MP Anthony Mangnall: We need to ensure policymakers listen to farming industry

Torbay Weekly

Parliament’s record of speeches and debates - Hansard - is the tool of all Parliamentarians and political geeks.

Produced at a remarkable speed, it contains the speeches of all Members of Parliament given in the Chamber, Westminster Hall or Committee from the previous day.

As you would expect, the variety of speeches is wide, the topics many and the lengths variable.

This written form reminds all MPs that while a speech may sound good, it also needs to read well.

Many an MP forgets this and finds themselves embarrassed when picking up a copy of Hansard the next day only to see their oratorical masterpiece reduced to nothing more than gobbledygook.

However, if readers can be persuaded, last week Geoffrey Cox held a Westminster Hall debate on the future of food and farming in Devon and Cornwall.

It was a tour de force that not only explains why Sir Geoffrey is such an esteemed barrister, but provides a perfect example of how to campaign, rally and lobby ministers on important issues such as agriculture. It is, for those in food production, farming or just interested in Westminster life, a must-read.

Over the last two years, Devon MPs have been meeting weekly to discuss matters important to the county and the South West.

Food and farming are topics rarely off the agenda, and last week’s debate was an opportunity for us to highlight the positives and negatives faced by our farming communities.

Farmers’ at-gate prices have held up well recently but uncertainty and fear of a change of circumstances linger throughout every season.

High street butchers, bakers, grocers and fishmongers have provided a network for our local producers to sell through.

Such a network needs to be cultivated, ensuring that we can shorten the distance between farm and fork, and help to provide healthier food for our schools and hospitals.

The end of the Basic Payment Scheme - subsidies for acreage - was always to be expected.

But the introduction of the Environmental Land Manage scheme - public money for public good - is a monumental task that will provide huge opportunities to revolutionise how we produce food and protect the environment while enhancing biodiversity.

It can be done, and while the general direction is understood and broadly welcomed, the lack of clarity and the high levels of complexity are all adding to the stresses and strains faced in an already difficult industry.

Much has been made about the UK’s food security, and in an increasingly complex world where global supply chains are more fragile than ever, conversation and attention on this point are only set to increase.

With current food security levels at 64 per cent, we ought to introduce a new national target of 75 per cent.

With George Eustice MP reporting back to Parliament on the UK’s food security levels in the autumn, you can bet that Devon MPs will be making this point.

While many officials from the Department of Farming work throughout the country, there can surely be no better part of Government to move out of London and be placed alongside one of our agricultural colleges or within the countryside.

Surely South Devon could provide a home for this department and ensure that policymakers and Whitehall Mandarins are working intimately with those who, more often than not, do know what is best for the land and how to work it best.

We need the next generation of farmers to help shape our policy direction and ensure that the legislation is sensible and applicable.

An initiative that links young farmers, land managers and students of food and farming with Defra could help achieve drastic improvement in policy but also simplify the often burdensome and complex application processes.

Farming and food production in the UK already carries a significantly high international reputation.

Not only are our standards internationally recognised but so, too, is the quality of our produce celebrated the world over.

We need to ensure that policymakers are listening to the industry and working at pace to ensure that the policy matches the reality and demand across the UK.