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Support for Farmers

Volume 673: debated on Thursday 19 March 2020

We have committed to maintaining the budget for our future agriculture policy at the same level as now, but to direct it differently. We are designing our farming reforms with those who work in agriculture and considering resilience issues. During the transition period, farmers will have time to adapt and prepare for the new policy.

Farmers’ and landowners’ ability to protect their crops and their livestock will be seriously compromised unless general licences are issued for protected areas, gulls and traps this spring. Will my right hon. Friend set out what he can do to make sure that that is the case?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. I am aware that Natural England intends to circulate the stoat-trapping general licence to stakeholders this week, and it is working hard to grant those licences as soon as possible. People wishing to control wild birds in protected areas need to apply for an individual licence, as must those wishing to control lesser black-backed or herring gulls except for safety reasons, given their poorer conservation status. We are also considering the best future approach as part of our review.

Right now, DEFRA, quite rightly, is focused totally on the food-supply questions that we have been talking about, but will my right hon. Friend also confirm that he will look to move forward with a trade and standards commission for food quality for UK consumers and for a fair field for our farmers?

My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. He will be aware that our manifesto and our published objectives for the US trade deal make it clear that we will protect our food standards and animal welfare in any future trade deals. I am aware that there has been a proposal for a trade and standards commission, which we are considering, and we are in discussion with other Departments, such as the Department for International Trade, about how best to ensure that agricultural expertise is fully reflected as part of the negotiating team.

If the motto in past crises was “Dig for Victory”, so far this one has been much more “Distribute for Victory”. Of course, the retail sector is very important, but I am less sanguine than the Secretary of State about future food supply and I think that we need to make sure that we support all those in that chain. The poultry industry, for instance, is very time-dependent. Two or three days extra for chickens on farms can lead to a whole range of welfare and logistical issues. Can I take it that the Secretary of State is pressing his colleagues to ensure that all those in the food supply chain are recognised on the Government list of key groups of workers, so we make sure that we secure our future food security?

As I said in response to an earlier question, the Government recognise that a significant number of staff working throughout the supply chain, both retailers and food processors, have children of school age; we estimate that the figure is between 25% and 33%. We therefore recognise that many of them will need to be defined as key workers, but further information on that will be published by the Government later today.

The standards of agriculture produce and animal welfare in Angus and elsewhere in these islands is among the best in the world. Is it not the case that the standards of imports are not always up to the standards of UK production? Is it not important that we follow the simple premise that, if something cannot lawfully meet the UK standards of production, it should not lawfully be imported to the UK? Will the Secretary of State enshrine that in the Government’s legislation?

We had a clear commitment in our manifesto to protect food standards and animal welfare in any future trade deals we do. Our view is that the right way to do that is through getting our mandate and approach to the negotiations right, and not necessarily by attempting to draft something in legislation.