All 30 contributions to the Agriculture Act 2020 (Ministerial Extracts Only)

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Mon 3rd Feb 2020
Agriculture Bill
Commons Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons & Money resolution: House of Commons & Programme motion: House of Commons & 2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons & Money resolution & Money resolution: House of Commons & Programme motion & Programme motion: House of Commons & 2nd reading & Programme motion & Money resolution
Tue 11th Feb 2020
Agriculture Bill (First sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 1st sitting & Committee Debate: 1st sitting: House of Commons & Committee Debate: 1st sitting: House of Commons
Tue 11th Feb 2020
Agriculture Bill (Second sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 2nd sitting & Committee Debate: 2nd sitting: House of Commons
Thu 13th Feb 2020
Agriculture Bill (Third sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 3rd sitting & Committee Debate: 3rd sitting: House of Commons & Committee Debate: 3rd sitting: House of Commons
Thu 13th Feb 2020
Agriculture Bill (Fourth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 4th sitting & Committee Debate: 4th sitting: House of Commons & Committee Debate: 4th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 25th Feb 2020
Agriculture Bill (Fifth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 5th sitting & Committee Debate: 5th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 25th Feb 2020
Agriculture Bill (Sixth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 6th sitting & Committee Debate: 6th sitting: House of Commons
Thu 27th Feb 2020
Agriculture Bill (Seventh sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 7th sitting & Committee Debate: 7th sitting: House of Commons
Thu 27th Feb 2020
Agriculture Bill (Eighth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 8th sitting & Committee Debate: 8th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 3rd Mar 2020
Agriculture Bill (Ninth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 9th sitting & Committee Debate: 9th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 3rd Mar 2020
Agriculture Bill (Tenth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 10th sitting & Committee Debate: 10th sitting: House of Commons
Thu 5th Mar 2020
Agriculture Bill (Eleventh sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 11th sitting & Committee Debate: 11th sitting: House of Commons
Thu 5th Mar 2020
Agriculture Bill (Twelfth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 12th sitting & Committee Debate: 12th sitting: House of Commons
Wed 13th May 2020
Agriculture Bill
Commons Chamber

Report stage & Report stage & Report stage: House of Commons & Report stage
Wed 10th Jun 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading
Tue 7th Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage & Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansarad) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansarad) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansarad): House of Lords
Thu 9th Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 14th Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thu 16th Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 21st Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thu 23rd Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 28th Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 7th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 7th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 7th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 15th Sep 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage & Report stage:Report: 1st sitting & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report: 1st sitting & Report: 1st sitting: House of Lords
Thu 17th Sep 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage:Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 22nd Sep 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage:Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thu 1st Oct 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

3rd reading & 3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Mon 12th Oct 2020
Agriculture Bill
Commons Chamber

Consideration of Lords amendmentsPing Pong & Consideration of Lords amendments & Ping Pong & Ping Pong: House of Commons
Tue 20th Oct 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendmentsPing Pong (Hansard) & Consideration of Commons amendments & Ping Pong (Hansard) & Ping Pong (Hansard): House of Lords
Wed 4th Nov 2020
Agriculture Bill
Commons Chamber

Consideration of Lords amendmentsPing Pong & Consideration of Lords amendments
Mon 9th Nov 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendmentsPing Pong (Hansard) & Consideration of Commons amendments

Agriculture Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons & Money resolution: House of Commons & Programme motion: House of Commons & Money resolution & Programme motion
Monday 3rd February 2020

(4 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Hansard Text

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Agriculture Act 2020 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Theresa Villiers Portrait The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Theresa Villiers)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This Bill will introduce the first major reform of agriculture policy in this country for half a century. Now that we have left the European Union, we are determined to do things differently and to pursue the priorities of the people of this great nation. That means strengthening the Union of our United Kingdom by levelling up opportunity, to unlock our country’s potential. As we commence consideration of this landmark Bill, I want to highlight the huge contribution that farmers make to our society by putting food on our plates and conserving the natural landscapes that we all value so much. This Bill will provide our farmers and land managers with a chance to play a fundamental role in tackling the greatest environmental challenges of our time: protecting nature and tackling catastrophic climate change.

Brexit means that we can finally leave the common agricultural policy, to build a brighter, better, greener future for British farming. With its exasperating rigidities, complexities and perversities, the CAP is a bad deal for farmers, a bad deal for landscapes and wildlife, and a poor return on public investment for the taxpayer. We can do so much better.

Caroline Lucas Portrait Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green)
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I hope very much that we will be able to do better. The Secretary of State talks about looking after our farmers and higher standards, but will she guarantee that those higher standards will not be undercut by cheaper imports that do not meet those standards? If they are, we will not be doing our farmers any favours at all and will simply be outsourcing lower standards. Can she guarantee a legal commitment that no imports will undermine those standards that we will have in our country?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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I can reassure the hon. Lady that our manifesto is very clear on this. We will maintain our high standards of animal welfare, food safety and environmental protection. It is there in our manifesto, and we will defend that line in our trade negotiations.

Edward Leigh Portrait Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con)
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This weekend, I was approached by a young farmer who wants to succeed his grandfather as a tenant farmer. His landlord is the Church Commissioners—not so much a Christian organisation as a violently commercial one, which I suppose may be its right. Can my right hon. Friend assure all our good, solid tenant farmers, who are the bedrock of our support in the countryside, that we stand four-square behind them against rapacious landlords?

--- Later in debate ---
Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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I can. My right hon. Friend will know that the Bill contains provisions to introduce greater fairness for agricultural tenants, which we believe is very important. That is one way in which the Bill has been strengthened since the version considered in the last Parliament.

John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con)
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Speaking of rapacious predators, farmers and growers in my constituency and elsewhere have been victims of the habits and customs associated with monolithic retailers. We welcome in the Bill the powers that the Government will introduce to give a fair deal to farmers and growers. Will the Secretary of State speak a little more about how and when she intends to use those powers?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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I will come to those later in my remarks, but as my right hon. Friend acknowledged, an important part of the Bill is introducing greater transparency in the supply chain, so that farmers get a fairer deal for the produce that they create.

Matthew Offord Portrait Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con)
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Does the Secretary of State agree that the theory of productionism, which lies at the heart of the common agricultural policy, encourages farmers to put as much land as possible into agricultural use, thereby disincentivising room for biodiversity? Can she confirm that the Bill will reverse that trend?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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The Bill enables us to provide financial assistance for environmentally friendly farming practices. Providing more space for biodiversity, trees and nature will, I hope, be at the centre of many of the environmental land management schemes that we will be able to take forward under the Bill.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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Is the Secretary of State aware that providing modest support for small-scale farmers could be extremely valuable? That is part of my campaign for an Island deal similar to the one enjoyed by the Scottish islands. It could include support for small-scale abattoirs or humane slaughter on farms, which is the most humane way of slaughtering animals for human consumption, as well as milk storage, grain storage and vegetable box erectors on the Island. Those would work for not only my patch but many other parts of the United Kingdom. How will this excellent Bill help? Will she come to the Isle of Wight to talk to my farmers and see that for herself?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to discuss those important suggestions, and I would be more than happy to visit his constituency.

Marsha De Cordova Portrait Marsha De Cordova (Battersea) (Lab)
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I thank the Secretary of State for giving way; she is being incredibly generous with her time. I want to take her back to the fact that the Bill lacks any legal guarantees to protect our food standards from being undermined. The Conservative party’s manifesto may have referenced that, but the Bill does not, so will she give us a cast-iron guarantee that the Bill will protect those standards?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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Our manifesto is clear. We will stick to the commitments in our manifesto. The Prime Minister reiterated that only today.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP)
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The Secretary of State knows Northern Ireland well, so she will know that the big issue facing agriculture is farm incomes, which have fallen by 23% in the last two years. What assurance can she give to farmers listening in Northern Ireland tonight that the Bill will encourage an increase in both farm productivity and farm incomes?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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My hon. Friend will appreciate that agriculture is a devolved matter, but the Government’s manifesto does commit us to maintain the same overall levels of support for our farmers in each year of the current Parliament. We do clearly recognise the importance of ensuring and securing prosperity in the farming community in Northern Ireland, and we will work closely with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs on these matters in the weeks and months ahead.

We are going to put the broken system of the CAP firmly behind us. We are replacing it with an approach based on the principle of public money for public goods. We have committed in our manifesto to support that new approach with an overall level of funding to match 2019 levels for every year of the current Parliament. The Chancellor has already announced that the Government will provide £2.852 billion of direct payment support for the 2020 scheme year.

The objective of the Bill is a productive, profitable, resilient farming sector, empowered to produce more of the high-quality food that is prized around the world and appreciated so much here at home, all the while meeting the highest standards of food safety and traceability, animal health and welfare, and stewardship of the natural environment. Now more than ever before we need to recognise the vital importance of the work that farmers do because our climate is changing, because our ecosystems are under increasing pressure and because by the end of this decade 9 billion of us will share this planet.

Charles Walker Portrait Sir Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con)
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I say to my right hon. Friend that we must not get too misty-eyed about farmers. There is far too much cattle slurry, from dairy farms in particular, going into our rivers and destroying those rivers, and we really do need to make sure that farmers are held accountable for what they do with the slurry their cattle produce.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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Through a combination of regulation and farm support payments, we are certainly doing everything we can to ensure that farmers play their part in addressing and reducing pollution, and contribute to cleaner water and cleaner air.

Finding a way sustainably to feed a rapidly growing global population is essential if we are to have any chance of tackling the climate and nature crisis that we face. Getting Brexit done means that we are able forge ahead with the reforms that the United Kingdom has sought for so long from the European Union, but never managed to secure. For 40 years successive UK Governments of all political complexions have vowed to secure reform of the CAP, and for 40 years Ministers returned from Brussels and stood at this Dispatch Box with very little to show for their efforts. This Bill will therefore deliver one of the most important environmental reforms for decades. It shows that we can deliver a green Brexit, where we have a stronger and more effective focus on environmental outcomes than was possible while we were a member of the European Union.

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare (North Dorset) (Con)
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My right hon. Friend is being characteristically generous in giving way. I agree with her entirely about the need to green and be environmentally friendly in farming. Against that backdrop, is she able to indicate her thinking about the support this Bill could provide to those farmers who are really keen to invest in agri-tech as a way of reducing the need for both insecticide and pesticides?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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The new scheme of farm support will include support for agri-tech to support productivity enhancement in a sustainable way. My hon. Friend raises an important point, which I will refer to later in my remarks.

If we get right the reform we are contemplating today, we can be a beacon for others to follow. Over $700 billion is spent around the world on agriculture subsidies. If we successfully deliver a new approach to farm support here and that encourages even a fraction of those billions of dollars of farm subsidies to be diverted into environmental improvement schemes, we will have a created a massive boost to efforts to address the climate crisis. As Secretary of State, I want to emphasise that I fully recognise the urgency of that crisis. I have been driving forward this Bill as just one part of the biggest package of legislative reform in Whitehall, but I am determined to go further. In the coming weeks, I will be publishing documents outlining more detail on our proposals for the future of farming.

The Government have always been clear that we will seize the opportunity Brexit presents to deliver reforms that work for our farmers across our Union and that help to secure crucial environmental goals, but I am afraid that that cannot be said of the official Opposition. In all the years Labour Members had to change things, they did nothing. They wanted us stuck in the EU, locked forever into the CAP and anchored to a status quo that has been holding us back for decades. I am shocked that, in tabling a reasoned amendment, they have signified their intention to vote against this Bill.

Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury (Weaver Vale) (Lab)
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I speak here as a patriot, and I have quite a farming community in Weaver Vale, and I and Opposition Members certainly want to maintain good British standards. Why does the Secretary of State not be true to the Government’s words in the manifesto and put this into legislation, as the National Farmers Union has called for?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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The hon. Member has heard my response on that. It is in the manifesto, and we will deliver on our manifesto commitments.

The first chapter of the Bill provides the framework for funding schemes to support farmers, foresters and land managers. Clauses 1 to 3, which contain the meat of the Bill, will empower the Government to devote public money towards securing the public goods that people value so much, but which the market does not fully recognise or reward.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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No, I will not give way.

That includes improving standards of animal health and welfare, managing land in a way that enhances cultural and natural heritage, and improving public access to the countryside. Of course, protecting the environment will be right at the heart of our new approach. The Bill will enable the Government to support farmers to deliver improved water and air quality, increased biodiversity—for example, through enhanced protection for our hedgerows—and measures to address climate change. We all here know that farmers and land managers are already doing a huge amount to meet these environmental goals, but, as in so many parts of our economy and our society, we need to do so much more if we are to have a chance of reaching net zero and preventing disastrous climate change. These changes in farm support will help us to meet our hugely ambitious target for planting trees and safeguarding peatland.

Geraint Davies Portrait Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op)
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I am very grateful to the Secretary of State for the gracious and generous way in which she has given way. I point out to her that, as she will probably know, livestock farming contributes some 27% of methane production—methane is 85 times worse than CO2 for global warming—and, what is more, slurry contributes about 40% of the secondary PM2.5 in UK cities. Why does the Bill not contain anything about air pollution, despite her saying it is all about climate change and helping the environment?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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I am sorry to hear that Labour wants to talk down British farming. The reality is that well-managed livestock production can provide important environmental benefits, including for biodiversity. I think we need a debate on livestock farming that reflects the facts, which include the fact that our livestock farmers are some of the most carbon-friendly in the world in the way they produce their products.

We know how vital it is to protect soil health. Soil is clearly one of our most precious national assets, and we have added it to the list of purposes underlying the schemes that we can pay for under the Bill. This is a direct response to the views expressed in this House about the previous version of the Bill. A further addition is to include in clause 1 the conservation of native breeds and plants, so that the species that sustained our ancestors are kept safe for future generations. Work is already well under way to prepare and implement these crucial reforms. Our environmental land management scheme is the cornerstone of our new agriculture policy. Extensive tests and trials are under way in different parts of the country. We will launch the ELM national pilot in England in late 2021, and the scheme will launch fully in 2024.

ELM will provide a powerful driver towards meeting the goal set out in our 25-year environment plan, which is to leave the environment in a better state than we found it. Getting ELM right is crucial for meeting our commitment to net-zero carbon emissions, and to meet the tough targets set out in our forthcoming Environment Bill. I emphasise that our goal is to design ELM schemes that work for farmers and land managers, and in which a very wide range of farmers and land managers can take part.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley
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I welcome the points that the Secretary of State makes about protecting our environment, because without a good environment we cannot produce the good, tasty, and traceable food for which Britain and the United Kingdom are famous. Does she recognise that the UK currently imports 16% of its milk? Why can we not buy more British milk from British farmers and close that deficit?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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I would encourage everyone to do that. We produce some of the finest food and drink in the world, and I encourage everyone to reflect that in their shopping habits.

We fully recognise the particular challenges faced by upland farmers—indeed, I discussed that issue just a few days ago with a group of farmers in Northumberland National Park. We are determined that ELM will also work for upland farmers, and the incredible work they do to safeguard our beautiful natural landscapes will put them in a strong position to take part in our environmental schemes.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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Will the Secretary of State give way on that point?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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No.

Reformed funding support for farmers and land managers will be an important part of our programme to level up the rural economy, and we will provide grants and funding to improve productivity and help farm businesses become more resilient and successful. We believe that farming efficiently and improving the environment can, and indeed must, go hand in hand. We will therefore support investment in green agri-tech, as referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), and invest in research and development to help raise sustainable productivity levels.

Clause 4 includes a duty on the Secretary of State to set out a multi-annual plan for financial assistance, while clauses 5 and 6 include provisions that will require the Government to make annual reports on the amount of financial assistance provided in England. Those three clauses are designed to provide greater certainty and stability about assistance in the future, and are in direct response to concerns expressed by right hon. and hon. Members about the earlier version of the Bill. Clauses 7 to 13 provide that during a seven-year transition period basic farm payments will gradually be phased out.

I strongly believe that the changes in the Bill will be positive for farmers and the environment, but change of this magnitude will also have far-reaching impacts, and adjustment to the new approach will not always be easy. As I emphasised in the debate on the Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Act 2020, a managed seven-year transition period up to 2027 will give farmers time to adapt to the new system, and provide time for the new schemes to be fully tested before they are delivered across the country.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
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I am extremely grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. She will appreciate that in that seven-year transition period farmers will be expected to cope with the loss of the basic payment scheme—according to her Department’s figures, 85% of funding for livestock farming comes from that scheme—and for all the likely and theoretical benefits of ELM it will not be functional for everybody until 2028. Does she agree that a wiser and more compassionate way of dealing with this issue would be to not phase out BPS until 2028, rather than starting before that?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. In part, we want our grants for productivity and investment to help plug that gap. But we have to get on with this; we must make progress in transforming the way we support land management in this country. I am afraid the climate crisis is urgent.

Clause 11 contains provisions to introduce delinked payments during the transition, and where we can, and subject to constraints in the withdrawal agreement, we will introduce simplifications to the existing BPS scheme. Our transition to the new schemes opens the door to a fresh approach to the rules that we expect farmers to meet, as provided for in clause 9. We are determined to have a far more rational and proportionate approach to compliance than the inflexible CAP regime that we are leaving. For too long farmers the length and breadth of this country have had to put up with systems of inspection, compliance, and penalties that often seemed to defy logic or common sense. Outside the EU, we can do better.

Clauses 18 to 20 provide that in exceptional circumstances the Government can act to support farmers through significant market disturbances in England. Our farmers want to be competitive, collaborative, and innovative, and to negotiate effectively at the farm gate to get a fairer return. We are using the Bill as an opportunity to take further action, and to improve fairness in the agriculture supply chain.

Tonia Antoniazzi Portrait Tonia Antoniazzi (Gower) (Lab)
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Will the Secretary of State accept the offer from the National Farmers Union to work with the Government on legislative provisions, in order to safeguard standards while allowing sufficient flexibility to conduct meaningful trade negotiations?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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I am in regular touch with the National Farmers Union—indeed, I spoke to its representatives only today. Throughout the process of negotiating our new relationship with the European Union, and our trade agreements with the rest of the world, there will be strong engagement from the Departments for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and for International Trade, and from the Government as a whole, with farmers and other stakeholders on those crucial matters.

Greg Knight Portrait Sir Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con)
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Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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I have to make progress because I know there is a long speakers’ list.

Clauses 21 to 26 on data will increase transparency and help to manage risk and market volatility more effectively, and clause 27 will help protect UK producers from unfair trading practices. The Bill enables us to make progress on our new multi-species livestock information programme. That addition to the Bill that was debated in the previous Parliament will support a game-changing initiative to strengthen biosecurity through traceability, and help to strengthen consumer confidence in the quality and safety of the food that reaches the supermarket shelf. Parts 4 and 5 include new UK-wide provisions on fertiliser and organic products, and on reform of agriculture tenancies in England and Wales. Many of those provisions will benefit farmers in every corner of our United Kingdom, delivering a fairer and more modern agriculture system.

The Bill includes new powers for the devolved Administrations in Wales and Northern Ireland, which they requested to enable them to bring forward new agriculture policy. We fully respect the fact that agriculture is a devolved matter, and we have worked closely with the devolved Administrations on this Bill. I thank them for the collaborative approach that they adopted. Where clauses cover devolved matters, we will of course seek the appropriate legislative consent motions.

Crucially, this Bill fully recognises the importance of food production and food security. In response to concerns expressed in this House, and beyond, about the previous version of the Bill, clause 17 places a duty on Ministers to report regularly on food security to Parliament. The Government are committed to boosting the best of British, and to championing our iconic produce on the global stage. Our manifesto commits us to maintaining and defending our high standards of food safety, animal welfare, and environmental protection as we embark on our trade negotiations with countries around the world.

We will give our farmers unfailing support as their businesses adapt to the bold and radical programme of change that this Bill ushers in, so that they can maintain and enhance the high standards that are the backbone of their success, play their part in tackling climate change and giving nature the space to recover, and continue their vital work of feeding the nation. I urge the House to back this historic change to agriculture policy in this country. Together we can seize this opportunity to deliver a better future for British farming, and I commend the Bill to the House.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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--- Later in debate ---
George Eustice Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice)
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It is a real pleasure to close this debate. This is the second time that I have taken this Bill—or a similar version of it—through Parliament for Second Reading within the last two years, following the difficulties that the previous Parliament encountered. But we have now had a general election. We have a new Parliament and we have a newly elected Government who have a clear mandate to chart a different course for our country to become a genuinely independent sovereign country again and to make our own laws again.

The Bill means that, for the first time in half a century, we have the ability and the chance to create a new, independent agriculture policy. It is very encouraging to see so many hon. Members embrace that responsibility with so many thoughtful speeches today. It is particularly encouraging that so many chose to make their maiden speeches today in addressing this important Bill.

The hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Steven Bonnar) talked about the importance of his family, the support that he had there, and some of his less than favourable experiences at the hands of certain employers in the past. My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie) gave a moving speech in which she referred to a family tragedy. I am sure we all recognise from that that she is going to be a champion for mental health issues. She will also clearly be a champion for the agricultural industry. I or, I am sure, a fellow Minister would be more than happy to attend the Anglesey show at some point.

John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes
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Will my hon. Friend give way?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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I will not give way as I want to cover as many of the issues raised by hon. Members as possible.

My hon. Friend the new Member for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards) talked about the importance of high animal welfare and environmental standards, and the Bill provides for that. As she pointed out, her predecessor was a long-standing incumbent in this House. He was a big figure in politics—somebody who I did not always agree with, it has to be said, but nevertheless a highly experienced operator.

My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Greg Smith) referred to some of the great opportunities contained in this Bill. I think he is right and I am sure that, if we get it wrong, his father-in-law will have something to say about it and my hon. Friend will have something to talk about around the dinner table. He finished with that fabulous quote from Margaret Thatcher about the importance of our farming communities.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) will, I know, be a champion for rural broadband. As a Cornishman, I have to take issue with her particular interpretation of the correct way to put cream and jam on a scone—it is of course jam first. I am pleased that the Prime Minister recently endorsed the Cornish interpretation of such matters during the election.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne) highlighted some of the ridiculous rules that we have in the common agricultural policy, which is far too complex, with hundreds of pages of guidance. We now have an opportunity to do things very differently. Hope Farm in his constituency, run by the RSPB, is a fabulous example of some of the nature-sensitive farming that can be done, and we are keen to learn from projects such as that.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder) gave a fascinating account of how his grandmother, as a member of the Women’s Land Army, met his grandfather. It was a reminder of the great struggle that farmers and members of the WLA undertook to ensure that the nation was fed in the last war—something we must never forget. He talked about the importance of fairness in the supply chain and of provisions in the Bill to address that.

To turn to the points raised by the shadow Secretary of State, the emphasis of his speech was on the importance of food standards and making sure that we project British values on food standards in trade deals that we do. That was a clear commitment in our manifesto, as was dealt with by the Secretary of State earlier. The hon. Gentleman asked why a prohibition on the sale of chlorine-washed chicken or hormone-treated beef was not included in the Bill. The answer is that it is already on the statute book as retained EU law, so it already exists.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) asked whether the Bill’s conclusion had stalled as a result of some of the difficulties in the last Parliament. The answer to that is: most certainly not. The trials and pilots remain on course. Indeed, we already have more than 30 different trials in place across the country testing scheme. We will deploy a full pilot in 2021. Our progress in delivering the agricultural transition remains on course. He also mentioned the fact that food security is a global challenge and that we have a responsibility, in common with other temperate parts of the world, to ensure that we play our part to produce food for a growing world population. He is right, and clause 17(2)(a) provides for that, because the global availability of food is a consideration.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) raised the issue of currency fluctuations. She will know that, under the old regime, farmers had no certainty from one year to the next what they would be paid, since a euro volatility exchange rate was introduced to the system. We have now set that at the same level as it was in 2019, so Scotland has clarity about exactly how much funding it will receive in 2020 and 2021. That is more clarity and more certainty than it has ever had while a member of the European Union.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake) talked about the importance of frameworks for the UK. I recently met members of the Farmers Union of Wales. We work closely with all our devolved counterparts, but I remind him that this is a devolved policy, and it is for each constituent part of the UK to design a policy that works for them.

My hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) talked about the importance of food production and suggested that we have not reflected that in the revised Bill. I take issue with that, because clause 1(4) is explicit in saying that in designing any scheme under the clause, we must have regard for the need to encourage food production. That is a new addition to the Bill. He also talked about the lump sum payments that are provided for in the Bill. We know from all the work done in this area in the past that, if we want to help new entrants on to the land, we also have to help older farmers retire. That is why allowing farmers to retire with dignity and supporting them to do so is an important area to consider.

My hon. Friends the Members for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) suggested that we should have a more frequent review of food security than every five years. We have to see this requirement through the prism of clause 4, which envisages five-yearly multi-annual plans. It makes sense to align any review of food security with that provision. I would of course be happy to travel to Cheshire to meet the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton.

The hon. Members for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and for Nottingham East (Nadia Whittome) talked of the importance of agro-ecology. We are clear that whole-farm, holistic schemes can be provided for under clause 1. We are looking, for instance, at integrated pest management, catchment-sensitive farming and hedgerow schemes to encourage whole-farm approaches.

I turn to the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley). I recognise that agriculture is a very important industry in Northern Ireland. This is a devolved policy. Both Northern Ireland and Wales have chosen to take schedules in the Bill that give them powers to continue the existing scheme but also modify and improve it.

The hon. Member for Angus (Dave Doogan) talked about seasonal workers. He has to recognise that we have increased the provision for seasonal workers from 2,500 to 10,000, largely due to the great campaigning work of his predecessor. Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) gave a very upbeat, positive assessment of what we could do in future. That is what I want to conclude on. I grew up on a farm and spent 10 years in the industry. We have a chance now to design a modern policy that is fit for purpose in the 21st century. I therefore commend this Bill to the House.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

--- Later in debate ---
21:59

Division 27

Ayes: 206


Labour: 161
Scottish National Party: 35
Plaid Cymru: 4
Liberal Democrat: 3
Alliance: 1
Independent: 1
Green Party: 1

Noes: 320


Conservative: 318
Democratic Unionist Party: 3

Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 62(2)), That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Agriculture Bill (First sitting)

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 1st sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 11th February 2020

(4 years, 4 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 11 February 2020 - (11 Feb 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Agriculture Act 2020 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Before we begin, I have a few preliminary points. Please switch off mobile phones. Tea and coffee is not allowed; that is not me being pompous—the Speaker does not allow tea or coffee in the Committee Rooms. Until that changes, Lent has come early and it is definitely water only.

We will first consider the programme motion on the amendment paper. We will then consider a motion to enable the reporting of written evidence for publication and then a motion to allow us to deliberate in private about our questions before the oral evidence session. In view of the limited time available, I hope we can take those matters without too much debate.

George Eustice Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move,

That—

(1) the Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 9.25 am on Tuesday 11 February) meet—

(a) at 2.00 pm on Tuesday 11 February;

(b) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 13 February;

(c) at 9.25 am and 2.00 pm on Tuesday 25 February;

(d) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 27 February;

(e) at 9.25 am and 2.00 pm on Tuesday 3 March;

(f) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 5 March;

(g) at 9.25 am and 2.00 pm on Tuesday 10 March;

(2) the Committee shall hear oral evidence in accordance with the following Table:

Date

Time

Witness

Tuesday 11 February

Until no later than 10.30 am

Nature Friendly Farming Network; Farmwel; LEAF; British Growers Association

Tuesday 11 February

Until no later than 11.25 am

RSPB; RSPCA; Rare Breed Survival Trust; Traceability Design User Group; Livestock Information Ltd

Tuesday 11 February

Until no later than 2.30 pm

Ulster Farmers Union; DAERA

Tuesday 11 February

Until no later than 3.00 pm

NFU; National Federation of Young Farmers Clubs

Tuesday 11 February

Until no later than 3.30 pm

Cooperatives UK

Tuesday 11 February

Until no later than 4.15 pm

Campaign to Protect Rural England; Kings Crops; Holkham Estate

Tuesday 11 February

Until no later than 5.00 pm

Country Land and Business Association; Tenant Farmers Association

Thursday 13 February

Until no later than 12.15 pm

NFU Cymru; Farmers’ Union of Wales; Welsh Government

Thursday 13 February

Until no later than 1.00 pm

Soil Association

Thursday 13 February

Until no later than 2.30 pm

NFU Scotland; Quality Meat Scotland; Scottish Government

Thursday 13 February

Until no later than 3.00 pm

George Monbiot, The Guardian

Thursday 13 February

Until no later than 3.30 pm

Professor Bill Keevil, University of Southampton

Thursday 13 February

Until no later than 4.00 pm

Unite; Landworkers Alliance

Thursday 13 February

Until no later than 4.30 pm

Sustain; Compassion in World Farming

Thursday 13 February

Until no later than 5.00 pm

Which?



(3) proceedings on consideration of the Bill in Committee shall be taken in the following order: Clauses 1 to 28; Schedule 1; Clause 29; Schedule 2; Clauses 30 to 34; Schedule 3; Clause 35; Schedule 4; Clauses 36 to 43; Schedule 5; Clauses 44 and 45; Schedule 6; Clauses 46 to 49; Schedule 7; Clauses 50 to 54; new Clauses; new Schedules; remaining proceedings on the Bill;

(4) the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 5.00 pm on Tuesday 10 March.

The programme motion was agreed by the Programming Sub-Committee yesterday. I hope we are all agreed on the programme motion, and I look forward to hearing evidence from witnesses in the order set out.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That, subject to the discretion of the Chair, any written evidence received by the Committee shall be reported to the House for publication.—(George Eustice.)

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Copies of written evidence that the Committee receives will be made available in the Committee Room. Colleagues can get papers on that table over there. The helpful Clerks will indicate where they are; if Members go around, behind me or the witnesses, they can pick up the papers.

Resolved,

That, at this and any subsequent meeting at which oral evidence is to be heard, the Committee shall sit in private until the witnesses are admitted.—(George Eustice.)

--- Later in debate ---
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

May I say to our witnesses, if you have never previously appeared before a Committee, that there is nothing at all to be worried about? My colleagues are very friendly. They are just trying to get information from you to use during the Committee stage of our proceedings. The session ends at 10.30 am, so it will go very quickly.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I want to start by asking what you consider to have been the main failures and limitations of the existing direct payment scheme, the common agricultural policy. Also, what are the main opportunities for your own particular interests, based on a new policy that rewards farmers for the delivery of public goods?

ffinlo Costain: One of the key challenges with the common agricultural policy is that it has largely rewarded farmers for owning land, and it has presided over an enormous disconnect between farmers, other people in the countryside, and customers, and often the supply chain as well. The huge advantage of the new legislation is that, in changing the funding system to public funds for public goods, we will be able to deliver the changes that we need—the farm animal welfare improvements, the sustainability improvements, the climate mitigation, and the biodiversity restoration, which has been so degraded under the common agricultural policy.

Make no bones about it: we are facing a climate and nature emergency that is upon us now, not tomorrow. It is critical that we get this right. For me, getting land use right is the golden ticket. Having the opportunity at this time to reform land use—so that we can continue producing good food and good nutrition, delivering national security in that way, which is critically important, as well as delivering climate mitigation, land adaption to help with climate change, and biodiversity restoration—is absolutely critical. The Bill comes at the perfect time, and it is well set up. There are some challenges within it, and some issues that I think we will address, but in general terms it is very positive.

Martin Lines: As a farm owner and a tenant, under the current system, with the single farm payment, I am encouraged to farm to the very edge of fields. Biodiversity and other bits of the landscape are not rewarded. As a tenant, my landlord takes away most if not all of my single farm payment on top of the rent. If we move to a public goods model, I actually get rewarded for the delivery of services as a land manager—as a farmer—so we would move into a system that better supports actual farmers, rather than the ownership and management of the landscape.

Caroline Drummond: One of the real challenges of the past system was the capability to drive ambition for farmers. It was a “Tell me what I’m doing” type of approach, so going forward, we have a real opportunity to demonstrate leadership, vision and ambition for our farming sector. Ensuring that we get the right governance is going to be really important. There needs to be partnership and development of trust between Governments, from voluntary approaches that are externally, independently verified such as farm assurance schemes, right through to building on some of the success stories of capability and innovation that we have seen among some of the farmers who are already thriving and doing very well in this country.

Jack Ward: The fresh produce industry has not benefited that greatly from the CAP. We are about 170,000 hectares; we have an output of about £2 billion from that area, and the contribution from the basic payment scheme is about £40 million. However, the contribution from the producer organisation scheme, which is broadly equivalent, has been incredibly important. I think we would like to see that continue in some shape or form.

In terms of opportunities, there is a terrific opportunity to increase the amount of fruit and veg that we currently produce. In some sectors, such as tomatoes, we are very dependent on imports. We import eight out of 10 tomatoes that we consume in the UK; we must be able to do better than that.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Good morning to you; it is very nice to see a farmer from Cambridgeshire here. The opening comments from the witnesses have been very positive and helpful, and I think we all welcome the notion of public money being spent on environmental gain. However, a number of us are concerned about the lack of detail in the Bill about environmental land management schemes. I think we had expected a policy paper from the Government, but I am not sure we have seen that yet. Do you share that concern?

ffinlo Costain: It is really important for Government to set a framework, but if there is a criticism of the way that Europe and the common agricultural policy have worked in the past, it is that it has been way too prescriptive. That has meant that, to a large extent, farmers have learned to do what they are told, rather than to properly understand and integrate what they are doing on their land.

My own view is that Government should become more goal-centred. They need to set the right metrics and to understand what outcomes they are trying to achieve, but then they need to take a step back and allow farmers to farm. Farmers understand their land, and if they have a funding model that supports environmental excellence and other public goods—restoration of soil health and so on—they can work out ways to do that. I would hate to see a situation where there is a continuing prescriptive approach, but it is focused on the environment rather than on how to produce cattle, and we end up with farmers still not really understanding what they are doing and simply farming the subsidy.

We need ownership of change, and farmers can do that. Farmers understand their land; they know their land, and if we give them the freedom to work within that public goods model, they will deliver the outcomes. They will step up. They are a standing army out there, ready to do this, and they will step up and do it.

Martin Lines: I have concerns about what the ELM for England would look like, the transition period, and how the funding is going to work. We need more detail about what the future will be, so that the farmers can start changing and adapting now to the model of what is coming. There is some concern, particularly about the transition period. As we go into the new system and payments under the current system tail off, what is going to bridge the lull in the middle, and how do we get farmers to step across to the new system at speed?

Caroline Drummond: I agree. There needs to be the policy documentation, so we can identify what this is going to look like and how the knitting all joins up—there are lots of balls of wool, but what are we trying to knit at the end of the day? Not much has been left out of the Bill, which is really key, but we need to know how it will be interpreted and how the ELMS projects will be carried out. There are a lot of them going on, and we need to know how they will be brought together to demonstrate the delivery against metrics, outcomes and, ultimately, impact. Ultimately, the Government have to deliver against the global and national targets around the sustainable development goals, the Paris agreement, and so on, but the farming sector has the opportunity to support us in demonstrating that we are helping on issues around climate change, biodiversity, soil improvement and those matters.

--- Later in debate ---
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

I know that at least one of you has given evidence to these sessions before—maybe two or three of you—but please enjoy the session, which runs until 11.25 am.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q The Bill explicitly recognises animal health and welfare and native breeds as a public good. In recent years, we have seen a specialisation in arable in some parts of the country and a concentration of livestock in others. Some say that we need to get livestock back on the lowlands, so that we have more permanent pasture, more crop rotation, more organic matter in the soil and so on. I wonder whether those of you who feel able might comment on the benefits of livestock in our land management and in the farming system.

Christopher Price: I speak particularly on behalf of native breeds, rather than livestock generally, but I think that promoting our native breeds is hugely important. Dealing with economics first of all, you have pointed to the uplands as an area where it is harder to grow crops and where people therefore keep livestock, but that does not rule out having livestock elsewhere. If we have the right sort of livestock, grazed at the right density and in the right place, we are providing environmental benefits because we are creating the sorts of habitats we want. We are keeping down import costs—that helps the climate—which reduce farm incomes. There is a business and an environmental side to livestock, which are an important landscape feature as well. There is something exciting about seeing interesting animals wandering around our farms. It all helps towards tourism, and a sense of place and location. There are huge arguments to support increased livestock use.

John Cross: I speak as a mixed arable and livestock farmer, as opposed to my involvement with Livestock Information. There is absolutely no doubt that the combination of livestock on arable land has a profound effect. It is something that I would encourage the whole industry to look at, because as soon as you start to improve the organic matter levels, the vibrancy and the life within the soil, you realise the benefits that come with drought resistance and inherent fertility. In particular, if you involve a blend of, say, pigs and ruminants on arable land, you also have a profound effect on the birdlife that then decides to come to live on that farm. It is something that I believe in passionately, and it works, but certainly—as I heard referred to in the earlier session this morning—you have to be mindful of stocking densities. In particular, it is a matter of making good use of grazing legumes, which we are pioneering. It is a valuable mission that the Bill mentions, because we need more organic matter in arable land.

David Bowles: Just picking up on that point, I have been working on CAP issues for 20 years, and this is the first time that we have had the opportunity to get animal welfare into the new farm support system. We have only ever had one animal welfare scheme in the last 20 years, which was in Scotland, so it is really important that we start to get animal welfare payments into the system and, particularly on the stocking point, make sure that farmers are paid to go higher than the welfare standards they have at the moment. I think you will get win-win situations, with benefits to animal welfare, benefits to the environment, benefits to rare breeds, et cetera.

Thomas Lancaster: The RSPB is a big landowner and farmer—we have 30,000 livestock across our estate. In a lot of cases, those livestock are essential to the public goods that we deliver, particularly the high nature value farming systems that, again, have been a key feature of many CAP schemes in the past. We want to see future schemes in England supporting those high nature value farming systems. Extensive livestock production will be a key feature of those systems in future and is important in supporting species such as curlew and other breeding waders, or habitats such as upland hay meadows.

John’s point about densities is absolutely right, because overgrazing is a major problem for a lot of our designated sites and habitats. The opportunity we have in the Agriculture Bill, and with environmental land management schemes specifically, is to support farmers to find that optimum balance, which Martin Lines talked about a lot in the previous session and which can go hand in hand with a more profitable livestock farming system as well.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I have just a couple of further points. Mr Bowles, you are right, this is the first time that a country has put as much ambition into rewarding high animal welfare outcomes as we do in the Bill. Your organisation runs the RSPCA Assured scheme. What lessons can we learn from that about having a payment-for-public-goods model for farmers who go above and beyond the regulatory baseline? Also, if I may, a question for Mr Hall: in terms of livestock traceability, are there market opportunities for us in having that higher health and higher welfare supply chain, which can be demonstrated through the project that you are working on?

David Bowles: There are huge opportunities. We have only ever had one scheme in the UK, but we have had something like 52 schemes over the 28 EU member states. The RSPCA Assured scheme is very successful in certain areas, such as laying hens, where we probably have 55% of production, but it is very unsuccessful in other areas, such as sheep, beef, dairy and even chickens, which are all sectors where we have under 5% and in some areas under 1%. The market is therefore not delivering the higher welfare assurance schemes that we want in that particular market.

That is the exciting thing about the Bill, because it will provide the opportunity to give farmers a leg up through, for example, one-off capital grants, and then provide them with payments to ensure that, where the market does not deliver, they can deliver those higher welfare schemes. The RSPCA is very happy that the Bill provides for that two-step process. We think there are very exciting times here for farmers, particularly in those areas where we have not traditionally gone into higher welfare schemes. For instance, at the moment, 0% of ducks in the UK have access to full-body water. The expression “taking a duck to water” does not exist for UK duck farming. That is a tragedy, not just for ducks, but for UK farming.

Simon Hall: There are undoubtedly opportunities in the marketplace if we can evidence welfare standards, provenance, and so on. The Livestock Information programme will put in place a new multi-species traceability service that brings together data based on animals, keepership—the people who have been responsible for the animal throughout its life—and location, the farm where it is based. The whole proposition of the programme that we are delivering is about using that data not only to better inform Government responses to animal disease control and ensuring food safety, but to enable the industry to take advantage of that data to evidence its standards and demonstrate to its consumers, domestically or internationally, the standards to that livestock is produced, the provenance of the animals and so on in real data. Working in partnership with Government and industry, there is an opportunity to set out our stall in a world-leading manner.

Christopher Price: To build on what has been said, an important aspect of the Livestock Information service—if it goes as far as I hope it does—is that it will give greater recognition to individual breeds. It will make it clear that what you are buying is a saddleback or whatever. At the moment, it is very difficult for the consumer to know that what he or she is buying is what the butcher or supermarket purports it to be, or to know when they use nebulous language to imply that it has a particular provenance. If we can get to a system whereby people are promoting particular breeds associated with a particular area, we will do well to create a much stronger sense of place and local identity, which will help with creating new markets.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I think at least three of the witnesses are part of organisations that were signatories to the letter to the Prime Minister at the end of last month warning about the potential risks of lower standards for imported food. Will those three witnesses, and perhaps others, comment briefly on what you think will be the effect of allowing imports of food produced to lower environmental welfare and health standards on consumers, producers and the environment?

David Bowles: For the RSPCA, this is probably the biggest omission in the Bill. The Government have resisted putting anything in the Bill that says that we will not import produce or food to lower standards than those of the UK. I cannot see why they have resisted that. The Secretary of State said, “Trust me, because it’s in the manifesto.” Frankly, I do not think that is good enough. Last year the Government tabled their own amendment to the Trade Bill that said exactly that. I hope they do the same here, because if they do not, they will leave British farmers who are producing to those higher welfare standards open to US imports.

For instance, 55% of the pork meat and bacon that we eat is imported. Virtually all that comes from the EU. If you start importing that from the USA, where they still have sow stalls, where they still give their pigs ractopamine, which is an illegal drug in UK pig farming, you are opening up to cheaper imports coming in, particularly if you do not have consumer information and labelling. I am pleased that labelling is in the Agriculture Bill, but this needs to be part of a matrix. You need to have the same standards for food coming in. The RSPCA is not afraid of higher welfare food coming in. What we are afraid of is food coming in that is illegal to produce in the UK.

Christopher Price: I agree with everything that has been said, but I think we need to be careful about putting too much trust in labelling. I cannot see that people are going to make many purchasing decisions on the basis of labelling. Something like less than 5% of decisions nowadays are based on labelling, which includes all the various organic and assurance schemes. This has to be dealt with by legislation and regulation. You cannot leave it to consumer good will in the supermarket.

Thomas Lancaster: I agree with all that. We worked very closely with the NFU to co-ordinate that letter. We view assurance around import standards as a foundational element of the whole future farming policy and as really important to farmers’ ability to invest in public goods schemes with confidence.

The letter not only touched on a defensive ask, but pushed a more aspirational agenda around a role for the UK to set out a world-leading trade policy that takes account of societal demands such as climate change, biodiversity and all those sorts of issues, which are not reflected in modern international trade policy, and certainly not at the World Trade Organisation.

This is often reported as: “We want protection.” Actually, as David said, we want to be able to compete on common standards. No UK farmers are calling for protectionism for its own sake, but there is an opportunity to call for a more sustainable trade policy that has a bit more imagination regarding how we can fight the climate and environment emergency, while embarking upon a new international trade policy, as we now will.

John Cross: It has been very well addressed already, but briefly, if society is sincere about animal welfare and is aspirational—which it should be—then it should not look for one set of standards domestically and, to a certain extent, export its conscience and accept lower standards from elsewhere. You should be consistent in your attitude to animals.

Agriculture Bill (Second sitting)

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 2nd sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 11th February 2020

(4 years, 4 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 11 February 2020 - (11 Feb 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Agriculture Act 2020 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

The acoustics in this room are appalling, which is nobody’s fault apart from the architect’s. If witnesses and members of the Committee could speak up, we would all be grateful. Thank you.

George Eustice Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q39 Schedule 6 to the Bill has Northern Ireland-specific provisions, principally an ability and power to modify the legacy basic payment scheme—the common agricultural policy scheme. Will you explain what your priorities are to simplify and improve the legacy scheme? Secondly, do you have any emerging thoughts about future policy that you might make through your own Northern Ireland legislation?

Norman Fulton: Our motivation in drafting the schedule was to retain options for incoming Ministers—obviously this was done in the absence of an Executive—so we developed it to be able to preserve the ability to continue to make payments to farmers under pillar 1 and to enable us both to continue to deliver schemes under pillar 2, until such a time as Ministers wish to change those measures, and to keep pace with appropriate changes elsewhere in the UK. So it was really to provide that framework for incoming Ministers but not really to set out any particular direction in policy, which is clearly something that Ministers will need to take a lead on. There is some scope for simplification in the powers we propose, but it is really for Ministers to decide which of those powers they might want to move forward on.

In terms of the future direction of policy, we engaged with our major stakeholders from the farming, food and environmental sides, and we produced a draft outline framework for agriculture, which we published for consultation in August 2018, really around the four pillars of resilience, environmental sustainability, productivity and supply chain functionality. It is a very high-level document and it received a good response from our stakeholders. Now that we have a Minister and an Executive in place, we need to work to flesh that out and to start to chart a way forward in the longer term.

Ivor Ferguson: From the farmers’ point of view, we had negotiations with our farmers and discussions on how we would like to see payments going forward. We produced a discussion document. We felt that we were quite happy for farmers to be rewarded for activity, whether that be agricultural production or environmental activity. We were quite happy with that because a large number of farmers were not fully happy with area-based payments, in that they felt that the landlord or people who owned vast areas of land received most of the benefit. Our farmers will be quite happy to have money directed to people who are engaged in activity, be it production or environmental.

Having said that, we would not want to see area-based payments disappear completely. We would like to keep that in the form of a resilience or volatility payment, bearing in mind that we have a land border with the Republic of Ireland where they will still receive land-based payments. We could not be disadvantaged in any way with our farming colleagues in southern Ireland.

From that point of view, we would like to see some form of a resilience or volatility payment. If we look at the recent farm income figures for Northern Ireland, the profitability figure has fallen from well over £300 million down to £290 million. That is a similar figure to what comes in in farm support to Northern Ireland. It is a stark reminder of how dependent some sectors are on basic payments.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q You mentioned that the rationale for an area payment might be resilience or as a risk-management tool, but it is ultimately a subsidy on land tenure or land ownership, so is it the best tool to deal with those issues? Or is it a straightforward market intervention—crisis payments when there is a slump in the market or a severe weather event, when you could intervene using the other crisis powers that are in the other part of the schedule?

Ivor Ferguson: If there were vast changes in the market for whatever reason, we would certainly need more support. This resilience payment would be much less than the payment today—perhaps 30%, 40% or at the most 50%. We have not put a figure on that yet; it is something we would have to discuss with our farmers fairly quickly now.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Good afternoon, Mr Stringer. In the written evidence supplied, Mr Fulton, you raise a number of issues around divergence, both now and in future. Could you say a bit more about those issues? Could Mr Ferguson also comment on divergence?

Norman Fulton: This is certainly an issue of concern to us. We have to be mindful of the fact that we now have the Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol under the withdrawal agreement, which means we will need to align with the European systems, whereas those in the rest of the UK could diverge. Therefore, we would be concerned that, within what will be the single UK market, there could be different approaches to marketing standards, for example. Obviously, that is something that we will all need to be mindful of. I suppose it will be managed through common frameworks across the UK. A lot of work needs to go into thinking through how we will operate across the UK, to ensure that the UK market is not distorted in any way and there is a level playing field for all players in that market.

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None Portrait The Chair
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We will now hear evidence from the NFU and the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs. For this session, we have until 3 pm. Would you please introduce yourselves?

Nick von Westenholz: Nick von Westenholz, director of EU exit and international trade at the National Farmers Union.

David Goodwin: David Goodwin, chair of agriculture and rural issues for the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs, and I farm in south Northamptonshire.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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Q You will be aware that clause 9 has quite a broad power giving the Government the ability to start simplifying and sorting out some of the complexity of the legacy CAP scheme, which we can deploy from as early as next year. What would be your priorities to improve the legacy scheme in the time until the new one is rolled out?

Nick von Westenholz: First and foremost, the content or focus of those simplifications is not as important as giving information to farmers. During the previous Parliament, as the previous Bill was going through, there was increasing anxiety that, while simplification may or may not be coming down the line this year, farmers would not be informed about what those simplifications were, and therefore would be unable to properly prepare in order to meet the requirements of whatever the scheme is. First and foremost, farmers need early guidance about the requirements of the scheme they will be subject to, well in advance of that scheme year beginning. That information is almost as important as what the simplifications might be.

In terms of what the simplifications are, we are engaging with officials at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, as you will know. It will not surprise you that some of the current requirements, such as the three-crop rule, have been criticised by many farmers as overly bureaucratic without really achieving the greening aims it may have hoped to address; that one comes up most often in our conversation with members.

David Goodwin: All our members are keen to get on and farm. That is what we are hearing a lot of at the moment. They hope that this Bill will enable them to do that, to look for opportunities and to expand their businesses. We keep talking about simplification; anything we can simplify will be a good thing. There is a real worry that we will not meet environmental and welfare aims. We need to ensure we maintain our high standards and do not let them slip.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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Q In terms of helping new entrants and the next generation of younger farmers, what is most important for your members? Is it access to land at an affordable rent, or is it having an area-based subsidy system as we do now?

David Goodwin: Access to land is obviously a key concern for our members, but access to land is good only as long as the land they are looking to farm is profitable and viable. Finding ways to enable that is also important. From that point of view, a subsidy system of some description, where farmers are rewarded for the good work they are doing, is still quite high on our agenda.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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Q Has the NFU done any work on what a sustainable land rent is for different land types without the land tenure subsidy that we have through direct payments?

Nick von Westenholz: I am not aware that we have looked at that sort of detail on where land rents might sit. It is an interesting question and one we probably ought to look at.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
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Q Good afternoon. It is probably no surprise to you that my opening question will refer to the letter to the Prime Minister that the NFU and over 60 other organisations have written, expressing concern about the potential risks caused by imported food produced to lower environmental animal welfare or food quality standards. What needs to be done to this Bill to resolve that problem?

Nick von Westenholz: The obvious omission from the Bill, in our view, is anything around import standards. It is absolutely right that that should be in the Bill, because if the Government are trying to promote, which we would support, more sustainable production and food systems domestically in the future, which is the core aim of the Bill—to provide a support framework for farming in a high welfare, environmentally sustainable way—they will be fundamentally undermined in that objective if there is not a concurrent trade policy that prevents farm businesses from being undercut by substandard imports. A two-pronged approach in policy terms—trade policy and domestic policy—is needed to prevent undermining that sort of farming, in which UK farmers excel.

The detail of how the Bill is amended or of the terms of the legislation that can achieve that may be quite complicated and something that the Committee needs to consider as it goes through the Bill line by line, but at the core there must be a requirement that if the UK is going to import food, that imported food meets the same standards of environmental protection, animal welfare and food safety as UK producers are required to meet. Of course, the Government have been very reassuring on that point in recent weeks and have given some guarantees in that regard, but we feel that that needs to be underpinned by legislation, because there are real technical challenges in doing this that any Government, whether this Government or a future Government, are going to come up against as they negotiate trade deals and as they pursue a new role for us as an independent member of the WTO.

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Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare
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Q My question links in with Ms Crosbie’s question and is directed to Mr Goodwin. As you know, the ageing population of farmers is changing. Is there anything specific in the Bill that you think needs to be changed that could help more young individuals to go into farming? Is there something that you feel needs to be specifically looked into?

David Goodwin: As we have touched on at various points in this session, the crux of the matter is this Bill’s enabling farmers to run effective, efficient and sustainable businesses, both environmentally and economically. From a young farmer’s point of view, the foundation of all this must be a strong, stable agricultural industry. The only way to attract young people into agriculture is to offer them opportunity; it is difficult to sell the idea of working 150 hours a week and being paid less than the minimum wage to people who are not necessarily in love with agriculture. There are no specifics that spring to mind, but anything we can do to support agriculture is a positive.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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Q I want to turn to a different part of the Bill, chapter 2, and the provisions on fair dealing and transparency in the supply chain. Can you tell us which sectors suffer the most from a lack of transparency and fairness in the supply chain? Which are most likely to be price takers? What regulations or steps would you like the Government to take, under the powers in this Bill, to ensure that farmers are in a fairer position relative to others in the supply chain?

David Goodwin: I have a very quick point on that, specifically pertaining to the lamb industry. We have had quite a lot of feedback from our members about lack of transparency: under the sheep legislation as it is at the moment, we are forced to electronically tag and identify all the sheep, but currently the abattoirs and processors are not required to pass that information back down the chain or identify those carcases as pertaining to those animals. There is a perceived transparency issue with some processes. It is not that potentially we are not being paid the right amounts, but I think people would like to know what our killing out percentages are, so that we can improve performance and make better informed decisions.

Nick von Westenholz: We are working through our commodity boards, which is the way we cover the different steps in the NFU to address exactly how the powers will be used. We are pleased that those powers are in the Bill, but lots of them rely on secondary legislation to operate, so it seems that potentially there is still quite a job to do once the Bill is enacted to ensure that the powers can be used properly to do what they are supposed to do. We look forward to working with officials to work out exactly how those powers can be deployed once the Bill is enacted—that is a feature of the enabling aspect of the Bill. We certainly think the focus on improving the supply chain is a critical bit of the Bill.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
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Q Let us turn to the delinking proposals for a moment. There does not seem to be a great deal of detail in there. The intention is to bring in new people, which we would support, but are there dangers of unintended consequences? Would you like to see more detail?

Nick von Westenholz: Yes, absolutely. We would like more detail. We understand there was an intention to consult on them at some point under the last Bill, so presumably that will still happen. You are absolutely right that there are potential unintended consequences, not least because those aspects of the Bill relate to England, and there could be a very different way forward in other parts of the UK. That would potentially lead to a very different looking system between England and other parts of the UK. We need to understand the details. Some people might be attracted to the implications of delinking, superficially. Once you delink—particularly with the potential to move to lump sum payments, which is one of the reasons for doing so—you are moving away from some of the things I spoke about earlier, such as being able to manage the transition for the next few years, particularly in the volatile circumstances that might arise for farming. So yes, the long-winded answer is that we would like more detail.

David Goodwin: We tend to agree on the whole. There is a feeling of quiet optimism that it might offer opportunities for young people to come into agriculture. Without some detail to see exactly how that might work and whether it is feasible, people are keeping it at arm’s length.

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None Portrait The Chair
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We will now hear oral evidence from Co-operatives UK, and we have until 3.30 pm. Welcome. Would you like to introduce yourself?

Richard Self: I am Richard Self, agriculture manager with Co-operatives UK, supporting our farmer co-operatives up and down the country.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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Q Are you broadly content with the powers in the Bill to modify the retained EU law on producer organisations in particular? Do you support the principle of moving away from the area-based subsidy payment we have now to a system of payment for public goods?

Richard Self: We are broadly happy with the way the Bill is set out. The detail will come in secondary legislation for the areas of co-operation and collaboration that we are interested in. The main concern is around exemptions. The exemptions are currently very supportive of co-operatives, but there is some room in the Bill for that to be narrowed, and we need to ensure that the current exemptions are carried through to this new environment. We want to encourage our co-operatives, not discourage them.

On subsidy payments, we accept that. It will create a new environment and a new world for farmers to operate in. Again, co-operation and collaboration can help farmers become productive and efficient within that new world.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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Q Coming back to exemptions, I think most are carried forward by the Bill. Specifically on dairy contracts, for example, co-operatives were excluded from the voluntary dairy code, but if we were to introduce a mandatory code under provisions in the Bill, they might not be. Will you explain why co-operatives are a special case that should be exempt from giving farmers clarity about how the milk price is calculated?

Richard Self: It is an interesting area. I am not an expert on the dairy sector, but in milk co-operatives the first-stage processor is owned by the farmers. If that processor takes a high price, farmers will get that back at some stage; in another situation where they do not own the processor, they will not. Therefore, it inhibits them from reacting to the market, because ultimately in a situation where the farmer owns the processor, the benefits will eventually come back to the farmer because they own the business.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
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Q In general, will the Bill help producer organisations? What more could be done? Why have we not traditionally done better in UK agriculture?

Richard Self: Producer organisations have done a good job, but I think some people would say they could do a better job if they were better organised. I think we could have made better use of them in the past—other countries have made very good use of their POs. One concern we have around POs is that they might be too narrow. We want to ensure that all types of co-operative have the chance to be a PO, and that extra hoops and barriers are not put in the way of existing co-operatives, making it more difficult for them to get to that PO status.

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Danny Kruger Portrait Danny Kruger
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Q You have pretty much answered my question. Perhaps you could elaborate a bit more on how to do that. If it is a question of larger farmers naturally combining because they are more professional, as you imply, is it just a question of education and making clear the opportunities that are there? Information, not education, sorry—that was patronising.

Richard Self: No; that was a good point. Education is good point. I looked at this last year. I looked at our universities and colleges, and they do not do anything on the co-operative business model and how it works round the world, and how farmers benefit from getting engaged. Last year, the Royal Agricultural University did some work for us. It highlighted the lack of understanding of how the business model works and brings benefit back to the farmers—it is about adding and capturing that value and bringing it back. Some farmers have said to me, “Is there any point in us adding value, because someone else captures it?”, whereas a co-operative makes sure that that value is brought back.

We need to educate—“inform” might be a better word in some ways. We do proper case studies and show how, around the world, co-operatives are used in such an effective way, and how their use continues to be developed as they go forward. We were doing quite a lot of work after the Curry Commission report. I was involved in Share to Grow initiatives to get production collaboration going, and we were making some good ground, but then 2008 happened and the cash—the support—stopped. Since then, progress has basically stopped. We have probably moved backwards, if anything, since then in terms of the level of collaboration and co-operation. External support is required to make this happen; it will not happen without that external support to carry it through.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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Q One of the criticisms of the fruit-and-veg PO regime in particular was that, apart from being very litigious because of the way in which the legislation was drafted, support could only be given to predominantly marketing co-operatives—marketing had to be their primary function. Some groups such as the British Growers Association and others have said that that is wrong. Would you support an approach with support for co-operatives to come together to do research and development, or as buyer groups, but not necessarily marketing in the traditional sense?

Richard Self: Obviously, marketing and consolidating products to make efficiencies in the supply chain are really important, but as we move forward, there are lots of other opportunities for co-operatives to get involved and for farmers to work together. Data is one—we talk about “big data”—and co-operatives are in an excellent position to harvest that data and to use it, not just for their benefit, but for the benefit of the whole supply chain. It will be important, going forward, that we have really efficient supply chains, so that we compete with external supply chains. Working with a co-operative at the centre of that, at the production level, is important both upstream and downstream. If we can have PO schemes that run across different areas and different sections of that supply chain, it would be good.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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Q On the competition law side, what kind of exemptions or special provisions in law would you seek to enable the co-operative model to develop?

Richard Self: I think that the existing competition law that we enjoy now—or did, under EU law—would be good to carry through. That is how I understand it, although I am not an expert in this area. The worry is that it might be narrower in the future, so that the onus comes to fall on the co-operative to show that it is not competing unfairly, whereas at the moment it can say, “We’re a co-operative,” and then someone else has to prove that it is competing unfairly. The problem with that is that co-operatives would have more risk and more uncertainty when they were trying to grow a particular business and so on. That is why we would like to keep it as it is at the moment.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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Q Are you content with the—I think—30% market share provision? So no co-operative is allowed to go above that—certainly with dairy.

Richard Self: I think that would be sensible. It would be a good aspiration for some areas.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
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Q Mr Self, in the agri-food supply chain, how well does the Bill move the power base away from the major retailers towards the farmer?

Richard Self: I am probably not qualified to say how well the Bill does in that sense, but I believe that if we can have a policy with an almost horizontal theme of collaboration and co-operation that runs through the environmental or production side of it, or anything else, it would be good to improve that. In particular, that strengthens up the position of the primary producer working in a co-operative, in terms of balancing out.

Some processors and suppliers are worried about this, if farmers get together. In some situations, they have—how should we say?—been proactively discouraging it, and we need to avoid that happening. It is to the benefit of the whole supply chain if it works with that co-operative—they can get economies of scale, help manage supply and demand, and use the branding of the co-operative, if you like, to get to the end consumer to show the traceability, the welfare and the quality of the product when working with a co-operative. There are win-win situations for both co-operatives and businesses up and down the supply chain if it is looked at the right way. They can see it as a threat to their profitability.

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Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke
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Q How do we ensure that the existing groceries supply code of practice is consistent, so that we have fair dealing across the whole supply chain?

Richard Self: I probably do not know enough about that. The code does a good job in helping the process. Co-operatives are my area of expertise. It would be good if that included co-operation and collaboration as it would help redress some of the balance of fairness within the supply chain, but would be for the benefit of the whole supply chain if handled the right way.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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Q I wanted to return to the issue of dairy contracts, and whether there should be a continuation of the special exemption for dairy co-operatives. What is the remedy for a farmer who finds himself trapped in a long-term contract in Arla, a huge pan-European co-operative, where he is not happy with the price he is getting or the way the organisation is being managed, but is unable to change either of them despite nominally having a share or stake in it? Should there be some rights for that individual member as well? Do the articles of association in co-operatives generally provide sufficient protection?

Richard Self: Obviously, there is a democratic process within the co-operatives in which you can vote people on who have a particular stance. The idea is to help control your own co-operative in doing what the membership wants. A co-operative should have a process in place whereby that can be fed into the co-operative to get the criteria right for that membership. The process of democracy within the co-operative should allow for that. I cannot comment on an individual case, but it is up to the members how they run their business. They should be able to set it up the way they want it.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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Q I suppose the key question is: if the views and interests of a British minority, for instance, were compromised by the majority in a big pan-European cooperative because of a decision taken, should they not be able to exit with a set notice period, for instance, and have a clear mechanism for doing so?

Richard Self: I would hope so, yes. But I am not an expert in the dairy industry, so I would need to investigate that further; we are happy to look into that. I have good contacts with our dairy co-operatives and can help feed that into the system.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
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Q Earlier, you touched on some of the opportunities around data. Will you amplify on that? What support might be needed to make the most of those opportunities?

Richard Self: Increasingly, farmers will have better data on their anticipated crop yields, milk yields or whatever. They can collect that raw data, and farmers can trust their co-operative to handle it in the right way for them. That data is useful and is worth money to others in the supply chain. It is a question of how they can work together to maximise the use of that data for the benefit of the supply chains they are working in.

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None Portrait The Chair
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Before I move on to Mr Egan, may I say that this is a huge room and the acoustics are terrible, so can people speak up?

Jim Egan: I am Jim Egan, technical advisor for Kings Crops.

Graeme Willis: I am Graeme Willis, agricultural lead for CPRE, the countryside charity.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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Q Will you each tell us what you think have been the main shortcomings of the existing area-based common agricultural policy; whether we can, in the short term, modify it to make it work more smoothly; and whether you support the general premise in the Bill of, in the longer term, a move away from subsidies on land tenure to support for the delivery of public goods?

Jim Egan: From my perspective, one shortcoming is that the current system does not allow fully integrated environmental and farming management. It does not let the whole lot sit together, which causes issues. One of the biggest shortcomings of the current system is its administration in my specialised area, agri-environment schemes, which will put people off, as it has in the past. I do not really want to go much further than that, Minister. There are lots of things, but that is my area of expertise.

In terms of modifying in the short term, my personal view would be not to, particularly on countryside stewardship. I do a lot of work directly with farmers on getting stewardship schemes in, and I have never seen so much demand as this year. I already have 65 people on my books wanting to do the modified schemes. There are obviously things pushing them towards that, but the simplification of the actual stewardship process has been good. We just need to get the payments and other things right in the short term, to provide certainty.

If I was going to modify anything within the wider BPS system, I would perhaps modify the three-crop rule, so I could say that we had done something. However, I think people are used to it, and it is actually very important, in a time of turbulence, that we keep it as stable as we can at the moment.

Sorry; what was your third question?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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Do you support the general thrust of the future policy, moving from subsidy on land tenure to—

Jim Egan: Yes.

Jake Fiennes: If we split it into pillar 1 and pillar 2, the current BPS is rather clumsy and, in places, overly simplistic. We have the ecological focus area ruling within that, which, as Jim refers to, is cumbersome. The three-crop rule and hedge-cutting dates sort of tie farmers into a knot; they are unable to be flexible.

In the short term, farmers are preparing for a transition period, which will start in 2021, according to the current Secretary of State, although I know that some are pushing for that to be extended, because we have just seen a delay of this whole process. However, farmers are slowly taking on board that there will be seismic change within their business. It has happened over a very static two years, but we have seen a real momentum, and there is a general acceptance among those within the industry that this is coming around the corner. If they have an ability to prepare their businesses by going into the current schemes—I think the new stewardship scheme was opened today. I have not looked at it, but I think the detail made it easier and more user-friendly.

We have to put the past aside, with all the issues that we had with the RPA, Natural England and late payments. I think we have moved on from that, and I think this year was an example of the RPA demonstrating very swift payments, and the current stewardship payments are being rolled out as we speak. That is all very positive. Again, I see a greater uptake of the current schemes—the countryside stewardship higher tier and middle tier, and also the simplified scheme.

That will get farmers ready through the transition period, which comes on to the Minister’s third point, where I am in full favour of it. A slight redrafting of the Bill—talking about soil and productivity—basically got the entire land-based community on board.

Graeme Willis: I think it is well attested that the CAP scheme is inefficient, ineffective and inequitable. People such as Allan Buckwell and Alan Matthews have made that point, and DEFRA’s own research has shown that, and there have been statements, so we very much support that view. In terms of the current countryside stewardship schemes, as Jim said, it is very important that farmers keep faith with those schemes. The simplification has been very helpful.

Certainly within DEFRA, I have been making the point that those schemes are probably under-commented on, because we have a 2030 deadline for addressing climate change by cutting emissions very significantly. Four years through to when ELMs beds in is a very important period in which to get trees in the ground and to get peatland and other high-carbon soils restored. It is very important in this phase to keep putting money in and investing in farming. It is very important that farmers keep faith with that, and the schemes have been expanding, which is very welcome after a rocky start.

We believe that public goods for public money is the right way forward. It is the absolute crux for enhancing the environment, obviously addressing climate change and biodiversity issues. But, as Jim said, it is very important to harmonise what farmers do in producing food and other goods with environmental improvements which we know are very necessary. Bringing those two together is critical so that they are not seem as oppositional.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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Q If at one end of the scale you have what could be called the broad and shallow but largely universal interventions that most farmers would sign up to—catchment sensitive farming or hedgerows—and at the other end you have land use change through peatland restoration or new woodland being established, what should be the balance between those competing priorities in order to really deliver for the environment?

Jake Fiennes: Are we referring to the blueprint of ELM?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, in the new scheme.

Jake Fiennes: We have the regulatory payment. I hear of calls for up to 30% of existing payments that farmers receive, which is about £200 per hectare. I am certainly not in favour of that, because it will not encourage stakeholders to go into the middle tier and I think you will see a great uptake in the middle tier. On the final tier, which is landscape restoration, whether it is on a catchment basis, if we are going to have sustainable, functional land use, it has to be at scale and deliver all the climate change issues and soil regeneration. All these processes will go into the final tier and, having listened to some of the comments earlier about the smaller farmers not working well together but the bigger ones working better, we are seeing a great uptake of facilitation funds and cluster groups. This whole movement is happening. I would not encourage the lower payment to be a major factor, because we would basically go back to a reverse BPS system.

Jim Egan: My way of answering that would be to look at the fact that in the majority of lowland England, if you split it that way, you will find farmers taking up more than you think, if it is properly rewarded, if it is linked in by the rest of the industry and it is linked together. You quite commonly talk to farmers now who take out anything between 5% and 15% of their land to manage it “for the environment” and also recognise the real benefits of changing what they do: introducing grass lanes to help with grass weed control and to build soil fertility, which helps with cleaner water and so on.

I agree wholeheartedly with Jake that there is a sea change coming. A lot of people stood back, because of the political uncertainty, but they are ready for that. The higher extremes you referenced, such as peat restoration, will be a focus in an area where it can happen, getting those landowners together and talking about it. It will take time. I do not think they are completely divorced and different.

On woodland, it will fit when people start to see natural capital, particularly the natural capital potential of their land, and they have choices of what to do. Then woodland will start to happen, especially where you can get people working together and you can make the links. I would be positive about that.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
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Q I want to put to you a question I asked earlier witnesses. I think that the CPRE was one of the signatories to the letter to the Prime Minister expressing concern about the potential problems with importing food with lower environmental, welfare and health standards. Why did you sign that letter and what should be done in the Bill to tackle the issue? That is particularly aimed at Graeme.

Graeme Willis: In terms of maintaining standards, we are very concerned—I know that statements have been made about supporting high standards—that undercutting those standards through imports would undermine farmers’ incomes, as well as their ability to perform environmental management. I know that an amendment previously tabled to the Bill sought to introduce a broad requirement that any international trade agreement that was to be ratified must be compliant with UK standards. We think that is a major omission and one of the major things that needs to be addressed in the legislation. We have a common cause with the whole of the farming sector on that. The whole of the NGO environmental sector takes that view. It is a very important element and condition.

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Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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Q Okay. Would those be the views of Mr Willis and Mr Egan as well?

Jim Egan: I do not get involved in policy; I have never worked in it.

Graeme Willis: In terms of the breadth of it, I think it is still open to question as to how wide it goes. I am on the stakeholder engagement group, so I am limited in what I can say because of confidentiality about that. However, I have certainly seen a slide that shows how wide it might go, and there might be questions around whether it includes, for example, airport operators, which have large tracts of open grassland that they need to manage to keep trees off. Could they do positive things with that?

I think there is a very important question about the amount of resource available and whether those are the right people to receive that resource, as against farmers, given the context we talked about, the viability issues going forward and the cuts to basic payments during the transition. However, something to address the issues across a broad landscape is very important.

On whole-farm areas, we would not want large areas of farmland managed very intensively within a system in which other areas are just managed for public goods. I think they need to be combined and harmonised, as we said before, so that land is shared and used in the very best way, for the environmental benefits and for good, sustainable food production.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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Q I return to Mr Egan’s point about the control and enforcement regime. If you are close to the schemes, you will be aware that the introduction in the latest EU scheme of a common commencement date—so that everybody had to start at the same time, which caused all the predictable administrative problems for everyone—combined with the introduction of the IACS enforcement regime drove the terrible, draconian regime that you describe.

One thing we have described for the future scheme is that you would instead leave all that behind, and individual farms would have a trusted, accredited adviser on agri-environment schemes. That could be a trusted, accredited agronomist, or someone who works for the Wildlife Trust or the RSPB, and they would be trained to help put the schemes together. They would visit the farm, walk the farm with their boots on and then sit around the kitchen table and help an individual farmer construct a scheme.

We are obviously testing and piloting and trialling that now. If that system could be made to work—an altogether more human system, as you said, because a trusted adviser would do the initial agreement and would maybe visit the farm three or four times a year, not to inspect but to be a point of advice—how many farms can a single agri-environment adviser with that type of remit realistically do?

Jim Egan: It would depend very much on type, size, place, aspect and everything. I do not think you can put a number on the people that you could hold as clients. I actually do not know how many clients my agronomy colleagues have, because I am new to that business. However, where I work, I would be perfectly comfortable managing 40 or 50 clients and working through with them.

The main premise is not to overlook that that process of walking the farm with a trusted adviser already happens for countryside stewardship. Most farmers will take advice and will rely on somebody working with them. The opportunity that comes from splitting out and putting everything into ELMS—including all the basic payment elements, so that it is one big agricultural and environmental processing scheme—actually means that you can widen that advice and make it broader. The trick will be that those advisers will have to have knowledge of the farming business and will have to talk to others within the business. Even on a small dairy farming unit, they will have to talk to the vet, the feed merchant and the farmer. It is a facilitation skill as much as anything else, and it will require an understanding of how those farming sectors work.

This is definitely the right way to go. We will need professional advice to do that. A farmer doesn’t grow an arable crop without an agronomist. You don’t grow beef cattle without a vet or a feed merchant. So why should you not have what I would call environmental facilitators?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Based on your assessment of 40 or 50, you would need somewhere in the region of 1,500 to 1,800 of those in England to cover most farms. Is there capacity at the moment in the agronomic and environment NGO world to allow people to go for training and accreditation? Or is it your view that it would be better simply to recruit additional staff at Natural England or the RPA to do it?

Jim Egan: First, I do not think they should be recruited by Natural England or the RPA. Within the supply chain, there are probably sufficient people. An agronomist has to be trained and to get your agronomy diploma you have to do a BETA—biodiversity and environmental training for advisers—certificate in conservation management. It is only a three-day course, but it is about awareness. Whoever is drawing up the scheme will need to pull on other skills and pull and bring the environmental community and the farming community together. A good person does that already. I do not think you need a new qualification. The qualifications are there. The BETA certificate in conservation management and that type of approach already addresses some of the issues. It would probably need an upland module and a little bit more focus on grassland, because it is an arable-focused course.

I also believe that it is Natural England or the RPA’s responsibility, if they get a bad application, to send it back. I went to DEFRA and Natural England about eight years ago and asked for that to happen and it never did. Natural England continues to re-work bad applications. Once you do that, the farming community will soon know not to go to that person. It doesn’t need degree level; it needs an element of a qualification, a CV and management by a managing authority that is not afraid to take people off the list if they are not doing the job properly.

Fay Jones Portrait Fay Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Clause 13 provides the power to opt out of direct payments in favour of a lump sum, and therefore opt out of agri-environment schemes. Do you see that as a risk of losing a skillset within the agricultural sector or an opportunity for new entrants and new ideas?

Jake Fiennes: If I am brutally honest, I do not think the Treasury would sign up to that. If we all opted out, we couldn’t afford it. I am intrigued that that is still on the table.

Earlier you referred to land values. How to devalue very quickly? Everyone opts out and land values plummet —in an industry that is generally reliant on that support in the way it currently manages land.

Graeme Willis: When I heard about this in the original Agriculture Bill, I was concerned that no constraints were placed on that money. I was not clear about the rationale for that. If the rationale is for new entrants, there is an issue if that is only done through land prices falling. I am not convinced that we can guarantee that when a farm is sold, a new entrant will get that farm. There is no control over that, so it seems too broadbrush. It also seems somewhat a hostage to fortune because large amounts of public money being paid out for what is not a clear set of purposes could play very badly with the public; other people have raised that concern. If that were tied to some investment into the farm, there is an element of advantage there to having a lump sum to invest that could meet the other purposes to improve the farm’s environmental performance and productivity. Also, it could be good if it were tied in some shape or form to supporting new entrants.

Earlier, there was a mention of share farming—some form of succession where there is no son or daughter to pass the farm on to, some mechanism where that was locked in to ensure that a new entrant could get on to a farmstead and actually learn. You mentioned skills: they could learn from the skills of the farmer on that farm and not lose the knowledge of the land, the aspect, the farming and the culture of that farm, and pass that on to a new, younger or older person with a different set of skills. That would be really interesting.

I see it as too broadbrush and not clear at the moment, and I have concerns. I understand that that will be consulted on, but I am not sure whether that is clear from the Bill as it stands, or whether that can be clarified.

--- Later in debate ---
Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I am trying to get my head around the deal in payments with respect to an early retirement scheme. When answering an earlier question, you talked about the way it could affect the value of the land. Could there be a situation in which a tenant takes the money and runs, and then the landowner is looking for a new tenant but without the agricultural support? It is difficult to attract one. How will the environment be managed if the payments that would have been forthcoming for the environmental land management schemes were not there? What would happen in practice in a situation where a tenant takes early retirement and takes the money, and then expects the landlord to pick up the pieces?

Jake Fiennes: There could be a technical mechanism relating to tenant’s dilapidations from the landlord’s perspective. The landlord could seek to recoup that if he was going to devalue the land by taking those future payments away. There is a technical mechanism that allows that to happen. That strengthens the landlord’s ability to retain that land to rent to others or to new entrants. It is important that there is some kind of mechanism within the Bill for that. Potentially there would be land abandonment because it has no value, or we would see deep intensification of land areas that have no support mechanism. Then we are trying to deliver environmental land management on a landscape scale, and we have these blackspots in between with no support mechanism. That would be my concern.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q On that point: do we want land rents to stay as high as they are? Would it not potentially be beneficial for landlords to have to fight one another to attract tenants on to their land?

Jake Fiennes: Land rents are artificially high based on the support mechanism. We will see that slowly diminish. Commodity prices will periodically affect land prices. The horticultural sector does not rely on support at all. The average age of the British farmer is 62: land rents are overly high and they will be reduced, thereby suddenly allowing new entrants to come in who will be more open to environmental land management and public goods proposals. We will see a wholesale change. We are expecting a recession in agriculture through this transition period, for all the reasons being discussed today. Where there is change there is opportunity, and the opportunities are there for another generation to move in and manage land environmentally, economically and sustainably.

Graham Stringer Portrait Chair
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If there are no further questions, I thank the witnesses for attending today on behalf of the Committee.

Examination of Witnesses

Judicaelle Hammond and George Dunn gave evidence.

Graham Stringer Portrait Chair
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We will now hear evidence from the Country Land and Business Association and the Tenant Farmers Association. We have until 5pm. Welcome; please introduce yourselves.

Judicaelle Hammond: I am Judicaelle Hammond. I am the director of policy and advice of the Country Land and Business Association.

George Dunn: I am George Dunn. I am the chief executive of the Tenant Farmers Association of England and Wales.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I will ask a question that I asked the National Farmers Union earlier: if we had a world in which there were no basic payment scheme payments—no subsidy on land, tenure or occupation—and tenants came in and only paid the rent on which they could still turn a profit, what is the correct value of land rents in an upland area, or a typical lowland area?

George Dunn: That is an interesting question, and one to which there is no simple answer. There are two codes of tenancy in play. One is the code under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986, and one is under the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995. The 1986 Act has a formulaic approach to rent. It steers you away from the market. In my view, if you look at the rents that are on Agricultural Holdings Act tenancies, they are probably more akin to an affordable level of rent. We are seeing around £80 per acre on arable, £50 to £60 per acre on grass and up to £100 per acre on dairy.

The farm business tenancy rents, which are driven by tender rents quite a lot, are far too high. We often see rents for arable ground in excess of £200 per acre and over £200 per acre for dairy ground. Those are clearly unsustainable. I would direct the Committee to look at the sorts of evidence you would get from the 1986 Act as to what a reasonable level of rent is.

Judicaelle Hammond: I do not think it is that easy. As George was saying, several things make up land rents. One of them is what you can get for what you do with that land. It is right that it should be left to the market. It may well be that some of the rent levels are unsustainable. I think they will probably adjust as we change regimes, but I do not think that being bound by a formulaic rent system is a good idea in a system where there is uncertainty in trading conditions and there needs to be some flexibility.

George Dunn: To add to that, the problem with an open market system is that the market is so slim, and the evidence is so hard to come by. Therefore, you tend to be driven by the froth in the system—the tender rents. If you look at DEFRA’s own figures, the average farm business tenancy rent on an arable farm is about £100 per acre, but the tender rents suggest they should be double that. I just think we need to ensure that we are not wholly going with the market level.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I suppose the point I was making was less to do with the market. If you removed from the market the roughly £100 per acre basic payment scheme payment—if that just vanished—what is the land then worth to rent? I am assuming that it was a market rent, but it would become, potentially, a buyers’ market rather than a sellers’ market, as now.

George Dunn: On that point, we would see the farm business tenancy rents under the 1995 Act move more towards the level of rents we would see under the 1986 Act. They might fall a little bit, but because they take into consideration the productive and related earning capacity of the holding, that would reflect better what that holding can physically produce.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I have a linked question, although it might be too complex to answer. From the CLA’s point of view, at what point does it cease to be worth renting land and start to make more sense to bring it in hand and farm it yourself without a subsidy?

Judicaelle Hammond: There is no easy answer to that, because the circumstances will vary. I think it very much depends on what the person who owns that land wants to do with their holding. It may well be that, due to questions other than just land rents, they want to bring it in hand. It may be that there are other things they want to do on that land—for example, tourism or something completely different to agriculture—or it may be that renting the land to tenants suits them and they will continue doing that. That will vary according to the owners’ vision for the land and the stage they are at in terms of their business.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q On tenancy issues, your organisations famously do not always agree, but on the future direction of travel for policy, do you both agree that a move from an area-based subsidy to payment for the delivery of public goods is the right way to go for agriculture policy? If you have any concerns about the development of that, what are your key concerns about what might go wrong in that transition?

Judicaelle Hammond: We would totally agree, as the CLA, that this move is the right move. We have been a proponent of moving towards payment for public good for a while now. The Bill is welcome. We also welcome the inclusion of soil quality, for example, and the consideration of sustainable food production and food security in the Bill. The fact that there is now going to be a multi-annual framework for financial assistance is also important, as is assistance for productivity improvement.

Regarding what we would want to see, there are two main aspects, as well as a number of other improvements, which I might talk about later. One is making sure that the transition is right. At the moment, we are missing information, not just about what is going to happen next year, but about residual payments for individual businesses over the rest of the transition years. We are missing the kinds of details about ELMS that will make it possible for those businesses to make decisions about where they want to take their business, and in particular, of course, about payment rates. In the absence of those details, and given the uncertainty in trading conditions, we would like the start of the transition period to be pushed back by one year without moving the start of ELMS.

The other issue that we have is about trade standards, which the NFU and others have spoken about. We certainly share their concerns.

George Dunn: I would take you back a little bit, Minister, and just say that we need to be really careful. Despite the fact that there is a great deal of criticism of the CAP, and the way in which the basic payment scheme operates and its impact on rents, we need to be clear that those payments are being received by individual farms right up and down the country that are doing the right things on the environment, animal welfare, consumer safety and all those issues. If we simply remove the BPS payment without properly thinking through the changes that we need to make, we risk the good work that we are doing. That is why we have been saying that we are making changes for a generation, and they need to be done well rather than quickly, so we support the CLA’s stance on delaying the transition. We think that we have concertinaed the work on ELMS, for example, too much to try to bring that forward into a sensible place.

Also, while we support the general move towards public payments for public goods, we see that move alongside the productivity elements, which we believe are really important as well. The Bill has a couple of lines on productivity, but we want to see much more about how that can work alongside creating resilience within farm businesses. There are also the trading elements and ensuring that we are not undercut by cheap imports from abroad, produced to standards that are illegal here; the fair dealing practices; and the issue of access to the tenanted sector. Schedule 3 goes some way towards addressing that sector, but it needs a little bit of work.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Good afternoon. In general, what changes would you like to see that would improve this Bill, from your point of view? I am particularly looking at George.

Judicaelle Hammond: The main one, as I said—I will not labour the point—is the delay in the start of the transition. It also seems to us that a couple of other things would be improved if they were done differently. For example, the multi-annual framework for financial assistance is five years. I can see why it has been done like that, but that means that it is at risk of being entangled with the political and election cycles. As far as I know, farmers in the EU—which is going to be our closest competitor—will still have seven years to plan. That is closer to the business cycle in agriculture, so we would favour lengthening the period covered by the multi-annual financial assistance framework.

The other thing that could be added to the Bill is a provision on rural development and, in particular, socioeconomic funding schemes. In the new world, that is going to be done via the UK shared prosperity fund, but that is not due to arrive until 2022 at the earliest. What would happen if that got delayed, or got into other difficulties? We would like to see some provision to make sure that it is possible for Government to continue socioeconomic schemes.

Those are two important improvements. We would also want to make sure that any moneys that are recouped from direct payment, particularly in the early part of the transitions, are used for productivity and ELMS pilots and do not go back to the Treasury.

George Dunn: We agree on the issue of trade standards. We think we need to nail that wholly into the Bill to ensure that we are not undercutting our high standards here and offshoring our issues abroad.

While there have been some helpful statements from the Government, we are concerned about some of the rhetoric that appears to be emerging, particularly from the Prime Minister’s Greenwich speech, where there was an indication that we would not necessarily insist on our laws being protected in trade deals, which is rather worrying. Of course we were also promised free and frictionless trade with the EU on leaving the European Union, but we hear the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster saying today that we need to prepare for issues at the border when we end our implementation period.

On the fair dealing section of the Bill, we should nail down the fact that that should be regulated by the Groceries Code Adjudicator. The Bill leaves it hanging as to who should be the regulator. There is a suggestion that the Rural Payments Agency has a role to play; I would disagree. As the CLA has said, we need a delay in the transition period by one year, which will give us sufficient time to think about these things more deeply.

The access for tenants to schemes needs to be addressed, because schedule 3 to the Bill provides a provision only on a “may” basis. We want it to be a “must” basis that the authorities come forward with regulations. Currently, that applies only to the 1986 Act tenants, not the 1995 Act tenants. As that is half the tenanted sector in agriculture in England, we think that should be changed.

On the food security section, we want the report to be annual, not five yearly. Finally, in the financial assistance plans, the missing thing is the word “financial”. There is no commitment to say what the finances are going to be in any one year over the five-year period. That needs to be nailed into those plans as well.

--- Later in debate ---
Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Chapter 2, clause 8 deals with the possible extension of the period. I may not understand it particularly well, but it does not make it clear whether, if there is an extension to the seven-year period, that would pause the transition from BPS to ELMS, or whether that would just continue, but at the end of the seven years there would be an extra year or two under the full ELMS system. If there was an extension, at the same time, could that be coupled with a freeze in the transition for a number of reasons, including that the ELMS was not being taken up as quickly?

George Dunn: Yes, and I think that is what the Bill intends. My reading of the Bill would suggest that that is what would happen under those circumstances. To go back to the previous question, if money was taken out of the system that was not able to be spent through the new arrangements, that would have to be paid back, in our view.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q A previous witness said that if a tenant farmer exercised an option that we set out under clause 13 to take a number of years payment in lieu as a lump sum, under the way tenancy agreements tend to be drafted, the landlord would say that was a dilapidation and would take compensation off the tenant farmer. That seemed a rather extraordinary extension of the conventional interpretation of dilapidation. What would your respective views on that be?

George Dunn: My view is that the answer you were given was nonsense. There would have to be a very specific clause in a tenancy agreement that provided for the circumstances that you are describing—for a landlord to be able to dilapidate a tenant for taking away the payment, which is rightfully theirs anyway, because it is their entitlement to do with that what they will.

We are actually quite excited by the provisions on the lump sum and the extent to which that could generate some really good restructuring within the sector. I do not think there will be an impact on land values as was suggested, because land values are driven by much more than the agricultural return, which is about 2% of the average land value, when you look at how agriculture operates. There might be an impact on rent, which could be a good thing for the sector in terms of productivity and margin and efficiency, but we think that the lump sum elements are certainly something worth pursuing.

Judicaelle Hammond: I think we are a little bit more cautious without more detail. We look forward to the consultation that will happen on the secondary legislation. It is hard to say how it would work and whether there would be any unintended consequences without more detail. The same thing is true of the lump sum. We can see opportunities, both for retirement and investment in the farm, but at the moment, we also see that it could have all sorts of unforeseen consequences. We really do need to have a thought-through view of how the system would work.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q The final question from me is about schedule 3, which sets out in some detail a range of quite technical changes to tenancy law that have come out of the TRIG—the Tenancy Reform Industry Group—recommendations. Are you both content with what is being proposed for those changes to the commercial unit test and so on?

George Dunn: Minister, you would be surprised to hear me say that we are absolutely content and there are no other changes that we would want to make, and I am not going to say that. There are elements that we think need to be added—for example, what we were talking about earlier in terms of the provision for farm business tenancies, for encouraging longer-term lets, to give landlords the option of ending those early, but only for those who are letting for a long time. We think that the provisions in relation to tenants’ access to diversification, financial assistance and fixed equipment need to be extended to include 1995 Act tenancies.

I noticed that a question was raised by a Member on Second Reading about widening the franchise of succession to include nephews, nieces and grandchildren, which was not adequately answered by the Secretary of State. Perhaps there is an amendment that could be brought to look at widening the franchise. Very often, it is the nephews and nieces and grandchildren, rather than the sons and daughters, of farmers, who are the active individuals. So there are certain changes that we will promote through amendments to the Bill.

Judicaelle Hammond: What I have said before about schedule 3 stands. We do not particularly like the commercial unit test removal; we think that it is actually well worth having and it should be strengthened. Why would individuals who are already successfully farming elsewhere have the privilege of reduced rent? It does not seem fair and it does not make sense. Apart from that, my significant concern is with the arbitration proposal for dispute resolution on landlord’s consent.

There are a number of things that the CLA welcomes in there, for example provisions relating to landlord investments, which we think will provide protection for both the landlord and tenant, and the removal of the minimum retirement age of 65 and also the widening of the pool of potential arbitrators. We are not opposed to the whole of schedule 3, but we certainly have significant concern with what is in there at the moment. We certainly would not favour any extension to the AHA tenancies, which we regard in this day and age, and given the flexibility that the market requires, as an outdated system, which certainly should not be prolonged.

George Dunn: You would not expect me not to disagree with what Judicaelle has said about AHA tenancies. If we trusted the landlord community with farm business tenancies to deliver sustainable, long-term, sensible tenancies, we would not be hanging on to the AHA tenancies as much as we are. Sadly, the landlord community has not played the game well in terms of farm business tenancies, in the way that they have delivered those.

The commercial unit test that Judicaelle talked about is a capricious test. It hits people when there is a death out of time, or people who are badly advised. That is all. It is a very expensive test to have advisers help you through. In essence, the Bill is about productivity and increasing efficiency. Having the commercial unit test in place hits those individuals who have been go-ahead, and have been looking to get themselves on rather than waiting for dad or mum to die in order to get the tenancy of the farm. Why should they be penalised when they have been the ones who have been go-ahead, and those who are not so go-ahead get the opportunity to succeed?

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q My question is to you, Mr Dunn, with your expert Welsh agricultural hat on, if you please. Given that the Welsh Government will not legislate until, at the very earliest, the middle of 2021, and given that the payments for the direct payment schemes will begin to diverge across the UK, what do you think the consequences will be?

George Dunn: We are in discussions with Welsh Government officials, as you might expect. This morning, I was having discussions with their policy lead on tenancies. Certainly, I would take from the discussions that we have had to date that there is a real understanding of the need to ensure that they are moving at a pace that allows tenants to have access to the new arrangements.

In the context of having devolved Government, there is no point in having devolved Government if you just do what England does, so there will be specific things for Wales that we will need to look at. I know that the Welsh Agriculture Minister has some aspirations for that in Wales. We are waiting for a White Paper from the Welsh Government that is coming later this year. We are having input into that White Paper. Obviously, they have not reserved the rights for the financial assistance powers within the Bill, but the agricultural tenancy section—schedule 3—applies to Wales and England equally.

Judicaelle Hammond: We represent farmers and landowners in Wales as well. I think that, given the framework of devolution, there needs to be some flexibility. Like previous witnesses, we are a bit concerned where either the implementation of the Bill or, indeed, the way that the money is allocated across the UK changes to such an extent that we see intra-UK market disturbances. We would certainly argue that that should be avoided.

Agriculture Bill (Third sitting)

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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Committee stage & Committee Debate: 3rd sitting: House of Commons
Thursday 13th February 2020

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Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 13 February 2020 - (13 Feb 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Agriculture Act 2020 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

We will now hear oral evidence from NFU Cymru, the Farmers’ Union of Wales, and the Welsh Government. Thank you very much for coming and welcome. We have until 12.15 for this panel. Would you introduce yourselves before we move to questions?

Huw Thomas: I am Huw Thomas, NFU Cymru political adviser, based in Builth Wells.

John Davies: I am John Davies, president of NFU Cymru.

Tim Render: I am Tim Render, director for environment and rural affairs in the Welsh Government.

Dr Fenwick: I am Nick Fenwick, head of agricultural policy for the Farmers’ Union of Wales.

George Eustice Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q 141 Schedule 5 to the Bill makes explicit provision for Wales, and in particular gives the Welsh Government the power to amend, modify and improve the legacy common agricultural policy scheme. What would be your priorities for that simplification? What are your key concerns about the existing CAP, and, if the Welsh Government had a free hand to improve and simplify it, what would you like them to do?

John Davies: Thank you, Minister. Obviously, we await any announcements eagerly. We would look to amend where there are, we would say, unfair penalties for minor infractions. There are major improvements to be made there, for instance. There will be a need for more trees to be planted in future; where there are hedgerows or woodlands, at present, they are taken out of any calculation. There are minor adjustments to be done there that could reduce stress quite significantly in the interim period, I would suggest.

Dr Fenwick: We entirely agree with that. Penalties are a huge issue. It is widely recognised that they are very often completely disproportionate to things that have no impact on the wider environment or the general public. Things that may have cost Government, for the sake of argument, a few pounds, can incur fines of many thousands of pounds.

Greening is another issue. The 100 trees per hectare limit has had a very big impact and goes completely against the current thinking on the importance of trees. The way that it has been implemented in Wales—understandably, given the wording of the European legislation—seems counter-intuitive, given the priorities in terms of silviculture and agriculture co-existing.

Tim Render: From the Welsh Government perspective, we consulted on this question in our last document on ideas for taking farming policy forward and future farm support measures. We also identified that, as part of the transition, you would need to look at simplification. The four things that we flagged were very much penalties, as union colleagues have identified; some of the issues around cross-border payments and the single application rule; the basic payment scheme window for unvalidated beneficiaries; and how the environmentally sensitive permanent grassland rules operate. As I say, those are things that we consulted on. We are assessing the consultation responses at the moment and will make policy decisions on how to implement that when we have the powers, through the Bill, to implement—potentially from 2021.

Huw Thomas: One thing to point out is that the powers relating to Wales in schedule 5 are far more modest than those described for England in clause 9. The scope of the ambition for Wales is perhaps somewhat curtailed by that. In relation to England, you have far more powers to remove and reduce burdens, penalties, financial costs and so on; for Wales, the powers are a bit narrower in scope. That is just something to note.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q What about the so-called greening rules? When those were introduced, environmental non-governmental organisations said that that was greenwashing and farmers said that it was green taping. Perhaps both were right, in that it has not delivered much, if anything, for the environment and it is responsible for about 50% of all the guidance that we have to issue. Do you take the view that it is better just switched off altogether, so that we do not have the crop diversity rule and do not have the ecological focus area rules, either?

John Davies: I would say that it is very difficult to farm in a prescriptive way. We have a real challenge this year with the weather, which will cause real issues around the three-crop rule, so we need to be flexible in our approach there, because it is simply not practical in some areas at some times. We need more flexibility.

Dr Fenwick: We agree entirely. Something that is aimed at certain types of farms has actually had an impact on the types of farms that it was not aimed at—I am talking about the impacts of greening. Indeed, that has been recognised across the EU. The European Commission is undertaking the same process of looking at greening and how it should be improved, and has taken steps in that direction. I think it is universally recognised as completely disproportionate.

Tim Render: We would be happy to look at that in the light of the consultation responses we get.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Good morning, Mr Stringer, and good wishes to those on the Government side who may have a nervous day ahead—we wish you well. My question is one that we have put to other witnesses before. We are obviously very concerned about the potential threat to farmers if food is imported that was produced to lower health and welfare standards. What is your view on that and what do you think could be done about it in the Welsh context?

John Davies: We have a very clear vision and ambition to lead the world in producing the most climate-friendly food, and that is to be realised with proper policy and proper support going forward. Obviously, it would be a disaster if that were then undercut by food production systems that are illegal in the United Kingdom, so we would be deeply concerned about the opportunity there and we would like to see that much more strongly identified in the Bill and ruled on.

We welcome the comments that a number of you made during the Second Reading debate. Also, Liz Truss, International Trade Secretary, said last week:

“In addition, nothing in any agreement will undermine the Government’s commitment to tackling climate change.”—[Official Report, 6 February 2020; Vol. 671, c. 15WS.]

We lead the world with our commitment to net zero by 2040, so we look to that being honoured. That is an absolutely key statement to us going forward.

Dr Fenwick: In clause 36, which relates to organic products, subsection (5) makes it clear that it is possible to restrict or prohibit the import of organic products. That will be legislated for once the Bill becomes an Act. We would have expected an equivalent paragraph or provision relating to other production standards to have been incorporated in the Bill. It is there for organic, yet it is not there for all these other issues and in particular the key issue that John raised—our environmental and climate change obligations.

--- Later in debate ---
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

The acoustics in this room are appalling. Can you speak up and project your voice?

Gareth Morgan: Yes, will do.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q You know that in the new Bill, compared to the one in the previous Parliament, we have added an explicit purpose around soil quality. Will you describe for us how best to measure soil quality or soil health? What kind of management interventions should we encourage under the Bill’s provisions?

Gareth Morgan: Unsurprisingly, we were delighted to see that addition, which we thought was a grave omission last time round. There was a rather arcane debate around whether soil health was a private or a public good. What matters is that we achieve better soils, because we know that there is a soils crisis. Indeed, Michael Gove highlighted that in some of his speeches.

The other problem, as you allude to, Minister, is that soil is highly geographically variable and contains many different parameters, from organic matter in terms of the ability to sequester carbon to soil biodiversity, productive capability and the rest of it. That challenge has made it very difficult to set standard provisions around soils for farmers to follow. I suspect that that side of it will probably be best developed through the 25-year plan in the Environment Bill, so in a sense the Agriculture Bill is the place where the tools for farmers to improve their soils can be placed, and where the provisions around what sorts of soils we need, and where, will need a lot of research and geographical specificity. Farmers will need assistance to understand their soils, so a top-down approach to the same soils everywhere is probably not the right way to go.

One exception is that the concept of a steady increase in the carbon content of soils seems to be widely accepted. I think the UK is in the “4 per 1000” club on this, which is around a steady percentage increase of organic matter in soils. That will be a useful single aspiration for farmers and policy makers to coalesce around.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Soils have been around for a very long time and the human race has worked out how to grow crops on them, so I never understand why people say we need huge amounts of research when we know how soil works. Soil science is not new.

Gareth Morgan: The lack of knowledge should not be used as an excuse to not do anything. I agree with you that far. In terms of understanding at the field level what a particular farmer needs to do, I do not think I agree that that is always obvious. You might have shared the same train journey that I had today from Bristol. Going through Wiltshire and looking at the waterlogged soil-laden water lying on the fields, so that it is pouring into the River Avon at the moment, is a signal to me. That is not necessarily the fault of the farmer, but there is a gap between academic understanding of what soils should be like and what is happening in practice in the fields. There is a huge need for farmers to better understand what is appropriate on their farms. That will involve a fair bit of Government investment to help them in that process.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Some suggested as long ago as the 1930s—such as Albert Howard, who was seen by many as the father of the organics movement—that humus in soil is the key criterion to target, because that links to mycorrhizal activity and soil health more generally, carbon in the soils and the growth of various micro-organisms. Would you subscribe to that?

Gareth Morgan: Yes. The Soil Association is rooted in the philosophy that the essence of successful farming lies in the soil. There has been a welcome resurgence of interest in soil over the last few years. It is not an exclusive club; there are things such as minimum tillage, which is not necessarily an organic philosophy. A lot of farmers are increasingly focused on soil as the central organising principle of productivity, pest resistance, carbon sequestration and biodiversity, but that recognition still has a long way to go. I do not think organic is the only way in which that can be achieved, but it is one simple codified way of farming that we know builds on that understanding of soil and organic matter in soil.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q If we tried to return to a general principle of more sustainable farming practices and husbandry, but recognising that the majority of farmers will probably want to stop short of becoming fully organic, could certain things be borrowed from organic production—traditional approaches to farm husbandry that could be deployed in more conventional farms? Or is it your view that nothing works unless you go the whole way to be fully organic?

Gareth Morgan: No, I would not say that. That is why there is increasing use of the term “agroecology”, to suggest that there is a more inclusive approach to sustainable farming. Organic is a great codified way of doing that and guaranteeing to the farmer and the consumer that the farmer is following a particular practice, but agroecology is wider in the sense that it incorporates practices such as mixed farming, where there is a mixture, or ruminant livestock and arable so there is a natural fertility cycle. It incorporates a focus on reducing pesticides—it would be fantastic in the Agriculture Bill to have some target for the reduction of pesticides as an aspiration—and a focus on leguminous plants, to increase nitrogen naturally, to avoid the use of artificial nitrogen. We are going to have to wean ourselves off artificial nitrogen at some point if we are to meet our carbon targets, because we have not found an alternative way to make it. All those practices can be incorporated into conventional farming systems.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Since the earlier iteration of the Agriculture Bill, there has been wide acknowledgment that we face a climate crisis. As part of that, although clearly different in different parts of the country, there is a crisis around our soil, is there not? Could you say a little about how intense that is?

Gareth Morgan: There is a soils crisis, which is expressed in a number of different ways. It is probably slightly alarmist to talk about a certain number of years of soils left, which is quite graphic and gets people engaged in the topic, but that will be different in different places. Soil can regenerate, so we should not look at it as a one-way trajectory of decline; we know ways in which soil can be recovered. The decline in organic matter in soil is a key dimension of that crisis.

The other big element of soil health that has been neglected by the environmental side as much as by the farming side, is biodiversity in soil. I assume that is as simple as the fact that it is below the ground, and therefore you do not see it. I heard an interesting statistic the other day: in a typical sheep field, the weight of creatures underneath the field far exceeds that of the animals on the surface, whether as simple as worms or down to bacterial and fungi. The problem is that, because we do not see it, it is not that immediately obvious to us. It becomes obvious through things such as feeding birds in the winter—the number of lapwings on the fields. If there are no invertebrates in the fields, there will not be birds above them. Getting back to a sense of the biodiversity of soil will be a good way to re-engage with it.

--- Later in debate ---
Sarah Dines Portrait Miss Dines
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q That would be a huge piece of work, would it not—like a national survey of each individual farm. If you want to set targets as you suggest, are you saying that that is realistically what the Government have to look at? Can there be a more pragmatic approach?

Gareth Morgan: I think a soil organic matter target nationally is realistic. I think there is a fair consensus that increasing organic matter in soil ticks so many boxes that that is something that would be useful. That does not necessarily help the individual farmer to know what needs to be done on their farm. There is a good national soil survey, so there is good spatial information about soils that we could be using as part of this process, so it does not all have to be done from a base of no knowledge.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I just wanted to come in on this point about targets. I know they are the tool that people often reach for—they say we should just have some statutory target—but you said yourself at the beginning that it varies considerably from soil to soil, it is hard to measure these things, and an enormous amount of research is needed. I have sometimes been told it will probably take eight years to do that sort of research.

Given the complexity of the issue, is there not a danger that if you are waiting to try to identify the target, you end up effectively delaying action—the worst of all worlds? Does it perhaps matter less that there is some sort of prescribed target, and more that you encourage and incentivise good soil husbandry from year one as best you can with the knowledge that you have? You can measure trends. You can get a sense of whether the trends that matter are moving in the right direction from the interventions you are doing. Is not that perhaps a better way to approach these things than some kind of prescriptive target?

Gareth Morgan: I think you are right, in the sense that the best must not be the enemy of the good, and there is plenty that can be done on soils tomorrow. I do not think I agree that the absence of a target is something that we should be content with in the long term, particularly at the Government level. Targets have been useful in focusing the attention of policy makers on results. The farmland bird recovery target, although the bane of many people’s life, was useful in terms of focusing attention on what could be done to reverse the decline of farmland birds.

I think national targets around soils would be helpful in terms of focusing and attracting funding. Ultimately the Treasury is going to come and say, “I can see you are doing lots of interesting things on your farms; what, actually, are you benefiting, in terms of the natural capital account for the country?” Unless we can go back to the Treasury and say, “This investment of £2 billion or £3 billion has achieved the following things over this period,” I suspect the money will dry up pretty quickly.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q There was another area of the Bill that I wanted to ask your view on. It is further on—there is the clause relating to organic, principally marketing, standards. That is, in essence, the primary powers that we would need to amend the organics regime that we have inherited from the EU and that itself is about to change.

Are you content with the revised organics regime that we are about to inherit from the EU, as it stands, or would you be interested in us using these powers to make specific changes that might make the future UK organics regime work better?

Gareth Morgan: That is a little bit off my area, so I will not speculate too much. The Soil Association is only one part of a very broad organic movement, so there are a number of players who, I think, will want to come back. I think the general feeling was that the provisions in the Bill provide the right enabling starting point for creating a domestic structure around organic regulation.

The one concern that I have heard expressed is that, given we have quite a collaborative model for developing organic standards and lots of players in this country, building that level of engagement with the various players and consultation into that process will be important. At the European level, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, or IFOAM, has been involved in the ongoing development of organic regulation. We will clearly need to have something similar at a domestic level to ensure that everyone, from the farmers to the certifiers to consumers, has a stake in the development of the regime.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Two questions: first, in some of your evidence you have suggested that there should be a public health aim within the Bill, and I wondered whether you could tell us a little more about how you think that might work. Secondly— you have touched on this a bit in some of your contribution—who do you think is best-placed and qualified to negotiate and administer the new environmental land management schemes? Are there any potential conflicts of interest in that set-up?

Gareth Morgan: Taking the first point, it does feel that there is still a gap in the policy and legislative architecture in agriculture. We have “Health and Harmony”, which sets out a good, new, broad trajectory for agriculture, and we have quite a technical, nitty-gritty enabling Bill here in terms of saying, “Here are the tools that can be deployed to achieve things.” At the moment there is not anything knitting all that together to say, “What are food and farming for? Do we have any sense of what the right model might be?” I suspect that is perhaps a bit of a legacy from having had the CAP, which was a prescriptive and sometimes flawed model of European farming. We have almost moved away from that to being afraid to say we have any preferences at all. We have a series of tools and a broad aspiration that farming should be good for the environment, and then the market does the rest.

The reason for putting down a marker on public health was to say that food and farming are not just about a commercial transaction; it is of huge national importance whether people have secure and healthy food supplies and access to the right sort of food and whether the farmer is able to get a just return from the market. Some of those things are touched on in the Bill, but it almost feels like there needs to be something right at the front of the Bill to say what all this is for, as opposed to, “What should we pay farmers for and how?” It feels a bit too fast. That does not necessarily have to come in the Bill, but it has to come somewhere, to our mind. Again, that is where we would say that a presumption in favour of a move to a more agroecological way of thinking about farming probably would sit. Equally, it is the place where the national food strategy would fit in to say that food is more than just a market transaction for consumers.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

You do not have to answer if you do not want to, but the fact that you are treading warily tells us what we need to know. Thank you.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q On that point, you made a reference earlier to the need for advisers. You will be aware that the concept behind the future policy is that there will be an individual agronomist—possibly from the private sector, possibly from groups, perhaps even from your group or the Wildlife Trusts—who would be accredited by the Government to help farmers put schemes together and to walk to the farm and sit down around the kitchen table to do that. I think I am right in saying that the Soil Association already accredits organic producers and growers, probably under a similar model. I wondered if you might explain how that process works. How many clients—for want of a better term—can an accredited Soil Association adviser look after in a typical year?

Gareth Morgan: I should first say that other certifiers are available—for example, our colleagues in Organic Farmers and Growers. It is a competitive market. I am not from the certification side of the organisation and so I will follow up with written evidence on that point, if that is acceptable.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Thank you. If there are no further questions from the Committee, I thank you, on behalf of the Committee, for giving your evidence, Mr Morgan.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(James Morris.)

Agriculture Bill (Fourth sitting)

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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Committee stage & Committee Debate: 4th sitting: House of Commons
Thursday 13th February 2020

(4 years, 4 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 13 February 2020 - (13 Feb 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Agriculture Act 2020 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

We will now hear oral evidence from NFU Scotland, Quality Meat Scotland and the Scottish Government. Thank you for coming. The panel will finish at 2.30 pm. Could you introduce yourselves for the record?

Alan Clarke: Good afternoon, everybody. My name is Alan Clarke. I am chief executive of Quality Meat Scotland.

George Burgess: Good afternoon. I am George Burgess. I am the head of food and drink at the Scottish Government.

Jonnie Hall: My name is Jonnie Hall. I am director of policy for NFU Scotland.

George Eustice Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q 174 For decades, the common agricultural policy, with all its prescriptive rules, has applied to every part of the UK. As we leave, each part of the UK will have the freedom to develop a policy that is right for it. Could you each say what it is about the common agricultural policy that you dislike the most, what you most want to change and what type of system you think is appropriate for the modern world?

Jonnie Hall: I am happy to start. I can quote Mr Eustice back at him and say that the CAP has largely “incentivised inertia”—a phrase he has used many times. We agree. The bluntness of area-based payments has not driven innovation or productivity, or indeed delivered on environmental challenges.

In that respect, we see the departure from the EU and from the CAP as an opportunity to develop bespoke agricultural policy tailored to the individual needs of the devolved Administrations. We have some capacity for that already, in the fact that we have four different settlements of pillar 1 and pillar 2 under the CAP, but we are nevertheless constrained by an awful lot of bureaucracy and by the rules and regulations around mapping, inspections, penalties and so on.

It is vital for us to take the opportunity and for Scotland to be allowed, under the devolved nature of agricultural policy development and delivery, to develop its own suite of schemes and measures that fit the needs and profile of Scottish agriculture, which is significantly different from that of the rest of the UK and, in particular, England. That is absolutely right and, therefore, this provides us with an opportunity.

George Burgess: The Scottish Government position, as I am sure all Committee members will know, has not been in favour of Brexit. We believe that continued membership of the single market and customs union is the best way forward on economic, social and environmental grounds. That includes on the common agricultural policy.

Obviously, there will be areas in the common agricultural policy that are not necessarily to our liking. Work has been under way in Scotland, under the “Stability and Simplicity” consultation, to identify, in the short term, any areas where some improvement could be made to the common agricultural policy. That might be around issues such as mapping and penalties, as Mr Hall has mentioned. We are working, through a farming and food production future policy group, to look at longer-term policy in Scotland.

Alan Clarke: I have a couple of points from Quality Meat Scotland. This gives us an opportunity to look outside our normal markets. Currently, 69% of Scottish red meat is being sold in the rest of the UK, outside of Scotland, and 10% goes internationally. It gives us an opportunity to continue to build on that. To do that, protection of our protected geographical indicators is essential.

In addition, we need to have no reduction of standards of any other imports coming into the country, to make sure that we have a level playing field for our food producers. We would like to see transparency of price reporting throughout the supply chain, to enable us to make better decisions across that area. As you will perhaps hear later from me, we have been working closely with the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board and Hybu Cig Cymru on levy repatriation work. We think there is a lot of work that we could build on across the three nations, if not the four nations.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q When the current design of the CAP was brought in, I remember a lot of concern in Scotland, including from NFU Scotland, farmers and the Government, that area-based payments did not work in such a landscape—that the diversity between the lowlands and the moorlands made it highly problematic for an area-based-only payment to work. Mr Burgess, are you saying that, although you might try to simplify the legacy CAP scheme around the edges, you still think that a basic CAP subsidy on land tenure is the right approach?

George Burgess: The Scottish Government’s approach through the “Stability and Simplicity” consultation is that, for the period from now until 2024, we will essentially retain the features of the current CAP system with some scope for simplification, improvement and piloting. Beyond that, we are open to looking at a more radical reform of the policy. That is the approach we are taking through our future policy group, which includes representatives from the farming industry, food production and environmental groups, so that is the forum for considering the longer-term changes in Scotland. Whether it retains area-based payments or moves to some other system, or a combination of the two, remains to be seen.

Jonnie Hall: I support that, in the sense that area-based payments are far too blunt and do not deliver the objectives that we all aspire to, not only in supporting agricultural incomes and productivity but in addressing challenges such as climate change, biodiversity and so on. The sooner we move to an approach that is more action- based than area-based, the better. However, we are in alignment with the Scottish Government in the sense that from 2021 onwards, we will be venturing into uncharted territory in many ways, given the changes in our operating environment, trading issues and other areas. The ability to retain direct income support that offers some stability in the interim is key. We are absolutely in alignment about change, but the key questions are about the pace of that change and how we manage it.

We note with interest what is happening in England and the Bill’s proposals for phasing out direct support. Of course, that would be inappropriate and inapplicable in a Scottish context, so we need the devolved capacity to do things differently. The direction of travel is very much the same and the landing space is probably the same as well, but we have to consider the pace of that change and recognise the challenges and issues that are particularly pertinent to Scottish agriculture.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q We have set out in this Bill a seven-year transition for England, from 2021 to 2028. I suppose it is possible that the Scottish Government might say, “We will keep the current system with a few minor simplifications until 2024”, but then ditch it overnight and go straight in one leap to a new system. Do you envisage a sharper transition than seven years, or have the Scottish Government made clear that they will definitely not do things faster than seven years?

George Burgess: No, I do not think so. The Agriculture (Retained EU Law and Data) (Scotland) Bill, which implements the stability and simplicity approach for the period between now and 2024, is currently before the Scottish Parliament. I have mentioned the future policy group, which aims to bring forward proposals by the summer of this year. That is the point when we will begin looking at the transition—things that may be piloted between now and 2024—so we are definitely not looking at a sharp cliff-edge transition in 2024.

Hopefully within that time period, we will gain a clearer understanding of our trading regime with Europe and the rest of the world. At the moment, it is frankly quite hard to work out what we should be doing with sectors such as sheepmeat, given that we do not know what the situation with our largest export markets will be.

Jonnie Hall: A number of interests in Scotland have suggested that there should be a sunset clause in the piece of legislation that Mr Burgess has referred to, so that it comes to a definitive end in 2024. However, we would not agree with that, because it would potentially create a cliff edge where we would go off the stability elements that we have talked about and into the unknown. We want to avoid that; we need to be able to adjust to and reflect on the circumstances of the time, and it is right that the Scottish Government have the ability to do so under the legislation that is going through the Scottish Parliament.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Good afternoon. I think Mr Clarke alluded to this point briefly earlier, but I will ask all of you, as I have asked most of the witnesses: what effect do you think allowing imports of food produced to lower environmental welfare and health standards will have on Scottish consumers and producers and, most of all, on the Scottish environment?

Alan Clarke: It would be a disaster for the Scottish red meat industry. The Scots were pioneers of quality assurance. Scotland was the first country in the world to set up whole of life, whole of supply chain quality assurance, and that gives a unique selling point to our world-class products of Scotch beef PGI, Scotch lamb PGI and specially selected pork. For any diluted product to come to market and be able to compete directly—as far as I am concerned, that has no place on the supermarket shelves.

George Burgess: I suspect you will find a very large measure of agreement at this table. The Scottish Government are very concerned at the prospect that future trade agreements could allow for a dilution of standards.

Jonnie Hall: It is also worth adding that the produce of Scotland—commodities is the wrong word—is not about, “Stack it high, sell it low.” We are not going to compete on world markets. We are not a volume producer. We are based on the authenticity and the provenance of our product, and the welfare standards and environmental standards behind that. If we expose Scottish agriculture to cheaper imports of substandard production methods and so on, we will blow large sections of Scottish agriculture out of the water. That will have significant impacts on the agricultural industry itself, but also, more importantly, on the wider issues around rural communities and the environment and habitats that Scottish agriculture underpins with its extensive grazing systems and so on.

--- Later in debate ---
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

We will now hear evidence from George Monbiot. Welcome to the Committee. This panel will finish at 3 pm. Would you introduce yourself, please?

George Monbiot: Thank you. I am an environmental campaigner and journalist.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Yes. The Minister has gone to see the Prime Minister.

James Morris Portrait James Morris
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q What do you think about the public good provisions in the Bill, and to what extent do you think they are correctly defined? Is there further scope for the definition of public good?

George Monbiot: I think it really important to tighten the definition and to stick with, basically, the classical definition of non-rivalrous and non-excludable. There is potential for slippage within the wording of the Bill, for example into food production that does not fit the definition. We should basically also be funding public goods that are additional and which are not going to be delivered anyway.

We should be very careful not to use subsidies as a substitute for regulation. There is a real danger in saying, “We will put all this on a voluntary basis and we will pay people to do the right thing,” rather than saying, “You may not do the wrong thing.” I feel that there have already been a lot of failures in monitoring and enforcement of cross-compliance under the current subsidy regime. If we are not careful, we could see those failures become a lot worse.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Good afternoon. Since the Bill was introduced a couple of years ago, the world has moved on in some ways. There is greater awareness of the challenge that we face, and the Government have conceded that there is a climate emergency. Do you think that the Bill is up to the task and, if you started with a blank sheet of paper, what would you do?

George Monbiot: One of my aims would be to reduce the area of land used for agriculture. All agriculture is a radical simplification of ecosystems, until you get to the point at which it is so extensive that it is not really agriculture. The Knepp Castle Estate, for example, is a wonderful example of rewilding, but I worked out that if we were to universalise that across much of the UK, we would need to cut our meat consumption by about 99.5%—that is not a great example of agriculture. Until you get to that level of extensification, you are really removing huge numbers of species and a huge amount of potential carbon storage that would otherwise be there.

In this country, we suffer grievously from what I call “agricultural sprawl”—large areas of land used to produce small amounts of food. It gets to the point at which, for instance, sheep farming in the uplands, according to my estimates, occupies roughly 4 million hectares—almost as much land as all our arable and horticultural production put together—yet produces roughly 1% of our food by calories and roughly 2% by protein. That is a remarkably wasteful use of land, which could be much better used for carbon storage through regeneration and rewilding, and for the great resuscitation of ecosystems and the recovery of our very put-upon wild species.

--- Later in debate ---
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

We will now hear oral evidence from Professor Bill Keevil from the University of Southampton. We have until 3.30 pm. Will you introduce yourself, please?

Professor Keevil: Good afternoon. I am Professor Bill Keevil, professor of environmental healthcare. I head the microbiology group at the University of Southampton.

James Morris Portrait James Morris
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q The Bill makes provision for Ministers to report periodically on food security. What do you think about that? What other food security measures might you want to see?

Professor Keevil: To my mind, food security is the supply of wholesome, nutritious, safe food. Within that the key issue is safety. There has been a lot of discussion this afternoon about whether the UK can provide its own food. If it does not, we have to rely on imports. What is the veracity of checking the safety of those imports?

We made a short written submission to the national food survey—it may have been circulated to you—in which we talked about the microbiological safety of food, particularly from the processing point of view. It deals in particular with the chlorination of food, which has become a very contentious issue in how the UK sees its future trading relationship with countries that use that practice. Currently, the UK follows EU law, with the standing position being that they dislike chlorinating food. Their perspective is not that chlorination poses a toxic chemical risk if you ingest the food; they are more concerned about animal husbandry. As a microbiologist, I would go further and ask the question that most people have ignored until now: does chlorine actually work? Our published research shows that, in fact, it does not.

For more than 100 years, we have relied on the gold standard of examining a sample from patients, the environment or food by culturing it and growing samples in a Petri dish on a nutritious agar medium. If anything grows, something is still alive; if nothing grows, by that definition, everything must be dead. Our research and that of other groups around the world shows that that is not true; it tells us that the current methods of analysis, which help us set the standards, are not rigorous enough. We have to use modern molecular and biochemical methods, which are available, but which, by and large, have not been adopted so far.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Good afternoon, Professor Keevil. When I came to this debate a few weeks ago and started reading about it, I found the apparently contradictory claims about the safety of the various systems confusing. I was struck by your evidence, and I wondered if you could take us through it. You say at one point that it is difficult to make comparisons, but I must say that in most of our debates people make comparisons with huge amounts of confidence, depending on which side of the debate they are on. You also say that the USA reports that 14.7% of its population contracts a food-borne illness annually, while in the UK the figure is 1.5%. Could you amplify that?

Professor Keevil: As you rightly say, when we look at the data, depending on the source, it can be difficult to interpret because of the way it is recovered. For example, in the USA, they report on infections, some of which are assumed from the evidence they have available. If you look at the reporting of the numbers of pathogens in American produce, such as poultry, they report it in terms of the answer to the question, “Does the food contain more than”—for example—“400 counts of a pathogen per gram of food?” In the UK, the Food Standards Agency reports in terms of “low”, “medium” or “high”. National surveys such as sampling from supermarkets, for example, show that 50% of poultry have very low numbers of pathogens such as a salmonella; only about 5% or 6% have food samples with over 1,000 counts of a pathogen. By those criteria, UK foods appear to be safer—but, I must stress, according to those criteria.

As I say in the written evidence, we now have this vexed question of viable but non-culturable—VBNC—bacteria. When looking at some of the published data, it is very difficult to take that into account, but the work that we and other labs have done is now telling us that we cannot ignore it. We have published our work on chlorine treatment, but we have also looked at what happens when you stress a pathogen such as listeria by depriving it of nutrients. For example, in a factory where you are washing down with tap water, the listeria can still survive, and in those conditions it can become this VBNC form. If all you are doing is regular swabbing and then reporting, you could say, “Our factory is clear of listeria.” In fact, if we used the more modern methods, that might be found to be not true.

We are really talking not just about standards now, but the standards we should adopt in the future, both in the UK and in what we would expect other countries to adopt if we are going to import food from them.

--- Later in debate ---
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Thank you. The acoustics in the room are poor, so it would be helpful if you raised your voice.

James Morris Portrait James Morris
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Diana Holland, in your submission you say that you think the Bill should have measures about pay conditions for agricultural workers. What do you think those measures should be, and why would the Bill, as drafted, be the most appropriate vehicle for them?

Diana Holland: The measures we were thinking about have previously been raised in a number of submissions: first, looking at the impact of the Bill on workers in agriculture, and secondly, looking specifically at the reinstatement of the protections of the Agricultural Wages Board, which currently exists, in some form, in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, but not in England.

Why do we think that is important? We do not think that agricultural workers are like every other worker; we think that they are different and their experiences are different. As a union with an incredibly long history of representing them, we speak from experience. They have a special place in the union, and we think that they should have a special place in the Agriculture Bill, too.

Right this moment, the director of labour market enforcement has a session going on to look specifically at the problems of wage theft and employment law non-compliance in agriculture. The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority has had a licensing system in agriculture for 15 years, but it is still recognised as an area with a high level of exploitation and threat of exploitation. That is the background to this.

When the Agricultural Wages Board covered everywhere, there was a level of protection and information that is no longer available to us. Increasingly, you will find that statistics relating to agriculture have little stars by them and a note at the bottom saying, “The sample figures are too small.” That does not mean that there are no other workers to record; it means that they are not hitting any of the official ways of recording people. Increasingly, we find that people are employed in different ways, meaning that they are not recognised in the official statistics in the way they used to be. The Agricultural Wages Board provided a way of ensuring that all that information came to the forefront.

Finally, we have always argued that safe, healthy food and high-quality jobs go hand in hand. There is lots of evidence that where workers are badly treated, there is also an undercutting of food quality standards across the board. We see this as part of ensuring and protecting food standards, food security, supply chains and all the other issues in the Bill. They all have workers associated with them, and we think they should be included and recognised.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Good afternoon to you both. We have heard from a lot of witnesses, but this is possibly the first time we have actually heard about the people who work on the land, which is why it is very important that you are here. How could the things that you are looking for be incorporated into the Bill?

Diana Holland: There are a couple of ways. One would obviously be an additional clause that covered the impact on workers of those developments in agriculture and how the protections that exist in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland could also be applied to agricultural workers in England. On top of that, in the rules for agri-food imports, where we will be looking at future developments, we are extremely concerned, first, that there is a lessening of all standards and, secondly, that where food is concerned, while there may be some recognition of protections for food standards, and even of animal welfare, workers may be left out. It should all go together—food, environment, labour protections for everybody.

As I said, when we wrote to our rural and agricultural representatives to ask for examples of issues—I am aware it is anecdotal, but it is important—we found that there are still pressures to hide problems that agricultural workers face, because in small isolated communities personal relationships often extend over other areas and the employer may have other roles in the community that people feel could have an impact on their lives. There is pressure all the time not to speak out about problems that arise. Your accommodation is often tied to your job in some shape or form, whether that is on the horticultural or agricultural side of things. It is those kinds of pressures and those sorts of experiences that we think need to be included; otherwise there is a real danger that, as well as being wrong for the people concerned, they will undermine some of the other things that the Bill is trying to achieve.

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None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

We will now hear oral evidence from Sustain and Compassion in World Farming. We have until 4.30 pm. I welcome the witnesses and would ask them to introduce themselves for the record.

Dr Palmer: I am Nick Palmer. I am the head of Compassion in World Farming UK. Compassion is the largest animal welfare charity globally, and we have developed our interests to also look at the environment surrounding animal welfare issues. In the mists of pre-history, I was the Member for Broxtowe for 13 years.

James West: I am James West, the senior policy manager at Compassion in World Farming—I work with Nick.

Vicki Hird: I am Vicki Hird, farming campaign co-ordinator at Sustain, which is an alliance of over 100 non-governmental organisations and royal societies, including Compassion and many other people you have had as witnesses.

James Morris Portrait James Morris
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q This is a question probably for all three witnesses. In your submissions, you refer to some of the public good provisions in the Bill as being positive. I just wondered what aspects of the Bill you thought needed to be improved.

Dr Palmer: The Bill is a good basis, but it is a missed opportunity in the sense that it provides the basis for a variety of things that the Secretary of State may do, but it does not specify what the Secretary of State will do. In the current situation in particular, after Brexit, the farmers and everyone dealing with the industry need more certainty. This would really be an opportunity to pin down what we are prepared to do and what we are not prepared to do in terms of trade, support for the farming industry and a long-term strategy to ensure that we have a viable farming industry stretching into the future.

James West: I would add that it is important that the Bill is joined-up in its thinking, in as far as protection from potentially being undercut—as I am sure you have heard lots of times—as a result of trade agreements. That is fairly critical. That is not in the Bill. Added to that would be that you are then providing farmers with subsidies and grants to help them move to higher standards of production. We should also be looking at things such as method of production labelling—as Nick said, that it is a “may” in the Bill, rather than a “must”—so that consumers know what they are purchasing. We should also look at Government procurement policy, so that in addition to protecting farmers from what is coming into the country, you are also rewarding farmers for delivering higher standards and for protecting our animal welfare standards. Just on Government procurement, McDonald’s has better animal welfare procurement policies than the UK Government, which should not be the case, and the Bill could address that.

Vicki Hird: We were very pleased to see some of the changes in the Agriculture Bill. Overall, we are very positive about the public money for public goods approach and the financial support being listed. We were very pleased to see soil being included in that. We would like to see a stronger reference to agroecological whole-farm systems, because we think that is the way to ensure that you get the in-field changes, as well as the edge of field, wildlife and other nature outcomes that you see. We need the whole of the UK farming system to go towards an agroecological approach in whatever way they can. Those steps should be available through financial support.

We would also like to see, as Nick said, a lot of these things as duties, rather than powers. It seems incredible how much effort—I know, because I have been involved—DEFRA has put into the environmental land management scheme, when it could stop it all in a couple of years and pay a smaller amount of money and not follow through. As MPs, you should have that accountability for you on delivering ELMS.

Finally, I agree with Diana on the protection for workers. We are also pleased with clause 27, which concerns fair dealing. It has been enhanced to really protect farmers. We are grateful to DEFRA for making those changes and to George Eustice, who we welcome as our new Secretary of State. We would like to see that as a duty, because it is so important. It is absolutely vital that we get the protection for farmers in the supply chain. They do have that from retailers, but most farmers do not sell direct to retailers. They need good codes of conduct developed with the industry for every sector, probably starting with dairy.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Good afternoon. I have different questions for Vicki and for Compassion. Vicki, in your written evidence, you make a very strong case for a public health function. Can you elaborate on that a little? To Compassion, you make some quite strong suggestions about the pre-conditions for receiving public money. Can you amplify that for the benefit of the Committee?

Vicki Hird: Thank you for reminding me about the public health purpose. We think it would be very easy to insert it into the Bill. There are so many ways it is already designed to help, for instance with air pollution and with reducing exposure to plant protection products, which can be harmful. We think that saying that there is a public health purpose for agriculture would recognise what an important thing farmers do in providing us with healthy, safe food. It could help by showing that having animal health and welfare measures that help farmers to manage their stock and change their stocking patterns can reduce the reliance on antibiotics, which we know is an absolute global public good, in order to protect our medicinal antibiotics.

The other area is the huge need to boost our supply of fruit and veg, so that people can have access to closer-to-home, more affordable, fresh, sustainably produced fruit and vegetables. That is absolutely central to a healthier diet for the nation. To be able to say that we were doing that would be a benefit. As James was saying about procurement, we could be saying something about procurement and investing in healthier diets for our children in schools.

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None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

We have until 5pm for evidence from the representative of Which? Welcome. Could you introduce yourself?

Sue Davies: Good afternoon. My name is Sue Davies. I am head of consumer protection and food policy at Which?.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q The Bill sets a different course for the future of agriculture policy, so it will be much more about payment for the delivery of public goods than arbitrary area-based subsidies. Are you generally supportive of that approach? I know there are one or two other things that you think have been missed. Perhaps you could explain what those are to the Committee.

Sue Davies: May I start by saying congratulations on your appointment, Mr Eustice?

We support the public money for public goods approach. We think it is the right way to go, but there is a real opportunity to put more about consumers—the people who will ultimately be eating the food—in the Bill. There is a range of ways in which that could be done. We have a real opportunity to redesign agriculture policy to make sure that we have a much more joined-up approach to food and farming policy in general. We welcome the commitment to the national food strategy, for example, as part of that.

The public money for the public goods that are included is really important, but we would also like to see a stronger focus on other consumer benefits, particularly in relation to food safety, public health and reducing antibiotic resistance. When talking about productivity and increasing food production, we fine that people care so much about food. We have done lots of consumer research over the years. In the last couple of years, we have particularly focused on asking people about food standards.

People expect the UK to have really high standards and that, if anything, we will build on the standards that we have at the moment. We talk about productivity, and we want it done in a way that meets consumer expectations. We would also like to see a more general commitment to upholding high food standards in the Bill.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q To come back to that point, the view we took when drafting the Bill—I am interested in why you take a different view—is that the payment for public goods could involve things such as reduced pesticide use and reduced antibiotic use, because animal health and welfare is in there. By targeting those public goods in some areas, there would be a consequential benefit for public health, because of the nature of the food production.

There is a separate area that is about public health campaigns, healthy eating and food standards, but obviously measures are already in place through the Food Safety Act 1990 and the work that the NHS does to encourage healthy eating. Our view is that we do not want to duplicate work that is already present in other fields and is the responsibility of other Departments.

Sue Davies: I can see that to some extent, but there is a real opportunity to integrate public health much more in farming practices. A good example of that is the work the Food Standards Agency did a couple of years ago to try to reduce campylobacter rates in chickens. We have regulation to some extent around that to try to control the practices that are used, but it was only by incentivising action throughout the supply chain—in that case, by the Food Standards Agency doing a retail survey, where it was, in effect, naming and shaming retailers by showing how campylobacter levels compared—that that led to co-operation across the supply chain to look at what measures could be put in place. That included measures in slaughterhouses as well as a strong on-farm focus, such as looking at biosecurity measures and what happens in relation to thinning.

It is that kind of approach that we feel should be included, and certainly the opportunity to do it should not be excluded. Some things will require regulation, and we definitely think they should be regulated, but it is a mix of using regulation and wider incentives to raise best practice. For issues such as antibiotic use, there is an opportunity to try to incentivise the reduced use of antibiotics again, on top of the legislative requirements that we have.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q There is an animal health provision there, which opens the prospect of healthy livestock accredited schemes that farmers could sign up to, which might be all about reduced antibiotic use or different stocking densities in poultry. That is all possible under the existing powers, so I am trying to get my head around what additional powers you feel are needed over and above the objectives that we have.

Sue Davies: It is certainly really positive that that is in there, but if there are specific measures where the main goal is focused on human health, rather than animal health, that should be included in the Bill. Ultimately, the Bill will determine the types of food choices we have as consumers and the sorts of standards to which our food is produced. Obviously, a lot of other policies will have an impact on that, but we think this is a real opportunity to shape our food system in a positive way that works for consumers as well as farmers. We should not miss these really good opportunities to include that in the Bill at this point.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Good afternoon. May I add my congratulations to the new Secretary of State? We obviously do not want to be too nice about him and set him off to a bad start, but he is clearly a popular choice.

Ms Davies, I am bound to ask you the question that I have asked virtually every other witness: from a consumer’s point of view, what would be the impact of allowing imports produced to lower standards? I think I can probably guess the answer, because it has been very consistent across all our witnesses. At the end of the whole chain, particularly with ready meals and so on, do you feel that consumers know enough in the current system? Could we not do more through the Bill to lift standards, particularly on antibiotics and so on?

Sue Davies: I think your food standards question is really important and shows why we need to make sure that we have a joined-up policy. This will have a big impact on the sorts of choices that consumers can make, but if we do not address other policies, particularly trade policy, it could completely undermine all the positive things that we are trying to achieve with the Bill.

As I mentioned, we know from our consumer research that people have really high expectations on food standards. Some 93% of people said they expect that food standards will be maintained, and ideally people think they should be enhanced now that we have left the EU. People do not expect cheaper imports to come in and undercut our producers. People want to support UK producers, particularly of products such as meat and dairy, so the tariff schedule that has come out is interesting. All of that has to be joined up to make sure that we are not trading away our standards and potentially bringing in safety issues, or allowing production methods that we know consumers do not find acceptable.

We saw with the horsemeat scare that food has many different aspects. Some are about safety, and others are cultural—people just do not want to eat food that is produced in certain ways. We have been doing a lot of survey work and we know that around eight in 10 people have concerns about eating hormone-treated beef. A similar number have concerns about food produced using antibiotic growth promoters. Those practices are used in some of the countries with which we will seek to reach trade deals—hormones in the case of the US, Australia and New Zealand. We absolutely have to ensure that trade policy builds on our current standards. If anything, we are looking to improve our standards rather than allow them to deteriorate or accept lower quality imports that will make it very difficult for UK producers to produce to the standards that consumers expect.

We have also asked about labelling issues, because sometimes it is suggested that people can decide if you just label everything. People feel strongly about it and do not think that labelling is the solution. That applies to people across all socioeconomic groups; it is not just better-off customers who can make this sort of choice. We think it is really important that there is something in the Bill that makes it clear that we should maintain and build on our food standards.

We have asked people what they think about labelling, and they generally tell us that they think the labelling information is about right, but when you ask people about where improvements might be made, they talk about things such as helping people to make more sustainable choices and improved animal welfare labelling. There is scope to look at how we can improve that by building on the labelling information that we have already. One area that we know people feel strongly about is the traffic light nutritional labelling system, which we would like to be made mandatory when we have the opportunity to legislate to do so.

Agriculture Bill (Fifth sitting)

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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Committee stage & Committee Debate: 5th sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 25th February 2020

(4 years, 3 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 25 February 2020 - (25 Feb 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Agriculture Act 2020 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are politicians and we know how the world works, but it is a pity. This Government have a strong majority and are at the start of their term; surely they should not be running scared so soon. Frankly, it speaks volumes. I do not blame the Minister—I am sure she is doing what she has been asked to do—but this raises particular difficulties for us. Until we have seen the documents, we will not know whether we should have tabled different amendments. We probably have a fair idea of what is in there, but this is no way to proceed.

Do we know that the money will actually be allocated? This is a change to a new and complicated system. The experience of stewardship schemes in the past is that they have not always been easy. We heard very enthusiastic evidence the week before last from some who say that everything will be wonderful. That is not what I hear from others. The question in my mind is whether budget allocated will be different from budget taken up. My sense is that many farmers think they are going to get the same kind of money, minus the 10%, in the years ahead. They may not. There is no guarantee that they are going to get the same amount for doing something slightly different. The money may be allocated in very different ways, which is part of the concern that people feel.

The shift that we need to see in our agricultural systems towards producing food in a way that is less destructive to the environment and that reduces agriculture’s contribution to climate change is too important to leave to the optional discretion of Secretaries of State. Under the current wording, we find ourselves in the uncomfortable position whereby current and future Secretaries of State will be under no actual obligation to provide financial assistance to address agriculture’s contribution to climate change, despite that supposedly being a key driver of the Bill.

If the Government understand just how important the environmental and climate crisis is, it really is not such a tough ask for them to back up their commitments with stronger wording in the Bill. Others had the same discussion about the previous iteration of the Bill, so I am well aware of the current Secretary of State’s arguments against the change—that by keeping this as a power and not a duty, the Government are following a legislative tradition—I am sure the Minister has been given appropriate examples to make that point. I will not re-rehearse the point, but she will note that it was not only the Opposition who expressed that concern last time. She may find that some Members on her side of Committee care and worry about this issue. I would gently point out that the circumstances are really rather different now; in fact, the case has been strengthened since the previous discussion, given the climate emergency that we are facing. We hardly need look very far around the country to see the evidence of that.

Of course, we are also now leaving the European Union and embarking on a journey of considerable financial uncertainty for farmers and the wider rural community. That is why we need strong legislative commitments that guarantee long-term support for the environment and the climate, and financial certainty for our farmers. All that the amendment would do is make it a requirement to provide the financial assistance.

Other measures in the Bill are worded as requirements. Clause 4 makes the preparation of multi-annual financial assistance plans a requirement, while clause 17 obligates the Secretary of State to report to Parliament on UK food security. There are other provisions in the Bill where the power is a duty. The amendment would ensure that clause 1, which is pretty much at the heart of what we are talking about, has equal standing to other clauses. Shifting the power to a duty would rightly open the Secretary of State’s actions up to proper parliamentary scrutiny. If it is the law that the Secretary of State must provide finance for those essential activities, and they do not, they can be held duly accountable.

Victoria Prentis Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Victoria Prentis)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer, at this very exciting time for agriculture. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his broadly kind words this morning and for his acceptance that we have a great deal in common across the House, as we move forward in planning the next stages of food production, farming and other systems that we want to implement to make sure the environment is better protected. We have much in common in this area at the moment.

As a newbie to this Committee, I also welcome those who served before and who, as the hon. Gentleman said, did a great deal to improve the Bill, which appears before us today in a new, streamlined form. Clause 1(4) includes an important mention of the role of food production as part of what we do in our countryside. It makes it clear that encouraging the production of food in an environmentally sustainable way is necessary. That is one of the most important changes made to the Bill, and I hope the hon. Gentleman recognises that.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to standards. I am sure we will return to this discussion, probably next week, when we discuss imports and how that issue will be taken forward. I ask him to accept that my predecessor and I—and, indeed, many Government Members who are interested in agriculture—have always been clear that it is important that we are committed to the highest possible standards of food production. We want reasonably priced food, but produced to a standard of high ecological and animal welfare.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Can the Minister clarify whether she is talking about standards in the UK or standards of imports, too?

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a great pleasure to take an intervention from the hon. Lady. She and I have worked together for many years on food waste reduction, so we have had a certain amount to do with each other in that sphere.

The Bill deals with standards in British agriculture that we impose on our farmers. It is inevitable at this exciting time for our nation that we will also stray into discussions on imports. I do not wish to shut those discussions down, however the Bill concentrates on the financial assistance that we give to the people who produce food in our countryside and are engaged in other schemes that, hopefully, will help us to enhance the environment.

I wish to restate the Government’s commitment to giving farmers, stakeholders and the public as much certainty as possible as we move away from the common agricultural policy towards our new policy of public money for public goods. I know that the previous Committee discussed at enormous length whether “may” or “must” should be used. As you may have heard, Mr Stringer, I am a former Government lawyer, and I am aware of the way in which legislation is often framed. When talking about financial assistance—which I politely say is what makes this different from the other clauses that the hon. Member for Cambridge referenced— it is traditional, in this sphere at least, although not in all Government legislation, to use the word “may”. Two examples are the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 and the Science and Technology Act 1965, which both use the word “may” when discussing financial assistance. I would suggest that, in this situation, that is not an unusual piece of drafting nor one that in any way lessens our commitment to providing the financial assistance to which we have committed for the remainder of this Government.

We listened to hon. Members’ concerns during the passage of the first version of the Bill and have included new duties relating to financial assistance. The provision of the multi-annual financial assistance plans under clause 4 is a significant change, which sets out our strategic priorities for financial assistance under clause 1, with the first plan starting in 2021 to cover our seven-year transition period. Publishing these plans and other reports required under part 1 will ensure greater transparency and provide necessary certainty about the amount of public funding that has been allocated under clause 1.

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Division 1

Ayes: 6


Labour: 6

Noes: 10


Conservative: 10

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None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

May I clarify the answer to the hon. Lady’s initial question? It was completely in order to debate amendment 11. If she wishes to press it to a vote, that will be after the debate on amendment 40. I hope that is clear.

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Members who have spoken with such passion. I would be delighted to visit all sorts of food producers in their constituencies whenever the diary allows.

I welcome the opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to support domestic food production, and to the farmers who provide high-quality, home-grown produce farmed in an environmentally sustainable way and produced, broadly, at a reasonable cost. Clause 1(2) allows us to provide financial assistance for starting or improving the productivity of agricultural forestry, and horticultural and certain related activities. That will complement the Government’s increasingly joined-up approach to food, which goes far beyond the Bill. We hope that will ensure public access to healthy food.

Last year, the Government asked Henry Dimbleby, the lead non-executive director at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to lead an independent review of the food system and to shape a national food strategy. The strategy will cover the entire food chain from field to fork, including addressing the challenges of supporting people to eat healthy diets, producing food sustainably, protecting national food security, and ensuring that our food system delivers safe, healthy and affordable food, regardless of where people live or how much they earn.

I do not wish to shy away from the debate about food poverty, which was raised by several hon. Members, but, with respect, we are discussing the scope of the clause, and I politely suggest that food poverty should be considered in a debate with the Department for Work and Pensions, which provides a safety net and a £95-billion-a-year budget to help those in poverty. We are discussing financial assistance of about £3 billion a year to those who provide our food. I hear what hon. Members have said, but it is important not to get drawn into a debate on food banks.

Farming efficiently and improving the environment can and must go hand in hand. Clause 1(4) demonstrates clearly that the Government recognise the importance of environmentally sustainable food production. It places a duty on the Secretary of State, when framing schemes under clause 1, to take into account the need to encourage English farmers to produce food in a way that protects and enhances our environment. Those who apply environmentally sustainable farming techniques, including whole-farm systems and agroecological principles, to their farming or land management practices will be very well placed to benefit from ELM schemes in future—I will come on to amendment 11 in a minute. The ELM systems will be regulated in a different way: an agronomist will go out to the farm and consider in a holistic and whole-farm manner how systems can best support ecology. That is really exciting and I look forward to discussing it further with the hon. Member for Bristol East.

We made it clear in the Bill that funding can be provided to support better understanding of the environment. That could include funding for better education and understanding of agroecology. Ultimately, good farmers and land managers know their land best. We want to ensure that our future schemes give them the freedom to choose the best approach, with high-quality advice for their land and businesses. Turning to the hon. Lady’s amendment 11, I pay tribute to her work in the APPG and I recognise that agroecology has sometimes been misinterpreted as synonymous with organic farming. That is, of course, one example of an agroecological system. Let me take the opportunity to reassure the Committee that we recognise the environmental and animal health and welfare benefits of agroecological farming systems and principles, including those on organic farms.

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Division 2

Ayes: 6


Labour: 6

Noes: 10


Conservative: 10

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 34, in clause 1, page 2, line 12, at end insert—

‘(ca) improving public health;’.

This amendment would add ‘improving public health’ to the list of purposes for financial assistance given under clause 1, with ‘improving public health’ defined in Amendment 35.

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Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his considered amendments—I am enjoying his philosophical approach. I was brought up by a farmer who studied philosophy at university—he has joined us to watch—so the hon. Gentleman’s approach is one with which I am very at home. My first job for that farmer was selling plums at the side of the road, and the hon. Gentleman may have noticed that my Christian name is that of the best-selling plum variety.

I heard and agreed with a lot of what the hon. Gentleman said about fruit, vegetables and pulses. It is crucial that we recognise the many connections between agriculture and public health. DEFRA is working closely with the Department of Health and Social Care and others to ensure that we put the improvement of public health at the heart of everything that we do.

I spoke earlier about Henry Dimbleby’s independent review to develop a national food strategy, and I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support for it. We hope that it will ensure that safe, healthy and affordable food is available to everyone, regardless of where they live or how much they earn. We are also investing significantly in schools, to promote physical activity and healthy eating, through various programmes, including the healthy start, the school fruit and vegetable and the nursery milk schemes.

Turning to the amendments and to support for fruit and vegetables and—as the request of the hon. Member for Bristol East mentioned—pulses, the UK enjoys a high degree of food security, which is built on access to a range of different sources, including domestic production and imports. Our climate means that, try as we might, we cannot grow everything here, so access to a range of food sources is important. Having said that, I love buying British fruit and vegetables, and I encourage others to do so.

The Bill will enable us to continue enhancing food security by supporting the adoption of new technologies to help producers and to extend our domestic growing seasons. Such an increase in domestic production could help to increase the availability of different foods throughout the year, reducing imports and leading to a reduction in prices for the consumer. Of course Victoria plums are the best, but many other plum varieties come to fruition earlier and later in the season. We may need to support such native species when considering financial assistance given under the scheme.

A joined-up and practical approach across Departments is required to tackle public health and food issues properly. That is beyond the scope of the Bill alone, but I reassure the Committee that we are committed to increase demand for and access to healthy food. One example is the school fruit and vegetable scheme, which provides 2.3 million children in key stage 1 with fruit or vegetables every day.

Subsection (1)(f) allows the Government to give financial assistance to protect or improve the

“health or welfare of livestock”.

We will use the power to develop schemes to tackle endemic diseases, which will support a responsible reduction in antimicrobials and other veterinary medicines and, through that, better public health. More needs to be done on antimicrobials, and the Bill provides the ability to give financial assistance to encourage good practice, but I also refer the hon. Member for Cambridge to the UK five-year action plan for tackling antimicrobial resistance. The Bill provides carrots—if I may use that term—but we also have regulatory sticks, as not everything can be provided for within that context.

The hon. Gentleman is right about the importance of ensuring that farmers can make a choice to diversify and respond quickly and flexibly to market demand. Our intention through the Bill is to enable farmers and growers to improve productivity, better tap into market demand and provide new protections to first producers from unfair trading practices. That is particularly important for growers of high-value fruit and vegetables, who too often see produce returned by retailers and processors for no good reason—I was brought up hearing all about that at the farm table. The Bill gives farmers and growers the ability to challenge such practices.

On the use of farming chemicals and pesticides, we are already committed to protecting people and the environment from the risks that such products can create. Strict regulation already permits the sale and use of pesticides only where thorough scientific assessment shows that they will not harm people or pose unacceptable risks to the environment. The Department is carrying out a review of the national action plan for the sustainable use of pesticides, which will focus on introducing integrated pest management and alternatives to pesticides. Some of that will come within the practices that we are trying to encourage in the Bill, but some will remain a matter for strict regulation.

We are already working hard across Government to tackle the issues raised in the amendment. I am confident that the Bill already provides broad powers to support further activity in these key areas, so I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have listened closely to the Minister. In some ways, this goes to the heart of the problem in our discussion: the Opposition are raising a series of things that we think should have funding and support through the new system, and although £3 billion is small compared with the DWP budget, it is a considerable amount of public money, which in the past went directly to farmers. For many of them, the question is: how will the new system work? As I suggested—this point has been made not just by the Opposition but by senior Government Members—the idea is that the money will transfer over almost seamlessly, provided that farmers do a bit of this or that, but that is not necessarily how it cranks out.

While I absolutely trust what the Minister says about the Government’s abilities through the environmental land management schemes, I am sure she understands why there is concern. That is why we want this detail in the Bill. Again, the point has been made before by Government Members that, in future, there may be less rural-friendly Ministers, who may be tempted to look at the budget line and think, “Well, given that the local school is struggling and the local health service is struggling”—the Minister knows entirely what I am talking about. This needs to be nailed down in the Bill.

I appreciate the difficulty the Minister has, because I suspect she probably agrees, but that is why we think it is necessary to set out these various public goods to protect them. It has been said to me by farmers that, actually, farmers do quite well under Labour Governments, so I do not suggest that there will be any problem down the line. However, not everyone necessarily will always be as sympathetic, so it would be very much in the interests of communities—particularly those that many Government Members represent—to take a safety-first approach and tie down these public goods.

This is our opportunity to make it easier for farmers, as they go through this difficult transition, to access the money that the Government have promised will be available during this Parliament. My concern is that some of them will find that money not very easy to access, so why not widen the scope so that, where they can see things they could do with some help and support for—transferring production to pulses, fruit and vegetables, for example, or tackling some of the difficult issues around pesticide use—they are enabled to do them? This goes back to economics. Essentially, we want farmers to be able to survive, but if they are disadvantaged in any way, they will struggle. Why not use the resource that is available in a way that farmers can understand and that will help them?

We urge the Committee to support amendment 34 for that reason, but also because it would send the right message about these public health issues. I represent an area with a strong life sciences sector, and antimicrobial resistance has been brought to my attention constantly since the moment I was elected four and a half years ago. It is difficult. I lose track of Prime Ministers, but the Prime Minister before the one before the current one—David Cameron—had Jim O’Neill do a lot of work on this issue. I think there is cross-party agreement about it; it is not a party political issue. It is a real concern and a real worry, and I am in no doubt that farmers also worry about it. However, market pressures—I keep returning to the same point—dictate that people do certain things. We must therefore act to mitigate those pressures and to provide help and support. We are in the slightly unusual position of having a £3 billion budget. Normally, one has to make the argument, but the money is there; the question is how it will be accessed and used. What better use could there be than tackling some of these big public health issues?

I probably should have intervened on the Minister to ask about schools support, but I was still ruminating over what she was saying—I think I was stuck on Victoria plums. It is not entirely clear to me that the Bill will allow some of that money to be utilised in that way. I guess we will not know until we get down to the detail of the environmental land management schemes, but we would like to make it clearer, as we seek to do throughout this process, not least because that would give farmers the certainty that the Government rightly say they want to give them.

On that basis, I am afraid that I would like, yet again, to press the amendment to a Division. We think it is of considerable importance.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division 3

Ayes: 6


Labour: 6

Noes: 10


Conservative: 10

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 6, in clause 1, page 2, line 13, after “(d)” insert

“limiting greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture or horticulture or encouraging activities that reduce such emissions or remove greenhouse gas from the atmosphere, or otherwise”.

This amendment explicitly provides for limiting and reducing greenhouse gas emissions to be one of the purposes for which financial assistance is given.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to move this amendment, which would make it explicit that the public goods for which farmers can receive financial assistance should be activities that reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. The Opposition believe that the current wording in clause 1(1)(d), which refers to

“managing land, water or livestock in a way that mitigates or adapts to climate change”,

is not strong enough. We must do more and go further. Mitigating is lessening the impact of something that is happening, not preventing it; adaptation is managing the impacts that we are already seeing. We think it is extremely important that the money that will go from direct payments into environmental support should explicitly target emissions reduction. The wording is important throughout the Bill, and not least in clause 1.

It is essential that climate change as a cause is front and centre of the Bill. It will be one of the most important measures introduced by the House in the coming decade to tackle the climate emergency genuinely and effectively. Through the support of the public goods, it will be a central mechanism by which we can reduce emissions from our land management and deliver the nature-based solutions to climate change that we know we need, such as peatland restoration and woodland creation.

Her Majesty’s Opposition believe that the Bill needs far more than one line on climate change, especially as we have established that the provision effectively states that the Secretary of State “may”—not even “must”—give financial assistance for the relevant climate mitigation or adaptation. There is no bite to that, and no certainty or urgency.

The Bill should set a target for agriculture to reach net zero carbon, and I have no doubt we will return to that later. The National Farmers Union is already committed to that. There is no reason not to have a sector-specific target for agriculture when we know how significant its contribution is to emissions and how much support the sector will need to reduce it.

The 2019 progress report by the Committee on Climate Change showed that agriculture in all parts of the United Kingdom is not on track to meet any of its indicators. There has been no progress in reducing emissions from agriculture since 2008. As only 30% of direct payments are currently secured through meeting greening requirements, we know that the lack of financial support for farmers to adapt their practices to focus on climate change has been a key part of that, which is why it is so important to get the financial provisions to support farmers right in the Bill.

A great deal of the Bill, as I am sure we will discuss in the coming weeks, places great trust in the hands of future Secretaries of State. That is particularly evident in relation to prioritising climate change. As the division of funding between the various clause 1 public goods is unknown, as has been alluded to already, we very much hope that clause 1(1)(d), in whatever form it goes forward, will have a greater focus on that funding.

The Committee on Climate Change’s progress report contained clear recommendations on agriculture and land use, and on the development of an effective post-CAP framework, and firm policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There is ample room for consolidation in the Bill. I hope that the Government will accept the amendment. I say to the Minister that there is no harm in accepting an amendment that allows the Government to make their intentions for emissions reductions in agriculture more explicit with a slight but important wording change.

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Lady for drawing attention to this important and pressing topic. We on the Government side are committed to leaving our environment in a better condition than we found it. That includes facing the challenges associated with climate change and with greenhouse gas emissions. That is why we legislated in June 2019 to introduce a net zero target to end the UK’s contribution to the most serious environmental challenge we face: climate change. We are the first major economy in the world to legislate for a carbon net zero target.

We have not made sector-specific targets, so I will not be accepting the hon. Lady’s amendment, although we are pleased with the ambitious target set by the National Farmers Union for its members. We are committed to continuing to work with the agricultural industry to tackle climate change together. One example is the £10 million of Government money given in May 2018 to help restore more than 10,000 football pitches’ worth of England’s iconic peatlands, which she referred to. This year we will establish a lowland agricultural peat task force that will build on the work already begun in this important area.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On the subject of peatlands—I have an amendment on this, to be considered later—it is one thing to talk about restoring peatlands, but if grouse moor owners are being allowed to burn peatlands, a huge amount of damage is being done, by destroying what is a natural carbon sink and releasing carbon into the atmosphere. Does she agree with me, and with her ministerial colleague in the House of Lords—he has indicated that he believes this too—that we ought to ban that practice?

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do not necessarily agree that all burning should be banned outright. Some low-level burning is not necessarily as harmful to the environment as the hon. Lady suggests. We can agree on the importance of peatland as a place to store carbon, and the importance of working together to ensure that peatland is restored and improved.

I move on to our £90 million industrial strategy challenge fund—the transforming food production initiative. Through this fund, we support industry-driven research and development to move agricultural systems towards net zero emissions. It has some relevance to the point made by the hon. Member for Newport West. It is important for us always to be open-minded and able to look at evidence. Everything we do must be evidence-based in this important area. This investment will support the development and adoption of advanced precision technologies and solutions to boost the efficiency of our agriculture. It will help to ensure that we produce high-value food in a way that maximises productivity and environmental performance.

The original drafting of the clause enabled the Secretary of State to give financial assistance for the purpose of

“managing land, water or livestock in a way that mitigates or adapts to climate change.”

We envisage that these objectives will be delivered by a broad spectrum of activities, and therefore all agricultural or horticultural activities that contribute to this purpose would already be within scope of funding support under clause 1(1)(d), as drafted. I hope that I have demonstrated that we already have the powers in the Bill to cover the proposed content.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On that point, the concern shared by many of us since the previous Agriculture Bill is that the climate emergency seized all of us and yet there is no net zero target. The National Farmers Union say 2040. What is the Government’s view?

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Government legislated for net zero emissions, and in doing so we decided not to make sector-specific targets, but we absolutely support the NFU’s ambitions. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman watched “Countryfile” at the weekend, but there was an interesting piece on agricultural emissions that mentioned both livestock practices and the keeping of nitrogen within soil. This debate, as he says, is not really partisan; we do not have different passions for this. We need to work carefully together, always looking at all the evidence, with improved support for research and development, which the Bill absolutely provides for. I hope that we will be able to meet the NFU’s exacting targets.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My concern is that other sectors have quite a clear road map for how we get to net zero, and carbon budgets that deal with that. I have never seen that for agriculture. I was quite worried that the previous Secretary of State seemed to think that the answer was all about technological solutions and weird and wonderful things, rather than in how the land is farmed. That is what is missing. Some of us have been talking about this for a very long time, but the Minister talks as if these solutions are new to the table and need to be investigated. There are a lot of good practices out there that would help. Why is there not a clear agenda or line of direction from the Government for achieving that?

--- Later in debate ---
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Order. May I make it clear that there is no limit to the number of times Members can contribute, but there is a limit to the length of interventions? I would be grateful if hon. Members could be precise and to the point with their interventions.

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady and I will discuss these issues over many years. I point out one important change made in the new version of the Bill relating to soil quality. It is really important that we recognise that soil is itself an essential natural asset and very important to the way we work to reduce carbon emissions.

I do not want to trespass on your time any further, Mr Stringer. I hope that I have shown that we already have the powers in the Bill—that was just one example—to cover the proposed content of the amendment, and I hope I have demonstrated the Government’s commitment to making good use of those powers. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Newport West to withdraw the amendment.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for her considered thoughts on the matter. Labour Members are united on this. In terms of greenhouse gas emissions, this is crucial to how we move forward. We need to make sure that we give a clear message, and the Bill gives the perfect opportunity to send a clear message to the agricultural sector.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East talked about the road map for other areas and how we do not have one for agriculture. We have all heard about the good farmers and how they will be necessarily working with agronomists, but in terms of assistance and guidance, the Bill could be key to ensuring that everybody works together and does what is necessary for the greater good, of not only of the UK but of the planet as a whole.

We heard about the peatlands. Although there is some debate about this, we know that it is crucial that we maintain our existing peatlands. We need to make sure that tree planting continues apace. We know that the Government are missing their target on that by at least 70%. We need to plant millions and millions of trees, not the odd thousand here or there. That is not good enough. This is what we need to work towards.

Land managers need guidance and support, and the Bill should show the way, blazing a trail. The Minister quite rightly alludes to the climate change emergency declared last year by her Government, but it is important to make sure that we carry on. We cannot just declare and stop; we need to say, “Declare and so what?”. We need to move forward.

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Division 4

Ayes: 6


Labour: 6

Noes: 10


Conservative: 10

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(James Morris.)

Agriculture Bill (Sixth sitting)

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 6th sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 25th February 2020

(4 years, 3 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 25 February 2020 - (25 Feb 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Agriculture Act 2020 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Victoria Prentis Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Victoria Prentis)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is particularly good, Sir David, to be discussing animal welfare provisions with you in the Chair. A certain amount of consensus has broken out again in Committee. The Government are a world leader in animal welfare and we are absolutely committed to retaining that status by strengthening our standards. However, we would say that this amendment does not make any legal change to the powers set out in this Bill and is therefore not a necessary addition. Financial assistance can already be given and is provided for under section 1(1)(f) in order to protect or improve the health and welfare of livestock. That includes schemes for improving the accommodation of livestock, including farrowing sows.

The Government’s aim is for farrowing crates no longer to be necessary, but it would not be right to end the use of such crates without examining all the evidence around their use and considering all the options. It is important to recognise how they protect piglets, for example. The hon. Member for Cambridge talked about that. Alternative farrowing systems in indoor production are being developed all the time—I have heard about some high-tech solutions with moving floors—which need to be investigated fully. They will be expensive to install, but that may well be a price worth paying. As the hon. Gentleman said, the public is broadly with us on that. It may well be the sort of public good for which the public is keen to pay, assuming we have sufficient transparency in our systems to ensure that they understand that that is what is happening.

The UK has led the way in improving the welfare of pigs. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the banning of close confinement stalls in 1999. While approximately 60% of UK sows farrow indoors, it is not always the case that they spend the full length of time that the hon. Gentleman mentioned in such crates. We hope that farmers would be able to work to much shorter periods of time. The remaining 40% of sows are housed outside and able to farrow in much more natural conditions. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has funded recent research into alternative farrowing systems and the Farm Animal Welfare Committee has provided expert advice on this issue.

As part of our ongoing commitment to animal welfare, we are developing a scheme that aims to improve farm animal welfare in England. We are exploring a one-off grants scheme that will help farmers to improve welfare on farms, for example, by installing new equipment. We are also exploring a payment by results scheme whereby farmers could receive ongoing payments for developing specific animal welfare enhancements. The Animal Welfare Committee, industry and non-governmental organisations will have their say on the welfare outcomes that are financially supported. For pigs, this could easily relate to improved enrichment opportunities to root; improved housing; and tail docking, which has not been discussed today.

The hon. Gentleman may be aware that I have kept extremely free-range pigs at home in the past. They are so free range that they have, on occasion, wandered off around the village. While the Bill aims to support native breeds, it may well be that the pigs kept exhibit such behaviours. Our most difficult experience was with iron age pigs, which are one-quarter wild boar and do not seem to view fields as any sort of captivity.

We are constantly reviewing our legal standards as part of our commitment to animal welfare. A new welfare code for pigs, which includes guidance on farrowing has been produced, is available online and comes into force on 1 March. I think the Committee will broadly welcome paragraph 158, which says:

“The aim is for farrowing crates to no longer be necessary and for any new system to protect the welfare of the sow, as well as her piglets. Where the sow is confined in a farrowing crate, it should be large enough to accommodate her and to allow her to rise and lie down without difficulty and should be easily accessed in an emergency.”

It goes on to give further specific details.

To my mind, that is an excellent way forward, and the owners and keepers of pigs will have to be aware of and abide by it from 1 March. That is one example of how we continually update and review secondary legislation under the animal welfare legislation introduced in 2006. The Government share the public’s high regard for animal welfare and intend to use the powers in the Bill to reward farmers for improving a number of animal welfare issues. I therefore urge the hon. Member for Cambridge to withdraw the amendment.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Minister for her response. I will not withdraw the amendment.

In a way, the Minister conceded something important—that clause 1(1)(f) shows that resources can be used, which I am sure will be welcome to some. However, the clause also points to some of the general difficulties in the Bill. The pig sector benefits only indirectly from support under the current system. The clause rather suggests that money will be moved around the system, and I wonder whether everyone is aware that there will be winners and losers as a result. As we all know, one generally hears from the losers, not the winners, but that is a problem for the Government, not me. I am pleased about that concession, but I do not quite see why the Government could not actually do themselves some extra good by making the positive benefits specific, as we suggest. I encourage them to do that.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to respond to the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby. I was chided by one or two of my colleagues for agreeing with him too much earlier, but I disagree with him robustly now, in a civilised way. He makes an important point about where responsibility for these decisions should lie. We have been trying with labelling over many years, and he is right that it has proven more successful in some areas than others.

However—this is probably a fundamental philosophical division between us—I think that putting the onus of responsibility on individual consumers is problematic, not least because, as we heard the evidence sessions and in written evidence, it is pretty clear that many people subscribe to notions of higher standards until they get into a supermarket and are confronted with price differences. I suspect that many of us in this room are now in the fortunate position of being able to make an informed choice and not worry so much about the price, but for vast numbers of our fellow citizens, price is still a key driver. For many people who would probably like to support higher standards, if the price is too high, they have no choice.

We want not to take that responsibility away from people, but as with so many other things, to make it easier for them to make the right choice; in other words, to exclude the low-cost alternatives. I am not an economist—it was suggested earlier that I might be, about which I am partly flattered and partly not flattered—but there is clear evidence that, if standards are lifted, industries respond and prices begin to settle. This is a case of needing leadership. We have done it before. There are consequences, but we have public money to spend, and it could well be that the public would actually be very happy that we offered this kind of support, which would to some extent get them out of that price dilemma.

It is a bit like the dilemma around the smoking ban. I lost track of the number of smokers who told me that they were delighted that, basically, the ban made it easier for them to give up smoking, because the Government had intervened. That was during the last Labour Government, and I remember Tony Blair being very nervous about suggestions that he had offloaded responsibility on to local councils, which did not go down well. In the end, it needed cross-party leadership—it has to be something supported across the House—to make it easier for people to make the right choice. It is a judgment call.

--- Later in debate ---

Division 5

Ayes: 6


Labour: 6

Noes: 10


Conservative: 10

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 12, in clause 1, page 2, line 28, after ‘activity’ insert—

‘, provided that such assistance does not contradict or undermine the purposes in section 1(1).’

This could possibly be described as a probing amendment. There is general agreement that the Government’s commitment to the principle of public money for public goods is welcome. This amendment is a safeguard to ensure that the delivery of public goods is not undermined by any financial assistance for improving productivity. There is some concern that it could mean a greater proportion of the money going to the productivity head rather than to public goods. If the new environmental land management scheme is to be successful and provide value for money, all the payments need to contribute to the delivery of public goods.

It is still not clear how the future Budget will be distributed between financial assistance for public goods and productivity, and there is concern that we could end up with a pillar one and pillar two-type system—again, where public goods take second place. I am seeking assurances from the Minister. If I am confident that her assurances are credible, I will not push this to a vote.

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Lady for that assurance. I understand that she wants to ensure that we do not provide financial assistance to improve productivity or production in a way that would harm the environment or undermine any of the purposes in clause 1. I hope that is a fair summary of what she said.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is partly about not undermining that, but it is also partly about how the money is divvied up. If a huge proportion of the money goes towards productivity, it is not clear how the budget will be divided. That is what I am seeking clarity on—that there is money for public goods.

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I cannot give the hon. Lady absolute assurance at the moment as to how the budget will be divided, as that is a matter for the development of the scheme. We will do a great deal of work developing it, including years of pilots and a great deal of consultation, in which, I am sure, she will be involved. I can assure her that it is not our intention to put the productivity wing on a higher level than allowing damage to the public purposes, which are there to protect the environment, or the other purposes is clause 1. That is absolutely not our intention. Our ambition is to leave the environment in a better state than we find it.

--- Later in debate ---
Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Just to clarify, it would help if the Minister could give an assurance that all payments need to contribute to the delivery of public goods, whether it is a payment for productivity or directly for public goods. She phrased it to me in the negative—they should not undermine public goods—but the intention of this Bill is that everything should support that public goods agenda.

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think the hon. Lady and I are dancing around the same issue, which is that the ambitions do not need to be mutually exclusive. We absolutely believe that producing food and managing a sustainable environment can and should go hand in hand. Improving productivity is normally about improving efficiency by using less energy and fewer pesticides to produce the food that we eat. Greater efficiency can also mean using less land, so that other land can be freed up for other purposes such as tree planting. I share the hon. Lady’s concerns, however I feel that her amendment would restrict our ability to offer financial assistance in the most effective way.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East has raised a very important point. The lunchtime reading of the ELMS policy discussion document prefigures further discussion on this. It is a shame that we were not able to have our earlier discussion in the light of some of these points. To a number of us, on first reading, tier 1 does not look sufficiently ambitious, in many cases, and it feeds exactly into my hon. Friend’s point that there is a worry that we will not get the environmental gains that we thought we would. That will be of concern to many. I wonder if the Minister could clarify that point.

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

At the moment, I cannot set out how the ELM scheme will work. That will be worked on, probably by all the people in this room, very carefully over several years, before we come up with the final scheme, so I cannot give the hon. Gentleman absolute assurances as to what will happen.

I can say, however, that we added clause 1(4) because we wanted a clear requirement—partly because of the work of the previous Agriculture Bill Committee—on the Secretary of State, in framing any financial assistance scheme, to have regard to the need to encourage food production in an environmentally sustainable way. I hope that I have provided some reassurance about how we intend to use the powers in clause 1 so that productivity is improved in a sustainable way that does not undermine the other purposes in the clause. I cannot go further than that at the moment. I ask the hon. Member for Bristol East to withdraw the amendment.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I appreciate why trying to get the balance correct is a difficult dilemma, but it is crucial that we do so. We are not satisfied, frankly, that we are getting the clarity that is required. We understand that this is a framework Bill, but much more detail is required to give certainty, so—I may be speaking on behalf of my colleagues here—we would like to push the amendment to the vote.

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Division 6

Ayes: 6


Labour: 6

Noes: 10


Conservative: 10

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 14, in clause 1, page 2, line 32, leave out subsection (4) and insert—

‘(4) In framing any financial assistance scheme, the Secretary of State must have regard to—

(a) the need to encourage the production of food by producers in England and its production by them in an environmentally sustainable way; and

(b) the need to ensure that all farms and horticulture units, including those smaller than five hectares, can access financial assistance.”

The key point in the amendment is paragraph (b), which deals with the need to ensure that all farms and horticultural units—including those smaller than 5 hectares —can access this financial assistance. In 2014, the then Secretary of State ruled that a farm needed to be more than 5 hectares to receive direct payments. The decision to increase the limit from 1 to 5 hectares excluded one in six English farmers during the transition from single to basic payments.

During the oral evidence sessions we heard evidence from Jyoti Fernandes at the Landworkers Alliance that the threshold resulted in smallholders being at a serious disadvantage. In designing any new scheme, the threshold should be scrapped. Every farm, no matter what its size, has the ability to deliver the public goods listed in clause 1. The farms and horticultural units showcased in the latest Landworkers Alliance report, “Agroecology in Action”, illustrate what they can achieve in terms of encouraging biodiversity, building soil health, replacing agrochemicals, mitigating climate change, integrating communities and enhancing economic resilience. Earlier we discussed the need to bring food production closer to communities. Often, it is the smallholdings that do that. They also tend to have higher levels of employment than conventional farms. A 2017 study of agroecological farms smaller than 20 hectares found that they employed 26 times more workers than the UK per hectare average. It would be a huge mistake to exclude them from financial assistance.

It was good to see from DEFRA’s press release today that

“anyone from any farm or land type”

can participate. Will the Minister confirm that “any farm or land type” means farms smaller than 5 hectares?

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I echo my hon. Friend’s comments. It is important that small farms are not left out of this legislation. As she said, in the evidence sessions we heard compelling evidence from the Landworkers Alliance that farmers on smaller holdings have been much disadvantaged to date by the current payments system due to the 5 hectare threshold, which cuts those with less than 5 hectares out of the system for getting payments. I was surprised to hear that 85% of its membership had never been able to get support for their work. We know why: back in the previous iteration of discussions, there was concern that small firms would not be subject to cross-compliance. That is my understanding. That was possibly a reasonable position to take, although I suggest that the answer to that is that there should be proper and appropriate checking and verification.

Precisely for the reasons that my hon. Friend has explained, we will support the amendment. We need to include many more people in the system and to make it far more likely that they will be able to benefit from it.

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It should have been obvious from my previous comments that I am a passionate smallholder, so I listened to what Members had to say with considerable interest. As I have said, I cannot promise exactly how the ELM scheme will work going forward, but I hope I can provide sufficient assurance in the rest of what I say. Now that we have left the EU, we have the opportunity to design agricultural, horticultural and forestry schemes in a way that best reflects our circumstances and allows us to deliver the best possible outcomes.

As my predecessor said, we are determined to work with industry to co-design the new schemes and ensure we get them right. In determining whether there should be a minimum size threshold for eligibility, we will need to weigh up the benefits that can be delivered by small land holdings—benefits that I recognise—against the administrative costs associated with managing agreements, as the hon. Member for Cambridge mentioned. We need to ensure that the different schemes provided under ELMS provide value for public money.

Detailed eligibility criteria will be established for ELMS as soon as the schemes are developed, working with stakeholders. I can only apologise, because I do not have all the answers at the moment. This will be a very complicated, new set of schemes, which will take many years to develop.

I draw the attention of the hon. Member for Bristol East to clause 1(2), which is reflected in the press release she mentioned. It provides a power for financial assistance to be provided in connection with

“starting, or improving the productivity of, an agricultural, horticultural or forestry activity”.

The power clearly does not put any restrictions on the size of holding for which financial assistance can be provided. We will be designing our future schemes alongside industry in a way that delivers the best possible outcomes. I hope that she will withdraw the amendment.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
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I am confused by what the Minister is saying. She is right that there is no mention of any limit in the Bill, but her earlier words, before she mentioned the clause about start-ups, clearly suggested that she thought there could be bureaucratic problems. She was sort of putting objections in the way of extending the scheme to smallholder farmers. Today’s smallholder could be tomorrow’s big food producer.

I do not know whether the Minister wants to intervene to say more, but I do not think she has given any assurance at all. The 5 hectares issue has come up time and time again, including during previous discussions on the Bill. Why has the Department not got to the stage that it can give that assurance to smaller farmers?

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis
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As I said earlier, the environmental land management systems have not yet been worked out. It is clear from the scoping document that was published today that they will vary enormously in their size and scope. Some will be concerned with just one farm, and others will be concerned with multiple farms or even a whole area, in order to provide the best possible ecological solutions that we are all seeking. I am unable to provide the hon. Lady with an absolute assurance at the moment, but I hear what she has to say about the importance of small agricultural holdings.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
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Once again, I cannot accept the Minister’s assurances and would like to press the amendment to a vote.

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Division 7

Ayes: 6


Labour: 6

Noes: 10


Conservative: 10

Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill
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I beg to move amendment 8, in clause 1, page 3, line 13, after “kept” insert “or managed”.

In clause 1(1)(d), reference is made to

“managing land, water or livestock”.

The amendment would change a reference later in the same clause to keeping, not managing, creatures. My worry is that relying on the word “kept” may exclude some of the most environmentally beneficial land uses, where birds or mammals are to a greater or lesser extent wild and thus, by definition, not kept.

I have a number of examples, such as the Chillingham wild cattle in Northumberland. The herd, of about 100, has not been touched by human hand or been seen by a vet for more than a century. They are certainly not kept, but the environment at Chillingham Castle is managed for the benefit of the many species and birds that thrive there.

Wild ponies also carry out important land management tasks. I have had ponies on my own farm from the Yorkshire Exmoor Pony Trust for a while; they carry out a great role in managing the land. I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, as I have done in previous sittings—I am a family farmer myself.

Most importantly, we should recognise the importance of game as an integral part of many rural economies and ecosystems. Some species, such as pheasant, may well be kept for part of their life, when they are reared in captivity, but once released, they become free to range far and wide. Many shoots—I would suggest the more enlightened ones—do not artificially rear birds and strive to create the conditions for wild birds to breed. Those birds are never kept, but the management of the necessary ecosystem and environment would certainly not be in conflict with the wider public goods we seek to create, using this Bill as a tool.

The same argument must certainly apply to grouse, which cannot be reared in captivity. Managing moorland for the benefit of grouse not only favours other ground-nesting birds, such as golden plover and lapwing, but also the sustainability of sheep farming on our grouse uplands. They can only go hand in hand together if the moor is managed correctly.

According to the BBC “Countryfile” website, the UK’s deer population is at its highest level for 1,000 years, at around 2 million deer of the various species. Numbers have doubled since 1999. That has an impact on crops, wildlife and, in particular, forestry. The Forestry Commission estimates that the damage to plantations and commercial woodlands in Scotland amounts to £4.5 million per annum. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates that around 350,000 deer are culled each year. In the absence of natural predators such as lynx and wolves, culling has to be carried out to maintain a stable population and prevent damage. In the main, those deer are not kept, but managed, and they may range over more than one landowner’s property. Deer management is vital to meeting our objectives.

There was some confusion during the evidence sessions about whether game was within the scope of the Bill. I would argue that it is vital that the definition of livestock in the Bill must include game species, which produce some of the most sustainable and healthy food available to consumers. The amendment would clarify that, to encompass not only creatures that are “kept” in the strict definition of controlling virtually every aspect of an animal or bird’s existence, but the production of healthy and sustainable game products in an environment that is managed to produce many of the public goods that we wish to reward, and sustained economically by the income from that game.

Of course, I strongly criticise the situation that we have read about in the press where game is dumped and not eaten. In some cases, I understand that game had been breasted, so the breast meat had been removed, but from an environmental perspective and from a food waste perspective that is not an acceptable practice, and I would criticise it. We need more promotion of the healthy game produced in our country, and we need more websites, such as the one that my son went on recently—I think the wives of the people on small shoots got sick of plucking and drawing pheasants, and made the game available free of charge locally. That is just the sort of website that we want. I also pay tribute to YouTube, which has some excellent opportunities for people to learn how to skin rabbits and prepare game in their own kitchens.

I hope that the Minister will recognise what I have said, and reassure me that the amendment may be withdrawn. I look forward to hearing that game is food and should be within the scope of the Bill.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
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I was intrigued to discover the direction in which the amendment would take us; I probably should have known in advance. It gives me an opportunity to have a genuine disagreement with the right hon. Member, because I think many of our constituents would be astonished at the idea of sporting shooting being considered a public good, in terms of putting public money in, although I recognise that for some Members that would be legitimate.

Again, it points to the whole new world that has been opened up by taking the pot of money that used to go directly to farmers based on area. We are now facing up to some really quite hard decisions about the kind of world in which we want to live. I have to say to the right hon. Member that for many constituents, I suspect in my seat and many others, it would not seem an appropriate use of public money. Although that may cause disagreement, that is what we are here to resolve. I do not think that the Opposition will be able to support the amendment.

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis
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I thank my predecessor and right hon. Friend for his amendment. I believe that he wishes to ensure that we are being comprehensive in our coverage of the word “livestock” in clause 1. I, too, am keen to ensure that we cover everything that we need to in the Bill.

Good management of livestock is a key part of delivering the public goods that we want to support in our future agricultural policy. That, of course, is reflected by the purposes listed in clause 1. Under subsection 1(f), the Secretary of State will be able to support action to improve animal health and welfare, reduce endemic disease and keep livestock well maintained and healthy. The plan is that not only will that deliver better animal health and welfare, which itself can be considered a public good, but through addressing endemic disease we can also deliver other public goods, such as lower antibiotic use and lower greenhouse gases, due to less intensive livestock production.

Subsection 1(g) will enable us to provide financial assistance for measures to support the conservation and maintenance of UK native genetic resources relating to both rare breed livestock and equines, into which category I suspect Chillingham cattle very firmly fall, and indeed Exmoor ponies, whether or not they are to be found in Yorkshire—that confused me somewhat, but there we are. The measures could be used to incentivise farmers to rear rare and native breeds and species. That is undoubtedly, to my mind, a public good and the sort of thing that we are trying to achieve.

Game such as wild pheasants and partridges, while kept in captivity, would come within the definition of livestock and could be eligible for support, where they are kept for one of the purposes mentioned in clause 1 and its definitions of livestock. As my right hon. Friend said, grouse are not reared in captivity, so I cannot see how they would be covered. However, once the birds are no longer in captivity, following their release into the wild, they are classed as game. Therefore, it would not be appropriate to class them as farm poultry or livestock.

That legal position is supported by the definitions used in animal disease control legislation and the Game Acts. Farmers, after all, cannot be considered responsible for birds that have been released into the wild.

Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill
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No one is suggesting that the game themselves should be subject to support in terms of subsidies or any other means of support that the Bill would lay out, but the environment that they inhabit would certainly be a public good. My amendment seeks to ensure that, where public money is going to support those environments, which may support sheep, game and other wildlife, the fact that game is being produced as a business should not exclude it.

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis
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Forgive me, Sir David, I am a humble lawyer trying to define the word “livestock” rather than a farmer of great experience, such as my right hon. Friend, who is trying to go further. I am keen to define livestock according to what is set out in the Bill. The definition of livestock in clause 1 has its roots in the Agriculture Act 1947, which was the last major piece of agricultural legislation that this House decided. This definition has been used in more modern legislation, such as the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 and the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995.

Agriculture has, of course, changed since 1947. Because of that we have made the amendment to the definition of livestock to include additional products, such as fibres and oils, and have recognised the importance of the production of milk from livestock. That ensures that we cover all aspects of livestock production that I can think of.

The current definition refers to livestock that is kept. We do not see that the amendment would enhance that definition. I hope that I have done my best, despite my legal background, to assure hon. Members that the current definition of livestock ensures financial assistance can be given for the important purposes set out in clause 1.

If the land that my right hon. Friend has in mind comes within another of the purposes in clause 1, applications can be made for financial assistance for many other reasons. I, therefore, ask my right hon. Friend to withdraw the amendment.

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I am pleased that today’s DEFRA press release on ELMS specifically cites landscape scale restoration of peatland. That is absolutely vital if we are to avoid serious environmental, economic and social harm. Given that it is mentioned in the document that was released today, and given that the Minister is sitting there nodding away at what I have to say, I do not see why this amendment cannot be incorporated into the Bill.
Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis
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I thank the hon. Lady for drawing attention to the importance of peatland and the peatland habitats that we are lucky enough to have in this country. The protection and improvement of all soil is key to a sustainable agricultural industry that helps in our commitment to tackle climate change and deliver on multiple public goods.

Peatlands have an important role in this commitment.