural businesses faced the uncertainty, and in many cases the reality, of a shortage of farm workers. Cheshire also saw the closure of our county’s only market place at Beeston, and the collapse of a dairy at Wrexham. As we enter a new era having left the EU, an annual rather than a five-yearly analysis of our food security, and the other issues mentioned in clause 17 such as the resilience of the supply chain, would surely be preferable.
On the delegated powers that appear in parts 1 and 2 of the Bill, will the Minister confirm that the Government are committed to listening to farmers and involving them in the design of future measures that affect the farming industry? Will he confirm that opportunities will be taken to consult continuously with farmers? In that regard, may I repeat my request for a ministerial visit to Cheshire for a meeting with farmers in my county at an early date?
I seek to underline the importance of the Bill, and the way that we transact and scrutinise it, and the provisions contained therein. My ambition is for a very different Scotland—a Scotland that speaks to the world on her own terms. We are not there yet, however, so it is important to my constituents, and those elsewhere across Scotland who are involved with the farming sector and food production, that the Bill is carefully scrutinised and amended where necessary. We must ensure that the priorities of the Scottish agricultural sector, and those of other devolved Administrations, are not swept aside in the interests of what is thought to be optimal for England, should any divergences exist in priorities or ambitions.
I raise that point because in my short time in this place I have witnessed Ministers offloading certain issues as simply “devolved” and therefore not requiring a response. Something can be a devolved responsibility when that suits the Government’s agenda, but they are much less enthusiastic to consult those devolved Administrations about meaningful ways to inform policy, with the principles of subsidiarity very much to the fore. A Union of equals? It does not feel like it if we consider the ways that powers are repatriated in post-Brexit Britain.
A key example of that is the total indifference of Ministers from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and their colleagues in the Home Office, when listening to calls from the agriculture sector—farmers, suppliers, processors, and others—who say that 10,000 seasonal agricultural workers are patently insufficient for the industry’s operational requirements. All we get from the Government is a deaf ear. That is simply not good enough, and it threatens the sector severely and imminently. I urge the Government to take urgent steps to address that matter soon.
The National Farmers Union of Scotland supports the application of Scottish Government policy and Scottish Parliament scrutiny of agriculture policy to the greatest extent. That must be unconditional in its application, not just when it suits UK Ministers—it should be a co-operative endeavour.
Confidence in UK Ministers is also an issue. We are reassured by the Prime Minister that
“There’s no question of there being checks on goods going NI/GB and GB/NI…we’re part of the same customs territory”.
Yet today, Stena Line, a key ferry operator in the Irish sea, confirmed its position that there will be checks and inspections on goods transiting between the two islands. The degree of inconsistency the industry is exposed to by the Government is simply not acceptable. It adds another layer of uncertainty for agricultural producers, processors and especially hauliers in Britain and Ireland.
We have, appropriately, talked at length about the need for producers and consumers in the UK to be protected from cheaper imports of meat produced to lower standards of animal welfare and environmental protection, but the Government must go further. Many people are choosing to eat less meat, for a range of personal reasons, but whether they are concerned about health, animal welfare or the environmental issues, including food miles, the Government can wring their hands or get on the front foot and try to ensure that when consumers are deciding what meat to buy in this country, they will choose the best prospect, which is meat produced in Scotland, Wales, England or Ireland. I see nothing in the Bill that will prioritise that.
Notwithstanding the minimal provisions of the Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Act 2020, forecasting for future operational planning and the purchase of capital equipment remains far too uncertain for the sector. The Government must get their act together, and nothing in the Bill gives us any confidence that that will happen.
I draw Members’ attention to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I warmly welcome this vital Bill. I support the broad aims of shifting support for the sector to public money for public goods, alongside support for innovation and productivity gains. The new public goods model could be good news for upland areas in Yorkshire and other regions, as farmers there will finally be able to get direct payments for providing public goods such as iconic landscapes, flood defences with upper river catchment management schemes, and maintaining the quality of the 70% of our drinking water that comes from the uplands. UK peat has capacity to absorb carbon similar to that of the Amazon rainforest, soaking up more CO2 than all the world’s oceans combined, so paying farmers to restore and maintain peatlands could make an important contribution to public policy priorities relating to climate change.
As chair of the all-party group on science and technology in agriculture, I stress that the new technologies of the fourth industrial revolution are transforming agriculture as we speak. It is wise to concentrate support on facilitating the growth and efficiency gains of tomorrow.
The need to introduce the Bill afresh has allowed the Government to make substantial improvements incorporating many of the changes that would have been made via amendments to its previous incarnation. In the Second Reading debate on the previous Bill, I shared the sector’s concerns that food production and food security were not sufficiently central, so I am glad to see that clause 1(4) of the current Bill states
“In framing any financial assistance scheme, the Secretary of State must have regard to the need to encourage the production of food by producers”.
That clear recognition of the importance of food production—something that was absent from the previous Bill—suggests that food has not been forgotten in the shift to public money for public goods.
There is also a specific legal requirement for the Secretary of State to conduct regular audits of food security. I welcome that, but share other Members’ concern to ensure that those audits are more frequent. I want reporting back to Parliament to be much more frequent than the recommended five-year periods. I am reassured by further evidence that the revised Bill shows greater awareness of the needs of agricultural production and a positive relationship between that and protecting the environment. These are entirely complementary goals and it is important that that is reflected. I am also really pleased that soil quality has been included in the Bill and recognised as a public good.
There is a lot to be positive about in the Bill. However, despite a lot of improvements, I urge the Government to remain alive to the possibility of unintended negative consequences, as with any such legislation. The Minister will be fully aware of the classic example of the notorious three-crop rule from the common agricultural policy. We cannot have a situation where policies incentivise farmers to take many acres out of possible food production, to cease farming altogether or to lay off workers and just to receive payments for managing land for public goods. We need balance and food production must be part of that. The new state-funded environmental land management system that the Government envisage must not serve to reduce our country’s capacity for domestic food production or drive down the numbers employed in agriculture.
In conclusion, I am really positive about the future of agriculture. The Bill is a great start, but we have to bear in mind our future trade talks and trade policies. They have to run at the same time as the Bill. If they do, we will be in a good place. If they do not, things might be difficult, but I support the Minister and the Department on what they are trying to achieve, and I look forward to seeing the Bill through Second Reading and into Committee.
Although the Bill includes some welcome provisions for the future of our farming, including supporting public money for public goods, if the Government are serious about tackling the climate change crisis and putting the environment at the heart of our agriculture industry, they must go much further than this.
According to statistics from the Welsh Labour Government, agriculture contributed 13% of all greenhouse gas emissions in Wales in 2017. The Committee on Climate Change has recommended a target of a 95% reduction in carbon emissions in Wales by 2050, due to our reliance on our farming, steel and power industries. I praise the Welsh Labour Government’s work and commitment on that issue in promising to go even further and reach net zero before that date.
The Welsh Government are working with a number of agricultural organisations on policies for reaching net zero in agriculture and are consulting on their clean air plan for Wales, with consultation due to be completed next month. That is an example of what can be done under a Labour Government—one who truly recognise the severity of the climate emergency and put the wellbeing and futures of their citizens and industries first.
I am unable to see any such targets for reaching net zero emissions for the agriculture industry in the Bill, but the Government must address that if we are truly to tackle the climate change crisis, especially at a time when extreme weather is regularly impacting on our farming and food production across the UK. The Government’s track record on missing key environmental targets does not give me a great deal of hope, but I urge the Secretary of State and the Government to take the decisive action that is necessary, set a target for net zero emissions in agriculture and show that we are serious about tackling the climate emergency.
With regards to food standards, we have heard—and as has been noted by various agricultural organisations, including NFU Cymru—that it is alarming to see nothing in the Bill to legislate against importing food produced to lower standards. Vague manifesto promises that we will not have chlorinated chicken and hormone or antibiotic-fed beef in our supermarkets, and that our agriculture industry will not be undercut by cheaper imports from abroad, are not enough. I urge the Government to rethink this now and work with the dozens of farming organisations that have voiced their concerns to provide real, legal safeguards for our food and environmental welfare standards as part of the Bill.
If the Government will not set up a trade and standards commission and will commit only to monitoring international standards, how will the Bill protect our farmers from being undercut in the trade deals that the Prime Minister plans to make with other countries? Will it encourage people to buy Welsh and British produce? How will it ensure that Welsh and British farmers can compete on a level playing field post Brexit? I hope that the Minister can give some answers this evening.
I pay tribute to initiatives in Wales and across the UK, such as Crucial Crew, that do great work to educate our young people on the vital issues of safety. I recently attended a Crucial Crew event with two schools in my constituency, Pantysgallog and Coed-y-Dderwen, where organisations such as the Food Standards Agency and other partners provided interactive workshops and important messages on issues, including food safety, for pupils to take onboard and apply to their daily lives.
As we have heard, there is in the Bill an alarming lack of consideration given to tackling food poverty. After a decade of harsh Tory austerity measures, the number of those living in poverty and relying on food banks continues to rise in Wales and across the country, while the latest figures from the Trussell Trust show an increase of almost 20% in the number of emergency food parcels distributed in 2018-19 compared with the previous year. There are more than 2,000 food banks in the UK, which means there are now more food banks than McDonald’s outlets, of which there are only 1,300. This is clearly unacceptable in Britain in the 21st century, and it is disappointing not to see any robust commitment in the Bill to addressing food poverty or any measures to promote and improve access to healthy and sustainable food.
Farmers in Wales and across the country have also had to deal with serious labour shortages since the Tories’ decision to scrap the seasonal agricultural workers scheme. This is another missed opportunity in the Bill. It could have been reinstated in the Bill, rather than the Government’s replacement scheme, which will allow for only 10,000 seasonal workers to come to the UK. The Bill does nothing for agricultural workers. It could have taken that step and reinstated the Agricultural Wages Board, which was scrapped by the coalition Government in 2013. Although the Welsh Labour Government quickly reinstated the board in Wales, despite operating on a budget from Westminster that has been cut by £4 billion since 2010, there are still many thousands working in the agricultural industry in England and the Bill does nothing for them. I urge the Government to take on board these legitimate concerns and give us reassurances this evening.
It is a pleasure to be called to speak after so many excellent maiden speeches on both sides of the Chamber today. I would invidiously single out the contribution of my constituency near neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie), who is one of seven Conservatives now representing constituencies in north Wales.
I strongly welcome and support the Bill, which ensures the Government’s continued support for all those across the United Kingdom whose livelihoods depend on the agricultural sector. It provides certainty and I am sure great reassurance to farmers across the country. I represent a Welsh constituency with a strong agricultural heritage in which a great deal of economic activity and employment are linked to and depend on farming, particularly livestock farming. Indeed, the importance of livestock farming to my constituents is such that the decision to include within the Bill changes to the red meat levy will be greatly appreciated. The current system of levy is seriously flawed, in that it depends entirely upon the location of the slaughterhouse rather than the place of production. In north Wales, the decline in the number of slaughterhouses means that animals reared in north Wales are increasingly sent to England for slaughter. The consequence has been a severe loss of income to the Welsh meat promotion entity, Hybu Cig Cymru, and therefore a reduction in its ability to promote Welsh meat, which is, of course, among the finest in the world.
The Welsh livestock industry has long been calling for reform of the levy basis. The provisions in the Bill to enable the creation of a more equitable scheme, under which those who rear the animal and add value benefit from the levy payments, have already been widely praised by industry groups. It is essential that, once the powers provided by the Bill are in place, the Government, the devolved Administrations and the meat promotion bodies work swiftly together to ensure that a fair and effective scheme is implemented as soon as possible.
It is also good that the Bill imposes an obligation on Ministers to report regularly to Parliament on the issue of UK food security, although, like other contributors, I would suggest that a more regular report might be appropriate. In an increasingly uncertain global environment, food security should be at the forefront of our minds and be subject to constant reassessment. It must always be remembered that farmers, although they are also certainly stewards of our landscape, are primarily food producers. While protecting our environment is of course a matter of fundamental importance, so is ensuring that as we move out into the wider world after Brexit, farmers do not just become ”land managers”. Rather, they must be given every opportunity to become efficient and highly competitive businesses in the global marketplace, and to enable even more of our world-renowned agricultural products to be sold in markets old and new the world over. I am therefore pleased to note the provision in clause 1(4) that, in framing any financial assistance scheme, the Secretary of State must have regard to the need to encourage the production of food in an environmentally sustainable way. It is, of course, an England-only provision, but I am sure that farmers in my constituency will hope that it will be emulated in the Welsh Government’s own agriculture Bill.
In that connection, I have to say that it is a disappointment that the Welsh Government have decided not to take powers in this Bill to operate new schemes in Wales post Brexit, as was the case under the 2018 Bill, but to introduce their own domestic legislation later. The delay may well push the implementation of a new scheme beyond the Welsh Assembly elections in 2021, with the risk that payments under the basic payment scheme will have to be reduced for the 2021 claim year. I therefore hope that the Minister will be able to give my constituents some reassurance about the level of support that they will receive for the 2021 claim year in the absence of timely legislation from the Welsh Government.
Apart from Stonebridge City Farm, there are no farms in my constituency. However, like all the other Members in the Chamber, I represent people who need food to eat and a healthy planet on which to live, and a deregulated, race-to-the-bottom Brexit will put both at risk.
We have less than a decade in which to save the planet from climate breakdown. To do that we need post-war scale investment in infrastructure, and we need to decarbonise our economy by 20% every year in every industry, yet there are no targets in the Bill for the agriculture sector to reach net zero. Will the Minister explain why, despite the clear will of organisations such as the National Farmers Union, the Bill contains no targets for net-zero emissions in farming? In fact, while providing many powers, it provides very few duties for the Secretary of State to do anything.
I welcome the principle of a farming payments system that provides public money for public goods, but why are environmental public goods only possibilities for the Secretary of State, rather than requirements? Why does a Bill about agriculture not recognise sustainable food production as a public good? This Bill is a huge missed opportunity for the UK to take a lead on agroecology. It fails to prioritise sustainable food production, despite experts’ warnings about our future food security. It could have given us a chance to enshrine in law the “right to food” that Labour has promised, promoting the local growing and distribution of food to bring people closer to food production.
I am disappointed, but not surprised, that the Government have chosen to ignore the crisis in food poverty. More than a million people are being forced to use food banks as a result of their calamitous work and pensions policies. How can we rely on the Secretary of State’s good will to end that crisis when her own colleague, the Foreign Secretary, has dismissed people who are forced to turn to food banks as merely having a temporary cashflow problem? In Nottingham, more than 26,000 people, including nearly 11,000 children, have used food banks for emergency supplies in the last year, and, shamefully, there are more food banks than branches of McDonald’s in this country. While we subsidise food in Westminster, outside this building there are children going to school and to bed hungry. In the sixth richest country in the world, this is a political choice. It is also a political choice to remain silent on this issue in the Bill before us today. We know that many Conservative Members—like the one sniggering over there—fantasise about a deregulated post-Brexit world where laws and regulations on food and the environment are weakened, but the fact is that my constituents and those in constituencies up and down the country do not want chlorinated chicken and hormone-injected beef.
No, I will not.
Why has the Secretary of State ignored the sincere requests from Labour Members, from the NFU and from the DEFRA Committee to enshrine in law a guarantee that British farmers will not be undercut through the importing of substandard produce as part of new trade deals?
The Bill needs to say much more about access to healthy, sustainable food. It needs to say more about cutting emissions, and it needs a guarantee that British farming and food standards will not be undercut. I support the reasoned amendment today because the Bill fails on food standards, it fails on food production and, most of all, it fails to tackle food poverty.
We have heard half a dozen maiden speeches today, all more eloquent than mine, and I congratulate my colleagues on both sides.
I welcome the Government’s opening statement that farmers put food on our plates. Domestic production is vital in a volatile world, and North West Durham has a bit of everything as far as production goes. We do poultry, beef, arable, milk and lamb. I thank the Secretary of State for her recent visit to my upland peat areas, which show that the environment and our grouse moors can go hand in hand.
Farmers in my constituency will welcome leaving the common agricultural policy and adopting a more flexible approach from the Government. They will also welcome the new measures in the Bill to deal with greater transparency in the supply chain, particularly when it comes to supermarkets, and the prominence of food production and food security in the Bill. As we move towards payment for public goods, environmental protection, public access and, crucially for my farmers, safeguarding livestock and plants, it is for many of my upland farmers the safeguarding of livestock that is important. I hope that any new regime recognises this as a crucial part of our environment. Our native breeds are an essential element of the environment. Furthermore, forestry is an important part of the future, particularly for my upland areas, and it is vital that the Government have a joined-up approach to ensuring that whatever is proposed in this area is viable.
There is concern among my farmers about the speed at which things are moving and about the seven years. There is a need to ensure real simplicity, especially with regard to the proposed environmental schemes.
I welcome the clear and balanced direction of the Bill and look forward to working with the Government at later stages to address the concerns of the rural communities in North West Durham.
I commend my new colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden), for taking a minute less than required under your strictures, Mr Deputy Speaker. He is obviously due for swift promotion.
I am pleased to speak in this debate, having sat on the Committee that looked at the previous Bill. I should declare at this point that I am a farmer and therefore have benefited from the structures that are being replaced by the Bill. I am pleased that the Government have followed several of our recommendations, in particular the requirement for a periodic analysis of food security and the provision for multi-annual financial plans. The initial transition plan is for seven years. I would prefer to see subsequent plans also covering seven years, rather than five, reflecting crop rotations rather than election cycles.
I should like to make three quick points. The first relates to the need for the Bill to ensure that British food producers are able to maintain viable businesses now that we have left the European Union, while also improving the environment. As we move away from the one-size-fits-all approach of the CAP, we have the chance to reform and connect the support in a coherent way between schemes for different custodians of our land, including those responsible for farming, forestry, natural wilderness, wetlands and wildlife areas.
As this Bill is being debated before the imminent Second Reading of the Environment Bill, we can rewrite the rules and regulations governing land use in the UK. We must ensure that the Bill supports agriculture while being well aligned to improve the environment and that it is sufficiently adaptable that improvements can be made through regulations if we find that certain activities or aspects of land use inadvertently fall through the cracks. For example, the new ELM scheme will now be available only from late 2024, with significant reductions in direct payments before the new scheme can be accessed, whereas the previous Bill had envisaged such arrangements arriving in 2021.
Encouraging farm productivity is welcome to help farm businesses compete in a less protected trading environment, but many parts of the countries, such as the upland sheep farming areas mentioned earlier, have limited scope to diversify other than perhaps into forestry. That is where coherence and clarity are required in the interplay between different support schemes, and I will be grateful if the Minister confirms whether it will be possible for the House to see the detailed regulations that will set out programmes for different land use before Third Reading.
My second point is to agree with the sentiment already shared across the House about ensuring that we have world-class standards for British food and drink and for our environment. I expect further measures to be proposed in Committee to ensure that that is the case.
My final and main point is to encourage the Government to use the opportunity of leaving the EU to allow a “buy British” policy in food procurement for the public sector.
I congratulate all those who have made maiden speeches, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie): a hearty llongyfarchiadau—congratulations—to her. I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak in this debate and represent the many beef and sheep farmers in my constituency.
Now that the debate on leaving the European Union is over and the sky still has not fallen in, as was promised, we can begin an incredibly exciting chapter for our farming sector. We have been part of a common agricultural policy that has all too often acted like a straitjacket on UK farming. I know just how tight that straitjacket is, having been part of the UK Government’s negotiating team during the last CAP reform when we tried to work with the European Commission on the greening requirements—a particularly awkward piece of legislation that meant that farmers would lose 30% of their direct payment if they did not plant three different crop varieties. The Minister made excellent representations to the European Commission, but we were still prevented from implementing that policy in our own way. We are now free to design a policy that works for our farmers, our consumers and our environment, and that is the real prize at stake.
Tackling climate change is a priority. We need farmers on our side if we are to make any progress. Farmers are a small part of the problem, but an enormous part of the solution. Who else will maintain the hedgerows, watercourses and flower-rich meadows that we need, and who else will steward a system based on grass-fed cattle that is part of a virtuous circle—good for our stomachs, good for our health and, above all, good for our economy?
As I said, I represent one of the largest beef and sheep farming constituencies, so I am here to promote the benefits of livestock farming. With six in Brecon and Radnorshire, we have more livestock markets than supermarkets, so it is incredibly important that we maintain a future for the livestock industry. This Bill gives livestock farmers the space they need to continue to deliver for the natural environment while producing world-class food.
I endorse the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) on the Bill’s reference to the red meat levy sector, which irons out an imbalance that is having a negative impact on farmers in my constituency in mid-Wales.
I also welcome the commitment to tackle unfair trading practices in the food supply chain. Farmers are very much price takers, not price makers, and it is essential to give them the tools to stand up to retail power, building on the excellent work of the Groceries Code Adjudicator.
Much of the Bill will not apply to my constituents in Brecon and Radnorshire as it relates to a devolved matter. While I fully respect the devolution settlement, I hope that the Welsh Government will copy this Government’s ambition.
I start by welcoming the Bill. The core tenet of the common agricultural policy—subsidising farming—is vital. Farming is one of our fundamental industries, and it needs our support.
I ask the Minister to touch on two areas of detail. The first is the balance between environmental protection and food production. The focus on the environment will help tackle climate change, reduce pollution and make us a healthier, happier, more sustainable country. However, we need to make sure that all our countryside organisations are working together collaboratively. Much of the Meon Valley is in the South Downs national park; I would be grateful for some indication of how the Glover report will impact on the environmental land management schemes for farmers in Meon Valley.
I am glad that this version of the Bill will introduce a reporting requirement on food security. Will the Minister explain in more detail how the Government will ensure that they get the balance right between the environment and food production, and how the funding available will reflect that?
My second issue is how targets will be set for farms, both individually and on a national level, for the public goods that we wish them to produce. Farmers need clarity and an articulated, joined-up agenda that makes it easy for them to plan for the long term. How will the Government ensure that individual farmers are advised on and funded for the best use of their land? Is seven years enough time for farmers to adapt or should it be a 25-year timeframe, in line with the environmental plan, to allow farmers to plan for longer? Will there be national targets for, say, carbon capture, and how will those be set? If we are falling behind in a national target, will the subsidies change to reflect that? I appreciate that the Bill marks the beginning of a lengthy process, but I know that farmers would appreciate as much detail as possible.
Tree planting is excellent for healthier soil and absorbing carbon dioxide, but there are other carbon capture initiatives and we need to reduce pesticides. What will the targets be for improving the biodiversity of the soil, much of which is now lacking in basic nutrients? According to the Cranfield report, 80% of soil is now dead. For all farms, some environmental protections will be more viable than others. That will differ from region to region and by land type—for example, chalk, heathland, clay and so forth. Some 159 different land types have been characterised by Natural England. Will the Government reflect that in their planning and targets?
I look forward to hearing more over the course of this debate. I will support the Bill, which is an important step in the right direction, but I would like to know more about the balance between food production and environmental protection, and about how the targets will be set.
This is an excellent Bill, and I am delighted to support it. I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
This Bill is the gateway to the future for an exciting and vibrant agricultural sector. I am particularly delighted that the Bill will allow financial assistance to the shepherds in my constituency, who I have been worried about. I like the direct payment element, although sadly there is more enthusiasm in the drafting of the Bill for cuts than for increases; I hope Ministers will keep an eye on that, although there are powers to modify the scheme as and when. There is an element of in-lieu payments, which is welcome for retiring farmers, although I suspect that death duties on agricultural land will delay that policy.
The food security element is vital, of course, to our whole population. The Bill is the perfect example of how Parliament should behave on a matter of national importance. The Government have not created a quango, as they seek to do in the Environment Bill—this Bill is a far better way of legislating. The elements on exceptional market conditions and fair dealing for food chain participants are welcome.
I am slightly worried about the red meat levy, because of course I care very much about native breeds, provision for which in the Bill is welcome. However, as with “pasture-fed”, there is an issue with the definition of what native breeds are—pedigree or cross-bred. The figure of 51% is not adequate: we need to amend that part of DEFRA legislation to ensure that pasture herd farmers are getting the rewards that they richly deserve. As the National Trust found, grass-fed beef production does not just reduce greenhouse gas emissions; when carbon sequestration and storage are considered, it is actually a carbon net gain. The nonsense from the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), who intervened earlier, should be put to one side. The bit of the Bill that encourages organic production should be welcomed. This excellent Bill is good for my constituents, good for their food and great for our country.
As part of the all-party group on skills, I shall practise the skill of squeezing an eight-minute speech into three.
In leaving the EU, we have the opportunity to rewrite the book on agricultural policy, and rewrite it we have; this Bill is potentially the biggest victory for nature in a generation. Farmland occupies more than 70% of the UK’s landmass, and with more than 450,000 farmers in the UK, it is vital that we recognise the stark benefits that this Bill has over the CAP. It means that farmers are rid of the old, ineffectual direct payments system, which meant that some of our largest producers may actually have ended up worse off. The CAP’s method of rewarding farmers on the basis of land size unsustainably increases rents and land costs, while forcing farmers to use as much land as possible for production. Put simply, a farmer who gets funding on the basis of land size will cover their land in crops, whereas one who gets funding on the basis of their contribution to a better environment can use parts of their land to allow wildlife and natural habitats to grow; agriculture is, sadly, a contributor to biodiversity loss.
The “State of Nature” report by the National Trust found that 41% of species have experienced decline since 1970 and about a third of wild bee populations are decreasing, much to the frustration of my constituent Jonathan Thomas, who has a business producing local honey. Jon got in touch with me recently regarding this Bill, in the hope that it would produce a fairer system for farmers that incentivised them to promote biodiversity and assist in stemming the tide of this massive loss of bees.
I am sure we can all agree, perhaps some slightly more than others, that British food is among the best in the world, and people recognise that globally. We are opening up a new world of opportunities. Now that we can trade on our own terms and are no longer bound by Brussels, those on the world stage who see the results of what our farmers can do will flock to us for their carrots, peas and sprouts, and of course our wonderful Welsh lamb. They will see the UK as the agricultural giant that we in this country know we are. This Bill removes the restrictions on our farming and offers more money—the right money—to our farmhands.
With all this in mind, it is vital that any future trade deals that we have complement this Bill and allow us to both grow and import food to our own standards. As our soil quality and animal welfare standards increase, so does the quality of our foods and our meats. Do we not then deserve to have a like-for-like selection when we trade with other nations? Is it fair that our farmers are to put in the work and the effort to produce the best they possibly can when some of our trading partners are not meeting the commitments that we require of our own? All things that belong in future trade deals—
It is a pleasure to be able to welcome this groundbreaking Bill. Now that we are outside the EU, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reform how we support English farmers. We have the chance to move away from the EU’s bureaucratic CAP. My constituency has a variety of farms, ranging from dairy to arable, and is one of the largest fruit producers in our region, so this Bill is of great interest to me.
Let me start by saying that I welcome the principle of public funds for public goods that this Bill recommends, but we must ensure that any future agricultural policy also supports farmers in their role as producers of food. I thank the Government for guaranteeing the current annual budget to farmers in every year of this Parliament, but we must ensure that farmers have the funding and certainty they need to plan for the longer term. Let me give a few examples from my constituency to illustrate that point.
It is difficult for local farmers to make long-term investment decisions if they are not guaranteed future payments. Buying a tractor can cost up to £100,000, and investing in a milking parlour or slurry system can cost several hundred thousand pounds. Everything farmers do, from buying livestock to ordering seed in advance or signing new tenancy agreements, requires forward planning and investment. Farmers in Staffordshire have done an admirable job of coping in the past few years, but the situation is challenging. So I am pleased that this Bill recognises the primary role of farmers as food producers, as it is a matter of national interest that our country can feed itself and continues to be self-sufficient. Last month, I brought the Secretary of State for International Trade to meet local farmers in Stafford, who expressed concerns about this issue. We should never compromise food security, especially as an island nation, but that does not mean that we should not incentivise farmers to allow room for nature to thrive. I do not see conflict between farmers’ roles as food producers and as environmental stewards.
Dearnsdale Fruit in my constituency has also spoken to me directly about the labour supply challenges facing large fruit producers. Already this season, there has been a 20% reduction in the number of responses to applications. The seasonal workers pilot scheme needs to be running quicker, or fruit will go unpicked this season. Local producers have told me that the Home Office permits have not yet been granted, meaning that they cannot recruit from non-EU countries. Labour supply is critical to the functioning of the agricultural sector.
In conclusion, the Bill marks the introduction of an important domestic farming policy for the first time in half a century and is a great first step towards a better and greener future for farming and our environment.
I wholeheartedly support the Bill, both in principle and in detail, but farmers in my constituency in Wiltshire are hoping for some assurances from Ministers about their future.
The context for the debate is a fact that is not often mentioned—it has not been mentioned much today—which is that we have very cheap food in this country. Households in the UK spend less on food than those in any other country in the world except for Singapore and the United States. Cheap food is obviously a good thing in itself, and no Government will want to see inflation, so the question is: how do we maintain it? We can do it in three ways: first, through science and improving yields, particularly through the use of pesticides; secondly, we can keep our food cheap by subsidising its production; and thirdly, we can use competition and import cheap food from abroad. The Government propose changes to all three methods of keeping food cheap, with less pesticides, fewer subsidies over time and more competition. All those things are welcome in principle, but all could impact on farmers’ livelihoods. I am sure they will not, but I hope we can get some assurances.
First, on the science, we can and should lead the world in the development of sustainable food, but we need to be pragmatic, not absolutist, in how we proceed. I share the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) about the use of neonicotinoids, and particularly their impact on the oilseed rape crop. We either need to allow neonicotinoids or prohibit imports that use them.
Secondly, on the subsidies, the principle of public money for public goods is absolutely right, but surely the primary public good—the most essential good there is—is food itself, so I welcome the fact that the new system will
“encourage the production of food”.
I urge Ministers to emphasise that and reassure farmers that they will not be turned into mere wardens of the landscape.
Lastly, on competition, farmers support the principle of free trade—or at least I hope they do and think they should. We want to sell our beef and lamb to America, and we do not fear American produce coming here, but that works only if we have a genuine free market in which producers compete on a like-for-like basis across a genuinely level playing field. In that market, Britain—and Wiltshire most of all—will be a winner.
I welcome the Bill, which is a fine transition between the EU and the UK and a real opportunity for Britain to be British and do it our way.
The Bill is underpinned by a concept of public money being paid for public good. I absolutely welcome the broadening in respect of how money will be paid, and the reduction in its being paid just for the size of the land in favour of more being paid for what is done with the land, but if the motto is that we are going to pay public money for public good, what do we mean by the public good? It is not defined in the Bill. It worries me that the technical, economic definition specifically excludes food production, which does not quite fit with clause 1(4). It seems to me that clarity on and a definition of “public good” would be a good thing. It seems to me to be equally important that the productivity necessary to deliver increased food security should be specifically included as a public good. The Bill simply provides for measuring it; there needs to be a measure to ensure that we actually do it.
There is an issue in respect of what public money is—it is also not defined. Is clause 1 exhaustive? I hope not. Given my very rural Devon constituency, I have particular concerns about the support in the Bill for beef and sheep. Currently, they are the most subsidised parts of agriculture. Although several of my colleagues have said that sheep will be well provided for, I have my doubts and would like to know exactly how that will be done.
I have a significant coastal area in my constituency, which is difficult to support, and it is difficult to make it productive. We have done very well in Labrador bay. We have special methods to ensure, as far as we can, that we increase productivity and, at the same time, environmental stewardship. That is undoubtedly something that we could spread by way of best practice across all coastal communities, but there is nothing specific in the legislation that would help.
I support the provision that means that, when there are adverse market or climatic conditions, farmers will be subsidised and supported—but I should like to know how. The definition is not there. At one point, a Minister had suggested that there should be an insurance scheme. I should like to know whether that is still under consideration.
Marketing standards are absolutely critical to this legislation, but what then are the implications for food labelling and for ensuring that we have a proper campaign for buying British? Not dealing with those two issues is very much a missed opportunity. That said, I will support the Bill as it is a great step forward for British agriculture.
I know from farmers in my constituency that there is an appetite to see a UK agriculture sector that delivers public good for public money. We will not solve our biggest environmental challenges, such as climate change and biodiversity loss, without helping farmers to become more sustainable. Farmers do not see any conflict in their role as food producers and environmental stewards. Healthy and fertile soil, efficient agrochemical use, resilience to the impact of climate change, and abundant pollinator populations are all necessary components of productive and profitable farming.
We talk about public money for public goods. The intention behind the policy is right and proper. The Bill is welcome, not least because its primary role is to support the production of food and oblige the Government to
“have regard to the need to encourage the production of food by producers in England and its production by them in an environmentally sustainable way.”
The Agriculture Bill is crucial for shaping a more sustainable, prosperous farming sector. There is an appetite in Cornwall, particularly in west Cornwall and Scilly, which I represent, to play an active part in shaping a more sustainable, prosperous and skilled farming sector. Work is already under way to explore what are known as “novelty” crops to see how alternative crops can help to decarbonise farming while offering an attractive opportunity for existing farmers and “new blood” to make a living and to provide well-paid jobs. There is also an appetite in Cornwall to grasp the concept of regenerative farming.
This Agriculture Bill and the Government’s flagship Environment Bill have the enabling ability to transform how we provide food for our nation, and, I hope, as the Bill passes through this House and the other place, that none of this worthy intention is lost.
Finally, there is an appetite to see a UK agriculture sector that delivers high-quality and high standards and refuses cheap poor-quality low-standard imports. We should not underestimate how important confidence in good food is to the British public. When it comes to agreeing new trade deals around the world, British consumers are concerned about the likelihood of increased liberalisation of the UK food market through trade deals with new international partners post Brexit. I agree that it is futile to develop a comprehensive and ambitious domestic support policy simply for UK farmers’ efforts to be undermined by the importation of products not produced to the same level of environmental or animal health welfare standards expected of them domestically. The Minister is a friend, colleague and neighbour. He understands the challenges and opportunities that exist in Cornwall, and I know that he will do his best to make sure that this Bill works for farmers and food producers right across the UK.
This will be less of a speech and more of some slightly connected bullet points. I welcome this Bill. In particular, I welcome the fact that the Front-Bench team listened to the previous Agriculture Bill Committee when it comes to the importance of food security. I hope that clause 17 will be explored further in Committee and on Report. It talks about a report at least once every five years. I suggest to the Front-Bench team that we should have a report annually or biannually, particularly in the early years. The Bill is silent on what is to be done with these reports once they have been produced; it is silent on what will happen to them, and how we will act. The National Farmers Union is very keen to make sure that there is greater reporting, and I support it in that endeavour.
I was grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for what she said in support of the agritech sector and the good work that that can do in terms of driving forward environmental improvements. Again, there is some stuff in the Bill, but I think that it could be much clearer. Likewise, we have a great estate of county farms in Dorset, but they need support. I urge my right hon. Friends to read, if they have not done so, the report by the Campaign to Protect Rural England about reviving county farms.
The Bill is a golden opportunity to support our smaller, family-owned farms. Blackmore vale, which is at the heart of North Dorset is, in Thomas Hardy’s words, the
“vale of the little dairies”.
They are an integral part of our agricultural tapestry, and those small, independent farms need and deserve our support. The Bill allows us to remind ourselves of the importance of food, food production and the role that agriculture plays in the economy.
In closing, I want to turn to the Opposition amendment. Now is not the time to put the handbrake on the progress of the Bill. Farmers have waited too long and they want certainty. I urge Ministers to put Government Members out of their misery on what I would call the equivalence clause. It is fine and dandy that we are not going to reduce standards here, but if we are going to throw open our doors to foodstuffs produced to lower standards, there is absolutely no point in having an agriculture sector. The amendment will not be supported by Government Members, but the Minister should be aware that if the Bill proceeds to Report or Third Reading and an equivalence clause is not included, the Whips and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State should expect some trouble on these Benches.
There we have it—an Agriculture Bill that is not really about food or public good; without public voice; an open door for our food producers to be sold out in a trade deal with Trump; and English farmers put at disadvantage compared with other nations in the UK, while doing too little to tackle the climate emergency. No wonder farmers will be here in droves on 25 March. I hope that Government Back Benchers heed that last call and wake up to the problem, because the Opposition are not prepared to sell out English farmers, workers and our countryside.
Yes, of course we want public money to be used to buy environmental benefits, and we have argued for reform for decades, but the Bill needs massive improvement. It needs deeds, not worthy aspiration, and a much tougher Environment Bill alongside it to make sure that it works.
We have heard seven maiden speeches tonight, and a number of Members had the delicate task of paying tribute to somewhat troublesome predecessors. It is quite a list they had to deal with—Ken Clarke, John Bercow, Heidi Allen and Oliver Letwin—but they all managed that delicate task with great tact and grace. The hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie) paid full tribute to her predecessor, Albert Owen, which is much appreciated by the Opposition. She invited the Secretary of State to the Anglesey show. The right hon. Lady is unable to attend, but I am sure that shadow Ministers are willing to oblige. The hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards) had the best line of the night, about fake shoes. The hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Steven Bonnar) had a list of sporting heroes that any constituency would be proud to borrow, especially Cambridge United, which could do with Jimmy Johnstone or John Robertson. The hon. Member for Buckingham (Greg Smith) delivered a speech that was probably every Cambridge leftie’s nightmare, but we could agree on one point: we do not want the Oxford-Cambridge expressway. The hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) took us on a tour of the most beautiful parts of the west country, and tactfully reminded the Government of the NFU’s ambition to achieve net zero by 2040. My near neighbour, the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne), highlighted the hugely important role of life sciences, and many of the wonderful institutions that abut the city of Cambridge. We have a slightly different take on the European Union, but I am sure that we can work together on the future of life sciences. Finally, the hon. Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder) gave a delicate account of the status of the Cerne Abbas giant, and it was deftly delivered.
While we can all agree in the House on the need to shift financial assistance in the way proposed in the Bill towards the principle of public money for public good, particularly to help those who work our land to restore and improve the natural environment, it is worth briefly reflecting on why the CAP was needed in the first place. Historians will be well aware of the cycles of dearth and plenty that afflicted previous generations, with miserable and long agricultural depressions still living in the memory when I moved to eastern England over 40 years ago.
The CAP was intended to deliver stability of food supplies and security for farmers, and it did what it said on the tin, but it was of its time, had unintended consequences and has come at huge environmental cost. It is right that we now reshape our own agricultural systems to meet the new challenge. But there is a glaring omission, as has been pointed out. While supporting greater environmental, animal welfare and production standards at home, the Bill does absolutely nothing to prevent food products with lower standards than our domestic products from being imported in future trade deals. Without any legal commitment protecting us against that, the door is wide open to products such as American hormone-injected beef, chlorinated chicken and so on flooding our markets. Statements and manifesto commitments from the Government saying that they will not allow such lower standards are nothing but warm words. Just look at what US Secretary of State Pompeo made clear last week—the US Administration want this as part of any future trade deal.
We heard from the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee that it concluded in its scrutiny report of the previous Bill that the Government should put their money where their mouth is and accept an amendment to the Agriculture Bill stipulating that food products imported as part of any future trade deal should meet or exceed British standards. There is an unprecedented coalition of agreement on this, as 62 farming and environmental organisations wrote to the Prime Minister just last week, urging him to amend the Agriculture Bill with this guarantee, and farmers are planning to rally outside Westminster to press the point. Labour simply cannot support the Bill without that cast-iron guarantee, which is why we have tabled our reasoned amendment.
There have been some improvements. Thanks to the work of farming and environmental organisations, there have been some positive changes. The inclusion of soil quality as a public good is particularly important given that our soil fertility is in decline. The reforms to agricultural tenancies and the new requirement in relation to multi-annual plans are also welcome. But in what is essentially a Bill about food production, we find ourselves asking, “Where is the focus on food?” As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) made clear, the Bill contains no clear vision for the future of the nation’s food supply and no commitment to protecting the people of this country from food poverty. There is no recognition of the production of food as a public good, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Nadia Whittome) explained so powerfully.
For all its faults, the CAP was at least focused on ensuring stability of food supplies and prices. All this Bill does is require the Government to have regard to encouraging the production of food in an environmentally sustainable way. We have to ask whether the Bill actually matches up to the scale of the environmental and climate crisis that we are facing. At the moment, I think the answer is no. There is no duty for Ministers to do anything, and crucially there are no targets for the agriculture sector to reach net zero emissions—points powerfully made by my hon. Friends the Members for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones) and for Nottingham East. There are no provisions to secure the high baseline standards of farming and land management that we are going to need, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) powerfully stated in a particularly thoughtful speech. That is particularly important if we are going to tackle the ecological crisis that we are facing, including standards for those agricultural actors who choose not to engage with the environmental land management schemes.
By granting the Secretary of State mainly powers rather than duties, the Bill leaves farmers in the dark as to how and when the Government will implement the supply chain provisions included in the Bill that are designed to secure a fairer price for farmers for the food they produce. Where is the advice and support for farmers to help them in the transition? The Bill is silent on protections for workers, lacks overall vision for the future of rural communities and misses key opportunities to support agroecology. And then there is the question of whether the key provisions in the Bill will actually work, how quickly and successfully a new system of ELMS will be brought into operation, and the key matter of handling the devolved issues, which was raised very effectively by the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake). We should remember that there will be different approaches in the different nations; while England will go down one path, Scotland and Wales will take a different one.
So there we have it—the Bill is 14 months late, and there is ultimately no plan for food and no plan for public goods, and there are standards that will be unachievable if they are open to being undercut. It is a policy devised by some very clever people in Notting Hill; I think the House probably knows who they are, and, quite frankly, one has to wonder whether any of them has ever been on a farm. But the good news is that the Government can start making progress, by committing tonight to our amendment to guard against imports with lower standards. They do not even have to agree with the Opposition. They just need to agree with themselves, because the Secretary of State has made the promise and it is in the Conservative manifesto. Our challenge to the Government is: put it into law. If the Government do not want to listen to me, they can listen to the president of the NFU, the chief executives of the British Poultry Council, the National Sheep Association and the RSPCA, and the Chair of the EFRA Committee, who are all saying the same: put it into law.
I extend a welcoming hand to Government Members, and ask them to join us in standing up for the English countryside. They may not know this, but it is not just the Women’s Institute who sing “Jerusalem”; it has always been a Labour anthem. We will defend our green and pleasant land, and Government Members can help us to do it: put the amendment into law. Today is the first big post-Brexit test for the Government. I fear they are about to flunk it.
It is a real pleasure to close this debate. This is the second time that I have taken this Bill—or a similar version of it—through Parliament for Second Reading within the last two years, following the difficulties that the previous Parliament encountered. But we have now had a general election. We have a new Parliament and we have a newly elected Government who have a clear mandate to chart a different course for our country to become a genuinely independent sovereign country again and to make our own laws again.
The Bill means that, for the first time in half a century, we have the ability and the chance to create a new, independent agriculture policy. It is very encouraging to see so many hon. Members embrace that responsibility with so many thoughtful speeches today. It is particularly encouraging that so many chose to make their maiden speeches today in addressing this important Bill.
The hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Steven Bonnar) talked about the importance of his family, the support that he had there, and some of his less than favourable experiences at the hands of certain employers in the past. My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie) gave a moving speech in which she referred to a family tragedy. I am sure we all recognise from that that she is going to be a champion for mental health issues. She will also clearly be a champion for the agricultural industry. I or, I am sure, a fellow Minister would be more than happy to attend the Anglesey show at some point.
I will not give way as I want to cover as many of the issues raised by hon. Members as possible.
My hon. Friend the new Member for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards) talked about the importance of high animal welfare and environmental standards, and the Bill provides for that. As she pointed out, her predecessor was a long-standing incumbent in this House. He was a big figure in politics—somebody who I did not always agree with, it has to be said, but nevertheless a highly experienced operator.
My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Greg Smith) referred to some of the great opportunities contained in this Bill. I think he is right and I am sure that, if we get it wrong, his father-in-law will have something to say about it and my hon. Friend will have something to talk about around the dinner table. He finished with that fabulous quote from Margaret Thatcher about the importance of our farming communities.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) will, I know, be a champion for rural broadband. As a Cornishman, I have to take issue with her particular interpretation of the correct way to put cream and jam on a scone—it is of course jam first. I am pleased that the Prime Minister recently endorsed the Cornish interpretation of such matters during the election.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne) highlighted some of the ridiculous rules that we have in the common agricultural policy, which is far too complex, with hundreds of pages of guidance. We now have an opportunity to do things very differently. Hope Farm in his constituency, run by the RSPB, is a fabulous example of some of the nature-sensitive farming that can be done, and we are keen to learn from projects such as that.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder) gave a fascinating account of how his grandmother, as a member of the Women’s Land Army, met his grandfather. It was a reminder of the great struggle that farmers and members of the WLA undertook to ensure that the nation was fed in the last war—something we must never forget. He talked about the importance of fairness in the supply chain and of provisions in the Bill to address that.
To turn to the points raised by the shadow Secretary of State, the emphasis of his speech was on the importance of food standards and making sure that we project British values on food standards in trade deals that we do. That was a clear commitment in our manifesto, as was dealt with by the Secretary of State earlier. The hon. Gentleman asked why a prohibition on the sale of chlorine-washed chicken or hormone-treated beef was not included in the Bill. The answer is that it is already on the statute book as retained EU law, so it already exists.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) asked whether the Bill’s conclusion had stalled as a result of some of the difficulties in the last Parliament. The answer to that is: most certainly not. The trials and pilots remain on course. Indeed, we already have more than 30 different trials in place across the country testing scheme. We will deploy a full pilot in 2021. Our progress in delivering the agricultural transition remains on course. He also mentioned the fact that food security is a global challenge and that we have a responsibility, in common with other temperate parts of the world, to ensure that we play our part to produce food for a growing world population. He is right, and clause 17(2)(a) provides for that, because the global availability of food is a consideration.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) raised the issue of currency fluctuations. She will know that, under the old regime, farmers had no certainty from one year to the next what they would be paid, since a euro volatility exchange rate was introduced to the system. We have now set that at the same level as it was in 2019, so Scotland has clarity about exactly how much funding it will receive in 2020 and 2021. That is more clarity and more certainty than it has ever had while a member of the European Union.
The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake) talked about the importance of frameworks for the UK. I recently met members of the Farmers Union of Wales. We work closely with all our devolved counterparts, but I remind him that this is a devolved policy, and it is for each constituent part of the UK to design a policy that works for them.
My hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) talked about the importance of food production and suggested that we have not reflected that in the revised Bill. I take issue with that, because clause 1(4) is explicit in saying that in designing any scheme under the clause, we must have regard for the need to encourage food production. That is a new addition to the Bill. He also talked about the lump sum payments that are provided for in the Bill. We know from all the work done in this area in the past that, if we want to help new entrants on to the land, we also have to help older farmers retire. That is why allowing farmers to retire with dignity and supporting them to do so is an important area to consider.
My hon. Friends the Members for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) suggested that we should have a more frequent review of food security than every five years. We have to see this requirement through the prism of clause 4, which envisages five-yearly multi-annual plans. It makes sense to align any review of food security with that provision. I would of course be happy to travel to Cheshire to meet the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton.
The hon. Members for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and for Nottingham East (Nadia Whittome) talked of the importance of agro-ecology. We are clear that whole-farm, holistic schemes can be provided for under clause 1. We are looking, for instance, at integrated pest management, catchment-sensitive farming and hedgerow schemes to encourage whole-farm approaches.
I turn to the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley). I recognise that agriculture is a very important industry in Northern Ireland. This is a devolved policy. Both Northern Ireland and Wales have chosen to take schedules in the Bill that give them powers to continue the existing scheme but also modify and improve it.
The hon. Member for Angus (Dave Doogan) talked about seasonal workers. He has to recognise that we have increased the provision for seasonal workers from 2,500 to 10,000, largely due to the great campaigning work of his predecessor. Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) gave a very upbeat, positive assessment of what we could do in future. That is what I want to conclude on. I grew up on a farm and spent 10 years in the industry. We have a chance now to design a modern policy that is fit for purpose in the 21st century. I therefore commend this Bill to the House.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 62(2)), That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Question agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Agriculture Bill (Programme)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Agriculture Bill:
(1) The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.
Proceedings in Public Bill Committee
(2) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Tuesday 10 March 2020.
(3) The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.
Proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading
(4) Proceedings on Consideration and any proceedings in legislative grand committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which proceedings on Consideration are commenced.
(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.
(6) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading.
(7) Any other proceedings on the Bill may be programmed.—(Iain Stewart.)
Question agreed to.
Agriculture Bill (Money)
Queen’s recommendation signified.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Agriculture Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of—
(1) sums required for—
(a) giving financial assistance to any person by virtue of powers of the Secretary of State under the Act;
(b) continuing to make direct payments, under the basic payment scheme as it operates in relation to England, for one or more years after 2020 by virtue of the Act;
(c) making delinked payments in relation to England (in place of direct payments under the basic payment scheme) by virtue of the Act;
(d) providing support under the Rural Development Regulation (EU No 1305/2013) as it operates in England in consequence of amendments of that Regulation made by virtue of the Act;
(e) operating the public market intervention or aid for private storage mechanisms under retained direct EU legislation as it operates in relation to England in response to exceptional conditions in agricultural markets;
(2) any administrative expenditure incurred by the Secretary of State by virtue of the Act;
(3) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable out of money so provided by virtue of any other Act.—(Iain Stewart.)
Question agreed to.