Theresa Villiers, MP for Barnet, has spoken up for India in a debate about the response to farmers' protests in India.
As a former Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Theresa has had direct experience of the challenges of reforming farm support payments. In the recent debate in Parliament, she reflected on how difficult such reforms always are.
She was the only backbench MP who took part in the debate to present a positive case for India and the reforms which have been under consideration there for around 20 years.
In her speech, Theresa said: "Anywhere in the world, in whatever country and on whatever continent, agricultural reform is very, very difficult. It is always accompanied by division and controversy, and in some instances there are protests and even law breaking. For example, our nearest neighbour across the Channel has a farming sector often prepared to embark on civil disobedience and direct action.
Many of the laws governing India’s system of farm support date back to the ’50s and ’60s, a time when the country was sometimes on the edge of famine. Thankfully, there has been massive change for the better in the intervening decades. Reform of farm subsidy and support has been under active and intensive discussion in India for 20 years, and international bodies such as the International Monetary Fund have welcomed Prime Minister Modi’s attempt to take action on this challenge, which many of his predecessors have backed away from.
I accept and understand that protesting farmers feel insecure about their future, but Prime Minister Modi’s Government have repeatedly said that a core purpose of the reforms is to make farming more profitable, raise the incomes of people who work in farming, and promote investment in agriculture in order to increase yields. Food security is obviously a priority for every Government around the world.
Although the three items of legislation that have sparked so much controversy will mean change, they also leave many structures, principles and rules intact, and Mr Modi was emphatic in a speech on 8 February that the commitment to a minimum support price has been retained and will not be removed by any of the new laws. Moreover, his Government have offered to postpone the implementation of the new laws for 18 months to allow for more engagement, consultation and discussion with the farming sector.
I hear the concerns expressed about the response to the protests, but when thousands and thousands of people are involved in demonstrations and encampments lasting months and months, no policing response can altogether avoid controversial episodes. After all, complaints about police officers here in the UK are frequently made after mass protests, but that is not evidence that democratic values are under threat in this country, and nor is it in India.
India is a country where respect for the rule of law and human rights is constitutionally protected and embedded in society. The authorities’ approach to the protests should not shake our faith in that central truth. Rather than denigrating India with unjustified criticism, we should celebrate it as the democratic success story that it is."
Theresa Villiers represents a significant British Indian population living in her Chipping Barnet constituency, a number of whom were keen for her to take part in the debate.