Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons am ar 9 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Ceidwadwyr, Gainsborough

What steps he is taking to support farmers.

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Food security is more important than ever, which is why we need to back British farmers to keep putting food on our tables, while protecting the environment. We are supporting farming with £2.4 billion of annual spending, an average boost of 10% for the sustainable farming incentive payment scheme, and new rules to ensure that farmers get a fair price for their products.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Ceidwadwyr, Gainsborough

Obviously farmers in low-lying areas of Lincolnshire are suffering from flooding, so any update on the support that they can be given would be very helpful. I have a specific question for the Secretary of State: will the Government update us on when they will announce the long-term funding solution that they promised for internal drainage boards, to address the pressure on local authorities through special levies?

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My right hon. Friend is right to focus on the importance of drainage boards, particularly in Lincolnshire. He knows that I have a particular constituency interest in the adjacent area. We have announced £65 million of funding, and the Minister for water, my hon. Friend Robbie Moore, will make further announcements on that shortly. We are looking more widely at the huge pressure on farming from the wet weather, particularly in areas such as Lincolnshire. There has been a 60% increase in rainfall—these have been our second wettest six months—and we are looking at a series of easements, particularly with regard to SFI, to ensure that farmers get their payments.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

On behalf of my party, I too wish Phil, the Head Doorkeeper, a very happy birthday.

As the Government know, we grow the very finest seed potatoes in the far north of Scotland. They are particularly good because, relatively speaking, they are virus free. That is probably because of the northerly latitudes where they are grown. I happen to know that farmers in Europe are crying out to get hold of these seed potatoes. I ask the Government to do everything in their power to ensure that the potatoes go where they are needed and wanted.

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Member makes a valid point in terms of both the quality and the desirability of the products to which he refers. The Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries is engaging actively with the EU on that specific point, and I am sure that he will update the hon. Member on it.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

One has only to look over the hedges of eastern England to agree with those who are predicting the worst harvest in living memory. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the impact that will have on the wider rural economy—in particular, the availability and price of straw, which is vital for the livestock sector, and important commodities such as potatoes, which are likely to be under great pressure in terms of supply and price this autumn?

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

As ever, my right hon. Friend is absolutely on the money in terms of the concern regarding straw prices and lower harvests this autumn. We are engaging extensively with the sector. We have the Farm to Fork summit next week, chaired by the Prime Minister. That is an indication of how seriously we are taking this, and how much we are engaging with farmers and farm leaders.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Minister (Science, Research and Innovation)

It is north-east week in the parliamentary canteens, and I hope all Members are taking the opportunity to enjoy great north-eastern produce. However, it is always north-east week in Grainger Market in Newcastle, which tries to champion local farmers and produce. What is the Secretary of State doing to support north-east farmers in the challenges they face to produce sustainable and affordable food for my constituents facing a cost of living crisis?

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

As the MP for North East Cambridgeshire, I feel I should extend north-east a little wider, given that we are a big food-producing area. To the hon. Lady’s specific point, the Minister for Farming is engaging with that issue and is travelling up to the north-east this evening as part of that engagement. Our colleague, my hon. Friend Will Quince, is conducting a review of public sector food procurement, so that within our public sector we can better procure domestic produce. We also have a review of labelling so that we can more clearly label that fantastic produce from the north-east, to ensure that purchasers can buy it more easily.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

What are the Government doing to support farmers? Quite a few people are asking that. When one looks at the evidence of what is going on, the survey this week from the National Farmers Union into farmer confidence revealed that a staggering 65% of farmers are facing declining profits, or their business will not survive at all. Their prospects are worse than most Tory MPs, it suddenly seems. Why is it that farmers do so badly under the Conservatives?

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Gentleman seems to have written that question before listening to the various examples that I have just given, but let me give him one. The most successful scheme the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has ever run is the current sustainable farming incentive scheme, with over 20,000 applications—more than any other scheme the Department has run. We have also been flexible in looking at how those schemes are delivered, given the challenges of the wet weather, and I will have more to say on that very shortly.

Photo of Steven Bonnar Steven Bonnar Shadow SNP Spokesperson (DEFRA Team Member)

I listened carefully to that answer. While Brexit has been deeply damaging to farmers all across the United Kingdom, the actions taken by the Scottish Government mean that farmers in Scotland have far greater protection than those elsewhere on these islands. The SNP Government have guaranteed Scottish farmers the level of funding that was available pre-Brexit, unlike the Tories here in England or indeed the Labour party in Wales. That is the SNP standing up for farmers in words and deeds, unlike the Westminster parties. Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to apologise to farmers in England for his Government’s betrayal of them?

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the £2.4 billion commitment in our manifesto, which has been met in full.