Agriculture Bill (Tenth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 10th sitting: House of Commons)
Ruth Jones Excerpts
Tuesday 3rd March 2020

(5 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Fair dealing obligations of business purchasers of agricultural products

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;”

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 78, in clause 27, page 22, line 11, after “fair” insert “dealing and fair”.

Amendment 79, in clause 27, page 22, line 12, at end insert—

“(2A) The Secretary of State may also make regulations for the purpose set out in subsection (2) in relation to the purchase of agricultural products in one or more of the sectors listed in Schedule 1 by business purchasers from qualifying sellers.”

This amendment would ensure that there is an overarching requirement for fair dealing across the whole agricultural industry, with the ability to develop sector specific regulations to address any particular areas of unfair practice.

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

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Sir David. I am pleased to speak to these important amendments.

Over recent weeks, as we have worked our way through the Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge and I have moved and spoken to a number of amendments, and I have noted not only the importance of this legislation, but the potential that accompanies it. As we approach this stage in our consideration of the Bill, it is time that we reminded ourselves of the motives and headlines around it.

Before she was sent to the Back Benches, the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers), said that the Agriculture Bill

“will transform British farming, enabling a balance between food production and the environment which will safeguard our countryside and farming communities for the future.”

I am sure Members will agree that those are aspirational and noble aims—a vision that nobody could disagree with. I just wish that the content of the Bill matched the media lines published by officials at the Department. However, I say to the Minister that we can deliver that vision together on a cross-party basis if the Government accept our ideas, our advice and our suggestions. There is no better time to start doing so than now, by accepting amendments 77, 78 and 79.

The amendments reflect a great deal of interest from many of the relevant external bodies, and we have received many thoughtful and reflective commentaries from organisations including the National Farmers Union, the Tenant Farmers Association and Greener UK. I am grateful to them all for the hard work they are doing on behalf of their members and sectors, which includes a collective welcoming of the fact that fairness is required in the supply chain; we need to ensure that there is transparency and openness, too. The Bill is particularly weak in those areas.

The Government need to rethink and revisit the supply chain provisions designed to secure a fairer price to farmers for the food they produce. Those provisions have been broadened in this iteration of the Bill, but there is still no duty to use them, and the Government have not published anything about how they intend to use the powers and who would be enforcing, using and safeguarding them. Our amendments would provide some clarification on those questions.

We note that the NFU believes there should be an obligation on a Secretary of State to introduce regulations to ensure a baseline of fair dealings between business purchasers and producers across all sectors, and that those regulations should be brought forward within 12 months of the Bill’s coming into force. They are right to call for speedy implementation of the measures that would give effect to the fairness we all want, so I support those calls from the NFU.

We have heard from a number of stakeholders about the need for a strong and meaningful overarching body, and they are right. We need the Minister to provide some clarity about who that regulator will be, how it will work, and what it will look like. It is clear to us on the Labour Benches that the Government have a vital role to play, and our amendments will help ensure that this role is carried out. We should nail down today the fact that the regulator should be the Groceries Code Adjudicator. The Bill as it stands leaves hanging the question of who the regulator should be, and the last things anyone in the real world needs at this time are uncertainty, indecision and confusion.

The elephant in the room—we spoke earlier about one elephant in the room, but this is another elephant—is our departure from the European Union. There will soon be tough and competing demands on the Government for resources, focus, scrutiny and implementation, but I hope that in the weeks ahead, this Bill will receive the strong and guaranteed focus of Ministers on the Treasury Benches.

Mr Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con) - Hansard
3 Mar 2020, 2:04 p.m.

Does the hon. Lady accept that there are some areas in the agricultural trade, such as the grain market, where there is no market failure? There are lots of buyers and lots of sellers in that area, and it operates very well.

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.

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

I beg to move amendment 19, in clause 27, page 22, line 9, at end insert—

“(1A) Regulations under this section containing provision that extends to Scotland may be made only with the consent of the Scottish Ministers.”

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

Break in Debate

Amendment proposed: 78, in clause 27, page 22, line 11, after “fair” insert “dealing and fair”.—(Daniel Zeichner.)

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones - Hansard

I beg to move amendment 82, in clause 27, page 23, line 15, leave out “a specified person” and insert “the Groceries Code Adjudicator”.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 83, in clause 27, page 23, line 23, at end insert—

‘(8A) The Groceries Code Adjudicator Act 2013 is amended, by inserting after section 2 (Arbitration)—

“2A Fair dealing: determination of complaints alleging non-compliance

(1) If a complaint relating to alleged non-compliance is referred to the Adjudicator under section 27(8)(a) of the Agriculture Act 2020, the Adjudicator must determine the complaint.

(2) In determining any allegation of non-compliance under subsection (1), the Adjudicator must act in accordance with any regulations made under subsection (1) of section 27 of the Agriculture Act 2020 which make provision for investigation of complaints, imposition of penalties or a requirement to pay compensation, as specified by subsection (8) of section 27 of that Act.”’

Amendment 80, in clause 27, page 23, line 25, after “any” insert “competent and appropriate”.

This amendment would ensure that the role of regulating agricultural contracts is given to a body which is competent to undertake qualitative assessments; for example, the Groceries Code Adjudicator’s office.

Amendment 81, in clause 27, page 23, line 26, after “provide for a” insert “competent and appropriate”.

This amendment would ensure that the role of regulating agricultural contracts is given to a body which is competent to undertake qualitative assessments; for example, the Groceries Code Adjudicator’s office.

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.

Clause 27 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock - Hansard
3 Mar 2020, 2:44 p.m.

I beg to move amendment 30, in clause 33, page 31, line 32, at end insert—

“(10) The first scheme under this section must come into force no later than 1 April 2021.”

The amendment is basically all about ensuring that equitable distribution of the red meat levy moneys is made timeously. I want that to be done as early and smoothly as possible. It has been waited on throughout the UK for a considerable time, but I certainly imagine that Ministers in the various Administrations have discussed it. If the Minister could assure me that that is happening, and that we are looking at an implementation date in April next year, I would not see any need to press the amendment to a Division.

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”.

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 88, in schedule 3, page 50, leave out lines 27 to 29 and insert—

“the landlord’s consent to a matter on which the landlord’s consent is required,”.

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.

Amendments made: 57, schedule 3, page 51, line 37, leave out “the National Assembly for Wales” and insert “Senedd Cymru”.

Break in Debate

See the explanatory statement for Amendment 51.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones - Hansard
3 Mar 2020, 3:01 p.m.

I beg to move amendment 85, in schedule 3, page 55, line 20, at end insert—

‘(1A) In subsection (1) leave out “section” and insert “sections 28A and”.”

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 86, in schedule 3, page 55, line 31, at end insert—

26A After section 28 insert—

“28A Disputes relating to requests for landlord’s consent or variation of terms

(1) Subsection (2) applies where a tenant under a farm business tenancy has made a request to a landlord for the purposes of—

(a) enabling the tenant to request or apply for relevant financial assistance or relevant financial assistance of a description specified in regulations under subsection (2), or

(b) complying with a statutory duty, or a statutory duty of a description specified in regulations under subsection (2), applicable to the tenant,

and the request meets such other conditions (if any) as may be specified in regulations under subsection (2).

(2) The appropriate authority may by regulations make provision for a tenant under a farm business tenancy to refer for arbitration under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 a request under subsection (1) if no agreement has been reached with the landlord on the request.

(3) Subsections (2) and (4) to (6) of section 19A of the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 (as inserted by paragraph 7 of Schedule 3 to the Agriculture Act 2020) shall apply to any regulations made under subsection (2) of this section.

(4) In this section—

“appropriate authority” means—

(a) in relation to England, the Secretary of State, and

(b) in relation to Wales, the Welsh Ministers;

“relevant financial assistance” means financial assistance under—

(a) section 1 of the Agriculture Act 2020 (powers of Secretary of State to give financial assistance),

(b) section 19 of, or paragraph 7 of Schedule 5 to, that Act (powers of Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers to give financial assistance in exceptional market conditions), or

(c) a scheme of the sort mentioned in section 2(4) of that Act (third party schemes);

“statutory duty” means a duty imposed by or under—

(a) an Act of Parliament;

(b) an Act or Measure of Senedd Cymru;

(c) retained direct EU legislation.””

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

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner - Hansard
3 Mar 2020, 3:07 p.m.

I beg to move amendment 84, in clause 35, page 31, line 38, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

This amendment would make it a duty for the Secretary of State to make regulations as to labelling as to method of production.

We welcome the fact that subsection (2)(g) enables the Secretary of State to make regulations on marketing standards regarding farming methods. We believe that it opens the door to looking properly at the labelling of farmed products. Under the clause, however, the Secretary of State once again has a power rather than a duty and so has no actual obligation to take the matter forward. That bothers us.

We therefore believe that the Bill should be strengthened to require the Secretary of State to make labelling regulations requiring meat, milk and dairy products, including those produced intensively, to be labelled as to farming method. That would be an important development and helpful to consumers. A great step forward for consumers would be to know what they are purchasing across the board in terms of animal products. Consumers could then make decisions based on those higher animal welfare and environmental considerations.

I am reaching back to find my favourite document, or this week’s favourite document—never to hand when I want it, of course—[Interruption.] I am delighted—the Minister obviously loves the document too.