Baroness Humphreys debates involving the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs during the 2019 Parliament

Wed 8th Mar 2023
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 28th Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 7th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 7th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 7th 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 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 16th Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wed 10th Jun 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading

Horticultural Peat

Baroness Humphreys Excerpts
Tuesday 9th May 2023

(1 year, 1 month ago)

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Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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The noble Baroness is absolutely right, which is why we are bringing forward this mandatory ban. I am aware of the voluntary requirement from 2011 to find an alternative because I brought it in. We are now having to pass measures to see this happen. The Horticultural Trades Association and others are registering concerns about how they are going to get their members to use alternative means and maintain our food security. Environmentalists and those of us who want to see an early ban are very keen for that to happen as quickly as possible. The fact that both sides are unhappy means that we might be getting this just about right.

Baroness Humphreys Portrait Baroness Humphreys (LD)
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My Lords, while it is important to introduce a ban on peat as quickly as possible, with EU imports continuing but not to the same standards as those applied to UK growers, what are the Government doing to ensure a level playing field to enable the UK industry to remain competitive?

Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill

Baroness Humphreys Excerpts
Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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My Lords, Amendment 117 is in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Randerson. I apologise to noble Lords that I have not spoken on the Bill so far—it is not for want of interest but because of conflicting engagements. I tabled this amendment because, although common frameworks have already been debated in Committee, I and other members of the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee remain concerned about the uncertainties attaching to them.

Our committee has been absolutely crucial to the progress of common frameworks, which might have somewhat run into the sand if we had not had such an active committee and energetic chair, making sure that the departments were following through. On many occasions, we pushed departments back more than once to get sufficient detail and to get them to engage in the process, in which they sometimes appeared to show a lack of interest.

I also have to say—this is a slightly more topical issue—that the process among the civil servants has been led, of course, by Sue Gray. With the departure of Sue Gray, it would be good to know who is going to take over that responsibility. I think the committee accepted that she was, in evidence that she has given to us, extremely vigorous in ensuring that at least the civil servants were engaging in it in a serious amount of detail. The commitment of Ministers has been, at best, somewhat variable.

The problem, too, is that different Administrations have had a different direction on common frameworks. In our engagement with Wales, you have an Administration who desperately want devolution to work, and to work effectively, and are frustrated that the UK Government do not appear to be quite as committed to that. In Scotland, of course, the Government do not want devolution to work, do not believe in devolution and try to pretend that Scotland is independent, claiming that any engagement from the UK Government is somehow an interference in Scotland’s sovereign right, which many of us feel fails to understand the common interest that Scotland has with the rest of the UK.

It is a fact that common frameworks have been designed to get all the relevant partners—and I know that my noble friend Lady Randerson is particularly concerned that that includes stakeholders—to be brought together to try to work out how devolution will work in a post-Brexit world, where previously the umbrella of the EU was the framework for operation. Apart from agreeing how the policies would be laid out and setting out in detail a framework, they all also had dispute resolution mechanisms: detailed and systematic mechanisms to ensure that disputes could be resolved and, wherever possible—and to date that has been the case—without even necessarily having the engagement of Ministers.

In many ways, we have been impressed by those processes, which could apply outside common frameworks much more widely. The remaining flaw in all that, of course, is that the ultimate final appeal rests with the UK Minister and, on occasion, it seems that UK Ministers, knowing that to be the fact, are less engaged with the concerns and anxieties of the devolved Administrations—and I would suggest that that really has to stop.

Before this Bill came along, we had the internal market Bill—now Act—which also cut across common frameworks. Fortunately, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, secured an amendment in this House to allow for divergence opt-outs to be agreed, albeit at the discretion of UK Ministers. That has been used in the case of single-use plastics, but I suggest that UK and Scottish Ministers have rather stumbled in relation to the deposit return scheme. The Secretary of State for Scotland, Alister Jack, said that he was minded to reject the scheme, but did so before it was revealed that the responsible Minister in the Scottish Government, Lorna Slater, had not even asked for a departure. I suggest that the Secretary of State was overeager and that she was rather behind the curve—the net result being that we are still in some degree of confusion.

In the leadership contest that is going on north of the border, one candidate has implied that somehow UK Ministers are itching to overturn devolution decisions by Ministers at every twist and turn. I genuinely do not believe that to be the case, but it is genuinely important that the UK Government do not give the impression that that is the case and that they recognise that they have to tread with respect and carefully in trying to ensure agreed and respectful decisions sometimes to differ.

I come to my final point. Having had that Bill, we now have this Bill and a total lack of clarity—apart from the fact that the Bill is totally devoid of clarity in any case—as to how any decisions that Ministers might make could impact on these common frameworks, not all of which have been completed but which, thanks to the committee, have been worked through, painstakingly and in considerable detail, to make sure that devolution can proceed in a constructive, fair-minded way, with proper ways of resolving disputes and taking decisions beforehand.

The purpose of this amendment is to seek clear reassurance that the Government will not proceed with measures under this Bill that cut across common frameworks and, in particular, the dispute resolution mechanisms within those frameworks. It is a very simple proposition and one that I think the Minister ought to be able to accept. I beg to move.

Baroness Humphreys Portrait Baroness Humphreys (LD)
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My Lords, my Amendment 118 brings us, once again, to the issue of devolution, the powers of the devolved legislatures and the protection of those powers by legislative consent Motions.

I have spoken to a number of amendments in Committee and expressed my concerns about the way that confidence in the Sewel convention has been eroded over the last few years and how legislative consent Motions have been degraded and disregarded. At each stage, the Minister has sought to reassure me that my fears for the future of our devolved settlements are unfounded but, as I have said before, our experience often tells us a different story. I have therefore tabled Amendment 118 to Clause 15, seeking to ensure that a legislative consent Motion be passed by the relevant devolved legislature if a Minister of the Crown seeks to make regulations to revoke or replace secondary EU law where the provisions of those regulations fall within the legislative competence of a devolved legislature.

Three of your Lordships’ committees have published reports that have included criticism of Clause 15; the issues that they have highlighted are serious and deserve to be debated. The Delegated Powers Committee has recommended that Clause 15 be removed from the Bill because it

“contains an inappropriate delegation of legislative power”.

It says that Clause 15 is

“the most arresting clause in the Bill for its width, novelty and uncertainty.”

Why is this clause arresting? It gives Ministers extraordinarily wide discretion in relation to thousands of secondary EU laws; for example, one option under this clause allows Ministers, as the committee says,

“by regulations to … revoke any secondary REUL and make such alternative provision as Ministers consider appropriate, including with completely different objectives.”

This is, the report says,

“a power to do anything Ministers wish to do”

with retained EU law until 2026.

I appreciate that the Minister has spent time in Committee reassuring me and other noble Lords that the powers of the devolved legislatures are not under threat. I would like to believe that he believes what he says but can he explain, if this clause were to pass, how certain I could be that some other Minister would not use it to make regulations to revoke or replace any piece of secondary EU law where the provisions of those regulations fall within the legislative competence of a devolved legislature?

Ministers will have the power under this part of Clause 15 to do anything, so who or what will stop them acting in devolved areas if they so choose? We received a letter this morning from the noble Baroness the Minister, and I am sure that she or the noble Lord the Minister will summarise the points it contains in their response in relation to these powers.

Household Waste Recycling

Baroness Humphreys Excerpts
Thursday 7th July 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

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Asked by
Baroness Humphreys Portrait Baroness Humphreys
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to address the fall in household waste recycling rates in England.

Lord Benyon Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Benyon) (Con)
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Me again, I am afraid. Through our resources and waste strategy and our landmark Environment Act, we will transform our waste system. We are introducing consistent recycling collections across England, creating a deposit return scheme for drinks containers, and introducing extended producer responsibility for packaging to ensure that packaging producers cover the costs of recycling and disposing of their packaging. Through these measures, our ambition is to reach a municipal waste recycling rate of 65% by 2035.

Baroness Humphreys Portrait Baroness Humphreys (LD)
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Will the Minister join me in congratulating the officers, recycling operatives and residents of Conwy Council in north Wales, who in 2020-21 achieved a recycling rate of 70% and are set to repeat that figure this year despite the pandemic? Key to their success is getting the infrastructure right. Councils from across the UK, Lithuania and further afield have visited to learn from its example. Would the Minister accept an invitation to visit to Conwy County to judge its success?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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There is nothing I like more than visiting beautiful parts of the world to see their waste management processes. On my way, I might look in at West Berkshire, where the local authority inherited a lamentable 19% recycling rate and has now got it to more than 50%; I cannot remember who it inherited it from. We want to see every council doing that. The measures we have in the Environment Act can provide a means for getting consistency over the country—consistency that has hitherto been absent.

Agriculture Bill

Baroness Humphreys Excerpts
Report stage & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 17th September 2020

(3 years, 9 months ago)

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Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Portrait Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick (Non-Afl) [V]
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My Lords, I support Amendment 109, which is tabled in my name. A similar amendment was considered in Committee, but I wish to probe the Minister further on this issue. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, rightly mentioned the role of devolution and its importance among our devolved nations and regions.

For us in Northern Ireland, the Agriculture Bill mainly contains provisions setting out the future agricultural policy framework for England. However, a number of provisions apply across the UK and some apply specifically to Wales and Northern Ireland. The powers in Clause 45 and Schedule 6 have been included to provide a legal basis to continue existing farm support measures following exit from the EU. The schedule allows the Northern Ireland department to modify direct payment regulations to simplify and improve how they operate in Northern Ireland. The schedule was developed when the Northern Ireland Executive was not functioning, and as a result many of the powers are intended to provide flexibility to develop future agricultural policies to meet local circumstances. Thankfully, the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland and devolved arrangements were restored in January this year.

While the schedule provides much needed certainty in the short term, Northern Ireland is still left without a long-term vision of how agriculture and the environment will be supported in future, with no clarity around what outcomes a future policy framework should aim to deliver. This is despite widespread recognition from stakeholders that the current system is not fit for purpose.

Northern Ireland is facing considerable challenges. Northern Ireland’s economy is largely agricultural, so the challenges centre around species and habitat loss, agricultural and greenhouse gas emissions, poor water quality and market volatility, among others. The way in which we manage and use land will directly impact upon our ability to mitigate and adapt to climate change, as well as to meet other environmental commitments. There is a need to reform how we farm and manage our land, and to move towards a resilient, profitable and environmentally sustainable farming sector. The need to outline the future direction of travel for Northern Ireland is of paramount importance.

There is a need for timebound provisions for Northern Ireland, which the Minister argued against in Committee. Currently, a risk exists that the provisions within the Northern Ireland schedule could continue indefinitely. This would result in the long-term continuation of direct payments in their current form, which have been criticised by a range of stakeholders and do little to address the numerous crises facing farming and the environment. Although the Northern Ireland department has undertaken valuable work with a range of environmental and agricultural stakeholders on the development of a draft future agricultural policy framework, the direction of travel remains unclear. While the provisions within the Northern Ireland schedule are similar to those which apply to Wales, there is an important difference. The Welsh provisions will expire in 2024, but there is no sunset clause outlined in those relating to Northern Ireland, hence my amendment, which has been supported by other noble Lords.

This is largely because the Northern Ireland schedule was created in the absence of an operational Assembly. This is important, as the presence of a sunset clause relating to the Welsh schedule creates an onus on the Welsh Government to develop domestic legislation in a timebound manner. The absence of a sunset clause in the Northern Ireland schedule creates a risk that the development of a future agricultural policy framework for Northern Ireland will be further delayed. This sunset clause is supported by the Committee for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland, which has already communicated that. We are of the firm belief that Northern Ireland needs a bespoke, sustainable land management policy, legislated for in the form of a Northern Ireland agricultural Act, which would obviously have to be brought forward by the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly. As long as these provisions are contained in Schedule 6 and in this errant Bill—so to speak—that acts as a break upon the Northern Ireland department and prevents or dissuades it from bringing forward such a policy.

I urge the Minister to review the situation in relation to this and to talk to the Northern Ireland Agriculture Minister. I would be extremely grateful if he could see what can be done. He might then consider tabling a government amendment to that effect at Third Reading, because the bottom line is that we need to set our own agriculture policy and frameworks now that we have a devolved settlement in Northern Ireland. We want to encourage and underpin that, and to ensure that an important sector of our economy is facilitated to do just that.

Baroness Humphreys Portrait Baroness Humphreys (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I support Amendments 60 and 92 in the name of my noble friend Lord Bruce, and have added my name to them. As he has already said, Clause 20 gives the Secretary of State the power to modify the retained direct EU legislation for England relating to public intervention and private storage aid, and, as the report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee points out, this power is replicated for the Welsh Ministers.

I welcome these powers, of course, as it cannot be expected that legislation should remain relevant in perpetuity; as time passes and situations change, the requirement for legislation to be modified will become inevitable. But nowhere in this clause is there a recognition that, with all four countries in the UK having the power to modify and intervene, a mechanism will be required to ensure that a decision taken by one country does not have an adverse effect on the other three countries of the UK. Nowhere is there a recognition that a mechanism will probably be required to avoid or resolve disputes. My noble friend’s Amendment 60 highlights the issue and offers a solution.

Agriculture Bill

Baroness Humphreys Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 7th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 7th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 28th July 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

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Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe [V]
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My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. Like her, I thank the Minister, my noble friend Lady Bloomfield and the Bill team for their patience and productivity. We need to complete Committee today, so I will be brief and confine myself to expressing doubts about Amendment 270. I am looking forward to hearing from my noble friend the Minister, but I think that this amendment and some of the others in this group would in practice lead to problems in trade negotiations in a way that would cause insurmountable problems of compliance with the World Trade Organization. I cannot see a way around this. Noble Lords do not pay enough attention to the importance of trade, wherever it takes place, at a time when we face recessionary shock. We must tread a careful path.

Since the Bill was first presented in the other place, the Government have gone a long way. They have established the Trade and Agriculture Commission, which was launched publicly today, and as Red Tractor is involved in its work, I should again register my interest as its chair. It is a victory for the farming unions which fought for it. It is a well-judged move by the Secretary of State for Trade to get it off the ground quickly in time to provide a sounding board and have an impact on current trade negotiations. In these circumstances, I really cannot see the value in the proposal before us today.

Baroness Humphreys Portrait Baroness Humphreys (LD) [V]
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, and it has been a pleasure to take part, albeit a very minor part, in these early stages of the Bill. I have been full of admiration for the passion and knowledge about agriculture shown by so many noble Lords. My family’s connection with farming ended when my great-great-grandfather’s farm in north Wales was taken over as a result of the rent increases imposed during the agrarian revolution of the late 1800s, which precipitated the social change his son described so graphically in his autobiography.

It seems to me that as we discuss the importance of agricultural and food standards in relation to Amendment 271, we could be standing at the cusp of another type of agrarian revolution, one which could again lead to changes in the viability of farms, not just in Wales, but in the whole of the UK. The threat of cheap, poor-quality imports leading to the lowering of domestic standards and a reduction in farm income is very real.

I was conscious, as I listened to some earlier debates, that most of the speakers spoke from experience of large farms in England, and it was a pleasure to hear the noble Lords, Lord Wigley and Lord Hain, speak earlier about small family farms, which are so prevalent in Wales. As a young female farmer, Beca Glyn, said in her blog, these farms make,

“valuable contributions … to animal welfare, landscape management and culture; especially the Welsh language”.

Wales is, of course, hilly and mountainous and our climate is mild and wet. This means that only a small proportion of our land is suitable for arable cropping, but grass for the grazing of livestock is in abundance. Our upland and hill farms therefore provide grazing for hardy breeds of cattle such as Welsh Blacks and for hardy Welsh Mountain sheep. Our farmers, who work hard in sometimes very difficult conditions, are proud of their produce and the standards they achieve in animal welfare, and none more so than farmers around the Conwy Valley, where I live. I cannot imagine that there has ever been a time when the quality of our farmers’ produce has been appreciated and valued by customers in the UK and in France as much as it has been in recent years. I share the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, about future access to the French market for our sheep.

For our local butchers, mart operators and abattoirs, quality is key, a quality that comes from adhering to high standards. Search their websites and Facebook pages, and the words “pride”, “high standards”, “quality” and “traceability” appear in abundance, so it is hardly surprising that farmers and consumers across Wales have been justifiably appalled and angered by the refusal of the Government to agree to an amendment which would guarantee a commitment to equivalent standards on imported agricultural or food products in this Bill. For them, there is no logic that an Agriculture Bill says nothing about protecting the standards which they have strived for and to which they have adhered. They cannot understand why a Government who committed in their manifesto, just seven short months ago, not to compromise on British farming’s high standards, found it so difficult to accept the amendment introduced at Third Reading in the other place.

Sadly, even the commission announced by the Government today, with its temporary nature and inability to give binding advice, will be seen by farmers and consumers alike as an ineffective sop. Unfortunately, and I dislike having to say this, this has now become a matter of trust. Farmers and consumers alike question why the Government are so reluctant to enshrine their manifesto commitment in law. They ask: could it be that a manifesto commitment is easier to renege on? The Minister is held in the highest regard in your Lordships’ House. He is courteous at all times, even at midnight on Day 6 in Committee, and I know he is a man of his word, but Amendment 271 is on the Marshalled List because farmers’ leaders and consumers have asked for it to be there. They know that in reality we are not dealing with a Minister we know and trust but with a Government who increasingly talk in doublespeak and cannot always be guaranteed to stand by their word. That is why their word has to be on a statutory basis in the Bill.

Lord Clark of Windermere Portrait Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I am very pleased to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys. When she was describing the difficulties of farmers in the north of Wales she could have been describing my county of Cumbria. The similarities are uncanny, but we knew that, even down to the weather. This seven-day Committee stage has been one of the finest debates that I have been involved in in almost 50 years in the Houses of Parliament. I think a lot of it is due to the way in which we have been led by the two Ministers. I am speaking as a member of the Opposition and am proud to be a Labour Peer, but the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, has been an admirable Minister. He deals with us all, from whatever side, equally and in a tolerant way and tries to answer the questions, and he is ably assisted by the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, who shows the same tolerance. I thank them both very much.

My colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, speaks with a great deal of sense and independence. He said that this was the most important agricultural Bill he had ever been involved in since he and I came into Parliament in 1970. He is absolutely right, but it is more challenging this time because, finally, we have realised that agriculture is not completely about farming. It is about forestry. It is about horticulture. It is about land use. It is about food standards and quality. It is about the environment. It is about what can be done through agriculture to cope with climate change. Today, this group of amendments brings home to us the result of Brexit and, accompanying that, trade deals.

Agriculture Bill

Baroness Humphreys Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 23rd July 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

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Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB) [V]
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I welcome government Amendments 209 and 262, to Clauses 32 and 37, in particular. Agriculture is self-evidently one of the prime examples of where we must get right the legislation and other arrangements for the interrelationship of the powers of the devolved Governments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and the powers of the Westminster Government, first, in respect of England and, secondly, in respect of the United Kingdom as a whole—I think we frequently fail to make that distinction of the two distinct hats that the Westminster Government wear and it is important to bear them in mind. As a firm supporter of the union, I consider it vital for the strengthening of the union and the removal of the risks to it that we consider these issues most carefully. In this Bill, as agriculture is plainly one of the areas where serious tensions can arise, whether it be in relation to food standards or the extent of subsidies, it is vital that we do so.

It is of course a great pity that we come to this so late in our planning for Brexit, as this has been an obvious area for debate and for reaching decisions long before now. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, the noble and learned Lords, Lord Hope of Craighead and Lord Wallace of Tankerness, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, have already spoken powerfully on issues relating to the devolved Governments. The noble Lords, Lord Hain and Lord Thomas of Gresford, have compellingly explained the need for long-term and fair financial arrangements.

I wish briefly to make three points. The first is the importance of respecting devolved competence in legislation. I welcome the amendments put forward by the Minister, who understands the importance and sensitivity of devolution. It is reassuring to hear him make it clear that the Government remain wholly committed to seeking legislative consent for all the provisions that engage the scope of the convention in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I just wanted to be sure of the correctness of my understanding of why the devolved Governments requested the amendments and the reasons why Her Majesty’s Government have brought them forward.

Am I correct in understanding that the Bill as introduced did not properly recognise the important principle that legislation by the UK Government to apply in the devolved nations but within the devolved competence should be made only with the consent of the devolved Governments or their legislatures? It is regrettable that, at the time of the decision made on the EU withdrawal agreement, legislative consent was not obtained. That is water under the bridge, but it was made clear then that that was a truly exceptional occasion. In view of the confirmation given by the Minister in introducing the government amendments, I hope that he can confirm the Government’s commitment that they will not in future present legislation to the House that does not respect the principle of requiring the consent of devolved institutions for any UK legislation that could be made by legislation within the devolved Parliaments. It is important to the way in which devolution is to operate and the strength of the union that there be such a commitment.

My second point—and I can be brief about this—is about moving forward on the frameworks. It is clearly highly desirable that there be agreement between the different Governments on matters on which there can be a common approach and an agreement of where there can be differences or divergence of the kind of which the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, spoke. As I understand it, that is the objective of these frameworks. I therefore welcome the statements made on a number of occasions by the Minister that good progress is being made. The matters to be covered will be extensive and it is important to bear in mind that this is not, as I understand it, a consultation exercise by the UK Government but an attempt to reach agreement. I therefore look forward to their publication and hope that the Minister can update us as to when this is to happen.

There is one other matter why publication is important and that is the dispute resolution mechanism that must be inserted into a framework agreement. It is inevitable that there will be disagreements—I hope that they will be small—but the difference between a framework and a consultation, ultimately, is that if there is a framework, there must be a means of resolving differences, whereas, in a consultation, the decision is ultimately made by the person who consults.

Thirdly and finally, there is the need for a coherent constitutional approach. I warmly support the principles behind Amendment 290, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and Amendment 291, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Wigley, Lord Bruce of Bennachie and Lord Thomas of Gresford. An alternative is now being canvassed, which is the provisional views put forward in the paper on the internal market. It will obviously be necessary to turn back to this in the long period between September and Christmas. However, it is important now to point out that the imposition of a policy ultimately determined to be in the interests of by far the biggest and most powerful of the four nations is not the way to ensure the preservation of the union. This constitutional issue will have to be a matter for debate and it will have to be debated in the context of agriculture, as it is so important in that area. I therefore look forward to the development of proposals over the summer, because this urgent matter cannot wait longer. If the union is to be strengthened and preserved, positive steps on this are far more likely to achieve that preservation than other action being taken.

Baroness Humphreys Portrait Baroness Humphreys (LD) [V]
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My Lords. I will comment briefly on government Amendments 209, 261, 262 and 268, which I welcome. These amendments cover the areas of outstanding concern to the Welsh Government. They acknowledge their devolved competence and were included at their request.

Amendment 209 deals with an issue that I raised at Second Reading: how the new body created to oversee the identification and traceability of animals would operate in an area of devolved responsibility, particularly if that body was seen to be an English board. That the new body would need to seek the approval of Welsh and other devolved Ministers or institutions is now certainly welcomed.

Amendments 261 and 262 ensure that the consent of the Ministers of the devolved Administrations must be obtained before making cross-border regulations in relation to organic products. I am pleased that the responsibility of the devolved Administrations has again been recognised.

Amendment 268 covers an issue that, again, I raised at Second Reading. By the removal of the powers of the Secretary of State to make regulations in the area of the WTO’s Agreement on Agriculture, this amendment ensures that the rights and responsibilities for implementing international agreements remain with the devolved Administrations.

I welcome all these amendments, as they conclude the process by which the Welsh Government have asserted their competence in these areas. However, I express some disappointment in the fact that there was a need for this process at all. Earlier in this debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, in her powerful and comprehensive speech on these amendments, described the Government as seeking, in effect,

“to strong-arm the devolved Governments into giving up elements of their executive competence”.—[Official Report, 21/7/20; cols. 2193-94.]

I agree with her sentiments and am pleased that that has been avoided by the Government tabling these amendments, and that the competence of the devolved Governments will now be reflected in the Bill.

Lord Eames Portrait Lord Eames (CB) [V]
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My Lords, in this group of amendments I will speak to Amendment 209. I refer to the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, during our debate on Tuesday.

In this debate so far, I have been impressed by the frequent references that the Minister has made to the need to view the Bill in relation to the devolved nations. On Tuesday, the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, spoke powerfully on the importance of that relationship from a Welsh point of view and this afternoon the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, has reminded us of the connection with the problems in Northern Ireland.

So far as that relationship is concerned, the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, reminded the House of the difficulties presented by the period during which the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive did not function. Amendment 209 is influenced by the problems of that period but now, thankfully, the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive are operating fully. However, the importance of the relationship between central government and the devolved Administrations in areas such as agriculture cannot be overemphasised in this debate. This amendment is an attempt to build on that sensitivity so far as one devolved nation is concerned, but it has implications for the others so far as the whole Bill is concerned and cannot be isolated to one devolved nation alone.

As the United Kingdom prepares to leave the EU, none of us can have a complete picture of the problems which will emerge for the farming community throughout the UK. Amendment 209 recognises this reality. For Northern Ireland farmers, the uncertainties of their geographical situation are well documented, with a land border about to become the border between the United Kingdom and the EU. As the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, reminded the House, this is vital to farming communities in Northern Ireland. In addition, there continues to be confusion around the issue of what is normally referred to as a border in the Irish Sea. The implications of that confusion for transporting agricultural produce within the United Kingdom cannot be overstated for Northern Ireland farmers—hence their concerns about the future.

I support Amendment 209, for I am well aware of the importance to the Northern Ireland economy of our farming community, but I am equally aware of the contribution of the devolved settlement to the strength of the United Kingdom as a whole. That is why I welcome the Minister’s references to the importance of the relationship between central government and the devolved Administrations, so far as agriculture is concerned. It is surely essential that these reflections are clearly stated in the Bill.

Agriculture Bill

Baroness Humphreys Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 21st July 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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This is a crucial set of amendments. I very much hope that the Government acknowledge that this must be part of the Agriculture Bill. This is what agriculture is about, as well as those crucial aspects of land management and public goods. Food security is a public good. Food health is a public good. I hope that we see this Bill become an Act that incorporates those elements.
Baroness Humphreys Portrait Baroness Humphreys (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 160 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and Amendments 164 and 167 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hain. Along with farmers’ leaders in Wales and many noble Lords who have spoken today, I very much welcome the inclusion of Clause 17. The duty upon the Secretary of State to prepare a report on the UK’s food security is welcome. However, I share their concerns about the frequency of the reporting requirement and have questions about the purpose of the report. I am sure that when the Government initially drafted this clause, they did not dream of the situation we are now in and the challenges to our food security that we face in the short and the longer term.

The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown into sharp focus the fragility of our supply chains and their susceptibility to disruption, and we face the challenge of preparing for a possible second wave of the virus. The increasing inevitability of the negotiations around our future trading relationship with the EU coming to an abrupt halt without a favourable trade deal at the end of the transition period raises real concerns over the possible disruption of food supply chains at our borders. Also, the impact of climate change on global food availability will increasingly demand our attention. These three challenges and others could present the Government with problems. They need to demonstrate that they have responses to events such as these and can deal with them with confidence and agility, but I am afraid that on two counts, Clause 17 fails to allow for that.

As I highlighted at Second Reading, there is merely a requirement for the Secretary of State to lay a report before Parliament

“containing an analysis of statistical data”.

But what then? There is nothing in this clause to require the UK Government or the Welsh Government to publish a report and to act in response to its findings. We will have data, of course, but how will it be used?

The second weakness in this clause lies, of course, in the inadequacy of the reporting frequency, and I support those who have their names to Amendment 160 in their call for the first report to be prepared within 12 months of the Act passing, to be followed every three years thereafter by similar reports.

The Government’s intention to lay a report every five years appears to border on complacency, when we are still learning lessons from the present pandemic; we are still waiting for the Government to show how they will avoid chaos at our borders and the climate change crisis moves ever closer. But perhaps I am being unfair in accusing the Government of complacency. As I said earlier, this clause was written before the pandemic struck, and I am conscious that I speak with the benefit of hindsight, but I hope it illustrates the need for agility when emergencies arise, the need for up-to-date information to aid decision-making and—as the Prime Minister said at the weekend—the need to prepare for the worst. It would be interesting to hear the Minister outline the Government’s view of how they envisage the information the report would contain would be used to improve food security.

I turn briefly to the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hain—Amendment 164, to which I have added my name, and Amendment 167. I support both of them. They highlight the need for co-operation and consultation between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations in the production of a food security report. The suggestion was made to the Senedd’s scrutiny committee that the Welsh Government should be

“included in the methodology planning for the report so that Welsh (and other Devolved Administrations) are able to extrapolate their own data to inform future policy making”.

I welcome the co-operative approach taken by the Minister and the Welsh Minister in securing the recognition of devolved competence throughout this Bill, and hope the noble Lord will assure me that the role and responsibility of the Welsh Government, in the production of a food security report, will be recognised as well.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb [V]
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My Lords, I will keep my remarks short. I have signed only two of the amendments in this group, 162 and 171. In fact, they all improve the Government’s reporting and planning provisions. A regular comprehensive food report setting out targets and action plans would help the country move towards a resilient, flourishing and sustainable food system.

Agriculture Bill

Baroness Humphreys Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 16th July 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle [V]
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My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 197, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and to Amendment 207, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and others. I very much welcome Clause 27. The Government’s commitment to include fair dealing within supply chains in the Bill is important and much needed.

I speak as someone who established a reasonably successful agricultural co-operative to market livestock, finished beef cattle and lambs, during the 1990s, so I am only too well aware of pressures in food supply chains. I still have the scars. Clause 27 goes into a huge amount of detail on how fair dealing obligations will be applied. That is welcome. For far too long, insufficient information has been available on input costs and benchmarks on which to base sensible modern contractual arrangements.

As has already been said, when pressure is applied to supply chains, the primary producer is, ultimately, the fall guy and the weak link in the chain. The buck stops there. So, however welcome the provision is, I am concerned because, in this part of the Bill, the Government are particularly vague about the location of the administration of the function. Like others who have spoken, I think I understand why. I am aware that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is reluctant to expand the scope of the Groceries Code Adjudicator.

As the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Boycott and Lady McIntosh, have said, under the current chair, Christine Tacon, the office of the adjudicator has been established with huge credibility and influence. It is the logical home for this function, and I would encourage the Minister, in negotiations with his colleagues in BEIS, to persist in trying to achieve that outcome. There is no other logical place, even if we consider the RPA, with the experience for the function to be sited there. A new chair of the Groceries Code Adjudicator will be appointed later this year, when the current chair steps down, and that will present an opportunity to review and expand its remit. I support the amendments.

Baroness Humphreys Portrait Baroness Humphreys (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I support Amendment 197, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and I thank him for his detailed approach in introducing the amendments. This amendment to Clause 27 provides the opportunity to look again at the remit of the Groceries Code Adjudicator, and to examine whether it could be extended to include responsibility for overseeing fair dealing obligations in relation to farmers and producers. More importantly, perhaps, the amendment also provides an opportunity for the Government to explain and expound on their position.

Since the adjudicator’s role was established in 2013, there have been calls from farming unions in Wales and the rest of the UK to address fairness in this part of the supply chain by bringing the sector into her remit. Clause 27 allows the Secretary of State to impose new fair dealing regulations and to provide for enforcing those regulations, and allows

“complaints relating to … non-compliance to be referred to a specified person”—

in effect, creating a new body under a new leader.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in the other place recommended that the adjudicator is

“a more logical entity to oversee fair dealing obligations”,

and it could

“see no reason why fairness in the food supply chain should be governed by two separate processes and enforcement bodies.”

In Wales, the Senedd’s Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee agreed with the sentiments of the Farmers Union of Wales and the Tenant Farmers Association Cymru, which expressed concern that the Government were not seeking to achieve the desired outcomes of Clause 27 by expanding the role of the adjudicator.

In their response to the EFRA Committee’s report, the Government said that

“no final decisions have been taken about the body that would oversee and enforce the new codes of practice”,

although their positive comments about the potential role of the Rural Payments Agency seemed to point in its direction. The Government do, however, rule out a role for the adjudicator, referring to the call for evidence in 2016-17, when they concluded that they would not extend the adjudicator’s remit to indirect suppliers, because

“there was insufficient evidence of a market failure across the supply chain to justify a major government intervention”.

It appears, however, that circumstances have changed somewhat in the intervening three or four years, and the Government themselves have now recognised that there is now a need for further regulations—hence Clause 27. It seems illogical that the new regulations should lead to the creation of a new body when a person and a body that operate in that field, and have the necessary expertise, already exist.

If, as they say, the Government have not made a final decision, my hope is that in the promised industry consultation they will be open-minded, and that the option of the new role being incorporated into the functions of the adjudicator will be included in that consultation. In the meantime, I would be grateful if the Minister could provide some clarity about the Government’s thinking and tell us, in particular, whether they consider a completely new body to be desirable, and how they view the relative merits of the Rural Payments Agency and the Groceries Code Adjudicator in relation to the new regulations. I support the amendment, and look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

Agriculture Bill

Baroness Humphreys Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 10th June 2020

(4 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Humphreys Portrait Baroness Humphreys (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for outlining the provisions as they apply to Wales in this Bill. I very much welcome the inclusion of Schedule 5 on Wales, which provides Welsh Ministers with the powers to provide for the continuation of direct payments to farmers after 2020, giving some security to our farmers in these difficult times. As the Welsh Government intend to introduce an Agriculture (Wales) Bill, expected after next year’s Senedd elections, these are transitional powers, with a sunset clause of 31 December 2024, allowing for consultations with interested parties and the production of a White Paper. Again, I welcome that decision

Agriculture is of course a devolved matter, and this Bill covers areas where the Senedd believes it has competence, particularly in relation to the WTO agreements on agriculture, but which the UK Government believe are reserved. I would be grateful if the noble Lord could update us on the present position of both parties on this issue. Will an LCM be required, or will the matter be resolved through a bilateral agreement? If the latter, can the noble Lord say how such an agreement would operate, and confirm whether either way forward has received Senedd approval?

Farmers in Wales have welcomed the inclusion of food security in the Bill and, in particular, the duty placed on the Secretary of State to lay a report before Parliament

“at least once every five years”.

They were, however, concerned about the frequency of the reporting requirement. In their evidence to the Senedd’s Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee, leaders expressed concerns that a five-year cycle would not

“sufficiently reflect the food security risk to the UK”,

and that the period would be too long,

“particularly through a transition period that could prove to be challenging.”

The lack of a requirement on the UK and Welsh Governments to publish a response and to take action as appropriate was also seen as a deficiency in the Bill. These are issues, along with the inclusion of the devolved Administrations in the methodology planning for the report, that I hope we can discuss in more detail in Committee.

The CCERA committee report also highlights the concerns of farmers’ leaders in the matter of fair dealing with agricultural producers and others in the supply chain. Clause 27 of the Bill is aimed at addressing unfair practices in agri-food supply chains, which disadvantage small, individual businesses operating without strong links between them. The discretionary powers that this clause gives the Secretary of State were queried and a strong, alternative case was made for extending the powers of the Groceries Code Adjudicator in relation to fair dealing with agricultural producers along the whole supply chain. Have the Government given any consideration to this or discussed this alternative with the Welsh Government?

In the matter of identification and traceability of animals, broadly welcomed by farmers, can the noble Lord say whether it is indeed the case that the new multispecies livestock information system will be run by what is essentially the present Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board? If so, how will this UK board, operating in a devolved policy area, be accountable to the Welsh Government? Finally, what steps will be taken to ensure compatibility between the new livestock information system and the Welsh electronic IDCymru system?