Agriculture Bill (Third sitting)

(Committee Debate: 3rd sitting: House of Commons)
(Committee Debate: 3rd sitting: House of Commons)
Ruth Jones Excerpts
Thursday 13th February 2020

(6 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Bill Main Page
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Fay Jones Portrait Fay Jones (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con) - Hansard
13 Feb 2020, 11:46 a.m.

Q My question is on the red meat levy. The Bill irons out an imbalance that has affected many of my farmers—I should say that it is a pleasure to see one of my constituents here this morning. Are you content with that amendment, or would you suggest further amendments to the scheme to improve traceability? That question is particularly for the unions. Mr Render, would you clarify the timetable for the Welsh Government’s equivalent Bill or next steps?

Huw Thomas: On the red meat point, we are broadly content. We have been calling for this for a number of years. The issue of repatriating the red meat levy has been a bit of a running sore for a long time, so we welcome this. There has to be a will on the part of the parties concerned to use the new powers that they are about to have conferred upon them. It is all well and good to legislate, but the parties need to work together and find an equitable solution to this problem.

We are glad to see this change, but we would not preclude collaborative working at a pre-competitive stage between the domestic levy bodies on things such as red meat, health and climate, which are not directly related to the market. Repatriating the levy is certainly something that we welcome.

Dr Fenwick: We recommended precisely this sort of action in the Radcliffe review, which was published in 2006. That is how long this issue has been running for. We very much welcome that this is there, but this is the first step—it simply opens the door. Given that lengthy period of waiting, and the imbalance in where the levy has been spent, this needs to be acted on once that door is open.

Tim Render: We welcome the clause on the red meat levy, and we are grateful to the Minister, who has put a lot of effort into working with the devolved Administrations to craft this, to resolve this long-standing issue. On the way the Welsh Government are looking to take things forward, we have said that we plan to produce a White Paper by the end of this year, which will set out the framework for a Welsh Agriculture Bill. Ministers have said that they want to take that forward early in the next Assembly term in 2021.

In terms of operational measures, we have already announced that we will effectively maintain the basic payment scheme approach in 2021 as well, so we have that package of measures to take forward in our own Welsh Bill. That would, I suspect, mirror and address some of the wider issues that this Bill takes forward but are not reflected in the Welsh schedule, as well as dealing with some wider things.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab) - Hansard
13 Feb 2020, 11:54 a.m.

Q Mr Render, can I press you a bit further? You were saying that the legislation from Wales will have to be set in law. Yes, absolutely, but when will it actually be up and running? We accept that there will be a time lag, but it is important that it is as close as possible, because what we do not want is divergence, which you have already alluded to. We know that the border is porous, and that livestock and crops travel across it all the time. It is important that where key parts of the Bill do not apply to Wales, such as the environmental land management schemes, we make sure that Welsh farmers are not suffering detriment. I wondered what the panel’s thoughts on that were.

Tim Render: Of course, agriculture is a fully devolved policy area, so we will be developing our own equivalents of the land management approaches that England is proposing. We have already issued two major consultation documents with a lot of detail on that. What we are looking to do through this Bill is to ensure continuity: to make sure that a lot of the important operational elements that mean the agricultural market can work effectively and we continue to have the powers to pay agricultural support to farmers, will be in place and can be maintained beyond the end of this year. From a Welsh perspective, the main thing this Bill does is give us those continuity and keeping pace powers.

However, what we have explicitly decided not to take through this Bill—this is a change from the previous Bill—are powers to make radically new types of payments, analogous to the ELMS in England. We discussed that with the Assembly, and they felt that it was potentially such a large change that they wanted to be able to influence that development of a Welsh agriculture policy, so we have not taken those powers to make major changes in the future; that is what we would do through a Welsh Bill. Obviously, this will depend on the Government after the Assembly elections in May 2021, but we would expect that to be taken forward fairly rapidly as a new Welsh agriculture Bill in that period. As I say, we will be setting out detailed ideas as to what would go in that Bill, particularly the new powers, building on the very detailed proposals we have already set out in consultation documents.

John Davies: It is vital that we take our time over this, because we still do not know what trading environment we will be operating in, and there is an awful lot of volatility out there. It is absolutely vital that we get this right and do it in a co-production way. If we get it right, there are real opportunities; it needs to be a co-operative model that we not only design with the industry, but across different Departments of the Welsh Government. Recently, the Welsh Government have announced that we have hit our target for food sales from Wales, which is £7.5 billion. If we get our “sustainable farming and our land”—that is the name of our new agricultural policy —and sustainable brand values right, we will have two gears meshing, which will really benefit our climate credentials and validity by being able to prove that what we do and how we do it are totally sustainable. It is vital that we get this right and do not rush it.

Alicia Kearns Portrait Alicia Kearns (Rutland and Melton) (Con) - Hansard
13 Feb 2020, 11:54 a.m.

Q What assessment have you made of the impact of the Bill on food producers, particularly the agri-food supply chain, and are there any missed opportunities in the Bill that you would like to see us take action on?

Huw Thomas: Probably the biggest missed opportunity is the one about standards, which we have already covered, but there are certainly provisions in the Bill that we welcome. The food security provision, for example, is new and something we have been pressing for for quite a while. The requirement to report every five years is not especially ambitious; it should be every year. Especially as we are transitioning out of the EU and leaving those structures behind, we need to ensure we have a review every year. I would also suggest that the Bill does not impose any positive obligations on a DEFRA Minister—for example, in the light of an adverse finding in a report on food security. You could consider placing obligations on Ministers if we are found to be deficient in food security.

Dr Fenwick: From our point of view, it is about more than farming and food production per se; it is about the families that farm on the land. There are certain types of farming that continue, but effectively the communities do not. We see that in parts of England; thankfully we do not see it so much in Wales, if at all. We would say there has been a missed opportunity to include among key priorities the sort of ambition that is there at EU level in terms of the reforms that are going through, which relate to looking after farming families and communities and to laying out sentences explicitly in legislation.

I refer you back to what Tom Williams said about the 1947 Act, which was in place until it was superseded by EU regulations. He said it was based on providing

“adequate remuneration and decent living standards for farmers and workers”—[Official Report, 17 December 1945; Vol. 417, c. 931.]

with a reasonable return on capital investment. We would welcome that sort of aspiration being inserted into the Bill.