Agriculture Bill (Eighth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 8th sitting: House of Commons)
Ruth Jones Excerpts
Thursday 27th February 2020

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner - Hansard
27 Feb 2020, 2:52 p.m.

The Minister has given a welcome clarification. The obvious rejoinder is: where is the headroom in the DEFRA budget for these very ambitious plans? I suspect we will return to that question. I was just flicking through my favourite document, but unfortunately could not find the appropriate line. [Interruption.] I know; it is a shame. I am pretty sure that there is a suggestion somewhere in there that some of the money saved from basic payments could be used for some of this work. We can return to that point another day.

I am grateful for the Minister’s helpful response. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: 17, in clause 2, page 3, line 35, leave out

“or operated on behalf of”

and insert “by”.—(Victoria Prentis.)

This drafting amendment is intended to clarify the exclusion of financial assistance schemes made by the Secretary of State from the definition of a third party scheme and also to achieve consistency with other references in the Bill to things done by the Secretary of State. As a matter of legal interpretation a reference to something done by the Secretary of State will pick up things done by others acting in the name of or on behalf of the Secretary of State.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab) - Hansard
27 Feb 2020, 2:53 p.m.

I beg to move amendment 49, in clause 2, page 3, line 35, at end insert—

“(5A) Financial assistance shall not be given for any act or activity in pursuit of a purpose under section 1 if the land on which that act or activity is to take place is to be used by the applicant, or by a person acting with the consent of the applicant, for hunting of a wild mammal with a dog, whether or not that hunting is exempt under section 2 of the Hunting Act 2004.”.

Amendments 49 and 50 would provide that no financial assistance can be given for land which is to be, or has been, used for hunting (including exempt hunting), or on which an offence has been committed under the Hunting Act.

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 50, in clause 2, page 3, line 35, at end insert—

“(5A) Financial assistance shall not be given for a purpose under section 1 if land on which any act or activity is to take place in pursuance of that purpose is land on which—

(a) an offence has been committed under section 1, 3 or 5 of the Hunting Act 2004, or

(b) exempt hunting, within the meaning of section 2 of the Hunting Act 2004, has taken place since 18 February 2005.”.

Amendments 49 and 50 would provide that no financial assistance can be given for land which is to be, or has been, used for hunting (including exempt hunting), or on which an offence has been committed under the Hunting Act.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones - Hansard
27 Feb 2020, 2:53 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to amendments 49 and 50. Mindful of the Chair’s previous exhortations, I will not read out the amendments, but I remind colleagues that both amendments ensure that no financial assistance can be given for land that is to be or has been used for hunting, including exempt hunting, or on which an offence has been committed under the Hunting Act.

These are important amendments. I hope the Minister will think carefully about the need for us to show leadership and for this Parliament to pass legislation that is bold and strong and enshrines our values. Those values mean that I am especially pleased to speak to the amendments.

Colleagues on this side will not need to be reminded, but I want to reiterate to the Minister and her Back Benchers that Labour is the party of animal welfare. The Conservative party likes to talk about the last Labour Government—so do I: we should remember that, when in government, Labour brought forward the landmark and history-making Hunting Act 2004.

Mr Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill - Hansard
27 Feb 2020, 2:54 p.m.

Is the hon. Member talking about the most recent Labour Government or the actual last Labour Government?

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones - Hansard
27 Feb 2020, 2:55 p.m.

I will pass on the semantics, but I thank the right hon. Gentleman.

The Conservative party has an appalling record on animal welfare in government. Announcements are often piecemeal, weak and kicked into the long grass when it comes to the advancement of animal welfare in every sense, including providing financial assistance for land on which hunting takes place.

Many colleagues have repeatedly raised concerns about the use of trail hunting as a cover for illegal hunting. The weight of evidence from independent monitors and non-governmental organisations shows that trail hunting is not a genuine activity. Indeed, a poll commissioned by the League Against Cruel Sports found that only one in six rural residents believes that hunting with dogs reflects countryside values; more than nine in 10 think that observing nature reflects true rural values.

The Bill needs to show that we care, that we will lead by example and that legislation made in this House is relevant and sensible. Wildlife crime continues to blight many of our rural and green spaces, and many animal species across the country. There can be little confidence on the Government Benches that wildlife crime is being tackled effectively when the National Wildlife Crime Unit now has only 12 members of staff: they are required to cover the entirety of its UK operations. We need to get our house in order, and provide adequate resources to ensure that we can enforce legislation.

I mentioned the successes of the last Labour Government.

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire (Bristol West) (Lab) - Hansard
27 Feb 2020, 2:56 p.m.

Mention some more!

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones - Hansard
27 Feb 2020, 2:54 p.m.

I will. This month marked 15 years since hunting with dogs was banned in England and Wales—two years after a ban was introduced in Scotland by the then Labour-led Government of my noble Friend, Lord McConnell, through the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002. The 2004 Act, which banned hunting in England and Wales, was a landmark moment in the fight against animal cruelty, but there is still much to do to end the scourge of fox, deer and hare hunting in the British countryside.

I am sure that Members from across the House will have received pleas from constituents of all ages during the election that we continue to make progress on measures to tackle animal cruelty. In my constituency, I received numerous pleas that we take the matter seriously. I would go so far as to say that people in Newport West care more about animals than they do about—no, that is not true. It could be construed as such, but obviously they care equally for animals and people.

There are still 299 hunts active across Britain. Frankly, the sheer scale of the problem is shocking. The loopholes are widely exploited, and exemptions in the law show that we need to strengthen the ban. We can do that by supporting the amendments. The Government need to crack down on illegal hunting, and they can do that by strengthening the Bill and supporting the amendments. There is no real space for people to excuse away the chasing and killing of foxes as a mere accident, and what possible scientific research could justify chasing deer with dogs for hours across miles of countryside, only to shoot them at the end?

As the system of agricultural support payments shifts towards payment for public goods, we must ensure that public money does not support a cruel sport that should have been consigned utterly to history long ago. It cannot be right for public money, designated to fund real public goods such as animal welfare, could end up being be paid to places where land is also used for hunting with dogs. The amendments would rule that out, and should be accepted by the Government. Landowners are an important link in the chain. Hunts need land to operate on, and the more they are denied it the less opportunity there will be to flout the law.

If we make every effort to remove the temptations and opportunities to hunt, we will be doing what we can to stop the illegal killing of innocent animals. That was recognised by the Labour group of Nottinghamshire County Council, which passed a motion calling for the end of hunting, including exempt hunting, on council-owned land. I pay tribute to colleagues on the council for their activism and campaigning, and for standing up for what is right. By preventing support payments being paid to landowners convicted of knowingly allowing illegal hunting to take place, which we can do by supporting the amendments, we will ensure that landowners think twice before allowing hunting on their land, and provide added impetus to police and law enforcement authorities to pursue charges when they suspect landowners to have broken the law.

I am pleased that the new Minister has been appointed. I genuinely look forward to working with her on the Bill and working with her in the months and years ahead. When I was preparing this speech, I visited her website to see her views on hunting and what she said when she was an enthusiastic and conscientious Back Bencher. Like all good pupils, I found some interesting material. Under a section called “Victoria’s views”, the now Minister, then Back Bencher, noted that some of her constituents would disagree with her support for the repeal of the Hunting Act 2004. I confess that that applies to me too.

The Minister also said that she believes that her support for the repeal of the Act does not mean that she has no regard for animal welfare. I say to her today that she should show us how much she cares by supporting these important amendments. She went on to say that,

“the Government should work closely with rural communities, animal welfare experts and lawyers”.

She is now part of the Government, so she can listen to the experts and support amendments that demonstrate our commitment to strong, secure and effective animal welfare policies.

Opposition Members are committed to ending the hunting of animals with dogs once and for all. The end goal is clear, but it requires us to be on our guard and alive to the new opportunities that may arise to continue the chasing and killing of animals. Amendments 49 and 50 would be an important step on the way to meeting our end goal. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will support them.

Mr Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill - Hansard
27 Feb 2020, 3:02 p.m.

Again, I worry about the unintended consequences of the amendments that have been put forward for understandable and, for a large section of the community, well-meaning reasons. The explanatory statements say that the amendments,

“would provide that no financial assistance can be given for land which is to be, or has been, used for hunting (including exempt hunting), or on which an offence has been committed under the Hunting Act.”

When one interrogates section 2 of the Hunting Act 2004 and the exemptions listed in schedule 1 to find out what is defined as exempt hunting, one reads that that includes flushing using no more than two dogs, so that animals such as rabbits can be shot. In many cases, it says, that can be done to protect the biological diversity of an area or to obtain meat for human consumption.

My key concern is that there is a long list under exempt hunting—I am not talking about trail hunting—including using just one dog, whereas the Act refers only to using more than two dogs. Amendment 49 talks about using “a dog”. The hon. Member for Newport West can correct me if I am wrong, but from what I have read, if a terrier has killed a rat on a farm at any time since 2004, that farm will be exempt from getting any agricultural support. I would hazard a guess that that would cover at least 95% of the farmland in this country, if not 100%.

When the hon. Lady talked about land, she was not specific about whether she meant the bit of land where the offence may or may not have taken place, the entire farm or the land in the ownership of that particular farmer or landowner, or whether the exemption still applies if the land is sold or the tenant who controls that land gives in the tenancy and it goes to a new tenant. My worry is that the amendments leave us with more questions than answers. If they are taken at face value—the Minister is a lawyer, so she is good at taking things at face value—and adopted, we could end up with maybe 100% of land in this country being exempt from getting any support at all.

Break in Debate

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.

Mr Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill - Hansard
27 Feb 2020, 3:12 p.m.

Cats are exempt from the Bill, so that would still be allowed.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones - Hansard
27 Feb 2020, 3:14 p.m.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that, but the point is, if one is not seeking public money for public good, it is not a problem.

We need to work together to ensure that these amendments come through. Everyone is aware of the pressure groups. There is the idea that hunting is a sport, and it has been taken up as a sport over hundreds of years. We, as a civilised society, should look to close that down. We have no problem with controlling vermin. The right hon. Gentleman made the point about foxes, which I completely understand, having had friends who have had chickens decimated by foxes, which, as he knows, do not eat them, but leave them.

We have no problems with controlling pests and vermin, but hunting is a massive game in the countryside and people do not want to see animals being put through this insecure and frightening sport. The evidence of the unintended consequences of hunting is clear: cats and dogs are killed as a result of trail hunting. It is important that we mitigate to stop that. While we are happy to work together on the wording of these amendments, it is important that we work together to ensure they are accepted. The spirit of them is very clear and I hope the Government will accept that.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

I have not had any notice that the Opposition want to press amendments 50, 45, 64, 46 and 5. Is that correct?

Break in Debate

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

No.

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.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 38, in clause 4, page 5, line 38, at end insert—

“(9A) For each financial assistance scheme, the Secretary of State must have regard to any advice provided by the Office for Environmental Protection, after it is established, about the funding required to achieve the strategic objectives of financial assistance for the duration of the plan period.”

See explanatory statement for Amendment 37.

Amendment 39, in clause 5, page 6, line 10, after “scheme,” insert—

“(aa) any opinion provided by the Office for Environmental Protection, after it is established, as to whether the financial assistance given was sufficient to meet the strategic objectives of the financial assistance,”.

See explanatory statement for Amendment 37.

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

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner - Hansard
27 Feb 2020, 3:49 p.m.

I welcome much of what the Minister says, but our concern and our reason for tabling the amendments is that, positive though her comments are, this is such a big change that we think it right and proper that there is more regular analysis of it, informed by the OEP. I fully understand why she does not want to rehearse the OEP discussion.

As I have said, our view is that the Bills have been introduced in the wrong order, which puts us at something of a disadvantage. However, if the prime, driving purpose of this legislation is to tackle the environmental crisis, as we think it should be, we do not think that the proposed structure—welcome though it is, and it is an improvement—quite matches that sense of urgency. I perhaps should have said more on this earlier. Seven years is a long time for a transition. While we understand why that is beneficial from the industry’s point of view, from my constituents’ point of view, some want it next week, frankly. People are pushing very hard. At the general election, my party committed to a much earlier net zero date, and we know that the NFU is pushing for a much earlier date than the Government’s. However, there is not that sense of urgency, which our amendments would help to bring forward.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West said, it is not only us saying this; many conservation organisations share our concerns and worries. Their worry is partly that a considerable sum of public money is available and, as I have alluded to before, we want to know how the prioritisation will work. Will it be done at a local or national level? The document that we have been referring to throughout the sitting hints at an issue about prioritisation.

I somewhat mischievously suggested that the money could all go to one scheme, but that is not actually impossible, which is why we want a structure where the Office for Environmental Protection could say, “This is where your big gains are going to come from. This is where you’re going to get the difference.” There is a tension, however, between what would get the best environmental gain, what is most effective, and what will, out there in the world, be perceived as fair in a transition phase from the current system to a new one. That is why we think our amendments would provide a better structure.

We understand that there is tension because the Department wants flexibility; I am sure that if we were running the Department, we would want the same. It is our job as the Opposition, however, to remind the Government that they voted to acknowledge the climate crisis and to try to hit net zero in 2050. In every piece of legislation that is brought forward, we want to see a real commitment to making that happen. We think the amendment would contribute to that.

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

Two amendments to clause 5, amendments 39 and 47, have been debated. Do the Opposition wish to press either of them to a vote?

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones - Hansard

No.

If no, we move on to the clause stand part debate.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

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.

I mention our membership of the European Union because when we were members the Government were required to follow the mechanism whereby the Council of Ministers signed off the budget. Crucially, that budget was reported to Members of this House and, importantly, our farmers and farming organisations across the United Kingdom. Much of Government Members’ reasoning for leaving the European Union was that it was about taking back control. We heard that mantra many times. It was about making decisions here in this place, removing the influence from afar and so on. The fact that the annual budget was determined by the Council of Ministers and reported shows that we did have influence, we did have a say and we were in the room. We cannot allow our departure to result in a backwards move on transparency, accountability and honouring our commitment to some of the most hard-working people in our economy.

Mr Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill - Hansard
27 Feb 2020, 4:01 p.m.

The hon. Lady refers to the EU budget. May I ask her how many times in the past 20 years it has actually been signed off?

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones - Hansard
27 Feb 2020, 4:01 p.m.

Obviously, the right hon. Gentleman has far more technical knowledge than I do on the subject. I will not give a figure for fear of its being wrong. I accept that he has a lot more information. All I would say is that we were actually at the table and were part of discussions. We were not excluded; we were very much included. Even Margaret Thatcher agreed that we were part of those discussions, so I accept that.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner - Hansard
27 Feb 2020, 4:01 p.m.

My hon. Friend is making a very good speech, but I cannot resist joining battle with the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby, who refers to an old canard about the European Union. Of course we all wanted the auditing to work better, but are we so sure that it works so well here? If he is confident that it does, he would support the amendment, which is an opportunity for us to show that we can do it so much better. I invite him to join us today.

Order. We are straying some way from clause 5 and new clause 2, so I ask the hon. Lady to come back to them.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones - Hansard
27 Feb 2020, 4:03 p.m.

Thank you for your valuable advice, Mr Stringer. I intend to get back to the subject, without the sparring, which would be very interesting.

Our farmers deserve a funding and reporting system that they can understand and is fit for purpose. In fact, they deserve to have a system in place, full stop. Farmers across Wales, Northern Ireland, England and Scotland are very worried indeed. They have let us know in no uncertain terms exactly how concerned they are, and I share their worries. If a mechanism for reporting annually is not in place, a future Government of whatever colour or persuasion could in effect just say, “Well, there isn’t enough money, so we are making large cuts, including to all those wonderful schemes we talked about and told you we would keep.”

I say this to the Minister. This is a time not for empty words or—dare I say it?—hot air, but for common sense and for the Government to recognise that they have a responsibility to farmers and farm workers across our country. That is why new clause 2 should form part of the Bill, and I hope Members from across the House will reflect, consider and give their support to it.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner - Hansard

My apologies, Mr Stringer, for straying slightly from the detail of the amendment. This is an important amendment, because it says that the public should be able to go through the list of extremely good aspirations in clause 1, on which there has been no disagreement, and see how much money has been allocated to each of those categories, including managing land or water in a way that protects or improves the environment—I will not go through the whole list. That begins to make it real for people. It is fair to say that it was pretty hard to see how the money that they were putting into the European Union was being spent.

This is a great opportunity for the Government. Imagine the Secretary of State or the Minister being able to stand up next year and say, “For each of these categories, this amount has been spent.” The Opposition will be able to do the opposite: we will be able to point to subsection (1)(f) and say, “Actually, it appears that no money at all has been allocated to protecting or improving the health or welfare of livestock.” The goal is to make it simpler and more immediate, like the excellent moves made some years ago by, I think, Lord Whitty to get some transparency about how the money was spent through the CAP in the first place. That transparency allows any of us to look through the statistics on the DEFRA website and see just how much money is being allocated locally and to which organisations, and I am sure some of us have done so.

David Cameron always said that sunshine was the way to throw light on something—to open it up and make it more transparent. I should have thought that the Government would be keen to do so and trumpet their achievements in that way. However, it appears that we are still lost in this slightly opaque, internal world of money effectively being allocated behind closed doors. This amendment opens that world up, gives people the opportunity to ask questions, and gives the Government the opportunity to trumpet their achievement. I cannot for the life of me understand why they do not want to do that—other than that, of course, it is never what Governments do.