Agriculture Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Committee stage & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 21st July 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Agriculture Act 2020 View all Agriculture Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 112-VI(Rev) Revised sixth marshalled list for Committee - (21 Jul 2020)
The Minister’s department has not published any further thinking beyond what was published in February this year. I hope and expect that the department has taken forward many aspects of all the measures that make up this framework. As we come to the Summer Recess, can the Minister give the House a clear commitment that there will be far more details against which to judge this stage’s amendments in good time for Report stage, which is expected in mid-September? Last week, the noble Baroness the Minister spoke of more information perhaps coming forward by mid-October. She will be aware that this will be too late. Details of other enhancements are promised to be forthcoming in September. Can the Minister map out the scheduling of information that will be necessary for our considerations on Report?
Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Gardiner of Kimble) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. It is always challenging when one noble Lord decides on one timeframe and another noble Lord chooses another. Sometimes the Government must make decisions on their position. Our position has been undertaken through a lot of consideration. I declare my farming interests as set out in the register. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for his Amendment 130, which seeks to reduce the length of the first multiannual financial assistance plan.

We are all agreed that the nature of farming is a long-term affair. For that reason, we felt that having clarity of funding across multiple years was of paramount importance. As drafted, Clause 4 requires that the first planned period will run for seven years. This is designed to match the length of the agricultural transition period, which is a key time for the development of government policy. Schemes will be tested and piloted. As my noble friend Lord Inglewood said—I was not in a position to reply to my noble friend Lord Lucas—the purpose of tests, pilots and trials is to iron out what has not worked particularly well and find those schemes that come forward as the most dynamic and the best value for money for the taxpayer. The findings from these experiences will inform the development of future schemes and strategic objectives. We believe that shortening the period covered by the first plan would hinder our ability to assess schemes and take a considered view of what works and what does not.

The majority of the amendments in this group address the length of the agricultural transition period. I will address Amendments 142 to 146, on the subject of direct payment reductions. The planned agricultural transition period allows a gradual transition from the existing area-based payments to the future system, where public money will be paid for public goods. We deliberately made this time to avoid a cliff edge for farm businesses. Following an extensive consultation, we believe that seven years strikes the right balance between signalling the end of area-based payments and giving farmers time to adjust. Shortening the transition period would mean steeper rates of payment reductions, which we believe would put undue pressure on farmers who are currently reliant on direct payments at a time when they are adapting to a future without them.

I think that most of us agree that direct payments offer poor value for money. Appropriate reductions to these payments will free up funds that can be used to fund new countryside stewardship agreements, introduce the Environmental Land Management national pilot in 2021 and introduce schemes to boost industry productivity, through which grants will be available so that farmers can invest in equipment, technology and infrastructure. The reductions for 2021 will be modest. As I was reminded, there are within the margin of what would often be currency rate changes in previous regimes. They will be no more than 5% for around 80% of farmers, based on the 2018 scheme data. I will look at Hansard because I think that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, spoke about a minimum; my understanding is that it will be no more than 5% but I would like to clarify that point.

A seven-year transition period gives enough time to ensure that ELM is fully up and running before direct payments end. The Government are undertaking a large stakeholder-led programme of tests and trials for certain elements of the scheme design. We plan to pilot our approach in 2021 ahead of the rollout of ELM in 2024. In their election manifesto, the Government guaranteed the current annual budget in every year of this Parliament. We have also published the maximum reductions that we intend to apply in the first year of transition. These were first announced in September 2018 to give farmers sufficient notice. The Government will set out further information on funding for the early years of the agricultural transition period, including direct payments, in the autumn.

Having declared my interests, I should say that I well understand that many of my neighbouring farmers—indeed, all the farmers I know—are very keen to know more on this. I appreciate that. I assure noble Lords that the point is hoisted and that I know why it is important. I look forward to that information coming forward in the autumn.

While direct payments currently form an important contribution to income on many farms in England, we believe that they can hamper productivity growth in the agricultural sector. That is why, within the sum that will be released, that money will be diverted into countryside stewardship and productivity grants so that farmers can start, through their business interests, to take advantage of the money that will move from direct payments into these other areas of support.

While I have been at the Dispatch Box, there have been varying years relating to the RPA. It is interesting, and I think my noble friend Lord Northbrook is correct. The payment profile of the RPA has very much improved since my first exercises on this in 2015. We have seen considerable advance in rates of payment; indeed, this has been a very strong priority of the ministerial team.

Defra’s ELM programme will lead and be accountable for the delivery of the national pilot, working with our delivery partners: the Environment Agency, the Forestry Commission, Natural England, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and the Rural Payments Agency. We are working with the RPA to ensure that it has capacity to deliver the pilot, and we are confident that it will be able to do so. This is on the relationship in this first stage of the pilot.

Another concern which the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, and my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond raised was computer programmes. Again, we have all been scarred by computer programme issues. Defra digital, data and technology specialists are currently working to ensure that the IT needs of the national pilot and ELM will be in place on time, and they are focusing on the ability to make accurate payments on time, on which I place enormous importance. We are confident in our ability to deliver these IT schemes.

The noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, tabled Amendment 149 relating to upland farmers, and I am struck by what my noble friend Lord Randall said about lowland farmers as well. The Government recognise that upland farmers play a vital role in looking after the countryside. We believe that they already provide many environmental benefits, and so will be very well placed to deliver environmental outcomes—and incomes—which will be rewarded under the ELMS.

Therefore, I say in particular to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, that we are fully seized of the importance of small upland and lowland farmers who have contributed so much, not only to communities but to the landscape more widely. It is really important that they are part of the ELMS, and I believe that what they will provide for the nation will be very considerable. The Government will apply reductions to the payments in a fair way, and smaller farmers will initially experience lower reductions than larger farmers.

Turning to Amendments 150 to 152, we recognise in Part 2 of the Bill that in exceptional market conditions it is right for the Government to be able to intervene. Clause 8 allows for the extension of the agricultural transition period, should it be necessary. The Government believe that seven years is enough time for an agricultural transition, however we may need to act swiftly and robustly in unforeseen circumstances that warrant an extension.

I say particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, but also to my noble friend Lady Rock, that, regarding how delinked payments will work, the Government have made clear that they intend to delink direct payments during the transition period. When that happens, the recipient of delinked payments would not need to remain a farmer to receive them. When delinked payments are introduced, they will replace the current basic payment scheme entirely and for all farmers. The basic payment scheme and delinked payments cannot and will not coexist.

Eligibility for delinked payments will be based on a reference period. For example, it may be necessary to have claimed, or been eligible, under the direct payment scheme in a particular year or years. This is also important: we will consult with farmers before setting this reference period in regulations, and it will be subject to affirmative resolution procedure. I say particularly to my noble friend Lady Rock that timescales for basic payment scheme payments are already set out within the retained EU regulations.

With regard to Amendment 153, when we introduce delinked payments, we may wish to move away from the current approach of making a single payment per year and issue payments more frequently instead; Clause 12 gives this flexibility. We believe that more frequent payments would help farmers’ cash flow, and this has been mentioned by your Lordships.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Adonis Portrait Lord Adonis (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, in that full reply from the Minister I heard him justify the seven-year period and explain Clause 8 giving the Government power to extend the transition if necessary. However, I did not hear his response to Amendment 143 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, on why the transition is to start next year and not in 2022.

Some of us, going back to the last Labour Government, have a lot of experience with the problems of the RPA and getting new systems up and running. The Minister spoke with great confidence about these systems being viable and how the IT was going to work. All I can say to him is: good luck with that. I hope he is correct.

In the event that the RPA runs into problems, under the Bill as currently drafted—irrespective of the amendments from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh —do the Government have the power to delay the start of the transition and the pilots? Despite the noble Lord’s confidence that everything will be okay, many of us will feel much more assured if we know that the legal powers are there and will prevent a headlong rush in the event of teething and administrative problems.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

There are a number of points there. I think I said that under Clause 8 the Government allow for an extension of the agricultural transition period, should that be necessary, so there is an important safeguard there; we can extend the agricultural transition period.

I think I did reply to my noble friend; it may not be satisfactory to the noble Lord or my noble friend. We believe that direct payments offer poor value for money, and that is why we want to start in 2021 with, as I say, a modest reduction. I have deliberately said that this will be no more than 5% for around 80% of farmers, so that we can redirect that money into an ELM national pilot, Countryside Stewardship agreements and productivity grants.

Yes, we are all scarred by computer systems. I am the first to say that I am not a computer expert; that is why we have people who are. I repeat that everyone working on these matters is experienced in them, because clearly—as I have said—we want payments on time and a successful outcome for farmers. We also want to make sure that the ELM and all we do hereon in is value for money for the taxpayer. In the end, it is the taxpayer who will reward the farmer for doing the things that we as a society know the farmer can do very well.

Earl of Caithness Portrait The Earl of Caithness [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for his response. I have two questions. He said the RPA would do the trial next year, then he came to a full stop. Does that mean his mind is open and that another body could be responsible for implementing the ELMS in future? Secondly, he referred to the autumn announcement. Can he be more specific on the timing of the autumn announcement and whether we will get that before Report?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I cannot give my noble friend the precise date. I know noble Lords would like that announcement to be as soon as possible—I will take that away—but I am afraid I cannot give your Lordships a precise date. In fact, I do not know the precise date, but it will be in autumn. I am fully seized of the importance of that.

As to whether the delivery body is the RPA in the long term, I believe it is well placed. I cannot give a direct answer as to whether the RPA will in fact do all the ELM. I suspect it may, but that is obviously a matter we will consider.

Earl of Devon Portrait The Earl of Devon [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, beat me to it. I was going to ask for the date of the Autumn Statement and request that it occur before Report. I reiterate that there really is no point in us coming back to all these issues if the Government are about to issue a Statement that will add considerable clarity and amount to a multiannual financial assistance plan. Anything the Minister can do to get that Statement before Report would be appreciated.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I can say to the noble Earl and other noble Lords that I have the matter strongly in my mind.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I was not going to pursue this, but my noble friend’s answer has perplexed me. He said the Government wish to phase out direct payments as they provide poor value for money. The whole thrust of the debate on Amendment 143 this afternoon is that if whatever will replace direct payments is not in position, is it wise to start phasing out direct payments at that time? Can my noble friend not permit himself a degree of flexibility in this regard?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the Government have sought that flexibility in how we reduce the payments, as I say. Although we will make announcements on funding for the early years of agricultural transition, we have also provided that flexibility for unforeseen circumstances in which, for instance, we would need to extend the agricultural transition period.

We want to start in 2021 because this is a journey—to pick up some of the points at the beginning—about how we work with health and harmony. How do we ensure, working with farmers, that we produce very good food and enhance the environment? Of course, I take the point that we must get the system working well, but the prize in all this—public money going to support farmers in enhancing the environment—is a very desirable thing.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I first thank the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, for his support. We are not often on the same side of things and I very much appreciate his remarks and the considered remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, and even the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, who understand the biodiversity dimensions of this, even if they do not—[Inaudible.]

There is a real issue here. Funnily enough, I do not disagree with the view of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, about pushing back the start one year, just to make sure we get this incredibly important issue for the nation right before we start. But I cannot believe it can take seven years for a nation such as ours to implement a new system; five years is far more acceptable for what we have to do. In fact, it seems the seven years that many advocate is going back to the mentality of the common agricultural policy and the European Union—that slo-mo mindset that we are trying to escape with this new scheme. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords who have tabled these amendments today and to all those who have stressed the need to maintain the equivalent of the social economic schemes under the rural development fund. I agree with the many other noble Lords who said that both the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, made very compelling cases that underpin those arguments.

It is clear that, to have a thriving agricultural sector, we need a strong rural economy and infrastructure. We need to address the many social problems that are holding those developments back. We know that rural areas are characterised by higher levels of poverty, poorer health and social isolation. Young people in rural areas struggle to find good-quality training opportunities and are held back by poor public transport and the lack of affordable housing. Local businesses find it difficult to access finance and, as the noble Lords, Lord Holmes and Lord Clement-Jones, rightly pointed out, have huge difficulties with broadband connectivity. I agree very much with them that digital literacy can go a long way to tackling the digital divide. The opportunities to make rural areas great places to live and work are being squandered.

I was also interested in the question from the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, about whether local food activities such as outdoor markets could be eligible for rural funds. That gets around some of the arguments we have been having about whether production of food is a public good.

Much of the problem lies with the Government’s failure to adopt a joined-up approach to rural development, bringing together all the departments and agencies with responsibilities in this area. Although rural proofing partly addresses the problem, it is still not providing the funding and policy priority that rural communities deserve. Rural development funding remains just one aspect of the solution. Nevertheless, that funding has provided a vital lifeline for many local communities.

The current Clause 16, on support for rural development, is welcome in as far as it goes, but it leaves a great deal of the detail unspecified as so much is delegated to regulation. It therefore leaves a lot to trust—a point well made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. I share the concern that funding could be lost without an equivalent funding regime in place. I also share noble Lords’ concern that we must have much greater assurance about access to the shared prosperity fund when the details become clearer.

I welcome the proposal by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, which provides an opportunity for new socioeconomic programmes to help farming families. He has a great deal of expertise in that area and has made the case extremely well, so I do not intend to repeat it. I hope that the Minister can reassure us that the Government do not intend to focus solely on agriculture in this Bill, without a plan to maintain a thriving social and economic infrastructure around it. A thriving rural community with a strong infrastructure and new economic opportunities is the bedrock of an agricultural system, but it will need appropriate funding.

I have not lined up a biblical reference, which seems to be the order of the day today, but I do pray that the Minister can spell out in detail the access to the different rural development funds that will be available as we leave the EU, and the timescales applicable to each of those funds. I look forward to his response.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, which goes to the heart of the rural economy and how rural communities play their essential part in it. I turn to Amendments 155, 156 and 157. Clause 16 provides for the continued payment of long-lasting Rural Development Programme for England agreements where they will extend well beyond the end of the current programme in 2020. This is needed because agri-environment and forestry agreements can last for many years. Some will still be active in the 2030s. The Bill does not deal with socioeconomic schemes, because these are short agreements and all payments will have been made by the time the EU rural development funding has been exhausted. Under the withdrawal agreement, Defra will continue to deliver the RDPE under the terms of the EU regulations. It therefore remains the case that all projects agreed under the RDPE will be fully funded for their lifetime. For multiyear agri-environment and forestry agreements, domestic funding will be used to honour commitments once EU funding ceases after programme closure.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and all noble Lords. The Government absolutely recognise the invaluable contribution that rural areas make to our national life, economically, socially and culturally, and are committed to supporting rural communities through post-EU exit funding and wider government initiatives. It is essential that future generations see a future in the countryside, in agriculture or in a wide range of other elements and components of the rural economy. I am minded of what the noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale said. I have experienced my first Zoom meetings with an agronomist and an arable contractor and so forth. Things that I never thought would happen are happening regularly, so I understand all these things.

A lot of the matters raised in this debate are dealt with separately from the Bill, and I will expand on that. As set out in our manifesto, the Government intend to introduce the UK shared prosperity fund to replace EU structural funds. As the Rural Affairs Minister, I do not identify with the commentary on rural-proofing from the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, who was helpful to us in revising the rural-proofing guidance. We have officials working to ensure that rural-proofing is entrenched in every department. We have been working extremely closely with the MHCLG, which leads on the development of the UK shared prosperity fund, to ensure that its design takes account of the dynamics of rural economies and the particular challenges faced by rural communities. Both departments have been engaging with rural stakeholders to support development of the evidence base around what rural communities and businesses need for the fund. Final decisions about the quantum and design of the fund will take place following the spending review.

My noble friend Lord Dundee spoke about relationships with supermarkets. Some noble Lords are keen on berating the supermarkets. When I spend time going around them, I look at the British produce and the relationship there often is with local farms. That important development of relationships with local produce is strong, whether in large retail outlets or small ones. Clause 1(2) could support productivity measures which could, for example, aid local food chains. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, on the consultation requirement, this clause will only amend existing schemes, not create new ones. We have already consulted on the changes to existing schemes, as part of the Health and Harmony consultation.

Beyond the scope of the Bill, the Government are already taking steps to ensure that our rural communities can prosper. In response to my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond and the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, through the outside-in approach, as part of the future telecoms infrastructure review, we are supporting the deployment of gigabit-capable broadband to the least commercially viable UK premises. We are already connecting some of the hardest-to-reach places in the country, including through the superfast broadband programme and the £20 million rural gigabit connectivity programme. We have announced £5 billion of public funding to close the digital divide and ensure that rural areas are not left behind. The Government are also working with mobile network operators to deliver mobile connectivity improvements through a shared rural network. I also highlight the Digital Skills Partnership, launched by DCMS in 2017, to bring together organisations from across the public, private and charity sectors to work together to close the digital skills gap at local level.

The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, asked about 5G rollout in rural areas. The 5G Rural Connected Communities programme is looking at potential 5G test cases in rural areas. Through the Rural Connected Communities competition, the Government are funding up to 10 5G research and development projects to run over two years.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, asked about discussions between devolved Administrations and rural development. As all noble Lords know, rural development is devolved, but Defra officials meet counterparts in devolved Administrations to discuss rural policy and share experience.

Returning to digital, although the current rural development programme allows for support for broadband and digital skills, wider government initiatives are the main funding mechanisms for broadband connectivity and digital skills. These are delivered through DCMS, rather than Defra. The role played by me, as Minister for Rural Affairs, and the rural team at Defra, is to work closely with DCMS and, at ministerial level, make sure that there is a complete understanding of the fact that rural communities need to play their part in a modern economy, and of the need to improve that.

Clause 16 gives the power to continue making payments where agri-environment and forestry agreements have already been signed, using Exchequer funds once the EU rural development funding contribution has been exhausted. Without subsections (1), (2) and (5) of this clause, the Secretary of State will not have the powers required to continue making annual payments specified in existing agri-environment and forestry agreements, and farmers and land managers will not be compensated for the valuable benefits that they are delivering. Furthermore, without this clause it would be more difficult for agreement holders to move from a CAP scheme to new domestic schemes under the Bill. For example, subsection (3)(a) will allow agreement holders to terminate their agreements early if they successfully secure a place in an ELM scheme. The Government want to ensure that the environmental benefits delivered through these agreements are retained and built on as we move from the CAP to a new system of ELM, designed with farmers and land managers in mind.

The powers in subsection (3) of this clause facilitate the transfer of existing agri-environment and forestry agreement holders into new schemes operating under Clause 1, such as ELM or the simplified Countryside Stewardship scheme. For example, subsection (3)(c) could allow an existing environmental stewardship agreement holder who is managing a priority habitat to convert their agreement into a new domestic Countryside Stewardship agreement. Without subsections (1), (2) and (5) of Clause 16, we will be unable to pay farmers and land managers for the work they are undertaking, and we risk complicating the transition to ELM for land managers who are already participating in agri-environment schemes. We intend to offer domestic countryside stewardship agreements until 2024, at which point we want to ensure a smooth transition from both domestic Countryside Stewardship and EU agri-environment schemes into ELM.

I do understand and take on board all the points that have been made and our mutual desire to work to ensure that the UK shared prosperity fund is up and running and successful. From a rural-proofing point of view it is imperative that the needs of rural interests, communities and business are taken into account. However, I do hope that the noble Earl, Lord Devon, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Russell of Liverpool Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Russell of Liverpool) (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I have received requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I offer the Green group’s support for Amendments 155 to 157 and thank the noble Lords who tabled them and supported them. This debate and the questions have brought out the political impact of the relatively low number of votes in the countryside. We have seen just this morning, with the report on the distribution of the Government’s regeneration fund before the last election, how, since we do not have a rules-based system such as the EU’s whereby funds are distributed to the areas that are most disadvantaged and most in need, it very much depends on the Government’s view of where such money should go.

This debate has focused a lot on keeping what we have in the countryside: alternative businesses, non-farm businesses and alternative sources of revenue for farmers. But what is the Government’s vision for the countryside —where do they see money going, say, from the UK shared prosperity fund? Do the Government see the countryside as a place where there can be large numbers of new, growing, farming, food-producing businesses, and large numbers of good jobs—not simply pickers who are casual workers coming in for a couple of months and then going away again having lived in caravans, but people who can make their lives in the countryside? Is that the kind of vision of a horticulture-rich, healthy food-growing countryside—tying together many of our debates from last year—that the Government have?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the vision is for a prosperous rural economy, which obviously includes food production and agriculture. However, a whole range of communities form the rural economy. We want to ensure that all rural dwellers have the same opportunities. I have to say that very few industries have been promised that they will retain the same annual contribution from the taxpayer for the whole of this Parliament; sometimes noble Lords forget that in some of their commentary. That is most exceptional, and it shows that the Government support farmers and rural communities. That is of course why there is a very significant investment in the broadband structure. Therefore, there is a considerable vision for a prosperous, skilled and innovative agricultural sector within a broader rural economy.

Lord Cameron of Dillington Portrait Lord Cameron of Dillington [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for his extensive response to this debate. When will he be able to tell us whether there will be a well-financed, ring-fenced rural fund as part of the shared prosperity fund? When will we know about that?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am afraid that I cannot give a precise date other than what I said in my remarks, that the quantum and design of the fund will take place following the spending review; I cannot give any further detail. However, I can say that the efforts and the work of Defra with MHCLG are to ensure that there is a very strong rural component so that rural businesses are an intrinsic part of this fund.

Lord Russell of Liverpool Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have received one further request to speak after the Minister. I call the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond.

Lord Holmes of Richmond Portrait Lord Holmes of Richmond [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his response to my Amendment 157. He referred to the £5 billion which was set in principle as a response from the Government to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report. Can he tell the House what the pathway is for that in-principle commitment to be rolled out and an on-the-ground practical reality?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I say, the purpose of trying to start with an outside-in approach is precisely to ensure that rural areas and farms are connected—very often the village is connected but the outlying farms are not. That is where we want to ensure, in working with this £5 billion and the £200 million rural gigabit connectivity programme, that these are absolutely geared to ensure that rural areas are not left behind. I am most grateful to my noble friend for raising the matter.

Earl of Devon Portrait The Earl of Devon [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his, as ever, courteous concluding remarks, and in particular his extensive comments on rural connectivity, which were enlightening. I am disappointed that we still lack detail on the UK shared prosperity fund and the Minister was unable to provide any enlightenment greater than what was given back in May. It has been a helpful debate and I am grateful to all noble Lords for their contribution on this key issue of rural development. I particularly acknowledge the tireless work of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, on the subject of rural prosperity and the survival of farming households.

All noble Lords are well aware of the tremendous fragility of our rural economy and the many small rural businesses that are key local employers in areas of often desperate poverty and huge social deprivation. The noble Lords, Lord Holmes and Lord Clement-Jones, have done well to highlight the issues of rural connectivity as key issues that have been so graphically shown during the lockdown. Might the Government consider following the lead of Northern Ireland, which I understand has sought to implement rural connectivity by connecting the furthest and hardest-to-reach properties first and not last? I hope that we can revisit these issues on Report but until then, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

--- Later in debate ---
We welcome the initial steps being taken in this Bill but would like to see a much more central role for reform of smallholding and tenant farmers in the future of UK farming. I hope that in his response, the Minister can persuade us that he has heard this message and that the Government have a much broader reform agenda in mind, and I hope that he can bring back those proposals in the near future. I look forward to his response.
Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this debate. At its heart is our consideration about how we ensure that there is a vibrant farming sector in the future, with young people coming into a very important industry and way of life. I agree with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Curry, about new skills.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for Amendment 158, which I will address alongside Amendment 159. For a successful long-term future, agriculture relies on attracting new talent and bringing new skills and innovation into the sector. For many years, local authority smallholding estates and council farms have provided opportunities for entrant farmers. While Amendment 158 is aimed at preventing further disposal of smallholdings and council farms by local authorities, such intervention may conflict with the Local Government Act, which gives local authorities the power to manage and dispose of their land according to local priorities and the principle of delivering best value.

Rather than adding regulatory burdens, the Government want to work collaboratively with local authorities, supporting them to retain and invest in the rejuvenation—the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, may have used the word regeneration—and development of their smallholdings and council farms. As stated in Defra’s Farming for the Future: Policy and Progress Update, published in February, this Government intend to use the powers under Clause 1 to offer funding to councils, landowners and other organisations to invest in creating more opportunities for new entrants to access land, delivering the kinds of outcomes that my noble friend is seeking through Amendment 159.

Local authorities can take advantage of rural exception sites to help the delivery of affordable housing, and the revised National Planning Policy Framework includes new policies to support the building of homes in isolated locations where this supports farm businesses with succession. We will work with local authorities, community land organisations and other landowners as we develop this funding scheme, and further details will be set out in the Government’s multiannual financial assistance plan. Working collaboratively with local authorities in this way and supporting them to manage their estates to provide important fresh opportunities for new farmers will be more effective than adding regulatory burdens.

My noble friend Lord Marlesford may know—I am sure he does—that in April 2018 the Government amended a national permitted development right to support rural housing and agricultural productivity, meaning that up to five new homes can be created from existing agricultural buildings on a farm, rather than the previous maximum of three. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, regarding allotments, that these are matters for local authorities. The decision to increase local provision is taken at a local level.

On Amendment 222, the community infrastructure levy is a matter for local authorities and the MHCLG. It is an important tool to help them deliver the infrastructure needed to support development in their areas. In setting rates, local authorities must strike an appropriate balance between using CIL to fund the infrastructure required to support the development and the potential effects of imposing CIL on the economic viability of development across the area, including agricultural developments. Although it is a matter of education and therefore within another department’s remit, out of considerable interest I will take what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and see what further I can make of it.

On tenancies, in relation to the stand part debate and Amendment 223, measures in Clause 34 and Schedule 3 are designed to make pragmatic modifications to tenancy legislation. This package of reforms received broad support from respondents to our public consultations in England and Wales last year, and they deliver on many of the recommendations from the Tenancy Reform Industry Group. The provisions have been carefully drafted to balance the interests of tenants and owners. I agree that agricultural tenancy legislation is complex. Any further changes impacting on landlord and tenant property rights must be very carefully considered in a timely way and not rushed.

Some of the proposals that we consulted on last year are not included in Schedule 3 because they did not have broad support, or because responses showed that they needed more detailed development work before the proposed changes could work effectively, and alternative ways of achieving the policy aim should be explored. The UK and Welsh Governments are very willing to engage in further discussions about those proposals and to review the need for further tenancy reform with members of the Tenancy Reform Industry Group, which includes representative of owners and tenants.

In Amendment 237 my noble friend Lady McIntosh is seeking assurance that the Government will make these regulations; I can give that assurance. The Government intend to start discussions with members of the Tenancy Reform Industry Group to develop the details of these regulations over the next few months, to ensure that the interests of tenants and owners are taken into account.

On Amendments 238 to 240, 245 and 246, many owners and tenants come to practical agreements on such issues without the need for dispute resolution. To encourage this approach further, the Tenancy Reform Industry Group is working on updated guidance to support tenants and owners in discussions about diversification and environmental schemes highlighting the benefits for both parties. This dispute provision has been carefully constructed, after consultation, to be used in limited circumstances, balancing the interests of both tenants and owners, so that market confidence in the benefits of agricultural tenancy agreements is not undermined. Broadening the provision to cover a much wider range of circumstances, such as for diversified activities, may result in lasting changes to land use and the value of the owner’s assets. As such, it is more appropriate that such requests are negotiated between the parties.

Regarding tiers 2 and 3, and landlord issues relating to public access, I say to my noble friend Lord Caithness that we are currently finalising eligibility requirements for ELMS, including whether landlord consent or consultation would be required for tenants to join ELMS, including for tier 2 and tier 3 projects. As I said, our tests and trials are designed to include tenant farmers in the schemes. We are actively considering this as part of the codesign with all stakeholders, and I do not want to pre-empt the process but, as I have said, we are very clear that the tests and trials will include tenant farmers.

Responses to our public consultation show that there is not the same need for dispute provisions for farm business tenancies as there is for Agricultural Holdings Act tenancies. Agricultural Holdings Act agreements were negotiated sometimes 30 or 40 years ago in a very different policy and commercial environment, and often contain outdated restrictions that have not been reviewed for many years. Farm business tenancies are more modern commercial agreements negotiated more recently in the context of environmental schemes being available. They are reviewed more regularly, giving tenants the opportunity to renegotiate the contract’s terms if they deem it necessary, for example, to enable diversifications or to enter future financial assistance schemes.

Respondents to the consultation also noted that there is a risk that providing tenants with opportunities to challenge the terms of recently negotiated agreements could undermine owner confidence in letting land through farm business tenancies, reducing opportunities for tenants in future. Because I have no interest to declare in this matter, I will respond to the point that my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe made. In all our desire to ensure that there is a vibrant farming sector with both owners and tenants—as well as other sectors—all of which make a great contribution, we need to be mindful of getting the right system in place, one that does not have the consequences of many owners of properties with a small amount of land deciding that this tenancy route may not be for them.

We have sometimes conceptualised this discussion as being about large landowners and small tenants. Very often, the modern arrangements are for owners with a small acreage deciding they might have a farm business tenancy. It is unfortunate that we sometimes characterise these matters in this way. It is often about someone with a smallish acreage wanting a farm business tenancy with an incoming tenant.

I agree that there can be benefits from tenants and owners entering into longer-term tenancy agreements. The Government consulted widely on this last year. The feedback gathered indicates that introducing shorter notices to quit in certain circumstances is unlikely significantly to affect owners’ decisions about the length of tenancy to offer. Other factors, such as the size, quality and location of the land and personal motivations for owning land have a much greater influence on decisions about the length of the tenancy term to offer.

It is also important to recognise that, while there are benefits to longer-term tenancy agreements, shorter-term tenancies can be more suitable for different business models. For example, short-term lets can be more appropriate for new entrants looking to rent land on a flexible basis to gain experience. Short-term lets can also be more suitable for some seasonal horticulture businesses.

I turn to Amendments 243 and 244. The Government consulted on proposals to expand the list of relatives eligible to succeed a tenancy agreement. Concerns were raised that doing so could disproportionately affect owners’ rights to their property because the changes could extend a tenant’s occupation of the holding for many years beyond the timescale an owner has been expecting, particularly in the case of succession by the grandchildren of current tenants.

There are examples of owners being willing to negotiate solutions to family succession, such as offering long-term tenancy agreements to grandchildren of the tenant where they are the most suitable future tenant with the best knowledge and skills to continue the farm successfully. We believe that this is the sensible way forward. The Government will continue to engage in discussions with the Tenancy Reform Industry Group —which represents both tenants and owners—to encourage this process.

My noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach referred to cropping licences—they are not tenancies and they are part of the farming scene now. ELMS will provide funding to those who are carrying out the management of the land or water to deliver the environmental public goods being funded.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Boycott Portrait Baroness Boycott (CB) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, this has been a fantastically interesting debate and I very much support the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and many others to do with county farms and the length of tenancies, especially what the Minister was just saying about the variety of agriculture.

However, there is a gap here: urban agriculture. When I ran the London Food Board, which I began in 2008, we started a scheme called Capital Growth to create community gardens in London. The plan was to create 2,012 by 2012, which we did and, in fact, today —I have just checked on the website, where you can type in your postcode to find your nearest garden—we have 2,553 community gardens covering about 250 acres of London and producing £288,000 worth of produce every year.

The thing about urban agriculture is that, for a kid growing up in an urban school on an estate in a poor area, the idea of ever being a farmer is as remote as me thinking I could go to the moon. It is not just that they would not be a farmer; there would be nobody who had a father who was a farmer. Therefore, the introduction of community gardening is vital, not only in educating people but in helping them take the first step on the way to becoming growers and custodians of the land and setting up small businesses. Because I visited so many, I know that many supply restaurants and supermarkets. There are wonderful places where they grow hops and make their own beer, which becomes an industry. Even in these tiny spaces, you can do this.

The social benefits are dramatic—the police, doctors and community leaders all favour this—but it is also extremely cheap, and it means that people get an education about growing. I have listened to almost all of this debate and, all the way through, we have talked about agriculture as though it can happen only in the country. That is not so; it is a fact that it can happen in cities. You see it towns such as Incredible Edible Todmorden, and in schools. I have a proposal in with the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, who is very enthusiastic. I would very much like the Minister’s support for us to take this project countrywide. It is good for your health, it teaches you to grow food and it is fantastic for the environment.

I will share one small detail. There are hives all over London. At one point, we had more hives than we could supply with flowers, but then we balanced that up. A study was done in Paris about the honey that is produced there—96 different flowers went into the taste of that honey. We held annual honey competitions, and we had honey that went from almost clear, or almost white, through to something that looked like treacle. You could tell the honey that had come from the lime trees in particular parks. It gave people an enormous sense of belonging, and put people on the first step to agriculture. My noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb said that councils should have allotments. We realised a year and a half in that an allotment was an impossibility because, when you get an allotment, you are saying that the land must be there in perpetuity. We had “meanwhile leases”, which means they can be taken back; that would be a great way forward.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I believe that the noble Baroness made a speech rather than asking a question but I have noted it all. I approve of gardening, community gardening and the production of food.

Lord Whitty Portrait Lord Whitty [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Curry and Lord Judd, and my noble friend Lady Jones, and others, who supported the general approach of Amendment 158. I thought that I would fall out with the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, but I essentially agree with him that, if we are to have a revival of county farms, we will have to redefine the mission. What is clear from all speakers is that, in this brave new world of post-CAP agricultural policy, we will need people to come into farming who have not traditionally been there and who are unlikely to be able to buy their way into it. We need their talents, their skills, their entrepreneurship, their enthusiasm and their recognition that the provision of public goods, which this Bill is all about, is an important part of farming. Regrettably, when it comes to county farms, neither the structure of ownership of agricultural land in this country, nor, in some respects, the provisions of tenancy law, nor the withdrawal of the local state from this area—none of these things—are particularly conducive to bringing new talent, new blood and new ideas into farming; we need to make a new start.

My amendment is quite limited. It asks the counties involved to review their estates, not to sell any for the moment, and then to define a new strategy along with Defra and the farming organisations. That is an important part of the rejuvenation of agriculture. It must be recognised that this Bill should be paralleled with a means of more people coming in with new skills and new backgrounds. I understand the issue of urban agriculture and community gardens and so on as one potential way in, but the traditional way in through county farms is rapidly disappearing. We need to continue to make positive use of what is there, and to ask the counties, effectively, to look at the situation again and do so in this new strategic sense.

The schemes coming through ELMs and through the other provisions of this Bill will need the next generation to seize the opportunities that they present. That means that we need new ways in. I hope that county farms will be a significant provider of those ways in. I will not press my amendment for the moment, but I hope that the Minister will recognise that even the present level of county farms may well deserve some special recognition within this Bill in respect of government support for the public good. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Scott of Needham Market Portrait Baroness Scott of Needham Market (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, this has been a fascinating and wide-ranging debate. I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, that this is probably the most important set of amendments to the Bill.

Certainly from the public’s point of view, whether it is national food security or household security, there is nothing more important to people than keeping food on the table. We have always left the provision of food to the private sector to manage and it has ensured a supply of food very well, even during the early days of the pandemic when things were challenging, as the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, said. However, we are also all aware that its efficiency has come at a price —a price to the environment and to the viability of farms.

Household food insecurity is clearly a growing problem. For many of us it really is a stain on any claim to be a civilised country when a growing number of people are simply unable to eat. Many noble Lords have raised that point.

When the Minister summed up at Second Reading, he said:

“However, in our view food is a private good; it is bought and sold”.—[Official Report, 10/6/20; col. 1830.]

I am sure he has got the message clearly from the last couple of hours that many in your Lordships’ House would challenge that view, and clearly believe that the Government should have an overall food plan in the same way that they have strategies and plans for energy and transport, for example. As drafted, the clause nods in that direction but for many of us it does not go far enough. These amendments begin to move the Government in that direction.

I fear that what is proposed in the Bill is essentially an historic, backward-looking document. A five-yearly report has some uses but there is a real missed opportunity to do much more. More regular reporting would help to spot trends and potential problems sooner, as the noble Lord, Lord Curry, pointed out, so whether the parliamentary scrutiny is on a three-year or an annual basis, as set out, there are merits in thinking about doing this more often.

The value of the good co-operation between central and devolved Administrations was a theme picked out by many noble Lords, and is of course very sensible. I was particularly struck by the strategic context put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, about the potential dislocations between the devolved Administrations and England.

The key amendments are Amendment 163 and Amendments 171 to 173. They would begin to turn this document into a genuine strategic plan, which can ensure for us a secure supply of affordable food that does not trash the planet. These points were made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady McIntosh, and the noble Lord, Lord Krebs.

Amendment 169 raises the important question of food waste, which is a significant environmental issue as well as a social wrong and a financial burden. Food waste on farms is largely driven by supermarket contracts and, as I proposed in earlier amendments, it should be dealt with under the groceries code. My noble friend Lady Parminter was quite right to emphasise the importance of good data. The 2014 EU sub-committee inquiry into food waste, which I chaired, found unequivocally that organisations which start to measure food waste start to do something about it. The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, made that point about hunger: if you measure it, you act on it.

Several amendments in this group all seek to turn this historic document into something of real value to the public, to farmers and growers, to the food production sector and to retailers. This would require thinking right across government, whether about the health of the nation, trade policy, migration levels or levels of benefits and the national living wage. I have a lot of sympathy with this idea of the need for an independent body on the lines of the Committee on Climate Change, and I hope we can consider that further on Report.

I would urge the Government to consider very carefully what has been said by noble Lords today. I am sure that the Minister has understood the strength of feeling on this issue expressed in the Committee, and I look forward to his reply.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for what in many respects has been a heartfelt debate. References to words like “important” set the tone in which your Lordships have spoken. I am very mindful of your Lordships’ recent report Hungry for Change. In that context, I understand all the sentiments that have been expressed.

In thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for her amendment and for speaking to Amendments 161 and 162, I should say that it is this Government who have brought forward the food security provision. I am grateful to my noble friend the Duke of Montrose and others for at least saying that the Government have brought this forward. Having heard some of the commentary of noble Lords, I could wonder if that had ever been the case.

As I have previously stated, the food security report will be a significant body of work that will use a set of core measurements and indicators for each of the key topic areas. It will go beyond what food security data we currently publish. This will allow consideration of the trends, many of which are slow-moving and do not change significantly year on year over a longer period. Taking a holistic approach, we will consider food security in its complete form, from the global availability of food to UK availability and access. We will use data drawn from a blend of national and international data sources, including UK national statistics as well as data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

The requirement to report within at least a five-year period allows time to observe key trends from a variety of sources. This would not be possible over a significantly shorter period. While we are committing to reporting within at least a five-year frequency, we consider this a maximum period. When we are able to publish the first report will depend upon a range of factors, including the availability of statistical data. Of course, we certainly will not wait for the end of the five-year period to publish the first report, which will include analysis of the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

Some of the datasets that will be considered in the food security report are published and made publicly available annually; certain noble Lords know very well that all this data is reported annually. Defra officials routinely track these reports to spot any unexpected or significant changes. For example, the excellent Agriculture in the United Kingdom statistics that Defra publishes alongside departments in the devolved Administrations come out annually, as do the world food production and calorie statistics produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The Government intend that the report will consider these and less frequently produced data to provide deeper analysis to help us identify longer-term trends to support the development of policy for the future—a point remarked upon by my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe, with her unparalleled experience of the food industry, and indeed by my noble friend Lady Chisholm in her important contribution.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in yet another detailed debate this evening, with expertise and enthusiasm equally displayed. The identification and traceability of animals is hugely important for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to food safety and consumer confidence.

Amendment 208 envisages the establishment of a dedicated public authority to carry out a variety of duties in relation to the identification, the movement and the health of animals, with a particular emphasis on enforcing marketing standards. Given the importance of how food is marketed, and the potential implications for public health should something go wrong, there is merit in having a body responsible for this. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours for bringing the House’s attention to the work he completed in another place many years ago on the movement and traceability of animals. He rightly asks what the purpose and construct of the new data collection service is, as well as several other important questions, seeking assurance that the current high-quality service already established in Workington is retained.

The power to establish such a body and confer functions exists in the current drafting, but it would help the Committee if the Minister could outline how it is envisaged this process would unfold, including indicative timings. Will the body be created from scratch, or will functions simply conferred on an existing organisation? Is there potential for different responsibilities to reside in different places—perhaps not Yorkshire—and, if so, how will day-to-day operations be co-ordinated?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for Amendment 208. Clause 32 enables the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board to run the new livestock information service, which will provide a multi-species traceability system in England. As animals can and do move across borders, Clause 32 also provides for the AHDB to exercise functions, such as handling data on animal movements, voluntarily shared by the devolved Administrations, to provide a complete picture of livestock movements across the whole UK.

The new service will replace separate species-specific systems and allow faster, more accurate livestock traceability, benefiting disease control and trade. This is a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, but I emphasise, as the Minister for Biosecurity, that I place the highest importance on having as accurate as possible a livestock traceability system as we can provide. The service is not designed to cover food products or govern labelling and marketing of animal products. Powers relating to the labelling and marketing of animal food products are set out in Clause 35.

On Amendment 210, Clause 32(1) inserts new Section 89A into the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 to assign functions to a body established under that Act that are necessary to run the new livestock information service. There is an existing duty under Section 97(5) of the NERC Act to consult organisations representative of affected interests. In 2017, Defra set up the livestock information traceability design user group, a partnership of interested industry and government bodies, which have been involved throughout the design and development of the livestock information service. Having attended some of those meetings, I know that the active endorsement and engagement is strong and clear indeed. Defra is consulting organisations representative of affected interests on its plans to make an order under subsection (1).

I am also well aware of the important work of the BCMS at Workington, and am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, for referring to its important and productive work. It is our intention to carry on using the valued staff there, who have a good reputation with farmers, as part of the new service, subject to arriving at an agreement between the RPA and Livestock Information Limited. It is worth noting that some of the work of the BCMS will transition to Scotland and Wales at the same time, as the BCMS currently serves England, Scotland and Wales.

I have tabled a government amendment requiring that the Secretary of State should secure approval from the devolved Administrations for functions of the livestock information service, such as the handling of movement data shared with AHDB by those Administrations. This amendment would enable colleagues in devolved Administrations to recommend legislative consent to their respective legislatures. These UK-wide functions are vital for purposes such as disease control.

I am very much available to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, for further discussions about this new system, if there are any outstanding points. I actively endorse it and think it will be of great benefit. With those assurances and confirmations, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate and especially at such a late hour—it is certainly late for me anyway. I thank the Minister for his assurances. I am afraid it is too late for me to be coherent on anything; I will pore over Hansard tomorrow to see exactly what his assurances were. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
209: Clause 32, page 29, line 44, at end insert—
“(1A) An order of the Secretary of State assigning functions under section 87(1)(b) by virtue of subsection (1) may only be made with the approval of— (a) the Welsh Ministers, if the functions are exercisable in relation to Wales,(b) the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland, if the functions are exercisable in relation to Northern Ireland, and(c) the Scottish Ministers, if the functions are exercisable in relation to Scotland.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment secures that before making an order which assigns functions to a body that are exercisable in relation to Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland, the Secretary of State must obtain the approval of the Welsh Ministers, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland or the Scottish Ministers (as the case may be).
Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, in moving Amendment 209, I shall speak also to Amendments 261, 262 and 268 in my name. Amendments 209, 261 and 262 provide that the Secretary of State shall seek consent from the devolved Administrations for orders made relating to functions of the livestock information service which are exercisable in those Administrations or when exercising the powers in the Bill relating to organics, where these regulations will also apply in those Administrations.

We have always said that we would engage intensively with the devolved Administrations prior to making any regulations that will apply to the devolved Administrations. However, the preference of colleagues in the devolved Administrations is for a consent requirement to be added. This would enable them to recommend legislative consent to their respective legislatures for those provisions in scope of the Sewel convention. We remain wholly committed to seeking legislative consent for all provisions that engage the convention in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and I am pleased to table these amendments. An LCM has now been recommended by the Northern Ireland Assembly; Welsh and Scottish Ministers are intending to seek legislative consent from their respective legislatures for these clauses.

Amendment 268 removes Clauses 42(4) and (5), which make provision for regulations requiring devolved Administrations to provide the Secretary of State with information on their classification and use of domestic support. While we consider that Part 6 is reserved to the UK Parliament, the UK Government are content with the assurances made that these subsections are not required in law, and have reached agreement with the devolved Administrations to remove them from the Bill. The UK Government maintains that this amendment now removes any Part 6 provisions in scope of the Sewel convention. It is our intention to enshrine this commitment in a concordat to be developed between the UK Government and all the devolved Administrations, which will sit alongside the regulations made under Part 6. I beg to move.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the government amendments to Clauses 32 and 37 are welcome. I am aware that they meet a request from the Welsh Government. Removing Clauses 42(4) and (5) is very important because it is deeply unsatisfactory that the Government could, in effect, seek to strong-arm the devolved Governments into giving up elements of their executive competence by inserting such clauses in Bills in the first place.

However, other provisions in this Bill appear to undermine the devolved Governments’ competence, and it has been notable that many noble Lords have spoken powerfully on issues affecting Wales. The process of leaving the EU and resuming international trade negotiations and our independent membership of bodies such as the World Trade Organization is placing a huge—possibly intolerable—strain on our constitution.

As the noble Lord recognised in his recent letter on Second Reading, the power to conduct international negotiations is reserved. However, the rights and responsibilities for implementing international agreements within devolved competence rest with the devolved institutions. I am aware that the Welsh Government, although strongly in favour of preserving the union, albeit on the basis of reform, have taken the view that they cannot be bound to implement agreements which require changes to legislation made by the Senedd unless they have been fully involved with the process of negotiating those agreements. That is surely only reasonable and logical.