Debates between Ruth Jones and Victoria Prentis

There have been 5 exchanges between Ruth Jones and Victoria Prentis

1 Thu 5th March 2020 Agriculture Bill (Twelfth sitting)
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
10 interactions (1,961 words)
2 Tue 3rd March 2020 Agriculture Bill (Tenth sitting)
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
27 interactions (3,868 words)
3 Thu 27th February 2020 Agriculture Bill (Eighth sitting)
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
15 interactions (2,434 words)
4 Wed 26th February 2020 UK Chemical Industry: Regulatory Divergence
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
2 interactions (1,282 words)
5 Tue 25th February 2020 Agriculture Bill (Fifth sitting)
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
5 interactions (1,251 words)

Agriculture Bill (Twelfth sitting)
Debate between Ruth Jones and Victoria Prentis
Thursday 5th March 2020

(4 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab) - Hansard
5 Mar 2020, 2:35 p.m.

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

It is a pleasure to continue under your chairmanship, Sir David. I am pleased to speak briefly to the new clause, which is about standards, animal welfare and what is right. It is about who we are and what we eat, although I am mindful of my hon. Friends from Bristol, so the last part applies only to some of us.

Sir David, we know that many people in Southend West, Newport West and right across the United Kingdom are concerned that Britain’s departure from the European Union could lead to laws on the quality of meat standards being relaxed to the point of impotency, purely so that a deal can be struck between the Prime Minister and the United States Government. Many Opposition Members have loudly made the case that we cannot sell out or trade off our high standards and practice, and many on the Government Benches make those points in private too. This morning, the Secretary of State for International Trade made a strong comment in response to my question in the House. She said that the Government would walk away from any US-UK deal that did not protect our high standards. Obviously, we will watch that very closely.

I commend Unison for commissioning a recent survey that looked at the wider issues of meat standards. It is important for representative bodies such as Unison to take the lead in highlighting those issues. In Labour’s 2019 manifesto, we pledged to introduce a formal whistleblowing procedure through the Food Standards Agency, to enable employees to report bad behaviour and practice in abattoirs. The new clause would make good on that pledge, but more importantly ensure that malpractice and impropriety had no place in abattoirs across the country. The new clause is sensible, and essentially self-explanatory. Surely the Government will have little issue accepting it, and I call on them to do so.

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis - Hansard
5 Mar 2020, 2:39 p.m.

Whistleblowing is already protected in legislation in Great Britain through the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, and the Food Standards Agency already has robust procedures in place to process whistleblowing in relation to animal welfare offences committed in abattoirs. The Act provides procedures to support staff and workers to raise concerns regarding possible past, current or future wrongdoing during the course of their work. That includes abattoir workers who are concerned that animal welfare offences might have been committed by their employer. That legislation and the FSA procedures provide a clear framework to handle whistleblowing and encourage disclosure—not just within abattoirs, but across the scope of work carried out by the FSA.

Following the 2013 review into the integrity and insurance of food networks, the National Food Crime Unit was established in 2015, which allows anyone to report any suspected food crime by calling Food Crime Confidential on a dedicated number. That crime unit is strengthening its capabilities and will be opening a fully functioning in-house criminal investigations unit by April 2020. I am sure that the hon. Member for Newport West will agree that this is progress, so I ask her to withdraw her proposal.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones - Hansard
5 Mar 2020, 2:44 p.m.

I thank the Minister for her comments and her affirmation of what is already going on. However, if this is already in law, it could do no harm to enshrine and reaffirm it in the Bill, so we will not withdraw the new clause; we will push it to a vote.

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

Break in Debate

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis - Hansard
5 Mar 2020, 2:56 p.m.

It is a genuine pleasure and honour to be surrounded by so many knowledgeable and committed environmentalists. The Government consider that shooting activities can bring many benefits to the rural economy, and in many cases are beneficial for wildlife and habitat conservation. We recognise that it is vital that wildlife and habitats are respected and protected. We will continue to work to ensure a sustainable, mutually beneficial relationship between shooting and conservation. There is no need for a commitment to review driven grouse shooting, as defined in the new clause, because we are already considering these issues. If there were to be a review, it might be more efficient and effective to consider other forms of grouse shooting and wider moorland management where there are no grouse, alongside driven grouse shooting.

The Government are already addressing rotational burning associated with grouse moor management on protected blanket bog. We have always been clear of the need to end burning on protected blanket bog to conserve vulnerable habitats, and we are actively looking at how legislation could achieve that. Our intention has always been to legislate if a voluntary approach fails to deliver. Real progress is being made in promoting sustainable alternatives, including consent for cutting of vegetation as an alternative to rotational burning, and removing or modifying consents to burn as higher level stewardship agreements are renewed. We have urged landowners to adopt those measures and continue to work with them constructively.

The recently released Werritty review addresses those issues in Scotland. The group’s report recognised the socioeconomic contribution that grouse shooting makes to Scotland’s rural economy, but made a number of recommendations that are currently being considered by the Scottish Government. We will watch closely to see how they respond. We do not rule out the possibility of a wider review into grouse moor management in the future, but I would not want to restrict that just to driven grouse management. Once Scotland has announced its plans, we will consider the benefits or otherwise of regulatory alignment between the two jurisdictions. I therefore ask the hon. Lady to withdraw the new clauses.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones - Hansard
5 Mar 2020, 2:58 p.m.

I thank the Minister and the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby for their comments. I bow to the right hon. Gentleman’s expertise in this area; I accept his comments and I am pleased that he agrees with us at least in part.

The burning of heather is an emotive issue, and there are many different expert opinions on it. It is certain that careful land management is crucial to ensure that we achieve our environmental standards. That is why we tabled our new clauses. We all agree that tree planting is essential; the Government are already missing their own targets by at least 70%, so we must keep pushing.

I take issue with the right hon. Gentleman’s comments that this is a false animal welfare issue—it is not. It is a very real issue, which is why we have tabled the new clauses, following advice from outside organisations. I am pleased that the Minister is considering driven grouse shooting legislation, but let us start now and put it in the Bill.

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

Break in Debate

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones - Hansard
5 Mar 2020, 3:38 p.m.

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

The new clause would require the Secretary of State to hold a consultation on whether an existing agency, such as the Rural Payments Agency, or a new body should administer payments and other functions delivered under the Bill. This is an important juncture in our consideration of the Bill. This will probably be, in the words of our former colleague David Drew, “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. But, as is always the case, things do not have to be that way. The Government could ensure that we have a strengthened and effective payments agency, but that agency will likely have to be a new body with a strong and effective mandate to do its work. We cannot rely on an existing agency that has a reputation for wrong payments, late payments and no payments at all.

The new clause is not meant to be confusing; it is very clearly about charting a realistic way forward that has the support of those who will be seeking support and funding from Her Majesty’s Government in the years ahead. We would welcome it if the Minister stood up and announced a strong and empowered agency, but if she cannot do that today, we want the new clause to stand part of the Bill. We are entering uncharted waters—as the shadow Minister with responsibility for water, I know all about that—and we have the chance to take stock, reflect and start anew.

Much has been made of the future and the new way of doing things. The Government have made a great many promises to our farmers and agricultural workers. If we take the Bill and the Government press lines as they stand, we are entering a new and glorious world, but I caution those on the Treasury Bench to make good on their pledges and promises to our farmers and all those working in the agricultural sector. The demands on those people and workers are great, and the potential to increase support is huge, so let us take it.

The new clause will ensure that things are done properly when it comes to the many financial provisions in the Bill and the passing on of vital payments, that the powers and resources are exercised effectively, and that we do our best for our farmers going forward. I hope that the Minister will listen carefully and respond accordingly.

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis - Hansard
5 Mar 2020, 3:41 p.m.

I hope that I have reassured hon. Members in all parts of the Committee that we will consult extensively on the use of the various powers in the Bill. We know that the delivery of the previous CAP scheme was not as good as we wanted it to be, or as good as farmers deserved. Therefore, we will design new arrangements that will make it as simple as possible for people to apply for funding. We want to ensure that payments are prompt and accurate.

In the short term, the Rural Payments Agency will continue to administer direct payments and countryside stewardship payments, and considerable progress has been made in their delivery and achievement in recent years. We have seen a significant increase in performance and are putting in place further improvements to delivery.

As discussed last week, there will be a public consultation on ELM. Stakeholders will be able to provide us with feedback across all elements of the schemes. We use such feedback to inform decisions on who will be best placed to provide the service for the ELM and other financial schemes going forward. Before consulting on how we deliver future schemes, we will want to refine our policies further. Once we have established who is best placed to deliver the reform, we can take views on how to roll it out. I hope that I have reassured the hon. Lady.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones - Hansard
5 Mar 2020, 3:42 p.m.

I thank the Minister for her comments and for her honesty in accepting that there have been flaws and deficiencies in the previous system. We all share the same aim: we want payments to be made accurately and promptly. We look forward to the promised improvements at the RPA and will therefore not press the new clause to a vote. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 27

Agriculture Co-ordination Council

“(1) There shall be an Agricultural Co-ordination Council composed of—

(a) the Secretary of State, or representatives of the Secretary of State,

(b) Scottish Ministers, or representatives of Scottish Ministers,

(c) Welsh Ministers, or representatives of Welsh Ministers, and

(d) DAERA.

(2) The Council shall establish a common framework to monitor any disparities within the United Kingdom—

(a) in standards of food production;

(b) arising from the exercise of powers to give financial assistance for any purpose which may be specified;

(c) arising from the power to make payments under the basic payment scheme or to make delinked payments; and

(d) in marketing standards.

(3) The Council shall review any framework established under subsection (2) at least once in each calendar year, and may amend a framework.”—(Thangam Debbonaire.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Agriculture Bill (Tenth sitting)
Debate between Ruth Jones and Victoria Prentis
Tuesday 3rd March 2020

(4 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Bill Main Page
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab) - Hansard

I beg to move amendment 77, in clause 27, page 22, line 4, leave out lines 4 to 7 and insert—

“(1) The Secretary of State must, before the end of the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, make regulations—

(a) imposing obligations on all business purchasers of agricultural products in relation to contracts they make for the purchase of agricultural products from all qualifying sellers;”

Break in Debate

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones - Hansard
3 Mar 2020, 2:04 p.m.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Of course, he is an expert in this area and I bow to his superior knowledge, but what we are saying is that we need to clear the matter up for the whole industry, not just for certain sectors that already work well. However, I appreciate his intervention.

I hope that the amendments have shown the Government that there is widespread support for this action. They are about not partisan advantage, but clarity for the sector and an improved set of circumstances and conditions. I am proud to have tabled them.

Victoria Prentis Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Victoria Prentis) - Hansard
3 Mar 2020, 2:05 p.m.

What a pleasure it is to have you back with us, Sir David! I thank the hon. Lady for the amendments, which reflect an obvious desire to ensure that all farmers and producers are spared from unfair trading practices. We absolutely share that goal; our only disagreement is the means proposed to achieve it.

Essentially, we believe in the principle of a targeted solution for a specific problem, and we are keen to take the time to get the solution right. No two agricultural sectors are the same, and neither are the contractual issues that they face. Certain sectors, such as the poultry and grain sectors, may, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby reminded us, be so well integrated that contractual problems do not often arise.

We should have targeted solutions where they are needed, but we need to avoid burdensome new requirements where they are not. To ensure that, the specific detail of each code will be developed in consultation with industry and set out in secondary legislation. Enforcing a time limit on the creation of fair-dealing obligations would prevent regulations accounting for the complex nature of our agricultural market.

Turning to amendment 78, I assure the hon. Member for Newport West that all types of agreement to purchase agricultural products can already be protected by the clause, and the position of farmers in the supply chain will be protected under the current drafting. The clause allows us to regulate for the purposes of fair contractual dealing. That goes beyond a formal, written contract. As the hon. Lady no doubt knows, a contract constitutes any agreement of sale, whether it is formally written down or not. In the dairy sector, it is commonplace to write things down; in other sectors, there are more informal, word-of-mouth arrangements, particularly in the red meat world and parts of the arable world. However, the clause covers all agreements, written or otherwise.

On amendment 79, we deliberately designed the clause to be as flexible as possible. That is a change since the previous iteration of the Bill. Having listened to comments made at the time, we severed the link to the list of sectors in schedule 1 so that future regulations are no longer bound by it. It remains very much our belief that each sector is different and requires a tailored approach. We intend to be forensic in establishing what the needs of each sector are. That will include detailed engagement with industry.

Break in Debate

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis - Hansard
3 Mar 2020, 2:09 p.m.

During our earlier conversation, it was clear that we will have to be forensic and tailored in our approach to data collection. This is very much part of the same theme. We do not want to treat all sectors the same when they raise different issues and come to us with very different current practices.

If issues that are consistent across multiple sectors are revealed, and if they could be addressed under new, comprehensive regulation, we absolutely have the power to deliver that. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Newport West to withdraw the amendment.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones - Hansard
3 Mar 2020, 2:09 p.m.

I listened very carefully to the Minister. I agree that we do not disagree on the broad principles, but I am seeking to get the regulations tied down so that they are clear and comprehensive for everybody in the agricultural sector. It seems reasonable that the Groceries Code Adjudicator should be the regulator. I do not see any dissent from that, but it would be helpful if we could tie things down in writing rather than, as the Minister says, in verbal agreements.

I must apologise to the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby—I misheard his earlier intervention; I thought he was talking about the “grey” area, not the “grain”. I misunderstood completely. I apologise, and will wash out my ears.

I welcome the Minister’s assurances—she is listening and wants to make things run as smoothly as possible. However, given this time of general unclarity, as we leave the EU, with all the uncertainty that is throwing up, we need things set in writing now for the months and years ahead, to prevent any misunderstandings or anything going wrong in that respect. I accept that the Minister has described the Bill as a new iteration, and we accept that it is improved, but at the same time we still need clarity, transparency and openness. We will therefore press the amendment to a vote.

Break in Debate

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones - Hansard
3 Mar 2020, 2:22 p.m.

I will speak to all the amendments together. Being mindful of time, I will not read out the wording of the amendments. I know that hon. Members are grateful for that.

The amendments would ensure that the role of regulating agricultural contracts is given to a body that is competent to undertake qualitative assessments, such as the Groceries Code Adjudicator’s office. That sensible suggestion would ensure that effective and authoritative oversight and assessment takes place.

External organisations such as the Tenant Farmers Association believe that the Government have a vital role in the face of significant market failure in agriculture and food supply chains, but it is concerning that the Government do not see that as forming part of an expanded role for the Groceries Code Adjudicator. It has been proposed instead that the Rural Payments Agency would be an appropriate regulator. The Government need to explain why they think that the RPA has sufficient expertise in that area; I look forward to the Minister’s explanation on that specific point. There seems to be no reason why the responsibility should be placed anywhere other than with the Groceries Code Adjudicator.

The Government have previously decided not to broaden the scope of the Groceries Code Adjudicator. Those decisions suggest that, without a clear duty, they will come under pressure from retailers to row back on the provisions. We need to be focused and tenacious in how we monitor the assessment process, including the criteria used. Importantly, the amendments would provide the clarity and certainty that are desperately needed by our farmers and the agricultural sector more generally.

We need to drill down to the detail and explicitly identify which regulatory body will be in charge and what expertise and experience the Government expect it to have. When will the Government see fit to provide a clear answer on that? I look forward to the Minister’s response to these probing amendments.

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis - Hansard
3 Mar 2020, 2:27 p.m.

We are committed to tackling supply chain injustices, and an effective enforcement regime is a crucial part of that process. It is important to state that no decisions have yet been made about the nature of enforcement or the body responsible for it. We intend to listen to the ideas and concerns of the industry before any decisions are made, and we will of course exercise due diligence in designing the enforcement regime when we appoint the regulator.

I understand the attraction of replicating the success of the GCA elsewhere in the food supply chain, but it is important to recognise that the GCA works so well because it has a very targeted focus on the behaviours of extremely large retailers that deal with their direct suppliers and have a good understanding of how that particular supply chain works.

A 2018 Government review found insufficient evidence of widespread problems further down the groceries supply chain to justify extending the remit of the GCA to indirect suppliers. The issues that the review identified were sector-specific and are best addressed with the proportionate and targeted interventions contained in the Bill.

No decisions have yet been made about enforcement. Although the RPA has undoubtedly had difficulties with direct payments in the past, it has a wealth of experience in the agricultural markets. We will take a measured approach to arrive at the best possible decision. I ask the hon. Lady not to press the amendment to a vote.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones - Hansard
3 Mar 2020, 2:27 p.m.

I thank the Minister for her explanation. Obviously, external bodies and stakeholders will be actively encouraged to lobby the Government on the matter, and I hope that they will take the opportunity to do so. In the meantime, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: 20, in clause 27, page 23, line 27, at end insert—

“(10A) Before making regulations under this section, the Secretary of State must consult persons—

(a) who are representative of—

(i) qualifying sellers of, or

(ii) business purchasers of,

the agricultural products to which the regulations will apply, or

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

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Break in Debate

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis - Hansard
3 Mar 2020, 2:41 p.m.

Section 2 of the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Act 2020 changes the name of the Welsh legislature to “Senedd Cymru”—I hope the hon. Member for Newport West will correct me if got that wrong, although my Welsh relatives would not forgive me—or “the Welsh Parliament”. Amendments 51 to 61 are technical consequential amendments. They follow the new practice, in the English language version of devolved Welsh legislation, of using only the Welsh name when referring to the Welsh legislature.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones - Hansard

These are simple amendments that reflect the strengthened importance of Wales as an equal partner in the four-way relationship that makes up the United Kingdom. Labour will support them, as they are clearly a tidying-up exercise. However, we should not be clearing up on matters of respect, so I caution all Ministers to be mindful and respectful.

Amendment 51 agreed to.

Clause 31, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 32

Identification and traceability of animals

Amendments made: 89, in clause 32, page 30, line 5, after “England” insert “or Wales”.

This amendment treats Wales in the same way as England in terms of the future application of section 8(1)(a) of the Animal Health Act 1981, once the provisions of European law mentioned in clause 32(3) and (4) cease to apply in England and Wales.

Amendment 90, in clause 32, page 30, line 7, leave out “Wales or”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 89

Amendment 91, in clause 32, page 30, line 10, leave out from “under” to end of line and insert

“subsection (1)(a) made by the Secretary of State or the Welsh Ministers”.

This amendment limits the proposition inserted in section 8 of the Animal Health Act 1981 by clause 32(2)(b) to provision made under section 8(1)(a) about the means of identifying animals. It also secures that the Welsh Ministers, as well as the Secretary of State, can make provision under section 8(1)(a) that binds the Crown.

Amendment 92, in clause 32, page 30, line 16, after “England” insert “or Wales”.

This amendment alters the words inserted in Regulation (EC) No 1760/2000 by clause 32(3) in order to treat Wales in the same way as England in disapplying Title 1 of that Regulation.

Amendment 93, in clause 32, page 30, line 16, at end insert

“, and

(b) in Article 22 (compliance)—

(i) in paragraph 1 at the end insert—

‘The fourth, fifth and sixth subparagraphs do not apply in relation to England or Wales.’, and

(ii) in paragraph 2 at the end insert—

‘This paragraph does not apply in relation to England or Wales.’”

This amendment makes changes to Regulation (EC) No 1760/2000 which are consequential on the disapplication by clause 32(3) of Title 1 of that Regulation in relation to England and Wales.

Amendment 94, in clause 32, page 30, line 21, at end insert “or Wales”.—(Victoria Prentis.)

This amendment alters the words inserted in Council Regulation (EC) No 21/2004 in order to treat Wales in the same way as England in disapplying that Regulation.

Clause 32, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 33

Red Meat levy: payments between levy bodies in Great Britain

Break in Debate

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis - Hansard
3 Mar 2020, 2:49 p.m.

The clause will address the current inequality in the distribution of the red meat levy within Great Britain caused by the complex movement of pigs, cattle and sheep when animals cross from one country to another for further rearing and finishing and for slaughter. The levy is collected at the point of slaughter and can only be spent to benefit that country’s industry. The clause will allow for a scheme to redistribute some producer red meat levy between the levy boards of England, Scotland and Wales. It will sit beside the current legal framework and allow the transfer of levy.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 33 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 34 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 3

Agricultural tenancies

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones - Hansard
3 Mar 2020, 2:52 p.m.

I beg to move amendment 87, in schedule 3, page 50, line 15, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

Break in Debate

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones - Hansard
3 Mar 2020, 2:51 p.m.

Amendment 87 is designed to make it a requirement for the Government to bring forward regulations to provide a framework for tenants to object to their landlord’s refusal to allow them to enter a relevant financial assistance scheme. As drafted, the Bill provides the power for the Government to introduce regulations, but it is not a requirement. There is a trend in the Bill for the Government to use the weakest language possible or to take the most timid of approaches. In our view, it is essential that tenant farmers are given full certainty in this situation.

Tenant farmers have welcomed the recognition that they require and deserve additional measures to protect them, and this is one of the areas that we highlighted during discussions on a previous version of the Agriculture Bill. We are pleased that our probing has produced a framework of protection for tenants, but it is essential that the provisions are used. If they are not used, what is the point of having them in the Bill? If it is the Government’s intention to use the provisions, it will not be a problem to change them from a “may” to a “must”. That is one of our big points on the Bill—we would strengthen the weak wording. We want to strengthen up, not level down.

The Minister’s predecessor, now the Secretary of State, has shown a willingness to listen, engage and reflect on Opposition amendments. I hope that the Government will go further, listen harder and deliver for tenant farmers.

Amendment 88 is about action. It would close a potential loophole in the Bill about the consent of the landlord. Currently, it sets out the circumstances where any regulations will apply in respect of a landlord’s consent. They are defined as circumstances where either the agricultural tenancy legislation or the contract of the tenancy requires the tenant to have the landlord’s consent. What that appears to have missed out—I am sure it is inadvertent, but it has done so—is where the provisions of the financial assistance scheme itself require the tenant to obtain the landlord’s consent.

As an example, the current countryside stewardship scheme requires all tenants occupying land under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 to have their landlord’s consent, even though those tenants will have security of tenure. The amendment would ensure that tenants have recourse to the regulations in every case where the landlord’s consent is required. I am sure the Minister would not want any of the provisions or effects of the Bill to create difficulties for tenants in accessing public money for public good, which is obviously the Government’s favoured system for replacing the basic payment scheme.

I place on record my thanks to all those organisations that have made representations on the issue. I think of the Tenant Farmers Association and their chief executive George Dunn as an example of strong and effective campaigning.

These are simple, arguably technical, but important and empowering amendments. The Government have demonstrated a willingness to listen and engage to a degree, but I call on them to go further—to take the plunge and deliver on what is a cross-party and all-UK commitment to empowering and supporting our farmers. The Bill needs to be joined up, it needs to be smart and it needs to be fit for purpose. The amendments help in that purpose. I hope the Government, and indeed the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith, will support them.

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis - Hansard
3 Mar 2020, 2:54 p.m.

Agricultural tenancies are a vital part of our farming industry, accounting for nearly a third of all farmland in England and Wales. I want to see a thriving tenant farming sector in the future. That is why we have included provisions in the Bill to modernise agricultural tenancy legislation.

Turning first to amendment 87, the Committee has already considered at length the use of the words “may” and “must” in legislation. I do not intend to go over those arguments again. As I said last week, the use of the word “may” is entirely consistent with other legislation in this sphere. I assure the hon. Member for Newport West that there is absolutely no doubt that the Government intend to use the powers to make these important regulations and that we will move quickly to do so. Plans are already under way to meet industry representatives for discussions on their scope and content.

I understand the drive behind amendment 88, which seeks to broaden the scope of the dispute provisions to cover any situation where the tenant may need the landlord’s consent to undertake an activity. However, the intention of these provisions is to provide tenants of the older Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 agreements with a mechanism to challenge outdated restrictions in those agreements. In some cases, they were written 30 or 40 years ago, when there was a very different policy and commercial environment. That is why it is important that the procedure for referring requests to dispute remains clearly linked to the terms of the tenancy agreement. To broaden the scope further to include any issue or activity where landlord consent is required risks unintended consequences and opens up the potential for misuse of the provisions, which could damage landlord-tenant relations.

The provisions in schedule 3 had broad support in our public consultation. They have been shaped to ensure that the interests of both tenants and landlords are considered. We will continue to consult the industry generally, including members of the tenancy reform industry group, as we develop the supporting regulations. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Newport West to withdraw the amendment.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones - Hansard

Again, the Minister and I share the same broad aims and principles, which is great. However, we have not changed our minds about “may” and “must”, and the need to strengthen this legislation and beef it up to give people the protection they require. I am glad that the Minister has agreed that stakeholders will have the opportunity to lobby and that she will be consulting widely as the Bill is developed. I accept the history of the tenancy agreement Acts, but we will press the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Break in Debate

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones - Hansard
3 Mar 2020, 3:02 p.m.

I will speak briefly to both amendments. Like all the amendments tabled by my hon. Friends and me, they are important, and I hope they will receive a fair hearing. They cover the elements of the Bill that look at powers available to tenants, succession rules and guidance around rent reviews. Anybody who has been to a farm or has a farm in their constituency will know that, although those areas are niche, they are incredibly important.

Amendments 85 and 86 would ensure that tenants renting land under the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995 can object to a landlord’s refusal to allow access to financial assistance. The Bill currently omits cover for those tenants and we need to address that. That lack of protection is odd, given that, as the Minister has said, nearly half the land in the tenanted sector in England is now let under 1995 provisions. In Wales, the figure is more than a quarter of the land.

Over time, that area of land will grow and it will be important to ensure that those tenants are protected as much as those under the 1986 Act. Given that these are more modern agreements, which will have had the full attention of the legal profession in their drafting, they are more likely to include more restrictive clauses than those under the older legislation. That will cause problems for tenants if they do not have adequate recourse to object to the use of those restrictive clauses within the new policy framework.

It will be a significant failure if we cannot provide the same level of protection to tenants under the 1995 Act as we are seeking to provide to tenants under the 1986 Act. That is a simple but important point. I hope that the Minister will receive it warmly, in the spirit that it is intended.

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis - Hansard
3 Mar 2020, 3:03 p.m.

I receive all the hon. Lady’s amendments warmly. She has again raised an important issue. Farm business tenancies are a vital part of our farming industry. They provide a flexible way for established farmers to expand their business, by renting additional parcels of land. Crucially, they also open the way for new entrants, with no family connection to the land, to get a foothold in the sector.

As I have already stated, I want a thriving tenant farming sector. That is why we have included provisions in the Bill to modernise agricultural tenancy legislation. Although I recognise concerns that the new dispute conditions do not include farm business tenancy agreements, there are very important reasons for that.

Break in Debate

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis - Hansard
3 Mar 2020, 3:05 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman and I have undertaken to have a specific conversation later about de-linking and lump sum payments. I tried to set out the position this morning. Once a decision has been made to de-link payments, they may continue to be paid to the tenant. Indeed, the person farming the land—so the tenant—would apply for any lump sum. However, the two are separate, as I set out this morning. I hope that answers his question.

The provisions in schedule 3 had broad support in the public consultations in England and Wales. They have been shaped to ensure that the interests of tenants and landlords are considered. We will continue to consult industry widely, including members of the Tenancy Reform Industry Group, as we develop future regulations. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Newport West to withdraw her amendment.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones - Hansard
3 Mar 2020, 3:06 p.m.

I welcome the Minister’s commitment to a thriving tenancy sector—that is great news. I thank her for the explanation and for her commitment to have an ongoing dialogue with my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge. I look forward to the outcome of those discussions. We still have reservations about this important area, but we will not press the amendment to a vote. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 3, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 35

Marketing standards

Agriculture Bill (Eighth sitting)
Debate between Ruth Jones and Victoria Prentis
Thursday 27th February 2020

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Bill Main Page
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis - Hansard
27 Feb 2020, 3:09 p.m.

Environmental land management will, as we said earlier, be most successful if the highest number of participants are enabled to join in. As my right hon. Friend has just made clear, I fear this amendment would limit uptake of our exciting new schemes, and therefore limit the environmental benefits that we all hope will flow from them. For example, under the suggested tiers 2 and 3 it will be vital for farmers and land managers to work together across a wide area, to deliver the environmental benefits we hope for, such as improving the status of habitats. Excluding some land from being eligible could prevent us from delivering those benefits.

I am concerned that the amendment might penalise legal activities. For example, exempt hunting is, by its nature, exempt from the Hunting Act 2004, and is a legal activity with clearly defined restrictions. No one should be penalised or have financial assistance withheld for carrying out or allowing lawful activities on their land.

Amendment 50 concerned me because it would exempt from financial assistance those on whose land hunting had been carried out without their knowledge. For example, hare coursing, which many hon. Members will have had difficulty with in their constituencies, is an offence under the Hunting Act, and is often undertaken without landowner or land manager consent, often by illegal trespassers.

I am also concerned that exempting land that has been used for hunting since February 2005, as my right hon. Friend said, including legal hunting activities, could mean that we are exempting financial assistance from being awarded to lawful landowners or managers, who had no control over what had happened on that land previously.

I hope I have made clear the difficulties in seeking to restrict financial assistance in such a way. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Newport West to withdraw the amendment.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones - Hansard
27 Feb 2020, 3:11 p.m.

I thank hon. Members for their interventions and the Minister for her comments. I thank the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby for his advice about not taking things at face value. I promise him that I have spoken at length to farmers in my constituency about hunting, as well as pest control and vermin control, which are two very different things.

I take the right hon. Gentleman’s point about the potential unintended consequences of the amendments. We are willing to work with others in this room to ensure that the amendments are drafted soundly and safely, but we wish to put forward the basic spirit of the amendments today. He has gone to extremes by suggesting that no landowner in the country would ever get any money again. The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton made the point about cats killing mice and rats. My cats killed mice and rats, but I am not seeking public money for public good. That is the difference.

Break in Debate

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis - Hansard
27 Feb 2020, 3:39 p.m.


Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4

Multi-annual financial assistance plans

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones - Hansard

I beg to move amendment 37, in clause 4, page 5, line 14, after “period” insert

“, and

(d) set out the budget for each financial assistance scheme under sub-paragraph (c)(i) or (c)(ii) for the duration of the plan period”.

This amendment and Amendments 38 and 39 provide that the Secretary of State’s multi-annual financial assistance plan must include a budget informed by the Office for Environmental Protection to be established by the Environment Bill.

Break in Debate

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones - Hansard
27 Feb 2020, 3:40 p.m.

These important amendments call for the Secretary of State’s multi-annual financial assistance plan to include a budget informed by the Office for Environmental Protection, which is to be established by the Environment Bill.

The Environment Bill received its Second Reading yesterday and many important points were raised on the Floor of the House. They will receive their own scrutiny, and I will not touch on that legislation today—we certainly have enough to be going on with here. However, there are some important links to the Bill before us, particularly when it comes to the Office for Environmental Protection.

The fact that there are three big environmental Bills going through the two Houses at the same time shows that the Government have realised that they are running out of time to prepare for our ultimate departure from the European Union and that they need to get to grip with the challenges facing this important sector. They are running out of time to prepare our farmers, our farm workers and the agricultural sector more generally for the years ahead.

Our amendments call for the Office for Environmental Protection, for which the Environment Bill makes provision, to influence what Ministers do when it comes to the multi-annual financial assistance plan and the budget contained within it. We believe that the Office for Environmental Protection must be independent. It must be strong and it must be clear about its remit and the expectations upon it. It must push for higher standards, it must push for non-regression and it must push for measures to tackle the climate emergency. If it does those things, then it makes sense for the multi-annual budget to be informed by the scope, remit, strength and inspiration of the Office for Environmental Protection.

We hope that these probing amendments will encourage Ministers and Government Members to develop strong and clear mechanisms that make for long-term and organised funding structures. They are designed to fill the gap in the Bill’s proposal for multi-annual financial settlements. The Bill is silent on how the budget or funding envelopes are set in the first place. We have already had much discussion on that and I look forward to any clarification the Minister can give on those points.

Many stakeholders have raised concerns and called for clarity and further thinking on this point. Whatever proposals are finally agreed and provided for, let us be led by the facts and the experiences of those out there on the farms in our rural communities in all parts of the United Kingdom. That is why the amendments are so important.

The Opposition are giving voice to the concerns today, but it is not just we who are worried. Greener UK says that it wants to see a stronger and enhanced framework for long-term funding in the Bill, which will inspire confidence and demonstrate to the sector that the Government understand the pressure on it, and the need for us to support it wherever we can. The Nature Friendly Farming Network supports calls for greater certainty about long-term funding and notes the need for the Bill to be as strong and effective as possible. I say to the Minister that we should be listening to the experts. That is not just my view; it is the view of the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith). He noted the other day that we need to listen to experts, and do you know what? I agree with him.

It is clear to me that the more certainty Members have and the more certainty the people out in our country have, the better. There are many people right now who are concerned that we do not have much certainty past 31 December 2020. Admittedly, there have been commitments to maintaining the current level of funding, but so far they are just commitments and they do not necessarily sit well with some of the comments and press coverage on payments to farmers that we saw in the weekend press. I am sure the Secretary of State would attest to the strength of feeling he encountered at his meeting this week.

Clarity, transparency and respect are going to be key now and into the future. Let us make it so and support these amendments today.

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis - Hansard
27 Feb 2020, 3:44 p.m.

It is always good to discuss funding for agriculture further. I begin with amendment 37. The Government faced a fair challenge from parliamentarians on the previous Agriculture Bill about the funding they were expecting to receive. The Government responded to that challenge and included what I am going to start calling the MAFA plan—the multi-annual financial assistance plan—in clause 4, which covers the seven-year agricultural transition period. This will describe the assistance schemes that are in operation or are expected to come into operation during that period.

Subsequent plans will run for at least five years, rather than seven, and the Secretary of State will have a duty to ensure that plans do not expire without a replacement in place, which is important. However, we recognise that the sector needs clarity on the budget, which is why we guaranteed the current cash total for each year of this Parliament, giving much-needed certainty for the next five years.

Break in Debate

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones - Hansard

I thank the Minister for her honesty about the current funding uncertainties and the issues. I appreciate that she has a massive job on. I am glad to be on this side of the room.

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis - Hansard
27 Feb 2020, 3:52 p.m.

We’re glad too.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones - Hansard
27 Feb 2020, 3:52 p.m.

The Minister is quite right that there will be lots of new acronyms—OEP, MAFA—and we are frantically learning them, so she must bear with us. She is honest in the way that she has expressed her concerns.

We accept that there will be a lot of co-operation—hopefully—as the Bill progresses, because it is important that this is not about us and them. It is not adversarial; a lot of this should be consensual. We should work together to make sure that we get the best for the agriculture sector across the UK—in all four countries. We look forward to lots of probing questions not just from Opposition Members, but from hon. Members on both sides of the House. We look forward to developing and fully understanding the complexities and intricacies of the Bill. With that in mind, I thank the Minister for her comments and beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5

Annual and other reports on amount of financial assistance given

Break in Debate

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis - Hansard
27 Feb 2020, 3:55 p.m.

Thank you, Mr Stringer. I am so sorry to have to keep checking such matters.

Turning to new clause 2, the introduction of the multi-annual financial assistance plans has been welcomed by agricultural stakeholders, including the National Farmers Union. Clauses 4 to 6 will ensure that public stakeholders and parliamentarians have plenty of opportunities to scrutinise the Government’s spending on agriculture, as well as the impact of that spending. Were the new clause to succeed, Ministers would have to return each year to report on every purpose under clause 1. That could have the perverse outcome of schemes being designed to meet the report, rather than activities achieving outcomes in the best way.

Instead, our approach will ensure that we look to meet the outcomes in the most beneficial way—for example, by planting trees, the positive environmental effects of which may not show up for many annual reports but would be felt over a much longer period. We recognise that farms and land managers need certainty over future funding arrangements. That is why we have committed to a seven-year transition, starting in 2021, and have introduced a legal requirement to set out our strategic priorities for the transition period before the end of the year. We have also pledged to continue to commit the same cash total that is currently spent for each year of the Parliament.

I recognise the need for certainty, and it is right that the general public should be able to scrutinise our spending; however, the Bill already gives plenty of opportunity to do that. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Newport West not to press the new clause.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones - Hansard
27 Feb 2020, 3:58 p.m.

I am pleased to speak to new clause 2, which would require the Secretary of State to report annually on the financial assistance given or allocated to each of the purposes of the Bill, on its sufficiency to meet policy objectives, and on the Secretary of State’s intentions if, in their opinion, funding for any purpose was not sufficient.

This is an important part of our deliberations, because it is about how we ensure that funding for each public good is adequate and effective. We accept that the Government have a majority in the House, so we must ensure that whatever system they design will work for our farmers, planters, growers and all the livelihoods and communities dependent on a thriving and well-funded agricultural sector. The new clause is about certainty and predictability, ensuring that the Bill provides for a sustainable, effective and transparent funding structure that helps rather than hinders this important sector in our economy.

There is a degree of understanding that no Government can say how much money there will be and where it will come from, but we can have a mechanism that can be reviewed every year. In fact, the system should be reviewed every year, too. Now that austerity is supposedly over, the Government could say to our farmers that money will be available to do all the wonderful things that they promised them during the referendum. That is why it is so important that the new clause is added to the Bill.

If the Minister does not accept the approach set out in new clause 2, what approach will the Government take to providing clarity, to ensure that there is a transparent and genuine approach to funding, and maintaining a detailed annual update on the state of play? I recognise that times will change, and in the future a new Minister will sit on the Treasury Bench. There will be a new Prime Minister at some point, too. I know that the Government cannot commit to money that future Governments will spend, but the Minister can commit to the mechanism. We ask the Government to look closely at the new clause, and we hope that they listen to us, and all those crying out for clarity and common sense.

We have already learned that the British Government spent about £3 billion on the common agricultural policy in recent years, as members of the European Union. We are now starting the process of leaving the European Union, and are sitting in a transition period. I worry that the period will run out far sooner than the Government realise, especially given the announcement about the forthcoming talks concluding this June. We are now on the outside, and those funds can be diverted to delivering public goods to improve the quality of our soils and water; protect, maintain and enhance the natural beauty of our landscapes in all parts of the United Kingdom; and tackle the climate emergency and protect vulnerable communities and industries from the most brutal and deadly effects of climate change. The storms in the past couple of weeks are a very clear example of that.

UK Chemical Industry: Regulatory Divergence
Debate between Ruth Jones and Victoria Prentis
Wednesday 26th February 2020

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Westminster Hall
Read Full debate
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab) - Hansard
26 Feb 2020, 5:01 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Sharma, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) for having secured this important debate. I also welcome the Minister to her new position; I know she takes a keen interest in green issues and in waste, and I look forward to hearing her response on chemical regulation in a post-Brexit UK. I expect it will be very interesting.

This has been an informative debate. Obviously, we have experts in the room: I bow before their expert knowledge, which has brought things together much more coherently for me. I will leave the Chamber with much more knowledge than I came in with, for which I thank the Members who have spoken.

One thing that we already knew before coming here was that our departure from the European Union would change how we do business, how our country functions, and how we ensure that chemical regulation in the UK is going to be fit for purpose in the years ahead. Although this may seem like a niche issue, it has been clearly articulated that chemical regulation is going to have a wide impact on the UK as a whole, so we must take that on board and make sure we deal with it carefully. We on the Opposition Benches echo the concerns of the chemical industry and the Royal Society of Chemistry. On this and many other issues, we ask the Government to be wise and careful when it comes to diverging from the standards and regulations that consumers, industry and our global partners have come to expect here in the United Kingdom.

As we have heard, chemicals manufacturing supply chains are well established, with materials often crossing the channel several times for some of the most complex products. Even the most minimal tariffs that would apply if the Government crash us out with no deal, combined with the requirement to respond to separate regulatory regimes and the need for documents to precede foods at borders, would have a negative impact on future manufacturing supply chains and strategies in the UK.

The Government are starting their approach to the coming months from the negotiating position that there will be no dynamic alignment with EU regulations in a new UK-EU trade deal, and have indicated that divergence will feature heavily. I am particularly concerned that the Government have not indicated an intention to seek close co-operation with the European Chemicals Agency. Regulatory divergence has the real potential to severely impact the quality and strength of public health and environmental protections. We should be levelling up, not cutting ties.

As the Royal Society of Chemistry and others have said, it is important for the Government to be conscious of divergent sources of data. Harmful divergence could occur if the evidence base is not harmonised, so a new and binding legal agreement is needed in order to continue sharing commercially sensitive data between authorities in the UK and the European Chemicals Agency.

I reiterate to the Minister and to Members on the Government Benches that hurried divergence, done in order to pretend to the British people that everything will be done and dusted by the end of 2020, will be dangerous and reckless. If all we see are quick, short-term economic international trade wins or speedily rolled-out innovations, the people out there will know what the Government are up to. I do not want lowered environmental protections or a risk to public health in Banbury, in Newport West, or in any other part of our United Kingdom.

I share the concerns of my colleagues on the Opposition Benches, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Sefton Central, for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) and for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), as well as those of the hon. Member for Angus (Dave Doogan) —it is a shame that his constituency does not also begin with an “S”; that would have been much more alliterative—about the economic impact on British industry if divergence leads to negative consequences for our ability to trade products with the European Union.

The Government also need to be careful about what their approach means for business and industry, because they could land up doubling the burden on business and industry through masses of extra regulation. For example, the REACH regulation refers to the EU regulations on chemicals, as has been clearly articulated by all Members who have spoken this afternoon. The extra cost to UK businesses of duplicating EU REACH in the United Kingdom after the transition period is estimated by the Chemical Industries Association to be in excess of £1 billion, without any environmental benefit and potentially forcing duplicate testing. We call on the Government to do all they can to avoid that sort of duplication and deliver the essential solutions required to grow the environmental, social and economic performance of our country.

I pay tribute to the Chemical Industries Association for its work on this issue. It has made clear that securing a deal with the European Union that guarantees tariff-free trade, regulatory alignment and access to skilled people continues to be of critical importance for the chemical industry, which will rely on our future relationship being as frictionless as possible.

I hope the Minister will address many of the concerns highlighted today, particularly about the willingness to inflict damage on our industries through a policy of divergence. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central for having brought this issue before the House, and look forward to working with him and the sector on this important issue in the weeks and months ahead.

Victoria Prentis Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Victoria Prentis) - Hansard
26 Feb 2020, 5:07 p.m.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma. I welcome the hon. Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones) to her place, and look forward to many happy hours spent together discussing interests that have always engaged us both, particularly those involving the environment and food waste.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) on securing this important debate. As he made clear, our chemical sector is world leading and vital to a wide range of other key industries, such as pharmaceuticals, automotive and aerospace. He gave some good examples from his own constituency and demonstrated his knowledge of how important that is, as did other Members present. We all know that the chemical industry is an important one, and want to ensure it continues to succeed.

In 2018, the total trade in chemicals in the UK, including chemical products, was worth £60.2 billion. The UK chemical sector directly employs more than 100,000 people. That sector is an important part of the economy in all the UK regions, with some major chemical clusters that are, unsurprisingly, represented in the Chamber today. They include Teesside, Humberside, Southampton, Grangemouth—mentioned by the hon. Member for Angus (Dave Doogan), whom I welcome to his place—and north-west England, which has the highest number of employees in the sector, with some 24,000 people in the region working in the chemical industry.

Leaving the EU provides us with a unique opportunity to develop a regulatory environment that will not only deliver the high standards mentioned by the hon. Member for Newport West, but be flexible according to our current and future needs. Now that we have left the EU, our priority is to maintain an effective regulatory system for the management and control of chemicals, to safeguard human health and the environment, and to respond to emerging risks. We need to ensure that our chemical industry continues to flourish in the UK and abroad, building on our strong trading links with the EU and seizing new export opportunities now we have the freedom to trade with the rest of the world.

Agriculture Bill (Fifth sitting)
Debate between Ruth Jones and Victoria Prentis
Tuesday 25th February 2020

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Bill Main Page
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab) - Hansard
25 Feb 2020, 11:01 a.m.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis - Hansard
25 Feb 2020, 11:06 a.m.

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

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

Break in Debate

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis - Hansard
25 Feb 2020, 11:12 a.m.

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

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

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones - Hansard
25 Feb 2020, 11:13 a.m.

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

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

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

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