Michael Gove – 2018 Speech on Clean Air Strategy

Below is the text of the speech made by Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, on 22 May 2018.

Today, the Government published their consultation on a clean air strategy. At the most fundamental level, our health and prosperity depend on the health of the planet on which we live. From the air we breathe to the water we drink, the food we eat and the energy which powers our homes and businesses, we need to ensure we have a healthy and sustainable environment.

Nowhere is this more true than in the case of air quality. Air pollution is a major public health risk ranking alongside cancer, heart disease and obesity. It causes more harm than passive smoking.

This clean air strategy sets out the case for action and demonstrates this Government’s determination to improve our air quality. Leaving the EU provides us with an excellent opportunity to be even more ambitious about achieving cleaner air for the health of the nation, and for our environment and the biodiversity it sustains. We want to do all that we can to reduce people’s exposure to pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, ammonia, volatile organic compounds, particulate matter and sulphur dioxide.

Air pollution has improved since 2010, but we recognise that there is more to do. This comprehensive clean air strategy sets out how we will tackle all sources of air pollution, making our air healthier to breathe, protecting nature and boosting the economy.

Government must act to tackle air pollution which shortens lives. We are already acting to reduce concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (N02) around roads from cars, but vehicles are not the only source of toxic emissions. Air pollution is a result of the way we currently generate power, heat our homes, produce food, manufacture consumer goods and power transport. Better, cleaner technologies and simple changes in behaviour will tackle the pollution that claims lives.

The new strategy is a key part of our 25-year plan to leave our environment in a better state than we found it. It sets out the comprehensive action that is required from across all parts of government and society to meet the challenge. By 2025, we will halve the number of people living in locations where concentrations of particulate matter are above the World Health Organisation guideline limit of 10 ug/m3, protecting public health.

Through the introduction of new primary legislation, we will introduce a stronger and more coherent legislative framework for action to tackle air pollution, giving local government new powers to take decisive action in areas with an air pollution problem.

We are investing £10 million in improving our modelling, data and analytical tools to give a more precise picture of current air quality and the impact of policies on it in ​future. Alongside this, we will seek ways to support further investment in research and innovation, in partnership with UKRI, which will help the UK become world leaders in clean technology and secure further emissions reductions.

From farming to consumer products, a large range of other day-to-day practices, processes and products produce harmful emissions. Of particular concern is burning wood and coal to heat a home, which contributes 38% to harmful particulate matter emissions. It is why we will ensure only the cleanest fuels will be available for sale and only the cleanest stoves will be available to buy and install.

For the first time, the Government will take concerted action to tackle ammonia from farming by requiring and supporting farmers to invest in the infrastructure and equipment that will reduce emissions. The agriculture sector accounts for 88% of UK emissions of ammonia, and action by farmers can make a big difference in reducing the impacts of excess nitrogen on sensitive habitats and reducing the overall background levels of particulates in the atmosphere.

Government cannot act alone in tackling air pollution, and our strategy sets out how we will work with businesses, farmers and industry to implement lasting solutions to reduce air pollution, and the importance of each of us taking action and playing an important role in cleaning up our air for the next generation.

These actions will, we hope, ensure that this country is recognised as the leading global champion of cleaner air for the next generation.

Michael Gove – 2018 Speech on Plant Health

Below is the text of the speech made by Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, RHS Chelsea Flower Show on 21 May 2018.

Thank you for those incredibly kind words and thank you also for the chance to come to Chelsea. Like all of you here I’m captivated by what’s been achieved by the designers, growers and everyone who has been brought together to create something truly magical for a limited period of time and something that we can all share.

It’s a very special moment in the light of the nation Chelsea Flower Show. It’s a very special organisation the RHS and can I begin by expressing the thanks that I feel all of us to Sir Nicholas, the RHS and to everyone who has made this Chelsea possible. Can we show our gratitude please.

This has been something of a Chelsea weekend for me. I spent Saturday at Wembley with my son watching Chelsea Football Club who afloat the FA cup. I can see that many of you were there. But it’s a somewhat different crowd who are here this afternoon. But what we are also celebrating is excellence in another field.

But of course, both the Chelsea Flower Show and the FA cup were significant events this weekend. But there’s another event even more significant, if you forgive me this weekend, that was of course, the wonderful wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. And like many of you, I was held wrapped by the sermon delivered by Michael Curry. I thought that perhaps after hearing that sermon I should rewrite my speech.

I shall begin thus, there’s a power in flowers, flower power can change the world. And indeed, there is a power in flowers, and flowers can change our world because its flowers that provide us with food and drink. It’s flowers that clean up the mess that mankind makes and ensures that climate change can be dealt with by coping with the CO2 that we emit.

It’s flowers increasingly that are providing the treatments that will heal the sick. It’s flowers that ensure our Earth remains in balance. And in that sense, those who invest and those who care for, those who husband and nurture flowers, those who work in horticulture are those who are contributing so powerfully to keeping our Earth in balance and ensuring that future generations have a chance to flourish. So Chelsea as well as being an amazing celebration of creative, aesthetic power and of commercial flavour.

It’s also a celebration of those who do the most fundamental work of all, the work of nurturing this planet, the only one that we have, so it can survive and flourish in the future. But of course, that work as Nicholas reminded us is threatened and challenged by the impact of globalisation and climate change.

Now of course, globalisation and trade brings many benefits, it’s the single most powerful force for rescuing us from poverty and of course, the whole history of the RHS, the history of Chelsea is a history of taking different parts of the globe and celebrating fusion and growth.

But even as our history is one of trade and interchanging, even as globalisation brings benefits. We know that the unique mixture of global trade flows on the scale that we have at the moment, and climate change occurring at the pace it is at the moment creates new threats and new dangers to the UK’s environment and particularly to plant life here. Whether it’s Oak Processionary Moth or Xlyella, it is the case that changing weather and also the flow of international trade brings to our shores, bugs, parasites and threats which now have a chance to flourish, multiple and cause devastation as never before.

And that requires vigilance and above all, it requires a partnership between Government and the industry in order to ensure that we can continue to enjoy the benefits of trade. But we also provide protection for that which we grow here. And in particular, I want to thank Nicola Spence and all those who within the Defra family do so much in order to ensure that we have appropriate protection for that what we grow here. And the particular threat of Xlyella as Sir Nicholas pointed out has acted as a wakeup call, a particular goad to ensure that we do everything necessary in order to provide protection for our plants and our environment.

And the plant health service carries out targeted inspections of plant and wood imports at ports and airports every day of the year in order to ensure that we can be protected. For the past five years, the UK and the work of the plant health service has ensure this have made around 900 interceptions of harmful organisms from Non-EU countries. That’s more than any other EU member state, that’s around 40% of the EU total, and it’s that energetic work which has ensured that our nurses can continue to flourish and we can continue to protect that what we grow here. And only last week, our plant inspectors outed the thousand pest to the UK plant health register. It’s an invaluable tool which reflects the outstanding work in making sure that we screen new pests and new diseases, and ensure that growing here can continue successfully. And of course, we continue to monitor these threats and we continually seek to ensure that we have the arrangements in place and expertise at hand in order to be able to deal with threats like Xlyella and others.

Now of course, as well as the action that’s been taken which already exists within the Defra family. There’s more activity that we are launching today which you may have heard about. Today we are launching the Action Oak initiative and this particular initiative is intended to ensure that we, Defra, the RHS and others can bring together world-leading research in order to ensure that the oak, one of our most iconic species, can be protected from the predators and pests that increasingly pose a threat to this amazing example of the glory in the garden that is England. And of course that work, the Action Oak initiative, is simply one of a number of areas of collaboration which Defra seeks to lead with people in this room and with industry beyond it.

And Sir Nicholas has already spoken about the new senior cross-industry alliance which meets for the first time on Wednesday and it will bring together the nurseries, retailers, tree suppliers, landscapers, foresters and of course our Chief Plant Officer Nicola. To ensure that all of the usual rivalries that exist in the commercial world are put aside so we can have one joint endeavour in order to provide the highest levels of biosecurity, in order to provide them with the reassurance they need. And in particular, we should note that here at Chelsea decisions have already been taken without waiting for Government in order to ensure that the appropriate protections are in place.

And that’s the case the RHS here has banned from its show. Nine of the overseas growing species that are already known to be a Xlyella risk, including rosemary and oleander. And of course where the RHS have led, other nurseries are leading, Barcham is a specialist tree grower has again displayed outstanding leadership in the way it grows its own stock and makes sure it never imports any plants from immediate release. I believe that it’s through working together with the best in the industry and making sure that we use the expertise that we have that to provide that higher level of biosecurity which Nicholas has asked for and is so important.

Because since we published our biosecurity strategy in 2014, I believe that we in this country have built a stronger reputation for setting the highest standards of biosecurity for plants and trees. Our approach is based on science combined with grassroots visualise and with the inspections which our expert team are responsible for. But we all agree in this room that there is no room for complacency and I do believe that there are opportunities as we leave the European Union to tighten our security further.

In the ten years’ time, I wanted to be able to say that our oaks are thriving, that pests have been kept at bay, and I want my children and grandchildren to be able to come to Chelsea to marvel at the diversity of what is on show here. To pleasure and joy in the nature world around them, and to know that the power that there is in flowers is their preserved and enhanced for generations yet to come.

Thank you all very much.

Holly Lynch – 2018 Speech on UK Fisheries

Below is the text of the speech made by Holly Lynch, the Labour MP for Halifax, in the House of Commons on 20 March 2018.

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) for securing this urgent question and to the Secretary of State for his response. However, I am afraid I still have several questions.

The Secretary of State, alongside the Fisheries Minister, has asserted time and time again that the UK would take back absolute control of our waters from day one of leaving both the European Union and the 1964 London fisheries convention. However, following announcements made in the last 48 hours, we now know that the rest of the Government has been having very different conversations with the EU27. The announcement made by the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier, ahead of formal phase two negotiations, made it clear that the UK would continue to be part of the common fisheries policy for the duration of a 21-month post-Brexit transition period, extending up to 2020.​
The announcement that Britain’s share of the total allowable catch will remain unchanged during the transition period contradicts all other previous Government statements in relation to post-Brexit fisheries, and it is understandable that many coastal MPs and fishing communities feel so angry and let down. The Government’s failure to meet their previously stated aims through negotiations is one that now requires greater explanation and examination on the Floor of the House. The Government must be absolutely clear about who is leading the negotiations on fishing and what their position is. Have the Government failed to secure their desired position, as advocated by the Secretary of State and the Fisheries Minister, or was that never the position of our negotiating team and the rest of the Cabinet? If that red line has moved, can the Secretary of State tell the House whether there has been an exchange, and if so, what was secured instead?

Less than a month ago, in a Westminster Hall debate on the UK’s fisheries policy secured by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann), I asked the Fisheries Minister whether he had seen the draft proposals from the European Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries—the PECH Committee—and what the Government’s response was. He informed me that

“at the end of the day, it does not really matter what the European Union asks for, but what we are prepared to grant it.”—[Official Report, 27 February 2018; Vol. 636, c. 314WH.]

With that in mind, can the Secretary of State now be explicit in outlining what the Government are prepared to grant the EU in relation to fisheries? Can he also inform the House what the transition arrangement with the EU will mean for the London convention?

The Secretary of State will have seen the comments from the less-than-satisfied representative fishing organisations and the bold statements—and actions—of his own Back Benchers. Any post-Brexit fisheries policy must be rebalanced to work for our coastal communities and have a sustainable approach at its very core. What we need now from the Government is a move away from the chaotic approach we have seen this week and, instead, honesty and clarity about their negotiating position and exactly what that means for the fishing industry.

Michael Gove – 2018 Statement on Fisheries

Below is the text of the statement made by Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, in the House of Commons on 20 March 2018.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for this opportunity to update the House. I begin by paying tribute to the hard work of the Ministers and especially the civil servants in our country’s negotiating team, who this weekend concluded an agreement on the nature and length of the implementation period, which will help us to prepare for life after Brexit. Taskforce 50, on behalf of the EU, and our own team of dedicated civil servants secured an agreed text, which will now go to the March Council of the European Union at the end of this week, and after that the Prime Minister will update the House on Monday.

The House will be aware that there are important legal and technical questions relating to fisheries management, which means that it occupies a special position in these negotiations. Both the EU and our own negotiators were always clear that specific arrangements would have to be agreed for fisheries.

Our proposal to the EU was that, during the implementation period, we would sit alongside other coastal states as a third country and equal partner in annual quota negotiations. We made that case after full consultation with the representatives of the fisheries industry. We pressed hard during negotiations to secure this outcome, and we are disappointed that the EU was not willing to move on this.

However, thanks to the hard work of our negotiating team, the text was amended from the original proposal, and the Commission has agreed amendments to the text that provide additional reassurance. The revised text clarifies that the UK’s share of quotas will not change during the implementation period, and that the UK can attend international negotiations. Furthermore, the agreement includes an obligation on both sides to act in good faith throughout the implementation period. Any attempts by the EU to operate in a way that harmed the UK fishing industry would breach that obligation.

These arrangements will of course only apply to negotiations in December 2019. We are at the table as a full member state for negotiations in December 2018 and, critically, in December 2020 we will be negotiating fishing opportunities as a third country and independent coastal state—deciding who can access our waters and on what terms for the first time in over 40 years.

It is important that we use this transition period to ensure that we can negotiate as a third country and independent coastal state in 2020 to maximise the benefits for our coastal communities, ensure that we can control who accesses our waters and on what terms, and ensure that we manage our marine resources sustainably. We are already looking at a range of data to support ​consideration of future fishing opportunities, including the nature of catches and zonal attachment of stocks in the UK exclusive economic zone.

There is a significant prize at the end of the implementation period, and it is important that all of us in every area accept that the implementation period is a necessary step towards securing that prize. For our coastal communities, it is an opportunity to revive economically. For our marine environment, it is an opportunity to be managed sustainably. It is critical that all of us, in the interests of the whole nation, keep our eyes on that prize.

Michael Gove – 2018 Speech on a Green Brexit

Below is the text of the speech made by Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, on 15 March 2018.

I want to thank Prosperity UK for organising this conference and in particular, Lord Hill of Oareford, Sir Paul Marshall and Alex Hickman who have been the dynamos who have ensured that today can occur.

And they, like the team that run Prosperity UK, are determined to bring together individuals from across the political spectrum to develop policies for Britain’s future outside the European Union (EU). Their committee is composed of both those who argued that we should Leave the EU and also those who believed that we should Remain But they are united by the belief that, whatever positions individuals may have been adopted in the past it’s important that all of us now focus on the opportunities of the future.

And in choosing today to focus on agriculture, fisheries, food and the environmental more broadly, I believe, that Prosperity UK and the people in this room have identified a critical range of areas where Britain has the potential to be an innovator, generating increased prosperity and setting new global gold standards in sustainability.

I want to set out, in a second, where I believe some of those opportunities specifically lie.

But first I wanted to say a little about how important it is to me in this Government that when we explore the opportunities of life outside the EU we ensure the hopes and fears of those who voted to Remain are woven into our thinking. And into our actions.

No decision in our nation’s history has enjoyed such a strong popular mandate as the decision to leave the European Union. 17.4 million people voted to take back control of this country’s trade, taxes and laws.

But more than sixteen million of our fellow citizens voted to Remain. And there is a special responsibility on those of us who argued for a Leave vote and who are charged with implementing it, to ensure that the underlying reasons why so many people voted to Remain are respected.

Many people voted to Remain because they understandably feared the economic consequences of leaving. There were warnings that a vote to Leave would trigger an immediate recession and precipitate job losses.

Others chose Remain because they feared a Leave vote was somehow a vote to turn inwards and backwards. It was a vote for narrower horizons rather than a truly global Britain.

Others were concerned that a vote to Leave would strengthen the hands of separatists particularly in Scotland or others who wished to pursue an even more populist political platform.

And, critically, there were many that felt that during the time we have been in the European Union there have been undoubted advances in how we treat each other, and the planet, which have been enshrined in law and underpinned by regulation, and all that would be put potentially at risk by a vote to Leave.

All of those concerns – for economic justice, cultural open-ness, social harmony and environmental enhancement – are critically important.

And that is why I am glad that, since the referendum result, this Government has ensured that progress has been made in all of those areas.

Since the referendum, Britain has recorded the best employment figures in its history, with more than 32.1 million people in work. Employment is just 66.5% in the Eurozone, compared to 74.1% in the UK.

And for those in work, particularly at the bottom end of the income spectrum, wages have been rising. As the OBR pointed out this week, there has been a 7% real terms increase in pay for the poorest.

More jobs for working people and better-paid jobs for working people I believe contributes to greater economic justice.

All this has been underpinned by a shift in our economy towards export-led growth, away from what I believe to be an over-reliance on domestic consumer demand in the past.

In the last 12 months exports have risen by £64.5 billion – that’s a rise of 11.5%.

Our service sector continues to thrive with exports up by 10.1% and exports of goods have risen even faster by 12.6% to £344.5 billion, and the manufacturing sector in particular has been making a significant contribution to this growth.

So far then, the decision to leave the EU, far from precipitating recession, harming food security or hitting working people in the pocket, has promoted economic progress.

And it has also, I believe, had a beneficial political effect.

Since the British people voted to leave the EU, support for separatist parties and separation itself has declined. Most notably of course in Scotland.

The decline in support for separation in Scotland stands in contrast to the increased support for secession in Catalonia and the growing regional tensions that we’ve seen in Italy in their election campaign.

And indeed it is not just support for separatist movements which has declined in Britain since the referendum.

Support for populist parties has also collapsed. The United Kingdom Independence Party is now a ghost political movement, like the Luddites or the Whigs, and no populist party of the right, or of the radical fringe, is taking its place.

Again, by way of contrast, the recent electoral success of the Five Star Movement in Italy, the Alternative for Deutschland in Germany, the Front National in France shows that almost alone in Europe, Britain does not have either a burgeoning populist party in parliament or making progress in the polls.

The ebbing in support for populist parties in the UK has also been accompanied by a warmer and more welcoming approach by the British people to issues such as immigration.

The most recent polling on migration showed that the UK was the country in the EU with the most welcoming attitudes towards migrants from outside the EU. We are the most open, global, nation in Europe.

And that is reflected in university admissions with the number of foreign students applying to study in the UK increasing.

In 2018 there were 7,300 more applicants from overseas, with 43,500 applications from EU students alone – an increase from the year before.

Applications from some EU nations such as Croatia, Finland, Germany, Spain, Poland and Portugal have continued to rise in the last few years by as much as 30%.

The continuing popularity of our world-leading universities with foreign students is a win-win all round. It’s a wonderful example of British soft power, it makes universities themselves more diverse, it generates earnings for the UK economy, and the fees from foreign students can help keep our own costs down.

So, as well as serving economic justice, Brexit, if we make the right decisions, can serve social justice too.

The great progressive prize of a green Brexit

But more than that, Brexit, with the right decisions, can enhance our natural environment.

Which is why I am so delighted by the range of speakers, and indeed the breadth of issues, at today’s conference. The potential for progressive change is huge.

But that change can only be made real if we utilise the talents of everyone who cares about the natural world.

I am very well aware that for many who care deeply about the environment, our membership of the EU coincided with both increased awareness of environmental concerns and improved mechanisms to safeguard the natural world.

And as I mentioned earlier, leaving the EU, for many, appeared to put those gains at risk, or at the very least raise a question over the prospect of continued progress.

And it’s because I appreciate the strength of those concerns that we in Defra have moved as quickly as we can to affirm that not only will there be no abandonment of the environmental principles that we’ve adopted in our time in the EU but indeed we aim to strengthen environmental protection measures and to create new mechanisms to incentivise environmental improvement.

That is why we’re consulting on how to introduce a new environmental protection body and it’s why we’ve outlined policies for the natural world in our 25-Year Environment Plan that, in some cases, are more ambitious than any required by EU membership.

I recognise that some of the ambitions outlined in the Plan will need legislative under-pinning. And while I can’t say now what will be in future Queens’ Speeches I can state clearly that if we are to honour our pledge to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it we must also leave the statute book in a better state than we inherited it.

And in advance of any major legislation, we’re also determined to show at Defra that we’re making progress as rapidly as possible towards meeting the goals that we’ve set for ourselves in our Environment Plan.

That’s why we’re planning to go further in dealing with the pollution caused by single use plastics, and building on our plastic bag and plastic microbeads bans.

I am also determined, as I reminded today by the House of Commons, that the UK must do more to clean up our air. I want to create stronger incentives for us to do so, and I will set out our proposals in a clean air strategy later this Spring.

Because to be frank, as again the House of Commons has reminded us today, we’ve been too slow to act on what is a major public health scandal.

Again, we’ll being saying more in coming weeks, but we all know that we have to do more to restrict diesel use, to protect urban centres from pollution, to change how some of us heat our homes and we also need to reform aspects of agriculture and industry to ensure our air is properly breathable.

A strong economy needs a healthy environment

In acting in this way, I believe that this Government is being true, actually, to the best Conservative traditions. It was Disraeli’s Government that recognised improving public health depended on passing enlightened environmental legislation. His administration introduced laws to safeguard our rivers. The great third Marquis of Salisbury’s Government introduced laws on housing, Macmillan’s introduced laws on Air Quality and Margaret Thatcher’s on a range of environmental issues, all of which reflected a profound appreciation of the inter-dependence of a healthy environment, a healthy population and a flourishing economy.

I recognise that it’s a stock in trade of some political commentary that you can only really pursue environmental goods at the expense of consumers or business. There are some who say that you can pursue greenery or prosperity but you can’t put a premium on both.

Indeed that was the line doggedly asserted by the BBC’s Nick Robinson when he interviewed me on the Today Programme for the launch of our 25 Year Environment Plan.

But, even when that case is prosecuted with all the vigour and talent of a Nick Robinson, I believe, and I believe that history shows, that it’s a false dichotomy.

The truth, as governments have long understood, is that you cannot sustain economic growth if you erode the natural capital on which all human flourishing depends.

And, in parallel, sustainable economic growth will generate the income we all then can invest in future, further environmental enhancement.

It has been economic growth – free market-inspired, capitalist-generated and business-driven – that has helped us to secure cleaner rivers, cleaner and less carbon-intensive energy and to protect natural habitats in the world’s wealthiest nations.

And unfortunately history tells us that centralised state control, socialist management, and the absence of effective price signals and functioning markets, and indeed the expropriation of private property and collectivisation have led, not just to economic misery but also to environmental degradation. The example of Mao’s China, Soviet Russia and Maduro’s Venezuela, shows that that path leads to poisoned soils and contaminated rivers, toxic air and wrecked habitats.

Indeed the economic policies pursued by the leaders of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela – Hugo Chavez and Nicholas Maduro – who have such enthusiastic fans here in the UK, naming no names – those policies have involved the grotesquely profligate exploitation of fossil fuel reserves in a manner that has been both economically foolish and environmentally reckless. And that has been accompanied by the immiseration of the nation’s population, provoking not just the migration of millions of refugees but also the devastation of that country’s rural economy.

So poor, and hungry, have Venezuela’s citizens become under Chavez and Maduro that they were driven to eat the animals in Caracas zoo to keep alive. As a metaphor for how economic failure drives the destruction of the natural world, it is both all too fitting and heart-breaking.

A post-Brexit long-term economic plan

But while open and enlightened market economies have done a demonstrably better job in delivering environmental goods than closed command economies, we’ve also got to be honest about where our economic thinking has been deficient in recent years.

Just as growth in the first decade of this century was over-reliant on debt, on borrowing that we expected the next generation to pay for, so growth over many decades has been over-reliant on exploiting finite natural resources whose depletion inevitably leaves future generations poorer.

As a Conservative, someone who believes in the careful husbanding of resources, both financial and environmental, and as someone who also believes in the principle of stewardship, the idea that we must hand on our inheritance to the next generation in an enhanced state, I believe we have a responsibility to ensure that our economic model prices in those valuable principles. In other words we have to have truly sustainable economic growth.

That is why I am such an enthusiast for the idea of natural capital, pioneered by the brilliant economist Dieter Helm, from whom you will be hearing later this morning.

Dieter developed the idea, the concept of Natural capital accounting, which aims to measure every natural asset – from freshwater to the oceans, oil and gas stocks to fish stocks, woodland to peat – and record how those assets are changing over time, both in physical and financial terms.

The UK was the first country in the world to establish an independent Natural Capital Committee to advise the Government on how to manage and enhance our natural wealth and that committee has been playing a critical role in the formulation and implementation of our 25 Year Environment Plan. The insights of the Natural Capital Committee have ensured that this government recognised that natural capital is as fundamental to our health and prosperity in our future as our human capital or physical capital.

Of course it’s important to note that natural capital is just one tool we can use to deliver on our environmental gains. Not everything that we cherish in the natural world can be given a monetary value. We don’t want to protect and restore the environment simply because of its economic value, but because of our moral duty and our emotional attachment. But still, natural capital remains a powerful tool for all of us who care about the natural environment and prosperity in the future to ensure that we take our responsibilities towards the environment seriously, and we can be held accountable for our actions.

So as we design the economic and environmental policies that will guide Britain after Brexit our aim will be to ensure we incentivise investment in physical, human and, above all, natural capital.

CAP reform

The prosperity of our economy, and in particular our food economy, depends on us developing a truly sustainable approach for the future, and in particular towards our landscape.

So as we escape from the Common Agricultural Policy and develop our own domestic farming policy we have to move away from our current system, which lacks effective incentives for long-term-thinking, to one that promotes investment in our shared future.

That will mean we pay farmers to improve the quality and fertility of their soil, that means we want to reverse the trends of the past which have led to compaction and run-off, and which have polluted our rivers and choked our fish.

Supporting those who practice min or no-till cultivation in agriculture is not only better for our rivers and watercourses, it will also help to control and reduced carbon emissions, it will reduce demand for chemical inputs and it will provide a richer habitat for insects and invertebrates.

And we should indeed, as we revise our policy towards our land and embed natural capital thinking in our approach, move to provide better support for our farmers and land managers who maintain, restore, or create precious habitats for wildlife. Whether it’s supporting those who’re protecting curlews on moorland or who’re ensuring the health of sphagnum moss in blanket bog, the stewards of precious natural assets which Britain has a special role in conserving, need improved support in the future, and that will be at the heart of our environmental, agricultural and economic policy post-Brexit.

Fisheries

And as well as reforming the Common Agricultural Policy to reward those who provide habitats on land, leaving the EU also provides us with an opportunity to escape the Common Fisheries Policy and replace it with an approach to managing our marine environment which puts conservation and sustainability at the heart of our approach towards our own territorial waters.

Effective reform in all these areas will of course depend on also enabling the right sort of technological and scientific breakthroughs. And freedom to innovate in these policy areas should I hope also provide new opportunities for the burgeoning growth and environmental entrepreneurship that we see in Britain. From the appropriate surveillance of fishing activity to the use of artificial intelligence to improve farm animal health, we can demonstrate how we can increase both natural capital on land and at sea and also boost national productivity.

Agritech

There is, I am delighted to say, a continued and intense interest in British environmental technology and innovation because we excel in agritech and supporting innovation inf green finance. There were more than 58,000 tech start-ups in the UK in 2017 and more venture capital invested in technology in London than in Germany, France, Spain and Ireland combined.

A new business starts every 75 seconds, and many have the potential to change how we define prosperity and how we enhance natural capital. New companies like Saturn Bioponics are leading the way with new modular growing systems that allow farmers to increase crop density while making harvesting cleaner and easier, reducing labour costs by up to 50% and producing an almost 100% saleable yield. Overall, Saturn Bioponics have shown that investment in their technology will be paid back between 1-4 years through increased profitability.

And Government, critically, has a positive role to play in helping to enable this sort of innovation.

Just this week an investment of £90 million from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund was directed towards the Transforming Food Production programme. Investments like this will I believe help to support a technology and data-driven transformation for UK farmers, UK land managers and those who work on or with our environment.

By supporting farmers with the initial investment we can help their businesses to not only become more productive and to generate more growth, and indeed to provide more high-skilled jobs, we can also drive more high-value export opportunities, and critically we can also ensure that our environment becomes more resilient and even better guardians of our natural environment.

Across the UK there is a wealth of innovative start-ups redefining what it means to be a farmer or a land manager, and how to farm effectively and sustainably. One company, Hummingbird Technologies uses crop mapping to identify problems in drainage, compaction, nutrition, weeds and pests before they become devastating, and it can pre-emptively detect the presence of particular diseases like potato blight and blackgrass.

It is also the case that our universities like Harper Adams who have been collaborating with a number of tech companies, have helped to lead the charge in developments in agronomy and agritech, and in particular the world has been paying attention to the way in which Harper Adams through its Hands Free Hectare project has shown the way for a more efficient and environmentally sensitive approach towards agriculture.

I believe that we can also, as well as demonstrating global leadership in all these areas, also demonstrate it in our approach towards resource efficiency and the treatment of waste. We all know that we need to reduce our reliance on plastic and in particular make sure the incentives are there to move away from the use of virgin products so we all use more recycled material. I recognise that we need to reform the existing producer responsibility scheme, we need to impose appropriate costs on those whose products leave a heavier environmental footprint and we then need to use the money generated from that to invest in dramatically improved recycling facilities in this country.

In the same spirit, we also need to encourage movement away from diesel and petrol cars towards ultra-low emission vehicles such as those Sir James Dyson is developing. And we also should build on the work that’s being done to develop autonomous vehicles in the future. Their development could help us to further reduce the adverse environmental impact of our current approach towards urban transport.

Global leadership

I believe that Britain has the potential now to demonstrate global leadership in all these and more areas.

And there are opportunities on the months ahead for us to demonstrate, alongside, other nations, our determination to do more for our planet.

At the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, and with Canada’s Presidency of the G7, we can play our part to extend protection to more of the world’s oceans.

At the Illegal Wildlife Trade Summit in London this autumn we can take decisive steps to safeguard biodiversity worldwide, and indeed we can, in the months ahead, develop new approaches to measuring, valuing, and enhancing biodiversity worldwide.

We can also ensure in the trade agreements that we hope to sign and indeed in the economic partnership that we plan to forge with the EU, that natural capital is protected, that the natural world will be respected and that the highest ethical and environmental standards are upheld.

Conclusion

A commitment to the highest environmental standards in everything we do doesn’t involve any long-term economic sacrifice. Quite the opposite. We will only succeed in the world as a food exporter, a centre for tourism, a hub for technology investment and an incubator for wider innovation on the basis that we are an economy and society where quality, integrity, sustainability and a commitment to long-term relationships are guaranteed. We need to build an economy and a society which continually promotes incentives to virtue.

There are great prizes for our resourceful, resilient, remarkable nation in the years ahead – and I hope, with the help of all the people gathered here for this conference, that we can succeed in the years ahead in building something special in this our green and pleasant land.

Thank you.

Michael Gove – 2018 Speech on the Water Industry

Below is the text of the speech made by Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs at the Water UK City Conference held on 1 March 2018.

The way we as a nation organise our water industry inspires strong feelings.

Because water is our lifeblood – the single most critical resource for the wellbeing of nations and the planet.

It has no substitute; we cannot replace it with anything else.

Those charged with its collection, distribution and supply – all of you in this room – play an absolutely essential role in all our lives which has no analogue in any other industry.

And that’s partly because you provide a monopoly service. The pipes which carry water into all our homes are the responsibility of your companies, which operate natural monopolies.

That monopoly position means water companies, at their best, can play a very strongly positive role. From the moment rain falls from the sky to the point at which water flows through our taps, you can enhance our environment and improve customer service.

But with monopoly power come special responsibilities – to ensure that your position is not abused, that the environment is not neglected and customers are not exploited.

And, in return for operating a monopoly, with the guaranteed income that brings, water companies have to be transparent and accountable. You make your money from a captive market. So you need to show you’re playing fair. You may be private companies, but you have a responsibility to the public – who cannot take their custom elsewhere.

This kind of business – a captive set of consumers, guaranteed income from hundreds of thousands, if not millions of customer accounts, and a certainty that your product will never go out of fashion – is a commercial dream.

The late media tycoon Lord Thomson once said of ITV franchises, like Scottish Television, when they were effective advertising monopolies, that they were a licence to print money.

Well whatever advantages an ITV franchise-holder once had in the 60s and 70s, they would have looked with envy at the commercial position of the owner of a water company.

My priority, as we gear up for PR19, is to support Ofwat and the Environment Agency in ensuring that water companies are now working as diligently, on behalf of consumers and the natural world, as they are for their owners.

It is undoubtedly the case that privatisation, the role of private companies, has brought significant benefits and improvements to the environment and consumer. But it’s crucial that we do not let progress stall.

Maintaining a safe supply of drinking water is a capital intensive affair, involving heavily decentralised infrastructure and very significant sunk costs.

Of-course, private companies have shown that since the 1980s we have tackled some of our problems.

In the pre-privatisation days of the 1980s – as now – our decaying pipes, sewers and reservoirs needed serious money spent on them. And you spent it.

Water mains were corroded and prone to leaking. In some places, drinking water quality was poor. Pressure was low and supplies were interrupted.

Reform was required – and the government turned to you, the private sector for solutions.

Since privatisation, around £140billion overall has been invested in infrastructure – Leakage levels are down by around a third and two thirds of our beaches are classed as excellent, up from one third pre-privatisation.

Some companies deserve particular praise for their environmental leadership.

The Environment Agency gave United Utilities and Wessex Water ‘industry leading’ ratings in their 2017 Environmental Performance Assessment.

Yorkshire Water is planting millions of trees to help reduce the risk of flooding and control surges in the flow of water.

Essex and Suffolk Water – part of Northumbria – has done a great job enlarging the Abberton Reservoir near Colchester.

That has meant that customers are not only less likely to suffer drought, it has also provided a habitat for skylarks, goldeneye ducks, common terns and brown hares.

Wessex has been innovative in its use of catchment-based market mechanisms to encourage farmers to reduce nitrate pollution.

And Anglian Water last year issued the first ever public utility sector Green Bond – to meet the three-fold challenges of water scarcity, climate change and better environmental protection.

So, private water companies have contributed to the public good – but public concern about the way the water industry operates is growing. And I understand why.

Three billion litres of water still leak out every day – can the companies really claim they are doing enough to preserve this precious national resource? This figure has barely improved in the past four years.

And while £140billion pounds have been pumped into the network to repair existing assets, there has been no investment in new nationally significant supply infrastructure, such as major reservoirs, since privatisation.

And although bill reductions are welcome, customers deserve an even better deal in future.

Overall, I believe that despite the undoubted gains in efficiency and investment since privatisation, the system is not working as well as it should.

Far too often, there is evidence that water companies – your water companies – have not been acting sufficiently in the public interest.

Some companies have been playing the system for the benefit of wealthy managers and owners, at the expense of consumers and the environment.

Particularly in the last decade, some companies have not been as transparent as they should have been.

They have shielded themselves from scrutiny, hidden behind complex financial structures, avoided paying taxes, have rewarded the already well-off, kept charges higher than they needed to be and allowed leaks, pollution and other failures to persist for far too long.

And when there has been acknowledgement that change is required – following public pressure or actions by regulators – far too often there has been prevarication and procrastination, ducking and diving and dragging of feet.

Change having been promised in many cases, hasn’t happened, or hasn’t happened quickly enough.

Change has to come.

Why?

Because the consumer – and the environment – deserve better.

As I mentioned earlier, water companies can be surer of the flow of income from householders into their coffers than householders can be sure of the leak-free flow of water into their homes.

What this translates to is billions of pounds in profits and dividends for those who own these companies.

In cash terms, over £18.1billion was paid out to shareholders of the nine large English regional water and sewerage companies between 2007 and 2016.

Of course, generous dividends can be justified if they’ve been generated by the lean and efficient running of an operation – and have been paid out after appropriate capital investment.

But the £18.1 billion paid out in dividends was actually almost all of the profit made by water companies after tax – the total profit was £18.8billion over the same period.

95% of the profit went in dividends to shareholders.

And who made those decisions? Well, of course, it’s the people in this room – chief executives and board members of the privatised water companies. And you must realise that in the public eye you are very handsomely remunerated.

The chief executive of United Utilities is paid £2.8million per annum.

Severn Trent’s chief executive takes home £2.42million.

The chief executives at Anglian and Yorkshire get £1.2million a year.

And the chief executive of Thames Water gets £960,000 a year – five times the Prime Minister’s salary.

At least, one might hope, companies making such massive profits, paying out such big dividends and supporting such generous executive salaries, would be big contributors to the Exchequer through their tax bill.

Well some are.

And others not.

Very much not.

Last year Anglian, Southern and Thames paid no corporation tax.

Indeed Thames has paid no corporation tax for a decade.

Ten years of shareholders getting millions, the chief executive getting hundreds of thousands, and the public purse getting nothing.

And water companies have been able to minimise their tax obligations, even as many have failed to minimise leaks and pollution, because some of their best brains appear to as be intent on financial engineering just as much as real engineering.

Now I’m all for innovative and ingenious management – but not when it means maximum upside for shareholders of natural monopolies, and not enough sharing of the gains with customers.

Four water companies – Thames, Southern, Anglian and Yorkshire – make particularly keen use of sophisticated financial engineering.

They have set up multi-layered corporate structures of dizzying complexity involving multiple subsidiaries, some based offshore. The use of these offshore entities makes company affairs more opaque and their financial activities less transparent, and customers have an absolute right to question their use.

As well as Thames, Southern and Yorkshire – have also set up offshore financial structures in the Cayman Islands.

The stated reason was to enable smoother access to global bond markets. But the rules were changed, yet the offshore firms continued to exist. The companies concerned have maintained the structures that enable them, among other things, to avoid proper scrutiny.

And scrutiny matters because these companies have used their complex structures to play the system, and – further – they have also used the way they manage debt to arrange matters in their favour.

While an efficient capital structure for an asset-intensive business like water must always involve a significant amount of debt, these companies are carrying far more than others in the sector – and more than most companies outside the sector, would think wise.

In setting bills, Ofwat asks customers to pay water companies an amount that lets them maintain a prudent balance sheet divided on a 60:40 basis between debt – which is cheaper for the companies to service – and equity.

This 40 per cent is designed explicitly as a ‘buffer zone’ – to protect companies from financial shocks and to ensure they have enough money to innovate, and push ahead on service and performance. But there are owners of individual water companies who have decided to play the debt game differently.

The banks and funds which own these companies have increased their debt levels to nearly 80% – or 83%, in the case of Thames.

And because the debt levels are higher than those assumed by Ofwat – and the repayments are cheaper than they would be on equity returns, and are paid out before tax to boot – the companies have made supernormal gains.

And low interest rates in recent years have boosted these still further.

And some in the sector have further leveraged the equity by borrowing again at parent company level, thereby diluting the true ‘equity’ even more.

So, the Thames buffer zone is down to just 17% and it has the highest gearing in the sector.

Yorkshire’s gearing is 75%, while Southern and Anglian are at 78% and 79% respectively.

Now this may be good news for the investors in these companies but it is less so for customers and for investment in the environment.

Compared to the other water companies, whose gearing remains around 60%, these companies now have less capacity to cope with risks and shocks.

And all the time this financial engineering is going on, it’s left to the tax-payer and bill payer to continue to bear a heavy burden.

It’s not as though the customers of the privatised water companies have exactly had it easy over the years.

Yes there have been recent price reductions. But between privatisation in 1989 and 2015, water bills rose by 40 per cent more than inflation.

And it is still the case that operational performance remains concerning.

The three billion litres lost to leaks every day is more than a fifth of the total supply. Action to prevent these leaks could help bring bills down, as well as benefit the environment and improve resilience.

This is why I so enthusiastically endorse the view of Sir John Armitt, chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, that a twin-track approach to improving resilience against drought is necessary.

Water companies need to be investing in new infrastructure, increasing water transfers and also working, critically, to bring down leakage.

Barring United Utilities, each of the nine large water companies suffered more mains bursts last year than in the one before. People and the environment alike have suffered: ruptured pipes, rising floodwater, interrupted supplies, and homes and businesses losing out.

In 2016-17, Thames Water suffered 265 bursts for every 1,000 km of mains pipe.

And in recent months, as has been reported in the Evening Standard and elsewhere, there have been three major incidents in West London alone.

Homes, shops, offices and restaurants have been inundated. Streets have been closed for weeks. One major route has been closed as a result of a Thames Water leak at the end of January, and it still isn’t open as we speak.

The failure to deal effectively with that leak has caused traffic chaos, disrupted commerce, and infuriated residents and commuters alike.

And of course this problem of leakage is not the only blot on the sector.

On pollution, too, improvement has stalled. Every year water companies are responsible for around 60 serious incidents of pollution – that’s more than one a week – and notably the tally has barely changed in a decade.

Thames Water was recently guilty of one of the most egregious lapses. The company was fined £20.3 million for having polluted the river Thames with nearly one and a half billion litres of raw sewage in 2013 and 2014.

The penalty inflicted reflected the ‘death of wildlife and distress to the public’ at six sites in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. It was a record fine. But it was also just ten days’ worth of Thames’s operating profit.

So what does the public see? An industry slow to stop leaks, slow to repair them, slow to stop pollution and slow to say sorry.

Customers are justified in wondering why water companies have also proved slow to clean up their financial act.

In recent months, under pressure from the regulator and consumer groups, water companies with offshore financial structures have agreed to close them in an effort to rebuild public trust.

But the companies – people in this room – have said it will take up to two years to wind up the Cayman operations because it is claimed it will take that long to contact international bondholders who may have made their investments a decade ago.

That sort of excuse-mongering just won’t wash, I’m afraid.

The people in this room – the companies you run – must change. And you must show the public that at every stage you are putting the environment and your customers first.

That’s why I support the critical work being done by Emma Howard Boyd and the Environment Agency to get water companies doing more to protect and enhance the environment, and make the nation more resilient to flood and drought.

From a regulatory perspective, as you know, I have also asked Ofwat’s chairman, Jonson Cox, to have another look at strengthening governance, at helping to improve performance and making sure bill-payers are getting the best possible value for their money – a government manifesto priority.

The reality is that privatised natural monopolies bring with them specific challenges and temptations that must be addressed by a strong and energetic regulator.

Jonson and his team are, I know, committed to finding the right balance between returns to shareholders and costs to customers. Earlier today, he gave you a first steer about Ofwat’s plans to deal with many of the issues I have raised. I want you to know that I will give Jonson and his team whatever powers are necessary, and back them in any action they need to take, to get the water companies, all of them, to up their game and further lower consumer bills.

As we move towards the third decade of a privatised water sector, I believe there is much more that should be done to get the balance right.

Unless we see change, the pressure for renationalisation will only grow.

Renationalisation has significant and growing public support. I believe that renationalisation would be a terrible backward step. It would cost the taxpayer, not save them money. It would reduce investment in the environment, not increase it. It would stifle innovation, not encourage it.

I strongly believe that private markets are the optimum way to meet the ongoing needs of water customers and the environment when backed by strong regulation. And real behaviour change.

Should companies continue to drag their feet, I have already said I am prepared to consider changes to the regulatory framework to ensure that consumers receive the service they deserve – and the natural world is better protected in line with our 25 Year Environment Plan.

This government’s priorities are clear: securing long-term, resilient water and wastewater services, protecting customers from potentially unaffordable bills and also making sure that we have a cleaner, greener country for the next generation.

That’s why I want to see businesses starting to invest now in order to meet the significant and complex challenges ahead.

This country is blessed with regular rainfall and occasional snow fall. But the drier conditions last year proved we should not take this for granted.

Climate change is causing more extreme weather. Extended periods of drought punctuated by intense rainfall will become the normal.

A growing, wealthier and more urban population will require more water.

Tackling all these challenges will require imagination, tenacity and creativity.

The people in this room have all those qualities.

Now is the time to deploy them more energetically than ever in the public interest. Or face the consequences.

Thank you.

Michael Gove – 2018 Speech on Farming

Below is the text of the speech made by Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Fisheries and Rural Affairs, at the NFU Farming Conference on 20 February 2018.

Thank you for that very kind introduction.

It’s a great pleasure to be here at this – my first – NFU conference.

But also a sadness that it will be your last as President, Meurig.

You have been an outstanding leader of this organisation, a powerful voice for farmers and a highly effective advocate for agriculture, and you have influenced every level of Government.

I have – hugely- valued your candour and wisdom and will miss our regular meetings.

Everyone in this room should know, and I am sure does, how determinedly you have stood up for their interests in all our conversations and you deserve the gratitude of everyone in this room for your exemplary leadership. Thank you for the work you’ve done.

You leave very big boots to fill.

But it is the NFU’s strength – and this country’s good fortune – that you have a talented field stepping up to take on new leadership roles in the union and I wish them all every success

Food at the heart of life

One issue you have continually impressed on me Meurig, and you repeated in your fantastic speech just now, and one principle I wholeheartedly agree with, is that the heart of farming is food production.

Like you I admire farmers as stewards of the countryside – as you put it to me, Meurig, – the very first friends of the earth.

I personally appreciate everything farmers do to keep our soils rich, our rivers clean, to provide habitats for wildlife and to help in the fight against climate change and broader environmental degradation. And I want to see farmers better rewarded for these vital public services.

But I know that farmers would not be in a position to provide these public goods, indeed we would not have the countryside we all cherish, without successful, productive, profitable farm businesses.

More than that, without successful farm businesses and high quality food production we won’t be able in the future to maintain the balance and health of our whole society and economy. Rural communities depend on profitable agricultural businesses to thrive. The landscapes which draw tourists, from the Lake District to Dartmoor, the Northumberland coast to Pembrokeshire, depend on farmers for their maintenance and upkeep. The hotels, bed and breakfasts, restaurants and pubs which do so much to enhance the attractiveness of these areas for all visitors depend, crucially, on high quality local produce and a healthy local food economy to be at their best.

And I believe that if we get policy right for those who produce our food we can ensure sustainable and balanced growth across the United Kingdom, we can ensure the investment is there in the future, not just to make the countryside and the country as a whole flourish, we can enhance our environment, provide rewarding employment for future generations, improve the physical health and well-being of the population and to shape a better world for our children and grandchildren.

Food, at last, at the heart of government thinking

That is why in this job I have been determined to ensure that the voice, influences and concerns of those who produce our food has been amplified as much as possible, and put at the heart of Government thinking in every policy area.

I fear that, in the past, the concerns of farmers and food producers were given insufficient weight in the design and implementation of UK Government policy. And Meurig as you reminded us, some of the comment of previous holders of this office did not give this sufficient attention.

Defra, and its predecessor department MAFF, were kept unjustifiably low in the Whitehall pecking order.

That was a mistake. But it could be, and was, defended by some on the basis that the major policy decisions governing farming and food production were taken not at a domestic level but at European levels through the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. Since UK ministers and civil servants had little room to shape, let alone, reform the CAP’s operation there was, it was argued, little justification for expending energy thinking hard about food policy.

This failure, and it was a failure, was all the more lamentable because, as everyone here knows, the food and drink industry is Britain’s biggest manufacturing sector. It’s also Britain’s fastest-growing, with our export growth over the last few months having been driven by massive increases in food and drink sales.

That growth has been enabled by Britain’s decision to leave the European Union and the new opportunities it has given our exporters. And leaving the EU also, of course, requires us to develop new policies overall on food and farming. As a result for the first time in almost half a century, we are free to design policies from first principles that put British farmers, and consumers, first.

The brilliant team of civil servants in Defra have been rising to that challenge and also critically ensuring that the rest of Government rises to that challenge as well.

So we can now have, for the very first time in Government, a strategy that is designed to integrate the concerns of everyone involved in food and drink production – from farm to fork – to develop the right policies for the future. That food strategy is at the heart of the broader Industrial Strategy which you will hear more about from my friend and colleague Greg Clark, the Business Secretary, tomorrow. Indeed strengthening the food and drink sector overall is integral to the broader economic policy direction the Prime Minister has outlined for the whole of Government. Which is why this year the Department for International Trade has its top agenda item improving food and drink exports.

Working with the Business Department we have also established a Food and Drink Sector Council with representatives from primary producers, processors and distributors, the hospitality sector and retail, to identify where more needs to be done to improve prospects for the food and drink sector. Current and past NFU Presidents are among the representatives on the council and working groups, who will look at how to further improve productivity, enhance training, support innovation and open new export markets.

This work is intended to be the precursor to a new Food and Drink Sector Deal to build on existing successes and help to prepare the sector better for the future.

Fresh thinking about food also government has also meant that we have been working with the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Education on policies to improve nutrition, health and well-being, and it has been Defra that has been the driving force for improvement in these areas.

And we have also been working across Government to improve procurement. As we leave the EU, we will have the chance to review how we use the immense buying power of the public purse to, at last, properly support British food producers. Changing how Government procures food can help drive the change we all want to see – we can use public money to reward British farmers and food producers who grow healthy food in a sustainable fashion, we can invest more in local food economies and we can support higher environmental standards overall.

So I hope you can see, the voices of farmers and food producers, their hopes and concerns, expectations and ambitions, and indeed obligations and duties, are now more central to Government thinking than at any time in fifty years. It is crucial that we, together, make the most of this historic opportunity as we leave the EU, this unfrozen moment, so that we can shape policy decisively in the interest of future generations.

The future of food and farming

So what should our, shared, aim be? What do we, ideally, want the future to look like?

Well my own view is that we want to uphold the trinity of values identified by E.F. Schumacher – health, beauty and permanence.

We want a healthy and beautiful countryside, producing food that makes us healthier as individuals, in a society which has a healthier attitude towards the natural world, an attitude that values permanence, where we wish to preserve and enhance natural capital and where we value the traditions and the virtues of rural life.

But, as I explained in my speech to the Oxford Farming Conference earlier this year, the pursuit of all these values takes place against a background of accelerating demographic, scientific, political and economic change, which Meurig explained.

Change is inevitable, whether in or out of the EU. Population growth, technological innovation, environmental pressures and evolving social attitudes require us all to adapt.

But we need policies which can help farmers and food producers develop resilience in the face of this change, help you to adapt to new opportunities and meet the expectations of future generations, while all the time promoting health, celebrating beauty and valuing permanence.

And I believe that outside the EU there are exciting opportunities for us to shape the future in a way which reflects all of our shared priorities. We can design the policies best fitted for our food producers and consumers. And best equipped to ensure our food economy remains sustainable and profitable in the long term.

Because if we’re honest, the Common Agricultural Policy has not worked either for our food economy or for the natural environment. That is why we have outlined a new direction of travel in our 25 Year Environment Plan, published earlier this year, and we will also be publishing a Consultation Paper on the future of agricultural policy in England very shortly.

And I do hope we can see similar ambition in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Because outside the EU the devolved administrations will have more powers than ever before to shape agricultural policies that suit their jurisdictions and they will be free to devise methods of support that suit the farmers and the consumers in their individual nations.

Of course, we are all working together to ensure there will be UK-wide frameworks on areas of common concern like animal and plant health and we don’t want any decisions taken by any constituent part of the UK that will harm our own internal UK market. And of course we want to work together to ensure that we develop world-leading animal welfare and environmental standards. But I believe that we can get the balance right, between UK frameworks, that ensure that we can work collectively together, effectively, and also the maximum level of devolution in order to ensure that policy fits the needs of individual nations of the United Kingdom.

And we also know that leaving the EU also means – critically – reforming the current system of subsidy for farming and food production. As we all know the current system of support doesn’t work for producers or consumers anywhere in the UK. And it doesn’t deliver sustainability for the long term.

As Meurig pointed out, paying people simply, paying landowners simply, according to the size of their landholding drives up the cost of land, ties up capital unproductively and acts as a barrier to entry to new talent that we all want to encourage into farming, it impedes innovation and it’s holding back productivity growth.

Worse than that, the rules associated with current subsidy payments are unwieldy and, all too often, counter-productive. They require farmers to spend long days ensuring conformity with bureaucratic processes which secure scarcely any benefits, environmental or otherwise, and in turn, those processes require a vast and inflexible bureaucracy to police.

And one particular area which is ripe for reform is the current farming inspection regime, which, despite several recent attempts at simplification, remains as unwieldy as ever. Every year, farmers are confronted by a barrage of inspections from different agencies, often duplicating costs in time and money.

So that’s why I’m delighted to announce today we will be conducting a thorough and comprehensive review of the inspection regime, and our aim will be the simplify it. We want to see how inspections can be simplified, in some cases removed, reduced, or improved, in order to reduce the burden on farmers. And also at the same time, providing consumers with guarantees about animal and plant health standards.

This review is not only long-required but also it’s timely as we design future farming policy and maximise the opportunities of leaving the EU. This review will provide answers to essential questions that we need to grapple with to guide our future approach, subject to the outcome of our negotiations with the EU.

This review will be led by Dame Glenys Staceys, a friend of mine who has over twenty years’ experience in driving reform within public sector organisations. And Dame Glenys understands your concerns. She was also, formerly, Chief Executive of Animal Health, the precursor to APHA and she is dedicated to making sure that the inspections systems works for farmers.

More detail about this review, and also about our proposed system of future agricultural support, will be in our consultation paper on future farming policy which will be published very shortly.

The paper will outline, not just for inspections but a number of areas, a clear direction of travel. But this paper is a consultation not a conclusion.

Future support schemes, future inspection schemes, can only work if they reflect the reality of life for farmers and food producers. So what we will outline is a model for discussion and refinement. Yes it will have detail but it’s not an inflexible new order. We will need time, and critically, your input to get any new system of support right.

A transition period to get reform right

And that is why I have said that there will be a transition period for farming to ensure we get the right new system in place in due course. That period needs to be long enough to ensure we can all adjust to make the most of future opportunities.

Now I know, that when we’re thinking about transition one critical aspect is access to labour. And Meurig made the point loud and clear.

Farming currently depends on access to labour from abroad – both seasonal and more permanent. And also, often ignored by people outside this sector.

Much of that labour is often very highly-skilled labour. Whether its stockmen and dairy workers or the official vets in our abattoirs, 90% of whom are from EU27 nations, agriculture needs access to foreign workers.

It’s already the case that the supply of labour from EU27 countries is diminishing as their economies are recovering and growing. So, in the future, we will need to look further afield than just the EU. And think more creatively.

But I also understand that you need to see action quickly. Not least to deal with imminent pressures in the year ahead. The NFU has put forward strong and, to my mind, compelling arguments for a Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme. I understand the impatience of people in this room for an announcement, I fully acknowledge your concerns and we will be saying more shortly.

But also, we need to look beyond the need simply for seasonal labour, and that’s why I’ve been talking to the Government’s Migration Advisory Committee to ensure that when they are review the shape of immigration policy after we’re free of EU constraints, that the need for continued access to skilled labour for people in farming is at the heart of their thinking. We need that if we’re going to keep our farming sector productive and profitable.

Of course, as I said before, in the medium to long term we need, of course, to move away from a relatively labour intensive model of agriculture to a more capital intensive approach. But we can only do that if farming stays profitable. And we can only ensure farming stays profitable with access to the right labour.

And as well as clarity on access to labour, I also want to give the greatest possible clarity on future funding.

At the last election as you heard the Prime Minister reinforced in the video we saw just now, we were the only party to pledge that funding for farming would be protected – in cash terms – for the whole of this Parliament – until 2022.

We will, of course, be leaving the EU formally in March 2019 but the Government hopes we will secure an agreement from the EU to an implementation period to prepare fully for all the opportunities of the future.

And in farming specifically we have already said that we will pay the 2019 BPS scheme on the same basis as we do now. We then anticipate keeping BPS payments during a transition period in England, which should last a number of years beyond that implementation period.

And while we want to provide those guarantees to enable all farmers to prepare for change, we also hope that we can alter some aspects of payment in significant ways as soon as we can after leaving the EU.

At the Oxford Farming Conference I explained that during the transition we propose at the moment to reduce BPS payments for those in receipt of the highest salaries, and redistribute some of that money to provide different forms of support. There are a number of ways in which we can reduce those payments and I am open- minded as to the best way of proceeding and we will consult in the command paper to be published very shortly.

What, and who, we should support

But talking about different methods of support, brings me to the new system that we want to outline and the values behind it.

We propose to progressively, transfer money away from BPS payments as I’ve said towards the payment of public money for the provision of public goods.

We will guarantee all existing agri-environment schemes entered into before we leave the EU but, critically, we will also invite farmers, land owners and land managers to think creatively now, and to help us pilot new ways of investing in environmental enhancement and in other public goods.

We will outline in the consultation paper what we think could be covered by the definition of public goods and how payments could be made. But, again, the consultation paper is a contribution to the conversation, not the final word. We want to listen to farmers, and others, to ensure that our policy proposals can effectively deliver all the outcomes that we wish to see.

I’m on record as saying and I completely want to underline here that I believe the most important public good we should pay for is environmental protection and enhancement. The work farmers do to ensure our soils can sustain growth in the future, that woods are planted to prevent flooding and provide a carbon sink and that hedgerows and other habitats provide a home for wildlife is hugely important. As Meurig has said, it’s at the heart of what farmers are currently doing, and it should be properly paid for.

We already estimate that soil degradation costs the economy of England and Wales £1.2 billion every year. Soil is a building block of life, alongside water and air and we need as a country to invest in its health.

We all have, all of us as citizens, a moral obligation to hand over our environment in a better state than we found it. And no-one appreciates that better than farmers. And if we are to ensure that our environment is enhanced then all of us as citizens, as taxpayers, must invest in it, and it is those who are most intimately involved in caring for our environment, our farmers, who should be supported with public money most energetically in achieving that ambition.

But of course there are other public goods we should also use public money to secure.

I believe that we should invest in research and development to improve productivity and to bring further environmental benefits.

Some of the developments which improve both profitability and the quality of produce spring from farmers themselves who are developing new and more sophisticated approaches towards natural food production. Changing cultivation methods, for example moving towards min and low till agriculture, require fewer expensive inputs and yield healthier food, they deserve to be championed and shared. Across the world farmers are learning from their experience with natural systems and are making changes to everything from animal husbandry techniques to cropping patterns with transformational results.

And we also need to invest in the potential of new technology. I know the NFU has campaigned hard for a multi-species Livestock Information Programme. I hope to make a firm announcement shortly, as you made a compelling case for investment in that technology, and as Meurig pointed out, improving traceability, providing guarantees on the origin of quality food, is something that consumers want, and that farmers deserve. And that’s why I hope to say more, as I say, in a week or so.

Also when it comes to technology, whether its automation and machine learning, data science or gene-editing, improved tracking and traceability of livestock or new plant bio-security measures, there are a plethora of specific innovations which can increase productivity across farming, bring food costs down and also help us to improve animal and human health and ensure we better protect the environment. These are public goods in which we should invest and they can only be fully realised if we invest in a way which individual farmers and land owners, at the moment, are simply not equipped to on their own. Without public investment to support scientific breakthroughs, and then to help disseminate them across agriculture, we won’t secure the improvements that we all want to see.

And making sure these breakthroughs bring the greatest benefits to the greatest number, depends I think on even greater collaboration and cooperation between farm businesses in the future. And I want to incentivise greater collaboration – not least to ensure we can guarantee environmental improvements at a landscape scale and also to help smaller mixed and livestock farmers cope with market volatility.

Public access to the countryside is another public good that we should value. Now I don’t want to encourage everyone to ride or walk roughshod through working areas, walking through fields of wheat, it may well help connect us to the countryside but it’s not always the right thing to do. And the more connected we all are to the countryside, the more we know and appreciate what’s involved in farming and food production, the more understanding I think there will be of the need to value and support what farmers do. That’s why initiatives like Open Farm Sunday, supported by the NFU, and the work of organisations like LEAF is so important and why they need to be supported.

As does the work of organisations like the Prince’s Countryside Fund which support smaller farms, especially those in more challenging areas. I firmly believe that supporting those farmers, often smaller farmers, who help keep rural life, and economies, healthy is a public good.

I am acutely conscious that the changes which are coming to farming leave some sectors more worried than others. And I am particularly aware for example that many smaller farmers, such as dairy farmers in areas like Devon or upland sheep farmers in Cumbria and Northumberland, fear that the future is particularly challenging for them. Margins are tight. Milk and lamb prices are far from generous. The risks to profitability of Bovine TB or other forces beyond the farmers’ control only add to stress. And the prospect of public support diminishing or even disappearing makes many wonder how they can go on. I believe we have to ensure that future methods of agricultural support recognise how critical it is to value the culture in agriculture – Devon and Somerset would not be as they are – with the countryside as beautiful as it is and communities as resilient as they are – without our dairy farmers. Cumbria and Northumberland, Yorkshire’s Dales and Pennine Lancashire would not be as they are – both as breathtakingly beautiful and as resilient – without our upland sheep farmers.

And yes, I am happy to acknowledge that I am romantic about it. You cannot read James Rebanks’ A Shepherd’s Life, with its descriptions of life sheep farming in the Lake District, without realising how precious and valuable a link with all our pasts the continuation of farming in communities such as James’ provides. Men and women are hefted in those hills just as much as the sheep they care for. And preserving profitable farm businesses in those communities is just as much a public good as investment in anything that I know.

I also believe investing in higher animal welfare standards and in improved training and education for those in agriculture and food production are clear public goods. We already, as everyone here knows, have a high baseline for animal health standards, which we will continue to enforce. However, we could also support industry-led initiatives to improve these standards, especially in cases where animal welfare remains at the legislative minimum. This could include pilot schemes that offer payments to farmers delivering higher welfare outcomes, or payments to farmers running trial approaches and technologies to improve animal welfare that are not yet industry standard.

Of course there are other public goods that we can all identify and debate how to support. But, as I have said before, while the list may be extensive, public money is not inexhaustible so we must argue for this investment not just with passion but also precision.

Only connect

Which brings me to investment in a public good which I know is of critical interest and vital benefit to everyone engaged in farming, but also to many others across the country.

I’m talking about broadband.

And, while on the subject, 4G mobile coverage.

Connectivity overall.

It is ridiculous that you can get better mobile phone coverage in Kenya than in parts of Kent. It is unjustifiable that in the country that first guaranteed universal mail provision, invented the telephone and television and pioneered the World Wide Web that broadband provision is so patchy and poor in so many areas.

Farming cannot become as productive as it should be, rural economies cannot grow as they should, and new housing cannot be provided in rural areas as so many hope to see and we cannot have an economy that works for everyone unless everyone has access to decent broadband and mobile coverage.

Daily life, especially active economic life, is becoming increasingly difficult for those without access to fast, reliable and affordable broadband. It is the necessary infrastructure of all our lives in these times, as essential as mains electricity or clean drinking water.

And yet rural communities in Britain are denied good access to this contemporary utility today just as the farmers of the Hill Country in Texas were denied electricity in Congressman Lyndon Johnson’s day – until the New Deal transferred power to the people.

If we could provide a universal service obligation for mail in the past – so that everyone in the country knew their post would be collected and delivered on the same basis as every other citizen – and if we can provide a universal guarantee now that every citizen will be given the same access to the healthcare they need when they need it, then why should we persist in discriminating over access to the essential service that is decent broadband?

Progress has been made, we have already raised the availability of super-fast broadband from 65% of premises in 2010 to 95% by the end of 2017, but more needs to be done. We have committed to making high speed broadband available to all by 2020 and mobile coverage to 95% of the UK by 2022. And as you will have seen, this weekend we announced a new initiative to use church spires to boost broadband and mobile connectivity in rural areas. This kind of creative thinking shows how our nation’s beautiful heritage can work hand in hand with twenty-first century innovation. But we still need to go further.

And I will indeed face down some of the vested interests. Some say that if individuals choose to live in rural areas, where broadband provision and mobile phone coverage may cost more, that choice should not be “subsidised” by others in urban areas. To which I say, but where do the urban dwellers get their food from, who keeps the countryside beautiful for them, who protects the landscape, keeps our nation’s green lungs breathing, who maintains the health, beauty and balance of nature for future generations? The people in rural areas who are currently being deprived an important service so many take for granted and need it now.

We’re planning to spend north of £60 billion on HS2, 30 times as much as it would cost to provide universal superfast broadband for everyone in the country.

Surely investment in broadband is just as vital, and an urgent part of improving our critical national infrastructure.

Of course inside the EU, rules on state aid have prevented us from investing in broadband in a way that is best for the UK.

Outside the EU, just one fifth of our annual net contribution to the EU could transform our national infrastructure.

The Prime Minister has made clear that the days of the UK making vast annual contributions to the EU will be over. And when we leave the EU we can put that money towards domestic priorities, like making our digital infrastructure work by improving rural broadband and connectivity overall. I will be working closely with my fantastic colleague, Matt Hancock, the new DCMS Secretary of State and I know as a rural MP he shares my passion for sorting this out.

Universal broadband and 4G coverage for all – paid for by the money we no longer have to give to the EU – that is what we mean by taking back control.

And that’s not the limit of my ambition for rural Britain and our farming sector.

I’ve argued before, with Meurig, that we should not seek to compete on the basis of a race to the bottom but by occupying the high ground of strong environmental, welfare and quality standards.

We shouldn’t be afraid to say that we produce the world’s best food – our beef and lamb, cheese and milk, cod and salmon, soft fruit and salad vegetables – are recognised globally as the gold standard in fresh produce. One of the reasons why our exports are growing so fast.

And that’s precisely why we should not and will not lower environmental or animal welfare standards as part of any new trade deals. We should no more lower our standards than the best brands in any market would lower theirs. Indeed, together, we should aim higher.

The trend of our times, and it will only accelerate, is to invest in food that is healthier both for ourselves and our planet.

Rather than feeding ourselves the chemically-adulterated, over-sugared, trans-fat rich processed foods that contribute to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and massive additional pressure on the NHS, there is, rightly, a growing demand that we help more and more people adopt a healthier diet.

Adopting a healthier diet can only be good for British farmers, because it means eating more sustainably produced and carefully cultivated, British produce. More fresh British fruit and veg, fresh British milk and farmhouse cheese, grass-fed beef and lamb, sustainably caught fish and shellfish, British peas and beans, pulses and seeds.

The more we can support local food economies where farmers and growers provide fresh produce to local retailers, the more we can ensure supermarkets and others pay fair prices for fresh British produce, the more children in school learn to buy wisely, cook properly and eat healthily and the more government procurement values fresh, healthy, British food, the better for all our health.

That is why I believe the money we spend, as a country, supporting healthy food production is an investment not an expenditure, a way of reducing significant future costs, not an enduring burden on the exchequer. Wholesome food production is an invaluable investment in the health of our nation, from which we all reap the benefits.

A brighter future

As I hope you can tell, I believe farming, British farming, has a bright future, and I want to ensure it has a bright future.

I want to ensure that you have a stronger voice in Government. I want to ensure that you are at the heart of decision-making. I want to ensure that the new resources that Defra enjoys as well as the new structures that we sit at the heart of should deliver a stronger voice for you.

I want to ensure you have access to as much clarity as possible over future labour, and funding arrangements as we leave the EU. And I believe we can develop a labour market policy and a system of funding support that is fairer to all and which enhances productivity.

I want future funding to be allocated in a way which commands enduring public support, which clearly delivers important public goods, which delivers productivity and innovation breakthroughs that individual farmers might not be able to secure on their own, which supports greater collaboration, gives farmers greater bargaining power, delivers environmental benefits at landscape scale, makes soils healthier and rivers cleaner, encourages the development of new habitats for wildlife and above all incentivises healthy food production.

I want to see public investment at last treat rural areas fairly – not least by making the universal service obligation on broadband truly universal – so ensuring farming and food production can be more productive than ever

And I want to harness the increasing interest that the next generation has in the health of our citizens and our planet to ensure we recognise the importance of supporting those who grow and rear the fresh, local produce which is best for us as individuals and for our environment.

Driving reform in all these areas will ensure that British farmers are better supported to do what they do better than any farmers in the world – produce the best quality food in the world to the highest standards in the world – and it is time we started celebrating that for the future. Thank you.

Michael Gove – 2018 Statement on the Environment

Below is the text of the statement made by Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to the House of Commons on 11 January 2018.

It is this Government’s ambition to leave our environment in a better state than ​we found it. We have made significant progress but there is much more to be done. The 25-year environment plan that we have published today outlines the steps we propose to take to achieve our ambition.

Environment is—at its roots—another word for nature, for the planet that sustains us, the life on earth that inspires wonder and reverence, the places dear to us we wish to protect and preserve. We value those landscapes and coastlines as goods in themselves, places of beauty which nurture and support all forms of wildlife.

Respecting nature’s intrinsic value, and the value of all life, is critical to our mission. For this reason we safeguard cherished landscapes from economic exploitation, protect the welfare of sentient animals and strive to preserve endangered woodland and plant life, not to mention the greening of our urban environments.

But we also draw from the planet all the raw materials we need to live—food, water, air and energy for growth. So protecting and enhancing the environment, as this plan lays out, is about more than respecting nature. It is critical if the next generation is to flourish, with abundant natural resources to draw on, that we look after our and their inheritance wisely. We need to replenish depleted soil, plant trees, support wetlands and peatlands, rid seas and rivers of rubbish, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, cleanse the air of pollutants, develop cleaner, sustainable energy and protect threatened species and habitats.

Previous Governments, here and in other nations, have made welcome strides and driven environmental improvement. Yet as this 25-year plan makes clear, there is much more still to do. We must tread more lightly on our planet, using resources more wisely and radically reducing the waste we generate. Waste is choking our oceans and despoiling our landscapes as well as contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and scarring habitats. The success of the 5p plastic bag charge in reducing the use of carrier bags by 85% shows the difference which Government action can make, and demonstrates that protecting our environment is a job for each one of us. The plan outlines ways to reduce the use of plastics that contribute to pollution, and broader steps to encourage recycling and the more thoughtful use of resources. Over the lifetime of this plan, we want to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste.

The Government’s clean growth strategy—the sister document to this environment plan—sets out how we will deliver the clean, green growth needed to combat global warming. We will do what is necessary to adapt to the effects of a changing climate, improving the resilience of our infrastructure, housing and natural environment.

Population growth and economic development will mean more demand for housing and this Government are committed to building many more homes. However, we will ensure that we support development and the environment by embedding the principle that new development should result in net environmental gain—with neglected or degraded land returned to health and habitats for wildlife restored or created.

Most of our land is used, however, for agriculture not housing. The new system of support that we will bring in for farmers—true friends of the earth, who recognise that a care for land is crucial to future rural prosperity—will have environmental enhancement at its heart.

​We will support farmers to turn over fields to meadows rich in herbs and wildflowers, plant more trees, restore habitats for endangered species, recover soil fertility and attract wildlife back. We will ensure broader landscapes are transformed by connecting habitats into larger corridors for wildlife, as recommended by Sir John Lawton in his official review. Our plan for a new northern forest, to which we are contributing more than £5 million, will be accompanied by a new review of national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. Planting more trees provides not just new habitats for wildlife—it also helps reduce carbon dioxide levels and can reduce flood risk. We will work with nature to protect communities from flooding, slowing rivers and creating and sustaining more wetlands to reduce flood risk and offer valuable habitats.

Beyond our coastlines, we must do more to protect the seas around us and marine wildlife. Leaving the EU means taking back control of the waters around these islands. We will develop a fishing policy that ensures seas return to health and fish stocks are replenished. We will also extend the marine protected areas around our coasts so that these stretches of environmentally precious maritime heritage have the best possible protection.

Internationally, we will lead the fight against climate change, invest to prevent wildlife crime, pursue a ban on sales of ivory, and strengthen partnerships to tackle illegal wildlife trade beyond borders, including investigating the feasibility of an anti-poaching taskforce.

We will underpin all this action with a comprehensive set of environmental principles. To ensure strong governance, we will consult on plans to set up a world-leading environmental watchdog, an independent, statutory body, to hold Government to account for upholding environmental standards. We will regularly update this plan to reflect the changing nature of the environment.

While this 25-year environment plan relates only to areas for which Her Majesty’s Government are responsible, we will continue to work with the devolved Administrations on our shared goal of protecting our natural heritage.

These actions will, we hope, ensure that this country is recognised as the leading global champion of a greener, healthier, more sustainable future for the next generation.

Michael Gove – 2018 Statement on Waste and China

Below is the text of the speech made by Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, in the House of Commons on 8 January 2018.

On 1 January 2018 China imposed a ban on the import of certain types of waste including mixed paper and post-consumer plastics (plastics thrown away by consumers). In addition, some other types of waste, including all other paper and plastics exports, will have to meet a reduced acceptable contamination level of 0.5% from March 2018.

China’s decision has a global impact, including in the UK. 3.7 million tonnes of plastic waste are created in the UK in a single year. Of that total, the UK exports 0.8 million tonnes to countries around the world, of which 0.4 million tonnes is sent to China (including Hong Kong). In comparison, other countries including Germany (0.6 million tonnes), Japan and the US (both 1.5 million tonnes) export more plastic to China for reprocessing than the UK. The UK also exports 3.7 million tonnes of paper waste to China (including Hong Kong), out of 9.1 million tonnes of paper waste in total. In comparison, the US exports 12.8 million tonnes of paper waste to China.

Since China announced its intentions on 18 July 2017, Ministers have worked with industry, the Environment Agency, WRAP, the devolved Administrations and representatives from local government to understand the potential impact of the ban and the action that needs to be taken. We have engaged internationally to understand the scale and scope of China’s waste restrictions. The UK Government raised the issue with the EU in September. Alongside four other members, the EU subsequently questioned the proposals at the WTO in October.

Domestically, the Government and the Environment Agency took steps last year to ensure that operators were clear on their duties to handle waste in the light of China’s proposals. The Environment Agency issued fresh guidance to exporters, stating that any waste which does not meet China’s new criteria will be stopped, in the same way as banned waste going to any other country. There is evidence that some operators have already been finding alternative export markets in response to the Chinese restrictions. Data for the third quarter of last year showed increases in exports of plastics to Turkey, Taiwan, Vietnam and Malaysia and increases in exports of paper to Turkey, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Operators must continue to manage waste on their sites in accordance with the permit conditions issued by the Environment Agency. Where export markets or domestic reprocessing are not available, the process chosen to manage waste must be the one that minimises the environmental impact of treatment as fully as possible and follows the waste hierarchy. This requires operators to ensure that where waste cannot be prevented or reused it is recycled where practicable, before considering energy recovery through incineration or the last resort of disposal to landfill.​

I recognise that China’s decision will cause some issues in the short term for recycling in the UK. We will continue to work closely with industry, the Environment Agency, local authorities and all interested parties to manage those issues. The Government remain committed to maximising the value we get from our resources, and is already assessing how we handle our waste in the UK in the longer term.

Tackling waste has been a top priority for the Government. In July, I announced in my speech at the World Wildlife Fund our intention to publish a new Resources and Waste Strategy later this year. The Clean Growth Strategy, published on 12 October 2017, set out our ambition for zero avoidable waste by 2050 and announced we are exploring changes to the producer responsibility scheme. In December I chaired an industry roundtable on plastics and outlined my four point plan for tackling plastic waste: cutting the total amount of plastic in circulation; reducing the number of different plastics in use; improving the rate of recycling; supporting comprehensive and frequent rubbish and recycling collections, and making it easier for individuals to know what goes into the recycling bin and what goes into general rubbish.

This builds on action the Government have already taken to reduce waste. Our 5p charge on plastic bags has taken 9 billion bags out of circulation, reducing usage by 83%. On Tuesday 9 January, our world-leading ban on the manufacture of personal care products containing plastic microbeads comes into force. In October 2017 we announced a call for evidence on managing single use drinks containers and our working group will report to Ministers early this year. We are working with HMT on a call for evidence in 2018 seeking views on how the tax system or charges could reduce the amount of single use plastics waste. And under the Waste Infrastructure Delivery Programme the Government will have committed £3 billion by 2042, supporting investment in a range of facilities to keep waste out of landfill and increase recycling levels.

China’s decision underlines the need for progress in all these areas. In particular, we must reduce the amount of waste we produce overall and in particular the amount we export to be dealt with elsewhere. We will set out further steps in the coming weeks and months to achieve these goals, including in our forthcoming 25 Year Environment Plan.

Michael Gove – 2018 Speech on the Future of Farming

Below is the text of the speech made by Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, at the 2018 Oxford Farming Conference on 4 January 2018.

The age of acceleration

For anyone wondering what the focus of this year’s Oxford Farming Conference might be, it was The Archers provided an answer just before Christmas.

Brian Aldridge asked his step-son, Adam, whether he might be attending the conference. Adam replied wearily. ‘I think I’ll give it a miss this year. It’s probably going to be all about Brexit. I get enough of that at home.’

I know how he feels.

I suspect everyone in this room knows how he feels.

And, of course, I’ll say something in a moment about the specific opportunities and challenges for agriculture on leaving the European Union.

But if we’re going to make the most of those opportunities and overcome those challenges it’s critical that we recognise that there is much, much, more that is changing in our world than our relationship with the EU.

As we saw in the presentation at the beginning of this session, the world’s population is growing at an unprecedented rate, with a worldwide migration from rural areas to cities and a growth in the global middle class which is driving demand for more, and better quality, food.

Technological change is at an inflection point. Developments in big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning mean that processes which would have required the intellect and effort of thousands of humans over many hours in the past can be accomplished automatically by digital means in seconds.

These technological breakthroughs raise political and moral questions as we consider how we deal with the transformation of a huge range of existing jobs. And alongside these changes in the world of information technology there are bio-tech changes coming which also challenge us to think about the future, and how best to shape it. Gene editing technology could help us to remove vulnerabilities to illness, develop higher yielding crops or more valuable livestock, indeed potentially even allow mankind to conquer the diseases to which we are vulnerable.

Food in abundance, improved health, greater longevity: these are all goals to which our species has aspired since the first farmers waited for the first harvest. But in attempting to shape evolution more profoundly than any plant or animal breeder ever has done before are we biting off much more than we can chew? And these are not the only changes coming. Our global environment is affected as never before by the population growth I’ve referred to, and the consequent growth in demand for nutritious food, safe drinking water, comfortable housing, reliable energy and new consumer goods.

The growth in trade which will meet those needs will depend on more packaging, more journeys by air, land and sea, more logistics hubs and more work by designers, marketers and, yes, regulators.

The pressures placed on our global environment by this growth I’ve sketched briefly out will be formidable – whether it’s greenhouse gas emissions in our atmosphere contributing to global warming, desertification and soil erosion reducing the space for cultivation, deforestation leading to the disappearance of valuable carbon sinks and precious habitats, air pollution from traditional industry and intensive agriculture adding to health costs, waste poisoning our oceans or iconic landscapes under threat from the need for further development.

Without action we face the progressive loss of the natural capital on which all growth – natural, human and economic – ultimately depends.

So the imperative to husband, indeed wherever possible, enhance our natural capital – safeguarding our oceans, cleaning our rivers, keeping our soils fertile, protecting biodiversity – has to be at the heart of any plan for our country and our world.

Because we cannot expect to live prosperous and civilised lives in the future unless we recognise that we have to care for that which gives us all life – our planet.

And that knowledge is itself a catalyst for further change. The need to protect our planet better is already accelerating innovation- with entrepreneurs exploring how to develop autonomous electric vehicles, how to change the energy mix we all rely on, how to reduce our reliance on plastics, how to derive more protein from plants rather than animals, how to grow produce, whether hydroponically or by other means, which leaves a lighter imprint on the earth, how to use distributed ledger technology to protect habitats and so much more.

So the reality of our times is not just change as the only constant but accelerating change as the new normal. Which is why the title of this conference – Embracing Change – is so appropriate.

Because the changes which are shaping all our futures are so historically significant, technologically revolutionary and economically transformative that we have no choice but to embrace them and try to shape them in a progressive and judicious way.

A state without the means of change is without the means of conservation
Now I know there is, of course, a natural human desire to stick with what we know, trust to experience and hope things can go on much as before. To prefer the tried to the untried. You hear it when some in industry, and indeed some in the farming industry, say that what we need most at the moment is certainty.

I understand that sentiment all too well. As I think does almost everyone in politics.

But the truth is that if we try to avoid change, hold the future at bay and throw up barriers to progress then we don’t stop change coming, we simply leave ourselves less equipped to deal with change as it arrives.

The history of nationalised industries, state subsidies for particular sectors, guilds to restrict access to trades, high tariff walls and all the other tools of so-called economic “protection” is a melancholy one. The road is paved with good intentions – preserving strategic assets, insulating communities from change, protecting our home market, guaranteeing a supply of essentials.

But the path inevitably involves higher costs for consumers, lower productivity from producers, less pressure to husband scarce resources, less concern about sustainability, more rent-seeking and capital accumulation, less investment in innovation, less dynamism and ultimately, less security as others forge ahead economically, scientifically and socially.

If we want to preserve that which we cherish – a thriving agriculture sector, a healthy rural economy, beautiful landscapes, rich habitats for wildlife, a just society and a fair economy – then we need to be able to shape change rather than seeking to resist it.

And the best way to deal with change is to develop adaptability. As we know from the natural world, the best way to thrive in a new environment is to evolve. What we should, therefore be looking for in agriculture policy, indeed in all economic policy, is not an illusory fixity or a false sense of certainty, which by definition future events we cannot foresee will always upend.

What we should instead be seeking to cultivate are the resources, policies and people that will allow us to adapt, evolve and embrace change as an ally.

Taking back control

Which takes me to Brexit.

Of course Brexit will mean change.

But, critically, what it means most of all is that we can once more decide how we shape change and how we meet the challenges ahead.

It means we don’t need any longer to follow the path dictated by the Common Agricultural Policy. We can have our own – national – food policy, our own agriculture policy, our own environment policies, our own economic policies, shaped by our own collective interests.

The CAP was designed, like so many aspects of the EU, for another world, the post-war period when memories of food shortages were hauntingly powerful and the desire to support a particular model of land use was wrapped up with ideas of a stable countryside that seemed reassuringly attractive after the trauma of industrial-scale conflict.

Of course, the CAP has evolved, and indeed improved, over time. But it is still a fundamentally flawed design.

Paying land owners for the amount of agricultural land they have is unjust, inefficient and drives perverse outcomes.

It gives the most from the public purse to those who have the most private wealth.

It bids up the price of land, distorting the market, creating a barrier to entry for innovative new farmers and entrenching lower productivity.

Indeed, perversely, it rewards farmers for sticking to methods of production that are resource-inefficient and also incentivises an approach to environmental stewardship which is all about mathematically precise field margins and not truly ecologically healthy landscapes.

As recent scholarship has shown, the so-called greening payments in Pillar One have scarcely brought any environmental benefits at all.

We can, and must, do better.

Reform begins at home

And by we, I mean Defra most of all.

Now I don’t want anyone to get hold of the wrong end of the stick.

The Department I am privileged to lead has some of the finest public servants in the country working for it.

Whether it’s the policy professionals, economic analysts, vets, IT engineers, botanists and horticulturalists or hydrologists and geologists, it is a pleasure to work with such dedicated, idealistic and passionate people. But while the people are brilliant, some of the processes are not.

The ways in which we provide financial support to farmers have been far too bureaucratic – not helped by the ludicrous rules and red tape of the CAP that Defra must try to enforce.

The Rural Payments Agency has historically taken far too long to get money from Government to farmers.

And the Countryside Stewardship schemes we have run have been dizzyingly complex to apply for – I have made my views on this clear.

All this when it’s our stated aim to allocate more funding for agri-environment schemes.

We have taken action in the last few months to drive change in these areas, and will seize opportunities to develop a different regulatory culture once we have left the European Union.

I am encouraged so far that the RPA paid over 91% of farmers their basic payment for this year by the end of December 2017. Encouraged but not satisfied. Which is why I am looking for a new chair of the RPA to work with the Chief Executive and his team to drive further improvement.

On Countryside Stewardship, I want schemes simplified to the extent that any farmer – any farmer – can complete an application in a working day. Starting at the computer after breakfast the whole process has to be able to be finished by six o’clock when it will be time for a well-deserved pint.

I’m pleased that Andrew Sells and his team have responded to the challenge with a set of simplified offers which have, already, received a warm response. But, again, we need to go further and develop a much more responsive and efficient model.

And that’s not all we need to change.

Related to the whole question of how we allocate support, we also in Defra need to change our approach to inspection.

We inspect too often, too ineffectively and in far too many cases for the wrong things. At any moment, a farmer could be visited by the Rural Payments Agency, Natural England, The Animal Plant and Health Agency, the Environment Agency or their local authority. Each body may ask for slightly different information, or even the same information in a slightly different way. Each visit adds to the burden on farmers, yet there is much overlap without proper coordination. The CAP’s inflexibilities, including the ever present fear of disallowance, means we inspect rigidly for precise field margin dimensions and the exact locations of trees in a near-pointless exercise in bureaucratic box-ticking while, at the same time, we inspect haphazardly and inefficiently for genuine lapses such as poor slurry management or inadequate animal welfare.

That is why I hope to look at how we can reduce the number of inspections overall, make them more genuinely risk-based and have them focus on those, limited, areas where standards are not where they should be.

And there is much more we need to change across the board to make the Department more effective.

Processes far beyond support payments and inspections are ripe for modernisation.

Take our guidance on the provision of export health certificates still requires the use of carbon paper. While IT systems have been improved we are still some way away from exploiting advances in data analytics which we can use to shape and refine policy and delivery.

And even at the most basic level we are not the champion we need to be for British food and farming. Despite hugely energetic efforts by my predecessors, we can still do more to improve the procurement of British food across the public sector.

But I am determined to drive that change. Energetically. And across Government.

As well as making Defra a more efficient, focused and, above all, innovative department I also want to drive change in 4 specific areas.

I want to ensure we develop a coherent policy on food – integrating the needs of agriculture businesses, other enterprises, consumers, public health and the environment.

Second, I want to give farmers and land managers time and the tools to adapt to the future, so we avoid a precipitate cliff edge but also prepare properly for the changes which are coming.

Third, I want to develop a new method of providing financial support for farmers which moves away from subsidies for inefficiency to public money for public goods.

And finally, I want to ensure that we build natural capital thinking into our approach towards all land use and management so we develop a truly sustainable future for the countryside.

A lot on our plate

On food, first of all, I want to underline that I recognise the heart of almost all farming businesses is food production. And a core element of Defra’s mission is supporting farmers in the provision of competitively-priced, healthy, sustainable and nutritious food, and pursuing greater market access.

But I believe it’s critical as we think of food production and the role of farming in the future that we develop policy which looks at the food-chain as a whole, from farm to fork, and we also recognise the economic, health and environmental forces shaping the future of food.

That’s why I’m glad that my colleague Greg Clark, the Business Secretary, announced the creation of a Food and Drink Sector Council in his recent Industrial Strategy White Paper, whose first task will be to develop the emerging proposals for a food and drink manufacturing Sector Deal. The White Paper also committed to a new challenge fund to transform food production. This will help support farmers and food manufacturers to improve the sustainability and nutritional benefit of food.

Food and Drink is the UK’s biggest manufacturing sector and one of its fastest growing with an increase of 8% in exports to the EU and 10% in exports outside the EU in the first three quarters of last year alone.

That success has been built on a reputation for quality and provenance, on the knowledge that we have among the highest environmental and animal welfare standards of any nation on earth. So people know when they’re buying British they’re buying food which is guaranteed to be high quality and more sustainable.

That’s why it would be foolish for us to lower animal welfare or environmental standards in trade deals, and in so doing undercut our own reputation for quality. We will succeed in the global market place because we are competing at the top of the value chain not trying to win a race to the bottom.

And Government can help in that process by under-writing that reputation for quality.

Which is why I want us, outside the EU, to develop new approaches to food labelling. Not just badging food properly as British, but also creating a new gold-standard metric for food and farming quality.

There are already a number of ways in which farmers can secure recognition for high animal welfare or environmental standards from the Red Tractor scheme to the Leaf mark. But while they’re all impressive and outstanding there’s still no single, scaled, measure of how a farmer or food producer performs against a sensible basket of indicators, taking into account such things as soil health, control of pollution, contribution to water quality as well as animal welfare. We’ve been in discussion with a number of farmers and food producers about how we might advance such a scheme and I think that, outside the EU, we could establish a measure of farm and food quality which would be world-leading.

Because while price will always be a factor in the choices consumers make, they are also increasingly making choices based on other factors too. If we look at some of the fastest growing food brands, providing the most value added for both consumers and producers, then it’s being able to provide certainty over origins, traceability of ingredients, integrity in production and a distinctiveness in taste which matter more and more. Whether its Belvoir soft drinks or Botanist Gin, organic milk or West Country Farmhouse Cheddar, grass-fed beef from Devon or Welsh lamb, Cumberland sausages or Melton Mowbray pork pies, Tyrell’s crisps or Forman’s London cured smoked salmon, the future profits in food production lie in distinctive quality produce.

And Government can help, by acting as a champion for British produce in foreign markets, operating a better procurement policy at home, keeping existing market access open and securing new free trade deals for producers.

I understand that people in this room, and beyond, particularly want to know what will happen to access to our biggest export market – the EU 27. By definition, we cannot yet know the final outcome of a trade negotiation which is about to get underway, and Defra is preparing for every eventuality. But we are confident of building a new economic partnership with the EU that guarantees tariff-free access for agri-food goods across each other’s borders. We know that we have a deficit in agricultural and horticultural produce with the EU 27. Irish beef farmers, French butter and cheese producers, Dutch market gardeners and Spanish salad growers all have an interest just as, if not more acute, than Welsh sheep farmers or Ulster dairy farmers in securing continued tariff-free access between the UK and the EU.

But we should be, and we are, more ambitious than that. Securing greater access to, and penetration of, other markets will be important to British agriculture’s further success. Increasing exports to, for example, China is not just a good in itself in trade terms it also helps the business model of many farmers to work even better. There are, as we all know, parts of the pig for example which don’t find favour with the British consumer but which are delicacies in China. Satisfying that demand means other parts of the carcase can be used to meet demand at home, or indeed elsewhere in Europe, which is currently met by Dutch and by Danish farmers. Pursuing new trade opportunities outside Europe can make us more competitive with Europe.

Which is why it is so encouraging that my colleague Liam Fox has made boosting our trade in food and drink a central priority for 2018.

Government can also intervene closer to home where there is market failure. When, for example some powerful players in the food chain use the scale of their market presence to demand low prices from primary producers who are much smaller and dis-aggregated. That is why my colleague George Eustice is looking now at overall fairness in the supply chain.

We can ensure that our interventions as Government are designed to generate growth are applied fairly. So, for example, we can look at how the apprenticeship levy works to see how money identified for improving skills training can be spent more effectively across supply chains – helping smaller businesses as well as larger concerns.

We can, and should, invest in both technology and infrastructure. We can direct public money to the public goods of scientific innovation, technology transfer and, crucially, decent universal super-fast broadband.

And we must, of course, think about how to make sure the labour market works effectively as well, so businesses can continue to secure a proper return on their investment. That means not just a flexible migration policy overall, but as we leave the EU, ensuring access to seasonal agricultural labour.

But while Government has a clear role to play in all of these areas in supporting food production it’s also important that we all appreciate that ultimately, quality food is generated not by Government, but by innovative and entrepreneurial producers responding to consumer preferences and market signals.

And the best way to ensure consumers have the full choice of quality food they want is not to try to satisfy every need with home produce, but to pursue comparative advantage.

So Government must recognise that its interventions need to be targeted, proportionate and limited.

Subsidies linked to the size of land holding, or headage payments, reward incumbents, restrict new thinking and ultimately hold back innovation and efficiency.

Industries which come to rely on importing cheap labour run the risk of failing to invest in the innovation required to become genuinely more productive. Labour-intensive production inevitably lags behind capital-intensive production.

And having a subsidy system which incentivises farmers to place every acre they can into food production means that public money isn’t always being spent on renewing natural capital assets like forestry and wetlands.

As well as thinking about how our interventions to support food production currently affect the environment, we also have to consider the impact on the nation’s health.

Ours is the first generation where more people succumb to non-communicable conditions than to infectious diseases. The risk to public health from contagious conditions is diminishing, the rising dangers are obesity, diabetes, coronary failure, cancer and deteriorating mental health. And diet plays a part in all these conditions.

Helping people to make better choices in what they eat is fraught territory politically. And looking at my own waistline I should bear in mind that it is incumbent on he who talks about dietary sins to lose the first stone.

But Government does have a public health role. As Education Secretary I introduced a School Food Plan not just to ensure school meals were healthier but also to educate children about where food came from and how to make healthy choices about buying, preparing and enjoying food.

And in this role now, I have a responsibility to ask if public money supporting food production is also contributing to improved public health.

And indeed I also have a responsibility to ask if all the incentives and Government interventions everywhere in the food chain work towards economic justice and social inclusion.

So that does mean on the one hand that means asking how we can support those farmers, for example upland sheep farmers, whose profit margins are more likely to be small but whose contribution to rural life and the maintenance of iconic landscapes is immense. And on the other it also involves taking action to end the currently indefensible situation we have at the moment where food producers are incentivised to send perfectly edible and nutritious surplus stock they have not sold to waste plants rather than charities who can distribute it to individuals in need.

It is only, I believe, by looking at food policy in the round, developing an understanding of the economic, social, environmental, health and other issues at every stage in the food chain that we will develop the right coherent strategy for the future.

And there are huge opportunities for those in agriculture to play the leading role in shaping this strategy. Rather than devoting intellectual energy and political capital to campaigning for policy interventions designed to insulate farming from change, agriculture’s leaders can respond to growing public interest in debates about food, animal welfare, the environment, health and economic justice by demonstrating, as so many in this room are doing, how their innovative and dynamic approaches are enhancing the environment, safeguarding animal welfare, producing food of the highest quality, improving public health and contributing to a fairer society.

Managing change

Now given the scale, and nature, of the change which is coming I recognise that farmers need to be given the time, and the tools, to become more adaptable.

We’ll be saying more about our plans in a Command Paper to be published later this spring. And of course the proposals we outline will have to be subject to consultation. But I want to say a little about the direction of travel I think we should take.

I believe we should help land owners and managers to make the transition from our current system of subsidy to a new approach of public money for public goods over time.

We will formally leave the EU in March of 2019 but the Government anticipates that we will agree an implementation or transition period for the whole country with the EU lasting for around another two years.

We have guaranteed that the amount we allocate to farming support – in cash terms – will be protected throughout and beyond this period right up until the end of this Parliament in 2022.

We will continue support for Countryside Stewardship agreements entered into before we leave the EU and we will ensure that no one in an existing scheme is unfairly disadvantaged when we transition to new arrangements. We will pay the 2019 BPS scheme on the same basis as we do now.

I then envisage guaranteeing that BPS payments continue for a transition period in England, which should last a number of years beyond the implementation period, depending on consultation.

During these years, we propose to first reduce the largest BPS payments in England. We could do this through a straight cap at a maximum level or through a sliding scale of reductions, to the largest payments first.

After the implementation period, this transitional payment could be paid to the recipient without the need to comply with all the onerous existing cross-compliance rules and procedures.

Inspections would, of course, continue but in the streamlined and risk-based fashion I described earlier. Provided our own animal welfare, environmental and other laws were observed this payment would be guaranteed.

This should provide every existing farmer who receives a BPS payment with a guaranteed income over this extended transition period.

That guaranteed income should provide time for farmers to change their business model if necessary, help to make the investment necessary for any adjustments and prepare for the future.

We will also look at ways to support farmers who may choose to leave the industry.

And, after that transition, we will replace BPS with a system of public money for public goods.

Paying for what we value

The principal public good we will invest in is of course environmental enhancement.

In thinking about how better to support farmers in the work of environmental protection and enhancement it’s critical – as everyone in this room but not everyone outside appreciates – to recognise that there is no inherent tension between productive farming and care for the natural world.

Quite the opposite.

I have seen for myself how many of our best farmers – our most productive and progressive farmers – place thoughtful environmental practice and careful husbanding of resources at the heart of their businesses.

Take the vital question of soil health. Min or no till approaches, which require less expenditure on inputs and of course keep more carbon in the soil, are both economically more efficient and environmentally progressive.

But under the CAP, farmers have been encouraged to focus on yield overall, rather than productivity specifically.

This has led to decades of damage in the form of significant and destructive soil erosion – estimated in one study by Cranfield University to cost the economy around £1.2 billion every year.

We now have opportunity to reverse this unhappy trend. Sustainably managed land is far more productive than land that is stressed and stripped of its nutrients.

But moving to more sustainable and, ultimately, productive farming methods can involve transitional costs and pressures. So we plan to provide new support for those who choose to farm in the most sustainable fashion.

And as well as supporting progressive and productive farming methods we also want to support what economists call the provision of ecosystem services.

Building on previous countryside stewardship and agri-environment schemes, we will design a scheme accessible to almost any land owner or manager who wishes to enhance the natural environment by planting woodland, providing new habitats for wildlife, increasing biodiversity, contributing to improved water quality and returning cultivated land to wildflower meadows or other more natural states.

We will also make additional money available for those who wish to collaborate to secure environmental improvements collectively at landscape scale.

Enhancing our natural environment is a vital mission for this Government. We are committed to ensuring we leave the environment in a better condition than we found it. And leaving the European Union allows us to deliver the policies required to achieve that – to deliver a Green Brexit.

But vital as investment in our environment is, it is not the only public good I think we should invest in – I believe we should also invest in technology and skills alongside infrastructure, public access and rural resilience.

There is a tremendous opportunity for productivity improvement in our farms. We already have some of the best performing farms in the world and there is no reason why our farmers cannot lead the way globally in achieving better levels of productivity through adoption of best practice and new technologies.

On technology, we should build on the innovations pioneered by our superb higher education institutions like Harper Adams University by investing more in automation and machine learning, moving from the hands-free hectare to the hands-free farm, with drilling, harvesting, picking and packaging all automated, precision mapping of every inch under cultivation with targeted laser treatment of pests and weeds and highly-focussed application of any other treatment required. We should invest more in the sensor technology that can tell where, when and how livestock should be fed, housed and bred to maximise both yield and individual animal health and welfare.

And we should ensure the next generation of farmers are equipped to make the most of technological breakthroughs by better integrating the research work being undertaken by the most innovative institutions with the ongoing training those working on the land should receive. I hope to say more about how we can reform land-based education again later in the spring.

Critical to making this new investment in tech and skills work is of course proper infrastructure – super-fast broadband and reliable 5G coverage. If I can get reliable and unbroken mobile phone and internet coverage in a tunnel under the Atlantic as I travel between one Faeroe Island and the next I should be able to get it in Oxfordshire. So I am delighted that my colleague Matt Hancock has made it a priority to ensure rural areas get the digital infrastructure they need and I will do whatever I can to help.

Public access I know can be contentious and I won’t get into the weeds of the debate on rights of way now. But the more the public, and especially school children, get to visit, understand and appreciate our countryside the more I believe they will appreciate, support and champion our farmers. Open Farm Sunday and other great initiatives like it help reconnect urban dwellers with the earth. And they also help secure consent for investment in the countryside as well as support for British produce. So public access is a public good.

Finally there is rural resilience. There are any number of smaller farm and rural businesses which help keep communities coherent and ensure the culture in agriculture is kept healthy. Whether it’s upland farmers in Wales or Cumbria, crofters in Scotland or small livestock farmers in Northern Ireland, we need to ensure support is there for those who keep rural life vital. The work of the Prince’s Countryside Fund has been invaluable here and the kind of enterprises that it supports are, I believe, worthy of public support.

I recognise the list of public goods I have identified is not exhaustive. But then our budget is not unlimited. I look forward to consulting on these priorities but we must start from the presumption that we should only support clear public goods the market will not, left to itself, provide.

Which takes me to the importance of natural capital.

In thinking of our countryside, and of rural life overall, is that its overall worth to us goes far beyond its economic value alone.

Like everyone here, I am moved by the beauty of our natural landscapes, feel a sense of awe and wonder at the richness and abundance of creation, value wild life as a good in its own right, admire those who work with nature and on our land, respect the skill and passion of farmers, growers, shepherds, stockmen, vets and agronomists who provide us with safe, high quality food and drink, and I want to see them prosper.

I know these feelings are shared across the country. But capturing these values in public policy can sometimes be difficult. Which is why the natural capital approach can be so valuable. It allows us to bed into policy-making a direct appreciation of the importance of field and forest, river and wetland, healthy soil and air free from pollution.

It is just one tool among many in the formation of policy but a very powerful one in ensuring that we think of our responsibility to future generations to hand on a country, and a planet, in a better state than we found it.

And that has to be the aim for all our policies on food, farming, the landscape and our broader environment. We have to embrace change which secures a more sustainable future for those who will inherit what we have built.