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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Michael Gove – 2017 Speech to Rural Business Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to the Rural Business Conference on 28 November 2017.


I wanted to begin by reflecting on the past. The CLA has been around for around 110 years now. And as I’m sure every single person in this room knows, the CLA was originally founded following the publication of a pamphlet called the ‘Land and the Social Problem by a man called Algernon Tumor. Now, Algernon had been a private Secretary to Benjamin Disraeli when he was Prime Minister. In that pamphlet in 1907 he argued that British agriculture was going through a time of huge change. Of course the political backdrop at that time was a debate about whether or not we should pursue more free trade agreements with countries in far flung regions or whether we should integrate more closely with our European partners. And at the same time as Algernon was making the case for this period of change he also excoriated politicians for their failure to show provide sufficient leadership when it came to charting a clear course for those who own, manage and work on the land. How very different things are, 110 years on. I think the role that you in the CLA have played for over a hundred years has been wonderful. You have been leading the debate over how we use our oldest and most precious national asset – our land. In the face of social, political, economic and technological change, the CLA has always been pioneering new ideas, you have supported imaginative approaches to land management, you’ve helped us to sustain the rural economy, growing health, guaranteed employment for hundreds of thousands and you continue to shape a progressive future for the countryside.

I want to say a particular thanks to Ross Murray for his leadership and Tim Breitmeyer for his continuing leadership. You are uniquely fortunate in having two such distinguished individuals who understand the reality of the rural economy, who speak with authority and such candour to those in power and are an asset to this country and also to you, the membership of the CLA.

Even in the brief opportunity I had to mix with some of you after lunch earlier, I was again struck by the way in which CLA members lean in. The way in which CLA members embrace the future. When I was talking to Ed Barnston earlier about the work he is doing in south Cheshire I was struck by the fact that he is ambitious for the future investing in an increasing determination to grow and produce more high quality food. And when I was talking to Peverel Manners, I was struck by his desire to clock up the air miles, go out to Australia and further afield to ensure that Great British produce was on foreign kitchen tables. It is that degree of ambition for the future which has always characterised the CLA and one thing that will always be true about land ownership and land management in this country is that we need to be ambitious for the future when it comes to continuing to produce the very best food and drink in the world. Because demand for British food has never been higher.

Food and drink

Our exports now surpass £20 billion for the first time, up by nearly 10% on the last year. That growth has been built on the reputation for quality built by people in this room.

And we know, that the food chain brings £110 billion to the UK economy. Food and drink is our biggest manufacturing sector. That is why I am so delighted that in the Industrial Strategy published by my colleague Greg Clark yesterday recognised the vital importance of food and drink, with a new Food and Drink Sector Council. This Council will help pair the way for a for a food and drink sector deal in order to ensure that responsibility for effectively marketing and supporting primary producers and others is at the heart of the government’s industrial strategy.

When we talk about the industrial strategy it is important to recognise that we are not just world leaders in the way in which food and drink has grown as an export in the course of the last couple of years. We are world leaders in terms of quality. We have the world’s highest animal welfare standards, we are moving towards having the world’s most ambitious environmental goals and also embedding the most rigorous approach towards sustainability,

All these are good in themselves but it is also the case that they can provide us with an advantage in the marketplace for food and drink. Increasingly consumers – not just in this country but across the world – are demanding higher quality food. Consumers want to know more about the meat they buy, the milk they drink, the provenance of their vegetables, the carbon cost of production, the weight of the footprint left on the planet by particular farming methods and the circumstances under which animals were reared during their lives. Not to mention the way in which their lives end.

The more specific the story we can tell about the care invested in the food we produce the more we actually reinforce our competitive edge Because if we make quality our hallmark we can secure farming’s future.

So when it comes to finding an edge in an ever more competitive world of food and drink, we need to recognise its in goods recognised for their exceptional quality and special distinctive provenance that will become market leaders.

Let me give you one example. As I was searching for an example I was spoilt for choice, thinking about producers in this room who have shown how provenance and quality can give you a marketing edge. So I didn’t want to favour anyone by making them teacher’s pet. I wanted to choose an example not relevant to anyone in this room but very close to my heart. Whisky.

When I was growing up whisky was produced – in industrial quantities – using industrial methods – for an industrious population – that meant that when you bought your Whyte and Mackay or Bell’s or Black and White it was pretty much the same product, the differentiation was price.

Now, whisky is sold more and more not on the basis of price but provenance, not cost but quality. Instead of relying on industrially-produced blends, the Scottish whisky trade is moving to carefully crafted single malts, with water drawn from particular springs, peatiness inculcated from particular islands and delicate flavour notes imparted by ancient sherry or port barrels for the fastest market growth.

And Since 2000 there has been a 218% increase by volume and a 415% increase by value in malt whisky exports. The Macallan, Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, Laphroaig and others have become global brands. All by stressing their local, and artisan, origins.

I believe that by stressing the local and the distinctive, whether its lamb or beef, cheese or bacon, cider or beer, bread or jam, that products will become the best in the world. The more the story behind the product speaks of provenance and tradition, attention to quality, respect for the environment and the highest ethical standards, the bigger the commercial opportunity for all of us.

But if we are to continue to strengthen our position as a world leader in quality food production we need to concentrate not just on provenance but also on productivity.

Productivity and technology

And that means investing in the technology of the future.

Today you have already heard from the world-leading academics at Harper Adams University. On a recent visit there I saw for myself the ground-breaking work that they are undertaking.

From the fit-bit for cows that tracks their health and diet, to the ‘hands-free hectare’ technology, these latest advances will shape farming in the future and also demand of the next generation of farmers a familiarity with robotics and data analytics alongside an understanding of animal husbandry and soil health.

We are on the cusp of a new agricultural revolution.

There is a critical role for Government to play. We need to support the innovation that you will use to reshape agriculture. Scientific breakthroughs in other countries in areas as diverse as nuclear, biotech and digital have been stimulated by Government investment and government ambition.

There is no reason why Britain cannot be the world leader in drone technology, robotics, laser treatment of weeds and pests, the deployment of big data, and also responsible genomics. All of these have the capacity to improve productivity and enable environmental enhancement. And I hope to say more in coming days about how we will advance these technologies.

Of course, we already help farmers, landowners and rural entrepreneurs through the Rural Development Programme, which is supporting thousands of projects in areas as diverse as innovative cheese making and also the deployment of artificial intelligence. Funding is granted to ideas that improve productivity, generate growth and provide additional jobs in rural areas.

Today I am pleased to announce that applications for grants from a further £45 million will open this Thursday, 30th November. Grants will be awarded to projects that support business development, food processing and, in addition, rural tourism infrastructure projects.

Recently, we have also put £60 million into the Countryside Productivity scheme, which makes large grants for projects that add value to farm produce and improve farming productivity. This money can also be used to buy tools like precision slurry application equipment, which reduces ammonia emissions, delivers savings on fertiliser and ultimately helps the environment.

Tools like this are exactly what we want to support when we say you can boost productivity and enhance the environment at the same time. And that brings me to the final and most fundamental aspect of a successful rural economy: environmental stewardship.

As custodians of the landscape, farmers know, and have known for centuries what the rest of us are only just beginning to properly appreciate: without a healthy environment we have nothing.

To take just one example from many, over the last 200 years we have lost 84% of our fertile peat topsoil in East Anglia. It is estimated that what remains, unless we take action, could be eradicated in the next 30-60 years. The rate at which vast stores of carbon held in these soils is being lost is nothing short of an emergency. We know that in many cases this damage is due to the short-term thinking which governed past patterns of intensive agricultural activity.

We know that 95% of food production relies on healthy soil, antibiotics come from soil, a quarter of the world’s biodiversity comes from soil, so it is clear that we need to think and act together more sustainably. To everyone in this room, soil is a fundamental asset and its degradation costs us money. So Defra must, in its future agricultural support funding prioritise the health of our soils.

History teaches us that civilisations can survive incredible challenges. Coups, revolutions, secession from empires, all these are survivable, sometimes even beneficial, but one change is fatal. The degradation of our environment. We have only one set of natural resources. We have to protect them and manage them sustainably to make sure our children can enjoy their fruits. No country can withstand the loss of its soil.

At Defra we have made a commitment to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it. And if we want a better environment we must protect all our habitats, enhance our biodiversity and safeguard the beauty of all our rural landscapes. And it is for that reason we said we will change the way in which we invest in our countryside. The public money which we, rightly, allocate to land owners to help them manage the land is there, ultimately, to secure public goods. And the pre-eminent public good is environmental enhancement.

We all know that the current system of support for farmers and landowners shaped by the Common Agricultural Policy is inefficient, ineffective, inequitable and environmentally harmful.

The environmental damage generated under the CAP has been striking. EU-inspired systems of agricultural production have damaged our soil.

CAP-inspired and sponsored methods of agricultural production in the UK have led to soil degradation which costs us £1.2 billion a year according to Cranfield University.

The damage is more than just towards soil. Since we joined the EU the number of farmland birds has declined by 54% while the populations of priority species overall have declined by 33%. And also, in recent years, intensive agricultural production systems of the kind driven by the CAP have reduced the numbers of pollinators. With a 49% decline in some specific bee populations, scarcely mitigated by a 29% increase in others.

All of this has happened under a system where the majority of financial support allocated to farmers and landowners has comes under “Pillar One” of the CAP and has all been related to the size of productive agricultural land-holding rather than any wider benefit.

And even though Pillar One funding has recently been changed to incorporate explicit environmental goods – the greening of CAP, the evidence that Pillar One funding encourages genuine environmental improvement is slight. In a recent paper by Alan Matthews for the RISE Foundation he pointed out that Pillar One funding had done little to improve land use.

“The maintenance of permanent grassland requirement and the crop diversification obligation have led to minimal changes in land use, and the fact that the great majority of land enrolled in EFAs is used for productive options are pointers to that the additional environmental benefits, relative to the pre-greening baseline are likely to be low”

The lion’s share of current support for land owners is, clearly, inefficiently allocated. It does not secure the public goods the public wants and needs if you want to provide resilient habitats, richer wildlife, healthier rivers and cleaner water, trees and peatland to absorb carbon and provide a home to precious species.

We do know, however, that, public money, properly allocated through agri-environment or environmental land management schemes, can secure significant gains.

Analysis of how farms in one particular set of Higher Level Stewardship schemes have done over the years are encouraging. There is no perfect single measure of biodiversity but the Farmland Bird Index is one of the best. And it has shown that in farms operating countryside stewardship schemes there has been an increase in the Farmland Bird Index of up to 165% even as the numbers nationally were in decline by 24%.

Effective environmental land management schemes can do so much to protect our countryside. It can help protect moorland and heathland, encourage tree planting and wildflower meadows, mitigate the impact of flooding and climate change, improve water quality and lock in improved soil health and fertility. But it is still the case that of the money we allocate from Defra to the CAP, only around one fifth of the goes on environmental land management schemes, around 80% goes on the inefficient and ineffective pillar one payments.

I believe that has to change. And I know that one of the major reasons why there has been such a relatively low take-up of appropriate environmental land management schemes so far has been the dreadful way in which we in Government have actually administered them. Natural England does many many good things but I have to say that Natural England and Defra scarcely deserve medals for the operation and administration of the Countryside Stewardship scheme.

That is why I have asked Andrew Sells, Natural England’s brilliant Chairman, and James Cross, The Natural England Chief Executive, working with the Rural Payments Agency, to overhaul delivery of the scheme. The first part of that reform is a simplification of the application process and the creation of four new, hopefully much more streamlined offers, which I hope will be routes to securing support. These changes will, I hope, encourage more land owners and managers to adopt stewardship schemes but I, and the leadership team at Natural England, know there is still much more to be done.

Because as everyone here knows – if we can get more investment in environmental land management schemes we can generate more economic growth. Studies of rural development spending have shown that schemes with an environmental focus have a very good return on investment, with each pound spent generating £3 in return. Natural capital analysis shows that the priority habitats which environmental land management schemes protect and enhance provide more than a billion pounds of economic benefit every year. And, of course, that investment, properly directed, also helps support food production. Wildflower margins which attract bees and other insects not only help pollination they also attract the predators who deal effectively with crop pests.

In addition, as everyone here will also know, rural tourism is a vital, and inevitably growing, element in driving rural economic growth and wise environmental land management is critical to encouraging that tourism. Whether people are drawn by the chance to see rare flora and fauna, enjoy green space, appreciate the wild and untamed, follow traditional country pursuits or go glamping within easy reach of a gastropub, the quality of the environment is a critical factor in bringing visitors, and money, into the countryside. The consultancy GHK has estimated that 60% of rural tourism is dependent on high quality landscape and wildlife, generating around 5 billion pounds a year and supporting at the moment nearly 200,000 jobs.


As we prepare to leave the European Union we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to refashion how the state supports farming, what we pay landowners and what we want from the land.

Government I believe has a vital role to play. It’s our role to champion food production, it’s our role to help you invest in new technology and it’s our role to pay you if you enhance the environment. Because ultimately our landscapes are beautiful and special not because the state or any Minister decrees it so but because those, you, who work on the land love what you do and where you work. Which is why we in government are grateful to all of you. Thank you.

Michael Gove – 2017 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 21 July 2017.

Safeguarding our future

It is a particular pleasure to be here today in WWF’s magnificent Living Planet Centre. It’s an inspirational example of how buildings can contribute to environmental sustainability. The WWF’s commitment to worldwide conservation, to robust research and to engaging people as well as policy makers in these critical issues has ensured it has provided a wonderful example of environmental leadership. I hope that we will continue to work closely together, and with other organisations represented here, as we forge our future approach to the environment.

In 1970, the incoming Conservative Government of Edward Heath created this country’s first Department of the Environment. The new Department published a White Paper on our natural heritage in 1972 which was entitled ‘How Do you Want to Live?’ The Department, with perhaps more idealism, or less due diligence, than has subsequently been the case in Government communications strategy, commissioned Philip Larkin to write a poetic prologue.

And his poem – subsequently titled ‘Going, Going’ – is a lament for the erosion and destruction of our natural environment under the pressures of corporate greed, devil take the hindmost individualism, and modernist brutalism.

And That Will Be England Gone,

The Shadows, The Meadows, The Lanes,

The Guildhalls, The Carved Choirs.

There’ll Be Books; It Will Linger On

In Galleries; But All That Remains

For Us Will Be Concrete And Tyres.

Most Things Are Never Meant.

This Won’t Be, Most Likely; But Greeds

And Garbage Are Too Thick-Strewn

To Be Swept Up Now, Or Invent

Excuses That Make Them All Needs.

I Just Think It Will Happen, Soon.

Of course, Philip Larkin was never the most cheerful of voices in English literature but the warning note that he sounded in ‘Going, Going’ was profound – and prescient.

In the 45 years since he wrote we have lost green space, cut down trees, sacrificed meadow and heath land, polluted our earth, air and water, we placed species in danger and we’ve run down the renewable resources – from fish to soil – on which our future depends. Farmland bird numbers have been cut in half, species have been devastated, bees and other pollinators threatened.

And at the same time, across the globe, we’ve seen climate change threaten both fragile natural habitats and developing human societies, we’ve allowed extractive and exploitative political systems to lay waste to natural resources and we’ve placed species of plants and animals in new and mortal danger while gambling with the future health of the whole world.

Now, I am an environmentalist first because I care about the fate of fellow animals, and I draw inspiration from nature and I believe that we need beauty in our lives as much as we need food and shelter. We can never be fully ourselves unless we recognise that we are shaped by forces, biological and evolutionary, that tie us to this earth that we share with others even as we dream of capturing the heavens.

But I am also an environmentalist because of hard calculation as well as the promptings of the heart. We need to maintain and enhance the natural world around us, or find ourselves facing disaster.

Unless we take the right environmental action we risk seeing more species die out, with potentially undreamt of consequences in terms of the health and balance of nature. We risk flood damage to the homes in which we live and devastation to the islands that others know as their only home. We will see the forward march of deserts compelling populations to be on the move and the growing shortage of water creating new conflicts and exacerbating old rivalries.

Indeed, ultimately, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat and the energy which powers enterprise, are all threatened if we do not practice proper stewardship of the planet.

If we consider the fate of past societies and civilisations, it has been, again and again, environmental factors that have brought about collapse or crisis. The Pulitzer Prize-winning academic Jared Diamond has, brilliantly, anatomised the forces which led to past civilisational destruction – deforestation and habitat destruction; soil problems such as erosion, salinization, and soil fertility losses; water management problems; overhunting; overfishing; and the effects of introduced species on native species.

He has also outlined the contemporary environmental threats that we now face with irresistible clarity – climate change, the build-up of toxins in our soil, air and oceans and the spiralling level of resource consumption, waste generation and demand for energy which all threaten human progress in the future.

Now, it is because environmental degradation is such a threat to future prosperity and security that I deeply regret President Trump’s approach towards the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. I sincerely hope the recent indications that the President may be minded to think again do signal a change of heart. International co-operation to deal with climate change is critical if we’re to safeguard our planet’s future and the world’s second biggest generator of carbon emissions cannot simply walk out of the room when the heat is on. It’s our planet too and America needs to know that we can only resolve this problem together.

And it’s absolutely vital that we think ahead, coolly and rationally, to do what we can to both move towards greener energy generation and adapt to changing temperatures. The devastating impact climate change can have on societies has been brilliantly brought out in Geoffrey Parker’s history of the seventeenth century, ‘Global Crisis’. Parker charts the collapse of hemispherically-dominant regimes from China to Spain and the outbreak of devastating civil wars in the UK and across Europe all driven, or exacerbated, by the resource challenges generated by climate change. History teaches us that unless we prepare for these challenges we will be undone.

Now, of course, there is a huge difference in the scale and duration of seventeenth century climate impacts and the current man-made crisis. And the technological breakthroughs that mankind has pioneered in recent years, the greater scientific knowledge that we now enjoy, the computational power of the machinery in our own hands, means that we live in a radically different world to our ancestors.

But we live on the same planet. The only one we know which can sustain human life. And the history of humanity on this planet tells us that, again and again, societies and civilisations have been gripped by hubris, by the belief that this time is different. That the cycles of the past have been broken.

And we have seen, recently and all too graphically, how hubris in the financial markets, the belief among some that they had become not just a global elite but masters of the universe, led to economic disaster.

Science, technology, computational power are certainly critical to shaping our future, and as I shall go on to argue at greater length later in this speech, but if we imagine they can liberate us from the need to safeguard our environment, to protect the species we share this planet with, to protect and purify our air and our oceans, to keep our earth fertile and ensure that we can renew our natural resources, then we will have succumbed to the hubris which has wrought such devastation in the past, and which in the future may condemn us to much worse than economic hardship.

So we should not aim simply to halt or slow the deterioration of our environment. We must raise our ambitions so we seek to restore nature and reverse decline. This government was elected on a pledge to be the first to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it. While the need for action on the environment has rarely been greater there are also, at this moment, forces at work which make me optimistic about our capacity to rise to this challenge – and in particular optimistic about the role our country can play.

The future can be better

The first reason for optimism is the idealism and commitment of so many in our society, of all ages but especially among young people.

Environmental organisations – from WWF to the RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts to Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth – enjoy memberships in the tens and hundreds of thousands, and also the support of millions more and a capacity to move hearts more powerful than any other set of institutions in our civil society.

And their campaigning energy and idealism, while occasionally uncomfortable for those of us in power, who have to live in a world of compromise and deal-making, is vital to ensuring we continue to make progress in protecting and enhancing our environment.

On everything from alerting us all to the danger posed by plastics in our oceans and nitrogen oxide in our air, to the threats posed to elephants by poaching and cod by over-fishing, it’s been environmental organisations which have driven Governments to make progress. They have demonstrated that we can, with sufficient will, halt and reverse those trends and forces degrading the natural world and we can, if we have that will, improve the environment we are handing on to the next generation.

Which takes me to the challenge I – this Government – and our country – face at this time.

The decision to leave the European Union has been interpreted in many ways, and I won’t revisit the debates now which led to that decision being made. Now that decision has been made, it creates new opportunities, and challenges, for the British Government. And nowhere more so than in the area of environmental policy.

We now have an historic opportunity to review our policies on agriculture, on land use, on biodiversity, on woodlands, marine conservation, fisheries, pesticide licensing, chemical regulation, animal welfare, habitat management, waste, water purity, air quality and so much more.

Leaving the European Union means leaving the Common Agricultural Policy, leaving the Common Fisheries Policy, and taking back control of environmental policy.

And in this unfrozen moment new possibilities occur.

Now, I can understand why, for some, this is a moment of profound concern.

The European Union has, in a number of ways, been a force for good environmentally. Our beaches are cleaner, habitats are better protected and pesticides more effectively regulated as a consequence of agreements that we reached since we entered the EU. And I have no intention of weakening the environmental protections that we have put in place while in the European Union.

But the EU has not always been a force for good environmentally. In this decade alone, the EU has ordered member states to vote against international action to protect polar bears and to abstain on measures to protect bluefin tuna. And as the UK Climate Change Act shows, this country is more than capable of bringing in our own strong legislation to protect the environment, independent of the EU.

And it’s important that as we look at the history of EU policy, we recognise that environmental policy must also be insulated from capture by producer interests who put their selfish agenda ahead of the common good. And here the EU has been weak recently. The EU’s handling of diesel emissions, the way in which car manufacturers rigged testing procedures, and the consequent risk to public health which we have to deal with, do not reflect well on the European Union’s internal processes. The EU’s laboratory-based mechanisms for testing emissions have proven inadequate, and they have allowed manufacturers to game – or directly cheat – the system. Outside the European Union, we can do much better. And we will be saying more about this when our Air Quality Plan is published later this month.

But the two areas where the EU has most clearly failed to achieve its stated environmental goals are the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy.

Now both have been reformed during their lives, and improvements have been made, but they are still not properly designed to put the environment first.

The Common Agricultural Policy rewards size of land-holding ahead of good environmental practice, and all too often puts resources in the hands of the already wealthy rather than into the common good of our shared natural environment. It also encourages patterns of land use which are wasteful of natural resources and often intrinsically poor value rather than encouraging imaginative and environmentally enriching alternatives.

As the most recent report from Lord Deben’s excellent Committee on Climate Change and its equally excellent Adaptation Sub-Committee points out, current EU-inspired farming approaches are degrading our soil. In some areas a combination of heavy machinery, irrigation methods accelerating erosion and a determination to drive up yields has meant that soil has become less productive. It is not only less effective at sequestrating carbon it is, progressively, less fertile. The effect is most noticeable in what has been some of our most fertile growing soil, in the Fens, where a combination of the draining of the peat and the disappearance of hedges and trees over the years has led to a thinning of productive earth. According to the Committee’s report, Britain has lost 84% of fertile topsoil since 1850 and the erosion continues in some areas at between 1cm and 3cm a year.

Now, whether environmental campaigner or farmer, we can all agree such a trajectory is, literally, unsustainable. Which is why we need to take the opportunity that being outside the Common Agricultural Policy will give us to use public money to reward environmentally-responsible land use.

The future of farming support

This Government has pledged that when we leave the EU we will match the £3 billion that farmers currently receive in support from the CAP until 2022. And I want to ensure that we go on generously supporting farmers for many more years to come. But that support can only be argued for against other competing public goods if the environmental benefits of that spending are clear.

Of course there are many other – very good – reasons why we should provide support for agriculture.

And the first is simple and straightforward. Farmers produce the high quality food which the rest of us enjoy so much. Without them, our lives would be poorer – and our stomachs emptier. And we are uniquely fortunate that British food enjoys a reputation for quality which has been built on high animal welfare standards, strong environmental protections and the dedication of farmers and growers to meeting ever more demanding consumer expectations. Our food culture in Britain has become much more diverse and discriminating in my lifetime, influenced by chefs and bloggers, campaigners and entrepreneurs. And I was delighted when I was Education Secretary to have been able to harness their enthusiasm to develop a School Food Plan designed to give the next generation a deeper appreciation of the importance of what we eat. And of course the biggest driver of higher standards and wider choice in food and drink has been the innovation and creativity of farmers and growers themselves. It is my job to support them to grow, produce and sell more.

But farming is so much more than a business. 70% of our land is farmed – and the beautiful landscape that we enjoy in so many cases has not happened by accident but has been actively managed. The Lake District, which recently secured World Heritage Site status from UNESCO, is both a breath-taking natural landscape but also a home to upland farmers whose work keeps those lakes and hills as Wordsworth saw them, to the delight every year of millions of visitors.

So support for farmers in areas like the Lake District, upland Wales or the Scottish borders is critical to keeping our countryside healthy. Indeed, whether it’s hill farmers or island crofters, or those running small family farms in England and Northern Ireland, there is a need to ensure that the human ecology of rural areas is protected.

But while continued support is critically important, so is reform. And indeed I have been struck in the conversations I have had with organisations like the NFU, The Farmers Union of Wales and the Countryside Land Alliance that it is farmers themselves who most want the CAP to change. I have particularly appreciated the open, constructive and imaginative engagement shown by the NFU’s passionate and energetic President Meurig Raymond.

And it’s the farmers he represents who have had to live within the CAP’s bureaucratic constraints. They have seen how it holds back productivity, impedes progressive environmental stewardship and works against their natural instincts. Farmers owe their living and devote their lives to the land. They are engaged, every day, in practical environmental work and they deserve our respect and support for their commitment to the countryside.

And from all the conversations I have had so far I with farmers, land owners and managers I know that there is a growing appetite for a new system of agricultural support which respects their work and puts environmental protection and enhancement first. Our approach should therefore be, in Byron’s words, to love not man the less but nature more.

That means support for woodland creation and tree planting as we seek to meet our aim of eleven million more trees. Because trees are not only a source of beauty and wonder, living evidence of our investment for future generations, they are also a carbon sink, a way to manage flood risk and a habitat for precious species.

And we should also support those land owners and managers who cultivate and protect the range of habitats which will encourage biodiversity. Heathland and bog, meadow and marsh, estuaries and hedgerows alongside so many other landscapes need care and attention if they are to provide homes to the growing diversity of animal and plant life that we should wish to encourage. Now doing this well depends on developing the skills and farming practices of land owners and managers. And understanding how to create and protect habitats should be as much a part of good farming as understanding the latest crop and soil science.

And alongside encouraging greater bio-diversity and the way in which farmers manage their land, I also want to see higher standards across the board of animal welfare. We need to take action to tackle the trade in illegal ivory, improve scrutiny of what happens in our abattoirs, move on circus animals and examine the future of live animal exports. Cruelty towards animals driven by man’s worst exploitative instincts needs to be met with the full force of the law.

Science is our guide to the future

Now I have been frank before when talking about animal welfare and my feelings for landscape, wildlife and natural beauty spring from sentiment. Growing up between the North Sea and the Cairngorms, spending weekends in the hills and weekdays with my head in Wordsworth and Hardy, Lewis Grassic Gibbon and Edward Thomas, I grew up with an emotional attachment to natural beauty which inevitably influences my feelings towards questions on everything from architecture to ivory.

But while natural beauty moves us deep in our souls, environmental policy also needs to be rooted, always and everywhere, in science. There will, of course, always be a need to make judgements about the best method of achieving environmental goals, in ways which improve rather than upend people’s lives. But it is only by adherence to scientific method, through recognising the vital importance of testing and re-testing hypotheses in the face of new evidence and through scrupulous adherence to empirical reasoning, that we can be certain our policies are the best contemporary answer to the eternal questions of how we live well and honour the world we have inherited and must pass on enhanced to our children.

And it is science that guides my approach to another issue where my emotions have been powerfully engaged – fishing.

My father, grandfather and great grandfather all made their living from the sea. My great grandfather was a fisherman, my grandfather and father fish merchants. My father’s business closed in the nineteen-eighties when I was a schoolboy, one of many that closed after this country accepted EU control of our waters through the Common Fisheries Policy.

The CFP has had a profound impact on the UK’s coastal communities. But its most profound impact has been on the sustainability of our fish stocks. Fisheries management should always be guided by science – by a hard-headed assessment of which species and stocks can be fished and which must be protected if their numbers are not to dip below sustainable levels. The tragic precedent of over-fishing off the Grand Banks, and indeed current overfishing practices off the coast of Africa, shows how easy it can be to destroy what should be a perpetually-renewable natural resource.

The CFP has been reformed in recent years, not least thanks to the efforts of my friend and colleague Richard Benyon. The benefits of improved environmental stewardship have been seen in the resurgence of North Sea cod. But it is still the case that 40% of fish stocks in the Atlantic, North Sea and Baltic Sea are being fished at unsustainable levels. By leaving the CFP, taking back control of our territorial waters, granting access to other countries and allocating quotas all on the basis of what is scientifically sustainable, we can ensure that we set and follow the very highest standards in marine conservation.

And that, in turn, should lead to the revival of our coastal communities. With UK control of waters in our exclusive economic zone we cannot just husband fish stocks more wisely – we can also ensure that we allow our fishing industry to grow sustainably in the future as well. Outside the EU, as an independent coastal state, we can be home to world class fishing fleets as well as proving ourselves environmental leaders.

And it is not just through reform of fishing policy that we can ensure the marine environment is restored to health.

Eight million tonnes of plastic are discarded into the world’s oceans each year, putting marine wildlife under serious threat.

In October 2015, the government introduced the 5p carrier bag charge. Figures released today show that policy’s enormous success – 9 billion fewer carrier bags distributed since the charge was introduced, a fall of 83%. More than £95 million has also been raised from the charge, has been donated to environmental, educational and other good causes.

But this work in order to protect our marine environment is not good enough. Last year the government launched a consultation on banning microbeads in personal care products, which have such a devastating effect on marine life. We are responding to that consultation today and we will introduce legislation to implement that ban later this year. But there is more we can do to protect our oceans, so we will explore new methods of reducing the amount of plastic – in particular plastic bottles – entering our seas. I want to improve incentives for reducing waste and litter, and review the penalties available to deal with polluters – all part of a renewed strategy on waste and resources that looks ahead to opportunities outside the EU.

As custodians of the fifth largest marine estate in the world, we have a responsibility in the UK to protect these unique and fragile environments. So we will continue to fight to uphold the moratorium on commercial whaling. And by completing the Blue Belt of marine protected areas around the UK and working with our Overseas Territories we hope to create the world’s largest marine sanctuaries, we hope to deliver over 4 million square kilometres of protected maritime areas by 2020.

Outside the European Union there is scope for Britain not just to set the very highest standards in marine conservation, but also to be a global leader in environmental policy across the board. Informed by rigorous scientific analysis, we can develop global gold standard policies on pesticides and chemicals, habitat management and biodiversity, animal welfare and biosecurity, soil protection and river management and indeed in many other areas. We can take smarter and more targeted approaches to the improvements that we want to see – for instance, we can incentive recycling according to the environmental impact and value of the material, rather than a crude weight-based target that currently focuses recycling on things that happen to be heavy.

Shaping a greener future

Now in the past, the United Kingdom played a leading role in establishing the world’s most successful environmental treaty – the Montreal Protocol which has protected the ozone layer by phasing out the chemicals that UK scientists had shown was destroying it.

And the UK has been a global leader on efforts to promote biodiversity and tackle the illegal wildlife trade – an area where WWF has made such an enormous and beneficial impact. A series of international conferences have pushed the threats from poaching and illegal trade in endangered species up the global political agenda. We also in the UK fund globally respected schemes such as the Darwin Initiative, which protects biodiversity and endangered species in developing countries and helps them to meet their environmental commitments. This year I am delighted to be able to help celebrate Darwin’s 25 year anniversary. I am also pleased to announce today that the 24th round of the Darwin Initiative, the 6th round of Darwin Plus, and the 4th round of the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund will all open for applications next week.

And the UK has also helped establish the autonomous institutions – from the Royal Society to the National Trust, Kew to Cefas – which have provided global leadership and set the standard for scientific rigour in the application of all environmental policies. And I should say that as well as these organisations, we are fortunate to have in the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs a team of scientists, economists, policy specialists and analysts second to none. It’s a privilege to be working in a department where the quality of analysis and advice, as well as the commitment to rigorous science, is so impressive.

So we are in a fortunate position. But as we prepare to leave the EU we must give thought to how we can create new institutions to demonstrate environmental leadership and even greater ambition. Not least because we have to ensure that the powerful are held to account and progress towards meeting our environmental goals is fairly measured.

And I mention that because I know that inside the EU, the European Commission and the ECJ have provided enforcement mechanisms and understandably, some are asking what could or should replace them. My view is that we have an opportunity, outside the EU, to design potentially more effective, more rigorous and more responsive institutions, new means of holding individuals and organisations to account for environmental outcomes.

And I bet that if we take these opportunities to create these new institutions, we cannot just help protect our precious environmental assets, we can also create an economic asset for the country. Just as Britain enjoys a massive competitive advantage in the provision of legal services because the world knows we have the best courts and judges, and so chooses to settle its disputes here, so if we establish ourselves as the home of the highest environmental standards, the most rigorous science and the most ambitious institutions then the world will look to us for environmental innovation and leadership.

We already have much of the infrastructure in place in our universities and our learned institutions, in our NGOs and NDPBs. And we’re also, thanks to the leadership of other colleagues in government, developing expertise in new areas from Ultra-Low Emission Vehicles to waste management, supported by wise leadership from the ministerial team at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. In particular I am looking forward to the policies being planned by my friend Claire Perry for the Clean Growth Plan which is due to be launched in the autumn. These policies should reinforce our ambition to be the home of the most economically and environmentally ambitious policies in the areas of clean, green, technology, from energy generation to transport, the circular economy to house building.

We are fortunate that in this country we do have innovative private sector players who can work with government and respond to smart, and ambitious, regulation and targets to help us meet new environmental demands while also generating growth. Claire and I hope to say more in the weeks and months to come about some of the ambitions we want the private sector to help us achieve real gains in the area of clean, green, growth.

And it’s important that government and the private sector work together because scientific advances and technological breakthroughs are rarely the sole preserve of the state or the market. The huge commercial success of America’s Silicon Valley was built on Government investment. It was the state-run Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency and the federally-funded NASA which generated the initial breakthroughs on which subsequent commercial success was built. Similarly, the success of Israel’s amazingly creative tech sector has been built on that nation’s investment as it happens in defence technology. And the private sector innovation which has been generated by state investment in R&D in America and Israel could be matched by private sector innovation here built on public sector leadership and investment in rigorous environmental science.

I hope we can say more in this area not just in the BEIS Clean Growth Plan but also in what will be its sister document – DEFRA’s 25-year Environment Plan. Now I know there has been understandable impatience that the Plan has been longer in gestation than a baby elephant. But I want to make sure our plan is as ambitious as possible. Critical to its success will be adopting as rigorous a methodology as possible to setting goals and reporting success or failure. Which is why I have written to Professor Dieter Helm, the Chair of the Natural Capital Committee, to ask his Committee to draw up advice on what our Plan should aim to achieve and how it should seek to do so.

The Natural Capital Committee is another British institution which has shown global leadership in establishing new ways of valuing our environment. And it was of course the NCC which first made the case for a 25-year Environment Plan and I want to ensure that we use the insights of natural capital thinking and accounting to develop an approach which will help guide us in every area from reforming support for agriculture to considering how we reform planning policy. The Committee has agreed to provide its advice in September, laying the ground for subsequent publication of our Plan.

And next year, I will also be publishing the second National Adaptation Programme, a comprehensive plan of action to improve our resilience to climate change – an area where Defra is the lead government department, a responsibility I take very seriously.

I have set out what I believe is a deliberately ambitious agenda today because I believe the times demand it. Leaving the EU gives us a once in a lifetime opportunity to reform how we manage agriculture and fisheries, and therefore how we care for our land, our rivers and our seas/ And we can recast our ambition for our country’s environment, and the planet. In short, it means a Green Brexit. When we speak as a Government of Global Britain it is not just as a leader in security or an advocate for freer trade that we should conceive of our global role but also a champion of sustainable development, an advocate for global social justice, a leader in environmental science, a setter of gold standards in protecting and growing natural capital, an innovator in clean, green, growth and an upholder of the moral imperative to hand over our planet to the next generation in a better condition than we inherited it. That is my department’s driving ambition – and it should be central in the next five years to our national mission.

Michael Gove – 2016 Statement on the EU Referendum


Below is the text of the statement made by Michael Gove on 22 February 2016.

For weeks now I have been wrestling with the most difficult decision of my political life. But taking difficult decisions is what politicians are paid to do. No-one is forced to stand for Parliament, no-one is compelled to become a minister. If you take on those roles, which are great privileges, you also take on big responsibilities.

I was encouraged to stand for Parliament by David Cameron and he has given me the opportunity to serve in what I believe is a great, reforming Government. I think he is an outstanding Prime Minister. There is, as far as I can see, only one significant issue on which we have differed.

And that is the future of the UK in the European Union.

It pains me to have to disagree with the Prime Minister on any issue. My instinct is to support him through good times and bad.

But I cannot duck the choice which the Prime Minister has given every one of us. In a few months time we will all have the opportunity to decide whether Britain should stay in the European Union or leave. I believe our country would be freer, fairer and better off outside the EU. And if, at this moment of decision, I didn’t say what I believe I would not be true to my convictions or my country.

I don’t want to take anything away from the Prime Minister’s dedicated efforts to get a better deal for Britain. He has negotiated with courage and tenacity. But I think Britain would be stronger outside the EU.

My starting point is simple. I believe that the decisions which govern all our lives, the laws we must all obey and the taxes we must all pay should be decided by people we choose and who we can throw out if we want change. If power is to be used wisely, if we are to avoid corruption and complacency in high office, then the public must have the right to change laws and Governments at election time.

But our membership of the European Union prevents us being able to change huge swathes of law and stops us being able to choose who makes critical decisions which affect all our lives. Laws which govern citizens in this country are decided by politicians from other nations who we never elected and can’t throw out. We can take out our anger on elected representatives in Westminster but whoever is in Government in London cannot remove or reduce VAT, cannot support a steel plant through troubled times, cannot build the houses we need where they’re needed and cannot deport all the individuals who shouldn’t be in this country. I believe that needs to change. And I believe that both the lessons of our past and the shape of the future make the case for change compelling.

The ability to choose who governs us, and the freedom to change laws we do not like, were secured for us in the past by radicals and liberals who took power from unaccountable elites and placed it in the hands of the people. As a result of their efforts we developed, and exported to nations like the US, India, Canada and Australia a system of democratic self-government which has brought prosperity and peace to millions.

Our democracy stood the test of time. We showed the world what a free people could achieve if they were allowed to govern themselves.

In Britain we established trial by jury in the modern world, we set up the first free parliament, we ensured no-one could be arbitrarily detained at the behest of the Government, we forced our rulers to recognise they ruled by consent not by right, we led the world in abolishing slavery, we established free education for all, national insurance, the National Health Service and a national broadcaster respected across the world.

By way of contrast, the European Union, despite the undoubted idealism of its founders and the good intentions of so many leaders, has proved a failure on so many fronts. The euro has created economic misery for Europe’s poorest people. European Union regulation has entrenched mass unemployment. EU immigration policies have encouraged people traffickers and brought desperate refugee camps to our borders.

Far from providing security in an uncertain world, the EU’s policies have become a source of instability and insecurity. Razor wire once more criss-crosses the continent, historic tensions between nations such as Greece and Germany have resurfaced in ugly ways and the EU is proving incapable of dealing with the current crises in Libya and Syria. The former head of Interpol says the EU’s internal borders policy is “like hanging a sign welcoming terrorists to Europe” and Scandinavian nations which once prided themselves on their openness are now turning in on themselves. All of these factors, combined with popular anger at the lack of political accountability, has encouraged extremism, to the extent that far-right parties are stronger across the continent than at any time since the 1930s.

The EU is an institution rooted in the past and is proving incapable of reforming to meet the big technological, demographic and economic challenges of our time. It was developed in the 1950s and 1960s and like other institutions which seemed modern then, from tower blocks to telexes, it is now hopelessly out of date. The EU tries to standardise and regulate rather than encourage diversity and innovation. It is an analogue union in a digital age.

The EU is built to keep power and control with the elites rather than the people. Even though we are outside the euro we are still subject to an unelected EU commission which is generating new laws every day and an unaccountable European Court in Luxembourg which is extending its reach every week, increasingly using the Charter of Fundamental Rights which in many ways gives the EU more power and reach than ever before. This growing EU bureaucracy holds us back in every area. EU rules dictate everything from the maximum size of containers in which olive oil may be sold (five litres) to the distance houses have to be from heathland to prevent cats chasing birds (five kilometres).

Individually these rules may be comical. Collectively, and there are tens of thousands of them, they are inimical to creativity, growth and progress. Rules like the EU clinical trials directive have slowed down the creation of new drugs to cure terrible diseases and ECJ judgements on data protection issues hobble the growth of internet companies. As a minister I’ve seen hundreds of new EU rules cross my desk, none of which were requested by the UK Parliament, none of which I or any other British politician could alter in any way and none of which made us freer, richer or fairer.

It is hard to overstate the degree to which the EU is a constraint on ministers’ ability to do the things they were elected to do, or to use their judgment about the right course of action for the people of this country. I have long had concerns about our membership of the EU but the experience of Government has only deepened my conviction that we need change. Every single day, every single minister is told: ‘Yes Minister, I understand, but I’m afraid that’s against EU rules’. I know it. My colleagues in government know it. And the British people ought to know it too: your government is not, ultimately, in control in hundreds of areas that matter.

But by leaving the EU we can take control. Indeed we can show the rest of Europe the way to flourish. Instead of grumbling and complaining about the things we can’t change and growing resentful and bitter, we can shape an optimistic, forward-looking and genuinely internationalist alternative to the path the EU is going down. We can show leadership. Like the Americans who declared their independence and never looked back, we can become an exemplar of what an inclusive, open and innovative democracy can achieve.

We can take back the billions we give to the EU, the money which is squandered on grand parliamentary buildings and bureaucratic follies, and invest it in science and technology, schools and apprenticeships. We can get rid of the regulations which big business uses to crush competition and instead support new start-up businesses and creative talent. We can forge trade deals and partnerships with nations across the globe, helping developing countries to grow and benefiting from faster and better access to new markets.

We are the world’s fifth largest economy, with the best armed forces of any nation, more Nobel Prizes than any European country and more world-leading universities than any European country. Our economy is more dynamic than the Eurozone, we have the most attractive capital city on the globe, the greatest “soft power” and global influence of any state and a leadership role in NATO and the UN. Are we really too small, too weak and too powerless to make a success of self-rule? On the contrary, the reason the EU’s bureaucrats oppose us leaving is they fear that our success outside will only underline the scale of their failure.

This chance may never come again in our lifetimes, which is why I will be true to my principles and take the opportunity this referendum provides to leave an EU mired in the past and embrace a better future.