Agriculture Bill (Tenth sitting) DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Deidre BrockMain Page: Deidre Brock (Scottish National Party) - Edinburgh North and Leith)
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(1 year, 10 months ago)Public Bill Committees
Producer and interbranch organisations etc: application for recognition
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 57, in clause 22, page 17, line 5, leave out “to the Secretary of State”.
Amendment 58, in clause 22, page 17, line 13, leave out “to the Secretary of State”.
Amendment 59, in clause 22, page 17, line 31, at end insert—
‘( ) An application under subsection (1), (3) or (5) is to be made to and determined by—
(a) the appropriate authority for the part of the United Kingdom in which the applicant has its registered office or principal place of business, or
(b) where the applicant is made up of producers, producer organisations or, as the case may be, businesses operating in more than one part of the United Kingdom, the appropriate authority for any of those parts.”
This amendment would require organisations of agricultural producers, associations of recognised producer organisations, and organisations of agricultural businesses to apply for recognition to the appropriate authority in the country of the UK where the applicant is principally based.
Amendment 60, in clause 22, page 17, line 38, leave out “The Secretary of State” and insert
“The appropriate authority to which an application is made under this section”.
Amendment 61, in clause 22, page 18, line 5, at end insert—
““appropriate authority” means—
(a) in relation to England, Wales or Northern Ireland, the Secretary of State,
(b) in relation to Scotland, the Scottish Ministers;”.
Amendment 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))”.
This amendment would require the delegation of functions to require permission from the appropriate authority (as set out in amendment 61).
Amendment 63, in clause 24, page 18, line 37, leave out “the Secretary of State” and insert “an appropriate authority (within the meaning given in section 22(11))”.
This amendment would allow regulations to give the power to delegate functions to an appropriate authority (as set out in amendment 61)
Amendment 64, in clause 24, page 19, line 5, at end insert—
‘( ) Regulations under section 22 or 23 containing provision that extends to Scotland may be made only with the consent of the Scottish Ministers.”
This amendment would ensure that regulations under section 22 or 23 containing provision that extend to Scotland may be made only with the consent of Scottish Ministers.
New clause 5—Quality schemes for agricultural products and foodstuffs—
‘(1) Subsection (2) applies to any function of the Secretary of State under—
(a) Regulation (EU) No 1151/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 November 2012 on quality schemes for agricultural products and foodstuffs (“the EU Regulation”),
(b) the delegated and implementing Regulations,
(c) any regulations made by the Secretary of State under the EU Regulation, and
(d) any regulations made under section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972 relating to the enforcement of the EU Regulation or the delegated and implementing Regulations.
(2) The Secretary of State may exercise the function only with the consent of the Scottish Ministers.
(3) In subsection (1), the “delegated and implementing Regulations” means—
(a) Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) No 664/2014 supplementing the EU Regulation with regard to the establishment of Union symbols for protected designations of origin, protected geographical indications and traditional specialities guaranteed and with regard to certain rules on sourcing, certain procedural rules and certain additional transitional rules,
(b) Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) No 665/2014 supplementing the EU Regulation with regard to conditions of use of the quality term “mountain product”, and
(c) Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 668/2014 laying down rules for the application of the EU Regulation.
(4) The references in subsection (1) to the EU Regulation and the delegated and implementing Regulations are to those instruments—
(a) as they have effect in domestic law by virtue of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, and
(b) as amended from time to time whether by virtue of that Act or otherwise.”
This clause relates to the replacement of current EU Geographical Indicators in future UK legislation. It requires that the exercise of relevant functions conferred on the Secretary of State in this area including in relation to its enforcement, should be subject to the consent of Scottish Ministers.
I represent a very large moorland area on the north Yorkshire moors. Does the hon. Lady not agree that the management by keepers and shooting estates maintains the delicate environment for the benefit not only of the sheep and grouse that graze, but of the people who enjoy those areas?
The unique beauty of Scotland is clear for everybody to see and a precious resource within the United Kingdom, but I fail to understand how the hon. Lady can argue that that uniqueness means that Scotland needs bespoke policies and devolution, while, at the same time, her party wishes to adhere to the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy by remaining a part of the European Union, given that there is no opportunity for bespoke policies within the EU.
The most sensible solution is to hand over the responsibility and cash to Holyrood and let it work it out. Powers in areas already devolved should not be re-reserved. As the influence of Brussels wanes—potentially—so Edinburgh’s should become more prominent.
Just for clarity, NFU Scotland has indicated it feels there is a lot of politicking going on between the Scottish Government and the Westminster Government over the Bill.
The hon. Lady’s description of Scotland could have been mistaken for a description of Wales—only Wales is a bit more beautiful perhaps. Is it not important for Scotland to align itself with Wales and support the Bill?
The hon. Lady is making a powerful speech, but she spoke about evidence from NFU Scotland, and its evidence is that it wants to see Scotland involved in the Bill. It says the engine is running and that it wants to get on board. In its position statement the other day, it said it would like to see Scotland involved in new clause 3, which we have already debated. Does she not agree that NFU Scotland has been absolutely clear that it would appreciate the Scottish Government either getting on board with the Bill or legislating in Holyrood? It has clearly said the engine is running on the Bill. Does she agree that the Scottish Government should get on board?
I am trying to understand this. As I understand it, the Welsh Government put forward a schedule that one could call a power grab—they have helped themselves to some quite nice powers here—and the Government accepted it. I cannot see any attempt to amend the schedule getting anywhere, so I am not sure what lies behind the hon. Lady’s reluctance to submit a schedule.
My hon. Friend is making a very important point, which is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that the Welsh Government themselves have concerns about the schedule that they are trying to address, which they must do through this Committee, over which they have no direct control.
This is a slightly philosophical point, which I think all members of the Committee, with the exception of the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Ceredigion, will get. It would be a travesty to suggest that Ministers of the Crown or indeed this Westminster Parliament would find dealing with anything in Scotland tiresome or a nuisance. We are unionist parties that believe in the strength of the United Kingdom. The hon. Lady can make her point, but we will not be flippant with her nationalism, and she should not be flippant with our unionism.
Order. That is a debating point; it has nothing to do with the amendment before us.
On that point—before we leave the question of recognised producer organisations—the Government’s wording certainly seems loose. Does the hon. Lady envisage a producer organisation that could cross the boundaries of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland?
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?
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That is broadly what would happen, and it is quite possible that the Scottish Government, Northern Ireland Administration and Welsh Government will already sometimes be involved in giving advice or supporting individuals who want to bring forward those designations. However, the assessment and designation of them has to be done by the UK.
I hope that, having been given this clear explanation as to why clauses 22 and 23 are reserved, the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith will accept that there has perhaps been a misunderstanding about the difference between the ability to award grants and the process of recognition for the purposes of an exemption from competition law, which is reserved, and will withdraw her amendment.
That is not what I was suggesting. I was merely pointing out that NFU Scotland feels that both Governments are politicking on the Bill.
The system is fairly clear. We deal with the lead amendment, which is amendment 56. It is up to the hon. Lady, in discussion with the Chair, whether she moves any of the other amendments. I advise her that if amendment 56 falls, most of the others will fall. However, I noticed while she was speaking that the hon. Member for Darlington indicated an interest in amendment 59. I am unclear whether the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith or anyone else wishes to move that amendment, but that is separate from the other sequence. Let us take the amendment that has been moved first, and perhaps the hon. Lady can have a quick think about what she would like to do after that. Does she wish to press amendment 56 to a vote?
By virtue of the arcane process we follow there is a sequence and the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith is not in it at the moment, because we must move on to Government amendments 9, 10 and 11. After that, I will return to the hon. Lady if she decides she wants to move any of her other amendments.
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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.
Order. May I say to all Members that, if you wish to be called, it helps if you make it very clear by rising?
I shall begin by touching on amendment 48. Since the shadow Minister has not sought to remake an argument we have had many times, I will refrain from quoting from the Agriculture Act 1947 on this occasion.
I turn to the more substantive collection of amendments—93, 94 and 95—which seek to broaden the measure and to remove the requirement for it to apply to the first purchaser of agricultural produce. I understand the shadow Minister’s point, but I want to explain why we have adopted this approach. As he is aware, the Groceries Code Adjudicator enforces the groceries code for the 10 largest supermarkets—those with the largest turnover—and is funded by a levy on those retailers. It has been successful because it is focused on the key task of improving the relationship between the very sizeable retailers and their suppliers, which are often far smaller.
However, for a couple of years now people have raised concerns about the fact that some farmers do not directly supply the supermarkets. Indeed, although in sectors such as fruit and veg it is quite common for an individual farmer or grower to supply a supermarket, in other sectors—notably beef, lamb and dairy—farmers supply processors and abattoirs instead; they do not supply their produce directly to the supermarket. The point has been made that they do not benefit from the protection of the groceries code and the Groceries Code Adjudicator.
Anecdotally, there are sometimes problems with processors finding it easier to pass costs and breaches of the code on to the farmers than to have a difficult conversation with the retailer and tell it that it is in breach of the code, or to report it to the Groceries Code Adjudicator. For that reason, we said, “Let’s also address the problem at the other end of the scale.” The problem we are trying to address in the Agriculture Bill is that primary producers—farmers—are price takers and are often not sure what they will be paid until their animal has gone through the slaughter line. They can then end up with all sorts of costs that they did not expect and penalties that they could not have predicted. We therefore tried to address that unfairness by keeping the focus of these provisions on the first purchasers.
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I feel that this will be one of those unexpected issues that returns on Report. I will undertake in the meantime to talk to my ministerial colleagues responsible for the forestry industry.
Amendment 65 is a similar provision to that which we discussed in an earlier debate on producer organisations. It seeks to ensure that we could make measures in that area only with the consent of Scottish Ministers. We have adopted that approach because it is a competition matter that deals with the ability to have contractual changes linked directly to competition law—that is why it is a reserved matter. We are not doing anything new in that regard. The current Groceries Code Adjudicator is a UK-wide body; it operates UK-wide and the legislation that underpins it is UK-wide. The EU milk package is an example of a contractual fair-dealing provision under EU law. It applies UK-wide and can only be switched on and implemented on a UK basis. It is therefore a well-established fact that such issues, which pertain directly to competition law, are a reserved matter to be handled by the UK Government. That is why we do not accept that the provisions are necessary or acceptable.
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.
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We move on to amendment 86.
We have finished that section. I am terribly sorry. The hon. Lady has to be on the ball.
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.
We will revisit it. The hon. Lady need not worry.