It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary, and to follow the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), and all hon. Members, in particular my hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Simon Jupp), whom I thank for securing the debate. It is also a pleasure to see the Minister in his place. I have been promoting him since I got here in 2010; I have been asking, “Why don’t the Government put him in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs?” He, a farmer, is now here; I cannot believe it. Someone who understands what we are talking about, and what we want, is a Minister with the power to help us. I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests: I am a landowner and farmer, so I speak with a lot of passion and experience in this field.
When I was selected as a candidate in 2006, one of my first tasks was to set up a farming group. It meets every quarter. That group started with two members, and now at least 50 or 60 appear. The Minister has often come along to it, either virtually or in real life. We hope this Minister will come long in real life soon, so that our farmers can talk to him and put across their concerns.
My hon. Friend is highlighting the same point as many colleagues: the importance of listening to local farmers on local issues. Farmers in my constituency have asked the Government to extend the policy of culling on a discreet basis for a further three years, when it ends at the end of this year, as part of the co-ordinated approach in Cheshire to tackling bovine TB. Does he agree that it is vital that we consider farmer-led approaches to such challenges?
My hon. Friend has taken the words out of my mouth. In the dying moments of my speech, I will talk briefly about badgers and beavers, since I am slightly concerned about their presence in small Dorset rivers.
What we all want, and the public demand, is cheap food. If we as farmers are to produce cheap food, we need help—not to grow trees and all the other green things, although I totally accept that there is a place for that, but to grow food. We frequently hear Ministers refer to the public good; production of food should be at the top of the list of public goods.
As hon. Members have said, we have had a war, a pandemic, world food shortages and climate change, and there are terrifying predictions of food shortages around the world. We will have to become more and more self-sufficient, and farmers will have to farm more efficiently. Farming is an expensive game. Buying or leasing agricultural equipment—combine harvesters, tractors and all the rest of it—costs hundreds of thousands of pounds. Many farmers simply cannot afford it, not least tenant farmers. We would all like to see some form of grant, through which farmers could apply for money for those sorts of things.
As I said, the public need—and want—cheap food. We have left the EU. I was a Brexiteer; I was one of those crying to leave, and I am delighted that we have left. However, we face a danger if we do not help our farmers. Certainty is desperately needed, as the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said, because as the basic payment scheme slides away and alternatives come in, there is a big hole there; and as a result, many famers, not least those in remoter parts of our country, will struggle. That hole needs to be filled. We need certainty, and they need reassurance. The alternative, which none of us wants, is cheap imports. That is not the way forward. That will not increase self-reliability, or counter all the threats that this country and the rest of the world face.
I will touch briefly on the badger cull. I understand that this is a contentious issue; the badger is a protected animal. I do not agree with that personally. I like to see badgers. We love to see deer, foxes, and every other wild animal, but these animals no longer have predators. If we do not maintain them, look after them and ensure that they are healthy by securing the right numbers, then —as we know—the badger population grows exponentially and disease spreads.
The culling practices have worked. The statistics are pretty impressive; we cannot refute them. They show that culling badgers reduces the impact of bovine tuberculosis, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) said, has devastated the beef and dairy industries. I urge the Minister to go back to this issue. I believe that badger culling will end, but I urge him to stop saying that we will end it. We must continue the cull, just as we cull deer and foxes, but in a balanced way, so that we have the right balance of wildlife in our countryside.
Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for East Devon mentioned that rewilding must not come at the expense of growing food. There is a place for green trees and rewilding. However, Scotland experimented with it, and once beavers had bred, they did not keep to the allocated space. They went all over the place. They are not appropriate for small rivers in Dorset.