Speaking in a debate on the Agriculture Bill, Philip Dunne welcomes the opportunity to move away from the one-size-fits-all approach of the CAP and calls on the Government to ensure we will have world-class standards for British food and drink and for our environment and also urges the Government to back a “buy British” policy in food procurement for the public sector.
I commend my new colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden), for taking a minute less than required under your strictures, Mr Deputy Speaker. He is obviously due for swift promotion.
I am pleased to speak in this debate, having sat on the Committee that looked at the previous Bill. I should declare at this point that I am a farmer and therefore have benefited from the structures that are being replaced by the Bill. I am pleased that the Government have followed several of our recommendations, in particular the requirement for a periodic analysis of food security and the provision for multi-annual financial plans. The initial transition plan is for seven years. I would prefer to see subsequent plans also covering seven years, rather than five, reflecting crop rotations rather than election cycles.
I should like to make three quick points. The first relates to the need for the Bill to ensure that British food producers are able to maintain viable businesses now that we have left the European Union, while also improving the environment. As we move away from the one-size-fits-all approach of the CAP, we have the chance to reform and connect the support in a coherent way between schemes for different custodians of our land, including those responsible for farming, forestry, natural wilderness, wetlands and wildlife areas.
As this Bill is being debated before the imminent Second Reading of the Environment Bill, we can rewrite the rules and regulations governing land use in the UK. We must ensure that the Bill supports agriculture while being well aligned to improve the environment and that it is sufficiently adaptable that improvements can be made through regulations if we find that certain activities or aspects of land use inadvertently fall through the cracks. For example, the new ELM scheme will now be available only from late 2024, with significant reductions in direct payments before the new scheme can be accessed, whereas the previous Bill had envisaged such arrangements arriving in 2021.
Encouraging farm productivity is welcome to help farm businesses compete in a less protected trading environment, but many parts of the countries, such as the upland sheep farming areas mentioned earlier, have limited scope to diversify other than perhaps into forestry. That is where coherence and clarity are required in the interplay between different support schemes, and I will be grateful if the Minister confirms whether it will be possible for the House to see the detailed regulations that will set out programmes for different land use before Third Reading.
My second point is to agree with the sentiment already shared across the House about ensuring that we have world-class standards for British food and drink and for our environment. I expect further measures to be proposed in Committee to ensure that that is the case.
My final and main point is to encourage the Government to use the opportunity of leaving the EU to allow a “buy British” policy in food procurement for the public sector.