Last Friday, we held a parliamentary barn meeting, in the lovely but slightly frozen Hertfordshire town of Hitchin, writes CLA Public Affairs Adviser Eleanor Wood. Local MP Bim Afolami (Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden) had organised the event so that Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee Neil Parish MP (Conservative, Honiton and Tiverton) could come and take the burning questions from members about the future of the countryside.
After a brief introduction from Bim on the issues that he is looking to champion within the local area, Neil spoke of the challenges that are currently being faced by farming. Neil is himself a farmer in Somerset and before becoming an MP, was an MEP for 10 years, so he is very familiar to EU issues.
He began by outlining his position that he is unashamedly a supporter of farming and that other people should be more vocal in their support for the sector with the uncertainties that Brexit will bring. On Brexit he said that the Government is largely taking an environmental focus but it is necessary that this is kept in check by MPs to ensure this can actually work for farmers in reality. The other big concern he highlighted was that good markets must be secured in order to make sure industry isn’t flooded with cheaper, less well monitored imports.
We then moved on to questions from the assorted 50 CLA members. The issue of making farming profitable reoccurred throughout the first set of questions, with the consensus that while accepting that the Government wants to move to an environmental payment system, this had to be accessible and not full of bureaucracy. Neil replied that these new environmental policies must have clear outputs and that there was funding available to invest in infrastructure.
As the forthcoming Agriculture Bill will be the first bill solely on agriculture in nearly 50 years, members displayed clear interest in its progress and how Neil and his committee will be holding the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to account over this. In reply he said the committee will definitely be holding an inquiry into the bill and the CLA will be called to give evidence on behalf of their members on what we think of its contents.
The meeting towards its close turned political, when a lady asked: “Would the direction of travel change if a Labour Government were in place?”
Neil stated that in previous years maybe not, but there was such a wide divergence currently between the parties that this was a real threat. On this point however, he said that the CLA’s Land Management Contract was a good policy because it plans for the long term and that’s something the industry desperately needs.