Victoria Atkins denies claims she has let Lincolnshire’s farmers down

Victoria Atkins, the MP for Louth and Horncastle, has denied claims she has let Lincolnshire’s farmers down by voting in favour of a new Agriculture Bill.
Our content editor, John Fieldhouse, with Victoria Atkins MP.Our content editor, John Fieldhouse, with Victoria Atkins MP.
Our content editor, John Fieldhouse, with Victoria Atkins MP.

Several farmers have contacted this newspaper to say the Bill delivers a crushing blow to an industry that is already struggling with the impact of flooding, Brexit, and now a lack of rain.

They say the bill will allow cheaper foreign foodstuffs to be imported into the UK from countries with lower standards - including chickens ‘packed with chlorine’ from America.

Some critics of the new legislation say proposed amendments would have meant safeguards were in place for the UK.

However, those amendments failed to win enough support in Parliament.

Ms Atkins said she understood the concerns of farmers, but stressed the Bill was ‘not about international trade’.

She claimed the new regulations would ensure farmers receive a fairer deal - once the EU’s rules and regulations no longer apply to the UK.

Ms Atkins stressed the bulk of the legislation dealt with ensuring farmers received financial support through what she described as ‘environmentally friendly and innovative schemes’.

She explained the current support system is called the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) and is run in conjunction with the EU.

According to Ms Atkins, the new Bill means that system will be replaced by the Government’s own Environment Land Management Scheme.

Ms Atkins said: “Under CAP, one of the main complaints was the money farmers received depended on how much land they owned.

“The more land, the greater the amount of money.

“Now, we are introducing a system that will pay farmers for their work on environmental projects - and any innovative methods. That will make it much fairer.”

Ms Atkins confirmed that after becoming aware of concerns about the new legislation, she re-checked details of the Bill with relevant government ministers, who were adamant cheap imports would not increase.

She added: “When Theresa May first became prime minister, my very first question was to ask for guarantees regarding food standards.

“She assured me standards would not be relaxed and, if anything, Boris (Prime Minister Boris Johnson) is even more supportive of our farming industry.

“This (Bill) is not about international trade - or letting in foods from countries with lower standards.

“I talk regularly to the NFU (National Farmers’ Union)and I’m very aware of the incredible job our farmers do - and how difficult it is for them at the moment.

“I have always supported them and I will continue to do so.”

Ms Atkins admitted that it could take up to seven years for the new system of payments to filter through to all farmers.

However, she was adamant that the new legislation is fairer and would not mean UK farmers battling against cheap imports.

Despite the assurances, Pamela Read was one of several people to contact this newspaper to complain about how Ms Atkins had voted.

Mrs Read said: “I would think your readers would be interested to know that their local elected MP did not support her Lincolnshire farming community.

“Instead, she would rather the UK import chlorinated chickens which will destroy our large local poultry industry, who retain high standards, and also our arable farming industry, who would be unable to compete. Lincolnshire is an agricultural area producing one eighth of the UK’s food.

“We are all very grateful to the farmers who are working hard in these difficult times to supply us all with food.

“I don’t think the majority of the public are aware of what our MPs are allowing, but I feel that your readers should know, especially when their MP (Victoria Atkins) is not backing the farming community.”

One farmer, who asked not be named, said the new Bill amounted to a ‘kick in the teeth’ for Lincolnshire farmers.

He said: “It is hard enough making a living and what we need is support - not new rules and regulations that will make it even harder.

“I thought leaving the EU was a good thing - like a lot of other people, I voted leave. Now, I think we’d be better off staying put.”

Francis Dymoke - whose family owns the Scrivelsby Estate - also voiced his concerns about the new Agriculture Bill.

Mr Dymoke has been a long-time supporter of the Conservatives - and Ms Atkins.

However, he warned the bill would allow ‘cheap, sub-standard’ foods into the UK.

He said: “How can it be right that we allow in chickens from America, full of chlorine?”

Mr Dymoke mentioned a lengthy list of potential imports and added: “No-one can match our standards but we’re opening our doors to anything - and anyone - at a time when our own farmers are struggling to survive. All we want is a level playing field.”