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Support for Farmers

Volume 628: debated on Thursday 7 September 2017

4. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on support for farmers after the UK leaves the EU. (900642)

We have been working closely with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on support for farmers. The Government will provide the same cash total in funds for farm support until the end of the Parliament. We are working closely with a range of stakeholders, as well as the devolved Administrations, to maintain stability for farmers. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will introduce an agriculture Bill to support our vision for a thriving and self-reliant farming sector that is more competitive, productive and profitable, as well as to protect our precious natural environment for future generations and to deliver on our manifesto commitment to provide stability for farmers as we exit the EU.

I thank the Minister for that comprehensive response. He is aware that the UK farming sector is highly reliant on EU labour. What discussions has he had with DEFRA and others about the potential reintroduction of a seasonal agricultural workers scheme?

I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that the Government keep our position on seasonal workers under review. Until we have left the EU, employers in the agricultural and food processing sectors are free to continue to recruit EU workers to meet their labour needs. It remains the Government’s policy not to operate migration schemes for non-EEA nationals coming to fill vacancies at lower skill levels while employers have unrestricted access to labour from elsewhere in the EU. I note, however, that the Home Office told the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee earlier this year that a new SAWS could be introduced very quickly—in five or six months—once the need for such a scheme has been identified. I hope my hon. Friend is reassured that we will have the agility to meet those needs.

I hope that Ministers are listening to the people who gave evidence to the EFRA Committee that food will end up rotting in the ground if we do not have the labour force to dig it up. May I urge the Minister to accept that this is not just about subsidies for farmers, but about access to the market—and tariff-free access to the market? Unless that is resolved, our farming industry will collapse.

Of course we wish to secure tariff-free access to European markets, and indeed to markets across the world, but these are matters for negotiation. I am sure the hon. Lady would join me in saying to the EU that it is in all our interests to move swiftly to discussions on our future agreements.

British farmers are among the most efficient in Europe. Will Brexit not give us a chance to design an agricultural policy in their interest, not that of inefficient farmers in Europe?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is a unique opportunity for the UK to craft agricultural policies that suit our unique needs, which I hope will be to the benefit of the UK and our farmers.

13. Welsh farmers and fishermen need assurances now that the UK and Welsh Governments are working together. How often will formal ministerial discussions on agriculture and fisheries take place in the next three months, and will these meetings be open to formal scrutiny? (900653)

I am very grateful for that detailed question, and I look forward to answering the hon. Lady in writing.