Agriculture Bill

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Bim Afolami: I have listened to much of the debate, and have heard a great many contributions from Members on both sides of the House—but particularly on this side—who are farmers or farmers’ wives, and who have a history of farming in this country. Unfortunately, I have none of those qualifications. What I do have, though, are some constituents who are farmers and who care deeply about the countryside and the environment. They have spent much time with me talking about the issues that they face and about the Bill, particularly over the last couple of weeks. Let me take this opportunity to mention a few of them: Ed Phillips, Tom Williams, Will Dickinson, Stuart Roberts, Jamie Burrows, Richard Pleydell-Bouverie, Paul Cherry and Ian Piggott. They, among many others, have helped me to understand how the good things in the Bill will help them in their lives as farmers over the years to come.

As I see it, there are two major aspects of the Bill for farmers and for farming in the countryside. The first is the way in which we farm, and, in particular, how we manage our land environmentally so that it continues for our children, our grandchildren, and our grandchildren’s children. We must remember that we need to enable our farmers to compete better in a domestic and international market. They have struggled at times, and continue to do so. The Bill does a lot in both those respects.

Clause 1(2) makes clear that the Government will be able to improve the productivity of individual farmers by allowing them to invest in equipment so that they can farm as effectively as possible. The Bill will also facilitate better, more efficient and more transparent supply chains, and that too will help our farmers to engage in the market. Moreover—I do not think that this has been mentioned so far, but perhaps I missed it—the Bill will encourage collaboration among growers, to ensure that we are not subject to certain competition-law restrictions to which we are currently subject under the common agricultural policy. It will help farmers to have a stronger voice in the market, and will help to deal with the problems and distortions in the market that are generated by supermarkets and others.

We have heard a great deal in the debate so far about the way in which we farm and manage our land. That, as well as ensuring that our farmers can compete, is the thrust of the Bill. We often hear about hard Brexit, soft Brexit, Chequers, “chuck Chequers” and a no-deal Brexit, but the Bill gives us a green Brexit. That is a fundamental move that constitutes a real, positive change of direction. Not only farmers or inhabitants of the countryside in my constituency or anywhere else, but everyone in the country can be proud of that, and I commend the Minister and the Secretary of State for their work. The Bill rewards farmers for improving air and water quality, soil health, animal welfare standards and flood prevention. There are all sorts of respects in which it, and public money, will improve how we manage our land, and I think we can all commend that.

However, I urge the Minister and the Secretary of State also to keep in mind that, once the Bill is—hopefully—passed and we proceed to secondary legislation, our farmers will want to know that the Government care deeply about food production. I hope that they will continue to make clear the ways in which we care about it. I know that everyone in the House cares about it, but we need to ensure that our farmers understand that, and help them to understand how the Bill will aid their production. I also urge the Government to explain further their strategic objectives for the national security of food and water, and also to bear in mind that our farmers need to compete with producers throughout the world, often in places without our commitment to high environmental standards.

Overall, this is a good Bill. It will lead to a green Brexit, and we will have great British farms and countryside for generations to come.

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