Speech - new opportunities for agriculture

Heavens! You caught me by surprise there, Mr Deputy Speaker. I was not ready for that at all. Anyway, thank you very much for calling me to speak. I refer hon. Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.​

Yes, I did vote for Brexit and yes, I am a turkey voting for Christmas because the subsidies that my farm receives will be considerably reduced, putting my business plan if not at risk then certainly into review. I do not object to that: I voted to leave the EU because I believe that that is best for our country. I believe that this is a wonderful opportunity. The Agriculture Bill sets out provisions for farming in this country to be reviewed to a huge degree and to be controlled from this place. As we have heard, that has not happened for decades.

I thank the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), who continually comes down to South Dorset to speak to my farmers—even at short notice. He has been incredibly kind and generous with his time, for which I am most grateful, and I am delighted that he is still in place. I am also delighted that the new Secretary of State has taken up this responsible position and that agriculture will be added to environment, food and rural affairs, giving it a far higher priority than has been the case over the past 10, 20 or 30 years. Now that we will have control of our farming, the Secretary of State’s role will be crucial.

I take great pride in representing South Dorset and its many farmers. My constituency is the most beautiful in the country—[Interruption.] It is true, and I would welcome anyone who wants to come down to see it. Every quarter since I was first elected I meet my farmers to discuss their concerns. Those concerns are then passed to the Minister of State, who kindly passes his responses back down, and the system has worked extremely well. I do all that because I felt that local farmers were not really represented in the past. Getting back control through this Agriculture Bill will be a chance for us to help our farmers to produce the food that this country needs.

There was talk earlier on of educating children, about which I feel strongly. Ten or 11 years ago, I started offering visits to my farm to local schools, and we now welcome between 150 and 200 students every year. They spend the day going around the farm learning how it works and what goes into the food that they eat. At the last visit in June, I was talking to some children and asked them where milk comes from. Sensibly, one boy put his hand up and said, “From the cow,” and I said, “That’s extremely good. Well done!” I then said, “Do you know why the milk comes from the cow?” and there was a bit of a pause before one of them said, “Because the cow has a calf,” and I said, “Absolutely spot on!” Interestingly, as the group was leaving, one of the adults said, “Richard, thank you so much. I have been educated today, because I did not know that a cow had to have a calf to produce milk.” My point is that we need to educate not only our children, but clearly our teachers and everybody else about the significance of agriculture, which I hope that we will now be able to do.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) went through the statistics about agriculture’s significance. I will not bother the House with them again, but they are significant. We also heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) that Brexit will offer huge opportunities to the agriculture industry. I do not agree with the doomsayers from the SNP and other Opposition Members who say that we are all going to hell in a handcart. We will have huge opportunities for agricultural business, and I shall be shouting from the rooftops when that day comes.​

It is worth noting that it is the farmer who creates the environment that so many of us have talked about. It is our farmers whose standards are, on the whole, way higher than those of our European friends and partners. Let us not forget that, for all intents and purposes, we are the gold standard for farming around the world. Yes, there is room for improvement but, by gum, we set good examples and a very high bar. Down on the farm, those who love the land—and they do—continue to battle legislation, red tape, quangos, politicians and the weather. I ask the Front-Bench team to help with three of those issues: can we remove the red tape and the quangos and prevent too much political interference?