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Leaving the EU: Farming Policy

Volume 650: debated on Thursday 29 November 2018

The Government’s Agriculture Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, is the first major piece of legislation affecting agriculture since 1947. It provides certainty for farmers through a seven-year transition period and lays the foundations of a new farming policy based on public goods and fairness in the supply chain. At their request, it also includes provisions for Wales and Northern Ireland. This critical piece of legislation will enable us to seize the opportunities to help our farming, horticulture and forestry sectors become more profitable and sustainable.

Many farmers in my constituency are very concerned at the decision of the SNP Scottish Government to opt out of key parts of the Bill. Does my hon. Friend share my concern about the fact that the Scottish Government have not presented alternative proposals, so many farmers may not be sure whether there will be a legislative framework to ensure support for farming after we leave the European Union?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. As he knows, agriculture is devolved. At the request of the Welsh Government there is a schedule containing provisions for Wales, and at the request of the Northern Ireland Administration there is a schedule containing provisions for Northern Ireland. Scotland has yet to decide what it wishes to do. We have maintained an open offer to insert provisions in the Bill at later stages should the Scottish Government wish us to do so. Alternatively, they can legislate through their own Parliament, but they will need some legislation in order to be able to pay their farmers in 2020.

Can the Minister confirm that under a clean, global, free trade Brexit the United Kingdom will be able to protect farmers with tariffs just like every other country, and to provide more help for smaller farmers? Can we have more optimism from the Government, and less “Project Fear” with gumboots on?

As my hon. Friend knows, I have always been very optimistic about the opportunities presented by Brexit. It is important to note that in a no-deal Brexit, the UK would be free to set its own trade policy unilaterally. The options open to us would be to create autonomous tariff rate quotas, tariff rate suspensions or lower-band tariffs on certain goods if we wished to do so, but we would have an independent trade policy in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Has the Minister had any discussions with the Prime Minister about her withdrawal agreement’s implications for the transport and sale of livestock from Northern Ireland to the rest of this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

That was not altogether adjacent to an inquiry about an independent farming policy. The hon. Gentleman might more usefully have shoehorned his inquiry into Question 2. Because he is a very public-spirited fellow, I will let him off on this occasion, but he should not repeat his offence.

The withdrawal agreement and the political declaration on a future economic partnership set out the Prime Minister’s and the Government’s approach to trying to deal with issues relating to the Northern Ireland border, and I am sure that we have many days of discussion on those matters to look forward to.

Can my hon. Friend assure me that we will not be replacing one set of bureaucrats with another set of bureaucrats? How can we ensure that the right sort of assistance goes to the less favoured areas that are so important to our countryside?

My right hon. Friend makes a good point, but I can tell him that the Bill has important provisions that will enable us to strike down and improve some retained EU law, particularly in relation to the burden of administration. We are absolutely clear that we want a totally different culture in how we regulate farmers in the future. The Bill also enables us to target support at farmers who are delivering public goods, including those in severely disadvantaged areas.