Lord Flight is Chairman of Flight & Partners Recovery Fund, and is a former Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
A recent question in the House of Lords was to ask the Government what progress it has made on pilot Environmental Land Management Schemes? For me, the best environmental use of land is to farm it efficiently.
When I was a boy, during the 1950s, we celebrated returning to being net food self-sufficient. Under the new EU trade agreement, it will be for us to determine our food/agricultural policies.
The cost of living and of food must, however, be factored into our policies. Food in the 1950s was both absolutely and relatively much more expensive than it is today. I support limited subsidies for our agricultural industry: it has to compete with France in particular, largely to provide the finance for massive EU subsidies of French food and agricultural products. We should both benefit from this by cheaper food in some areas and, in others, we should be prepared to provide an element of subsidy to render us on a par with French prices.
Balance in these territories can be helped or hindered by exchange rate factors: if the pound is strong, imports are automatically cheaper in sterling; if the pound is weak, exports are cheaper and we should sell more.
The UK is also fortunate in benefitting from climate change. We can now grow things we could not grow even ten or 20 years ago. It is heartening that we are being recognised as a producer of some of the world’s best white wine. Though while we are benefitting, others are suffering: here I point to China, which can grow little else than rice.
Our objective should be “a full house” of agricultural food production land usage, with limited subsidies and exchange rate policies to assist this. Some will be hostile on the grounds that any attempt to control markets delivers more expensive food than a free market. The reality of this is that we benefit from the massive EU subsidy of food costs. As a fundamental policy, we want to see our food industry competing with France and participating in new developments. So the logical solution is to seek to manage a halfway house of relative free trade in areas where we compete strongly, and subsidies for parts of our food and agricultural industry which need support.
Once we have grasped our newfound political and economic independence, we need to approve and agree what are our new economic policies for the next decade. It is apparent that the EU’s own have been little short of a disaster with minimal rates of growth and a shrinking proportion of global growth.
Part of this is to be expected, since the EU is a mature economy, but European growth has been markedly less than American growth. I assume that the majority of people would like to see better rates of growth, reflected in increases in their standard of living – although not all may necessarily agree here.
The questions are what economic policies and what changes should deliver a higher a rate of growth? My answer is relatively traditional – a more open, capitalist economy. The objective should also be to reduce over time the Government’s involvement in the economy.
Here there are lessons to be learned from the 1930s; economic growth of four per cent a year was achieved, making this the highest UK growth decade of the twentieth Century. It was also a positive decade for new business start ups and new technology – for example, the decade in which UK motor car manufacture really took off.
The Government needs to decide what industries/economic activity should have UK ownership as an ultimate protection should any hostilities arise. Here, I question our over dependency on French Nuclear Power production. But Britain is a fortunate country in which to live, where we need to make the best of our opportunities.