Defra ministers responded to questions from MPs in the House of Commons this morning - we summarise the highlights.
Secretary of State Andrea Leadsom defended the Government’s work on flooding, saying 130 new permanent defence schemes had been completed and temporary defences had been ‘enormously increased’.
In response to a question from Richard Benyon, MP for Newbury, about how land managers could be incentivised to create greater protection for households, she said £15 million would be invested in further natural flood management projects.
25-year food and farming plan
Farming minister George Eustice refused to give a date for publication of the 25-year plan, despite being put under pressure to do so by Heywood and Middleton MP Liz McInnes.
He said: “It is a manifesto commitment to publish the plan. It is right to develop the plan alongside our plan to leave the European Union, so that it bears relevance to the context”.
Mr Eustice also praised accreditation schemes for local produce, saying they are an ‘opportunity to showcase local food and they are completely in line with Defra’s approach to strengthening our brand’.
Brexit’s impact on the rural economy
Environment minister Therese Coffey told SNP MP Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh Brexit would give Britain the opportunity to create policies which are bespoke to the needs of small rural businesses.
She also said discussions about access to labour were ‘ongoing’ and would be part of negotiations with the EU.
In response to a question about supporting the milk industry from Chris White, MP for Leamington and Warwick, Mr Eustice said: “We are investigating ways of strengthening the negotiating position of farmers in the supply chain, such as reviewing the operation of the Groceries Code Adjudicator, strengthening the voluntary dairy supply chain code and strengthening recognition of producer organisations.”
Future farm support
On farm payments, Dr Coffey told MPs she was ‘actively engaged’ in developing new options and would be looking at environmental schemes which could be ‘at the heart’ of any future agricultural support.
Mr Eustice would not be drawn on how much the new scheme would cost.
The secretary of state also refused to rule out devolving agricultural funding according to need, rather than through the Barnett Formula, in response to a question from Dwyfor Meirionnydd MP Liz Saville Roberts.
State of the food and farming industry
Mrs Leadsom refused to accept there was any kind of crisis in the industry when pressed by shadow secretary of state Rachael Maskell, who said ‘people are struggling now’.
She dismissed the comments as ‘nonsense’, saying food prices ‘do move up and down’ and ‘growth in the sector is booming’.
Making Tax Digital
Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman raised concerns about plans to make all businesses with a turnover of more than £10,000 submit a tax return four times a year online, saying it would be impossible for hill farmers in her constituency.
Dr Coffey said she was aware of the plans and conversations ‘have already been had’ with the Treasury.