Dr David Drew contributions to the Agriculture Bill 2017-19


Tue 20th November 2018 Agriculture Bill (Fourteenth sitting) (Public Bill Committees)
Committee Debate: 14th sitting: House of Commons
106 interactions (9,555 words)
Tue 13th November 2018 Agriculture Bill (Tenth sitting) (Public Bill Committees)
Committee Debate: 10th sitting: House of Commons
76 interactions (6,448 words)

Agriculture Bill (Fourteenth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 14th sitting: House of Commons)
Dr David Drew Excerpts
Tuesday 20th November 2018

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Bill Main Page
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The Chair

I remind the Committee that with this we are considering the following:

New clause 17—Primacy of public purposes—

“The Secretary of State must ensure the payment of public money delivers primarily the purposes in section 1(1) so that the natural environment is conserved, enhanced and managed for the benefit of present and future generations.”

This new clause is intended to ensure that the list of public purposes set out in Clause 1 are the primary objective for payments under the Bill.

New clause 19—Financial assistance: duty to provide advice—

“(1) The Secretary of State must make regulations to secure the provision of training, guidance and advice to persons receiving financial assistance under this Act, for the purpose of enabling those persons to deliver the purpose or purposes for which the financial assistance is given.

(2) Regulations under subsection (1) may include provision for advice on matters which include but are not limited to—

(a) the impact of any practice upon the environment,

(b) business management, including the development of business plans,

(c) the health and welfare of livestock,

(d) the safety and health of workers in any agricultural sector,

(e) innovation, including alternative methods of pest, disease and weed control,

(f) food safety, insofar as it relates to the production of food or any activity in, or in close connection with, an agri-food supply chain,

(g) the operation of any mechanism for applying for, or receiving, financial assistance under this Act,

(h) marketing of any product falling within an agricultural sector under Part 2 of Schedule 1.

(3) Regulations under this section are subject to affirmative resolution procedure.”

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to make provision for training, guidance and advice to be made available to persons receiving financial assistance.

New clause 27—Smallholdings estates: land management—

“(1) A smallholdings authority which immediately before the commencement of Part 1 of this Act holds any land for the purposes of smallholdings shall review the authority’s smallholdings estate and shall, before the end of the period of eighteen months beginning with the commencement of Part 1 of this Act, submit to the Secretary of State proposals with respect to the future management of that estate for the purposes of providing—

(a) opportunities for persons to be farmers on their own account;

(b) education or experience in environmental land management practices;

(c) opportunities for increasing public access to the natural environment and understanding of sustainable farming; and

(d) opportunities for innovation in sustainable land management practices.

(2) No land held by a smallholdings authority as a smallholding immediately before commencement of Part 1 of this Act is to be conveyed, transferred, leased or otherwise disposed of otherwise than—

(a) in connection with the purposes listed in subsection (1); and

(b) in accordance with proposals submitted under subsection (1).

(3) For the purposes of this section, ‘smallholdings authority’ has the same meaning as in section 38 of the Agriculture Act 1970.”

This new clause would limit the disposal of smallholdings (‘county farms’) by local authorities and would require local authorities to review their holding and submit proposals for future management to provide opportunities to extend access to farming, education, and innovation.

Dr David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op) Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 2:01 p.m.

Welcome back to the Chair, Sir Roger. I hope that this will be the final session of our deliberations, but anything is possible with this Government. We have already lost one Committee sitting, so let me plough on with new clauses 19 and 27.

The whole point of new clause 19 is that farmers and landowners are being asked to make a dramatic shift in how they perform their duties. I hope that all farmers are to some extent environmentalists—that is why they are on the land and why they care for it—but unless they are among the small minority in stewardship, they have principally been paid for being what they are: farmers or landowners. We are now going to pay them to do environmental things.

Mr Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con) - Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 2:01 p.m.

Does the hon. Gentleman recognise the many environmental schemes that are in place? Farmers are already doing quite a lot of this stuff.

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 2:04 p.m.

I agree that there have been schemes such as Blue Flag, but the point is that that was not what farmers were principally paid for. Under the Bill, they will principally be paid to look after the environment in whatever way is deemed fit, and they will need an enormous amount of advice. New clause 19 would implement a mechanism for that.

The Committee has already discussed the areas in which farmers might need support. We have certainly discussed the idea of people advising on land management contracts, whether they come in from local government or whether farmers and landowners bring them in and pay for their advice. The difficulty is that this is all rather fluid and open-ended, so the new clause would give it some substance.

As the Minister says, the advice will be given on a one-to-one basis, but who is going to give it? At the moment there are not many people who can give such advice, and they are very expensive. One might have thought that land agents would be interested, but at a recent event I spoke to land agents who made it very clear that rural is not really where the money or—dare I say it?—the interest is, because they have moved much more into the urban sphere. That will no doubt cause some difficulties.

The new clause covers a range of areas in which there is a need for advice. We do not want to talk in an alarmist way, but this is really important. We are asking people to completely change their business organisation over a very short period. How they operate and, in a sense, their whole reason for being on the land will have to change. I am not implying that it will change completely for everyone, but for some people the change will be dramatic.

Sandy Martin (Ipswich) (Lab) Hansard

Does my hon. Friend agree that if there is no duty to provide advice, there is a danger that smaller farms will be least likely to get the advice they need, since they cannot afford to pay for it? The ones that most need support are the most likely to lose out.

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 2:04 p.m.

Exactly. There may be less form filling than under the current arrangement, but it will involve some. It will also certainly involve inspection; otherwise, how can we guarantee that the public moneys are being used appropriately for those public goods?

That is the backcloth. As I say, I do not want to be alarmist but, sadly, as all those who have been involved with the land will know, the suicide rate among farmers and farm workers is very high. The rate is high because it is a very lonely occupation. It is also a very stressful occupation when people are losing money, which they often are. The arrangement will not necessarily solve that, because although it is transitionary they will lose money that in the past they have banked, guaranteeing that they can go forward.

On the suicide rate, we have all lost friends. I have particular regard for Gloucestershire Farming Friends, which my old friend Malcolm Whittaker set up many years ago. There are times when the organisation is inundated with phone calls, particularly when forms have to be filled in and people feel under incredible stress. We must be aware of that. I hope that the Minister will at least say something about what will be put in place, in a much more finite way than perhaps he has been able to so far. What people really want to know is, if they are going to make the changes, how they will be helped to do so.

On new clause 27, the Minister will not be surprised that I am going to say a little about smallholdings. He, like me, thinks that they are a wonderful part of British agriculture. The “Land for Heroes” scheme was put in place after the first world war, and people who had no other occupation were encouraged to take up smallholdings, organised largely, but not entirely, through county councils. Certainly over the past 20 years, we have sadly seen a decline in the smallholdings. They have been sold off, not necessarily in their entirety but in ever greater amounts of land. That matters because it is one of the few ways that younger people—certainly those without the means to buy land, or to rent it at the astronomical rents they are sometimes asked to pay—can get in.

Chris Davies (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con) Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 2:07 p.m.

I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman on many of those points. In fact, my local authority, Powys County Council, is investing in the county farm structure, which is really positive. Is the hon. Gentleman proposing that county councils—national Government, in fact—invest in smallholdings? Does he agree with the shadow Chancellor that we should do away with all private farms and have community farms?

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 2:08 p.m.

That would be a very good thing in the sense that we would have much more access to the land. I do talk to the shadow Chancellor from time to time, and he is very keen on the idea that land is available, not by sequestration, but by taking it into public ownership to give people the chance to farm. That is what we are about here. This is very important.

Chris Davies Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 2:09 p.m.

Following on from the shadow Chancellor’s background, the hon. Gentleman says, “taking farms into public ownership”. I am very interested in that definition.

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 2:09 p.m.

I will be very careful. I will reword what I said. The hon. Gentleman will no doubt read what I said when the Official Report is published. I am very clear that there has always been a role for some public ownership of land through local authorities, because that is an avenue by which people can come into farming. It is simply much more difficult—I talk from some experience here. A long time ago, I chaired the county farms estate in Gloucestershire when I was a county councillor. I saw people coming through, desperate to get on the land, and it was always really sad that we had to turn down very good people because never enough holdings became available for the numbers chasing them. Too often, it was not necessarily the farmers themselves but who their partners were that was a vital factor in who got the holdings, which I always thought was grossly unfair. That was the reality of trying to make good what is a difficult operation.

I am merely making the point that we ought to do more to protect county farms and smallholdings. I want to grow them but, at the moment, there should be an embargo on the future sale. The old acre for acre policy was always sensible; somebody sold a bit of land and invested in a new bit of land. The problem is a wholesale reduction of the county farms estate, which precludes many people from coming into farming.

Colin Clark (Gordon) (Con) Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 2:14 p.m.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Government legislation must be clear about land ownership? The tenancy market is important; many young farmers get in through a tenancy. The experience in Scotland is that, if there is any doubt cast upon the ownership of land or the right to buy, the tenancy market dries up. Would he agree that the best entry is through tenancies?

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 2:11 p.m.

I do not know enough about Scotland, so I will take the hon. Gentleman’s judgment on that. One of the arguments about the Bill and the changes it implies, is that rents will possibly fall. I do not necessarily agree with that, but it has been put to me by more than one person. That is due to the removal of the area payment, which has pushed up rents because people have more value in the land that they possess. We will have to see; it might become apparent only some years down the line.

At the moment, I am clear that we should go back to the Agriculture Act 1970, which put an obligation on local authorities that had land to protect that land and make it available for those who wished to farm or do other things appropriate to the land that would be within the environmental catch-all we are pushing for in the Bill.

Mr Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill - Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 2:14 p.m.

Will the hon. Gentleman give an indication of the size of unit he believes would be viable? Currently, some of the very small smallholdings are not viable businesses.

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 2:12 p.m.

That is a problem. Traditionally, the Gloucestershire smallholdings were about 100 acres. I accept that would be very difficult because a great many of them were dairy farms, although we also had some horticulture. That is probably too small. To counterweight that, the Landworkers Alliance argue that they can make a living out of much smaller pieces of land, farmed in a slightly different way, through agroecology and so on, and maybe they would not do that full time. No one is implying that being a farmer has to be a full-time occupation. It is something that people want to do as part of their portfolio of operating.

We need to protect these bits of land initially. I would love to grow them and see local authorities encourage them. That is important, not just for opportunities for people on the land. It is about strategic ownership and the fact that we should always think ahead. If the state is not prepared to put in some effort, where is the direction coming from?

The good thing about county farms estates, as most of them are known, is that they provided education and opportunities for people to look at the front end of farming and see ways in which to do things differently, by collaboration among the tenants and so on. We will come later to tenancy reform but this is all bound up in it. A third of our farmers are tenant farmers and many of them are on land not just owned by local authorities but by charities. In my area there is the Henry Smith charity, which owns considerable areas of land and has been very good. The Church is an important landowner in the way it encourages agriculture.

George Eustice Portrait The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (George Eustice) - Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 2:15 p.m.

I will start with new clause 16, tabled by the hon. Member for Bristol East, which seeks to add some environmental targets to the Bill. We discussed this topic earlier in the Committee’s deliberations. As I said earlier, the Government have clearly demonstrated our commitment to the environment through the 25-year environment plan. We are currently in the process of developing a detailed indicator framework so that we can accurately measure progress on those important environmental trends. Obviously, we have already consulted on the key element of our agriculture policy, which is to deliver payment for the delivery of public goods, but fundamentally I see this as an issue for the forthcoming environment Bill. We will be publishing a draft of that Bill later this year, which will deal with environmental governance and environmental principles. In the second Session of this Parliament there will be an environment Bill that will include some of these things.

I will address the point that the hon. Member for Bristol East made about whether there is some division between DEFRA and the Treasury.

Break in Debate

The Chair
20 Nov 2018, 3:28 p.m.

I have had no indication that any of the other new clauses in this group are being pressed to a Division, so I will move on.

Before we come to new clause 18, I will clarify the procedure so that everyone understands. The Clerk left me a note saying that the lights go out at 5 o’clock, which is a polite way of saying that the knife comes down. At that point I have to put whatever is being debated to the vote—there is no choice and it cannot be withdrawn. After that, I will put the Question on any amendments that have already been discussed, of which there is one—it must be moved formally. Any other business then falls.

Let us do the maths: there are eight new clauses, with two and a half hours to go. Seven of the eight new clauses are in the name of the official Opposition, and one is in the name of the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith. It is up to you to prioritise, but bear in mind that any new clauses that we do not reach can be re-tabled on Report.

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 2:30 p.m.

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

This is an important juncture in our consideration of the Bill, and it is probably going to be the most popular part, as we are giving the opportunity to those who wish to be consulted to get rid of the Rural Payments Agency.

It does not have to be that way. We could have a revitalised and reinvigorated payments agency, but a new agency this will have to be, because it will be doing fundamentally different things, and sadly the legacy that the RPA leaves is not necessarily a satisfactory one. That is nothing to do with this Government; previous Governments are responsible too. In my previous incarnation, we spent a lot of time on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee trying to sort out how the hell we got into such a mess over the area payments scheme involving Accenture and the computer system that was brought in. It was an unmitigated disaster, because it cost millions more and never did what it was supposed to do. We had to drag the chief executive, Johnston McNeill, back from Belfast, where he had managed to hide for a period of time, to get some clarity on why the agency got itself into such a mess. That is history. My dear late lamented friend David Taylor did an enormous amount of work on the computer system, and we were indebted to him for that work on the Select Committee. I just make the point that we are asking the new agency to do fundamentally different work.

Mr Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill - Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 2:31 p.m.

When it comes to who was to blame, the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett) might have had something to do with it, given that she chose such a complex way of enacting it under the previous Labour Government.

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 2:32 p.m.

I do not disagree that we were foolhardy. There should always be a de minimis and a de maximus in terms of how the payment system operated. As always, when the delightful EU Ministers came together they looked around the room for who was going to pilot this scheme, and somebody maybe put their hand up at the wrong time and said, “We’ll have a go at it.” It was not even a UK-driven scheme; it was England-driven. The other territorial Administrations went at their own pace, adding to the complexity and confusion.

I am merely making the point that we are asking for a consultation on the most appropriate agency to take forward this brand new scheme. It does not have to be rushed; it could be done over a period of time. It does not have to be just with farmers; it can be with the green groups, obviously, but also landowners, to get some clarity on what all those different parties expect from a payments agency. The Minister says that the way public moneys will be paid out will be more straightforward. We will only be able to tell that in due course.

Chris Davies Hansard

I have had concerns about the Rural Payments Agency. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that opening up a consultation is just going to confuse and delay matters? Surely the Minister should just decide which organisation is going to administer it and then get on with it.

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 2:35 p.m.

If the Minister wants to say today that he has some brand spanking new agency in his back pocket that is going to take over and run this, we are more than happy to listen and give our support. I am merely the messenger saying that I still receive countless complaints about late payments, wrong payments and reasons unknown for people not receiving the moneys they thought they should have received. The field margins and the way in which the scheme was set up was unduly complicated, but this will potentially be as complicated, and some would say more complicated.

Why can we not just listen and learn from past mistakes and at least give people an opportunity to help frame what could replace the Rural Payments Agency? It has already taken on many Natural England employees, so it is ready for its new incarnation, but I am worried about skill levels, about the computer system and about how this will be perceived if we start on the back foot with an agency that has not been fit for purpose.

I will not cast aspersions on the people who work for the RPA—no doubt they work long hours to try to get things right—but there has been something integrally wrong with the way it has operated for a long time. I am giving the Minister an open goal to shoot at—a way for us to move forward across the party divide to try to get an agency that is fit for purpose for a very different type of agricultural scheme.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Hansard

I will describe in a moment what we are doing on future regulation, including the enforcement of this scheme. However, the hon. Gentleman gave me an opportunity—an “open goal”, as he said—to, for want of a better term, shoot at the RPA. I am not going to do that. As I have said many times, the RPA and agencies such as Natural England are currently grappling with a truly hideous body of European regulations and an unbearable administration process. That causes huge problems for farmers, who are required to fill out and submit endless forms and do lots of mapping, and for our administrators, including the RPA.

The problems we had last year, for instance, were caused because EU law required us to re-map 2 million fields in one go. We would not have chosen to do that—there was not really a need to re-map the fields—but we were forced to, just to ensure that there were no ineligible trees littered around the landscape. The sheer scale of that task caused administrative problems. The problems we have had with our countryside stewardship schemes were caused primarily because the European Union passed a rule that said every scheme must start on the same day of the year, which caused a massive spike in workload, required us to employ 500 temps and created all the contingent problems that come with that. In the design of the new scheme, we can learn lessons from the past and jettison some of the muddled thinking that is imposed on us by the European Union and EU auditors.

I should also point out that the RPA has taken on some of the payment functions related to the pillar two countryside stewardship schemes, precisely because not only the RPA has had challenges. Natural England has had horrendous problems trying to implement the countryside stewardship scheme. Indeed, one of the reasons we moved the RPA in to take over that space was that it has a stronger track record of managing complex EU processes.

Let me turn to what we intend to do in the future. The substance of new clause 18 is very much being addressed by the work currently being undertaken by Dame Glenys Stacey, who has given early indications of her direction of travel. She argues that we should move away from the clunky clipboard-and-rulebook approach inherent in the EU system and towards a much more modern way of regulating farms so there is more of what she calls social regulation, more incentives, fewer arbitrary rules and more whole-farm assessment. The work she has started is very interesting. She is also looking at the issue of our having multiple agencies and whether there could be consolidation, and at the establishment of a new type of body to perform some of these functions.

I do not believe there is a need to consult now, as the new clause would require us to. The first step is for us to see the final report from Dame Glenys Stacey. If the Government decided at a future date to implement some of the recommendations in that report, perhaps including the consideration of a new body, that would be the time to consult.

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 2:44 p.m.

I hear what the Minister says. Again, I make the point that that is why we would have liked to hear from Dame Glenys about the direction of travel in the evidence sessions. Perhaps we can pick that up subsequently. I am not aware whether she has yet given evidence to the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I hope members of that Committee who are present heard that point, because it is important that we get an early idea of what the Government’s approach is likely to be.

I will not labour the point, because there are other new clauses that we want to get to before the bewitching hour, which you reminded us of, Sir Roger. However, it is crucial that whatever agency takes it on needs to be capable—I will not say “ of starting with a blank sheet of paper”, because the past cannot be washed away—of recognising the problems that there have been and still are with the way the current payment systems operate.

As much as new systems come with a certain élan and opportunity, the same people will operate the new system, so we have to ensure that training, empowerment and particularly a decent IT system that does what we want it to do are in place right at the start. That was what really damned the RPA when it took over the area payment scheme. It was trying to negotiate the system as it went along, and as we know that that was sadly an unmitigated failure. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 21

Agricultural co-operatives

“(1) The Secretary of State must promote agricultural co-operatives by—

(a) offering financial assistance for the creation or development of agricultural co-operatives, and

(b) establishing bodies to provide practical support and guidance for the development of new co-operatives.

(2) The Secretary of State shall examine any proposal for primary or secondary legislation to assess—

(a) its impact upon agricultural co-operatives, and

(b) whether that impact is disproportionate in relation to its impact upon other producer organisations or interbranch organisations.

(3) Financial assistance under subsection (1) may be given by way of grant, loan or guarantee, or in any other form.

(4) An organisation shall be recognised as an agricultural co-operative if it meets the conditions in subsections (5) and (6).

(5) Condition 1 is that the organisation—

(a) is registered with the Financial Conduct Authority as a co-operative, or

(b) is constituted under the Co-operatives and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014.

(6) Condition 2 is that the organisation—

(a) operates in a sector which is listed in Part 2 of Schedule 1 to this Act, and

(b) includes at least one member which is an agricultural or horticultural producer.

(7) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision specifying the criteria under which financial assistance under subsection (1)(a) may be offered.

(8) Regulations under subsection (7) are subject to the negative resolution procedure.”—(Dr Drew.)

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to promote agricultural co-operatives.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Dr Drew Hansard

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I am speeding up—but might slow down again. We have already mentioned agricultural co-operatives. Again, this is more of a probing amendment—I will say that from the outset—so I will not press it to a vote. However, we would like to insert in the Bill something that runs alongside the competition that is clearly central to aspects of how the new legislation will operate.

Why agricultural co-operatives? First, so many parties within the farming and landowning industry already belong to co-operatives. They may not necessarily always see it that way, but NFU Mutual is, of course, a form of co-operative. Many of the buy-in rings for equipment, and much of the sharing of pesticides and other inputs in to how agriculture operates, are done by a form of co-operative, formal or otherwise. The difficulty with the Bill is that it does not explicitly mention co-operatives. We have had some interchange, and I welcome what the Minister did in relation to Co-operatives UK, because its members were much happier once he gave them some assurances.

New clause 21 gives the Secretary of State a new duty to promote agriculture co-operatives and the ability to provide grant and loan funding to new and existing co-operatives. It also requires all future legislation and regulations to be checked to ensure no disproportionate negative effect on co-operatives. We see co-operatives as a way in which the new environmental world can operate. Many environmental organisations are, of course, charities or social enterprise bodies, so in a sense they are co-operating if not co-operatives.

The new clause flies in the Bill’s apparent direction of travel. It is about fairness and resilience, and recognising that as new people come into the industry the best way to bind them in is to give them the opportunity to be part of a co-operative so that they do not have the lonely existence that we mentioned when discussing a previous clause that causes so much heartache and pressure on those individuals.

In many areas of agriculture, the supply chain already operates on a co-operative basis, but it needs to be enshrined within the legislation. Such a provision is sadly not in the Bill, so we want to insert one. The new clause would not mean that the private sector would not be the main operating vehicle for agriculture; the provision would just sit alongside it, and farmers and landowners would have that opportunity. Environmental organisations will certainly want to look at that way of operating. As the Minister rightly said, they could be the advice givers and supporters of the new direction of agriculture, and it is important to have that debate now. Opposition Members are always worried that we will be promised that things will come about through secondary legislation. That may be the case with future Administrations, if not with this one, but that is leaving things to chance.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 2:48 p.m.

I am more than happy to take up the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion to say nice things about co-operatives. As I said in an earlier sitting, I am a supporter of collaborative working, joint working, joint ventures and co-operative approaches to help farmers deal with the fact that often they are fragmented and end up as price takers in the supply chain.

We have done a number of things already. Earlier this year, I announced a £10 million collaboration fund out of the rural development programme to support joint working and to support the formation of co-operatives. The hon. Member for Stroud will also remember from an earlier discussion on clause 22 and the recognition of producer organisations that we had meetings with the co-operatives’ representatives and have taken on board some of the suggestions that they made. We tabled a Government amendment to clause 22 to ensure that models other than that of a limited company, which is the requirement under current EU law, are recognised as producer organisations.

On the substance of new clause 21, which would ensure that there is financial assistance for co-operatives, I am happy to take the opportunity to confirm that, just like the existing rural development programme, clause 1(2) —the subsection on productivity—enables us to make available grant support, Government-backed loans or other guarantees to the co-operatives, should we want to support their endeavours. It is not only clauses 22 and 23, on exemption from competition law, that help certain co-operatives and recognised UK producer organisations; the very first clause of the Bill has provisions for our giving financial assistance to co-operatives. By establishing the £10 million collaboration fund earlier this year, I hope that I have demonstrated through my deeds rather than my words that I see this as important. Should the hon. Member for Stroud ever be in Government, I hope that he would do the same and continue to support these important organisations.

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 2:49 p.m.

Of course—I am a Co-operative MP. We would not see a conflict of interests; we would see a commonality of purpose, which we encourage. I find what the Minister said very encouraging, and I hope that he will continue his discussions with Co-operatives UK and other farming organisations to see how this can be developed. The UK farming and environmental sector will need to co-operate if we face Brexit, because it will be subject to many of the winds of change, some of which could be very turbulent. I hope that co-operation is one good thing that comes out of this. I beg leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 22

Import of foie gras

“(1) Foie gras may not be imported into the UK.

(2) “Foie gras”, for the purposes of this section, shall mean a product derived from the liver of any goose or duck which has been force-fed for the purpose of enlarging its liver.”—(Dr Drew.)

This new clause would prevent the import of foie gras into the UK.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 2:49 p.m.

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

This simple clause is designed to do what various Members have sought: to stop foie gras being sold in this country. I attended the recent debate initiated by, I think, the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) , who referred to foie gras as

“cruel to produce, unhealthy to eat and expensive to purchase”. —[Official Report, 13 June 2018; Vol. 642, c. 1050.]

It is about time that we banned this outdated practice. I am not going to go into how it is produced—the innards, and so on, particularly as the hon. Member for North Dorset has probably had a good lunch and I do not want to spoil that in any way—[Interruption.] I shouldn’t have said that, should I?

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare (North Dorset) (Con) - Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 2:54 p.m.

It was a small slice of corned beef, some grated carrot and an apple today, if the hon. Gentleman is interested.

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 2:51 p.m.

It is always a mistake to lead with your chin, as they say. We will pass on from that very quickly.

The new clause covers something that, as far as I know, most MPs want to do. Hon. Members may say that it is somewhat incongruous to bring this forward with this Bill, but given that Agriculture Bills come round about every 50 years, we will not necessarily be around to see this carried through.

Iain Stewart Portrait Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South) (Con) - Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 2:54 p.m.

Speak for yourself!

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 2:51 p.m.

Some of us might be very old if we were around in 50 years. I hope this is treated seriously.

Mr Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill - Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 2:51 p.m.

Does the hon. Gentleman intend it to be an offence for individuals to purchase the product while on holiday or does he merely mean the commercial importation of this product?

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 2:52 p.m.

Again, there are going to be commercial obligations, because the fact is that we are looking for a ban. As far as I know, both parties have talked about this quite openly. Certainly representatives of the parties have talked about it. We looked at it as regards the withdrawal agreement. From memory, and we will come on to live exports later, it is one of the things that certain people prayed in aid of the advantage of leaving the EU—that is, that we could bring about some of these animal welfare changes. It was a crucial argument. It was not quite as big an argument as the £350 million a week for the NHS, but it was nevertheless an argument.

Chris Davies Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 2:52 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman mentions animal welfare. Is this an opportunity for Members on his side of the House to put animal rights views forward? Is this the place to be bringing this up?

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 2:52 p.m.

Again, I make the point that we have limited opportunity to consider legislative change. As far as I know, the hon. Member for Crawley is hardly some animal rights activist who has been out on demonstrations to demand that this practice ends. He is a Conservative MP whose constituents have no doubt written to him saying that it is not something that they wish to condone.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy - Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 2:52 p.m.

I know where the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire is trying to come from. The fact is that we have already banned production in this country. All we are talking about is banning imports. We are not moving on to new radical territory. We are just trying to achieve a degree of consistency.

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 2:53 p.m.

That is the summation of the case. It is not something that we would say was anything other than a level playing field. Yes, we are stopping certain well-known establishments from selling foie gras.

Sandy Martin Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 2:53 p.m.

If any one of the amendments proposed earlier today that were so fulsomely supported by the hon. Member for North Dorset had been carried, we would not have needed this amendment.

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 2:54 p.m.

Of course, and that is something that we will no doubt have to revisit on Report. We are not doing anything other than what we have done in this place. We banned foie gras in the Houses of Parliament. That is a decision, and one might say that it is freedom of choice, but we banned the production of foie gras in this country, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East said, because we see it as inherently cruel.

All we are saying is: “Let’s have a level playing field”. If we ban production here, why are we still allowing imports to a very small number of establishments that still condone something that we would put at the extremes of animal cruelty? It is not about animal rights; it is purely about animal cruelty. It is a terrible process and I am not going to upset the hon. Member for North Dorset by going through what is involved. I do not think anybody would say that is an acceptable way to treat livestock. If it is, why is it banned in this country?

I hope we will get support from the Government. This is one thing they could do, through legislation on animal sentencing or even animal sentience, whichever comes first. We do not have many opportunities to pass this type of legislation. It could be done by a private Member’s Bill but we know how uncertain that can be. That is why the proposal has been brought forward at this stage, and why we hope there is support. If not, the Government could at least say what their intentions are. This will not affect farmers in this country, because we have banned this practice. We just want a level playing field and we can now ensure that because we will not necessarily be part of the EEA.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 2:56 p.m.

This again highlights an important ethical issue, about which people in this country have strong views. However, in common with others, I do not think it fits in the Bill. This is not a trade Bill; it is an agriculture Bill about how we support agriculture and replace the common agricultural policy.

I do not think we have ever produced foie gras in this country. It has been illegal at least since the Protection of Animals Act 1911, and the Animal Welfare Act 2006 put it beyond doubt. There is no explicit ban on foie gras, in the way that there is on fur farming, which was introduced as a specific ban in Parliament, but it has always been understood that the production process involved in it, requiring as it does the force-feeding of ducks and geese, creates serious animal welfare concerns. If ever practised here, that would be in breach of our long-standing animal welfare legislation.

There is a small amount of production in some parts of the world, including France, of what is called “ethical foie gras”, where they use a particular breed of goose and do not force-feed them. They manage to get a product that is very similar to foie gras in a way that causes far less concern for the welfare of the animal.

Turning to the proposed new clause, the issue is important. If we leave the EU, depending on the nature of any agreement we have with the EU, a future Government would certainly be able to ban the import of foie gras. Some countries, notably India, do have ethical bans of this sort. India has one on fur and might already have one on foie gras.

We know that WTO case law means it is entirely in order to have bans on certain products of this sort, where there are ethical reasons to do so. There has been case law in the past regarding seal furs that has upheld that long-standing principle. It would be an option for a Government, depending on the nature of the agreement we finally have with the EU, to ban the import of foie gras, in much the same way as India does, but I do not believe the Bill is the right place for it.

It is the kind of thing that we would consider once we are clear about the type of trading relationship we will have with the EU and what concessions we might have to make as part of that settlement—until then we are not in a position to advance any policies of this sort.

Dr Drew Hansard

I hear what the Minister says but, given that the Bill looks to the future, it is entirely appropriate that we decide which animal welfare standards we believe should be in place to accommodate the type of agriculture and food chain we want. Although subject to whatever happens to our relationship with the EU, this is the sort of legislation, along with live exports, where we should draw a line in the sand. We do not accept this practice; we have banned it. It is inappropriate for agencies, shops and other retail establishments to be able to sell that product here. It is an entirely inappropriate method of force-feeding geese and ducks. This is a key animal welfare issue. It needs to be outlawed.

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:02 p.m.

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

We come now to the work clause. We make no apology for saying that this is our opportunity to pray in aid one of the things that the Government got completely wrong—the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board. That happened under the coalition Government, and we hold the Liberal Democrats especially guilty.

I will not go into great detail. We know the issues, we know why we have tabled the new clause and I know why the Government are likely to oppose it, but we hope that they will at least think on this: there is a serious problem with the lack of labour in the agricultural sector.

A lot of agricultural labour is termed seasonal, although some aspects of what was the seasonal agricultural workers scheme was never seasonal—those who work in dairying or in aspects of the packing trade are not seasonal workers—and the reason why we rely so much on foreign migrant labour is because terms and conditions are not good. That is one of the reasons why we had the Agricultural Wages Board—to introduce a standard of terms and conditions that would encourage people to take that work—but it was not just about terms and conditions. The board also looked at future provision and training and investment in younger people to encourage them to come into the industry. Until one day when we are in power, we will carry on arguing that this is an important part of the way in which the agricultural sector could and should operate.

Martin Whitfield (East Lothian) (Lab) Hansard

As this Bill is looking holistically at the countryside, across the environment and workers, is it not exactly the right place for agricultural workers’ rights to be included?

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:07 p.m.

I agree entirely. In this brave new world, we are talking about supporting not just farmers and landowners, but the environmentalists who are going to come in and do some of the work. Again, this area is rife with exploitation. It is right that lots of people work as volunteers or are seconded from their companies, but there is the danger that that will become the norm. Unless we are careful, we have no regularity of employment structure.

The Government’s argument has always been, “Why is agriculture different? It is the same as any other sector.” Well, it is different. The nature of the work is different: it is hard and the hours are long. There is also the issue of loneliness, because most workers are by themselves. There will perhaps be only one or two of them if they work for a small holding. Larger holdings have more, of course, and are able to get protection through their numbers.

I understand the NFU’s position, but farmers tell me that one of the things they most regret is the loss of the negotiating apparatus. They say that quietly; they will not say it to a wider audience. There are those who believe strongly that losing the negotiating apparatus has taken agriculture backwards. When we lost it, we saw that agriculture was not valued enough for such a structure to be in place. If the Minister does not agree with this new clause, I hope he at least recognises that there is merit in putting in place a structure and systems to ensure stability in farm workers’ terms and conditions. Too often, they are not paid the going rate, which means that people are not attracted to the countryside, which we all accept is a tragedy.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:07 p.m.

We had a similar discussion about an amendment earlier. I do not intend to speak for too long, but the hon. Gentleman will be aware that I disagree with him for reasons that I have set out. As he knows, the Agricultural Wages Board was established way back in 1948. There were lots of other boards around at that time, covering different sectors. Most of them were phased out during the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s; the Agricultural Wages Board was the last one standing.

Things changed fundamentally. There was a review of the Agricultural Wages Board in the mid-1990s, and in the end a decision was made not to take action. After the national minimum wage was introduced by the previous Labour Government and adopted by the Conservative Government, and, more importantly, after this Conservative Government introduced the new national living wage, the Agricultural Wages Board’s raison d’être was no longer there. It has been superseded by other pieces of legislation and minimum wage requirements. We currently have a national minimum wage of £7.83, and the national living wage is soon to go to £8.75. We therefore already have protections through the National Minimum Wage Act 1998, the Employment Rights Act 1996 and the Equality Act 2010. There is lots of legislation to protect agricultural wages.

I do not share the hon. Gentleman’s view that the negotiating apparatus that operated alongside the Agricultural Wages Board is necessary. There were problems with the way that it worked. It did not, for instance, allow the payment of annual salaries to some management staff so hours and payments could be averaged across the year. That would help people get mortgages to buy homes. There were reports that, because people received a weekly wage based only on the hourly rate, it was difficult for them to demonstrate to mortgage lenders that they satisfied their criteria.

More importantly, the very formulaic tiers of wages did not enable people who were doing particularly well and were on their way to progression or to a management role to be rewarded, unless they had the right craftsman qualification. It took away employers’ flexibility to reward their staff, because everything was set in a very formulaic way. I do not share the hon. Gentleman’s romantic view of the Agricultural Wages Board; it was restrictive and stopped more progressive approaches to payments, including salary development. Insofar as it gave protection for minimum wages, its role has been superseded.

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:13 p.m.

My wife would say I was never romantic, although I do not want to disillusion the Minister too much. This is not about going back. There would have to be a new body, but it would perhaps take account of sectoral organisations—that was what was probably wrong with the old Agricultural Wages Board. The NFU always saw it as a one-size-fits-all.

A modern Agricultural Wages Board must take account of the different sectors and regions. Its whole point is that it underpins wages and conditions. We feel very strongly about that. We talked to Unite, the main representative body that came out of the old National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers. Historically, Unite has always been linked to the Labour party, although it has not always agreed with it. Although we look back in this sense, we also recognise the modern world.

Mr Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill - Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:11 p.m.

On the more highly paid work in appointment grades one and two, would that not in some way create a cartel for the farmers? They would not be able to outbid each other for the more skilled staff because they would say they were paying the going rate. That would not mean that the more skilled people could do better.

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:12 p.m.

I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says. There is always a danger with some form of proportionality—how different groups would be paid. Those groups would not necessarily be encompassed by the Agricultural Wages Board anyway, because it is looking at a minimum structure. That is something that a modern, forward-looking wage board will have to take account of.

We have no magic answer: the NFU asks us what form things would take and hopefully we can have sensible and serious discussion with it. We are making the point that the industry is completely short of labour—yet again this year, sadly, the fruit and veg was ploughed back into the ground. There is something wrong when what has been produced cannot be brought to market because there is no one to pick it. From talking to my dairy farmers, I know that there is always a problem in getting milkers. That transcends any dairy-producing region; it is a real issue. All we continue to argue for is one way in which that can be recognised.

I will press this amendment to a vote; we hope the Government will gradually recognise that they must put a structure in place that transcends the normal minimum wage standards or the living wage. This industry is different, and that must be recognised.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Chair

I was asked whether we get injury time if there is a Division on the Floor of the House. I consulted the Clerk to ensure I had the procedure correct, and the answer is no. However, if a Division runs past 5 o’clock, I would ask all hon. Members to return, because I will have formally to go through the procedure of reporting the Bill; otherwise, we will be in the position, which I have been in only once before, of the Bill’s having to be deemed to be reported, which is not satisfactory. Let us press on.

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:20 p.m.

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Thank you for that advice, Sir Roger. My Whip is busily looking at her information source to see whether anything is coming our way. We will carry on regardless for the time being.

This is the second part of the foie gras debate. Some people fundamentally believed that our leaving the EU would free us to do some of the things that many people across the country believe we should have done a long time ago—in this case, ban live exports. The noble Lord Rooker always used to say we should export on the hook, not on the hoof—I remember him saying that 20-odd years ago—but we have not yet done it. Admittedly, this is a marginal trade that affects certain parts of the country, where there have long been demonstrations because of what is deemed to be cruelty and what is seen to be the British industry losing control of what happens to animals subsequently. I know there are downsides to banning live exports—what do we do with young male calves if we do not have an export market? However, this is where animal welfare comes to the fore.

Colin Clark Hansard

As the hon. Gentleman is probably very aware, moving livestock from Orkney, Shetland and the other islands in Scotland involves long journeys of eight to 12 hours. He is not proposing to ban those movements, is he?

Dr Drew Hansard

This is where I would always take advice; I know there are views in Scotland that are not necessarily held in England about whether that is good or bad. I sat in on a recent debate where there was a difference of opinion within the political parties, and certainly between them, about whether a ban would ever be achievable, whether it was enforceable and, indeed, whether it was a good thing. We must have that debate, because this is an agriculture Bill. If we did not have it, if nothing else, those who feel strongly about this issue would say, “You had an agriculture Bill but you didn’t discuss live exports, which is one of the dominant arguments that we have.”

I remember talking to a lady on the doorstep—a lifelong Labour supporter. She had voted to leave on the basis that live exports would be banned. When she heard that the Conservative party was very keen on banning live exports, I could not persuade her to vote Labour. She felt that was something a Conservative Government would deliver. Sadly, I can now go back to her and say she was slightly misinformed. I accept that this is a minority issue, but for people who feel strongly about it, it is a very important moral point.

Colin Clark Hansard

I am sorry to press the hon. Gentleman. It is important that we understand that cattle moved from Orkney and Shetland are moving from one part of the United Kingdom to another that has the same approach to animal welfare. I invite him to come to the north-east of Scotland any time he likes—we will show him how we do it. What I think the general public are against is the idea that we no longer control animals when we export them outwith this country. Will he clarify that?

Dr Drew Hansard

We are still in the United Kingdom. The new clause does not deal with movements within the United Kingdom; it deals with live exports outside the United Kingdom. I took my holiday in Orkney and Shetland this year to add to the Scottish economy, and very enjoyable it was. I did not see many animals being moved about, but no doubt that happens.

Jenny Chapman (Darlington) (Lab) Hansard

I had concerns about this issue in relation to the Irish border. Just in case colleagues are worried about that, I should say that the new clause would not ban the movement of livestock across the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, which is vital for agriculture there.

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:24 p.m.

I thank my hon. Friend for that clarification. It is important because, as I have said, animals move backwards and forwards over that border for fattening purposes or other reasons. We do not intend to ban that.

We are debating this issue here because this is an agriculture Bill. If we do not, whatever one’s opinion on the issues are, people will cast aspersions that we have not done our job as Opposition Members and that the Government have not put on the record their current thinking. Until recently, the Government were using banning live exports as one argument for leaving the EU. Is that still the Government’s case or not?

Chris Davies Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:12 p.m.

rose—

Dr Drew Hansard

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can clarify that.

Chris Davies Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:12 p.m.

People voted to leave the EU for many different reasons; I do not think the hon. Gentleman’s putting his hat on that one necessarily makes it the reason for Brexit.

I ask for clarity, because proposed subsection (2)(a) suggests that the Opposition are quite happy for livestock to be exported from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. From what I remember of geography, it is about 50 miles across the Irish sea, whereas it is about 23 miles across the Bristol channel. It is interesting that the Opposition would allow animals to travel, say, 200 miles within the island of Ireland and to the Irish border, 50 miles across that sea and then to go on perhaps another 200 or 300 miles on the UK mainland, while seeming averse to allowing cattle or sheep from within the UK to go any further. The export of sheep is very important to Welsh farmers.

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:21 p.m.

I am not sure that I actually said that, but I re-emphasise that we would not stop any live exports within the United Kingdom, for so long as the United Kingdom exists. As my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington says, we would even allow live exports within the island of Ireland.

Jenny Chapman Hansard

rose—

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:12 p.m.

She will help me out again.

Jenny Chapman Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:22 p.m.

I am going to help the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire by reading proposed subsection (2)(a):

“The live export of livestock for slaughter or fattening is permitted after exit day if—(a) the livestock is exported from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland”.

There are farms that cross that border, so trying to prevent any livestock from crossing it would be pretty difficult to enforce.

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:22 p.m.

I thank my hon. Friend for clarifying that, so I do not need to—

Chris Davies Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:22 p.m.

rose—

Dr Drew Hansard

If you want to re-clarify that clarification, feel free.

The Chair
20 Nov 2018, 3:22 p.m.

Order. I am getting closer to the Front Bench so I can rap you over the knuckles. “You” means me, and I do not have an opinion on this. Allow me to rephrase that: when I am in the Chair, I do not have an opinion—I am strictly impartial.

Chris Davies Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:12 p.m.

Thank you, Sir Roger—and I am thanking “you”.

I just want clarity on the reasons for the ban, that is all. Why do Opposition Members think that it is cruel for animals to travel 23 miles across the Bristol channel but not cruel for them to travel all that distance across the Irish sea?

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:24 p.m.

I will pass on that, because I have lost the plot at the moment. We can have this argument outside the room. However, the fact is that I am not talking about banning live exports to anywhere within the United Kingdom. We are looking purely at the trade. An argument during the referendum debate was whether live exports would end because we would leave the EU. All I am saying is that this is the opportunity for people to make their minds up on whether they want that put into legislation. It has been the subject of numerous Adjournment debates. As I said, I was quite interested in the degree to which there have been splits within political parties, as well as between political parties.

Philip Dunne Portrait Mr Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con) - Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:24 p.m.

Will the hon. Gentleman clarify a remark he made before getting into this debate about the Bristol channel? If I heard him correctly, he said, “For as long as the United Kingdom continues to exist”. Is it now official Labour party policy to support the break-up of the United Kingdom?

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:25 p.m.

We really are getting away from the issue. I am making the point that the United Kingdom has a clear policy on allowing live exports. So long as that stays the case, it has nothing to do with what we are talking about here. We are talking about trade between the United Kingdom and other parts—principally Europe, of course, although livestock could be exported to various different parts of the world. We choose not to, because it would be very cruel and also probably economically illiterate to do so.

We are moving the new clause to allow the debate to take place for those who believe that the ban is going to happen as a matter of course when and if we leave the European Union, when we have the opportunity to do it under WTO rules. There is some debate about whether it is going to be that easy, but we will have to face up to that in due course.

The reality is that unless we have some legislation to enable us to implement the ban, we will never do it anyway. This is our opportunity to have a debate and to see whether this legislation can stand the test of time. Without the new clause or something like it, the ban will never happen. We can have as many Adjournment debates as we could possibly want: it will never take place until and unless we are able to put it into legislation.

Mr Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill - Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:26 p.m.

The fact is that this will not happen if we do not get the agreement voted through in the meaningful vote in Parliament. Will the hon. Gentleman make it clear that anyone who votes against the agreement is voting against our opportunity to ban live exports—and foie gras, for that matter?

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:28 p.m.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that. We are now back—

Jenny Chapman Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:26 p.m.

When we were discussing foie gras, the Minister said that the ability to ban its import depended on the type of agreement we get with the EU. That is fascinating to me, because the type of agreement that would not allow us to ban foie gras, if my understanding is correct, would be one that kept us in the customs union and probably with a very close relationship to the single market. That sounds familiar.

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:28 p.m.

I will let the Minister respond to that in due course. We started with a fairly narrow subject and we have probably been round every other subject possible. I am not going to take any more interventions.

We have a policy on this issue. We argued 20 years ago that we wanted to bring it forward. It has not happened because of our relationship with the EU. If that relationship remained or got to the issue of the customs union, it might still be precluded. However, if we were to leave the EU, we would have the opportunity to do this. That is why the Opposition have upheld the policy and will press the matter to a vote: so that there is some clarity, which has not been forthcoming from the Government because Government MPs have been arguing for the ban on live exports for some time. No doubt, we will continue this discourse outside. I make no apology for saying that this is the opportunity for us to do this. We will be taking that opportunity and pressing for a formal vote on live exports.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:28 p.m.

The Government have a policy on the issue as well. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, in our manifesto we committed to control the export of live animals for slaughter. I will describe in a moment what we intend to do and what work we have already done.

Break in Debate

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:29 p.m.

I do not accept that. The hon. Lady has fallen into a counter-argument against the ban on live animals, which is that if you have the transport regulations right, or if you improve them, there is not necessarily a difference between a crossing by sea and a crossing by road. The reason why it particularly matters for slaughter is that we have the very clear principle that when you are moving animals for slaughter you should absolutely minimise the stress on those animals. It can be a stressful environment as it is, and having a long journey before slaughter is fundamentally different to transport for rearing.

Our position is that we want to control export for slaughter. We subsequently issued a call for evidence. We worked with the devolved Administrations on this because it obviously affects Northern Ireland and has implications for Scotland. Scotland exports live calves to Ireland, for instance. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon pointed out, there are also issues with some island communities, such as Shetland.

Dr Drew Hansard

I hear what the Minister says. The problem with this is the issue of how many bits of legislation will come around that can be includable in terms of this ban, or can be amended to allow this to carry through. I know this is complicated, and it is sad when newborn male calves are shot. Genetic modification might provide ways of dealing with the number of male calves at source. We would want to see improvements in many aspects of the dairy industry. This new clause is not a magical answer but live exports is a very political issue, and the general public felt—rightly or wrongly—that on our exit from the European Union, the UK would have much greater discretion on what it wanted to do with regard to live exports.

Mr Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill - Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:36 p.m.

I hear exactly what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but what he is saying in the amendment does not stack up with the second of the six Labour tests for the agreement, which asks:

“Does it deliver the ‘exact same benefits’ as we currently have as members of the Single Market and Customs Union?”

The hon. Gentleman is saying one thing here, but unfortunately the policy of the Labour party is to stay in the customs union and the single market, which would mean that we could not ban live exports.

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:36 p.m.

rose—

Jenny Chapman Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:37 p.m.

That test is very carefully worded and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, it was based on comments made by David Davis, the then Secretary of State, at the Dispatch Box. In case he thinks it a little bit rash to take the remarks of David Davis—sorry, the hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden—as the basis of the test, the Prime Minister did go on to say that she was determined to meet that test herself. That test did not just come out of thin air; it came from the mouth of the then Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, and it carefully refers to the “benefits” of, not to being a “member” of.

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:37 p.m.

I am not going to engage with that argument; I am not sure whether there are any angels dancing on pinheads yet. This is a matter of principle. I am in two minds as to whether to press the new clause. I understand what the Minister says, and this is not straightforward. Having sat through at least a couple of Adjournment debates, I realise that people come at this from different angles. There is not an easy humanitarian moral case for live exports, certainly in a practical way.

I am probably minded not to press the new clause to a vote at this stage, but my worry is: if not now, when? There will be very few opportunities to see such a ban come forward, as I said in my initial remarks. It may be that what we have drafted here is not good or right, and those who have helped us in drafting it have to think a bit more clearly about the different exemptions brought forward. I stress again that this is not about moving for a ban within the United Kingdom, because that would be wrong and lacking in any sense whatsoever. I will not press the clause to a vote at this stage, but I hope that on Report we get some clarity. The issue probably will come back, because somebody somewhere will see that this is an opportunity to move for a ban.

If the clause is wrong, what will the Government be prepared to do? I know they are waiting for the Farm Animal Welfare Council to come back, but that clearly has to be within a timeframe of what is permissible in terms of future legislative opportunities. The worry is that there will be some ongoing demand to put such a ban in place, in whatever form, and yet there will be no opportunity to do so. On that basis, while I hear what the Minister says now, I hope that on Report the Government will clarify whether such a ban needs to be put to bed completely because it is not enforceable, or whether it can be moved forward and there is an opportunity to move it forward in future legislation. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 28

Monitoring pesticide use and alternatives

(1) The Secretary of State must, within six months of Royal Assent being given to this Act, publish proposals—

(a) to monitor the use and effects of pesticides in the management of livestock or land, to conduct research into alternative methods of pest control and to promote their take-up, and

(b) to conduct research into alternative methods of pest control and to promote their take-up, and

(c) to consult on a target to reduce the use of pesticides.

(2) The proposals shall include steps to measure—

(a) the effect of pesticides on environmental health,

(b) the effect of pesticides on human health,

(c) the frequency with which individual pesticides are applied,

(d) the areas to which individual pesticides are applied, and

(e) the take-up of alternative methods of pest control by land use and sector.

(3) “Environmental health” in subsection (2)(a) includes the health of flora, fauna, land, air or any inland water body.

(4) “Human health” in subsection (2)(b) means the health of farmers, farmworkers and their families, operators, bystanders, rural residents and the general public.—(Dr Drew.)

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to publish proposals to monitor the impact of pesticides, to conduct research into alternative methods of pest control, to promote their take-up, and to consult on proposals to set a target to reduce the use of pesticides.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:40 p.m.

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Now we are moving on to pesticides. Now that we have dealt with animals, we can go on to crops. Again, in its own way this new clause would not radically change the Bill, but the pesticides argument is important. We are all obliged to move toward higher environmental standards—dare I say it, that is the whole point of the Bill. One way in which we will measure those higher environmental standards is in terms of less pesticide use.

I accept that this is a very divisive issue. On the one hand we have the Pesticide Action Network UK and on the other we have the Crop Protection Association, each with radically different views on whether we are doing the right thing already or we should move in a different direction so that we see much less reliance on pesticides. Certainly, the agro-ecological approach would be to look at how we can substantially reduce, if not remove, the reliance on pesticides.

That matters because the British public seem overwhelmingly to want us to have less reliance on pesticides. We have had the big debate on neonicotinoids; we also have the debate on other pesticides. At the moment, that has been abdicated to Europe, and Members of the European Parliament voted on whether glyphosate should be banned. In the end I think both Conservative and Labour MEPs chose not to ban it, but if we leave the EU the decision will be fairly and squarely back with the United Kingdom Parliament. We cannot pretend that this is not something that we will have to make our opinion known on, and that will be subject to future legislative requirements.

We are not asking for the end of pesticides or necessarily for a dramatic change in policy. We are looking for an indication from the Government that they intend to look, through the environmental payments, at how pesticide use will be measured and monitored with a view to reduced dependence. That is important because the Bill is all about soil quality and water management, and if we do not control pesticides, we might as well give up on both those things, because they will not happen.

Again, it is not just about our environment per se, but about the impact on ourselves—human beings. Those of us who were involved historically with organophosphates know that they are sadly still an issue; I still have people coming to me to say that they feel that was never properly investigated. I know that there are research findings.

Sandy Martin Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:44 p.m.

Is it not part of the point? If we do the research and carry out deep investigations now, it is entirely possible that we will be able to be at the forefront of the new range of pesticides that are more environmentally friendly, rather than being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:45 p.m.

Exactly. As I have made abundantly clear, we will get one chance to debate this in 50 years, because that is the likely length of time that this piece of legislation will last, if the Agriculture Act 1947 is anything to go by. These pieces of legislation do not come around very often, so we make no apology for bringing forward the debate on pesticides now. We are subject to correspondence on it and people want to know where we stand. I hope the Government are listening.

Tonia Antoniazzi Portrait Tonia Antoniazzi (Gower) (Lab) - Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:45 p.m.

This is a very important point and I welcome the new clause. Local testing is going on in Gower and we have shocking levels of weedkiller in local rivers. I hope that my hon. Friend will press the new clause to a vote.

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:46 p.m.

I think that is a hint. Given we did not divide on live exports, we might divide on pesticides instead. It is important to have this debate and look at this opportunity. The new clause is not doing anything dramatic. It asks us to use this piece of legislation to review current pesticide use, to consult on it, and to monitor it better. It says that that is something that should be in land management contracts. If it is not included, how can we find a way to secure a measurable improvement in our environment? As my hon. Friend the Member for Gower says, we only have to look at our watercourses to know that pesticides get into them. Most of us see that as unacceptable and we have to do something about it.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:47 p.m.

I hope I will be able to persuade the shadow Minister that he does not need to press the new clause to a Division. We rehearsed in an earlier discussion on clause 1 the fact that the Government are actively looking at holistic schemes to support and incentivise what could be called integrated pest management. We are considering whether we can reduce our reliance on synthetic chemistry by using more natural predators and different agronomic approaches and being willing for the first time to incentivise farmers financially to do that.

One of the things we are looking at is an incentivised integrated pest management scheme to advance this policy agenda. We also set out in our 25-year environment plan the idea of moving forward and embracing integrated pest management more than we have done previously. The new clause deals with publishing reports and measuring impacts—I have said previously that DEFRA needs no encouragement to produce reports through statutory requirements; we love reports. As I explained, I regularly have to read and sign off reports and I sometimes question whether anyone else is reading them. For some reason, many reports seems to congregate around June, so during that month my box is weighed down with annual reports of one sort or another.

I will share with the hon. Gentleman some of the reports that we have received. I have a lot of reading here that he can take away as a memento of this Committee. The UK Expert Committee on Pesticides—the ECP—which gives us advice on emergency authorisations and on some of the tricky chemical issues. It is a standing advisory committee to the Chemicals Regulation Directorate. I have with me its annual report for 2017, all 22 pages of it. The Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food produces a separate annual report, on top of the one by the Expert Committee on Pesticides, so we have two expert committees in the pesticides space, one on residues and one on broader environmental impacts, both of which produce a report. The report on pesticide residues lists all the findings and surveillance on residues on a wide range of imported products and products produced domestically. It runs to 48 pages and is an annual report.

If that is not enough for the hon. Gentleman, the pesticide usage survey report, is produced by the National Statistics Office and focuses on all sorts of different icrops. I have with me the 2016 report for arable crops, all 92 pages of it, with lots of tables demonstrating exactly what is produced. That key survey already monitors the use of pesticide-active substances on each crop.

Break in Debate

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:51 p.m.

My right hon. Friend is correct: schemes such as the red tractor assurance scheme have additional checks and enforcement to ensure that there is nothing out of order, and on top of that they generally require MOTs, for instance, for sprayer equipment.

The pesticide usage survey covers the frequency of application, which picks up the measures in subsection (1)(c) of the new clause, and the area treated, which covers subsection (2)(d), as well as the weight of active substance. It also includes figures on some of the alternatives to chemicals, such as the use of viruses that can target insect pests. In addition, the National Poisons Information Service collects and considers reports of possible harm to people, which covers subsection (2)(b). Results are not published, but they are reported to DEFRA and other interested Departments, as well as to the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides.

Finally, the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme looks at reported incidents of possible harm to wildlife, which I think is what subsection (2)(a) of the new clause is trying to get at. Results of the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme are published on the Health and Safety Executive website, and the Environment Agency also monitors levels of pesticides in water.

I understand that there are very good intentions behind the new clause, but I hope that I can reassure the hon. Member for Stroud that we have a plethora of reports that cover pesticide use and pesticide issues in great detail. I hope he will withdraw his new clause at this stage, take some time to read the reports, which I would be happy to leave with him, and consider whether he still feels the measure is necessary on Report.

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:53 p.m.

It was always a good teaching ploy, when someone was really stuck, to give the kids lots of reading on the basis that that person could try to escape from the fact that they did not really know what they were talking about, hoping that the kids might be able to tell them in due course. That is just me as an old-fashioned teacher. I look forward to receiving the documents the Minister will give me to read, but I will press this to a vote, because the Government need to understand that the direction of travel is about environmental moneys being paid for environmental goods, whatever an environmental good is—it will be interesting to define that in due course.

Like previous versions of the Department, DEFRA has undertaken huge amounts of consultation, but when it comes down to it, it is about the action on the ground. It is important that we know that pesticide use will be one of the features that will be measured. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gower says, one would assume that over a period of time, when pesticides get into watercourses, that will be picked up and dealt with under land management contracts, so that someone will lose their money if they are seen to be polluting the local brooks. Otherwise, what is the point of this particular bit of legislation? We have both to lay down the law and to see how it will be enforced in practice.

Pesticides are a pretty important aspect of what happens to our landscape. I have always bought the argument that farmers, for all sorts of reasons, would want to spend less money on them, because it is an imputed cost and they feel very strongly that they want to minimise their costs, but sadly we have seen that many aspects of the environmental degradation of our countryside were down to misuse of pesticides, which have been seen as a shortcut to getting more output from farms. That is why we will put this motion to a vote. We let the Government get away on live exports, although that will no doubt come back.

On this motion, what is the point of environmental moneys if they are not properly scrutinised on the ground? Whoever may be advising is one thing, but this is something that presumably the payments agency will have to measure. Unless we have something that sets that out in the Bill, it will come down to vague promises. That is not acceptable in legislation. We either do it properly or we do not do it at all. Let us do it properly.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP) - Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 3:56 p.m.

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause will simply allow Ministers to measure their progress in implementing a promise made during the Brexit campaign that moneys available to support Scottish farmers will not decline in real terms as a result of our no longer being in the EU. The leave campaign made some real promises, which should be honoured. There will be plenty of hot air and confusion over the coming days, weeks, months and eternities, but can we at least get some clarity on how progress on this pledge will be measured?

Break in Debate

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock - Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 4:09 p.m.

Indeed, and given that the withdrawal agreement, the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and the Scottish continuity Bill all give Scotland a legal basis on which to continue to make payments and administer schemes, we see no need to rush into the development of new legislation, but we are of course always open to that.

In our consultation document, “Stability and Simplicity: proposals for a rural funding transition period”, we have explained that the point at which we propose to start evolving our farm support arrangements is 2021. At that point, we will need new powers to amend the relevant retained EU law, and we are looking actively at all available options for taking those powers, including the possibility of legislating in the Scottish Parliament.

I hear what the Minister says about the review that is ongoing, but we want some certainty that an ability to check the promises that were made is hardwired into this Bill—as the hon. Member for Darlington said previously, that is in the interests of transparency—so I will press the new clause to a vote.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 4:10 p.m.

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

We come to the end—almost. We shall say a few pleasantries in a minute or two, but this is an important new clause. That is because—I make no apology for putting some pressure on the Government here—the Tenancy Reform Industry Group, or TRIG, negotiations that took place almost two years ago now happened against a background of the Government making some rather nice noises about the importance of tenant farming and tenant farmers in particular. The Government have since gone quiet. There have been some noises off of late, with the Government saying that they intend to revisit the issue, but the Minister could make those noises more overt in his response, so that we know exactly where we are going.

The new clause provides a mechanism to ensure that tenant farmers are not disenfranchised from access to the new financial support mechanisms contained in the Bill. The tenancy sector of agriculture is responsible for farming about a third of agricultural land in England, and is a substantial part of farming business. There are about 13,000 wholly tenanted farm holdings, 41,000 predominantly tenanted farm holdings and 35,000 partly tenanted farm holdings. They are therefore an important part of the agricultural sector.

The tenancy sector has a greater preponderance of livestock—dairy in particular—upland and small-scale farming than in the wider agricultural sector. Furthermore, for those individuals who start in farming, most will start as tenant farmers, unless they are fortunate enough to inherit their father or mother’s holding. Often, however, it is not passed on to them so they become tenants of their family’s estate. Most farmers, when they start, are tenant farmers.

There are two principal types of tenancy agreement: those under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986, which confers security of tenure, a regulated rent and in some cases a right of succession; and those known as farm business tenancies under the more recent Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995, which provides for a significant degree of freedom of contract so that there is no fixed term and no significant regulatory provisions on rent. I alert the Committee principally to that second one at this stage.

Although farm business tenancies have largely been welcomed, and overall have worked reasonably well, of late there has been a tendency for shorter FBTs, which are completely outwith the ability of new businesses to cope or to function effectively. Some FBTs have been for as short two years, and anyone who knows anything about farming knows that people cannot do anything in two years.

That is why we make no apology for raising the subject at this late stage. It is important for us to look at agriculture where it is not functioning as well as it could and should be. Those of us who represent rural or semi-rural constituencies know that that has been highlighted by the Tenant Farmers Association and the NFU, which want to make us recognise that basis of the TRIG reforms—which is what some of us thought that the Government would bring forward but have not yet happened. The Minister can do his best to allay our fears that the opportunity to look at that important sector will be dismissed, or at least missed. It is not just what is in the Bill that matters, but what could be in the Bill.

Chris Davies Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 4:20 p.m.

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 4:21 p.m.

In a second—just let me finish my peroration.

I thank Rob Wakely, who did a sterling job to keep us on the straight and narrow, and Jessica Cobbett from my office, who helped me on more than one occasion. I thank the civil servants, who have done a really good job, and the Minister. I feel sorry for him, because he will have to start all over again tomorrow with the Second Reading of the Fisheries Bill. As much as we think we have done our bit, he still has to do his.

I give way to the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire.

Chris Davies Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 4:21 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I have nothing to add—I am just enjoying intervening on him.

Dr Drew Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 4:22 p.m.

If nothing else, that gave me a chance to rest my voice.

This is an important Bill. We got it through in time—it is a good job we left enough. Although I am using this opportunity to thank everyone from both the Opposition and the Government, I hope that, to finish with, we will hear some good noises about tenancy reform. People will be watching, listening or reading even at this stage because their livelihoods depend on that, so the Minister should listen and, if nothing else, accept this final new clause.

Philip Dunne Portrait Mr Dunne - Hansard

On a point of order, Sir Roger. Will you advise me how I can add my thanks from the Government Back Benches to Opposition Members for the good natured way in which the Committee has functioned? On virtually every clause and amendment thus far, there has been a sense of consensus across the Committee that this is an important Bill and we need to get it right. I would also like to add my thanks to the 27 individuals who came to give evidence in our opening sessions last month and the countless more organisations outside this place with a committed interest, whatever their standpoint, to ensuring that the Bill sets out a new agricultural support framework that lasts for generations to come. I look forward to the Minister’s echoing those remarks.

Break in Debate

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Hansard
20 Nov 2018, 4:31 p.m.

A possession order would require a bank to justify its action to a court before being able to take anyone’s land. There have been a number of issues with secondary lenders, and mainstream banks, moving aggressively to seize and auction land, and selling it in a reckless way that is against the interests of the landowner and their creditors because they have that charge over the land. That area needs to be looked at.

With the confirmation that we have not forgotten those areas, and that we are looking at a consultation, I hope that the hon. Member for Stroud will not feel the need to press the new clause to a vote.

It has been a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger, and that of Mr Wilson. We have had a good-natured debate on new clause 31 and all the other amendments and clauses in the Bill. We have done a thorough job of examining every clause and amendment in great detail. I thank every member of the Committee for giving up their time and diligently intervening and contributing to the discussion.

I also thank my officials in DEFRA, who have worked incredibly hard. The Bill is the first substantive piece of legislation on agriculture that we have had since 1947. It has been a huge piece of work. Finally, and by no means least, I thank the Clerks. We particularly tested their patience when changing the plan for evidence sessions at the beginning, but I hope that we have been less difficult since then. We are grateful for the time and effort that they have put in.

Dr Drew Hansard

On that note, I particularly thank Mr Fox, who has been so helpful to Rob, who has done the Opposition work in detail. It is important that we put that on the record. Without the Clerks, Bill proceedings would not go very far, or if they did, they would go in completely the wrong direction. I also pay due regard to the many contributors to the evidence sessions, which were illuminating, and those who have given us ideas and interesting amendments. Some of them caused us a few sleepless nights in deciding whether to table them. They were all suggested in the right spirit, to try to improve the legislation.

Clearly the Government have a different view to the Opposition about how the legislation will progress, but we will see whether we can further improve it on Report, on Third Reading and in the House of Lords. It is good that the arguments have been had. Others will read them and see whether the proposals can be introduced in a different way, if not necessarily one with which the Government will wholeheartedly agree. However, given what happened today with the Finance Bill, we live in hope, and in the expectation that a degree of consensus is breaking out across the House. That is the way that good Government can operate.

On tenancy reform, I was pleased by what the Minister said. New clause 31 was a probing amendment, and the Minister knows where it was coming from. Changes are needed in this area. I hear what he said about repossession, which has always been a bone of contention in wider agricultural areas, because people do not necessarily just think in terms of those directly affected. It can unhinge a wider part of the countryside when people think that what has happened has not been done in the right way. It is important that we heard what the Minister said, and that we see some progress on that.

Without more ado, we have managed to complete consideration within the timeframe thanks to the good chairmanship of our two Chairs. I will not press the new clause to a vote, but I hope that, now it is on the record, we will hear early in the new year what form the necessary legal changes, which will presumably be made through secondary legislation, can take. We will of course scrutinise them in the right way and hope that they improve what is happening out there. We need good tenants with good tenancy legislation. British farming will be stronger because of that. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: 43, in title, line 14, after “Agriculture;” insert

“to make provision about red meat levy in Great Britain;”.—(George Eustice.)

An amendment to the long title is required to cover the content of NC4 which is not covered by any of the other specific limbs of the current text.

The Chair

As everybody else has been mostly out of order for the last half an hour, I too will say a few words. Mr Wilson and I would like to express our thanks to the Clerks, the Hansard writers, who work extremely hard, and of course to the Officers of the House who look after us. Without all those people, our work would be much harder, if not impossible.

Finally, I thank the Committee for the courtesy and good humour with which proceedings have been conducted. At a time when courtesy and good humour are at something of a premium in other parts of the House, it has been a pleasure to come into an oasis of tranquillity in Committee Room 12 and see people behaving properly, as colleagues ought to behave.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

Agriculture Bill (Tenth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 10th sitting: House of Commons)
Dr David Drew Excerpts
Tuesday 13th November 2018

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Bill Main Page
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 2:09 p.m.

I will not, because, as I said, I want to deal with the substance of the clause.

The Government are clear about our approach to getting in place a new free trade agreement and a partnership. However, there are several other flaws with the amendment. First, we have to bear in mind that the impacts of a no-deal Brexit will vary from sector to sector; it is not possible to determine exactly what they will be. For instance, we know that the sheep and barley sectors export quite a lot of their goods to the European Union. However, we are net importers in virtually every other sector, so although there may be an impact on sheep, there would almost certainly not be on beef, because there will be less import competition.

I do not think it is wise to put this proviso into the Bill. The reality is that, if the terms on which we left the European Union—be that with no deal or any other circumstance that led to restrictions on trade—led to a severe disturbance in the agricultural market, and if that disturbance threatened to have a significant impact on agricultural producers, the power is already there to act. We do not need to artificially bring a current debate around the customs union into a Bill that is built to last for the long term.

Dr David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op) Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 2:09 p.m.

One little snippet I learned last week is that the milk that makes Baileys Irish Cream goes backwards and forwards seven times across the Irish border. If there is not some sort of union—or agreement, as the Minister calls it—that will be catastrophic. Given that the backstop is the thing stopping us getting any sort of agreement, would he care to speculate on how he would overcome the downside of those movements not taking place?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 2:10 p.m.

The issue in all those circumstances is less about the customs union and more about border inspection posts. That is why we have outlined in our approach a commitment to a common rulebook on those areas that require a border inspection, so as to reduce or even eliminate the need for border checks, and then an agreement on equivalence in other areas of legislation. So the border issue is less about customs.

Let me give another example. Scotch whisky is currently our most successful export, and yet it is always sold as a bonded product in an individual national market, because you have different alcohol duties in national markets, even within a single market. We already have examples of some of our most successful exporting sectors having no problem at all dealing with variable tax rates within a market.

Break in Debate

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 2:10 p.m.

There are many successful economies in the world that are not in a customs union with the European Union.

I come back to my point: if as a consequence of the agreement—or indeed of there being no agreement—with the European Union, there are market disturbances that have an impact on agricultural producers, the power is there to act. There is no need to try to define additional powers in the way that this amendment does.

Amendments 117 and 123 seek to downgrade the test from a severe market disturbance to a significant market disturbance. It is wrong to lower the threshold in that way, for reasons I want to explain. We had evidence from one of the academics that suggested we needed something akin to the old deficiency payments system in that famous 1947 Act. The world has moved considerably since that point, and in many sectors we are seeing the development of viable futures markets to help farmers manage risk. In some countries—notably the US, in places such as Chicago—they put in place legislation to deliver the transparency needed to get a functioning futures market that enables farmers to defend themselves against price fluctuations.

We also have some interesting projects being developed in the UK. We are world leaders in issues such as agricultural insurance. There are some interesting projects on forming mutual funds—effectively, mutualised risk insurance models—that help farmers to insure their margin and protect a given quantity of milk, for instance, at a given price. Moving these powers away from just intervening where there is catastrophic risk, and away from a “severe” to some sort of “significant” disturbance, is the quickest way to snuff out the development of those private futures markets and risk management models.

Dr Drew Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 2:16 p.m.

The Minister quoted the US a minute or two ago. I have some experience of the way in which the US operates its agricultural policy. Whenever there is any challenge to US farmers, it brings the Farm Bill out and openly subsidises its farmers—it is a straight subsidy. That is one of the problems I have with a free trade deal with the US: it is not a level playing field if we get rid of direct payments. I ask the Minister again: how do we defend against exceptional market conditions in this country when another country has already decided that it is going to defend its farmers by taking action through subsidising them?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 2:16 p.m.

We are adopting an approach to agriculture policy that is all around investing in farmers to help them reduce their costs to improve their profitability and to reward them for the work they do for the farmed environment. Part four, starting with clause 17, which we are debating now, is all about intervention powers in exceptional circumstances. We have deliberately not defined what those are because there should be a strong element of discretion here, and the Government have to be able to move, decide and act in an expeditious way to tackle a crisis.

The hon. Member for Darlington mentioned this morning what sort of circumstances these powers might be used in. Bearing in mind that they have largely been borrowed from existing EU provisions, we know when the EU has used powers of this sort. For instance, it was possible when we had the dairy crisis in 2015 and prices slumped for a long period during the latter part of that crisis, for the EU to fall back on these exceptional intervention powers to make grants and payments available to farmers to reduce their production. That is the kind of example where it would be absolutely appropriate to use these powers. However, there are other times when we have short-term fluctuations in the market, and when it would not be appropriate to use the powers.

Dr Drew Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 2:18 p.m.

The Minister is being very patient with me, but I want to get this on the record: if another country, which we may have a trading arrangement with, chooses to subsidise its farmers in extremis because of a particular circumstance, which may be—dare I say it—an act of God, or the market may just be in a difficult position, would we use this particular power to support our farmers?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 3:10 p.m.

If that crisis in a third country led to a market disturbance here that had an impact on our producers, then yes, the power is there to do so. There is wide discretion in how this power could be used. In practice, the reality here is that when we have a crisis, we know what will happen. The Minister of the day will have representations from Back-Bench MPs who have met their farmers and he will have to make a judgment about whether this warrants declaring that exceptional market circumstance and taking action thereafter to address it.

This is a wide discretionary power, but I am certain Parliament will be plugged in to advocating that we should declare this exceptional market circumstance and act. It is right we enable it to be a flexible power that can be used in emerging crises that we cannot yet predict.

Dr Drew Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 2:19 p.m.

I am sorry to intervene once again, but this issue is a minefield, because if a group of my farmers come to me, and I then go to the Government and say, “Well, this is an exceptional circumstance”, and the Government say, “No, it’s not”, but the United States has treated it as an exceptional circumstance, that will surely lead to all manner of legal actions against the Government. Clearly, farmers will defend their rights and their incomes when they feel another country that is trading with us is getting an unfair advantage. Is he not opening a can of worms?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 2:20 p.m.

No, I do not think we are. We are largely replicating what already exists. It is already the case that if there was a crisis in the US, and the US intervened but the European Union chose not to, there would be some disparity—

Dr Drew Hansard

Well there you are.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 2:20 p.m.

We should deal with the situation in our market. The test we should apply before acting is whether there is a severe market disturbance that affects our agricultural producers. We should not be worrying about what other countries happen to be doing.

Break in Debate

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 2:24 p.m.

I do not accept that. We learned from the exchange rate mechanism crisis in this country that floating exchange rates work, and work for our economy. The ERM caused a deep recession in this country, and it was only by leaving it and allowing our currency to float and find its correct value that we saw that boom. We know that the existence of the single currency eurozone is throttling growth in countries such as Italy and Greece and causing massive unemployment, particularly youth unemployment. We know, too, that, since the referendum result, sterling has eased back against the euro, which has led to the biggest boost in farm incomes for more than a decade. In the two years since the referendum decision, farmers have benefited from the pound’s slightly softer rate against the euro.

On the amendments, I believe that the issues have already been addressed or that they seek to constrain or fetter the discretion in the power, so I hope that the Opposition spokespersons will not press them.

Dr Drew Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 2:26 p.m.

This has been an illuminating discussion. The Minister has done well with a bad set of cases. Farm systems throughout the world are subsidised; they might be subsidised in different ways, but they are subsidised. In the normal course of events, that is not a particular problem—we can deal with it, partly because we are in the EU and so have a bulwark. The difficulty is that the clause puts an enormous responsibility on the Secretary of State—I would not want it if I were Secretary of State—to decide whether something is an exceptional market circumstance. I would want to know with my Cabinet colleagues that I had the power to insist on action.

The clause will make it difficult for a Minister to make the right decision, because farmers, understandably, will say, “You have to support us—the Americans support their farmers,” but here it is at the Minister’s discretion. That has always been our problem, and it is why I will press the amendment to a vote. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington will do likewise with her amendment.

This is the crunch point of the Bill that we are asking the Government to consider. We do not want to fetter a future Administration, but we would want that Administration to understand their responsibilities, and that can be more clearly spelt out in terms of a duty—not a power, but a duty—so that if exceptional market circumstances were affecting the operation of agriculture in this country, the Secretary of State, or whoever was making the decision in government, had to respond, because of how the legislation had been framed. That is why I will press the amendment to a vote. I want to make it clear that the Bill is deficient in that regard.

We have heard many other interesting things that we will read back over with the benefit of hindsight. The Minister needs a few more examples to give us certainty that what is going on is coherent. At the moment, this seems a woolly set of arguments. We are protecting British farmers. We are also protecting British landowners, who might also be affected, as we can sadly see in California at the moment. I referred earlier to President Trump. He was hardly on the front foot. In a sense, the amendment would help the Secretary of State because he or she would know they had to act and that it was the Government’s responsibility. We can argue about what exceptional circumstances are, but the action should be clear, and that is why I will press the amendment to a vote. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington will be so moved as well.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Chair
13 Nov 2018, 2:29 p.m.

As you know, the Chairman never makes mistakes, but on this occasion I did. Because the debate on this group started when I was a young man, or before lunch, I proposed the question on amendment 46 before lunch, but when Jenny Chapman sat down, I also proposed the question on amendment 97. If you wish to press it, you may; otherwise, withdraw it.

Amendment proposed: 97, in clause 17, page 12, leave out lines 39 to 44 and insert—

‘(2) In this Part “exceptional market conditions” exist—

(a) where—

(i) there is a severe disturbance in agricultural markets or a serious threat of a severe disturbance in agricultural markets, and

(ii) the disturbance or threatened disturbance has, or is likely to have, a significant adverse effect on agricultural producers in England in terms of the prices achievable for one or more agricultural products, or

(b) if, on the day after exit day, the United Kingdom has not entered, or secured an agreement to enter, into a customs union with the EU.”—(Jenny Chapman.)

Dr Drew Hansard

I beg to move amendment 47, in clause 20, page 15, line 18, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to make regulations for marketing standards, such as labelling, packaging, classification in Clause 20.

The Chair

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 82, in clause 20, page 16, line 2, at end insert—

“(2A) Regulations under this section may not amend or repeal any part of retained EU law (within the meaning of section 6 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018) relating to—

(a) the protection of the environment, or

(b) consumer rights.”

Amendment 83, in clause 20, page 16, line 17, after “section” insert—

“may only be made following a public consultation and”.

This amendment would ensure that there are checks and balances on the use of Ministerial powers and that Ministers may not make regulations that deviate from retained EU law without consultation with industry experts.

Dr Drew Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 2:34 p.m.

I shall be very quick, because this is the same argument as I used earlier—we make no apology for bringing it back. Clause 20 may not seem to be the most important in the Bill, but the success of any farming operation nowadays depends on marketing. The measure will take effect in a number of different ways. Far too much discretion is allowed to the Secretary of State. These important responsibilities should be encompassed within duties not powers, which is why we make no apology for trying to make it a duty.

Amendment 47 is simple. We do not understand why the Minister has been reticent throughout the Bill to include duties so that successive Governments will know their responsibilities. This is a monumental clause that entails all manner of different requirements on the Minister: classifying different types of animal and plant variety, and how they are presented in terms of the way in which they are sold. Traceability is the issue that consumers feel most strongly about following the difficulties we went through with BSE and the cockle pickers. They want to know that what they are buying is produced in the manner best for animal welfare and that it is safe. They want to know where it comes from, and that the people who produced it have been paid fairly and are looked after.

This clause is important because it has all sorts of ramifications. We ask the Minister to consider when he will include duties if not in clause 20. This is about consumer protection as much as it is about the protection given to producers. My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington is going to follow up with other issues that are specified, relating to where we would be with our withdrawal from the EU, but this amendment is plain and simple. We are asking the Minister to put at least one duty in the Bill. That is crucial and would enable consumers to know the Minister is doing something because he has to do it for their benefit, and not doing something just because he wants to. I hope he considers clause 20 important and that he listens to us.

Jenny Chapman Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 2:40 p.m.

I will speak to amendments 82 and 83. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud said, this argument is to some extent a rehash of the arguments we made earlier when we insisted that the Government should deprive themselves of the ability to amend regulations on the protection of the environment or consumer rights, which are so exceptionally important and valuable to the country that ideally they should not be watered down, dispensed with or altered by Ministers without the use of primary legislation—it should not be done by regulation.

In amendment 82, we seek to safeguard any part of retained EU law relating to the protection of the environment or consumer rights. Clause 20 allows the Secretary of State to amend regulations relating to marketing standards, including the power to amend or revoke standards set out in retained EU legislation. That is quite some power. Current EU legislation pertaining to marketing standards will become retained EU legislation in section 6 of the withdrawal Act. The Secretary of State obviously understands that this is a significant power because even the Government have said that they recognise that they will need to use the affirmative procedure. However, he wants to be able to change the legislation whenever he sees fit.

The Government ought to be aware of just how extensive that power is, and that Parliament will want to be involved and concerned about how the power will be exercised in future. It is welcome that the Government accept the need for the affirmative procedure, but we ask that they accept safeguards in the Bill so that we can be confident that, as a consequence, environmental protections and consumer rights cannot be watered down—or at least that it will be difficult to do so.

We have not debated those important issues as much as others such as support for farmers. We do not want these important measures to be diminished in any way through lack of insufficient debate during the progress of the Bill. The measures were the subject of considerable concern on the Floor of the House during debates on the withdrawal Act. Committee members may remember that many amendments were tabled along the lines of the ones we are discussing. There was great frustration and suspicion that future Governments would be able, through regulation, to make changes to these important safeguards, which have been copper-bottomed up until now because they have been part of EU law, much to the irritation of some Members.

I can see the argument that Members will be pleased when such safeguards can be changed by this Parliament, but that needs to be done in the right way. It is no good saying that things are protected just because power resides in Westminster with the UK Government or in a devolved Administration.

Break in Debate

Jenny Chapman Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 2:50 p.m.

I am grateful, Sir Roger. We are all learning as we go. The teamwork that you see on the Opposition Front Bench is seamless, but it requires us to get up in the right order.

I accept what the Minister said. His undertaking on having a consultation is welcome, and I look forward to holding him to it. I remain concerned about the subject of amendment 82. I hear what he says, but we are at a turning point, and we must to start as we mean to go on. The point we are making to the Government is that we want these things to be done properly and as transparently as possible, with as much involvement of MPs as we can manage, because that is how we involve wider society in our deliberations. These are matters of intense importance and I would like to test the Committee’s opinion on amendment 82.

Dr Drew Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 2:50 p.m.

We have had a number of votes on “must” and “may” so I will simplify this by withdrawing amendment 47, but we are happy to push amendment 82 to the vote.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Dr Drew Hansard

I beg to move amendment 118, in clause 20, page 15, line 30, at end insert—

“(da) the indication on any labelling or packaging of a product of any allergen that the product is known to, or might reasonably be expected to, contain.”

This amendment would explicitly provide for labelling regulations to cover the presence of allergens in products.

The Chair
13 Nov 2018, 2:51 p.m.

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment

New clause 15—Mandatory labelling of animal products as to farming method—

‘(1) The Secretary of State shall make regulations requiring meat, meat products, milk, dairy products and egg products (including those produced intensively indoors) to be labelled as to the method of farming.

(2) The labelling required under subsection (1) shall be placed on the front outer surface of the packaging and shall be in easily visible and clearly legible type.

(3) Regulations under subsection (1) shall (among other things) specify—

(a) the labelling term to be used for each product, and

(b) the conditions that must be met for the use of each labelling term.

(4) Regulations under subsection (1) may exclude from the labelling requirement products containing meat, eggs, milk or dairy products where the total proportion by weight of one or more of these items in the product is less than fifteen per cent.

(5) Regulations under this section are subject to affirmative resolution procedure.”

This new clause would strengthen Clause 20 to require the Secretary of State to make labelling regulations that require meat, milk and dairy products, and egg products, including those which have been produced intensively, to be labelled as to farming method. Eggs are not included as legislation already requires eggs to be labelled as to farming method.

Dr Drew Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 2:52 p.m.

This is something different, and again we are here to help the Government. Everyone will be aware of the allergen issues that have sadly affected a number of families, some of whom have lost loved ones. This is an opportunity that the Government should take, because we can insert in the Bill a provision that will at least put into law what many of us feel should already be in law, but has not yet reached the statute book. This amendment would insert a new short phrase

“the indication on any labelling or packaging of a product of any allergen that the product is known to, or might reasonably be expected to, contain.”

We are all aware of two specific cases, and the subject was debated through an urgent question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) on 9 October. It is interesting that a Government Member, the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), stated in response

“These are tragic cases, and it is clear that the law needs to be updated. Will my hon. Friend tell us how quickly he expects the law to be changed in this regard? Will they also say more about what the Government are doing to provide guidance to retailers, to ensure that this type of tragedy does not happen again?”—[Official Report, 9 October 2018; Vol. 647, c. 127W.]

Here is the opportunity. By making this simple amendment, we could make sure that products containing allergens are properly labelled, and that if someone does not label a product properly or takes a risk with it, they will be held responsible according to the law. Sadly, at the moment they are not.

The two recent cases are but the tip of the iceberg. I am allergic to corn—as a vegetarian, that is not much fun, because corn is one of the staple replacements. I get terrible tummy aches, or stomach problems, if that is proper parliamentary language. I am also allergic to penicillin and I know that. Sadly, some labelling not very clear, and although you can go online and find out, these things should be known. It is like anything: the consumer should be aware and learn through mistakes to some extent, but for some people that is a tragic line to take.

Martin Whitfield Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 2:54 p.m.

Do we not live in a time when the make-up—the ingredients—of products changes so rapidly that relying on previous knowledge of whether a product is safe is not good enough? People need to check virtually every time a product is purchased.

Dr Drew Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 2:55 p.m.

I agree. Perhaps we just know a lot more about allergens nowadays and people are more willing to be overt in coming forward to say what should happen. This is a simple amendment that gives the Government the opportunity. The Government, through the Minister, may want to say there is a different way of doing it, but here we have an Agriculture Bill that is about food production.

I will be interested to hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East has to say about her new clause, but clause 20 is a place where we could put a measure that will be immensely important to people who have allergies, so they know that they are being protected. We have various assurances from the Food Standards Agency that it is able to pursue cases; it is just not able to pursue cases because of the gap in the law, which should lead to criminal proceedings when someone been wilfully negligent.

Again, we are having to learn. In a post-Brexit situation—if we get to that situation—the British Government must have fool-proof security in how they deal with food standards and food safety. Given the a huge call on the Government to do this, I hope they will respond positively. If the Government will not remedy the problem at this stage, it would be interesting to know when they will act. Having stated that they intend to address a legislative gap, they are obliged to do so. Clearly, we cannot do this via a specific bit of legislation because we are waiting for Godot. You have to grab the opportunity when it comes around.

I hope the Minister will consider amendment 118 to be helpful. It will save lives, while also telling people who have lesser conditions but who want to know, if they are allergic to nuts or whatever, that a product has been properly labelled. If food is not properly labelled, the law should take its full effect.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab) - Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 2:57 p.m.

I endorse what my hon. Friend says about amendment 118. There are so many calls now for better labelling of food and more information that we run the risk of getting to the point where the information is in such tiny print that it becomes meaningless, particularly for people who, like me, have reached the age where their eyesight is not as good as it used to be. It is important that consumers get as much information as possible.

New clause 15 would strengthen the Bill by requiring the Secretary of State to make labelling regulations that require meat, milk, dairy and egg products, including those that have been produced intensively, to be labelled as to farming methods. Eggs are not included in the legislation because they are already labelled. Surveys show that eight out of 10 consumers in the UK would like to know how farm animals are reared.

The Government have a role to play in ensuring higher animal welfare. We talked about that in the context of public money for public goods and the definition of higher animal welfare that will come out in 2020, and on that basis farmers will be rewarded, but the market also has a role to play. Consumers only shop around for the higher welfare products if they know what higher welfare is and is not. That includes how meat and dairy products are being reared.

Break in Debate

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 3:12 p.m.

As I said a moment ago, we are currently reviewing this. We intend to publish the results and our thoughts on how the law should be changed in this area early in the new year. We can make the amendments we need through secondary legislation. Obviously, because there is now a food safety issue, given the problem with allergies, once we have decided what is necessary we intend to move quite quickly.

New clause 15 relates to another important area. The Government have already signalled that we are keen to look at this issue further. Before addressing method of production labelling, I draw the attention of the hon. Member for Bristol East to subsection (2)(d) and (g) of clause 20. Paragraph (d) refers to

“the presentation, labelling, packaging, rules to be applied in relation to packaging centres, marking, years of harvesting”,

and so on, and paragraph (g) stipulates

“the type of farming and production method”.

Taken together, those two provisions already give us the powers we need to do all the things the hon. Lady is seeking to achieve with her new clause. Although this is an important area, and one that we want to look at, I do not think that this specific new clause is necessary. I hope that it is a probing amendment, given that the Bill already covers this in subsection (2)(d) and (g).

However, I would like to touch on the substance of the issue. The debate that we have had, with its many interventions—as I said, the hon. Lady is here to lighten the mood of the Committee—highlights how important this is, but also how complex. There are lots of descriptors: we have “grass-fed”, which is not necessarily the same as “pasture-fed”; we have “pasture-fed systems”; we have “outdoor-bred” pigs or “outdoor-reared” pigs; there is “organic” and “free-range”—and often those terms mean different things. It is quite an undertaking to try to define all those in one bound. Probably the more likely thing would be to pick something, such as “pasture-fed livestock”, just as we have done for free-range eggs, where we can draw the criteria and roll out these types of descriptors on labels as we are ready to do so effectively, rather than bite off more than we can chew. The regulations would enable us to do that, so we could bring in schemes as we were ready to roll them out.

Another slight complication is the nervousness I have always had about going too far down the line on method of production labelling, because there could be unintended consequences. For example, at the moment there is a substantial market for outdoor-reared bacon, because people look for that on the packet. They are less inclined to do so if they are buying a pork pie, for instance. Some manufacturers of pork pies might buy from high-welfare farms parts of the carcase that are not used for bacon and that are maybe outdoor bred, but they might also buy pigs from other, more commercial producers.

We have to be careful that, by having onerous labelling requirements for some of those sectors where people are less inclined to seek out the descriptor, we do not create an unintended barrier to high-welfare producers accessing the market for parts of the carcase that they would not necessarily market on the high-welfare brand. I am attracted to moving in that direction, but there are complexities and difficulties around the definitions and potential unintended consequences. I hope that the hon. Member for Bristol East will agree that the intentions behind her new clause are already reflected in subsection (2)(d) and (g) of clause 20.

Dr Drew Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 3:22 p.m.

I am partly assuaged by what the Minister has said. I hope he will commit to ensuring that there is an overt process by which the statutory instrument comes forward, so that we can allay the fears of those who clearly now have worries. That is why it is so urgent, and why we have provided an opportunity to make this amendment. People literally do not know what to eat because of their particular allergens. The Minister says that nobody knows quite why this has taken off in the way it has. I suspect that it is because we have become more susceptible to particular foodstuffs. Maybe it is because we know a lot more about why people have difficulties when they eat certain substances. It is right and proper that we give them the protection they deserve.

I will not push my amendment to a vote, but I will hold the Minister to account on this. We seem to have a very busy end of the year, and all manner of things will be coming forward. My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington might wish to take a slightly different course of action; I think the Minister has given certain assurances, but we will not let go of this, because people’s lives are threatened. We feel that, at the very least, it is important for people to know that what they eat is safe and will not affect them adversely. I know from various correspondence that Government Members feel the sam.

I hope that the Minister has heard what I have said and will act on it, and that he will bring the SI forward as a matter of extreme urgency. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: 82, in clause 20, page 16, line 2, at end insert—

“(2A) Regulations under this section may not amend or repeal any part of retained EU law (within the meaning of section 6 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018) relating to—

(a) the protection of the environment, or

(b) consumer rights.”—(Jenny Chapman.)

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP) - Hansard

I beg to move amendment 56, in clause 22, page 16, line 30, leave out “to the Secretary of State”.

See explanatory statement for Amendment 59.

Break in Debate

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock - Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 3:41 p.m.

That is certainly possible, and my proposal would allow for that possibility. Amendment 10 is odd; it is not clear why there should be no legal form defined for an entity in legislation. I hope the Minister can clarify.

Dr Drew Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 3:41 p.m.

I will be brief because it is important to hear from the Minister. This is one of the real issues with the Bill. We have no schedule for Scotland; we do have a schedule for Northern Ireland, and I visited there last week to get some clarity on what they think it implies for Northern Ireland’s participation in the Act. Officials were clear that they see the schedule as a political decision-making requirement. As there is no Government in Belfast at the moment, they feel it inappropriate to support the Bill as it stands. They feel strongly that the current direct payment system will remain in place—they want their £300 million, by the way, Minister.

The Bill is very interesting, but, effectively, it is a Bill only for England and Wales. It is not a Bill for Scotland or Northern Ireland, yet these things are under the aegis of a Bill for the United Kingdom. It is a funny Bill, with two parts of the United Kingdom not participating in it.

Now, it might be a case of the officials misunderstanding. Clearly, we could move to direct rule, and the Government would then have to take decisions. I thought I had better check with the Democratic Unionist party spokesperson on agriculture. He reaffirmed that the DUP does not support the movement towards an environmental approach and it will, in due course, vote against it. The DUP believes that direct payment should stay in place as the only way for farmers in Northern Ireland to be secure. Having also visited the Republic, I am not sure that it will move, even though the CAP is up for redesign at the moment. There are indications that it will move towards environmental payments, but it is not there yet.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith’s point is interesting, to put it mildly. I am unclear where the Bill stands as a United Kingdom Bill. To me, it is very unclear. The devolution settlement means that, effectively, Scotland and Northern Ireland can do their own things, because agriculture is a devolved matter. If it were not a devolved matter, we would be discussing the agriculture policy of the United Kingdom. However, we cannot and we will not, and we might get a nasty shock when we come to final votes on the legislation.

There may be some interesting alliances, because I do not think we have understood the degree of the problem. I will make some more points on this when we reach schedule 4. I am laying down what I think is a very big dilemma. We have assumed that when this Bill becomes the Agriculture Act it will carry the four countries. I do not think it will. It will not carry Scotland, and it is increasingly evident that Northern Ireland will not be carried. I would welcome the Minister’s response to that. How does he intend to overcome that huge hurdle?

Jenny Chapman Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 3:47 p.m.

I will not say very much; I just want to echo some of my hon. Friend’s points. I was involved with the withdrawal Act, and today I have been reading the latest common frameworks document, which was released earlier today. A lot of it is about agriculture and the progress that has been made on agreeing frameworks for the UK after we leave the EU. It says:

“Further detail on the specific arrangements that are subject to ongoing discussion in relation to agricultural support is available online.”

Unfortunately, the detail is not in that document, so I have not had a chance to look at it. It is important for the Minister to indicate where the Government are at with this to inform how we proceed on these issues.

I have a few more questions about that. Our deliberations about devolution issues took place on the Floor of the House, so many hon. Members here might have taken part in them. Devolution is very contentious and important, and every now and again it is used to make points not directly related to the issues under consideration. I have a few questions about how the amendments might work and what the Minister thinks of them, because I have some concerns about them.

The Labour party is fairly relaxed about the approach set out in amendment 59. We can see the logic behind it, but we would like to ask the Minister and the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith how they see it fitting with the ongoing negotiations about the establishment of common UK frameworks. That is the document that I have just referred to. Where are we? This is a moving thing, and the Minister is asking us to make decisions about a process that is still incomplete.

Amendment 60 works in conjunction with amendment 59, and seeks to remove the role of the Secretary of State and replace him with

“the appropriate authority to which an application is made under this section.”

I assume that it is consequential, given that amendment 59 seeks to redesign the process by which an application is made. Again, we are reasonably relaxed about that.

Amendments 60 and 61 seek to ensure that Scottish Ministers have the ability to grant consent to applications made to become a recognised producer organisation. What effect do the Minister and the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith see that having in practice? How would it actually work? The Labour party is not stuck on this; we do not mind it. In truth, and I hope the hon. Lady does not take this the wrong way—I say this as a neutral observer representing a town in the north-east—these amendments look a little like politicking, rather than serving a true purpose. Can she assure me about what impact the amendments would have on the capacity of Scottish Ministers to process applications?

Amendment 64 is unfortunately a bit problematic, as it goes further than the devolution settlement currently allows. I am not trying to be provocative. I do not want to get into somebody else’s fight. The sticking point, if I have understood the amendment correctly, is that it seeks to ensure that the consent of Scottish Ministers is required for all regulations under sections 22 and 23, which extend to Scotland. As I understand it currently, the devolution settlement from the Scotland Act 2016 says that Westminster will not normally legislate in areas where the Scottish Parliament has competence. Admittedly, the Government have not shown great respect for that principle with the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and, as noted previously, this is not an area where the Scottish Parliament or Scottish Ministers currently exercise competence. If that is correct, the amendment would go further than the devolution settlement does at the moment.

The word “veto” has been overused in these debates in the past, but given the contentious relationship—if I can put it that way—between the UK Government and the Scottish Government at the moment, I am raising a concern and would be interested to hear what others feel about this. Were amendment 64 to be agreed, the Scottish Government could refuse to grant consent for provisions that relate to Scotland, which would be in the vast majority, given that the amendment covers the UK as a whole. Then we could be in a constitutional deadlock, which is not something that anybody wants to see. This process is all about avoiding that.

Officials in the Scottish Parliament are quite clear that they are committed to not diverging in ways that would cut across future frameworks and they agree that this is a necessary approach to take. I do not want to see anything that we might agree here interfering with other processes. The important people in all this are the Scottish farmers and producers, and I cannot help thinking that they would be looking at this and wondering where they stand.

I would like the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith to clarify whether this amendment is seen as consequential to the others that she has tabled, as this is not an area where the Scottish Parliament or the Scottish Government have jurisdiction, and therefore consent would not currently be required when regulations are made. I am not trying to be provocative or to insert myself in the middle of an argument between the Government and the Scottish Government, but we need to be mindful of the potential impact that any row might have on the lack of support for producers in Scotland, because they need to come first.

Break in Debate

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 4:11 p.m.

There are lots of other conditions. Subsection (2)(e) requires that the constitution of the organisation meets certain requirements. There are other such provisions as well, so we do not have to define them as a body corporate in law in order to have express conditions that mean they would all be jointly and severally liable were something to go wrong.

Dr Drew Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 4:07 p.m.

My hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian has covered one of the points that I was going to raise. Can the Minister give us some examples of the actual changes that mean that he sees the amendment as necessary? I think I understood the original way in which it was placed in the clause, but what representations has he received, apart from the one he mentions? Are we changing the legislation because of one piece of representation or have others come up with cogent points for a necessary change?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 4:13 p.m.

I can tell the hon. Gentleman about that. I have had experience of the EU scheme in the past and there have been instances where, for instance, some growers have said to me that they would like to come together for a purpose other than just marketing, and they would like the freedom to be able to do that. That is quite restricted in the new scheme. On the amendments, the representations came from Co-operatives UK. After we published the Bill the co-ops told us that some of the provisions were unnecessarily restrictive and might stop some of their members from being able to have a recognised body for the purposes of clause 23, so we responded to those representations, which made salient points, and we were happy to acknowledge them and table the amendments.

Amendment 9 agreed to.

Amendment made: 10, in clause 22, page 16, line 39, leave out paragraph (d).—(George Eustice.)

This amendment removes the condition for applying to become a recognised producer organisation relating to the legal form of the organisation.

Break in Debate

The Chair
13 Nov 2018, 4:17 p.m.

This will be the last bite of the cherry, but if the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith wishes to move amendment 62 I will allow her to do so. I do not think it is going to add greatly to the scheme of things.

Clause 23

Recognised organisations: competition exemptions and further provision

Amendment proposed: 62, in clause 23, page 18, line 30, leave out “the Secretary of State” and insert

“an appropriate authority (within the meaning given in section 22(11))”.—(Deidre Brock.)

This amendment would require the delegation of functions to require permission from the appropriate authority (as set out in amendment 61).

Dr Drew Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 4:20 p.m.

We are getting there, slowly, Sir Roger. I want to pick up the point made by the Minister on clause 22 about how organisations will be identified. I am a Co-operative MP; I put that on the record. The Co-operative movement has been somewhat wary of this part of the Bill—whether it is clause 22 or, in this case, schedule 2, on which I have the opportunity to make these points.

I welcome the amendments that the Minister has moved, at least recognising that the Co-operative movement has been unhappy to be labelled as purely part of the competition arrangements, given that co-operation is a key part of the agricultural sector. Many farmers and farm organisations are, by their nature, co-operative: whether it is NFU Mutual, equipment changes or buying feed or pesticides, they tend to act in a co-operative organisation. I am raising the issue under schedule 2 to put on the record that there is still some unease. The Minister has recognised that, given the amendments that he tabled to clause 22. He has explained why he changed the wording, and I am very happy with that.

The issue is about the impact assessment on the Co-operative movement, given that the producer organisations, the associations of producer organisations and the inter-branch organisations—all lovingly acronymed —are by nature not just competitive organisations. They are also co-operative organisations. The Co-operative movement has felt that there has been increasing uncertainty and regulatory risk. Having agreed to the amendments that the Minister brought forward to clause 22, I am asking him also to say something in our discussion about schedule 2. That clearly relates to clause 23, given that one follows from the other.

Established co-operatives fear that they might find themselves outside the new settlement. They are likely to manage most of the uncertainty well, but they want to know that the Government have heard what they have been saying. In a sense, they want the Government to mount a robust defence of where co-operation comes within agriculture.

The biggest risk is where established co-operatives feel uncertainty about how the Competition and Markets Authority might interpret the joint selling arrangements. That is an important issue for those who want to protect co-operatives, one of whom is myself. At the very least, the additional challenge they might be faced with will put a cost obligation on them, increasing the transactional costs of collaboration. They want reassurance from the Minister about how they should handle the situation.

Will co-operatives be subject to those types of challenges, if the legislation is passed as it is currently drafted? Will it at least make farmers less inclined to co-operate, given that the nature of the Bill is to look at different ways in which environmentally-inclined changes could lead to new ways of working? This is a very old way of working, but it may be given an enhanced status if and when the Minister can clarify whether co-operation would be a key element of how the Competition and Markets Authority would see the matter. The co-operatives did look at various amendments. The Government have listened, and the co-operatives are happy with what they have done through amendments 9 and 11 to clause 22. However, they want further reassurance, as the same logic applies to schedule 2.

This is a probing amendment, but it is important because the message the Minister gives will reassure or cause further doubt in the minds of those who wish to look at new forms of business organisations in terms of how they do their agricultural trade. Will the Government at least look again at the issue and ensure that what they have done with clause 22 will apply to schedule 2? If the Minister can assure me that the Government will do that, I will certainly not press the amendment, but we may have to revisit it on Report if the Government have not done what they should to ensure that the CMA can incorporate co-operation as well as pure competition.

Again, that is part of the current common agricultural policy arrangements and its interpretation of economic efficiency within the acquis. We want to know that it will be rolled over into British legislation and particularly how it will be rolled over into schedule 2.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 4:26 p.m.

I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. We have been in discussion with Co-operatives UK, which raised the issue about eligibility and the fact that the requirements for a corporate body and to have all members from one sector could affect some co-operative working. We listened to that and addressed it.

I do not think that there is a spill-over of that problem—for want of a better term—in schedule 2, because that schedule is essentially all the technical clauses needed to disapply what competition lawyers call “the chapter 1 prohibition”. In essence, schedule 2 determines and sets out in some detail the process by which producer organisations can come together to collaborate and co-operate in a range of areas and co-ordinate their activities in a way that would otherwise be considered a breach of competition law.

In particular, paragraph 9(1A) of schedule 3 to the Competition Act 1998 lists activities such as planning production, optimising production costs, concentrating supply, placing products on the markets and negotiating supply contracts. Schedule 2 gives licence to a recognised producer organisation to do all those things and to disapply those elements of the 1998 Act.

Break in Debate

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 4:29 p.m.

My understanding is that that is effectively an anti-avoidance provision to stop people from being members of several co-operatives and having a genuinely dominant market position that goes above and beyond what is envisaged by producer organisations. Under the current EU scheme, one producer organisation can have a market share of up to 33%, but if there were overlapping producer organisations, it could create market distortion. My understanding is that the provision seeks to address that.

In conclusion, I am a huge supporter of bio groups, co-operative working and collaborative working. We all know that one of the challenges we face in the agricultural industry, as we think about the future, is that it is sometimes a fragmented sector and sometimes does not have the clout it needs in the market or the ability to do joint collective buying to get those costs down. We want to facilitate collaborative working; this part of the Bill and the particular schedule that the shadow Minister has raised go some way to addressing that.

Dr Drew Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 4:30 p.m.

The Minister makes an interesting point. I thank the hon. Member for North Dorset for getting my little grey cells working. Let us take Arla, for example—a co-operative that operates across a number of countries and that is not likely to fall foul of the CAP by being seen as a monopoly with more than 33%.

I do not have the current figures for the percentage of the milk supply that Arla processes, but if the Competition and Markets Authority took it as a purely national organisation and it fell foul of that 33%, could this new legislation mean that it ended up having to be broken up? I will need some assurance from the Minister before we go any further, because that is a good example of a co-operative that everyone would support, but which could now be in a disadvantageous situation if we take this as a national definition of its market control. Will the Minister clarify?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 4:32 p.m.

There is already national competition law set out in the Competition Act 1998, enforced by the Competition and Markets Authority. In the past, for instance, that famously led to the break-up of Milk Marque, which led to the situation we have today. There have been instances of that in the past under existing national provisions on competition law. I know the hon. Gentleman said he might come back to this on Report; I am happy to give an undertaking to look at this issue further and explain in further detail exactly what each of those clauses delivers. The clause that my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset mentioned is an anti-avoidance clause—[Interruption.]

Dr Drew Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 4:32 p.m.

It must be something we said—he has just left.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Hansard

Yes. My understanding is that we have addressed the issues he has raised about the schedule, which are linked to the concerns that Co-operatives UK raised, through our earlier amendments.

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Clause 24

Regulations under sections 22 and 23

Amendment made: 12, in clause 24, page 19, line 7, after “unless” insert “section 29(4A) applies or”—(George Eustice.)

See the Explanatory Statement for Amendment 2.

Clause 24, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 25

Fair dealing obligations of first purchasers of agricultural products

Dr Drew Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 4:33 p.m.

I beg to move amendment 48, in clause 25, page 19, line 21, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to make regulations for fair dealing obligations in Clause 25.

The Chair
13 Nov 2018, 4:33 p.m.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 93, in clause 25, page 19, line 22, leave out “the first”.

This amendment would extend the fair contractual dealing provisions of Clause 25 to all purchasers of agricultural products through the supply chain.

Amendment 112, in clause 25, page 19, line 22, after second “of” insert “all”.

This amendment would ensure that powers to introduce sector-specific codes are not confined to certain sectors (i.e. not only those where voluntary codes have been unable to significantly improve contractual relationships) but to all sectors.

Amendment 65, in clause 25, page 19, line 23, at end insert—

“( ) Regulations under this section containing provision that extends to Scotland may be made only with the consent of the Scottish Ministers.”

This amendment would require that regulations containing provisions that extend to Scotland may be made only with the consent of Scottish Ministers

Amendment 94, in clause 25, page 19, line 24, leave out “the first”.

This amendment would extend the fair contractual dealing provisions of Clause 25 to all purchasers of agricultural products through the supply chain.

Amendment 66, in clause 25, page 20, line 24, at end insert—

“( ) Before making regulations under this section, the Secretary of State must consult persons—

(a) who are representative of—

(i) producers of, or

(ii) first purchasers of,

the agricultural products to which the regulations will apply, or

(b) who may otherwise be affected by the regulations.”

This amendment would ensure that before making regulations the Secretary of State be required to consult with representatives of the producers and first purchasers.

Amendment 95, in clause 25, page 20, line 28, leave out “first”.

Amendment 111, in clause 25, page 20, leave out line 30 and insert—

“‘producer’ includes—

(a) an individual producer within or outside the United Kingdom,

(b) an entity within or outside the United Kingdom which sells agricultural products after they have been aggregated from more than one producer, and

(c) a business within or outside the United Kingdom operating a packhouse;”.

Dr Drew Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 4:33 p.m.

We are making some progress. I blame the hon. Member for North Dorset; he has been holding us up, but now that he has gone we are racing through. These are quite important amendments. I will not labour the point on “must” and “may”—I think the Minister will be keen on that—but I do want to talk particularly about amendments 93 to 95, which stand in my name and those of my hon. Friends. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East also has amendment 111 in this group, so we will take a little bit of time going through this, because it is quite important.

Amendments 93 to 95 would remove the requirement restricting new statutory codes to first purchasers at the farm gate, addressing unfair dealings along the whole supply chain—beyond first purchasers—to ensure that that regulation applies to all stages of the supply chain not currently covered by the Groceries Code Adjudicator. I must say that we feel the Bill has been somewhat hurried here. We have made the point of who we did not hear evidence from, one of whom was the Groceries Code Adjudicator, whose powers we feel very strongly have been somewhat hamstrung by the Bill. We either value the Groceries Code Adjudicator’s work or we see it as fairly irrelevant.

This matters because it has been a bone of contention that producers can only ever take action through the Groceries Code Adjudicator relating to certain parts of the food chain, principally improprieties at the retail stage. I understand that the farming organisations have always wanted to extend those powers—powers, not duties—so that they can take action against intermediaries in the food chain. This is important, and we want clarity on this at the very least.

There is this thing about whether they are able to derive evidence of harm. The Government have noted that smaller suppliers—including the majority of farmers— growing our food, both in the UK and overseas, are vulnerable to abusive treatment by their buyers; that is why we have a Groceries Code Adjudicator in the first place. That behaviour can involve: paying invoices late, which is the classic one; changing orders at the last minute; cancelling orders, because we all have examples in our constituencies of particular producers feeling that they have been hung out to dry by the way in which certain buyers are able to manipulate the market; and charging suppliers unexplained fees to keep their food on the shelves.

We know that food supply chains are complex, with behaviour in one part of the chain obviously having an impact in another. Again, we want clarity here, because we think that this part of the Bill could be improved; we are trying to help the Government, not damn them. Limiting the clause’s focus to the relationship between a farmer and their immediate buyer sadly misses out what happens in the intermediary parts of the food chain. It will be interesting to know whether the Government see this as a role for the Groceries Code Adjudicator, or whether they are unhappy about it.

There was widespread support for putting the Groceries Code Adjudicator in place; it was a cross-party arrangement. It took longer than some of us would have liked, given that we started talking about it when I was last a Member, but eventually it came to fruition. The sad thing is that there is still a belief that the Groceries Code Adjudicator’s powers are too limited and that it is too constrained in where it might want to intervene to right wrongs. On these three amendments, we are asking the Government at least to be clear about what they see as the role of the Groceries Code Adjudicator in relation to the Bill.

At the crux of this are the circumstances in which the body might need to appropriate precise costs and take a more forensic approach when indirect suppliers request adjudication on a case in which unfair dealing had been perpetrated by other parts of the supply chain. It is about looking at whether we can improve the powers of the Groceries Code Adjudicator, and at the very least we want clarity on how the Bill will either do that or not. Again, we may want to revisit this on Report if we do not feel confident that the Government have listened and acted.

Regulations are about how this will be implemented in relation to the supply chain—of course, this is largely about statutory instruments—but the Government need to say something in the Bill about their priorities, and their willingness to listen and act on what many of our producers have identified as a serious issue. In terms of primary legislation, it is important not to leave out what those trading relationships are and could become if there was a more level playing field.

The enforcing body, which presumably is the Groceries Code Adjudicator, needs not only the powers to act but the resources. From talking to producers and from my knowledge of the Groceries Code Adjudicator, I know that cases are often not pursued because there are not the resources to do it. These are terribly complicated issues. Again, it is not something that the law has ever embraced, because it is so complicated. We set up the Groceries Code Adjudicator to get away from that particular legal quagmire.

It is worth noting that the EU, blighted as it might be, is currently passing a law that would set up an enforcement authority. At the very time that we are leaving the EU—supposedly—it now recognises that it has to take additional powers to deal with these unfair trading practices along the whole of the agriculture supply chain, from the farmer to the retailer. That received support from Conservative and Labour MEPs.

This is an important issue, which we make no apology for bringing up at this time in order to look at where we are in terms of the powers invested in the Groceries Code Adjudicator, whether those powers should be increased on the face of the Bill—something we could do here—and whether that would deal with some of the intermediary abuses that, at the moment, are not within the aegis of the Groceries Code Adjudicator. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy - Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 4:43 p.m.

I hope to be fairly brief. I will address amendment 111 first, because it links directly to amendments 93 and 94. In the event that amendments 93 and 94 are unsuccessful, and therefore the fair dealing measures in the Bill cover only the relationship between a farmer and the first buyer, amendment 111 has been tabled to address a potential unintended consequence of imposing these obligations on first purchasers, namely that producers who act as aggregators for their neighbours could potentially be classified as purchasers.

It is common practice here and overseas that if one producer has the infrastructure, skills or time, they may collate the produce on behalf of local farmers. A farmer with a big barn or storage facility may aggregate apples in a packhouse for neighbouring growers in his or her part of Kent or East Anglia. A bean grower in Kenya may do the same for neighbouring farmers. Amendment 111 ensures that those aggregators will still be classed as producers, and that they are then within the scope of protection.

Amendment 112 is about the sector-specific statutory codes. We have been told that they will initially be introduced in sectors where voluntary codes have been unable to significantly improve contractual relationships. I know that in evidence it was suggested that dairy would be the first sector to have the code applied, because it is seen that the current arrangements are not working that well. There is concern that certain sectors will have priority and that the Government will never get around to actually bringing other sectors into the scope of the statutory codes, for example for the fruit and veg sector. There would then be powers to support fair purchasing in the dairy sector, but not other sectors. Amendment 112 is simply about ensuring that the codes are not confined to certain sectors but apply to all sectors. I have lengthy notes on the rest of it, but I think I will leave it at that.

Break in Debate

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 4:58 p.m.

Although it might do so in a different way, it relates to competition law and is not an exemption from the chapter 1 requirements that we discussed earlier. The hon. Lady has not complained about the Groceries Code Adjudicator, which is administered on a UK basis and operates UK-wide; nor has she raised huge concerns about the way that the EU has always approached those matters, which is that they are a UK-wide competency and that switching on elements of the milk package is a UK decision and can be done only on a UK-wide basis. I hope that I have addressed the issues raised by the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith about the role of Scotland in this reserved matter, and reassured the shadow Minister and the hon. Member for Bristol East that their amendments are unnecessary since they are provided for in part 2 of schedule 1.

Dr Drew Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 4:56 p.m.

I hear what the Minister says and he will be pleased to learn that I will not press amendment 48 to a Division, but I am very concerned that the Bill has not been as clearly and cleverly scrutinised as it could have been because we were not able to meet a number of the organisations. I would have liked to ask the Groceries Code Adjudicator how the Bill could have made the authority more effective, but we did not get that chance. I do not know why she did not come; perhaps we were not as enticing as we might have been, or perhaps she did not get the push from Government.

It is important: this part of the Bill is about competition, fairness and accountability, yet we are in the dark, hoping that some of it will be carried through. The Minister has kindly given way on timber and we might see that somewhere in a schedule on Report, when he has talked to his colleagues. We are somewhat less than impressed by the Bill, and we need to nail down the legislation, in that we have producers believing that the Groceries Code Adjudicator is not able to function as effectively as she could, yet when we get the opportunity with some legislation to allow her additional powers those powers are not forthcoming.

The Chair

We move on to amendment 86.

Break in Debate

The Chair
13 Nov 2018, 5:02 p.m.

No. I am sorry. We have taken the vote on the lead amendment. Well, to be more exact, we have taken a vote on another amendment.

Dr Drew Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 5 p.m.

We will revisit it. The hon. Lady need not worry.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock - Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 5 p.m.

Can we revisit it?

The Chair

You can.

Dr Drew Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 5:04 p.m.

I beg to move amendment 86, in clause 25, page 20, line 9, at end insert—

“(aa) for the identity of any person who has made a complaint relating to alleged non-compliance to be held in confidence and not disclosed during any investigation into their complaint;”.

This amendment would provide for the confidentiality of persons who raise complaints under the fair dealing obligations provided by Clause 25.

The Chair

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 87, in clause 25, page 20, line 9, at end insert—

“(aa) for an investigation to be launched where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that there is non-compliance;”.

This amendment would provide for investigations to be undertaken under the fair dealing obligations provided by Clause 25 where there are reasonable suspicions, but no complaint has been made.

Dr Drew Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 4:56 p.m.

I hope not to delay us that much longer, because I think we are past the bewitching hour and we keep losing members—at this rate, the Whips are going to have to find someone non-existent to pair with—but it is important that we dwell on the issue for a few minutes.

Again, this amendment may not be that crucial to the Bill in the great import of things, but a number of organisations feel quite strongly about where this part of clause 25 is taking us. It is all about fair dealing and the obligations of the first purchaser of agricultural products. We have argued that that should not necessarily reside with the first purchaser, but should be across the food chain.

Amendment 86, which has the support of a number of non-governmental organisations, is about maintaining the confidentiality of complainants. That is vital, because they would not necessarily pursue a complaint without that confidentiality; evidence from the Groceries Code Adjudicator’s review highlighted that as an ongoing issue. The imbalances of power in many grocery supply chains create a climate of fear in which small suppliers are unwilling to speak out for fear of commercial reprisals. This reticence is understandable, because once a supplier is blacklisted regarding their ability to supply a particular food chain, that tends to become total and ongoing. Smaller players often rely on a single buyer for large proportions of their business—sometimes it is 100%. Even when a regulator is in place, suppliers still have concerns about coming forward. There is a need to ensure that there no single supplier is exposed to possible retribution by a more powerful mid-tier supplier and retailer.

Following an investigation, the new body should make relevant recommendations to deter poor practice, including penalising mid-chain suppliers or retailers found guilty of breaching the code. It is important to be clear that the confidentiality provided by this amendment is different from anonymity. We recognise that if the party bringing the complaint wants compensation regarding their specific case, they will of course need to be identified. It is not as though that confidentiality can be kept in place indefinitely, particularly where monetary compensation is required. The principle of the confidentiality of the identity of the complainants being waived only with their express consent is critical in ensuring that producers feel confident coming forward. That is exactly how the Groceries Code Adjudicator works, so we want to extend it along the food chain.

Amendment 87 would allow the enforcement body to undertake investigations without specific complaints, and again this is where we want to boost the power of the Groceries Code Adjudicator. An effective enforcement body must be able to hold the trust of suppliers and keep any evidence confidential until there might be some monetary arrangement, which would require going on the record. To achieve this, an enforcement body should also have the power to investigate potential transgressions under its own initiative, rather than require the submission of compelling evidence before it acts. My understanding is that that is what the Groceries Code Adjudicator has herself asked for. It would be surprised if she has not, because it completes her powers and responsibilities. The spotlight is taken away from suppliers and potential complainants, so it is on the Groceries Code Adjudicator herself to take those complaints forward. Without this clause we may see the enforcement body unable to identify issues that are either specific to one chain or one problematic behaviour activity, but where no single producer has been able to complain, directly for fear of delisting—that is a more appropriate term, I accept.

As I explained about amendment 86, there is a climate of fear. Therefore, we feel that proactive action by the regulator is vital. We want the Government to look seriously at this and use this legislation to enhance the powers of the Groceries Code Adjudicator, something that a number of us across the House have called for. We are seeking to use this legislation to do that because our producers feel that too often the Groceries Code Adjudicator is constrained by her inability to work across the food chain and to guarantee confidentiality and, when there is monetary consideration concerned, that this has been through due process.

I hope the Minister will give us the opportunity to consider how he can ensure that confidentiality is guaranteed, but also guarantee the enhanced powers of the Groceries Code Adjudicator. Again, this may not be the most important part of the Bill, but for producers who feel that they have fallen foul of the process and have, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich said, felt bullied, intimidated or delisted from selling their products in the right and fair manner, we should use the Bill to put that right.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 5:11 p.m.

The amendments are linked to a common sentiment that we hear from farmers. There is no doubt that a number of people will say that they fear reprisals, consequences of being delisted or losing business if they were to complain. That has been recognised for some time. That is why we made changes early on to the remit of the Groceries Code Adjudicator, to enable her to receive complaints anonymously and pursue investigations when she had reasonable cause to believe there was a problem with a particular supermarket, and indeed to allow a trade body such as the National Farmers Union to pass on intelligence about the conduct of a particular supermarket that could inform an investigation. Even within the GCA, which is predominantly a complaints body, we have found the scope for anonymous whistleblowing and for third-party organisations to pass on concerns.

I draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to subsection (5)(a) and (b). The specific issues he raises can be addressed through regulations. Subsection (5)(a) makes provision for regulations

“for complaints relating to alleged non-compliance to be referred to a specified person”.

And, crucially, subsection (5)(b) states

“as to how those complaints are to be investigated and how an allegation of non-compliance is to be determined”.

It is absolutely within the powers set out in subsection (5) for us to introduce regulations that would guarantee anonymity and enable complaints from third-party organisations, when they can hand on intelligence or create the scope for a regulator to investigate, when there is reasonable cause to believe there is a problem. I hope the hon. Gentleman will recognise that we think the particular issue that he seeks to address in amendment 86 is already provided for in subsection (5)(a) and (b).

Finally, although we hear a lot about this, Christine Tacon from the Groceries Code Adjudicator says that one of the most powerful things that can be done is for people working for processors and dealing with supermarkets to have assertiveness training, because we can put in place all the right regulations and have all the abilities in the world for people to report things anonymously, but there is a point at which people have to take responsibility and be willing to say to a supermarket buyer, “You know I cannot agree to that, because it is a breach of the code and what you are asking me to do is in breach of the law.” She said that when the GCA has placed people from those organisations’ sales teams on to assertiveness training, they have learnt how to use the code themselves without having to always run to her for an intervention.

Dr Drew Hansard

I find this quaintly interesting, because my experience of the milk trade is that they lack anything but assertiveness. There are more four-letter words in their way of trying to do business than could be heard on a football pitch on a Sunday morning. Sadly, it is not just about assertiveness, but fairness and the way in which this can be taken up by the Groceries Code Adjudicator. That is why a number of organisations—as always, at the top there is a whole series of different bodies—feel strongly that this needs additional powers to be vested in the Groceries Code Adjudicator. I hope the Minister has listened to that and will act on it.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 5:15 p.m.

As I said, the GCA already has the powers to receive complaints anonymously and to investigate, where she has reason to suspect a breach of the code. That is already in place.

My point is not that this is not a legitimate issue—of course, as I said, the regulations can provide for anonymity—but that at some time we need people to have the confidence and courage to say, “I will not agree with that. It is against the code—you know it’s against the statutory code—and you shouldn’t be asking me to do it.” For such things to work properly, we need the farmers and sellers also to hold people to what is a legal requirement. They can play their part and, where they are willing to do so, that can make all the difference.

Amendment 87 is similar—it is about being able to launch investigations when there are reasonable grounds to suspect non-compliance, rather than when there is a complaint. Again, we believe that we can provide for that. It is important to note that whatever is set out as a legal requirement in clause 25(3) will be a legal requirement whether or not there is a complaint. Subsection (5) deals predominantly with complaints and how they are handled, we do not envisage the body as simply a complaints-handling one; we see it as an enforcement body that will enforce all the legal requirements introduced under the Bill, specifically clause 25. It will not only handle complaints and pass them on.

Break in Debate

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 5:17 p.m.

The clause provides quite strong powers, including those to impose penalties for non-compliance on the first purchaser of agricultural products. If such a first purchaser happens to be a major retailer— perhaps one not currently covered by the groceries code, because it is below a certain threshold—it will be covered by the Bill. By addressing the problem from both ends of the telescope, we have a workable solution that means we can really deliver for the interests of farmers while not losing the successes of the Groceries Code Adjudicator model.

Having given that reassurance that the issues raised by the hon. Member for Stroud in amendments 86 and 87 can already be addressed through regulations under subsection (5), I hope that he will accept it and withdraw his amendments.

Dr Drew Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 5:18 p.m.

I thought that the intervention made by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire was apposite. We are improving the legislative framework, including toughening up the powers of the Groceries Code Adjudicator, and specifically—in my amendments—we could ensure that people feel confident that there is a confidential arrangement between them and the Groceries Code Adjudicator so that they may pursue their actions.

As much as I like the Minister and hear what he says, this is how we improve legislation—we want to put something very important in the Bill. We know why so many producers do not choose to pursue a course of action against someone who has treated them unfairly: they are frightened. We will press the amendment to a vote—though we might not win—and the Minister is hearing from his own Back Benchers that this needs to be revisited on Report. We want to ensure that the Groceries Code Adjudicator can exercise all her powers, including along the food chain—because at the moment it seems to be very much a one-way street, which is why she is less effective than she could be. Also, producers feel that they are often let down, because they are not able to carry through regarding the unfair practices that they face.

This little amendment—it is very small—would dramatically change the power relationship. I hope the Minister will accept in good faith that we are pressing it to a vote so that he can reflect on it when it comes back on Report and strengthen this bit of the Bill.

Chris Davies Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 5:20 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his praise—as praise indeed it was—but, unlike him, I am happy with the Minister’s response and I shall be voting with the Government.

Dr Drew Hansard

Sadly—I thought we might have enticed the hon. Gentleman over to this side. It could have made all the difference, and the Government would have, in due course, thought that it was great that Back Benchers spoke for themselves and voted accordingly. One always has these hopes that might be dashed at a later stage. We will press the amendment to a vote, but we hope the Government will understand that we are willing and able to see how this can be improved on Report.

Question put, That the amendment be made.