Agriculture Bill

Written evidence submitted by Shaun Leavey OBE FRAgS (AB09)

Qualification: I am Shaun Leavey OBE FRAgS. After leaving the army I worked on farms in the UK and Greece. For many years I was the National Farmers’ Union’s Regional Director for the South East. On retirement I chaired defra’s Sustainable Farming & Food Board for the South East, and the Farming & Rural Issues Group (a SE grouping of land based organisations which I had co-founded). I also managed many agricultural and horticultural projects funded by the South East of England Regional Development Agency. I was appointed to a Fellowship of the Royal Agricultural Societies, and awarded the OBE for service to agriculture and horticulture.

Submission: My submission is based on two matters.

1. The false rationale articulated by the Secretary of State for change:

1. The first cause for serious concern is the false premise on which defra’s proposals for future agricultural policy ("Health and Harmony: the future for food, farming, and the environment in a Green Brexit") and - hence this Bill - are based.

2. In his Foreword to the consultation the Secretary of State states that "For more than forty years the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy has decided how we farm our land, the food we grow and rear and the state of the natural environment. Over that period the environment has deteriorated, productivity has been held back and public health has been compromised". That assertion is not true.

3. A recent study of agricultural sustainability by the Economist Intelligence Unit found that Italy, France, Germany, Hungary, Greece, Spain, and Portugal (all countries within the EU and hence the CAP) scored significantly better than the UK on the index which they had developed to test for this important criterion.

4. The truth is that pre-EEC entry measures to support UK farming - as administered by the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries & Food (MAFF) - were less environmentally friendly (such as grants for hedge removal) than those that followed EEC accession.

5. The CAP reform measures which took effect in 2003 were vastly over-complicated in the UK by the pressure put on defra to accommodate different interest groups within the industry (such as fruit and vegetable growers). The UK had considerable autonomy as to how government implemented the new measures – and ended up with a bureaucratic nightmare difficult for farmers and growers to operate and civil servants to implement. This was not the case in many other nation states.

6. There is of course good reason for changing the support systems for English farming post-Brexit, but if this is based on a misunderstanding of the way that the CAP impacted on UK farming it will not be well founded.

2. The lack of adequate attention to farming’s role as a food producer:

1. The overall tenor of the Health and Harmony consultation was the need to change English farming so that it increases the scope for conservation.

2. From my experience working as a non-executive chairman of a defra board I know that there has been a mind-set within the department that favours food security (ie significant reliance on imported food from "reliable" sources) over national food self-sufficiency. This ignores the vulnerability of any nation to geo-political changes that impact adversely on its "reliable" food sources. To take just on example: in 1974 queues were forming outside high street shops that sold sugar. In breach of the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement the Caribbean countries had begun selling sugar cane to more lucrative markets in the United States. It was in fact the (then) EEC which bailed out the UK by supplying sugar beet based sugar to wholesalers.

3. Animal and plant diseases, adverse weather, and political events can all militate against the reliability of food supplies from abroad. It is the height of irresponsibility by both government and the many lobby groups that seek radical realignment of support for farmers to lay such emphasis in this Bill on conservation at the expense of food production.

4. This Bill needs to take far greater account of the need to improve the country’s food self-sufficiency and to set targets for achieving that aim.

October 2018

 

Prepared 24th October 2018