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Brexit: Farm Support

Volume 785: debated on Monday 6 November 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what recent discussions they have had with farming organisations about the future of farm support post-Brexit.

My Lords, I declare my farming interests as set out in the register.

Ministers and officials met farming organisations and individual farmers across the United Kingdom on more than 45 separate occasions between July and October. We continue to work closely with farming organisations on the important issue of future farm support. We want to see farmers producing high-quality food, meeting animal health and welfare standards and enhancing the environment, and we are actively engaging with farmers to achieve these complementary aims.

My Lords, does my noble friend recognise the value to hill farmers in north Yorkshire and other areas of the export of live animals for fattening, processing and breeding, and indeed for racing purposes? Will he take this opportunity to give the House a categorical assurance that this trade in live animals—albeit it is small compared with the trade in carcasses—will continue, and also update the House on the tripartite agreement on racing to ensure that the free movement of horses for racing purposes will continue after Brexit?

My Lords, there are a number of distinctions there that I should draw to the attention of noble Lords. The Government are clear that they would prefer animals to be slaughtered close to the point of production, and we intend to take steps to control the export of live farm animals for slaughter. Obviously, we desire our very good livestock to go abroad in terms of breeding, and I am fully seized of the importance—having spent a day at Newmarket, not just on the course but in Newmarket generally—of the equine sector as well as the tripartite agreement between Ireland, France and this country. We are working on that because I am fully seized of the importance of the equine sector.

My Lords, will the Government consider introducing a means-test system in any future support, bearing in mind that rich people are receiving millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money through avoiding taxation by buying farms?

My Lords, what I can say is that we definitely think that public money should reward environmentally responsible land use. That is the reform that we think is important. We wish to continue to support the agricultural sector, but if public money is to be used it should be to ensure, with 70% of the land in this country farmed, that our farmland is playing its part in enhancing the environment.

My Lords, I welcome the Government’s commitment to animal welfare in future expenditure, but when we have free trade agreements with countries such as the United States, Argentina and New Zealand, which have much lower levels of animal welfare, will not the agricultural clauses that are bound to be in those FTAs fundamentally undermine British farmers and British animal welfare?

My Lords, the Secretary of State has been very clear that we will not in any way allow animals to come in that are produced to a lower standard using compromised welfare standards as compared with our own very high-quality produce, which is our great British brand. Let us be clear: we do not propose to permit any product to come in that has lower animal welfare standards. We are not going to compromise on that.

My Lords, what discussions have the Government had with rural and indeed urban organisations to establish what services land managers can provide to others to best maximise the benefits of the countryside to the whole population, and while doing so to best maximise returns to farmers?

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. Not only are we engaging with farming organisations and farmers, we are engaging with non-farming organisations in both the urban and the rural situation. I have an extremely long list before me of organisations that we are working with, from the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Compassion in World Farming, the Woodland Trust, the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, to the RSPB. We engage with so many organisations because what we want in the 25-year environment plan and in our proposals for agriculture is to have a consensus about the way forward on enhancing the environment.

My Lords, have the Government made it plain to the agricultural community that, contrary to what was said by many Brexiteers during the referendum campaign, overall support for agriculture is likely to be much less when we leave the European Union than it would have been if we had stayed in?

My Lords, we are having realistic discussions with the farming industry about how we are to reform the CAP and bring forward a system that is less bureaucratic, will enable farmers to flourish, and encourages environmentally responsible land use. We should use the opportunity of leaving to bring forward proposals which help us make our country even better in terms of the environment. This is one of the key opportunities we should grasp, and I think that farmers want to grasp it too.

My Lords, further to the previous question, is it not worth reminding ourselves that there were substantial levels of support for farming, and quite rightly so, long before we ever joined the Common Market, as it then was? Is not the crucial issue about farm support post Brexit that decisions about that support will be made by Ministers accountable to Parliament and by a Parliament which is democratically accountable to the British people?

I agree with the noble Lord because it is important to note, not only in Westminster but in the devolved Administrations as well, that there are very distinct agricultural systems, whether we are talking about uplands, lowland grassland farms or farms that are really important in terms of landscape. In all of this we can have a more distinct system to encourage ways of sustaining and enhancing our environment and our landscapes.

My Lords, I draw attention to my interests as set out in the register of interests. In any trade agreement, the United States will insist on unfettered rights to export to us pigmeat, beef and sheepmeat. What effect will this have on farmers’ livestock values?

These are all going to be matters for negotiation in the future and I am not in a position to talk about hypothetical situations. As I said, it is clear that we will not be compromising on our animal welfare standards—it is very important that the British brand should be adhered to. It is all very well, but if countries think that they can deliver lower-quality food, that is an enormous mistake. We should be negotiating from a position of strength, and I think that the British brand has a lot of strength to it.