Thank you for contacting me about the food and agriculture industry.
The food and farming industries are bedrocks of our economy and environment, generating £112 billion a year and helping shape some of our finest habitats and landscapes. I am pleased that the Government are committed to matching the current budget available to farmers in every year of this Parliament, providing certainty and stability.
Leaving the EU has created a once in a generation opportunity to design a domestic agricultural policy that will stand the test of time. We can bring in innovative new ideas to support investment in healthy, sustainable British food production and do much better for farming, the environment and animal welfare. The Agriculture Bill will allow the UK to move to a system of paying farmers public money for public goods including environmental protection, access to the countryside, and work to reduce flooding. In order to spend more on boosting productivity and environmental benefits, Direct Payments will be phased out.
I agree that many farmers are currently doing amazing things to benefit wildlife and counter the effects of climate change. I am pleased that now we have left the European Union, this country has the chance to tailor its agriculture policy to encourage this further. We will move away from the EU’s bureaucratic Common Agricultural Policy and towards a fairer system where hard-working farmers are paid public money for the public goods they deliver. I understand that payments will be made for activities such as conserving plants grown or used in agricultural, horticultural or forestry activity. Land management actions which improve the quality of soil are also being considered.
I am aware that land managers in receipt of Direct Payments are also required to protect hedgerows on their land. Through agri-environment schemes, such as Countryside Stewardship, their valuable role is recognised, funding the management of hedgerows to deliver recognised benefits for wildlife, landscape and the historic environment.
I welcome the Government’s very clear commitment that any future trade agreements must uphold the UK’s high levels of food safety, animal welfare standards, and environmental protection. I am also aware that the EU Withdrawal Act transferred all existing EU food safety provisions onto the UK statute book, and Ministers have made clear these standards will not be watered down in pursuit of any trade deal now that the UK has left the EU.
The Agriculture Bill will now be scrutinised at Committee Stage where members of the committee can table amendments to the text of the Bill, which are then discussed and voted upon. The Bill will then be brought back to the House of Commons for its third reading, where I look forward to scrutinising and voting on any amendments which are brought forward there.