I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the names of the representatives of the official Opposition.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
We are lucky in all four nations of the United Kingdom to have the best farmers in the world producing the best food in the world. This, the first comprehensive agriculture Bill for five decades, will provide those farmers with a new platform to modernise agriculture; to be able to produce, sell and export more food; and, at last, to receive the rewards that they deserve for their environmental work and the other public goods that they provide.
I am grateful for the enormous amount of hard work that has gone into the preparation of the Bill. I am grateful to the civil servants at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and I am grateful to those non-governmental organisations that contributed to our consultation paper “Health and Harmony”. Above all, I am grateful to our farmers, who are Britain’s backbone and on whom we are reliant for the food that we enjoy and for the health of our rural economy and society. Every measure in the Bill is designed to ensure that our farmers receive the support that they deserve to give us the healthy food that we enjoy and the beautiful rural environment on which we all depend.
In the course of his remarks, will my right hon. Friend reassure me that the Bill will be a vehicle for the support of common land, which accounts for 20% of our areas of special scientific interest and nearly 40% of open access, but which is nevertheless the subject of fragile traditional systems?
My right hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to meet some farmers who farm common land in the Lake district, and the particular work that they and others who farm common land do, to ensure both that traditional agricultural methods continue and that environmental benefits survive and are enhanced, is critical. We can provide for them with enhanced methods of support.
In April this year, the Secretary of State said that food production is “ultimately about health”, and I agree with him. That being the case, will he explain why he has not listed public health as one of the outcomes in clause 1? Will he think again about putting public health right at the heart of the Bill and his policies?
It is crucial that we all recognise that food production in this country is critical to the improvement of public health. My Department is working with the Department of Health and Social Care and others to ensure that, not only in this Bill but in other measures that we take, we put the importance of improving public health at the heart of everything that we do. The hon. Lady will be familiar with the actions that we have already taken on air quality, and she will also know that we are launching a food strategy, the first aspect of which I announced at the Conservative party conference last week: measures to ensure that we deal effectively with food waste and that healthy and nutritious food is provided to those who need it.
The Secretary of State was just speaking about the commons, and many of the farmers on the commons are sheep farmers. Would he care to say whether the report in The Times that large numbers of sheep will have to be slaughtered in the event of no deal is correct?
The Times is a great newspaper of record, but I did not recognise today’s report. Sheep do have to be slaughtered eventually to ensure that upland farmers and sheep farmers more broadly can get a fair price for the sheepmeat they produce. Indeed, our Bill has specific provisions to ensure that all farmers get a fair price in the market and that we can intervene where necessary to safeguard their economic interests.
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
I will give way first to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk) and then to my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne).
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is right to highlight the important role of farmers. I have met many of my local farmers and other quality food producers, and the question they have put to me in recent weeks is how will the new regime enable them to compete against often cheaper and often lower quality imports?
This Government have emphasised that we will ensure that the high environmental and animal welfare standards of which we are so proud and which our farmers uphold are defended. We will not enter into trade or other agreements that undercut or undermine the high standards on which British agriculture’s reputation depends.
My right hon. Friend is being generous in giving way. I congratulate him on his opening remarks. Speaking as a farmer and for the many farmers I represent in my constituency, we are heartened to hear that he is putting farmers front and forward in the Bill. Further to his response to our hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk), will he elaborate on the extent to which food security will be improved by the Bill, to ensure that we protect a viable agricultural sector in this country?
Food security is vital. Throughout the history of the United Kingdom, food security has depended on both quality domestic production and access to food from other markets. Some 60% of our food, and 75% of the food capable of being grown or reared on our shores, comes from the United Kingdom, but of course we also have access to food from other nations, and it is vital that we continue to do so. The Government’s approach as we leave the European Union is designed to ensure both that we have the best possible access to European markets—I am sure that the House knows that we import more than we export to the EU—but that we take opportunities for our farmers to secure new markets. Critically—I am sure the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) will be interested to hear this—the sheepmeat sector not only has significant exposure to the EU, but benefits from trade deals with the middle east and the far east, where there is a growing market for the high-quality lamb and mutton that we produce in this country. Leaving the EU therefore gives us an opportunity not just to maintain our existing trading links, but to expand them.
Does the Secretary of State not accept that, as we approach Brexit, there are concerns about food shortages and barriers to trade and to imports that may be followed by an open market situation where agriculturalists and farmers are subjected to low-price competition and perhaps questions about quality? Those investing in agriculture will face both demands for greater production and intense competition, and will that not create real problems for the industry?
I absolutely take on board the hon. Gentleman’s points, but we have some of the most productive, commercially successful and progressive farmers in this country ready to take advantage of both new markets and increasing demand among UK consumers and UK producers for high-quality UK produce. Supermarkets are often criticised in this House, but I think it is notable that UK supermarkets, from the Co-op to Waitrose, are increasingly responding to the demand from UK consumers for UK-sourced produce.
Is it not true that the high standards we have in this country and some of the niche products we produce are what make our exports so attractive, so the Bill, by creating a greener agricultural system and rewarding farmers for doing the right thing in managing our environment for the long run, is good not only for our economy, our environment and our people, but for trade?
My hon. Friend makes the case brilliantly. Members of the House will be familiar with the work of the Soil Association, which under its current leader, Helen Browning, manages to secure export markets for high-quality British pigmeat in Germany and beyond on the basis of doing precisely what my hon. Friend describes: meeting demand for high-quality organic produce and trading on the basis of the United Kingdom’s reputation for high environmental standards.
I am happy to give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Chris Davies), then my right hon. Friends the Members for East Devon (Sir Hugo Swire) and for Wokingham (John Redwood), and then my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston).
Order. The approach the Secretary of State is taking is most engaging, but it is not necessary for him to conduct an orchestra in proceeding with the debate, nor is it necessary to give a precise chronological guide to his intended order of taking interventions. Nevertheless, it is a notable eccentricity, which the House might enjoy. I call Sir Hugo Swire.
I am most grateful to you, Mr Speaker, as I think you have just given me an earlier slot than my right hon. Friend was indicating so effortlessly, like Herbert von Karajan.
My right hon. Friend just talked about supermarkets’ desire to stock more British and locally sourced products, which if true is manifestly a good thing. Will he commit to conducting a root and branch overhaul of food labelling and the country of origin system, which is currently misleading and has often been abused? The British consumer deserves to know where food is produced and where it is packaged and not to be misled by labelling.
My right hon. Friend makes a good point. Traceability and knowing the provenance of our food are vital. Outside the European Union, we can reform our food labelling system so that we have greater honesty about where our food comes from. He gives me an opportunity to say also that, as the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley), made clear yesterday, we are looking urgently at how we reform labelling to ensure that the safety of the consumer is guaranteed. Recent tragic events underline the need for action, and we will act.
Why does schedule 3 give too wide-ranging powers to Welsh Ministers to offer financial support to food production and food-related businesses that are denied to England? Will my right hon. Friend not speak for England? He is England’s Agriculture Minister. Surely he can trust himself with those important powers. Does he not understand that we really do want more food production domestically and locally?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for making two important points. First, at the beginning of the Bill we stress that grants can be made by any Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to improve food productivity in the United Kingdom, but we have also made provisions so that the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Assembly can follow their own policies in their devolved Administrations in tune with the principle of respecting the devolution settlement across the United Kingdom. I regret that the Scottish Government have not taken advantage of such provisions, despite repeated lobbying from Members of Parliament who represent Scottish farming constituencies. I hope that the Scottish Government and the excellent Minister, Fergus Ewing, will pay attention to the demands from my hon. Friends, who have been crystal clear that the Bill provides a greater degree of clarity and certainty about food production and the environment than the Scottish Government have yet been capable of providing.
I call Chris Davies.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I preferred the way my right hon. Friend was conducting matters, as I would have been called first.
Is a specific, ring-fenced budget for agriculture to be agreed under the Bill? Will there be ring-fenced provision for the devolved Governments in times to come?
I do not know whether I am Karajan, Furtwängler or Mahler, but one thing I do know is how vital it is to listen to Welsh male voices, such as my hon. Friend’s. He is absolutely right. That is why shortly we will publish the terms of reference for a review of funding across the United Kingdom. I can guarantee, however, that agricultural funding will not be Barnettised, and the generous—rightly generous—settlement that gives Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales more than England will be defended. More than that, I underline in particular the fact that we provide for all UK farmers a greater guarantee of future funding than farmers anywhere else in the European Union enjoy. Our funding is guaranteed until 2022, whereas in the EU the current common agricultural policy is guaranteed only to 2020. UK farmers have greater financial certainty than farmers anywhere else in Europe.
The chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, has described antimicrobial resistance as a “catastrophic threat”, and the Secretary of State will know that it is not only in human healthcare but sometimes in farming that we see inappropriate use of antimicrobials, thus increasing the risk that we will lose their benefit to human health. Will he use the Bill as a vehicle to drive down further inappropriate antimicrobial prescribing in agriculture and to incentivise farmers who do the right thing? Will he also make sure that we are not exposed to products from places around the world where antimicrobials are used wholly inappropriately, including with environmental contamination?
The Chair of the Select Committee on Health and Social Care makes an absolutely important point. I have had the opportunity to talk to Dame Sally Davies, who has written a brilliant short book about the vital importance of dealing with antimicrobial resistance. I should also pay tribute to Lord O’Neill, who led work under Prime Minister David Cameron on this. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that the Bill contains provisions to provide support and payments to farmers who take the appropriate animal health and welfare measures to ensure that we can fight the overuse of antibiotics, which is both a threat to human and animal health, and an environmental danger.
May I go back to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) about schedule 3, which gives specific powers to Wales? Is the Secretary of State telling the House that those specific powers are available to England as well?
The powers in Wales are different, but we have powers for improving productivity and providing farmers with the grants, support and loans they need not just to improve productivity but to ensure that producer organisations can work effectively in the market to secure for UK farmers, whether in England or in Wales, all the advantages they need to market effectively and secure the right price for their product.
Will the Secretary of State use the new system of farm support to discourage the intensive farming methods that can lead to low welfare standards and the overuse of antibiotics?
At the heart of everything we wish to do is making sure that we have an ethical approach and that farmers in the UK, who, overwhelmingly, are doing the right thing and leading the way in progressive farming, are supported. One thing I should say, which I believe is mentioned in the policy statement that accompanied the publication of this Bill, is that Dame Glenys Stacey is leading a review of farm inspection, because one problem we have at the moment is that, notwithstanding the good efforts of our field force, the level and intensity of farm inspection is not what we need it to be in order to ensure the very highest animal welfare and environmental standards.
I shall seek to make some progress, because I know that more than 30 Government Members and some 14 Opposition Members wish to speak in this debate. I hope the House will recognise that I have been generous in accepting interventions. I will say a little more about the contents of the Bill before, of course, listening to the contributions in this debate.
I should preface my remarks by saying that I want to pay a particular tribute not just to my predecessors in this role, my right hon. Friends the Members for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman) and for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), for the work they have done to ensure that DEFRA has been well led in recent years, but to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice). This week marks his fifth year in DEFRA. I think everyone from across the House will agree that someone who was brought up in farming, who has dedicated his whole life to getting the best possible deal for British agriculture and who has been an exceptionally thoughtful, courteous and wise guide to a succession of DEFRA Secretaries deserves the House’s thanks and congratulations. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]
I also wish to stress my gratitude to those from devolved Administrations. As we know, sadly there is no Assembly in Northern Ireland, but the excellent civil servants who work in the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs have been instrumental in making sure that provisions are there for Northern Ireland in this Bill. I also want to pay tribute to Lesley Griffiths of the Welsh Assembly and Fergus Ewing of the Scottish Government. Lesley Griffiths has taken advantage of the provisions in this Bill, as a number of Members have pointed out, to shape a settlement specific for Wales. I am delighted that the Labour Government in Wales are supporting the Bill, even if not every Labour Member here is taking the same pragmatic and positive line.
This Bill will set a clear direction for the future of agriculture. It will ensure that farmers have time to make the appropriate changes required: there will be a seven-year transition period from 2021 in order to enable our farmers to take advantage of the new opportunities that this Bill provides. We believe that strikes the right balance between addressing the urgency of the need for change in order to reward farmers better for the environmental and other public goods that they provide, and providing people with an opportunity to change their business model, if necessary, in order to take advantage of those changes in a staged and appropriate way.
It is striking that during the consultation we undertook on what should replace the common agricultural policy there was a universal embrace of the need for change; not one of the submissions we received argued that the CAP status quo should remain. It is striking also that in the pages of The Guardian George Monbiot, not naturally a friend or supporter of Conservative Governments, points out that this legislation takes us in the right direction. It is striking also that the National Farmers Union has pointed out that although it understandably would like to see more detail about how these schemes would operate—that detail will be forthcoming—it, along with the Country Land and Business Association, The Wildlife Trusts and Greener UK, welcomes the direction in which this Government are taking agriculture.
Of course, one reason why no one can defend the current system is that it allocates public money—taxpayers’ money—purely on the basis of the size of an agricultural land holding. As we know, many of the beneficiaries are not even UK or EU citizens, but foreign citizens who happen to have invested in agricultural land. Many people have made the point, as the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) and my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire have done today, that we must support our upland farmers particularly well. At the moment, the CAP does not give the bulk of its funds to those who are farming in marginal or upland areas; it gives the bulk of its funds to major landowners. It is a simple matter of social justice and economic efficiency that we need to change that system.
The approach my right hon. Friend has adopted of building the big tent coalition in support of the Bill’s principal aims and objectives is the right one. However, will he address a concern that I have? Will he confirm that food production and food security are integral parts of the Bill, and that farming and food production are seen as important and not as an attractive add-on to broader environmental issues?
My hon. Friend is right about that. When I was visiting an agricultural show recently—that is one of the many pleasures of this job—I was talking to a farmer who, although wholly supportive of the approach we were taking, reminded me that if we want all the environmental benefits that our farmers can produce, because they are responsible for 70% of the landscape of the United Kingdom, we must ensure that farms remain profitable businesses. This Bill will not only reward farmers for the public goods they provide, but provide a platform for increased productivity, because food production is at the heart of every farm business—as that farmer reminded me, “You can’t go green if you are in the red.”
Will the Secretary of State spell out what assurances he can actually give on food standards and various other standards that apply to this Bill? A lot of people want assurances on that and, in particular, environmental issues too.
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman that consumers are increasingly demanding, and rightly so, about the provenance, quality and standards of the food being produced. As my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon made clear, we have the opportunity to reform our labelling system, to ensure both that human health and safety are better protected than ever before and that people have a guarantee of the circumstances in which their food has been produced.
The Secretary of State is well aware that the UK Government withheld £160 million of convergence uplift money that was due to Scottish farmers. How much lobbying have Scottish Tory MPs done to recover that £160 million? How much of that money have they secured for Scottish farmers?
I mentioned earlier that an enjoyable part of my job is visiting agricultural shows, where I have had the opportunity of meeting Scottish MSPs, but I have never met a Scottish National party MP at any agricultural show in Scotland that I have visited. I have seen my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid) standing up for Scottish farmers. I have seen my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) standing up for Scottish farmers. I have seen my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Colin Clark) standing up for Scottish farmers. I have seen my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) standing up for Scottish farmers. I have visited farms with my hon. Friend the Member for Angus (Kirstene Hair). We can tell by the representation of Scottish Conservative Members here today, and by the dearth of SNP Members, who stands up for rural Scotland. The hon. Gentleman makes a signal and it shows exactly what the Scottish Government are doing for Scotland’s farmers—sweet zero.
Food production is critical, and making sure that farmers get a fair price for their products is important. For too long, farmers have been price takers, because there has been inadequate information about how supply chains work and inadequate powers to intervene. The Government have a duty to step in to support farmers, and we have in this Bill powers to ensure that the data is there for farmers to get a fair price at the farm gate for their produce and, in the event of severe market disturbances, that we can also intervene to ensure that farmers get a fair price.
There is one other critical thing. I mentioned the role of producer organisations earlier. Collaboration is critical not just in delivering environmental improvements at landscape scale, but in making sure that farmers get a fair price for what they produce. This Bill makes provision for increased collaboration.
I am enjoying the speech—not all of it, but most of it—but I hope that the Secretary of State will remember not just to tilt at windmills that are easily demolished, but to take on vested interest that will oppose him. I would like to hear more on the supermarkets. The role of the supermarkets in the agricultural and food sectors in this country is very dominant and sometimes very negative. Is he willing to take them on?
I appreciate the vital importance of supermarkets and other retailers. The powers that we are taking in this Bill should ensure that farmers get a fair price. However, I do want to stress—I had an opportunity to do so briefly earlier—the increasingly progressive role that those leading our supermarkets and our food retailers are taking. They are responding to consumer demand for more information about where food comes from. They are also responding to some of the criticisms in the past about the uniformity of vegetables that are capable of being sold. The Co-op and others who have responded to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s campaign for wonky veg—I am all in favour of wonky veg—are doing the right thing. The hon. Gentleman is right: we do need to remain vigilant both for the consumer and for the food producer to ensure that we have the right outcomes.
I am glad that the Secretary of State has turned his attention to the food supply chain. He will be aware, I am sure, of the reforms introduced last week by the French Government that will radically alter the power within the supply chain away from supermarkets to the producer. Is that something that the British Government are looking at?
I am always interested in what we can learn from France. We want to make sure that food and drink, which is our biggest manufacturing sector overall, can continue to be world leading. Critical to that, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned and as I acknowledged in responding to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), is making sure that there is a fair price at the farm gate for our food producers. Our farmers do not want subsidy; what they want is fairness, and that is what this Bill seeks to deliver.
Talking of fairness, I just want to stress the critical importance of recognising what a public good is. There has been some debate over what a public good might mean. It is some time since I studied economics, but public goods have a clear definition: they are non-exclusionary and non-rivalrous. We can all enjoy them, and as we all enjoy them, no one, if they are enjoying a public good, does so at the expense of anyone else. I am talking about clean air, soil quality and making sure that we invest in carbon sequestration, that farmers get supported for the work that they do to keep our rivers clean and our water pure, that the public have access to our glorious countryside and that the contribution that farmers make to animal health and welfare is recognised. We all benefit from those public goods, but, at the moment, our farmers are not adequately rewarded for them. We in the UK spend a higher proportion of common agricultural policy funds on rural development and on environmental schemes than any other country in the European Union—I should say that the Welsh Administration lead the way in this—but far too much of our money still goes on coupled support based on hectarage payments, rather than on rewarding farmers for what they do and on giving DEFRA the opportunity to intervene to give farmers the deal that they deserve.
I am very happy to give way to—ah—the hon. Member for High Peak (Ruth George).
I congratulate the Secretary of State on his reading ability. He has mentioned animal welfare. Various Members have asked about the difference between Wales and England. Local abattoirs are very important—as important as farms—to high standards of animal welfare. Will he commit to supporting small abattoirs, a third of which have closed already, in the investment that they need to comply with the regulations and to looking again at DEFRA’s decision last week not to award grants to small abattoirs as is being done in Wales?
It is important that we have a network of abattoirs that enables, wherever possible, sustainable local food production. I know that it is an issue close to the hon. Lady’s heart; it is also close to mine. I pay tribute to Patrick Holden and the sustainable farming network for the campaigning work that they have done. We are doing everything we can to support small abattoirs. When it comes to animal welfare, it is also important that we make sure that we have a strong network of official veterinarians guaranteeing the quality of our food. It is also important that we recognise that this Government—originally under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom)—have introduced, or required, CCTV in all abattoirs to make sure that there is no hiding place for animal cruelty. It is critical that we recognise that our farmers thrive on the basis of producing high-quality food with animal welfare at its heart.
In the timeline that was published this morning, it says that higher animal welfare standards will be defined in 2020. Will the Secretary of State assure me that the bar for those will not be set any lower than they are at present? Ideally, they should be considerably higher.
Absolutely. I recognise that I have been on my feet, although taking questions, for 27 minutes now, so I do want to draw my remarks to close.
I must give way to the hon. Gentleman.
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that he would be very welcome to come and visit us at the Black Isle show next summer. It is self-evident to me that we cannot do much with the straths and glens in my constituency other than rear sheep. I want to push him on one other point. Tourism depends on seeing our straths and glens populated with livestock and on vibrant and successful farming. May I push him for his comments on the tourism aspect of agriculture?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point. I would be delighted to visit the Black Isle show and also to visit Lairg in his constituency, where I know that some of Scotland’s finest sheep farmers have an opportunity every year to demonstrate what they can do. He is absolutely right: iconic landscapes from Caithness and Sutherland and Easter Ross through to the Lake District and, indeed, Exmoor and Dartmoor depend for their tourist appeal and for their pull on the human heart on the work of our farmers. It is inconceivable that those iconic landscapes could survive and flourish without the rural, economic and social network that sheep farming and other forms of farming provide. Absolutely, we do recognise that. It is a public good, and public access to our countryside is placed here.
I am happy to give way, but this will probably be the last pair that I give way to.
I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend. I warmly support this Bill because it incentivises farmers to enhance biodiversity and to promote animal welfare. This is not just a rural issue; it is an urban issue as well. What can he say about how there will be better potential for my constituents in Cheltenham to access this even more diverse and even more beautiful countryside?
I know how important the environment and animal welfare issues are to my hon. Friend, as he has tirelessly campaigned on them. I also know that his constituents will be able to enjoy improved access to the countryside through the provisions in the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education is making £10 million available to ensure that more schoolchildren have an opportunity to understand what goes on in our countryside. Making sure that the next generation understands where our food comes from and the vital importance of food production will be absolutely critical. When the Department for Education set up the school food plan and when this Government ensured that all children up to the age of 14 received lessons in where food comes from and in cooking, that was an earnest example of our commitment to ensuring that everyone appreciates the vital importance of our farmers and the work that they do.
I am seduced by the vision of the future of British agriculture painted by the Secretary of State, but I am puzzled why he wants to take so long before he can get started on it. Why do we have to remain trapped in the limbo of the transition, whereby we will still be trapped in the common agricultural policy when, by joining the European Free Trade Association and the European economic area on our way out of the EU, we could start on his magnificent reforms next March?
I am delighted to have been able to seduce my hon. Friend. What is striking in the seduction is that, rather than asking for a slower hand, he wants a rough wooing. He makes the best possible case for his proposition, but I must respectfully disagree with him. The transition period, both the one that is being secured as we leave the European Union and the one for our farmers, is the right balance between urgency and space for reform.
My right hon. Friend was talking about public goods—an approach that I welcome. May I bring him to the question of health? Can he assure me that his Bill will support the production of fruit and vegetables in this country, which is so important to the nation’s health?
Absolutely; the consumption of more fruit and vegetables is critical to improving public health. I am delighted that, thanks to the lobbying of my hon. Friend and so many Conservative Members, we were able to introduce a seasonal workers scheme pilot to ensure that fruit and vegetable growers get the support that they deserve. We will also have new schemes—improved over those that the EU provides—to ensure that the producer organisations that represent our growers continue to do the brilliant job that they do.
I should stress that the Bill will also ensure that the UK can take its seat at the World Trade Organisation and negotiate on behalf of the whole United Kingdom. Some people have suggested that the Bill constitutes a power grab from our devolved Administrations—nothing could be further from the truth. The Bill will empower the Welsh Assembly, the Northern Ireland Government and the Scottish Government to do what they believe is right for our farmers, and what is right for our farmers is to move away from a system that has constrained their energy, undermined their enterprise, held back innovation in food production and inadequately rewarded them not only for the food that they provide, but for the environmental and other goods that they provide for us.
The Bill gives us an opportunity to put farming across the United Kingdom on a surer footing, so that we can produce more, sell more and export more, but also hand on our environment in a better state to the next generation. I commend it to the House.
It will be very obvious from the number of people now on their feet that there is a huge demand for time to speak this afternoon. Although we have many hours ahead, I will have to impose a time limit from the very beginning. I give warning now—so that people can throw away pages and pages of their notes—that the time limit will initially be eight minutes, and I anticipate that it might well reduce later.
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “That” to the end of the Question and add:
“this House, whilst recognising that on leaving the EU the UK needs to shift agricultural support from land-based payments to the delivery of environmental and other public benefits, declines to give a Second Reading to the Agriculture Bill because it fails to provide a strategy to safeguard the nation’s food supply at a time when food poverty and foodbank demand are rising rapidly alongside an epidemic in food-related health inequality, fails to recognise the central importance of UK sustainable food production and supply, leading to a greater reliance on imports, while failing to provide for controls over the production methods, working conditions, or animal welfare and environmental standards in countries from which the UK’s food is imported, and, when the natural environment is in crisis, with species decline at an alarming scale, soil degradation and increasingly volatile and extreme weather conditions driven by escalating climate change, provides the Secretary of State with wide-ranging powers but no duties or legally enforceable environmental protection targets, whilst giving Parliament limited ability to scrutinise any changes in the regime, and fails to legislate for current funding to continue until 2022 as Ministers have promised; and is of the opinion that the publication of such a Bill should have been preceded by a full process of pre-legislative scrutiny of a draft Bill.”
This country is in desperate need of an Agriculture Bill that provides certainty and clarity for our food and farming industry, but instead the Secretary of State has laid before us nothing but a huge missed opportunity. There are no targets for environmental improvements or reducing carbon emissions; there is no commitment to producing healthy, home-grown food in a post-Brexit world; and there is no commitment to protecting the people of this country from food poverty at a time when thousands rely on food banks. We need an Agriculture Bill, but we need it to be better than this.
The Labour party absolutely agrees with the need to shift financial assistance in the way proposed by the Bill, from support for simply owning land to the principle of public money for public goods to help those who work our land to restore and improve the natural environment. This has been rightly welcomed by environmental campaigners as a real turnaround in the Government’s thinking. I join those campaigners in applauding the Secretary of State in this regard, because—make no mistake—our natural environment is in crisis, with soil degradation, species in alarming decline, increasingly volatile and extreme weather conditions, and air pollution that has remained at illegal levels since 2010. But does the Bill actually match up to the scale of the environmental crisis facing us?
The Bill provides only powers. Clause 1 states that the Secretary of State “may” give financial assistance for environmental purposes—there is no duty or requirement for him to actually do anything. The environmental outcomes we need delivered are not prescribed. There are no targets and no mechanism for setting any targets. No funding is identified in the Bill. No delivery or regulatory bodies will be resourced by it.
My hon. Friend is making a marvellous speech. She will be aware of the warning from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that we will reach the 1.5° C threshold in 12 years, by 2030, and of the contribution of cattle and agriculture in general towards our carbon emissions. Does that not underline the importance of having targets, which are so sadly missing from this Bill?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. The report was deeply shocking and the Bill must reflect that urgent action needs to be taken.
Let me bring the Secretary of State’s green Brexit dream into the cold light of day. At first contact with the Chancellor and all the other competing demands on the Treasury, the reality is that the Secretary of State’s green Brexit will soon wither on the vine without any commitment written into the Bill to maintain the current levels of spending. Farmers and green campaigners are in complete alignment on this.
My hon. Friend is making a very powerful speech. I had hoped to intervene on the Secretary of State but he refused to let me. I would have told him that many small upland livestock producers in my constituency are really concerned about the lack of detail in the Bill, particularly given that the Secretary of State says that he wants to support them and enhance their profitability. Does my hon. Friend share my concern about when we might get this detail and whether the Government will even consider the different scenarios that Brexit could bring to these upland producers?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. There are also many upland farmers in my constituency, and they have raised exactly the same concerns with me.
We know that for farmers to be sustainable environmentally, they must also be sustainable economically. I remind the Secretary of State who the farmer he quoted earlier actually was: Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers Union, who said that farmers cannot be green if they are in the red. Farmers need to be able to invest with certainty over long periods, especially in sectors such as forestry. How can they be expected to stay afloat when the Secretary of State has proved himself unable to make good in the Bill any of the funding promises?
The hon. Lady is making a very sensible point, specifically regarding basic payments for farmers. However, the post-Brexit agricultural policy of the Welsh Labour Government more or less mirrors exactly what has been proposed by the Secretary of State. After the hon. Lady finishes her speech, will she get on the phone to the branch manager, Carwyn Jones, and tell him to introduce a more sensible policy?
Well, I think that more powers are provided in this Bill for some Welsh Ministers than for English Ministers. I have had a long discussion with my counterparts in the Welsh Government and will continue to work with them to discuss these points.
Will the hon. Lady explain why the Welsh Government appear to be supporting this Bill and the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, yet her colleagues are opposing this legislation?
As I have said, we believe that greater powers are provided for Welsh Ministers than English Ministers in this Bill; there is more certainty. It is really important that we bring that back.
On Sunday, I attended a harvest festival at my local church, and I am sure that many hon. Members did something similar. I know that the whole House will join me in expressing our thankfulness for everything that the farming community in this country achieves to help feed the nation, often against the odds. After the extreme weather that farmers endured last winter and this summer, they are probably more affected by climate change than any other sector.
However, agriculture now accounts for 10% of UK greenhouse gas emissions—a larger share than at any time since 1990—and the Committee on Climate Change has reported that there has been virtually no change in agricultural emissions since 2008. This means that agricultural emissions are not on track to deliver the carbon budget savings required by 2022.
Net carbon sequestration from forestry has flatlined but the Bill provides only for mitigating or adapting to climate change. It seems that the Secretary of State has not heard the Committee’s call, made only in June, for this Bill to link financial support to agricultural emissions reduction and increased carbon sequestration.
Does the hon. Lady agree that the Bill needs to have a net zero emissions target for the agricultural sector? If we shifted to more support for organic farming, that would help too: organic soils are much better at retaining carbon than intensively farmed soil.
The hon. Lady makes a good point. It is critical that we begin looking across all industries to see how we can shift to net zero.
Will the hon. Lady explain how much, according to her calculations, it will cost to achieve net zero in agriculture? Will that be met from general taxation through the Government or through increased food prices at the supermarket?
I do not believe that I made that commitment, so it is not something on which I have done calculations at this time.
Continuing to deplete soils, lose pollinators and pollute waters does nothing for farm productivity; that is why we need a Bill that delivers food security as well as environmental outcomes. It is self-defeating and academic to separate those objectives, as the Secretary of State is attempting to do. This is the first time in more than 40 years that a Secretary of State has been directly responsible for the nation’s food security, yet food security has drifted off the Government’s agenda, and they are not offering any clear vision for the future of our nation’s food supply. The Bill is worryingly silent when it comes to food poverty. It says nothing about the balance between the production of healthy and sustainable British food and reliance on imports, the jobs and health and safety of agricultural workers, and preventing trade deals involving lower standards, undercutting British producers.
It is 71 years since the Agriculture Act 1947 was passed by the great post-war Attlee Government. Attlee judged that its author Tom Williams
“effected nothing less than a revolution in British agriculture”
“his place in history is assured as the greatest British Minister of Agriculture of all time”.
I remind the House that the purpose of the Act was
“promoting and maintaining...a stable and efficient agricultural industry capable of producing such part of the nation’s food and other agricultural produce as in the national interest it is desirable to produce in the United Kingdom, and of producing it at minimum prices consistently with proper remuneration and living conditions for farmers and workers in agriculture and an adequate return on capital invested in the industry.”
Article 39 of the treaty of Rome set out the aims of the common agricultural policy, including ensuring
“a fair standard of living for the agricultural community…the availability of supplies”,
“supplies reach consumers at reasonable prices.”
It is a matter of strategic national interest and social justice that we should ensure that our country is better able to feed itself with healthy, nutritional food while protecting itself against volatility. That is why it is important for sustainable food production to be a central part of the Bill.
Why did we lose so much market share and end up importing so much food under the CAP?
That is a good question, but one to which I do not have a detailed answer—I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman for that. It is a really important point: we were increasing production, but then it began to drop. It is an issue that we need to address. If there is a dramatic reduction in UK food production, greater reliance on imports would result in a lack of control over production, animal welfare, and environmental and working standards.
The answer lies simply in the tastes of the consumer. We like oranges—we like food that grows abroad but which we do not grow. That demand has grown over the years, so we import more. We should be careful lest we try to search for set levels of output or demand in what is still a market economy.
Clearly, we cannot grow everything that consumers would like to purchase in this country, but we can do more to increase the production of food that can be produced in this country. It is important that we protect standards too, and any trading deals should protect the standards that our farmers currently work to.
I think the answer will be yes, but does the hon. Lady agree that it will be a hallmark of success for the whole Brexit process if, 10 or 15 years down the line, we find that we are importing no more foodstuffs than we do today, and preferably less because we are producing more?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point.
I would like to think about health, because the Bill fails to recognise the importance of food and diet for health. Why, when we spend so much money subsidising our food producers, are so many of them on the verge of bankruptcy or breakdown? Why is there so much wasted food when foodbank demand has never been higher? While the quality of our home-produced food has never been higher, why do we have an epidemic of obesity and diabetes? The Bill completely misses the opportunity to tackle those problems. We need a Bill that strengthens and enshrines support for sustainable food production, promotes healthy outcomes and supports rural economies, because we believe that access to good-quality, healthy food must not be allowed to become the preserve of only those who can afford it.
Given the shadow Minister’s concern about these issues—green Brexit, food, food waste and all those things—it is interesting that she was not given a major slot on the main stage at the Labour conference. In my meetings, I have not come across a single environmentalist or farmer who does not support the initiatives in the Bill.
The hon. Lady may recall that the Leader of the Opposition discussed the environment and issues connected with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in his speech.
All over the world, nearly all farmers are supported financially to produce food, and our farmers must be able to compete with them, but to do so they will need the right financial and policy framework so that they are not disadvantaged in a competitive and volatile global marketplace. We need to move away from the current system of direct payments, but if we are to bring in land management contracts, they need to be accessible. The recent delivery of payments to farmers and landowners has been poor, and the hoops that have to be jumped through put many people off signing up in the first place. We need to ensure that the agencies are adequately resourced—only then can they properly help the farmers who need the support that subsidies provide.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, given their excellent relationships with farmers and landscape managers, national parks are ideally placed to provide that network in our national park areas, where so much farming goes on?
I thank my hon. Friend for her contribution. I have discussed that with the Lake District national park, which is in my constituency, and I am sure that there will be other discussions in this area.
An important point was made about the number of forms that farmers have to fill in to access funds. Does the honourble not agree that one of the most important things is ensuring the availability of reliable broadband, given that the amount of farming now done online is way in excess of the amount of farming when Clement Attlee was the post-war Prime Minister?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that important contribution. It is disappointing that the digital roll-out came before farmers could access it. I would add that mobile connectivity is as important, because when farmers submit their application online, they are sent a text message with a code that they need to put in; if they do not have a mobile signal, they cannot continue with the application. All these things need to be considered before we move forward.
We praise all our farmers for the important role that they play in environmental stewardship. The Secretary of State talked about the fact that the food and drinks industry is such a huge manufacturing sector. It is incredibly important that we get more support for our farmers than the Bill currently offers. At the moment, the Bill offers our family farmers just a payoff, which we believe risks leaving our fields to ever larger, more intensive factory farms run by global big business.
It worries me that the vision of the UK as a leading free trade nation with low tariff barriers is completely at odds with the commitment to thriving British food and farming sectors. Combining and delivering those two objectives will be a considerable challenge for this Government, who are and always have been in favour of more deregulation and who have a blind reliance on the free market to deliver social outcomes. Labour will oppose any free trade deal that threatens existing standards: we will fight any such deals tooth and nail.
In conclusion, the development of a new post-Brexit UK agriculture policy is a seminal moment for the future of our environment, our food production and our countryside. Never has it been more important to lift our line of sight and to talk proactively about what we want to see as part of a long-term strategy for food, farming and the environment. Sustainability, above all else, has to be at the forefront of a thriving farming, food and drink sector.
It is right that we shift agricultural support for land-based payments to the delivery of public and environmental benefits, but the Bill sadly falls short in a number of areas. There is no strategy to safeguard our nation’s food supply or recognition of the importance of sustainability to reduce the reliance on imports. There is no provision for controls over production methods, working conditions, animal welfare or environmental standards in countries from which our food is imported. The Bill hands wide-ranging powers to the Secretary of State but includes no legally enforceable environmental protection targets, and there is no provision for current agricultural funding to continue until 2022, as Ministers have previously promised.
This House should have had the chance to conduct proper prelegislative scrutiny of the Bill. What we are discussing here is fundamental to the future of British agriculture, and getting it right is crucial. For those reasons, I am afraid that Labour cannot support the Bill’s Second Reading, and that is why I strongly urge colleagues to vote for our reasoned amendment tonight.
This is an historic moment, as we last had an agriculture Bill in this House in 1947, since when there have been 15 Prime Ministers and many Governments. We therefore really need to get this Bill right.
The Bill is about agriculture and the environment not just today, but in the future, so I welcome our Secretary of State’s commitment on food security. During the Bill’s passage, I will look for us to adopt for England provisions similar to those in schedule 3 for Wales to ensure that we can support high-quality food production and high animal welfare standards in England and across the United Kingdom. Food security—the ability to have plenty of food, and good food, for our constituents—is very much a public good, and we will debate that further.
While I very much welcome the Bill, I am disappointed that my Select Committee was not offered the opportunity to subject it to prelegislative scrutiny. However, the Secretary of State and Ministers should not worry, because we will do our utmost to ensure that we scrutinise the Bill carefully, clause by clause. While the Bill is very good, I am sure that a little tweak here and there will not do it any harm.
I welcome the long transitional period because it gives farmers certainty over that time. We also need to ensure that as we build stewardship schemes, land management schemes and environmental schemes, we also enter into contracts with farmers of at least five to 10 years. Ministers and the Secretary of State might say that we cannot bind successive Governments, but we must ensure that we have a contract in place so that land management and farming can go hand in hand. We talk as though the environment, food production and farming are all separate, but they are not—they are very much combined. I believe that farmers are the original friends of the earth, and we will ensure that we deliver better soil, a better environment and great food while having as much food security as possible in this country.
I also welcome the Bill’s attempt to tackle unfairness in the supply chain.
Before my hon. Friend moves on, I share his ambition in those respects, but does he agree that as the general framework for subsidy support or payment for ecosystem services lies in this Bill, and the general framework for the environment will lie in the environment Bill, it is appropriate that issues such as the contracting he describes should be covered in secondary legislation?
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s intervention. He is right that that can be dealt with in secondary legislation, but I am, shall I say, a little bit naturally suspicious, so I am trying to ensure that we get everything covered as soon as possible. I like the Bill’s direction of travel towards the environment, but I am convinced that having good, healthy, affordable food is absolutely essential, and that is one of the issues towards which I will maintain my driving forces.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way again. The question of how the Select Committee will proceed under his chairmanship seems an important one to resolve. I think that many of us would welcome his driving on that issue, as long as it is done in a way that recognises that we are not trying to build it into the two pieces of primary legislation, which would confuse the issue.
I will take on board my right hon. Friend’s wisdom, and we will look at that as we go through the Select Committee process to ensure that do not do that. I thank him for his intervention.
The Bill very much attempts to tackle unfairness in the supply chain. That is essential. We need to ensure that the groceries code covers all aspects of trade—from the big retailers through to the processors and right down to the big suppliers—so that we can have true fairness in the supply chain. Often, when a consumer buys a product, enough money is paid to the retailer to ensure that there is enough money for the producer, and it is a question of ensuring that that money then gets back to the producer. There is an uneven relationship, with producers often being the weaker partner and not having enough strength in the market.
I welcome the proposals to request data, which will improve transparency in the supply chain, but the way in which that increased transparency will improve fairness in the supply chain remains unclear. Furthermore, there are proposals to streamline support payments and reduce bureaucracy, which I believe we all welcome. I look forward to the Secretary of State and the farming Minister coming before our Select Committee to explain exactly how that can be done. Whether people love or hate the common agricultural policy, there is no doubt that we can have an agricultural policy that suits the four nations of the United Kingdom and that we can devise a better system than the one designed for the 28 countries of the European Union. I have direct knowledge of that, having previously chaired the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee, so I know that we can do better and I look forward to that.
We welcome this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shape British farming and the environment. We can improve policies such as our stewardship scheme, for example by ensuring that it runs for a minimum of 10 years and involves forestry. We can also ensure that we do not have to work out when a tree is a sapling and when a sapling is a tree. If we want to include water management, our schemes can include planting trees on banks to hold back water and so on. We can do so much better, and I look forward to hearing about that from Ministers.
Does the hon. Gentleman, who chairs the Committee on which I serve, agree that there is a real danger that it will be the big landowners and farmers who will be best able to apply for environmental grants? We have to guard against that by reducing bureaucracy, as he has indicated.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. We have to ensure that applying for grants is simple enough for all farmers, not just the big landowners who can employ offices full of people to do that, and I believe that we can. With some of the ideas coming forward about how we make payments, we can also ensure that, as we transition, family farms and smaller applicants can have less taken from them in the first instance. There are ways we can make this much more palatable.
Upland farming, which the Secretary of State mentioned, is very important, especially because of lamb and beef production. It is coupled with that great environment on the hillside, and we will not be able to pay public money just to keep sheep and cattle on the hillside; we have to ensure that they are profitable. Profit is what will drive this because—this point has already been made—if you are in the black, you can go more green. That is absolutely essential.
We produce great food. We also have a very effective poultry industry, although sometimes that is not mentioned. That is why we can produce good-quality chickens for under £5. Let us look at how we deal with our food industry and our production.
Does my hon. Friend agree that post Brexit there will be a real opportunity to buy “British first” through the procurement of British-sourced food?
My right hon. Friend and constituency neighbour makes a really good point. We must redouble our efforts to encourage our armed forces, our schools and our health service to procure our high-quality British food. Let us ensure that we can feed our nation with our food, because that is absolutely essential.
I also think that healthy food, as a public good, can be recognised naturally across the piece. This is an agricultural Bill, but if we think about the NHS, we could save nearly £2 billion when we consider the type of healthy food that we can produce. Buying from local producers will allow us to reduce our carbon footprint and improve the environment, so we also need joined-up thinking about future-proofing the Bill. If we weaken our farming sector to the extent that we have to import more food from abroad, there will be many consequences. When we import food from other countries, we also import their water and their means of production, and some countries can little afford that. We have to ensure that we continue to produce good, high-quality food and that, if possible, we produce more of it in future.
It is a pleasure to see so many members of the armed services here to observe the debate—I hope that the Secretary of State was not so alarmed by the prospect of my speech that he called them in.
The Bill lacks a foundation, because as yet there is no Brexit deal and no trade deal. No one here knows what rules will have to be followed in order to allow agricultural produce into the European single market. No one even knows where the UK’s borders will be—perhaps in the middle of the Irish sea. It is that uncertainty that is causing the most concern to farmers and other food producers.
There is a need to be prepared, and I acknowledge that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has to try to guess the future framework that will be needed. I appreciate that Ministers have to bring forward proposals for consideration. Being prepared for what is to come seems sensible at first glance. I have to observe, however, that preparing for Brexit is a wee bit like someone blindfolding themselves before jumping off a cliff: they cannot see the horror, but it is still going to hit them pretty hard. I appreciate where Ministers are coming from, but they seem to have gone off a little prematurely. However, that is not all that is wrong with the Bill.
I think it is important that we talk about what agriculture is for, and what it has been for since the first sod was turned: food production. Agriculture is about producing food or it is about nothing. The advantages to the human race of being a species that can produce its own food rather than just hunt or gather it have been immense. There have been some downsides, not least the environmental damage that some farming practices wreak, but agriculture is what has allowed us to build the civilisations and lifestyles that we now have.
The hon. Lady, my colleague, will of course be aware that during the recess the British Government appointed a food supplies Minister, in preparation for a no deal Brexit—such is the panic at the heart of the British Government. Is it not somewhat incoherent that in agricultural policy there is not that focus on food production that she mentioned, either from the British Government in relation to England or from the Labour Government in relation to Wales? The Scottish National party Government in Scotland, however, will maintain basic payments to help farmers produce food.
I thank my friend the hon. Member for that intervention. I will be coming to that point shortly.
It is agriculture that gives those of us who are worried about the environmental effects the time and space to do that worrying. Agriculture is what lies behind civilisation, because food production and food security—the nourishment of people who can be productive in other ways because they do not have to find or produce their own food—is what underpins the modern economy. Take away the food supply and we destroy the rest of the economy.
Of course, once we leave the EU we will be able to settle our own schedule of tariffs, including those, if any, that we might wish to impose on European continental food. What level of tariff would the hon. Lady recommend?
I am not sure what the right hon. Gentleman is speaking about, because we will also have tariffs imposed on us as a result of these discussions, and they are alarming. Lamb farmers in Scotland are certainly very concerned, and a tariff of something like 46% has been suggested to me.
With the stark warnings about chaos in the chain for imported foods post-Brexit, one would think that domestic food security would be top of the agenda in DEFRA just now. As my friend the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) has just said, the situation is serious enough for a Minister to be appointed to oversee food supplies. That is the kind of ministerial brief we associate with wars in the middle of the last century. With that kind of concern, which is clearly a feature of Whitehall’s panic after failing to plan for Brexit, one would think that domestic food production would be getting a look-in now.
During the recess a constituent of mine was in a care home and saw a poster that said:
“Rationing means a fair share for all of us”.
Does my hon. Friend think that was nostalgia or forward planning?
I certainly hope that we will not get to that situation, because it is an alarming thought. I thank my hon. Friend for that point.
Food production is missing from this Agriculture Bill. We have a Bill to regulate agriculture that is silent on the very essence of agriculture. I appreciate that not every aspect of a portfolio area can be present in every piece of legislation and that there will be times when things are missed, but surely we cannot miss out the core point of the legislation. We really cannot talk about how to regulate or support farming unless we also talk about producing food. Agriculture is not agriculture if it is only land management and form filling.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith, that famous farming constituency, is making a powerful speech.
“The Scottish Government’s climate change ambitions…pose a bigger threat…than Brexit”.
They are not my words, but those of Jim McLaren of Quality Meat Scotland. Would she care to comment on that?
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, although I do not really appreciate the snide remarks about Edinburgh North and Leith, because people there actually eat and they are interested in food.
Returning to my subject, which was food, there is plenty in the Bill to allow Ministers to gather information about food chains and to interfere where they see fit, but nothing about how it will change the structures or the framework around producing food or how Ministers might want to protect, improve and increase food production, food security or food quality. We really need to know a bit about the direction of travel. There is nothing in the Bill that tells us, and the public pronouncements of the DEFRA Secretary suggest a move away from support for food production—or farming, as I like to call it—towards a style of support that would be perfect for managers of large estates, but not those with less land. Grouse moors could benefit, but farmers will not.
None of that detail is in the Bill. There is nothing even to suggest a route map, far less lay out the steps that the Government intend to take. There is nothing about the proposed support mechanism. That is massively important. A farm in Cambridgeshire is very unlike a farm in the Yorkshire dales and even more unlike a farm in Sutherland, where my parents-in-law live, let alone one on Scotland’s islands. Promises were made to Scottish farmers that Brexit would not see them losing cash, at the same time as convergence cash intended for farms in Scotland was being distributed elsewhere, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) mentioned.
The hon. Lady has spent a lot of time criticising this Government’s legislation. I would like to ask the question that many of my constituents who are farmers are wondering about: what is the Scottish Government’s plan for farming post Brexit? We have not got a clue.
I am rather surprised that the hon. Gentleman has not yet read our very sensible proposal for stability and simplicity, which sets out the route map. Let us not forget either that the Scottish Government were the first UK Administration to set out detailed plans for the short and medium term after Brexit. I suggest that he goes online and has a look at our proposal.
Where now are the pledges and promises that were made? Where are the guarantees for Scottish farmers that they will not lose out? Where in this Bill is the guarantee that the cash going to Scotland for Scotland’s farmers will not fall under some newly invented Barnett guillotine or that the additional support that has been available for less favoured areas, which is so important to Scotland, will not simply vanish, like so much else that Scotland is due but Whitehall absorbs? Perhaps we should be looking for a red bus with some numbers on the side and a promise to Scotland’s farmers of untold riches to come. Without that certainty from Whitehall and the news that the funding for Scotland’s farmers is secure, protected from the Brexit meltdown and protected in the long term, farmers in Scotland cannot start planning for the future, and not even the near future.
I looked at the National Audit Office’s report card on DEFRA’s progress in preparing for Brexit and it did not make for pretty reading. It was in fact quite stark, saying:
“DEFRA has not been able to make progress in supporting business in their preparations,”
although it makes it clear that this is partly the fault of the Department for Exiting the European Union for choosing to restrict Departments’ ability to engage with their stakeholders. But whose fault that is will not concern farmers, nor will it be a great concern for those who would like to see food continuing to appear in their shops. The NAO goes on to point out that no information was available on the DEFRA website about the EU exit or any potential changes following Brexit and that, almost ironically, stakeholders such as farmers had to look to the EU agencies’ websites for information about what was likely to follow. The warning about lack of preparedness was pretty stark:
“there is no guidance on Defra’s website for businesses exporting food products to the EU. Some of these may have to apply for an export health certificate for the first time and change trading routes so that their products enter the EU through a border inspection post.”
The most damning part of the report, though, might be the observation that
“DEFRA does not have a clear vision either for the new services and functions it has to introduce or for the organisation as a whole post-EU Exit”.
No clear vision, no plan and no action, but here we are with a Bill to set the future direction. In spite of a 37% increase in the number of legislative staff in the Department, the portfolio board heard in June that
“DEFRA is at high risk of being unable to deliver a full and functioning statute book by end March 2019”
if there is no deal, due to the number of statutory instruments that need to be drafted, but here we are with a Bill that will need further secondary legislation.
I am slightly surprised by the hon. Lady’s criticisms of DEFRA. I understood that agricultural policy was devolved in Scotland.
Which is of course the very point we are making. I thought that everyone would welcome the opinions of the Scottish National party and the people of Scotland, because of course in this precious Union surely we are all equals, although I will come to points that directly affect Scotland shortly.
DEFRA admitted to the NAO that it will be unable to handle the increase in export health certificates needed for farmers to carry on exporting their produce to the world’s largest single market because it is currently done on a spreadsheet that only one person can operate at a time. The Department’s long-term ambition is to get up to the same standard of e-certification that other nations use, but the Treasury has not yet seen the business justification document in order to approve it. I will lay odds that the costs of sorting that out will be more than the spare change down the back of the DEFRA sofa.
If anyone thought that animal exports getting done over was enough bad news, they had better not look at animal imports. The UK will lose access to the EU’s TRACES, or trade control and expert system. Data on animal imports will have to be entered manually at border inspection posts, so we can expect higher error rates, delays at borders while manual checks are carried out and an increased biosecurity risk, according to DEFRA’s report card from the NAO. Potentially, we will have high-quality beef sitting on one side of the border waiting for its turn on the spreadsheet to get a health certificate for export, while the supermarket lasagne is sitting on the other side waiting for a border guard to punch its information into the system. In the meantime, farmers will be watching their livelihoods disappear, while every truck in the game is held up at the border.
There are two points, parallel to those issues, that are vital to Scotland’s food production and marketing. The first is the need for seasonal workers. My hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) will go into our concerns about that at length, but I will quickly add that the pitiful pilot scheme announced recently for seasonal workers would have been laughed at, had we not already seen crops rotting in the fields this year for want of workers to pick them. The other issue is the need for protection in global markets. Those needs are being ignored in Whitehall.
The position on geographical indicators and other protections is similar. The EU currently protects Scottish produce in international markets, including Scotch whisky, Scotch lamb, Scotch beef, the cheeses, Stornoway black pudding, and so on. There are similar products elsewhere—the Melton Mowbray pork pie springs to mind, along with Fenland celery and Yorkshire rhubarb. The Minister of State for Trade Policy gave evidence to a Committee of the Scottish Parliament last month, and said that Scotch whisky would continue to be protected because of the importance of Scotch whisky exports to the UK economy, but that the others were basically up for grabs. He said:
“PGIs present quite serious difficulties in free-trade negotiations because some nations regard them as unfair protection or non-tariff barriers to trade.”
He went on to say that the issue is not straightforward in trade negotiations because we would have to demonstrate market penetration or recognition. In other words, protections in international markets for goods produced here will be negotiating chips on the table in each new trade deal that the UK looks for. Scotland’s farmers, having built a reputation for quality and traceability that helps to sell their products across borders, are about to see their market share threatened, even if they can get through the border posts, because they will be losing easy access to the world’s biggest single marketplace, but also because the protections that the machinery of the EU afford will be stripped away as the UK struggles to learn once again how to negotiate trade deals and negotiates away any protection that our unique products might have had.
It is notable that the briefings on the Bill that I have received from organisations in England are broadly in favour of it, while the briefings from organisations in Scotland are not.
In this, as in so much else, Scotland and England are different, and the differences cannot be easily reconciled. There was a time when Ministers in Whitehall acknowledged and accepted those differences and to an extent celebrated them as part of the diversity of the UK they sought to govern. Acknowledging that diversity and respecting its history could be achieved by respecting the devolved Administrations. There is no need for a power grab. There is no need for the centralisation of responsibility in Smith Square. Indeed, we know, and I am sure the Secretary of State will concede, that the plans being made for agriculture in England and the policies already being implemented would not suit Scotland; they will be harmful to Scottish food producers.
The hon. Lady speaks about briefings. Does she agree with the National Farmers Union Scotland, which said in its briefing that the Scottish National party Scottish Government should accept the offer from the Westminster Government to include a schedule for Scotland? Why is the SNP refusing to do that?
I note the selective quote from the hon. Gentleman. The NFUS also said that any such schedule should be one that comes from the Scottish Government. One could ask whether the DEFRA Secretary would be willing to accept Scottish Government amendments.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is very important that we hear from the SNP, because the Bill does pertain to Scotland. However, as the hon. Lady has just said, a large part of this area is devolved. Is it not then fair that the SNP abides, as we all have to, by the eight-minute limit, instead of taking twice that amount of time?
I appreciate the point made by the hon. Gentleman, but the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) is her party’s Front-Bench spokesman. She is therefore not subject to a time limit. I am quite sure that, being an hon. Lady and a good orator, she will not take more time than is suitable, but it is up to her to decide what that is.
Thanks for that, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is always a delight to hear just how warmly we are welcomed by Members in this place from other parties, especially those on the Government Benches.
Returning to my point, these are plans made by England’s Ministers for England’s industry: policies created by English Ministers to be English solutions to English problems. The sensible approach, I would argue, is to embrace Scottish solutions to Scottish problems and Welsh solutions to Welsh problems. Ministers in the Scottish and Welsh Governments should be in full control.
Why is it that the Welsh Administration are capable of providing a schedule to the Bill for Welsh needs, but the Scottish Government are not? Why are the Scottish Government silent on future policy for Scotland’s farmers? Why is it that we are providing certainty for farmers in the United Kingdom, as the Welsh Labour Administration are doing, but the hon. Lady is so recklessly negligent of rural Scotland’s interests?
I am afraid that, unlike Welsh Labour Government Ministers, our Ministers are prepared to stand up for Scotland rather more forcefully. Ministers in the Scottish and Welsh Governments should be in full control of environmental, food and rural affairs policies, including agriculture. Let England be England; let Scotland be Scotland; and let Wales be Wales. There are fully functioning Administrations ready to take up the reins.
The Bill should be taken away and thought through again, so that there is something resembling sensible proposed legislation to be considered. We have a Bill that came prematurely: a lack of focus on the actual purpose of agriculture, a senseless and damaging power grab, the absence of any indication of a financial underpinning of Scottish agriculture and the protections that Scottish produce currently enjoys being stripped away. The Secretary of State is not a stupid man and he will know that the Bill is not fit for purpose. He has a leadership campaign to consider, no doubt, but legislation made here affects people who are trying to work, earn a living, get ahead and plan for the future. It should be done with care and a great deal of thought.
Finally, once upon a time, there was a Prime Minister called David Cameron, who started his term of office by visiting Edinburgh and then Cardiff to promote a respect agenda. He said that he wanted to make sure the UK was a partnership, not a dictatorship, and that he was determined to make devolution work. His Government, which contained many of the members of the current Government, promised to uphold the devolved powers to make sure that Scotland’s Parliament was properly respected. That agenda has vanished in the rush of blood that characterises the current Government’s planning for Brexit. Instead of respect for Scotland’s democracy and instead of upholding devolution, this Government are guilty of a centralisation of power the likes of which has not been seen in Europe for a lifetime. The political equivalent of an asset-stripping raid on the powers and responsibilities of Scotland’s Parliament and Scotland’s Government is breathtaking in its scope. Perhaps more breathtaking, however, is the truly outrageous determination of Ministers to pretend that there is nothing to see here, that nothing is being removed and that everything is being done for our own good.
The truth is that this is an assault on Scotland’s democracy that bears parallels to a previous Tory Government’s assault on Scotland’s industrial base. The ramifications of that assault are still being felt in Scotland and the ramifications of this one, if it is allowed to proceed, will hold Scotland back for decades to come. No decent Scottish MP could stand by and allow that to happen, no matter what party rosette they wear. No Scottish MP should be supporting a Bill that is part of that command-era-style centralisation. Every Scottish MP who wants to protect Scotland’s democracy, Scotland’s Parliament and the right of the Scottish people to choose their own Government will not be voting for the Bill today.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock). I am glad she has finished. I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
This is a great day. We can debate the details of an agricultural policy for which we are responsible. We may not agree with the shadow Secretary’s speech, but she made points that now have to be answered in this House. On day one in DEFRA, I was amazed to receive my brief and hear that we were being fined—called “disallowance” in Eurospeak—£630 million because the Commission did not like the cack-handed manner by which the previous Labour Government had gone from historic payments to area payments. That cannot now happen. The people now responsible, I am delighted to say, are sitting on the Government Front Bench. They have brought forward the Bill, which enables us to deliver what I think will be a real future for our farming industry and for our environment.
At DEFRA, I set four priorities: grow the rural economy, improve the environment, protect the country from animal disease and protect the country from plant disease. They can all be fulfilled within the Bill. The common agricultural policy had got itself completely stuck. Originally begun as a heavily subsidised production regime that produced vast amounts of food that could not be sold but had to be dumped on third markets with great export subsidies, it is morphing slowly into an all-encompassing environmental scheme for a continent where, as was pointed out to the Commission during the CAP negotiations, it is minus -45 in northern Sweden and plus -45 in Andalusia. It is impossible to have an all-encompassing regime for the continent. We have ended up with muddles such as the three-crop rule, which is deeply damaging to the mixed variety of farming in this country. We can now design a policy tailored to our own environment for each of our regions, as we touched on just now.
My first criticism is that it would be nice to have in the introduction a mention of food. Food and drink production is huge. It is worth £85 billion a year to the economy, supporting 3.5 million jobs and providing 62% of the food we eat. By the way, that is down from 78%. In 1978, we produced 78% of the food we eat. The CAP has failed even on self-sufficiency. It would be appropriate to have food in the title of the Bill, because that surely is the first role of farming.
What I would like to see—I am delighted no one has touched on it—is our leaving food production to farmers. I cite two countries from which we should take an example. New Zealand and Australia stopped all food subsidies. New Zealand used to have 70 million woolly raggedy things called sheep running around causing appalling environmental damage, including soil erosion and water pollution. In one year, I think 1983, 6 million tonnes of sheep had to be turned into fertiliser—it could not sell them. It now has zero subsidies for production and has improved its technology enormously. Today, there are about 27 million sheep, but it exports more lamb. That is an incredible achievement and that is the lesson for the Secretary of State: we should not subsidise food production. The New Zealanders have created whole new industries—with wine, and with venison. They hardly had any deer, but that industry is now worth a significant sum in exports for New Zealanders—about $100 million New Zealand dollars..
Those are the clear lessons. Where the Government can help, and there are opportunities in the Bill, is on technology. The Secretary of State came with me to Harper Adams University and we saw a prototype machine that will go along a row of strawberries in a polytunnel, leave the brown one because it is rotten, leave the green one for tomorrow and pick the big red one for one supermarket and the little red one for another, and pack it on the machine, avoiding all contact with human hands and swiftly delivering, healthy food to our consumers. The university would like help to get that prototype moving, and that is the sort of area where the Government have a direct opportunity to help.
Secondly on technology, the Secretary of State came with me to Soulton Hall and saw my young constituent Tim Ashton, who has gone for no till. He has managed to reduce costs in wheat production by 60%. In North Shropshire, just outside Wem, he can look Kansas, Australia or Argentina in the eye at world prices. He will make money at world prices. So long as we are not idiotic about glyphosate, with no till, there are the most amazingly beneficial environmental outcomes. Less water is going in the river and there is a huge increase in flora and fauna—so much so that he has stopped counting barn owls because there are just too many. On soil, having seen that, I would flag up to the Secretary of State that clause 1 really ought to list soil improvement as a public benefit to be sought. He has a pretty good list of public goods, but I would add soil and animal welfare, which is very important. I do not think that there is a single person in the House who would not like to see improved animal welfare standards. That is a clear public good that costs. We saw what happened when Lord Deben unilaterally improved our regime on tethers and stalls; there was a huge cost to our own industry and we ended up importing pork products from regimes that are less beneficial. But animal welfare is a public good; we would all support it; and there is room in this Bill to pay for that.
The other country that I would consider would be Switzerland. Do not subsidise food production—leave that to technology, to development and to individual farmers—but consider that livestock farming has an enormous environmental role. Tourism is worth about £30 billion in the rural economy. People will not go to the Derbyshire dales if there are no elders and willows and the stone walls have fallen down. They will not go to the Lake district; they will not go to Scotland; they will not go to north or mid-Wales. They will go there if there is a managed number of livestock maintaining the environment. That is the lesson from Switzerland. Very large numbers of sheep, cattle and calves are taken up to the highest Alps in the summer at vast expense—probably the most ludicrously uneconomic way to produce food in the world, but one with a massive environmental benefit, maintaining the landscape. That is the lesson on public goods, most of which are cited in clause 1.
Let us copy New Zealand and Australia on zero food subsidies and following technology, and copy Switzerland on significant payments—more than we get on the CAP at the moment—for the maintenance of those rural and marginal areas where one cannot survive at world food prices alone. Lastly, and very briefly, we are talking about public goods and if the farm is large and provides lots of public goods, I do not mind if it gets more public money. The Secretary of State is quite right to criticise the old basic payment in which people just got paid for having vast amounts of land and not delivering public goods, but I think it is unfair to penalise large, efficient units if in future they are going to provide lots of public goods.
I congratulate the Secretary of State heartily. We will see a lot of detail in the statutory instruments, but the Bill broadly gives us a very good framework to copy New Zealand and Switzerland. With that, I look forward to voting for it tonight.
This is a Bill that I hoped we would never have to discuss. No Russian cyber-attack could ever do as much damage to the UK as we are about to do to ourselves by leaving the world’s biggest market. The best deal we can get could only ever be second best to what we already have. However—and here I agree with the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson)—if there was one aspect of leaving the European Union to which I could see a silver lining, it would be the ability for the United Kingdom to design and deliver its own policy for supporting agriculture, food security, and the productive and environmentally sustainable management of land.
Westmorland and Lonsdale is not just my home but the home of upland farming and of our most spectacular natural assets—the lakes and the dales. After London, it is Britain’s biggest visitor destination and a vital centre of high-quality food production. How we support agriculture is of colossal importance to me and the communities that I am proud to represent.
The Bill aims to do a lot of good. The commitment to having public money for public goods is commendable and to be encouraged. Moving to enhance the already significant environmental benefits of agriculture is also right. But the detail is everything: the Bill has good potential, but it also contains the potential for some of the most disastrous unintended consequences if this House fails to act wisely and long-sightedly.
I welcome the Bill’s commitment to maintain our environmental and animal welfare standards in farming, but it makes no mention of standards for imported food from trade deals. If standards on imports are not guaranteed, our farmers will be at a competitive disadvantage. The Secretary of State must therefore ensure that all food imported into the United Kingdom is produced to at least equivalent standards on animal welfare, environmental protection and production quality.
When UNESCO granted world heritage site status to the Lake District last year, it did so in large part in recognition of the landscape management of our hill farmers. I am proud of them and I fear for them. Perhaps the biggest blind spot in this Bill is a failure to ensure that those who farm the uplands and other less favoured areas get a sustainable deal that will guarantee them a future and, crucially, draw new entrants into the industry.
The Federation of Cumbria Commoners has asked me to express its concerns about the Bill’s failure to provide an effective framework for Government to support its members. Their collective stewardship of common land has helped to create and conserve the landscape, wildlife and archaeology of the Lake district, the Pennines, the Howgill fells and the western dales.
When I was a Minister at DEFRA, I was quite shocked by some people—even those who were quite senior in the local national park—who had an aggressive attitude towards precisely the kind of farmers that the hon. Gentleman is talking about. Rewilding has its place in certain areas, but a landscape that has been farmed and created by human beings since the time of the Norse people surely needs to be supported, not attacked, by those who have responsibility for it.
I completely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. The importance of recognising that our landscape is as diverse as it is because it is managed and maintained is huge. He makes a very good point.
In my view, the Bill should state that traditional hill farming and commoning are a public good. This finely balanced system is at risk and will disappear without explicit public investment. When hill farmers have made changes to how they work to benefit the environment they should be rewarded for that too, but there must be a baseline payment, equivalent at least to the old hill farm allowance, so that they can have security and stability in the long term.
I want the Government to understand not just what farmers do but why they do it. Their chief motivation and purpose is to produce food. We think too little about food security: some 45% of the food we consume today is imported, whereas 20 years ago that figure was more like 35%. That is a very worrying trend. If UK farmers’ ability to compete is further undermined, that will only get worse.
If farmers got a fair price for their produce, there would be no need for direct payments and farmers would not want them. That is not the case—not even close. The food market is so warped by the power of supermarkets that removing direct payments to farmers could leave them entirely at the mercy of the forces of that skewed market, so the powers and scope of the Groceries Code Adjudicator must be vastly expanded to ensure an effective referee on this extremely uneven playing field.
I know it is not an either/or, but the Government should be strengthening the Groceries Code Adjudicator, not, as they propose to do in the Bill, strengthening the failing and discredited Rural Payments Agency. The Government’s proposal to phase out direct payments without a guarantee of an immediate and equivalent replacement is unwise and will not work, either for hill farmers or the country.
One issue regarding the fact that frameworks across the UK no longer need to be agreed but can be imposed is that less favoured area status makes up less than 20% in England, but more than 80% in Scotland and Wales and more than 70% in Northern Ireland. For people in those areas, direct payments are even more critical.
Indeed, and we need to understand that the fact that this has been part of our payment landscape, and therefore our farming landscape, for the last 45 years has affected the actual landscape and our ability to produce affordable food, so it will have differential impacts across different parts of the United Kingdom.
I will make progress. If we combine that failure to recognise the impact of phasing out payments with the Bill’s failure to impose standards on imports, we do not see a very pretty picture for farmers or the communities in which they live. The unintended but utterly predictable consequence is that the Government will flood the market with cheap foreign imports and remove the lifeline of direct payments. Hundreds of farmers, especially hill farmers, will then go under. This is not a nice, gentle seven-year phase-out for hill farmers or those in less favoured areas; for many, it is a seven-year notice to quit the landscape altogether. When we can already meet only 55% of our food needs domestically, the last thing we need is a disastrous loss of capacity because of such a poorly thought-out and dramatic change.
If we remove direct payments for farmers without an immediate equivalent and tariffs are introduced on imports into this country, we will see a significant rise in the price of food on the shelves. The wealthiest people in this country spend 10% of their income on food, but the poorest spend 25%. Removing direct investment in farming will hit every family on a low or medium income in catastrophic and heartbreaking ways. It is shameful that we collectively preside over a society in which food bank usage is at its highest level ever. If we get the Bill wrong, the result will be greater poverty, greater need and greater misery for families who seek to budget for their weekly food shop.
That is why I fully support the NFU’s call on the Government to include the support of domestic agriculture to secure food security and stability of food supply as a cause for financial assistance. I can think of no greater public good. Food security does not need to come at the expense of caring for our land: there is no point in having food security for the next 20 years if the land is unusable after that. Biodiversity and the sustainable management of land must be central to the new systems that are devised. Alongside the lack of clarity over the transition period, there is an absence of guarantees beyond 2022. That is simply not good enough. Anyone who thinks that three years constitutes the long term knows absolutely nothing about farming.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I am sorry, but I will not. The NFU and environmental groups alike want a long-term funding solution so that the issue cannot be used as a political football down the road, and they are right. If the money is not there, we may end up with a fantastic environmentally friendly farming system but no farmers left to deliver it. That is why the Liberal Democrats advocate a 25-year funding plan, to fit alongside the Government’s existing 25-year environment plan, to maintain agriculture spending beyond 2022 to at least the current level.
Helping farmers to deliver public goods and improving the productivity and resilience of UK agriculture will mean releasing farmers from the burdens of bureaucracy, badly run payment agencies and, worst of all, insecurity. The Bill is therefore well-intentioned but inadequate. If we want a rich, diverse, beautiful and bountiful ecology, we need farmers to steward it and deliver it. If we want a better environment, we need farmers. Many of the words in the Bill are good, but the detail and the understanding of farming is lacking. It reads as if it has been written in Whitehall, not Westmorland. Could do better—must do better.
I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Having spent a lifetime immersed in both the environment and farming—I grew up on a farm—this, for me, is a very exciting moment. It is an opportunity to rethink our land use policy. It is a chance to build on the health of our environment, from soil to water to air, and to set ourselves on track to produce healthy, sustainable food and reset the biodiversity gauge.
Given that a quarter of all agricultural holdings are in the south-west, producing a third of the nation’s beef and lamb, the proposals are really important for our farmers, too. They are possible only because we are leaving the EU, and they have become a reality because the Government are putting not just their aspirations, but their financial support behind this endeavour.
As other colleagues have mentioned, the Bill is very much a framework Bill, which provides the finances and the tools for us to transition out of the common agricultural policy and gives us the chance to have a dialogue in every relevant area. We can now design our own tailor-made approach and not be dictated to by 27 other countries in the joint system that we have been part of. That system has often not been suited to the UK, but to get the money—all £4 billion of it—our farmers and landowners have had to accept the system. Who would not? Who could blame them?
Does the hon. Lady recognise that the same issue exists within the United Kingdom, in that the land in Scotland, which makes up one third of the UK land mass, is utterly different from that being farmed on the south coast of England?
The hon. Lady makes a good point, but the new Bill will allow us to tailor our approach to suit every part of the UK. Wales is taking this opportunity, and schedule 3 states clearly what it will do. Interestingly, we have not heard from Scotland yet.
The real risk to Scottish farmers is the fact that the SNP Scottish Government have failed to opt in to this Bill and failed to introduce a Bill in the Scottish Parliament to allow Scottish farmers to get the support they will desperately need after Brexit. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is the SNP who are letting Scottish farmers down?
Our Scottish Conservative colleagues provide strong representation for farmers. Farming is very important to Scotland, which is a rural area. The SNP and the Scottish Parliament have really missed an opportunity to get their details down on paper so that they can play a full role in the really exciting future that this Government are creating. If it were not for the Conservative Government and our coming out of Europe—I say this even though I was a remainer—we would not have this great opportunity.
Crucially, the essence of the Bill is to move away from making payments simply for the privilege of owning land, as has been mentioned, and towards the concept of paying for public goods. That is the cornerstone of the Bill, and it is absolutely the right thing to do. The basic idea of receiving money for doing something for the public good has met with universal approval, not just from farmers but from environmentalists and right across the board with everybody I have met in Taunton Deane so far. That is true of improving the quality of our water—currently, only 14% of our rivers are classed as clean, which is absolutely shocking; planting more trees to help to reduce the speed of run-off from the hills to the Somerset levels, which will help to reduce the terrible flooding that we have had over many years; and creating new habitats to improve biodiversity and reverse the catastrophic declines in plant and animal populations that we have witnessed in our own lifetimes, as the 2016 “State of Nature” report clearly sets out.
In many cases, EU agricultural policy has been the driver for those wildlife declines, with the loss of mixed farming—grass is so important to that, as it was on the farm where I grew up—less rotation, fewer hedgerows and increased pesticide use. The increased use of pesticides has reduced the quantity of plants on which foraging insects rely; indeed, we rely on those insects to pollinate our crops. The Bill offers an opportunity for new schemes that emphasise the protection of biodiversity and help to redress those losses. Habitat creation schemes such as the one run on West Sedgemoor by the RSPB, which is producing tasty beef, creating summer water meadows and bringing back the snipe—I am proud to be the RSPB snipe champion—are really working. The Bill offers the opportunity to build on such schemes, which I welcome.
There is, however, one thing that I must ask the Minister. If farmers and environmental groups are already involved in environmental stewardship schemes, will those schemes still operate following the implementation of the Bill? Will they be allowed to run their course, or will they end with those groups then having to apply for new schemes?
The Minister will not be at all surprised to learn that I am now going to mention soil, because I have bent his ear on the subject many times. Half the soils in the east of the country are likely to become unproductive within a decade. That was highlighted in our Environmental Audit Committee report—and I see that the Committee’s Chairperson, the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), is in the Chamber. Soil erosion is a very serious issue, as is the fact that soil has been treated as a growing medium rather than a living habitat for far too long. I therefore welcome the priority that the Bill gives to soil health, and I was pleased that the Minister came to the launch of the Sustainable Soil Alliance in the House. I hope that the work that it is doing to advise on how we could monitor soil erosion or set targets to address it might influence the way in which payments are made.
The hon. Lady is a true soil evangelist, but the Government have already signed up to a target in the Paris agreement to increase soil carbon content by four parts per 1,000 every year in order to sequester more carbon into our soil. Does the hon. Lady agree that that is a public good that should be funded and subsidised through the Bill?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. As she knows, I am passionate about this issue. We need to have a conversation about all our climate change targets, including the potential net zero target that some people are talking about. The question of targets is very important: how can we pay unless we know what we are paying for? The targets that we set for the climate change commitments have worked well, and a similar model might chime with the 25-year plan and the forthcoming environment Act. I believe that many of the details will go into that Bill rather than this framework Agriculture Bill.
Payments relating to our natural heritage and culture are very welcome. My constituency contains two areas of natural beauty where people are pleading that landscape, and landscape beauty, be included in the Bill.
The Government’s commitment to funding until 2022 and for the transition period demonstrates our ongoing support for the countryside. That is obviously important, given that two thirds of farm incomes in the south-west are currently derived from basic payments. I know the Minister understands that. However, I would like to see a further commitment to future funding. God forbid that we ever change Government, but the production of beef or horticultural crops cannot be switched on like a light bulb, and farmers would like some long-term commitment.
Although the Bill does not directly list food as a public good, it does much to enable the efficient production of food. My local farmers welcome the data-gathering elements in the Bill, although, for the purpose of transparency, they would like supermarkets to be included, as well as the manufacturers and producers along the line—not just the raw-material producers. However, I welcome the data collection, and I stand by the Secretary of State’s commitment to maintaining our high food standards. That is crucial to the future. I look forward to the creation of an overarching environmental standards body—in, I believe, the environment Bill—which will hold people to account.
Let me say penultimately that, much as we love our Welsh farming colleagues—indeed, many of them come to Somerset to trade at our markets, especially Sedgemoor market, and they are very welcome—no one wants an internal competitive market to develop as a result of the flexibility offered to Welsh farmers. I am sure the Minister understands what I mean by that.
In conclusion—and thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to speak—let me say that the Bill heralds the most significant change in our land use for decades, with the finances to underpin it. It is the Conservatives who are leading the way in that regard, for farming and for the environment. I am confident that issues relating to the environment, farming and everything to do with our rural communities will dovetail in the Bill. It is absolutely the right way forward for a sustainable and healthy future. Not one of those elements can survive without the others, and on that note, I give the Bill, and all those who have worked so hard on it, my full support.
Order. After the next speech, the time limit will be reduced to seven minutes, but that does not apply to Mr David Simpson.
Now we come to the easiest part of the United Kingdom to resolve when it comes to agri-food. I dare not tread into the issue of Brexit. Reference was made earlier to a red line in the Irish Sea, but I assure Members that that will never happen as far as the Democratic Unionist party is concerned. We are part of the United Kingdom, and that is how it will remain.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I have been involved in the agri-food sector for about 43 years—I know that that is hard to believe—from working as a primary producer to working in retail and production and processing.
I think that we are about to experience dramatic changes throughout the industry. These are exciting times. When I speak to farmers and industry representatives, they acknowledge that. They know that there will probably be some trying times, but they are excited by the opportunities that we will have after we have left the European Union.
I welcome the opportunity to debate a Bill that will have an impact on every farmer and farm business throughout the United Kingdom, whether it keeps sheep on the Antrim hills or grows wheat in East Anglia. Given that the UK is leaving the EU and the common agricultural policy, it is vital that a new domestic British agricultural policy is introduced. I welcome the regional flexibilities that are proposed for the different regions of the UK. I believe that there should be a variation in the new policy for each of those regions, provided that those variations do not produce competition in the internal market.
I note the name of the Bill, and I hope that agriculture will remain the central theme in any future policy. The Prime Minister is on record as saying— on three occasions, I think—when I put questions to her that agriculture would not be a poor cousin or the sacrificial lamb in any negotiations with Europe. We will hold the Prime Minister’s feet to the fire, along with those of the Secretary of State and the farming Minister. Agriculture must remain at the top of the agenda.
In Northern Ireland, we employ some 120,000 or 125,000 people in the agri-food sector. There is huge concern in the industry, and of course in the farming community, about EU casual workers. We need to address that during the Bill’s Committee stage, or perhaps it can be dealt with by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. There is a massive shortage of workers in the agri-food sector. A few weeks ago, along with the Chairman of the Committee, I met representatives of the industry, who emphasised that they were reaching crisis point, because the sector did not have enough workers to deal with production. The Government need to deal with that issue.
Food production that involves sustainable but profitable farming is essential. As has already been mentioned, those who are in the black at the bank can do many things. Given the changes that are coming, we must encourage farm production. It has already been mentioned that the Bill needs to give more emphasis to the incentive for farmers to grow and produce food. The incentive is there, but it needs to be made clearer that farmers will be encouraged to produce good food.
In Northern Ireland we have for many years had the Albert Heijn supermarkets in Holland insisting on coming to buy their meat in Northern Ireland because of how it is reared and because husbandry and animal welfare is maintained. That applies right across the whole of the United Kingdom. Across the whole UK, we produce the best food produce to be found anywhere in the European Union. That is a fact, and our standards and our animal welfare must be maintained. It is vital that we do that.
I have talked about opportunities. I believe there are opportunities, but the Government must take the issue of the workforce in the agri-food sector more seriously. Some companies in Northern Ireland are 60% dependent on people from other countries. We must get that situation right in some shape or form, and hopefully we will resolve it.
I want the Bill to allow for a UK-wide approach on matters that affect the whole UK. My party believes there should be an overarching policy across the UK to deal with such issues as marketing standards and crisis fund management. It is important that we do such things collectively.
Ultimately, the effectiveness of this Bill will depend on the trade policy that is implemented. Let us be clear: trade legislation or a Pacific trade deal that views agriculture as a sacrificial lamb for the importation of lower quality and standards than those in UK production will not be accepted. The British public will not accept that. We have a standard and a reputation not just across the whole European Union, but further afield, such as in South Africa and in those other countries that buy our chicken product because we cannot market it anywhere else. Our standard must be maintained. I am sure the farming Minister is aware of that—he has been told about it often enough when he has given evidence to the EFRA Committee.
As the granddaughter of a Fermanagh cattle farmer, I agree with the hon. Gentleman wholeheartedly about the fantastic standards and great tradition of farming in Northern Ireland. Does he agree that it is imperative for the future of farming and agriculture across the UK that the Government avoid a no-deal Brexit, which would put World Trade Organisation tariffs of 30% on our lamb and beef and drive most of the beef and cattle and lamb producers in this country out of business? That must be avoided at all costs.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, but the Prime Minister has said that we have to get the right deal—that is important. I do not think that anyone here wants to go towards WTO, but we must get the right deal. I spoke to the lamb industry a few weeks ago, and, if we go to WTO for that industry—the Minister will know this because he has been told often enough—and tariffs of 14% or 15% are introduced, that would decimate the Northern Ireland lamb industry overnight, given that we export 90% of our lamb. Having said that, we need to get the right deal. Unfortunately, however, the EU keeps sticking in its heels at present, which is nonsense, especially in terms of the border of Northern Ireland, the movement of cattle and so forth, free trade within Northern Ireland, and the soft or hard border. That is all nonsense, because the situation will remain as it is and has been for many years. There is no reason to change that. No one wants to see us going towards WTO, but we must get the right deal. If the right deal is not there, we will have major problems with our industry and employment, and the sector will be decimated. We therefore have to get the right deal and I know the Minister is well aware of that.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson), and it is always a great pleasure to hear his wise and knowledgeable words in any agricultural debate in this House. I congratulate the Secretary of State and his ministerial team on bringing forward this Bill and delivering the principle of support for agriculture in this House for the first time in over 40 years.
Many aspects of the CAP were of course very unpopular, but it did provide a vital lifeline for farm businesses and farming families in my constituency and many upland constituencies right across the country. However, change needs to come, and thank goodness the Government have worked long and hard on this and change is going in the right direction.
We need to reduce the administrative burden on farmers. This is a very overburdened industry, and we have a great opportunity to reduce the burden. I know the Minister in particular is keen to see this happen and has great ideas that will come forward in future statutory instruments.
We must also think about how the payments are going to be made. Many of my constituents are concerned about the Rural Payments Agency, as in the past it has not exactly covered itself in glory. If it is to be in charge of our new scheme, there must be tighter control, and greater regulation must be placed on it by DEFRA. I hope Ministers will take that request back to the Department with them.
I am pleased that the Welsh Government have decided to couple themselves with the Bill and the British Government, and I am very disappointed that the Scottish Government are not following suit. That is a massive disappointment to the people of Scotland, and the hon. Member for Gordon (Colin Clark), who serves as my vice-chair on the Back-Bench DEFRA committee, works particularly hard for farmers in Scotland, as do all the other Scottish Conservative Members, so I am very disappointed at what we have heard from the Scottish National Benches today.
If the hon. Gentleman would bother to consult the NFU Scotland, he would find that its primary concern is of farming being run from here in Westminster, not only with a centralising agenda but by a Parliament that took £160 million of EU money from Scottish farmers. [Interruption]
I do not agree with the hon. Lady and it is clear that other Conservative Members also disagree.
In fact the briefing states very clearly that the biggest concern that the NFUS has is the politicisation of the process by the SNP, which is governing Scotland not in the national interest but in the nationalist interest.
I would go further: I would be interested to know if DEFRA would consider ring-fencing the agricultural budget to all devolved nations as time goes on, because certainly in Wales we are concerned that the money will not be spent on agriculture. We hope that Scotland will spend its money on agriculture, but time will tell.
Importantly, the NFU right around the country is keen to see a national framework. All the countries in the UK need to work under a national framework; otherwise, farming will become fragmented, with Scottish farmers competing against Welsh farmers and English against Northern Irish and so on, which will be to the detriment of the whole farming industry in the UK. It is therefore important that we have a national framework.
Does the hon. Gentleman not share my concern that DEFRA here in London has been listening to, and had the ear of, English farming lobbyists for the last 19 years? That raises the question of how the Government will best represent the interests of farming in Wales and Scotland.
I do not share the hon. Lady’s concern. My constituency lies on the border, and there are of course border farmers between Scotland and England as well as between Wales and England, and we are concerned that we might see different processes taking place on either side of the border, causing great problems for cross-border farmers. I am afraid the hon. Lady, the leader of Plaid Cymru in Westminster, does not share that concern with Welsh farmers on the Welsh side of the border.
Farmers are also conservationists. They have a dual role; there is no difference—there is no difference at all. The Secretary of State visited a farm in my constituency just before the summer recess, and met farmers there—family farmers and Young Farmers’ Club members.
The Painscastle valley is a typical farming valley in Wales. It has a river at the bottom and well fenced and hedged green fields leading up to the commons above. This was not designed by a young civil servant with an environmental degree sitting in Westminster, Cardiff or Scotland, or by a bearded, sandal-wearing lifetime environmental campaigner, or even by a fashionable environmentalist who writes a blog and has thousands of Twitter followers. That scene, that valley and that countryside were designed and managed by generations of farmers over 300 years and more. Farmers really are the best people to take the environment and farming forward, and livestock farmers should be right to the fore in this brave new world of farming. They should be looking after our payments, guiding our policies and ensuring that they are there to provide the true knowledge of agriculture.
As the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on forestry, I should like to touch briefly on the subject of forestry. It has not been touched on a great deal in the debate so far. The Bill focuses on agriculture, as has my speech so far, but it is important to consider tree planting in this country. Brecon and Radnorshire is a large constituency in which forestry and timber production support many rural livelihoods. We have the largest sawmill in Wales, based in Newbridge-on-Wye and employing nearly 200 people. It is important that we support tree planting, and I was delighted to hear the Secretary of State giving a firm commitment during our conference a week or so ago to planting 11 million trees during this Parliament. I hope that he will be able to achieve that aim, because it is vital to maintain the timber processing industry, whether for flood prevention and mitigation or purely for products for the future, to enable it to thrive and prosper.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is intensely regrettable that the current Mayor of London has not continued to plant as many trees in London as his predecessors did?
I fully agree with my right hon. Friend. It is important that we plant trees in this country, wherever they might be: in the countryside, in the streets or in the middle of dual carriageways. The public want that to happen, and I hope that DEFRA will ensure that it does.
We might not all be farmers or foresters, and we might not all be cheese makers or honey producers, but whatever we do and wherever we reside, it is important that we live in a clean and healthy environment. And of course, we all need to eat. Unlike some Members who might sit on the Opposition Front Bench, we cannot all live on avocados from Mexico or mung beans from India. We need to feed ourselves on great British products, and it is important that we support our farming industry. We clearly produce the best products in the world, including livestock in the form of beef and sheep, and fruit and vegetables. Here in Britain, we have the best welfare standards in the world and our products are of the best quality. Through this Agriculture Bill, we need to support that and support our farmers.
No matter what our views on Brexit are, there is near-universal consensus that the common agricultural policy is in dire need of reform. I want a farming system that is both economically viable and environmentally sustainable, with the highest possible animal welfare standards. I chair the all-party parliamentary group on agro-ecology for sustainable food and farming, and we have long called for more support for organic farming, agroforestry, pasture-based livestock systems, integrated pest management and low-input mixed farming—mixed farming is very important—as well as for a move away from unsustainable intensification and an over-reliance on agrochemicals and cheap fossil fuels.
We want to see whole-farm systems that support nature-friendly farming. I believe that the Bill, with its emphasis on public money for public goods, could provide an ideal opportunity to support that sort of farming, through rewarding farmers for what they do as custodians of the land for future generations, and not simply on the basis of how much land they own. Public money should be used not to subsidise market failure but to reward behaviour, which the market does not do. That means farming in a way that addresses the serious environmental challenges facing us, such as biodiversity loss, habitat destruction, disappearing pollinators, soil degradation, polluted rivers, water run-off and much more. It is vital that we get this right.
There are fundamental weaknesses in the Bill, however, including the uncertainty around funding beyond 2022, the emphasis on powers rather than duties, and the absence of any information on how the money will be split between productivity payments and environmental payments. The Bill needs to set a multiannual budgetary framework under clause 33 to provide more certainty for farmers. I would endorse Greener UK’s recommendation for a duty on Ministers to introduce an environmental land management scheme by a set date, and its call for targets and benchmarks for public goods. We also need clarity that the public goods listed in clause 1 are the priority for funding, and that any payments for productivity must contribute to their delivery.
I am concerned that there is no regulatory baseline in the Bill. The Minister will no doubt tell us that this will be determined by Dame Glenys Stacey’s review, which is due to report by the end of December, and that it might then be included in the environment Bill, but that would be the wrong place for it. Cross-compliance is a fundamental part of the common agricultural policy. It underpins taxpayer investment, and this Bill is setting out a replacement for the CAP. Can the Minister therefore assure us that the Government will introduce amendments to this legislation, most likely by the time it is in the other place, on the basis of Dame Glenys Stacey’s review?
It is also time that we looked far more seriously at reducing farming’s carbon footprint. This has already been mentioned, and all I will say at this point is that I would like to see a goal in the Bill for agricultural emissions to reach net zero by 2050, in line with the Paris agreement. That is absolutely necessary following Monday’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The Bill is also missing an opportunity to link farm payments to public health goals. It is predicted that diet-related ill health will overtake smoking as the biggest cause of preventable death before too long. We spend more on the treatment of obesity and diabetes than we spend on the police, the fire service and the judicial system combined. I am quite excited by what I have heard so far about DEFRA’s future food strategy. It sounds promising, but we need to see measures in the Bill to increase the availability, affordability and accessibility of healthy food, including UK-grown fruit, vegetables and pulses. Also, as the Chair of the Health Committee said, we urgently need to act to address the public health crisis of growing antimicrobial resistance, and the associated rise in superbugs, by eliminating the overuse of antibiotics in farming and rewarding good animal husbandry. As I said to the Secretary of State earlier, I will be keen to hear where the bar for animal welfare will be set when it is defined in 2020. At the moment, we are too complacent about animal welfare standards in this country, and I would like to see far more ambitious targets and a more ambitious definition.
There have been calls to amend the Bill to include food production as a public good—this is basically about maintaining direct payments under another name—but we are talking about a limited pot of public money. Food production is ultimately rewarded by the market, or it certainly should be. We need to ensure that the market is fair and that farmers get what the president of the Country Land and Business Association, Tim Breitmeyer, describes as
“a fairer share of the food pound”,
along with the security that comes from a longer-term funding settlement.
The Government clearly accept, with the new fair dealing measures in the Bill, that they were wrong not to extend the remit of the Groceries Code Adjudicator to cover indirect suppliers, but they need to go further to ensure the fair treatment of all those who produce our food, along the whole supply chain. I have just been told that I have a Back-Bench business debate next Thursday on ending modern slavery, human rights abuses and the exploitation of workers in the supermarket food supply chain, and I urge as many Members as possible to come along to support it. Cheap food in our supermarkets often comes at the cost of worker exploitation. The fair dealing measures in clause 25 must apply to all sectors and to all stages of the supply chain. I gather that dairy will be the priority because the existing voluntary code of practice is not deemed to have worked well, but fruit and veg farmers need protection, too.
The Bill alone will not be enough to safeguard farming in this country. The real battle and the real danger come from the global Britain Brexiteers and their enthusiasm for cheap food imports and the scrapping of standards post-Brexit. The US Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, made it clear that any post-Brexit trade deal will hinge on the UK ditching its higher, EU-derived food safety laws, which currently prohibit chlorinated chicken, hormone-pumped beef, ractopamine growth promoters in pork and much more. The implications of that would be huge for UK food and farming. It would drive out higher-welfare and smaller-scale UK farmers, who would be unable to compete on price, and make it more difficult for us to export to the EU.
There are also food safety issues. One in seven people in the US contracts a food-borne illness every year, compared with just over one in 70 in the UK, which must have something to do with US food production system standards. The Secretary of State has repeatedly said he has no intention of reducing standards, and I think he is entirely sincere, but I am not convinced that all his colleagues agree. We often hear them say that there will be no drop in British standards, but that does not mean that goods produced to a lower standard in other countries will not make it into this country under a trade deal, and I want reassurance about that. Without such a commitment, even the most generous and sensitively structured support that emerges from the legislation could be fatally undermined.
I start by drawing the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. This is a historic moment for British agriculture, and I warmly welcome certainty and clarity for the sector regarding the shape of future agreements that the Bill provides. Certainty is as vital for agriculture as it is for any other business sector. That is highlighted by the proposals for a seven-year transition period, beginning in 2021, between CAP and the new policy, which will provide farmers with much-needed time to refashion their business models and plan for the future. The transition period is longer than predicted, which must be welcomed, and demonstrates the Government’s commitment to the progressive evolution of the sector rather than the cliff-edge revolution that was once discussed.
I also welcome the phasing out and delinking of basic payments, including lump-sum payments, to assist farmers in diversification or exiting the market, including through funding retirement, thereby supporting new entrants to the sector. Proposals to encourage new blood into agriculture should be promoted enthusiastically.
While we may welcome payments that enable farmers to exit farming, does the hon. Gentleman agree that there should be protections for the taxpayer in the statutory instruments that flow from this Bill? We cannot have a farmer taking seven years’ payments up front to retire and then signing the farm over to his son or daughter the next day, thereby double claiming on the same land for the next seven years.
I accept that fair point, but my reading is that land belonging to those who take their retirement money up front and leave the sector—land that we hope would go to a new entrant—would not be entitled to any payments. However, the devil will be in the detail.
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that financiers from the City, rather than new entrants, may purchase that land? That is an issue that I see in East Sussex, where the possibility is that we may lose farming altogether.
My hon. Friend makes a good point, but is that not more about our tax system than this Agriculture Bill? Perhaps that is something to consider going forward.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on science and technology in agriculture, I support the principle of shifting state funding for the sector towards supporting innovation and productivity gains, alongside public money for public goods. Leading technologies of the fourth industrial revolution, such as robotics, data science, autonomous vehicles and biotechnology, have the potential to transform agriculture, so it is wise to concentrate support on facilitating the growth and efficiency gains of tomorrow. To that end, a commitment from Ministers to a certain level of funding for productivity and innovation after the “same cash total to 2022” guarantee expires would be most useful in this area.
I note that, as some Members have already said, soil health is not specifically mentioned in the text of the Bill as a public good that deserves financial assistance. There are, though, very encouraging references to it in the Department’s policy statement; that is important given the importance of soil for flood prevention, for the preservation of fertility and for productivity for future generations. I hope that Ministers can give greater prominence to soil health as the Bill progresses.
I broadly support the transition to a system of public money for public goods, but I urge the Government not to lose sight of the fact that the main activity of most farmers will and should remain the production of food. Moreover, food production and environmental stewardship are already two sides of the same coin, as several Members have said. A resilient and profitable agricultural sector is nature’s best friend. If we remember that, we can have a good environmental policy.
The supposedly natural landscapes and countryside of today have been shaped by centuries of agriculture, from the clearing of the forests that once covered virtually all our islands to the first planting of cereals. Policy making in this subject area will therefore benefit from the constant understanding that farming is not some imposition on or extraction from the country, but a positive evolutionary force that has shaped the green and pleasant land that we all seek to protect.
I am glad to see that food security is covered in DEFRA’s accompanying policy statement, but it is not specifically mentioned in the Bill. The National Farmers Union recently estimated that if the UK tried to live solely off locally produced food for a whole year, starting in January, we would run out by 6 August. Global population growth means that humanity will have to produce sustainably 70% more food by 2050. That represents 1 billion more tonnes of rice, wheat or other cereals alone. Such figures illustrate the question to which any comprehensive farming and environmental policy will have to stand up. I know that Ministers are deeply aware of this policy aspect, but it would be reassuring to hear further detail on the Government’s vision for food security as it relates to domestic food production.
The Government need to make sure that the move towards supporting public goods does not have unintended negative consequences. I have spoken to the Minister about this issue in the past. The classic example of the unintended consequences of the CAP is the renowned three-crop rule. Although it might have been put in place for the right environmental reasons, it has had huge negative impacts, certainly throughout the UK. The Secretary of State rightly emphasised that the CAP currently incentivises farmers to put every possible acre into food production, so less public funding is available for natural capital assets such as wetlands and forests. Equally, I am sure that he does not want to see a situation in which policy incentivises farmers to take as many acres as possible out of food production, or to cease farming altogether, lay off workers and just collect payments for managing land to provide public goods. Balance is needed, and we have to find that balance for the policy and in the Bill.
Similarly, in designing the policy, Ministers must take care to ensure that funding for the sector is not substantially transferred to people who just own land and are not actually farmers. That might best be done by putting in place clear commitments on future funding to support innovation and productivity increases on farms.
I applaud the measures in the Bill that will allow the Secretary of State to introduce regulations to ensure fair dealing with agricultural producers and to facilitate that through the collection of data, which is mentioned in the Bill a lot. It is important that Ministers make clear as soon as possible how they intend to use the powers and how they can be made as comprehensive and effective as possible, with real teeth, ultimately. There are many positive aspects to the Bill that I support, but the devil will always be in the detail, and that is what I will scrutinise as the Bill progresses through Parliament.
Order. Many Members want to speak, so can we try to shave some time off speeches? If Members do not do that, I will have to take the limit down, or we will not get everybody in. I call Pete Wishart.
I am grateful to you for calling me so early in the debate, Mr Deputy Speaker. MP4 will forever be grateful to you for enabling us to go and make the video we are supposed to be doing today.
Let me say to the hon. Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) that it might be a bit tiresome to hear another Member from the Scottish National party speak, but we have every right to speak in this Parliament. We will make our points and continue to do so.
Of all the matters we need to consider in the fallout from Brexit, our agricultural policy and the needs of our rural economy are probably the most acute, with farming the sector hardest hit by the no deal, hard deal Brexit. Probably for the first time since the war, we are faced with searching questions about the nation’s food security. We know that astronomical tariffs might be placed on British agricultural products, driving many farmers out of business and leading to an almost unprecedented reinvention of rural Britain. Agricultural goods are perishable, yet they could be sitting in a giant car park in south-east England, waiting to get to market. Those are the type of issues we will be facing, but in the face of the incoming storm, we have this Agriculture Bill—this modest Government response to a Brexit that could decimate the productivity of our agriculture and our countryside. It is an Agriculture Bill without agriculture; a Bill for farming that pays scant regard to food production; a sort of “let them eat environmental strategies” approach; an aspirational land management Bill for a countryside that does not really exist and probably never will come to be.
The vision in the Bill is of a countryside that is better managed for the environment, but not as a location for thriving small businesses providing the healthy, diverse foods we need. We are asked to believe that the Government’s newfound enthusiasm for greening is real—a Government who would probably prefer to frack the countryside than farm it. Many farmers in my constituency take great exception to the suggestion implicit in the Bill that they are doing nothing to improve the environment and their land. Every day, they are doing everything to manage the land for the benefit of us all, and the suggestion that they need incentives to do that is doubly insulting. The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) made a good point: this is a seven-year phasing out of direct payments to farmers. For many of them, it will be nothing other than an opportunity to quit farming once and for all.
The UK Government kindly invited the Scottish Government to be covered by the Bill’s provisions. My colleagues in Edinburgh, quite rightly, have declined. Scotland has a very different rural economy from that in the rest of the United Kingdom, requiring an altogether different approach. As has been said a couple of times now, some 80% of the land in Scotland is made up of less favoured areas. We depend more on support. Our food and drinks sector depends on excellence, and in particular on protected geographical indication status, which is threatened by Brexit.
I have in my constituency half the berry farmers in Scotland. There is nothing in the Bill about immigration. Apparently, we have a pilot seasonal workers scheme, which will provide 2,500 workers—2,500 workers, when in a response to a written question from me, DEFRA said 64,500 workers were required. What are we supposed to do with 2,500—one or two per farm? Is that the Minister’s plan to try to save the many berry farms in my constituency? Agriculture is fully devolved to Scotland, and we will not compromise on anything that threatens our Government’s ability to serve Scottish farming.
I will give way to the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr Jack), as I have not heard from him for a while.
The hon. Gentleman speaks in apocalyptic tones. Can he explain why the Scottish Government do not have a schedule to the Bill? Their refusal of any offers from the UK Government will leave us in a position where, in 2020, Scottish farmers will have no mechanism to enable them to receive their support payments.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because I was just coming on to that. I thought that he would perhaps lead me on to the key of this agenda—and the objections and screams from the Scottish Conservatives. We will not agree to a schedule to this Bill for as long as this Parliament and this Government fail to respect the devolution settlement and indulge in this grotesque grab of powers that should rightly belong in the Scottish Parliament. That is what has happened. As long as it continues to happen, and as long as the Secretary of State refuses to respect devolution, there will not be a legislative consent motion from the Scottish Parliament. We are happy to have common frameworks across the United Kingdom, as we have said again and again, but they have to be agreed and negotiated; they cannot be imposed. As long as he continues to approach devolution as something that he can control and manipulate, this is not going to happen. The sooner he gets beyond that mindset, the better things will be.
The key dispute, where I ask the Secretary of State to respond, is about the World Trade Organisation regulations in the Bill. In his view, everything to do with the WTO is reserved. Does he not accept that the administration of WTO terms is a matter for the Scottish Parliament? We do not have to take the Scottish Government’s word for that, because in a piece of very useful legal advice from NFU Scotland yesterday we learned that it is indeed the case. The advice says that
“Scottish Ministers will not have total freedom to apply domestic support as they see fit if the Secretary of State makes regulations setting limits in relation to WTO classifications.”
It also says that
“it would not be a legitimate use of regulation-making power to prescribe within the limits how Scottish Ministers would be able to exercise the powers to apply support.”
NFU Scotland agrees with us that WTO rules administration is a matter for the Scottish Parliament. [Interruption.] If the Secretary of State does not agree, what is his basis for not agreeing with the legal opinion of NFU Scotland?
How many farmers did the hon. Gentleman speak to in his constituency prior to writing his speech? As he knows, my constituency borders his, and farmers in Angus are calling out for clarity from the SNP Government in Edinburgh. They want them to put the national interest before the nationalist interest. They want to ensure that farming has a prosperous future. They want to ensure that the SNP puts its country before party. Can he tell me when—
Order. I must say to hon. Members that interventions are meant to be short, not speeches. I am very concerned about the number of Members who wish to get in. I am going to drop the time limit after this to six minutes, but Members should not be surprised if shortly after I have to drop it again.
I am sincerely grateful to the hon. Lady because the other key point we have been hearing from Conservative Members today is that, apparently, there is no plan or policy from the Scottish Government. Of course we will have a Government Bill. But let me tell Conservative Members that this Bill presented by the Secretary of State is nothing other than an aspirational wish list. What we are doing is consulting with the sector. We will be hearing from our rural champions. Once we have heard back, a clear agricultural policy Bill will be secured to ensure that Scottish agricultural interests are properly looked after—it will not be this aspirational nonsense that we are hearing from this Government. We need an agricultural approach that acknowledges the full horror of a hard deal Brexit and the absolute disaster of a no deal if it comes along.
The Scottish Government’s “Stability and Simplicity” paper sets out a detailed five-year plan to minimise the potential disruption of this Tory Brexit to our rural communities. Our plan will give farmers and crofters stability during a period of unprecedented change not of Scotland’s making. We have always to remember that Scotland wanted nothing to do with this disastrous Brexit policy, and it is up to us to try to clear up this mess to ensure that our farmers are properly protected and that they will be able to do their business. When that consultation is concluded, the Scottish Government will set out their plans, taking into account recommendations from our own agricultural champions and the National Council of Rural Advisers. That is how to frame legislation: speak to the sector involved, ask it what it wants and what it would like to see in the Bill, and then legislate.
Can the hon. Gentleman explain why there are more Scottish Conservative MPs in this debate than Scottish nationalist MPs?
I will just finish my point given that it is about the Secretary of State, and then, if I have time, I will respond to the question.
I particularly enjoyed the Secretary of State’s histrionics when challenged on convergence funding. I have never seen him so rattled. The question back to him is this: when will he do the right thing by Scottish farmers and give back the money that is due to them as soon as possible?
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I believe that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) inadvertently misled the House. He can look at the record and see that I definitely said that the SNP should be heard, and to say otherwise is obviously wrong. I hope that he will check that and put what he said right.
It is open to any Member to check. Let us crash on now. David Warburton has six minutes.
Some months ago, in this House, I reminded the Prime Minister of the fact that my constituency contains more cows than any other. I have that on firm authority, although the exact source has slipped my mind, and as far as I know Somerton and Frome’s bovine supremacy is under no immediate threat.
Those cows, and our entire farming industry, face an enormous opportunity in the shape of the Bill: although perhaps not a giant leap, it is certainly not a small step. It is more a confident stride towards a confident future in which it is this country that decides how to frame our own agriculture policy in the interests of our own countryside, our own farmers and our own producers. After almost 50 years of having policy levers pulled by the hands of others—although, I am quite sure, with our best interests at heart—our hands are now back on the controls for a healthier environment, a cleaner environment, better soil health, better animal welfare standards, better public access to the countryside and, rather importantly for Somerset, better flooding control.
Let us not forget food production. Land management and food production must work hand in hand not only to provide the greatest environmental benefits, but to feed the country. With that in mind, I am delighted to welcome the Bill and, in particular, the financial powers in part 1, in which we at last depart from the area-based system of direct payments and arrive at a system of assistance based on providing environmental outcomes and, crucially, on improving productivity—be that to an agricultural, horticultural or a forestry business.
The focus really needs to be on how, by virtue of the best practice in improving productivity, we can deliver those environmental benefits. The two aims must run together. It is, after all, the Somerset grass that feeds the Somerset cow and gives forth our glorious Somerset milk and cheese.
My hon. Friend will know, because his constituency neighbours mine, that Arla, one of the biggest producers of dairy products, is in my constituency. In welcoming this Bill, as both he and I clearly do, does he nevertheless share the concerns of Arla as a first purchaser that clause 25 in particular might cause difficulties for it, while also trying to eschew the bad behaviour of rogue producers?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have also spoken to Arla and I understand that there are concerns around that issue. I suspect that, during the passage of this Bill, there will be much scope for tweaks and additions. Our food security must come from targeting support for domestic agriculture so that we achieve not only the stability of food supply, but the environmental outcomes that pave the way to a sustainable countryside.
Agriculture in the west country, as elsewhere, needs help with both competitiveness and resilience. It needs to manage risk, market fluctuations and changeable conditions on a daily basis. The financial provisions in part 1 will be vital in helping farmers improve productivity, thereby shoring them up against adverse conditions.
Will my hon. Friend also draw attention to clause 25, which deals with the outrage that dares not speak its name in the countryside, namely the treatment of primary and secondary producers by monolithic, all-powerful supermarkets? For a long time, as he will recognise, the supermarkets have ridden roughshod over good commercial practice and it is time that this wise and insightful Secretary of State took action and rebalanced the food chain in the interests of farmers and growers.
I add my voice to that of my right hon. Friend in hoping that Ministers are fully aware of the misbehaviours of supermarkets and are prepared to push them in the right direction, but farmers also need to know what to expect.
My constituency is ornamented with innumerable orchards and fruit farms, from which pour the juices that make the finest—sometimes dangerously fine—cider. Clause 10 allows the Government to modify and discontinue the EU fruit and vegetable scheme, as the Secretary of State alluded to. I understand that existing programmes will continue to completion and a successor scheme is planned, but I ask Ministers exactly how that scheme will be framed. Any details would be enormously valuable.
Equally, it would be useful to know from the Minister a little more of the details of the Government’s intentions around the reduction of direct payments in the first year and beyond of the agricultural transition described in clause 7. Although it is desirable to move away from the current system, it is important that this is done in a phased and controlled way; and although it is also important to move towards the environmental land management system, it is also possible that the coming years may prove challenging for farming. In these circumstances there needs to be sufficient scope for the Government to make the necessary interventions to ease pressure.
We can set out clear objectives for improving soil and water quality, improving access to the countryside, protecting habitats and the environment, and flood mitigation. These are all worthy and essential elements of policy, but the Government understand well that food production is the key to unlocking our golden environmental heritage. Managing the financial and policy framework for our growers and livestock farmers will allow them to hold that key and use it effectively.
While I am on the subject of risk, I must mention my private Member’s Bill, the Rivers Authorities and Land Drainage Bill, which is due to have its Second Reading later this month. It would give the Secretary of State the power to put rivers authorities such as the Somerset Rivers Authority on a statutory basis, raise the precept and allow them to plan effectively. Should my Bill fall at this fence, perhaps the Minister would like to take those ideas forward; there may be room in this Bill.
As we face continued uncertainty—tempered, of course, with optimism and confidence—about the outcome of negotiations in Brussels, we must ensure that agricultural policy is not only firm, but flexible enough to accommodate the shifting sands between us. I am quite sure that the Government’s will is very much in that direction. While admiring the confident stride of the Bill, I look forward to our next steps with great anticipation, as do the innumerable cows scattered across the Somerset fields.
Order. I will have to bring the time limit down to five minutes; I did ask Members to help, but they did not wish to.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (David Warburton). I agree that we need more certainty, but not that this is an excellent Bill without that lack of certainty. Without any certainty, I cannot see that it is a particularly valuable Bill.
I think that the Secretary of State would readily acknowledge that this is essentially an enabling Bill. It enables him to make regulations: to protect our environment, or not to protect our environment; to support some farmers financially, but not necessarily to tell them beforehand whether they would get that support, or what they would get it for; to support the public access to the countryside, or not; and even to create offences without Parliament knowing what they will be before agreeing to give him those powers.
What the Bill does not do is lay out a duty, a process, a funding mechanism or any other indication of how the Secretary of State will ensure that farmers in this country will produce food that is healthy, environmentally friendly, animal welfare friendly—or, indeed, any food at all. What on earth is the point of our giving the Secretary of State vague and plenipotentiary powers to encourage and enforce the highest possible environmental, health and animal welfare standards in English agriculture if we end up buying all our food from non-European countries where we have no influence whatever over the environmental impact of their agriculture and cannot be certain of the animal welfare regimes or employment regimes under which that food is produced? If the Government are serious about promoting healthy food, why is there no food and farming framework? Why are they not willing to use any future funding regime to promote the production of healthy foods?
Some mention has been made of mung beans. I am actually very fond of broad beans. I would eat far more broad beans if more were available in the shops, but I hardly ever find them. Why, among all the various powers that the Secretary of State is taking, does he not wish to take any to encourage the production of healthy food that I always thought agriculture was meant to be about?
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate. May I begin by endorsing what the Secretary of State said about my hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who is widely respected and has overseen this subject during our five years in government? I realise that for him and for the Secretary of State, withdrawal from the European community will give them the power so importantly contained in the Bill, which frees us from the common agricultural policy. Although I personally thought that we should remain in the European Union, I well understand the desire in the agricultural industry to put the Bill on the statute book and to see how the future will be laid out.
It is worth bearing in mind the reason why our countryside is so attractive and visited by many people, particularly in my constituency and the Peak district: it has been farmed and looked after by our farmers for generations. I hope that the Minister of State can speak in his winding-up speech about the importance that we place on food production. Some of the less favoured areas in my constituency cannot be easily farmed without some form of support. That is very important indeed, and I wonder why we have not copied what is available in schedule 3 to Wales so that it is available to England.
Replacing the current system, which pays farmers according to the total land farmed, rather than a specific public benefit, is very important indeed. At the present moment in time, the top 10% of recipients receive almost 50% of payments, while the bottom 20% receive just 2%, which does not reflect the farming or agricultural good provided by many smallholdings and small farms in the uplands. I very much want that to be encouraged.
A lot has changed in agriculture over the past few years. I remember thinking that the foot-and-mouth crisis would be a big problem for me, as I had a large agricultural constituency. In fact, it was the tourism industry, which is important in the Derbyshire dales, that suffered the most. A third of total farm business comes from farm diversification. Rural tourism provides £90 billion a year to the UK economy. There are opportunities, and we need to support our farms.
The Bill has been welcomed by a number of organisations, but I hope that we do not somehow replace a Brussels bureaucracy with a bureaucracy that is even more constraining for farmers and the way they farm. I am pretty sure that the Secretary of State would not want that. However, I fear that some of the bodies that he works with and some of the Government bodies responsible for countryside issues may take a different view, so I look forward to his ensuring that there is an iron rod to tackle how regulations are imposed on agriculture, so that we let British farmers get on with farming.
Agriculture’s economic contribution to rural areas has already been emphasised this afternoon. It applies to Wales, and in particular Ceredigion, just as much as the other countries of the UK.
The structure of the Welsh agricultural industry is, at least for the time being, rooted in the family farm. In Wales, the average size of holdings is 48 hectares, which is significantly less than that in the UK, and the industry’s share of total employment in Wales is three times the UK average. It is important to note that, as a result, agriculture is of not only economic importance, but cultural importance, sustaining the Welsh language and the fabric of rural life.
I do not intend to go into detail about what a new agricultural policy for Wales should look like or how it should work, for such matters are rightly beyond the scope of the Bill and will be determined in the Senedd in Cardiff. While policy decisions relating to the future of Welsh agriculture are devolved, their funding ultimately is not, so I wish to concentrate my remarks on that.
Much has been said in this debate about the importance of direct payments, and in particular ensuring the viability of the agricultural sector. The industry in Wales is heavily dependent on the support it receives through the CAP. In 2017, for example, payments represented 107% of the total income from farming, compared with 68% in Northern Ireland and 52% in England. Any changes to the overall level of funding for UK agriculture will therefore have a particular impact in Wales, and as farmers manage around 80% of land in Wales, ensuring their viability is essential if other outcomes of agricultural policy are to be realised.
I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that it is not enough for Ministers to wax lyrical about farmers being the stewards of the uplands. They must also recognise that, in Wales, a living countryside as we know it is dependent on farmers’ ability to be certain of a living wage in the future.
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention, with which I wholeheartedly agree.
On that point, the UK Government have committed to guarantee current levels of funding until 2022, but it is unclear how future levels will be decided or how funding will be allocated across the four countries of the UK. The farming Minister may recall a discussion at a session of the Welsh Affairs Committee some months ago about the fact that these are questions of not only how the cake will be shared, but how big the cake will be in the first place.
Giving as much clarity and stability as possible to the industry must be a priority, and any future funding framework should be based on a seven-year cycle. Ministers have suggested that decisions about future funding will be taken by the UK Government, subject to the Treasury’s budgetary cycle and comprehensive spending review. That would not afford the industry the same certainty as under the present multi-annual financial framework. I appreciate that Ministers are hesitant to make unilateral funding decisions that would bind successive Governments, but if they were to make such a framework subject to the consent of all four countries of the UK—perhaps by means of a dedicated intergovernmental body—they would be at greater liberty to make such commitments to maintain funding for agriculture in the UK and to deliver the support and stability that the industry deserves.
Such an approach would also assist with the inevitable headaches that will emerge about how any funding is allocated across the UK. In fairness, both the Secretary of State and the farming Minister have confirmed that the Barnett formula will not be used to determine allocations. That is to be welcomed, particularly in Wales, but a question remains about how the allocations will be decided. The Secretary of State referred earlier to an imminent review of this process.
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What role will the devolved Governments play in the process? How will future disputes be resolved? Only if financial frameworks are developed jointly by all four countries will they be sustainable and reflective of the needs of each. The Welsh and UK Governments believe that policy areas can be managed through non-legislative intergovernmental co-ordination, but I fear that that approach is unrealistic for questions of funding.
I would argue that an intergovernmental body is necessary to address any market distortions that may arise from policy divergence, which is not unlikely when we consider that on direct payments, for example, divergence looks possible between Scotland and Northern Ireland on the one hand, and between England and Wales on the other. Each nation should decide its own agricultural policy, but an intergovernmental body is required to address any issues that cause an imbalance in the market or unfairly disadvantage one country over another. The existing structures are not fit for that purpose.
I conclude by reiterating the need for any future financial frameworks to be agreed, built and maintained in co-operation between the four nations. When the Minister responds to the debate, perhaps he could assure farmers that such decisions will be made on the basis of shared governance and that the unique characteristics of the industries in each country will be supported accordingly. I am afraid to say that, at present, such an assurance is lacking.
I have met some farmers and local NFU branch representatives in my constituency—yes, the meeting took place literally in the middle of a field—and they raised specific concerns. They talked about the need for the Government to ensure that UK farmers are treated equally and that they will not be at a disadvantage compared with those in the devolved countries, Europe and the rest of the world. They would therefore welcome a universal framework that applies to the whole United Kingdom.
Some farmers in South East Cornwall have supported public money for public goods as a good principle, but there is some concern about the ability of individual farmers to access schemes to replace the average Cornwall payment of £16,000 under the basic payment scheme through increased productivity. Tenants are concerned about how they will have access to environmental payments when landlords are seeking to retain them, even though the majority of the public good is delivered by the occupier —soil, water and carbon.
There is a general feeling that the level of regulation and inspection from Government and retailers is becoming too great, and that the administrative burden needs to be significantly reduced so that farmers can concentrate on what they do best: producing food. The power given to Ministers was acknowledged, but there needs to be increased scrutiny of contracts, risk-based assessments or inspections, and earned recognition so that the costs in time and money of needless and duplicated visits are eradicated. One farmer gave an example of a recent visit by trading standards to check the harvest interval of his onions, in case someone ate them raw.
Some farmers mentioned the need for sustainable and profitable farm businesses to deliver public goods, and the fact that these factors seem to have been left out of the Bill. They also raised the impact of last winter’s cold weather, with the snow, and the very dry summer. Those environmental factors have had a detrimental impact on businesses and on the security of food supply. Indeed, concern was expressed that the Bill does not acknowledge a secure food supply as a public good, which is difficult to understand in view of the climate and trade challenges. The question of the farmer’s position in the supply chain is always to the fore, and farmers want to know how the Bill will help.
I acknowledge that the Bill will improve matters, but more support is needed for producer organisations, including a wider exemption from competition law and further financial support to engender collaboration. The need for high environmental and animal welfare standards is acknowledged, but it will be impossible for farmers to deliver if their businesses are not profitable.
I welcome the Bill, despite these concerns. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will address some of my farmers’ concerns and sensible suggestions when the Bill is in Committee. I have every confidence that he will be supporting the farmers, and I will support the Bill tonight.
The Bill gives the UK a huge opportunity to revitalise the countryside in a way that meets the needs of people, farming, food and the environment for generations to come. I welcome the Bill’s broad thrust of shifting financial assistance to help farmers to restore and improve our natural environment, and public money for public goods. I also welcome the Secretary of State outlining the provision in the Bill to allow the Welsh Labour Government to set their own targets.
Crucially, however, the Bill fails in many areas. It fails to safeguard our food supply or to tackle health inequalities. It falls well short on properly protecting our natural environment. Depleting soils, losing pollinators, and polluting waters do nothing for farm productivity. At a time when we face huge environmental challenges, with the ecological challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss, we also need a Bill that delivers on outcomes, with clear targets.
The key weakness is the failure to secure long-term future funding for the agricultural sector, or to place a duty on Ministers to set budgets that reflect the scale of financial need and to specify timeframes for the longevity of those budgets. There is no doubt that the Secretary of State has excellent oratory skills, but does he have the negotiating skills to argue for the appropriate budget from the Treasury and to specify where and how it is to be spent? Can he also confirm by how much the DEFRA budget will be cut in future? The Bill must also ensure fair distribution across the four countries of the UK. I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State say that funding will not be Barnettised, but how will it be decided and assessed, and exactly how much will it be? That is crucial.
As it stands, the Bill fails properly to address unresolved issues between the Welsh Government and Whitehall, particularly around the red meat levy, which must be properly distributed. Change is required to underpin mechanisms for a fairer and more representative distribution of the levy, but the Bill fails to recognise that. This issue has been debated over many years—I took part in the debate many years ago—and it is disappointing that it is not addressed in the Bill. Lesley Griffiths, the Welsh Cabinet Secretary, has also expressed her disappointment that the Bill does not contain provisions to improve the functioning of the red meat levy.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that he will fight to save our 14 food products in Wales that have been granted protected name status? Foods such as Anglesey sea salt, Welsh lamb, Welsh cider and Caerphilly cheese, to name just a few, are all products that enjoy protected status but are under threat. I would like to him confirm that he will do so and say whether he will make provision in the Bill.
My final point is about trade. This Bill is utterly dependent on Brexit and the disastrous negotiations that are currently taking place. We know what World Trade Organisation rules would mean for our farmers, our agriculture and our land, let alone our environmental safeguards and protections. They would mean the end of farmers, businesses, food production and safeguards— the end of British agriculture as we know it. We need confirmation that this will be taken into account, and we need that assurance not only from the Secretary of State, but from the Government.
We need an agriculture Bill that delivers outcomes, delivers on food security, delivers on environmental protections, keeps farmers on our land, addresses the huge challenges that we face and sustains a thriving British farming, food and drink sector. I think that this Bill falls short.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin). I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am the chairman of the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association, which promotes grass-fed as an alternative to grain-fed in our meat supply chain. I also keep a small herd of grain-free Hereford cattle at my home in Herefordshire.
The Agriculture Bill is a hugely important piece of legislation that will directly affect the majority of businesses in my constituency. There are over 2,000 businesses in Herefordshire in the agricultural sector, and 84% of the land in Herefordshire is devoted to agriculture. Farmers in Herefordshire welcome the reassurances that funding systems for farming subsidies will be slowly phased out over seven years, starting in 2020. That enables them to be sure of what lies ahead in the medium term and gives them the opportunity to have some input into how the system should work after the seven-year transition. There are issues with land values and the importance of subsidies over that period, but they can be dealt with.
The philosophy of public money for public goods is the right approach to take as long as we remember that the most important public good is health. That can be improved through the production of high quality, high welfare food for the British market. I am also supportive of increased environmental protections and higher animal welfare standards. I am, however, nervous of a system in which food production itself is not the main goal of agriculture.
There is a way to support agriculture that solves the productivity dilemma. As chairman of the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association, I have visited some of our members’ farms. I believe they provide an excellent model for how British livestock, or beef and lamb farming, should look in the future. The 100% pasture-fed model is one which is: better for the environment, through carbon sequestration; better for animals, coming top, according to Compassion for World Farming, of all welfare systems; better for the consumer, because of the high omega-3 fatty acids; better for the climate and our health; and, crucially, more profitable for the farmer.
In 2016, the PFLA produced a document called “It Can Be Done”. It demonstrates that the economic case for pasture-fed compares very favourably with more intensive farming models. A survey earlier this year showed that it is better for animals. Some 53% of PFLA farmers reported a reduction in the use of antibiotics, 51% a reduction in vet bills and 66% noticed an overall improvement in the health of their stock. It is better for the environment. Some 81% of members have made significant changes to their grazing management, with over 50% achieving a longer grazing season and 25% seeing a movement towards that. Some 32% have reduced their synthetic fertiliser use and 64% have reported an increased diversity in their grass swards and bird life on their farms. Some 55% saw an increase in mammal and insect life. In animal welfare and environmental criteria, nobody reported a single negative outcome. That is good for the consumer, who will get that high omega-3 fatty acid which leads to the manufacture of conjugated linoleic acid, the only substance in one’s body that can fight tumours. This is a really good way of helping not just the richest but the poorest sectors in our society.
There is one thing we need to do to make this work: we need to change the definition of pasture-fed. At the moment, it means that 51% of an animal’s life must be on grass. It needs to mean 100%. We on the Conservative Benches have been campaigning for honesty in labelling for a long time. Brexit offers us a wonderful opportunity to deliver it. I want grass-fed to mean 100% grass fed. I want to see the benefits for the people farming: putting less in and getting a better product out. That is the way for a better future for our agricultural sector.
I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this debate, because my constituency includes Teesdale, which is part of the north Pennines area of outstanding natural beauty, and I represent 400 sheep farmers. The area has a very rich environment, with 17 sites of special scientific interest. Not unconnected with that, a large part of the land is in the commons. A high proportion of farmers are tenants and incomes are low, last year averaging about £14,000.
Clause 1, which provides financial assistance for public goods, improving the environment, restoring the natural heritage and supporting public access, should be welcome in such an area. However, the total lack of detail in the Bill means that it is not at all reassuring. The implementation of clause 1 could be very arbitrary. As the Secretary of State explained in his description of public goods, they are non-rival and non-excludable. That means there is no market price, so how will DEFRA Ministers put a value on public goods when they decide on payments to farmers?
Over the summer, I talked to a large number of farmers who stressed the uncertainty they face, which the Bill does very little to allay. It is, like the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill, simply proposing a bundle of delegated legislation and Henry VIII powers, and DEFRA Ministers are not even showing us them in draft, even though clause 3(2)(h) creates criminal offences.
In the Bill the Minister is taking the power to write regulations and giving himself the power to make payments, but we do not know what the criteria will be, to whom the payments will be made and what the amounts of the payments will be. There is a seven-year transition, which is not like the general 21-month transition under the Prime Minister’s Brexit proposals. In fact, it is not really a transition at all, because the current payments will not continue beyond 2022 and on any day in the following five years the Minister can make changes to those payments. That might be a series of steps down, or a cliff edge.
This is the ultimate in what it is now fashionable to call a blind Brexit. We need to see the draft statutory instruments before Third Reading and we need a proper agreed scrutiny process—the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs should be able to undertake that, or we need an explanation of whether the right hon. Member for Derbyshire Dales (Sir Patrick McLoughlin) will be covering it in his Bill.
Let us be clear: farming cannot be environmentally sustainable if it is not financially sustainable. Farmers in the uplands have low profit margins and face considerable volatility, and Ministers must guarantee that the new payments will be equal in value to the basic payment and rural development schemes. They should consider making income support and stabilisation purposes for which payments can be made. Clause 18 is drafted to provide short-term market support, but it needs to cover chronic disruption in the event of changes to trade regimes that damage domestic farm incomes.
There is a real risk of a disorderly or no deal Brexit, and Ministers must be able to deal with that. Clause 26 gives the Secretary of State powers to comply with WTO obligations, but all the future trading arrangements remain a mystery. They will have a massive impact on farmers, whether we are talking about access to the EU—personally, I believe we should stay in the customs union and it seems that the Prime Minister is coming round to that—or the regime for imports.
The Bill should contain provisions to require all food imported to the UK to be produced to at least equivalent standards as they relate to animal welfare, environmental protection and labour. I have asked DEFRA Ministers 39 times whether they will guarantee that they will not have imports of cheap lamb from New Zealand, Australia, Canada and America. They have a 40th chance tonight to answer the question.