Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the 'Brexit and Our Land' consultation?
Thank you. The 'Brexit and our land' consultation closed on 30 October. We've had over 12,000 responses from individuals and organisations. We will now thoroughly analyse all responses ahead of a planned further consultation in the new year.
Thank you. I appreciate that you and your Government officials will now be wading through those 12,000 responses that you have received. However, we know, as AMs, from our mailbags, that our farmers have been very clear in their responses to you and they are asking for significant changes, including greater emphasis on actively farming the land; for productivity to be at the heart of the legislation; for food production to be regarded as a public good; for revised schemes to be accessible to all farmers, including tenants; and that a form of direct payment be continued. The lack of direct payments in your plan is a source of great concern, because, if unchanged, it could see numerous farms across Wales lose stability, confidence and ability to invest going forward. Cabinet Secretary, you don't need me to tell you that for every pound invested in our farms, there is a return in the local economy of around £7.40. Therefore, I am perplexed as to why you would even consider pursuing a policy that could see farmers lose this stability. You recently stated in a Farmers Guardian interview that implementing any form of direct payments would not be an option, even if an overwhelming majority of respondents have requested it. This is alarming. Please, will you give assurances to Members here and to our farmers that you will not make a farce of this Brexit consultation? And I can assure the Cabinet Secretary that I myself have responded; I'm one of those 12,000, and I write on behalf of every single farmer in the constituency of Aberconwy.
I'm not sure you could possibly respond for every single farmer in your constituency with one view, because that's clearly not the case. I mentioned we've had 12,000, and I'm not disrespecting what you're saying about your mail bag, but I've seen a lot of correspondence that absolutely agrees that basic payment schemes shouldn't be kept. So, we can't generalise; we have to analyse all the responses.
If I can just address some of the points you make. Active farming is really important, and active farming will be absolutely at the heart of our new land management scheme. Food production cannot be a public good; it's got a market. There is no market for public goods, and what we're attempting to do with the public goods scheme, and what we want to do, is make sure that farmers are paid for public goods, for which there is no market at the moment. So, the air quality, the soil quality, the water quality—they don't get paid for that at the moment. We need to ensure that that changes.
Food production—I've made it very clear that the economic resilience scheme is around productivity. We've seen productivity go down in the agricultural sector, and we want to ensure that it's now raised. So, food production is absolutely at the heart of the economic resilience scheme. Again, I'll go back to what I said in a previous answer: I don't want anybody to think that there is not a need for farming businesses to be supported; we've made that very clear. Both the First Minister and I have said, any agricultural funding—. And let's be clear about this—your Government in London hasn't told us of any funding that we're going to get post Brexit for agriculture, so ring fencing nothing is not going to do anything for our farmers, is it? So, until we get that assurance, I suggest the Conservative Party are very, very careful.