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Rural Farmers

Volume 730: debated on Thursday 30 March 2023

Agriculture is a devolved issue, and is the responsibility of the Scottish Government. Our farmers produce some of the best food in the world. In England, our environmental land management schemes are now open for them to access, and we will pay farmers to deliver positive environmental outcomes. We will also support the production of great British food, healthier soils and more pollinators.

For the record, may I say how surprised and disappointed I was that the lady who was offered the Rural Affairs job in the Scottish Government turned it down because, as it is reported, it was seen to be a demotion? I was born on a farm. My local farmers and crofters are vital to the economy of my constituency. All over the UK, it is about feeding the nation.

On the subject of feeding the nation, there is increased movement of cattle from Scotland to England. I will not go into the reasons why that is happening, but it is happening, and the Minister will know that. Does he agree that a universal electronic tagging scheme that matches the whole of the UK, perhaps including Northern Ireland, would greatly facilitate this sort of sale of livestock?

I thank the hon. Member for his question. Obviously, I work closely with Mairi Gougeon in the Scottish Government. She will probably be disappointed to have been re-offered her job, despite its being offered to somebody else, but we will continue to have a positive working relationship there.

The hon. Member is right to highlight the fact that co-operation across the Union is best for UK agriculture and best for UK food production. I think systems for moving cattle between Scotland and England need to flow as quickly and as easily as possible, so that that marketplace works efficiently for farmers on both sides of the border.

I recently visited the Quaker Oats site in my constituency, which works very hard with a number of local farmers who provide the site and, outwith North East Fife, works hard on LEAF—Linking Environment and Farming—accreditation, providing sustainability initiatives for local farmers, but they are frustrated. In his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone), the Minister mentioned the importance of working across the UK and wider sustainability initiatives in the supply chain, such as the extended producer responsibility scheme, so will the Minister provide an update on that scheme and will he commit to re-engaging so that, on a UK basis, we can provide that support?

I thank the hon. Member for that question. Again, she highlights how important this is. I think farming is challenging enough, frankly, without our putting false barriers in place across the border between England and Scotland. We need to co-operate across the Union and make sure that farmers and food producers on both sides of the border have the opportunity to access the market without barriers.

As you know, Mr Speaker, the west Pennine moors have a lot of tenant farmers. Does the Minister share my concern that we are seeing an increasing use of mandatory rounds in relation to development, often for solar or tree planting, to break both business farm tenancies and agricultural tenancies that have inheritance attached to them? If he does share that concern, what is the Department going to do about it?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. We have been working with Baroness Rock, who has been doing a review of farm-based tenancies, and we will respond to that review very soon. We want to support tenants up and down this country, particularly in Cumbria, and I hope to visit that part of the country in the very near future to see at first hand what is happening on those hills.

My right hon. Friend will recall that my constituents Andy and Lynda Eadon have done tremendous work in raising awareness of the mental health challenges affecting young farmers in particular in rural areas, in memory of their son Len. Can I thank him for agreeing to participate in the Westminster leg of the Len’s Light tractor relay? Mr Speaker, he is perhaps the only Minister you will allow to drive a tractor anywhere near this historic building. Can I urge him to continue to apply pressure to land-based colleges and other educational institutions to make sure that mental health awareness is part of the educational experience of everyone entering agriculture?

That, actually, Mr Speaker, is a very important issue: “If it’s not red, leave it in the shed” is what I would say.

I pay tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend’s constituents for their support of mental health charities, particularly in memory of Leonard. He has been a huge inspiration to young farmers, certainly across the east midlands, in talking about mental health challenges in that industry.