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Farm Subsidies

Volume 800: debated on Wednesday 30 October 2019


Asked by

My Lords, I declare my farming interests, as set out in the register. Continuity for farmers is important and 2020 direct payments will be paid in the same way as they are now. From 2021, there will be a seven-year transition to our new policy supporting farmers for the public goods they provide, in particular through their stewardship of the farmed environment. We will phase out direct payments, with the reduction starting in 2021. Financial support for farmers to increase their productivity and enhanced animal welfare will also be available.

I thank the Minister for that reply. I am sure he agrees that farming has a huge potential to reverse declines in biodiversity and to take carbon out of the atmosphere. But farmers are not clear about what will be expected of them and how a new payment system will work after 2020. The Government had previously pledged the same cash total in funds for farm support until the end of this Parliament, which was originally expected to be 2022. Given that the end of the Parliament is being brought forward, does that guarantee still stand? Is the operative date for full continuation of the payments now 2022 or 2025?

My Lords, clearly there will be a new Parliament. It will be for whoever is successful in the election to take this forward. This Government are very clear that farmers deserve support. The noble Baroness is right: with 70% of the land in this country farmed, the farming community is essential if we are to enhance the environment. Our intention is clearly to continue with the transition period. There will be tests and trials, and—this is important—we will be working with farmers to ensure a scheme that is straightforward and creates results.

My Lords, if what the Minister has just said is true, why do the Government intend to allow the import of eggs produced to lower husbandry and hygiene standards and likely to undermine the massive advances we have made in this country thanks to egg producers the length and breadth of the United Kingdom? The very future of the industry will be put at risk if the Government allow that to happen.

I have said from this Dispatch Box, with what I hope noble Lords will understand is every sincerity, that we have no intention of changing environmental and animal welfare standards. It is absolutely the case that we have taken on to our statute book every single protection there is already through our membership of the EU and that is where we are going to proceed from. I have also said that under the new arrangements, we will support farmers to enhance animal welfare. We do not propose to preside over a reduction in animal welfare.

My Lords, will my noble friend rule out any importation of battery hens or eggs that are produced in battery cages? Will he also consider extremely carefully the implications for pig farmers of banning farrowing crates, bearing in mind that many of them went out of business in the 1990s when a previous Conservative Government introduced the sow stall and tether ban? Further, will he make a commitment to livestock producers that we will keep under close review the future of the live trade in farm animals?

My Lords, there has always been a tradition of transporting live animals for breeding and other matters that we have done with our great stock over many years, but we are concerned about transport arrangements and about moving animals for slaughter away from our shores. These are matters that we will be attending to. We will be working with the Farm Animal Welfare Committee, as well as industry, retailers and welfare groups, to develop proposals on enhancing farm welfare standards because we think that the British farmer has a very good reputation that we wish to enhance.

My Lords, while it is extremely important for British farmers to help restore the balance between the use of the land and introducing wildflower meadows to ensure the return of insects and birds, this must be balanced with food production. There will be a cut to direct payments, which the Minister has already referred to, that is to come in in 2021, and the payments will have been eradicated by 2027. Farmers previously receiving £30,000 will see a 5% cut in the first year, while those receiving payments of up to £150,000 will see a 25% cut. Does the Minister agree that those who nurture the land for biodiversity as well as for producing food should be rewarded for doing so?

My Lords, as I have said, we will be testing and trialling the environmental land management scheme that is to come in in 2024. We will also bring forward a countryside stewardship agreement between now and 2024. We believe that in the future, farmers will be well placed through their participation in the new ELM scheme. However, the noble Baroness is right to say that there is a balance to be struck; we require our excellent food to be grown for home consumption and for export, and we need to do that within the prism of enhancing the environment.

My Lords, will the totality of the net payments to the whole of the agricultural industry be maintained during the transition period and afterwards?

My Lords, that is clearly for the Treasury and whoever is in the new Government, so at this stage I cannot say that to the noble and learned Lord. It will be for whichever Government are in office to decide on their spending commitments. What I am absolutely clear on is that this Government continue to support farmers in the way I have described and, if re-elected, that is the system which we will bring forward.

My Lords, what support will there be for hill farmers, who I believe will suffer a 25% duty on lamb that is exported to the continent? Is the reimbursement of that 25%, or whatever it is, part of this support package?

We think that there is a great future for British livestock farming. We will support the work of hill farmers, because of the enhancement to the environment in beautiful areas where pastoral farming has been so essential. We will support that sector, as I have said. As for the point about a loss, in securing the deal that we have, we will also then embark on a free trade arrangement with our EU friends and partners. I do not think that what the noble Lord has described will obtain.